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Prolegomenon to the Study of Jewish-Christianities in Rabbinic Literature

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 October 2009

Burton L. Visotzky
Jewish Theological Seminary, New York


They just don't fit very neatly; they never did. Ever since it became clear that the law-free mission to the gentiles would create a church and not a synagogue, Jewish-Christianity has been an uncomfortable reality with which to deal. The “Synagogue” didn't like it. The “Church Catholic” didn't like it. And modern scholarship, far less ready to accept the vagaries of a religion that resembles but cannot be made to fit known varieties of religion, seems to like it even less. Jewish-Christians seemed to want to hang on to an anachronism, a mission that should have failed already in Paul's lifetime.

Copyright © Association for Jewish Studies 1989

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This essay was written during my tenure as a Visiting Fellow of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge, and as a Visiting Scholar at the Oxford Centre for Post-Graduate Hebrew Studies. A generous grant from the Abbell Publication Fund of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America supported the research.

1. For general bibliographies the following works should be consulted: Danielou, J., The Theology of Jewish Christianity(London, 1964)Google Scholar; Aspects du Judeo-Christianisme, Colloque de Strasbourg, (Paris, 1965); Judeo-Christianisme: Recherches historique et theologique offertes en hommage au Cardinal Jean Danielou, (Recherches de science religieuse, 60 [1972]); M. Simon, “Reflexions sur le Judeo-Christianisme,” in Christianity, Judaism and other Greco-Roman Sects: Studies for Morton Smith at 60, (Leiden, 1975), 2:53–76; Klijn, A. F. J., “The Study of Jewish-Christianity,” New Testament Studies 20:419431CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Malina, B., “Jewish Christianity: A Select Bibliography,” Australian Journal of Biblical Archeology 6 (1973): 6065. Specific mention must be made of the groundbreaking studies of H. J. Schoeps, whose works are listed in the bibliographies above. More specific to the problems of defining Jewish-Christianity, see, e.g., M. Simon, “Problemes du Judeo-Christianisme,” in Aspects du Judeo-Christianisme, pp. 1–17; B. Malina, “Jewish Christianity or Christian Judaism: Toward a Hypothetical Definition,” Journal of Jewish Studies, 7:46–57; S. Riegel, “Jewish Christianity: Definitions and Terminology,” New Testament Studies, 24:410–415; and R. Kraft, “In Search of 'Jewish-Christianity' and Its 'Theology': Problems of Definition and Methodology,” Recherches de science religieuse, 60:81–92.Google Scholar

2. Bauer, W., Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity(Philadelphia, 1971).Google Scholar

3. G. Strecker, apud Bauer, op. cit

4. Brown, R. E., “Not Jewish Christianity and Gentile Christianity But Types of Jewish/ Gentile Christianity,” Catholic Bible Quarterly 45 (1983): 7479. Brown credits our colleague, J. Louis Martyn, with the insight that there was a law-observant mission to the gentiles. I might add that Brown and Martyn's theses have but uncovered the tip of the iceberg.Google Scholar

5. I have not seen the work of A. Schlatter, Synagogue und Kirche bis zum Bar Kochba- Aufstand. Vier Studien zur Geschichte des Rabbinats und der jiidischen Chrislenheit in der ersten zwei Jahrhundertern, (Stuttgart, 1966 [written between 1897 and 1915]), which I understand makes some contribution to the field. For the limited contribution of scholars of rabbinics, see below.

6. Strecker, G., Die Juden-Christentum bei den Pseudo-Klementinen(Berlin, 1958).Google Scholar

7. Didascalia, ed. A. Voobus, Corpus scriptorum christianorum orientalium, 1979, vols. 1–2; his English translation, see the earlier edition by de LaGarde, P., Didascalia Apostolorum Syriacae(Leipzig, 1854) and an earlier English translation with introduction and commentary by R. H. Connolly (Oxford, 1929).Google Scholar

8. Ed. Funk, F. X., Didascalia et constitutiones apostolorum(Paderborn, 1905).Google Scholar

9. Ed. A. Henrichs, L. Koenen, Zeitschrift fur Papyrologie und Epigraphik, 19, 32, 44, 48, and see my “Rabbinic Randglossen to the Cologne Mani Codex,” 52:295–300.

10. E.g., D. Fiensy's thorough study, Prayers Alleged to Be Jewish: An Examination of the Constitutiones Apostolorum, (Chico, Calif., 1985).

11. Robinson, J. M., ed., The Nag Hammadi Library in English(New York, 1977).Google Scholar

12. Klijn, A. F. J. and Reinink, G. J., Patristic Evidence for Jewish Christian Sects(Leiden, 1973).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

13. See, e.g., Grant, R. M., “Jewish Christianity at Antioch in the Second Century,” Recherches de science religieuse 60 (1972): 97108, and C. K. Barrett, “Jews and Judaisers in the Epistle of Ignatius,” in Jews, Greeks and Christians in Honor of W. D. Davies, (Leiden, 1976), pp. 220 ff.Google Scholar

14. See Barrett, “Jews and Judaisers”; J. Meier in Brown, R. E. and Meier, J., Antioch and Rome(New York, 1983); E. Schweizer, “Christianity of the Circumcised and Judaism of the Uncircumcised-the Background of Matthew and Colossians,” in Jews, Greeks and Christians, pp. 245–260.Google Scholar

15. See R. Wilken, John Chrysostom and the Jews, (Berkeley, 1983); W. Meeks and Wilken, R., Jews and Christians in Antioch(Missoula, 1978).Google Scholar

16. I offer only a few examples to illustrate the magnitude of the problem. Most notably one must list the works of W. Ramsay and, more recently, B. Bagatti (see below). Then there are those who wish that hard-to-classify groups like the Jewish-Christians would just go away, e.g., A. T. Kraabel, “The Disappearance of the God-Fearers,” Numen, 28 (1981): 113–126; this despite the evidence of rabbinic literature and the Sebomenoi inscription. See L. H. Feldman, “The Omnipresence of the God-Fearers,” Biblical Archeology Review, 12 (5, 1986): 58–69, with the response by Kraabel et al., pp. 44–57, and see J. Gager, “Jews, Gentiles, and Synagogues in the Book of Acts,” in G. W. E. Nickelsburg and MacRae, G. W., eds., Christians Among Jews and Gentiles(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986) pp. 9199.Google Scholar

17. See Klijn and Reinink for full details.

18. For Asia Minor the old works of Ramsay, W., St. Paul the Traveller(New York, 1896)Google Scholar and Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, (Oxford, 1897), remain useful. See also Barrett, “Jews and Judaisers.” For Palestine the most notable, if thoroughly credulous, efforts are by Bagatti, B., The Church from the Gentiles in Palestine(Jerusalem, 1971) and The Church from the Circumcision, (Jerusalem, 1971).Google Scholar

19. E.g., R. E. Brown in Brown and Meier, Antioch and Rome, with the bibliography there.

20. Meier in Grant, “Jewish Christianity at Antioch”; Barrett, “Jews and Judaisers”; Meeks and Wilken, Jews and Christians in Antioch.

21. The material remains require a critical, reevaluation in light of Jewish-Christianities. The best analysis of the Jewish catacombs remains Harry Leon, The Jews of Ancient Rome, (Philadelphia, 1960), while the best collection of the art remains Goodenough, E. R., Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period, vol. 3 (New York, 1953).Google Scholar

22. See particularly Barrett, “Jews and Judaisers.” On Ignatian problems in general, see the discussions and bibliographies in W. Schoedel, Ignatius of Antioch, (Philadelphia, 1985), and idem, “Theological Norms and Social Perspectives in Ignatius of Antioch,” in Sanders, E. P., ed., Jewish and Christian Self-Definition, vol. 1 (Philadelphia, 1980), pp. 34ff.Google Scholar

23. See Wilken, John Chrysostom and the Jews;, Meeks and Wilken, Jews and Christians in Antioch;, Downey, G., A History of Antioch in Syria(Princeton, 1961);CrossRefGoogle ScholarLeibschuetz, J. H. W. G., Antioch: City and Imperial Administration in the Later Roman Empire(Oxford, 1972); and the older works by C. H. Kraeling, “The Jewish Community at Antioch,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 51 (1932): 130–160; and S. Krauss, “Antioche,” Revue des etudes juives, 45 (1902): 27–49, and idem, s.v. “Antioch,” Jewish Encyclopedia, 1:632 f.Google Scholar

24. Simon, “Problemes du Judeo-Christianisme” (see n. 1).

25. See the texts adduced in Schiffman, L., “At the Crossroads: Tannaitic Perspectives on the Jewish-Christian Schism,” in Jewish and Christian Self-Definition(Philadelphia, 1981), 2:115156, and idem, Who Was a Jew?, (Hoboken, 1985). Schiffman's analyses view the evidence through modern Orthodox Jewry's perspectives.Google Scholar

26. See Stern, M., Pagan Authors on Jews and Judaism(Jerusalem, 1974), 1:422, 436.Google Scholar

27. See Brown, “Not Jewish Christianity.”

28. John Chrysostom writes about his Judaizers going to the synagogues to hear the shofar blowing, take oaths, and the like. His Judaizers also attended the shrine of Matrona(?).Google Scholar

29. See, most recently, the discussion and references in Bokser, B., The Origins of the Seder(Berkeley, 1984), pp. 101106.Google Scholar

30. See, e.g., Acts of Thomas 120 (Edgar Hennecke, New Testament Apocrypha, edited by Schneemelcher, W. [Philadelphia, 1965], 2:507 and see p. 438), and Irenaeus, Adv. haer, V. 1, 3 (see Klijn and Reinink, Patristic Evidence for Jewish Christian Sects, p. 72, n. 4).Google Scholar

31. See Brown, “Not Jewish Christianity.”

32. See G. Liidemann, “The Successors of Pre-70 Jerusalem Christianity: A Critical Evaluation of the Pella-Tradition,” in Sanders, E. P., ed., Jewish and Christian Self-Definition(Philadelphia, 1980), 1:161173Google Scholar; and cf. Simon, M., “La migration a Pella: legende ou realite?Recherches de science religieuse 60 (1972): 3754.Google Scholar

33. E.g., J. Munck, “Primitive Jewish Christianity and Later Jewish Christianity: Continuation or Rupture?” in Aspects du Judeo-Christianisme, pp. 77–93. Munck favors rupture.

34. See above, n. 1.

35. E. P. Sanders and his colleagues at MacMaster University have edited three notable volumes on the overall subject, called Jewish and Christian Self-Definition.None of the chapters deals with this specific aspect of the problem.

36. Simon, “Problems du Judeo-Christianisme,” pp. 1–17.

37. See below.

38. See Danielou and Kraft, cited above, n. 1.

39. These questions particularly affect one's views on Ignatius' and Chrysostom's “Judaizers” in Antioch.

40. Kraabel, “Disappearance of the God-Fearers,” pp. 113 ff., tries very hard to make them disappear. He ignores substantial rabbinic evidence to do this and has been recently confuted by epigraphic evidence; see n. 16 above.

41. See R. Kimelman, “Birkat Ha-Minim, and the Lack of Evidence for an Anti-Christian Jewish Prayer in Late Antiquity,” in Jewish and Christian Self-Definition, vol. 2 (London, 1981), pp. 226–244.

42. This is betrayed in the titles, if not always the content, of books on the subject, e.g., Herford, R. T., Christianity in Talmud and Midrash(London, 1903).Google Scholar

43. See, e.g., my “Overturning the Lamp,” Journal of Jewish Studies, 38 (1987): 72–80 and “Trinitarian Testimonies,” USQR, 42 (1988): 73–85.

44. Thus the simple definitions offered by Schiffman (above, n. 25) and Kimelman (above, n. 41) cannot stand; but see their notes for full bibliography on attempts to limit the scope of the term.

45. See Kimelman, “Birkat Ha-Minim.”

46. See Schiffman, Who Was a Jew?

47. Segal, Alan, Two Powers in Heaven(Leiden, 1977), collects all of the rabbinic passages with this phrase.Google Scholar

48. See Oppenheimer, A., The Am Ha-Aretz(Leiden, 1977).Google Scholar

49. Lieberman, S., “The Discipline of the So-Called Dead Sea Manual of Discipline,” Texts and Studies(New York, 1974), pp. 200207. For other separatists the rabbis used the term perushim, otherwise translated Pharisees. See E. Rivkin, Hebrew Union College Annual, 1969, pp. 205 ff.Google Scholar

50. See Kraabel, n. 16 above. The seminal study remains Lieberman, S., “Gentiles and Semi-Proselytes,” in his Greek in Jewish Palestine(New York, 1942), pp. 6490.Google Scholar

51. Lieberman, Greek in Jewish Palestine, p. 82. This section on the Ten Tribes is a revised and condensed version of a paper I delivered to the Early Rabbinic Studies Section of the Society for Biblical Literature, Dec. 20, 1982. My thanks to Profs. Shaye J. D. Cohen, J. L. Martyn, and Richard Sarason for their comments on the earlier draft.

52. See b.Yebam 16a-17a and b.Nidda 56b.

53. E.g., b.Yebam 17a, where Samuel considers the Ten Tribes to be entirely non-Jewish; the pericope goes on to consider Samaritans, who are deemed either true proselytes (gerei 'emet), or dubious ones (gerei 'arayot).

54. LevR 3:2, following the interpretation of Lieberman, Greek in Jewish Palestine, pp. 82f. Cf. j.San 29c.

55. Sekhel Tov, to Gen 32:5 (ed. Buber, 181). Lieberman comments: “The Palestinian tradition seems to have compared the fate of the 'fearers of heaven' to that of the Ten Tribes” (Greek in Jewish Palestine, p. 83, n. 114).

56. j.San 29c.

57. See Schiffman, Who Was a Jew?

58. j.San 29c and LamR 2:9, GenR 73:6, PesRabbati 31. Cf. Josephus, War, VII, 96–99, and Pliny, Natural History, 31:11, for Sanbatyon.

59. LevR 5:3 and YalSh Amos 545

60. b.Shab 147b; cf. ARN A 14, ARN B 29, and LevR 5:3. For wine as the cause of the destruction of the Ten Tribes, see GenR 36:4, LevR 12:1, EstR 5:1, NumR 9:7 (where they are also accused of wife-swapping), TanB Noah 22-all based on exegesis of Amos 6. For other locales of exile, see b.Yebam 16b-17a, b.Kid 72a, and b.San 94a-b.

61. m.San 10:3, cf. t.San, chap. 13, b.San 110b, j.San 29c.

62. So Epistle of James 1:1. R. E. Brown (Antioch and Rome, p. 131, n. 277) comments that the epistle “is addressed to the twelve tribes (Jewish Christians [sic]), in the diaspora.”

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