- 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?
PAUL AND "PARTING OF THE WAYS"
(also Note #2)
Gentile Christian separation from Jews had its start in St. Paul’s letters rejecting Jewish rituals and practices, leading to the first century C.E. split between his Gentile Christian churches and Jewish or Jewish Christian synagogues. “If you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you” (Galatians 5.2). “It is not the children of the flesh [Jews] who are the children of God, but the children of the promise [spiritual Christians] are counted as descendants” (Romans 9.8). “As regards the Gospel they [Jews] are enemies of God” (Romans 11.28).
St. Paul’s being “in Christ,” a phrase he uses almost 50 times, transformed Jesus into a non-Jewish mystical divinity unrelated to the “fleshly” Jesus the Jew or Jesus the Jewish Messiah. Horrell (2002, p. 320): “To describe an individual (e.g., 2 Cor 12.2) or a group (e.g., Rom 12.5; 1 Cor 3.1) as ‘in Christ’ is to articulate the core identity designation of the group, the boundary that defines insider [Christian] and outsider [Jew, Pagan].” In St. Paul’s Churches, a convert abandons one’s previous religion, and joins the new “in Christ” Gentile group that overcomes “the borders and uniqueness of the Jewish ethnic group. …Only they [Gentiles] can fully separate themselves from [Jewish] ethnicity, the law, and the flesh” (Rosen-Zvi and Ophid, pp. 137–139). Note that the more anger directed against an “outsider,” the greater the increase in the “insider’s” communal identity. “To you has been given the secret of the Kingdom of God, but for those outside…they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not…be forgiven” (St. Mark 4.11–12).
The group needs an enemy to bolster its own inner resources and maintain its own inner sense of value and purposiveness. The group sustains itself by idealizing its own values and setting them in conflict with the denigrated values of other groups. … [T]he narcissistic basis on which the process operates demands a logic of extremes, in which there is a tendency for all value to be inherent in the in-group and no value or negative value to be inherent elsewhere” (Meissner, p. 233). “The politics of othering permeates the discourses of Paul … Its relentless othering engenders the strategies of marginalization and silencing [others] that are inscribed in the Pauline text and reinscribed by contemporary exegetical and theological scholarship” (Schüssler-Fiorenza, p. 45).
To St. Paul, Jewish “flesh” and Christian “spirit” represented polar opposites of “profane” and “sacred” — akin to Jesus’ change from earthly “flesh” to a resurrected divine “spirit.” Jesus “who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1.3–4). Thus, ordinary Jews and Jesus’ Jewish disciples saw no more than the “fleshly” Jesus, whereas St. Paul claims to have envisioned Jesus in a new “spiritual” sense that replaces Biblical Mosaic “fleshly Law.” “Even though we once knew Christ from a human [fleshly] point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new [spiritual] creation: everything old has passed away” (2 Corinthians 5.16–17).
“Flesh” and “spirit” are forever in combat: “For what the Flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit” (Galatians 5.17). This dualism expresses the dualism in fealty to God between Jews and Christians. “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8.8). “All who are led by the spirit of God are children of God” (Romans 8.14). The New Testament Gospels reflect this dualism, using narratives to place Jesus Christ on one side and Jews on the other. It reaches its apogee in St. John’s Gospel (8.44–47) contrasting the devil and God: “You [Jews] are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. … Whoever is from God hears the words of God [Jesus Christ]. The reason you [Jews] do not hear them is that you are not from God.”
Behind St. Paul’s distinction between “flesh” and “spirit” also lie behavioral and sexual overtones: “[N]othing good dwells within me that is in my flesh” (Romans 7.18). “[W]ith my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin” (Ibid. 7.25). Like other theological innovations, St. Paul’s concept of “sin” was uniquely his own (Kelly), claiming that sin originated in Adam, and we, as his descendants, are therefore all sinners: “sin came into the world through one man [Adam], and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned” (Romans 5.12).
Following St. Paul, “spirit” versus “flesh” offered Christian Fathers a moral contrast between “spiritual” Christians and “fleshly” Jews — “sexual purity” of Christians versus “carnal appetites” of Jews. Christian baptism is then the “spiritual” replacement for the “carnality” of Jewish penile circumcision. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5.24).
