Minutes of Retreat

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Date: November 9, 2003

Location: Bergamo Conference Center

Speaker: Louise Barnes Vera

Topic: All in the Family'; Interconnected Pathways for Christians and Jews in the First Millenium

I come wearing two hats today. One is that of ecumenical officer and the other is that of apprentice scholar. I’ll start with the day an article crossed my Archdiocesan desk with some intriguing historical detail but then put on the apprentice-scholar’s hat for much of this presentation.

In early 1992 a new edition of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies hit my desk and right away I noticed an article by Philip Culbertson, a scholar from the University of the South at Sewanee and a former teacher of one of the Episcopalian canons at Christ Church in Cincinnati. The title of the piece was “What is left to believe about Jesus after scholars have done with him?’ What caught my eye was his contextual comment which you have before you on blue paper. It says that Christians worshipped in Jewish synagogues well into the 6th and in some places as late as the 10th century. As late as the 900s?? Wow! To read most Church histories and indeed some Jewish histories you’d never know that.

Immediately I thought of forwarding it to my boss, the Archbishop. ‘Won’t he be excited?” I thought. But then I looked at the subtitles of the essay—for instance, “The Crumbling Foundation of Traditional Christologies” and Culbertson’s deeply revisionist approaches to Incarnation, Atonement and Resurrection (though I thought his arguments about revising the theology of  Atonement had some merit.) and decided to hold off on that for the right time, which  . . .has not yet come. After all, my concern was not to use contemporary research to revise all of Christian theology, but rather to reconcile these brief glimpses of early and late antique Christianity with the received version. The excerpted mention of Christian-Jewish closeness needed a better vehicle.

Thereafter I started reading some of Culbertson’s footnoted sources. During that period I remember calling friend, who is now head of HUC library to say, ‘David, guess what. I’ve been reading and I think we’re only dealing with roughly 1000 years of anti-Semitism.” I can still hear his Brooklyn accent loud and clear when he deadpanned, “That’s great, Mary Lou. ONLY a thousand years of anti-Semitism.” OK, OK, a thousand years IS a lot. I didn’t have the time or the resources to pursue that line of reasoning then.

Only when I got to graduate school could I do that. Yet my first thesis topic at Miami University, where I started work on a Masters in 1997, didn’t involve Christian-Jewish relations. I thought that would like carrying coal to Newcastle.  Originally, I had come up with a comparative explanation for our priesthood shortage by way of a look at the Buddhist transition from pre-classical Hinduism in comparison with the Christian transition from Judaism, which involved surveying changes over several millennia. It could be done, but in a less than comprehensive way. Only a section of that essay involved early Christianity and rabbinic Judaism, but the more I looked at their interaction over the first thousand years of Christianity and the more I examined the varying notions of holiness within that period, the more I became hooked by the topic.

Therefore in what follows you may detect a few interwoven insights from earlier work and from the discipline called history of religions. The broadly comparative history of religions is most concerned with changes in religious behaviors and also with changes in concepts of holiness. As a discipline it can irritate religious people, including myself, to no end. Given what we know about each other—for instance the emphasis on practice/observance in rabbinic Judaism and the stress on doctrine, dogma and theology in Christianity, we could theorize that it might be a little harder for  Christians to deal with.  I find it nonetheless very useful for highlighting some underexamined themes in each of our histories and the ongoing history of the Christian-Jewish relationship.

Typically  we in the Christian-Jewish dialogue are regarded as developing remedies for anti-Semitism, the ‘longest hatred,’ the popular concept of which is ‘nineteen centuries of anti-Semitism’ or ‘two thousand years’ or sometimes, when Greek and Egyptian antipathies are taken into account, ‘twenty-three centuries.’ The more I’ve delved into the first millennium, the more I’m convinced that such generalizations are flawed. My theme today will be that taken together, recent studies of the Christian-Jewish relationship in the first millennium suggest that early Christianity and late antique Christianity in the West do not present a continuous narrative of anti-Semitism. There is not a straight line of disaster and depredation in the first millennium. Indeed the period from 500-900 is pretty good for Jews in Europe, with the exception of Catholic Visigothic Spain. But even when Christian leaders, including the Visigoths, restricted Christian access to Jews (and vice-versa), the evidence is that Christians ignored the strictures. (Question about where most Jews were. Answer: More Jews lived in the East at the beginning of the period. But from 300 to 600 the Jewish populations shifts Eastward (to Babylonia), Northward and Southward to North Africa. In all those places there are already established Jewish communities, but the fewest in Europe. To what degree the population shifts or how rapidly is difficult to ascertain. Some Jews remain in Byzantium, but not very many.)

That there is not an unbroken line of Christian anti-Semitism does not let us Christians off the hook, but it can focus concern. For instance, it’s helpful to notice that towards the end of the first millennium a Christianity emerges which is vastly different from that of the nine centuries which preceded it. Those changes have been amply documented by people like Anthony Bartlett in Cross-Purposes and the late Father Edward Flannery in The Anguish of the Jews.  What actually happens in the second Christian millennium is to me not often pre-figured in the first, although what follows is often represented as pre-determined by the Constantinian revolution by very esteemed scholars. In response, Catholic medievalist Kevin Madigan has pointed out that it’s possible for scholars to make a ‘broad jump’ from Augustine to the Crusades and thereby miss out on a non-stereotypical tale of Christian-Jewish co-existence in Europe.  The history of the experience of Jews under the Byzantines is more negative, but even that history has positive, relatively unsung aspects as related by Lee Levine in his magisterial Ancient Synagogue: The First Thousand Years.

