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Jewish History and Religious Studies Essay

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Updated: May 11th, 2021

Christianity began as one of many approaches to Judaism. How did early Christianity fit into its 1st century Jewish context? Possible contexts include social, theological, cultural, intellectual, and others. If you choose this one, be sure that you discuss very early Christianity, not modern Christianity, and do not “witness,” “testify,” or preach in your essay.

The Holy Bible describes how Jesus Christ encouraged his followers to spread God’s teachings to the world. This message led to the establishment of Christianity as a religion for the gentiles. According to historians, Christianity began as one of the major approaches to Judaism since many followers of the religion belonged to an apocalyptic Jewish sect (Barnavi 1992:27). Historians and Biblical scholars refer to such sects as Jewish Christians. Different apostles such as James, Paul, and Peter are believed to have spread Christianity to other nations. These apostles played a significant role in spreading most of the teachings presented by Jesus Christ. The relationship between Judaism and early Christianity is widely debated by many people. However, scholars strongly believe that the notions and beliefs of many Jews played a significant role in the establishment of Christianity in the first century.

Early Christianity resembled most of the aspects embraced by the Jews. During the 1st century, Judaism was divided into a number of religious factions. The followers of Judaism and Christianity during the period were observed to have similar religious views and theological teachings. During the period, it was impossible for people to differentiate Judaism from Christianity. Numerous religious “ideas and social practices were observed to cross borders” (Barnavi 1992:31). The two religious groups were observed to have different messiahs during the time. The birth of Jesus Christ presented new ideas. According to the believers, Jesus played a significant role in fulfilling every prophesied messianic role (Barnavi 1992:76).

Judaism and Christianity shared a similar theme of messianism (Lowenstein 2000:37). This development led to similar cultural and intellectual views. Christianity, therefore, was defined by the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus was also a Jewish prophet who presented similar lessons and teachings to his followers. Jesus “preached throughout Israel and encouraged people to establish God’s kingdom” (Lowenstein 2000:83). Christ also urged his followers to embrace a moral code characterized by humility, love, and charity (Lowenstein 2000:83). Such a moral code was embraced by both the Jews and early Christians. This fact explains why early Christianity was similar to 1st century Judaism.

Historians have observed that many early Christians embraced most of the Jewish social practices and traditions. Such early Christians were Jews and embraced the teachings of their fathers. Such teachings “are defined within the Jewish law” (Barnavi 1992:36). Many early Christians believed that Jesus was God’s son who had come to redeem mankind. However, the birth and achievements of Christ played a significant role in the separation of Christianity from Judaism. The majority of the people who converted to Christianity encountered numerous challenges. For instance, Stephen was an “early convert who was stoned by the Jews to death” (Barnavi 1992:38). This unrest forced many Christians and disciples to migrate from Israel.

That being the case, the “immediate context and structure of Christianity as known today was Judaism” (Barnavi 1992:42). It is agreeable that all early converts were Jews. As well, Jesus Christ and the apostles were Jews and presented their teachings from a Jewish perspective. This argument explains why early Christianity borrows a lot from the Jewish culture and tradition. For instance, Christianity borrowed most of the Jewish practices, such as strict monotheism. The people of Israel also embraced the concept of community. As well, the Jews were expecting the coming of God’s messiah (Barnavi 1992:62). The concepts of personal ethics were also embraced by both the Jews and early Christians.

Christianity, therefore, emerged as a Jewish movement at a time when the community was under foreign control (Barnavi 1992:98). New religious views started to emerge, thus defining the origin of Christianity. Some of the contentious issues that led to the separation included Roman occupation, diverse theological teachings, and views of religious authority (Lowenstein 2000:46). Early Christians also rejected the Talmud (or the Oral Torah) that was part of the Jewish tradition. The Christians also believed that the temple ritual was something significant for their religious practices (Lowenstein 2000:75).

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ were also instrumental towards the establishment of Christianity. Many followers of Christ were disgusted by the death of Christ. They believed that the act was inappropriate and that the messiah should not have died. His resurrection led to new thoughts and religious views. More people converted to Christianity and moved to other parts of the world. Paul was a significant apostle towards the growth of Christianity. Paul started numerous Christian churches and wrote numerous letters to his followers. Throughout the early years of Christianity, people believed in Yahweh and promoted most of the values, views, and theological teachings embraced by the Jews (Lowenstein 2000:65).