According to S. Drake (pp. 102–103), such contrasts encouraged, if not initiated, “the image of the sexually imperiled Christian. … [St. John Chrysostom] conceived of Jewishness not merely as a disease but as a contagious epidemic that spread by means of illicit Judaizing men who preyed upon innocent Christian women. … [T]he stereotypes of Jews in Origen’s commentaries and Chrysostom’s sermons contributed to a climate in which acts of violence against Jews were made thinkable, meaningful, and even endorsed.” Depicting Jews as sexual predators, blasphemers, and “Christ Killers” set them apart from “moral” Christians as cast-off pariahs subject to social contempt and isolation; a status reinforced by Roman imperial disenfranchisement and Christian violence beginning in the fourth and fifth centuries (Note #23).
Gentile Christian leaders extended the disgrace of Jewishness even to Jewish Jesus-followers (Notes #13, #15), who, for the first few centuries, remained within Jewish identity (Note #16). According to Joan Taylor (p. 94), even after the failed Jewish 66–72 C.E. revolt against Rome, “there is no reason to think that they [Jewish Christians] were considered separate from Judaism, even if other Jews thought they erred in their belief in Jesus as Messiah.” In fact, archaeological evidence shows that Jews and Jewish Christians lived peacefully together in Trans-Jordan (“Golan”) communities during the fourth to sixth centuries. “This would tend to suggest that a parting of the ways was not deeply felt even here, from which we may extrapolate centuries of peaceful coexistence beforehand” (Ibid. p. 103). According to S. J. D. Cohen (2013, p. 236) it was Rabbinical avoidance and neglect rather than confrontation that mostly parted the ways between Jews and Jewish Jesus-believers.
In contrast to such gradual “parting” between Jews and Jewish Christians, Gentile Christian leaders distinguished their churches and religious practices from Jews of all types early on. One has only to refer to St. Paul’s letters proclaiming an imagined split of Abraham’s descendants into Gentile Christians on one hand and Jews on the other — the “uncircumcised” faithful and the “circumcised” sinful, those tied to “the faith” and those tied to “the flesh,” those who receive “the promise” and those “cursed by the Law.”
As indicated earlier, among features St. Paul added to his division between Gentile Christians and Jews:
- Theology of a divine Jesus Christ as a Yahweh-substitute (Philippians 2.10–11, Note #11.b).
- Rants against “Judaizers” (Philippians 3.2, Galatians 1.6–9, Note #17).
- Claim that Jews were “Christ killers” (1 Thessalonians 2.14–15, Note #8).
- Claim that Jewish “blindness” prevents them from seeing the “glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4.4, Note #18).
- Claim that Gentile Christians replaced Jews in God’s favor (2 Corinthians 3.5–6, Note #6).
Freed from obeying Jewish “Law” through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 8.2, 10.4; Galatians 3.13, 3.24, 5.1), there is no evidence that St. Paul’s Gentile Christians or their leaders joined or proposed to join the synagogues of either practicing Jews or Jewish Christians, or presented themselves to Romans as Jews, or that Romans considered Gentile Christians as Jews. “Pauline groups were never a sect of Judaism. They organized their lives independently from the Jewish associations of the cities where they were founded, and apparently, so far as the evidence reveals, they had little or no interaction with the Jews” (Meeks 1985, p. 106).
Given that it took only a single generation after Jesus’ death for St. Paul to sanctify non-Jewish Gentile Christianity, “Parting of the Ways” from Judaism appears rapid rather than incremental. Once started, Gentile Christian Biblical exegesis quickly evolved, claiming that Jewish Scriptural writers really intended to provide the platform for an entirely unique Christian religion, appearing many centuries later than the Scriptures themselves — a self-elected inheritor of Scriptures whose rituals and commandments it vehemently denied, and which made no mention of Christians or Christianity. St. Justin Martyr: “[The Jewish Scriptures are] rather not yours, but ours. For we believe them; but you, though you read them, do not catch the spirit that is in them” (Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew, XXIX, ANF vol. 1, p. 209; also Notes #7, #18, #19).
