The Pharisees themselves, in existence since the Hasmonean period, whom we have defined sociologically as a demonination, had among them diverse groups that at times exhibited schismatic tendencies . . . This diversity calls into question the (anachronistic) tendency among many scholars to understand christology to be the distinguishing factor behind intragroup tensions that resulted in the parting of ways between people who originally belonged within the same institutional context (132).
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Was Christology decisive in dividing Jews in the early decades of the church?
I've been reading a very stimulating article by Anders Runesson that appeared in JBL not long ago entitled "Rethinking Early Jewish-Christian Relations: Matthean Community History as Pharisaic Intragroup Conflict" (JBL 127.1 : 95-132).
The essay is dense and well researched with a number of interesting and significant observations. Among the many points to ponder is Anders' argument that Pharisees should not be thought of as a sect as is so often the case. Instead he labels them with the sociological category "denomination", which is more "positive in terms of society tension" because of "their acceptance of the Jerusalem cult [the civic religion] and thus the religiously legitimate use of it by individuals other than their own members" (114-15). I'm giving only the briefest sketch of his argument. You'll need to consult the article for the full argument, but his argument is very convincing at least at first glance.
It is the near afterthought that most caught my attention however. In the second to last paragraph of the conclusion, Anders raises a the controversial point that what divided Jews in the first century of the church was not Christology. He notes the diversity within the Pharisaic movement of the first century stating:
He appeals to two early Rabbis to advance the point. Rabbi Akiva was ridiculed by some, he notes, for acclaiming Bar Kokhba messiah, but he nonetheless became a celebrated authority in the rabbinic community. In contrast Rabbi Eliezer was excommunicated as a result of a dispute over a halakic issue (b. Bava Mesia 59a-59b). From this Anders concludes "it seems indeed that halakah was more central for Jewish identity than dogma" (132).
What do you think of this conclusion?