Reflections on Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity

by Dan Jaffé (Volume editor) Yaakov Teppler (Volume editor) Rivkah Nir (Volume editor)
©2021 Edited Collection 370 Pages


This book presents a selection of articles written by Israeli scholars who are part of a research group on early Christianity and its interaction with Judaism. The book discusses key issues in the field today: typological figures for Jesus (John the Baptist, Jeremiah and Moses), the identity of early Jewish-Christians, the interaction between Christianity and the Rabbis, and early Christian communities.
The book does not speak in a monolithic voice. Rather, it expresses different standpoints and various methods that reflect the diversity of Israeli research. It is well known that any historian is not detached from the place where he lives, the time and his religious and national identity. The fact that this book was written by Israeli scholars poses the question if there is something unique which characterizes Israeli research in comparison to non-Israeli research?
The Israeli voice, we are certain, has something to contribute to the debate on issues that currently occupy early Christianity research. Whether it is indeed distinguished by uniqueness, let the educated reader be the judge.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Contributors
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Typological Figures for Jesus
  • The ‘Christian’ Message of John the Baptist in the Synoptic Gospels (Rivka Nir)
  • The New Jeremiah in the New Testament: Concerning Some Narrative Strategies in Luke (David (Dmitry) Kopeliovich)
  • Moses and Jesus as Bearers of God’s Logos in the Prologue of John and the Question of John’s Christology (Serge Ruzer)
  • Jewish and Christian Identity
  • Would the Christian Paul Consider Himself a Jew? (Summary of a lecture by Daniel R. Schwartz)
  • The Fiscus Judaicus: A Touchstone of Jewish (-Christian) Identity? (Jonathan Bourgel)
  • The Interaction between Christianity and the Rabbis
  • Extra Ecclesiam nulla Salus Birkat ha-minim Reconsidered – Text and Context (Dan Jaffé)
  • ‘Like Snake Venom’? The Rabbis and Christian Charity (Yael Wilfand)
  • Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa and his Hasidic Image in Light of Talmudic Tradition (Yerushalmi v. Bavli) (Menachem Ben Shalom)
  • The Trial of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus and the Parting of the Ways (Yaakov Teppler)
  • Early Christian Communities
  • Dating Anti-Christian Sources in the Babylonian Talmud (Barak S. Cohen)
  • The Christian Community in Syria (110–180 CE): The Creation of ‘Syrian Christianity’ (Ben Zion Rosenfeld and Arie Levene)
  • Were the Early Christians Sectarians? Searching for Sectarianism in the New Testament (Eyal Regev)
  • Series index

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List of Contributors

Rivka Nir

The Open University of Israel

David (Dmitry) Kopeliovich

The Open University of Israel

Serge Ruzer

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Daniel R. Schwartz

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Jonathan Bourgel

Université Laval (Canada)

Dan Jaffé

Bar-Ilan University

Yael Wilfand

Bar-Ilan University

Menachem Ben Shalom

Achva Academic College

Yaakov Teppler

Beit Berl College

Barak S. Cohen

Bar-Ilan University

Ben Zion Rosenfeld

Bar-Ilan University

←9 | 10→

Arie Levene

Bar-Ilan University

Eyal Regev

Bar-Ilan University

←12 | 13→


The initiative for this book was born within a study group active under the auspices of the Center for the Study of Relations between Jews, Christians, and Muslims, at the Open University of Israel. This framework draws together Israeli scholars engaged in early Christianity and the relationship between Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages, who assign a prominent place to ‘the Parting of the Ways’ – an issue of focal concern to current research on these topics – as well as to the question where and when came into being the boundary line separating between Judaism and Christianity.

This book is not monolithic. Rather, it is expressive of different and occasionally even contradictory standpoints, and reflective of the diversity within the research community in Israel, much like in the field of research worldwide. Its contributors are scholars from Israel’s universities, colleges, and research institutes, who were educated under different schools and have forged diverse views, with each contributing his/her own essay in order to sound together a collective voice that reflects a part of present-day Israeli research in this area.