Ruether (1974, p. 94): “The anti-Judaic tradition in Christianity grew as a negative and alienated expression of a need to legitimate its revelation in Jewish terms [Jewish Scriptures].…it continues on in the Church Fathers, and even to this day, as an ongoing expression of this same need by the Church to legitimate its Christological midrash by insisting that this actually represents the true meaning of the Jewish scriptures and is the divinely intended fulfillment of Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets. It is not enough for the Christian tradition to hold this opinion.… As long as ‘the Jews,’ that is, the Jewish religious tradition itself, continues to reject this interpretation, the validity of the Christian view is in question.”
Continued claims to possess the Jewish Scriptures by Gentile Christian leaders were therefore not to maintain alliance with scorned Jews, but to convince Romans of Gentile Christianity’s ancient origin by transferring Jewish Scriptural heritage from Jews to Gentiles. Thus, the novel notion that Gentile Christian churches resisted separating themselves from Jews because they felt “inner-Christian resistance” against separating Christianity from the Jewish Scriptures (Reed and Vuong, p. 122) ignores the Gentile Christian need to disparage Jews in order to appropriate for themselves the Jewish Scriptures.
It seems clear that in whatever categories we place Judaism and early Gentile Christianity; they should not obscure their essential differences. Multilevel distinctions in foundational documents, religious beliefs, rituals, liturgies, and ethnic backgrounds, are certainly greater than those between traditionally related “sects” and surely mark a significantly bordered religious separation. (See also Niehoff.)
Along with other scholars noted earlier (#10.6), Burns (2016, p. 56) points out that although ancient Rabbis (“Tannaim”), whose discourses are recounted in the third century C.E. Mishnah, may have been aware of Jewish believers in Jesus as a Messiah, they show no knowledge either of St. Paul or his Gentile Christian churches. This absence of early Rabbinical response to Gentile Christianity (Schremer 2009) shows that Jewish religious leaders had no desire to contact Christians, nor were they concerned about any Gentile Christian influence on Jews, nor did they deem St. Paul’s churches an extension of Jewish beliefs, customs, and practices (“Judaism”). “Christianity plays no role of consequence; no one takes the matter seriously. … Israel’s sages did not find they had to take seriously the presence or claims of Christianity” (Neusner 1986, p. 77). To the Rabbis, St. Paul’s Gentile Christianity was as much outside Judaism as idolatrous Paganism.
Charlesworth (2013, p. 293) and some other writers insist that because Jews and Christians share some “DNA” (Jewish Scriptures and some Jewish concepts of God), “in a deep sense, no parting of the ways can occur universally and conceptually.” Overlooked is that Gentile Christian and Jewish usage of Jewish Scriptures and its Scriptural deity does not mean common identity in cultural and religious traits, any more than different species sharing some DNA sequences mean they must be alike. Similarly, common anticipation of a divinely-sent apocalyptic figure offering messianic redemption — a Christian Jesus and a Jewish Messiah, a supernatural Son of God and a Son of Man — does not outweigh the multitude of differences that conferred separate social identities on Jews and Gentile Christians.
Thus, although Judaism and Christianity once shared some common features, there is no evidence that this supported further commonality. By the end of the first century or even earlier, whatever their use of Jewish Scriptural documents and apocalyptic beliefs, these two groups interpreted these documents and beliefs completely differently for different purposes; engaged in completely different religious/cultural/ethnic practices; and formed Jewish synagogues and Christian “ecclesia” (churches) recognized by Romans as completely different religious assemblies for different people. Sharing the Jewish Scriptures between Judaism and Christianity did not at all token religious camaraderie.
As we have seen, St. Paul’s Gentile Christians and their communities were also judged distinctly unique by Roman Emperors such as Nero and Trajan, as well as by Pliny the Younger (Note #2). Roman writers do not connect them [Gentile Christians] with Judaism in any respect” (Judge, p. 359). Gospel writers (especially St. John, Note #12), as well as St. Ignatius and other early Christian Fathers similarly express distinctive separation from Jews and Judaism (Note #5). “According to Dunn (2016, p. 4): “What was at stake here, in Paul’s view, was whether this new faith in/commitment to Jesus (the) Christ meant that gentile believers were converting to Judaism. Was belief in Jesus (the) Christ simply a first step to becoming a Jew? Paul was clear that the answer was no! … Paul insisted that pisteuein eis Christon [belief in Christ] was a full response to the gospel of Christ. To insist on anything more as equally fundamental [Jewish Scriptural “Law”] was to diminish and deny the fundamental character and role of faith.”