So what? What if there are some benign chapters we don’t know about? Does this change the atrocities of the first and second millennia? No, but that is not the point. The point is that if there is a more complex, interesting story to tell about the first millennium, then we need to pay much more careful attention to what changed in Europe prior to the Crusades (—not just which Pope called for them and why. I’m not interested in that kind of history.) because things definitely went downhill from the tenth to the sixteenth centuries. I want to know about the long-term trends which prompted a deep change in attitudes among Christians toward the Jewish people and indeed, toward some aspects of first millennium Christianity, changes which showed up in the Good Friday liturgy and in the Church’s attitudes toward women, war-making, and the presence of rabbinic Jewish communities in Europe.

What I’m doing today is enlisting you as co-investigators to surface undersurfaced voices in both Jewish and Christian histories. First let me say that to examine our mutual history it helps to be one or more of the following:

a linguist

an archaeologist

a historian

a classicist

a New Testament scholar

a rabbinics scholar

a manuscript expert

a numismatist

a librarian or archivist

a demographer

a theologian

a Biblical scholar

a liturgist

a sociologist

an anthropologist

a scholar of late antiquity (200-700) or patristics scholar

a medievalist

a classical scholar of the ethnic groups and tribes in the Roman Near East

So in order to say anything about the first millennium with some degree of accuracy we typically have to work across disciplines and in the process, combine both textual and archaeological findings, because often the archaeology has surprised us. We’re learning to look askance at some of the rhetoric, both positive and negative, and ask questions about the opponents of that rhetoric.

Before we look more deeply at the deep context for the anti-Jewish rhetoric, let’s do a quick metaphor-check. When John Paul II went to the Roman synagogue in 1986, he spoke to the assembled Italian Jewish community and said, “(I)n a sense you are our elder brother.” The commentator said, “Smiles I see, on some faces.” True, but all didn’t look especially happy about that characterization. (This portion of the visit is on our office video The Word in Anguish.) Now why would that be the case? John Paul, was, I think, speaking from the ground of the Christian parable of the prodigal son in which the father says to the elder brother, “You have always been with me. Everything I have is yours.” But the Jewish Bible doesn’t have that story. In the Jewish Bible which brother carries forward the promise? (Answer: Jacob, the younger. Dialogue participants also pointed out Esau is not well spoken of in Jewish tradition.) So with whatever metaphor one chooses, there’s always the risk that it won’t travel well. 

Nonetheless in recent years scholars such as Hayim Perelmutter, John Pawlikowski, Alan Segal, Mary Boys, W. D. Davies, Clark Williamson and Daniel Boyarin have promoted new metaphors to describe the Jewish-Christian/Christian-Jewish relationship: siblings, fraternal twins, partners in waiting, twins struggling in the womb with each other, co-emergent religious communities. Without taking a position on whether we’re siblings or cousins, I titled this retreat with reference to Daniel Boyarin’s “one complex religious family.” So be assured, I was not thinking of Archie and Meathead. I did however briefly consider Archie’s and Edith’s song at the beginning of the show which ends, sort of, with the line, “Those were the days.” When we think about those days, the beginnings of rabbinic Judaism and Christianity, what dates do we think about?  In other words, what do we think happened between Jews and Christians after say -4 BCE, the death of Herod and the birth of Jesus? (Dates solicited from group.) Very typically in contemporary publications the dates cited are 70 and 135. For sure, as you did, people would cite the date of Constantine’s conversion 312 and Nicaea 325.  Most dates are markers of perceived discontinuities in the Jewish-Christian relationship. Still the least we might get from these dates that we’re considering partings versus a parting. (We’ll look at a transparency about the partings from Sr. Mary Boys.)

For a moment, let’s ask the reverse question: what persisted of Jewish-Christian mutuality and commonality and for how long? When I look at the Gospels my question has always been—at least for the last 22 years—what knowledge did everyone hold in common? Because that changes how the material is interpreted. What was so obvious in terms of commonalities and differences that it wasn’t worth mentioning? For example, when I speak with Ken or Robin or Shirley I don’t explain my whole history to one of you each time I send you an e-mail and neither do you? Why? We have a context. We have this dialogue. So if you want to know something about us, you go on line and read the dialogue minutes. Consider that that is what historians will do centuries from now. Just for practice, go on line sometime or look back over your (pl.) old minutes and see what they do and don’t tell you. Some scholars have been trying to elaborate the ancient dialogue minutes, but given that it’s the ancient world they’ve had to settle for the somewhat-polemical minutes or in some cases the ‘diatribe minutes’ and then to put that together with textual, anthropological and archaeological minutes.  Archaeology does change the perceptions one gets from studying texts only. Lee Levine, who has written the magisterial work on synagogues in Roman and Byzantine Palestine, was pleasantly shocked to see that often the Byzantines did not enforce the anti-Jewish laws, that new synagogues were built and old ones remodeled. So, while we have the textual references to persecution of Jews by Christians, e.g. the seizure and looting of 4th century synagogues, the archaeology complements that impression, but also challenges it, when in the 5th and 6th centuries new synagogues are built in the land.

