The Divergence of Christianity and Judaism

The religion of Judaism had been well established within the first millennium BC, and in Israel, prior to the rise of Christianity, Judaism remained the dominant religion of the people. Thus, Jesus was also Jewish, and all His earliest followers were Jewish. And yet, less than a century after Jesus was crucified in the early 30’s AD, the early Christian and bishop Ignatius of Antioch had written that “It is monstrous to talk of Jesus Christ and to practice Judaism” (Magnesians 10:3). So what happened?

The process of the divergence of Christianity from Judaism I think is best articulated by the renowned scholar Daniel Boyarin, in his book Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity. Boyarin, who is himself a Jew, reveals several important factors regarding how the two religions diverged, and as Boyarin shows, this must be done in the context of the study of the history of heresiology, or the history of heresy. Christianity and Judaism did not diverge as a result of the two views becoming more and more gradually dissimilar but as a result of the ‘leaders’ of each view defining the borders of their own worldviews over many centuries in order to exclude theological concepts they considered heretical, and these concepts usually belonged to the opposing view. The centerpiece theology of this debate was Logos theology, or the view that the one God was more than one person, so that, for the Christians, Jesus could also have been a part of the godhead, the view of binitarianism which stated that God was one being, but two persons. Of course, as Boyarin demonstrates at length, numerous Jews during the first century and earlier had already believed that God could have a multiplicity of the persons (as is reflected by the Wisdom traditions, Memra (Memra is the Hebrew word for ‘Logos’, and ‘Logos’ is the Greek word for ‘Word’, see John 1:1-18; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”) traditions, Second Temple exegesis indebted to Daniel 7 (‘Ancient of Days’ and ‘Son of Man’ discussions) and the discussion in the rabbinic texts regarding the idea of many Jews known as the ‘Two Powers in Heaven’.

Even though many Jews had held this view, by the time of the second century, the Rabbis began to view this idea as a heresy, as is first reflected in the Mishna (c. 200 AD) and then the Tosefta (c. 250 AD). From the first to the second century AD, however, the concept of heresy itself underwent a change in definition. The word heresy comes from the Greek haireseis, and by at least the time that the Book of Acts was written, this word only meant a choice of belief or adherence, belonging to a sect (of Judaism here, such as the other sects of Judaism from the first century like that of the Pharisees and Saudacees). This is clearly reflected in, for example, Acts 26:5, where we read “They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I have belonged to the strictest sect (haireseis) of our religion and lived as a Pharisee.” This passage undoubtedly reveals the early meaning of this phrase had no implications of what we would now identify with the concept of heresy — that is, a wrong, or contrary (heterodox rather than orthodox) belief. The change in definition came, at the latest, by the time of the writings of Justin Martyr c. 150 AD where Justin writes in his Dialogue with Trypho:

I will again relate words spoken by Moses, from which we can recognize without any question that He conversed with one different in numbers from Himself and possessed of reason. Now these are the words: And God said: Behold, Adam has become as one of Us, to know good and evil. Therefore by saying as one of Us He has indicated also number in those that were present together, two at least. For I cannot consider that assertion true which is affirmed by what you call an heretical (haireseis) party among you, and cannot be proved by the teachers of that heresy, that He was speaking to the angels, or that the human body was the work of angels. (Dialogue 62:2)

The pejorative use of the phrase “what you call”, combined with Justin’s other uses of the word haireseis, as Boyarin notes on pp. 40-41 of his monograph, demonstrate that by the time of Justin, the term ‘heresy’ had shifted from referring to a sectarian view to describing a wrong belief. A close cognate word to heresy was the Hebrew word minut, which was the term that the Rabbis after Justin used to describe a heretical view. Thus, now that there was a word and concept available from distinguishing between a simple viewpoint within a religion, to an incorrect and ungodly view of a religion, the leaders of Christianity and Judaism could define what constituted heresy and thus pave the borderlines around their ideologies that no one could cross, lest they reveal they were a heretic rather than a genuine believer.

