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(354 - 430)

AUGUSTINE° (354–430), bishop of Hippo (North Africa) and outstanding *Church Father of Western Christianity. Born in Tagaste in North Africa to mixed Christian/pagan parentage, Augustine was educated at the University of Carthage, abandoned his faith temporarily and fathered a son, was eventually ordained and became the bishop of Hippo in 395. As an influential ecclesiastic and prolific theological writer, Augustine attacked various Christian sects and heresies and also took issue with Judaism. His religious and philosophical views reveal the influence of a great variety of spiritual movements and trends (Neo-Platonism, Manichaeism, the Stoics, Cicero, Aristotle, etc.) but most of his major doctrines are completely foreign and indeed opposed to traditional Jewish teaching (e.g., his concepts of the innate sinfulness of man, and predestination). Nevertheless, Jewish influences are also discernible, though these are mainly derived from the common biblical background and from Hellenistic Jewish philosophy (Philo of Alexandria), the Neoplatonic character of which had an obvious affinity with Augustine's own thinking. Thus Augustine's emphasis upon the absolute transcendence and unity of God is such that the doctrine of the Trinity assumes a relatively secondary importance. His theology of history, as developed in his City of God, has Jewish overtones only in the sense that its historical perspective contains some traditional eschatological and apocalyptic elements and insists on Israel's universal religious mission in history. In spite of his unequivocal rejection of post-Christian Judaism (e.g., in his Tractatus adversus Judaeos) – in keeping with the basic tenets of Christian thinking – Augustine evinces in some of his writings (e.g., in his commentary on the Psalms), and quite unlike the violently anti-Jewish diatribes of his contemporary, John Chrysostom, a positive (i.e., missionary attitude) to the Jewish people as being destined ultimately to join in the fullness of the Divine promise as realized in the church. The definitely anti-Jewish tracts circulating in the Middle Ages under the name of Augustine are later compositions wrongly attributed to him.

More than any other Church Father of his time, Augustine studied the "Old Testament," quoted from it and commented upon it. Biblical history, as the history of Israel, the people of God, formed the basis of Augustine's philosophy of history, and his division of world history into periods was derived from it. His method of interpreting the Bible is partly rationalistic, partly allegorical and mystical. Augustine had little or no knowledge of Hebrew, although he was probably familiar with the rudiments of the related Punic language. In order to overcome this handicap he occasionally consulted African Jews. Two legends (that of Adam's second wife and of Abraham in the furnace) are explicitly quoted by him as of Jewish origin but he often mentions rabbinic opinions without quoting their source. In his work De doctrina christiana (ch. XXXIV, col. 15–122), Augustine seeks to establish guidelines for biblical exegesis and states that a knowledge of Hebrew was essential for the understanding of Scripture. At the same time he regarded the Vulgate text as authentic from the point of view of the church and attacked Jerome for embarking upon a new Bible translation from the Hebrew. His opposition to Jerome's work, which was only temporary, may have resulted from his hostility to Judaism and to Jews in general, whom he accused of failing to understand the Bible, or deliberately misunderstanding it (Tractatus adversus Judaeos).

There has been no noticeable influence of Augustine's doctrines upon Jewish religious philosophy. The attacks of Saadiah Gaon on the concept of the Trinity and of God as a hypostasis of three attributes – being, living, and knowing (Emunot ve-De'ot, ch. 2; cf. De libero arbitrio, ch. II, 3 no. 7) were surely directed at Christianity as such and not specifically at Augustine. Like Augustine, Saadiah taught that time was created by God, but this doctrine has its roots in the philosophy of Plato (Timaeus) and was also accepted by Philo. There are similarities in the doctrine of God's will and of Divine omniscience as propounded by Augustine, Saadiah, and Maimonides, respectively (Kaufmann). Jewish authors who mentioned Augustine in their writings are Judah Romano, in the notes to his translation of Averroes' De substantia orbis (E?em ha-Shamayim); Isaac Abrabanel, who according to Joseph Delmedigo took considerable interest in Augustine; Hillel b. Samuel of Verona, in his work Tagmulei ha-Nefesh; and several anonymous authors, such as Sefer ?okhmah Kelalit, the translation of a pseudo-Aristotelian work.

There is an incomplete translation into Hebrew of Augustine's Confessions by Paul Levertoff ("Vidduyei Augustinus," 1908).


D. Kaufmann, Geschichte der Attributenlehre (1877), 41, 72, 304, 307; B. Blumenkranz, Die Judenpredigt Augustins (1946); H.A. Wolfson, The Philosophy of the Church-Fathers I (1956), index. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: St. Augustine, Confessions, ed. and tr. H. Chadwick (1991); H. Chadwick, Augustine (1986); P. Brown, Augustine of Hippo (1967).

[Jacob Klatzkin /

Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.