Robert Conner, Christianity’s Critics: The Romans Meet Jesus, Part 3

Robert Conner studied Greek, Hebrew, some Aramaic and even Coptic back in the mid-70's at Western Kentucky University. He's written nine books, including Jesus the Sorcerer, The Secret Gospel of Mark and Magic in Christianity, as well as a number of articles and essays. If you want a primer on what the earliest critics of Christianity had to say about this new cult then I'm publishing an essay he wrote in several parts, with approval. This is Part 3. To get up to speed Part 1 can be found here.

Christianity’s Critics:
The Romans Meet Jesus

Extended and Revised, 04/2016

Robert Conner


Christianity is a Jewish heresy.

The Jesus of primitive tradition cares not a whit for Gentiles—“Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go instead to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news: the kingdom of heaven is almost here.”[1] “Jesus traveled through the small, often anonymous towns of Galilee, seemingly avoiding the major cities. Citizens of Sepphoris, Tiberius, the coastal plain and the Decapolis heard none of his sermons. When Jesus did enter the territory of cities in the Decapolis, he remained outside the walls (Mk 5:1; 7:31; 8:27).”[2] “Jesus’ preaching reflects the village”[3]—Jesus’ parables accordingly speak of sowers and fields,[4] shepherds and flocks,[5] and birds and flowers.[6] Before his fateful trip to Jerusalem, it ap-pears Jesus had little to do with any major city.

Jesus’ attitude reflected the history of the region, in particular the aftermath of the Maccabean revolt (167-160 B.C.E.), the “first religious war in the history of humankind” from which the Jewish nation that emerged “was self-conscious and intolerant towards all Gentiles whether friendly or unfriendly.”[7] Romans regarded the Jews “as a people who were true only to each other…[they were] regarded as misanthropes…by the vast majority of Romans, and they had a long history of conflict with the authorities in Rome,”[8] a simmering animosity that exploded into a series of disastrous wars in 66 C.E. Writing to Jewish believers in Rome, Paul said, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,”[9] possibly in reference to such bias. “The dogma of a ‘chosen people,’ while at least implicit in most faiths, achieved a stridence in Judaism that was unknown in the ancient world. Among cultures that worshipped a plurality of Gods, the later monotheism of the Jews proved indigestible.”[10]

Despite occasional encounters with Gentiles, Jesus’ attitude toward them appears to have been openly antagonistic. Jesus refers to Gentiles as “dogs”—he tells the Canaanite woman whose daughter he eventually heals, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the curs.”[11] Some commentators have interpreted Jesus’ use of kunarion (kunarion), the diminutive of kuwn (kuōn), dog, as ironic or even affectionate,[12] but as corrected by Grant, “the diminutive form rather expresses contempt and distaste.”[13] Jesus intended to draw the strongest possible distinction between the Jews, to whom alone he has been sent—“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”[14]—and the Gentile mongrels—“Do not give what is holy to dogs”[15]—which he generally avoids.[16] “The Jesus movement...did not show any inclination to reach out to Gentiles. The life of Jesus and the history of the Jerusalem church illustrate this.”[17] “It is quite clear from the hesitations of the Apostles in the first chapters of Acts that there was a firm tradition that Jesus had not ordered a mission to the Gentiles.”[18] Jews even regarded the Samaritans, who claimed descent from the Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, as racially impure “on the grounds that the Samaritans had intermarried with heathen peoples.”[19] Outside the archipelago of fundamentalist Bible colleges this understanding of Jesus’ mission has now become common: “There is no evidence whatsoever, apart from the tendentious writings of the later church, that Jesus ever conceived of himself as anything other than a Jew among Jews, seeking the fulfillment of Judaism—and, likely, the return of Jewish sovereignty in a Roman world.”[20]

Christian scholarship long ago parted company from the Jewish Jesus, establishing “a self-conscious Christian tradition that deliberately distanced itself from the historical Jewish context in which Jesus had lived and died...[Christians] had to explain to themselves, to potential converts, and, should they be so challenged, to skeptical Jews, how it was that the Jewish understanding of Jewish history and religion was false, and why those who had heard this Christian revelation most directly—Jesus’ Jewish audience in Palestine—should have so completely failed to receive it.”[21] Nevertheless, Christianity could never have spread into the Greco-Roman world without the internationally distributed Jewish enclaves—“the Dispersion communities were the magnet which drew [Christian missionaries] beyond the boundaries of Palestine.”[22] As late as the end of the 1st century the Christian communities were still conceived in terms of the Jewish Diaspora—“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are of the Dispersion, greeting.”[23]

