I just got my copy of James Dunn’s Neither Jew nor Greek: A Contested Identity in the mail yesterday. This is the third and final installment of Dunn’s Christianity in the Making series in which he outlines the development and formation of the Christian movement beginning with Jesus, the early Church, and on into the middle of the second century. The first installment, Jesus Remembered, was published back in 2003 (meaning I read it as a teenager). The second, Beginning from Jerusalem, came out in 2009, thus making each subsequent volume appear over six year intervals.
Over the next series of blog entries I will be summarizing and reviewing this culmination of a world-class scholar’s lifetime of research. This initial post will focus on §38.1-3a.
Dunn starts by summarizing the conclusions reached in the two former volumes, highlighting the fact that prior to the year 70 CE the followers of Jesus (not yet self-defined as ‘Christianity’) were still well-within the matrix of Second Temple Judaism. Only after this period did both ‘Christianity’ and Judaism begin to define their respected groups with an understanding that they were headed on separate and trajectories. Studying the various trajectories of the early Christian movement has, in the past, been undertaken by methodologically looking at presupposed cut-off point the end of the NT era and the beginning of the writings of the early church fathers. Dunn notes that this approach is problematic because some early church writings (1 Clement) are arguably earlier than some of the later NT texts, thus creating some overlap. He also notes how it has been common to follow the argument of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History (circa. 311-325) in which the fourth century’s church structures and apostolic succession are the pure form of the faith which can clearly be traced back to the NT documents, thus creating a golden thread of unaltered Christian doctrine and praxis. Dunn notes that Walter Baur’s thesis, who argued that what was formerly considered ‘heresy’ was eventually crowned as ‘orthodoxy’ by the ‘winners’ of history, has since challenged the assumptions championed by readers of Eusebius. Even the famous Reformers would disagree with Eusebius! Since then, scholars have come to better appreciate the Jewish matrix out of which the Christian movement arose.
Beginning with methodological foundation of the ‘Jewishness’ of the early Christian movement Dunn begins to observe the various ways (or paths) that followers of Jesus created and sustained. He notes that in a variety of ways, Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity found opportunities to interact with each other after 70 CE. For example, it was the believers in Jesus who preserved many of the Jewish writings, such as the Ascension of Isaiah, Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, and even the works of Josephus. Additionally, many early church fathers had to argue against their churches attending synagogue meetings, celebrating Passover, and even at times observing the Sabbath (indicating that these were lingering concerns). Thirdly, it is historically unlikely that the majority of Jews living in the Diaspora would hardly have been incorporated into a strict ‘rabbinical’ flavor of Judaism in the second century CE. This data suggests, according to Dunn, that ‘ordinary Christians’ in the first three to four centuries did not see Christianity and Judaism as two opposing religions. As with much of history, the act of summarizing messy events is often difficult to place into orderly categories.
How then did Christianity and Judaism eventually part ways? Dunn responds, in dialogue with Daniel Boyarin,
“Over a lengthy period, at different times and places, and as judged by different people differently, depending on what was regarded as a non-negotiable boundary marker and by whom.”
This conclusion, I feel, is a balanced and fair answer to Eusebius and a more critical answer than Walter Baur offered.
Although I am only twenty-two pages into this tome, I find Dunn easy to read and striking a great balance between a technical-scholarly approach without being dull or boring. His thoughts are organized and his research is well-footnoted. If you are looking for a big book to plow through over the holidays, Dunn’s Neither Jew nor Greek is a highly recommended choice. The very fact that this book culminates James Dunn’s life-long pursuit of scholarship pertaining to early Christianity should motivate readers to interact with this volume.
Stay tuned (or subscribe) for further installments.