Still Jews, Forever Jewish
What was it like in Israel between 66 C.E. and 132 C.E.—a time of war and transition? The events of 70 C.E. were a watershed which molded and shaped much of what Judaism has become, and it was a forge upon which the character of a nation was determined. If we are ever to understand how we Jews got this way,” we need to study that tumultuous time so that we can understand some of the basic philosophies, practices, and even prejudices of Judaism in the subsequent centuries. In particular we need to see what effect these events had upon the early Jewish-Christian movement.
The Rapid Growth of the Jewish Church
Present in pre-war Jerusalem was a dynamic group of Jewish men and women. The message that they proclaimed appealed to the masses, and it was even heard and believed among certain of the Pharisaic leaders. These Messianic Jews were a unique group who defied ordinary definition. They were thought to be radical, since they spoke against some of the teachings of the rabbis and against some of the practices of the existing religious structure. Yet they did not promote separation from the Jewish fold. They seemed content to remain within the society of Jews into which they were born. They were the inspiration for and the counterparts to the Jews for Jesus of today.
They pointed to the Davidic king, Messiah Yeshua, yet they did not call for armed revolution against Rome. They sought to remain an organic part of the nation, without compromising the proclamation of their belief in Jesus. Jacob Jocz, in his book The Jewish People and Jesus Christ, describes them:
There was no consciously planned act on the part of the disciples which made a schism inevitable. On the contrary, the Jewish believers in the Messiah Jesus tried for many years to maintain their position in Judaism. Then, the small group of Jewish Christians regarded itself not only as an integral part of the people but also as the rightful heir to Israel’s heritage. They were fighting their way, from the beginning, to the heart and conscience of their brethren. 1
There were certain characteristics of this Messianic community that ensured their survivability and serve as their legacy. First, they demonstrated unity:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts. (Acts 2:42-46)
That degree of closeness was a necessity for a community that would encounter hostility and relative isolation from the start. Also, they had much confidence in their message. Evangelizing their fellow Jews was a challenge.
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, he raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.…” (Acts 2:14ff)
Third, they were persistent in their witness. This meant that they willingly resisted the pressure. However, this did not mean that the authorities sought to ban faith in Jesus, for they did not.
Their efforts to make converts to their beliefs, especially at the beginning, when they gathered crowds around them in the courts of the temple to argue about it, led to the intervention of the authorities to prevent disturbances, but there was no attempt to put a ban on the belief itself.2
There was a constancy in the daily lifestyle of the Jewish believers in Jesus at Jerusalem. They would not abandon other Jews nor their ancient heritage. Every indication is that they continued in the Jewish traditions and in the Temple rituals as long as the Temple stood.
They were noticed. Truly in keeping with Jesus’ words, they were not a lamp hidden under a bed (Luke 8:16). The Jewish community might not have wanted another sect to deal with, but the Jewish Christians just wouldn’t go away. What attracted the most attention is difficult to say. Their public preaching that is recorded in the book of Acts is the most obvious. Their communal living must have been noticed, especially during those difficult years that followed. Their celebration of Passover was distinct, as they interpreted it with new understanding from the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Just how many Jewish believers there were in Israel at that time is hard to say. Some writings say that there were up to 150,000 Jewish believers in Jesus over the span of two centuries. With the initial response we read of in the book of Acts (Acts 2:41, 4:4), this seems accurate. The overall Jewish population at that time was four million.
The War Against Jerusalem
The Uprising and the Siege
The Roman army assigned to “protect” Judea from the time of Herod the Great found itself to be harassed by the Zealots, who conducted guerrilla warfare. But even worse, the general population began avoiding taxation, and garrison soldiers were not seasoned or strong enough to put down the many protests. Therefore, in 63 B.C.E., the Roman army, under the leadership of Pompey, sent in a new body of “enforcers.” With an iron fist they seized control of the nation.
Jewish hatred of the Roman domination of the country was very deeply rooted.