As Christianity gained political power, violence against Jews increased. In 388, “zealous Christians” burned down the synagogue in Callinicum “apparently at the instigation of the local bishop.” Initially the civil authorities treated the matter as a breach of law and order and commanded the bishop to pay for the rebuilding of the synagogue. At this point, Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, intervened by asserting that if the Christian emperor, Theodosius, applied the letter of the law he would effectively be siding with the Jews. Theodosius backed down. “Ambrose upended the normal paradigm of law and order and redefined the situation in terms of a new emphasis on religious identity that transcended all other considerations ...not only could ‘martyrdom’ now encompass aggressive and provocative violence against non-Christians, but any apology or restitution conceded to the victims would apparently constitute ‘apostasy,’ a denial of Christ”[24]—one need only note the ‘freedom of religion’ ordinances advancing in the neo-Confederate states of America in response to the Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) decision that recognized same-sex marriage to see a modern example of the emphasis on Christian religious identity that transcends all other legal considerations.

The theological divorce between Jews and Christians has translated into real- world horror on numerous occasions but never more so than in Germany in the 1930’s in the setting of die Endlösung der Judenfrage, the “The Final Solu-tion to the Jewish Question.” Gerhard Kittel, the editor of the Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament, the German work translated into English as the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, a work much admired by many scholars,

...produced a body of work between 1933 and 1944 filled with hatred and slander towards Jews and warmly supportive of National Socialist anti-Jewish policies...Kittel admits he was a good Nazi. He had not joined the Party under pressure or for pragmatic reasons; rather he thought, ‘as did countless people in Germany,’ that the Nazi phenomenon was ‘a völkisch renewal movement on a Christian, moral foundation’...[Kittel] set German, Christian, social and völkisch unity against the Enlightenment, modern secularism and liberal democracy ...Some scholars, e.g., the liberal theologian, Adolf von Harnack, had maintained that Christianity was totally unique from Judaism and that the Old Testament should be removed from the Bible...the conclusion he reached coincided with the antisemitic prejudice that Judaism was necessarily inferior and unworthy to be considered the source of Christianity...The clinching assurance for [Emanuel] Hirsch in his encouragement of a Volks church was his conviction that Hitler was a heaven-sent Christian leader...[Kittel] created a theological foundation for Nazi oppression of Jews, yet he somehow was able to reconcile his work with his Christian and academic values...Kittel, Althaus and Hirsch were not isolated or eccentric individuals...These three theologians saw themselves and were seen by others as genuine Christians acting upon genuine Christian impulses.[25]

In his magisterial work on the Catholic origins of anti-Semitism, Carroll remarks on the depth of Christianity’s antipathy: “Without this strain in Europe’s past [“the Crusades, the Inquisition...the intermingling of antimodernism and antisemitism”] a fascist movement organized around Jew hatred, would not have occurred...[Hitler] was a much a creature of the racist, secular, colonizing empire builder who preceded him on the world stage as he was of the religion into which he was born, and which he parodied. But in truth, the racist colonizers, before advancing behind the standards of nations and companies, had marched behind the cross... However modern Nazism was, it planted its roots in the soil of age-old Church attitudes and a nearly unbroken chain of Church-sponsored acts of Jew hatred. However pagan Nazism was, it drew its sustenance from groundwater poisoned by the Church’s most solemnly held ideologyits theology.”[26]

      Paul, heretic and founder of Christianity.

In Antioch Paul and Barnabas preached in the synagogue to Jews, “descendants of Abraham’s race,” and “God fearing” proselytes to whom the word of salvation had been sent. The next Sabbath they appeared again to address the “Jews and [God] fearing proselytes”[27] but met resistance that culminated in a shocking announcement.

