THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH - VOLUME 1 : by Philip Carrington, Archbishop of Quebec. Published by the syndics of the Cambridge University Press, 1957. Katapi edition by Paul Ingram, 2013.


| HOME | |< | << | The passing of the old Judaism | The Flavian emperors | Josephus in Rome | Rabbinic Judaism | Rabbinic traditions about Jesus | Samaria | Simon of Gitta (Simon Magus) | Jewish gnosis | The legend of James the Just | The fate of the Jewish church | The Matthew tradition | Jewish-Christian missionaries | The Epistles of James and Jude | >> |


The fall of Jerusalem was the greatest historical event of the century next to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Rome had once again annihilated a rival; in this case an oriental city of great wealth, high antiquity, and world-wide influence, for she was the metropolis of a vast dispersion. There were millions of Jews in Europe, Asia, and Africa; and all their synagogues paid tribute to Jerusalem. The Christian churches were part of this Dispersion, for they had not altogether emerged from the synagogue stage, or severed themselves from the old Judaism; but now the great city was gone, and only the Dispersion was left. The lamentations over Babylon express their grief in dramatic form:

Woe, woe, the great city!
Babylon the strong city!
For in one hour thy judgement came.
(Rev. xviii. 10.)

The city, the throne, the Temple, the priesthood, and the sacrifice, renowned through all the ages, had vanished. Cries of mourning are mixed with chants of triumph as her smoke goeth up for ever and ever.
The old Judaism left two principal sons or successors; one was the tradition of the Law in the Pharisee schools, which gave birth to modern Judaism; the other was the gospel of Jesus in the apostolic schools, which gave birth to catholic Christianity. There were other successors, of course, but they had no future. These are both with us.

The old Jerusalem church had been the mother-church of apostolic Christendom. Judaea and Samaria owed their evangelization to Jerusalem, |239 and Antioch received her missions of many sorts. The Pauline churches sent up their pilgrims with gifts for the saints, and in all probability received their envoys, as Antioch did. In some sense she had provided a centre of affection and loyalty, to which the Gentile churches responded; but it is not possible to define the extent of her leadership. In any case it was gone now. No other earthly metropolis ever took her place. The Christian church became a dispersion pure and simple.

It would seem that the Jewish Christians in Palestine had always regarded the Gentile mission rather in this light. Peter, the apostle of the circumcision, and James, the brother of the Lord, had both addressed the Christian world at large as the 'dispersion' in their Epistles, or were so represented by persons writing in their names, if we prefer that theory. This Christian dispersion provided the main body of the world-church which was now taking form; Jewish Christianity was sadly reduced in importance; but it still had a part to play in the development and formulation of a catholic Christianity. Its influence may have been greater than is usually suspected.


The old line of Roman emperors which had begun with Julius Caesar and Augustus came to an end with Nero, who left no possible claimants from this family alive. Vespasian, who became emperor in 69, came from a country family whose middle name was Flavius. He had two sons, Titus and Domitian, who succeeded him as emperors. We have mentioned his brother, Flavius Sabinus, who was prefect of the city in the sixties and lost his life in the civil wars; his children were brought up with the imperial family, and one of these, Titus Flavius Clemens, became a Christian, or was favourably interested in Christianity.


After the war Vespasian remained personally responsible for the administration of Judaea, and put in another procurator or imperial agent. Caesarea became an even more important city, for it was independent of the proconsul of Syria. No suggestion of an independent Jewish state was allowed to remain. The system of government by high priests disappears from history. Jerusalem was not rebuilt. Nothing was left of it, Josephus says, but a piece of the wall (the piece which is still standing) and three towers. This, no doubt, was something of |240 an exaggeration; but modern excavation has not found any signs of rebuilding or resettlement before the reign of Hadrian. Nevertheless Epiphanius, copying some old manuscript in the fourth century, says that houses were left standing on the south-eastern hill which was known as Ophel. These included a Christian church and seven synagogues. We shall give this narrative, for what it is worth, when we come to the reign of Hadrian.

Arch of Titus (part)
The arch of Titus, Rome. Showing Roman soldiers carrying the great candlestick and other treasures from the Temple after the sack of Jerusalem AD.70.


