How Jewish Christians Became Christians

Three views of the Jewish-Christian schism.

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The following article is reprinted with permission from From Text to Tradition: A History of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism (Ktav).

The split between Judaism and Christianity did not come about simply or quickly. It was a complex process which took some one hundred years, starting from the crucifixion [of Jesus], and which had different causes and effects depending on whether it is looked at from the point of view of Judaism or Christianity. Further, the question of legal status as seen through Roman eyes also had some relationship to the issue.

The Christian View

From the standpoint of Christianity, the schism is not difficult to trace. In the earliest Gospel texts, which picture Jesus as debating issues of Jewish law with the Pharisees, no hostility is observed. The crucifixion is said to have been carried out by the Romans with the support of some (apparently Hellenized) priests. As we trace the history of the New Testament traditions, they move from disputes with Pharisees, scribes, and chief priests [all members of various Second Temple-era Jewish sects] to polemics against the Jews and Judaism, from the notion of some Jews as enemies of Jesus to the demonization of the Jewish people as a whole.How Jews Became Christians

By sometime in the first century, the New Testament redactors had clearly decided that they were no longer part of the Jewish people. Therefore, they described Jesus as disputing with all the Jews, not just some, as would be appropriate to an internal Jewish dispute. Once Christians saw Jews as the "other," it was but a short step to the notion that all Jews were responsible for the rejection of Jesus and, hence, for the failure of his messianic mission to be fulfilled.

The Jewish View

From the Jewish point of view, the matter is more complex. By this time, tannaitic Judaism [that of the early rabbinic sages, characterized by the emergence of the Oral Law] was already the dominant form of Judaism, for the Pharisees had emerged from the revolt against Rome as the main influence within the Jewish community. After the destruction, the tannaim immediately recognized the need to standardize and unify Judaism. One of the first steps was to standardize the Eighteen Benedictions, which, along with the Shema, constituted the core of the daily prayers.

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Lawrence H. Schiffman

Lawrence H. Schiffman is the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at Yeshiva University.