Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Celsus and the Parting of the Ways

"There isn’t a dime of difference between Jews and Christians."
– Pagan author Celsus according to Origen, Contr. Cel. 3.1.

When did pagans/Roman authorities make a distinction between Jews and Christians? Here's some thoughts about it happening fairly early in some parts of the Empire:

a. The origination of the title "Christian" (= little Messiah) in Antioch in the early 40s (Acts 11.26) may have been a derogatory term coined by Jewish leaders or local authorities.

b. Tacitus' account (Ann. 15.44.2-8) of the persecution of Christians under Nero assumes that Christians were an identifiable group in Rome separate from the synagogues.

c. The collection of the fiscus judaicus or Jewish war reparation tax for the reconstruction of a Roman temple was possibly a catalyst for Christians to no longer identify with Jewish communities or even the Jewish lifestyle (since those who followed Jewish customs were also taxed). Perhaps the tax prompted Christians to "come out of the Jewish clauset" to make a pun?

Given this info, I would not advocate that the divide between Jewish and Christians identity was hard and fast, and some Christian communities (like those known to Matthew and John) strived to remain within the Jewish constituency and saw themselves as the fulfillment of Judaism or at least embodying its highest ideals, as opposed to a replacement to Judaism and the Jewish people. However, I would advocate that a demarcation between Jews and Christians was already ripening in the mid first century.


Alan S. Bandy said...

Thanks for that!

On the parting of the ways: I believe that Stephen's sermon in Acts 7 makes the argument that the trajectory of God's true people continues with those who follow Christ. Those who rejected Christ broke away from true Israel. This is something that would have been imperceptible to pagans in the early days.

Rafael Rodriguez said...

Nice post. I wonder, though, why the development of the label 'Christian' should suggest a parting with Judaism. Isn't this part of the confusion: that Christian is not Judaism. But if different parties (hAERESEIS) within Judaism were identified by different names, couldn't the appelation 'Christian', even as it probably was originally intended negatively, have designated yet another Jewish 'party'? In that case, I think the differentiation b/n Christianity and other Jewish sects was already fairly vibrant in the first-century, but it was later, nearer the turn of the century and through the 2d century, that the differentiation b/n Christianity and Judaism qua Judaism really came into its own. Am I over-simplifying or missing some important piece of info?