For Christians, the Bible consists of two quite separate but interlocking Testaments, the Old and the New. The New Testament, the second part of the Christian Church's canon, marks the beginning of the separation of Christianity and Judaism.
Written primarily in Koine Greek (with occasional Latin and Aramaic expressions) and dating from the mid-first to the early second century ce, the New Testament addresses both Jews and Gentiles. The designation ‘New Testament’ can also be translated ‘new covenant’, which derives in part from Jeremiah 31:31–34. Jeremiah anticipated a ‘new covenant’, distinct from the covenant at Sinai that the Children of Israel often failed to follow. In the Old Testament the term ‘covenant’ (berit) is usually understood as a sacred agreement and expresses the sovereign power of God, who promises in a solemn oath to fulfil his word to his people Israel, who have only to be faithful and obey. In the New Testament the concept is reinterpreted through the experiences of the early Christian community and represents a new phase in the covenant-story of Israel.
The translation from Hebrew into Greek provided a major challenge for the first Christians and had an impact on Christian interpretation of and in the New Testament. See, for example, the cry of dereliction that the Gospels record that Jesus recited in Aramaic on the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’ (Mark 15:34; Ps. 22:1).
The church fathers are the early Christian teachers who gave their name to the patristic age of church history, which lasted from the end of the first century to the early Middle Ages, and to the patristic literature, the main body of Christian texts from these years.
Their writings on Jews and Judaism illustrate a tension that continues to underlie Jewish–Christian relations today. On the one hand, there was acceptance that Jesus was born, lived and died a Jew; on the other, they wrestled with the problem that Jews did not recognise Jesus as the Messiah. The Jewish rejection was extremely embarrassing for the early Church and raised a number of challenges, notably in the formation of Christian identity and in Christianity's relationship not only with Judaism but also with the ancient traditions commonly called paganism. Pagans were generally sympathetic to older religions and held a revulsion for all things new, for antiquity was equivalent to respectability. Even though Judaism was criticised by ancient writers for many reasons, such as its alleged separateness and unfriendliness, it was admired on the grounds of its history. For example, Numenius of Apamea, who lived in the second century bce, described Plato as an ‘Atticising Moses’.
The arrival of Christianity led to some harsh accusations, especially as the Romans considered new cults as suspicious and dangerous. Pagan critics, such as Celsus (c. 180 ce), were quick to exploit the Jewish rejection of Christianity: as far as Jews were concerned, the Messiah had not appeared.
THE ENCOUNTER WITH ISLAM
In one sense, Islam's influence upon Jewish–Christian relations can be dealt with under the familiar theme of supersessionism, since Muslims believe that Islam was the final religion revealed by God through the Prophet Muhammad (c. 570–632). Islam sees itself as perfecting the two monotheistic religions and the Qur'an calls both Jews and Christians Ahl al-Kitab (People of the Book). One consequence of Islamic supersessionism on Jewish–Christian relations is that it provides Christians with an insight into the difficulties raised by traditional Christian supersessionism of Judaism and what is sometimes called replacement theology.
Muhammad's religious practice at first owed much to Arabian Christians and especially Jews: Muslims faced Jerusalem in prayer and fasted during the Day of Atonement.
Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in God and the Last day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve.
But after Muhammad failed to gain the support of both other groups, his became a separate religion, claiming to be the fulfilment and reformer of all previous revelations, not just Judaism and Christianity. He expelled two Jewish groups from Medina; finally, a third group was severely treated, the men being killed and the women and children sold into slavery.
In the previous two chapters we saw that whilst Jews and Christians shared many of the same Scriptures they read them in dramatically different ways. Christian writers were astonished at what they considered to be Jewish ‘blindness’: their failure to see and comprehend the truth that was proclaimed in their own sacred texts. Jewish writers were perturbed by Christian interpretations not rooted in the original Hebrew, or removed from their historical and textual context, or that abandoned completely the simple meaning of the words in favour of other significance. Although there existed an abundance of examples of texts, which were primarily polemical and many of which were vituperative, there is also another more positive story to tell. This story demonstrates a more constructive and mutually beneficial encounter between Christians and Jews during these formative centuries. In this chapter we will identify a two-way encounter between Jewish and Christian biblical commentators who were often aware of each other's interpretations, for good, not just for ill.
The Bible and its interpretations are key to understanding the relationship between Judaism and Christianity because Jews and Christians shared (and continue to share) a biblically orientated culture. A number of similarities between Jewish and Christian interpretations can immediately be noted, such as an insistence on the harmony of Scripture and an emphasis on the sanctity of the text.
The eighteenth-century European Age of Enlightenment, also called the Age of Reason, marked the beginning of modernity. It challenged the intellectual assumptions of the traditional religious and political role of the Church and religious authority in general. It witnessed not only the emancipation of Jews and the granting of equal rights, but also the denigration of Jews and Judaism, rooted in a new form of political and social thinking, called antisemitism.
