Church and Synagogue (30-313 AD)

Parting of the Ways

by Mariusz Rosik (Author) Magdalena Konopko (Revision)
©2019 Monographs 560 Pages


The separation of Church from Synagogue was not a one-time act, but a long-lasting, multilayered, and diversified process. The attempt to explain this process, namely the process of parting of the ways between Judaism and Christianity in the years 30–313 AD, constitutes the main research subject of this publication. The aim of this study is the presentation of the dynamism of Christian–Jewish relations in the first three centuries of the existence of the Church, taking into account mainly historical and theological (but not the only) factors which influenced these relations and finally led to the creation of two separate religions. The two religions existing side by side were in many aspects connected with each other mostly because both originated from biblical Judaism.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Preface
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Series Page
  • Introduction
  • Sources
  • Literature Review
  • Methodology
  • Part I Church within Judaism (30–70 AD)
  • I To the Expulsion of Jews from Rome (30–49 AD)
  • Jerusalem – Judeo-Christian Community
  • Messianism of Judeo-Christians and Messianism of other Movements within Judaism
  • The Temple in the Eyes of Judeo-Christians and other Jews
  • Understanding the Role of the Law
  • The Beginning of Apostolic Activity of Paul of Tarsus
  • Excursus: The Greco-Hellenistic Mentality and the Jewish Mentality
  • Success of Mission among the Gentiles as a Separation Factor
  • Philo of Alexandria and Biblical Allegory in Christian Exegesis
  • Acceptance of Christianity by Samaritans (c. 37 AD)
  • Early Christianity among Ethiopian Jews (c. 38 AD)
  • Riots in Jabneh (c. 40 AD)
  • Ban on Bringing Judeo-Christians to Alexandria? (41 AD)
  • Claudius’ Expulsion of Jews from Rome (c. 49 AD)
  • II Until the Fall of Jerusalem (50–70 AD)
  • So-Called Council of Jerusalem (51 AD)
  • Conflict with Jewish Community in Corinth (51 AD)
  • Intensified Persecution by Jews and Romans (Approx. 60 AD). The Role of James, Brother of the Lord
  • Divinity of Christ and Monotheism of Judaism
  • The Eucharist – Nourishment for Christians and Scandal for the Jews
  • Sabbath and the Lord’s Day
  • Economic Factors
  • Status of Women in Judaism and in the Early Church
  • The Status of Slaves
  • Jesus and Judaism – Through the Eyes of Mark the Evangelist
  • Jews, Christians and Fire in the Eternal City (64 AD)
  • Judaism in Qumran and Palestinian Christianity
  • First Jewish Revolt Against the Roman Empire (66–70/74 AD)
  • The Letter to the Hebrews and Theology of Substitution
  • Part II Difficult Parting – The Beginnings (71–135 AD)
  • I Until the Foundation of Jabneh Academy (71–89 AD)
  • Increasing Openness of Church to Non-Jews
  • The Gospel According to Matthew and the Jewish Tradition
  • Fiscus Iudaicus
  • Dual Work of Luke
  • II Until the Outbreak of Bar Kokhba Revolt (90–131 AD)
  • Academy of Jabneh (c. 90 AD)
  • Are Christians Jewish? Rabbinic Perspective
  • Question of Birkat ha-minim and the Lord’s Prayer
  • Greek Bible in the Hands of Jews and Christians
  • Excursus: Palestinian (Galilean) Aramaic and Targumic Aramaic as a Separation Factor?
  • The Issue of Is 7:14b
  • Anti-Judaism of Johannine Writings and Exclusion from Synagogue
  • Apocryphal Apocalypses as Witness to the Division between Church and Synagogue
  • Letters to Christian Communities of St Ignatius (c. 107 AD)
  • Around the Reference of Pliny the Younger to Christ and Christians (110 AD)
  • Jewish Uprisings in the Diaspora in the Years 115–117
  • Ebionites and Nazarenes – Jews or Christians?
  • Aristides of Athens about the Jews (c. 125 AD)
  • III Bar Kokhba Revolt (132–135 AD)
  • Part III On Separate Ways (136–313 AD)
  • Until the First Amoraim (136–220 AD)
  • The Epistle of Barnabas (c. 138 AD)
  • Excursus: On Ancient Invective
  • The Chosen Nation in the Works of Justin Martyr (c. 140 AD)
  • Martyrdom for the Faith in the Second Century: Jewish and Christian View
  • The Case of Marcion (c. 144 AD) and the Gospel of Judas
  • Jewish Involvement in the Martyrdom of Polycarp of Smyrna (c. 156 AD)
  • Melito of Sardis’ Accusations Against the Jews?
  • The Epistle to Diognetus (c. 180 AD) about the Jews
  • Activity of Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi
  • The Oldest Latin Homily Against the Jews (c. 190 AD)
  • Calendar of the Jews and Christian Dispute over the Date of the Celebration of Easter
  • Septimius Severus Against the Jews and Christians (AD 202). Tertullian
  • The Beginnings of Talmudic Tradition about Jesus and Christians
  • II Until the Milanese Rescript (221–313 AD)
  • New Demography of Palestine in the Third Century
  • Sages of Israel in Confrontation with Christians
  • The Development of Rabbinic Literature
  • Didascalia Apostolorum and Pseudo-Clementines on Obeying the Jewish Law
  • Jewish Exegetical Methods in Origen
  • Christian and Jewish Catacombs in Rome in the Second Half of the Third Century
  • Jewish Question at the Synod of Elvira (c. 303)
  • The Epilogue: Towards the Milanese Rescript (313 AD)
  • Conclusion
  • Abbreviations
  • Bibliography
  • Index


The humanly irreconcilable difference between Jews and Christians will not be settled [until God redeems the entire world as promised in Scripture].

