The story of Jesus is well-known; most everyone, whether religious or not, knows the tale. Yet, it is invariably told from a Christian point of view, and by that I mean from a theological perspective. This is a brief overview of the historical context of the development of the Christian Church, and of the subsequent development of Christian theology and the New Testament, told from a very different perspective.
It started with the teachings of Rabbi Yeshua Ben Yosef, a rabbi from Galilee during the time of the late second Temple period. This was an era of intense political and cultural upheaval for the Jews. They were being occupied by a foreign power, Rome, which was at the height of its strength. The obscure young Rabbi, who hailed from Galilee as did the famous Rabbi Hillel a generation earlier, wandered the countryside teaching the Torah, which was unremarkable in a time when there were many obscure young rabbis who wandered the countryside teaching the Torah. Both his method of teaching and the substance of his teachings were nothing new; he gave a verse of Scripture and then offered a Midrash (or his own personal interpretation) on the verse. Again, this was in no way unusual, for the legal requirements of the Law had not been fixed at this time, and while the Temple stood, the Torah was still fluid and open to debate. He was arrested for being an agitator against the Roman government, tried and executed, which was also unremarkable, for there were literally thousands of such Jewish men who were martyred by Rome during this time. It was said by his followers that Yeshua ben Yosef had performed many miracles during his lifetime, and had even risen from the dead. Even this was not unique, for in the Talmud there are stories of other Jewish "miracle-workers" at this time who were trained in Jewish mysticism and performed miracles. And, with the exception of his small band of followers, his passing went unnoticed both in Jewish and non-Jewish circles, an obscure figure swallowed up in the tumultuous history in which the land of Judea was unraveling.
After Yeshua ben Yosef's death, his followers kept together, now led by Yeshua ben Yosef's brother Yaakov. They continued the dead rabbi's teachings, for they believed that he was in fact the Meshiach who would return to lead the nation of Israel into a golden age both politically and spiritually, and that not only the Jews but all nations would acclaim him as their king, anointed by God to be the religious leader of the earth, when all peoples would come under the Torah.
This group of observant Jews, the followers of Yeshua the Anointed as he was now called, were centered in Jerusalem. They continued their observance of Judaic Law, obeying its statues and commandments and offering sacrifices at the Temple, and the sect flourished even under the pressure from the many Jews who did not like the talk of Yeshua ben Yosef being Yeshua ha-Meshiach, or the Anointed One of God, for talk of this sort would invariably attract the attention of the Roman authorities.
One of the Jews hostile to the sect experienced a vision, something not uncommon at this time. As a result of this vision, he also joined the ranks of the followers of Yeshua ben Yosef, joining to the sect. His subsequent teaching was to have grave consequences in the decades and centuries to follow. His name was Shaul of Tarsus, and he was a Hellenized Jew who had studied under the finest Torah scholars in Jerusalem. Not only was he acquainted with the Jewish Law and mysticism, but familliar with Greek philosophy and Hellenistic culture as well.
Shaul, now known by his Hellenized name "Paul", took a Nazerite vow and set out to spread the Torah with the message that Yeshua ben Yosef was God's Anointed One who would lead all peoples, both Jews and non-Jews, into the promised era of a time where the Torah would be the Law of the world, and that Yeshua ben Yosef would be the chief administrator of this Law. Paul had excellent schooling, for he had been a pupil of Rabbi Gamaliel, the grandson of Rabbi Hillel. He knew not only the Written Torah but the Oral Torah as well, especially the teaching of the Law which dealt with the responsibilities of the non-Jew were the Seven Laws of Noah, or the Universal Law, since they dealt with all mankind, and not just the children of Israel. Paul began to travel around the Mediterranean, turning his attention to an increasingly gentile audience. He founded many congregations of believers in the sect, teaching that not only Jews but Gentiles would be included in the World to Come, which was the phrase the Jews used for the time of the Meshiach.