The Jewish religion, unique in thought and action, distinctive in its concept of social ethics. These fundamentals of Judaism made unthinkable any compromise with the Pax Romana.3
The Roman procurator, Flours, was out to gain speedy wealth at the expense of the province he governed. The timing could not have been worse, for he fanned the flames of revolt, and armed rebellion broke out throughout the land of Israel. The initial uprising was unplanned and spontaneous.
In 65 C.E. there was a series of Jewish victories over the Romans. Exhilarated, the people no longer regarded the Roman Empire as an invincible oppressor. Continued gains forced the hand of the Roman emperor, Nero. He was now compelled to take severe actions to bring things under control. He selected Vespasian, an experienced general, for the task of subduing the revolt and restoring Roman prestige.
To many Jews the uprising was foolishness. How could a band of ill-equipped rebels defeat the might of the Roman army? But it was a time of desperation in a land of miracles. The Maccabean victories of previous years were reasons to hope. The messianic expectation soared. There were those who felt quite sure that something would happen in their era. Even the Jewish believers in Yeshua were expectantly awaiting him to return and vanquish the enemies of the people of God.
Slowly, but persistently, Vespasian subdued the whole country, rounding up the insurgents. He drove those who were left to take refuge in their formidable stronghold, Jerusalem. As survivors fled to the Holy City from other parts of the nation, each brought their own family. Soon Jerusalem was hopelessly overcrowded and faced serious shortages of food and water.
By 68, Vespasian was chosen as emperor and off he went to Rome, appointing his son Titus to replace him.
It was almost a year before Titus continued the siege and stormed the city. When he resumed the siege he caused the whole city to be surrounded with a continuous stone wall in order to cut off all escape and to reduce the population by famine.
The Jewish Factions and Defeat
The various rival sects and factions were wearing down the morale of the defenders. Though they may have represented the diversity and vitality of the Jewish community, during the siege these divisions proved disastrous.
The chief rivals consisted of the Zealots and an extremist splinter group, the Sacrii. Among these two groups the key figures were John of Gischala, Eleazar Ben Simon, and Simon Ben Giora. The power struggles were based upon the noble ideal of who would lead the nation during the defense of Jerusalem, each group desiring to be the dominant force in the final battle for the Holy City and the great Temple.
Josephus, the Roman-Jewish historian, describes the vicious and wanton destruction that these factions engaged in just to strengthen their own positions.4 The situation as it existed is best summed up by Emil Schurer this way:
All three continued incessantly at war with one another, so that the city from day to day presented the aspect of a battlefield. In their mutual hatred of one another they became so foolish that they destroyed by fire the immense store of grain which had been gathered up in the city.5
The Romans mustered over 80,000 cavalry and infantry against the weakened Jews, who numbered no more than 25,000. The Romans launched their final offensive in May, 70 C.E. Somehow the defenders of Jerusalem managed to continue on, exacting a bloody toll from the Roman invaders. It was to no avail, for on the 9th of Av (August 20, 70) the Second Temple was ablaze. The Romans slaughtered all those who fell into their hands—women, children, priests and commoners.6
The defenders fought bravely, but in vain. Nothing was gained in this ill-conceived and costly war. Josephus has some specific figures as he describes the carnage that did finally take place:
Now the number of those that were carried captive during this whole war was collected to be ninety-seven thousand; as was the number of those that perished during the whole siege eleven hundred thousand, the greater part of whom were indeed of the same nation.7
For this war-torn Jewish community there was nothing left: no hope, no victory, no Messiah, and now nowhere to turn. The destruction of Jerusalem was one of the greatest tragedies that had ever happened to the Jewish people. Yet Israel would continue to survive and manage to regroup emotionally and spiritually. For the life and the vitality of this nation is not based on some idealized nationalistic notion, but rather on the Word of God and on God’s promise to Abraham.
