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Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary

The Life and Ministry of Billy Graham:


Leadership Lessons Learned from America’s Favorite Christian Evangelist

A Paper
Submitted to Dr. Ken Cleaver
In Partial Fulfillment
Of the Requirements for the Course
American Christianity
CHHI 692-B01

By
James M. Bensing

July 9, 2010
TABLE OF CONTENTS

“ Tractable Yebamoth 47b,” in Soncino Babylonian Talmud, ed. Isidore Epstein,


electronic ed. (London: Soncino, 1948)............................................................................9
BIBLIOGRAPHY---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 23
INTRODUCTION

Students of Church history are often puzzled by the sharp contrast between the

Jewishness of the writers and events of the New Testament on one hand and the definitively

non-Jewish character of the Early Church after the apostolic period on the other hand. An

appreciation of the Jewish background of the Early Church and knowledge of the

development of Jewish-Christian relations in the first three centuries of the Christian era is

therefore crucial if one desires to understand the parting of ways between Judaism and

Christianity. These two sister faiths would become bitter enemies within a few centuries after

the emergence of the Christian faith. Our study, while heavily relying and interacting with

primary sources of the time, will endeavor to highlight the Jewish origin of Christianity, trace

its development within Judaism, and chronicle its inexorable divorce from its Jewish roots

and sister faith.

SETTING THE STAGE: THE EXPANSION OF THE JEWISH DIASPORA

During the Persian occupation of Palestine (538-332 BC), many Jews decided to pass

on the magnanimous offer of Cyrus allowing them to return to Palestine and chose to remain

in Babylonia where subsequently, the Jewish population grew in influence over the centuries. 1

Already during the Babylonian invasion and in the lifetime of the prophet Jeremiah, many

Jews fled to Egypt, where they established substantial Jewish settlements. The Greek period

1
Everett Fergusson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 3d ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 399-
400. Those Jews seemed to have interpreted Jeremiah 29 as an injunction to stay in the territory of their
deportation and seek to prosper there. This passage in Jeremiah would become a charter to dispersion Judaism
for latter generations.

1
2

(332-167 BC) saw the expansion of the Jewish Diaspora. The Newly founded city of

Alexandria became a key center of Hellenistic Jewry, which produced the Greek version of

the Old Testament called Septuagint.2 Syria also saw a significant increase in its Jewish

population. The assimilation of Greek culture by the Jews of the dispersion made their

integration among other culture much easier.

The Roman period (from 63 BC onward) allowed Jews to spread westward thanks to

the religious freedom provided by the Roman Empire. In the eve of the first century, many

Jews had settled in Rome and other Roman provinces and were also found in sizable numbers

as far as the Parthian empire in the East.3 Strabo quoted by Josephus remarks:

These Jews are already gotten into all cities; and it is hard to find a place in the
habitable earth that has not admitted this tribe of men, and is not possessed by them.4

By the first century, around two-thirds of Jews were living outside Palestine with large

settlements in ancient Babylonia, Syria, Egypt, Asia Minor, Phoenicia, Cyrene, Greece, and

Rome; by conservative estimates, Jews made up about 7 percent of the total population of the

Roman Empire.5

Moreover, Judaism had a special status in the Roman Empire. Jews were privileged

because of the antiquity of their faith and lineage. They had been allies of Rome during the

Maccabean era, and had helped Roman leaders such as Julius Caesar in their political and

2
Author’s name who wrote article, “Septuagint,” in Dictionary of New Testament Background, ed.
Stanley E. Porter and Craig A. Evans, electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2000). The label
“Septuagint” comes from the account in the Letter of Aristeas of seventy—actually seventy-two—Jewish
scholars who were purportedly involved in the translation of the Jewish Bible into Greek.
3
Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 399-426.

4
Flavius Josephus, The New Works of Josephus, trans. William Whiston, rev. and expanded ed. (Grand
Rapids: Kregel, 1999), Antiquities, 14.7.2 (115).
5
Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 427.
military endeavors. In order to reward them, Rome granted to the Jews the free exercise of

their religion and exempted them from the mandatory emperor worship and sacrifices to the

gods of the Rome. Jews were also permitted to judge their own affairs using Jewish laws.

Romans local authorities went even as far as granting special dispensation with respect to

Jewish scruples concerning military service and the Sabbath. A Roman general under Julius

Caesar, Publius Cornelius Dolabella, quoted by Josephus decreed:

I therefore grant them (the Jews) a freedom from going into the army, as the former
governors have done, and permit them to use the customs of their forefathers, in
assembling together for sacred and religious purposes, as their law requires, and for
collecting oblations necessary for sacrifices; and my will is, that you write this to the
various cities under your jurisdiction. And these were the concessions that Dolabella
made to our nation, when Hyrcanus sent an embassy to him; but Lucius the consul's
decree ran thus:--``I have at my tribunal set these Jews, who are citizens of Rome, and
follow the Jewish religious rites, and yet live at Ephesus, free from going into the army,
on account of their religion. This was done before the twelfth of the calends of October,
when Lucius Lentulus and Gaius Marcellus were consuls. 6

Because of such exemptions and relationships with Roman authorities, the political

and economic situation of most Jews of the Diaspora remained unaffected by the unrest in

their native land throughout most of the first century.7 The presence of Jews throughout the

world would prove to be instrumental to the geographical spread of Christianity.

