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C h a p t e r 4 Dubious Difference Epiphanius on the Jewish Christians Fixity of identity is only sought in situations of instability and disruption , of conflict and change. —­ Robert J. C. Young What Does Jewish Christianity Do? At the nexus of Judaism and heresy lies “Jewish Christianity,” a concept that signals the myriad ways that orthodoxy imagines religious truth might meander into a dangerous intermediary terrain: a space of otherness that is Judaized, but not quite Jewish. The term “Jewish Christian” itself does not exist among ancient Christians,1 functioning rather (in Daniel Boyarin’s formulation) as a “term of art in a modernist heresiology.”2 This modernist term covers a vast and impossible terrain, like the endless stretches of dragon-­ infested ocean on the edges of a medieval map. After listing roughly eight ways in which modern scholars deploy “Jewish Christianity,” Karen King remarks: “These items refer variously to ethnicity, religious beliefs or practices, historical events, sectarian groups, and literary or hermeneutical practices, making ‘Jewish-­ Christianity’ a particularly exasperating case of classificatory imprecision.”3 For all of its imprecision, however, “Jewish Christianity” and related “terms of art” litter the historiographic tracks of recent early Christian (and, to a lesser extent, ancient Jewish) studies.4 The term has primarily been used by modern scholarship to interrogate the so-­ called Parting of the Ways, the moment (or moments) at which the sibling religions of Judaism and Christianity became mutually exclusive.5 Dubious Difference 101 Jewish Christians in this reading are those persons who refused to take either path but continued to claim a predifferentiated religious identity. Sometimes they are “ethnic Jews” seeking to fold a messianic Jesus into their “traditional” religious lives; at other times they are gentile Christians wishing to imbue their new faith with a requisite antiquity, or even exoticism.6 These Jewish Christians lurk, like obstinate religious anachronisms, on the margins of a burgeoning orthodox Christianity that has rejected the performance of the Law and comprises mostly gentile converts. As in the case of many ancient heresies treated in modern scholarship,7 the Jewish Christians are sometimes colored with a nostalgic, even romantic hue because they suggest forgotten apostolic and messianic origins. Peter Tomson writes: “What we need is a paradigm that fully integrates the Jewish and Jewish-­ Christian practice and beliefs of Jesus and his disciples. On that view, the subsequent anti-­ Jewish affirmation of Gentile Christianity would imply an inner conflict with the Jewish foundations of its own tradition. Conversely, Judaeo-­ Christianity, though being anathematised, would have been carrying on an authentic element of Christianity.”8 The figure of Jesus (and, to a lesser extent, his original disciples) endows subsequent “Judaeo Christians” with an “element” of “authenticity” that is clearly privileged over the “conflicted” and unfairly anathematizing gentile Christians. For scholars less nostalgically inclined, Jewish Christians are more like fossils in the early Christian record, whose presence, once properly excavated, can help us more finely appreciate the development of all branches of Christianity .9 Taking seriously the taxonomy of ancient Christian heresiographers, modern intellectual excavators piece together the literary remains of such exotic “missing links” as Nazarenes, Nazoreans, Elchesaites, Ebionites, and the like to reproduce a system of thoughts, beliefs, and practices that can stand alongside other “lost Christianities.”10 In lieu of skeletons we reconstruct literatures , “Jewish-­ Christian gospels,” only occasionally supported with speculative archaeological remains;11 these texts provide a foil to better understand the gentile, de-­ Judaized Christianity that became normative. To choose a more colorful metaphor: the multifaceted and antique stratum of Jewish Christianity becomes a primeval prism, out of which flow the myriad colors of ancient Christian orthodoxy and heresy. More recently, however, students of ancient religion of a more skeptical stripe have attended to the role of Jewish Christianity in the construction of religious boundaries and identities, eschewing recovery for rhetoric.12 Studies of early modern science and empire have shown the crucial role that classificatory 102 Chapter 4 systems play in the production of political knowledge and power. Central to such systemic projects are those interstitial figures between the straight taxonomic lines: the mixtures, the mongrels, the hybrids.13 In Border Lines, Daniel Boyarin argued that ancient Christians constructed a hybrid Jewish Christianity in order to distill by contrast pure religious categories and, further, to form part of the epistemic production of the very category of “religion”;14 these hybrid heresies embody “the difference that enables unity itself.”15 In this way, Boyarin reverses the heresiological...


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