Vespasian and Titus celebrated a triumph in Rome. That is to say they rode through the streets of Rome on white horses, clothed in white robes and purple silk. There were troops of soldiers in the procession, and lines of captives, and displays of loot, which included such religious ornaments from the Temple as the seven-branched candlestick and the golden trumpets, which may still be seen in the sculptures on the Arch of Titus. The official scrolls of the Law, which were said to be written on skins in letters of gold, were deposited in the imperial palace, where the gorgeous veils or curtains of the holy place were also hung. Simon the son of Geiora was dragged along at the end of a rope, subjected to torture, and put to death in the Forum. John of Gischala was imprisoned for life. Josephus, his mortal enemy, who had been useful to Vespasian, was granted the Roman citizenship and an estate in Judaea, the revenues of which he was permitted to enjoy in Rome. He was a favourite at court and devoted himself to writing history, in which such characters as Ananus the high priest, Agrippa the king, Vespasian, Titus, and Josephus himself all appear in an extremely favourable light, the blame for the war being laid on the lunatic emperors, the bad procurators, and the Zealot parties.

His first literary effort was a history of the war written in Aramaic for the benefit of the barbarians in the upper regions, that is to say for non-Greeks in the Syrian principalities. This book has not been preserved, but it appeared in an enlarged form in the Jewish Wars, and was followed by other works, which occupied him until the end of the century. These books were written in Greek, with some help; and his mastery of the Greek language and literature does him great credit. They show, too, how a Jew from Palestine could put out literature in Greek, with some assistance, as it seems the apostolic writers did.

|241 His friendship with the Flavian emperors suggests that they were by no means prejudiced against the Jews. Indeed, when Agrippa and Bernice visited Rome in 75, they were well entertained, and Titus showed considerable interest in Bernice; but the Roman people did not hesitate to show their displeasure at such a friendship.


Meanwhile there had to be a restoration of the Jewish social and religious life in northern Palestine, where Jews were still to be found in some numbers. A conquering power is bound to establish or recognize some native authority through which it may work with the conquered people; and this recognition fell upon the group of Pharisee Rabbis who were settled at Jamnia, not far from Caesarea. ' Give me Jabneh', Johanan ben Zakkai had said to Vespasian, according to the tradition in the Talmud; and this academy was the centre from which the new Judaism was organized and the old precepts adapted to the new conditions. We hear of other schools in the vicinity, that of Eliezer ben Hyrcanus at Lydda, and that of Gamaliel II at Caesarea; and both of these were Christian centres too, as we learn from Acts. Johanan was the leading extant representative of the old school of Hillel and represented his broad-minded tradition. Eliezer had listened with pleasure to a halakah or opinion on the Law which was said to have been expressed by Jesus of Nazareth, and would by no means deny him a place in the life to come. Gamaliel held classes in Greek.

We see them through the traditions which were handed down in later generations. By the end of the century a sanhedrin or council of Rabbis had come into existence, for which a sacred pedigree was worked out. The early tractate called Pirke Aboth, or' Sentences of the Fathers', is virtually an anthology of their sayings arranged in genealogical form. Ezra, it was said, had delivered the whole Law, both oral and written, to the men of the Great Synagogue, a shadowy institution of whose existence there is no direct evidence. Since that time each generation had boasted of its 'pair' of great teachers, who had handed on the sacred tradition intact. When Jesus went up to the Temple in Jerusalem as a boy about A.D. 7 or 8, the pair of teachers were Hillel and Shammai, and their schools were still strongly organized bodies.

Hillel was a learned broad-minded scholar from the Jewish academies |242 of 'Babylon'. His religious insight and intellectual powers were of the highest order; he was the founder of the dominant Pharisee school which was called the house of Hillel. He was affectionately referred to as Za-ken, or 'The Elder', which was explained by a characteristic rabbinic etymology as Zeh-sh-Kanah – 'he who has gotten' or 'acquired' – the word 'wisdom' being supplied to complete the phrase. The grandson of Hillel was Gamaliel I, the master of St Paul, who had advised caution in handling the Nazarenes. The son of this Gamaliel was Simeon II, who perished in the siege of Jerusalem; and Simeon's son was the Gamaliel II to whom we have referred. It was he who became the head or prince of the sanhedrin towards the end of the century; he lived in great state at Caesarea, the capital city; his manner was imperious; he taught in both languages. The hereditary patriarchate was established in this way at this time. The descendants of Hillel presided over the sanhedrin and were the rulers of Israel.