THE JEWISH ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY

From the beginning, the Christian faith was deeply rooted in Jewish traditions,

practices, and beliefs. Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew) was born of Jewish parents8 on the eve of the

6
The New Works of Josephus, Antiquities, 14.10.12 (227-228).
7
Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 427-30.
8
Mary was His mother from a biological point of view and Joseph was His father from a legal
perspective.
era bearing His name and circumcised on the 8th day according to Jewish laws and customs.

At the onset of His adult ministry, Jesus was known to frequent the synagogue Sabbath after

Sabbath. Jesus earthly ministry was primarily directed towards His fellow Jews, the house of

Israel. As such, the ministry and life of Christ can only be properly understood by considering

its Jewish and Palestinian background. The early followers of Jesus were Jews and He

instructed them in a fashion very reminiscent of first century itinerant Jewish rabbis. It is not

surprising to find the primitive church after Pentecost (around AD 30) composed almost

exclusively of Jews from Palestine and from the Jewish Diaspora.9

Even after Pentecost, the primitive church kept many Jewish practices; they kept

frequenting the Temple, they attended synagogues, and made copious use of the Old

Testament. Wilson observes that the early followers of Christ did not evolve outside Judaism

but where rather considered a mere sect within Judaism. The book of Acts, which contains

one of the earliest testimonies related to the early church, records that early followers of

Christ were called “the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 25:5).10 This new Jewish sect enjoyed

favor from the Jewish population in general (especially in Jerusalem) but met variable

opposition from Jewish leaders.

The Jewish makeup of the primitive church was never an issue, rather, the debate

raging in the early decades of the church was related to whether or not non-Jews could be

included in the Church and how much of the Jewish traditions and practices they needed to

adopt. Such debates were at the center of the Jerusalem council (Acts 15).
9
Marvin R. Wilson, Our Father Abraham (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 40-41.
10
Ibid. It is only in Acts 25:7 that the term Nazarenes is used to refer to the follower of Jesus, elsewhere
in the New Testament; it is used to designate Jesus. Although there is still some uncertainty as to its meaning, it
seems to have been used by New Testament writers in the sense of “belonging to Nazareth.” Nazarenes was
most probably used as a designation for Jewish Christians from early on.
As the church started to expand in Palestine and among the Jews of the Diaspora,

Hellenistic Jews became a sizable component of the Church especially under the leadership of

Saul later known as Paul. The early Church found in Hellenistic Judaism and its network of

synagogues and settlements across the Roman Empire, the ideal ready-made set-up through

which the new faith would reach the extremities of the Roman Empire.11

HELLENISTIC JUDAISM AND EARLY CHURCH

By the time of Christ and the apostles, the Jewish synagogues of the Diaspora had

already made the crucial adjustment of the Jewish faith to its Hellenistic environment. The

language barrier had been crossed with the translation of the Hebrew bible (the Old

Testament) in Greek, the lingua franca of the time. The translation of biblical texts in Greek

was accompanied by a conceptual translation of Jewish religious thought into the Greek

outlook of reality. Hellenistic Jews had begun to set forth an apology of their faith in the

territories where they had settled. They sought to propagate its intrinsic worth and clarify its

central theological tenets with well articulate theological propositions.12 Unsurprisingly, the

synagogues of the Diaspora provided a natural “base of operation” for Christian missionaries

in the early stages of the Church. The Hellenistic synagogue offered several points of contact

with the emerging faith. Many Jews had moved away from a strict devotion to the particulars

of Palestinian Judaism but were still dedicated to its core tenets.

Furthermore, “God-fearing” gentiles who were already drawn to aspects of Judaism

found in Christianity all of the same advantages they looked for in Jewish religion without
11
Ibid.
12
Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 617. In the process, they altered some of the facets of the Jewish
faith to make it more acceptable to its Hellenistic audience.
many of its drawbacks. Christianity offered “monotheism, high ethical standards, a close knit

social community, the authority of an ancient sacred Scripture, a rational worship.” 13 In the

other hand, the Christian faith did not include the obstacles that kept many would-be

proselytes from Judaism: “the association with a single nationality, the rite of circumcision,

restrictions that seemed meaningless (Sabbath, food laws).”14

Another way in which the primitive church beneficiated from its association with

Hellenistic synagogues was that local authorities often considered Christian congregations to

be part of the synagogue and consequently left them alone because of the privileged status

that Jews enjoyed in the Roman empire. Many of the practices of the early church came from

their closeness to the synagogue. Case in point, the early church worship practices were often

modeled after that which was found in synagogues, including Scripture reading and exegesis,

prayers and the partaking of food.

