The Church's Hidden Jewishness

Hebrew thinking in a Greek world
2003This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

The year was A.D. 70. Jerusalem was surrounded by Roman troops, and an important Jewish leader made a daring escape. He had his friends carry him inside a coffin past guards at Jerusalem's gates. (Josephus reports that in the two and a half months before Jerusalem's final destruction, 115,000 corpses were carried out of the city. No wonder Yochanan employed this ruse.)

Once outside the walls, Rabbi Yochanan made his way to the Roman camp and asked to see General Vespasian. They struck a deal, and Rabbi Yohanan went on to Yavneh where he took the lead in reorganizing Jewish belief and life, thus laying the foundations for the Rabbinic Judaism we know today.

But Rabbi Yohanan wasn't the only one to escape. According to Eusebius, the community of Jewish believers in Jesus fled Jerusalem as well and took refuge in the Gentile town of Pella in the Decapolis.

Those who remained in Jerusalem died. The Temple, the ritual center of Jewish religion, was destroyed. And much of Judaism died with it. The various religious and political parties whose names we know from the New Testament and Josephus were wiped out: No more Sadducees, Shammaite Pharisees, Essenes, or Zealots.

But the followers of Yohanan and the followers of Jesus survived, each group developing its own unique way to worship the God of Abraham without the sacrificial system of Moses. Though the two groups went their separate ways, they continued to influence each other, much the way Republicans and Democrats do: by the way they frame issues and by the way they try to distinguish themselves from each other. In In the Shadow of the Temple, Oskar Skarsaune, professor of church history at Norwegian Lutheran Theological Seminary, tells how that competition helped keep Christianity ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Editor's Bookshelf
David Neff
David Neff was editor in chief of Christianity Today, where he worked from 1985 until his retirement in 2013. He is also the former editor in chief of Christian History magazine, and continues to explore the intersection of history and current events in his bimonthly column, "Past Imperfect." His earlier column, "Editor's Bookshelf," ran from 2002 to 2004 and paired Neff's reviews of thought-provoking books and interviews with the authors.
Previous Editor's Bookshelf Columns:
Tags:
From Issue:
September
Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
More from this IssueRead This Issue
Read These Next
close