Magi Mike's Blog

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How the Jewish and Christian Religions Separated

with 3 comments

Dr Lindsay Wilson, Academic Dean and Lecturer in Old Testament, Ridley, Melbourne, has briefly reviewed for The Melbourne Anglican The Separation of Early Christianity from Judaism, by Marianne J Dacy (Amberst, New York: $119.99). Dacy is a Catholic.

He says her analysis is largely an historical one. That has to be good, for many Christians think fundamental theological differences between the Jewish and Christian religions were the reason for the separation. It is not so. The Jews, many Christians say, rejected God and murdered His son, so they were the people of the Devil, abandoning God, even though He had declared they were His Chosen Ones. Dacy does not think such theological factors had much, if anything, to do with it, and she puts little emphasis on them. Her thesis is that Christianity became Gentile not because of carefully argued theology, but largely because of the increasing number of Gentile converts, the marginalising of practising Jewish Christians, and the change in the balance of power in the Roman Empire.

Surely she is right. Christ was a Jew, and despite the supposed perfidy of the Jews, all the first Christians were Jews, though many were Hellenized Jews. It was through the increasing preponderance of Hellenized Diaspora Jews in Christianity outside of Palestine that gentile godfearers, mainly women at first, were drawn in, then men once the Pauline faction had abrogated the need for circumcision. Jewish Christians seem to have fought with the Romans in the war of 66-70 AD, and sympathized with the ambitions of Bar Kochba, while refusing to recognize him as messiah—how could they—and being unwilling to actually fight.

Even so it was in the period between the two Jewish wars that the Christians outside Judaea began to separate themselves from Jews generally. When Christianity was accepted by Constantine, things began to get harder for the Jews, as Christian prejudice against them was able to be expressed, and eventually the privileges given to Jews by Julius Caesar were lifted by Theodosius, and Jews began to be maligned like all the other non-Christian religions, and their synagogues smashed just as temples to the classical gods of Rome had been. Dr Wilson truly writes:

One of the striking features of this story was to see Christians, when they rose to political and social prominence (fourth to fifth centuries) using the law to impose Christianity and discriminate against other religions. This is the very practice used by Islam today, and widely condemned by Christians. There is value in reading church history!

Wilson is pointing out Christian hypocrisy, with the appropriate degree of coyness Christians feel is necessary when they ever so politely criticize others of their co-religionists, however objectionable their behavior might have been, or still be!

He continues that the rift between Christianity and Judaism was accelerated by the rise of Christianity to a position of political and social privilege. Once Christians had power, they no longer bleated about persecution like that they had received at the hands of a few emperors anxious that the decline of the empire curiously paralleled the growth of Christianity within it. Now they could mercilessly attack pagans, then Jews, then even each other—over metaphysical, nay mythical, doctrinal matters concerning the nature, substance and body of Christ.

Christianity had already declined beyond a savagery that had not been seen in civilized society for a very long time, but which was to persist for over a thousand more years of Christian darkness, before the glimmers of the Enlightenment were seen.


Written by mikemagee

9 February, 2011 at 7:55 pm

3 Responses

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  1. An argument could be made that as the Christians grew into political favor with the government (i.e. Constantine), they also grew out of the true foundations of Christianity.

    I find it interesting that Jesus was so completely against organized religion and yet with the Constantinian rise to socio-economic / political power Christianity became the very thing which Jesus spoke so harshly against… organized religion.


    10 February, 2011 at 4:23 am

  2. Jesus spoke harshly against the Pharisees, calling them hypocrites, just as many, maybe most, Christians are today, but it would be hard to argue he was against organized religion per se, at least as organized as it then was. He says, for example, in Mt 23:3 that Jews should do what they say but not what they do–not be hypocritical!

    The view I argue is that Jesus was an Essene, and, quite frankly, only hypocritical Christians could argue otherwise, the evidence is so good. So, he was in a religious organization. It was, though, a Jewish organization, and one which was expecting the world to end in the Day of God’s Vengeance. It is what Jesus thought he would see in the Garden of Gethsemene. He was mistaken, but it does mean that what Jesus taught was (a) meant to save Jews, and (b) could not have been meant to start a new religion–the world was supposed to be ending soon!

    Of course, the fact that it did not end, and Jesus was crucified as someone illegally assuming the rights of the Roman emperor over the Jews, meant the teachings of Christ should have died with him. It was the disappearance of the body–taken by the Essenes for a respectable burial–that left his more naive supporters thinking he had been resurrected, the sign in Hosea that the end had come or was coming, and Jesus had been the first fruits of the general resurrection of the righteous.

    It was from now on that Paul saw the new belief as an instance of a dying and rising god–popular among gentiles–actually happening. Hellenized Jews and gentiles both would love the new religion–and did! The emphasis now, though, was on the mystical salvation of believers in the body of Christ, not emphatically on the practical morality Jesus had taught to his Jewish followers. It is the universalization of Christ’s practical morality that always matters for humanity, not mystical superstitions. You can only love God by loving your fellow human beings (Jews specifically, originally).

    So, my view is that Paul (or the faction he personifies) destroyed the moral basis of Christianity. Ever since Christians have been really Paulinians–latter day worshipers of Attis and Tammuz (Ezek 8:14).

    Mike Magee

    10 February, 2011 at 3:00 pm

  3. Jesus Christ was a Jew! Really, I can’t believe that.It’s because of I have read so many articles and posts that always confused me about the Jesus Christ. But one thing that I am sure about him that “he is a son of God” and we are the children of him. Thanks for sharing this.

    Mark Paul

    15 October, 2013 at 9:56 am

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