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Against the Christians

The Rise of Early Anti-Christian Polemic- Second Printing


Jeffrey W. Hargis

Against the Christians examines the anti-Christian polemic works of Celsus, Porphyry, and Julian the Apostate. The first book to analyze the phenomenon of early anti-Christian literature in depth, it chooses the critics' objection to Christian exclusivism as its starting point. The evolution in the polemic, from a rhetoric of radical distinction to one of «rhetorical assimilation,» reveals a sophisticated attempt to expose contradictions and inconsistencies within Christianity, while at the same time reflecting the process of fusion between Christianity and the culture of late antiquity.


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6. Julian and the Bounded God 107


6 Julian and the Bounded God To do justice to Julian's polemic work against the Christians would take much more discussion than can be accomplished here. Instead, this chapter locates him within the established anti-Christian rhe- torical tradition by examining three of his specific arguments, all of which had already been articulated in earlier form by his predeces- sors Celsus and Porphyry. The first argument concerns the general use of Judaism as a "weapon" in pagan anti-Christian polemic. Julian's criticism of the Jewish origins of Christianity signals an im- portant change of attitude towards Judaism, especially when compared with that of Celsus. As we will see, Julian's criticism of Judaism was carefully nuanced in such a way as to target specifi- cally the Jewish literary tradition in order to defend the Hellenistic, a nuance that will also represent a central element in his rhetoric of assimilation. The second argument we consider refers back to the pagan the- ology, articulated by Celsus, of divine overseers for each nation. Julian coalesced the doctrine into a powerful exposure of the con- tradiction within Christianity between the universal and the particular, between God's status as the guardian of a particular people and that of supreme deity. The third argument, known through Justin and used explicitly by Porphyry, is that Christ's late coming consigned the vast majority of the human race to eternal condemnation. Julian's specific usage of, and contributions to, these arguments enabled him to establish a polemic boundary between Christianity and Hellenistic culture,...

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