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10 - Self-definition vis-à-vis the Jewish matrix

from Part III - Community Traditions and Self-Definition

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2008

Margaret M. Mitchell
University of Chicago
Frances M. Young
University of Birmingham
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To speak of early Christian self-definition is to recognise that the sense of self always implies differentiation from one or more ‘others’. This and the following chapter identify those significant ‘others’ as the ‘Jewish matrix’ and the ‘Graeco-Roman world’; differentiation from ‘Gnostic’ groups (ch. 12 below) is arguably different in kind. A significant point, then, on the path towards differentiation, although not its culmination, might be the self-understanding of the Christians as a ‘third race’, alongside the Greeks and the Jews; this emerges at the end of the second century, and was, perhaps, adopted from the taunts of outsiders. Yet, as we shall discover, just as early Christianity necessarily remained part of the Graeco-Roman world, so in one sense it inevitably would always be positioned in relationship to a Jewish matrix. The familiar epithet, ‘Judaeo-Christian tradition’, while in danger of implying a common voice where none is to be heard, acknowledges a truth that is rooted in the very origins of Christianity, in the ministry of ‘Jesus, the Jew’.

Our task is to plot how, within a Jewish framework, individuals and, more importantly, the groups of which they were a part, who were characterized by a commitment to the person and memory of Jesus, developed a sense of what united them over against other Jews and Jewish groups, whilst sustaining an absolute claim to what we might call their ‘Jewish heritage’.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2006

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