A statement

The first centuries of the existence of Christianity and the development of the Church in the territory of Syro-Palestine and the Mediterranean Sea basin are marked by a growing conflict with Judaism which, at that time, was going through one of the largest and, in a way, most creative crises in its history. The climax of this crisis fell on the time of the destruction of Jerusalem and with it the Temple, the central institution of the Jewish cult. Parting of the ways of the young Church and – nominally speaking – Synagogue came at the time of the decline of biblical Judaism and the time of the birth of rabbinic Judaism. The latter did not tolerate Judeo-Christians in its bosom. For the first time, the term “Judaism” in the Greek form appeared in the Hellenic Jewish literature (2Mch 2:21; 8:1; 14:38; EstRab 7,11), and then in the writings of Christians (Ga 1:13-14) where it was used to describe Jewish form of religiosity that was shaped after their return from Babylonian exile. The Hebrew equivalent of this term occurs only in medieval literature.1 However, this form of Jewish religiosity changed after the caesura which is marked by the fall of the Temple and the creation of the academy of Jabneh at the end of the first century.

When it comes to the relations between Judaism and Christianity, it seems clear today that the term “Christian” should be purified of the stereotyped understanding of our time, especially when we use it in relation to the followers of Christ in the first century. This term appears in the New Testament only three times (Ac 11:26; 26:28; 1P 4:16). In Antioch where disciples of the Master of Nazareth had been named for the first time “Christians,” the term indicated belonging to Christ in contrast to the Gentiles who did not know Christ. Definitely, this term was not used to indicate the opposition to Judaism.2

←11 | 12→

During the Princeton symposium on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the origin of the Church, which was held in 1997, Donald H. Juel shared his experience on the works relating to the Gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, which were carried out during the meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature. One of the experiments involved asking the participants of the discussion to avoid the term “Christian” with reference to the members of the Church in the first century, since the followers of Christ practically did not call themselves Christians at that time. It turned out that during the discussion, the scholars repeatedly uttered the word “Christian” to express the opposition against the “Jews,” and then, realising the error,” they smiled nervously and looked for proper substitutes. The most frequently used substitute was the term “Palestinian movement of Jesus” because there is no doubt that Christianity emerged from Judaism within which it originally constituted one group.3

In September 1989, Philip S. Alexander at the symposium organized by Durham University started his lecture entitled “The Parting of the Ways”4 from the perspective of Rabbinic Judaism with the question: “When did Christianity and Judaism part and go their separate ways?”5 The question “when?” determines historical perspective of searching for an answer, from the point of view of rabbinic Judaism. Struggling with the task, the investigator from University of Manchester created ←12 | 13→an interesting picture. In his opinion Christianity and Judaism constitute today two separate circles, but if one went back in the timeline, it would turn out that as late as in the fourth century both circles still had a significant common part and in the middle of the first century the Christian circle was completely contained in the circle of Judaism. This (maybe too geometric) comparison helps us realize that Christianity stemmed from biblical Judaism and at the beginning all the believers in Christ were Jewish.

Until recently, researchers have accepted a traditional image for the emergence of Christianity from Jewish religion, an image that can be summarized as follows: Jesus was a Jew and He addressed his message to his Jewish followers who created the “early Christianity” as one of the groups within Judaism, like Pharisees or Essenes. But when the Christian message reached the Gentiles who entered the Church, the believers of Christ were not confined within the strict framework of the Synagogue with its pressure on keeping the Sabbath, observance of dietary rules and circumcision. They were excluded from it and as a result a new religion developed. This simple scheme has been criticized by scholars of religion, historians of religion, theologians, exegetes and representatives of other branches of science and the criticism has led to the conclusion that the reality which was described in this vision by the simple word “Judaism” did not exist in its final shape at the time of Jesus. Judaism of Jesus was not the same Judaism which appeared after the year 90 because the biblical form of Jewish religiosity differs significantly from what was named “rabbinic Judaism” and was created in a mature form at least two or three generations after the appearance of Christianity.6 Therefore, one cannot without running the risk of an error explicitly state that Judaism of rabbinic provenance is identical to the religion practised by Jews after returning from Babylonian exile because a lot of factors influenced the significant transformation of postexilic form of religiousness. Religious factors belong to the essential ones (at the top of them there are the establishment of the Church and the activities of the academy of Jabneh which constituted the answer to the developing Christian missions) and historical factors (such as the Jewish uprising which broke out in the year 66 and four years later led to the fall of the Temple).

Almost a century ago many researchers believed that the parting of the ways took place in the lifetime of Jesus who created a new religion.7 However, such a view did not stand the test of time because it was commonly believed that the process of the parting of the ways between Church and Synagogue came directly after the death of Jesus and the decisive factor would be the announcement of ←13 | 14→his resurrection by the apostles. This path in research also occurred to be wrong. Resurrection cannot be a factor introducing a new religion since it was known in Judaism already in the second century BC (Books of Enoch), it was proclaimed by Essenes (On Resurrection, 4Q 521), precursors of Pharisees (Psalms of Salomon), and the Pharisees themselves.