   The coming Sabbath nearly the entire city assembled to hear the word of the Lord, but when the Jews saw the crowds they were filled with rivalry and they began to speak out against what Paul was saying, blaspheming.
   Speaking freely, Paul and Barnabas said, “It was compulsory that the word of God be spoken first to you. Seeing that you have cast it aside and do not judge yourselves worthy of everlasting life, listen! We turn to the Gentiles! For the Lord has commanded us as follows: “I have placed you as a light to the Gentiles to spread salvation to the ends of the earth.”[28]
   When the Gentiles heard this they began to celebrate and praise the word of the Lord and as many as were destined for everlasting life believed. The word of the Lord spread throughout the region, but the Jews incited the devout women of noble rank and the principle men of the city and stirred up trouble for Paul and Barnabas and drove them out of the [city] limits. So they shook the dust off their feet [as a curse] against them and left for Iconium and the disciples were filled with joy and holy spirit.[29]

Luke—the true identity of the gospel writers was a matter of conjecture even in the 2nd century, but following convention we’ll call the author “Luke”—“the only Gentile author among the gospel writers,”[30] composed Luke-Acts, “the first, and greatest, of Christian apologies to be addressed to highly placed pagans,”[31] sometime after 80 C.E. Luke-Acts pretends that the mission to the Gentiles resulted from a divine revelation. In the coastal town of Caesarea lived a certain Cornelius, a centurion, a “devout” man who “feared God.” An angel instructed Cornelius to summon Peter who by happy coincidence fell into an ecstatic trance and saw a vision of unclean animals he was commanded to kill and eat. While still pondering the meaning of the vision, “the spirit” told Peter that men were asking for him at the gate. Peter, invited to the home of an unclean Gentile, concluded, “In truth I am convinced that God is not one who judges by appearances.” With the conversion of Cornelius and his household, “the faithful of the circumcision” who accompanied Peter “were amazed…that the gift of the holy spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles.”[32]

“One who judges by appearances” more or less captures the sense of proswpolhmpthj (prosōpolēmptēs)—“one who receives [an impression] by the face”—but the notion that the God of Israel didn’t judge people by appearances would have been news to Jesus who, in addition to being circumcised,[33] wore magical tassels that healed those who touched them,[34] tassels that all pious Jews wore in obedience to the law of Moses.[35] Longer tassels were the mark of greater holiness.[36] Strict observance of the Torah also forbid the cutting of the “forelocks” or “corners,” the hair growing in front of the ears.[37] Jews were obviously meant to be different in appearance from Gentiles, “sanctification by segregation.”[38]

The questionable history of Acts aside, it is clear from the letters of Paul, the missionary-in-chief to the Gentiles, that inclusion of non-Jews provoked a strong reaction from the leadership in Jerusalem. The letters of Paul, who was executed in Rome around 64 C.E., predate the gospel accounts written after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. The gospels read the results of the war back into the preaching of Jesus by having him ‘predict’ the war as a judgment on the Jews.[39]

Paul’s push back is particularly notable in his letter to the Galatians, a circular letter to churches in Asia Minor. Paul—“an apostle neither from men or by men, but from Jesus Christ and God the father”[40]—confronts the house churches that were breaking ranks and changing sides “to a different gospel” and pronounces a curse on his competitors—“again I say, if someone preaches a gospel to you different from what you received, a curse on him!”[41]

The opposition to Paul comes not from pagan Romans, but from fellow Jews as the context of the letter makes clear,[42] “false brothers,”[43] who have turned against Paul due to the machinations of “the so-called pillars” (oi dokountej stuloi)[44] of the Jerusalem church, Peter, James and John. Paul reveals that after a delegation—“certain people”—came from James, the brother of Jesus,[45] in Jerusalem, Peter stopped eating with the Gentile Christians due to fear of “those of the circumcision” and even Barnabas “was led astray by their hypocrisy.”[46]

Paul’s rejection of the Jerusalem leadership was absolute—“we at no time acceded to a subordinate position in order that the truth of the gospel might always endure among you. From those so-called [pillars]—whatever they were means nothing to me—God does not judge by human appearances (pro-swpon o qeoj anqrwpou ou lambanei). The so-called [pillars] contributed nothing to me!”[47] Not only does Paul have no intention of knuckling under to the notables from Jerusalem, he follows up with a scandalous claim:

Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you! Yet again I call every man who submits to circumcision to witness that he is obliged to perform the whole Law. You have been cut off from Christ! Whoever is justified by law, you have fallen from grace![48]

As other references from his letters make clear, Paul rejects circumcision as a sign of election.[49] His rejection of the rites and rituals of Judaism as a means of salvation for Gentiles is absolute:

