- The Monograph
- Table of Contents
- Chapter 1: St. Paul's Letters and Jewish Christians
- Chapter 2: What and when was "Parting of the Ways"?
- Chapter 3: Jews, Christians, and Roman Legitimacy
- Chapter 4: Jesus the Jew
- Chapter 5: Recruiting Gentiles and Effect of the name "Christian"
- Chapter 6: Christian Anti-Jewish Rhetoric
- Chapter 7: Christian Reinterpretation of the Jewish Bible
- Chapter 8: Labeling Jews as "Christ Killers"
- Chapter 9: Jewish Rebellion and Roman Destruction
- Chapter 10: Myths Used to Justify Christian Anti-Jewishness
- Chapter 11: Why did Jews find Christianity unacceptable
- Chapter 12: Gospel History
- Chapter 13: Christian Jew Hatred and Antisemitism
- Chapter 14: St. Paul and "Parting of the Ways"
- Chapter 15: The Jewish Messiah and the Role of Jesus
- Chapter 16: Religious Differences Among Jews
- Chapter 17: Christian Rants against Jews and Judaizers
- Chapter 18: Christian Opposition to Biblical "Law" Denouncing Jews who Observe It
- Chapter 19: The "Holy", "Unholy", and "True Israelites"
- Chapter 20: Do Christians Need to Demean Jews? What if Jesus had not been a Jew?
- Chapter 21: Currying Favor with the Romans; Roman Oppression and Jesus' Crucifixion
- Chapter 22: Christian Missionary Success and Accommodation to Roman Society
- Chapter 23: Christian Anti-Jewishness Before and After Gaining Power
- Chapter 24: The Psychology of Antisemitism
- Chapter 25: Christian Literature and Perpetuation of Anti-Semitism
- Chapter 26: Can New Testament Antisemitism be Deleted?
Among Christian myths to explain Christian anti-Jewishness are the following:
1. Jewish institutions such as synagogues persecuted or expelled Messiah believers, thereby accounting for Christian anti-Jewishness (Evans and Hagner).
Note however, neither Messiah believers nor Jerusalem Temple critics were considered Jewish heretics subject to persecution. “Temple and cult criticisms were in vogue everywhere in Judaism and even in its holy scriptures” (Schmithals, p. 107). “[I]f confessing Jesus had resulted in expulsion from the synagogue, the disciples would have been expelled from the synagogue. Of this, however, there is no trace, not even in [St.] John, let alone in the synoptics [St. Mark, St. Matthew, St. Luke]” (Casey 1991, p. 3; see also Kaylor, p. 100). “Deuteronomy 21. 22–23 [‘anyone hanging on a tree is under God’s curse’ — Jesus’ crucifixion] is an unlikely basis for early Jewish rejection and persecution of Christianity, and other causes should be sought” (O’Brien, p. 55, see also Note #21). "Given the range of people, Jew and Gentile, accommodated in Greco-Roman synagogues, and the variety of attitudes apparent among the rabbis, tolerance might have been the most common Jewish response to early Jesus followers” (Setzer, p. 579).
Note #16 makes clear that Jews tolerated considerable religious diversity between individuals and between groups— Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, etc. “In light of the Dead Sea Scrolls … differences over what was central in Israelite tradition, or scathing critiques of the Second Temple and Jerusalem elites, were nothing new or extraordinary at the time” (Oakman 2012, p. 154). “Despite all the sectarian animus found in the various texts from or about the Second Commonwealth period, even the most virulent never accuse the members of other groups of having left the Jewish community. Sinners they were but Jews all the same” (Schiffman, p. 116).
It was not Jesus’ messianic message that Jews considered blasphemous and unacceptable, but the post-Jesus anti-Jewish creeds expressed by St. Paul, writers of the New Testament, and Gentile Christian leaders; namely that Jesus-believers must abandon Jewish laws, festival, rituals, practices, and elevate Jesus to divine status far beyond the stature of Jewish prophet or sage, paralleling the powers of Yahweh (Notes #11.b, #22). St. Paul’s denunciations of Jewish Mosaic “Law” launched the quickly widening gap between Jews and Gentile Christians (Note #18). An early Gentile Christian letter (Epistle to Diognetus), perhaps of the first century C.E. or early second, characterizes Jewish practices as “utterly ridiculous and unworthy of notice.” Included in “useless and redundant customs” are Jewish holidays and Temple observances, and “their scrupulosity concerning meats, and their superstition as respects the Sabbaths, and their boasting about circumcision, and their fancies about fasting and new moons” (ANF vol. 1, p. 26).
To St. Paul and his adherents, Jewish Christian “Judaizers” from St. James’ Jerusalem synagogues stood far outside the newly-seeded identity of the Gentile Christian Church. Later Jewish Christian movements, whether “Judaizers” or not, were declared “heretics” by “orthodox” Christians. Even more religiously and ethnically distant from Gentile Christianity were, of course, non-Christian Jewish synagogues. It seems reasonable to ask: if Gentile Christian leaders were concerned about expulsion, why join Jewish synagogues they held in contempt:
- for non-belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ;
- for engaging in culturally “repellant” and ethnically “alien” (non-Gentile) Jewish practices;
- for sustaining archaic Biblical laws abandoned by the Gentile Christian Church;
- for their Jewish “Christ-killing” heritage?
Christians may seek self-justification in blaming Jew-hatred on Jewish disregard or antipathy, but such arguments conceal Gentile Christianity’s need to denigrate Jews to defend its displacement of Jews in God’s favor and wrest possession of the Jewish Scriptures (Notes #7, #18, #19). “It seems probable that from the time of Justin [ca. 150 C.E.], if not from the time of Acts [questionably dated between 80–115 C.E.], the proposition that Jewish hostility was primarily responsible for the Church’s sufferings was a theological convention requiring little or no evidence in its support” (Hare, p. 456). “For Christianity, anti-Judaism was not merely a defense against attack, but an intrinsic need of Christian self-affirmation” (Ruether 1974, p. 181).