St. Paul made clear to his successors: “a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ … because no one will be justified by the works of the law” (Galatians 2.16). The “Law”-abiding “Old Covenant” with Yahweh is replaced by Gentile Christianity’s “Faith”-abiding “New Covenant with Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 3.14). Hagner (p. 82) notes that “the extent of newness makes it impossible to describe Christianity as merely a sect or reform movement within Judaism.” Ruether (1974, p. 56): “It was the raising up of faith in Messiah Jesus as a supersessionary covenantal principle — the view that one was not within the true people of God unless one adopted the faith in this form — that caused the break between the Church and Israel.”
S. G. Wilson (1995, pp. 299–300): “Most Christians, even before 70 CE, gathered in communities separate from Judaism. They met in churches, the Jews in synagogues (and the Pagans in temples). From the end of the first century they also increasingly worshipped on different days [Sabbath/Sunday, Passover/Easter, etc.] and in different ways [rites, liturgies, sacraments]. These two things alone would have given them a strong sense of distinct identity, as much publicly observable as privately felt. That these boundaries mattered, and from a very early stage, can be seen in the fierce reaction to those who transgressed them.”
In Neusner’s terms (2001, p. 28): “Judaism and Christianity are completely different religions, not different versions of one religion. … The two faiths stand for different people talking about different things to different people.” Harlow, (p. 276): “In sheer demographics, the Jesus movement was overwhelmingly non-Jewish in its constituency by the end of the first century, and in that sense was a largely Gentile religion.” There are few Jewish Christians recognizable within St. Justin Martyr’s new Christian society (ca. 150), and hardly any at all by the time of Tertullian (ca. 200).
Thus, to say that Gentile Christianity is another form of Judaism (Boccaccini) obscures the wide gulf between them that appeared quite early in the elements that define religion: beliefs, rituals, liturgies, customs, histories, festivals, theologies, priestly duties, and clerical hierarchies. Even in burial customs, Jewish and Christian catacombs outside Rome show “two communities with different values and practices — a situation that had come about because their ways had parted such a long time before” (M. H. Williams, p. 178). As we have seen throughout this monograph, Gentile Christian leaders’ claims to possess the Jewish Scriptures had nothing to do with observing Scriptural “Jewish” conventions, but only to gain an antique history by their “reinterpretations,” and convince Romans that these Scriptures were really written to provide “new” Christianity an “old” venerable identity.
Similarly, to say that “Judaism/Jewishness” never became a recognized religion until it was so identified by Roman restrictions in the fourth and fifth centuries C.E., or even centuries later (Boyarin 2012, pp. 2—3), “neglects the copious evidence indicating that … ‘Judaeans’ sustained ideologies and behaviors conforming to the religious phenomenon today known as Judaism long before they knew to call their culture by that name. That ancient Jews, therefore, did not uniformly use the term ‘Jew’ and ‘Judaism’ is not a useful indicator of how those individuals functioned as a group. It merely indicates that they did not speak English” (Burns 2016, p. 66). How could it not have been clear to Jews, their Rabbis, and even to Gentiles, that St. Paul’s Gentile Christians were neither “Jews” nor Jewish religion practitioners?
Some writers (e.g., Eisenbaum; Galambush, p. 22) consider the anti-Jewishness that accompanied “Parting of the Ways” as a regrettable interpretation of St. Paul’s letters, and join a movement to replace the so-called “Old” version of St. Paul as an anti-Jew, with a “New” version of a “Jew at heart.” They claim St. Paul did not really anticipate Gentile Christianity would separate itself from Judaism as extensively as it did (e.g., Gager 2000), but intended only to modify Judaism to include Gentiles. That Christian leaders and theologians long interpreted St. Paul’s fulminations against “Judaizers” (Note #17) and Biblical “Law” (Note #18) as a condemnation of Jews was, according to their view, a misreading of his statements and intentions.
However, if we accept St. Paul’s message as less anti-Jewish than it seems, serious questions arise.
- In their vituperations against Jews (Notes #6, #8, #12, #17, #18), did Christian leaders and theologians willfully ignore St. Paul’s supposedly veiled Jewish/pro-Jewish message for two millennia, or were they so muddled as to inadvertently pervert a Jewish/pro-Jewish message now apparent to revisionist critics?