In ‘Apology of the Author’, which prefaces his book From Jesus to Paul,1 published in Tel Aviv almost eighty years ago, Joseph Klausner wrote: ‘The reader of the present book will find in it a great part of what he cannot find, so it seems to me at least, in any other book concerning that great problem ‘of the relations between Judaism and Christianity’. For my particular viewpoint as a Jew upon these relations is different from that of the Christian investigators who have concerned themselves with primitive Christianity’.2

←13 | 14→

This collection of studies poses a challenge to Klausner’s statement: Is our voice, as Israelis investigating early Christianity, unique and has special features in comparison to non Israelis scholars?

Instinctively, we are inclined to think, ‘Yes, it is’. Uniqueness may well apply to Israeli research, if only for the reason that historians are not detached from their own place and time, and are necessarily, even if unaware, influenced by their worldview, life circumstances, and cultural, religious and ideological identity. On the other hand, we all represent a new generation that, alongside the memory and emotional involvement, seeks to examine Christianity and its relations with Judaism with open-minded eyes, while striving at scholarly objectivity, abiding by the rules of critical and unbiased research.

Therefore, we asked ourselves whether the distance in time, in ethos, in the internal Jewish-Israeli discourse, as well as the geographical remoteness from Europe and its complex history, impacted our worldview as researchers (or our views on issues relating to early Christianity). Surprisingly, or not, it transpired that, despite all the above-noted difference, our opinions are just as divided as those of our Jewish and non-Jewish colleagues abroad. The uniqueness of our book, then, lies in that it is the product of an ongoing and oft hard-probing discourse of Israeli scholars, who have long pondered the matter at hand, while forging independent opinions and a dynamic of mutual influence.

The Israeli voice, we are certain, has something to contribute to the debate on issues that currently preoccupy early Christianity research. Whether, as such, it is indeed distinguished by uniqueness, let the educated reader be the judge.

←14 | 15→


This book offers twelve essays arranged thematically in four sections. Surveyed below are their main points of concern.

Section 1 discusses Typological Figures for Jesus. It opens with The ‘Christian’ Message of John the Baptist in the Synoptic Gospels by Rivka Nir, who writes: ‘John’s message, his call for ‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’, his proclamations about the more powerful one who is to come after him, and his admonitory speeches to those coming to be baptized by him, are, more than anything else, expressive of his identity as a Christian believer. And it is in them that the lines separating the world of ideas and beliefs associated with his figure from those of contemporaneous mainstream Judaism are most clearly observed. She here analyzes the four central topics of John’s message: baptism and repentance, prophecy about the coming one, the call to bear ‘fruit worthy of repentance’, and sermon on ethical and social concerns; focus on the theological dimensions of ‘repentance’, ‘kingdom of heaven’, ‘the coming one’, ‘baptism’, ‘forgiveness of sins’, ‘holy spirit’, ‘the coming wrath’, ‘fruit worthy of repentance’, ‘children of Abraham’, ‘baptism with fire’; and compare these concepts with the Jewish world of ideas and beliefs, on which they drew, and with their reinterpretation in affinity to the Christian world’.

In his essay The New Jeremiah in the New Testament: Concerning Some Narrative Strategies in Luke, David (Dmitry) Kopeliovich focuses on the inter-textual links between the Bible stories about the persecution of the prophet Jeremiah and the Gospel narrative about Jesus. ‘It seems’, he writes, ‘that Jesus’ figure was shaped as a new Jeremiah. Yet, an explicit comparison between Jesus and Jeremiah comes up only in Matthew. Is the silence concerning Jeremiah in the other Gospels to be construed as evidence of indifference to the typological role of this persecuted prophet in shaping Jesus’ figure? Or are there some implicit links between Jeremiah and Jesus in the other Gospels too? To examine this issue, he turns to the story about the cleansing of the Temple, which all four Gospels provide under different forms (Matthew 21:12–17; Mark ←15 | 16→11:15–19; Luke 19: 45–48; John 2:13–22). In its synoptic versions, the story contains implicit allusion to the Temple speech of Jeremiah (7:11). And moreover, Jeremiah’s words are actually adopted by Jesus. But, it seems the similarity between Jesus and Jeremiah is especially evident in Luke’s version of the story. This can effectively be proven by the contextual, compositional and linguistic arguments, which are here discussed in detail. At the same time, such discussion contributes to a more accurate reconstruction of the Gospel narrative’s redaction development’.

