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CELSUS ° (second century), Greek philosopher and anti-Christian polemist. Fragments from his The True Word (ʾΑληθής Λόγος) are preserved in *Origen's refutation of the book, Contra Celsum. Celsus' discussion of Christianity led him to elaborate on Jewish beliefs. This reveals the influence of the derogatory conceptions of the Jews traditional in Greek and Roman literature. Thus in attacking Christianity Celsus found it necessary to denounce the imperfections of its Jewish origin. He emphasized the fact that Judaism is a national religion. Celsus rated the Jews as inferior to the Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, and others. His principal contentions against the Jews are that the cosmogony of Moses is nonsensical, and that Mosaic history cannot be given a figurative or allegorical interpretation. In the Creation story, God figures as a bad workman who tires of his labors and is obliged to rest. Similarly, Celsus criticizes the biblical passages for attributing human passions to God, for the concept that God created everything for the sake of man, and for the doctrine of the Messiah. According to Celsus, the Jews were rebel Egyptians who, for no logical reason, abandoned their religious rites and renounced polytheism. The cosmological sections of Genesis are not Celsus' sole targets. Other accounts, such as those dealing with the flood, the tower of Babel, Lot, and Joseph, are also ridiculed. He says that the role played by the Jews in civilization is insignificant and Jewish customs are not unique. For instance, no special sanctity attaches to the rite of circumcision, since both the Egyptians and the Colchians practice it. The prohibition against eating pork is also an Egyptian taboo. Celsus was the first pagan writer to make frequent references to the Bible. One of the interesting aspects of The True Word is that Celsus puts the case against Christianity in the mouth of a Jewish spokesman. Indeed, certain arguments are of the type that might be expected from a Jew and apparently Celsus is indebted to a Jewish source, even if not all of his assertions can be traced to one. Some of the statements made by the Jew have their parallels in talmudic literature. For instance the Christians invented the story of the virgin birth while, in fact, Mary was divorced by her carpenter husband for adultery. Because of his poverty, her son hired himself out as a laborer in Egypt, where he learned the art of sorcery in which the Egyptians excelled. The real father of Jesus was a Roman soldier named Panthera. It should be noted that Celsus' Jew belongs to the type of the Hellenized Jew. This is evident from his acquaintance with Hellenistic literature and mythology as well as from his acceptance of the doctrine of the Logos, which was widespread among Hellenized Jews.


R. Bader, Der ʾΑληθής Λόγος des Kelsos (1940); Lods, in: rhpr, 21 (1941), 1ff.; K. Andresen, Logos und Nomos (1955); Schroeder, in: Welt als Geschichte, 17 (1957), 190ff.

[Menahem Stern]