- Can this presumed misreading of St. Paul’s letters be reversed by Christian agreement to discard the extensive development of Pauline Gentile Christian theology and its mythological anti-Jewish revision of Scriptural history going as far back as Abraham or even Adam?
Perhaps the attempt to enhance St. Paul’s Jewish image is prompted by the belief that granting St. Paul a pro-Jewish “intent” would somehow diminish St. Paul’s embarrassingly anti-Jewish “effect.” Can a historic “effect” be ignored or minimized by claiming it had a different “intent”?
Whatever St. Paul’s motives — whether we see St. Paul as true Jew, Greek non-Jew, Christian anti-Jew, or some combination thereof (Lüdemann 2002b) — anti-Jewish consequences of his letters spread widely and endured interminably. Two millennia of his readers were imbued with five fundamental notions used by generations of Christian theologians to demonize Jews and create sharp borders between Gentile Christianity and Judaism. To reiterate:
- The Jews lost God’s favor because they had a long history of disobedience and are guilty of the murder of Jesus (1 Thessalonians 2.14–15).
- The Biblical Laws of Moses followed by Jews were negated by the coming of Jesus (Galatians 3.24). The Torah is a “ministry of death” (2 Corinthians 3.7) and prime source of sin that must be discarded by Gentile Christians (Galatians 3.10, 5.2). “No human being” is justified by “deeds prescribed by the Law, for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3.20). Such statements apply both to Gentiles and Jews, since nowhere does St. Paul indicate that either Gentile or Jew can fulfill God’s will by obeying the Law; righteousness comes only through faith in Jesus Christ and abandonment of the Law. “For we hold that a person is justified by Faith [in Jesus Christ] apart from works prescribed by Law” (Romans 3.28). “If justification comes through the Law, then Christ died for nothing” (Galatians 2.21).
- Upon crucifixion, Jesus the human Jew became a superhuman Gentile savior. Since the Messiah title (Hebrew “Anointed,” Greek “Christ”) for a political/military leader fighting to liberate Jews from oppression meant little if anything to Gentiles, St. Paul transformed “Christ” into the surname of a divine mystical figure, “Jesus Christ/Christ Jesus Son of God,” with transnational transethnic powers extending far beyond that of an alleged Jewish activist. “Even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way” (2 Corinthians 5.16). “[A]ccording to the flesh, [out] comes the Messiah [Christ], who is God overall, blessed forever” (Romans 9.5). “[S]cripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Galatians 3.22). To a Gentile audience, the names that St. Paul used for Jesus throughout his letters — “Our Lord Jesus Christ,” “Jesus Christ Our Lord,” “Christ Jesus” — signified a resurrected God who arose from “Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1.23). To this imagined “Christ event,” Jews are pictured as obtusely oblivious. “The God of this world has blinded the minds of the [Jewish] unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4.4).
- St. Paul’s Gospel of “spirituality” enabled his followers to profess historical claims to (“spiritual”!) antiquity. Thus, Abraham, claimed by Jews as their ancestral patriarch because of the “Old Circumcision Covenant” with Yahweh (Note #7), becomes the presumed father of Gentile Christianity by reason of his “spirituality.” In St. Paul’s “New Christian Covenant,” circumcision is meaningless, since “spirituality” trumps “flesh,” just as “faith” trumps “works” (Romans 3.11, 3.28, 4.13, 8.1–10, 9.8; Galatians 2.15–21, 3.2–5). The covenantal “Family of God” — St. Paul’s Christian “Olive Tree” (Romans 11.17–20) — is thus pruned of its faithless Jewish branches and replaced with grafted wild olive shoots of faithful Gentile Christians: “They [Jews] were broken off because of their unbelief, but you [Gentiles] stand only through faith.” “Spiritual” Christians from Abraham onward now replace Jews as the true “Israel of God” (Galatians 6.16) — transcending reality by magically transforming “spiritual” to “real”!