Section 1 concludes with Serge Ruzer’s Moses and Jesus as Bearers of God’s Logos in the Prologue of John and the Question of John’s Christology. ‘Focusing on the Johannine Prologue (John 1:1–18)’, Ruzer writes, ‘this article has as its backdrop a broader claim for the centrality of Moses in the Fourth Gospel’s portrayal of Jesus, where the figure of Moses is used as a core point of reference, actually a biblical blueprint, for the Messiah’s life story. This claim was put forward in his earlier Hebrew study coauthored with Yair Zakovitch.1 The peculiarity of John’s persistent employment of this strategy stands out in comparison with the messianic scenarios propagated in such late Second Temple sources as 1 Enoch, 2 Baruch or the Dead Sea Scrolls, which do not explicitly present the Messiah as following a biblical prototype. It is also distinguished vis-à-vis the strategies, employed in the search for ‘biblical justification’ in the Synoptic tradition, represented by Matthew, Mark and Luke. This characteristic Johannine emphasis, outlined in the first part of the following discussion, will further on be used to clarify the relation between Jesus and Moses as two bearers of God’s Word/Logos in John 1:1–18, and possible repercussions for our appraisal of John’s christology’.

Section 2 discusses issues pertaining to Jewish and Christian Identity. It opens with a lecture-based essay by Daniel S. Schwartz Would the Christian Paul Consider Himself a Jew? ‘Taking its point of departure from some well-meaning but less-than-accurate translations of New Testament texts’, Schwartz argues, ‘this lecture suggests that Paul distinguished between “Judaism,” the religion he left behind upon becoming a believer in Christ (Galatians 1:13–14), and “Israel,” of which he remained a member by descent (Philippians 3:3–7; Romans 9–11). Rather than asserting that Paul continued to view himself as a Jew, i.e., an adherent of ←16 | 17→Judaism – an assertion that would require us to assume he either continued to observe Jewish law or thought that law was only a minor element in Judaism – it appears more warranted to assume he recognized the centrality of law-observance in Judaism and realized, accordingly, that giving it up meant giving up Judaism’.

Another angle on the issue of identity is provided in The Fiscus Judaicus: A Touchstone of Jewish (-Christian) Identity? by Jonathan Bourgel. ‘One of the first measures taken by Vespasian after the suppression of the Jewish Revolt’, he writes, ‘was the establishment of a head tax imposed on all the Jews throughout the Empire. Liability to this Jewish tax varied under successive Emperors up to the reign of Nerva (96–98 CE). This evolution had far-reaching implications for Jews in general, and for the Jewish-Christian streams in particular. By imposing this levy, the Roman authorities indirectly posed the Jewish-Christians the twofold question of their identity and their relation to Judaism. The purpose of this paper is to determine the attitude of Jewish-Christian communities (with special emphasis on those of Judea) toward the Jewish tax throughout its evolution. This survey would not only enlighten on the self-understanding of Jewish-Christian communities, but may also contribute to assess the degree of awareness of the Roman authorities about the distinctions between non-Christian-Jews, Jewish-Christians and non-Jewish-Christians in late first and early second century CE’.

Section 3 discusses The Interaction between Christianity and the Rabbis. It opens with Extra Ecclesiam nulla Salus Birkat Ha-minim Reconsidered – Text and Context by Dan Jaffé. ‘Despite the many articles that have been written on Birkat ha-minim in recent years’, he writes, ‘a great many questions have not yet been satisfactorily resolved. This is notably the case concerning the historical context in which this prayer was introduced. The locus classicus on the subject, espoused by many scholars, considers Birkat ha-minim to have been formulated under the ethnarchy of Gamaliel II of Yabneh at the end of the 1st century CE. It would have testified to the will of the tannaim to expel Jewish Christians from synagogue worship, and even from the rabbinic community itself, which was then seeking normativity. This paradigm, it seems, now needs to be re-examined in light of the many studies using a historiographical method that challenges it completely, and are impossible to disregard even though the author of these lines partially agrees with the paradigm’.

