As I mentioned below, I was writing a “little” post about my experience with Rabbi Fred Morgan and Fr Francis Moloney in the ACU course “Jews and Christians reading the Bible” while I was down at the beach last weekend – when my laptop battery went flat and I found I hadn’t brought the power cord to recharge.
Probably a good thing I didn’t post what I had written thus far, because when I returned to work this Monday, I found myself caught up in a conversation about the possibility of “double belonging” among the Abrahamic religions, particularly Jews who believe in Jesus yet wish to continue to live according to the halakhic laws of modern Judaism, and Muslims who believe in Jesus, but who continue, for a variety of reasons, to live and act within the Muslim Ummah. The most common example of the former are the so-called Messianic Jews, or “Jews for Jesus”, movement. As far as I know, the latter don’t form any kind of group within the Islamic community – mainly they keep their beliefs to themselves.
Anyway, having just finished the ACU course, I was thinking a good deal about these matters, and especially about what it means to be “Jewish” in today’s context.
I realised, for instance, something more exact about a fact I already knew. We all “know” that Judaism and Christianity are two separate religions. Rabbi Fred likes to say, with apologies to Shaw, that “Judaism and Christianity are two religions separated by a common Scripture”. But of course, to the historically minded such as myself, there is the fact that these two religions we today call “Judaism” and “Christianity” arise from exactly the same source, the same point in time, the same geography, the same culture, the same language and the same community.
As an historian, therefore, I have difficulty with the description of Judaism and Christianity being described or treated as two separate religions at least in the period before 135AD. In that stage, I think it is far more accurate to describe both the Rabbinic and Christian (“Messianic”) movements as the only two living sects of Judaism surviving from the plurality of “Judaisms” or “Jewish options” in the late 2nd Temple period.
BUT after this, there comes a long and often unhappy relationship between these two groups. Due principally (in my mind) to the decision at the time of the pre-70AD Christian movement to allow Gentiles to enter into the movement without the observance of the halakhic laws, the Christian movement outstripped the Rabbinical movement both in terms of numbers and in terms of distance from their roots. The Rabbis reinforced identity in line with the 2nd Temple synagogue tradition (in effect, significantly narrowing the options for ways of being “Jewish”), whereas the Christians established a community separate from the synagogue, and ultimately unattached to ethnic Jewish-ness.
Whether my reading of this is right or not, the almost 1900 years since of separate (though for the large part parallel) existence achieved a near total division between the two communities, such that what we have today are indeed “two separate religions” rather than two versions of the one religion. (Rabbi Fred and I discovered at least one clue to the fact that the separation may not have been total – a shared way of reading scripture during both the Rabbinic and Patristic traditions – more on this in that other post I am writing).
To be “Jewish” today means to live in continuity with the specifically Rabbinic tradition. Traditions – though ethnically Jewish – apart from that Rabbinic line are not accepted as religiously “Jewish” today (any more than Catholics accept as authentically Catholic any expression of Catholicism that does not exist within the apostolic tradition and communion of the Catholic Church). An example is the work of Philo. Philo was a Jew, but was never accepted as a part of the Rabbinical tradition. Conclusion: Philo is NOT “Jewish”. Christianity too developed its own very idiosyncratic tradition. Two most notable features (aside from anything else) that – from earliest times – separated the Church from the Synagogue was the celebration of Sunday instead of the Sabbath, and Easter rather than Passover.
It is very hard for me today to see how someone who is ethnically and religiously a Jew, who “meets Jesus” and comes to believe in him as the divine and incarnate Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, could continue to expect to be accepted as “Jewish” by the modern Jewish community, even if they continued to practice according to the Rabbinical tradition. The ultimate point of division is not this faith in Jesus as the Messiah (at a stretch, that could be accommodated, I guess, as an heretical form of “Judaism” – I have in mind those Lubavitchers who are thoroughly Orthodox except claim that one of their recently deceased Rabbis was in fact the Messiah).
It is the two thousand or so years of divided tradition and history that makes Christianity and Judaism today mutually exclusive religions – even while remaining ever-so-closely related in patterns of belief and praxis due to common origins. This is necessarily and truly a point of deep sadness to me, but as an historian, I must accept it as a fact.