In the first four centuries of the common era, modern scholars like Marcel Simon notice that between Jews, Christians and pagans there was an ‘argument culture’[1][1] and, in particular, a vibrant, competitive Judaism. It’s true that out of those arguments we got anti-Jewish polemics, subsequently put to immoral uses.  But on the other hand, were it not for some highly critical, vituperative human beings who described their competitions and complaints in detail we would know so much less about the vibrant, highly visible Judaism which followed the Bar Kochba rebellion. And from the third to the seventh centuries and later it turns out to be a Judaism which defies our Christian stereotypes. That Judaism has been effectively portrayed by Louis Feldman, Michael Avi-Yonah, Lee Levine, Steven Fine and Jacob Neusner. (These don’t necessarily agree with each other.) Likewise the picture of Christianity’s ‘rise’ in the West has been revised by scholars such as Ramsay Macmullen at Yale on the 4th through 8th centuries, patristics scholar Robert Wilken, classicist Keith Hopkins, W.H.C. Frend and sociologist Rodney Stark. Nor would we necessarily know about the pagan and Roman parts of the triangle without Peter Brown, Ramsay Macmullen and classicist Fergus Millar. There is less consensus—some but less—among the Jewish scholars in part because the social history of the rabbis and their flocks in first millennium has not received such a thorough going over as has that of Christians. That is perhaps due to residual anti-Judaism and a scholarly tendency not to integrate Jewish history with church history—as well as ignorance about late antiquity.

Your handout from Jacob Neusner explains that Jewish tradition presents itself somewhat differently, as a communal product. While some disagreements are recorded, others are not. (See blue sheets.) We have far, far less on hand about Jewish disagreement in the first millennium than we do about Christian disagreement. Neusner says, quite reasonably I think, imagine if you had to figure out what Christian tradition or traditions pre 325 consisted of and you had only the Nicene Creed to study. How well could you do? Would you be able to sketch out the panoply of Christian Jews, Gentile Christians, Arians, Gnostics, Marcionites, Montanists, Donatists and Monophysites, among others?

To give you a sense of what the contemporary scholarly consensus (of scholars acquainted with the dialogue) says about the Jewish-Christian split, let me share some very similar paragraphs from the late Anthony Saldarini (pink handout) and Jewish scholar Daniel Boyarin:

The separation of Jews and Christians probably did not happen as quickly or neatly as most theories envision. Something there is that loves a high, sharp boundary, but seldom do the boundaries hold, except in the minds of their creators. Both Jews and Christians struggled to define a normative orthodoxy that marginalized various groups as heretics. As time went on Jewish Christians attracted censure from both Jews and Christians. Yet, despite the intentions of the writers, many diverse groups of Christians are recorded in polemics against heretics. Among Jews, the rabbinic way of life eventually triumphed over other interpretations of law and custom by absorbing or ignoring its opponents and their views. Even so, a sophisticated analysis of rabbinic literature, balanced by equal attention to inscriptions and archaeology, has led to a recognition of the diversity of Jewish communities and groups and the severe limits of rabbinic influence in the Roman period.

--Anthony J. Saldarini, The Social World of Christian Jews and Jewish Christians, Religious and Ethnic Communities in Later Roman Palestine, 118, 119.

 Boyarin, Dying for God:

Rather than parallel but essentially separate histories, I propose a model of shared and crisscrossing lines of history and religious development. . . It is not a single, unambiguous, clear, linear story, but one of doublings and doublings back, of contradictions and obscurities . . . I am not suggesting . . . that there was no difference at all between Judaism and Christianity by the second century, only that the border between the two was so fuzzy that one could hardly say precisely at what point one stopped and the other began.”10, 11

 Once you read a dozen of these kinds of descriptions, to include those of Tessa Rajak, James Charlesworth, Alan Segal, Louis Feldman, Michael Grant, W.D. Davies, Michael Weitzman, Lee Levine, Stephen Wilson, Philip Culbertson, Kirster Stendahl, E.P. Sanders, and Anthony Saldarini, then you know that Daniel Boyarin’s remark about ‘one complex religious family’ is not too far off the mark.( Dying For God , 6)

This is not the usual picture, especially if you start with the experience of the Pauline communities. While Paul acknowledges a deep, abiding connection between Christians and Jews in Romans, in other letters he wants to make very sure that Gentile Christians do not become Jews or imitate them. But keep in mind, there is another, competing ecclesial entity at the time.  Marianne Sawicki has called it the paleochurch, roughly the Christian movement in the land, then a Jewish movement, aka ‘New Testament Judaism’ (W.D. Davies), which keeps a fairly low profile and grows like ‘yeast’, like the mustard ‘weed,’ tree or bush. For Sawicki these are metaphors which come from the earliest, intraJewish stages of the Church’s growth, a growth shared within nearby Antioch.  Antioch is the center for Jewish Christianity, but in the history of the Church, it is Alexandrian theology that will become pre-eminent. Still we find repeated mentions of ‘judaizing’ in Antioch in the 2nd, 4th and 5th centuries. Judaizing here would mean Christians who ‘act like’ Jews in some fashion and are attracted by the synagogue.