- Jewish understanding of Biblical history must be amended to accommodate new Gentile Christian interpretations. To St. Paul’s Gentile proselytes, it was their ancestors who were baptized by Moses “in the cloud and in the sea” and of drinking “from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10.1–5). According to a modern Christian theologian (Dunn 1998, p. 508), it is necessary for Gentile Christianity to call itself the age-old “True Israelites” in order to justify possession of Israel’s Scriptures, supposedly made for Christians and not for Jews. That not a semblance of Gentile Christian “True Israelite” believers in Jesus Christ appeared during the 1500-year interval between Abraham and St. Paul is simply ignored. (See also Notes #7; #18; #19)
The high contrast between these five Gentile Christian notions and common Jewish beliefs, whether ancient or modern, makes it quite difficult to see St. Paul or any of his followers as “a Jew at heart.” Not one of these concepts can be called a simple variant of Judaism that an observant Jew of any time or place could accept. In his Philippians letter (3.2–9), St. Paul’s posture of being Jewish (circumcised, a Pharisee, etc., see also Galatians 2.15) is overshadowed by his argument that he can discard his Jewish background with impunity because his faith “in Christ” has liberated him from the “flesh.” Whatever gains I had [as a Jew], these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ” (Philippians 3.7).
In his own words, St. Paul’s claim to being a Jew was merely expedient: “To those under the [Jewish] law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law” (1 Corinthians 9.20–21). To St. Paul, , not even Jews, let alone Gentiles, need to be or remain Jewish.
“Paul routinely subordinated his birth identity to his new racial identity in Christ” (Sechrest, p. 227). He made clear that Jewish food laws do not apply to himself or to any faithful Jesus-believer. “I know and am persuaded that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone [Jews] who thinks it unclean” (Romans 14.14); and he expresses the same attitude toward Jewish Sabbath observances (Romans 24.5–6). Scriptural Law observance therefore has no redemptive value, and according to Moo’s analysis of St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians 2.15–21, “Jews are ‘sinners’ just like the [non-Christian] Gentiles” and “only a total reliance on Christ, by faith” can “put them right with God” (p. 157).
Also, St. Paul’s efforts in collecting funds for Jerusalem’s Jewish Christian “Saints” (e.g., Romans 15.25–26) may have been no more than claiming a figurative tie to Jesus’ original disciples, such as James the Just, in order to gain standing as an apostle. He showed little trust in the religious fellowship of Jesus’ Galilean-Jerusalem disciples, vehemently denouncing their emissaries as “Judaizers” (Note #17) and was quite disdainful of their worth as “Saints,” calling them “supposed” leaders who “contributed nothing to me” (Galatians 2.6).
Although St. Luke makes no special point of St. Paul discarding his Jewish name “Saul” (Acts of the Apostles 13.9), this act could signify, according to L. T. Johnson (1992, p. 227), discarding a burdensome Jewish load: “Perhaps we are to see Saul, at the moment he takes on his new and proper identity as Paul the Apostle, fighting the final battle with the ‘Jewish false prophet’ within him, blinding the hostile magician that is his former [Jewish] self at the moment he assumes his [Christian] role as ‘light to the Gentiles.’”
As to realization of Jewishness by Gentile followers of St. Paul’s letters, there is no indication they would consider themselves Jewish, either in behavior or belief. Nor so would Gentile readers of the heritage that St. Paul passed on to St. Luke, St. John, Acts of the Apostles, and other New Testament documents. Thus, St. John’s Gospel “was not written to foster conversation between Jew and Christian but to set boundaries between them” (Burns 2012, p. 43, also Note #12). “With regards to his [St. Paul’s] converts, it is noteworthy that not a single one can be identified from the Pauline letters as being Jewish” (E. P. Sanders 1986, p. 88). Again, as in Note #2, St. Paul and the leaders of his churches created an unbridgeable gap separating their churches from all synagogues, whether Jewish or Jewish-Christian. The boundaries were not blurred, but firm.
Note that Marcion, whose followers were probably the most numerous of all Christians in the mid-second century (Clabeaux, p. 515) — who insisted that Jewish Scriptures and its God Yahweh were irrelevant to Gentile Christianity and proclaimed that Jesus was not a Jew but appeared to the Jews as an adult directly from heaven (R. M. Grant, p. 517) — restricted his “Scriptures” to St. Paul’s letters and to an edited version of St. Luke. De Wet (p. 305) observes that for St. John Chrysostom “Christians could become more like Christ by becoming more like Paul.” Obviously, Marcion and St. John Chrysostom the Jew-hater saw nothing Jewish in St. Paul.
