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In this episode of The Bible for Normal People, Joel Marcus breaks down the history and intricacies of how, when, and why the Christian religion broke away from Judaism, and how that turn toward independence shaped the New Testament. Join Joel, Pete, and Jared as they ask the following questions:

  • How and where and when did Christianity part ways with Judaism and become an independent religion?
  • Where did the tension between Judaism and Christianity originate?
  • Wasn’t Christianity just a new religion from the very beginning?
  • How did Paul wrestle with the beginning of Christianity and his own Jewish roots?
  • What are the underpinnings of Paul’s conflicts with James and Peter?
  • What was Paul’s relationship to being Jewish if it wasn’t about observing Torah?
  • Was the shift away from Judaism caused by an event or was it just gradual?
  • What kind of evidence exists of Jewish Christians?

Tweetables

Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Joel you can share.

  • The Gospels themselves, I think all of them have memories about Jesus. But those memories have been refracted through the later situations of the church in which those gospels were written. — Joel Marcus
  • It’s always a difficult problem to try to untangle what Jesus actually said and did from the way that he’s been construed by the later gospel writers. — Joel Marcus
  • Jesus and all of his first disciples were Jews, he spoke to other Jews in recognizably Jewish ways, he argued with them about subjects that Jews argued about, and according to Matthew, his earthly ministry was limited to Israel—to his fellow Jews. — Joel Marcus
  • You could date a sort of modern critical approach to Paul, and the history of the early church, to when people first started realizing that there was a real conflict coming about between Paul and other figures who the church has also revered. — Joel Marcus
  • It seems to me that Paul’s point of departure is no longer the Torah and so in that sense, he is different from most Jewish theologians of his own day. — Joel Marcus
  • You have different attitudes within the New Testament itself. And these questions continue to be questions then going on into the second century. — Joel Marcus

Mentioned in This Episode

Read the transcript

Pete  

You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People, the only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.

Jared  

And I’m Jared Byas. 

[Music plays]

Jared  

Hey, folks, we have exciting news for you. If you’ve been pining for some new writings from the one and only Pete Enns, this would be good news. Pete has a new book coming out soon, February 7th, called Curveball

Pete  

Yeah. 

Jared  

So why don’t you talk about it, Pete.

Pete  

It’s about the Yankees. 

Jared  

It’s about the Yankees…

Pete  

No it’s not. Now, curveball is a very personal book for me because it’s me processing and working through things that have happened in my life that have affected how I think about God. And the basic gist of the book is that curveballs happen. And what they do, they disrupt our lives, they disrupt how we think about God, Jesus, the Bible, whatever. But it’s good, because that gives us, I think, a bigger and better God as a result because we’re not stuck in our old way of thinking. So I talk about science a bit, which has been meaningful to me. I talk about death, which is, I think, meaningful to everybody. I talk about just my years of studying the Bible, and how I saw things that made me think about God very differently in ways that people have said, “Well, if you do that, you know, you’re not really a Christian anymore,” things like that. So that’s, that’s basically what the book’s about and as Jared said, the release date is February 7th, but if you preorder the book, you can read the first chapter right away. 

Jared

And once you preorder the book from your favorite retailer, you know, bookshop.org or the other places that you buy books, go to TheBibleForNormalPeople.com/curveball and enter your order number and you’re gonna get an instant download of chapter one. Now, if you like the podcast, The Bible for Normal People, there are so many people in our community I talk to regularly, who, when I say, “How did you hear about Bible for Normal People?” They say they picked up one of Pete’s books and read it, and they loved it, and that’s why they’re here. So all that to say, if you haven’t read any of Pete’s books, you’ll be in good company if you’re listening to this podcast, to pick it up. It’s going to be right in line with what we talk about here. And I guarantee you, it’s going to be helpful for you. So again, go ahead, order it now! You can preorder it and then you get that instant download of chapter one, just go to TheBibleForNormalPeople.com/curveball. 

Jared  

Welcome, everyone, to this episode of the podcast!

Pete

Today’s episode is The Parting of the Ways between Judaism and Christianity, and our guest is Joel Marcus. Joel is a retired professor of New Testament and Christian origins at Duke Divinity School. And, again, this is another one of these blockbuster kinds of topics that is just…I can’t get enough talking about this, so this is just fascinating.