From complaints about ‘judaizing’ came both Church and imperial laws which restricted association and common worship.  Rabbi Louis Feldman has studied the early anti-Jewish laws and, like me, he finds it interesting when and where these laws are repeated. We would both contend—he in a more scholarly fashion-- that the more a law repeats, the better an indicator that it was not enforced or could not be enforced, because ordinary Christians simply didn’t pay those laws much heed. Christians were involved in the imitation of Jesus, who was, after all, Jewish. Feldman would also say that for the first five centuries Jews appear to be proselytizing, which makes perfect sense when we look at the synagogue archaeology, especially in the Land in Syria and Asia Minor. Judaism was vibrant, diverse and well established.

Many Christians continued to look to the synagogue as an ancient source of holiness. They continued to attend synagogue on Saturday, then went to church on Sunday and talked about it. We know they attended synagogue because Ignatius, Origen (Caesarea) and John Chrysostom asked them not to.  And Chrystosom by no means had the last word. A century after Chrysostom, bishop Isaac of Antioch asks if ‘the nations’ can’t get a little more respect. He’s a humbler sort than Chrysostom. In summary, they’re all dealing with their congregations continued attendance at Jewish festivals. In your blue Wilken handout you may want to notice that for a time some in Eastern Christianity defined Christian practice in a Jewish manner, via attendance at festivals. In the East, if you attended Jewish festivals, you were a Jew. If you attended Christian festivals, you were a Christian. That middle group that wanted to do both had a hard time staying in the middle because of the process of self-definition in which the Church engaged. (Question about whether I was justifying Chrysostom’s outrageous homilies. Answer: No. I tend to avoid Chrysostom myself. But at the time he gives those homilies, later on put to scurrilous uses, he’s not in a position of power. He’s dealing with a pagan milieu and the Arians. He’s not in control and that’s the point. Those homilies are a polemical expression of helplessness and embarrassment when his congregation empties periodically to attend Jewish festivals. –after more conversation I point out that Christians who engage in this reconciliation have to be able to relate to their own tradition. We can empathize with the saint as a human being but not condone what a particular saint did.

Question: what is the origin of the expression, teaching of contempt? Jules Isaac. What did Christians call it in the first millennium? Good question. It has been termed adversus judaeos, but I’m not sure that at the time anyone was conscious enough to identify it as a distinct stream within tradition.)

As for the Gentile church, if you look at the Pauline communities in depth, see what religious behaviors they have in common with Jews and where they differ with the larger society, you might eventually come up with Stowers’ brilliant term, “non-sacrificers.” That is a term which has profound implications in ancient world, since sacrifice in such societies is used to distribute food, establish status, cement kinship and political ties. To drop out of these processes, as Christians did, propels one toward an ascetical mode, which is exactly what happened. Note: Jews had only one sacrifice site-- in the Temple, but it made them acceptable. The Passover meal, while not a sacrifice, sort of looked like a sacrificial banquet.  Pagan observers ethnocentrically refer to it as a sacrifice.  After the loss of the Temple, they could have been subjected to the same persecutions as Christians, but by then their antiquity (and perceived peculiarity) and thereby their holiness and habits of behavior were firmly established in the Roman mind. Christians, especially Gentile Christians, were admittedly new on the scene as a religious people, and that newness exposed them to Roman persecution. As a messianic Jewish movement, they drew on Jewish history to formulate an exclusive narrative to share with the larger culture—to explain how they could have an antique pedigree yet reject Jewish law.  This perplexed the Romans and often resulted in Jews feeling like the Christians had taken over their sacred texts and history. Please note that the Church continues to engage in Teshuvah on this and other counts. See this title from the Pontifical Biblical Commission document—(I hold the book up.)  The Jewish People and THEIR Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible?  It took us a while, but we finally said it.

(Question: How did Christians turn out to be so different from Jews on the topic of asceticism?

Actually, the rabbis in the land and the church fathers have a lot in common on the topic. Sexuality for them is for procreation and marriage could get in the way of prayer and study. What changes for Jews is that the Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) is redacted in Babylon and those rabbis are persuaded by Persian culture that marriage is for companionship and pleasure as well. The Persians were not supportive of the ascetical life. Christianity continues the asceticism of the first century Judaism (which involves a new concern about sexuality, but no time to get into that) but then Gentile believers have the added push towards asceticism as ‘non-sacrificers.’)

