Robert Chazan, “The Prior Church Legacy,” in Robert Chazan, ed., The Cambridge History of Judaism, vol. 6 – The Middle Ages: The Christian World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 9-31, 882

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  chapter 1 THE PRIOR CHURCH LEGACY  robert chazan Monotheisms are mono-covenantal as well; they assume that the one trueGod established only one genuine covenant with one chosen human com-munity. All other religious faiths  –  whether polytheistic or monotheistic  – are necessarily de 󿬁 cient in their grasp of the divine and its demands onhumanity. There may well be gradations of error, with those who acknowl-edge one God superior to those who worship many deities. Nonetheless, allother human communities are inherently inferior to the one true-covenantpeopleanditsgrasp ofthedivine. Monotheisticcommunitiesthatareearlierthan their rivals project these rivals as deviations from the srcinal true faith;monotheistic communities that come later dismiss their predecessors ashaving only a part of religious truth. These generalizations apply nicely tothe Jewish view of Christianity and Islam (projected as later deviations), tothe Christian view of Islam (projected as a later deviation), and to theMuslim view of Judaism and Christianity (projected as early and de 󿬁 cient).One set of relations, however  –  the Christian perspective on Judaism  – cannot be understood simply in terms of the above generalizations. Therelationship of Christianity to Judaism is more entangled and more com-plex. The errors of Judaism are in fact central to the truth claims of Christianity. In the Christian view, it was precisely the errors of Judaismand the Jews that paved the way for the emergence of Christianity. Jewisherror and Christian truth are thus intrinsically linked to one another.The Jews necessarily loom large in the Christian scheme of things, whetheror not Jews are actually present. Jesus of Nazareth  –  it is by now widely agreed  –  was a member of the  󿬁 rst-century Jewish community in Palestine, and his message was addressed tofellow-Jews in that crisis-ridden area of the Roman Empire. 1 The crisis 1 The recent literature devoted to reconstructing the historical Jesus is vast. Due to the lack of reliable sources, Jesus is portrayed in the most diverse ways imaginable. Thus, forexample, he is depicted by some as scrupulously uninvolved in the  󿬁 rst-century politicalrebelliousness that agitated and divided Palestinian Jewry, while others portray him as 9  involved both political and spiritual dimensions. Politically, many Jewssupported rebellion against the rule of Rome, although major constitu-encies within Palestinian Jewry opposed the incipient uprising. To anextent, the political crisis entailed religious and spiritual issues as well, forexampletheproperreadingoftherelationshipbetweenGodandhispeopleand therefore the appropriate stance toward foreign domination. At thesame time, purely religious issues also divided Palestinian Jews from oneanother. The Jewish synthesis of traditional Near Eastern thinking withGreco-Roman ideas and ideals was still very much in process, and suchefforts at synthesis always entail discord and controversy. Josephus points clearly toward internal  󿬁 ssures within  󿬁 rst-century Palestinian Jewry, although his effort to make these  󿬁 ssures comprehen-sible to his Roman readers strips his description of requisite Jewish detailand color. The discoveries along the shore of the Dead Sea at Qumran, which unearthed the literature of a dissident community of   󿬁 rst-century  Jews, have contributed greatly to current understanding of the fragmented Jewry of   󿬁 rst-century Palestine. 2 This richer grasp of dissidence in  󿬁 rst-century Palestinian Jewry has resulted in the sense that Jesus was notpreaching a new faith. Rather, he  –  like others in the fractious Jewishcommunity of that period  –  was arguing for a particular grasp of thehistorical covenant between God and the Jewish people. 3 Thefactsthatnosourcematerialsfromthelifetimeof Jesushimself haveyet come to light and that those sources that depict the activities of Jesusstem from a much later period and a very different ambience leave usdevoid of reliable insight into the precise version of the covenant actually preachedbyJesustohisfollowers,aswellasintohisrelationshipwithothersegments of divided Palestinian Jewry. Jesus and his followers made littleheadway within the Palestinian Jewish community in both the Galilee and Jerusalem, encountering   –  like other such dissident groups  –  considerableopposition and rejection. Exactly how intense this opposition was and whether it led to Jewish initiation of the charges brought against Jesusbefore the Roman authorities is not clear. To be sure, the later Gospelaccounts place the responsibility for Jesus ’  cruci 󿬁 xion squarely upon theleadership of Palestinian Jewry, and this claim played a signi 󿬁 cant role in militantly committed to armed rebellion. The disagreements cover all aspects of Jesus ’ career and thinking. 