The Epistle to Diognetus (Franz Rosenzweig)

letter to diogentus

Daniel Boyarin came to Syracuse last spring to talk about Christian apologetics and the inventions of religions. He shared this little piece from The Epistle to Diognetus. Written by an unknown author perhaps between 117-225 CE, the description of Christianity in chapter 5 of the letter bears an uncanny resemblance to the descriptors by which Franz Rosenzweig re-presented the Jews in The Star of Redemption as a holy people without a land, language, or law of their own. Both texts are clearly apologetic.

For Christians are distinguished from the rest of men neither by country nor by language nor by customs. For nowhere do they dwell in cities of their own; they do not use some strange form of speech, or practice a singular mode of life. This lore of theirs has not been discovered by any design and thought of prying men, not do they champion a mere human doctrine, as some men do. But while they dwell in both Greek and barbarian cities each as his lot was cast, and follow the customs of the land in dress and food and the other matters of living, they show forth the remarkable and admittedly strange order of their own citizenship. They live in fatherlands of their own, but as aliens; they share in all things as citizens, and they suffer as strangers. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and every fatherland a foreign land.

This little bit, clearly intended to promote the fidelity of Christians and Christianity to local rule, suggests many possible conclusions aside from the fact that Judaism and Christianity once shared basic political features in relation to land, landlessness, and political power. About Jewish philosophy, the epistle suggests not just that it’s a fool’s errand identifying, as does Rosenzweig in The Star of Redemption, certain essential historical-political features with Christianity and others with Judaism. What interests me more, in my capacity as a philosophical historian of modern Judaism, is the sense that there’s an archaic or neo-Byzantine quality to the system built by Rosenzweig.

I’ve been told that there’s almost no way that Rosenzweig would have known about The Epistle to Diognetus. While I cannot vouch for the translation, you can read the entire epistle here.


About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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5 Responses to The Epistle to Diognetus (Franz Rosenzweig)

  1. Gail says:

    I am sorry to confess that I don’t know the Star of Redemption (can I really be your friend and have that be true?!), but this passage you cited from Diognetus seems rather straight-up “in the world but not of it” stuff about christians. This guy is different from the etymology stuff Boyarin lectured on? Or not.?

    • zjb says:

      the epistle is one the things quoted by Boyarin. as for the Star, it is very much not of this world into which it is planted. Judiasm is presented as hovering over historical time, which is controlled by Chrisitanity. the link to the Epistle is the way Ros says that the Jews don’t have a land, language, and land –unlike the pagans and Christians.

  2. avi ben abraham says:


    Interesting your comparison. Perhaps and with the same theoretical references or conceptual contexts, it could also be possible to compare some other Patristic Writings ( to whom belongs Ad Diognetum) with Rosenzweig and others. Perhaps they share some common and universal theological-religious values. Of course, the differences are important. Many thanks

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