It seems that early arguments, e.g. those portrayed between Paul and some Jews in Acts of the Apostles, center around whose texts these are and what they mean in light of the Christ event versus the normative lens of Torah. Due to the perceived Christian takeover of the Septuagint, there is another translation of the text (Aquila) and a second-century decision on the Jewish part to give the oral tradition the greater weight, which may have stimulated the publication of the Mishna. But the Mishnah (225 CE) is curiously unaware of Christianity (see transparency on numbers) probably because there were still comparatively few Christians. The Mishnah, while quite nostalgic for the Temple and the former mode of holiness, nonetheless very pragmatically tells people how to live in exile from Jerusalem and without the Temple. Jacob Neusner talks about a transition from “Judaism Without Christianity” in the Mishnah to “Judaism Despite Christianity” in the Jerusalem Talmud. (See handout.)

Many scholars (Pawlikowski, Boys, Boyarin, Bocelli, Neusner, Cohen) now say that there doesn’t appear to be a straight line from biblical Judaism to early Christianity and rabbinic Judaism. Did you notice I just reversed the order? So have some Jewish and Christian scholars, although that picture remains controversial, still it has gained a firm measure of respectability. That obvious to me at the symposium on covenantal identity in Chicago in February—that Jewish scholars in the dialogue were now looking at their texts and liturgies as explicit, sometimes defensive, responses to Christianity. While still treasuring Jewish distinctiveness and integrity, they’re seeking to ameliorate that defensiveness and acknowledge connections.

Another aspect of how we look at our family connections concerns how we divide up the story into stages. We’d call that the question of periodization. The typical list of turning points as we’ve just done in group work is: 



65-70-à war, rabbinic Judaism Yahvneh (Some see the separation here. I don’t. They’re not gathering to discuss Christianity. They have other immediate concerns, such as the practice of religion after the destruction of the Temple.)

      àearly Christianity      Jews taken into slavery, land devastated

74 Pella (?)

135 Bar Kochba, Christians don’t support Bar Kosiba as messiah. Bar Kochba people attack Christians, Jews driven out of Jerusalem, no Jewish bishops allowed thereafter. Probable date of separation.

312 Constantine’s conversion

325 Nicaea

400 Augustine

The dialogue did a terrific job. I would add the redaction of the Babylonian Talmud,  the order to baptize all Jews within Byzantium in 638-- the same year Jerusalem falls to the Muslims and the subsequent reign of Charlesmagne in the West in the 8th and 9th centuries.

Some would date rabbinic Judaism earlier to overlap the leadership of the  Pharisees and list the first layer of rabbis, the tannaim or ‘repeaters’ from -50 BCE onwards. (Schiffman) Jacob Neusner would say that nothing is written down until 70 and he would characterize the development of the Talmuds as portraying a slow, centuries-long argument over the priority and status of Scripture. As your Saldarini handout notes, there is a lot of debate about whether the rabbis were influential in molding Jewish life with the Mishnah, published around 225, or did that whole process take a lot longer? Divergent Jewish historians, among them such divergent voices as Shaye Cohen and Larry Schiffman, carefully couch their comments to say that the rabbis did not thoroughly triumph until around 600.

Another date that’s very much missing as a turning point in many discussions is that of Marcionism in 140, just five years after the noxious separation induced by the Bar Kochba revolt. Still the Church decides to retain attachment to the Jewish scriptures and identification with the God of Israel. The Marcionites are not a flash in the pan; they’re in the picture for several more centuries, as one of your small group stories will show. Here I turn to an excerpt from my thesis draft:

Historically speaking, we should not neglect turning points universally recognized by scholars across the spectrum as influential nor cease asking questions about their diverse effects. Two come back to back, the  Bar Kochba rebellion in Palestine, 132-135 and the Marcionite controversy in 140 and years following.  Until 135 Jewish Christianity was greatly influential on non-Jewish Christianity outside of the land; the rabbinical pattern of the priority of “halakhic letters” from Jerusalem and Palestine[2] still largely held for an increasingly gentile Christianity,  although Paul, a writer of halakhic letters to  Christian non-Jews as to which practices they were not supposed to follow, is clearly a rival to Jerusalem’s authority.[3] Some 70 plus years after Paul’s death the ban on Jews entering the city after the failed Bar Kochba rebellion meant there would be no more “Bishops of the Circumcision.” [4] After Bar-Kochba Christianity had some religious infrastructure and could, if need be, go it alone.[5] Frend, therefore, puts the end of the period of the ‘Christian synagogue’ at 135. The failure of the messianic Bar Kochba was itself yet another theological/sociological problem. The Romans renamed Judea, Samaria and Galilee as “Palestine,” land of the Philistines, and Jerusalem as Aeolia Capitolina, thus ensuring a new round of religious and national shame for the Jews in the Mediterranean.  In such a defeat ancient religion, both Judaism and Christianity, saw the judgment of God.