2 For overall surveys of the Dead Sea community and its literature, see JamesC. VanderKam,  The Dead Sea Scrolls Today   (Grand Rapids,  1994 ), and LawrenceH. Schiffman,  Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls   (Philadelphia,  1994 ). 3  A growing segment of the recent Jesus literature has come to emphasize the rootedness of  Jesus and his disciples in  󿬁 rst-century Palestinian Jewry   –  its trials, its tribulations, and itsspirituality. 10 the middle ages: the christian world  subsequent Christian views of Judaism and Jews, whatever its historicalaccuracy. 4  The earliest sources that have survived from the Jesus movement are thelettersofPaul. 5 PaulwasadiasporaJewwhoseeminglycametostudyinthe Jewish academies of Jerusalem, where he became concerned with the smallcommunity of Jesus followers and intense in his opposition to them. Heclaims that, in the course of his efforts to oppose the young sect, he wasmiraculouslytransformedfromapersecutortoanadherent.Asanadherentof the movement, Paul was much removed from the circle of Jesus ’ immediatefollowers,whohadremainedinJerusalemtopreachhismessageafter his cruci 󿬁 xion. Paul was not a native Palestinian Jew, was not a nativeHebrew or Aramaic speaker and writer, and had in fact never encountered Jesus during his lifetime of activity. The evidence in Paul ’ s own writingsand the Acts of the Apostles indicates considerable discord between Pauland the srcinal circle of Jesus ’  disciples.Despite his own lack of   󿬁 rst-hand acquaintance with Jesus and thesrcinal circle ’ s direct engagement with Jesus and his views, Paul took a strong stand against the srcinal disciples, claiming that he had beendirectly deputized by Jesus for a special mission. That special missioninvolved preaching outside the Jewish community to gentiles. Againstthe views of the srcinal disciples, Paul argued that reaching out beyondthe Jewish world was part and parcel of the essential vision of Jesus. Hefurther insisted on a particular view of the religious obligations of the new gentile adherents to the movement. In Paul ’ s view, these new followers were bound to observe the broad ethical obligations spelled out by Jewishtradition for non-Jews and to believe in the salvi 󿬁 c power of Jesus. They  were not to be burdened by observance of Jewish law. 6 In extending themessage of Jesus beyond the Jewish community and distinguishing between the obligations of Jewish and of gentile followers of Jesus, Paulprofoundly in 󿬂 uenced the further directions of the Jesus movement and  – in the process  –  raised signi 󿬁 cant questions about the post-Jesus place androle of his Jewish brethren. According to Paul, God envisioned a sequence of stages in the deliver-ance of his message to humanity. The initial phase involved Moses and thedetails of the law communicated by Moses to the Israelite community. 4  The accuracy of the Gospel accounts has been questioned severely in the recent Jesusliterature. 5 For reliable background information on the New Testament sources, see RaymondE. Brown,  An Introduction to the New Testament  , The Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York,  1997 ). On the Pauline letters, see  407 – 680 . 6 The major sources for Paul ’ s views and the disagreement with Jesus ’  srcinal disciples arePaul ’ s Letter to the Galatians and the Acts of the Apostles. the prior church legacy 11  This revelation was genuinely divine; however, God intended from theoutset that it would be superseded by a further dispensation, which wouldbe broader and richer. The new dispensation was to extend beyond thelimits of the Jewish world, and its richness resided in its heightenedspirituality, as the physicality of the Mosaic legislation would give way tothe spirituality of belief   –  speci 󿬁 cally in Jesus. Jews  –  for a long period thepeople singled out by God as bearers of the covenant  –  refused to recognizethe divinely mandated evolution and in Paul ’ s view remained mired in thephysicality of the Sinaitic revelation. 7 Recent scholars have argued that Paul ’ s critique of the physicality of  Jewish law may well have been in 󿬂 uenced by his insistence that gentileChristians not be burdened by observance of that law. While this may betrue to an extent, Paul expressed himself negatively in other ways toward Jews and Judaism. For Paul, the biblical stories of sibling rivalry laid barethe relationship of the young Christian community to the older Jewishcommunity. This relationship was foreshadowed  –  in Paul ’ s eyes  –  by thebiblical tales of Isaac and Ishmael, and Jacob and Esau. In both thesebiblical episodes, primacy passed to the younger brother, with the elderbrother consigned to insigni 󿬁 cance, thus pre 󿬁 guring what was to becomethe relationship of the younger Christian faith community to the morevenerable Jewish community. 