- Forgotten Origins: The Lost Jewish History of Jesus and Early Christianity by Juan Marcos Bejarano Gutierrez
This helpful work examines, in detail, the rise of Christianity as a Jewish movement of the first century C.E. and the gradual parting of the ways between Christianity and Judaism in the third and fourth centuries. Gutierrez, a rabbi, earned a doctorate in Jewish Studies in 2015. He notes, correctly, that for many centuries, the fact that Jesus of Nazareth lived and died a pious Jew of his time whose teachings urged his fellow Jews to observe both the spirit and the letter of the commandments of the only Bible he knew, the Jewish Bible, the Hebrew Scriptures. He argues, correctly and in great detail, that the Jewish movement that became Christianity has its origins in the history and theology of the Jewish people, and that Christianity cannot properly be understood without understanding its roots in the Judaism(s) of Jesus’ time.
After considering the place of Jesus and his followers in the Jewish world of Second Temple Judaism, Gutierrez describes how and why Christianity began to disassociate itself from Judaism and to see in Jesus the fulfillment of the promised Messiah. Noting the centrality of the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans (which ended the ability of Jews to offer animal sacrifice and precipitated the rise of Pharisaic/Rabbinic Judaism to replace it), he notes the [End Page 152] rise of the view of Christians that Christianity had replaced Israel as God’s people, that God’s covenant with Jews had been replaced by the New Covenant brought into reality by the death and resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus.
Gutierrez goes into detail in describing the differing expectations that Jews had for their Messiah, citing and interpreting biblical references, and Jewish writings including Maccabees, the Testament of Moses, Josephus, Philo Judaeus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and rabbinic perspectives in the Mishnah and the Targumim. Beginning with the Babylonian exile of the Jewish people, he goes into the beliefs and practices of the Zadokites, Samaritans, Enochites, Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots, Sadducees, and the early rabbis.
The history of the early Jewish- Christian Church is discussed in the context of the various Judaisms of the time, increasing our understanding of the discussions and debates within Jewish Christianity and between Jewish and gentile Christians. He describes the interactions and differences between Palestinian and Hellenistic Jewish communities, and between Jewish- Christian and Hellenistic gentile communities. He goes into depth discussing St. Paul and James the Just on observance of the Torah/Law and openness to gentile converts to nascent Christianity. He deals with the Bar- Cochba rebellion, Birkat ha- Minim, and Patristic literature including Origen, Jerome, and Augustine, concluding with the Islamic era, the Karaites and the “last vestiges of Jewish Christianity.”
I recommend this book, which will deepen and broaden the understanding of readers. It does not, however, in my view, take into sufficient account the differences among the Pharisees, especially between the followers of Hillel and those of Shammai. Jesus’ teachings almost invariably reflect the thinking of Hillel, who urged living to the full spirit of the Law, not just its letter. Also, Gutierrez argues that the cause of the parting of the ways was the understanding of Christians that Jesus was/is the Messiah. In my own understanding, if that were the difference, Christianity could possibly have remained a Jewish sect. Rather, the dividing line was/is the Christian doctrine of Incarnation, in which someone can be both “fully human and fully divine.” This is where Christianity crossed the line. Jews to this day believe that to worship a human as a god (or the One God of Israel) is to cross the line into idolatry. That is the real dividing line between Judaism and Christianity. [End Page 153]