How an Event 40 Years after Jesus Redirected his Followers
The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church is still a fascinating and important book! It was written over 60 years ago (1951; 2nd edition, reviewed here, 1957). Some of its key points deserve mention.
I’ll do that here, as it’s tough to find the book, and not an easy read if you do. It’s a scholarly work written largely for other scholars… footnotes and occasional phrases in the text in at least 4 languages besides English.
The author is accomplished British biblical scholar, SGF Brandon. Despite its detail and depth, the book never got much traction. Brandon was one of a small percentage of scholars in that period (to some extent, still) who were concluding that the Jerusalem style of Jewish Christianity was significantly different than the Pauline style of a more “universal” (Jewish/Gentile) Christianity. The latter was more the source of later Christian orthodoxy. The Jewish elements would be largely set aside, other than the foundation in Hebrew Scripture (the “Old Testament”), with its concept of a coming Messiah.
In The Fall of Jerusalem… Brandon meticulously makes the case that the events of the Roman-Jewish war ending in the destruction of Jerusalem and The Temple in 70 C.E. (A.D.) radically changed the course of what would become the “Christian faith”. This seems self-evident if one knows much about very early Christianity and the history of first century Palestine. But even few Christians do. Surveys have shown few people know much at all about the “fall” of Jerusalem in Roman times or when it took place, either as a date or in relation to Christian development and scriptures. This is serious miseducation.
It’s popular in recent years for Christians from a variety of strains of the faith to decry that the religion has become more “about Jesus” (particularly the Christ of Paul) than the religion “of Jesus” (his actual teachings as the Gospels present them). If anyone is looking for the earliest roots and evidences of this, mostly as seen within the New Testament itself, this book is masterful. In a nutshell, it makes the case that the fall of Jerusalem was a vital pivot point which effectively removed the authority and control of the Jerusalem leaders and encouraged the ascendence of Pauline views of Jesus (generally as “Christ” or Messiah in the sense of cosmic savior, not just Messiah of the Jewish nation, who would “restore the Kingdom to Israel” [Acts 1]).
Brandon regularly notes when he is being speculative, taking much of the wind out of the sails of that criticism of his work. (I mention this because other reading may bring up his work or that of similarly minded scholars.). Most of the time he’s pointing out important details in the NT texts that are important clues often passed over. Here are a few interesting issues, both historically and for the formation of Christianity:
- Whether the author (“Luke”) of the book of Acts, covering some of the same events Paul refers to, is sometimes in contradiction because he did not possess Paul’s letters (though writing well later).
- The agenda of Luke in Acts, to present a smooth and unified development of the early Church, contributed to such discrepancies and gives an idealized version that leaves a number of puzzling issues strangely unexplained. An example is how, when and why James supplanted Peter as Jerusalem leader. Another, what really happened to Paul on his final visit to Jerusalem where he narrowly escaped death and left in custody of Roman soldiers, the last few years of his life barely being covered and his death not at all. With this, what became of the large sum he’d collected over several years and was personally delivering to James and his co-leaders, concerned that this major investment of his time and the treasure of his followers might not be accepted. (Doctrinal and ethnic issues were wrapped up in this.)
- Luke seems to purposely bypass all history of the spread and development of Christian faith in North Africa, particularly Alexandria, then the third largest city in the Roman Empire. It had a very significant Jewish population in touch with Jerusalem and a bit later was a noted Christian center. Passing reference to the city in Acts shows Luke knew some form of Jesus-following existed there. Also that this belief system was distinctly different (inferior or in error?) than Paul’s… again, not fitting well in Luke’s agenda. Brandon suggests, with extensive analysis, that Alexandrian faith came to be represented, perhaps quite closely, in the Gospel of Matthew.
Among a lot of details, The Fall of Jerusalem importantly points out the big picture point that what happened in 66-70 C.E. turned out to perhaps have changed the course of Christian history and its view of the person of Jesus and the spiritual dynamics involved in following him. The loss of Jerusalem as the “seat” of authority and of the core Apostles/James (not one of the Twelve) group as far as any ongoing control of the movement was critical. It may have been the key factor in this major development: observant Jewish following of Jesus was so weakened that it eventually gave way to rabbinic Judaism and largely-Gentile Christianity. And the need and opportunity for the writing of the Gospels (well after Paul) was created.