The Role of the “Birkath Haminim” in Early Jewish-Christian Relations: A Reexamination of the Evidence -- By: Philip L. Mayo
BBR 16:2 (2006) p. 325
The Role of the “Birkath Haminim” in
Early Jewish-Christian Relations:
A Reexamination of the Evidence
North Central University
The publication of the Genizah version of the Birkath Haminim a century ago ignited renewed interest in the impact of this Jewish “blessing” on early Jewish-Christian relations. Several scholars have seen in this text evidence for an early and decisive event in the separation of Jews and Christians. Recent scholarship, however, has retreated from this conclusion, questioning the impact of the benediction. A reexamination of the evidence will help shed some light on this debate.
Key Words: Jewish-Christian relations, Birkath Haminim, minim, Nazoreans, curse, Shemoneh Esreh, Eighteen Benedictions
And for apostates let there be no hope; and may the insolent kingdom be quickly uprooted, in our days. And may the notsrim and the minim perish quickly; and may they be erased from the Book of Life and may they not be inscribed with the righteous. Blessed art thou, Lord, who humblest the insolent. (Palestinian recension)1
A discussion of the state of Jewish-Christian relations between 70 and 150 c.e. is not complete without a careful treatment of the Jewish Birkath Haminim (BH) or the “blessing against heretics.” Evidence of the Jewish attitude toward Christians during this period is meager and difficult to interpret. Much of the evidence, in fact, comes from beyond this time period and requires a certain amount of conjecture, using Christian sources as a confirming backdrop. The existence of the BH, the twelfth of the Eighteen Benedictions (Shemoneh Esreh) of the Jewish Tefillah2 recited three times
BBR 16:2 (2006) p. 326
daily by devout Jews,3 is perhaps the most substantial but controversial evidence to date that may shed some light on the post-70 Jewish stance toward Christians.
The Babylonian Talmud (b. Ber. 28b–29a; cf. y. Ber. 4.3) attributes the origin of this “benediction” on heretics to Samuel the Small who constructed it at Yavneh upon the request of Gamaliel II, who was head of the Academy in Yavneh from 80 to 110 c.e. The BH, therefore, would have been composed sometime during this time period. Most scholars date its composition more narrowly to between 85 and 95 c.e., although there is little firm evidence for this date.You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
Click here to subscribe