The faith in the resurrection of the Messiah can also be proved by a stele discovered a few years ago. A stone tablet, coming out of Jordan, contains eighty-seven lines of a text written in Hebrew. It is highly probable that the inscription speaks of a suffering Messiah who will rise from the dead after three days. One of its lines reads: “In three days you will know that evil will be defeated by justice.” Then words appear that are attributed to the Archangel Gabriel and are addressed to the Messiah: “In three days you shall live.”8 Moses Bar Asher, one of the greatest authorities of Hebrew Studies, the president of the Academy of the Hebrew Language in Jerusalem, concludes that the idea of the resurrection on the third day after death was working its way through the minds of the Jews shortly before the birth of Jesus. If the research results of the stele prove plausible, this will mean that Jesus took over the idea and then it was adopted by his believers. In a way, it is a reassuring thought as it means that Jesus with his views fits fully into one of the Judaic trends of the Messianic tradition.9

The late Jesuit, father Daniel J. Harrington (who died in February, 2014), the long-time Chair of the Biblical Studies Department at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, confided that if he was to answer the question when the ways of Judaism and Christianity parted, he would react using the formula which has already become classic: “In different places, at different times.” In his synthetic study entitled L’emergere graduale della Chiesa e la “separazione (‘the parting of the ways’) tra ebraismo e cristianesimo,” he presented three stages on the way leading to the separation between Church and Synagogue: Christianity within Israel (as evidenced by the letters of Paul, especially the Epistles to the Romans and Galatians), rivalry between the two religious groups (what can be inferred from the reading of the Gospels according to Matthew and John), and crossing the border of historical Israel by Christians (which is reflected in the Epistle to the Colossians and the Epistle to the Ephesians). The researcher stipulates he does not advocate the thesis that separation of the Church from Synagogue took place in ←14 | 15→times of the New Testament, but merely notes that traces of all three stages of this separation can be found in the New Testament.10

The attempt to explain the complex and many-sided process of parting of the ways between the two religious circles in the years 30–313 constitutes the main research subject of this publication.11 Undoubtedly, it is the first century which is the richest in consequences as far as the process is concerned; later, the division which had already ensued in many regions only worsened and became more complicated in the sense that this process took place with varying intensity in different regions of the ancient world. Let us add right away that in most of the existing studies, only the Roman Empire was taken into consideration and the relations between Christians and Jews in the areas to the east of the ancient Palestine were almost ignored. However, it appears that the process of parting of the ways between Church and Synagogue in the regions of old Mesopotamia and Persia was slower and was characterized by other determinants.

The first century AD is a significant period for Judaism as well as for Christianity emerging from it. For Judaism it is marked by the activities of apocalyptic, proselytizing and zealotic movements. It is also marked by the first Jewish war (66-73/4 AD), during which the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. It is marked by demise of biblical Judaism and the birth of rabbinic Judaism in Jabneh environment. Finally, it is marked by activities of the Jewish historian Josephus and a philosopher Philo of Alexandria. At the same time Christianity is on the rise. Some of the Jews believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah sent from the Father and they began a movement (or better “the Way”; cf. Ac 9:2) which led to the emergence of a new religion on the map of cults of the ancient world. The faith whose origin was deeply rooted in biblical Judaism, quickly reached the Gentiles (mainly thanks to Paul of Tarsus). The influx of the Gentiles to the Church and the emergence of new ecclesial communities in the Mediterranean Sea basin were very important factors in the process of strengthening Christian’s position and at the same time separation from the official Judaism until the total break up. Terminus ad quem in our research is the year 313, the year of publishing by Constantine the rescript called ←15 | 16→Milanese. Is the fourth century, as many researchers claim, in fact ‘the first century of Judaism and Christianity’?12

This study is not as much focused on the question “When?”, as it is on the attempt of bringing us closer to the answer to the question “How?” How did the separation of Church from Synagogue come about? What processes worked behind the separation of Christianity from Judaism? What factors affected the parting of these two currently separate religions? The research will not be confined to theological issues only, but it will be of a more comprehensive (although not exhaustive) nature, concerning social, historical and political areas as well. Already at the very beginning of this research, two issues should be emphasized which, in the light of hitherto research carried out by many biblical scholars, theologians and Church historians, are accepted as indisputable.

In the first place, the separation of Church from Synagogue (Christianity and Judaism) was not a one-time act, but a long-lasting, multi-layered, and diversified process.13 Even if many researchers try to specify that moment in time (indicating the early nineties and the Jabneh environment14 or the fall of the Bar Kokhba revolt), still the decision of the rabbis on the exclusion of Christians from Synagogue or the decision of the followers of Christ to break the ties with Synagogue had been germinating for years.15 Those were not only the rabbis who decided to break the ties ←16 | 17→with Christianity. Christians saw themselves as a natural continuation of biblical Judaism, at the same time rejecting the form of religiosity proposed by the rabbis.16 It cannot be unequivocally stated that “the parting” occurred after the destruction of the Temple or after the fall of the Bar Kokhba revolt, or even a century later.17 Secondly, Judeo-Christians played a significant (if not a decisive) role in this process. They were the ones who argued in favour of Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah expected by the Jews and at the same time they opened the door of the new faith for the Hellenistic and Roman cultures, not linked to Judaism.

The parting of the ways between Church and Synagogue is based on two unquestionable facts: its evolutionary character and the role of Christians descended from Judaism. These two issues are the backbone of first the tension, then the conflict and finally even mutual disfavour and hostility which to a great extent was characteristic of the history of Church and Synagogue in the first three centuries. Tension, conflict and disfavour arose around the person of Christ and interpretation of his role in the history of salvation and around consequences (theological, liturgical and social) resulting from this reading.18 Finally, the attempt to look at the parting of the ways between Judaism and Christianity must lead to a thoroughly fundamental question about the One who in the eyes of Saul of Tarsus is “to the Jews an obstacle they cannot get over, to the Gentiles foolishness, but to those who have ←17 | 18→been called, whether they are Jews or Greeks, a Christ who is both the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1Co 1:23-24).


The source par excellence of the research carried out in this work remains in the first place the New Testament and in it above all the so-called historical books (with ancient historiography properly understood), that is to say four canonical Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. Acts, whose authorship is attributed to Luke, describe directly the events which led to the distancing of the Church from the millieu of Judaism within which the ecclesiastical community shaped. Deeper understanding of the approaching break-up can be found in Gospels which provide insight into the discrepancies of theological nature, rooted substantially in the teaching of Jesus.19 Not without significance is also, especially when discussing detailed issues, the use of other books of the New Testament, in particular the Pauline letters, and this is for two reasons: firstly, these books are generally older than the Gospels, so they give insight into the very beginning of the differences between the community believing in Jesus’ resurrection and other Jews who did not share the view; secondly, their authors were the Jews who, after the adoption of the message of Christ, in the overwhelming majority, turned away from certain habits and beliefs of their fathers and thus stood in opposition to the supporters of the existing form of Judaism which rejected the message of Jesus of Nazareth.20

Apart from the canonical books of Christian provenance, the oldest references to Jesus and Christians in the works of the Jewish and Roman writers should also be considered as sources. The first group must include the rabbinic scriptures to which the Mishnah, Tosefta, Gemara and two versions of the Talmud (Palestinian and Babylonian) belong.21 The Mishnah is the primary source of information on early rabbinic Judaism. It was given its final form about 200 AD in Palestine, under the auspices of Judah I, known as Rabbi or Judah ha-Nasi (Jehuda ha-Nasi). The work that takes its name from the Hebrew verb that means “repeat’ contains a record of the oral traditions. The rabbis – in the vast majority the descendants of the first Pharisees – believed that the traditions were transmitted by God to Moses at Mount Sinai.

←18 | 19→

One can speak about the “first Mishnah” even before the destruction of the Temple and track down its origin in the activity of rabbi Akiba. It was formulated by his disciple, Rabbi Meir and the final version was prepared by Judah ha-Nasi. The researchers do not agree whether Akiba and Meir actually wrote down certain tractates or their fragments, or if they only transmitted them orally. The same refers to Judah ha-Nasi: it seems not to be possible for one man to edit the whole of Mishnah.22 However, this is not an issue of primary importance. The most important fact is that the Mishnah shaped itself within rabbinic Judaism and its roots date back to biblical Judaism and then the time in which the first Christian community appeared. Thus, it cannot be excluded that in this work one may find echoes of anti-Christian polemics and this would prove particularly valuable for the research presented in this study.

A collection parallel to the Mishnah was the Tosefta, containing “additions” and a supplement to the latter. The Tosefta, just like the Mishnah, is divided into identical orders and tractates, with the exception of four of the latter. It cannot be determined with absolute certainty who the final editor of this work was. According to the Talmud, the Tosefta was redacted by rabbi Nehemiah (contemporary to Meir), while rabbi Sherira assigns it to rabbi Chijja bar Abba, what sets the date of its creation for c. 300 AD. Reading the Tosefta itself causes confusion because many sentences are not logically connected. Everything becomes obvious only when the work is read along with the Mishnah. However, it contains some parts which are not linked to the Mishnah. The compilers of the Tosefta arranged sentences it contains according to a specific structure: firstly, there are quotes from the Mishnah, then the sentences whose sense cannot be understood in isolation from the latter and finally at the end there are the Tosefta’s own sentences not linked to the Mishnah.

The commentaries on the Mishnah which started to be written in the third century AD were recorded in the Gemara.23 The Gemara was essentially created due to the fact that in the Mishnah contrary and mutually exclusive opinions had appeared. These contradictions had to be explained, so the Gemara recorded discussions of several generations of rabbis. Since these explanations were elaborated in two different centres, in Palestine and Mesopotamia, hence the Talmud, which is a combination of the Mishnah and the Gemara, exists in two versions. One is known as the Babylonian Talmud and the other is known as either the Palestinian or the Jerusalem Talmud. The Talmud is the most normative text of rabbinic Judaism.24 Regarding the Palestinian Talmud, the Babylonian rabbis began ←19 | 20→to use the term “the Talmud of the Land of Israel” or “the Western Talmud,” but later the name – the Jerusalem Talmud (JT) was commonly adopted. Concurrently to the JT its Babylonian equivalent was created. According to the tractate Bawa Metzia (86a) the final editors of the Babylonian Talmud were Rabina and Rab Ashi. The latter probably died in 427. Therefore, the editing would fall on the first quarter of the fifth century. The activity of the first one, however, has given rise to certain difficulties, since it turns out that there were two teachers named Rabina. The first was contemporary with rabbi Ashi, the second died in 499. If he is mentioned by Bawa metzia, then the final edition of the work would fall on the end of the fifth century.25

When making use of rabbinic sources in the description of the mutual relations of Synagogue and Church in the first three centuries of the Christian era, two facts should be taken into account. The first is that the final edition of some of these writings was published several centuries after the final disunion between Church and Synagogue. It is true that rabbis referred with great care and attention to the accuracy of the teaching messages of their predecessors (including Pharisees), but it does not exclude the possibility of attribution to the teachers of the Torah some statements never uttered by them and created much later.26 The second fact that ←20 | 21→should be taken into account when using these sources is the awareness that the debate among scholars on which fragments actually relate to Christ or Christians, has not been finalized to this day.

Among other sources, the work Antiquitates judaicae by Josephus (born Yosef ben Matityahu) comes to the forefront. It contains so-called testimonium Flavianum (Ant. 18,3,3).27 The author was of priestly descent.28 He was born in Jerusalem in 37 AD and died in Rome in 94. The name of the noble Flavian line together with Roman citizenship were granted to him by Vespasian for his loyalty to Rome after bringing his own squad in Galilea into captivity during the uprising which broke out in the year 66. Antiquitates is a historiographic work, recounting in twenty volumes history from the creation of the world (i.e. de facto from the prehistoric period) to the outbreak of the first Jewish uprising in 66 AD. Although the events described by Josephus only marginally touch on the time of the arising Christianity (approx. thirty years), the author provides valuable background material showing the development of the emerging Church.

The same applies to the second great work by Josephus entitled De bello judaico. It was written in Aramaic shortly after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 (around the year 73), and then issued in seven books in Greek. Balanced judgement of data contained in De bello judaico by Josephus allows to shed some light on the question of the Jewish-Roman relations.29 Two other works of the Jewish historian known by his Roman name may also be helpful here: Vita and Contra Apionem.30 Against ←21 | 22→such background the relationship between Judaism and Christianity can be seen even more clearly.

The picture cannot be complete without the writings of Philo of Alexandria. They do not refer directly to the relationship between Church and Synagogue; however, they provide a broad background for Judaism, including Judaism of the diaspora, in which Christianity rooted itself in the first century.31 Philo of Alexandria, writing in the first century AD, undoubtedly belonged to the intellectual Jewish elite in Egypt. He might have been of priestly descent and he had certainly received excellent Jewish as well as Hellenistic education. He knew the culture perfectly well, especially Greek philosophy. We can assume, however, that he did not know the Hebrew language. Philo’s objective was to bring Judaism closer to his readers.32 His most important works include: De specialibus legibus, Hypothetica, Legatio ad Gaium, Quod omnis probus liber sit, De praemiis et poenis, De vita Mosis, Quis rerum divinarum heres sit, In Flaccum (also known as Adversus Flaccum or Contra Flaccum). It seems that philosophical treatises on metaphysical, ethical and psychological issues were the first to be created. (De aeternitate mundi, De providentia, Alexander sive de eo quod rationem habeant bruta animalia).

Many of Philo’s works were dedicated to explanation of the Torah (Legum allegoriae, De gigantibus, De confusione linguarum, De somniis, Quaestiones in Genesim, Quaestiones in Exodus). The systematic-theological treatises include: De opificio mundi, De Abrahamo, De Iosepho, De Decalogo, De circumcisione, Monarchia). In addition to the above mentioned De vita Mosis and Contra Flaccum, among the historical and apologetic treatises there were also De vita contemplativa and De Sampsone (considered to be inauthentic), De Jon De mundo, Interpretatio Hebraicorum nominum and Liber antiuitatum biblicarum.33 It seems quite interesting that Philo’s works have survived to our times mainly because they were cited in Christian writings.

←22 | 23→

From among the works that had been written by Jewish authors, the writings by Justus of Tiberias and Thallus may be helpful. The first one coming from Galilea, though hated by Flavius Josephus, provides interesting information on the history of the Jews from the time of Moses to Agrippa. Thallus on the other hand – as some historians want it – probably mentions in his work the darkness that reportedly filled the world at the death of Christ. His work could have been written in the middle of the first century.

Furthermore, we should not ignore the mention of Jesus and Christians in a private letter written by a certain Syrian philosopher to his son. Mara bar Serapion, writing shortly after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem and having in perspective his forthcoming death, encourages his offspring to seek wisdom pointing at the outstanding figures of the wise men including Jesus. Serapion’s mention of Christians is valuable not only because it is probably the oldest record on Jesus written by a Gentile, but it is also an example of a positive outlook on the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth.34

In this study, short passages from the works of non-Christian and non-Jewish writers of the Greco-Roman world have been used: Suetonius (Gaius Svetonius Tranquillus), Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus Maior), Pliny the Younger (Gaius Plinius Secundus Minor), Tacitus (Publius Cornelius Tacitus), Lucian of Samosata and Plutarch. Suetonius in the Lives of the Caesars writes about an edict of Claudius, expelling all Jews from Rome. The reason for the decision of the emperor were allegedly riots and anxieties initiated by Christians. The Latin title of the only surviving work by Suetonius is: De vita duodecim Caesarum libri VIII. It contains biographies of the following emperors: Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellus, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian.35 In the Lives non-essential information is mixed with one of crucial importance. For the most part, the author did not care to distinguish between insignificant facts and events of major importance, but the amount of collected material seems sufficient to reconstruct the history of the Imperial Rome.

Pliny the Elder is irreplaceable in portraying the history of Palestine. A valuable source, in this respect, is his Historia naturalis, a 37-volume work that was written by the author while providing assistance to the victims of eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. Pliny probably belonged to Titus’ general staff who in 70 attacked Jerusalem, hence his descriptions of the siege of the city and the entire Jewish war appear to be those of an eye-witness. Some researchers have argued that Pliny, in his work History naturalis, mentioned Christians that were called by him “Nazarenes”: “Nunc interiora dicantur. Coele habet Apameam Marysa amne divisam a Nazerinorum tetrarcha, Bambycen quae alio nomino Hierapolis vocatur, Syris vero Mabog” (V). In-depth linguistic research of the fragment which was ←23 | 24→written prior to 77 AD shows clearly that the author had in mind geographical identification rather than religious one.36 Anyway, his works constitute for us an invaluable source of information on shaping of historical, political and social background of the time in which Christianity was developing.

Coming from Como (Northern Italy), Pliny the Younger testifies that Christians pray to Christ as to God.37 He writes about it in a letter to emperor Trajan. Pliny the Younger’s Epistulae are usually dated 97-109 AD. The sender in an excellent, comprehensible, albeit concise way describes the drastic persecution that affected Christians.

