In a previous post, I re-visited Raymond Brown’s article on Jewish Christianity and found myself in agreement with the idea that the Christian church is rooted in Judaism. While it is popular enough to emphasize the “Jewishness” of Jesus or Paul, there is dissent in describing the roots of Christianity as “Jewish.”
His point is well taken, since Judaism is not as much interested in salvation “out of this world and into heaven” but rather living out God’s will in this life. But in a typically Neusnerian fashion, he makes this dichotomy so strong that the two cannot be said to have any common ground. In my view, he is taking Christianity as we know it from the fourth century and later as his model of what “Christianity is” and (rightly) judging it as having little or nothing in common with Judaism.
This is a problem for many studies of the first-century church. There is an assumption that the earliest believers in Jesus were somehow more correct in their doctrine and practice than later generations. I cannot agree with this, since the earliest believers hardly worked out the implications of who Jesus claimed to be let alone the what effect the Christ Event would have on “Israel.” They were Jewish people who believe Jesus was the Messiah and that salvation only comes through him. In practice, there was as much diversity as there was in Judaism at the time. While James was welcome in the Temple courts, Peter and John were tolerated there, but Stephen and the Hellenists likely were not welcome. All were Jewish and would likely consider themselves the correct continuation of Jesus’ ministry.
It is not until Paul’s letters that there is a serious attempt to understand Jesus’ death and resurrection and the implications that these events have for Israel. For Paul, the people of God are a family (like Jesus taught), but also the Body of Christ. Neusner correctly picks up on this and sees this as a dividing point between Christianity and the Pharisees as well. Paul says that whatever the people of God are, they are a unique group apart from Israel.
Bibliography: Jacob Neusner, Jews and Christians: The Myth of the Common Tradition. Classics in Judaic Studies. New York: Binghamton University, 2001. Originally published by Trinity International, 1991. The 2001 edition has a 40 page preface written for that printing.