Thus, in the second century, the Christians begun to claim that if you do not accept the multiplicity of God’s person (i.e. Logos theology), then you are not a Christian but a Jew, and the Jews said that if you do accept the multiplicity of God’s person, then you are not a Jew but a Christian. Thus, the borderlines of correct and orthodox Christianity had been paved, and the borderlines of correct and orthodox Judaism had been paved. There were some early ideologies, such as the Ebionites and Nazoreans, who claimed to be both Jewish and Christian. In other words, this was a hybrid worldview of the two religions. While these two views flourished most around c. 400 AD, it quickly becomes no surprise that Epiphanius (4th century) and Jerome (5th century) claimed that while they claimed to be hybrids, both Christians and Jews, they were actually “neither”. Thus, all middle ground was eliminated, and furthermore, the existence of these hybrid religions implied the existence of a pure version of the religion, not tainted by heresy (see pp. 207-210 and 212-4 in Boyarin’s book).

Other changes in definition also occurred during the 4th-5th centuries AD, as Boyarin also goes on to demonstrate. Religio (religion) for example, went from meaning ethnicities, populations and geographies, to referring to and characterizing belief systems. Superstitio (superstition) went from meaning excessive worship and obeisance to the divine, to simply becoming a word that refers to an actually incorrect practice or religion. Quickly, the available tools for the entire and complete divergence between Christianity and Judaism had started to become established. During the Second Temple Period, the Jews considered the world outside of Israel to be Gentiles. By the times of the composition of the final layers of the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds, the Christians and pagans themselves took on the role, in the Jewish perspective, of the Gentiles that had existed in the Second Temple Period. At the various councils of the 3rd-5th centuries, Christians began laying down their orthodoxies and correct beliefs, such as famously during the Council of Nicaea in c. 325 AD, whereas the Jews, inundated by the differing beliefs and interpretations, concluded that all views of the Rabbis come from God, and that in God’s understanding, all contradictions are resolved — and the only interpretations that could stop one from being a Jew was either Logos theology itself or the view that there can be one correct interpretation and that some Rabbis had gotten it wrong. This had concluded with the Jewish view that “an Israelite, even though he sins, is still an Israelite”, and thus defined the conceptual transition of Judaism from a religion to an ethnicity as is what we see today.

All this, collectively, explains and allows us to understand how the various sects of Judaism in the first century, including one so termed to be held by a small group known as ‘Christians’, paved the borders around what is acceptable Judaism in a way that starkly contrasted it with the world of the Christians who, themselves, began paving the borders around their own acceptable beliefs as they begun to rise and conquer the Roman Empire. The centrality of this division was Logos theology, the view that God could have more than one person alongside the Father (and that would be Jesus for the Christians, this is otherwise known as binitarianism), which, although was a common Jewish belief before Christianity, become unacceptable during the 2nd century. The rabbis tried to equate binitarianism with ditheism (the belief that there are two gods) and condemned the entire concept as a heresy, or minut. This is how, as Boyarin shows, Christianity and Judaism had diverged. Boyarin’s case goes much more in depth than this, and I cannot do it justice here, analyzing all sectors and developments of the evidence, and is a highly recommended read and is certainly one of the most influential scholarly works since the beginning of the 21st century. Alas!


Reading the Scholarship

Anyone who has been trying to read and access the important scholarly monographs regarding early Christianity, the biblical texts, etc, has realized that it can be quite expensive, with many single volumes revolving around $50. Getting only 20 of such important books could cost a thousand dollars, and so for the laymen, getting access to the works of scholarship is always a long and arduous process that can be difficult without aid.

In fact, I have just found out that it is much easier than I’ve previously thought. Some scholars who have very successful books are able to publish their books online for free for anyone to read. Over the last week, I’ve searched the depths of important scholarly monographs and now I am building a collection of scholarly books that are available online that you can read online without paying a dime, for the most part with the click of a button. I have amassed a collection of scholarly books that would otherwise be worth about $1,000 if each book is bought separately, which is surely an amazing amount of money to save especially for the regular laymen who does not have as much access to finances to help them understand the ancient historical world.

