Saturday 11 April 2015

Michael Azar: The Imprecision of “Supersessionism”: A Case Study in Origen

Though patristic writers interacted with and wrote about Jews with varying degrees of affinity and hostility, contemporary scholarship has frequently employed the term “supersessionism” as an umbrella concept under which to understand early Christian views of Jews and Judaism.  Turning to Origen as a case study, this paper evaluates the heuristic value of “supersessionism” as a means through which to analyze the multivalent patristic relationship to Jews. Origen provides a fitting source for such an examination, chiefly because of his distinct understanding of Christ’s ongoing self-revelation in the Scriptures and their interpretation and his gradational view of the soul’s encounter with Christ, which is not fully realized until the eschaton.

Contemporary notions of supersession often are rigidly based on linear models of time, covenant, and revelation.  Yet, for Origen, the Israelite prophets, who routinely serve as examples of advanced spiritual perception, are not linear predecessors to the apostles who merely looked forward to Christ, but those who looked at Christ and became physical recipients of the same Christ proclaimed by the apostles and perceived, in part, by advanced Christians.  The divinity whom they encountered now lies enfleshed in their words—the words of the Old Testament—through which the soul encounters the very same divinity. Such an understanding of divine revelation and the soul’s encounter with Christ is not sufficiently explained through linear models, and, thus, one must look for ways beyond “supersessionism” to understand Origen’s distinct opposition toward the continuation of Jewish practice.

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