2. Jews drove the Christians out of Jewish synagogues by a special liturgical curse (Birkat Ha-minin).
Whatever Jewish heretical groups “minim” covered (“epikursum”/epicureans, etc.), Boyarin points out (2004, pp. 67–69) this curse probably did not appear before the end of the second century C.E., pertaining to those Jews who opposed early Rabbis (Tannaim). In S. J. D. Cohen’s (2013) analysis, all eight minim sayings in a second century Rabbinical document (the Mishnah) aim at Jews dissenting on matters such as the shape of the phylacteries or methods of Temple sacrifice. Not a single minim saying implies a Christian Jesus-believer, Jewish or Gentile. “[T]he Mishnah alludes to the proscribed practices or beliefs of the minim, but does not define the groups or the individuals involved. It provides no details on who they are or how they fit (or don’t fit) into rabbinic society, or what they otherwise believe or don’t believe, do or don’t do. … The miscreants are not cursed; they are not threatened with excommunication or any other form of communal discipline. … In this world we do nothing to them except express our disapproval” (Ibid., pp. 219–220). Applied later to Jesus-believers, minim still does not mean Gentiles but only Jews whose “Torah scrolls are written in Hebrew and contain the divine name in Hebrew” (Ibid. p. 222).
Thus, for Rabbis, the term minim did not specify a singular particular group but targeted countrymen of any persuasion who departed from fundamental Jewish communal beliefs and practices. Schremer (2010) notes that a prime source of Rabbinical censure arose from threats to the Jewish community’s ethnic and religious integrity by those who “denied God” because of Israel’s terrible defeats in its’ 70 C. E. and 135 C.E. rebellions (Note #9). “Rome’s power was conceived by the rabbis theologically; that is, it was considered a threat to the fundamental belief in God’s omnipotency and His very divinity. It is not a coincidence, therefore, that various midrashic sources attribute to Rome some of the stances that are ascribed to the ‘minim’ … thus constructing Rome as the emblem of these theological assertions” (Schremer., p. 53).
Nevertheless, despite Rabbinic discomfort, castigating anyone with the term minim in early Rabbinic Judaism would not have excluded them from the Jewish community: “There is no evidence that it [minim] served to hound out of the fold particular deviants whose continued presence was believed to threaten the health of the body politic. Nor is there evidence that it served to define correct behavior for rabbinic Jews by clarifying what was forbidden in thought or deed” (Goodman 2007b, p. 171). “[Rabbi] Yohanan would seem to have reckoned that there were at least twenty-five types of Judaism before the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE — one acceptable variety and twenty-four others [minim]” (Ibid., p. 46).
In respect to Jewish Christians, first and second century C.E. Rabbis “did not see the earliest Christians as constituting a separate religious community. … Even if we were to accept many of the polemical statements in our sources at face value and assume the violations of ‘halakha’ [Jewish law] in the early Christian community to be more extensive, the early Christians would still be considered Jews. Nor should we assume that the claims that Jesus was a miracle worker or magician … would have in any way reflected on the Jewish status of his followers. Even the belief in the divinity or messiahship of Jesus … would not in view of the Tannaim have read the early Christians out of the Jewish community” (Schiffman 1985, pp. 51–52). Jewish Messiahs such as Bar Kochba may have been deluded and deluding but were still considered Jews.
Even in the later post-Mishnah “Talmud” (Rabbinical discussions and debates on Jewish laws and rituals) compiled in the third to fifth centuries C.E., “the term minim (heretics) is invariably applied to Jewish heretics (among whom, of course the Jewish Christians [Nazoreans/“Notzrim”] were counted) … ‘Among the Gentiles there are no minim’ says the Talmud” (Schoeps, p. 14, my emphasis). The term minim would therefore have meant little to Gentile Christians, nor borne them any religious threat; any more than religious Jews would have felt religiously threatened by mainstream Gentile Church pronouncements against Christian heresies.
It seems clear that whenever Birkat Ha-minim was instituted, a liturgical boundary between Jews and Pauline Christians would have long been in place. “[W]e cannot presume that the term notzrim [Jewish Jesus-believer] existed in the blessing before the fourth century C.E.” (Teppler, p. 72). (See also Reinhartz, pp. 349–353; Hakola 2005, pp. 45–55; Kimelman; and J. T. Sanders 2002, p. 369.)
In contrast to the marked early separation between Jews and Gentile Christianity, Horbury, (p. 12) emphasizes Gentile Christian feelings of “rejection” and “disappointment” at being excluded from Jewish (and Jewish Christian?) synagogues. However, feelings of “rejection and disappointment” hardly coincide with Gentile Christian leaders’ fundamental opposition to Jews in customs, beliefs, or rituals (Note #11); nor with Christianity’s compelling need to convince Romans that Gentile Christianity is “not new” but “true,” claiming Gentiles, not Jews are heirs to the antique Jewish Scriptures (Notes #7, #18, #19). It is difficult to believe that Gentile Christian leaders would attempt to join Jewish synagogues while: (1) regarding Jews as condemned by God in favor of Gentile Christians (Note #6); (2) claiming Jewish assemblies, and Jewish “Law” as sinful anachronisms (Note #18); (3) denouncing adoption of Jewish concepts and Jewish practices as satanic “Judaizing” (Note #17).
Note that the earliest written curse between Christians and Jews came not from Jews but from St. Paul. In a letter to his Galatian converts (1.7–9, ca. 50 C.E.), he warns of “Judaizers” (Jews and Jewish Christians) "who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received [from me], let that one be accursed!” St. Paul’s curse obviously derives from opposition to competing Jewish religious teachings (St. James’ Jesus-believing “Judaizers”), and not from reaction to a Jewish “curse.”