Another issue in the relations of Rabbis with Christianity is presented in ‘Like Snake Venom’? The Rabbis and Christian Charity by Yael ←17 | 18→Wilfand. ‘This paper’, she writes, ‘focuses on rabbinic texts compiled in Palestine during the first five centuries CE, to inquire: How did rabbis in the Land of Israel view the impact of Christian charity on the lives of Jews in Palestine? More specifically: To what extent do these rabbinic sources see Christian charity as a threat? In “Political and Social Tendencies in Talmudic Concepts of Charity” (Zion,1951), Ephraim E. Urbach claimed that tannaim and amoraim alike rejected Christian charity while advocating Jewish almsgiving due to the competition between these two religions. According to Urbach, any rabbinic emphasis on giving to the poor from the second century CE onward must necessarily be explained in light of Christian almsgiving, writing that “The part played by charity in spreading the influence of Christianity was clear to both Christians and their antagonists.” In this study, she provides a textual analysis that renders little justification for applying Urbach’s theory to second-and third-century sources. Interestingly, the corpus of Palestinian rabbinic texts that mentions gentile almsgiving is limited to three passages: one appears in the Tosefta (third century), which seems to refer to gentiles (perhaps Christians) who provided support to indigent Jews; the other two are in a midrashic collection, Pesiqta de Rab Kahana (fifth century). The overall silence of early texts – including tannaitic material (with the possible exception of one passage from the Tosefta) and the Jerusalem Talmud –toward Christian charity is remarkable. This pattern may reflect a rabbinic inclination to ignore this religious phenomenon or, perhaps, the limited scope of early Christian almsgiving in Palestine (until the mid-fourth century). In the latter case, the scale of Christian giving might have been too modest to be considered a threat by the early rabbis. In Pesiqta de Rab Kahana, however, one passage explicitly discusses Christian charity by accusing Christian officials of stealing from tenant farmers in the countryside and then publicly distributing those spoils to impoverished city dwellers, thus corruptly inflating their reputation of being “generous to the poor.” In another chapter of Pesiqta de Rab Kahana, this Midrash twice levies criticism against gentiles who give alms; despite the absence of direct references to Christians, they may well be the unstated subjects of these texts, one of which compares such aid to snake venom. Indeed, by the time this midrash was being edited, Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire and charity, the dominion of Christian bishops. Therefore, it reasonable that Christian charity in Palestine would have become sufficiently visible ←18 | 19→and pervasive to prompt the authors of Pesiqta de Rab Kahana to openly attack Esau as “one who is generous to the poor” (Prov. 28:8, JPS)’.

The two studies that follow are assigned to prominent and influential rabbinic figures. First in line is Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa and his Hasidic Image in Light of Talmudic Tradition (Yerushalmi v. Bavli) by Menachem Ben Shalom. ‘This article’, he writes, ‘aims to explore the figure of Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa and to show that, according to early Eretz-Israeli traditions, his depiction fits the Hasidic phenomena as described here, which, in turn, informs an additional innovation – Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa, I believe, should not be viewed as a ‘holy man’, but rather as a meek and God-fearing Hasid. Although an honest appraisal of the ancient Eretz-Israeli sources proves this, in today’s scholarly discourse, post-modern literary theories have superseded a direct dialogue with the sources. The term ‘holy man’ was adopted (perhaps inadvertently) by all scholars under the influence of pagan and Christian sources, and, in my opinion, does not exist in the ancient rabbinic texts’. The method adopted in the present article is to separate the Talmudic sources into their various branches, and attribute them to the physical location from which they originated, the period of their emergence, and the experience of their world. Such an approach will enable us to undertake a critical examination of the sources and to extract historical and theological knowledge from sources that are not a priori historiographic sources’.

Second in line is Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus. In The Trial of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus and the Parting of the Ways, Yaakov Teppler writes: ‘At the focus of this paper stands the notion that the “parting of the ways” between Judaism and Christianity was not merely the result of an ideological process, as it is usually presented in the early writings of these religions, but that it was strongly affected by the relationship of the Roman empire to the Jews after the year 70 CE. This paper tests this idea using the unique story of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, one of the greatest Jewish sages and leaders of that time, and the strange episode of his trial in a Roman court on a charge of Christian heresy’.

