Marianne Dacy. the Separation of Early Christianity from Judaism

By Fernandes, Ruth Sheridan | The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies, Annual 2010 | Go to article overview

Marianne Dacy. the Separation of Early Christianity from Judaism


Fernandes, Ruth Sheridan, The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies


Marianne Dacy. The Separation of Early Christianity from Judaism. New York: Cambria Press, 2009. Pp. vii + 356. Hardcover. $120.00.

Marianne Dacy's book is a welcome addition to the ever-growing field of scholarship on the separation of Christianity and Judaism in the first centuries of the Common Era. In her introductory chapter, Dacy situates her study within the context of contemporary Jewish-Christian relations, arguing that an understanding of how and where the relationship between Judaism and Christianity deteriorated will facilitate an appreciation of how the two religions can dialogue successfully today. Consequently, Dacy's methodological procedure is largely historical-critical and her engagement with the many and varied primary sources--both Jewish and Christian, "religious" and legal material--indicates the extraordinary breadth of her reading.

What sets Dacy's work apart from the voluminous secondary research on the topic is the way she has collected the evidence: Dacy maps a series of "separations" between early Christianity and Judaism that can be distinctly analysed, but that also in some ways overlap. Some of these areas, Dacy claims, have not been given due attention in the scholarly literature for their role in the separation of the two faiths, for example, in the liturgical separation of Sunday from Sabbath and Easter from Passover. Dacy also attends carefully to the texts of the early Church councils, beginning with the so-called "Council of Jerusalem" in Acts 15 and stretching through to the Synod of Laodicea in 360 CE, in order to understand how the early Church developed what could be called an institutionalised anti-Judaism. Dacy supplements this trajectory with an analysis of key rabbinic texts and recent archaeological findings.

Dacy's conclusions are sound and well-articulated. Dacy argues that fixing an exact "date" for the separation of Christianity from Judaism is inappropriate, as the process was complex and many faceted and took many centuries. However, some common threads can be drawn from each distinct area analysed: Christian praxis was gradually de-judaised, firstly under the "moral" authority of Church councils, and later under the "judicial" authority of the Theodosian Code. Christian theology increasingly divinised the person of Jesus, a position enshrined definitively at Nicaea. Dacy also concludes that early Christianity held an ambiguous attitude towards its parent tradition--on the one hand it claimed to be the "New Israel," the fulfilment of Judaism, but on the other hand, it forbade Jewish practices and synagogue participation and rejected fundamental aspects of Jewish law.

There are a couple of points where I think Dacy's work might have been enhanced by attention to the relevant secondary literature. Firstly, given her position that early Christianity exhibited a certain ambiguity about its place vis-a-vis Judaism, I was surprised to find no mention of the issue of the development of the Christian canon and its retention of the Hebrew Scriptures. Dacy touches on the development of the canonical Scriptures of Judaism (the Masoretic Text) as a partial "reaction" to the Christian appropriation of the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures). …

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