Perhaps a charitable view of St. Paul’s Jewishness is that he fathered Gentile Christianity “unintentionally” (Galambush, p. 115). However, “fathering” a virulent anti-Jewish religion does not say much for St. Paul’s “unintentions.” Can the claim that St. Paul inserted a hidden “Jewish” goal in his message justify the opposition to Jewishness St. Paul’s Gentile converts derived from his message? As questioned above, was the fervent anti-Jewishness of Christian leaders the result of a continuous two-thousand-year misreading of his letters?
Thus, although some scholars propose that New Testament Gospel writers may have been disgruntled Jewish Jesus-believers cast out from Jewish synagogues (Note #10.1–2), this hardly diminishes the protracted vilifying anti-Jewishness embedded in these fundamental “canonized” documents of Gentile Christianity, nor does it supplant Gentile Christianity’s more basic antisemitic motivation to replace Jews by assuming for itself Jewish Scriptural antiquity.
It seems reasonable that however “Jewish” Jesus-followers may have comported themselves after his crucifixion, Jewish status changed radically a generation or so later. By then St. Paul had established Gentile Christian churches in which Torah-commanded observances were declared an abomination, sharply distinguishing them not only from ordinary Jewish synagogues but even from St. James’ Jesus-believing synagogues. According to B. Wilson (p. 134): “…the Jesus Movement in Israel and the Christ Movement in the Diaspora…were not the same religion: one came from Jesus; the other came from Paul. One was within Judaism; the other was not. One focused on the teachings of Jesus; the other focused on the figure of Christ. … the two movements were not branch operations of one common enterprise.” They were “competing religions” differing “in terms of origins, beliefs and practices,” as can be evidenced by St. Paul’s vilifying vituperations against “Judaizing” Jewish Christians (Note #17).
The claim that Jesus’ death by crucifixion was a symbol of power and not of its absence (1 Corinthians 1.17), was another theological theme that departed widely from Jewish beliefs. Again, as shown above (Notes #12, #2), it was St. Paul who changed Baptism from a Jewish rite used for purification and John the Baptist’s “penitence,” into the Christian initiation ceremony of mystical death and rebirth “in the name of Christ” (see also Tabor, pp. 133–141). Similarly, St. Paul transformed the Jewish Passover communal meal (Jesus’ “Last Supper”) into a mystical sacrament (“Eucharist”) where Christians partake in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ through ingesting bread and wine (Notes #2; #7); a concept that would be anathema to Jews (Note #11.f).
Again, it is clear that although Judaism and Gentile Christianity shared Jewish Scriptures, they each bore different social/ethnic identities and interpreted these Scriptures differently. Although Jewish identity may vary in degree and importance from one Jew to another, historically the term “Jew” connoted not only a Semitic origin but also shared language and customs derived from the Jewish Scriptures and Jewish history, such as monotheistic beliefs in an invisible God, male circumcision, dietary restrictions, Sabbath observances, and specific Holy day celebrations. Impelled by St. Paul’s mystical epiphanies there are no such emblems of “Jewishness” in Gentile Christianity, marking a different religion made suitable for a different ethnicity.
As noted earlier (Note #2) St. Paul’s Gentile Christianity —embodied in the New Testament and in sayings of the Christian Fathers — did not originate from any Christian passage in the Jewish Scriptures, but from St. Paul’s imagined conversation with the dead Jesus. “For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the Gospel that was proclaimed to me is not of human origin, for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1.11–12). To this, St. Paul adds other exclusive visions that far surpass those of his Jewish Christian competitors: “[F]ourteen years ago [I] was caught up in the third heaven — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. … [I] was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat” (2 Corinthians 12.2–4).