Jared  

We’re really trying to unpack something that might seem really nuanced, which is when did Christianity become its own thing, and move away from its Jewish origins? But within that, there’s so much to think about in terms of how it impacts how we think about faith and how we think about the Bible and what’s going on in this New Testament.

Pete  

And how people think of Jesus and Paul and James and Peter, and then…A bunch of other stuff, you know, Matthew’s gospel and things like that, and it gets really, what’s the right word? “Messy” is too negative, but it gets intricate. 

Jared  

Yes.

Pete  

You know, quickly. And that’s just the way it is, folks. You know? And it’s good to be exposed to this kind of thing. And it makes, as always, for years, it’s made me think very…I’ve been very introspective in a good way, about my own understanding of just the nature of the Christian faith and how it got started.

Jared  

Alright, let’s jump in.

Joel  

[Teaser clip of Joel speaking plays over jaunty music] Today a person is usually either a Jew or a Christian. But in the beginning, it was not so. Christianity started out as a Jewish sect, as maybe a reform movement, and there continued to be for several centuries people who are both self-consciously Jewish and self-consciously Christian.

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Jared  

Well, welcome to the podcast, Joel, it’s great to have you!

Joel  

Thanks. Nice to be here.

Jared  

Excellent. Well, before we get started, because this is, it’s an interesting topic. We’re really going to narrow in and focus on something specific. Can you maybe just talk about how you got interested or maybe even introduced and then interested in studying this topic? 

Joel  

Well, yeah, I mean, I should say, my own background is Jewish. I was raised in a secular Jewish home. We did go to a Jewish Sunday school, and I learned some Hebrew, which came in handy later. But I was not a…certainly not an orthodox Jew, or raised an Orthodox Jewish home. But my father did read us Bible stories when I was a kid along with Greek myths, and that kind of introduced interesting questions in my mind about, you know, what was, what were the stories and what was true and what wasn’t. And I think I had spiritual interests, you know, really from very early on, and was always thinking about, you know, the question of, was there a God? And if there was a God, how would he communicate with people? 

And then I started reading the Bible when I was in college, because I wanted to be a writer and all these writers were always referring to the Bible, and I really didn’t know it. So I got a Bible that happened to have both an Old Testament and a New Testament. And I started reading through it just out of basically literary interest and I felt myself gripped by it. And my relationship to it became not just literary, but also existential. And eventually that led to me…Well, my Bible that I had borrowed, had both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, so I ended up reading through the New Testament, as well as the Old Testament. And I found myself really intrigued by this figure of Jesus. And so that was really the genesis of my interest, and it eventually led me to becoming a Christian myself. And that led to various consequences, including some tension with my family.

And I think that a lot of my scholarly career since then, has been on an intellectual and an exegetical, and a historical level, trying to come to grips with what happened to me, with my own Jewish background, which I’ve learned a lot more about since becoming a Christian, and since beginning to study this stuff, historically and exegetically, and intellectually and philosophically. You know, how does my own Jewish background relate to my own Christian belief? So a lot of my work, and especially my work in the last 20 years or so—since I finished my commentary on the gospel of Mark in the mid-2000s—mostly what I’ve been writing about is the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, and especially the question of how and where and when Christianity parted ways with Judaism. You know, how did this, a religion which started out as a sect within Judaism, become eventually an independent religion with a kind of fraught relationship to its parent (namely being Judaism)?

Pete  

Right. So I mean, we can even just start right there, because for some of our listeners that might feel like an alien concept, that wasn’t it just a new religion from the very beginning? And I think that’s an assumption that people will make. But you’re saying that’s clearly not the case. Christianity—what became Christianity really began as a Jewish sect.

Joel  

Yeah, I think, I think that would be fair to say. And you know, we can look at the Gospels themselves. Now, the Gospels themselves, I think all of them have memories about Jesus. But those memories have been refracted through the later situations of the church in which those gospels were written. So it’s always, you know, a difficult problem to try to untangle, you know, what Jesus actually said and did from the way that he’s been construed by the later gospel writers. But, you know, if you go to one of the earlier gospels, and that’s Matthew, you see that the whole kind of structure of that gospel is very Jewish. You know? That it seems to be divided into five sections, which probably are meant to correspond to the Five Books of the Torah of Moses. And Jesus in Matthew, as my friend Dale Allison has argued, many of the things that he does and says echo Moses, you know, who, of course, was the figurehead and the fountainhead of the Jewish religion. And Jesus in Matthew, at the beginning of his most important teaching, which is the Sermon on the Mount, says, “I have not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it.” So he’s presenting himself, at least in Matthew’s retelling of the story, as being within, in some sense at least, within the whole framework that had been in place in Judaism for several hundred years in which the Law, the Torah of Moses, was central. And again, Jesus says that “I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfill.”