It is, therefore, acknowledgeable that the first Christian believers were Jewish proselytes (Lowenstein 2000:84). The first disciples were also Jewish and presented similar beliefs to their followers. This fact explains why many historians believe that early Christians were individuals who had accepted Christ as their messiah. Early Christians, therefore, chose to follow most of the social practices and religious doctrines embraced by the Jews. Such practices included “liturgical worship, baptism, hymns, prayers, and ascetic religious practices” (Lowenstein 2000:69). However, the followers decided to reject other practices such as circumcision.

The need for a feminist Judaism begins with hearing silence.” How is this true? How is it untrue? How do modern scholars get around the silence to study women in Jewish history?

Historians strongly believe that the “need for a feminist Judaism begins with hearing silence” (Plaskow 1991:1). Historical analysts have observed that more women were ignored throughout the establishment of the Jewish culture and religion. The activities and achievements of men were carefully documented while treated women as baggage (Hyman 1988:36). The first thing towards understanding this historical development is by examining the absence of women’s experiences. This is the case because such activities and experiences played a significant role in reshaping the traditions of the Jews. This approach can make it possible for scholars to appreciate the hearing silence and focus on the achievements of such women.

Throughout the centuries, men “have been defined as normative Jews” (Plaskow 1991: 1). At the same time, the voices of women and their experiences were not recorded. This fact explains why hearing silence is critical towards understanding the position of women in Judaism. Most of the historical records and documents fail to document the beliefs experience of women within the Jewish belief. However, it should be agreeable that the history and achievements of Judaism could not have been recorded without the role of women. Women have for centuries been part of Jewish history (Hyman 1988:36).

Such women were never allowed to have religious opinions or roles in society. Numerous historians have observed clearly that the perceptions and questions raised by women never reshaped the people’s scriptures. As well, they were “never allowed to redefine the Jewish law or express their views in the liturgy” (Hyman 1988:35). This kind of silence has therefore been observed despite the fact that women carried most of the burdens encountered by the Jews.

The above argument is, therefore, true because a hearing silence has been evidenced throughout Jewish history. Scholars should be aware of such silence and appreciate the fact that many women were discouraged from reshaping the religious views and cultural practices embraced by the Jews. At the same time, some theorists have argued that “a few women such as the daughters of Rashi were properly educated and even participated in different prayers” (Hayman 1988:35). However, the statement is agreeable because “women were subsumed in a cultural development whose aspects were defined by the life histories of men” (Hyman 1988:35). The existence of this silence describes the challenges and oppositions that were encountered by women throughout the historical period.

Scholars have observed that the decision to confront this kind of silence is something that can raise disturbing issues. This development has the potential to stir new changes and encourage more women to examine the unique aspects of history that wounded them. As well, the move to fulfill the great silence is also something that can deliver new opportunities and encourage more women to pride themselves on their cultural contributions. It is also acknowledgeable that the desire to study this silence can never be easy. This is the case because such a “form of silence is something that appears to have faded into the natural order” (Plaskow 1991:1). Every historical development within the Jewish tradition can be reexamined by peopling every gap with different Jewish women.

Modern scholars have therefore embraced a number of strategies in order to get around this silence. The ultimate purpose has been to study women within the history of the Jewish people. Over the years, theorists have understood how to insert themselves into various silences (Plaskow 1991:1). For example, modern scholars can fill the gaps in various religious scriptures with shadowy forms of women. The presence of such women makes it possible for scholars to understand the perspectives of different stories, such as the events that took place at Mt. Sinai. Scholars have also described how it can be hard to speak into such silences. This fact explains why it has remained impossible for more women to reclaim their powers and achievements in Judaism history. Silence is also used as a powerful invitation that makes it easier for Biblical scholars to explore and experience. However, such scholars should be ready to examine the terrains and face the major implications associated with such silence (Plaskow 1991:1).

Since Judaism has been treated as a normative culture, women should be considered in order to come up with the best teachings. This knowledge makes it possible for modern scholars to accept the fact that God is portrayed in the image of man. As well, men appear to sanctify and confirm the silence of their respective daughters. This “understanding encourages scholars to explore such categories in order to explore the strictures of women’s silence” (Plaskow 1991:2). The presence of women is something found in most of the stories narrated by males. Such scholars should therefore use their skills to unearth the intentions and achievements of women from various texts aimed at delivering different stories. This approach will make it easier for more people to study the roles of women in Jewish history. A proper understanding of this history can encourage more people to appreciate the historical roles played by many Jewish women.

Describe the development of Halakhah from Second Temple Judaism through Medieval Judaism. Include written law, oral law, commentaries, and codes.