Watch out for the dogs (touj kunaj)! Watch out for the evil workmen! Watch out for the mutilation (thn katatomhn)! For we are the circumcision (h peritomh), we who serve in the spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and do not rely on the flesh—although I also have reason to rely on the flesh. If anyone else is confident in the flesh, I am much more so: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew [born] of Hebrews, a Pharisee in regards to the Law, a zealous persecutor of the church, as for righteousness according to the Law, blameless…I have lost everything and I regard it as filth (hgoumai skubala)[50] so I may gain Christ!”[51]

In Paul’s mind the reversal is complete—“the immediacy of prophetic charisma functions to neutralize traditional canons of authority.”[52] Circumcision has become “mutilation”—real circumcision occurs through the spirit’s effect on the heart.[53] The “dogs” are no longer unclean Gentiles but the “evil workmen” who insist on imposing Jewish ritual on Paul’s Gentile “house.”[54] This vision clearly contradicts the Jesus of the gospels: “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”[55] Indeed, Jesus tells a rich man he must keep the Law to gain eternal life[56]—“If the same person approached Paul with the same question twenty years later, what would he have said? Would he have told him to keep the Law? His own writings give a clear answer: decidedly not (cf. Rom. 3:10; Gal. 2:15-16).”[57] After much bickering Paul and the Jerusalem church came to a financial arrangement: “Paul insisted that uncircumcised gentiles could become Christians and he argued his case against the restrictive attitudes of the Jerusalem community with vigour. He only got his way when he agreed that his gentile churches would collect money for the church in Jerusalem.”[58] Making a virtue of necessity, Paul says, “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.”[59]

Indeed, Paul’s relationship to Jesus has provoked frequent comment. As Frend notes, “Paul made no recorded attempt to explain Jesus’ teaching, to prove from his words and deeds that he was the Messiah...he made no reference to the virgin birth, the miracles, or any salient incident in Jesus’ ministry...The Lord Christ, the God-man to be known by faith, replaced the prophet from Nazareth experienced by the disciples. [Paul] was not the man to feel compassion for crowds. In some ways, even his sense of the elite prepared the way for a Gnostic system of salvation...Paul was an apocalypticist, believing that the end was rapidly approaching. He imagined himself carrying the gospel as one of the messengers promised for the end times.”[60]

Paul’s inconsistency regarding the Mosaic law did not escape the notice of his Roman detractors—“even though he called circumcision ‘mutilation,’[61] he nevertheless circumcised a certain man named Timothy, as the Acts of the Apostles[62] instructs us...And as if to press the point and make it an offense for anyone to heed the law he says, ‘Those under the law are under a curse. The same man who writes, ‘The law is spiritual’[63] to the Romans, and ‘The law is holy and the commandment holy and just’[64] now puts a curse[65] upon those who obey what is holy!”[66]

“Celsus could argue that Christianity was patently false because, contrary to its own claims, it had deserted Jewish ways. Christians may have claimed to have the correct interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures, but on those points which were clearly set forth in the Scriptures—such as circumcision and keeping of the Sabbath, the festivals, and the food laws—Christians wantonly disregarded the meaning of the very books they claimed as their own... Christianity’s claimed relation to Judaism was perceived as one of its most vulnerable points.”[67] And Julian certainly did not fail to point out that the Christians were double apostates: “Why is it that you do not abide even by the traditions of the Hebrews or accept the law which God has given to them? Nay, you have forsaken their teachings even more than ours, abandoning the religion of your forefathers and giving yourselves over to the predictions of the prophets.”[68] Oddly enough, Jesus had nothing incisive to say about the cutting issue of circumcising of Gentiles: “He never had to. His mission did not extend to Gentiles.”[69]

The whitewashing tendencies of Acts aside, it is apparent from Paul’s letters to his house churches that he did not go unchallenged by the Jerusalem dogs who preached mutilation. Paul’s followers are being seduced by “another Jesus…a different spirit…a different gospel” preached by “crackerjack apostles.”[70] Such men are “false apostles, treacherous workers, disguised as apostles of Christ.” In case there is the slightest doubt about just who these minions of Satan are, Paul asks, “Are they Hebrews? So am I! Are they Israelites? So am I! Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I! Are they ministers of Christ? I speak like a man deranged—I am even more so!”[71]