And it seems to me that that must grasp something that is true about Jesus, because at least you know, in the earliest gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we don’t see Jesus violating the Jewish law in an obvious way. What we see him doing is arguing about the interpretation of the law with various groups of Jews, and especially the Pharisees who were the most influential sect of Jews in Jesus’s time. So the whole framework is provided by Judaism, and Jesus oftentimes seems to be operating within that framework. So Jesus and all of his first disciples were Jews, he spoke to other Jews in recognizably Jewish ways. He argued with them about subjects that Jews argued about, and according to Matthew, at least, you know, his earthly ministry was limited to Israel, limited to his fellow Jews.

Jared  

It begs the question, I think that the elephant in the room then is Paul. Because I think Paul seems to be wrestling with this question throughout the letters that we have, and throughout his ministry, of this relationship between being Jewish and believing in Jesus. And maybe before we launch off into what became Christianity very, you know, clearly after the New Testament, maybe can you talk some about how Paul wrestled with this?

Joel  

Yeah, well, I think, as you say, it is a central question in Paul’s letters, and especially the letters where he is writing to Christians who are either of Jewish background, or Christians who may not be of a Jewish background, but who are being influenced by Jewish Christians. That is, Christians from a Jewish background. And as I use the term Jewish Christian, it’s really synonymous with Jews who, unlike Paul, not only were born within Jewish families, but also continued to observe the Jewish law as most other Jews understood it. And I think that is a dividing line between Paul and other Jewish Christians and other Jews—that Paul, although he started out as a Pharisee, one of the stricter sects of Judaism, though he started out, you know, sharing in this framework in which the Torah is the point of departure for answering theological questions and questions about how one is to live. He started out that way, but I don’t think he ended up that way.

And you can see this especially in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, where he is arguing that these Gentile Christians in the area of Asia Minor called Galatia, they do not need to take upon themselves the full panoply of the Jewish Torah. And especially the critical issue in Galatians seems to be whether or not males who are not of Jewish birth need to be circumcised. That is, do they need to take upon themselves the sign of the covenant that already in the Bible is a sign of belonging to the Jewish nation and the Jewish religion? Do they need to take upon themselves that sign and so indicate that they are entering into the polity and the religious history and people of Israel? And Paul argues strenuously that they don’t need to do that. So that is a real dividing line and you know, the issues about Jewish holidays and eating may also come up in some of Paul’s letters. So it seems like what happened was that Paul started out from a very what we might anachronistically call “Orthodox Jewish” position. A position, which, like most other Jews, was one that embraced observing the Torah in all of its fullness including the food laws, including observance of the Sabbath and the other holidays, including circumcision for males. He began that way. But at some point after he’d had this revelation of Jesus Christ, he came to the conclusion that the law was no longer in effect. And I think he came to that conclusion on the basis of his conviction that Jesus’s death and resurrection had inaugurated a new era, a new age, in which the law as it existed since Moses’s time no longer existed. If it existed at all, it had been transformed into a different sort of Torah, for a transformed people of God.

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Pete  

But Joel, can I ask there, on this move that you’re describing in Paul’s religious understanding—that probably caused some tensions between him and others, who were likewise followers of Jesus but also Jewish. And I’m thinking of his own words, you know, in Galatians, and his conflicts with James and Peter. Can you sort of round that out for us a little bit? Explain what seems to be happening there?

