Selfdefinition visvis the Jewish matrix

judith lieu

To speak of early Christian self-definition is to recognise that the sense of self always implies differentiation from one or more 'others'. This and the following chapter identify those significant 'others' as the 'Jewish matrix' and the 'Graeco-Roman world'; differentiation from 'Gnostic' groups (ch. 12 below) is arguably different in kind. A significant point, then, on the path towards differentiation, although not its culmination, might be the self-understanding of the Christians as a 'third race', alongside the Greeks and the Jews; this emerges at the end of the second century, and was, perhaps, adopted from the taunts of outsiders.1 Yet, as we shall discover, just as early Christianity necessarily remained part of the Graeco-Roman world, so in one sense it inevitably would always be positioned in relationship to a Jewish matrix. The familiar epithet, 'Judaeo-Christian tradition', while in danger of implying a common voice where none is to be heard, acknowledges a truth that is rooted in the very origins of Christianity, in the ministry of 'Jesus, the Jew'.

Our task is to plot how, within a Jewish framework, individuals and, more importantly, the groups of which they were a part, who were characterised by a commitment to the person and memory of Jesus, developed a sense of what united them over against other Jews and Jewish groups, whilst sustaining an absolute claim to what we might call their 'Jewish heritage'. This question has to be answered on the conceptual level, namely the conscious differentiation of ideas, on the linguistic or discourse level, namely the development of a rhetoric of self and 'otherness', and on the socio-cultural level, namely the formation of communities which put into practice that refusal to recognise each other as 'the same sort of thing', and, indeed, as 'the real thing'.

1 Kerygma Petri in Clem. Al. Str. 6.5.41; Tert. Nat. 1.8.1; Scorp.10.10; also Aristides, Apol. 2.1 (Greek recension); Lieu, Image and reality, 165-9.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment