Monday, October 26, 2009

The Jewish Gospels: Part 2- Fall of Jerusalem

In my previous post I brought up the importance of Jesus' Jewish heritage. This is hard to grasp within Christianity because his attributed divinity tends to overwhelm his humanity. What aspects of Jesus stays within the realms of his attributed divinity and his humanity? If Jesus was Jewish how closely did he follow the Torah and Jewish rituals? If we take Jesus' Jewishness seriously should we not also take the Jewishness of his followers into account including their writings of him? At what point did the early Christian church begin departing from their Jewish roots?

[The sack of Jerusalem depicted on the Arch of Titus]

Bishop John Shelby Spong greatly illuminated this subject for me in his book, Liberating the Gospels. Spong explains that it was the fall of Jerusalem and the fight over the Jewish Scriptures (the OT) that caused the early Christian church to begin moving away from their Jewish roots.
"It was the fall of Jerusalem, with its resulting destruction of the Temple and the priesthood, that raised the price of that uneasy accommodation to such painful levels that fracture was inevitable. The intolerable quality of this event did not appear all at once. Rather its intensity grew from the moment of Jerusalem's defeat over the next twenty years, until the separation was so total and so hostile that finally the Jewish Christians were literally expelled from the synagogues. As this tension built towards its climax, both Christian hostility toward heterodox Jewish Christians expanded. Echoes of this rising hostility can be found quite overtly in the Gospels. As the rhetoric heightened, the lines around what Jews could tolerate inside Judaism tightened considerably and those heterodox Jewish Christians, offended by this increasing hostility, began to move more and more into gentile circles." (Liberating the Gospels, "How These Jewish Books Became Gentile Captives")
With the heart of Jewish life demolished the one thing that kept, and continues to keep, the Jews together was their scripture. Judaism depended on their scripture as the final existing thread to their identity and their survival. Without it Judaism may have disappeared into history only to be mentioned in Christian history books. The post- 2nd Temple Jews also developed a new form Judaism, Rabbinic Judaism. In this new form of Judaism both the written and Oral Law took center stage, which caused a widening rift between Jews and the Early church, which at the time was growing into a Gentile majority, to become a full blown break over the battle over scriptural interpretation. The Jews protected the one link that bounded them together, while the gentile Christians found new interpretation in the Jewish scripture that they saw pointed to the Risen Christ. The Jewish Christians, caught in the middle, lost out in the end as the movement became overwhelmingly gentile the Jewish born Christians would eventually die out. Yet without the connection to Judaism through the Jewish Christians, Christianity may not have had a strong enough root to compete with the ancient Greco-Roman religions. It's tough being the new kid on the block, just ask the Mormons.

I agree with Spong that the destruction of the Temple and the subsequent battle over the Jewish scripture were the main causes of the Jewish Christian rift in the Early Church. Spong brought up an intriguing although highly controversial view of the development of the gospels: the gospels were written as "collections of expository teaching or preaching that had been created in the same way that the rabbis would create what came to be called the midrash rabbah." ("How These Jewish books became Gentile Captives", pg. 52) The gospels were written to help explain (and later remember) what they experienced through the Risen Christ by searching through the Jewish scripture for new meaning. To traditional Christians this translates as the early church invented Jesus as a vehicle for new teachings, yet this creative writing is riddled throughout Jewish literature. So the question then becomes how do we read the "eyewitness" accounts found in the gospels? How much of the gospels were elaborations made by the Christian church and how much are historical? All, some, none?

In this case, pronouncement stories, stories which surround a particular teaching or saying of Jesus, could have been written by the Jewish Christians as a creative foundation for a teaching of Jesus. The focus of the pronouncement stories is the pronouncement itself and not in the detail of the story, which gives the story flexibility when retold. A storyteller knows the basic structure of a story while she/he weaves his or her own creative aspects into the tale. This is how oral stories were told and retold until they were preserved in writing. It was when the story moved from the oral tradition to written, from Jewish to Greek that the words in the gospels moved from a new creative interpretation on experiencing God towards Christian Orthodoxy.


Don said...

Excellent post. Spong has given me a much better picture of the gospels that I got from any other writer. Can't seem to get enough of his writing. I am currently reading, "Eternal Life: A New Vision", his latest and most probably last offering.

Eruesso said...

Oh wow. Why is it his last?

Don said...

Says he's finished writing. Like you, I'm sure, I hope he changes his mind. He is in his late 70's. Guess he's sort of slowing down a bit.

ron cole said...

We forget Jesus' Jewishness. The more you did into the embryonic beginnings of " christianity ", you discover that the first church rift happened between James and Paul. It's fairly well documented now, that the christianity James practiced was different than Paul's. I mean when you start putting the pieces in place, the fact that Paul's christianity started outside of Jerusalem, the fact he likely had no conatct with any of the disciples until 4 years fater his conversion. The fact that all his letters were written prior to the gosplels. Paul's version had a wider appeal, certainly with the Roman empire, and with religions of the day.It was so to speak the mega-church over coming the traditional church.In this early fracture, the Jewishness was ost in a deep crevass. Anyways, great John Spong, he makes us think!

Anders Branderud said...

Quote: " If we take Jesus' Jewishness seriously should we not also take the Jewishness of his followers into account including their writings of him? At what point did the early Christian church begin departing from their Jewish roots?"

Since you and many of your readers are Christians/Messianics I think the website will be of interest to you. It contains very essential research, previously unknown to most Christians/Messianics, about Ribi Yehoshua (the Messiah) from Nazareth and what he and his followers taught. Historical facts derived by deduction proves that Ribi Yehoshuas followers Netzarim never departed from Torah.

Have a nice day!
Anders Branderud

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