In the earlier stages, however, immediately after the war, the most influential leader was Johanan ben Zakkai at Jamnia. He is said to have had five disciples, Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, Joshua ben Hananya, Jose the priest, Simon ben Nathaniel, and Eleazar ben Arach. A didactic succession was thus established, which passed from master to pupil, or, as it was sometimes expressed, from father to son. The sages were often referred to as aboth (pronounced avoth ) which is a specialized plural of the word ab which means father. They could also be called z'kenim, the elders, or hakamim, the wise; but the characteristic title for the sages of this generation came to be tannaim, the repeaters. They originated nothing; they repeated and explained what they had received from the elders before them.

It was in this way, by constant repetition within the schools, where one memory could be checked by another, that the mass of oral documents was handed down from one generation to another; until they were finally written down in the Mishnah in the days of Rabbi Judah the Holy, the seventh from Hillel, between about 180 and 220. It was precisely in this way, of course, that the words of Jesus were handed down in the school of disciples which he established. The disciples of the sages were admitted into the teaching succession by the laying-on of hands of three accredited teachers, a procedure which was continued in the ordination of a bishop in the Christian church. The bishop, sitting |243 in his chair, is the descendant, by one line of descent, of the Jewish rabbi.

Western readers of the present age have to rid themselves of the notion that there was something uncertain or casual about an 'oral tradition' of this kind. On the contrary, it was a rigidly organized system of transmitting knowledge, the sages or wise men being the reference libraries of their day. The mode of transmission had nothing odd or peculiar about it, but was the normal method before the time came when books could be easily produced, and the trained memory was superseded and impaired by the use of note-books. The history of the Maoris of New Zealand, during their eight centuries of residence there, has been reconstructed from their organized oral tradition,which even sheds light on the period before they came to the islands, and the way they got there.


Joseph Klausner, in his book Jesus of Nazareth, has collected some of the statements about Jesus in the Mishnah which may safely be credited to the tannaim of the first century. Among them are the following: he was illegitimate; he went down into Egypt where he learned magic; he gave opinions on the Law and scoffed at the words of the wise; he practised magic and deceived the people; he was hanged on the eve of the Passover. The tone of these remarks is naturally critical; the detail is not always accurate, and in some cases may not have been intended to be taken literally; nevertheless, the picture which they convey corroborates the picture given in the Gospels. The Egyptian story has a special affinity with the first Gospel, and the date assigned to the crucifixion agrees with the fourth.

In these rabbinic traditions we have clear references to sayings of Jesus, which always resemble those found in Matthew, and sometimes those found only in Matthew. We are also told of a certain Jacob (the name which is reproduced in our Bible as James) of Kefar Sama or Kefar Sekanya, who taught the halakoth of Jesus (his pronouncements about the Law), and healed the sick in his name. We are also given a list of five disciples of Jesus: Mattai, Naqai, Netser, Buni, and Todah. It looks as if he was thought of as the head of a teaching school like Johanan ben Zakkai, who is also allotted five principal disciples; or |244 Ezra, who had five disciples to help him to rewrite the Law, according to the Apocalypse of Ezra ; « There is a rabbinic tradition that five scholars made the translation known as the Septuagint. and it is worth noting that the Gospels know of five disciples of Jesus who were selected prior to the remainder of the twelve: Simon, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew (or Levi). The only recognizable names in the rabbinic list are Mattai (Matthew) and Todah (Thaddaeus). The attempts to identify the three others are mere guess-work: Naqai perhaps Nicodemus (representing the Mishnaic name Naq-dimon?); Netser perhaps Andrew; and Buni perhaps John the son of Zebedee, the surviving member of the pair who were given the name of Boanerges.

The picture in the Mishnah is not based on written Gospels, though such Gospels are mentioned by second-century Rabbis. It is their corporate memory of Jesus and his teaching succession, as it continued to operate in the first century after the destruction of Jerusalem. Its value consists in the fact that it is completely independent evidence, and not always of a friendly character. It tells of a teaching succession in which Matthew was now the leading name, a point which receives some cor-roboration from the similar oral tradition among the Christians. In Jacob of Kefar Sama (or Sekanya) Klausner is prepared to see James the brother of the Lord, though there are serious chronological difficulties about this identification; in the mysterious Naqai he sees Luke. Luke would not be a familiar name in Palestine, one would think; but the Epistle ascribed to James is very closely related at some points to the teaching of Jesus, which it calls the royal law or law of liberty; and it advocates anointing with oil in the name of Jesus.