St. Paul’s claim for seeking acceptance in synagogues and then being (unfairly?) censured and punished five times as a “sinner” (2 Corinthians 11.24) also seems inconsistent with his non-Jewish mission and his non-Jewish covenantal ideology. Why would a self-proclaimed “Apostle to the Gentiles”; who changed his name from Hebrew “Saul” to Greek “Pavlos”; who preached the need to abandon Jewish Biblical “Law” which he compared to “excrement”; who declared that his Gentile followers rather than Jews were the true heirs of Abraham; and who vehemently denounced proponents of Jewish Law (“Judaizers”); repeatedly insist on membership in a Jewish synagogue? One can also question why observant Jews — regarded by Romans as members of an “alien” religion — had legal authority to punish a Roman citizen engaged in establishing non-Jewish beliefs and practices for Gentiles. St. Paul’s claim to be as “Jewish” as his Jewish Christian competitors was patently to gain competitive status in proselytizing Gentiles who had attended Jewish synagogues.
Posing as self-sanctified non-Jewish “True Israelites” (Notes #14, #19), there is no evidence that leaders of St. Paul’s Christian churches ever defined themselves as religious Jews, or attempted membership in Jewish synagogues, or sought any form of Jewish identification even when it would have benefited them (Note #3). As we have seen, throughout its first centuries Gentile Christianity’s universal theme is that the Jews are inherently evil, and Gentiles supplanted the Jews in God’s favor. Attaching a “Jewish” label to opposing Christian factions sufficed for their condemnation by Christian theologians as “heretics” (Note #17). By contrast, “the rabbis of the period were interested neither in heresy nor in Christianity. We may be sure that [Jewish] heretics and Christian Jews were out there in the second century, but the rabbis paid them little attention” (S. J. D. Cohen 1992, p. 216).
In commenting on a detailed study of Jewish rabbinical writings, Lasker states (pp. xxii-xxiv) “most Jews were apathetic vis-à-vis this emerging [Christian] faith which eventually would have such an impact on Judaism. There is no recognition in rabbinic literature of such major Christian authorities as Justin Martyr (second century), Origen (third century) or Jerome (late fourth century). … The sparse number of texts accumulated by Hereford [in a book entitled ‘Christianity in Talmud and Midrash’] would indicate that Jesus himself and his Jewish followers (let alone Gentile Christians) were not at the center of rabbinic concern.” Since the Rabbis showed little response to Gentile Christianity until its fourth century rise in power, there is no sure evidence that the curse against minim applied to Gentile Christians and Gentile Christianity — all outside the Jewish communal fold from St. Paul’s first century’s churches onward.
In about fifty pages analyzing how the term minim was used by second and third century C.E. Palestinian Rabbis (“Tannaim”) who wrote the Mishnah and Tosefta, Burns (2016) makes the following statements. “Rather than singling them out for specific criticism, the rabbinic sages evidently saw [Jewish] Christians as part of an undifferentiated mass of Jews whose standards of practice and belief fell short of their own” (p. 165). The rare [Jewish] Christians who found their ways into the rhetorical crosshairs of the ‘Tannaim’ represented just one Jewish type of the variety whom the latter believed stood to impede their own collective enterprise. Christianity, therefore, did play a role in their conception of ‘minuit’ [deviation] only in the abstract sense that followers of Jesus were among those Jews whom they deemed to call heretics” (p. 181). “Although aware that the Roman authorities had outlawed [Gentile] Christianity, they appeared neither to have known or cared why that was the case. Perhaps most significantly, they seem completely unaware of the state of the Christian enterprise beyond their local Jewish communities. … The Tannaim characterized the Christian as a Jew because the only Christians whom they knew actually were Jews” (p. 208). “[I]t seems reasonable to surmise that the invention of the ‘birkat ha-minim’ accomplished very little by way of actually driving [Gentile] Christians from Palestinian Jewish society” (p. 207).
“The drive for new [Christian] identity was not the final outcome of pressure from external [Jewish] forces but the prime mover in the process of self-definition” (Hakola 2007, p. 192).
3. Christian anti-Jewishness was no different from, or no more virulent than, common Pagan anti-Jewishness of the time.
Pagan attitudes toward Jews ranged from dislike to respect and adoption of Jewish practices (Gager 1985). According to Sevenster (p. 56), “the Jews were judged not as a race, but as a people, as a given community of faith and morals, in the same way as any other peoples … not a single indication is to be found in ancient literature that anti-Semitism in the ancient world use the theory of race as a weapon of attack.”
Nevertheless, whatever Pagan dislike of Jews existed, Christianity added its own form of virulent long-lasting hatred. Contrary to Meagher (p. 22) who insists that that Gentile Christian theology is not the agent that “brought Christians to their unconscionable treatment of Jews,” Simon (p. 223) points out, “there was a fundamental difference between the anti-Semitism of Pagans and that of Christians. … Christian anti-Semitism, insofar as it was officially espoused by the Church, did have a sanction as well as a coherence the Pagan sort always lacked. It did not base its arguments on ascertainable facts, not even, for that matter, on the hearsay evidence of popular gossip, but on a particular kind of exegesis of the biblical writings, an exegesis that interpreted them in the light of the death of Christ as a long indictment of the chosen people. Where Pagan anti-Semitism was, for the most part, spontaneous and unorganized, that of the Christians was devoted to a well-conceived end. Its aim was to make the Jews abhorrent to all, to sustain the dislike of those in whom the Jews already aroused dislike, and to turn the affections of those who were well disposed.”
Thus, despite claims that pre-Christian antisemitism accounted for much of Christian anti-Jewishness, the antisemitism that became embedded in Christianity was quite unique. This is not to say that Pagan antisemitic sentiment did not continue into Christian times — Christian proselytizers certainly made use of it — but Christianity added completely new features, both religious and secular, that made Jew-hatred interminable and unremitting. Jews on every social level were presented to the Christian world, and to all who would listen, as an evil despicable people condemned by God, the New Testament, and the Christian Fathers.
