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Jewish Christian Relations

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While we speak about the tenuous relationship between Christians and Jews dating back to the time of Christ, the seeds for the schism within Judaism may have been planted more than 500 years prior. Jeremiah was one of a group of distinguished prophets whose works became part of the Old Testament canon. The Jewish "wisdom" prophets lectured, warned and blamed all who would listen about the sins of their own people, the resulting punishments that God had prescribed for them, and what they had to do to get back into God's good graces.

Some prophets targeted Jewish monarchs as an idolatrous distraction which prevented the people from properly hearing the Word of God. Other prophets still maintained that Jews should continue to believe that God would not abandon his chosen people. Regardless of the specific message, it was clear that the overall prophetic approach to God's covenant with the Jewish people was changing.

"A good century after the return from Exile...the doctrine of retribution, of God's righteousness, which rewards and punishes...had been shattered," said Catholic theologian Hans Kung in his book Judaism: Between Yesterday and Tomorrow (Kung 113).

In the passage quoted from Jeremiah above, the prophet is predicting that a new covenant would be formed between God and his people, an agreement that would supersede the pact made between Moses and God upon Sinai and at the Red Sea. The first covenant, Jeremiah indicated, would become null and void because of the sins of the Jewish people. The new covenant would absolve these sins and reaffirm God's fidelity to his people.

"This famous prophecy provides the foundation and the core of the central theological teaching of the New Testament," said The Collegeville Bible Commentary on the Old Testament. "It underlies, but without explicit references, much of the 'new life' theology of St. John and is central to the teaching of Jesus in John's Last Supper discourse." (Collegeville 469).

While Jeremiah is interpreted from many perspectives, some early Christian apologists proof-texted his words as an indication that the Jews had been cast aside by God because they had not remained faithful to Him and his Mosaic covenant. Jesus of Nazareth was the fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophesies, so some claimed, and the Jews would remain shunned and doomed to wander through the desert until they repented by accepting the personification of God's saving grace.

"The Old Israel along with its Old Testament...had been succeeded, fulfilled, completed, replaced, and/or displaced by the New Israel, the New Testament, the Christian Church, the new people of God," said Rabbi A. James Rudin about the Christian attitude during the formative years of the Church (Fisher, Rudin, Tannebaum 9).

Sensitivity relating to the perceived expiration of the first Mosaic covenant has brought forth a minor controversy in recent decades about the political correctness of referring to the Old Testament as being "old." Some Catholic Scripture professors express a preference for "Hebrew Scriptures," while others apologetically retain the old reference to prevent confusion. (Pazcuzzi 2/97). The issue of Judaism having been superceded by Christianity will be addressed at various points in this paper.

In addition to the writings of Jeremiah, other Old Testament works written in the centuries prior to the birth Christ pointed to the coming of a messiah to save the Jewish people from their continuing history of enslavement, persecution, and dislocation. Some Jews waited for a David-like king to rescue them. Others felt that Jesus Christ--who had suffered for the sins of his people, the one who had endured and conquered death--was the true messiah. Whether the messiah had come or the messiah was still yet to come was the key issue between the Jews who remained Jews during the first and succeeding centuries versus those who founded the sect which worshipped Christ and became known as "Christians."

While the theological implications of resurrection also became a significant issue between the two branches of Judaism, historical documents suggest that Jews and Christian Jews were still worshipping together around the middle of the first century, and were discussing and acknowledging their differences. Reverend Robert S. Smith suggests that, at that stage, the differences between Jews and Christian were seemingly more like "a family fight," not necessarily showing signs of the formation of a new religion (Smith 10/18/97).

Toward the end of the first century, however, relations between the two sects began to seriously deteriorate. As Christian zealots, apologists, Church Fathers, and first and second century scribes made their case for Christianity amidst Greek and Roman persecution, they directed vehement attacks at the Jews, from whom Christian Jews had more or less officially broken off from following the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 80 AD. At that time, Jewish leaders who remained faithful to Mosaic Law, began excommunicating Christian Jews, ending decades of relatively peaceful coexistence and shared worship.

What seemed to exacerbate the rift between the Jews of the first century and Christians to a point of no return was the accusation of "diecide," that by conspiring with the Romans to crucify Jesus, the Jews who did not embrace the prophesied Messiah had actually killed God on earth.

"To murder God: the very phrase is chilling! " said Rabbi Rudin in his analysis of Jewish-Christian relations "The charge was hurled at an entire people, and not solely at the Jewish people who were alive at the time of Jesus" (Fisher, Rudin, Tannebaum 10).

To seemingly gain favor with the Roman hierarchy, early Christian writings emphasized Jewish involvement in the death of Christ and minimized the Roman role. This is especially evident in the Gospel of John.

"The Gospel of John contains some of the most hostile anti-Jewish statements in the Christian scriptures," said R. Alan Culpepper, Scripture Professor at the Southern Baptist Seminary in his essay "The Gospel of John as a Threat to Jewish-Christian Relations." "So sharp is the contrast in that gospel between Jesus' exhortations to his followers to love one another and the hostile references to the Jews that Kaufmann Kohler commented that John is 'a gospel of Christian love and Jew hatred.'" (Charlesworth page 21).

Anti-Jewish sentiment could not only be found in the Gospels but also in the writings of St. Paul, himself a converted Jew, and someone who once lovingly analogized the relations between Judaism and gentile Christianity as a grafted olive branch.

"In proclaiming

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