The great Judeo-Christian divorce

Jewish Christ by Rembrandt

Former priest James Carroll's new book, Christ Actually, places Jesus in his Jewish context and raises tough questions. He spoke with about religious violence, Pope Francis and why Christians should bring their Jewish friends to church.

- By Michael Schulson,

Jesus died around the year 33. Thirty years later, the Romans began killing Jews in a more systematic way. Between 67 and 136, over the course of a three-phase war, the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem and killed thousands, perhaps even millions, of Jews, in communities across the Mediterranean.

It was during this period that the Gospels were written, offering the first accounts we have of Jesus’ life. Christianity was born as a Jewish sect, during a time of terrible violence. 

Carroll isn’t interested in pinning down the exact historical details of Jesus’ life, though. Instead, in Christ Actually, he seeks an interpretation of Jesus that isn’t quite so warped by hostility and war. The interpretation that emerges is of a resolutely nonviolent, wholly Jewish figure—a figure, in short, who offers little traction for anti-Semitism and holy war.

Reached by phone, Carroll spoke with Salon about religious violence, Pope Francis and why Christians should bring their Jewish friends to church.

Originally, Christianity was a Jewish sect. Eventually, it became something religiously distinct—and, often, hostile to Judaism. Where exactly does that divergence begin?

It is not a specific historical point. Into the third century, there are some people who are observing Shabbat on Friday evenings and also going to the eucharistic table on Sunday.

There are some Jewish people who are observing kosher but also remembering Jesus as Messiah. The final and complete break is with the conversion of Constantine [in the fourth century], which is the conversion of the Roman Empire to the Church—when the Empire begins to enforce the boundary with violence.

That’s part two of the break. Part one of the break, I’m arguing, is the Roman war against the Jews. Let’s say there were five separate parties of Judaism in the 60s of the first century. Sadducees, Pharisees, the priesthood, the Essenes, the Jordan Valley—multiple ways of being Jewish.

All of them were destroyed in the Roman war except two: the party associated with the rabbis, who left Jerusalem and refused to be part of the war against Rome. And the other party, the Jesus people, who also split from Jerusalem and set up in Galilee. It’s because they refused to be part of the violent resistance against Rome that they survived at all. Two new religions come out of the destruction of the Temple [during the Roman war]...

Read full article: James Carroll on disarming the memory of Jesus: “America threatens the world with violence in ways that no other country does” (Salon)


Review: ‘Christ Actually’ by James Carroll (The Boston Globe)

Catholics, Jews and the Netherlands (The Economist)

Fundamentalism in the land of Jesus (Eureka Street)


Archbishop Mark Coleridge on the Early Church (CathNews on YouTube)

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