Judaism in the Beginning of Christianity

By Jacob Neusner | Go to book overview

5
JUDAISM
BEYOND
CATASTROPHE

The Destruction
of the Temple
and the Renaissance
of Torah

To understand the context in which the first Christians in the Land of Israel received Christ and responded to his life and teachings, we have to return one last time to the destruction of Jerusalem and the cessation of the service of sacrifice to God at the Temple. The entire history of Christianity and Judaism alike flowed across the abyss of that catastrophe. Each religious tradition had to make sense of what it meant to worship God in ways lacking all precedent in the history of Israel, of which each religious tradition claimed to be the natural outcome and fulfillment. Accordingly, we return to the religious meaning of that awesome event, the end of a thousand-year-old cult and culture, the beginning of what we now know to be a twothousand-year continuation, in old new ways, of ancient Israel's life in Judaism and Christianity. We review the meanings of the events of 70 C.E. as those events are portrayed in rabbinical writings of later times that refer to them: the theological issue, the rabbinical response. The principal figure at hand, Yohanan ben Zakkai, described in rabbinical writings as Hillel's leading disciple, is represented as the master, the sage and rabbi, whose teachings guided Israel beyond the end, so we focus upon stories and sayings told about and assigned to him. Yavneh was the town in which he had taken refuge.


THEOLOGICAL CHALLENGE

Yohanan ben Zakkai turned, first of all, to the problem of faith. At Yavneh his attention was drawn to the deep despair of the Jews. With Jerusalem in Roman hands and the Temple in ruins, some saw themselves as the rejected children of God, born to disaster. Others accepted the prophetic teaching that suffering was punishment for sin

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