8 Paul ’ s sense of the supersession of thephysical law in favor of spiritual faith, and his projection of the Jews asthe elder brother passed over for primacy, created a negative view of  Judaism and Jews in the gentile Christian community and constituteda powerful legacy for all subsequent Christian thinking about Judaismand Jews. Jewish failure and attendant divine rejection served as thegrounding for Christian succession to the blessings and obligations of thedivine – human covenant.To be sure, there was a second and more positive aspect to Paul ’ s view of Judaism and Jews. While regularly castigating Jews for their failure torecognize that the epoch of the law had come to a conclusion, Paul alsosympathized deeply with his prior brethren. In his Epistle to the Romans,in which he continues to berate the Jews for their spiritual insensitivity andtheir attraction to the physical, he introduces countervailing positiveobservations, focused on the Jewish past and the Jewish future.Early in his Epistle to the Romans, Paul harshly criticizes Jewish com-mitment to circumcision, again arguing the priority of the spiritual overthe physical:  “ It is not externals that make a Jew, nor an external mark inthe  󿬂 esh that makes circumcision. The real Jew is one who is inwardly  7 This view is articulated by Paul most fully in his Letter to the Romans. 8 This biblical imagery is central to Romans  9 . 12 the middle ages: the christian world  a Jew, and his circumcision is of the heart, spiritual not literal; he receiveshis commendation not from men but from God. ” 9  Yet at precisely thispoint of intense criticism, Paul introduces mitigation:  “ Then what advan-tage has the Jew? What is the value of circumcision? Great, in every way.In the  󿬁 rst place, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some of them were unfaithful? Will their faithlessness cancel the faithful-ness of God? Certainly not. ” 10  While highlighting the present shortcom-ings of the Jews, Paul unexpectedly shifts attention to the past greatness of the Jews, to their role in receiving, preserving, and disseminating divinerevelation. Paul insists thatGod will surely reward this past Jewish achieve-ment and contribution.Further on in the Epistle to the Romans, Paul vacillates yet morestrikingly in his stance toward his former Jewish brethren  –  from positiveto negative and back to positive again. He opens chapter  9  with high praisefor his Jewish brethren, speaking of  great grief and unceasing sorrow in my heart. I would even pray to be an outcastmyself, cut off from Christ, if it would help my brothers, my kinsfolk by naturaldescent. They are descendants of Israel, chosen to be God ’ s sons; theirs is the glory of God ’ s presence, theirs the covenants, the law, the temple worship, and thepromises. The patriarchs are theirs, and from them by natural descent came theMessiah. May God, supreme above all, be blessed forever. Amen. 11 These positive observations give way immediately to Paul ’ s standardemphasis on recent divine rejection of the Jews. He initially projects thisdivine rejection as mysterious, but quickly returns to the notion of Jewishattraction to the physical and incapacity to grasp the spiritual and truly meaningful:  “ Then what are we to say? That gentiles, who made no effortafter righteousness, nevertheless achieved it, righteousness based on faith; whereas Israel made great efforts after a law of righteousness, but neverattained to it. Why was this? Because their efforts were not based on faithbut, mistakenly, on deeds. ” 12 Thisoscillationbetweenthepositiveandthenegativetakesyetonemorestriking turn, in an important  󿬁 nal observation. I ask then: When they stumbled, was their fall  󿬁 nal? Far from it! Through a falsestep on their part, salvation has come to the gentiles, and this in turn will stir themto envy.If their falsestep means the enrichmentof theworld, if their falling meansenrichment of the gentiles, how much more will their coming to full strengthmean.It is to you gentiles that I am speaking. As an apostle to the gentiles, I makemuch of that ministry, yet always in the hope of stirring those of my own race to 9 Ibid.  2 : 28 – 9 .  10 Ibid.  3 : 1 – 3 .  11 Ibid.  9 : 2 – 5 .  12 Ibid.  9 : 30 – 2 . the prior church legacy 13
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