The Halakhah (also called the Jewish law) originated from the Torah. The three codes of law contained in the Torah are found in Deuteronomy 21-25, Leviticus 19, and Exodus 21-23. Some laws not found in the Torah have also been included in the Halakhah. Such laws, according to many Jews, were presented to Moses by God throughout his journey in the wilderness. This understanding explains why different versions of the Halakhah have existed over the past centuries. The presence of two Torahs (the oral and the written) is something that led to the rabbinic doctrine (Lowenstein 2000:39). The Biblical version of the law is known as the Written Torah. On the other hand, the Oral Torah has always been used to denote most of the interpretations and messages of the Pentateuchal laws presented to Moses of God. Many Jews have always identified such messages as the biblical laws.

According to Jewish historians, the rabbinic and oral laws are both found in Yerushalmi or the Jerusalem Talmud. Some other interpretations within the rabbinic sources are referred to as the halakhic midrashim (Lowenstein 2000:56). These laws can be associated with different sects of Second Temple Judaism (Efron 2013:86). Some sects eventually rejected the doctrines of the Torah, such as the Sadducees and the Karaites (Lowenstein 2000:41). History indicates that the Babylonian Talmud eventually became the main source of the Halakhah as conceived and appreciated by many Jews.

The complexity of the Talmud’s historical developments makes it impossible to have a clear Halakhah within the Jewish tradition. This fact explains why the Talmud itself cannot be studied as a code of law (Efron 2013:89). In other words, the Talmud itself is a gigantic publication detailing the debates that have been studied by different religious historians. These gaps led to new developments in an attempt to have common codes of law. Such laws would promote the best practices among the targeted worshipers.

Throughout Medieval Judaism, various attempts were considered in order to discover new laws within the Talmud. During the very beginning, there was room for different opinions, thus affecting the religious views of the Jews. This problem led to the development of new codes of law. This move made it easier for the people to have better or practical laws. The main three codes that emerged at the time include the Tur of Jacob ben Asher (or the Four Columns), the Secondary Torah (Mishneh Torah), and the Set Table (or the Shulchan Arukh) (Efron 2013:109). These three codes became common throughout the medieval period. This development encourages “more people to embrace the laws thus becoming the standard code of the Halakhah” (Efron 2013:92).

However, some scholars have challenged the above description and development of Jewish law. This notion explains why such scholars believe that Judaism reacted to various conditions, thus producing the most appropriate Halakhah depending on the targeted period. The three codes presented above have also been observed to originate from three different religious periods (Lowenstein 2000:19). This is the case because such laws appear to be governed by specific aspects of conditions. There is also a great difference between the manner in which the Halakhah is studied and derived from the Holy Scriptures (Efron 2013:99). This fact explains why different scholars and analysts have been undertaking numerous studies.

From the Second Temple Judaism, the halakhists focused on the best approaches through which the major values of the religion could be achieved. This argument means that the pioneers of Judaism were not mainly concerned with the facts of the law. During the medieval period, different versions of the Talmudic sources emerged, thus redefining the history of the Torah (Efron 2013:112). Such sources include the Apocrypha, the works of Philosopher Philo, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the teachings of Josephus. This fact shows clearly that the early versions of the Halakhah were very different from the Talmud. As well, the formative era between the 6th century and 2nd century BCE has been characterized by obscurity (Barnavi 1992:87).

The current picture and understanding of the Halakhah might not give the true image of the history of Judaism. However, the undeniable fact is that the Halakhah appears to retain its legal systems and principles. This kind of development supports the establishment and consensus of the Halakhah as it is known by many Judaists today. Many followers also argue that the Halakhah has its unique internal structure (Barnavi 1992:49). Followers of the religion, therefore, embrace the three codes and commentaries in an attempt to achieve their spiritual goals. As well, historians believe that future studies will offer succinct descriptions regarding the development of the Halakhah from Second Temple Judaism through Medieval Judaism. This development will make it possible for more religious followers, historians, and scholars to appreciate the validity of the Halakhah within the wider Judaic faith.

References Cited

Barnavi, Eli. 1992 Selections in A Historical Atlas of the Jewish People: From the Time of the Patriarchs to the Present. New York: Schocken.

Efron, John, with Steven Weitzman and Matthais Lehman 2013 The Jews: A History. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Hyman, Paula. 1988 Gender and Jewish History. Tikkun 3(1):35-38.

Lowenstein, Steven. 2000 The Jewish Cultural Tapestry: International Jewish Folk Traditions. New York: Oxford University Press.

Nakhai, Beth. 2007 Gender and Archaeology in Israelite Religion. Religion Compass 1(5):512-528.

Plaskow, Judith. 1991 Standing again at Sinai. New York: HarperOne.

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