Jews and Christians

“We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10,24-25

That was in our first reading at Mass yesterday. I think about it today because in bad times like ours, people not only come together but split apart. The letter to the Hebrews seems to be addressing people splitting apart.

Reading Martin Goodman’s “Rome and Jerusalem” makes me more aware of possible reasons for the split between Christians and Jews in the latter part of the 1st century.

Before the Jewish wars that began in 65 AD and ended with the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Jews enjoyed a rather good relationship with  Rome. Jews did not have to pay a yearly tax for the upkeep of Rome’s religious institutions; they supported the Jerusalem temple instead. The Romans were tolerant of Judaism, though bemused by their strongly held rituals, especially circumcision. Jews had some powerful friends at the Roman court. For the most part, the Romans left them alone.

The Jewish revolt changed the relationship. Jews were forced to pay the Roman tax supporting religion, they were suspected as possible revolutionaries and they lost much of their influence with the Roman government.

Did this cause Christians to distance themselves from their Jewish roots, to become more Roman?

Did it cause some Jewish Christians to back away from Christianity because of their loyalty to their Jewish tradition?

The latter part of the 1st century for both Christians and Jews was a time of alienation, rather than open persecution. They weren’t sure where they stood. That’s probably how we feel today, alienated, unsure, fearful of what is happening, and not understanding much as our world shifts.

So the reading quoted above may be appropriate for today as well as for then. I think so.

1 thought on “Jews and Christians

  1. Cheryl Toliver

    Hebrews is an interesting text, with chapter 9’s present tense indicating that the temple services were still going on at the time the letter was written, so before 70 AD and the temple’s destruction. It was a time of uncertainty, for both Jewish and Gentile Christians, as they continued to struggle over whether they should worship and take communion together, or even if they should.

    But the temple’s destruction was a major dividing point for Jews and Christians of both Jewish and Gentile background because it revealed the differences in their visions of what constituted God’s kingdom. The Jews had been hoping God would send the Messiah to them and help them re-establish David’s kingdom in a literal and political way. Christians believed God had already sent the Messiah in Jesus, and that in Jesus, David’s kingdom had been re-established spiritually.

    This is what Hebrew’s author methodically spells out for Jewish Christians, that Jesus, through his fulfillment of the Torah, is the hope to which they should hold fast, instead of falling back on former beliefs and practices, which, as the temple’s later destruction seemed to indicate, were a dead end.


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