Classics and Religious Studies

 

Date of this Version

1993

Citation

Published in Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance, T. 55, No. 1 (1993), pp. 113-123.

Comments

Copyright © 1993 Librairie Droz. Used by permission.

Abstract

The nature of Calvin’s tractate Reponse to questions and objections of a certain Jew (Ad quaestiones et obiecta Judaei cuiusdam responsio) has long been a matter of some dispute among Calvin scholars. The nineteenth-century editors of Calvin’s works considered the book to be “meager and weak,” no doubt assuming that Calvin was responsible for composing both the questions and answers. In the twentieth century, scholars have been more inclined to see some evidence of an actual dispute between a Jew and a Christian in the book. Most notably Salo Baron suggested that the work reflects an exchange that Josel of Rosheim claimed to have had with a Christian theologian at Frankfurt in 1539. Josel reported that the theologian “attacked him in a violent, angry, and menacing harangue,” to which he responded: “You, a learned man, wish to threaten us poor people? God, our Lord, has preserved us from the days of Abraham. He in his grace will doubtless preserve us from you.” Baron’s identification of the Jewish questioner with Josel and the Christian with Calvin, while incorrect, underscores how important the identity of Calvin’s interlocutor is for interpreting this enigmatic work. Since Calvin’s Response contains his only discussion of Jewish objections to Christianity, it is significant for understanding his opinion of the Jews and Judaism. By determining who wrote the questions we can better discern Calvin’s image of the Jews and how seriously he took their objections to Christianity.

Calvin’s interlocutor was neither one of Calvin’s contemporaries nor Calvin himself writing in a different persona, but the author of Sefer Nizzahon, which translated means The Book of Victory. Nizzahon is a Jewish polemical anthology probably written in Germany during the fourteenth century.