Representations of Jews and Judaism in "The Dialogue of Timothy and Aquila": Construct or social reality?
The Dialogue of Timothy and Aquila (TA) is an anonymous literary disputation between a Christian and a Jew that is placed in the days of Cyril, Archbishop of Alexandria (412-444 C.E.). Although an earlier form of this text circulated in the third century, the final form of TA emerged in the fifth. This study uses TA to address the problem of assessing information about Jews and Judaism in such polemical, Christian sources. The approach to this project is both historical and literary-critical. The history of relations between Jews and Christians is one set of evidence against which literary accounts of those relations are compared. The principal task is to evaluate evidence that has explicit corroboration in Jewish sources, rabbinic and non-rabbinic; literary and non-literary, as well as evidence that is uncorroborated. The literary critique focuses on the question of precisely how form affects content; how dialogue genre contributes to the portrayals of Judaism it preserves. While the author of the earlier source might have had some first hand acquaintance with Jews, the final form of the text betrays no explicit knowledge of Jews living in a fifth century, Egyptian context. TA does not represent a transcript of an actual disputation but reflects an idealized Christian account of such a disputation. Since the text makes almost no attempt to address contemporary Judaism or issues in relations between Christians and Jews, it could not have been adequate as a Christian "disputation manual." Indeed, by importing the earlier form of TA into a later context, the final editor implicitly represents Judaism as frozen in the controversies that engaged "Trypho" and Justin in the mid-second century. However, as a text concerned with Christian catechesis it is certainly adequate for less sophisticated readers. As such, "the Jew," "Jews," and "Judaism" function as heuristic devices in TA and betray no direct interest in the conversion of Jews, unlike what the text superficially presents.