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Medieval Sourcebook:
Gilbert Crispin:
Disputation of a Jew with a Christian about the Christian Faith (Before 1096)


To the Rev.  Father and Lord Anselm, Archbishop) of the holy Church of Canterbury, his servant and son, Brother Gilbert [Crispin], proctor and servant of Westminster Abbey., wisheth prosperous continuance in this life and a blissful eternity in the future one.

I send you a little work to be submitted to your fatherly-prudence. I wrote it recently putting to paper what a Jew said when formerly disputing with me against our faith in defence of his own law, and what I replied in favour of the faith against his objections.   I know not where he was born, but he was educated at Mayence; he was well versed even in our law and literature, and had a mind practised in the Scriptures and in disputes against us.  He often used to come to me as a friend both for business and  to see me, since in certain things I was very necessary to him, and as often as we came together we would soon net talking in a friendly, spirit about the Scriptures and our faith.  Now on a certain day, God granted both him and me greater leisure than usual, and soon we began questioning as usual.  And as his objections were consequent and logical, and  as he explained with equal consequence his former objections, while our reply met his objections foot to foot and by his own confession seemed equally supported by the testimony of the Scriptures, some of the bystanders requested me to preserve our disputes as likely to be of use to others in future. . . .

Yet [poor as my work is] one of the Jews who were then in London, the mercy of God helping, was converted to the Christian faith at Westminster; professing before all the faith of Christ he asked for baptism and received it, and being baptized vowed him to the service of God, and becoming a monk has remained with us.

Some of the Arguments:

The Jew: With what reason or by what show of authority do you blame us Jews because we observe the Law given by God ? For if it be a good law and given by God it should be observed, for whose command is to be observed if the orders of God be not to be obeyed ? But if the Law should be observed, why do you treat those who observe it like dogs, thrusting them forth with sticks and pursuing them everywhere?  But if you say it should not be observed, Moses should be blamed who gave it to us to be observed

The Christian: [makes the distinction between the literal and figurative sense of the words of Scripture.]

The Jew:  If the word of God is to be observed at one time or another so that it is annulled at one time and to be observed at another, and thus in the vicissitude of time the divine sanctions are changed,  how stands it with the verse, And God spake once (Ps.  Ixi. - i 2) ? Why was it said.. For- ever 0 Lord, Thy word will remain in heaven (Ps. cxviii. 89)?

The Christian:  It is true God spoke once, and it is impossible that any word of God can be annulled: the divine sanctions are not changed by any vicissitudes of time, for Christ came not to deliver the law, but to fulfill it. . . . The law prohibits homicide, Christ anger and hatred; the law forbids actual adultery, Christ even the appetite of the heart. The law forbids you to use pork, and at that time abstinence from that animal was necessary for you, since it was a symbol of future truth, and a symbol is to be preserved till the truth itself comes.  But now it is necessary neither for you nor for us since the truth of the symbol is present.

[He points out that a new kind of law is prefigured in the words of Isaiah (ii. 3), "the law will go from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." What law if not Christ's; what Lord if not Christ?]

The Jew: What reason, what Scripture forces me to believe that God can become a man? ., . . If there is no transmutation in God nor any shadow of change how could so great a change occur in Him that God could become man, the Creator a creature, and the incorruptible become maculate.  " Thou, 0 Lord, art always the same," (PS.   Ci. 27).  How could God be always the same although He become a man? If He is infinite how could He be circumscribed in the mean and small dimensions of human limbs?

The Christian: We do not fear any opposition in this. . . For openly and without the ambiguity of any equivocation Jeremy the prophet thus speaketh, This is our God, and none will be likened  to Him.  He has found the whole way of knowledge, and gave it to Jacob his son and Israel his elect: after this He was seen on earth and conversed with men   (Baruch iii. 36-8).

The Jew: If it be right for Christians thus to read and interpret the Scriptures about Christ, You will find much more that youcan interpret in the same way. We do not know your literature, and perhaps you say that many things are written with you that we do not believe to be written with us. . . .  For really you Christians, bring things from the law and the prophets that are not written in the law and the Prophets.  For that which you have produced from Jeremy ,”Afterwards God was seen on earth and conversed with men,” Jeremy did not say it, did not write it. But if you find it written in Jeremy I will grant that the rest are said truly. But if you do not find it in Jeremy, give up your great animosity against us, blush  for the fiction invented against us, and acknowledge that the original truth in the law and  prophets remains with us.

The Christian: Since Christ is truth, the Christian faith needs no falsity . . . What I brought forward from Jeremy, Jeremy said and wrote . . . For although it be not in the book which is entitled with the name of Jeremy, still he said it through Baruch who wrote it out of the mouth of Jeremy (Jer. xxxvi. 4.). . . . Those who believe in him (Christ) shall not be confounded, as Isaiah the prophet testifieth.  As for those who believe Him not, listen about the heathen, Let all be confounded who adore images and glory in their idols (PS. xcvi. 5), and about the Jews, let them be destroyed from the book of the living, and with the just let them not be written.

The Jew: From that very (quotation of yours it can be established that the Christians should be confounded, for they, too, adore images and rejoice in their idols.  For you figure God Himself as a wretch hanging- on the beam of the cross transfixed with nails a horrible sight, and yet you adore it, and round the cross you figure a sun having, half the form of a boy- and frightened, I know not why,* and a moon flying with half the shape of a girl, sad, and showing, only, the half of her disc t; but sometimes 3-ou paint God sitting, on a lofty throne and making signs with an outstretched hand, and around him as if for greater dignity an eagle and a man, a calf, and a lion. [All this is condemned by Ex. xx. 4.]

The Christian: If the law condemns all sculpture and the figure of' nothing is to be imitated, Moyses sinned, who figured and painted the similitudes of things; nay, the lord Himself sinned, who commanded them to be figured and painted (Ex. xxv 9). . . . The Christian worships no image with divine worship, but he cherishes with honour the representation of sacred things, and honors figures and pictures . . .

[Editor's note: The above gives the main lines of argument in the treatise, which is remarkable for the fair give-and-take of the discussion: the honors seem tolerably equally divided, and the friendly tone is exceptionally conspicuous.]


Source: St Anselm Opera ed. 1744, v. ii, 255; ed. Joseph Jacobs, The Jews of Angevin England: Documents and Records (London, 1893), pp. 7-12.

Scanned by Elka Klein

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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© Paul Halsall, January 1999
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