According to Ruether (1979, p. 233): “The heart of the conflict between Jew and Christian … lies in the Christian claim to be the ‘true Israel’ which defines the old Israel as apostate and ‘divorced’ by God. This sets Christian anti-Judaism fundamentally apart from pagan antisemitism. … Between a pagan who objects to Jews because they are funny-smelling orientals who refuse to assimilate into Greek ways … and the Christian who rejects Jews as the apostate Israel who has refused to recognize her messiah, there is a gulf that is more than rhetoric. … The Jew, for the Christian of the New Testament, is not primarily the puzzling stranger, but the rejecting elder brother who refuses to bend to the claims of the younger. … It is a relation that demands reprobation, but also hankers for Jewish conversion, that decrees punishment.”
4. Attacks on Jews in the New Testament and Christian literature arose from occasional extenuating circumstances (“just a product of the times”! “a family fight”! “sibling rivalry”!) and should not be taken seriously. There are, for example, ambiguities in St. Paul, expressing not only a preponderance of hate but also some signs of remorseful respect towards Jews (Romans 9.4–5). (See also Simon, pp. 230–231.) One can also find some Christians, such as St. Clement of Rome and Theophilus of Antioch who wrote some kind words about Judaism.
It is not uncommon for harsh New Testament polemics against Jews to be claimed as arguments between Jews themselves — a “Jewish issue.” Efroymson et al (Introduction, p. x): “[T]he New Testament documents arose among Jews who followed Jesus (or their Gentile converts). When they argued — and these writings frequently argue — they argued either against other Jews who also followed Jesus (with their Gentile converts), or against Jews who did not. But the issues were nearly always Jewish issues.”
However, as we have seen, contrary to acting like Jewish “siblings,” St. Paul’s Gentile Christians defined their identity quite differently from Jews early on: not only in respect to ethnic distinction, but in claiming novel theology, beliefs, and practices (Note #11). These differences, added to the anti-Jewish pitch of New Testament documents condemning Jews as enemies of Jesus and “Christ-killers,” certainly distanced Gentile Christians from identifying themselves as Jews. Even Jews who joined Rome’s early Church suffered hostility from their Gentile colleagues, with St. Paul asking that Jewish Church members be pardoned as “weak/sickly in faith” (Romans, Chapters 14–15).
“The picture that emerges from this [St. Paul’s Romans] letter … is of a community now dominated by confident gentiles, immensely proud of the Torah-lite lifestyle that they have developed for themselves. For these people, their sights set firmly on the new age that is about to dawn, the Temple, Sabbath observance and food restrictions enjoined by the law of Moses are an irrelevance, and fellow Christians still in thrall to the Torah were almost beneath contempt” (H. M. Williams, pp. 156–157).
Despite St. Paul’s presumed conciliatory wishes, there is no evidence that conflict between Rome’s Jesus-believing Gentiles and Jesus-believing Jews receded. To the “strong in faith” Gentiles, “weak in faith” foreigners were people “who still retained the appearance of Jewish piety” (Reasoner, p. 223). Beyond St. Paul’s Romans letter, there is also no indication of practicing Jews in any other Gentile Christian Church. Jewish Christians who followed Jewish practices in their own synagogues remained condemned as “Judaizers” or heretics, as we see in repeated castigations by St. Paul and Christian Fathers (Note #17).
It is therefore apparent that anti-Jewish invectives in the New Testament were not merely to distinguish “bad Jews” (non-Jesus-believing Jews) from “good Jews” (Jesus-believing Jews), but were fashioned as a more fundamental conflict between “Christians” and “Jews” —conflict made to have begun between Jesus on one side and “Jews” on the other. St John’s Gospel (Note #12) expresses this in its most acrimonious form. In the Book of Revelation (2.9), “synagogue of Satan,” originally applied by its author to St. Paul’s Gentile Christian churches (Pagels, p. 59), was later converted to “synagogue of Jews” (Note #17), also including Jewish Christians (see Galambush, pp. 307–309). Christian intemperate ranting against Jews began with the New Testament and was carried forth without limit by early Christian Fathers (Notes #14, #17).
Claims that derogatory comments about Jews and the Jewish religion by New Testament writers and Patristic Fathers were erroneously interpreted would be welcome, but do not explain their continual use and ongoing impact. Varner (2004, p. 564), states that the anti-Jewish Christian hostility in the many Adversus Judaeos documents are “past mistakes,” and one should not “associate past writers with crimes of which they are simply not guilty.” However, calling anti-Jewish indoctrination a “mistake” is plainly exculpatory. Are two thousand years of anti-Jewishness imbibed by Christian readers and audiences the result of mistaken understanding of misconstrued documents from misinterpreted Christian leaders?
We do know that vituperative Christian anti-Jewishness, however and whenever expressed, had much greater import than mere bluster, and, as shown here and by others (e.g., Efroymson, Parkes, Nicholls, Ruether, M. S. Taylor), served essential functions in Christian development. That is, Jews were not used like pagans as a mere contrast to Christian beliefs, nor was Christian antisemitism the result of an unfortunate misunderstanding. Rather, among other motivations, Christian leaders used the “teaching of contempt” of Jews as a theological necessity to justify Christianity to both its members and Roman society to gain antique support from highly contested Jewish Scriptures (Notes #7, #18, #19).
Being the satanic “other” to Christians, Jewishness became a divinely condemned status exemplified in St. John’s Gospel. “The Jews are other than those who believe; they are other than those aligned with Jesus and hence God; they are other than the Johannine community out of which and for whom this Gospel was written.… They are so strongly marked out as ‘other,’ and spoken of in such insulting language, that the Gospel does not hold out any hope of bringing them into belief” (Tanzer, p. 109). Gospel canonization of anti-Jewishness and its augmentation by the Patristic Fathers, thus firmly embedded prejudice and Jew-hatred in Christianity and helped “to affirm the identity of the Church, which could only be done by invalidating the identity of the Jews” (Reuther 1974, p. 181).
Supported by state and civic power from the time of Emperor Constantine (313 C.E.) onward, made the Christian legacy of anti-Jewish hostility and rhetoric highly potent and dangerous despite politically powerless Jewish rejoinders and complaints.