Larry Hurtado is one of the worlds most important living scholars when it comes to early Christology (which is the study of the nature and role Jesus played in Christian circles, i.e. such as if He was considered God or not by the earliest Christians). One of his (Hurtado’s) most important books on the subject is Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. It’s over 700 pages long and costs about $45 on the publisher’s website. Unless you click here, a link that takes you directly to a PDF of the entire book. While we’re still discussing Hurtado, you can also read his 2006 The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins here. Or the 2nd edition of his One God, One Lord here.

What about N.T. Wright? Well, his huge and widely important The Resurrection of the Son of God can be read here, and his book What Saint Paul Really Said can be read here. Bart Ehrman has like 5 of his books (at least the relevant ones here that I’m aware of) online and available. Richard Bauckham, Martin Hengel, Elaine Pagels, Alan Segal and others have important monographs that they’ve written freely available to the public online. If you want to see the full collection I have compiled so far of freely available academic monographs, go to this page here and scroll down until you get to the final section, or click on the page on the top of the blog ‘History for Atheists‘ and similarly scroll down. Hopefully we can all benefit from the tireless works of academics!

Top 10 Biblical Discoveries of 2017

This was a big year for biblical archaeology. Here, I’m going to gather up several archaeological findings that bear archaeological relevance (and even importance) to the historical world of the Bible and the early church. Numerous discoveries have been made, and I must certainly refer to Todd Bolen’s collection and ChristianityToday’s list of the top 10 biblical discoveries this year (which will be a lot different from my own). Let us begin! But before that, let’s consider some runner-ups this year.

Sixteen hundred-year-old frescos found in catacombs in St. Domitilla depicting Jesus welcoming the dead. After ISIS destroyed the traditional site of Jonah’s tomb, archaeologists dug into it and actually discovered it was the location of the palace of the Assyrian king Sennacherib, renovated by his son Esarhaddon, discovered in the ancient city of Ninevah. Both kings are mentioned in the Bible and are pivotal opponents of Israel. Although not an archaeological discovery, genetic testing on ancient Canaanite’s has confirmed that the Canaanite’s have survived to this day, and their descendants are in Lebanon. Lastly, after thoroughly excavating and ploughing through an ancient dump in Jerusalem dating to the time of Jesus, the dig revealed the diet of the local Jews of Jerusalem during Jesus time, and it was strictly kosher. Sheep, pigeons, various plants, but not a single pig or non-kosher bone found in the entire site. On to the top 10!

10. The earliest manuscript of the apocryphal First Apocalypse of James in the original Greek language announced at the Society of Biblical Literature. This marks an important discovery in our Gnostic literature, as we had, previous to this, no copies of any Gnostic text in its original, Greek language predating the Nag Hammadi Archive.

9. Mortar sampled from the surface of the limestone tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre dating to the early 4th century AD, confirming it is the site Constantine’s mother visited in the 4th century AD and constructed over in that time believing it was the location of Jesus’ burial. The significance of this discovery is that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, widely famed to be the burial tomb of Jesus (it’s located in Jerusalem) is thought to have been the burial site of Jesus from at least the early 4th century AD where Constantine’s mother went there in order to try to verify the legendary church for herself. This is quite important for our understanding of church history, and who knows if it was truly that place. For all things considered, it’s empty.

8. First chalkstone quarry and workshop used to build stone vessels discovered in Galilee for the purposes of religious purity laws such as purification discovered dating to the time of Jesus (Jesus is reported to have turned water into wine in six stone vessels in Cana, Galilee, in John 2:6). Previous to this, actual stone vessels had been discovered in Galilee, but the actual chalkstone quarries and workshops that provided the function of manufacturing these in Jesus’ day were yet unknown.

7. Archaeologists discover the twelfth Dead Sea Scroll cave at Qumran, representing a milestone in Dead Sea Scroll research. It has been over half a century since another cave of the Dead Sea Scrolls has been discovered, and so this is an important contribution to our current knowledge. Furthermore, it may provide clues on locating further caves that may possibly exist. Unfortunately, all the scrolls in this cave had been looted decades earlier.

