Jewish Philosophical Polemics Against Christianity in the Middle Ages: With a New Introduction

BookJewish Philosophical Polemics Against Christianity in the Middle Ages: With a New Introduction

Jewish Philosophical Polemics Against Christianity in the Middle Ages: With a New Introduction

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


April 26th, 2007

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Thorough and meticulously researched, this study is based on a comprehensive reading of philosophical arguments drawn from all the major Jewish sources, published and unpublished, from the Geonic period in the ninth century until the dawn of the Haskalah in the late eighteenth century.

The core of the book is a detailed discussion of the four doctrines of Christianity whose rationality Jews thought they could definitively refute: trinity, incarnation, transubstantiation, and virgin birth. In each case, Daniel Lasker presents a succinct history of the Christian doctrine and then proceeds to a careful examination of the Jewish efforts to demonstrate its impossibility. The main text is clearly written in a non-technical manner, with the Christian doctrines and the Jewish responses both carefully explained; the notes include long quotations, in Hebrew and Arabic as well as in English, from sources that are not readily available in English.

At the time of its original publication in 1977 this book was regarded as a major contribution to a relatively neglected area of medieval Jewish intellectual history; the new, wide-ranging introduction prepared for this paperback edition, which surveys and summarizes subsequent scholarship, re-establishes its position as a major work.

'Has acquired the status of a classic. A great deal of new work has been published, however, in the past thirty years. The book is now reprinted by the Littman Library, with a new introduction by the author summarizing these more recent contributions to the subject, which include critical editions of classic texts as well as specialized studies and overviews ... A substantial new bibliography completes the introduction. Thanks are due to the Littman Library for placing this important book before a new generation of readers.'
Nicholas de Lange, Journal of Jewish Studies

'A valuable contribution to this field of research because of its very precise, detailed, and competent study of the themes involved in the disputation and the polemics.'
European Journal of Jewish Studies

Author Information

Daniel J. Lasker is Norbert Blechner Professor of Jewish Values (Emeritus) at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. In addition he has taught at many institutions of higher learning, including Yale, Princeton, the University of Toronto, Ohio State University, the University of Texas, and the University of Washington. His publications include Jewish Philosophical Polemics against Christianity in the Middle Ages (2nd edn., Littman Library, 2007) and From Judah Hadassi to Elijah Bashyatchi: Studies in Late Medieval Karaite Philosophy (2008).

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Half Title2
Title Page4
Acknowledgments to the Second Edition7
Acknowledgments to the First Edition8
Introduction to the Second Edition14
I. Introduction 36
General Principles36
Philosophical Arguments38
Exegetical Arguments38
Historical Arguments42
Rational Arguments44
Procedure To Be Followed46
II. The Sources 48
The Various Methods of the Polemicists48
Exegesis of the Hebrew Bible48
Exegesis of Rabbinic Literature51
Attacks on Christianity52
Comparisons of Christian Doctrines with the New Testament54
Attacks on the Articles of Christianity54
Comparisons of Christianity with the Principles of Philosophy54
The Literary Style of the Polemics55
Other Sources of Jewish Philosophical Arguments56
The Christian Sources58
III. The Use of Reason in Religious Debates 60
Explanations of Christian Belief in Irrational Doctrines60
Maimonides’ Guidelines63
The Polemical Approach of the Jewish Averroists68
Criteria for Determining Logical Impossibility74
IV. Trinity 80
Trinity Implies Matter83
The Divine Attributes Are Not Persons86
Jewish Kalamic Refutations of the Trinity86
Aristotelian Refutations98
Generation Disproves Unity118
The Specific Generation of Jesus118
The Eternal Generation of the Son120
Syllogistic Logic Refutes the Trinity125
Images of the Trinity128
V. Incarnation 140
God Is Incorporeal143
God’s Incorporeality Precludes Incarnation144
God Cannot Be Limited in Place146
God Is Immutable149
God’s Simple Unity Precludes Incarnation156
A Union of Divinity and Humanity Is Impossible161
Types of Physical Union161
The Person of Jesus167
VI. Transubstantiation 170
The Interpenetrability of Bodies175
How Could the Body of Jesus Enter Bread?176
How Could Jesus’ Large Body Fit into Smaller Dimensions?176
How Could Jesus Pass through the Heavens Without Damaging Them?177
The Concepts of Number and Place178
Simultaneity of Jesus’ Body on Many Altars Remaining One179
Simultaneity of Jesus’ Body Being in Many Places179
The Concept of Motion180
Motion in No Time Is Impossible181
One Body Cannot Be in Motion and at Rest at the Same Time181
The Problem of Accidents182
How Can Accidents Be Without Subjects?182
The Senses Must Not Be Deceived183
Substance Cannot Become Accident, nor Accident Substance184
Miscellaneous Arguments185
VII. Virgin Birth 188
The Interpenetrability of Bodies190
Images of Virgin Birth192
VIII. Conclusions 196
Jewish Knowledge of Christianity196
The Sources of Jewish Arguments199
The Role of Philosophy in Jewish-Christian Polemics200
The Significance of the Medieval Jewish Philosophical Polemic Against Christianity202
List of Abbreviations204
Index of Citations310
General Index312