- Jews and Christians? Second Century ‘Christian’ Perspectives on the ‘Parting of the Ways’ (Annual Deichmann Lectures 2013) by Tobias Nicklas
Jews and Christians? Second Century ‘Christian’ Perspectives on the ‘Parting of the Ways’ (Annual Deichmann Lectures 2013)
Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014
Pp. ix + 233. €29.00.
Some years ago, the conventional wisdom that was the “parting of the ways” between Christianity and Judaism was challenged on the grounds that certain self-professed Christians and Jews appear to have maintained close contact with one another for centuries after the supposed date of their separation. This trend arguably reached its fullest expression in Daniel Boyarin’s 2004 study Border Lines, in which he argued that the convergence of early Jewish and Christian thought exemplifies a hybrid a “Judeo-Christianity” free of the orthodox strictures set upon its constituent traditions following the Christianization of Rome. In the volume presently under review, Tobias Nicklas responds to that argument by returning the focus of the unsettled conversation to the abundant record of evidence indicating that many Christian authors of the second century were convinced that being a Christian meant, among other things, not being a Jew. Consequently, he contends, that position bore considerable influence upon the direction of the Church from a fairly early stage in its development.
Following an introduction addressing the aforementioned critical reevaluation, Nicklas proceeds to account how early Christian authors utilized images of the Jew in their efforts to articulate their definitions of Christianity. Although the resulting characterization of the Jew as a negative antitype to the Christian did not necessarily reflect reality, it served to create a rhetorical distance between Christian and Jew no less meaningful to the subsequent history of their encounter. The second chapter delves into early Christian concepts of covenant and their attendant expressions of difference between the new Israel supposedly embodied in the Church and the old, ethnically delimited Israel that preceded it. Nicklas acknowledges that the need to account for existing Jewish ideas yielded Christian arguments variously at odds and in agreement with Judaism. But that, he maintains, is only to be expected given the lineage of the Christian enterprise.
Similar insights arise in the third chapter, which Nicklas devotes to early Christian modes of exegesis. Again noting continuities and discontinuities with earlier Jewish approaches to scriptural interpretation, he assesses their Christian adaptations through the lens of the “Christ-event” (119), the moment of prophetic fulfillment when early followers of Jesus perceived the religious system inscribed upon the Jewish Scriptures to have been transformed into the new system of Christianity. Whether that transformation demanded an outright rejection of the old system or merely its adaptation elicited a debate ultimately won in favor of maintaining the Jewish Scriptures as the Christian Old Testament. Nicklas gives the fourth and final chapter to the reception of the Jewish law among early Christian communities alternatively opposed and given to its practice. He thereby recognizes that Christianity’s rejection of Judaism did not elicit a uniform response among its adherents with respect to the practical ramifications of that decision.
Nicklas concludes his treatment with a summary statement affirming that the categories of Christian and Jew are not quite as clearly inscribed upon the [End Page 491] early Christian record as certain of its authors presumed to believe. Questioning, therefore, the validity of casting Christianity and Judaism as discrete religious systems in that era, he advises caution when parsing the appearance of such terms in the literature in question. In other words, although Nicklas maintains the reader’s prerogative to speak of “Christians” and “Jews” in the context of the second century, he acknowledges the methodological liabilities of accepting those distinctions at face value. The process whereby those terms took on their contemporary meanings, he therefore affirms, was more complicated than a bilateral split between two parties. But it was a process already well underway during the period under consideration.
If Boyarin et al. succeeded in highlighting the subtle means by which Judaism and Christianity remained deeply enmeshed with one another following the age of the apostles, I would say that Nicklas succeeds in highlighting the more obvious means by which they grew...