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John Chrysostom°


JOHN CHRYSOSTOM ° (354–407), most distinguished *Church Father of the East and one of the most virulently anti-Jewish preachers. Born in Antioch, the son of pagan parents, he was baptized in 373 and ordained a priest in 384. His eight sermons (homilies) against the Jews were delivered during his first two years of preaching activity in Antioch (386–387). They were written down verbatim by his audience and subsequently circulated. Thus their great anti-Jewish influence was felt beyond the period in which they were written. Chrysostom attacks not only the teachings of Judaism, but more especially the way of life and the views of contemporary Jews (incidentally, thereby giving valuable information on the life of Antioch Jewry in the fourth century and on the influence they exerted on their non-Jewish environment), accusing them of missionary activity, which dangerously competed with that of the Christians. The defeated and dispersed Jews, he ironically adds, were becoming the teachers of the whole world. He criticized those Christians in Antioch who cooperated with Jews in religious matters, kept the Sabbath, the "great fast," and other Jewish festivals; they even submitted to circumcision and participated in pilgrimages to Jewish holy places. Chrysostom claimed that on the Sabbaths and festivals the Jewish synagogue was full of Christians, especially Christian women, who loved the solemnity of the Jewish liturgy, enjoyed listening to the shofar on Rosh Ha-Shanah, and applauded famous preachers (according to contemporary custom). Chrysostom attempted to defame the synagogue, which he compared to a pagan temple and which he represented to his audience as the source of all vices and heresies. In this connection he reported that actors appeared in the synagogues on Jewish festivals. His claim that among the Jews the priesthood may be purchased and sold for money is specified by his biographer, Palladius, who writes that "the patriarch – as well as the head of the synagogue – is changed every year so as to replenish the cash-boxes." In other respects as well, Chrysostom, the pioneer of ascetic monkish life, criticized the Jews for their avarice and viciousness. He also testified to the Jewish influence on the judiciary of Antioch by reporting that Christians often took refuge in Jewish law courts and, when on oath, often used the Jewish oath formula. Even his sermons on the Maccabees were not in praise of the Jews, but in order to emphasize the difference between Jews and Christians, and it is not a mere coincidence that the destruction of the synagogue of Callinicon (also in Syria, cf. *Ambrose of Milan) took place immediately after a series of anti-Jewish sermons on the occasion of a procession in honor of the Maccabees in 388.

After a short period of activity in Constantinople, Chrysostom fell victim to court intrigues and was deposed by Emperor Arcadius. He then admitted that Jews, heretics, and pagans felt sorry for him, but Christians closed their hearts. Whether this "confession" was only a rhetoric paradox, or whether there were really Jews in Constantinople who behaved to him in a friendly manner, is hard to determine. Nor is it possible to decide if his downfall was not engineered by some influential Jews at Arcadius' court.

Like the writings of other Church Fathers, Chrysostom's books contain various exegetical commentaries that concur with talmudic aggadah.


F. Perles, in: Ben Chananja, 3 (1860), 569–71; Graetz, Hist, 2 (1893), 613–4; H. Lucas, Zur Geschichte der Juden im vierten Jahrhundert (1910), 7–11; H. Usener, Religionsgeschichtliche Untersuchungen (1911), 235–47; Juster, Juifs, 1 (1914), 62–63; 2 (1914), 114, 125; B. Koetting, in: Kirche und Synagoge (1968), 158–65.

[Yohanan (Hans) Lewy]

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