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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Justin Martyr

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Church Father, who in his works, written in Greek (the Διάλογος πρὸς Τρυφῶνα and Ἀπολογία are cited here as "Dial." and "Ap." respectively), makes frequent mention of the Jews and Judaism. He was born about the year 100 at Flavia Neapolis, the ancient Shechem and the present Nablus; executed about 165. His parents were pagans ("Dial." § 28). He became a Christian under Hadrian, perhaps at Ephesus (ib. §§ 2-8; "Ap." § 12). There, in intercourse with Jews of Hellenic culture, he may have become acquainted with the Bible and, very slightly, with the doctrinal methods of the Rabbis. That he did not understand Hebrew is plainly evidenced by his writings.

Justin is more familiar with Greek philosophy, which he treats from a sophistical standpoint, than with the learning of the Jews. Of his authentic works which have been preserved the only ones which bear upon the Jews are the two Apologies—one addressed to Antoninus Pius, the other to Marcus Aurelius—and his Dialogue with the Jew Tryphon. Although in the Apologies, supposedly written in defense of paganism, he continually attacks Judaism, and brings forward from the Old Testament arguments for Christianity, the Dialogue is more especially devoted to this theme.

Dialogue with Tryphon.

The Dialogue was written shortly after the Bar Kokba war (about 135), to which he refers in several passages (Dial. § 108; Ap. 1:31). Tryphon, the representative of the Jews, is described (at the beginning of the Dialogue) as having fled to Ephesus to escape the hardships of the war and persecution. In that city the debate is supposed to have taken place; and Tryphon appears as a well-educated Jewish philosopher. On the first day of the dispute only he and Justin are present; but on the second day a few Jews from Ephesus take sides with Tryphon in the discussion (Dial. § 118). One is mentioned by the name of Mnaseas (= ; Dial. § 385). Many scholars deem the discussion to have been wholly imaginary, in-asmuch as Tryphon makes concessions to Justin which would have been impossible in reality.

Identity of Tryphon.

Justin nowhere states that Tryphon was a celebrated rabbi; but Eusebius ("Hist. Eccl." 4:18, § 6) says that he was the most eminent Jew of his day. Accordingly he has been identified by Grätz and others with R. Ṭarfon; but the latter, who was born before the destruction of the Temple, would have been too old at the alleged time of the Dialogue to have taken part in it. The supposition, however, is that Justin intentionally selected the name of the celebrated rabbi in order to boast of having defeated him in debate.

The writings of Justin contain some historical material, as, for example, the statement that Herod was a native of Ascalon (Dial. § 52); the account of the persecution of the Christians by the Jews in the Bar Kokba war (Ap. 1:31); the story of Simon Magus (ib. 26, 56); and in general much concerning the history of Samaritan sects, Justin being a Samaritan. Still he has no certain knowledge concerning antiquity, and he associates (ib. 10:31) the origin of the Septuagint with the reign of Herod (see Goldfahn in "Monatsschrift," 1873, p. 56).

Since he was unacquainted with Hebrew, all his arguments are based on the text of the Septuagint. He thinks that the name "Abraham" has had an "alpha" added to it (Ἀβραάμ); "Sarah," a "rho" (Σάα); and that a wholly new name was given to Joshuaben Naue, whom he calls Αὐσὴ = "Hosea" (Dial. § 113). He had matter in his Bible text which the Jews did not have in theirs; and he urged this as a reproach against them. In Psalms 96 () he read ἀπὸ τοῦ ξύλου (= "a ligno," "from the wood"), and saw therein a reference to the cross (Dial. § 73; Ap. 1:41; comp. Swete, "Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek," p. 424, Cambridge, 1900). He charges the Rabbis with having expunged from their Bibles much that is favorable for a conception of Christianity (Dial. §§ 72, 73); for example, the legend of the martyrdom of Isaiah (ib. § 120). That point of perpetual dispute between Jews and Christians, the interpretation of Isaiah 7:14—where the Septuagint has παρθένος ("virgin"), but the Rabbis give the meaning of νεᾶνις ("young woman")—was already familiar to this first controversialist of the Church (ib. § 43); but he did not know that the latter explanation originated with Aquila. It is also learned from Justin that the Rabbis attributed the prophecy in question (Isaiah 7:14-25) to Hezekiah (Dial. § 77). Another Messianic passage (Ps. ex.) was likewise attributed by them to Hezekiah (ib. § 83). On the other hand, Isaiah 53 was interpreted by the Rabbis to refer to the suffering Messiah (ib. § 90). They taught, too, that Micah 4:1-7 referred to the Messiah (ib. § 110), but that he had not yet come, and if he had come, he would have remained unrecognized (ib. § 8; comp. § 49), and Elijah would have had to precede him (ib. § 49). Justin's controversy with the representative of the Jews further extends over Psalms 72 (ib. § 34) and (ib. § 36). The observations of Tryphon concerning Deuteronomy 4:19 (ib. § 121) and Genesis 1:26 (ib. § 62) are also interesting, as in them he opposes the Christian conception of those passages.

Haggadot Familiar to Tryphon.

Together with these examples of rabbinical exegesis, the haggadot on Biblical history transmitted by Justin deserve attention. He relates that the Rabbis arranged that the two goats used on the Day of Atonement should be alike (ib. § 40; comp. Jonah 6:1); he evinces familiarity with the meaning of the three angels who appeared to Abraham, quite after the manner of the Haggadah (ib. § 56; comp. B. M. 86b); and the haggadah that the high priest Joshua (Zechariah 3:1) had not prevented his sons from marrying unworthy women (Sanh. 93a) also is reflected in a legend to the effect that Joshua himself had married a wanton (Dial. § 116). The story of the fall of the angels, which is related by many apocrypha and which Justin also teaches (Ap. 2:5), is disputed by Tryphon. The Jew in this connection uses the following characteristic words: "God's words are holy; but your interpretations are artificial" (Dial. § 79). Such controversies are found in the writings of the other Church Fathers. Only in one particular does Justin stand alone, and that is in his accusation that the Jewish teachers permitted four and even five wives, and that they lusted after beautiful women (ib. § 114). Possibly this is an expression of the inborn hatred of the Samaritans toward the Jews.

  • Grätz, in Monatsschrift, 3:1854;
  • idem, Gnosticismus und Judenthum, pp. 17 et seq.;
  • idem, Gesch. 3d ed., 4:95;
  • Goldfahn, Justin Martyr und die Agada, in Monatsschrift, 22:1873 (also printed separately);
  • E. C. Richardson, Bibliographical Synopsis to the Ante-Nicene Fathers, pp. 21-26, Buffalo, 1887;
  • S. Krauss, in J. Q. R. 5:123-134;
  • and the bibliography to Church Fathers.
S. Kr.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Justin Martyr'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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