Book Review: Early Judaeo-Christianity – Historical Essays

earlyjudaeoTitle: Early Judaeo-Christianity: Historical Essays

Author: Simon Claude Mimouni

Bibliographic info: XIV + 435 + 24 (biblio and indices)

Cover: Paper

Publisher: Peeters, 2012.

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 With thanks to Peeters for the review copy!

This book consists of two introductory chapters, six main chapters, and a concluding one. Chapter One (pp. 25-33) tackles the somewhat tricky issue of definining early Judaeo-Christianity. This chapter is based on Mimouni’s article Pour une definition nouvelle du judeo-christianisme ancien (New Testament Studies 38, 1992: 161-86). This is followed in Chapter Two (55-69) by a quick look at Judaeo-Christians who are called “orthodox” and “heterodox”. The next two chapters present the bulk of the book. Chapter Three (71-276) is a lengthy examination of the literary sources for early Judaeo-Christianity (including canonical, apocryphal, patristic, and rabbinical sources), while Chapter Four (277-397) tackles the non-literary sources. Chapter Five (399-418) presents a survey of the history of research on Judaeo-Christianity. Kind of strange that this chapter appears towards the end of the book rather than at the beginning, but it is nevertheless a good read. Chapter Six (419-32) presents research perspectives and the possibilities of future research. This is followed by a brief concluding chapter (433-35).

The following quote is a useful summary of what is meant by “Judaeo-Christian”:

Judaeo-Christian and Judaeo-Christianity are conserved to designate the Christian communities of Jewish origin which are – as from about 135 – more and more marginalized by the Christian communities of Pagan origin. They will survive until the end of the 4th or beginning of 5th century (and a long time after in Iranian empire) (pg. 435)

The Judaeo-Christian groups that we know of are called the Nazoreans, Ebionites, and Elchasaites (or Elcesaites). According to the author, the Ebionite and Elchasaite groups both “accept recognizing the Messianic in Jesus only in his human dimension, refusing to envisage any divine dimension” (67), while the Nazoreans recognize him as being more or less both human and divine.

The author discusses the abundant sources which (either directly or indirectly) document Judaeo-Christian groups. For instance, in the indirect category there are the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, Justin of Neapolis, Irenaeus of Lyons, Origen of Alexandria, Eusebius of Caesarea, Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius of Salamis, the dialogue between Augustine and Jerome, as well as the Rabbinic document Birkat ha-minim (which was likely employed by Rabbinical authorities to exclude Jewish-Christians from the Synagogue). Direct documentation is found in the Judaeo-Christian gospels (e.g. Gospel of Hebrews, Gospel of the Ebionites).

The author includes a good discussion on the various hypotheses relating to the supposed Judaeo-Christian gospels. An interesting claim he makes is that, “In reality there is no intrinsic reason to distinguish between a Gospel of the Nazoreans and a Gospel of the Hebrews … The fragments, attributed one or the other, have originated in a single and same text” (181-82). Also included in the main chapters are examinations of other literature tied to Judaeo-Christianity, such as the Epistle of Barnabas and others (the author believes it “seems justifiable” (83) to consider the Gospel of Thomas as Judaeo-Christian). There is also various excursuses throughout the book, ranging from such topics as the presentation of the Gospel of Peter, the pseudo-Clementines, and the sixteenth chapter of the Epistle of Barnabas – the author sees the Epistle of Barnabas as an “excellent witness of Judaeo-Christianity in the beginning of the 2nd century and the doctrinal conflicts in which it was engaged” (213).

It wasn’t until reading this book that I realized how much we can glean from the early Christian writings regarding the subject of early Judaeo-Christianity. Definitely one of the most interesting books I have read on the subject of Judaeo-Christianity. Would recommend!

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