On the other hand, the connection consisted of more than just institutional dependency by Christians.  If “(b)etween 135 and the end of the century, Christians attained a self-identity based on their sacred literature, the New Testament, their distinctive liturgy, their rule of faith and their wide-ranging organization,” still the Church’s resounding rejection of Marcionism (140) by the community at Rome implied even an orthodox Christian consciousness of permanent connection, despite polemics. Marcionism involved the rejection of the God of Israel, of all three sections of the Jewish bible and the separation of Christian teaching in the New Testament (140) from Jewish foundations. That is, most references to Jewish scripture were edited out of Marcion’s sacred texts. Marcion, a former shipbuilder, had given a fortune to the Christian community of Rome, which was returned to him in toto. Yet  Marcion’s communities prospered for decades, even centuries to come.  Marcion does influence a division of Scripture into Old and New Testament, a lasting legacy in the Christian church.[6]


But there were other persistent connections between the communities. Steering the ship of faith along the outlines of the Jewish calendar,  Eastern Christianity retained the habit of timing Easter according to that of Passover on the Jewish calendar, although that practice too was outlawed by the Council of Nicea.[7] Some Christians persisted with timing the celebration of Easter with Passover on the lunar calendar. Since the celebration of Easter is not a little matter, these became known as the ‘Quartodecimani’ heretics. [8] Rules for gentiles pronounced by the Council of Jerusalem mandated that they not eat animals bludgeoned or strangled; thus the forty-eight martyrs of Lyons in 177 were described by Eusebius as eating kosher meat.[9] Some habits derived from Jewish law persist. Christian bishops, for instance, were bound by the Jewish prohibition against hunting in the first millennium.[10][11] Roman Catholic priests remained bound by such until the 1983 Code of Canon Law was published.

—excerpt from The Context for Competition, Louise Barnes Vera

 Let’s take a break and then go to transparencies. See attached white sheets, starting with definitions of Judaean and Jew.

 After looking at the transparencies together we studied stories about boundary definition, martyrdom and perceived idolatry in early rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity.  During discussions of transparencies, I stressed changes in self-definition, the triangular relationship with pagans and the new situation of mission to outer-barbarian cultures.  Most barbarians did not have Mediterranean prejudices toward Jews and Mediterranean Christians and pagans were themselves biased against the barbarians. This made for an opening to Jews in what became barbarian kingdoms, also called ‘microChristendoms’ by Peter Brown.  The barbarian kingdoms did not generally apply the strictures if the Roman codex towards Jews.

We also briefly looked at pictures of the synagogues at Bet Alpha and Hammath Tiberias.  I commended Dr. Steven Fine, professor of Judaic Studies at UC, to the dialogue as a speaker. He has written extensively on ancient synagogues, is a student of Lee Levine.

Group Work

Group questions were:

What is the attraction or repulsion described? What sacred texts are cited? Why was the story preserved?

 Group I studied The Close Call (the impact of Marcionism on Christian self-definition)

From Daniel Boyarin, Dying for God.

Group II studied When Rabbi Eliezer was Arrested by Christianity (Was the rabbi a Christian?)

From Daniel Boyarin, Dying for God.

Group III read an excerpt from Adrien Hastings on North African martyrs in 180. (What’s their pedigree? To which texts do they refer?)

Group IV read a rabbinic story about the wisdom of not accepting healing gifts from Christians. (There are similar stories among Christians. It seems therefore clear that some Jews and some Christians accepted each other’s healing gifts.)

Group V read Justinian’s letter to Jews in the Byzantine Empire, stipulating that they not use the Mishnah. (Sixth-century  Byzantine Justinian’s reign is a definite downturn for Jews in the East.. The letter mentions a translation subsequent to the Septuagint, that of Aquila, which was permissible to read, according to Justinian.)

 (Question: What about after that? My answer was the scholarly ‘out’: “That’s not my millennium.  But notice that there is about 700 years’ difference between the Eastern and Western suppression of the Talmud.” Rabbi Bluestein reminded that the 1244 incident involved a conflict among Jews; some suggest that the Justinian letter is one in response to a Jewish request for intervention. No one thought that either request for intervention excused the action. I noted that Christians kept identifying Jews with a Biblical Judaism, while forgetting that oral tradition continued. Many Christian leaders, once they figured out that a whole new Judaism had arisen, rejected the Talmud and the Jews who studied it.)

Overall, the group seemed to relish work with these texts. Afterwards Shirley Flacks, a ‘founding mother,’ conceded that the material was not a surprise to her, that often when her synagogue study group is reading Pirke Avot, people will say that, in places, it sounds like Christianity. From reading such, she understands that Jews and Christians were in conversation at the time.

[1][1] The term “argument culture” is a contemporary one coined by Deborah Tannen to describe contemporary, media-driven polemical communication.

[2] Tomson, 204.

[3] Ibid

[4] Jews were allowed to become Roman citizens in 212 CE. Schiffman,     .

[5]  Ibid, 162.

[6] Clark Williamson. A Guest in the House of Israel.     Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993. 141.

[7] Frend points out that deduction of Easter’s date via the lunar calendar was complex and error-prone. Still there are clear ideological implications to the separation of Easter and Pascha.Some resisted. Boyarin cites the sermons of Melito in the East, Peri Pascha. Orthodox Christians have retained the lunar calendar.

[8] Boyarin, 13.

[9] Ibid, 12.

[10] Fletcher, 191. “Hunting was forbidden to clergy.” Examples cited are of bishops.

