No More Clever Titles: Observations on Some Recent Studies of Jewish-Christian Relations in the Roman World

By Williams, Megan Hale | The Jewish Quarterly Review, January 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

No More Clever Titles: Observations on Some Recent Studies of Jewish-Christian Relations in the Roman World


Williams, Megan Hale, The Jewish Quarterly Review


Adam H. Becker and Annette Yoshiko Reed, eds. The Ways That Never Parted: Jem and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early MiddL· Aged. Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism 95. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003. Pp. viü + 410.

Daniel Boyarín. Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism. Figurae: Reading Medieval Culture. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1999. Pp. xi + 247.

Daniel Boyarín. Border Lines: The Partition of J udaeo -Christianity. Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004. Pp. xv + 374.

Judith M. Lieu. Neither Jew nor Greek? Constructing Early Christianity. Studies of the New Testament and Its World. London and New York: T&T Clark, 2002. Pp. xiü + 263.

By the early 1990S, the relations between Judaism and Christianity in the Roman world had come to be interpreted in terms of the model of the "Parting of the Ways." The traditional view, in which Christianity descended from (and by implication, superseded) pre-Christian Judaism, had been replaced by a new paradigm that treated both Judaism and Christianity as coeval descendants of a common Second Temple Jewish ancestor. Scholars like Alan Segal, who figured the two traditions as twin offspring of Rebecca, and James D. G. Dunn, who perhaps did most to popularize the phrase "the parting of the ways," all approached the common history of Judaism and Christianity in the early centuries of the Roman empire with the same basic assumption: that at some point in antiquity, Judaism and Christianity emerged as, in the words of Daniel Boyarín, "self-identical religious organisms," which might interact, but could never overlap, with one another. The question then was to establish when and how this separation had taken place.1

The "parting of the ways" paradigm avoided the obvious explanatory limitations of the approach it replaced, while responding to pressing ethical concerns. As Annette Reed and Adam Becker recount in their introduction to The Ways That Never Parted, Christian scholars who rejected anti-Semitism - before, during, and especially after the Nazi Holocaust - had sought to reform supersessionist models of the relation of Judaism and Christianity in antiquity. Reed and Becker point out that "the metaphor of 'parted ways' allows for both Judaism and Christianity to be approached as authentic religions in their own right, with equally strong links to the biblical and Second Temple Jewish heritage that they share. As such, this model proves palatable to Jews and Christians alike . . . the notion of the 'parting of the ways' fits well with contemporary ecumenical concerns, providing a foundation for interreligious dialogue and buttressing popular appeals to a common ' Judaeo- Christian' ethic."2

Unfortunately, the model also created a range of new problems. As Judith Lieu observed already in 1994, in an essay later collected in her volume Neither Greek nor Jew?, "as soon as one asks the questions of time and place appropriate to a historical account, the model becomes increasingly vague - hence Dunn's book is in fact titled Parting^, there seems little to decide between those who, when asked for a date, speak of the 50s of the first century, and those who would put it a century later. Both can appeal to good evidence on their side in the terms in which they define the question. The problem is exacerbated when we find that geography equally resists the scheme and we are forced to speak of considerable variation in time and place."3 As Lieu notes further along in the same essay, and as Boyarín argued in his 1999 book Dying for God, the chronological options could be broadened even further: on one view, it was only under the Christian empire that developed over the course of the fourth century that Christianity and Judaism finally diverged.4 But to push the "parting of the ways" so late would make it irrelevant to the question it was originally intended to answer: as Lieu puts it, "how to understand an early first century in which we find Judaism and, within it, a charismatic preacher with a band of followers, and a later period (at least, let us agree, by the time of Constantine) in which Judaism and Christianity are recognizable as two separate and independent systems. …

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