Saturday, 16 June 2007

Christianity and Judaism

I have been asked on Comment Is Free to explain my contention that Christianity was not born out of Judaism. I'm also posting my explantion here: all comments gratefully received, of course.

Christianity is the recapitulation in Christ of the Old Israel, of Hellenism, and of the Roman Empire, first in the Person of a Jew in what is now recognised to have been a profoundly Hellenised Roman province, and thereafter (i.e., after His Ascension) in His Mystical Body, the Church. The Incarnation culminates, completes and surpasses the providential raising up and interaction of the Old Israel, of Hellenism, and of the Roman Empire.

Judaism is also a product of that interaction (the term "Early Judaism" refers to Judaism, at, only just before, and only just after the time of Jesus, not, say, to David, or even Moses, or even Abraham), but reacted in a strongly Semitic way against the rise of Christianity. Islam is also such a Semitic reaction, just as there were and are Hellenistic, Roman, and Graeco-Roman reactions (A C Grayling, for example, exhibits a strong tendency in this regard).

Judaism even defined its Biblical Canon (which it had not previously done) in such a way as to exclude books likely to lead people into Christianity, and therefore already included in the Christian Canon; a key fault is Protestantism is the naive and incorrect acceptance of the 39-book Jewish Canon as "the Bible of Jesus and the Apostles", when in fact it is an explicitly anti-Christian invention. Furthermore, Judaism hardly deals with the Biblical text directly, preferring layer upon layer upon layer of Rabbinical commentary upon Rabbinical commentary upon Rabbinical commentary.

Anthropologically, sociologically, and so forth, Christianity and Judaism are as much or as little the continuation of the religion of the Hebrews. To hold one or the other to be so is to assent to a theological proposition, to make a leap of faith. But they cannot both be so, and recent attempts to claim that they are have only ended up, whether or not the well-meaning protagonists admit it, in effectively concluding that neither of them is.


  1. David,

    You would help yourself if you had a bit of historical training. Christianity certainly influenced Judaism once Christianity became important and Constantine imposed impositions on Jews. But, Rabbinic Judaism - what is now called Orthodox Judaism - existed well before Christianity came on the scene. And Judaism certainly influenced Christianity, not as you suggest. Your version of things follows from the Marcion heresy, which sought to expunge the Jewish influences of Christianity.

  2. Not a bit of it. Rabbinic Judaism emerged at much the same time as Christianity and out of the same circumstances (Hellenisation and the Roman imperium), and there has been at least as much Christian influence over Judaism as the other way round.

    Theologically, one or the other (if either) must be the true continuation of the Old Israel, but they cannot both be. Christianity also claims to be the continuation of Hellenism and of the Roman Empire, which influences Judaism tried to define itself (even succeeding up to a point) by resisting, an attitude adopted in marked contrast to Jewish history thitherto, and adopted specifically in self-definition against Christianity.

    And it is Judaism which defined its very Canon of Scripture (indeed, decided to have such a thing at all) specifically in order to expunge works demonstrably likely into lead people into Christianity. The very canonical, textual basis of Judaism is polemically anti-Christian, and would not exist but to that end.

    And even then, Judaism hardly bothers with the Biblical text itself, just as it hardly bothers with theology as ordinarily understood, rather than with defining subcultural characteristics in endlessly minute detail.

    Now, why ever would you think that either of these approaches might be considered necessary? Judaism is fundamentally fixated with Christianity, and would be entirely different (if it existed at all) without the Christian "Other".

    One might add that Western culture at large would be entirely different without the consequences of this unresolved Messianic hope and expectation at the heart of Judaism, which is the root of, among many other things, Marxism, monetarism, Zionism, Freudianism, neoconservatism, and so forth.

    That is the answer to the question of why, when there so few Jews, they exercise such vast intellectual influence: indisputably, there is a creative imperative in constantly defining oneself against the prevalent claim to be that for which one most longs.

    But those who assent to that prevalent claim also need to be quite clear in our minds that we can have no truck whatever with any system of thought, such as those listed above, arising out of that rejection of the Messiah. We must be constantly and unflinchingly on our guard against succumbing to any such way of thinking, even in the very slightest degree.

    Rather, we must be fearless in proclaiming that, how and why Jesus Christ and His Church meets and transcends the need that they all express, in the terms in which each of them expresses it.

  3. David,

    You have a penchant for odd formulations.

    It can be said that people living together influence each other. So, no doubt Jews living among Christians were influenced by Christians. But, Christianity, as it exists, would be a non-religion but for the root from which it largely derived, namely, Judaism.

    Consider, Muslims claim that Islam precedes both Christianity and Judaism, with the various prophets all being really Muslim prophets. Historically, of course, that claim is not possible as Islam can not be understood without the two religions which most influenced it, namely, Judaism and Christianity. But, Muslims will speak of the matter the way you speak of Judaism, holding Christianity to be something influenced by Islam. That is theology, not fact. And, that is the same for your assertions.