6. Discovery at the West Bank site, at Qumran, reveals more archaeological evidence that the site was occupied by a group known as the Essenes. In effect, archaeological research in this area reveals its inhabitants were heavily disproportionately male, corresponding to what we know about the Essenes; a group of highly devout Jews who gave up all worldly possessions and concepts (including sex and women) waiting for God to ultimately return and overthrow the Roman Empire and vindicate them to a glorified state. This evidence affirms it was this community who produced and read the Dead Sea Scrolls found in the Qumran caves, an important fact of ancient history and one that has been highly debated.

5. Mosaic in Western Galilee dating to the 5th century reveals the role of women in the early church; woman donated and funded church and was memorialized independently of any men or males. This reveals that in the early church, even up until the 5th century after Christianity had conquered Rome, women continued in their affluency, power and equality to men under the leadership of church powers, itself perhaps including a significant female power.

4. New evidence confirms Jerusalem was burned by the Babylonians during the 6th century BC. Both Isaiah and Jeremiah recorded that the Babylonian invasion of Israel involved the burning down of Jerusalem in the 6th century BC, and recent excavations in the City of David, Jerusalem, have finally confirmed this major detail in the biblical accounts of the Babylonian invasion.

3. Writings of the Latin Christian Fortunatianus of Aquileia, dating to the 4th century AD, rediscovered and published by De Gruyter for free. The discovery of a major early writer of Christianity is of fundamental importance, especially since it illumines the discovery of an early church writer (predating even Augustine) in a very long time. Furthermore, Fortunatianus’s works now represent the earliest commentary we have in possession of the fourth Gospel, and they help us better understand the comments of other early church writers, such as Jerome, who commented on Fortunatianus and his works. It is also of great importance to how we know Latin Christianity came to be.

2. Within ancient Jezreel, local economy found to have been a major source of wineries, and therefore vineyards as the story of Naboth’s vineyard alludes. According to the biblical accounts of Naboth, Naboth was a man living in Jezreel who possessed an important. The texts of the Bible documenting this about Naboth were written later, however archaeological discoveries have now confirmed, in accordance with the biblical account, that Jezreel was an important location for the production of wine and vineyards in ancient Israel.

1. Vast copper mines discovered in the southern tip of Israel discovered at the Timna Valley dating to the time of Solomon, reputed to be King Solomon’s mines. This is certainly the most important archaeological discovery of the year, revealing that an entity in modern day Israel (very close to the Israelite kingdom during Solomon’s time) was producing copper at an industrial scale, which deals an enormous blow to the claim that the Israelite kingdoms in this time, or other kingdoms in this time, remained living in an agrarian and highly rural state. This claim had been maintained for a long time in order to claim that in the time of David and Solomon, there was no possibility of their maintaing a kingdom. It is with great probability that Solomon’s kingdom possessed control over these copper mines, which would likely demonstrate that the kingdoms of David and Solomon had significant power and were not confined to an agrarian existence — in other words — David and Solomon really may have possessed a kingdom.

EDIT: Towards the very end of 2017, yet another two more major biblical archaeology advancements were made almost immediately made before the year ended, so I’ll note them here as I’ve now written articles about them. Out of all the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in the middle of the 20th century, two still remained undeciphered, until this year when the second last manuscript was finally published — I’ve written further about it and its implications here. Secondly, another major finding was made concerning the finding of a seal dating to the 7th century BC in Jerusalem, which confirms the title that the Bible tells us was used for the leader presiding over Jerusalem in this time. I’ve written more about this here as well. A great year of discovery, let’s hope the next one gives us just as much.

Social science on religion: a paradigm shift

While reading Rodney Stark’s incredible scholarly book The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries, I have learned of a paradigm shift has ensued in social scientific theory. Rodeny Stark is a world-renowned sociologist and Professor of Sociology and Comparative Religion at the University of Washington, who has used his vast expertise in the social sciences and impressive learning of the historical academic literature to present a very, very persuasive monograph accounting for the rise of Christianity.

