The Parting of Ways
Besides resurrection, historical Jesus, christological, and Pauline studies the other chief passion of mine is engaging in the vexing problem of the Jewish-Christian relationship. Among the questions this issue raises are: Why did Christianity, which started as a marginal Jewish sect, eventually part company with Judaism? Was it primarily over developing Christological issues, or over the movement predominately becoming Gentile, or something(s) else? What are the theological implications for seeing Christianity and Judaism as two seperate religions? Furthermore, what would these implications entail for how, from a Christian perspective, we are to view the Jewish movement and its people today?
I have just finished a book that deals with some of these questions entitled Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways, A.D. 70 to 135. It is edited by the great Durham New Testament scholar James D. G. Dunn and includes papers from the Second Durham-Tubingen Research Symposium on Earliest Christianity and Judaism (1989). Contributors include many notables such as Martin Hengel, Graham N. Stanton, Peter Stuhlmacher, James Dunn, and others.
The book was somewhat bittersweet. I initially approached this book hoping for an indepth look at some of the questions I have just previously raised. But the book functions more as introductory material than anything else. Even more disappointing was that half of the papers seemed not to have any bearing on the discussion, or at least exhibited only a minor connection to the larger dimension of the Jewish-Christian relationship. This unfortunately resulted in the proposal of many controverted hypotheses. Also, surprisingly, there were only passing references to the "Two Powers Heresy" which has been documented thoroughly by others such as Alan F. Segal. And even though James Dunn is one of my favorite scholars, his essay was far from the best.
But enough with the criticisms. For all of its slight disappointments, the book was overall informative and there were enough well-written essays to make it worth the read. One of these was Philip Alexander's which dealt with the "Parting of the Ways" from the perspective of Rabbinic Judaism. His first paragraph is particularly note worthy because of its cautionary tone:
"'When did Christianity and Judaism part company and go their seperate ways?' is one of those deceptively simple questions which should be approached with great care. Though formulated in historical terms it cannot easily be answered within a narrow historicist framework. It raises profound contemporary theological issues and, if not handed sensitively, can quickly become entangled in apologetics and confessionalism."
In his essay Alexander proposes that the parting of ways officially happens when Rabbinism asserts itself as the triumphant form of orthodox Judaism. Alexander's hypothesis is that before the second century there were still many "Judaisms" trying to win the hearts of the Jewish people. Jewish-Christianity was one of these. However, Rabbinism became victorious and one of its chief characteristics was to ostracize heretical movements. This meant the rejection of Jewish-Christianity as a viable movement within Judaism. Moreover, the fact that the Jewish movement was becoming increasingly more Gentile was enough to cement the "parting."
Another essay I found illuminating was Martin Hengel's concerning the Septuagint as a collection of writings claimed by early Christians. This essay deals principally with the discussion between Justin Martyr and the Jew Trypho. In this dialogue we see the Christian Justiin arguing for the supremacy of the Septuagint (especially in the case of Isaiah 7:14) based on the legend of the seventy (two?) translators known from The Letter of Aristeas and other sources (Philo, Josephus, etc). Though this might seem a trifling matter, the dominant acceptance of the Septuagint writings over and against that of the Hebrew translations was pivotal in the ultimate "parting of the ways" between Jews and Christians.
Though I was initially disappointed, all in all the book is informative and functions as a good prolegomena for questions concerning Jewish-Christian relations. Thus I would recommend to any of you interested in these issues to add this one to your library.