Origins of Christianity
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Origins of Christianity
A depiction of Jesus appearing to his apostles after his resurrection.

Christianity is supposed to have started with the ministry of Jesus, from which multiple "Jesus movements" and early Christian communities arose. Early Christianity has its roots in Hellenistic Judaism and Jewish messianism of the first century, but developed into a set of separate communities during the first and early second century CE.

Jewish roots

Christianity arose in the syncretistic Hellenistic world of the first century CE, which was dominated by Roman law and Greek culture.

Hellenistic Judaism

Hellenistic culture had a profound impact on the customs and practices of Jews, both in the Land of Israel and in the Diaspora. The inroads into Judaism gave rise to Hellenistic Judaism in the Jewish diaspora which sought to establish a Hebraic-Jewish religious tradition within the culture and language of Hellenism.

Hellenistic Judaism spread to Ptolemaic Egypt from the 3rd century BCE, and became a notable religio licita after the Roman conquest of Greece, Anatolia, Syria, Judea, and Egypt, until its decline in the 3rd century parallel to the rise of Gnosticism and Early Christianity.

The main issue separating the Hellenistic and orthodox Jews was the application of biblical laws in a Hellenistic (melting pot) culture.[1]

The decline of Hellenistic Judaism started in the 2nd century CE, and its causes are still not fully understood. It may be that it was eventually marginalized by, partially absorbed into or became progressively the Koiné-speaking core of Early Christianity centered on Antioch and its universalist tradition. (see the Gospel according to the Hebrews).

Jewish messianism

Jewish messianism has its root in the apocalyptic literature of the 2nd century BCE to 1st century BCE, promising a future "anointed" leader or messiah to resurrect the Israelite "Kingdom of God", in place of the foreign rulers of the time. This corresponded with the Maccabean Revolt directed against the Seleucids. Following the fall of the Hasmonean kingdom, it was directed against the Roman administration of Iudaea Province, which, according to Josephus, began with the formation of the Zealots and Sicarii during the Census of Quirinius (6 CE), although full scale open revolt did not occur till the First Jewish-Roman War in 66 CE.

Judaism at this time was divided into antagonistic factions. The main camps were the Pharisees, Saducees, and Zealots, but also included other less influential sects, like the Essenes. The 1st century BCE and 1st century CE saw a number of charismatic religious leaders, contributing to what would become the Mishnah of Rabbinic Judaism, including Yochanan ben Zakai and Hanina Ben Dosa. The ministry of Jesus, according to the account of the Gospels, falls into this pattern of sectarian preachers or teachers with devoted disciples (students).

Jesus

Christianity is supposed to have started with the ministry of Jesus. According to the Gospels, Jesus preached for a period of one to three years in the early 1st century. His ministry of teaching, healing the sick and disabled and performing various miracles culminated in his crucifixion at the hands of the Roman authorities in Jerusalem.

According to Burton L. Mack, the early Christian communities started with so-called "Jesus movements," new religious movements centering on a saviour called Jesus. A number of these "Jesus movements" can be discerned in early Christian writings.[2]

The early Christian community in Jerusalem, led by James the Just, had a strong influence on Paul.[2] Fragments of their beliefs, the so-called "Christ cult," can be found in the writings of Paul.[2]

Early Christianity

A number of early Christianities existed in the first century CE, from which developed various Christian traditions and denominations, including proto-orthodoxy.[3]

Jewish Christianity - Ebionites

Proto-Gnosticism - Marcionites

Pauline Christianity

Artist depiction of Saint Paul Writing His Epistles, 16th century (Blaffer Foundation Collection, Houston, Texas)

Pauline Christianity refers to the form of Christianity associated with the beliefs and doctrines espoused by the Apostle Paul in the Pauline epistles. Most of orthodox Christianity relies heavily on these teachings and considers them to be amplifications and explanations of the teachings of Jesus. Marcion of Sinope, a 2nd century theologian excommunicated as a heretic in 144, asserted that Paul was the only apostle who had rightly understood the new message of salvation as delivered by Christ.

Others perceive in Paul's writings teachings that are radically different from the original teachings of Jesus documented in the canonical gospels, early Acts and the rest of the New Testament, such as the Epistle of James. Opponents include the Ebionites and Nazarenes, Jewish Christians who rejected Paul for straying from normative Judaism.

