Courtney Wilson VanVeller “Paul’s Therapy of the Soul: A New Approach to John Chrysostom and Anti-Judaism” Boston University, 2015
In “Paul’s Therapy of the Soul: A New Approach to John Chrysostom and Anti-Judaism,” I argue that Chrysostom appropriates Paul’s Jewishness in order to amplify his own fourth century characterization of Jews as diseased and of Paul as an exemplar of non-Jewish Christian orthodoxy. Typically, scholars have turned to Chrysostom’s infamous Adversus Iudaeos homilies to interrogate his anti-Judaic legacy. Attention to his much broader corpus, however, reveals that Chrysostom’s anti-Judaic rhetoric extends well beyond this limited set of sermons: by interpreting Paul’s rhetoric as philosophic therapy for the soul, Chrysostom depicts Paul’s Jewishness as a strategic treatment for sick Jewish souls. This characterization, which is acutely evident in his sermons on Acts and the Pauline Epistles, employs a more subtle and pervasive anti-Judaism than previously detected, one that identifies Jewish difference as a disease so endemic that no amount of Paul’s expert rhetorical surgery was able to remove it.
Chapter 1 argues for the centrality and significance of Chrysostom’s portrayal of Paul as a persuasive psychagogue (philosophical therapist of the soul). Standing in the tradition of many Hellenistic philosophical schools, which held that philosophical argumentation was an ideal therapeutic tool in the healing of souls, Chrysostom depicts Paul as an exemplary psychagogue who works strategically to diagnose and modify pathe (emotions) in order to guide his hearers’ souls toward virtue, balance, and health. Chrysostom’s psychagogic framing of Paul’s rhetoric is particularly vital to the way that he manages those Jewish elements of Paul’s legacy that, from his perspective, might otherwise challenge the apostle’s status as an exemplar for the early Christian community.
In Chapter 2, I consider Chrysostom’s response to scriptural attestations of Paul’s own Jewishness, particularly as depicted in the Acts of the Apostles. Chrysostom depicts Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus, for example, as a therapeutic encounter between a sick Jewish soul and the greatest psychagogue of all – Christ. He then capitalizes on this image to turn Paul into an exemplar to be imitated by all ailing Jewish souls. Paul’s continued affiliations with and amiability towards Judaism, Chrysostom argues, is exemplary of the apostle’s own strategic psychagogy. Paul’s preaching in synagogues and his sacrificing and circumcising of Timothy, for example, serve as didactic deceptions necessary for managing difficult Jewish pathe and thus for guiding Jews more effectively out of Judaism. Similarly, Chapter 3 explores how Chrysostom situates Paul’s amiable rhetoric about Jews – such as addressing Jews as his kin, praising Jewish honor and election, and yearning for Jewish salvation. Chrysostom classifies such rhetoric as the apostle’s skilled use of gentle exhortation to more effectively condemn calloused Jewish souls.
Finally, Chapter 4 focuses on how this interpretation shapes the way Chrysostom characterizes Jews themselves. By portraying Paul as a figure who discerns and manages Jewish pathe, Chrysostom claims to have unique insight into Jewish souls, which he depicts as severely in need of divine and apostolic therapy. This therapy locates the Jewish “disease” at the control center of the psyche – the gnōme/γνώμη (mindset/will/intention). In his racialized construction of a collective Jewish γνώμη, Chrysostom denigrates Jews by suggesting that they share a diseased internal condition with a grim prognosis for recovery. The γνώμη thus serves as a key site of differentiation for Chrysostom between Jews and Christians, yet his depiction also underscores the instability of both groups through the trope of contagion. Chrysostom’s depiction of their disease therefore maintains “the Jews” as subjects – a contagion to be perpetually controlled.
This dissertation brings together three areas of Chrysostom studies previously studied in isolation to one another– John’s anti-Judaic rhetoric, his portrayal of Paul, and the interpretative framework of medico-philosophical psychic therapy. Each element significantly informs the other and together they attest to the more insidious anti-Judaism of John’s homilies on Acts and Paul’s letters. More broadly, this project has highlighted how the anti-Jewish biases inherent to many ancient Christian writings are problematic not only when delivered as violent invective but also in the more subtle ways they are embedded in the foundations of the Christian tradition as it developed, including in post-Constantinian exemplifications of the apostle Paul.