Joel  

Yeah. No, I think that’s a very important insight. And, as a matter of fact, I think, you know, you could basically date a sort of modern critical approach to Paul, and the history of the early church, to when people first started realizing that there was a real conflict coming about between Paul and other figures who the church has also revered like Peter, and James who was Jesus’s brother. And as Paul describes it, in the second chapter of Galatians, he did have a big fight with them. Or maybe—well, not with James directly, but you know—he describes a situation in Antioch, a city in Syria, where both he and Peter were present, and where Peter initially was dropping Jewish purity laws, and eating with non-Jews. But when certain men from James came down from Jerusalem, Peter withdrew and would not eat with them anymore. And so this is a conflict that has its origin in a certain interpretation of the Torah. And according to that interpretation, apparently, Jews should not eat with Gentiles. Probably not all Jews agreed with that. But these men from James and James himself seem to have been, you know, very strict in their observance of Jewish purity regulations, which Peter, being influenced by these men from James, goes along with. And Paul stands up and disagrees with Peter to his face, and, you know, he says, “How can you do that? Because you no longer in general live in a Jewish manner. But now, here you are, and you’re observing these Jewish purity regulations, and you’re compelling Gentiles to do so as well.” So that is, you know, it’s a basic conflict about something that’s always very important, and that is food and eating together—under what circumstances can people eat together? And basically, what Paul is saying is that, you know, there’s a new situation, and in this new situation, we don’t need to observe these distinctions that go back to Moses. And Peter is somewhat in the middle and James is much more on the standard normative Jewish side.

Pete  

Well, I mean, can we bring James into this a little bit? And I mean, it seems to me and I think, perhaps you as well, that, you know, both Paul and James appeal to the story of Abraham and draw what seemed to be polar opposite conclusions. And in fact…I mean, I’ve never studied this in the depth that I need to, but it really seems like—I can’t imagine James doesn’t, in some sense, have Paul in his mind, as he’s conversing about Abraham. Could you, could you flesh that out a little bit too?

Joel  

Well, you know, first of all, let me stipulate. You know, James, both, you know, from this evidence from the New Testament, and from later traditions about him, seems to have been a Torah-observant guy. You know, somebody who, even though he came to believe in the Messiahship of his brother, Jesus, never stopped his observance of Torah in terms of food regulations, and the necessity of circumcision and all that sort of stuff. Now, we do have a letter that is ascribed to James in the New Testament, I don’t think that it is by James. I personally, I personally don’t think that it is directly from James, but it reflects this image of James as Torah-observant. And as you implied there, this author who is assuming the persona of James says things in the second chapter of that letter that seemed to directly contradict what Paul says about the Torah.

You know, Paul says that a person is justified by faith, or possibly the faithfulness of Jesus—that’s a big debate we deal with, we don’t need to get into. Paul says that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law. And James says exactly the opposite. He says that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. So there’s a direct conflict there. And another fascinating thing is that both Paul and the author of James use the example of Abraham to prove their point. They’re both harking back to the biblical story about Abraham. But Paul uses the story of Abraham to advance his point that one is justified apart from works of the law, because the Genesis says that Abraham “believed in God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Whereas the Epistle of James says that that was just a promise that was made in Genesis 15 that was fulfilled in Genesis 22, when he proved his faithfulness by being willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac. So for James, the Abraham story proves that one has to have works, and that one is justified by works. And that seems to be directly opposing what Paul is saying.

So I have to say that when I began studying the New Testament in this way and realizing that there were contrary voices within the New Testament, and that if you got the author of Paul to sit down with the author of James, they wouldn’t agree about a lot of interesting, a lot of important things. When I began to realize that, well firstly it kind of shook me up. But I also began to realize that the Bible was just a lot more interesting and alive. And that these people whose writings are collected in the New Testament were all living in an atmosphere that was steeped in controversy from the very beginning. And that insight, that really floats my boat, to realize that these were living people who were in good faith, trying to work out the implications of this thing that had happened, starting with Jesus of Nazareth, but had begun to reach conclusions that were different and that some of those differences are enshrined in our scriptures themselves.

Jared  

That’s such an important theme here at The Bible for Normal People. So I’m glad that you brought that up—that diversity, and controversy, and the disagreements are baked into our Bible because the community of faith had always had that built into it. Can we, can you talk a little more about Paul? Because you said something earlier that I thought would be good to talk about a little more. And that is, you said that for Paul, being Torah-observant was no longer part of what it means to express faith. I’m going to say generally, because what I am going to ask you is: then what, if you could, what does Paul mean then to be Jewish? Like we’re talking about the parting of the ways and I’m getting confused of, if it’s not observing Torah, what makes Paul Jewish? Or is Paul not Jewish? Like, what is that relationship Paul had with Judaism?