Paul had great difficulty in keeping the small groups of gentile believers in line with the Jewish doctrines of the Law. Unlike the Jews, these gentiles did not have centuries of traditions and experience to fall back upon, and many of them were already beginning to drift away from the Torah and mix other religious beliefs with what Paul had taught. This often prompted him to write letters to the various groups to chastise them and to teach them the proper way to interpret his teachings. There was also much resistance and hostility from the Jewish communities, who were anti-Gentile in nature and did not like Paul's teaching that the Righteous Gentiles of the world would have salvation as would the Jews.
In the sixth decade of the Common Era, tensions in Judea and the surrounding areas were rising to a head, and many of the Jews were organizing themselves into a Maccabean-type revolt to throw out the Roman invaders. War broke out which culminated in the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. By this time, Paul and the other leaders of the sect were dead or in exile. The small groups of gentiles, who now were starting to call themselves Christians (the Hellenized form of the Hebrew word Meshiach) found themselves bereft of Jewish leadership. Most Jewish Christians, dismayed at the destruction of the Temple, realized that the return of Yeshua ben Yosef would not happen in their lifetimes. They left the sect and returned to mainstream Judaism, which was now Pharisaic Judaism, the only kind which survived the destruction of the Temple and of Jerusalem.
How the scattered gentile Christian sects handled the sudden loss of the Jewish leadership of Paul and the main group centered in Jerusalem was a crucial factor in what happened next to the foundling religion. Without Hebrew-speaking teachers to give them a rabbinic and Hebraic interpretation of the terms in the Jewish scriptures, the gentile believers had to turn to the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Tanach which had been compiled "at Alexandria about the middle of the third century B.C.[E.]" (Kelly, 1959.). Greek words used for concepts such as "prayer", "messiah", "salvation", and "savior" did not have the same connotations in Greek as they did in Hebrew, and so new meanings were given to these words. It would be well over a hundred years before the new religion could come up with any elder or leader who could read or speak Hebrew. The same problem arose in interpreting the Judaic and Rabbinic thoughts and teachings of Yeshua ben Yosef and Shaul. Thus, within a generation of the destruction of the Temple, the non-Hebraic sects found themselves cut off from the Hebrew Torah, the basis of all the teachings of Rabbi Yeshua ben Yosef.
With Gentiles in control of the new religion, the power struggle between Christianity and Judaism began. Offices of leadership localized around the major centers of the main groups located in Asia Minor and Greece such as Antioch and Galatia and Corinth. The greatest problem the new religion faced was the void left by the absence of the tremendous body of rabbinic interpretations which Yeshua ben Yosef and Shaul had been able to draw upon for their teachings. To be able to keep control of the new faith, this meant the gentile leaders had to come up with a non-Jewish system which would work on interpreting the Jewish scriptures and the Jewish teachings of the sect's original founders. This new system would have to be palatable to its now gentile-dominated audience or else the Jews might gain back control of the sect. There was, in fact, still a remnant of the original Jewish believers of Yeshua ben Yosef as the messiah. Later known as the Ebionites, they criticized the gentile groups for mixing non-Jewish elements into the teachings of the new faith, further separating themselves from the gentile sects.
Since Judaism at this time was heavily engaged in proselytizing and siphoning off many potential converts, it was looked upon as Christianity's greatest rival religion. To counter this, church fathers developed theological concepts which "proved" that Christianity was a "better" religion, such as the idea that Israel had been replaced by the church, and the church was now the "new Israel". Words such as "Messiah", "salvation", "Bible" took on new meanings. This re-defining of Judaic terms was necessary in supporting the emerging theology. As the churches grew, there was a developing consensus that a new body of scripture was needed. The only scriptures available were the Jewish scriptures, which the Jews claimed as their own. Macrion, a second century Christian Gnostic who was the first to assemble a corpus of Christian writings, alarmed the mainstream Christians who quickly dubbed him a "heretic". " [Gnosticism] (was) the enemy whose dangerousness resided in the evidence that it had on its side a more consistent systematization of the biblical premises" (Blumenberg 126). The urgency for a body of Christian writings was further heightened by the writing of the Mishna in 200 C.E. by Rabbi Yehuda ha-Nasi, which became an instant classic in Jewish literature; more importantly, a rallying point for the Jews.
