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Christianity and the Jews
IT IS IRONIC AND TRAGIC THAT Christianity, which began as a Jewish sect, should have grown up to become the most dangerous threat to Judaism. Jesus was a Jew, faithful to the law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets. He grew up and worked in Galilee, where Jewish patriotism was intense. He was steeped in Jewish scripture and the spirit of the Pharisees, the leading religious teachers of the time. People called him "Rabbi" and, like many religious Jews, he expected the imminent coming of the divine age, or the "Kingdom of God," as he called it.
However, like other religious, nationalistic Jews before and after him, Jesus (whose real Hebrew name was Jeshua) angered the Roman government because of his preaching, which was considered dangerous. On what turned out to be his final Passover trip to Jerusalem, Jesus was arrested and, upon the order of the Roman procurator, executed.
After the death of Jesus, his followers - most of whom had been simple fishermen and artisans - lived on in Galilee and Jerusalem. Called Nazarenes after Jesus's hometown of Nazareth, they continued to observe Jewish laws and to wait for the coming of the Kingdom of God, which Jesus had promised. In Jerusalem, it was James, the brother of Jesus, who headed the Nazarenes for the next thirty years until he, too, was put to death in A.D. 62.
However, the future of Christianity did not remain long in the hands of these Aramaic-speaking Nazarenes. It passed on to an energetic, Greek-speaking Jew from Tarsus in Asia Minor by the name of Paul. He had never met Jesus and wasn't greatly impressed by the Nazarenes he did meet when he visited Jerusalem. What won him over to a belief that Jesus was the Christos (the Greek word for Messiah) was a vision. After his vision, Paul traveled all over the eastern Mediterranean preaching his own understanding of Christianity, which was rather different from the Nazarene version. Unlike the Nazarenes, who lived according to Jewish law in Jerusalem and Galilee, Paul took his message to gentiles as well as Jews. Through years of tireless work and extensive travel, he planted Christian congregations in Asia Minor and Greece.
However, the differences between Paul's teachings and those of the Nazarenes back in Jerusalem and Galilee soon became apparent. Not only did Paul preach to gentiles, but he also did not insist that these converts submit themselves to circumcision or to any of the other demands of Jewish law. The Nazarenes were outraged when they heard reports about Paul's negligence, and they summoned him to Jerusalem for an explanation. In Jerusalem, before the Nazarene elders, Paul acted as a devout Jew, observing all the details of Jewish law. However, he never changed his mind about the matter of his mission to the gentiles and his refusal to have these new converts treated like second-class citizens. In letters he wrote to his churches (now collected in the New Testament), he went so far as to claim that the law of Moses was no longer necessary, even for the Jews, and that Christ's teachings were sufficient. He also felt that everyone in the churches - Jews and gentiles, slaves and free persons - should be equal. When people from the Nazarene church in Jerusalem arrived at his churches to try to convince the gentile converts to obey the Jewish law, Paul denounced them as "Judaizers."
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Dr. Charles Patterson has a Ph.D. in Religion from Columbia University.
He is the author of:
Anti-Semitism: The Road to the Holocaust and Beyond
Excerpt - Chapter One
Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust
Excerpt from Chapter Three
From Buchenwald to Carnegie Hall (co-author).
Read more about Dr. Charles Patterson