Rodney Stark documents how the social sciences has had, from the beginning, an axe to grind against religion. Almost every religious motive that appeared under the study of social scientists, they explained through an appeal to religious irrationality. Some of these confused social scientists had ascribed the ability of early Christians to take on persecution to be evidence of masochism! The irrationalist theory, however, has been uprooted in recent decades of social scientific research, finally, and a paradigm shift has occurred in these studies that actually, and in my opinion convincingly, accounts for religious thought through appeal to rationalist (rather than irrationalist) understandings. Stark explains:

Rather, from the beginning, social scientific studies of religion have been shaped by a single question: What makes them do it? How could any rational person make sacrifices on behalf of unseen supernatural entities? The explicit answer to this question nearly always has been that religion is rooted in the irrational. Keep in mind that the imputation of irrational religious behavior by social scientists is not limited to extraordinary actions such as martyrdom. Rather, they have been content to apply the irrationalist argument to such ordinary activities as prayer, observance of moral codes, and contributions of time and wealth. For whether it be the imputation of outright psychopathology, of groundless fears, or merely of faulty reasoning and misperceptions, the irrationalist assumption has dominated the field. The notion that normal, sophisticated people could be religious has been limited to a few social scientists willing to allow their own brand of very mild, “intrinsic,” religiousness to pass the test of rationality. Thus, until recently, the social scientfiic study of religion was nothing of the sort. The field was more more concerned with discrediting religion than with understanding it. This is clear when it is realized that only in the area of religious belief and behavior have social scientists not based their theories on a rational choice premise. Indeed, my colleagues and I recently showed that antagonism toward all forms of religion and the conviction that it soon must disappear in an enlightened world were articles of faith among the earliest social scientists, and that today social scientists are far less likely to be religious than scholars in other areas, especially those in the physical and natural sciences (Stark, Iannaccone, and Finke 1995). Nevertheless, despite the enormous weight of learned opinion that created and sustained it, the irrationalist approach to religion recently has fallen upon evil times–beset by contrary evidence and by the unanticipated theoretical power of rational choice theories imported from microeconomics and modified appropriately. This chapter represents another step in that direction and extends my efforts to establish a scientific, rather than a polemical and political, basis for studies of religion. In it I shall attempt to show that, when analyzed properly, religious sacrifices and stigmas–even when acute cases are considered–usually turn out to represent rational choices. Indeed, the more that people must sacrifice for their faith, the greater the value of the rewards they gain in return. (Stark, The Rise of Christianity pg. 167)

Stark later goes on to say that “This suggests why the recent introduction of rational choice theories in the social scientific study of religion has been recognized as a major shift in paradigms (Warner 1993)–the irrationalist position is in full retreat” (pg. 178). Boom! I can see that the atheistic takeover of academia has literally lasted for hundreds of years. In our most recent decades, as new advances, theories and defenses have arisen, as well as the simple decline of atheistic ability to continue offering their own defenses in light of the most recent advancements and discoveries, it looks as if a new age is finally coming to light in the academic world, and the fact that the actual defenders of atheism are in a way, disappearing. In 2011, Christopher Hitchens died. Victor Stenger passed away in 2014. James Randi is 89 years old. A new day can be seen, and a new sun is rising out of the darkness.

Academic Christianity

Recently, I’ve been creating a new page on this blog documenting advancements in Christian academia, and the defense of Christianity since 1990, when the worldwide academic movement of Christianity, in my opinion, really took off. I’ve worked pretty hard on it and it’s now my longest (or maybe second longest) page on this website since I’ve documented quite a bit on it. To draw attention to it here, I thought I’d post some of the progress I’ve had on it and re-post a number of the archaeological advancements I’ve recounted since 1990:

(you can access the full page by clicking here)

1990 and Beyond

Archaeological Discoveries

In the November of 1990, in a burial cave located in South Jerusalem, several ancient ossuaries were discovered, one bearing the name “Joseph, son of Caiaphas”. This Caiaphas has been identified by archaeologists to have been the High Priest of Israel, Caiaphas, who is mentioned towards the end of the Gospels as an antagonist of Jesus and one of the men who ended up causing Jesus to get crucified on charges of blasphemy. In other words, this ossuary has validated the existence of this important man, and it should be mentioned alongside the Miriam Ossuary discovered in 2011 which also mentions Caiaphas, and it says “Miriam daughter of Yeshua son of Caiaphas, priest of Ma’azya from Beit Imri”.

