Anti-judaism and the medieval prophet plays : exegetical contexts for the Ordines Prophetarum

Evitt, Regula Meyer, Department of English, University of Virginia

The liturgical Prophet Play or Ordo Prophetarum uses as its primary source a polemical adversus Judaeos sermon by Quodvultdeus, Contra Judaeos, paganos et arrianos, in which biblical prophets testify to the veracity of Christ's divinity and the Christian faithful as God's chosen people. While historians of the drama have acknowledged the origin of these liturgical celebrations in the pseudo-Augustinian Contra Judaeos sermon, no critic has considered the antiJudaic polemical context of this sermon or the extent to which that context renders either the early liturgical Ordo Prophetarum or its later episodic manifestations potential lyrical vehicles for expressing changes in Christian doctrinal attitudes about the presence of Jews within contemporary Europe.

The earliest liturgical Ordines Prophetarum, like the adversus Judaeos literature from which they in part derive, are traditionally aimed at Christian audiences and intended to reaffirm the spiritual convictions of the faithful, not to convert pagans or Jews. During the thirteenth century, however, a growing impetus towards conversion of both Jews and pagans begins to color the anti-Judaic polemic of northern Europe. Given the close association of the exegetical adversus Judaeos tradition with the liturgical Ordines Prophetarum, the influence of the polemic's changing dynamics inevitably begins to register in the dramatic representations of Jews in prophet processions from this period.

The earliest Ordines Prophetarum, those most fully influenced by Augustinian anti-Judaism, focus on Jews as benevolent witnesses to the veracity of the Christian faith. This almost exclusive focus on a typological, biblical Judaism prepared to testify to the truth of Christianity ultimately gives way in later episodic versions of the Ordo Prophetarum. The authors of the prophet episodes in both the Jeu d'Adam and the Benediktbeuern Ludus de Nativitate dramatize the increasing awareness among Christian exegetes of the implications of contemporary Jewish exegesis. In their plays they respond directly to the interpretive cruxes that result from competing twelfth- and thirteenth-century Christian and Jewish readings of the Hebrew prophets, especially Isaiah. These dramatists' stereotyped representations of Jews reflect both greater awareness of and intensified anxiety about the influence of post-biblical Jewish communities in European Christendom.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Apologetics -- History
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