The Scriptures used by Christians where at first, the very Jewish Scriptures (the

Hebrew Bible or what is know in the Christian Bible as the Old Testament). It is only

thereafter that they did include specifically Christian sacred writings beginning with the

letters of Paul and the gospel of Luke which were specifically identified as holy writ already

in the New Testament and thus before AD 70.15 Dissimilarities also existed between Christian

13
Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 617-18.
14
Ibid., 617-19. In addition to its similarities with Judaism, the strengths of Christianity in the religious
“market” of the first century included several features. “Its founder was an historical personage with a real life
story. It offered a sure triumph over death and a happy afterlife. It made exclusive claims and demanded an
exclusive loyalty. It developed a worldview with a philosophical explanation and defense of its teachings. It had
a social cohesiveness that provided material security and psychological support. It promised deliverance from the
power of demons, fate, and magic as well as redemption from sin and guilt. It offered salvation to all classes and
conditions of persons.”

15
James S. Jeffers, The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament (Downers Grove: Intervarsity,
1999), 218.
congregations and synagogues. The terminology and function of its officers were different;

women in the early church had a more prominent role and a greater involvement in the affairs

of the church.16

However, as the book of Acts and the Pauline epistles testify, not everything was

always trouble-free for Christians in their interactions with Hellenistic synagogues; there was

a diversity of reactions to the new faith by Jews of the Diaspora ranging from joyous

acceptance to even more intense opposition than what the Church had faced in Jerusalem.

JEWISH CHRISTIAN RELATIONS AFTER THE FALL OF JERUSALEM

Before the Jewish war of AD 66-70 and the destruction of the temple, Christianity was

intimately, if uneasily, associated with Judaism and was still viewed by many as a sectarian

faction within it. The first Jewish rebellion against Rome set in motion a chain of events that

will dramatically affect Jewish Christian relationships and end up driving a permanent wedge

between the sister faiths.17

The devastation of much of the city of Jerusalem in the conflicts of AD 66–70 and the

ensuing humiliation of the Jewish people has been regarded as the catastrophe that brought

about (or at least set in motion) the rift between Christians and Jews. Unquestionably, the cost

of the war on Judaism was not without consequences, as scores of Jews were dead or taken

prisoner. The land was in economic disarray: many properties had been seized and there was

an increased in taxes levied. The temple was destroyed and the Sanhedrin was dissolved.

16
Ibid.
17
Author’s name who wrote article, “Jewish Christian Relations after the Fall of Jerusalem 70-170
C.E,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman, electronic ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1996).
The destruction of the temple took away a key meeting point between the rising

Christian faith and Judaism. Additionally, it became more and more apparent that the new

“sect” had fundamental theological tenets and practices that ran counter to what was typically

accepted within Judaism despite it diversity. Additionally, the aggressive pursuit of gentiles

by the early church, and the “relaxed” requirements that were imposed on them, were out of

step with the concept of proselytism in Judaism, especially when it came to the removal of the

yoke of the Torah.18 Judah the Prince emphatically declared:

Just as Israel did not enter the covenant except by means of three things –
circumcision, immersion, and the acceptance of a sacrifice- so it is the same with
proselytes.19

Our Rabbis taught: If at the present time a man desires to become a proselyte, he is to
be addressed as follows: 'What reason have you for desiring to become a proselyte; do
you not know that Israel at the present time are persecuted and oppressed, despised,
harassed and overcome by afflictions'? If he replies, 'I know and yet am unworthy he
is accepted forthwith, and is given instruction in some of the minor and some of the
major commandments. He is informed of the sin [of the neglect of the commandments
of] Gleanings, the Forgotten Sheaf, the Corner and the Poor Man's Tithe. He is also
told of the punishment for the transgression of the commandments. Furthermore, he is
addressed thus: 'Be it known to you that before you came to this condition, if you had
eaten suet you would not have been punishable with kareth, if you had profaned the
Sabbath you would not have been punishable with stoning; but now were you to eat
suet you would be punished with kareth; were you to profane the Sabbath you would
be punished with stoning'. And as he is informed of the punishment for the
transgression of the commandments, so is he informed of the reward granted for their
fulfillment… . If he accepted, he is circumcised forthwith. Should any shreds which
render the circumcision invalid remain, he is to be circumcised a second time. As soon
as he is healed arrangements are made for his immediate ablution, when two learned
men must stand by his side and acquaint him with some of the minor commandments
and with some of the major ones. When he comes up after his ablution he is deemed
to be an Israelite in all respects . . . The Master said, 'If a man desires to become a
proselyte . . . he is to be addressed as follows: "What reason have you for desiring to
become a proselyte . . . ." and he is made acquainted with some of the minor, and with
18
Stanley E. Porter and Brook W. R. Pearson, eds., Christian-Jewish Relations through the Centuries,
Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series, no. 192 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press,
2000), 21.
19
Sifre Be-Midbar 108, in Who Was a Jew? by Laurence H. Schiffman (Hoboken: KTAV Publishing
House, 1985), 19.
some of the major commandments'. What is the reason? — In order that if he desire to
withdraw let him do so, for Rabbi Helbo said: Proselytes are as hard for Israel [to
endure] as a sore, because it is written in Scripture. And the proselyte shall join
himself with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob.20

We do not accept a convert who has accepted upon himself all the laws of the Torah
except one. Rabbi Judah says: Even a minor law of the subtleties of the scribes
(Rabbinic ordinances).21

