April 20, 2014
FROM THE ARCHIVES: JUDAISM FOR THE GENTILES:
The Church's Hidden Jewishness: Hebrew thinking in a Greek world. a review of In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity by Oskar Skarsaune (David Neff, 09/15/2003, Christianity Today)
Some scholars see the development of early Christian thought and practice as a series of Hellenizing moments, as Christianity became increasingly less Hebraic and more Greek. Skarsaune devotes much of his book to debunking such claims.
One of the most crucial examples is the way the early Christians clung to key Hebrew notions about the material world: God is the creator of the material world. Creation was good. The Hebrew Bible is a genuine revelation. And the Bible's teaching about the resurrection of the body--that God will restore those who trust him to a bodily existence for eternity--must be believed.
By contrast, as Tom Wright demonstrated in The Resurrection of the Son of God, there were no parallels to the resurrection of the body in the ancient Mediterranean world. The Greeks thought Paul foolish when he preached the resurrection in Athens (Acts 17:32). If the early Christians had been trying to become user-friendly in a Hellenized culture, they would have avoided the Resurrection and rejected, as Marcion and the Gnostic heretics did, the Old Testament and its affirmation of the material world.
Scholars like Princeton University's Elaine Pagels are promoting an alternative Christianity these days by trying to rehabilitate Gnostic texts like the Gospel of Thomas. They claim these materials were excluded from the New Testament because of political struggles between Christian factions. For them, heresy is more about politics than truth. But it is crucial to note that early church definitions of heresy uniformly focus on the goodness of the material world. Skarsaune cites Justin Martyr writing in the middle of the second century and the Syrian Didascalia Apostolorum from the middle of the third. Both define heresy as the rejection of the creator God portrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures and the denial of the resurrection of the body. And to underscore how Jewish this is, Skarsaune cites the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 10:1), which lists among those who have "no share in the world to come" those who deny that the Torah teaches the resurrection of the dead and those who say that the Torah did not come from heaven.
Skarsaune offers similar arguments regarding conversion rites. The practice of Christian baptism (in "living water" that is allowed to touch every part of the body), accompanied by a formal renunciation of Satan and ritual exorcism followed by a first Eucharist in the early church have their parallels in Jewish texts about proselyte baptism (also in "living water" that is allowed to touch every part of the body), accompanied by a renunciation of idols and the offering of a first sacrifice.
Pagans were not known for dying for their religions. But Christians and Jews were.
There's been more than enough dying on the part of Christians and Jews; time to recognize similarities, get past differences, and give others an opportunity.
[Originally posted: September 21, 2003]
Posted by oj at April 20, 2014 4:54 AM