The regular name for the Christians in the Mishnah is notzrim, which appears in the New Testament as Nazareans or Nazoreans, or even Nazarenes; they are sometimes alluded to as minim or heretics; and we shall see that Jewish Christianity was invaded by the heretical sects.


After the Jewish war Samaria was rewarded for its loyalty to Rome. Vespasian built the Samaritans a fine city near the site of Shechem, the ancient city where Abraham had erected his first altar and Israel chose its first king. It was not far from Mount Gerizim, where the Samaritan |245 temple was situated, and it must soon have become one of the leading cities of Palestine. The orthodox Samaritans of this period, apart from their attachment to their own temple, did not differ very greatly from the Jews, except that they had not canonized the prophets and were more open to Gentile ideas. They resembled the Sadducees rather than the Pharisees, but the Sadducees very soon died out in Judaism itself. The new city was called Flavia Neapolis, the new town of the Flavian emperors, and it was predominantly Gentile. It provided the Christian church with its first philosopher of any eminence, Justin Martyr, who was born there not later than about A.D. 100. His father's name was Priscus, he says, and his grandfather's was Bacchius. They were Gentiles, and Bacchius may have been one of the first settlers. Of course Justin may have had a native Samaritan mother; he speaks of the Samaritans as 'my own race'.


Neither the Nazarean nor the Pharisee seems to have flourished in Samaria, which cultivated romantic systems of myth, ritual and magic, coloured by the fashionable religiosity of the day. Justin says that nearly all the Samaritans in his time were adherents of Simon of Gitta, a village not far from Flavia Neapolis. He practised magical arts, and was identified by later Christian writers with the Simon Magus mentioned in the Acts. Justin does not say this himself, but the identification may be accepted.

What Justin says about Simon of Gitta, in his surviving works, is that he claimed to be a god (or to be God); and that most of the Samaritans worshipped him as 'the First God'. There was a Simonian cult in Rome, too, presumably in the Samaritan community. According to the accounts which he had received, this cultus had originated in the reign of Claudius (prior to 54, that is) when Simon paid a visit to Rome, and the Senate had honoured him with a statue which Justin had seen. Modern scholars discern legendary features in this story, and are sceptical about the Simonian origin of the statue; but the Simonians may have been responsible for the legendary features rather than Justin.

The claim to be a god is in line with the statement in Acts that he called himself the power of God which is called Great. Some emanation |246 from the high God had incorporated itself into him. Justin adds that he went about with a woman named Helen, who had been a prostitute, and that she was the 'First Thought' or 'First Thinking' of the deity.

Justin wrote a further account of Simon in his lost book on heresies, which was called the Syntagma, and Irenaeus made use of it in composing his own book on the subject. According to Irenaeus the Primal God of Simon was the supreme being who existed far above the visible heavens; and the Primal Intelligence or Thinking was evolved out of his own essence to be his consort. From this divine pair proceeded the angels and powers who created the visible universe; the chief of these being the God of the Jews. The creator and his angels managed to imprison in their material universe the female spirit whom they called the Primal Thinking. She entered into one human body after another. She was the Helen of Troy for whom the Greeks contended in the Homeric poems. She passed from body to body until the Primal God himself came down to earth, in the person of Simon Magus, to deliver her. She was found by him living in a house of ill-fame at Tyre, and they were united. In this way the ' lost sheep' was found and saved.

This myth makes use of the commonplaces of the mixed oriental gnosis: the remote immaterial deity; the planets as maleficent gods who ruled events in the world; the descent of the female spirit or goddess from the higher realms; the imprisonment of spirit in matter.

It is doubtful, of course, whether every detail of this myth can be attributed to Simon Magus, but it illustrates the main features of the cult which he initiated: the hostility to Judaism and the Jewish God, and of course to the Law of Moses; the idea of the wholly immaterial high God, whose spiritual nature is nevertheless divided into male and female selves; and the mythological mode of expressing the high mysteries. The material universe is evil, and spirit is somehow imprisoned in matter against its will; but the Simonian cult was not ascetic. Its moral standards were severely criticized. It is said to have cultivated magic and sexual mysticism.

Later legend had much to add. Simon was a disciple of John the Baptist. He had a rival named Dositheus. Such points as these may preserve some dim memory of the truth; but at this point all we can do is to register the historical existence of the Samaritan gnosis in the first century as a rival to Christianity and to Judaism.


