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The Oxford History of the Biblical World An in-depth chaptered work by leading scholars providing a chronological overview of the history of biblical times.

Epilogue

Transitions and Trajectories

Jews and Christians in the Roman Empire

Barbara Geller

Amid great upheaval in Palestine, the first century witnessed the emergence of Christianity and rabbinic Judaism. Both were survivors of what was, before the Roman-Jewish War of 66–73/74 CE, a more diverse Judaism. Shared characteristics contributed to their survival. First and foremost, neither the Pharisaic-rabbinic nor the Christian communities fought as organized groups against the Romans. Second, neither required for its survival the Jerusalem Temple, which the Roman army destroyed in 70, although both continued to maintain an attachment to the city. Moreover, both were portable and as such were not location-dependent. Each offered its adherents the identity of “Israel” and an understanding of Torah that enabled it to adapt readily to changing times, and each developed its own authoritative scriptural canon. Finally, both rabbinic Judaism and Christianity offered believers a retributive afterlife and the possibility of right relationship with God and eternal salvation, and they encouraged their devotees to develop mechanisms to care for the needy and the oppressed.

The Gospel of Matthew, a late first-century Jewish-Christian document, likens the scribes and Pharisees (the antecedents of the rabbis) to hypocrites, paradoxically acknowledging the similarities between the Matthean and the Pharisaic-rabbinic communities. In terms of doctrine, the differences between the Pharisee-rabbis and the Matthean community may have been modest, especially from the Roman perspective. Nor was it clear at the time that a belief in Jesus as the risen Messiah would evolve as a permanent boundary marker between Judaism and Christianity. By the close of the century, however, the process of separation was well under way. This may be the context for the Gospel of John's use of the term the Jews as a multipurpose designation for the opponents of Jesus. The language of John 8.44 is especially forceful: in response to the Jews' assertion that they have one father, God, Jesus says, “You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father's desires.” Such language probably reflects the pain and anger of the Jewish-Christian Johannine community, a tiny group within a small minority community, as it became separated—divorced in a sense—from the larger Jewish community, and as it sought to develop its own identity outside this “other” Judaism in the often hostile environment of the Roman Empire.

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