5. Some Christian scholars claim that Christian anti-Jewish attacks were not really against Jews but primarily against Christian “Judaizers” attempting to foist Jewish rituals or customs on Gentile Christianity (Murray).
This argument has some substance in the sense that it was Jewish-Christian “Judaizers,” sent out to early Christian communities by St. James and other Jesus’ disciples, who elicited most of St. Paul’s anger. Nevertheless, although Gentile Christians were warned against “Judaizers,” the merciless hostility against “Jews” for their perceived crimes against Jesus and their rejection of Christianity’s claim to Biblical “godliness” became the mainstay of Gentile Christian anti-Jewish polemics.
- It was “Jews” who were responsible for killing Jesus (Note #8).
- It was “Jews” who persecuted Gentile Christians (Note #10.6).
- It was “Jews” who disputed Gentile Christian reinterpretation of the Jewish Scriptures (Notes #7, #18).
- It was “Jews” who opposed Gentile Christian antiquarian claims to being the “True Israelites” (Note #19).
Interestingly, in accusing “Judaizing” emissaries for following “a different Gospel” — the Jewish “Law” (e.g., Galatians 1.6–9, 2.4, 3.10–12, 4.9–10, 5.2, 6.13, also Notes #17, #18) — St. Paul never seeks support from sayings of Jesus himself. One can only assume that Jesus the Jew (Note #4) and Jesus the Jewish Messiah (Note #15) did not share St. Paul’s anti-“Law” views that were later sanctioned in the New Testament Gospels. Nor did Jesus’ disciples oppose the Jewish “Law,” as evidenced by:
- St. Peter’s confrontation with St. Paul (Galatians 2.11–13,);
- persistence of the “Law”-abiding Temple worshipping congregation led by St. James after Jesus’ death;
- the continued presence of St. James’ Jesus-believing “Judaizers” who advocated that all Christians should obey the “Law.”
“These problems suggest…that Jesus’ ultimate followers vigorously opposed Paul — perceiving him as distancing himself from what they remember as Jesus’ fidelity to the Law and to the Jewish people” (Cook, pp. 101–102). “Yeshua [Jesus] was a Jew, and an observant one, that is, he was committed to the keeping of the Law in the way that seemed best to him. Since he was a ‘Rabbi,’ he taught others to do likewise. In brief, he did not come to dispense with or do away with the Torah, the Law. He came to carry it out” (Swidler, p. 44). “To propose to Jesus that Jews cannot be saved apart from faith in Christ or, for that matter, that Gentiles are saved in this way, would probably produce in Jesus either puzzlement or laughter or a simply resounding no (or all three together). For from the standpoint both of the ever-impinging reign of God and of needed moral norms, any Christian abandonment of the law is wrong and Jesus’ retention of the Torah is right” (Eckardt 1992, p. 85). “The pro-Gentile sayings in the Gospels are unlikely to have originated with Jesus and do not belong to his authentic teaching” (Vermes 2010, p. 32). In St. Paul’s Gentile churches, would not Jesus the Jew have been a “Judaizer”?
The theological notion that the “Christ-event” was a gift from God, separating Gentile Christians from Jewish practices (Barclay 2010), would not have made sense to Jesus and his disciples. It is therefore plainly misleading that Christianity was just a straightforward slide from Jesus to St. Paul. Strongly disputed are claims in Acts of the Apostles (Chapter 15) and St. Paul’s Galatians (Chapter 2) that a supposed “Jerusalem Conference” with Jesus’ Jewish disciples (led by St. James) granted St. Paul license to convert Gentiles without demanding they observe Jewish Scriptural commandments. The terms of such presumed agreement seem unclear and ambiguous (Donaldson 2006, p. 127), and St. Peter’s baptism of Gentiles as Christians (Acts 10.48) is an apparent invention of St. Luke designed “to choke at source every conceivable objection to the Gentile mission” (Klauck, p. 32).
“The setting in Acts, according to which Paul met the apostles in Jerusalem a few days after his conversion (9.19, 26) is … not trustworthy: Luke wants to show that Paul received legitimacy from the Church of Jerusalem” (Moreschini and Norelli, p. 5; also Kee 2013a, p. 11). “Acts of the Apostles, a source on which many historians have heavily depended, is a myth of Christian origins” (Tyson, p. 17, also Note #11).
In Acts (11.1–18), St. Luke depicts St. Peter recruiting uncircumcised male Gentiles as though such practice was traditionally sanctioned by Jesus’ disciples. Only later in Acts (15.1–5), when supposedly bad-mannered “Pharisaic” Jews joined the Christian movement, does St. Luke indicate that the demand for Gentile circumcision first appeared. “Numerous details in Luke’s presentation of the Jerusalem council vis-à-vis the Cornelius affair combine to depict the movement to circumcise Gentile converts as belated, extrinsic, and pernicious” (Garroway, p. 27, also Vermes 2012, pp. 67–68). St. Luke’s strategy “is to a great extent simply stamping the pattern of church life he wants to inculcate in the [Gentile] Hellenistic communities of his time on the image of the [Jewish Christian] community of their origin” (Crowe, p. 66).
Moreover, St. James’ “Judaizers” from Jerusalem never act as though they are aware of the so-called “Jerusalem Conference” when they confront St. Peter for dining with Gentile Jesus-believers who do not obey Jewish dietary laws (Galatians 2.12). Similarly, St. Paul never admonishes any of the “Judaizers” for ignoring the supposed agreement, nor does St. Paul act as though aware of the presumed Conference’s prohibition to eat foods sacrificed to idols. “Nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean” (Romans 14.14). “[Eating] Food will not bring us close to God” (1 Corinthians 8.8). “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience” (1 Corinthians 10.27). The only dietary counsel St. Paul offers is not to confront “weak” Christians who observe Jewish kosher dietary laws. (See also J. Becker, p. 194, Hubbard, p. 155.)