The book’s fourth and final section addresses the Early Christian Communities. It opens with Dating Anti-Christian Sources in the Babylonian Talmud by Barak S. Cohen. ‘Talmudic researchers and historians’, he writes, ‘have often interpreted halakhic statements and ideas expressed by Babylonian amoraim as directed against a Christian community located in the environs of the Babylonian sage who authored the statement or idea. Their logic was that the cultural contact between Jews ←19 | 20→and Christians in Babylonia led to the halakhic and interpretive innovations through which the rabbis responded to Christianity. These sources served historians as evidence of the spread of Christianity in Sasanian Babylonia, as well as test cases as to how rabbis coped. This article re-evaluates seventeen Nehardean traditions in the Babylonian Talmud that have been identified by scholars as anti-Christian statements. The widespread claim that these statements reflect Babylonian halakhic tradition originating in the amoraic period with the amoraim to whom they are ascribed should be rejected. While it is true that many of these statements exhibit an amoraic literary style, this is not sufficient to prove their Babylonian origins. In my opinion, it is not coincidental that such a large percentage of anti-Christian statements made by Nehardean amoraim (around 80 per cent) systematically reflect Palestinian tannaitic tradition. The dating of an anti-Christian source in the Babylonian Talmud requires analysis of the source’s content and cannot be determined based on formalistic criteria alone. The analysis of this group of sources serves as a paradigm for dating anti-Christian traditions in the Babylonian Talmud in general, as well as their reception in Babylonia’.

Next is The Christian Community in Syria (110180 CE): The Creation of Syrian Christianity, coauthored by Ben Zion Rosenfeld and Arie Levene. ‘This research’, they write, ‘deals with the dramatic changes within the Christian community in Syria, especially in Antioch, during the years 100–180 CE, when, despite major difficulties, this community forged a peculiar brand of Christianity characterized by a strong nationalistic and local element. Enabling it was a powerful charismatic leadership and a unique political situation that elevated the prestige and influence of the local religious leadership in the eyes of the local population. Its aftermath was the creation of a new way of life and a crucial shift in the community’s belief system. This process of transformation reached its peak under Tatian, in the latter half of the second century, and simultaneously laid the infrastructure for the establishment of an independent Syrian-Christian spiritual center in Edessa, as an alternative to Antioch’.

Concluding this section and the entire collection is Eyal Regev, who intriguingly asks: Were the Early Christians Sectarians? In addressing this question, he writes: ‘Studies arguing that early Christian communities were sects within Judaism are, in the present article, criticized on several grounds: The sociological models of sectarianism used are usually imprecise; their application is partial; and the evidence provided by New Testament writings for sectarian characteristics is inconclusive. On the ←20 | 21→other hand, recent studies on Matthew, John, James, and the Pauline churches have argued that the early Christians did not separate themselves from their fellow Jews. Moreover, it seems that the early Christian communities lacked the sectarian features of strict discipline and discrete social institutions. Thus, it is difficult to regard early Christianity as a sectarian movement in the strict sociological sense of the term’.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (October)
Bruxelles, Berlin, Bern, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 370 pp., 1 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Dan Jaffé (Volume editor) Yaakov Teppler (Volume editor) Rivkah Nir (Volume editor)

Dan Jaffé is Senior Lecturer of Jewish History at Bar-Ilan University and chief editor of the series Judaïsme ancien et christianisme primitif published by Cerf Edition in Paris. He has published many studies on Rabbinic Judaism, Early Christianity and Jewish historiography on the historical Jesus. His recent books are Les identités en formation. Rabbis, hérésies, premiers chrétiens (2018) and Juifs et chrétiens aux premiers siècles. Identités, dialogues et dissidences (2019). Rivka Nir is researcher and a teacher of Jewish History in the Second Temple Period and Early Christianity at The Open University of Israel. Her publications include The Destruction of Jerusalem and the Idea of Redemption in the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch (2003), Joseph and Aseneth. A Christian Book (2012) and The First Christian Believer, In Search of John the Baptist (2019). Yaakov Teppler is Lecturer of Jewish Studies in Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages, former Head of the History Department and now Dean of Students at Beit Berl College, Israel. He is author of Birkat Haminim, Jews and Christians in Conflict in the Ancient World (2007) and a number of published studies on Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity.


Title: Reflections on Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity
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372 pages