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Jewish-Christian Feuds in the New Testament – Review of “The Reluctant Parting”

June 22, 2018

If you’ve been a Christian for a good while or if you are not a Christian, let me emphasize something about my title above: it does not refer to feuds between Jews and Christians but to quarrels and debates between Jewish groups which followed Jesus as Messiah.  In this, I’m following the book I’m reviewing.

Let me interject this before getting into specifics: I highly recommend this book! It is very readable for those with little background yet meaty for the well-informed.  With that said, I will develop some of the reasons and a broad outline of the book.

The Reluctant Parting: How the New Testament’s Jewish Writers Created a Christian Book, by Dr. Julie Galambush, is far from the only book to focus in on the great variety of Christian beliefs among communities of Jesus followers in the first to early second century.  (But it takes a unique and in-depth approach.) Such communities were almost always partially to fully Jewish.  So it should not surprise us that the New Testament (NT) was written primarily by Jewish authors, for a mostly-Jewish audience (Luke being the main likely exception).  And that group going beyond the “Twelve Apostles” who were reputedly direct disciples of Jesus and may or may not have written any of the NT books.

However, the real significance of this strongly Jewish authorship, and of the heavily Jewish context and content of our specifically “Christian Scriptures” (NT) we almost completely miss.  This is true of almost all Jews as well as Christians.

This is pointed out by both the author and by the writer of the powerful forward, James Carroll, prolific author and former priest.  Author Julie Galambush is in an unusually good position to know of our misperceptions, as both a highly qualified biblical scholar and a Jewish convert, previously having been a Baptist minister.  Carroll points out in the forward that, despite hundreds of years (and thousands of books) of focused historical and spiritual searching, “Jesus remains the hidden man of Christian faith. He is the hidden man of Jewish memory, too…. But Julie Galambush suggests that this hidden Jesus… can have a fresh set of meanings to Christians and Jews alike.  Christians can recover Jesus as their Jewish Lord who preached nothing but the God of Israel.  Jews… can… recognize in him an embodiment – as this Christian sees it, at least – of the longing for God’s reign that remains central to Jewish hope.” (xiii.)

The core thesis of The Reluctant Parting is partially told in the title.  Followers of Jesus-as-Messiah, particularly the large proportion who were observant Jews and wanted to remain so, separated only slowly and painfully from the larger population of Jews who rejected the idea of Jesus having been the expected Messiah.  This fact is fairly widely recognized among Christians – at least those who have read the NT carefully and gained some historical knowledge.

What is very little understood yet critical to understanding the setting and meaning of the NT is that the pain and acrimony of separation we see at various places throughout it involve conflicts specifically within the relatively small “family” of those who did follow Jesus-as-Messiah.  These small communities were geographically spread apart, apparently even in Judea, Galilee and Samaria (current Israel), and in scattered diaspora Jewish communities around the Roman Empire. So conflicts and separations were not just among strangers, but often involved family and neighbors.  The adage that fights are often more intense or bitter the closer are the combatants seems to have been at play significantly in the early decades of the gradual transition out of Judaism.  This affected particularly ethnic Jews but also newly converted Christian Gentiles and the near-Jewish “God-fearers” worshiping among Jews.

The book accomplishes a lot more than Galambush pointing out and illustrating the “insider” Jewish-Christian struggles and separations. I also consider it an excellent introduction to the NT overall.  Like the typical “introduction” text (and most are written in basic textbook style for college or graduate students), it covers all the NT books and their basic groupings.  This one is more readable and interesting than most, I find more so than any I’m familiar with (far from all of them).

What else you’ll find in The Reluctant Parting is a generous amount of well-summarized “backgrounds” material.  This is critical for understanding both the books of the NT and the real-life setting of its original readers and the authors – cultural, political, economic, religious and other conditions and belief systems.  In the process of reading the author’s explanations, one can gain a lot of insight about the establishment and growth of sects in the Ancient Near East (which in the case at point, Jewish Jesus-following, became a separate and major religion).

If you get a copy of this highly insightful, important book, be sure to read both the introduction and the epilogue.  The introduction sets up the issues regarding why the perspective Galambush takes on the NT writings and their setting is highly relevant to our forms of faith today… to our subconscious as well as conscious views toward those of differing traditions and beliefs (particularly Christians toward Jews and vice-versa).  In it she describes Parts One and Two, and how they can be read separately (not recommended by me, for anyone).  She says of Part One that it “… provides an overview of the history of the post-exilic period, and introduces the contents and arrangement of the New Testament, including a brief discussion of early Christian writings that were not included in the Christian canon.” Part Two covers the specific books of the NT.

The Epilogue is “The Image of the Jew in Christian Scripture”.  Here’s one statement of how and why major problems developed and still persist in this area to this day: “One might hope that a sensitive reader could come close to hearing what the authors intended to say, but in the case of the New Testament, the barriers to an ideal reading are very high indeed.” The author goes on to develop the specifics.