Joel  

Well, I think it was an ambiguous and ambivalent relationship. I mean, he does in certain contexts emphasize that he is Jewish, and that he has Jewish credentials. It’s usually in contexts where, you know, he’s being challenged by others. So, but you know, he can say that “I’m a Pharisee of the Pharisees,” and you know, “Are they Israelites? So am I.” But you know, it’s always kind of in what’s technically called an apologetic context. That doesn’t mean saying “I’m sorry,” it means when he’s defending himself, which he had to keep doing because he was a controversial guy. I mean, Paul, of course, does quote the scriptures a lot. And he does think that the story of Jesus fulfills something that is already foreshadowed in the scriptures. And he can even speak about Jesus as the fulfillment of what was laid down in the Law and in the prophets. So you know, it’s not like law is always a negative term for him. But he also redefines it. And he redefines it in a way that it probably would not have been recognizable to most Jews, you know? So the point of departure for doing ethics for Paul, I think, is no longer the Torah as enshrined in the Five Books of Moses, but, you know, he says, “walk in the Spirit.” 

Now he also thinks that the person who walks in the spirit is going to fulfill, you know, the core command of the Torah. But he, you know, he doesn’t go into detail the way a Jewish figure, who was, you know, basing everything on exegesis of the Torah would do. And I think you know, that Paul’s, a really important passage is this one in 1 Corinthians, where he says, you know, that it depends on his missionary context. You know, “I become as one under the law to those who are under the law.” So when he’s in a situation when he’s speaking to Jews and trying to convince them about, you know, the truth of Jesus’s Messiahship, he will observe the Torah. But when he’s not doing that he doesn’t. But this sort of attitude where you can take the law or leave it is not the way most Jews would interpret, you know, how one should act towards the law. As a matter of fact, you know, the Jews were willing to die, rather than opportunistically observe the law and not observe the law depending on when it was convenient. So you know, it seems to me that Paul’s point of departure is no longer the Torah and so in that sense, he is different from most Jewish theologians of his own day.

Pete  

Yeah.

Joel  

And that probably explains…

Pete  

The tensions.

Joel  

…why he kept getting into trouble and why he, he says in his letters, you know, that he was disciplined by synagogue authorities. And why his ministry, basically, was not to Jews but to non-Jews.

Pete  

Yeah, it’s helpful to me to, I think you used the word, “an ambivalent relationship” with the Judaism of his day. It’s probably the case, well, I think it’s almost certainly the case that Paul was not saying, “Hey, let’s start a new religion!” He was always trying to tie it to the larger tradition, but there’s still an ambivalence. But there’s not a—let’s say—there’s not a true parting of the ways truly in Paul, but that will come a little bit later, I guess. But so, maybe we have to get beyond the New Testament here to talk about this. But take us a little bit further to where maybe the ambivalents stop being ambivalent for this parting of the ways between Judaism and a Gentile Christianity.

Joel  

Yeah. I mean, I do think that one can speak of Paul as one moment in the parting of the ways. You know, because Paul himself no longer observes the Torah, you know, in his usual life. And, you know, and he speaks basically to Gentiles. I think, you know, the church changed. Basically, one of the main reasons was demographics, you know, that this message about Jesus’s Messiahship, it caught on with some Jews, but not so many. It caught on more with non-Jews, you know, probably already before Paul’s day, but Paul was certainly a catalyst. And he becomes like the missionary to the Gentiles.

And as time went on, proportionally fewer and fewer of the believers in Jesus—unlike Jesus’s original twelve disciples, and James, and all these guys—as time went on, proportionally more and more of the followers were non-Jews. But I guess I think it’s important to emphasize that these changes happened over a period of years and they didn’t happen at all places at the same time. And I think you can see this, you know, again, already from the New Testament. I mean, Matthew, as we were talking about before, you know, the Gospel according to Matthew seems to be operating in a pretty Jewish context. As a matter of fact, you know, Matthew’s basic source is Mark. Mark was the earliest gospel. Matthew has used Mark and he probably has some other sources that he’s added. But you can see some of Matthew’s editing of Mark, he edits Mark in such a way to take out of Mark the more radical and sometimes un-Torah supporting statements from Mark. I see Mark as being within this Pauline sphere of influence, and Matthew uses Mark. But for example, when in Mark 7, Jesus and the Pharisees have a controversy about washing your food before eating, and that becomes in Mark later when Jesus is talking to his disciples, an opening for Jesus to say, “It doesn’t make any difference what comes into your mouth, it’s what goes out of your mouth that defiles you.”