The Torah became significant in Jewish-Christian relationship after AD 70. After the

destruction of Jerusalem, the Pharisees that were not actively involved in the rebellion against

Rome were given the opportunity by the Romans to build a rabbinical school at Yavneh

(Jamnia), a city in Judea on the Mediterranean coast. Under the leadership of Yohanan Ben

Zakkai and later Gamaliel II, the main focus of Judaism became the Torah and the regulation

of the transmission of the traditions attached to its interpretation. The development and

codification of the Halakah (rules by which Israel should live) was crystallized in the

Mishnah starting around AD 200. In turn, the Mishnah would be the foundation of the Talmud,

which over the centuries came in two flavors: the Palestinian and Babylonian versions.22

From a Christian perspective, the revolt of AD 66-70 purged or at least significantly

reduced the foundation of conservative Jewish Christianity in Jerusalem. According to

Eusebius:

The members of the Jerusalem Church, by means of an oracle given by revelation to


acceptable persons there, were ordered to leave the city before the war began and
settle in a town of Perea called Pella.23

20
“ Tractable Yebamoth 47b,” in Soncino Babylonian Talmud, ed. Isidore Epstein, electronic ed.
(London: Soncino, 1948).

21
“Tractable Demai 2:5,” in Who Was a Jew?, 62.
22
James D.G. Dunn, The Parting of the Ways (Philadelphia, Trinity, 1991), 232.
23
Eusebius of Caesarea, The History of the Christian Church, trans. by G. A. Williamson (London:
Penguin Books, 1989), HE 3.5.2-3.
With Jerusalem no more the center of the primitive church, the early church was

driven further apart from Palestinian Judaism by not having the temple or the Jerusalem

leadership to keep it tied to Judaism that itself was undergoing crucial mutations. The events

of AD 66-70 coupled with the mission to the gentiles set in motion the demise of Jewish

Christianity and the rise to prominence of Hellenistic Christianity. However, the early church

did not immediately reject its Jewish heritage but kept the Jewish Scriptures (the Old

Testament) and modeled many aspects of its worship service and ecclesiology after the

synagogue. Many Christians preserved entire sets of non-rabbinical Jewish writings from the

first century and pre-Christian Judaism.24 Other Jewish material were appropriated by

Christians and incorporated in their own works.25

After the fall of Jerusalem, there were still signs of ongoing “exchanges” between

Jews and Christians. With the Jewish Academy at Yavneh rising into prominence, rabbis

found necessary to clarify the status of Christian writings in relation to the Torah and the

accepted cannon. A certain number of preserved rabbinical rulings show Jewish opposition to

Christian Scriptures. “Orthodox Judaism” set forth measures to destroy any claim that

Christianity stood in the traditional of Israel’s ancestral faith. Rabbis insisted that the very

copies of the Old Testament made by Jewish Christians (sifre minim) were not holy and

24
The Parting of the Ways, 234-35. These works included the Psalms of Solomon, the Testament of
Moses, the Sybilline Oracles, IV Ezra, and II Baruch. In Alexandria, Philo was even regarded as a Christian
before Christ because of the way his treatment of the Logos was said to prefigure Christ as the Logos.
25
Ibid., 235. For example, IV Ezra was enlarged by the addition of two chapters at the beginning and at
the end of the book to form the Christian apocrypha known as II Esdras. The consensus on the Testament of the
Twelve Patriarchs places them as a Christian work that made use of old Jewish material. The Ascension of
Isaiah was a Christian work combining the Jewish Martyrdom of Isaiah with two Christian books. Books seven
and eight of the Apostolic Constitutions are said to have drawn on several Jewish prayers.
needed to be destroyed.26 In the Babylonian Talmud Gittin 45b, rabbi Nahman affirms that

Jews:

have a tradition that a Torah scroll written by a min (literally Heretic that is, a Jewish
Christian) must be burnt, one written by an idolater must be stored away. One that is
found with a min must be stored away, and one that is found with an idolater, some say
it must be stored others say it may be read.27

At the beginning of the second century, When Christian Scriptures started to circulate

widely, the sanctity of those Christian sacred texts, which had quotations of Jewish Scriptures

became a subject of concern for Judaism. Rabbis were quick to deny that the quotations of

Jewish Scriptures in Christian canonical writings had any sanctity or halakhic (rules of life for

Jews) status. Tosefta28 Shabbat 13:5 clarifies the status of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament)

quotations in the New Testament:

We do not save from a fire (on the Sabbath) the Gospels and the books of the minim
(Jewish Christians). Rather they are burned in their place and their Tetragrammata . . .
Said Rabbi Tarfon: May I bury my sons! If (these books) would come into my hand, I
would burn them along with their Tetragrammata. For even if a pursuer were running
after me, I would enter a house of idolatry rather than enter their (the Jewish Christian’)
houses. For the idolaters do not know Him and deny Him, but these (Jewish Christians)
know Him and deny Him.29

Clearly, in the mind of rabbis during the period leading to the Bar Kokhba war, Jewish

Christians were despised even more than idolaters were. Schiffman argues that “while it was

understandable that a pagan might embrace the new faith (that is Christianity), it was a great

source of frustration that Jews, raised in the traditions of Judaism, would do so as well.”30
26
Who Was a Jew?, 62.
27
Laurence H. Schiffman, ed., Texts and Traditions: A Source Reader for the Study of Second Temple
and Rabbinic Judaism (Hoboken: KTAV Publishing House, 1998), 418.
28
These explanations and discussion were not included in the Mishnah.
29
Who Was a Jew?, 62.
30
Ibid., 63.
Christianity could not be considered a mere sect of Judaism anymore, since its major

theological tenets seemed to conflict directly with the traditional understanding of God, the

Messiah, and eschatological hope in Judaism. By insisting on the messianic character of

Christ and more importantly His divinity, Christianity had step out of the accepted boundaries

of Judaism, which despite its diversity could not accept the new faith.