Among the works of Tacitus, member of a patrician family, Historiae and Annales deserve the most attention. The first one consisted of twelve books, but to this day only four books have survived in their entirety. The fifth book has survived only partially with one fragment in which Tacitus tells the story of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman legions under Titus, including in his description also Jewish history and religion.38 Unfortunately, books VII-X, devoted to the time between the death of Tiberius (37 AD) and the middle of the reign of Claudius (approx. 47 AD) have not survived. Neither has most of book V, depicting the years 29-31. These materials could be of particular value for researchers of the original Church. The author boasted about describing events sine ira et studio (“without either bitterness or partiality”; Historiae 2,50), and added: “I have undertaken to collect fabulous tales and to delight my readers with fictitious stories; I cannot, however, dare to deny the truth of common tradition.” (ibidem)

The second important work of this author, entitled Annales (the full title is: Annales ab excessu divi Augusti), was written under the rule of Trajan. In this case, six of fifteen books have been preserved in their entirety. The work covers the period between the death of Augustus Caesar in AD 14 and the year 69, that is the time the reign of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Tacitus in Annales tries to draw a background for the fire of the Eternal City at the time of Nero. The work provides us with valuable information on the history of Christianity in the Roman Empire and indirectly it also shows the relationship between Christians and Jews. As far as the method of description is concerned, Tacitus explains: “I have added no touch of the marvellous” (Ann. 11,27). Although he tries to be faithful to the principle of causality, combining events as resulting from each other, he does not avoid referring to metaphysical factors. Permeated with political passion, the historian does not deny the interference of deities in the history of the empire, which he describes ←24 | 25→relying mainly on the works of Pliny the Elder and such documents as Acta Senatus or Acta diurna populi Romani.

Born into a poor Syrian family from Samosata over the Euphrates, Lucian mentions Christians in several of his works. He does not attack them in a direct way (as in the case of other religious groups), but he does not refer to them favourably. He approves their mutual care, but regards Christian religion to be bizarre and its Founder to be a cheater. Three of his works should be taken into account here: The Passing of Peregrinus, Alexander the False Prophet and The Lover of Lies.

The analysis of Plutarch’s writings may also prove valuable for our study. He was born into a prominent family in the town of Chaeronea. Plutarch is the author of an impressive number of biographical works, but not all of them have survived to our time. The most important ones include the biographies of Heracles and Hesiod of Ascra in Boeotia, Pindar of Thebes and Crates of Thebes, the biographies of the Roman Emperors Galba and Otho as well as a series of twenty three pairs of biographies of famous Greek and Roman characters, included in Bioi paralleloi (Parallel Lives). The author of the biographies sets himself a clear goal – he wishes to show the truth about man, disregarding neither the virtues nor the flaws in his character. He avoids idealization and apotheosis. The idea behind this concept of biography is to make it possible for the reader to look at his or her own life through the prism of lives of well-known people. Artistic assumptions are, therefore, subordinated to the objectives of teaching, but teaching does not mean resorting to fiction.39 Plutarch arranges the biographies according to peripatetic pattern: birth (origin, upbringing, education) – acts (prakseis) – death (circumstances).40 This type of literature also shows a context of the events which will be presented in this study.

With the appropriate methodological approach, the use of some apocryphal works and Qumran texts41 may prove helpful in demonstrating the incentives for Christian-Jewish conflict. Apocrypha of Judaic provenance help to enrich the Judaic image of the coming of Messiah and the events associated with His arrival42 ←25 | 26→whereas the Dead Sea Scrolls enrich the image of Palestinian Judaism, showing its specific variation, whose picture may lead to interesting conclusions43 when compared to Christian views. Reference to these sources allows us to understand better the relations between Church and Judaism. Moreover, some researchers even try to identify certain fragments of the 7-grotto manuscripts with texts from the gospel according to Matthew, the Acts of the Apostles, the Letter to the Romans, the Letters of Peter, Timothy and James, which seems premature, although it could indicate direct relationships between the Qumran writings and the New Testament, which in turn refers to the Essene doctrine in such themes as faith, the end times, the struggle between good and evil in the world and in man as well as participation in the lives of the angels. In any case, today the impact of Essenism (as Judaism in general) on the emerging Christianity cannot be excluded, especially that the Essene communities existed in different places of Palestine. Their influence may be found in three areas: literary, institutional and doctrinal.44

To understand Jewish messianism, an idea of primary importance for grasping the origin of the conflict between Church and Synagogue, apocrypha of the Old (more specifically: Hebrew Bible) and the New Testament45 are an invaluable source of information. Many of apocryphal writings created within Judaism were reformulated by Christians and in this way the Jewish tradition finally received Christian interpretation. To this day discussion has been held among researchers whether apocryphal books, such as the Ascension of Isaiah, two prophecies included in the Second Book of Ezra (now recognized as the Fifth and Sixth Book of ←26 | 27→Ezra) and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs are works created in the Jewish environment and then reworked by Christians, or if they are directly products of Christ’s followers.46 It can be believed that the oldest part of the First Book of Enoch or 1 Enoch, also called the Ethiopian Book of Enoch, dates back to the sixth century BC, whereas the latest one dates back to the first century AD. The fact that it took so long to shape the final version of the book impelled some researchers to propose a thesis that some Aramaic fragments were recorded in the Hebrew body of the book. In the introduction, the author shows broad outline of end times.

The process of creation of the Oracle of Sibyl was equally long. It began in the first century BC and lasted for almost seven centuries.47 The author of the apocrypha brings up the following subjects which can shed light on the relationship between Judaism and Christianity: criticism of idolatry, the announcement of coming of the kingdom of God, annihilation of Belial, God’s judgement, history of the world that combines elements of Greek myths with biblical motifs, history of Israel with the stress put on Assyrian captivity and destruction of the Temple, threats against pagan powers, or criticism of polytheism. In some books of the apocrypha there are typically Christian interjections, which indicates that the original Jewish text was reworked by followers of Christ.