Simonianism is one example of the heretical cults which developed on the borderland between Judaism and Syrianism. There were many others, though they did not become so famous. Philo tells us of an ascetic communist sect of Jews in Alexandria, called the Therapeutai, which was substantially orthodox. Pliny and Josephus tell us of similar sects by the Dead Sea and in Transjordania which were called the Essenes; these were orthodox in the sense of accepting the God of the Jews as the supreme deity; but they abstained from the Temple sacrifices and practised numerous ablutions and other rituals to preserve their purity. They were celibates, they had secret books and initiations, they knew the names of angels, they reverenced the sun; yet they were strict Sabbatarians and devoted to the detail of the Law of Moses. Their principal monastery, with a library of their literature, has recently been discovered at Qumran by the Dead Sea, or so it is believed.

Hegesippus gives a list of seven sects into which the Jews were divided; he enumerates the Essaeans, the Galileans, the Daily-baptists, and the Masbothaeans, in addition to the Samaritans, Pharisees, and Sadducees. The Galileans may be the Zealots; the Masbothaeans are not otherwise known. He adds that similar sects soon appeared among the Jewish Christians, under the influence of such men as Simon, Dositheus, Cleobius, Gorthaeus, and Masbothaeus. They are mere names to us; but there is no doubt that Jewish heresy and gnosis made headway in the church very fast: they had points of contact with the religions of Syria, Iran, and possibly India as well.

Jewish teachers of this type had invaded St Paul's churches, as we see in the pages of Colossians and the Pastorals. They cultivated asceticism and ritualism and magic; they forbade marriage and the use of certain foods; they revelled in myths and endless genealogies; they knew the names of angels and authorities and powers. These were Jewish Christians of the 'Essene' or syncretist kind.

In the second century we have widespread evidence which gives some idea of the older Jewish gnosis and its mythological or pre-mythological mode of thought. It was natural to think of the Holy Spirit as a female manifestation of the deity, since the word spirit is feminine in the Semitic languages; the Word or Angel was the corresponding male manifestation: virtually God himself. The name 'Son of |248 Man' is another title of this male power. The male power is sometimes the right hand, the female power is the left. Or the right-hand power is Michael and the left-hand Sammael or Satan.

Modes of thought of this kind must have been familiar in Jewish and Jewish-Christian thought in this period. Strange teachers and prophets talked in this language and practised mysterious rites: ablutions, incantations, sacraments, fastings, and vigils. Some were other-worldly and ascetic; others opposed the Law of Moses and even the common morality; they were the professors of anomia or lawlessness. The Jewish church was subject to the influence of both kinds. It eventually developed its own form of gnosis of an orthodox Jewish type, which denounced the Temple sacrifices like the Essenes and glorified baptisms in water; this eclectic Christian-Jewish gnosis was known as Ebionism, and had a Hellenistic wing.


According to the narrative preserved by Hegesippus, the martyrdom of James had been brought about by the Jewish 'sects'. We have already made some use of his account of the martyrdom, which he had obtained from the Jewish-Christian church of his day. It shows the figure of their first ruler as it appeared to them when he had assumed the proportions of a patron saint, second only to the Lord himself. The story, as preserved by Eusebius, begins with the description of the character of the martyr as a holy man and ascetic; and we have quoted this in an earlier chapter. It then gives a dialogue with the leaders of the sects in the Temple. This is followed by the Acts of the martyrdom which occurred at the Passover, when there were great crowds assembled in the temple.

The preliminary dialogue is a mere summary. The leaders of the sects ask James, 'What is the door of Jesus?', and he replies by saying that Jesus is the Saviour, a word which has the meaning of a judge in Hebrew. This suggests the saying in the Epistle of James that the judge standeth before the door. The sects are unable to accept the doctrines of the resurrection and the advent in judgement, but some of the people do believe through James; and this includes many of the rulers. The scribes and Pharisees then fear that the whole people may come to expect Jesus as the Messiah.

|249 At the Passover the scribes and Pharisees place James on the pinnacle of the temple, and demand that he retract his teaching about Jesus, which is leading the people into error. They ask him again, what is the door of Jesus; and he now quotes the sentence about the Son of Man being seated at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven. Many in the crowd sing the anthem,' Hosanna to the son of David'; but the scribes and Pharisees go up and throw him down. Then they proceed to stone him, since the fall had not killed him; but he turned and kneeled down and said, 'I beseech thee, O Lord God, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.' This sentence appears to echo the Passion story of Luke and the stoning of Stephen in the Acts; and there are other phrases from the Gospels which appear in the narrative; but on the whole it has a character of its own, and these may be second-century embellishments of a first-century tradition.