Most significant, as noted earlier, St. Paul discloses that his decision to preach Jesus Christ “among the Gentiles” did not come from any “Jerusalem agreement”: “I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me” (Galatians 1.16–17). Nowhere in his Galatians letter, in which he vehemently opposes Gentile circumcision fostered by his “Jewish Christian” adversaries, does St. Paul claim license for this view from a “Jerusalem Conference.”
It is also evident, that from the time of his Christian conversion (fourteen or more years before the supposed “Jerusalem Conference”) and throughout remainder of his life, St. Paul’s Gentile preachments would have engendered adamant opposition from Jerusalem’s Jesus-followers:
- that the coming of Jesus negates the Jewish Torah, which now fades away (Galatians 3.24–26);
- that the Jewish Torah is not from God but from “weak and beggarly spirits” (Galatians 4.9);
- that the Torah is “the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets” (2 Corinthians 3.7);
- that observing Torah commandments generates sin “for all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse” (Galatians 3.10).
Jesus’ disciples would hardly have conferred “apostolic authority” on St. Paul for an anti-Jewish program denigrating Jewish law, rituals, and practices (see also Notes #2, #14). Moreover, in his Romans letter St. Paul never claims he received either St. James’ or St. Peter’s sanction for special apostleship to the Gentiles. Since the Roman “Church” was organized by Jesus-believers from Jerusalem and not by St. Paul, Rome would have had Jewish Christian members (the “weak” Christians of Romans 14.1–2, 15.1) who would have known there was no such “Jerusalem Conference” agreement.
Mack (1999, p. 134) points out that St. Luke’s Acts of the Apostles is “an imaginary reconstruction in the interest of aggrandizing an amalgam view of Christianity early in the second century. Luke did this by painting over the messy history of conflictual movements throughout the first century and in his own time. He cleverly depicted Peter and Paul as preachers of an identical gospel [to Gentiles], and he wrote as a philosopher-historian, saying in effect to the Romans, ‘We Christians could be very good for you.’ That is mythmaking in the genre of epic. There is not the slightest reason to take it seriously as history.”
Prominent among Acts of the Apostles’ early Christian narratives is St. Stephen’s mythical speech before his alleged martyrdom by Jews (6.8–7.60). According to Shelly Matthews (pp. 131–132), St. Luke’s purpose in fabricating this episode is to portray “Christians as a legitimate social-religious group distinct from Jews” by “(1)appropriating Jewish prestige markers, while simultaneously denigrating actual Jews (insofar as they refuse to accept Jesus as messiah) as subversive and murderous subjects of empire; (2) engaging in the daunting task of demonstrating that followers of the Way [Christians] are innocent of any charges of subversion they face and that Rome’s preferred stance toward these followers is to do them no harm. He does this in the face of widespread traditions of Roman involvement in the crucifixion of Jesus and the execution of Paul, to say nothing of the devastation of Judea as a consequence of Roman military conquest. … [O]ne could, with justification, argue that the story, from beginning to end, is the fictional creation of the author.” (See also M. Grant, p. 218–219.)
Gratuitously added to St. Stephen’s presumed execution is the presence of St. Paul, then known only as “Saul,” a non-Jesus-believing Jew persecuting innocent Jesus believers. In St. Paul’s own accounts of that time, there is no mention of any persecuted “St. Stephen,” and St. Paul states that he himself “was still unknown by sight” to Jerusalem’s Jewish Christians (Galatians 1.21). According to Löning (p. 113), “the impressive dramatic intertwining of the Stephen tradition with the conversion story of Paul is clearly the work of the author of Acts.”
St. Luke’s “theological agenda” (Ehrman 2003, p. 172), firmly rooted in St. Paul’s Gentile Christianity, shows how assiduously Christian leaders distanced themselves from Jews though forced to use Jewish Scriptures for religious respectability. That is, while commandeering the Jewish Bible to demonstrate Christian antiquity, they claimed to supplant Jews in God’s favor and fashioned Jews into models of anti-Christian violence through devices such as the killing of Christ and St. Stephen’s martyrdom. Presence of Jewish Christians, the first witnesses to Jesus’ messianism, had little pacifying effect on Gentile Christianity’s denigration of Jews and opposition to Jewish Torah observances. “The rhetorical effect of Acts is to persuade readers that Jews are the mortal enemies of Christians and that they are to be vigorously opposed, despised, and treated with contempt” (Smith and Tyson, p. 340).
6. Jews instigated political persecution of Christians thereby causing anti-Jewish backlash.
This claim is unfounded since Jews never gained political power to seriously threaten Christianity, nor would Roman authorities before Constantine have stepped in to favor either group in whatever disputes they may have engaged. The massive Jewish rebellions against Rome in the first and second centuries would hardly have given Jews permission to persecute Gentiles, whether or not Christian. Note that although some scholars suggest that reported first century quarrels (ca. 49 C.E.) about a man named “Chrestus” was really between Jews and Christians, the edict expelling the disputants from Rome favored neither, making no distinction between them (Hvalvik, pp. 180–184). In the fourth century when Christians gained imperial status and Roman authorities began to intervene between Jews and Christians, it was in favor of Christians, marking the beginning of direct threats to Jews (Note #23).
According to unprejudiced scholars, “actual evidence of Jewish instigation of persecution (‘stirring up trouble’) is hardly to be found” (Lieu 1996, p. 91). Fredriksen (2003, p. 59) points out that “anti-Christian actions focused on the issue of public cult [worship of the Emperor and the civic gods]. Were Jews on these volatile occasions to have made themselves so conspicuous, they would have risked emphasizing, on precisely the same issue, their own degree of religious difference from majority culture.” Furthermore, Pagan converts of St. Paul’s Gentile churches and Jews of local synagogues would have been so separated by differences in custom and culture to make improbable any rivalrous Jewish mission to foment political persecution. (See, for example, Donfried, p. 44.)