Now Matthew retains that saying, but what he takes out is Mark’s own comment on that—that in saying this, Jesus was declaring all foods to be clean. In other words, according to Mark, Jesus—in making the statement about what goes into your mouth and what comes out of your mouth—according to Mark, Jesus was thereby saying that these laws of Levitical purity where you should eat certain things and not eat certain things, those no longer apply. That’s Mark’s interpretation. Matthew takes that out. Why does Matthew take that out? Probably because he doesn’t agree that these Levitical laws of purity and of, you know, what we would call the kosher laws, Matthew doesn’t agree that you should ignore them. Matthew also, when he is editing Jesus’s prophecies about the end—in Mark, Jesus says “make sure that your flight is not in the winter,” Matthew adds to that “or on the Sabbath.” So, Matthew, it seems to me, is much more on the James side of this argument. Matthew is a Christian, and he believes in Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophecies, but he’s still operating—and he is still operating within a theology where the law is the central way of figuring out what you should do. It’s a law for Matthew, I think, that’s been redefined by Jesus, but it’s still the Torah. Whereas I think Mark is on the Paul side. So you know—

Pete  

Yeah.

Joel  

Matthew versus Mark, Paul versus James. So that’s Matthew. Mark, as I say, I see much more on the Paul side of things. Luke is on the Paul side of things. So you know, you have different attitudes within the New Testament itself. And these, these questions continue to be questions then going on into the second century.

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Jared  

I wanted to kind of go there, because what I’m hearing is there is this time when the New Testament canon, as we have it, is representing a time of ambiguity and ambivalence. What is the relationship? It seems like the transition out of Jewish sect and into a separate religion, mostly Gentiles, is pretty vague and takes a long period of time. Is there…It doesn’t seem like there’s a definitive—would it be fair to say there’s not a definitive moment where we say “it’s definitely now” or some precipitous event that sort of pushes us over the edge? It just continues to be this vague, gradual transition to where at some point, we could just look back and say, “Oh, it’s certainly now become a different religion,” or was there a precipitous moment?

Joel  

Well, I think there are some important moments, right? One important moment is the Jewish revolt against the Romans that began in A.D. 66, that ended in 72 or 73, that climaxed with the destruction of the temple. And that event changed Judaism forever. And it also, you know, changed the relationship probably between Jewish Christians and other Christians. It seems like until that point, or until maybe shortly before the destruction of the temple, there was still an active Torah-observant group of Christians starting out under the leadership of James—James was eventually martyred—but with Jerusalem as its center. And a group of people that, you know, even according to the Book of Acts, you know, these Jewish Christians are still hanging out in the temple. But when the temple is no longer there as a focus of Jewish life, including maybe Jewish Christian life, that changes things.

It also changes things in the early years of the second century, when there’s another Jewish revolt against the Romans led by a guy who had come down, with the name Bar Kokhba, which means “the son of the star,” which is, itself, a messianic designation. You know, he was believed by at least some of his followers to be the Messiah, this Jewish figure who led a revolt against the Romans. And about the early 130s, that revolt was put down. But we do have reports from some early Christians that he opposed and persecuted Christians because they weren’t willing to acknowledge his messianic claims, because these Jewish Christians had, you know, another Messiah, namely Jesus. So I think both of those were important points and both of those revolts and their being put down probably weakened the hands of Jewish Christians. But Jewish Christians continued to survive and to leave evidence of themselves in the records after that point. And I would point to a number of different areas in which we can see evidence of these Jewish Christians. And I would like to especially emphasize what’s called the pseudo-Clementine literature. You want me to explain what that is?

Pete  

Oh, absolutely. Yes.

Joel  

Okay. So, there is a body of work that is, again, pseudonymous—you know, that is, the authors adopt the custom (which I think we can see already in the New Testament) of adopting the persona of an important early Christian. In this case, it’s Clement of Alexandria writing, and basically the pseudo-Clementine literature is a long novel which takes Clement as the narrator, and he tells about his trip to Christianity and various people that he encounters. But it seems from certain passages in this literature, and the literature is long—you know, it exists in two recessions, two editions, and a lot of stuff happens in them. There’s a lot of, you know, sea travel. Peter appears in this literature, and Peter in this literature represents a Torah-observant point of view. So it seems like although this literature is pseudonymous, you know, people are assuming the persona of Peter, and of Clement, and of James, and speaking in the names of these ancient figures—it does seem to represent the point of view of Torah-observant Jewish Christians.