Reaction to the Enlightenment was mixed as both Jews and Christians were struggling to come to terms with it, and in both camps there were radicals and conservatives. Some Jews, like Moses Mendelssohn, the Reformers and the Orthodox leader S. R. Hirsch, welcomed its political and intellectual achievements; others, including the Gaon of Vilna (1720–97) feared the potential of the new ideas to undermine Jewish religious tradition. Engaging in precisely the same battle, conservative Christians such as Pope Pius IX (1846–78) denounced the Enlightenment, condemning freedom of religion and applying the phrase ‘synagogue of Satan’ to describe the enemies of the Church. Pius IX's attitude towards Jews is demonstrated by the Mortara Affair, the forced removal in 1858 of six-year-old Edgardo Mortara (1851–1940) from the home of his Jewish parents because he had allegedly been baptised by a Christian servant as a sick infant. Pius, who took a personal interest in Edgardo, was aware of international outrage but was convinced he had acted in the boy's interests.
The medieval period, which for this study is defined as between the tenth and the seventeenth centuries, was a time of violence and prejudice as Christian society became increasingly intolerant, especially from the twelfth century, not just toward Jews but toward everyone deemed deviant.
In the chapter on the church fathers we noted that Jewish rights granted by the Theodosian and Justinian Codes were progressively removed. In the medieval period this process accelerated. Legislation enabled local authorities to outlaw Judaism, close synagogues and enforce baptisms (despite some church council opposition). For example, the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 addressed a variety of political and doctrinal issues, including the position of Jews in Christendom. Some laws were renewed, such as the law forbidding Jews to appear in public during Easter, especially on Good Friday (a ruling said to prevent mocking of Christians but also perhaps partly for the Jews' own protection). Other laws were new, such as that which compelled Jews (and Muslims living under Christian rule) to wear distinctive dress, in order to avoid ‘prohibited intercourse’ (especially sexual relations).
The practice of demarcating a religious minority by requiring its members to wear distinctive clothes originated in Islam, which imposed dress restrictions on both Jews and Christians in the time of Omar II (717–20). When discriminatory dress regulations entered Christian canon law in 1215, it testified to a society in which it was assumed that the category to which every individual belonged (nobles, serfs, clergy, etc.) should be identifiable by dress.
This chapter deals with three interconnected subjects that have been touched on in previous chapters but need more detailed consideration because they have been and continue to be central to the Jewish–Christian encounter. Covenant, mission and dialogue illustrate both the extent of the common ground between Jews and Christians and also many of the difficulties that still need to be addressed. The challenge they bring is demonstrated by Nostra Aetate, perhaps the most influential of the recent church documents on Jewish–Christian relations. On the one hand, the document states that ‘the church is the new people of God’ and, on the other, that ‘the Jews remain most dear to God because of their fathers, for He does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues (cf. Rom. 11:28–29)’. The tension between the two statements is caused by continuing divergence of opinion over the identity of the people of God – both Jews and Christians have claimed to be Verus Israel, the True Israel. This claim is regarded by Jews as the very core of their self-understanding, yet for nearly two millennia the Church also saw itself as the True Israel and the heir of all the biblical promises towards Israel.
Covenant (Hebrew berith), a central concept in both Judaism and Christianity, is a subject that has been receiving serious attention from theologians in recent years.
Scholars disagree about when the ‘rabbinic period’ in Jewish history really began. Perhaps it started as early as the fifth century bce, with the return to Jerusalem of Nehemiah and Ezra, or as late as the second century during the reign of the Hasmonean dynasty. What is certain is that the rabbinic way of life was a new stage in the development of Judaism. In contrast to the Hasmoneans who concentrated on national issues such as the removal of foreigners (be they Romans or Greeks) from Jewish soil, and the Sadducees who were Temple centred, the rabbis emphasised Torah and halakhah (Jewish law).
The progenitors of the rabbis were the Pharisees, and the success of the Pharisees, and later the rabbis, enabled Judaism to survive without a homeland and without a Temple. Indeed, unlike other Jewish groups it was the rabbis' ability to respond to the catastrophe in 70 ce that enabled them, eventually, to dominate Jewish life. The rabbis replaced sacrifice and pilgrimage to the Temple with study of the Scripture, faith, prayer and deeds, eliminating the need for a sanctuary in Jerusalem and making Judaism a religion capable of fulfilment anywhere. All succeeding Judaism is ultimately derived from the rabbinic movement of the first centuries.
One result of their endeavours is the title given by Muslims to Jews (and Christians), ‘the people of the Book’ (Ahl al-Kitab), although Jews are more likely to describe themselves as ‘people of the books’, for there are many sacred books.
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the relationship between Judaism and Christianity has changed dramatically and is one of the few pieces of encouraging news that can be reported today about the encounter between religions. The rapprochement in relations and the development of a new way of thinking were pioneered by a small number of scholars and religious leaders in the first half of the century. However, it was the impact of the Holocaust, the creation of the state of Israel, the development of the ecumenical movement and the work of the Second Vatican Council (1962–5) which in combination made the changes more widespread. As a result, Christianity, so long an instigator of violence against Jews, rediscovered a respect and admiration for Judaism, and the once close relationship, which had become a distant memory, has been to a large extent restored. For Jews, the traditional view that they were on their own and that Christianity was an enemy has been replaced by a realisation that partnership with Christianity is possible.
At the same time as gaining a new appreciation of Judaism, Christians now acknowledge their contribution to antisemitism and the detrimental impact of the legacy of the Adversus Iudaeos (anti-Jewish) literature. Christianity no longer holds that Jewish interpretation of Scripture was false or had been replaced by Christian interpretation.
Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this to your organisation's collection.