It is also likely that although Christianity’s early experiences were of considerable importance to Christians, they were of little significance to Jews more concerned with Roman oppression and Roman destruction of Jerusalem and their Temple. The Jewish “Mishnah,” a post-Temple rabbinical extension of Jewish Biblical laws (forerunner of the Jewish Talmud), whose writings were finalized about the end of the second century C.E., shows no clear hint of Christian existence.
“Prior to the time of Constantine (305–337 C.E.) the documents of Judaism that evidently reached closure — the Mishnah, Pirqué Abot, the Tosefta — scarcely took cognizance of Christianity and did not deem the new faith to be much of a challenge. If the unsystematic and scattered allusions are meant to refer to Christianity at all, then the sages regarded Christianity as an irritant, an exasperating heresy among Jews who should have known better” (Neusner 1987, p. 7). “Expressed hope for the destruction of the oppressive Roman empire is indeed a recurrent theme throughout classical rabbinic literature … [T]he need to respond to Christianity was not a major concern of Palestinian rabbis of Late Antiquity” (Schremer 2009, p. 364). “The Mishnah does not establish strong borders around its community, it is not interested in defining orthodoxy, suppressing deviance, or establishing the limits of dissent” (S. J. D. Cohen 2013, p. 220). “Even when the Jews could have avenged themselves against the Christians with the tacit support of the government, as in the time of Julian [361–363 C.E.] they nonetheless refrained from initiating or participating in such a move” (Irshai, p. 415).
The examples that Josephus, Jewish historian writing at the end of the first century, gives of Jewish assimilation or “apostasy” (abandoning Judaism) are always of Jews turning to one or another form of Paganism, the dominant society, but never to Christianity. The Tosefta, third century commentary and elaboration of the Mishnah, makes distinctions between Jews and Samaritans and between Jews and idolatrous Gentiles, but makes no mention of “Christians” (Lightstone, pp. 100—101). According to J. T. Sanders (2000, p. 144), “There is little evidence of Jewish conversion to Christianity after the first formation of Christian congregations in the Jewish homeland, whereas there is quite a bit of evidence elsewhere that early Christian congregations were at least predominantly Gentile.”
Although some scholars claim that Gentile Christian anti-Jewish polemics were measures of “self-defense” against Jewish attacks (Horbury; Ludlow, p. 33) and blame Jewish hostility as the primary cause for “Parting of the Ways” between Jews and Christians (Geraty), such arguments discount the following:
- Although Jews may have verbally contested Christian claims of Jesus’ virginal birth and resurrection, there are no Jewish literary anti-Christian counterparts to Christian anti-Jewish (Adversus Judaeos) texts that began from the second century onward. The first known Jewish anti-Christian document, Toledoth Yeshu, probably appeared no earlier than the eighth century (Newman 1999, p. 62).
- The six claimed “disputations” between Jews and Christians, flanked by the second and sixth centuries (Varner 2013, p. 563), were all written by Christians with ostensible Jewish opponents who were persistently defeated. Real Jewish disagreement never entered the arena of Christian literary dispute since there are no known “disputations” against Gentile Christianity written by Jews. Nor are there Christian “disputations” that record the many valid long-standing reasons why Jews did not adopt Gentile Christianity (Note #11). For example, Jewish opposition to worshipping a human such as Jesus Christ (Note 11.b) did not await St. Paul and his movement: “Can mortals make for themselves gods? Such are no Gods!” (Jeremiah 16.20).
- As shown above, the rabbinical movement of the first few centuries made no discernible mention of Gentile Christianity, considering it of no more interest than Paganism. “The rabbinic sources treat all pagans as essentially faceless, and Christianity not at all, except as part of that same blank wall of hostility to God (and by the way, to Israel)” (Neusner 2004, p. 461). “Israel’s sages did not find they had to take seriously the presence or claims of Christianity” (Ibid. p. 444). Only after Christianity became an authoritatively supported Roman antagonist, was there notable Jewish concern.
- It was not Jewish opposition to Jesus as Messiah that prompted Gentile Christian Adversus Judaeos literature. Although isolated from mainstream Judaism, Jewish Christian movements persisted throughout the first five centuries without rabbinical tracts against them being at all comparable to Gentile Christianity’s numerous, caustic, and continuing Adversus Judaeos tracts.
- Christian Jew-hatred did not depend on the local presence of Jewish antagonists. Jews were denigrated even in localities where they were absent (Notes #20, #23).
- Although some Jews may have expressed hostile sentiments during the development of early Christianity, they left no visible signs other than the possible liturgical curse Birkat Ha-minim. As noted above (#10.2), this curse did not appear before the end of the second century, and most probably applied to Jews who opposed Rabbinic authority, not Gentiles. As also noted, the earliest recorded curse between Jews and Christians is not from Jews but from St. Paul (Galatians 1.7–9) against Jewish Christian “Judaizers” who oppose Gentile Christian abandonment of Jewish laws. Unrestrained, St. Paul’s curse in Galatians 3.10–11 extends beyond Jewish Christian “Judaizers” to Torah-observant Jews: “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse … [N]o one is justified before God by the law; for the one who is righteous will live by faith.”
- If Jewish aggression was the agent responsible for Gentile Christianity’s virulent antisemitism, anti-Jewish polemic should have faded from the fourth century onward. Christianity then became the official imperial religion, and Jews could neither attack or question Christian beliefs and practices (Note #23). However, as we know, defamation of Jews as evil “Christ Killers” rejected by God (Notes #6, #8, #18, #19, #23) continued endlessly despite a politically silenced Jewish community.
- Given Gentile Christianity’s need to claim Biblical antiquity by supplanting Jews as the “True Israel” (Note #19), the mere existence of Jews who followed Scriptural laws abandoned by Gentile Christianity threatened its antique façade (Notes #7, #18, #19, #23). Jewish hostility, modest or imagined, became a foil to justify denigrating Jews in gaining antique religious credibility for Gentile Christianity. “The statement of Jewish hostility in general terms is based on theological exegesis and not on historical memory” (Parkes, p. 148). “Antijudaism was … an intrinsic need of Christian self-affirmation. … a part of Christian exegesis … to affirm the identity of the Church, which could only be done by invalidating the identity of the Jews” (Ruether 1974, p. 181).
