June 9, 2011

A Dissertation On Cyril of Alexandria's Views On the Law of Moses

I'm currently reading the doctoral dissertation of B. Lee Blackburn Jr. titled THE MYSTERY OF THE SYNAGOGUE: CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA ON THE LAW OF MOSES. St. Cyril wrote some illuminating interpretations on this subject, little of which has been translated, which cannot be separated from the historical context in which he lived as Patriarch of Alexandria among a hostile population of Jews in the city. Below is the abstract with a link to the dissertation.


In my dissertation I argue that in the De Adoratione et Cultu and the Glaphyra Cyril of Alexandria makes a case, unprecedented in the prior exegetical tradition, that the Mosaic law has inscribed in itself a coherent and comprehensive exposĂ© of its own soteriological inadequacies and the moral pollution of the Jewish people. Indeed, for Cyril the law of Moses, once spiritually contemplated, discloses the entire “mystery of the synagogue,” from the giving of the law at Sinai to the eschatological incorporation of a remnant of Israel into the church. In so doing the law furnishes a devastating and multi-faceted critique of post Christum Judaism as a religion whose adherence to the letter of the law ironically ensures its chronic impurity and estrangement from God. Indeed, the Jews emerge as the paradigmatically polluted people, alienated from the presence of God by virtue of their cleaving to a law that can never purify them and, above all, their murderous reception of Christ. Although many of Cyril’s criticisms of the limitations of the law clearly stem from his Pauline theological commitments, certain motifs that figure prominently in his exegesis, such as that of Jewish pollution, are not without extra-theological implications. As the dominant figure in the Alexandrian church, Cyril assumed an adversarial stance toward the Jewish community, which he took seriously as a religious and cultural nemesis, and his exegesis is not untouched by the anxieties that such friction engendered. This is perhaps most evident in the way in which Cyril's exegetical account of the impurity of Jewish moral character supplies the theoretical underwriting for the strict separation of church from synagogue, a separation demanded by his incipient notion of Jewish space as marginal, polluted, and estranged from the divine presence localized in the church, the true tabernacle. I submit, then, that the outburst of exegetical creativity in the texts at hand cannot be adequately accounted for without reference to the state of Jewish-Christian relations in early fifth-century Alexandria, the dynamics of which characterized much of the eastern empire as a whole.

Read the dissertation here.