Extent of the Devastation
The vitality and determination of a nation can best be demonstrated in its ability to survive disaster. And, for the Jewish people, this was not the first time the Land had been invaded, the Temple destroyed, and harsh rules imposed by an outside power. If the nation was unable to protect itself from outside forces, it did have the mechanism to heal itself internally. Salo Baron, in A Social And Religious History of the Jews, speaks of this inner strength:
On the fall of Jerusalem, Judaism was so integrated a system of action and belief that not even the need to make a new start was to involve it in vital transformation. Unlike the first Exile, the new Diaspora necessitated adjustments of detail, but not the remodeling of the whole life of the nation on unforeseen patterns. All that was required now was the focalization of life on those factions of proved stability, which for ages past had been the source of their great capacity for survival.8
The problems that the nation faced were monumental. The population was greatly reduced. The entire country had been devastated. Cisterns and wells had been drained and destroyed. Poverty and famine abounded. Natural resources were seized as spoils of war, further impoverishing the Jewish survivors.9
Yet, one good effect of the destruction of Jerusalem was the disappearance of many of the divisive sects. It is ironic, since some of the causes of the revolt and the ineffectiveness of it were the result of these sectarian moves.
The Sadducees, who were the hierarchy and the priesthood, all but disappeared, for the now-destroyed Temple was not only their base of power, but also their reason for being.
On the other hand, the Essenes are said to have died out as a result of their isolation and their suicidal renunciation of procreation.10Their hope for the coming of the Messiah, who would defeat the enemy in a great battle, would seemed to have been dashed in 70 C.E. The fragile communities they lived in were either overrun by Jewish refugees fleeing Jerusalem or met the wrath of the Roman armies. The records are scarce concerning their demise.
The various factions of Zealots suffered the brunt of the defeat as they fought Titus’ legions, in many cases to the last man. The Pharisees did not support the war against Rome and were said to have denounced the actions of the Zealots as supreme foolishness. After the war it is evident, too, that they blamed the leaders of the revolt for its devastating effects and for the demise of the Temple.11
After the war, and with the demise of competition, the Pharisees emerged as the predominant group. Without opposition they were able to exercise a hegemony over the Jewish community. They saw themselves as the custodians of the Law. They were a populist movement. All along they spoke for moderation. Even the dissent they voiced against the war did not brand them as traitors.
The virtues of the Pharisees are extolled with reverence by Jewish historians. They are credited for the survival of the Jewish religion. It has been stated that upon them fell the burden of restructuring the nation.
The Pharisees therefore set about to erect ramparts not of stone but of faith and ideals which the Romans would not be able to wipe out.12
To facilitate the emergence of Rabbinic Judaism required the right people and circumstances. The man who is credited with being the right person at the right time in this case was Johanan Ben Zakkai.
The Rise of Rabbinic Judaism
Johanan Ben Zakkai was a member of the priestly family, who died ten years after the destruction of Jerusalem. He was a voice for moderation in an age of extremism. He spoke peace and reconciliation while his nation was engaged in an ill-conceived war and internal strife. Though he had contact with the Romans during and after the war, he was never branded a traitor. He is reported to have been carried out of Jerusalem in a coffin by his disciples while it was under siege. That the label of traitor was never applied to him can only be because of the immennse respect that he commanded from his countrymen.
Johanan Ben Zakkai was a man who had a true and unselfish desire to seek the good of the Jewish people as he understood their needs. He called together Jewish sages from throughout the land to meet with him at Yavneh, the city of scholars and rabbis. Together they sought the reconstruction of Judaism and the well-being of the people of the beleaguered nation.
The lasting legacy of Yavneh was the arrangement of the definitive canon of the Bible and the editing of the Mishnah. Their task also included finding reason to replace the Temple worship and sacrifices. As important as they had been in the worship and life of the nation, new alternatives and explanations had to fill this void.
