Monday, November 24, 2014

Changes between Judaism and Christianity (AD 70-570)

During the Jewish rebellion in Judea against the Roman state (AD 66-70), leaders of Pharisaic Judaism left the city of Jerusalem. They moved the intellectual and cultural center of their dominant Jewish movement to the coastal city of Yavne. There they began the task of responding creatively to their troubled circumstances by writing down their oral tradition in what became the Mishnah.

During the Jewish rebellion in Judea, leaders of Christian Judaism also abandoned the city of Jerusalem. They moved to the interior city of Pella, clung to their Christian Jewish ways, lost leadership of the movement to the apostle Paul and the Christian communities in Alexandria and Antioch, and disappeared from history.

One point of view shared by both Pharisaic and Christian forms of Judaism: one had to keep the whole law, including circumcision, to be recognized as a member of the people of God. The point of view championed by the apostle Paul and later Christians: one could keep the written law as an optional way of living but living the spirit of the law after experiencing a circumcision of the heart mattered more.

Few Pharisaic and Christian Jews converted to Paul’s point of view. Those agreeing with him were almost exclusively cultural Hellenians who nonetheless regularly attended one of the Greek-speaking synagogues scattered throughout eastern Olympia.

In the year 200, Jewish communities remained much wealthier than Christian ones. By then, however, the number of Christians had grown to equal the number of Jews in the empire.

By 300, Olympians still attributed greater status to Judaism but Christians had grown to be 25 percent of the Roman population whereas Jews remained at about 5 percent (Cantor, 101).

Circumstances changed dramatically in 312 when Constantine, ruler of the Roman state, began to grant Christians and churches preferential treatment. After 312, for example, being a Christian made getting a job in, contract with, or building fund from the Roman government much easier. At that point, joining a church and calling oneself a Christian became a very simple Olympian means to obtaining very Olympian prosperity.

By 400, every inhabitant in the Roman state had legally become a Christian except for the two million who remained Jews (Cantor, 109). Christians began to develop the painfully Olympian attitude of regarding Jews as perpetual Christ-killers and to punish them accordingly. Christian leaders wrote painfully Olympian laws which required Jews to live apart from Christians and greatly restricted their economic opportunities. Church leaders and monks began the painfully Olympian practice of burning down synagogues and leading murderous attacks against Jewish communities.

In 570, Justinian, ruler of the Roman state, included these laws and attitudes in his famous code of laws. That code ensured that discrimination against Jews continued for centuries.

(Today we continue our reflections on Norman Cantor’s The Sacred Chain: A History of the Jews [HarperCollins, 1994, pp. 95-101, 108-110].)

Copyright © 2014 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.