Agobard of Lyon: An Exploration of Carolingian Jewish-Christian Relations

Agobard of Lyon: An Exploration of Carolingian Jewish-Christian Relations

By Anna Beth Langenwalter

PhD Dissertation, University of Toronto, 2009

Abstract: Agobard of Lyon has usually been studied because of his writings about Jews. This dissertation likewise began from a desire to understand Agobard’s anti-Jewish writings, their content, motives, and impact. Approaching that topic from the basis of Agobard’s whole corpus of writings, however, forces an acknowledgment that Agobard cannot be reduced to simply “Agobard and the Jews,” although the subject clearly created a great amount of anxiety for him.

Also, by beginning with Agobard’s own works, this dissertation discusses him on his own terms first, without relying on the historiographical tradition which defines him as a Visigoth, a tradition ultimately found wanting. This dissertation effectively dismantles the model of Agobard as a Visigoth working in the Carolingian world, and replaces it with a model of Agobard as a Carolingian.

As such, this study explores his anti-Judaism in terms of his immediate historical context and links it with his other anxieties and the Carolingian desire for a perfect, Christian, society. Doing so also opens the door for a re-evaluation of the traditional interpretation of the Carolingian period as the last “golden age” of European Jews outside of Muslim Spain. At its conclusion, this study argues that the Carolingians, by deliberately attempting to create a Christian society, however “well” they treated Jews in their own time, laid some of the ideological groundwork for the later isolation and persecution of Jews in Europe. The introduction begins the exploration of Agobard’s historical context by discussing the history of both Louis’s empire and Agobard’s Lyon.

The first chapter provides a quick summary of his life and works. From there, the dissertation turns to its in-depth study of Agobard in the second through fourth chapters. An analysis of his main anti-Jewish work, De iudaicis superstitionibus et erroribus in Chapter 3 is prefaced by a study of the character and possible roots of his anti-Judaism in Chapter 2. The last chapter looks at Agobard’s other concerns, how they relate to his writings on Judaism, and finally how his great amount of worry around Judaism can help shape our understanding of medieval Jewish-Christian relations.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of Toronto

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