Tosefta Hullin 2:20-21 sets forth a law distancing Jews from the minim (Jewish

Christians):

If meat is found in the hands of a non-Jew, it is permitted to derive benefit from it (if it
is found) in the hands of a min (Jewish Christian), it is forbidden to derive benefit from
it. That which comes forth from the house of a min, indeed it is the meat of sacrifices to
the dead (idolatrous worship) for they said: the slaughtering of the min is idolatry; their
bread is the bread of a Samaritan; their wine is the wine of (idolatrous) libations; their
fruits are untithed; their books are the books of diviners, and their children are
mamzerin (fruit of a forbidden marriage or union). We do not sell to them, nor do we
buy from them. We do not take from hem nor do we give to them, and we do not teach
their sons a craft. We are not healing by them, neither healing of property nor healing of
life.31

Nevertheless, some scholars believe that the effect of the war and fall of Jerusalem

was less upsetting than it seemed at first sight. “These events may have strained Jewish-

Christian relations and caused some Christians to distance themselves from Judaism, but they

do not appear to have caused an immediate or final schism.”32

THE LAST STRAW: THE BAR KOKHBA REVOLT

The Jewish armed struggle against Roman occupation in Palestine reached its peak and

then came to an end with the rebellion of Bar Kokhba (AD 132–35). The Bar Kokhba revolt

31
Texts and Traditions, 416.

32
Ibid.
led to the rise of a momentary autonomous state distinguished by the establishment of local

authorities, and coins bearing the emblem of Bar Kokhba. The consensus on the causes of the

War centers on the decision by the Roman Emperor Hadrian to transform Jerusalem into a

pagan city that would have been named Aelia Capitolina and to outlaw circumcision in a bid

to Hellenize and integrate Palestine into the empire. “In Talmudic sources, Bar Kokhba was

given the titles nāśı̂˒ (‘ruler’ or ‘prince’) and ‘Messiah’, and the years of his reign were

described as ‘kingship’. In his personal letters found in caves above the Dead Sea, he assumed

the title nĕśı̂˒ yiśra˒ēl (prince of Israel), and on coins he appears as ‘šim˓ôn nĕśı̂˒ yiśrā˒ēl.’

(Simon prince of Israel).33

Rabbi Akiba said concerning Bar Kokhba (son of a star), “This is the King Messiah” 34 and

thus declared him Messiah on the basis of the star of Jacob in Numbers 24:17. However, other

rabbis rejected this identification especially after the failure of the revolt and called him Bar

Kosiba (son of a lie).35

Under the leadership of Simeon Bar Kokhba a large number of Jews took part in the

uprising, employing guerrilla tactics reminiscent of the Maccabees rebellion, Rome had to

muster sizable reinforcements to quell the insurrection.

The Roman historian Dio Cassius reports:

33
“Bar Kokhba War,” in Anchor Bible. It is no accident that the upheaval of Bar Kokhba was the lone
Jewish conflict waged against foreign occupants in ancient times to have been name after one leader. “The title
nāśı̂˒ has been interpreted in various ways. It has been explained as denoting a limited form of authority, lower in
status than that of king and comparable to that of ethnarch, the title of the first Hasmonaean rulers. Others
assume that it refers to the ideal king as in Ezekiel’s vision of the end of Days.”

34
“Midrash Rabbah Lamentations 2.2.4” and “Ta'anit 4.5” (from the Palestinian Talmud), in Who Was
a Jew?, 62.
35
Jacob Neusner, ed., “Bar Kokhba War,” in Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period (Peabody:
Hendrickson, 2002), 78-79.
Hadrian sent against them his best generals. First of these was Julius Severus, who was
dispatched from Britain, where he was governor, against the Jews. Severus did not
venture to attack his opponents in the open at any one point, in view of their numbers
and their desperation, but by intercepting small groups, thanks to the number of his
soldiers and under-officers, and by depriving them of food and shutting them up, he was
able, rather slowly, to be sure, but with comparatively little danger, to crush, exhaust
and exterminate them. Very few in fact survived. Fifty of their most important outposts
and 985 of their most famous villages were razed to the ground, 580 men were slain in
the various raids and battles and the number of those that perished by famine, disease
and fire was past finding out. 36

Eusebius recounts the unfolding of the Bar Kokhba revolt:

As the rebellion of the Jews at this time grew much more serious, Rufus, governor of
Judea, after an auxiliary force had been sent him by the emperor, using their madness as
a pretext, proceeded against them without mercy, and destroyed indiscriminately
thousands of men and women and children, and in accordance with the laws of war
reduced their country to a state of complete subjection. The leader of the Jews at this
time was a man by the name of Bar Kokhba (which signifies a star), who possessed the
character of a robber and a murderer, but nevertheless, relying upon his name, boasted
to them, as if they were slaves, that he possessed wonderful powers; and he pretended
that he was a star that had come down to them out of heaven to bring them light in the
midst of their misfortunes. The war raged most fiercely in the eighteenth year of
Hadrian, at the city of Bithara, which was a very secure fortress, situated not far from
Jerusalem. When the siege had lasted a long time, and the rebels had been driven to the
last extremity by hunger and thirst, and the instigator of the rebellion had suffered his
just punishment, the whole nation was prohibited from this time on by a decree, and by
the commands of Adrian, from ever going up to the country about Jerusalem. For the
emperor gave orders that they should not even see from a distance the land of their
fathers.37

The war had disastrous consequences on the already fragile relationship between Jews and

Christians. Jerome wrote “Bar Kokhba, (the) leader of the Jewish faction put Christians to

death with various tortures.”38 It is not surprising that Bar Kokhba decided to persecute

Christians. From Dio Cassius account, it is obvious that the struggle against Rome was

36
Roman History, lxix, 12ff. Cf. The New Testament Background: Writings from the Ancient Greece
and the Roman Empire that illuminate Christian Origins, ed. C.K. Barrett, rev. ed. (London: Harper Collins,
1995), 171.
37
The History of the Christian Church, 3.5.2-3.
38
Jerome, Illustrious Men, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series, vol. 16.
desperate and that Bar Kokhba needed to muster every able body he could find to fight

against Rome. Christians, for various raisons, refused to take part in the uprising and thus

were considered traitors. Additionally, it did not help that their allegiance to Jesus Christ

(which means Jesus the Messiah) was a direct challenge to Bar Kokhba’s messianic status.

Justin Martyr writing no more than ten or twenty years after the events reported that:

in the Jewish war . . . , Bar Kokhba, the leader of the revolt of the Jews, gave orders that
Christians alone should be led to cruel punishments, unless they would deny Jesus Christ
and utter blasphemy.39

The Bar Kokhba war marked a low point in Jewish-Christian relations. The rift between

Jews and Christians was now centered on messianic claims and the issue of who represented

the True Israel. Larry Helyer observes that “in effect a final divorce between these two faiths

became a fait accompli.”40

THE AFTERMATH OF THE BAR KOKHBA REVOLT AND JEWISH-CHRISTIAN RELATIONS

From the Bar Kokhba uprising on, the Jewish and Christian quarrels not only increased

but also took on a new shape. “The polemics were no longer those of squabbling siblings but

those of largely ethnically distinct peoples41 who viewed one another as foreign.”42 Jews saw

39
Justin Martyr, First Apology, 31.5-6, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1 (Oak Harbor: Logos
Research Systems, 1997).
40
R. Larry Helyer, Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period, (Downers Grove:
Intervarsity, 2002), 381.
41
Author who wrote article, “Christianity and Judaism,” in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and
Its Developments. ed. Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids, electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2000),
#.
Note also the comment made by the author of the Epistle to Diognetus, who claims that Christians “are
warred upon by the Jews as foreigners.”
42
Ibid.
the Christian faith as one replete with idol worship and heretical doctrine; followers of Christ

in turn, viewed Judaism in terms of apostasy and stubbornness.

After AD 135, the liturgy of the synagogues had been altered to dissuade Christian Jews

from participating in the worship service. It was probably at the same time that the twelfth

benediction of the ancient Jewish prayer, called the Amidah (or Shemoneh Esreh), was revised

and enlarged:

R. Levi said: The benediction relating to the Minim was instituted in Jabneh… Can
anyone among you frame a benediction relating to the heretics? Samuel the Lesser arose
and composed it.43

Samuel the Lesser’s work has been linked to the revision of the twelfth benediction, which

reads:

For apostates let there be no hope, and the kingdom of arrogance quickly uproot. In a
moment let the minim (Jewish Christians) and the Nozerim (literally “Nazarenes” with
emphasis on the Gentile Christians) be destroyed; let them be blotted from the Book of
Life, and with the righteous not be inscribed. Blessed are you, O Lord, who loves
judgment!44

It was almost certainly to this “benediction”, also known as the Birkat ha-Minim, literally

“Blessing of the heretics,”45 that Justin referred to when he said to Trypho, “You curse in your

synagogues all those who are called from him Christians.”46.

As shown previously, Jewish polemic against Christians before and during the Bar

Kokhba incident could be callous and hideous; in the aftermath of the Bar Kokhba revolt,

Christian polemic against Jews took the same low road. However, historical records of

43

“Tractable Berakoth 28b,” in Soncino Babylonian Talmud.


