By: Benna Crawford
Christianity emerged from the world of Judaism and shares its monotheism and belief in the promise of a messiah. But Christians regard their religion as the completion of that promise while Jews regard Christianity as a misapprehension, the mistaken notion that Jesus was the savior prophesied in the Old Testament.
A charismatic Jew presented the ideas that time and this history separated from Judaism and molded into an entirely new spiritual system.
THE JEW FROM NAZARETH
Jesus was born, lived and died a Jew. His mother was Jewish. He worked and preached in Galilee, a region of Jewish communities, and he was known throughout his life as the man from Nazareth, the Jewish town of his birth. He attended synagogue on holy days and was familiar with the scriptures, what Christians later would call the Old Testament. He identified himself as the fulfillment of a promise of God to his people, the messiah who would live and die to redeem the chosen people from sin and suffering. He did not belong to a group or sect of Judaism — Jesus was not a Pharisee, a Sadducee, an Essene or a revolutionary actively working to throw off the Roman yoke. He was a rabbi, the word for teacher in Aramaic, the Jewish dialect Jesus spoke.
THE CHRISTIAN JEWS
The early Christians were a Jewish sect, a Jesus movement within the larger Judaic religion. Jesus’ first followers were Jews and Jews formed the nucleus of believers in his teachings and his divinity after his crucifixion. Christian Jews observed Judaic laws and considered Jesus to be the promised messiah. They gathered in homes to pray and discuss the life and legacy of the Christ, but they also went to synagogue, celebrated Passover and remained devout Jews. Gradually, the Christians became a distinct religion. Nero placed the blame for the great Roman fire on Christians and isolated them for persecution. Christian Jews repudiated the messianic Jewish revolutionary Bar Kochba because Jesus was their messiah. The four evangelists who wrote the gospels highlighted the separation between Jews and followers of Christ. Constantine’s declaration of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire formalized the split.
WORDS, WORDS, WORDS
The power of words preserved sacred dogmas and ripped two groups of believers asunder. In the first century of the Christian Era, Christ’s apostles wrote letters and chronicles explaining his life and teachings. Some reflected the inclusive nature of Jesus’ ideas while others pointedly excluded non-followers, exacerbating a schism between Christians and Jews. At the same time, the Roman destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem incited the Pharisees to revise and extend traditional prayers to censure the minim, those who deviated from strict Jewish belief, like the Christian Jews. The influential writings of church father Ignatius in the second century clearly differentiate between Christians and Jews. During the second Jewish revolt against Roman rule in A.D. 132, rabbinical scholars outlawed early Christian texts. Language helped drive an irreconcilable wedge between old and new beliefs.
GENTILES AND CHRISTIAN JEWS
The Jesus believers among Jews might have retained more influence on the development of Christianity if gentiles had not been recruited and accepted into the early Christian groups. But they were and these new Christians did not observe Judaic practices nor incorporate the reverence for both religions into a fused identity. Their growing dominance in the Christian fold marginalized the Christian Jews who were already under pressure to make a choice between the Messiah and the Temple. Today, the roots of the tree are Judaic but the branches are widely divergent. The Old Testament supplies the ancestry of Christianity — its creation story, its prophets, angels and demons, epic floods, poetry and proverbs. Jewish rituals, like baptism, preceded the Christian sacrament.