Tuesday, May 22, 2007
The Council of Javneh
In scholarship of the late 70s and early 80s much was made of the council of Javneh which was convened in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem, and this council issued a decree on the explusion of the minim (= "heretics", quite possibly Christians, cf. Jn 9.22) from the synagogues. Its imprint is said to be reflected in the bitter polemics underlying the Gospels of Matthew and John where Christians were expelled from the synagogues and responded in kind with equally vitriolic polemics. This "Javneh Myth" has been effectively attacked on a number of fronts (see David E. Aune, "On the Origins of the 'Council of Javneh' Myth," Journal of Biblical Literature 110  491-93; N.T. Wright, NTPG, 161-65). Criticism is based on the fact that our knowledge about the council's existence and effects is quite scant, who the minim are is up for grabs and they are not necessarily Jewish Christians, and the authority that such a council would have in Diaspora synagogues in Asia Minor and perhaps even Syria is disputed. On top of that, contrary to popular belief, Pharisees and Christians were not the only Jewish groups left standing post-70 AD and finding a Jewish-Christian polemic mirrored in the Gospels is far from clear.
A mediating view is that of Philip L. Mayo in his article "The Role of the Birkath Haminim in Early Jewish-Christian Relations: A Reexamination of the Evidence," BBR 16.2 (2006): 325-44, who argues that the "cursing of Christians" (BH) was not a "watershed event" in a Jewish-Christian schism. Rather, it was a tool for shaping Judaism into its rabbinic image and the BH had no immediate effect on Jewish-Christian relations untillater. (I would add that Justin Martyr's reference to Jews cursing Christians is a good indication that by ca. 150 AD it did effect the relations). Mayo writes: "One may say, therefore, that the Birkath Haminim was certainly a factor in the early separation of Judaism and Christianity, but it was not the factor. It became one among many factors that contributed to the eventual separation that would estalbish these two religions as separate for centuries to come" (p. 343).