“For the Aramaic-speaking community which remained in Jerusalem, the Torah was still valid. Anyone who was baptized in the name of Jesus—whether Jew or Gentile—was not free to dispense with the law.”[72] Theological merits aside, the circumstances of history were to seal the fate of the Jerusalem faction. Around the year 62 C.E. a mob inspired by the Jewish authorities murdered Jesus’ brother James. The Christian historian Eusebius, writing many years after the fact, described James as “having been entrusted with the throne of the bishop (o thj episkophj qronoj) in Jerusalem”[73]—Eusebius’ history seeks to validate the hierarchical organization of a later age by superimposing it artificially on the early Jesus movement. “Earliest Christianity consisted in a loosely associated collection of local assemblies that were each sociologically marginal and powerless...leadership in the assembly is clearly both local rather than general and intimately connected to the structure of the household.”[74]

A war added destruction and chaos to the loss of leadership in the mother church when, in C.E. 67, Vespasian invaded Galilee in response to a Jewish revolt. Roman troops entered Judea in 68 C.E. and sacked and burned Jerusalem two years later. While the Romans slaughtered, enslaved and scattered Jews in Christianity’s homeland, the new cult, profoundly changed in character, progressed apace among Gentiles. As a lasting result in this change in fortunes, the New Testament canon, formed in the 3rd and 4th centuries, over-represented the importance of Paul among his 1st century rivals—“because he figures so prominently in the New Testament, Paul’s significance in early Christian history has tended to be grossly overrated.”[75]

Significantly it was in Antioch following Paul’s arrival that “the disciples were first called Christians”[76]—in short, a Jewish faction that followed Paul’s Christ just as some identified themselves by allegiance to particular preachers as mentioned by Paul himself: “What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’”[77] Antioch, a city “infamous for its sense of humor,” did not mean Christian as a compliment—“it was the Antiochenes who dubbed the followers of Christ ‘Christians’ or ‘Christ-groupies.’”[78]

Seen from the standpoint of the founding family in Jerusalem, defeated as much by demographics and the vicissitudes of history as by theology, Paul’s ethnophilic Christianity was the first of many heresies. Starting with Paul, the trajectories of Judaism and Christianity radically diverged. “Although [Christianity] has its roots in Judaism, those roots are both shallow and distributed across a diverse and divided first-century Judaism that was itself deeply marked by Greco-Roman culture.”[79] After C.E. 70 an invocation, the Birkat ha-Minim, the Invocation Against the Heretics, was recited in synagogues to distinguish Jews from Jewish Christians. “This prayer seems to be behind Justin’s assertions in the mid-second century that the Jews curse Christ in the synagogues.”[80]

By the end of the 1st century the Jesus faction that started as a Jewish splinter group based in Jerusalem split into multiple quarreling factions, a process already evident during Paul’s career. Within a few decades of Jesus’ death, Christians were at war with one another, and consistent with their apocalyptic mindset, their internecine squabbles were portrayed in the truculent rhetoric of the final battle between Light and Darkness, God and Satan. “…in the last times some will fall away from (aposthsontai) the faith, misled by deceptive spirits and teachings of demons…for some have already turned away to follow Satan…having a sick craving for controversies and fights about words.”[81] “The one who sins is from the Devil because the Devil has been sinning from the beginning.”[82] “Even as there were false prophets among the people, so also there will be false teachers among you who will introduce destructive heresies (aireseij).”[83] In the beginning the heresy wars were largely a matter of Jews fighting with other Jews over how Jewish Christianity would be.

[The Christians] identified themselves with the ancient texts of Israel …The earliest Christian compositions can be regarded, in fact, as a massive effort to reinterpret Torah in light of the distinctive Christian experiences and convictions connected with Jesus…there is a great distance between a tiny cult trying to find its way in the world in competition with a more ancient and impressive rival, and an imperial church that had (and was willing to use) the power to extirpate its ancient foe…However important Jewish Christianity may have been in earlier generations, it diminishes to the point of disappearance by the mid-second century.[84]

By the late 1st century the rift between Judaism and Christianity had widened to a chasm. The text of the later gospels reflects the internecine struggle between Jesus’ earliest disciples based in Jerusalem and the victorious Pauline ethnophiles. Anachronistically reading this conflict back into Jesus’ preaching, his disciples are warned, “They will hand you over to Sanhedrins (sunedria) and they will scourge you in their synagogues (en taij sunagwgaij).”[85] According to Matthew (composed around 80-90 C.E.), the Son of Man,” now identified with the risen Jesus, “will gather all the [Gentile] nations”[86] before his throne of judgment and in anticipation of this grand finale to history the disciples are commanded to convert “all the nations,” baptizing them most unjewishly “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”[87]