The way most Christians have treated the New Testament, if they even read it seriously at all outside of snippets at church, is as a guide to personal salvation and spiritual practice.  They’ve had very little historical sense or interest.  Thus the traditions of centuries of often-distorted Christian theology and attitudes toward ancient (and now modern) Judaism and Jews then and now are just taken in without the moderating and correcting effects of much that is right within the New Testament itself.  But it does take some background and careful reading to discern much of this.  And this is precisely what this book helps provide in an exceptionally clear, interesting and readable way.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 22, 2018 1:38 pm

    She says of Part One that it “…provides an overview of the history of the post-exilic period, and introduces the contents and arrangement of the New Testament, including a brief discussion of early Christian writings that were not including in the Christian canon.”

    This particular part interested me greatly Howard. By the way, thank you for introducing this book and author. I must agree with you about Dr. Galambush’s unique position from her background and current Judaism. How many biblical scholars can claim that today, huh? 😉

    Okay, long question here (LOL). Regarding the overview of ‘post-exilic Judaism,’ how much would you surmise Galambush goes into (adequately?) Second Temple Judaism/Messianism simultaneously (time wise) with a dual template (cover) of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Qumran) template — certainly another contemporaneous source of 2ndTJ-M around/in Jerusalem during Jesus’ lifetime (c. 4 BCE – c. 32-34 CE) — with a Roman Late Republic thru early Imperial Age Empire and its Provincial policies toward conquered, non-citizens like the Sectarian Jews (many variations) all around and within Jerusalem?

    I tend to side with and agree with Dr. Robert Eisenman’s, Dr. Bruce Metzger’s, and Dr. David Marcus’ (to name just three) take on this controversial convoluted time-period of holy manuscript writing of the Levant. They all do not see how these THREE templates, 2ndTJ-M, the DSSQ, and Roman LR-eIA empire from Hellenistic Apotheosis (the canonical NT) that grew in popularity proportionately with Rome’s expansions and/or social declines that absorbed “foreign” cultures into their fluid one. Does that makes sense?

    In my humble opinion, one cannot truly gain HD focus of one template WITHOUT the other three. For me and my years of study and research, these four combined templates answer very well the question (on the back cover?): How did Jesus’s followers stop being Jewish without meaning to? As I think you correctly note, it’s a lack of all four lens-templates brought into acute focus. 🙂

    Curious. Please share your thoughts since you’ve read the book and I haven’t. LOL 😛

    • June 23, 2018 2:59 pm

      Thanks for the very thoughtful reading and reply! I’ve inserted the small change you requested.

      As to your question, I’m not sure if I can answer it very authoritatively. Partly because I don’t know if Galambush uses the same 3 (or 4) “templates”, nor exactly what you may mean by that categorization and label. I CAN say she, more than most studies on the creation of the NT texts and/or Christian origins, does put them in the proper setting/context of Jewish literature before and after Jesus’ lifetime, apocalypticism, and the development of rabbinic Judaism. I think she MIGHT have done more with the effects of the Roman-Jewish war, 66-70 (or 73/4 – Masada). I’m wondering if you’ve encountered or read one particularly in-depth analysis of this by SGF Brandon, “The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church” (1967 or so, but still a contribution)?

      As to your point, I do think the best understanding of the Second Temple period up to the mid or late second century has to include the full setting, who developed what, who had motivation to develop either movements or related new theology (especially “appearance” of Messiah as initiation of new era, taken a bit later as his “return” – the latter not a biblical term, technically). So for a broad, educated thinker like you, it might be further help to add (if you’ve not yet) the “template” (if I’m using it the same) of “social interest theory”, as developed particularly by Burton Mack in a few books, along with the pioneering work of Jonathan Z Smith. (Other scholars use the concept also, certainly, but Mack has developed the principles and traced their uses both then and now more than anyone else, to my knowledge.)

      If you’d not mind sharing, I’d love to hear you summarize what Metzger (basically orthodox/traditional theologically) and Marcus (who I’m not familiar with) point out or emphasize in these areas. If you want to do an article to potentially post as a guest contributor, I’d likely be thrilled to post it (maybe with light editing. subject to your approval).

      • June 23, 2018 6:33 pm

        Great reply Howard! I had a feeling I should probably read Galambush’s book or 2-3 of her works minimum, huh? LOL But as I’m SURE you know we could spend every waking hour of our remaining life reading all the great scholarly works (like Galambush & the ones we’ve mentioned & others!) covering this ancient era couldn’t we!? 😄

        Regarding your suggestion on Metzger, Marcus, Eisenman, etc, I’d LOVE TO Howard, but here’s my issue — and I know you of all people can appreciate it — TIME!!! Hahahaha! Allow me 1-2 weeks(?) please to consider and I’ll let you know if I’m able to do it all justice. Fair enough? 😉

        I don’t see on your above Menu a “Contact” selection. Do you want to give me an email address or you can go to my Contact menu tab and leave yours there if you’d prefer your privacy. 🙂

  2. hoju1959 permalink
    June 23, 2018 2:04 pm

    Sounds good!

  3. Henriette permalink
    August 5, 2018 9:08 pm

    Thanks for sharing.

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