[11] James Kane, Rev. Conversation, July 22, 2002. This rule, increasingly disregarded in the barbarian North in the latter half of the first millennium, was retained for priests in Roman Catholic canon law(1917) until the new Roman code of canon law in 1983.

Presentation Transparencies

Seven Degrees of Relatedness

‘in which a Gentile demonstrates respect or

affection for Judaism:’

1.   Admiring some aspect of Judaism

2.   Acknowledging the Power of the God of the Jews

3.   Benefiting the Jews or Being Conspicuously Friendly to Jews

4.   Practicing Some or Many of the Rituals of the Jews

5.   Venerating the God of the Jews and Denying or Ignoring All Other Gods

6.   Joining the Jewish Community

7.   Converting to Judaism and “Becoming a Jew”

Shaye J.D. Cohen, The Beginnings of Jewishness:  Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties,  1999

The PartingS of the Ways: 

Christianity’s Prolonged & Polemical Break with Judaism

Introduction:  D.G. Dunn identifies four pillars which the new movement found it necessary to question and redefine to a greater or lesser degree:  monotheism, election,   a covenant focused in Torah, and land focused in the Temple. Polemics focused on:

The Temple

The Controversy at Antioch: Jewish food laws, circumcision

Christian Affirmation of Jesus as Divine Word and Wisdom-Made-Flesh

(Gospel of John)

 Exception:  John Gager’s work: (Lou Vera) None of the above kept          Christians in the East from attending synagogues well into the fourth         century.

From Has God Only One Blessing? by Mary C. Boys, Paulist Press, 2000

The Complex Character of the Partings

Mary Boys, Has God Only One Blessing?

¨ “Christianity”, even from its early years, included diverse points of view.  The             believers-in-Jesus were not of one accord in their own attitudes and actions       toward the synagogue, and over time their views changed. 

¨ The partings of the way were neither orderly nor sequential.  For instance, Mark’s Gospel, which most date at approximately 70 C.E., implies more separation from Judaism than do the later Gospels of Matthew and John, whose hostility toward the synagogue indicates their continuing engagement—and argument—with it.

¨ There is an asymmetry to the relationship, as the believers-in-Jesus constantly had to explain their relation with Judaism, whereas (other) Jews were not preoccupied with explaining their relationship with Christianity.  How Christians understood themselves in relation to Jewish tradition was both an internal matter—for example, interpreting the Scriptures, building on Jewish prayers—and an external one.  The pagan philosopher Celsus (ca. 170) criticized Christianity for presenting itself as the rightful heir of Judaism, yet rejecting its community, customs, and laws.  Christians had to justify and defend their relation with Judaism, and the defenses ranged from the mildly polemical (e.g., Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho) or neutral (Protoevangelium of James) to the hostile (e.g. Letter of Barnabas, Melito’s Homily on the Passover).

    (Steven McMichael: Letter of Barnabas arguing against ‘shared or double covenant’ for Jews and Christians which leads to the possibility that Jews would be saved as Jews.      The letter indicates that the ‘double covenant’ argument is being made.)

¨ What evidence we can accrue reflects the views of the educated elite.  How the    people “on the street” might have understood the conflicts is difficult, if not virtually impossible, to ascertain.  “At the level of lived religion, many Judaisms and Christianities found themselves in a variety of relationships, often much to the consternation of their more orthodox leaders.”

¨ Regional differences are evident.  Particularly in the East, numerous groups of  believers-in-Jesus were Jewish-Christians who confessed Jesus as the Messiah yet identified primarily as Jews.  Nor did the diversity of Judaism disappear after the first century. (Michael Grant: There were many more Jews in the East.)

From “The Complex Character of the Partings,” Mary Boys, Has God Only One Blessing?


CHRISTIANS from Robert Wilken

¨ They worship Jesus, a human, instead of the one God (represented by many gods or god at pinnacle of hierarchy of gods)

¨ Jesus is too new to be elevated. Why not Jonah or Daniel?

¨ Claim to be inheritors of Jewish tradition while rejecting the community and its laws.

¨ Christians are new. In ancient world: old=good, ancient=good, new=bad.

¨ God already told Moses what Jews should do.

¨ John the Baptist baptized Jesus, was a Jew. Christians seem incapable of figuring out that they are Jewish apostates.

¨ Most Christians unwilling to serve in army; therefore no help to the emperor. (Jews were exempted from service. In answer to question from Rabbi Bluestein: Christians did not serve in the army in the first and second centuries. This did start to change in the third and fourth centuries, but military arms were overall not a preferred occupation for early Christians. See Jack Tiensy.)

¨ Christians do not accept public office, refuse to participate in any way in public and civil life. They revolt against the institutions of the Roman world, traditional ancestral religion.

¨ They practice magic as did Jesus. (Refers to healings.)


The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, Robert Wilken, Yale U Pr, 2nd ed, 84

Questions about Early Christian Numbers

A question persists about who could be considered a Christian? Polytheists might attend Christian gatherings, add Jesus to pantheon. Hopkins

Best guesses for numbers, Keith Hopkins, “Early Christian Number:”

100 CE   10,000 people

200 CE    200-250,000 people

250 CE    1,200,000 people (Rapid growth. A time when Christian memory could easily become fractured. The first empire-wide persecution begins around this time. Christians are officially a target on the imperial radar screen. Jews are not so targeted.)

