Understanding “The Gospel”: Why Authorship Claims Matter Dramatically – Part 2 B
By Rembrandt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I first posted this as an add-on to the already-long Part 2 of this subject. Then I realized it might better be a new post, although it would make Part 3 of what I’d said would be a two-part article…. You know, us explorer/teacher types: don’t know when to stop! So my apologies for any confusion, but I think even if you’ve not read parts 1 or 2, this piece will make decent sense on its own (but far more if you go back to read the others). So here it is (but first, since I don’t here date the “Roman War”, I’ll mention it was from 66-70 CE, although it took 3 more years to conquer the desert fortress of Masada):
There is a major and largely unrecognized reason we now have great trouble seeing just how acceptably and typically Jewish was the Jesus-as-Messiah movement of the first few decades (though not without controversy which was common among contending Jewish sects of the day). That reason is the very disappearance of Jesus-followers from Jerusalem either during the war or most likely mainly before it.
We have no reliable records as to where they went and may have re-organized although an early legend names Pella, in the desert across the Jordan River and Dead Sea. But the loss of their key center and probably the main leadership and overall strength of the movement opened the way for Pauline Christian influence which is clear particularly in Luke (both his Gospel and Acts). It seems to be present in the other Gospels as well. In fact, John’s Gospel even goes deeper than Paul into some Hellenistic philosophical concepts (e.g., logos) and emphasis on claims to messianic deity (probably NOT made by Jesus himself although presented this way), a concept entirely foreign to the Hebrew Scriptures and thus rejected by most Jews.
Without the further detail it could be helpful to go into, let me end by reiterating that the Roman War and destruction of Jerusalem tore apart not only the Jewish religious system in general, but also that small but growing branch which had apparently believed that a human Messiah had been raised by God and shown as vindicated (a martyr who died for the people, but not as a divine sacrifice to cover all sin/sins). This Messiah had been elevated to God’s right hand, very soon to return and set up God’s Kingdom.
It may not have been Paul’s influence alone which made him the “second person” of a divine trinity as the trail of ideas is far from complete. However, in terms of who wrote the Gospels and epistles attributed to James (leader of the early Jerusalem “Church”), Peter and John, there is no real and direct evidence that they or anyone from the Jerusalem group did so, nor that any of them left any writing to tell us much about their beliefs and practices. We have a few hints from other sources but mainly are left with Luke’s Paul-influenced and theologically-adjusted version in Acts, which must be evaluated carefully, not just taken at face value as accurate.
The results of a Pauline Christianity eventually overwhelming the significantly different, more Jewish version of the original disciples and their group in Jerusalem for roughly 3 decades are many and are a mixed bag. Just in terms of Jewish-Christian relations, once the emerging Christian faith was established under the assumption of Jewish blame for Jesus’ death, and sometimes blame even for the destruction of Jerusalem, it was seriously downhill from there for relations between Jews and Christians. There is some evidence of mutual toleration actually for quite a while, at least in spots. But when Paul’s version of proper Christian faith, seen as supplanting and superseding Jewish faith and practice, was firmly in place there was no turning back and the darker side of humanity was all too often to assert itself in very ugly ways in relation to Jews who soon were far in the minority.
Please share if you’ve found any of the above helpful or clarifying of things which may have been puzzling you. I write here not just for intellectual fun (though it may be) but to assist people’s spiritual foundations, strengthen inter-faith understanding and cooperation, etc. We have a lot of correctives to pursue, as this topic does in terms of Jewish-Christian relations.