Joachim’s Relationship to Judaism
The next three supplementary studies deal with possible non-Christian influences upon the formation of Joachim’s thoughts on the world’s religious past and spiritual future.
Joachim was certainly in contact with Jews. He wrote a work of religious polemic Opposing the Jews (Adversus Judaeos), which understood the position of his adversaries and argued the Christian case from a very Jewish reading of Scripture. The historian, Robert Lerner, gives a charming example of his method: Joachim is interpreting the Book of Tobit. Old Tobit has done good work but has become blind. Old Tobit represents the Jews. His son, young Tobit, goes off to distant lands. Young Tobit represents the Christians. When he returns home with the Archangel Raphael (the Holy Spirit), this is a momentous occasion. The dog brings the news of his imminent arrival by rushing around, wagging his tail. Old Tobit is cured of his blindness by the Archangel. This means that, in the future, the Jews will no longer be blind to the claims of Christ, because they will share in the understanding of the Holy Spirit. The little dog, by the way, is Joachim, who brings to the Jews the good news that they still have a role in the fulfilment of the divine plan.
His knowledge of Hebrew
Joachim certainly knew the Hebrew alphabet and at least some Hebrew words. Their use in the Book of Illustrations (Liber Figurarum) gives the impression that the original author knew how to use them, but later scribes did not. Joachim also took his Trinitarian analysis of the Tetragrammaton (the ineffable Hebrew name of God, YHWH) from the Jewish convert, Petrus Alfonsi, and used it in his Expositio (on the Apocalypse) as well as in the Liber Figurarum. However, Joachim made it into three pronounceable syllables, which Petrus Alfonsi, mindful of his upbringing, had not dared to do. It may be of interest that Petrus Alfonsi was also the named source for an important part of Joachim’s system, his interconnecting circles of the Trinity.
The role of the Jews in his prophetic scheme
The interest shown by Joachim in the Jews was exceptional. They had a very important part to play in both the first and the third of his three divisions of religious history, the three statūs. The future church of the Sabbath age of the Holy Spirit had to contain both Gentiles and Jews:
“From Jewish and Gentile peoples comes the one church of spiritual men.”
“The Gentile race will be united with the Hebrew, and there will be one flock and one shepherd.”
His whole idea of a Sabbath age of perfection on earth was very close to Jewish messianic expectations of the Kingdom of God.
Was Joachim born a Jew?
Geoffroy d’Auxerre, who was, during his career, abbot of several Cistercian houses, including Fossanova from 1171-76, made a personal attack upon Joachim in an undated late 12th-century sermon, in which he criticised Joachim for disseminating blasphemous novelties under the guise of prophecy. The only explanation that Geoffroy could give for Joachim’s behaviour was that it was to be expected of one who had been born a Jew, who had kept his Jewish name even after baptism, and who was only interested in the Cistercian habit as a cloak of respectability to shield him from criticism.
Geoffroy had a malicious intent and may not have checked all his facts, but he was unlikely to have invented a complete lie. Joachim’s father could well have been a convert from Judaism. His name is believed to have been Maurus, which could well have been a Christianised form of the Jewish name, Meir. In that case, Joachim would not have had to change his name on conversion, because he had never had to convert. If this is correct, then he was born a Christian and was brought up as a Christian, but it would explain how he came to have such a sympathetic understanding of the Jews’ intellectual and exegetical legacy. It would have provided a compelling personal reason for his belief that Christians and Jews would share equally in the spiritual abundance of the Sabbath age.