According to Matthew, all the chief priests and Jewish elders “took counsel” to plot some means of killing Jesus and having turned him over to Pilate for execution, the mob threatens to riot if Jesus is released. After Pilate dramatically washes his hands before the crowd, the whole people reply, “His blood on us and on our children!”[88]

The two-volume apologetic we know as Luke-Acts addresses a theological embarrassment and source of intense Christian anxiety: how did the Jewish Messiah come to be roundly rejected by the Jewish people? The gospel of Luke, written at least ten years after the fall of Jerusalem in C.E. 70, puts a ‘prophetic’ parable of condemnation into Jesus’ mouth as he enters the city: a nobleman goes to “a distant country” to obtain kingly power, but on his return is rejected by the citizens who hate him, prompting his command, “Bring them here and slaughter them before me!”[89] In Luke’s version of subsequent events, Peter, who died around C.E. 64, speaks to “the men of Judea” and “all those who live in Jerusalem.” In this retelling, written at least a decade after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, “Israelite men” betrayed Jesus and “you nailed him up by the hands of lawless men.”[90] The wholesale destruction of the city and its people, which took place a generation after the generation that Jesus promised would witness the End, is reinterpreted as a sign of the ever impending but never arriving End.[91]

By the time the gospel of John was composed (after 90 C.E.) the break with Judaism was complete: “Abraham is our father” is answered by “You are from your father the Devil and you are inclined to do your father’s desires.”[92] “Those of the synagogue of Satan,” who claim “they themselves are Jews” but are liars, will be forced by Jesus to their knees before the feet of Christians in order to know “that I loved you.”[93] Christians have replaced the Jews as God’s elect—the Christians are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.”[94] The Jews, on the other hand, have become the symbol of everything evil; the gospel of John, seeking to ingratiate Christians with Roman authority, “suppresses all traces of Roman initiative in Jesus’ execution.”[95] As Carroll points out, once “the embattled Jewish sect” morphed into the Gentile Church, “the structure of the foundational story was set, the ground of Christian memory, the longest lie.”[96]

“If you, being a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how then do you demand the Gentiles live as Jews (Ioudaizein)?”[97] Based on this verse, subsequent generations of Christians characterized the advocates of Jewish practice as “Judaizers”—from Ioudaizein (Ioudaizein), to live according to Jewish customs. Christians who believed the destruction of Jerusalem was punishment “since [the Jews] killed the prophesied Christ”[98] clearly did not share Paul’s belief that “all Israel will be saved.”[99]

The internal scrimmage initiated by Paul, a Jew born of Jews, in the Jewish splinter group that would become Christianity became the theological justification for two millennia of horror by setting a grim precedent, “to confirm for Christians their own identification with God and to demonize their opponents—first other Jews, then pagans, and later dissident Christians called heretics.”[100] Well before the closure of the New Testament canon apostasy (apostasia),[101] heresy (airesij)[102] and heretical (airetikoj)[103] entered the Christian vocabulary, sealing the fate of countless future lives. As pointed out by Brakke, heresy is “an invention” created “through practices such as excommunication, ritualized condemnation, and silencing of texts”[104] to say nothing of being tried sub rosa, tortured with thumb screws, racked, water boarded or burned alive at the stake.

The triumph of Pauline Christianity marked a stunning reversal: the earliest tradition among Jesus’ followers became Judaizing, and the most primitive form of Christianity, its original form, became its first heresy.

...beyond question, in some areas what was later called heresy preceded ‘orthodoxy’. This insight of Bauer’s proves itself in particular in connection with the earlier Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem, the descendants of which were called heretics. But it may also apply to other Christian groups…[the] historical picture of orthodoxy always preceding heresy misled Christian theology for almost two thousand years, deterring critical scholarship from reconstructing Christian origins as they really were.[105]

In his 20th century classic, Walter Bauer identified this reversal.

