The Jewish-Christian Schism

Jewish Christian Schism, Paul of Tarsus

Rembrandt’s Paul of Tarsus

It  was not long, however, until a different schism was  to have markedly different results. Among the sects of the Second Temple period, one of the major controversies concerned the Messianic idea.  Whereas many Jews saw the Messianic age as coming in the far off future, others took a more apocalyptic view, expecting the end of days to emerge very soon out of the struggles and suffering of the present age. Such tendencies ultimately helped to foster the conditions necessary for the rise of Christianity.

Early in the first century C.E. there coalesced around Jesus a group of disciples attracted to his teachings and to his expectations of the dawn of a new age. His crucifixion at the hands of the Romans transformed him in the eyes of his disciples into a Messianic figure, whose death in some way paved the way for redemption. As such, his followers, still living as Jews and basically following the mandates of Jewish law, were distinguished only by their belief that the Messiah had come in the person of Jesus.

In  the aftermath of the destruction, the tannaim attempted to draw Judaism together around a common tradition. They regarded Christianity as heretical, and branded the early Christians as minim, Jews holding incorrect beliefs. Although  they· regarded the Christians as Jews, since they were Jews according to halakhah, the tannaim took a strong stand. They excluded the Christians from serving as precentor in the synagogue, then declared their scriptural texts to have no sanctity, even if they contained the name of God, then prohibited certain forms of commercial and social contact. Yet throughout this first period, there was no challenge to their halakhic status as Jews and no decree that prohibited marriage with them

All this was soon to change as a result of developments which took place within the nascent Christian church. Sometime in the mid-first century, the apostle Paul returned to Jerusalem from one of his journeys abroad with a new concept. He had found great interest among gentiles in Christianity. This was especially the case since many had come into contact already with Jewish ideas. Yet as can be seen from the phenomenon of semi-proselytes there was substantial hesitation to formally convert to Judaism in the Greco-Roman world. Full conversion involved the observance of Jewish law, including circumcision and the dietary laws. Paul proposed to his fellow Christians to make it possible to be a Christian without first becoming a Jew. He himself would have preferred the abandonment of the Law for all Christians, since he saw this as the natural result of the coming of Jesus, yet the proposal he made was a compromise with others more attached to Jewish practices. Ultimately, Pauls s approach was accepted and Christianity was opened to gentile believers who streamed into the new faith, quickly spreading it throughout the neighboring countries.

It was not long before the tannaim reacted to the changed nature of the Christian community. Whereas the earlier tannaim had faced Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Rab­bis now confronted non-Jews (from the halakhic point of view) who constituted a separate religious community. These were not minim, Jews with heretical beliefs, but noserim, Christians. During the Bar Kokhba Revolt, the Christians, unable to support the Messianic pretensions of Bar Kokhba, sided with the Romans. By the end of the Bar Kokhba revolt, the Rabbis regarded the entire Christian community as non-Jewish. Even the Bishop of Jerusalem was now gentile since Jews (even Jewish Christians) were prohibited from living in the Holy City. It no longer mattered that a few of the Christians were technically Jewish. The lack of Jewish status of the group as a whole led the Rabbis to disqualify them as a whole. Henceforth, from the Rabbinic perspective, the Christians were a separate religion and a separate people. Marriage with them was now prohibited.

It  is  also possible to follow this process of separation from the perspectives of the Romans and the Christians. The Romans were outsiders who concluded that the schism was permanent at the end of the first century and, accordingly, began to regard the Christians as a separate religious community, excused from paying the fiscus judaicus, the Jewish poll tax.

In the case of the Christian sources, the matter is somewhat more com­plex. We can trace the schism in the New Testament itself. In the earliest accounts in the Gospels, the Christians see their enemies as the Pharisees. After all, they themselves are Jews. By the time we get to the Gospel of John, the Jews as a whole are identified as the opponents of Jesus. Clearly, by the time the later books of the New testament were authored, this schism had become complete from the Christian point of view. Yet, of course the Christians saw themselves as the true Israel and the Jews as having gone astray.

As we noted, from the point of view of the Rabbis it was the abandonment of the traditional definitions of who is a Jew that led to the complete separation of Christianity from Judaism. Theological differences would not have been enough. The eventual result of this separation was a long history of hatred by the daughter for the mother who had begotten her and centuries of suffering for the Jewish people. Yet the Rabbis stood firm. The Christians were not Jews according to halakhah, and marriage with them was forbidden; they had left the Jewish people.

8 Responses to The Jewish-Christian Schism

  • Which Messiah was he; Ben-David or Ben-Yosef?

