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Historical References about Jews and Christians

Paul, the Apostate: a Platinum Post by Manuel Fiadeiro

Was Paul responsible for the split between gentile Christians and Jews?  Did he have regular visits with Jesus after he converted?  Did he consult the Alexandrian philosopher Philo about the issue? These are some of the controversial issues raised in this this guest post by Platinum Member Manuel Fiadeiro.  Check it out.  What do you think? Blog members at the platinum level are allowed to submit posts for other Platinum members only; after several come in, we take a vote and the winner gets posted to the entire blog for all to see.  Manuel's is our current winner.  If you'd like the same opportunity, check out the Platinum membership tier and its various perks, and give it a thought! For now here's Manuel on Paul: ******************************** Circa 35 CE, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, a young man, no more than 20 years old called Saul, with scribes and Pharisees, was stoning a man belonging to a sect of a Galilean called Jesus. Saul was in Jerusalem to study with the Pharisee master Gamaliel. Few students [...]

The Slippery Slope of Extreme DIAKRISIS (Discernment). A Platinum Post by Barry Haney

Here is a creative and imaginative Platinum guest post that explores key religious differences among various traditions in the early period of the church, through a plausible (fictional) conversation.   So, in 200 CE, a pagan, a Jew, and a Christian come into a wine bar.... These are some intriguing reflections.  What do you think? ****************************** I have a blog called, The Slippery Concept of Extreme Diakrisis. You might ask, what does diakrisis mean? Diakrisis is a Greek noun that occurs three times in the New Testament (Romans 14.1, 1 Corinthians 12:10, and Hebrews 5:14) and means distinction, explanation, discerning, or differentiation between good and bad. During my research of early Christianity, I imagined being a fly on the wall during an unlikely meeting between Bartholomew, a pagan, Serapion, a Christian, and Abraham, a Jew during the 2nd and third centuries CE, as they use the tool of diakrisis or discernment in their search for religious truth. My research led to me writing the following story, I will share with you.   The Incredible Meeting!   [...]

An Intriguing Anti-Jewish Variant: Did Jesus Pray “Father forgive them”?

In my previous post I pointed out that scribes appear to have changed their texts of the New Testament in ways that reflected the rising anti-Jewish sentiment of the early Christian centuries.  For me, by a wide margin, the most intriguing example of this is the prayer Jesus makes from the cross in Luke's Gospel (and nowhere else in the New Testament) "Father forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing." I wrote about this passage in an article many years ago that I called  “The Text of the Gospels at the End of the Second Century,” which was reprinted in a collection of my more scholarly essays on textual criticism called Studies in the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (Brill, 2006; the paper was originally written for a conference in 1993) (not that I'm dating myself...) The paper was written for fellow scholars, but I’ve decided to go ahead and include it here verbatim.  BUT, I have added several explanatory comments in [brackets] for technical terms and ideas that are not the [...]

Why these Caricatures of the Old Testament God? Guest post by Amy-Jill Levine

We earlier had a guest post by Marc Zvi Brettler, an internationally renowned scholar of ancient Judaism, as related to his book The Bible With and Without Jesus (HarperOne, 2020), co-authored with New Testament scholar (and my long-time friend) Amy-Jill Levine.   Many of you will know of Amy-Jill: she is an extremely popular lecturer, full of energy, humor and wit,  author of numerous important books on Jesus and the New Testament.  Here now is her follow-up post, a complement to Marc's. ******************************* My friend and frequent co-author, Marc Zvi Brettler, just posted on this blogsite, “Marcion is Alive and Well – and What to do About It.” Marcion, back in the second-century C.E., distinguished between what he perceived to be the angry and inept Old Testament God and the wise and loving God of the New Testament. Although Christian authorities proclaimed this view heretical, it still has traction.  When we hear the contrast between the “Old Testament God of wrath” and the “New Testament God of love,” or other such comparisons that throw the Old [...]