It could be said that the Jewish Christians in their opposition to Paul introduced the notion of “heresy” into the Christian consciousness. The arrow quickly flew back at the archer. Because of their inability to relate to a development that took place on hellenized gentile soil, the Judaists soon became a heresy, rejected with conviction by the gentile Christians. Basically, they probably remained what they had been in the time of James the Just…Thus the Judaists become an instructive example of how even one who preserves the old position can become a “heretic” if the development moves sufficiently far beyond him.[106]

The importance of this point should not be overlooked. “…the priority of orthodoxy and the subsequent nature of heresy” is a lie, the invention of the sect that finally emerged victorious. Following the analogy of the church historian Rousseau, Brakke likens the emergence of ‘orthodox’ Christianity to a horse race: “In this model, we cannot really see the starting gate, but around the year 100 CE, numerous independent Christian communities come into view”[107] and it is only near the end of the 3rd century that the eventual winner —often called “proto-orthodoxy”—is revealed. The heretical churches of Marcion, “the first Christian to attempt to define a canon of Scripture,” mostly be excising the overtly Jewish material, “filled the whole world” according to Tertullian; besides Rome and Carthage, they are documented in various cities of Asia Minor and in Syria, including Antioch, but “in the end, Marcion’s church took permanent root only in parts of Syria and towards the Euphrates frontier.”[108]

In 451 C.E. the church council at Chalcedon ruled against the Monophysites —from monoj (monos), single, and fusij (phusis), nature—Christians who believed that Jesus had a single divine nature. After 451 the Christians of the west declared that Jesus had two natures, one divine and one human, ‘made known in two natures without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.’ With Chalcedon the Church took another long step away from the ‘historical’ Jesus“Not only were Monophysites numerous and influential, but they dominated much of the Christian world and the Roman Empire long after Chalcedon...The heirs of the very oldest churches, the ones with the most direct and authentic ties to the apostolic age, found their distinctive interpretation of Christ ruled as heretical...Each side persecuted its rivals when it had the opportunity to do so, and tens of thousands—at least—perished. Christ’s nature was a cause for which people were prepared to kill and die, to persecute or to suffer martyrdom.”[109] A few Christian sects, notably the Copts and the Syriac Orthodox Church, still retain the Monophysite creed.

We can identify a further cause of animosity between Christians and Jews: under Julius Caesar the Jews were recognized as a religio licita, a policy continued under Augustus, Caligula, Nero and even Vespasian.[110] Besides being protected by imperial decree, Judaism was respected for its antiquity—“nothing was older or more venerable than Jewish cult,” synagogues “were well-known buildings” in many Roman cities and “the upper-class Jewish priesthood had a strong history of support for Rome.”[111] The protections afforded by official recognition of Judaism did not, however, extend to Christians who the Romans eventually recognized as a Jewish heresy, a process hastened by the new sect’s anti-Jewish polemic. “ religions do not come into being ex nihilo, but are in some sense always heretical or revitalization movements ...the new group draws a tight circle around itself and insists that it has broken radically with the corruption of the previous order.”[112]

Which leads us to another insight first advanced by pagan critics, namely that there was never just one Christianity.