44
“Amidah 12,” in Soncino Babylonian Talmud.
45
“Christianity and Judaism,” in DLNTD.
46
Justin, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1.
Jewish polemic against Christians after Bar Kokhba were muffled and even deleted from

historical records when Christianity gained the upper hand. Some of these Jewish diatribes

are preserved in “dialogues” written by Christians. The most famous of those is Justin

Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho the Jew. While these dialogues did not actually take place,

and more often than not portray the Christian apologist as rebutting, even rendering

speechless, their Jewish adversaries, “the nature of the objections raised by the Jews in all

probability accurately reflects the arguments and polemic that Jews directed against

Christians.”47

Trypho, as presented in Justin’s dialogue, found it hard to believe that Jesus could have

actually fulfilled the prophecies contained in the Jewish Bible. Jesus could not be the

promised Messiah, in view of the fact that he had been vanquished and executed by the

Romans in the most disgraceful way. Trypho remarked:

Be assured that all our nation waits for the Messiah; and we admit that all the Scriptures
which you have quoted refer to Him . . . but whether the Messiah should be so
shamefully crucified, this we are in doubt about. For whosoever is crucified is said in
the law to be accursed, so that I am exceedingly incredulous on this point. It is quite
clear, indeed, that the Scriptures announce that Christ had to suffer; but we wish to learn
if you can prove it to us whether it was by the suffering cursed . . . prove to us whether
He must be crucified and die so disgracefully and so dishonorably by the death cursed
in the law For we cannot bring ourselves even to think of this.48

THE FINAL PARTING OF THE WAYS.

Late in the second century and into the third century, the polemic became much acerb,

even vile. Well-mannered exchanges, such as those related in Justin’s Dialogue, were

replaced by invectives and insults. The polemic as recorded in the Talmud and the Midrashim

47
“Christianity and Judaism,” in DLNTD.
48
Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, lxxxix-xc.
recounts some of this spiteful diatribe. Speaking of Jesus’ birth the Babylonian Talmud

records:

She who was the descendant of princes and governors (a reference to Mary) played the
harlot with carpenters (a reference to Joseph).49.

Later Jesus is accused of idolatry in an account with a striking of anachronism that

places Him as a contemporary of King Jannai who died 76 years before Christ:

When king Jannai slew our rabbis, R. Joshua and Jesus fled to Alexandria of Egypt. On
the resumption of peace . . . he arose, went, and found himself in a certain inn, where
great honor was shown him. ‘How beautiful is this innkeeper!’ Thereupon Jesus
observed, ‘Rabbi, her eyes are narrow.’ ‘Wretch,’ he rebuked him, ‘do you engage
yourself thus?’ He sounded four hundred trumpets and excommunicated him. He
[Jesus] came before him many times pleading, ‘Receive me!’ But he would pay no heed
to him. One day he [R. Joshua] was reciting the Shema, when Jesus came before him.
He intended to receive him and made a sign to him. He [Jesus], thinking that it was to
repel him, went, put up a brick, and worshipped it. ‘Repent,’ said he [R. Joshua] to him.
He replied, ‘I have thus learned from you, “He who sins and causes others to sin is not
afforded the means of repentance.” ’50

The Babylonian Talmud continues by mentioning that Jesus had five disciples whose

names bring to mind an assortment of evils and misfortunes. Often times, Jesus was said to

having performed magical acts and having corrupted Israel51. Indeed, Jesus was said to have

been raised through incantation52 and was compared to Balaam, a reviled false prophet:

Onkelos son of Kolonikos was the son of Titus's sister. He had a mind to convert
himself to Judaism. He went and raised Titus from the dead by magical arts, and asked
him; 'Who is most in repute in the [other] world? He replied: Israel . . . He then went
and raised Balaam by incantations. He asked him: Who is in repute in the other world?
He replied: Israel. What then, he said, about joining them? He replied: You shall not
seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days for ever. He then asked: What is your

49
“Tractate Sanhedrin Folio 107a,” in Soncino Babylonian Talmud.
50
“B. Sanhedrin 107b,” in Soncino Babylonian Talmud.
51
“B. Sanhedrin 43a; Tractate Sabbath 11.15; B. Šabbath 104b,” in Soncino Babylonian Talmud.
52
“Christianity and Judaism,” in DLNTD.
punishment? He replied: With boiling hot semen. He then went and raised Jesus by
incantations. He asked them: Who is in repute in the other world? They replied: Israel.
What about joining them? They replied: Seek their welfare, seek not their harm.
Whoever touches them touches the apple of his eye. He said: What is your punishment?
They replied: With boiling hot excrement, since a Master has said: Whoever mocks at
the words of the Sages is punished with boiling hot excrement. Observe the difference
between the sinners of Israel and the prophets of the other nations who worship idols.53

Judaism and Christianity were driven further apart by Christian polemic in response to the

Jewish attacks noted above, matching them in intensity and virulence.