    The fact is that Judaism existed at the time that Christianity came into being. Judaism substantially influenced Christianity. Christianity borrowed heavily from Judaism. Later, Christianity borrowed, to a considerably lesser extent, from Islam - most particularly the notion of the Crusades, which was borrowed from the Islamic idea of Jihad fi sabil Allah (i.e. striving in the path of Allah or, in simple English, war in God's name. Islam borrowed, among other things, its evangelical nature from Christianity and its law oriented basis and its form of text analysis from Judaism, as well as stories and prophets. Christianity also influenced Judaism, but that is later and the borrowing was not central.

    Now, there are things that Judaism has fortunately not borrowed from Christianity or Islam. Christians, Jews and Muslims believe that they are the true religion - nonsense claims all - but only
    Christians and Muslims have the view that there is some moral incentive to share that truth with others, which is a morally offensive position, in my view. Such is the cause of much of the world's strife. In this, both religions could learn from Jews and Hindus who see no reason to share their truths, nonsense claims all anyway, just as those made by Muslims and Christians.

    You are correct that Jews defined their books of worship. And, Christians borrowed some of that from Jews, a big influence on Christianity. But, that was not defined in opposition to Christianity. Much of it had been canonized two centuries before any Christians existed. And, all of it had been canonized long before Constantine. In fact, canonization of the Tanakh occurred between 200 BCE and 200 CE, with the first suggestion of a Jewish canon being from the second century BCE.

  4. It hardly seems worth answering anyone who has sold out so far that he writes "BCE"! Are you afraid of not getting tenure, or something?

    As for the birth rate, see my new post entitled "Give It Up - They Themselves Have": the most popular name for new baby boys in Israel is now Muhammad; the births are among non-Jewish Arabs, among ultra-Orthodox Jews with no time for Zionism at least in practice and often in principle, and among Russians who guzzle pork sausages, often insist on taking their Isreali soldiers' oaths on the New Testament alone, and some of whom actually distribute neo-Nazi literature in Russian. The classic Israeli simply no longer bothers, the sign of a societal death wish.

    Zionism is in its final generation: give it up!

  5. David,

    I use BCE and CE in order not to preference Christianity over Judaism - or vice versa - while, at the same time, not requiring the translation from one calendar to the next. Concern over tenure did not enter my thoughts.

    You will note that I did not comment on birth rates on this page. I gather, since you did not address the facts in issue - which clearly do not support your position regarding the relationship between Judaism and Christianity -, that you have conceded, by implication, that you are in error.

    It is, I think, better to admit a mistake than to change the subject. But, of course, you are free to change the subject, as you have done.

  6. No, I don't concede any such thing. But there comes a point when there is no firther purpose served by arguiong with someone. I say again, that Judaism is a reaction against Christianity. Everyone knows this, and anyone who sincerely doesn't is in no fit state to pass comment.

  7. David,

    You clearly live in the world where the order of events does not matter.

    I do not think everyone agrees with you that Judaism is a reaction to Christianity. And I know for a fact that no reputable source agrees, since this is within my area of expertise.

    I think that your view has at least you as a supporter, if you really believe your own words. Most other people assume that the order of events is pertinent.

  8. What order of events do you have in mind?

    The order of events between the emergence of Christianity and the explicitly anti-Christian definition of the Jewish Canon?

    The order of events between the emergence of Christianity and the formulation of the strongly anti-Christian Talmud?

    The order of events between the emergence of Christianity and the descent of Judaism (once and for all - several very different tendences are evident in the Gospels and in other literature of that period) into a largely atheological preoccupation with the minutiae of subcultural self-definition?

    And so one could go on.

    Just what is it that of which you are so afraid? Recognising the Messiah and giving up liberal capitalism? Recognising the Messiah and giving up Marxism? Recognising the Messiah and giving up Freudianism? Recognising the Messiah and giving up the combination of all these things (and more) in and as neoconservatism? What, exactly?

    Or do you really believe that these, and all the other expressions of unfulfiled Messianic hope and expectation (as well as of Judaism's denial of Original Sin, and of the relative respectability within it of belief in religion but not in God), have been good for the world?

  9. David,

    Not being a Christian, I cannot imagine how you can believe what you believe. I do not want to be saved by Jesus or Marx. I do not worry about sin. I am no Marxist. I am not a Freudian or a neocon. And I am not of the far left or the far right.

    I look at this matter strictly from an historical and religious historical point of view. What you write is simply contrary to fact.

    To return to reality, whether or not the Jewish canonization of the scriptures is anti-Christian, it formed before Jews had any inkling of the importance of Christianity. That is a fact.

    In fact, the entire Jewish scripture was canonized long before Constantine. Most was canonized long before your idol Jesus was even born. Which is to say, what you write is a logical impossibility.

    As for the Talmud, cite line and verse that you believe to be formed in opposition to Christianity - as opposed to merely holding views different than those held by Christians. I tend to think that you are confused. But, no doubt you can disabuse my ignorance.

    For what it is worth, I do not think that Christianity is, in any way, a step forward over Judaism. In many ways, Christianity is a long step backwards, as the religion's cruel, intolerant and fanatical history shows. Christianity has brought endless suffering to the world. Its treatment of Jews has been unabashed barbarism. In its heyday, fanaticism and barbarism were the norm.

    These doctrines you cite may give you solace. As I see things and paraphrasing Nietzsche, if you want comfort, believe. If you want to understanding the world, inquire. But, do not pretend that religion is knowledge or is a source of knowledge. It is a radical distortion of reality.