In his 1986 Forgetting The Root: The Emergence of Christianity from Judaism, Professor of Biblical Studies and Dean of Special Studies at the Athenaeum of Ohio, Terrance Callan deals with many of the same issues that Daniel Boyarin addresses in his recent book The Jewish Gospels.
Callan points out that the original followers of Jesus were Jews and that Jesus did not seem to have any intention of separating from his Jewish faith.
Callan identifies two categories of early believers in Jesus:
1. Conservative Jewish Christians – These were followers of Jesus who believed Jesus was the expected Jewish messiah but also believed that the laws of the Torah continued to be binding on his followers.
2. Liberal Christians – These were Christians who believed that, while it was still appropriate for followers of Jesus to keep the Mosaic laws, these laws were no longer binding on believers.
Callan argues that the separation between followers of Jesus and Jews came only many years after Jesus’ death as an increasing number of Gentiles converted to the Jesus movement without any requirement to abide by the legal stipulations of the Mosaic law and when it became increasingly clear that the Jesus movement was not attracting Jewish converts and that there were Christians who found themselves attracted to Judaism.
From the Christian side, the separation was motivated in part by a determination to promote the Christian vision of faith and prevent converts from slipping back into the Jewish faith that remained dominant for the first three hundred years during which the Christian faith was becoming established. From the Jewish side, Christianity appeared to be a dangerous innovation that risked leading people away from the legal system that was divinely revealed to the people of Israel through Moses.
But there continued to be conservative Jewish Christians long after the Council of Jerusalem in 48 CE who waived the requirement of circumcision while maintaining minimal observance of Jewish custom.
27‘We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth.28For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: 29that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.’ (Acts 15:27-29)
These ideas are important for a number of reasons:
1. They force Christians to be honest about how we present our faith, particularly in terms of its relationship to our Jewish ancestry.
2. An appreciation for the deep connection between the origins of Christian faith and its older sibling Judaism, helps enrich and deepen the Christian understanding of Jesus’ teaching.
3. Acknowledging our close connection to Jewish faith has the capacity to diminish some of the prejudice and ignorance that continues to plague relations between Jew and non-Jew.
4. Coming to a better understanding of the role the law plays in the Jewish belief system has the potential to enhance the Christian understanding of law and to help Christians reassess our tendency to emphasize dogma at the expense of practice.
Here are a few quotes from Terrance Callan:
Callan, Terrance. Forgetting The Root: The Emergence of Christianity from Judaism. NY: Paulist Press, 1986.
Jesus was a Jew, and his ministry was directed mainly to Jews, though he had some contact with Gentiles. He was very popular with the Jewish people in general, but not with their leaders. The leaders rejected him because his interpretation of the law differed from theirs and because of what he claimed about himself, but above all because he seemed likely to upset the status quo and cause trouble with Rome. Jesus seems to fit easily the pattern of the prophet within Israel, challenging accepted ways of doing things and so meeting with resistance. Though he himself was no more separate from Israel than any of the prophets, his contacts with Gentiles and his special interpretation of the law anticipate the factors which later separated the church from Israel. 15
Contrary to what we might expect, it does not seem that belief in Jesus in itself separated the early church from Judaism completely, though the development of Christology later played a part in this separation. Judaism has usually been more tolerant of divergent beliefs than of divergent behaviour. Because of this, the belief that Jesus was the messiah did not separate Christians from Judaism, though it did set them apart within Judaism. The early church was not separate from Judaism until it began to deviate from adherence to the Jewish law. 19
Although their belief that Jesus was the messiah, and even more a crucified messiah, set the earliest church apart from the rest of Judaism, the early Christians continued to be Jews. 20
in the aftermath of the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, Judaism was distancing itself from fringe movements such as Jewish Christianity. 51