Early Judaism and Christianity in the Light of Archaeology

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<ul><li><p>Early Judaism and Christianity in the Light of ArchaeologyAuthor(s): Eric M. MeyersSource: The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 51, No. 2 (Jun., 1988), pp. 69-79Published by: The American Schools of Oriental ResearchStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3210028 .Accessed: 04/07/2014 06:53</p><p>Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms &amp; Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p><p> .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.</p><p> .</p><p>The American Schools of Oriental Research is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extendaccess to The Biblical Archaeologist.</p><p>http://www.jstor.org </p><p>This content downloaded from on Fri, 4 Jul 2014 06:53:59 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=asorhttp://www.jstor.org/stable/3210028?origin=JSTOR-pdfhttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsphttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>arly udaism and </p><p>Qhriztiznity in the </p><p>ht ofA rchaeolbogy y Eric M. Meyers </p><p>ince World War II we have witnessed a veritable explo- sion of archaeological data from the Holy Land, and our </p><p>understanding of the world of the Old Testament has greatly benefitted from it. There has not yet, however, been a concomitant improvement in our understanding of the New Testa- ment world. A few years ago James F.E Strange and I addressed this im- balance in a book that attempted to show how archaeology, used in con- nection with literary material, can illuminate the first centuries of the common era, a period when early Christianity and rabbinic Judaism were emerging in their Palestinian, or indigenous, settings (see Meyers and Strange 1981). That book was meant as a beginning, and I would </p><p>like to take this topic up again, es- pecially in view of the work that has gone forward since its publication. </p><p>Early Christianity The members of the first generation of the followers of Jesus were largely indistinguishable from their fellow Jews. Although they professed a be- lief in the messiahship of Jesus and began to articulate a radical love ethic ("love your enemy") that had no close parallel in Judaism, the new Christians observed most of the Jewish laws (perhaps some were slack on table fellowship) and accepted the centrality of the Jerusalem Temple. They apparently got along well with their fellow Jews, contrary to the er- roneous impression of the Gospels and other New Testament writings, </p><p>The first centuries of the </p><p>comm0on era in Palestine were a time of religious pluralism and tolerance, but the nid-fourth century saw significant changes. </p><p>which portray the Pharisees in so negative a light. Only the Sadducees, who are implicated in the trial of Jesus, might be said to be on the "outs" with the new Christians. </p><p>Because there is no clear, or definite, trace of the Christian com- munity in the Holy Land from about 70 to 270 C.E., it has been suggested that all or most of the followers of Jesus left Palestine during the course of events associated with the First Jewish Revolt against the Romans in 66-70 C.E. I find this unlikely. Chris- tianity was then making a concerted effort to expand the number of its followers, not only through the gen- tile mission of Paul but also among the many Jewish communities along the western and eastern Mediter- ranean shores. Would this activity have excluded the large Jewish com- munity in Palestine? Did Christian- ity develop only in the gentile and hellenized world outside Palestine? </p><p>It should be noted here that the Jewish community relocated in Galilee after the revolt. Would Christians have ignored this area- the place of Jesus' childhood and ministry? Later generations certain- ly did not. Galilee is the site of nu- merous Christian loca sancta (holy places) constructed in the post- </p><p>Biblical Archaeologist, June 1988 69 </p><p>This content downloaded from on Fri, 4 Jul 2014 06:53:59 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>S nderstanding Jewish-Christianity </p><p>Sin the first four centuries of the common era requires that attention be given to sectarian names. Jewish- Christianity is a modem designation given to a range of groups that shared two characteristics: observance of pre- cepts of Tbrah (such as calendar, circum- cision, and diet), and a belief in Jesus as Messiah (Christ). By the end of the fourth century, Judaism and Christian- ity had largely cut ties with each other, and by that time both sides had con- demned Jewish-Christianity under a variety of names. In order to place these sectarian names in context, one must consider the time, language, and reli- gious perspective of the writers who used the names. </p><p>Most of the Jewish-Christian sec- tarian names evolved and changed sig- nificance during these four centuries. Even the Greek and Hebrew