Published online by Cambridge University Press: 08 March 2010
Christianity, in origin, is a Jewish messianic movement. Hence, clearly, Jewish messianic expectations and movements provide one particular context within which the early Christian movement is to be understood. One issue of potential significance for early Christianity as a messianic movement is that of concern with and traditions about law (or Torah), and related issues.
This may not seem a very promising theme to take, both because it has already been investigated by a number of scholars (especially W. D. Davies and Diez Macho) and also because the results of their studies have been mostly meagre and unconvincing. But this is at least partly, I would want to argue, because their approach has been both too limited and also in many ways the wrong way round. That is, they have only looked at the issue of the ‘messianic Torah’, and not more extensively at the wider issues involved, and they have also tried to accumulate all the possible Jewish evidence, including rabbinic material, in order to demonstrate the existence of a Jewish doctrine of a ‘messianic Torah’ as the background for the use and developments of this theme in the New Testament in the first century CE. In fact, in his original essay, Davies is suitably modest about the results of his work, and admits that the evidence is sparse and scanty, even though he still wants to hold on to it to produce some form of this ‘doctrine’ of a messianic Torah. He does indeed perform a reasonably valuable service in taking up the texts already discussed by earlier writers and showing the severe limitations of the conclusions that can be drawn from them.