Christian Stereotypes of “the God of the Old Testament.” Marcion is Alive and Well and Well and What To Do About It. Guest Post by Marc Zvi Brettler

An important book on understanding the Bible recently appeared: The Bible With and Without Jesus: How Jews and Christian Read the Same Stories Differently, by Marc Zvi Brettler and Amy-Jill Levine.  I have asked both authors to provide a guest post or two, and here is the first.  Marc Brettler has long been a prominent scholar of ancient Judaism.  Since 2015 he has been the Bernice and Morton Lerner Professor in Judaic Studies at Duke University. ******************** Marcion, an early church theologian active in the first part of the second century, taught that the God of the Old Testament, typified by wrath, was distinct from the loving God of the New.  His biblical canon excluded the entirety of the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament.  (His NT canon was also different than the one the Church ultimately settled on, but that story needs to wait for another day.)  His views were rejected by the nascent church, and he was ultimately excommunicated in about 140. As a professor of biblical studies, I know that his legacy continues.  This [...]

Jewish Indifference to Jesus and the Problems It Caused: Platinum Guest Post by Dan Kohanski

  Here now is another stimulating and learned post by Platinum member Dan Kohanski, on an unusually important topic.  Any comments?  He's happy to answer them. I'm running low on Platinum posts!  Do you have something you'd like to offer?  Let me know. ****************************** Why did only a fraction of one percent of all Jews in the empire or even in Judaea ever believe in the message of the Jesus Movement?[1] The answer starts with that message itself. The first members of the Movement were all Jews themselves, saw themselves as Jews, and argued that Jewish traditions and beliefs inevitably led to their version of Judaism. However, the way they used those traditions and beliefs to solve the dilemma of their founder’s crucifixion was too radical for most Jews to accept. I want to focus on three essential aspects of that solution that were particularly troublesome for Jews: belief in the individual resurrection of Jesus, belief in Jesus as the messiah after he had died, and belief in Jesus as necessary for salvation.   Belief [...]

2021-09-21T10:05:09-04:00September 21st, 2021|Early Judaism, Jews and Christians in Antiquity|

Will “All Israel” Be Saved? Really? Guest Post by Jason Staples

Here now is the third and final post by Jason Staples connected with his dissertation and now to be published book on what Paul meant that “All Israel will be saved.”  It’s a big issue.  Isn’t Paul the apostles of the “gentiles”?  Doesn’t he attack Jews and Judaism?  Doesn’t he think God rejected them because they rejected him?   What could Paul mean by this? Jason argues that Paul does not mean what scholars have long argued and regular ole lay folk have thought he meant (there are lots of opinions!).  As you’ll see, it’s a major issue with lots of ins and outs, but a huge payoff. Jason will again be happy to respond to questions and comments. - Jason A. Staples is the author of The Idea of Israel in Second Temple Judaism: A New Theory of People, Exile, and Israelite Identity.   ***********************************************     Post 3: Did Jesus Fail to Restore Israel? Paul’s Solution to the Problem   The two previous posts have discussed why scholars have found Paul’s statements about Israel’s [...]

When Paul Says “Israel” Does He Mean “The Jews”? Guest Post by Jason Staples

Last week I posted the first of three interesting discussions by my erstwhile student Jason Staples, PhD in New Testament, currently teaching at North Carolina State University.  Here is the second post, with an even more challenging thesis that runs counter to what scholars have long said, but for which he makes a compelling case.  His fuller discussion will be found in the book he has coming out from Cambridge Press at the end of the year.   Jason will be happy to address your comments and questions. - Jason A. Staples is the author of The Idea of Israel in Second Temple Judaism: A New Theory of People, Exile, and Israelite Identity.   ***************************************   Post 2: Why Does Paul Switch from Talking about ‘Jews’ to ‘Israel’? My last post looked at how Paul’s statements about Israel’s ultimate salvation in Romans 11 seem to contradict what he says elsewhere about the equality between Jews and gentiles (non-Jews) and surveyed several ways scholars have tried to reconcile that tension. But that post concluded by calling [...]