And these pseudo Clementine works were published in like, the forms that we have go back to the fourth century. So still, in the fourth century, you have these works that are being copied, that are representing a Torah-observant point of view. And in some of the pseudo-Clementine literature, Peter is the hero, and Peter quotes the saying from Matthew that I was talking about earlier where Jesus says that he “came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill,” and he warns against people who are going to twist his words so that they no longer want to observe the Torah in its fullness. And Peter says that’s the furthest thing from my mind, you know, the Torah was given by Moses, and it was confirmed by Jesus with regard to its eternal continuance. So the pseudo-Clementine literature, as I say, its published forms go back to, like, the fourth century or so. But it seems to have sources that go back to the second century.

So I think that’s very important because what it shows is that although the point of view represented by James, say, in the Epistle of James, and James as he’s portrayed in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, although you know, that position was probably weakened by the destruction of the temple in AD 70 by the Bar Kokhba war in the 130s, still there existed and they continue to be a factor, Jews and also maybe some non-Jews, you know, who were attracted to Judaism, who continued to embrace the Messiahship of Jesus alongside of observance of the Torah in a way that would have been recognizable to other Jews. So I think it’s important to emphasize that, you know, in the beginning, you didn’t have the same dichotomy that most of us live with today. That is today, a person in the—Except if you’re somebody weird like me—Today, a person is usually either a Jew or a Christian. But in the beginning, it was not so. You know, Christianity started out as a Jewish sect. It started out as a group as, maybe a reform movement, an apocalyptic movement within Judaism, and there continued to be for several centuries people who were both self-consciously Jewish and self-consciously Christian. Now, they eventually got squeezed out between a church which was becoming, you know, more and more Gentile, and a Judaism which eventually decided that you couldn’t be a good Jew and be a Christian at the same time. But that process of separation and mutual definition of the two religions against each other took a long time to take place. And I think that it was more advanced in some places than in others. It seems to me that a lot of our evidence for Jewish Christianity, like the pseudo-Clementines, comes from Syria—which, of course, is right next to Palestine, the birthplace of Christianity—where there is also, there was also, in antiquity, a strong Jewish presence and I think, therefore, a strong Jewish Christian presence. So I think that’s one of the reasons why a lot of our evidence for early Jewish Christianity, Torah-observant Jewish Christianity, for several centuries comes from the Syrian area.

Jared  

Well, thank you so much, Joel, for taking us through that. I feel like I just went on a tour from the early days of the New Testament all the way through to seeing this relationship between Judaism and Christianity. Unfortunately, we’re running out of time here. But I just want to say thank you, again, for painting such a good picture of this relationship. And I think, especially that point you made early on that this shows these controversies and this diversity baked into our New Testament, which I think is an important thing for our listeners to hear again and again, because sometimes for a lot of us that’s not how we were taught to think of our Bible. And so it gives us new ways to think about it and then wrestle with it and figure out well, what does that mean for my faith or for my reading of the Bible to not have this univocal one voice, everything always agrees, everything is always exactly right, perspective and see the messiness of it.

Joel  

Yeah, I think, I mean, what you do with that canonically and hermeneutically is another question, but I leave that to better minds than mine.

Pete  

[Laughing] Yes, thank you so much, Joel, for taking the time to be with us and we deeply appreciate it.

Joel  

Nice talking to you.

Outro  

[Jaunty outro music plays] You’ve just made it through another episode of The Bible for Normal People! Thanks to our listeners who support us each week by rating the podcast, leaving a review, and telling others about our show! We couldn’t have made this amazing episode without the help of our Producers Group: Cindy Dean, Tracy Roberts, Matthew Henry, Allison Knoll, Jason Carignan, Greg Jones, Rich Speeney, Jonathan Lee, Hannah Paxton, and Jeff Bills. As always, you can support the podcast at patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople where for as little as $3/month you can receive bonus material, be part of an online community, get course discounts, and much more. This episode was brought to you by The Bible for Normal People team: Brittany Prescott, Savannah Locke, Stephanie Speight, Tessa Stultz, Nick Striegel, Steven Henning, Haley Warren, Jessica Shao, and Natalie Weyand! [Jaunty outro music ends]
Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.

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