Jews and Christians

Authored by: Lynn H. Cohick

The Routledge Companion to Early Christian Thought

Print publication date:  December  2009
Online publication date:  December  2009

Print ISBN: 9780415442251
eBook ISBN: 9780203864517
Adobe ISBN: 9781135193430


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Perhaps more than for most issues, one’s starting point in speaking about Christian– Jewish relations sets the course for one’s conclusions. To begin with stories about Paul’s rejection by Jews in the book of Acts leads often to an expectation of conflict between Jews and Christians in the second- and third-century sources. Focus on theological statements about Christology or the church often propels the reader to conclude that Christians did not interact a great deal with “real” Jews, but were engaged in an intense struggle to define Christianity. If one proposes at the outset that Christianity should be understood as a sect of Judaism, the sociological tools from this kit will suggest rivalry (between parent and child or between siblings) as the natural course, and conflict between the groups in their literature and in society becomes the accepted course of growth. Assumptions about the nature of the literary evidence – dialogues, theological treatises, rabbinic texts, Adversus Iudaeos writings, sermons – and the place of archaeo-logical remains, Roman imperialism, and pagan authors’ accounts significantly impact the argument. Moreover, scholars often examine the early engagement between Jews and Christians with an apologetic eye to explaining current Jewish–Christian dialogue or suggesting paths of reconciliation. This essay will trace the history of modern examination of second- and third-century Christian–Jewish relations, paying special attention to the underlying presuppositions which motivate and shape the analysis. A word about terminology; I am choosing to label this study as “Christian–Jewish” relations rather than the more normal “Jewish–Christian” relations. My purpose in this is to distinguish the broad category from the narrower group of Christians who were either Jews by birth or who affiliated with Judaism, and thus are called “Jewish Christians.” This group plays a critical role in some scholars’ reconstruction of the relationship between Jews and Christians.

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