terms for heresy themselves had different mean- ings in the first and fourth centuries. For instance, the Greek hairesis in the works of the first-century Jewish writer Josephus means "a group, philosophy, or school of thought" this is how he de- scribes Pharisees, Sadducces, and Es- senes. A century later, the church writer Irenaeus condemns various groups (in- cluding Jewish-Christian Ebionites) as heresies in the more familiar sense of disapproved groups. </p><p>The Hebrew term for heretics, minim (rmin, singular; minut, heresy) also evolved. In Biblical Hebrew, min means merely "a kind or type" (such as, of grain or fruit). In later, Mishnaic Hebrew, rmin took on the additional, negative connotation of a disapproved kind of Jewish belief. For example, ac- cording to the Jerusalem Talmud (San- hedrin 29c), "Rabbi Yobanan said, 'Israel did not go into exile until they had been made twenty-four sects of minim.'" </p><p>The Ebionites, whom Irenaeus was the first to condemn, also took their name from what had been a generic term in Biblical Hebrew: 'evionim, which in Psalms often means simply "the poor." By the time of the Qumran commentary (pesher) on Psalm 37 (4QpPs 37), the word had become also a semitechnical term: cedat ha-'evionim, "congregation of the poor." Paul refers to </p><p>the Mosaic-law-observant Christians in Jerusalem led by James as "the poor" (Galatians 2:10, Romans 15:26). Evi- dently some Jewish-Christians kept this designation, which became listed as a Christian heresy. Tertullian and Hip- polytus suggested Ebionites were founded by a person named Ebion, but this suggestion has more to do with their desire to find a culprit than with the actual evolution of the name. </p><p>Other heresy names that evolved from a generic to a specific sense have also been misunderstood. For instance, Epiphanius describes the Sampseans [number 53 of his 80 selected heresies) and guesses that their name means "sun devotees" (from Hebrew shemesh). Epiphanius, however, already told us that they pray toward Jerusalem, so they don't pray to the sun. Rather, in accord with his description (as F. Stanley Jones and others suggest), Epiphanius mistook for Hebrew what reads in Aramaic as shamash, "a servant or worshipper" (of God). The name of the earlier Thera- peutae in Egypt has the same meaning and likely arose from a similar self-designation. </p><p>Perhaps the most striking case of name-evolution involving Jewish- Christians in these four centuries oc- curred to the terms usually rendered in English as Nazarene. Nazarene has been used to represent the two Greek forms (Naz6raioi, Nazarinol) that appear in the New estament and later writings, as well as a number of Semitic-language cognates. In the New Testament, Nazarene most often simply means "of Nazareth. In Matthew 2:23, however, Jesus is called Nazbraios in fulfillment of prophecies, which evidently intended to convey a distinction additional to the town name. (For a good survey of pro- posed explanations of this verse, see Brown 1977.) </p><p>In Acts 24:5 Paul is accused as a leader of the heresy of the Nazbraioi. Though of course Paul defends his teaching, he does not disown the group name. Acts also introduces the name Christian (Christianoi) and perhaps places it, anachronistically, early: The name appears only three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26 and 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16). </p><p>Eventually, the increasingly gentile church preferred the Greco-Latin name Christianoi to the more Semitic form represented by Nazbraioi. Jews, how- ever, continued to call the "Christians" nogrim, the Hebrew counterpart of Nazbraioi. Also, the Semitic-speaking Jewish-Christians kept various forms of the name Nazarene. In addition, Chris- tians of Syriac, Armenian, and Arabic languages retained cognate forms of Nazarene as self-designations. </p><p>In the fourth century we have the interesting case of Epiphanius (and then Jerome) condemning the Nazaraioi, meaning (to him) "Jewish-Christians" (Panarion 29). By then some Christians had disowned their own earlier name. </p><p>From manuscripts found in the Cairo Genizah, we know that some synagogues added to their curse against heretics (the birkat ha-minim) the term nogrim. Also, Epiphanius reports on this practice of condemning Nazbraioi (Panarion 29.9.2). Some listeners to this curse assumed the condemnation covered all Christians, while others assumed it referred only to Jewish- Christians. (See Jerome, Epistle 112, 13 to Augustine.) </p><p>One final example of the method of comparing use of sectarian names by writers of differing perspective is pro- vided by juxtaposing a discussion in Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 116) with patristic literature. The Talmud discus- sion appears in the context of books of the minim, among which the rabbis mention Gospels. (They even quote Matthew 5:17:"I came not to destroy the law </p><p>.... ") The question arises whether </p><p>to save various heretical