One of the priests who was a descendant of Rechab, the great patron of asceticism in the Old Testament, protested against the stoning; but another man standing by, who had a fuller's club in his hand, struck the head of the martyr, and so ended his life. They buried him at a spot by the Temple, and his monument was still standing when these Acts were composed. Perhaps they were to be read there on the annual commemoration.

Epiphanius also quotes the narrative in full, but in his version of it it is Symeon the son of Clopas, a cousin of James and Jesus, who makes the protest. He omits the preliminary dialogue, and it is possible that this dialogue was not an integral part of the Acts of the martyrdom; for such a dialogue, at much greater length, is to be found as an independent story in the Ebionite legends which are included in the Recognitions of Clement ; in these legends James is on the point of persuading the rulers and people to believe in Christ when he is thrown down from his high position by an 'enemy' who is easily identifiable as St Paul. It is the same story, but it has been given a different twist.


The traditions of the Jewish Christians, as they have come down to us, have assumed a somewhat imaginative form, but their main content is clear enough. We have the exalted position of James, as bishop, ascetic and martyr; as high priest and prophetic witness; and as next in dignity |250 to Jesus himself. We have the continued prestige of the family of Jesus. We have the background of liturgy and apocalyptic.

The succession of Simeon may also be regarded as a fact of history.

When Jerusalem was destroyed, its church was scattered. The Jerusalem Christians abandoned the city and made their way to Pella. Eusebius does not say what his authority for this statement was, but he was making use of a written document which was probably still Hegesippus; Epiphanius uses the same source. We may regard it as certain, at any rate, that there were two churches in Palestine which claimed to be the successors of the old Jerusalem church; one was the church at Pella, and the other was the church at Jerusalem, when it was reconstituted there. Simeon is called the bishop of Jerusalem, but it seems likely that he was the bishop of the Jerusalem church-in-exile at Pella.

Hegesippus had some information about Simeon. He was the son of Clopas, who is mentioned in the Gospels. Clopas was an uncle of Jesus, and Simeon was therefore his first cousin, though obviously a great deal younger. His pre-eminence in the church was not undisputed. A certain Thebuthis was disappointed at not being made bishop, and began to give secret encouragement to the heretical sects which were now appearing in the church. Under Simeon these sects were successfully resisted, but when he was put to death as a martyr they were the ones who laid the information and accused him of being a descendant of David and a Christian. But these accusers were also found to be of the family of David, Hegesippus says; and this rather suggests that the mysterious Thebuthis himself, who was the defeated candidate for the bishopric, may also have belonged to this much-divided family. We gather from these interesting traditions, which are obviously in touch with the facts, that the unanimity which was displayed in the election of Simeon must have been rather overdrawn by Hegesippus, or possibly by Eusebius in reproducing Hegesippus, in order to emphasize the legitimacy of his position.

The Davidic claim was a serious matter among the Jews, and may be compared to Jacobitism in Scotland in the eighteenth century, or royalism in France in the nineteenth. Hegesippus says that Vespasian had investigations made into the question, so that the menace of persecution overhung the church. No doubt there were numbers of families, Christian and otherwise, which claimed Davidic descent; and parallels to this could be found in the hills of Wales or Ireland today. |251 The sentiment in favour of Davidic descent was so strong that the Rabbis, in due course, produced a Davidic pedigree for their own Hillel-Gamaliel succession. This may have been a counterblast to the Christian propaganda; but it may equally well have been a legitimate tradition. Davidic families are said to have lingered in Babylon, the home of Hillel, for many centuries; and illustrious Jewish houses today claim descent from them.

The city of Pella was situated in Transjordania, only a few miles from the Sea of Galilee, where the gospel had been first announced. It was in the territory of Herod Agrippa II. The Nazarean refugees could hardly have settled in his domains unless he had extended them some degree of recognition or protection, which he would be likely to do, as they had not been in favour of the war with Rome. Their situation was similar to that of the non-belligerent Jewish Rabbis who had been allowed by Vespasian to settle at Jamnia.