Post 250 CE 6 million  (Incredibly rapid growth here, pre-Constantine.)

300-400 CE 30 million people

Oded Irshai: Numbers of Diaspora Jews seem high. Do they include proselytes? (Handout)

Shaye Cohen: Jews switch to formal conversion process, matrilineal descent 2nd century.

Larry Schiffman:  Jews go by matrilineal descent much earlier. (disagreement)

David Novak: rabbis decline to encourage Jewish customs among Gentiles, first must convert. BUT

Louis Feldman: (1993): Other Talmudic mentions of the encouragement of converts.

some form of Jewish proselytization through 5th century (400s). Rabbis adapt on question of  images, statues in baths. Gentile-friendly Judaism makes proselytes. Anti-Jewish laws: The more a specific anti-Jewish law repeats that tells us that it was either not  enforced or unenforceable.

Fergus Millar: A process of Romanization in the land unfolds but Jewish boundaries hold in part because of the role of the Bible in Jewish religion.

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Transitions within Discussion in Greek about the Verb ‘Judaize’

From Shaye J. D. Cohen, The Beginnings of Jewishness, 176.

 Classical Greek verbs ending in  –izein mean:

1)give political support –Medizein,arkadizein,kappadokizein, orghomenizein, arabizein

 2)adopt customs or manners -Phoenicize (unnatural vice); cilicize (cruel treacherous cheat) ; sicelize (play the rogue);chaldicize (pederasty); bergaize (tell tall tales)

 3)speak a language Syricize (speak Syrian), thracize, Hellenize (speak Greek), barbarize (not to speak Greek or to speak it poorly)

 4) Some have characteristics of both 2 and 3, e.g. egyptize, adopt manners of Egyptians or to be sly and crafty 

BUT Medizein means to ACT LIKE  a Mede or Persian, not to BE one.

 Jewish Greek: Rare. Paul’s Letter to Galations uses ioudaizein to mean to ‘ADOPT THE CUSTOMS AND MANNERS OF THE JEWS’

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 Cohen: Definition of ‘Jew’ or Ioudaios

1.   Judaean = function of birth and/or geography

Before 100 BCE Ioudaios always meant ‘Judaean.’ 70

1st century CE Ioudaios used routinely in 2 senses: Judaean of Judaea and Judaean outside Judaea. The word remains an ethnic-geographic term.

2. Jew= function of religion or culture

Epictetus refers to someone ‘who has been baptized’, thereby becoming a Jew both in fact and name . . .This passage deals with converts, those who have crossed the boundary separating Jews from gentiles. It was not until the end of the 1st century CE that Greek and Roman writers recognized that one could become a Jew by changing one’s beliefs and practices. 96 Third to fifth centuries CE . . . Many inscriptions in both Greek and Latin, east and west, the word Ioudaios has come to mean “Jew,” an adherent of the Jewish religion. 99

2 Maccabeese Ioudaismos = per Cohen, it’s not yet ‘reduced to designation of religion.’  2Macc means “the aggregate of all those characteristics that make Judaeans Jewish.”

3. a citizen or ally of the Judaean state =function of politics –Exemplified by the Idumaeans, a people conquered/ assimilated in the early Hasmonean dynasty. Herod was Idumaean.

Our point would be that Christians exhibited all of the above behaviors at various times during the first millennium,  especially 1 through 6. For instance, Christians took shelter in the synagogues during  Roman persecutions. —Lou Vera

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Transitions within Discussion in Greek about the Verb ‘Judaize’

From Shaye J. D. Cohen, The Beginnings of Jewishness, 176, continued

Cohen: Christian Greek’  is rich in –izein verbs. Shift to cultural meaning of these verbs.

Some neologisms:

Pharisaize     Mosaize        Manichaize

Nestorianize Christianize   Apolinarize  Epicurize

Maronize       Arienize        Paulianize   Sabellianize

For Christians, additional meanings: to be or become Jewish, to interpret the Old Testament ’literally,’ deny the divinity of Christ.

Lou Vera: For Chrysostom it means: to observe Biblical feasts, fasts, laws and to venerate the synagogue (new, unbiblical),  with also a political sense, consorting with the enemy. If you observe their laws, you’re Jewish, e.g. fasting on Day of Atonement. Chrystosom is humiliated by poor Church attendance during Jewish feasts and lashes out. (Wilken) Notice here that Christianity at times is defined by observance—in Jewish terms— versus dogma in the first millennium.

Cohen: Byzantine Greek—ioudaizein means simply TO BECOME A JEW. That’s a change.

A bigger change comes with the interaction of Jews with outer-barbarians, who are tribal, forest-dwellers, animists, naturists and non-Mediterranean, very much outside of these competing worlds of meaning, unless they have assimilated into Roman culture.  Barbarian kingdoms get along fairly well with Jews, especially the Carolingians.

Exception:  John Gager’s work: (Lou Vera) None of the above kept Christians in the East from attending synagogues well into the fourth century.

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