Following the destruction of the Temple, Ben Zakkai and his colleagues, in an effort to stress the religious unity of Judeans no matter where they lived, and their spiritual communion with God no matter where they prayed, set about to replace the daily sacrifice with a fixed ritual of prayers to be recited at set hours each day.13
It was also at Yavneh that the first decrees against Jewish believers in Yeshua were instituted. A takkanot (a rabbinic legal decree) was issued formulating a “blessing” against Christians and other heretics. This meant that when Jewish people gathered for the daily prayers, which were now to replace the daily sacrifice, a curse against Jewish believers was added to this special prayer, the Shemonah Esrei (the Eighteen Benedictions). It read:
May the apostates have no hope, unless they return to Thy Torah, and may the Nazarenes and the Minim disappear in a moment. May they be erased from the book of life, and not be inscribed with the righteous (fragment found of the Genizah fragments -1925).14
So when Jewish believers participated in these required prayers, they were either to repeat a curse against themselves or abstain from the recitation of the prayer, in which case they would be ousted from the synagogue. The prayer was instituted because the rabbis felt that Jewish believers in Jesus were Minim, or heretics, and must be identified, isolated and excluded.
Bar Kochba Revolt
The destruction of Jerusalem was not the end of the Jewish hatred against the Romans. After forty years, a new generation of fighters arose who were willing to pick up the struggle against Rome at any cost. The humiliation inflicted on the nation, the desire for freedom and the thirst for revenge were the fuel for the Second Roman War. This time the organization of the revolt was well planned. Arms were accumulated, fortifications were prepared in the field, and funds were collected.15
The spiritual leadership was provided by Rabbi Akiba, who was the head of the Sanhedrin. Simon Bar Kochba was the military commander and in charge of administration. In this revolt the religious leaders were in complete support of its goals.
From the outset of this war there were severe problems for the Jewish believers in Yeshua, who had remained a part of the commonwealth of Israel, though excluded from most synagogues. At the start of the revolt, Bar Kochba was recognized as a messianic figure. Even Rabbi Akiba regarded him in such a way and proclaimed, “This is the king and Messiah!”16
Later, when a general conscription was introduced, Jewish believers in Jesus refused to bear arms. They had obvious problems of conscience in declaring loyalty to Bar Kochba, who claimed to be Messiah, when they believed that Jesus was the Messiah. For refusing to bear arms, they were severely punished and further ostracized from the community.
For three years Bar Kochba was able to continue the war.17 The fight was carried out in the open field, in which the Romans suffered heavy losses and some defeats. The rebels were able to force the Roman garrison in Jerusalem to leave. Bar Kochba established his government in Jerusalem for a short while during the course of the uprising. It is even possible that he resumed the Temple ritual to some extent. However, eventually the superior Roman forces wore down the rebel bands and inflicted defeat upon them.18
The Romans turned to radical solutions to deal decisively with the Jewish people. They decided to expel those Jews who still survived in and around Jerusalem, and to suppress systematically such Jewish religious practices as were regarded as the root of the evil afflicting the province.19 The Great Dispersion would be complete in a few short years. Jerusalem was rebuilt as a Roman city, Aelia Capitolina. No longer was there a Jewish homeland, and hope for a restored nation was dim.
Fate of the Jewish Believers in Jesus
New Jewish State
The Jewish community had again undergone a cataclysmic change. The shape of Judaism would be affected for centuries to come. Some of the diversity once prevalent in Judaism was gone. The work that was being done on the Oral Law was setting new boundaries and would have the force of law. Jurisprudence gave rabbis the right to render non-scriptural judgments.
The relationship that Jewish believers in Yeshua had with the Jewish community was tenuous at best, but they had carved out a niche for themselves. Up until that time the riots and rulings against the Jewish believers were occasional reactions and not the norm. This new structure would present a seemingly insurmountable problem for the Jewish believers to overcome.
Josephus relates a story describing the many aspects of this relationship. He tells of how Onias Ben Onias, the Sadducee, convened the Sanhedrin which condemned James the brother of Jesus to death, where-upon the “men of Jerusalem”—that is the Pharisaic sages—raised a bitter complaint.20
Radical change was reflected in attitudes toward and actions against the Jewish believers. Traditional Jewish sources list several reasons why the Jewish believers were placed outside the fold after the Destruction:
1. In moments of national crisis, the Jewish Christians turned their back on the national cause.2. The destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple brought about a sense of national emergency and a consequent closing of the ranks. It would seem that the nation could no longer afford the latitude previously allowed to a wide range of sectarians and schismatics.