One of the greatest archaeological discoveries relating to the truth of the history of the Bible was made in 1993, when excavations at Tel Dan lead by the famous archaeologist Avraham Biran discovered the first archaeological inscription mentioning King David by name (now known as the Tel Dan Inscription dating to the middle of the 9th century BC), shifting academia into accepting the historicity of David, one of the most important men of the Old Testament. The contents of the inscription provided substantial substantiation to the historicity of 2 Kings 9, of which I have written further about here. A year later in 1994, André Lemaire and Émile Puech, two important epigraphers, both independently came to the conclusion that David is further mentioned in the Mesha Stele, dating to about c. 840 BC.

In the ancient Philistine site of Gath, excavations led by the renowned archaeologist and scholar Aren Maier discovered a pottery sherd containing an important inscription in 2005. As the Washington Times reported;

A shard of pottery unearthed in a decade-old dig in southern Israel carried an inscription in early Semitic style spelling “Alwat and “Wlt,” likely Philistine renderings of the name Goliath, said Aren Maeir, who directed the excavation.

The sherd, found in Gath, the hometown of the famous Goliath known from the Bible (1 Samuel 17:41), contained an Indo-European name that is etymologically similar to ‘Goliath’. According to Maier, “Here we have very nice evidence the name Goliath appearing in the Bible in the context of the story of David and Goliath … is not some later literary creation.” In other words, this finding confirmed that the name Goliath was likely a real name in Goliath’s period in the hometown of Gath, lending credibility to the biblical account of David’s battle with Goliath and as something that could not have been invented by later biblical writers.

In 2007, Michael Jursa, an Associate Professor of Assyriology at Vienna University found an ancient Babylonian tablet referring to a man named Nabu-sharrussu-ukin, a chief member of Nebuchadnezzar’s royal court. The significance of the realization of this identity was that Jursa realized this figure was already known to have been mentioned in the Bible, precisely, Jeremiah 39:3, thereby confirming his existence (although the Bible offers a variant spelling of this his name, Nebo-sar-sekim, although the figures have been identified as the same person).  According to Irving Finkel regarding thisfinding, assistant keeper in the British Museum’s Middle East Department, “This is a fantastic discovery, a world-class find… If Nebo-Sarsekim existed, which other lesser figures in the Old Testament existed? A throwaway detail in the Old Testament turns out to be accurate and true. I think that it means that the whole of the narrative [of Jeremiah] takes on a new kind of power.”

Before 2000, no synagogues were entirely known to have been found anywhere in ancient Israel in the Second Temple Period (530 BC – 70 AD), Judah, Samaria or Galilee. Since the Gospels recorded that Jesus preached in synagogues during His ministry in the Second Temple Period, some scholars concluded that the Gospels, written decades later, projected their own time into the time of Jesus and erroneously placed synagogues in His story, even though they didn’t exist at the time. Since then, in a short period, eight synagogues have been discovered dating to the period Jesus lived in, the first being in Gamla, another in Magdal, discovered in excavations in 2009 alongside the Magdala Stone, and a more recent one being discovered in 2016 at Tel Rechesh, the first synagogue found in a rural rather than an urban setting. These series of discoveries in a brief period of time confirmed that synagogues did in fact exist during Jesus’ ministry, and that the Gospels had not misplaced them into the story. Matthew wrote “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people” (4:23).

One of the most important events recounted in the Old Testament is the Babylonian invasion of Israel and Jerusalem c. 605 BC, and the exile of the Jewish people out of Israel. Although this event had already been authenticated from Babylonian records discovered in the 19th century, another detail of Babylon’s invasion that 2 Kings and Jeremiah record were confirmed, that is, that Babylon burned down Jerusalem during its invasion. According to Joe Uziel, leading excavations in an eastern portion of the City of David in 2017 on behalf of the IAA, found that Jerusalem had been set on fire by the invading forces of Babylon as they conquered the land of the Israelite’s.

(you can access the full page by clicking here)