  • Marcin says:

    Dear Prof.
    Thank you for this inspiriting article. However, the story seems to be more complicated.
    It should be noted that Paul was not the only inventor of the “Jewish-Christian compromise”, which supposedly led to the schism between Jews and Christians. In fact, the first person, who is reported in the Christian texts (NT) who went to Gentiles was Peter (Acts 10,1ff). The story resulted in the acceptance of Cornelius into the Christian community without special requirements of the Law (also Peter experienced a new way of understanding of the dietary rules). The person who gives a significant speech at the Jerusalem Council was Jacob (Acts 15,13ff) – it is worthy of reading.

    According to Prof. Raymond E. Brown, there were always two groups in the Early Christianity: Jewish-Christians and Gentile-Christians. The first group (the same distinction, i.e. dietary rules is found in Paul’s Letters: Rom 14,17-23; 1Cor 8,6-13; comp. 1Cor 9,20-23). The first group, for instance, observed some Sabbath requirements, therefore their Christian celebrations begun Saturday evening (as it happens today in most Churches). The second group celebrated Sunday (the day of Christ’s resurrection), therefore the main Christian celebration take place on this day. Their conscience kept them together as a Christian community (many references in the NT).

    The problem is that the first group because of various reasons (over the decades) almost diminished within the Christianity. It is therefore extremely important that in the recent time Jews and Christians continue with each other a brotherly dialogue within the same Judeo-Christian biblical tradition.

  • Lew White says:

    One point of concern is the use of the Greek term “christianos” for the first century Yahudim who also believed Yahusha to be the Mashiak. This label was used for the worshippers of Serapis at Alexandria, Egypt in the 1st century, a sect which also used the crux in the form of an ankh.
    In a broad sense, the term “christianos” was used as a term of scorn, which is why the talmidim at Antioch were called “christianos” (akin to our term “idiots”) at first. Note they were not called this “first” at Antioch, but rather, “at first”, since they were viewed as so patient, kind, and gentle. Such behavior went against the norm, as it does even today. Doing a search on the etymology of the word “cretin” will lead us to the original term, “christianos”. A label of scorn can become adopted by the ones being scorned, and there are many examples of this (Quakers, Jesuits, and others).
    The first followers of Yahusha were called “Natsarim”, as cited by Luke’s record at Acts 24:5, written about 33 years after Yahusha ascended, and perhaps 7 years prior to the destruction of Yerushalayim. The Alexandrian Cult had strong literary ties to Rome, sharing their immense libraries. They were also tied religiously, so the confusion with the term christianos and the symbol of the crux allowed syncretism to do the rest. History shows there were “multiple Christianities”, and the one that dominated did so due to the fusion of the Roman cult of Mithraism with the Alexandrian Cult of Serapis, interpreted by Manachaeans, the pre-Nicene church fathers.

  • David Friedman says:

    How do you regard the view that the Gospels were written in part as propaganda pieces intended to distance the nascent Church in Roman eyes from the Jews following the revolt of 66-70 CE?

    Likewise the view that the schism was effectively a divorce with assets divided between the parties – the Jews taking the Torah and its commandments including circumcision, and the Church taking the priesthood, the temple ritual, and the rite of sacrifice (to reappear as communion)?

  • Dr. Audrey Gordon says:

    This is a period I am currently researching for a class in the fall on Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity, 2nd. to 7th centuries. There is a great deal of evidence that suggests that Jews and Christians were not separated until the 4th century, commingling for prayers, holidays and food fellowship. Check Daniel Boyarin, Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity, and Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism. Boyarin is an Orthodox Jew.

  • Joels Davidi says:

    >>During the Bar Kokhba Revolt, the Christians, unable to support the Messianic pretensions of Bar Kokhba, sided with the Romans.<<
    I found that very difficult to believe. I mean we are taking about Romans when they were still pagans and the blood of their savior were on their hands (not to mention wholesale salughter and persecution of Christians).

  • Cristian says:

    The Jewish people as a whole were not seen as an enemy to Jesus and his disciples. Is it not possible for Pharisees to be corrupted? Of course it is! Any thing can be corrupted unless it is God Himself, even His word is corrupted but there are still pure forms of His word. Paul was not to do away with the whole Law, but the law that was specifically given to Jews and not gentiles. True faithful Christians never were accepted by the Roman Empire, but the Roman Empire used “Christianity” to be accepted by more people. The Roman Empire persecuted Christians and killed them! Revelations 17 and 18 is describing the Vatican, if you look deep into the history of the Vatican you will find that it sponges off of the Roman Empire and that it still to this day kill, torture, and persecute true faithful Christians.

  • Cristian says:

    Didn’t mean to say sponges. The Roman Empire survived through the Vatican.

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