3. The Jewish believer sects intermingled with each other. The Ebionites drew even closer to the Gentile Christians.21
It is necessary to examine the validity and relevance of the above statements. The first point raised refers to two charges that the Jewish believers abandoned the nation in time of need. The first was alleged to have occurred during the siege of Jerusalem in 66 C.E. The latter was when Bar Kochba was rallying the forces against Rome, and Jewish believers didn’t join him. As discussed earlier, the Jewish believers in Jesus, as a matter of conscience, could not follow one they saw as a false messiah. However, their lack of action did not create a new impression, but only reinforced existing stereotypes.
Concerning the former situation, it is said that when Jerusalem was surrounded by Titus’ army in 66 C.E., at some point during the siege the Jewish believers fled. They were to have gone to the city of Pella in the Trans-Jordan region.
Moreover the people of the church at Jerusalem, in accordance with a certain oracle that was vouchsafed by way of revelation to approved men there, had been commanded to depart from the city before the war, and to inhabit a certain city of Peraea. They called it Pella.22
This traditional account of Eusebius has largely been unchallenged over the centuries. There are certain questions, however, that should be raised as to its veracity.
First, it is difficult to find other sources to support this account other than Church history. Nor is there any archaeological verification of a Jewish believing community in Pella from that era.
S.G. Brandon in The Fall of Jerusalem gives his reasons why the traditional account should be refuted:
- That the Jewish believers would have fled to a gentile city.
- That the Romans would have let a large contingent out of Jerusalem during the siege.
- That the Jewish rebels would have let such valuable defenders leave the city without a struggle.23
There is a good case for stating that the Jewish believers remained in the city alongside their countrymen. This might have been by choice or even by necessity. Either way, thousands of Jewish believers perished during both revolts. There are no records as to how many were killed, though it had to have been a significant portion of a small community. This might explain why we read or hear so little from this once very active and prolific community.
Even if some of them did manage to escape the siege, that act alone would be insufficient to brand them as traitors. Many amongst the Pharisees opposed the war and spoke out against it. Most notable was Rabbi Johanan Ben Zakkai, as we have seen. He even went to the Roman commander, it is reported. So fleeing the city or even being against the war did not make one a traitor.
A Renewed Witness
The destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple brought about a sense of national emergency and a consequent closing of the ranks. When the sages met at Yavneh they considered those things which they felt would further weaken the bewildered Jewish state.
The vehemence with which the leading Rabbis of the first generation of the second century express their hostility to the Gospel, and either books of the hereticism and to their conventicles, is the best evidence that they were growing in number and influence.24
The way in which the sages at Yavneh personalized the attack against the Jewish believers in Jesus in the Birkat Minim underscores the fact that they were perceived as a threat to the community. The threat they posed was not to biblical Judaism, but to the current rabbinic understandings and systems. Those believers who survived were recognized as an internal threat and a force to be reckoned with. The method of reckoning was to treat them and Jesus as an obscenity to be “blotted out” or erased. Hence, there is all too little mention of either in Jewish sources.
Jacob Jocz, in The Jewish People and Jesus Christ, states the situation clearly:
They were spiritually alive, abounding in religious zeal. They were aggressive, and above all, they were the enthusiastic bearer of the greatest Jewish heritage—the Messianic hope. They were dangerous because they had the advantage of attacking Judaism from within. It became imperative for the synagogue to isolate them.25
The Jewish believers experienced an increase in their influence after 70 C.E. That the Jewish leaders, who had much to concern themselves with, made defense against the Minim an issue of importance, gives credence to the view that the Jewish believers experienced a sudden revival at that time. Their influence was felt to such an extent as to alarm the Jewish authorities.26
The basis for a Messianic revival would rest in the faith of the followers of Jesus. In the dust of the Destruction, the messianic believers had hope and they had answers. This was at a time when the people were shattered, without effective leadership and lacking a sense of future. We can only imagine that there were those who found satisfaction and comfort in the words of the gospel that they heard.
