New Testament Study
The roots of early Christianity are traceable to the religious traditions and beliefs associated with Jewish history and culture. That Christianity ultimately moved in a distinct and distinctly separate direction from Judaism leaves the modern observer with an impression of two very different religions, although, in fact, early Christianity was based in Jewish experience, In order to fully understand the significance of the Jewish influence on early Christianity, it is necessary to understand that Jewish religious beliefs and Jewish culture in the era of the New Testament and early Christianity represented a diverse set of culturally and geographically determined principles and beliefs. So while it is true that “Jesus had been a Jew, and his earliest followers were Jews” (Doran, 1995, p. 56) is is also the case that “Jew” does not describe a monolithic vision or a singular set of cultural of religious beliefs.
In relation to the New Testament era and early Christianity the distinction between Palestinian Jews and Diaspora Jews is an important difference which shows the particular aspects of Jewish culture and religious belief that informed early Christian thought. Where the designation or description “Palestinian Jew” refers to a Jew living in the geographical and cultural areas historically associated with the Palestinian race, the term “Diaspora Jew” refers to the nomadic and “nation-less” Jews who spread the Jewish culture and Jewish cultural beliefs far around the globe. It was the Diaspora Jew which represented the most immediate influence on Christianity: ” he dispersion (Diaspora) of the Jews among the nations was probably the largest single factor in the preparation for Christianity, and one main reason for its remarkable success” (Angus, 1919, p. 144). In other words, the relocation of Jews from Israel, whether by: “forcible deportations, voluntary emigration, the inducements held out by friendly governments, the promise of special privileges, the allurements of trade, the disintegrating power of Hellenism” (Angus, 1919, p. 144) afforded the potential for the early seeds of what would later be Christianity to take hold even before the incarnation of Christ.
Meanwhile, the more orthodox, culturally and geographically specific strains of Jewish culture and Jewish religious belief which were obviously more prevalent among non-nomadic of non-displaced cultures continued an esoteric tradition of Jewish beliefs which would later be at odds with the same Christian philosophies which evolved out of the Diaspora Jews. The Diaspora Jews made possible: (1) the gradual disappearance of the specifically Jewish character of Palestine and the emergence of a different national majority in the country; (2) the survival of the Jewish nation and the preservation of its national character outside its own land” (Dinur, 1969, p. 4) but it also led to the “democratizing” of the Jewish national character as is evidenced in the strains of early Christianity.
As Christianity grew in influence, “Judaism, which had so thoroughly prepared the way for Christianity and had contributed so liberally to its missionary equipment, began to look askance” (Angus, 1929, p. 57) at the widespread acceptance of the Diaspora-branch which had flowered into an entirely new religion and one which began to actually speak out against Judaism and the Jewish heritage from which it has risen. If, in the early days of Christianity, Judaism and Jewish culture played a central role in defining key attributes of the religion: particularly regarding monotheism and the belief in man individual relationship with God, the later evolutions of both Christianity and Judaism resulted in a more or less inimical schism with one religion positing that the other’s acknowledged savior is not a “true” savior but merely a great prophet. In conclusion, while the Palestinian Jew offered a cultural influence on early Christianity, the more immediate and lasting influence was offered by the Diaspora Jew and that culture which emerged out of the Jews-in-exile, which democratized a previously esoteric and culturally specific set of mystical and religious principles: “the epoch of the advent of Christianity was a democratic era. Jewish worship had in the Synagogue grown more popular, and this character was emphasized in the Diaspora” (Angus, 1919, p. 133) to a state where a new religion (which evolved directly out of the Diaspora Jew culture) such as Christianity could easily flower to fruition.
Angus, S. (1919). The Environment of Early Christianity. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Angus, S. (1929). The Religious Quests of the Graeco-Roman World: A Study in the Historical
Background of Early Christianity. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Dinur, B. Z. (1969). Israel and the Diaspora (1st ed.). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of
Doran, R. (1995). Birth of a Worldview: Early Christianity in Its Jewish and Pagan Context.
Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Gold, S. J. (2002). The Israeli Diaspora. London: Routledge.