[1] Matthew 10:5-7.
[2] Jeffers, The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era, 67.
[3] Lüdemann, Heretics, 63.
[4] Mark 4:3-8.
[5] Mark 6:34.
[6] Matthew 6:26-28.
[7] Frend, The Rise of Christianity, 17.
[8] Benko, Pagan Rome and the Early Christians, 16-19.
[9] Romans 2:24.
[10] Harris, The End of Faith, 93.
[11] Mark 7:27.
[12] Connolly, New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity, 158.
[13] Grant, Jesus, 122.
[14] Matthew 15:24.
      Compare Matthew 23:37: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often I wanted to gather
  your children together…”
[15] Matthew 7:6.
[16] Matthew 10:5.
[17] Lüdemann, Paul, 221.
[18] Lane Fox, The Unauthorized Version, 285.
[19] Frend, 18.
[20] Harris, The End of Faith, 94.
[21] Fredriksen, From Jesus to Christ, vii, 211.
[22] Frend, The Rise of Christianity, 43.
[23] James 1:1.
[24] Gaddis, There Is No Crime for Those Who Have Christ, 194-196.
[25] Ericksen, Theologians Under Hitler: Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus and Emanuel
Hirsch, 30, 31, 35, 50, 148, 198-199.
[26] Carroll, Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews, 475-476.
[27] “[God] fearing proselyte”sebomenoj proshlutoj—is a fixed expression for Gen-
tiles converted to Judaism.
[28] Isaiah 49:6.
    The context reveals that the restoration of Israel is being predicted (Isaiah 49:5-7).
[29] Acts 13:26, 43, 44-52 (my translation).
[30] Pagels, The Origen of Satan, 89.
[31] Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians, 430.
[32] Acts 10:1-6, 9-17, 34, 45.
[33] Luke 2:21.
[34] Mark 6:56; Matthew 9:20-21; Luke 8:44.
[35] Numbers 15:37-41.
[36] Matthew 23:5.
[37] Leviticus 19:27.
[38] Lüdemann, Heretics: The Other Side of Early Christianity, 65.
[39] Luke 20:20-21, for example.
[40] Galatians 1:1.
[41] Galatians 1:6, 8, 9.
[42] Galatians 4:10; 6:12.
[43] Galatians 2:4.
[44] Galatians 2:9.
    The verb dokew (dokeō), to seem, carries strong implications of an appearance bas-
ed on opinion, pretense, or conjecture.
[45] Mark 6:3.
[46] Galatians 2:9, 11-12.
[47] Galatians 2:5-6 (my translation).
[48] Galatians 5:2-4 (my translation).
[49] Romans 3:30; 1 Corinthians 7:19; Galatians 5:6.
[50] The term skubalon (skubalon), means dung, manure, offal. It would barely be an
 exaggeration to translate it as “shit.”
[51] Philippians 3:2-9 (my translation).
[52] Gager, Kingdom and Community, 30.
[53] Romans 2:29.
[54] 1 Corinthians 3:9-17.
[55] Matthew 5:19, NIV.
[56] Matthew 19:17.
[57] Ehrman, Lost Christianities, 99.
[58] Freeman, Egypt, Greece and Rome: Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean, 487.
[59] Galatians 2:10.
[60] Frend, 92-93, 97.
[61] Galatians 5:12; Philippians 3:2.
[62] Acts 16:3.
[63] Romans 7:14.
[64] Romans 7:12.
[65] Galatians 3:10.
[66] Hoffman, Porphyry’s Against the Christians, 58, 62.
[67] Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, 116-117.
[68] Wright, “Against the Galileans,” The Works of the Emperor Julian, III, 389.
[69] Fredriksen, 107.
[70] 2 Corinthians 11:4-5 (my translation).
[71] 2 Corinthians 11:13-14, 22-23 (my translation).
[72] Lüdemann, Heretics, 40.
[73] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History II, 23.
[74] Johnson, Among the Gentiles, 234-235.
[75] Gager, 4.
[76] Acts 11:26.
[77] 1 Corinthians 1:12, NIV.
[78] Murdock, The Last Pagan: Julian the Apostate, 120.
[79] Johnson, Among the Gentiles, 131.
[80] McKechnie, The First Christian Centuries, 86.
[81] 1 Timothy 4:1, 5:15, 6:4.
[82] 1 John 3:8.
[83] 2 Peter 2:1.
[84] Johnson, Among the Gentiles, 1-2, 173.
[85] Matthew 10:17.
[86] Matthew 25:32.
[87] Matthew 28:19.
[88] Matthew 27: 1-2, 24-25.
[89] Luke 19:11-12, 27.
[90] Acts 2:14, 22-23.
[91] Luke 21:20.
[92] John 8:39, 44.
[93] Revelation 3:9.
[94] 1 Peter 2:9.
[95] Pagels, 104-105, 106.
[96] Carroll, 91.
[97] Galatians 2:14.
[98] Origen, Contra Celsum I, 47.
[99] Romans 11:26.
[100] Pagels, xvi.
[101] 2 Thessalonians 2:3.
[102] 1 Corinthians 11:19.
[103] Titus 3:10.
[104] Brakke, The Gnostics, 15.
[105] Lüdemann, Heretics: The Other Side of Christianity, 11-12.
[106] Bauer, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, 236.
[107] Brakke, 6,7.
    The reader interested in more detail is referred to Ehrman’s Lost Christianities:
The Battles for Scriptures and the Faiths We Never Knew, particularly pages 95-134, 159-180.
[108] Frend, 215, 217.
[109] Jenkins, Jesus Wars, xi.
     “Mussolini even gave, as one of his justifications for the use of poison gas and
other gruesome measures in Abyssinia, the persistence of its inhabitants in the heresy of Monophysitism...” (Hitchens, God is Not Great, 236).
[110] Berchman, Porphyry Against the Christians, 25.
[111] Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians, 428-429.
[112] Gager, 12.