Book review: Jewish Christianity Reconsidered

★★★★★

by Matt Jackson-McCabe

Ten scholars present papers (now seven years old) about early Jewish Christians, their writings and practices.

It’s a slippery topic. All scholars recognize the ambiguity in the term “Jewish Christian,” which makes classification difficult. Understanding that Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism, where exactly do you draw the line between Judaism and Christianity? The term usually refers to Jesus-followers who continue Jewish practices, such as Sabbath observance, circumcision, and dietary restrictions. But what makes a person more of a “Jewish Christian” (speaking of practice, not nationality) than a Christianized Jew? It’s a sliding scale without full consensus, but this book examines early Christian groups and certain Christian texts which lean toward Judaism; enough to be classified as “Jewish Christianity.” These include:

Groups: The Jerusalem church; the “Christ-believing Jews” who opposed Paul; the Ebionites & Nazarenes; and the Johannine Community

Texts: Q, Matthew, James, Revelation, the Didache, and the Pseudo-Clementines

The examination of the epistle of James was the most interesting to me. You may find the writing a bit on the scholarly side unless this is a topic which fascinates you. For me, it’s more than fascinating; it’s essential to understanding our Christian roots. This is because in my own studies, I have come to believe that Jewish Christians (particularly the Ebionites) trace their heritage back to the church leadership in Jerusalem, headed by the inner apostles themselves. This is not to say that Jewish Christianity didn’t evolve … it surely did, as did other strands of Christianity … but its roots are just as strongly anchored in the earliest Jesus traditions as the Gentile religion we’re more familiar with.

I found this an essential collection for those who want to keep their finger on the pulse of early Christian tradition. Definitely recommended.

Fortress Press, © 2007, 389 pages

ISBN: 978-0-8006-3865-8

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