During the decades following the destruction of the Temple, the new religion had floundered along with no set doctrine, no set institutionalized structure, and no set leadership. Most of the sects, especially in the peripheries of the Empire, came under Gentile leadership who were woefully unfamiliar with the teachings of Judaic Law and the Rabbinic interpretations of the scriptures, and they began to interpret the purely Jewish teachings of Jesus and Paul by non-Jewish means such as Greek philosophy or by theological concepts of other religions. Large numbers of different sects, such as Gnosticism, Valentinianism, and Marcionitesm, began to develop. These spun off from the early Christian communities which had been founded by Paul and the other apostles. These sects had no set theology, no set ideology, no clear purpose or direction. Christianity, for many decades after the fall of the Temple, was in a liquid flux. No single theology or group was dominant in the early struggle for power and authority. What is clear here is that the line of tradition was irretrievably broken in the decade after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E., when the Jewish leaders of the Christian sect were killed or driven off. The result was that the oral teachings of Rabbi Yeshua ben Yosef and Rabbi Shaul lost their Jewish interpretations.
Yet, the most important product of this power struggle of the early sects was the development of the body of sacred writings which would become the New Testament. As the oral teachings of Jesus were written down, problems arose due to the way theology developed during the first few centuries. With the Church Fathers interpreting teachings based on the religion of Judaism, which they knew little about, they became aware of discrepencies with what they were teaching. Often, their theological ideas were not supported by the literal interpretation of the texts. Instead of changing their theology to conform to the teachings of Jesus, they instead altered the texts to fit their theological interpretations . This trend in Christianity continued down to modern times, where the translations from Greek to English were altered to fit theological ideas. The only problem the Church had was the danger of an alternate body of interpretations which would challenge the theology of the Church. Since Judaism was the only source which could effectively produce a challenge to the Church’s teachings, steps were taken to ensure that this did not happen. Even to this day, in-depth rabbinic interpretations are not taught, to my knowledge, in any seminary in any Christian country [and by rabbinic interpretations, I mean teachings from the Jewish point of view, and not teachings about Jews and Judaism from the Christian point of view].
The main problem the early Church faced with developing a body of sacred Christian literature was not a lack of material, but an excess. The Church had taken the oral teachings of Jesus and then had them committed to writing in the second century. These writings reflected the various nuances of the societies in which they were produced. The Christians then had collected them into one body of work, edited them, and assembled the ones which would support their theology. There were many different gospels, epistles, and teachings that had been floating around, all with a different slant. Every viewpoint imaginable was repretsented; from anti-Judaic Gnosticism, which opposed not only the Jewish Scriptures and the Jewish God, to pro-Judaic writings which threatened the developing theology about Jesus' divinity. There was no clear consensus as to what was canonical or non-canonical. Books which are known because they were mentioned by the early church fathers [such as the Gospel of Barnabas, the Gospel of Andrew, the Revelation of Peter, the Gospel of Peter, an Epistle of Christ to Peter and Paul, and the Gospel of James] were discarded. The books which are now part of the canon of the New Testament, such as the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Revelation of John, were disputed for centuries. Not until the end of the fourth century was there even a list of the books which agrees with that of the present-day New Testament canon. Other books, such as the Epistle of Barnabas, written sometime in the early second century, were held to be authoritative throughout the first centuries of Christianity's formative period. Writings told stories of how Jesus, as a young boy, made clay figures of birds come to life and made children who bullied him drop dead with a word. Other writings taught that the Jews were damned by God and the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish people from the Holy Land proving that the Church was the "new Israel". These new theological ideas were used in the sermons and preaching of the Christian Fathers and had a direct effect upon the developing theology. This “New Testament” was then used by the Church to justify its authority and achieve power over its constituents. In the early fourth century, the Roman emperor Constantine formally adopted Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. Thus the Church achieved great political power. One of the first uses of this new power was to prohibit Jews from teaching the Torah to gentiles, often under the penalty of death. Christianity thus claimed a clear victory over its main religious competitor.
The most critical factor which must be grasped is that the New Testament did not produce the church, but that the church produced the New Testament............from geocities