A Jew for Roman tastes: The parting of the ways in justin martyr's dialogue with trypho from a post-colonial perspective

Maren R. Niehoff*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations

Abstract

This article offers a new and distinctly Roman perspective on Trypho the Jew in Justin’s Dialogue. While generations of scholars have debated whether Trypho was a historical Jew, who engaged in a real dialogue with Justin, or rather a literary construct invented by the author for Christian readers, I apply post-colonial theory and argue that Justin constructed Trypho for a Roman audience, whether “pagan” or Christian. Trypho highlights by his Otherness the Roman character of Christianity and thus helps to position the new religion firmly at the center of the empire. The article offers a close reading of Trypho’s prominent features, namely 1) his circumcision, which is analyzed in the context of Antonius Pius’s new legislation on this Jewish rite following the Bar Kokhba Revolt, 2) Trypho’s insistence on ethnicity and exclusivism, which is evaluated in view of Roman stereotypes concerning Jewish xenophobia, and 3) his recourse to detailed Bible exegesis, which is interpreted in view of Roman philosophers’ disdain for exegesis as a spiritually sterile activity. On all these accounts Trypho the Jew emerges as deviant and rather more Greek than Roman. He and Marcion the “Gnostic” are relegated to the eastern provinces of the empire and serve as mirror images of what Justin considers as authentic, authoritative, and distinctly Roman Christianity.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)549-578
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Early Christian Studies
Volume27
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

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© 2019 Johns Hopkins University Press

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