Perhaps there were Christians already at Pella, since the refugees would hardly have chosen a place where they had none of their own kind to welcome them. At any rate they established themselves there, and, if fortune had been kind, they might have developed a Jewish-Christian patriarchate similar to the rabbinic patriarchate at Jamnia. The reverence for the royal family of David and Jesus continued among them into the third century, when the desposunoi, as they were called, were interrogated by Julius Africanus on the subject of the pedigree of Jesus. There were two branches of the family, they told him, one with its ancestral residence at Nazareth in Galilee, the other at Cochabha in Transjordania, one of which may have been the family of Jude (see p. 335). He does not mention the church at Pella. By the time of Epiphanius there were no Christians in Nazareth, but he has some statements which he can make about Pella and Cochabha. Another important Jewish centre was at Beroea, near Antioch, the modern Aleppo.

The question of the reconstitution of the Jerusalem church will be dealt with in a later chapter.


There is a third approach which can be made to the Jewish Christianity of this period; it is by way of certain words of Jesus which are incorporated into the 'Gospel according to St Matthew'. The Jewish-|252 Christian character of this material is easily recognized. 'No jot or tittle will pass from the law, until all be fulfilled', it asserts. 'Whoever shall break one of these commandments, and teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.' 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit in the seat of Moses', and their teaching must be obeyed. The Christians who cherished these sayings as their spiritual law were living on the soil of the Holy Land under the established Jewish religion. They were even offering sacrifices at the Temple, which is visualized as still standing (Matthew v. 23).

We are not surprised to find in this special material of Matthew a particular interest in the royal family of David, to which Jesus and his brothers belonged. The Gospel opens with a pedigree which traces the descent of Joseph from Abraham and David. The earlier names were obtained from the Old Testament; the later names may have been handed down orally in the family; and, if so, it was no great feat. A Maori chief can repeat the names of his ancestors for seven or eight hundred years back. But written pedigrees were carefully preserved among the Jews, so that this hypothesis is not strictly necessary.

In spite of its use of the word 'beget', this pedigree is not a record of descent from father to son, like the similar genealogy in Luke. It is a record of descent from each king to his successor, which was, of course, in oriental thought a succession from father to son just as real and potent as that of natural descent. The number of names has been reduced by certain omissions so as to make a series of six sequences of seven generations each. Six is a bad number, as we have already seen; but the name of Jesus Christ opens the seventh period. Such a succession-list would have the greatest value and importance for the Jewish Christians. It would be a necessary piece of evidence in their claim that Jesus was the true king of David's line, and it would constitute the title-deeds of the Davidic episcopate or patriarchate in the Jewish church.

The same purpose would be served by the numerous testimonies or proof-texts from the prophets. The early chapters of Matthew contain exactly seven of these, including references to the Virgin Birth of Jesus, and to Bethlehem, the city of David, as his birthplace. An interesting case is the oracle attributed to 'the prophets', that 'he shall be called a Nazarene'. There is no such prophecy in the canonical books, and the vagueness of the reference shows that the composer of Matthew could not find it in his Septuagint, which he made use of in rendering the |253 other testimonies from the same source. It has been a puzzle to scholars of succeeding generations too. It has been conjectured that it was a play on words such as we frequently find in the rabbis, and that the reference is to Old Testament passages in which the Messiah was called netser, the Branch, or even to the word natsir, which means an ascetic or nazirite. But its value to the historian is that it indicates a state of affairs in which the epithet notsri, or Nazarean, had become an embarrassment, and needed some justification from scripture. How could a Messiah, or indeed any good thing, come out of Nazareth (see John i. 46)? It looks as if the Jewish Christians did not like the name Nazarene any more than the Gentile Christians liked the name Christian.

The seventh testimony aims at proving that the gospel was intended to be preached in Galilee; and this testimony would also answer the same kind of criticism. 'Out of Galilee ariseth no prophet', the Pharisees say in St John's Gospel. The background of this material seems to be northern Palestine rather than Jerusalem. It is natural to think that it is the teaching of the school of Matthew himself, after whom the Gospel was named.