books in the case of a fire. The consensus view emerges among these rabbis that one might save books from the House of the Ebionites (the text slightly alters the spelling to disguise the reference), but one certainly would not save them from the House of the nogrim (or Nazarenes, again slightly misspelled). This provides the mirror image of patristic literature, which had for centuries elaborated com- plaints against Ebionites as being too Jewish but only at a late date also con- demned the Nazarenes. The rabbis see Ebionites as barely tolerable, but Naza- renes they explicitly condemn; the </p><p>70 Biblical Archaeologist, June 1988 </p><p>This content downloaded from on Fri, 4 Jul 2014 06:53:59 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>church writers display the opposite attitude. </p><p>There is no entirely adequate treat- ment of this subject, but for further in- formation and differing opinions on the rather more complex nuances of these names, see: Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977), pages 207-13; F. Stan- ley Jones, a review of Revelation of Elcha- sai (Tiubingen: Mohr, 1985) in Jahrbuch fir Antike und Christentum 30 (1987): 200-09; Reuven Kimelman, "Birkat Ha- Minim and the Lack of Evidence for an Anti-Christian Jewish Prayer in Late Antiquity," Jewish and Christian Self- Definition (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981), volume 2, edited by E. P. Sanders, pages 226-44 and 391-403; A. F. J. Klijn and G. J. Reinink, Patristic Evidencefor Jewish- Christian Sects (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1973); Ray Pritz, "The Jewish Christian Sect of the Nazarenes and the Mishna," Pro- ceedings of the Eighth World Congress of Jewish Studies, Jerusalem, August 16-21, 1981 (Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish Studies, 1982), Division A, The Period of the Bible, pages 125-30; Lawrence Schiffman, Who Was a Jew?: Rabbinic and Halakhic Perspectives on the Jewish Christian Schism (Hoboken, NJ: Ktav, 1985). </p><p>Stephen Goranson </p><p>Constantinian era (the fourth cen- tury C.E.) when Christianity became the official religion of the Empire: the Church of Annunciation at Naza- reth, the Church of Transfiguration at Mount Tabor, the Church of St. Peter at Capernaum, the Church of the Multiplication of the Fishes and Loaves at Tabgha, and the Church of the Sermon on the Mount on the Mount of Beatitudes-to name only a few. I think it probable that some Christians remained with their fel- low Jews to resettle the Galilee and surrounding areas after the revolt. </p><p>There is some, albeit controver- sial, archaeological data to support this view. Father Bagatti (1971), the Franciscan scholar, and some of his followers believe that Christian re- mains from this so-called dark age in Palestine may be found in graffiti, amulets, lamps, flasks, mosaics, and inscriptions; he sites such villages and towns as Nazareth, Capernaum, Sepphoris, Cana, Cochaba, Tiberias, Gush Halav, and Caparasima as cen- ters of Jewish-Christianity' in this period. These sites, together with over two hundred known churches from a slightly later period, make it difficult to imagine that there was a </p><p>This Greek inscription from a Roman period synagogue at Sepphoris is frequently identified as Jewish-Christian because of the Chi-Rho monogram at the right end of the bottom line. </p><p>tremendous new immigration to Pal- estine by Christians in the third through fifth centuries (something like that in the nineteenth and twen- tieth centuries for Zionist settlers). Rather, we may infer that there was a substantial community of the fol- lowers of Jesus in Palestine from the first century. It was that community that was strengthened and enlarged when the new pilgrims of the age of Constantine came to Palestine to build their new churches and shrines. </p><p>The archaeology of this period, if somewhat controversial, is sup- ported and amplified by literary sources that take the existence of several forms of Jewish-Christianity more or less for granted (see Saun- ders 1977). Hegesippus, a second- century Christian, mentions Chris- tians belonging to a Jewish sect (see, for example, Deferrari 1953: 253-56). Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in the sec- ond century and the first Church Father to systematize doctrine, speaks of the Ebionites who read only the Gospel of Matthew, reject Paul, and follow the Torah and Jewish way of life (see Roberts and Donald- son 1981). These Jewish-Christian groups, referred to by Epiphanius (see Williams 1987) as Nazarenes or Elkasaites, professed the following beliefs: They proclaimed Jesus as prophet-Messiah; insisted upon the validity of the Torah and laws of ritual purity; spoke of three resur- rections; professed a millennarian eschatology; looked forward to the restoration of the Temple; observed the feast of Sukkoth (Tabernacles), celebrated Easter at Passover, and observed th...</p></li></ul>


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