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Early Jewish Opposition to Jesus-Devotion?

August 21, 2016


A recent commenter to a previous posting alluded to the claim by some scholars that there is scant evidence of Jewish opposition/controversy about Jesus-devotion in early Jewish Christian circles.  Having published a lengthy article arguing in detail the opposite view, I find it curious that the claim continues to be made.

My article, “Early Jewish Opposition to Jesus-Devotion,” is most readily accessible in my book, How on Earth did Jesus Become a God?  Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus (Eerdmans, 2005), pp. 152-78.  The article originally appeared in Journal of Theological Studies 50 (1999): 35-58.

In the article, I commence with the references in the Gospel of John, which are commonly taken as reflecting Jewish opposition to Jesus-devotion at the time of the composition (ca. 80s CE).  It’s commonly accepted that there was Jewish opposition to Jesus-devotion at that point.

I then note that very similar evidence appears in the Gospel of Matthew, in Luke and Acts, and in the Gospel of Mark, which take us back still earlier.  Then, I engage evidence from Paul’s letters, particularly Paul’s own repeated references to his vigorous efforts to “destroy” (his term) the young Jesus-movement.

Paul consistently characterizes his religious change as a radical shift in how he saw Jesus (e.g., Galatians 1:15-16).  This suggests that what had provoked his ire previously had been what he regarded as offensive reverence for Jesus.  Certainly, Paul gives no other hint of any other reason for his zealous opposition.

In 2 Corinthians 3:12–4:6, Paul characterizes the stance of Jews who reject the gospel as having veiled minds, unable in particular to recognize “the glory of the Lord” (Jesus).  This seems to many as a partly auto-biographical account, Paul here ascribing to fellow Jews a stance that he had previously held prior to his own “revelation” experience.  And notice again that the issue is the significance of Jesus, specifically his status as bearing and reflecting the glory of God.

No mention of “halakhic” issues.  No reference to an offence of consorting with Gentiles. Just a strong difference over the person of Jesus, and whether to treat him as the glorified “Lord” or not.

It’s neither sensible nor possible to engage the relevant evidence sufficiently in a blog posting.  I can only ask that those who wish to form a considered opinion on the matter study my article.  If I’m wrong, I’m still waiting for someone to go through the same evidence and refute the article.  It appeared originally in 1999.  Till someone does, I’ll have to think that I’ve made a case that Jesus-devotion was the (or at least a) central cause of Jewish opposition to the Jesus-movement, from its inception onward through the first century CE.


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