It will also be necessary to refer to the Fourth Book of Ezra. The work was first written in Semitic language (Hebrew rather than Aramaic), and then the translation into Greek was made. It is interesting since the time of creation of the book coincides with the birth of rabbinic Judaism and its author is most likely a Pharisee from Palestine. The book describes seven visions concerning fate of the contemporary world, the fate of Israel, the fate of those who have already passed away, the end of the world and the signs preceding it, as well as the end of the Roman Empire, punished by the Messiah.

About half a century later The Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch was created. It tells the story of the destruction of Jerusalem, the punishment of the Gentiles and the rebuilding of the Temple after the Messiah’s coming. It is evident that the author of the apocrypha petrified in writing Jewish dreams of the reconstruction of the Temple, reduced to a heap of rubble almost a century before.

Amidst non-apocalyptic apocrypha of the Hebrew Bible, the Psalms of Solomon are noteworthy. The work is assumed to have been created in the first half of the first century AD in Palestine. Many arguments support the view that the author was a Pharisee. The faith in the resurrection is distinctly emphasized as well as the fact that the destruction of Jerusalem is seen by the author as God’s punishment ←27 | 28→for unfaithfulness of Israel to the Law. Messianism of Psalms of Solomon clearly has a political tone.

Similarly, it may be useful to refer to the Apocalypse of Abraham, a book which was probably created between 79 and 81 AD, as can be deduced from the plagues it describes. They seem to refer to the fall of the Temple and the explosion of Vesuvius in 79. The number of apocryphal scriptures of the Hebrew Bible reaches almost seventy.

The apocrypha mentioned above are leading titles for showing the parting of the ways between Church and Synagogue, but other works of this kind may also be helpful.48

The New Testament apocrypha also cast light on the process of separation of Church from Synagogue. In 1945 in the library in Nag Hammadi, the Gospel According to Thomas was found. It is a collection of fourteen discourses that Jesus supposedly dictated to Thomas the Apostle (“Twin”). Jesus’ words recounted in the book which was created in the second century are very similar to the logia of the synoptic Gospels. The Gospel of the Hebrews (linked to the Gospel of the Nazarenes) and the Gospel of the Ebionites belong to a group of Judeo-Christian writings. The problem of apocryphal Judeo-Christian Gospels seems to be very complex. None of these three writings has been preserved in its entirety, but some statements derived from them are included in other works, where they are cited tendentiously and sometimes in a highly selective manner.49 It is not even known whether there were two Gospels: According to the Hebrews and Ebionites, or three (the Gospel according to Nazarenes is often combined with the Gospel according to the Hebrews). The Gospel of the Hebrews (and the Nazarenes) was used by Judeo-Christians of orthodox views, whereas the Gospel of the Ebionites was favoured by Judeo-Christians with strong gnostic inclinations. The first one was created at the end of the first century (possibly even before the year 70), probably in Pella (today’s Jordan) where Christians supposedly escaped after the outbreak of the first Jewish insurrection in 66. The second gospel came into existence in Transjordan and is dated for the first half of the second century.

More or less from the same period comes another apocryphal scripture which is extremely valuable for hereof study. The Solomon Odes consists of forty-two ←28 | 29→writings preserved in three languages: Syrian, Greek and Coptic. The Odes have liturgical character and they are loaded with symbols.50

At the beginning of our century the discovery of the Gospel of Judas, originating from the circle of the Cainites, proved to be quite sensational. The apocrypha is dated approx. 150 AD. In the first centuries, the Gospel of Judas seemed to be almost unknown. Even the early Christian writers who mention it (Irenaeus of Lyon, Theodoret of Cyrhus and Epiphanius of Salamis in Cyprus) do not seem to know the exact content of the Gospel. The work was written by members of the gnostic sect which put on a pedestal those who were strongly opposed to God of the Old Covenant.51 They took their name from Cain, the killer of his own brother, but they also worshipped Esau who sold his primogeniture for food, or Corah who organized the rebellion against Moses and Aaron. The Cainites argued that God who created the world is de facto a demiurge and is completely different from the God proclaimed by Jesus. Christ himself, however, lived for a moment in the human body of Jesus, although he often appeared to his disciples in other shapes.

At the end of the list there is another apocryphal book which may turn out to be a valuable source for the study of the Jewish-Christian relationship in the first century. The work Remaining Words of Jeremiah is also known as the 2 Baruch, the 3 Baruch or even 4 Baruch. Although it was initially an apocryphal book of the Old Testament written by a Jew of Judea (possibly from Jerusalem), it contains a lot of Christian interpolations.52 References to the persecutions of Jeremiah, who proclaims the coming of Christ, perfectly reflect the tensions between Judaeo-Christians and the Jews who rejected the message of the Good News.

Works of early Christian writers also constitute invaluable source material not to be overlooked, particularly those written by the Church Fathers.53 For presenting the separation between Judaism and Christianity the most prominent writings are, inter alia, the works of such authors as Justin Martyr, Origen, Tertullian, Melton of Sardis, Irenaeus of Lyon, Eusebius of Caesarea or Epiphanius bishop of Salamis in Cyprus. Some works of the writers of the early centuries of Christianity remain anonymous; that is the case of Didache, the Epistle to Diognetus or Latin homilies Against the Jews. 54 At times, elements of polemics between Christians and Jewish believers also appeared in anti-heretical writings.

