Judaism and the Early Church The Rise of Christianity

The Rise of Christianity and the split of Judaism

Jewish –Roman Wars

If all of this was not enough to split two sister faiths apart one more conflict arose that really put the nail in the coffin. This conflict is known as the Jewish-Roman wars. The first Jewish war, the great revolt, broke out in 66 CE[1]. According to Josephus, the revolt, which began was provoked by Greeks sacrificing birds in front of a local synagogue.[2] The Jews protested and rebelled. The Romans besieged Jerusalem, this lead to the destruction of the Temple and Hellenistic Jewish Diaspora. Yet the Jews did not give up. The Kitos War[3] occurred from 115–117 A.D. This war was made up of several major revolts by diasporic Jews in Cyrene (Cyrenaica), Cyprus, Mesopotamia and Aegyptus. The revolts spiraled out of control resulting in a wide spread slaughter of Roman citizens and others by the Jewish rebels. The rebellions were finally crushed by Roman legionary forces.

The third and final of the Jewish-Roman Wars is known as the Bar Kokhba revolt. It occurred from 132–136 A.D. This conflict had the most significant impact on the Jewish-Christian relations. Simon bar Kokhba, the commander of the revolt, was acclaimed as a Messiah, a heroic figure who could restore Israel. The revolt established an independent state of Israel over parts of Judea for over two years, but a Roman army of 12 legions with auxiliaries finally crushed it. The Romans then barred Jews from Jerusalem. Jewish Christians hailed Jesus as the Messiah and did not support Bar Kokhba still they also were barred from Jerusalem along with the rest of the Jews. The war and its aftermath helped differentiate Christianity as a religion distinct from Judaism.

The Jewish groups that gained the upper hand in the reconstruction of Judaism after the war as well as various circles of the church around the turn of the first to the second century CE were increasingly of the opinion that either the Jesus tradition or the Jewish tradition without Jesus would be judged by the Romans as a liability. Those circles at the core of what would become either mainstream Judaism or mainstream Christianity saw each other as competing interests, since both were trying to avert Roman hostility and court the favor of the powers of state and society at each others expense. Thus the split occurred and the gap widened between traditional Jews and mainstream Christianity. [4]

Besides the split from Judaism, Christianity’s rise in the fourth century was also due to several other factors. First, the church was challenged to fight heresies within the church. This made the church stronger because it forced them to study the Word and know what they really believe. The church leaders meet in councils to clarify certain doctrines. Secondly, even after Judaism denounced and Roman persecution ensued, the church grew because outsiders of the church saw how strong of a faith believers had. The witness of a saint dying for what he/she believes in is the strongest witness. Many converts came to Christianity because of this witness.[5]

Finally in three-hundred-thirteen A.D. Roman emperor Constantine announced toleration of Christianity in the Edict of Milan, which removed penalties for professing Christianity. While Constantine was not the best example of a “Christ follower,” this edict put Christianity as an equal to other pagan religions at the time. The Christians who were once persecuted were tolerated. In the short-term this had a lot of positives for the church. Although it also had many consequences, since pagan worship and Christianity were being mixed the church and doctrines became unsound. In the fourth Century, when the church got off track, church leaders began monasteries to keep members of the early church doctrinally sound and pure. Monasteries revolutionized and revived the doctrines of the church.[6]

[1] Dieter Georgi. “The Early Church: Internal Jewish Migration or New Religion?” HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW 88:1, (1995),52.

[2] Josephus, War of the Jews II.14.5

[3] Translates to “rebellion of the exile.”

[4] Dieter Georgi. “The Early Church: Internal Jewish Migration or New Religion?,”65- 66.

[5] Chris Harman, A people’s history of the world. (London, England: Bookmarks Publications, 2002), 96.

[6] Ibid, 99.