Even as the believers considered the demolished Temple, it represented more than a dashed hope, a broken dream. After all, Jesus himself prophesied concerning the destruction of the Temple (Mark 13:1). Jesus had vindicated himself as a prophet. But the Destruction also spoke of judgment. This was an issue of great concern, for the rabbis discussed amongst themselves the reasons why the Temple was destroyed.
In the Palestinian Talmud, tractates Sab. 119b and Yoma 9b, an effort is made to provide an answer for the cause of the Destruction. In the first passage, eight reasons are enumerated which have brought about the calamity; in the second passage, three main sins are mentioned: idolatry, fornication, and the shedding of blood.27
For the early Christians, the Destruction was an act of judgment (punishment for the rejection of the Messiah). It was also an important point in the polemic between the Church and the Synagogue. While this judgment was negative, it also provided a hope, for it was reasoned that if this is what rejection of Jesus has brought, how much greater will his acceptance be for the people? (Romans 11:11-15)
Without a Temple and the accompanying sacrifices, the Jewish believers had even further occasion to present Jesus’ sacrificial death in a clearer light. The issue of forgiveness from sins was an important doctrine in first century Judaism.
Any religion dominated by the concept of Law and moral responsibility before God must lead to nomism or despair. How can a man be just before his maker? Judaism had no answer. But Christianity had an answer, a credible answer, a reasonable answer.28
The writer of the book of Hebrews deals with this very point. The Temple sacrifices were only a prefigurement of the perfect Sacrifice, the perfect High Priest, Jesus. Prior to this, when the atonement of Jesus was spoken of, a Jewish person could point to the Temple and say: “Why do I need Jesus?”
Now the Jewish people, who had relied upon the sacrificial system to complete their atonement, were actively seeking answers. The principle had long been established within Judaism that the efficacy of every species of expiation was morally conditioned—without repentance no rites availed.29 An alternative was provided by the Rabbis at Yavneh. Prayer, charity and good deeds all accomplished forms of repentance.
Even study of the Law itself would accomplish repentance. For the cultus itself the learned found, as we shall see, a surrogate in the study of ritual laws, the kinds of sacrifice, their respective modes, applications and significance.30
The rabbinic reasoning appears to be that since God had allowed the Temple to be destroyed, he will accept these other things to accomplish atonement. The alternative that the Jewish believers preached after 70 C.E. was that the Temple could be destroyed, because we now have the means to meet God’s righteous demands for forgiveness, which is to be found in the death of Jesus. A fuller understanding of the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 53 would demonstrate its relevance to a generation without a Temple.
The Jewish believers in Jesus could also give a word of encouragement with regard to the expected return of Jesus. The hard times and the fulfillment of the words of Jesus (Matthew 24) increased the vigilance of the believers who looked for the soon return of the Messiah. This gave them a confident hope that was so desperately lacking for their fellow Jews.
The fellowship that characterized the Jewish believers gave their community within a community strength and purpose. This was at a time when the structures in Judaism had come apart as a result of the war. On the practical side, they must have been a tremendous help to one another in times of famine and hardship. It can only be speculated that this community of witness made an impact upon those other Jewish people who could see them up close.
Another false charge against the Jewish believers was that they assimilated into the gentile Christian population after the war (though this appears to have some truth to it in the Diaspora communities where Jews, gentiles, proselytes and God-fearers made up the rapidly growing Christian communities). Very little is heard from Jewish believers in the Diaspora as a unique group after the New Testament times. This problem of assimilation was never just a Messianic Jewish one, but one that affected the whole community. This was especially true after 135, when the Romans forbade circumcision.
As for the Jewish believers who remained in Palestine, they maintained close ties to the rest of the Jewish community. When Jews were banned by the Romans from living in Jerusalem, they had to flee as well. After the war, as the persecution against them became more focused, they still didn’t defect, though the Birkat Minim surely took its toll.
