Academic Year 2010-2011
Dr. Robert Chazan is currently S. H. and Helen R. Scheuer Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies in the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University. Professor Chazan has published widely in medieval Jewish history. His three most recent books are: God, Humanity, and History (Berkeley, 2000), Fashioning Jewish Identity in Medieval Western Christendom (Cambridge, 2004), and The Jews of Medieval Western Christendom (Cambridge, 2006). Professor Chazan has published extensively in journals in the United States, England, France, Germany, Spain, and Israel. He has served as President of the Association for Jewish Studies and the American Academy for Jewish Research.
Christian Constructions of Jewish History
Communities in conflict—especially religious communities — regularly engage in reconstructing the history of their rivals in a manner that accentuates the rectitude of the home community vision and the shortcomings of its rival. This is regularly done in order to convince some members of the rival community to change allegiance, but more importantly it is intended to reassure members of the home community. Understanding the rival community’s past is intended to show that it can surely not lay claim to the truth. The tendency of Christian thinkers to engage consistently in such construction of the past and future of their Jewish rivals is, to an extent, simply one more example of this ubiquitous tendency.
However, the history of Judaism and the Jews has held unique meaning for Christianity. To a significant extent, the truth of Christianity was grounded in a sense of the genius of early Israelite/Jewish faith and the conviction of subsequent error and sin that necessitated divine abandonment of the Jews and selection of Christians as the new covenant people. Thus, in a significant sense the truth of Christianity was dependent on the history of the Jews—on the one hand the greatness of the Jews’ past and on the other hand their dereliction of duty and descent into failure. This ambiguous and ambivalent sense of the Jewish past carried over into an equally ambiguous and ambivalent perception of the Jewish future. Over the ages, Christian thinkers in a variety of settings and confronting a variety of challenging issues have wrestled with the complex Christian sense of Jewish past and future and have fashioned alternative constructions of the trajectory of Jewish history. My project is to trace the evolution of these constructions of Jewish history from late antiquity through the end of the Middle Ages.