Some Early Christian groups, such as the Ebionites and the early church in Jerusalem led by James the Just, were strictly Jewish. According to the New Testament, Saul of Tarsus first persecuted the early Jewish Christians, then converted, adopted the name Paul and the title "Apostle to the Gentiles" and started proselytizing among the Gentiles. He persuaded the leaders of the Jerusalem Church to allow Gentile converts exemption from most Jewish commandments at the Council of Jerusalem.

The term is generally considered a pejorative by mainstream Christianity, as it carries the implication that Christianity is a corruption of the original teachings of Jesus, as for example in the belief of a Great Apostasy as found in Restorationism.

Division between Judaism and Christianity

Alan F. Segal has written that "one can speak of a 'twin birth'" of two new Judaisms, both markedly different from the religious systems that preceded them. Not only were Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity religious twins, but, like Jacob and Esau, the twin sons of Isaac and Rebecca, they fought in the womb, setting the stage for life after the womb."[4]

Growing split

Jesus vertreibt die Händler aus dem Tempel, a depiction of Jesus' Cleansing of the Jewish Temple, by Giovanni Paolo Pannini

Rather than a sudden split, there was a slowly growing chasm between Christians and Jews in the 1st centuries, and it took centuries for a complete break to manifest.

Robert Goldenberg asserts that it is increasingly accepted among scholars that "at the end of the 1st century CE there were not yet two separate religions called "Judaism" and "Christianity".[5]

Historians continue to debate the precise moment when Christianity established itself as a new religion, apart and distinct from Judaism. Some scholars view Christians and Pharisees as being competing movements within Judaism that decisively broke only after the Bar Kokhba revolt, when the successors of the Pharisees claimed hegemony over all Judaism, and Christianity emerged as a new religion.

According to historian Shaye Cohen the separation of Christianity from Judaism was a process, not an event. The essential part of this process was that the church was becoming more and more gentile, and less and less Jewish, but the separation manifested itself in different ways in each local community where Jews and Christians dwelt together. In some places, the Jews expelled the Christians; in other, the Christians left of their own accord.[6] According to Cohen, this process ended in 70 CE, after the great revolt, when various Jewish sects disappeared and Pharisaic Judaism evolved into Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity emerged as a distinct religion.[7]

First Jewish-Roman War

As a result of the First Jewish-Roman War the city of Jerusalem was sacked and Herod's Temple was destroyed. The destruction of the Second Temple was a profoundly traumatic experience for the Jews, who were now confronted with difficult and far-reaching questions:[8]

  • How to achieve atonement without the Temple?
  • How to explain the disastrous outcome of the rebellion?
  • How to live in the post-Temple, Romanized world?
  • How to connect present and past traditions?

Following the destruction of Jerusalem and the expulsion of the Jews, Jewish worship stopped being centrally organized around the Temple, prayer took the place of sacrifice, and worship was rebuilt around rabbis who acted as teachers and leaders of individual communities in the Jewish diaspora.

The destruction of the Temple by the Romans not only put an end to the revolt, it marked the end of an era. Revolutionaries like the Zealots had been crushed by the Romans, and had little credibility. The Sadducees, whose teachings were so closely connected to the Temple cult, disappeared. The Essenes also vanished, perhaps because their teachings so diverged from the issues of the times.

According to fourth-century church fathers Eusebius and Epiphanius, the Jerusalem Jewish Christians were able to flee to Pella before the beginning of the war.[9] (see: Flight to Pella). Two organized groups remained after the war, the Early Christians and the Pharisees. Some scholars, such as Daniel Boyarin and Paula Fredricksen, suggest that it was at this time, when Christians and Pharisees were competing for leadership of the Jewish people, that accounts of debates between Jesus and the apostles, debates with Pharisees and anti-Pharisaic passages were written and incorporated into the New Testament.

Emergence of Rabbinic Judaism and early Christian communities

Emergence of Rabbinic Judaism

Following the destruction of the Temple, Rome governed Judea through a procurator at Caesarea and a Jewish Patriarch. A former leading Pharisee, Yohanan ben Zakkai, was appointed the first Patriarch (the Hebrew word, Nasi, also means prince), and reestablished the Sanhedrin at Javneh under Pharisee control. Instead of giving tithes to the priests and Temple sacrifices, the rabbis instructed Jews to give money to charities and study in local synagogues, as well as to pay the Fiscus Judaicus.