Also, elements of the new Jewish theology only served to push them further beyond the realm of normative Judaism. It is important to state that Jewish believers never chose to separate themselves from the Jewish community; we were forced out.
Some Jewish believers survived the Great War. Their numbers were decimated along with the rest of the Jewish community, but they had a vitality and a message that spoke to the people of their day. They had the insight and courage to remain a part of the community in time of need. The message and example they gave influenced many in their day and even sent shock waves through the newly formed leadership.
When given the choice, Jewish believers stood alongside the rest of the Jewish community. This was true during the Great War, it was true during the Holocaust and it is true in Israel and the Diaspora today. This continues to be true in spite of charges of being disloyal and in spite of attempts to treat Jewish believers in Jesus as other than part of the Jewish community.
A Jewish believer in Jesus approached the rabbi of the Conservative temple she wanted to attend. She told him of her faith in Jesus and of how she wanted to attend worship as a way of identifying with other Jews. She also would be attending a Christian church nearby where she could freely express her faith in Jesus. The rabbi agreed to accept her as an attendee with the stipulation that she not “proselytize” within the confines of the synagogue.
Though many in the Jewish congregation knew of her faith, she kept her word and the rabbi kept his. She was welcome to worship with her fellow Jews. Her photo got into the local newspaper. She was doing some evangelistic drama on a local college campus. The president of the temple was outraged. So was the cantor. The cantor gave the rabbi an ultimatum. “Either tell her she is not welcome, or I will leave!”
The rabbi spoke with her. He said her actions had caused problems and that while she had honored her agreement, he could not stand by her unless she took it one step further. He asked her to refrain from sharing her faith in Jesus anywhere in the area. He promised that he would fight for her right to maintain a place in that Jewish community if she would do as he said.
She couldn’t. And so she was put out of the synagogue.
Hers is the dilemma of most Jews who come to faith in Jesus. Whereas a Jew is allowed to be agnostic, atheistic, even New Age in orientation and still be considered part of the Jewish community, those of us who declare our loyalty to Yeshua are considered disloyal and no longer part of the Jewish community.
Those of us who are Jewish believers today, like those in the First and Second Centuries, recognize that we are perceived as a threat to the Jewish community leadership. We recognize that there are those who will work to separate us from our fellow Jews. But we are committed, given we have the choice, to stay. God made us to be Jews and he is the One who wants us to believe in Jesus.
- Jacob Jocz, The Jewish People and Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1949), 163.
- George Foot Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 1946), Vol. l, 90.
- Gedaliah Alon, The Jews in Their Land and the Talmudic Age translated and edited by Gershon Levi (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1980), 14.
- Flavius Josephus, The Life And Works of Flavius Josephus, translated by William Whiston (Philadelphia: John Whiston Company, 1957), Vol. 1, 1–5.
- Emi Schurer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ (Edinburgh: T &T Clark,1898), 235.
- Solomon Zeitlin, The Rise and Fall of the Judean State (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1978), Vol. 3, 125.
- Josephus, The Wars of the Jews. Book VI, 9:3.
- Salo Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews (New York: Columbia University, 1952), Vol. II, 110.
- Zeitlin, 236.
- lbid., 264.
- lbid., 137.
- Alon, 156.
- Zeitlin, 166.
- Alon, 288.
- Michael Avi-Yonah, The Jews of Palestine: A Political History from the Bar Kochba War to the Arab Conquest (New York: Schocken Books, 1976), 12.
- H.H. Ben-Sasson, editor, A History of the Jewish People (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976), 332.
- Ibid., 132-135.
- Avi-Yonah, 13.
- Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews Book XX, 9.1.
- Alon, 305.
- Eusebius, The Ecclesiastical History and the Martyrs of Palestine, translated by Hugh J. Lawlor and John E.L. Oulton (London: S.P.C.K., 1927), Vol. 3, 52, 53.
- Samuel F. Brandon. The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church (London: S.P.C.K., 1951), 169.
- Moore, 166.
- Jocz, 53.
- Ibid., 167.
- Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1970), 110.
- Moore, 504.
- Ibid., 506.