This blog is devoted to my interest in early Christianity. My interest might kindly be termed “eclectic”. I’m interested in the usual stuff: the gospels, the apostles, the early Church fathers, and the eventual separation of Christianity from its Jewish context. But I’m also interested in more unusual and obscure stuff, such as the dating of the gospels, the formation of the Christian canon, and the early Christian embrace of the codex (book) form for its sacred literature. You can count on this: odd things will pop up here.
I’m an odd duck. I’m a Jew who loves to read the gospels. Mind you, the gospels are no walk in the park for a Jewish reader. Nevertheless, the study of early Christianity is intrinsically fascinating. We are, after all, talking about the birth of the world’s largest religion, the single greatest force in the emergence of modern western civilization. Moreover, it’s an odd fact (to me at least) that this religion took root and emerged from my religious tradition, one that is today one of the world’s smallest. What Jew could fail to be interested in how this came to pass? (Evidently, quite a few!)
The study of this material has been life-changing for me: it has increased my appreciation for Christianity, which has strengthened my commitment and devotion to Judaism. There is no reason why the study of one should lead to neglect of the other. Quite the contrary. The Talmud teaches that the righteous of all nations have a share in the world to come. It is a Jewish value to appreciate righteousness in the Christian nation. Appreciation, of course, is not cause for immigration.
So: this is why I’ve created this blog. This is why I think this blog should exist.
But let’s look at the other side, at two arguments why this blog should not exist. First, I don’t know enough to create a blog like this. This blog should be run by an expert, and I’m not even close to being an expert. But until that expert comes along, it seems reasonable for me to take what I’ve learned and carefully put it out there for discussion. To make up for my lack of expertise, I’ll cite sources as often as I can, and take comments from people more expert than me.
A second argument against this blog is even more serious. Any Jewish historian can tell you: the history of Jewish-Christian dialog is mostly a disaster from the Jewish point of view. Joseph Soloveitchik, a great 20th Century Orthodox rabbi, argued against engaging in such theological dialog, saying that Judaism and Christianity are “two faith communities (which are) intrinsically antithetic”. Soloveitchik’s argument (which we’ll explore in detail later on) appears to be similar to that of Christian theologian Brevard Childs: Judaism and Christianity are separate frameworks, each incomprehensible to those outside of the framework.
Soloveitchik’s argument (one that probably represents the viewpoint of most Orthodox Jews) is a very good one. If it were possible, it might be best to keep religions traditions separate, to let the Christians do their Christian thing and the Jews do their Jewish thing, and to have Christians and Jews interact in a purely secular realm. But for good or for bad, this is not the way things have worked out. The border between the secular and religious has never been well-defined, and has a tendency to shift, bend and break. A Jew seeking to avoid all things Christian must avoid not only church, but also politics and the arts, Freud and Darwin, Jeremy Lin and Tim Tebow. Those of us who spend time in contexts that are not purely Jewish are living in a context that is Christian to varying degrees. We might as well acknowledge the character of the world with which we interact.
If we’re going to interact with Christianity, then I think we should do so consciously, on terms we set (or at least negotiate), and for good Jewish reasons. One of the best such reasons is this: the space I plan to explore here is shared. First Century Palestine both was Jewish and the center of the early Christian church. Jesus was born, lived and died within Judaism, as did all of his early followers. The gospels are a Christian story unfolding in a Jewish space, including at the Second Temple, the most sacred of Jewish spaces. If we once shared the spaces, we can now share a discussion of these spaces. At least, that’s my argument.
But I’d rather not press this argument. I’d rather regard this blog as an experiment. Experiments often fail, and sometimes these failures are instructive. I’m willing to give this a try. I hope there’s enough here to entice you to participate.
Who can participate here? ALL are welcome: folks of all religious and non-religious persuasions and backgrounds. Follow the rules, read and comment.