In willingness to die for his “Gospel,” St. Paul obviously meant that his beliefs must be true. “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain … my desire is to depart and be with Christ” (Philippians 1.21–23). Purposeful dying (martyrdom) to testify for the truth of a “belief” or “cause” was a legendary motif in all groups, Jews, Greeks, and Romans. In 2 Maccabees (7.37), a Jewish youth facing the Greek despot Antiochus IV Epiphanes who sought to suppress Jewish customs, makes the plea: “I, like my brothers, give up body and life for the laws of our ancestors, appealing to God to show mercy soon to our nation and by trials and plagues to make you confess that he alone is God.” In asserting that “orthodox” Christianity must be the only “true religion,” Christians applied this notion of martyrdom to many “Saints” (Moss 2013), as though willingness to die for a cause testifies to more than one’s own persuasion. Ignored is the fact that “heretical” Christian sects, such as Donatists and others, produced even more martyrs than the “orthodox” (Ste. Croix 2006, p. 198). “[T]here is evidence that all kinds of Christians could be unfavorably disposed towards martyrdom, if it was experienced by someone not belonging to their own group” (Dunderberg 2013b, p. 422).
Aside from St. Paul’s highly imagined visions, there is no evidence that Jesus the Galilean Jew ever conceived himself as “Jesus Christ/Christ Jesus” to be worshipped by posterity as the Divine Son of God, nor did any of Jesus’ Jewish disciples act as though they also received, believed, or credited St. Paul’s non-Jewish/anti-Jewish “Gospel.” (See also Note #10.5.) Symbolic of theological hubris is that Christian Fathers and their successors never asked why St. Paul’s anomalous revelations are more divinely authoritative than the opposed beliefs and practices of Jesus’ original disciples, such as James the Just.
“Fleshly” Jesus and “spiritual” St. Paul had quite different objectives. To Jesus, the “world to come” is messianic justice on Earth (Note #15), albeit transformed by the New Testament into Jesus sitting on a throne of glory judging the nations (St. Matthew 25.31) and his followers judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Ibid. 19.28). St. Paul’s aspiration for Jesus extended beyond Earth to a cosmic victory that covers all dimensions: “so that at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2.10).
St. Paul’s principal enemy is not oppressive Rome or its exploitative society, but a celestial Satan (Romans 16.20) “who causes dissensions and offences in opposition to the teaching you have learned” (Romans 16.17). Satan must be fought spiritually through faith in Jesus, for those who lose faith lose the heavenly battle. “Do you not know that we are to judge angels — to say nothing of ordinary matters” (1 Corinthians 6.3). However, to Jews, the repeated admonition “Remember, you were slaves in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 5.15, 15.15, 24.18, 24.22) is to cherish redemption from oppression; not from Satan but from slavery.
What St. Paul saw in Jesus was obviously not what Jesus’ Jewish audience saw in Jesus. Jesus’ aim was to enjoin Jews to participate in a “Kingdom of God.” St. Paul’s aim was to enjoin Gentiles to place faith in the image of Jesus as their Savior from Satanic sin (2 Thessalonians 2.8–9) — “Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1.23) resurrected from the dead. “He informs his hearers of a current cosmic contest that affects their lives and asserts that this battle goes back to the very beginning of time itself, into the apocalyptic drama begun at the dawn of creation. It is a battle between good and evil, between God and Satan (2 Corinthians 11.3, 14–15)” (Bowers, p. 34).
Replacing Jesus’ opposition to oppression with opposition to Satan was then carried forward in many ways. For example, St. Cyril of Jerusalem points to Christian baptism as “the invocation of God and prayer give power to the exorcized oil not only to burn up and destroy the vestiges of past sins but also to drive away the invisible power of the evil one” (Wiles and Santer, p. 182).
In sum, whatever St. Paul’s personal feelings, his vision of Jesus Christ as the harbinger of a non-Jewish “New Covenant” is most trenchant. It seems obvious that readers of his letters could not have interpreted his unremitting opposition to Jewish religious rituals and Jewish Scriptural commandments as other than distancing his followers from the “Old Covenant” Jewish religion. This distancing is emblematic in the differences between St. Paul’s Christian churches and Jewish synagogues, in which neither sought the other for affiliation or support. Goodman (2007b, p. 175) points out: “If modern scholars find it hard to decide whether the author or intended reader of a particular text were Jews or Christians, it does not follow that those who produced the text in antiquity were similarly in doubt.”
Clearly, St. Paul’s opposition to Jewish customs/beliefs/practices established new Gentile Christianity with status as a unique religious entity, not a Jewish sect. “Paul transformed the God-centered religion of Jesus [the Jew] into a [Gentile] Christ-centered Christianity” (Vermes 2012, p. 237).