Tertullian’s Adversus Judaeos is a controversial text of disputed origins. Until recently, it was not given much scholarly attention, because it was unclear whether or not Tertullian wrote it as an integral, finished work, intended for publication. Two aspects of the text are especially problematic. Sections of chapters 9-14 appear to be taken whole cloth from Tertullian’s Adversus Mariconem, suggesting that Adversus Judaeos, as preserved, may be a composite of two works. Also, the work is disjointed, digressive, and repetitious, unlike Tertullian’s usual standards of authorship. Nonetheless, the most recent scholarly assessment of Adversus Judaeos, based on a comprehensive rhetorical analysis, argues strongly for the work’s authenticity and integrality.
My thesis, a rebuttal of this most recent position, is that Adversus Judaeos is indeed a poorly collated composite of two of Tertullian’s works: 1/ an original, rhetorically-complete, two-book Christian apology, and 2/ passages ripped (later) from Book III of Adversus Marcionem. I argue further that the original apology is grounded in issues which arose in Carthage when Septimius Severus assumed power as undisputed Emperor of Rome in 197 c.e.
A comprehensive analysis of Adversus Judaeos is presented to demonstrate: 1/ that Parts I and II were written for different (although related) purposes; 2/ that the argument of Part I is not dependent upon the argument of Part II and vice versa; 3/ that a recent proposal for the rhetorical structure of Adversus Judaeos – advanced in defense of the work’s unity – omits many observable rhetorical elements; 4/ that Parts I and II have independent rhetorical structures; and 5/ that Parts of Adversus Marcionem, Book III were redacted to form a significant part of Adversus Judaeos, Part II, and not vice versa.
As a whole, the results of analysis make a strong case for the composite nature of the treatise as preserved, and facilitate a proposed reconstruction of the work as originally written, most likely as part of Tertullian’s apologetic program. The original text addresses the “charge” of Christian novelty by grounding the Church securely in ancient Jewish tradition. The unfortunate redaction came later, when someone – not Tertullian – collated the original treatise with sections of Adversus Marcionem, Book III. The result adds little in the way of argument to the original treatise, and therefore the purpose of the composite, as preserved, remains a mystery.