Book Review – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek: A Contested Identity’ by James D.G. Dunn (part 1)


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 JosephusAdditionally, 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.


2 thoughts on “Book Review – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek: A Contested Identity’ by James D.G. Dunn (part 1)

  1. Christians generally did not have copies of the Torah, so after Jesus died, they needed to attend synagogue to hear the reading of the word. Part of the purpose of Pentacost (which I say is the birthday of Jesus, Torah scrolls were like a year’s wages. was to organize to make their own scrolls for the N. T. and to make their own copies of the Torah scrolls. Their presence in synagogue was acceptable, because mainline Jews thought they might come back as continuance as Jews, since Jesus was gone). For a long time Christians did attend synagogue. But by 70 C.E. the temple was destroyed by the Romans (the wailing wall is not a wall of the temple, but part of fortess Antonio). Talmud, which contains much truth, was then not to be used by Christians (though it had benefits, because it was oral and not necessarily the word of YHWH). Jesus said that the Pharisees taught the words of men and not of YHWH, so further development of the Talmud was not a Christian duty (although the Talmud had much truth in it). But, it was not wirtten down at that time. After the temple was destroyed, non-Christian Jews headed for Babylon and eventually increased the Talmud 90%. The Apostle John no doubt heard about it (as it was an activity to try a keep Jews following the Pharisees instead of Jesus Christ).. Very possibly the group in Babylon may have been referred to by John as Babylon the Great (I am not sure). It was a threat to Christianity, especially for new Christian Jews who might fall away from the Christ). This is why the Apostle Paul wrote that the O.T, was a tutor to the Christ and came to fulfill the law. The law was to be refined in Jesus Christ and written into Christian hearts by the helper, Holy Spirit. New threats later were to be the Roman Empire, which was against Jews as well as Christians until Constantine. The Roman Empire found Christians could be manipulated to perhaps accept the Roman calendar and do bad things like compomise by accepting Sunday worship and the Saturnalia (sun worship) as a birthday of Jesus (not true).
    Jesus told the Samaritan woman that someday there would be worship with “spirit and truth.” I do not think it has happened yet! Close maybe. This is why some Christian religions worship on Sat, (Seventh Day Adventisits and Church of God as examples). Today, we are headed toward Armageddon to test if Zionism can maintain dominance of Israel (a dream by Zionists of world domination and eventual elimination of Christians and Muslims and others). However, the expected result is the annihilation of Zionist Jews in the War of Armageddon). This is why Jesus said, about Babylon the Great, “Get out of Her my people!” [If Zionist Israel is Babylon the Great]. Any who deny the Christ will be denied entrance into the Kingdom of God. This would include Shinto, Muslim, and many others who deny the Christ. To the extent they participate in the War of Armageddon, they will be destroyed. Those who survive and accept peace will have time to accept Jesus, for a while. I anticipate the Kingdom of God will rule on the earth in answer to the Lord’s Prayer by 2029 (the next Jubilee year). I recall a scripture saying it will take 7 years to clean up the mess of Armageddon (it will destroy the global economy). All the govs of the earth will be destroyed. (Dan. 2:44) So, the war occurs before 2022 C.E. and now (very close). One might almost hope to die, so as not to be hurt (even if a Christian). I am reminded of King Josiah, whio God helped him avoid Babylonish captivity by having him killed in battle. Maybe the best thing is to “die with your boots on.”

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