At the end of the presentation of the source material, it should be added that the results of research on artefacts extracted during archaeological excavations ←29 | 30→cannot be omitted. Here, various inscriptions are also valuable: mural, sepulchral, inscriptions on ossuaries, tables, classical columns, memorials and other artefacts which are the evidence of interactions between the followers of Christ and the Jews.55 Many of them are related to the places of Christian worship and synagogues whose network in the first three centuries was already highly developed.56 The inscriptions are most often written in one of the four languages – Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek or Latin.57 Moreover, when establishing chronology, coins discovered by archaeologists come to aid.58 Images of rulers and monetary inscriptions (especially the dates) allow to date correctly particular stratigraphic layers, uncovered during excavations.

Literature Review

Before we move on to presentation of the findings of the study on the issue of the parting of the ways, it is worth remembering what Martin Goodman, professor of Oxford University, points out. He recognizes the importance of the perspective from which the whole issue is viewed. In his opinion, lack of agreement among researchers as to when, where, how, and above all whether actually the parting of the ways between Church and Synagogue took place stems exactly from different perspectives. The issue is perceived differently by Christian authors, in a different way by Jewish ones and still differently by people who do not identify themselves with any of those religions. And it is not only the problem of our time. In ancient times, that is at the time when parting actually took place, there did not exist any clear and absolute criteria for determination of the identity of the Jewish community. Someone could be considered a Jew by some Fathers of the Church, but he did not identify himself with Judaism at all. The same person may or may not have been seen as a Jew by followers of pagan religions, inhabiting the Roman Empire. Certain phenomena could be regarded as related to Judaism by some, but not by others. One cannot expect to find clear distinctions in ancient sources.59

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An interest in the parting of the ways between Church and Synagogue has arisen largely thanks to the third quest in the search for historical Jesus.60 Therefore, some monographs and editorial works concerning Jesus’ approach to the religion of his ancestors should at least be mentioned here. One of the currents typical for the third stage of the research on the historicity of the Master of Nazareth – beside the sociological or charismatic mainstreams – is based on discovering the “Jewishness” of Jesus. Works of several excellent researchers fit into this current because they cast a beam of light on Jesus’ attitude to the religion of his own nation.61 The Jew, Shalom Ben-Chorin, in a book entitled Bruder Jesus (published for the first time in 1967)62 expresses a view that the life of Jesus was determined by three stages of disappointment: non-fulfilment of the announcement concerning the coming of the kingdom of God, failure in preaching the kingdom of God and the failure of the cross.63 David Flusser, Vienna-born professor of the Hebrew University, is of ←31 | 32→the opinion that Jesus64 is a Jew faithful to the Law, preaching how to be guided in our lives by the commandment to love God and our neighbours. His book titled Chrześcijaństwo religią żydowską was published in Polish in 2003.

Geza Vermes (died in May 2013) was a Jewish scholar who wrote a lot of works on the topic of historical Jesus. The best known are Jesus the Jew (Polish translation was published in 2003) and The Religion of Jesus the Jew (1981). Vermes shows Jesus as an itinerant charismatic similar to Hanina ben Dosa, well known in Jewish literature. His task was to preach conversion and the imminent coming of the kingdom of God.65 One should also mention the book The Changing Faces of Jesus by this author, the book at the end of which the following significant words can be found: “At the end of the first century Christianity lost sight of real Jesus and the original meaning of his message.”66

The above conclusion results from some methodological errors made by this Catholic priest, who later converted to Judaism.67 Vermes blames researchers for following chronological order in demonstrating the evolution of the image of Jesus.68 Consequently, he decides to travel the other way, from “divine Christ to step back and seek human Jesus69 and he explains clearly what this opposite direction consists in: in descending from Everest of John’s Gospel and high peaks of St. Paul in the direction of the synoptic Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. The trouble is that this perspective gives the reader a false impression that the thought about divinity of Christ was shaped in Christianity very late and supposedly synoptics had not known it yet because it was formulated thanks to the impact of Paul and John. Meanwhile, students of the first year of theology already realize that the letters of Paul are much earlier than the synoptic Gospels (especially Matthew and Luke) and it is from the letters where a picture of Christ as God emerges. This picture was only complemented by Johannine texts.70

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At the end of his life Vermes published one more volume which fits the research field of the division of Church and Synagogue, although it does not concern the topic directly. It is a book entitled Christian Beginnings. From Nazareth to Nicea, AD 30-325 (2013).71 This time the Jewish scholar goes even further in his anyway radical opinions: he recognizes Christianity as an unnecessary and false religion. The basic error of Christians is the recognition of Jesus as God (it is, according to Vermes, an affront to intelligence) and primarily Paul should be blamed for this state of affairs, as he pushed Christology in an absolutely wrong direction, as well as John who dared to write such a courageous prologue to his Gospel.

It seems that while examining the issue of parting of the ways between Church and Synagogue one cannot overestimate works written by Ed Paul Sanders, of the Protestant provenance. His book Jesus and Judaism (1985) turned out to be a milestone in the study of historical Jesus. According to Sanders, thanks to extensive research on Jesus, we know about him objectively much more than about any other person of the first century. To sum up in a concise way the results of research of the Protestant theologian of Duke University, one can conclude that Jesus was an eschatological prophet preaching the need of conversion – not through severe penitential practices, but by discovering the love of God – and performing acts of healing.72


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (January)
early Christianity interreligious dialogue Church history Rabbinic Judaism religion history
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien. 2019. 560 p.

Biographical notes

Mariusz Rosik (Author) Magdalena Konopko (Revision)

Mariusz Rosik received his DD in Biblical Theology at the Pontifical Faculty of Theology in Wrocław (Poland) and his SSL at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. He is a professor of New Testament Exegesis at the Pontifical Faculty of Theology and of Jewish History at University of Wrocław.


Title: Church and Synagogue (30-313 AD)