It is unfortunate for the historian that Jewish Christianity did not propagate its faith by writing books. What it did was to send out apostles, prophets and teachers, whose repertoire of commandments, parables, narratives and prophecies was communicated orally. There were still in existence disciples of Jesus, or disciples of disciples; and we may assume that the flow from east to west continued in full force, along with the continual drift of other oriental preachers of religion, Samaritan, Syrian, and even Persian, who made their way along the roads which led to Rome. Indeed, the period A.D. 70-100 must have seen an influx into points east and west, which rivalled the records of the Book of Acts. A war sets in motion great numbers of people, including prisoners, refugees, and in ancient days slaves for sale. Thousands of Jews were sold as slaves and helped to swell the population of the great cities. The impact of the bearers of the Jewish-Christian gospel tradition on Greek-speaking Christianity may be measured by the extent to which it was incorporated into the Gospel of Matthew. We find its traces in the second century in Cappadocia, Commagene and Osrhoene. It passed along the highroads of Asia, through Phrygia, |254 as far as the Pauline cities on the Aegean Sea. We know positively of apostles and elders and disciples of disciples who passed along these roads and settled down, Philip for instance in Hierapolis, and John in Ephesus; and we know of a tradition in the school of John that Matthew had composed a book of' oracles' of the Lord in the Aramaic language.

The title 'apostles' was also used of a secondary class of evangelist, who, as we have seen, often carried letters of commendation. Perhaps we may venture to suggest that the Epistles of James and Jude may have been distributed by such men, since they claim to originate with the Jewish patriarchate. They are addressed to the 'dispersion' or Christian world at large, and are therefore written in good Greek. There would be no difficulty whatever in having that done.

The character of these Epistles is so general as to supply little evidence with regard to their date or the circumstances under which they were written. External evidence is also equally meagre. We know, of course, that Hermas made use of James early in the second century, and that the author of II Peter used Jude not much later; but they do not seem to have been received on quite the same level of authority as the letters which were written by apostles. A date in the fifties has been suggested for James, since it has some points of contact with Romans and Corinthians. James and Romans both deal with the faith and works controversy, and there may be some relation between them, indirect probably rather than direct; but it seems better to think of James as belonging to the same class and period as Colossians and Ephesians and I Peter, since all four draw upon a common catechetical tradition, and reproduce some of its phrases in the same order. Many scholars place it even later.


The Epistle of St James reflects a social and economic life of a rural character, and describes the church officers as elders, like I Peter and Acts. One of their duties was to visit the sick, to pray for them, and to anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord; they also exercised a ministry of penitence. The picture which it presents agrees perfectly with the Palestinian origin which it claims. We remember, too, the James (or Jacob) of Kefar Sekanya (or Sama) in the Mishnah, who anointed the sick in the name of Jesus; and we think of a few touches |255 in the Epistle which would be not unsuited to the Day of Atonement. « It has a dramatic call to repentance in iv. 8 ff. It mentions the harvest, prayers for rain, and the day of judgement. It refers to Job, a book which was read on the eve of the Atonement Day. Its purpose might seem to be to sound a note of repentance, and to recall Christians to a disciplined moral life, lived in accordance with the precepts of Jesus which it refers to as the royal law of liberty. It opposes a religion of 'faith' which expends itself in talk.

The Jacob, or James, who writes this Epistle describes himself as 'the servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ', as if no further identification were required. Jude identifies himself quite simply as 'the brother of James', which suggests that the two Epistles travelled together. The Epistle of Jude contains severe warnings against heretical teachers who 'denied the glory', and spoke evil of 'dignities', that is to say the Creator and his angels. They lived an immoral life, and preyed upon the faithful. They walked in the pathway of Cain, and surrendered themselves to the wages of Balaam, and were corrupted by the rebellious talk of Korah. They remind us, therefore, of the Ophites or Serpent-gnostics, who detested Jehovah, and regarded Cain and Balaam and Korah as the great heroes of the Old Testament. Jude refers his hearers to the apostles who had predicted that such mockers would arise; their ministry lies in the past now, so that we can hardly place the composition of the Epistle before 75-85.

We must recollect that these Epistles were not published by business firms or sold in shops. They were operative documents, designed to fulfil some definite purpose within the church order of their day. They were addressed to the church at large and were presumably carried by men who had a mission to the church at large. They bear the names of great men in the Palestinian church, and therefore it looks as if the men who first carried them came from that quarter. The simplest and most satisfactory conclusion about their origin is that they were prepared on the order of the men whose names they bear; but there is no external evidence on the subject one way or another, and no chronological references in the Epistles themselves. If this conclusion is correct, James must have been written before A.D. 62, and Jude, as we have said, some ten or twenty years later. They have every appearance of being first-century productions, and the evidence of Hermas confirms such a date in the case of James.
<< | top | >>