Belief in Gentile Christianity’s Jesus Christ was easily extended from belief in Jewish responsibility for his murder to belief in Jewish responsibility for persecuting Christians. Absurd transpositions of Jewish Scriptures were enlisted in the Christian cause to show (future!) Jewish persecution. Lieu notes (2002 pp. 141–142): “[St.] Irenaeus uses the well-known theme of brotherly rivalry. Esau representing the Jews, Jacob the Christians: ‘Jacob took the blessings of Esau as the latter people [Jacob’s Christians] has snatched the blessings of the former [Esau’s Jews]. For which cause his brother suffered the plots and persecutions of a brother, just as the Church suffers this self-same thing from the Jews’ (Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. IV.21.3). For [St.] Hippolytus the two elders who spied on Susannah represent ‘the two peoples, one from the circumcision [Jews], the other from the nations [Pagans]’, who still seek false witness against Christians in the hope of stirring up destructive persecution (Hippolytus, ad Danielem I. 13-15). Christian self-interest sanctified misuse of any Biblical narrative, reading “Jacob” (“Israel”) as a Christian (!) and the spying elders as Jews and Pagans. (See also Notes #7, #18.)
The artificial introduction of Jews as “inciters” of Pagan hostility encountered by St. Paul in St. Luke’s Acts of the Apostles (Chapt. 14) dismays even some Christian theologians. “There can be no doubt that this is a very problematic aspect of the way he [St. Luke] works, and we cannot simply accept this from him without any critical objection” (Klauck, p. 61). As M. S. Taylor (pp. 102–104) shows, presuming persecution by Jews became a measure of “true Christian” experience; and, among other arguments, a Christian group (Montanists) was impugned heretical by claiming that the group lacked the experience of Jewish persecution. “Is there one person, my good sirs, among those from Montanus … who was persecuted by the Jews or killed by the wicked?” (Eusebius, ca. 330, Ecclesiastical History 5.16.3). It is quite incongruous that Jewish refusal to accept Christian doctrine (Note #11) was interpreted as a physical threat engendering vituperative unremitting hatred, whereas three centuries of sporadic but lethal persecution by Romans engendered only plaintive Christian claims of mistreatment and a conciliatory attitude (Notes #3, #21, #22).
As expected, Jewish relationship with Christianity changed radically after Christianity reached official Roman imperial status in the fourth century. To the Christians, major political concerns were establishing dominance over Pagans and Jews; and Christian religious concerns centered on the God/nature of Christ (Note #11.b). To the Rabbis, open ideological confrontation against Christianity was imprudent since Jewish survival depended upon the now-theocratic Christian state. Jewish religious concerns then centered on continued development of the “Oral Torah,” via the Talmud and so forth, that would serve and conserve Judaism in the gray days ahead.
7. Anti-Jewishness arose because of competitive Jewish missionary activity to convert the same Gentiles to Judaism that Gentile Christianity was proselytizing.
Simple as it sounds, this notion falls flat because there are few, if any, known events to support active Jewish proselytization among Romans. Fredriksen (1995, pp. 321–322): “[A] supposed market competition between these two communities, Jewish and Catholic, cannot account for anti-Jewish polemic for the simple reason that we have little evidence for actual Jewish missions in antiquity generally. Jews in principle welcomed converts, but do not seem to have mounted missions to attract them.” Feldman (2006, pp. 205–206) finds no evidence “of missionary activity, let alone organized missionary activity, by Jews in the Hellenistic-Roman period (in fact, we do not know the name of a single Jewish missionary who systematically sought converts to classical Judaism during this period, nor do we know the title of a single tract that has as its goal the conversion of non-Jews to Judaism).”
Edrei and Mendels (2013, p. 271): “[T]he rabbis rejected a missionary approach, they had no aspiration to proselytize others. They fashioned the Torah as a national Torah without universalist goals” (their emphasis). Since Gentiles would hardly be concerned about Pharisaic disputes with Sadducees and other Jews on the degree to which Mosaic Law was to be followed, St. Matthew’s Gospel’s claim (23.15) that Pharisees “cross sea and land to make a single convert” really refers to converting Jews to Pharisaism, not Gentiles.
Goodman (1992, pp. 53–55): “I do not doubt either that Jews firmly believed in their role as religious mentors of the Gentile world or that Jews expected that in the last days the Gentiles would in fact come to recognize the glory of God and divine rule on earth. But the desire to encourage admiration of the Jewish way of life or respect for the Jewish God, or to inculcate ethical behavior in other peoples, or such pious hope for the future, should be clearly distinguished from an impulse to draw non-Jews into Judaism.…It is likely enough, then, that Jews welcomed sincere proselytes in the first century. But passive acceptance is quite different from active mission.” … “[T]exts of the early church which appear to attack Jews as competitors for the souls of converts refer in fact to followers of Jesus [Jewish Christian “Judaizers”] who, in the eyes of their opponents, clung too hard to Jewish customs.” (See also Vaage 2006a, pp. 14–15.)
Josephus, whose writings were probably more widely read than those of any other Jewish writer of the first century, actively defended Judaism, presenting it as an attractive alternative to idolatrous religions (Mason). However, although noting that some Gentiles adopted Jewish customs, Josephus took care never to claim that Gentiles must adopt Judaism to be “saved.” In Isaiah (66.23), Gentiles will receive salvation only in the final days when “all flesh shall come to worship before me, says Yahweh.” According to Levinskaya (p. 33), “the defense of Judaism and polemics against polytheists which are definitely present in Jewish literature, are markedly different from signs of missionary zeal. Simple comparison with Christian literature shows the difference in approach.” McKnight (p. 77): “Judaism was not a missionary religion.”