Vincent Martin makes non-scholarly but not entirely uninformed readers positively pant to find out: where was the tipping point? Where was the point of no return? When, that is, did it become absolutely impossible for ancient Jews and their very young offspring, Jewish Christians, to consider one another still part of the same religious/national/ethnic family?
Our subject today is the 1995 book A HOUSE DIVIDED: THE PARTING OF THE WAYS BETWEEN SYNAGOGUE AND CHURCH
Its author Vincent Martin is a Harvard PhD in Sociology, also a monk of St. Andrew's Abbey in Valvermo, California. By 1995 he had been active for three decades in dialog between Jews and Christians.
I had read several broad brush books on the subject of when traditional Jews stopped accepting Jewish Christians as Jews. A HOUSE DIVIDED, by contrast, is much more detailed as to chronology, as to scribes as morphing into rabbis, the Jewishness of Jesus, as to the Church of the Cirumcision in Jerusalem under James the Brother of the Lord and his successors, the importance of Antioch as a first seminal meeting place of God Fearers, traditional Jews, Greek pagans, Greek converts to Judaism and to Christianity and as to the author's conclusion as to when and why the still very small small angle between Synagogue and Church became rooted and the widening going in separate directions became irreversible.
The symbolic time of the tipping point? The late 90s CE.
The actors? The places?
-- Gamaliel II, grandson of Gamaliel I who counseled "wait and see" toleration of the first Christian Jews. Gamaliel II was the leader of the Jewish Academy at Yavneh on the coastal plain south of Jaffa.
-- John the Evangelist of Ephesus's Community of the Beloved Disciple.
-- (1) The Yavneh Academy's added to the liturgical Eighteen Blessings a curse against the MINIM (heretics), widely considered today to have "the Nazarenes," (Jewish Christians) as its core (but not exclusive) target. The Academy then communicated its decision very widely to the scattered synagogues of the Diaspora. Jews who accepted this view could no longer experience "any remaining feeling of spiritual kinship" with Nazarenes. "Henceforth it was to be 'we' versus 'they'" (Ch XI, 155). Official rabbinic Judiaism said a definitive "no" to Christianity.
-- (2) John's (Fourth) Gospel is hypothetically explained by Vincent Martin as a conscious response by John to the Yavneh Academy's expulsion of Christians from Jewish synagogues. John rather ferociously condemns (without naming it) the Yavneh school for its rejection of Jesus the Messiah, God's true renewer of the true Israel. John of Ephesus says a definitive "no" to contemporary Judaism. As John's gospel became increasingly canonical through the second century, official Christianity said "no" to official Judaism.
Other notable features of A HOUSE DIVIDED: THE PARTING OF THE WAYS BETWEEN SYNAGOGUE AND CHURCH:
--"A Glossary of Hebrew Terms" (pp. 4-6);
-- "Notes" (pp. 182 - 184);
-- "Selected Bibliography (pp. 185 - 187); and
-- "Index (188 - 194). A notably full and very helpful Index.
The author's "A Final Word" begins: "Jews and Christians have much to forgive each other. Such forgiveness is beyond the scope of social sicence, because to understand is not yet to forgive."
Earlier author Martin had spoken of engrained stereotypes down the centuries: of Jews "indifferent" to or at best "baffled by" pushy Christians -- a lot so weird and yet also so in some ways so Jewish; of Christians aghast that Jews had not seen the obvious: that the carpenter's son was God Incarnate. Martin also reminds us of the unique privilege bestowed on the Jews by the Roman Senate in the days of the Maccabees: they were a religio licita, with a defined legal status. As Rome slowly grew to accept that Christians were not a form of Judaism, Christianity became illegal and for 300 years Christians were religious underdogs in the empire: at the bottom of the political totem pole. (See below on this author's shaky use of this argument.)
There is at least one potentially serious negative in A HOUSE DIVIDED. That it, author Vincent Martin does not make it clear when he is overstating his personal interpretation as if received truth or scholarly consensus. This happens several dozen times. Two examples:
-- (1) the notion that Judaism under Rome was for a long time a religio licita and that Christianity, perhaps around 80 CE under Emperor Domitian became a religio illicita, thus legalizing persecutions of the Christians. Martin treats religio licita by name in three passages, pp. 139, 150-151 and 170. At its first mention, just before using the Latin phrase, Martin writes: "Thanks to a well-known privilege granted by the Roman Senate to the Jews at the time of the Maccabees, the two groups (Jews and Christians) were abstaining from any kind of participation in the official cults of the city or the Empire" (p. 138). The trouble is that the very notion of a "permitted religion" is mentioned only once -- by Tertullian -- and is attested nowhere else. To me this suggests unacceptably incautious scholarship.
-- (2) The Yavneh Academy's alleged "cursing" of Christians and instigating tossing them out of synagogues everywhere. Presented by Martin as firm consensus, this interpretation is hotly debated by scholars.
Otherwise and with the above caveat, this is a book that you should seriously consider opening and reading. Rating: 4.4 stars, rounding down to 4.0.
What did you think of this review?
Fun to Read
What's your opinion on Vincent Martin - A HOUSE DIVIDED: THE PA...?