Sunday, February 28, 2016

A rabbi asks a priest a question... part 8

Continued from last week…

There were three uprisings by Israel against the Romans. The first resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem. In 70 AD, the second, the Kitos uprising in 115 AD which ended in the death of hundreds of thousands and more in Alexandria, Cyprus and the Holy land and then in 132AD the third Jewish war, the re bar Kochba revolt which ended in the complete destruction of Jerusalem, the definitive end of the temple sacrifice and the building of a Roman city on the ruins of Jerusalem to which Jews were forbidden entrance.  It was probably at this period that a steady flow of Israelites, or as we would call them, Jews, accepted the messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth. The Pharisees continued to reject the possibility that Jesus might be the messiah, but things were not going very well for Israel. The idea that the rejection of Jesus had been the cause of the disaster, seems to have taken root among the Nazarenes now universally called Christians. 

Some of these first and second century Christian came from non-Israelite nation, but many, perhaps most for the first century were ethnically and genetically Judean and Israelite. Take for instance, Melito of Sardis, a bishop of the Greek speaking city, located in present day Turkey, just west of Ephesus. Melito was possibly born around 100AD and died around 180.  He was ethnically Jewish, but probably grew up in that period when Christianity and Israel were not thought of as completely opposed to each other. The stresses of the destruction of the temple and the three Jewish wars put an end to the less hostile relationship. Melito, someone we would call a Jewish Christian, could seem remarkably anti-Semitic. Here is an excerpt from his Sermon on Easter:

 “Why was it like this, O Israel? You did not tremble for the Lord. You did not fear for the Lord. You did not lament for the Lord, yet you lamented for your firstborn. You did not tear your garments at the crucifixion of the Lord, yet you tore your garments for your own who were murdered. You forsook the Lord; you were not found by him. You dashed the Lord to the ground; you, too, were dashed to the ground, and lie quite dead.”

Pretty strong stuff!  It is clear that there was an increasing hostility between the Nazarenes and the rabbinic Pharisees. It is now that conclusively we can begin to talk about Jews and Christians. They are no longer part of the same household.

Take for instance, Marcion of Sinope (85-160 AD). He was a bishop in Pontus, now a region of northern Turkey. He taught that the God of the Hebrew Scriptures was not the God of the New Testament. Jesus came to defeat the evil Hebrew God. Around 144, Marcion developed a canon of scripture that excluded the Old Testament and some of the New Testament. He would not be the last to do so. The other bishops denounced Marcion, so he started his own church. It is thought that Marcion’s rejection of the Hebrew Scriptures is a major cause of the development of the Christian canon that emphatically includes the Hebrew Scriptures. Melito criticized his own. Marcion was a true anti- Semite. 

Romans believed that a religion of antiquity should be respected. Novel superstitions were not to be tolerated. They defined an ancient religion as one that existed before the founding of the city of Rome in 753 BC.  By that definition, the religion of Israel was a venerable and tolerated religion, no matter how difficult its adherents had been for the Roman Empire. In most of the empire the community of Israel produced good citizens who caused no trouble. Christianity was a different matter altogether.

Christianity was something new and something troubling. Israel pretty much kept to itself and didn’t publicly condemn the religious system of the Greco Roman world. Christians however loved to tell the Romans that they were all going to hell and that the world would end in fire. When the city of Rome had burned in 64 AD, the Emperor Nero found it convenient to blame this new sect for the tragedy. The Roman historian Tacitus writes the following his book the Annals of the History of Rome:

 “Therefore, to stop the rumor (that he had set Rome on fire), he (Emperor Nero) falsely charged with guilt, and punished with the most fearful tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were (generally) hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of that name, was put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, in the reign of Tiberius, but the pernicious superstition - repressed for a time, broke out yet again, not only through Judea, - where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also…. Accordingly first those were arrested who confessed they were Christians; next on their information, a vast multitude was convicted, not so much on the charge of burning the city, as of ‘hating the human race.’  In their very deaths they were made the subjects of sport: for they were covered with the hides of wild beasts, and worried to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and when the day waned, burned to serve for the evening lights.”

Christians were now a proscribed sect in the empire. They insisted that they were part of the ancient religion of Israel, and therefore legally entitled to the rights conceded to Israel, which included freedom from emperor worship and from military service.  The Romans were smart enough to know that they would never get the Hebrews to worship a mere human being even if he were the divine emperor of Rome and, still worse, they would not, fight or even carry a pack on Sabbath, so they were wisely exempted from any military service.  It was just the Christians and the Jews left, and now the Romans were hell-bent on destroying this religion of Christ which both the exiled Judeans and the Romans agree was a novel superstation. 

So the Pharisees were the last group left standing after the chaos in the Holy Land had swept away the temple, the priestly party of the Sadducees, the Essenes and the Zealots who had started the wars. No matter what the Christians said, Rabbinic Phariseeism was legally the only form of the religion of Israel. To be an Israelite, was to be a Jew was to be a Rabbinic Pharisee, and so it remained until our times.

Next week: More history, more weeping

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