|Chapter 2: Heresies
1. Perspectives Jewish and Pagan
Jesus was a Palestinian Jew; most of his early followers
were Jews, and for a number of years the civil authorities and the surrounding
secular world looked on Christianity as a variety of Judaism. Indeed,
for at least thirty or forty years, until the conquest of Jerusalem by
the Romans in A.D. 70, most Christians in Palestine appear to have considered
themselves Jews--more knowledgeable Jews, fulfilled Jews, obedient Jews,
but Jews nonetheless. But the very nature of the Christians' claims--that
Jesus was the expected Messiah, and that their understanding was fuller
and more complete, while that of the unconverted Jewish majority was inadequate,
obsolete, and willfully blind--naturally set them off against the unconvinced,
traditional Jews around them.
Before the breach between Christianity and Judaism
was complete, indeed, before all the books of the New Testament itself
were written, and long before anyone began to write works of what we now
call theology, Christianity had begun to attract pagans as well as Jews.
judaism gave to Christianity is fundamental conviction that the eternal,
omnipresent changeless God works in time and space, in the particular circumstances
and conditions of human history. The Apostles' Creed tells us that
Jesus Christ suffered and died "under Pontius Pilate," a rather mediocre,
middle level Roman bureaucrat. The reference is Roman, but the idea
is Jewish: that the Word of God is not an ineffable, timeless, spaceless
Principle, but lived in human flesh and blood at a particular time, in
a particular place, and under a rather undistinguished Roman governor.
But time passes, and even the most overwhelming of
historical personalities and events are obscured and fade from human memory.
The Jewish religion was decisively shaped by Moses, and took its origin
in the tremendous event of the Exodus from Egypt. Judaism, more than
any other great religion, is characterized by the Law, and the Jewish Law
specifically hearkens back to the liberation of the Hebrews from Egypt:
"I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt..."
These words, this reference to an epoch-making historical event, introduce
the Ten Commandments. Passover, one of the two greatest feasts of
the Jewish calendar, involves the effort to embed the memory of the Exodus
and its importance in the mind of every Jewish child by the family observance
of the Passover meal.