During the 1st century CE there had been several Jewish sects, the Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Essenes and Christians. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, these sects vanished. Christianity survived, but by breaking with Judaism and becoming a separate religion. The Pharisees survived, but in the form of Rabbinic Judaism, also known simply as Judaism.

Emergence of Christianity

Talmud scholar Daniel Boyarin has argued that Paul's theology of the spirit is more deeply rooted in Hellenistic Judaism than generally believed. In A Radical Jew, Boyarin argues that the Apostle Paul combined the life of Jesus with Greek philosophy to reinterpret the Hebrew Bible in terms of the Platonic opposition between the ideal (which is real) and the material (which is false). Judaism is a material religion, in which membership is based not on belief but rather descent from Abraham, physically marked by circumcision, and focusing on how to live this life properly. Paul saw in the symbol of a resurrected Jesus the possibility of a spiritual rather than corporeal messiah. He used this notion of messiah to argue for a religion through which all people -- not just descendants of Abraham -- could worship the God of Abraham. Unlike Judaism, which holds that it is the proper religion only of the Jews, Pauline Christianity claimed to be the proper religion for all people.

By appealing to the Platonic distinction between the material and the ideal, Paul showed how the spirit of Christ could provide all people a way to worship the God who had previously been worshipped only by Jews and Jewish proselytes, although Jews claimed that he was the one and only God of all. Boyarin roots Paul's work in Hellenistic Judaism and insists that Paul was thoroughly Jewish, but argues that Pauline theology made his version of Christianity appealing to Gentiles. Boyarin also sees this Platonic reworking of both Jesus's teachings and Pharisaic Judaism as essential to the emergence of Christianity as a distinct religion, because it justified a Judaism without Jewish law. The above events and trends lead to a gradual separation between Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism.[10][11]

According to historian Shaye Cohen, "Early Christianity ceased to be a Jewish sect when it ceased to observe Jewish practices.[12] Among the Jewish practices abandoned by Proto-orthodox Christianity, circumcision was rejected as a requirement at the Council of Jerusalem, c. 50. Sabbath observance was modified, perhaps as early as Ignatius' Epistle to the Magnesians 9.1.[13]Quartodecimanism (observation of the Paschal feast on Nisan 14, the day of preparation for Passover, linked to Polycarp and thus to John the Apostle) was formally rejected at the First Council of Nicaea. According to Eusebius' Life of Constantine, Constantine's speech at the council included: "Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd; for we have received from our Saviour a different way."[14]

Bar Kokhba revolt

The Bar Kokhba revolt[15] was the third major rebellion by the Jews against the Romans and the last of the Jewish-Roman Wars. Simon bar Kokhba, the commander of the revolt, was acclaimed as a messiah, a heroic figure who could restore Israel, by some of the leading sages of the Sanhedrin such as Rabbi Akiva.

Up until this time a number of Christians were still part of the Jewish community. Although Jewish Christians hailed Jesus as the Messiah and did not support Bar Kokhba,[16] they were barred from Jerusalem along with the rest of the Jews.[] Traditionally it is believed the Jerusalem Christians waited out the Jewish-Roman wars in Pella in the Decapolis. After the suppression of the revolt the vast majority of Jews were sent into exile; shortly thereafter (around 200), Judah haNasi edited together judgements and traditions into an authoritative code, the Mishna. This marks the transformation of Pharisaic Judaism into Rabbinic Judaism.

Although the rabbis traced their origins to the Pharisees, Rabbinic Judaism nevertheless involved a radical repudiation of certain elements of Phariseeism - elements that were basic to Second Temple Judaism. Members of different sects argued with one another over the correctness of their respective interpretations, but after the destruction of the Second Temple these sectarian divisions ended. The term "Pharisee" was no longer used, perhaps because it was a term more often used by non-Pharisees, but also because the term was explicitly sectarian. The rabbis claimed leadership over all Jews, and added to the Amidah the birkat haMinim, a prayer which in part exclaims, "Praised are You O Lord, who breaks enemies and defeats the arrogant". This shift by no means resolved conflicts over the interpretation of the Torah, but relocated debates between sects to debates within Rabbinic Judaism.