Yet, even before the events surrounding the Bar Kokhba revolt, some Christian writers

already display a certain anti-Judaism stance. Ignatius of Antioch (early second century)

declared, “If we continue to live according to Judaism, we are admitting that we have not

received grace”. More stridently, Ignatius later says that “it is monstrous to talk of Jesus

Christ and to practice Judaism.”54 According to Barnabas 13–14 God’s covenant with Israel

came to an end after the nation devoted itself to idol worship at Mount Sinai; God’s covenant

was said to be from then on with Christians alone. Melito Bishop of Sardis who died in AD

180 declared:

And you killed the Lord at the great feast . . . O lawless Israel, what is this unprecedented
crime that you committed, thrusting your Lord among unprecedented sufferings, your
Sovereign, who formed you, who made you, who honored you, who called you ‘Israel’? . .
. And who has been murdered? Who is the murderer? I am ashamed to say and I am
obliged to tell. . . . The Sovereign has been insulted; the God has been murdered; the King
of Israel has been put to death by an Israelite right hand!55

The writer of the Epistle to Diognetus (around AD 200) derides circumcision and the

Jewish dietary regulations:56


53
“B. Gittin 57a,” in Soncino Babylonian Talmud. This is according to the Munich Codex of the
Talmud.
54
Ignatius, Letter to the Magnesians, in “Christianity and Judaism,” DLNTD.

55
Melito, “On Faith,” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 8, 756.
56
“Epistle to Diognetus 4.1-6,” in “Christianity and Judaism,” in DLNTD.
But as to their scrupulosity concerning meats, and their superstition as respects the
Sabbaths, and their boasting about circumcision, and their fancies about fasting and the
new moons, which are utterly ridiculous and unworthy of notice, I do not think that you
require to learn anything from me. For, to accept some of those things, which have been
formed by God for the use of men as properly formed, and to reject others as useless and
redundant, how can this be lawful? And to speak falsely of God, as if He forbade us to do
what is good on the Sabbath-days, how is not this impious? And to glory in the
circumcision of the flesh as a proof of election, and as if, on account of it, they were
specially beloved by God, how is it not a subject of ridicule? And as to their observing
months and days, as if waiting upon the stars and the moon, and their distributing.57

Hostility to Jewish customs played a part in the Christian disapproval of the Jewish

Christians known as Nazoreans.58 Later on, Christian polemic in the third to fifth centuries

became even conspicuously more acrimonious. John Chrysostom, a doctor of the Church in

the end of the fourth century said:

The synagogue is a temple of idolatry. . . . A synagogue is less honorable than any inn.
For it is not simply a gathering place for thieves and hucksters, but also of demons.
Indeed, not only the synagogue, but the soul of the Jews are also the dwelling places of
demons.59

Christians charged adherent of Judaism of apostasy and revolt against God; as far as

the putting Jesus to death, Christian accused the Jews of deicide. Many patristic writers

believed that since the Jews had rejected Christ and persisted in their unbelief in the

Gospel, God had forsaken the Jews. Cyprian who died a martyr at Carthage September 14,

258 inquired,

Did not the Jews perish on this account, since they preferred to envy rather than to believe
in Christ? Disparaging the great things that he did, they were deceived by a blinding
jealousy and they were unable to open the eyes of their hearts so as to recognize his divine
works.60

57
Mathetes, Epistle to Diognetus, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, 25-30.
58
“Christianity and Judaism,” in DLNTD.
59
Chrysostom, “Discourse 1.3.3-4.2,” in DLNTD.
60
“Christianity and Judaism,” in DLNTD.
Some Church fathers believed that the downfall of Israel was irreversible and

hopeless (Chrysostom Homilies; Eusebius; Augustine City of God).61

These factors played a fundamental part in the disappearance of Jewish Christianity and

the irreversible break up between the two sister-religions. These facts only broadened the gap

between Christianity (now just about completely non-Jewish) and the Jews as a people (now

just about without any Christians among its ranks).

CONCLUSION

When the Christianity attained its determinative stage (fourth and fifth centuries) there

was almost no Jewish contribution. At approximately this same point in time, the rabbinic

school, which was especially unsympathetic to the Christian Messiah and Christianity,

triumphed over the last remnant of dissenting parties in their quest to delineate Judaism. The

formation of the New Testament canon and the clarification of numerous central dogmas of

the faith, such as the Trinity and the deity of Jesus, were made without Jewish participation.

The ultimate character of Christianity consequently was progressively more non-Jewish,

therefore rendering Christianity less appealing to Jews and resulting in a further enlargement

of the disparity between Jews and Christians.62

Ultimately, from a Jewish point of view, to become Christian was to dispose of one’s

Jewish identity. In the Jewish mind, the Christian faith was not merely erroneous, it was

worse than paganism and the most treacherous apostasy. In over a century and a half since the

61
Ibid.

62
Ibid.
death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Judaism and Christianity had evolved from a fraternal

discussion to an utterly hostile relationship. “To become one was to cease being the other.” 63

This attitude resulted in Jewish Christianity sandwiched between the two faiths and

inexorably being rejected and abhorred by both.

The ultimate downfall of Jewish Christianity in the fifth century was the logical

conclusion of the parting of the ways between the two faiths, leading to Jewish-Christian

relationships (or lack thereof) that were far-flung from the animated interactions and in-house

quarrels of the first century.

63
Ibid.
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Barrett, C.K., ed. The New Testament Background: Writings from the Ancient Greece and the
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Dunn, James D.G. The Parting of the Ways. Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1991.

Epstein, Isidore, ed. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. London: Soncino, 1948.

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Wilson, Marvin R. Our Father Abraham. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989.

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