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Kirchengeschichte: Alte Kirche, Christliche Archäologie
Jews and Christians?Second-Century ›Chris-tian‹ Perspectives on the »Parting of the Ways« (Annual Deichmann Lectures 2013).
Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2014. IX, 233 S. Kart. EUR 29,00. ISBN 978-3-16-153268-9.
This book, based on lectures at the Ben-Gurion University of Beersheva, takes up Tobias Nicklas’s long-standing concern with early Christian images of the Jews. To quote the Preface, his aim is »to nuance our perspective on what we usually call ›Parting of the Ways‹«. He accepts that in the second century »Christians« were recognized by outsiders as forming a group, and a group distinct from Jews, as Tacitus and Pliny show. He wants appreciation of this point to be nuanced, however, by recognition of fluidity, diversity and tension among Christ-followers – »Gnostic«, »proto-orthodox« or »Jewish Christian« – and of the internal reasons which Christian writers may therefore have for underlining division from Jews.
This emphasis on diversity and the internal need to mark border-lines is already well represented in scholarship, but a valuable feature of his book is to bring the Apostolic Fathers, Marcion and the earlier Apologists constantly together with the Old and New Testament apocryphal writings on which N. is a specialist. (In the context of the »Parting of the Ways«, perhaps the most notable apocryphal texts not discussed here are the apocalypses which suggest a shared early second-century Jewish and Christian messianism and hostility to Rome: II Baruch, II Esdras [IV Ezra] 3–14, Sibylline Oracles IV–V, and fragments of Papias.)
N. introduces his theme through Ignatius, who envisages one church of Jews and gentiles, but warns against Christ-followers who teach ›Judaism‹. An opening chapter illustrates depiction of Jews as enemies, who are responsible for the sufferings of Christ or a martyr (the Gospel of Peter, Melito of Sardis and the Martyrdom of Polycarp). N. notes that some such depictions can be understood as an attack on other Christians (P.Oxy. V 148, the Gospel of Judas, the Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter), and that rebuttal of the attraction of the Jewish community for Christians may comparably motivate the depiction of Jews in the Martyrdom of Polycarp.
The following chapter picks out passages which suggest that the Jews have lost their covenant (Barnabas, Justin’s First Apology, Physiologus, Kerygma Petri, III Corinthians, Sibylline Oracles I), that they misconceive the divine nature by offering sacrifice (Epistle to Diognetus), and honour not the true God but angels (Aristides) or an inferior or evil deity (Marcion, Gospel of Judas). It is then urged that the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs in their present Chris?tian form attest, by contrast, an unimpaired covenant with the Jews. Varying attitudes to the scriptures are similarly illustrated in chapter 3 (Ignatius, John and the ›Unknown Gospel‹, and Justin Martyr; Marcion and Apelles, and the Apocryphon of John; more positively, 5 Ezra and the Ascension of Isaiah). A final chapter on ›matters of Halakha‹ notes positive Christian developments of Pentateuchal law (Hermas, the Two Ways, the Protevangelium of James, the Beza Logion, and attestations of ›Jewish Christianity‹).
In conclusion, the diversity of Judaism as well as Christianity is noted, the fluidity as well as diversity of attitude is emphasized, and the ›nuancing‹ of views is applied to the image or model of a ›part-ing‹ in general. Any picture of a tree putting forth two main branches is discarded in favour of that of a bush which from a distance seems to have two divisions, but on closer inspection is seen as one entity with entwined, interconnected and competing branches.
The service performed by the book is perhaps above all to confront readers, in a brief space, with a large number of second-century Christian references to Jews, and to underline the difficulties of interpretation. Yet the presentation evokes two criticisms.
First, the necessarily brief discussion of texts sometimes seems to categorize them too definitely. To take two examples from the section on the covenant, Justin in I Apol. 49 is quoted to illustrate a negative approach. He is said to contrast the gentile church here with the unbelieving Jews, without any mention of Jewish follow-ers of Christ, who would not fit his emphasis on unbelief; but this passage is part of a longer argument that the prophets foretold the events of Jewish history and Christian origins, and a little later (53) Justin does note that a small number of Jews and Samaritans did believe, still, he asserts, according to prophecy (Isa. 1:9). (In passages of his Dialogue which are not discussed in this connection of course he says more both on a new covenant and on Jewish believ-ers.) Again, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs may not contrast so strongly as N. suggests with assertions that the Jews’ covenant is no more, for continuation of divine favour seems unclear for example in Test. Levi 10:2–4, not discussed, on transgression against the Saviour and consequent dispersion. Thus one may gain a ques?tionably definite impression of both ›negative‹ and assumed ›positive‹ attitudes to the Jews’ covenant.
Secondly, references to Jews are interpreted above all as arising from inner needs of the Christian groups. The possibility that contact and controversy with non-Christian Jews might be concomitantly reflected is hardly noticed. N. does indeed affirm the presence of Jews in the environment of Christians. When discussing the Gospel of Peter and the Martyrdom of Polycarp he strikingly allows it as possible in general, with a note of the debate on this subject, that Jews did have some part in the persecution of Christ-followers. Yet other seeming traces of Jewish opposition receive less attention than would be expected in connection with »the Parting of the Ways«. Thus there is no discussion of texts which envisage Christ-followers being separated or shunned at the behest of Jewish authorities or teachers, such as John 9:22 or Justin, Dial. 38.1, 112.4. Reports of Jewish polemic are likewise left in the backgound (that in Justin, I Apol. 49 is translated but not discussed); the considerations attributed by Celsus to a Jew are unmentioned. Thus, despite N.’s obvious desire to do justice to second-century Judaism, there is little here on the possible non-Christian Jewish side of the Chris-tian arguments represented in the texts discussed.