Jesus as Messiah

Most of Jesus' teachings were intelligible and acceptable in terms of Second Temple Judaism; what set Christians apart from Jews was their faith in Christ as the resurrected messiah.[17] Belief in a resurrected messiah is unacceptable to Rabbinic Judaism, and Jewish authorities have long used this to explain the break between Judaism and Christianity. Jesus' failure to establish the Kingdom of God and his death at the hands of the Romans invalidated his messianic claims for Hellenistic Jews (see for comparison: prophet and false prophet).[12]

Some Christians believed instead that Jesus was the Christ, rather than being the Jewish messiah, was God made flesh, who died for the sins of humanity, and that faith in Jesus Christ offered eternal life (see Christology).[18][note 1]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Paula Fredriksen, in From Jesus to Christ, has suggested that Jesus' followers could not accept the failure implicit in his death. According to the New Testament, some Christians reported that they encountered Jesus after his crucifixion. They argued that he had been resurrected (belief in the resurrection of the dead in the messianic age was a core Pharisaic doctrine), and would soon return to usher in the Kingdom of God and fulfill the rest of Messianic prophecy such as the resurrection of the dead and the Last Judgment.

References

  1. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia: Hellenism: "Post-exilic Judaism was largely recruited from those returned exiles who regarded it as their chief task to preserve their religion uncontaminated, a task that required the strict separation of the congregation both from all foreign peoples (Ezra x. 11; Neh. ix. 2) and from the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine who did not strictly observe the Law (Ezra vi. 22; Neh. x. 29)."
  2. ^ a b c Mack 1997.
  3. ^ Ehrman 2005.
  4. ^ Alan F. Segal, Rebecca's Children: Judaism and Christianity in the Roman World, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.Page= 
  5. ^ Robert Goldenberg. Review of "Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism" by Daniel Boyarin in The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 92, No. 3/4 (Jan. - Apr., 2002), pp. 586-588
  6. ^ Cohen, Shaye J.D. (1988). From the Maccabees to the Mishnah ISBN 0-664-25017-3 p. 228
  7. ^ Cohen, Shaye J.D. (1988). From the Maccabees to the Mishnah ISBN 0-664-25017-3 pp. 224-225
  8. ^ Jacob Neusner 1984 Toah From our Sages Rossell Books. p. 175
  9. ^ Eusebius, Church History 3, 5, 3; Epiphanius, Panarion 29,7,7-8; 30, 2, 7; On Weights and Measures 15. See: Craig Koester, "The Origin and Significance of the Flight to Pella Tradition", Catholic Biblical Quarterly 51 (1989), p. 90-106; P. H. R. van Houwelingen, "Fleeing forward: The departure of Christians from Jerusalem to Pella", Westminster Theological Journal 65 (2003); Jonathan Bourgel, "The Jewish Christians' Move from Jerusalem as a pragmatic choice", in: Dan Jaffe (ed), Studies in Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity, (Leyden: Brill, 2010), p. 107-138 (https://www.academia.edu/4909339/THE_JEWISH_CHRISTIANS_MOVE_FROM_JERUSALEM_AS_A_PRAGMATIC_CHOICE).
  10. ^ Shaye J.D. Cohen 1987 From the Maccabees to the Mishnah Library of Early Christianity, Wayne Meeks, editor. The Westminster Press. 224-228
  11. ^ Paula Fredriksen, 1988 From Jesus to Christ, Yale University Press. 167-170
  12. ^ a b Shaye J.D. Cohen 1987 From the Maccabees to the Mishnah Library of Early Christianity, Wayne Meeks, editor. The Westminster Press. 168
  13. ^ Ignatius to the Magnesians chapter 9 at ccel.org
  14. ^ Eusebius, Life of Constantine Vol. III Ch. XVIII Life of Constantine (Book III), Chapter 18: He speaks of their Unanimity respecting the Feast of Easter, and against the Practice of the Jews.
  15. ^ for the year 136, see: W. Eck, The Bar Kokhba Revolt: The Roman Point of View, pp. 87-88.
  16. ^ Justin, "Apologia," ii.71, compare "Dial." cx; Eusebius "Hist. Eccl." iv.6,§2; Orosius "Hist." vii.13
  17. ^ Shaye J.D. Cohen 1987 From the Maccabees to the Mishnah Library of Early Christianity, Wayne Meeks, editor. The Westminster Press. 167-168
  18. ^ Paula Fredricksen, From Jesus to Christ Yale university Press. pp. 136-142

Sources

  • Ehrman, Bart (2005), Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-518249-1 
  • Mack, Burton L. (1997) [1995], Wie schreven het Nieuwe Testament werkelijk? Feiten, mythen en motieven, Uitgeverij Ankh-Hermes 

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