Thousand Years of Jewish History - Maurice Harris

Judaism and the Church.

The Development of Christianity.

In the meantime the new religion that had sprung from Judaism was entering its second stage of development. We have seen how its adoption of pagan ideas tended to separate Jews from Christians theologically. We will now see how the trend of events tended to separate them socially. There were still two Christian sects—the pagan Christians, many of them Greeks, to whom Jesus was the Son of God, whose blood shed on the cross was an atonement for the sins of mankind and whose coming abrogated the Law. These had small sympathy with the Jews in spite of the fact that it was the lofty morality of the Hebrew Scriptures that formed the backbone of the new Faith.

On the other hand there were the Jewish Christians, the original group, but now the small minority, who remained Jews in all respects, but clung to the belief that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, that he had risen from the grave and would come a second time to gratify the hopes not fulfilled in his first advent. They also fostered the belief that they could cure by miracles and drive out demons by declaration of a formula of their faith; for Jesus had also believed in this power of exorcism. They still maintained to a degree the customs of the Essenes (from which body, perhaps they may have been an outgrowth),—particularly the duty of voluntary poverty. Indeed, the Sanhedrin seriously considered whether they might not be regarded as Jews.

But when Judaism and Jews became discredited through loss of land and Temple and Jews were taxed for the privilege of remaining loyal to the former, these Jewish Christians began to drift away from a people who had lost power and status in the world, and threw in their lot with the controlling majority. Such is the way of the world. Furthermore, some of the Jewish country folk, losing faith in the validity of Judaism through the loss of its Temple, were attracted to Christianity with its new scheme of salvation, in which Jesus took the place which had been filled by the altar of sacrifice. In this way many of the Gentile proselytes to Judaism in Alexandria and Asia Minor went over to the new creed. So the loss of the Temple with its priestly service had much to do with the spread of Christianity.

Although great bitterness at first existed between the two Christian sects, the pagan branch soon absorbed the small Jewish branch and all too soon the Christians "knew not Joseph." For the antagonism of Gentile against Jew was now transmitted to the new church and, sad to say, it became a more bitter persecutor of the people from which Jesus and Paul had sprung than most of the heathen nations had been.

Old and New Testaments.

New ceremonials grew up in the new faith. Passover was turned into the Easter sacrificial service. The unleavened bread and wine were supposed to be transformed in some mystic way into the flesh and blood of the Savior (as Jesus was styled). Many Roman rites and symbols were consciously or unconsciously taken up by the new creed in the first few centuries of its foundation; for it grew less and less Jewish as the years went on. Depreciation of Judaism became now the accustomed tactics of the Church Fathers, for Christianity's justification depended in some respects on the theory of Judaism's insufficiency. Jews were said to be blind and obstinate in still clinging to the Law, now that Jesus had come. This unfortunate spirit of antagonism to the parent faith pervades the Christian Scriptures and mars its ethical teachings. These Scriptures were known as the New Testament, to distinguish them from the Jewish Scriptures which were called the Old Testament; the theory being that the testament or covenant between God and Israel, there recorded, was now obsolete and superseded by a "new" covenant in which, as already explained, belief in Jesus, the Messiah, took the place of obedience to the Law. Many passages from the Psalms and Prophets were retranslated to fit the impression that they had really foretold the coming of Jesus and the events of his life. The whole Hebrew Bible in fact was treated as but a preparation for Christianity's grand climax! Even the history of Israel was regarded as but an allegorical picture of the life of the man of Nazareth.


We cannot pass this period of religious upheaval, without a word about certain strange sects, neither wholly Jewish, Christian nor pagan, but something of all, that arose at this time. They were for the most part called Gnostics, from the Greek "know," claiming to obtain through weird processes a clearer knowledge of God. Very fantastic were the views of some on the problems of life and sin. Some of the sects were led into all sorts of absurdities and excesses. A few Jews were seduced by these fascinating heresies, notably one Elisha ben Abuyah, learned in the Law though he was. Having left the fold, he is said to have became a persecutor of his people. The Rabbis only accounted for the sad change by a complete revolution in his nature—so they called him Acher, "another man."

The Sanhedrin found it wise to prohibit the reading of such mystic literature that would tend to lead youth astray from the sound and healthy teachings of Judaism.


For an elucidating picture of the compromise of paganism with Christianity by a Christian writer, read "Is Catholicism a Baptized Paganism?" by Rev. Heber Newton, in the Forum Magazine, New York, 1890.

Jewish Scripture and Church Doctrine:—Isaiah (particularly ch. ix, 6-7 and ch. liii), was a favorite book among Christian theologians from which to deduce the doctrines of the church. Notice the quotations used in Handel's Oratorio "The Messiah." Also Daniel, hence the prominent place among the prophets, given it by the Church. Modern critics altogether abandon this forced method of Biblical exegesis. (See Skinner's Isaiah and Driver's Daniel (Cambridge Bible).

Theme for discussion:—Contrast the ancient gnostic with the modern agnostic.