Did Paul Really Think “All Israel Will Be Saved”? Guest Post by Jason Staples

One of the most thorough dissertations I’ve directed in recent years was by Jason Staples, called “Reconstituting Israel: Restoration Eschatology in Early Judaism and Paul’s Gentile Mission.”  It might be difficult for a lay person to figure out what it’s about from the title, but it was on a really significant topic that I think most any reader of the New Testament would see is important.  It involves the Apostle Paul’s views of Jews, Judaism, and the nation of Israel.   The goal of the dissertation was to explain what Paul meant when he said that in the end, “All Israel will be saved” (Romans 11).  Huh?  What’s that mean exactly?   There are lots of options that have been proposed over the years, and none of them “obviously right.”   The question drove Jason to an even more basic question, which almost no one has thought to ask, let alone provide a comprehensive answer to: what does Paul mean by “Israel”?   Jason defended his dissertation at the end of 2016.   It was large!  The first [...]

Why Do Christians Try to Convert People?

Why Do Christians Try to Convert People? I begin this New Year by addressing a really interesting question I received recently from a reader.  It’s a question that has rarely occurred to most people.  Today, we tend to think that religions are by their very nature interested in converting others to their views, that they are just inherently evangelistic, missionary, and proselytizing.  If your religion is “the right one,” wouldn’t you want everyone to agree with you, so they too could be right, instead of wrong?   Wouldn’t their salvation depend on it? That indeed has long been the view of both Christianity and (later) Islam and … well surely all religions, right?  Uh, as it turns out, the answer is No.  In the world that Christianity came into, for example, in the Roman empire, there simply weren’t such things as missionary/evangelistic religions.  Huh?  Then why was Christianity? Here’s the question I received. Why Do Christians Try to Convert People? QUESTION: Where/how/why did the new religion ‘about Jesus’ becomes – unlike most contemporary religions up to [...]

Heightened Opposition to Jews in Early Christianity

I have been outlining some of the issues that I may talk about in a book on the rise of anti-Judaism in early Christianity, if I write it.  In previous posts I have detailed some of the uglier Christian attacks on Jews and Judaism, almost all of them tied to Christian ways of reading the Old Testament that different from traditional, Jewish readings.  Some Christians claimed that Jews misread what God had told them in the Scripture, and that this is what led them to reject their messiah, and since they had rejected their messiah, God had rejected them.  Christians, not Jews, were the people of God.  Jews were condemned. It’s not a happy history, and it gets worse.  In my book I will not move into the later consequences of the Middle Ages down to modernity – restrictions on what Jews could do for a living, on where they could live, on how they could engage with others in their communities; eventually the pogroms and expulsions; and so on.   I will be focusing only [...]

When Christians Went on the Attack Against Jews

I return now, for a couple of posts, to my thoughts on the rise of anti-Judaism in the early Christian tradition, and my thesis that it was largely driven by a different way of reading the Bible, that the Christians insisted the Jewish scriptures were looking forward to Jesus as a suffering messiah who would die for sins, and in doing so fulfilled all sorts of prophecies, and most Jews thought this entire view was nonsense, if not blasphemous. Here is where my thoughts move on from what I said in the last post on the matter.  Should you need to refresh your memory, it is here:   An important point to stress is that Christians recognized that if their own interpretations of the Jewish Bible were correct, the Jews’ own interpretations were necessarily invalid.   As I argued in Triumph of Christianity, the distinctive feature of early Christianity vis-à-vis all the other religions of the Roman world – including Judaism – was that Christians argued their views provided the way of salvation and the [...]

Why Christians Needed an Old Testament: Pagan Attacks on the Faith

In my discussion why Christians claimed the Jewish Bible for themselves (and argued it no longer belonged to Jews), I’ve been focusing strictly on the relationship of Jews and Christians, for obvious reasons.  But as it turns out, there is more to it than that.   Here is an issue that is hardly ever talked about in the scholarship on the rise of anti-Judaism in early Christianity, let alone among lay people wondering about why mainstream Christianity became opposed to Jews and the religion they practiced in antiquity (leading to the anti-Judaism and then the antisemitism of later times.)   This issue involves Christians’ relations not with Jews, but with pagans, and the rejection of the new Christian faith by the world at large. As is well known, apart from Jews and Christians, everyone in the Roman empire was pagan – that is, everyone followed one or more of the polytheistic religions of that world.  I do not need to detail the various kinds of pagan religion found throughout the Roman Empire.   But a couple of important [...]

