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Justin Martyr°

JUSTIN MARTYR° (c. 100–c. 165 C.E.), early Church Father who waged an active polemic against Jews and Judaism. Justin Martyr was born to pagan parents in Neapolis, the modern Nablus. After his conversion to Christianity he became a staunch advocate of his new faith against its major then current adversaries, Greek philosophy and Judaism. He was martyred for his faith as a Christian by the Roman authorities sometime between 163 and 167.

Justin's principal polemic against Judaism was waged in his work, Dialogue with Trypho. The latter is presented as a Jew who during the Bar Kokhba war fled from Jerusalem to Ephesus, where he encountered Justin, and the two engaged in a dialogue on the merits of Judaism and Christianity. All the issues then current between the two faiths are marshaled in the dialogue. Justin is the aggressive protagonist; Trypho seeks to counter Justin's arguments, but he is clearly the weaker of the opponents. Justin's goal is to convert Trypho to Christianity, and while this is not accomplished by the end of the dialogue, the reader feels that Trypho has been seeded with the Christian truth, and conversion will follow.

Some Christian scholars, and also the Jewish historian Heinrich Graetz, have identified Trypho with the tanna Rabbi *Tarfon. This would make the dialogue the record of a historical event. However, certain historical facts show this to be impossible. Rabbi Tarfon served in the Temple as a priest before the destruction in 70 C.E. Since 30 was the minimum age for such service, he could no longer have been active in 135 C.E. Trypho cites interpretations paralleled in the Septuagint and the New Testament, which are at variance with interpretations current in the rabbinic academies. It is clear the Trypho is a fictional character, and the entire dialogue is merely a literary format for the exposition of Justin's views.

Justin's thesis is an extension of the kind of reasoning which pervades the New Testament. In essence it makes the claim that Christianity is the authentic flowering of biblical Judaism, and that the Jews who cling to their faith in its old form are clinging to an obsolete doctrine. For doing so they are berated as blind and stubborn and insensitive, a fossil people clinging to a superseded faith. Justin expounds this position through a hermeneutical device parallel to the Midrash: a figurative interpretation of biblical texts investing them with Christian meanings. Some of these passages are direct citations from the New Testament. Thus the identification of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31:3–32 with the structure of Christian truth, in replacement of the earlier truth of Judaism (Dial. 11:3), appears in Hebrews 8:8–10, 10:16–17. But other interpretations seem to be Justin's own. Water and faith and wood (the ark) figure in the rescue of Noah, and the rescue of men from sin as mediated by Jesus is likewise effected by water (baptism) and faith and wood (the cross). The upraised hands of Moses which occasioned Israel's victory against the Amalekites (Ex. 17:8–14) are interpreted by Justin as having derived their efficacy because the sign thus formed foreshadowed the cross. The rod with which Moses performed the wonders of leading the Israelites out of Egypt, of parting the Red Sea for them, of drawing water from the rock – these and more were all made possible, according to Justin, because the rod was in truth a type of the cross (Dial. 138,9:1–2,86:1–6).

Justin does not content himself with the exposition of a Christian interpretation of the Bible. He often denounces the Jews for having crucified Jesus, and he accuses them of continuing to persecute Christians. He finds many indications that God had deemed the Jews as especially reprehensible. In repudiating the efficacy of the law as prescribed in the Bible, Justin makes the bold assertion that the law was initially given to the Jews because, as an especially unspiritual race, hard-hearted, rebellious, and ungodly, they needed a more elaborate law, with many more disciplines as a means of mitigating some of their offensive qualities. For the gentiles, however, it was enough to prescribe two commandments as Jesus did, the love of God and the love of man (Dial. 93:4). Justin also makes himself into a philosopher of history and offers the theory that the defeats of the Jews in the wars against Rome, both in the year 70, and again in 135, were God's visitation of a deserved punishment, because they had sinned so grievously by crucifying Christ and rejecting his new faith. Justin gloated as he contemplated the destruction of Jerusalem and the collapse of the Jewish struggle for freedom, and he taunted Trypho with this sweeping assertion: "All this has happened to you rightly and well, For ye slew the Just One and His prophets before Him, and now ye reject, and … dishonor those who set their hopes on Him, and God Almighty and Maker of the universe who sent Him …" (Dial. 16:3–4).

Justin's invective against Jews and Judaism entered the mainstream of Christian thought and became a sinister influence which contributed not a little toward the development of what is known as Christian antisemitism.


Justin Martyr, The Dialogue with Trypho (tr. A.L. Williams, 1930); L.W. Barnard, Justin Martyr, His Life and Thought (1967); E.R. Goodenough, The Theology of Justin Martyr (1968); C.C. Martindale, Justin the Martyr (1921); W.A. Shotwell, The Biblical Exegesis of Justin Martyr (1965); B.Z. Bokser, in: JQR, 64 (1973), 7–122, 204–11.

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