The Jewish Bible in the Gentile Churches

I continue here with my thoughts about how Christians came to claim the Jewish Bible for themselves, and to argue that it no longer belonged to Jews.   I’ve already pointed out that the Jewish followers of Jesus (Many? Most? All?)  (I suspect the answer is “Most”), within a short time after his death (months?  a year?) began wonder why other Jews did not accept Jesus as the messiah.  After all, they themselves “knew” he had been raised from the dead.  It was a great miracle.  It proved Jesus was God’s “anointed” one.  Why wouldn’t others accept it? That was particularly perplexing and frustrating and eventually irritating and aggravating as they started finding indications in the Bible itself that this is what was supposed to happen to the messiah.  It’s all there, in the prophecies of Scripture.  Why don’t our fellow Jews – family members, friends, neighbors, fellow worshipers in the synagogue – why don’t they *see* it?   Are they blind?  Heard headed?  Rebellious against God? Eventually it came to be thought among many of these [...]

How “Jews” Became “Children of the Devil” in the New Testament

I have just started getting into the meat of the book proposal I have written for myself about The Battle for the Bible, on how it is that Christians claimed that the Hebrew Scriptures belonged to them rather than the Jews, and how this is what ultimately led to Christian opposition to Judaism and the Jews who practiced it.    As the argument unfolds, I hope it will make increasing sense!  Here’s the next bit, dealing with how the process began.   ************************************************ As we saw in the previous post, Church Fathers in effect were arguing on two fronts, with Jews who did not see the virtues of an interpretation of the Bible that pointed to Jesus as the messiah and “heretics” who either overvalued Scripture , thinking its laws were still in force, or rejected altogether, claiming it was not a revelation of the true God.   Jesus’ Followers and the Jewish Scriptures To understand these debates and their momentous historical consequences, we need to start at the beginning, with Jesus himself.   Even though critical [...]

Should the Old Testament Even Be in the Bible?

A week or so ago I started to describe how I’m thinking of one of my future books, that I’m tentatively calling The Battle for the Bible.  The book (if I write it) will be about how Christians got the Old Testament and saw the Old Testament as *their* book rather than the Jews', who had misinterpreted it and given up (without their knowledge) any claim to it.  My argument is that this dispute is what ultimately led to the history of anti-Judaism among Christians, which is eventually what led centuries later to anti-semitism. It will take a long time in the book to show how it worked – it’s a complicated issue.  In my first two posts I stated the thesis in its bald terms, and I received several negative comments about it by readers who thought it can’t be that simple.  And of course they are right.  It’s not.  But I haven’t started to explain how it all worked.  You have to see the whole system before you can tell whether it works [...]

Is the Old Testament a Christian Book?

Yesterday I started describing a trade book that I’m thinking about writing, tentatively called (in my head) “The Battle for the Bible.”    Here is the next part of my self-reflections: ******************************************** A major part of my book will deal with one of the great puzzles in the history of religion:  Why does the Christian Bible even have an Old Testament?   And how did the early Christians, most of them gentiles, manage – in their own minds -- to wrest it from the Jews by and for whom it was originally written?  If Christians chose not to keep the biblical laws and follow its customs, why did they retain the book? In my experience, many Christians still wonder about that.   I frequently hear Christians claim there are essential differences between the Old Testament and the New Testament and the religions based on them:  Jews have a religion of laws and judgment, but Christians have a gospel of grace and mercy; Jews think they have to earn their way into heaven on their own merits, but Christians [...]

Why Do Christians Have an Old Testament? Another Trade Book.

A month or so ago I posted a series of blogs about the next trade book I’m hoping to write, which I’m tentatively calling “Expecting Armageddon.”   As I explained then when I decide what I want to write next, I do a lot of preliminary research to get my ideas together and then write up a kind of overview statement about why I’m interested in the topic, what I imagine the book would cover, why I think it’s both interesting and important, and how I would probably structure it (at least how I’m imagining I would – the end product is never what I anticipate at the outset).  This kind of overview statement to myself ends up being the basis for what I send to my publisher as a Prospectus. The publisher takes the Prospectus, mulls it over, talks about it among themselves, and then decides whether they want to offer a contract on the book.  If not, I take it somewhere else.  If they do, then we enter into negotiations about the terms of [...]

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