Week two of New Testament Introduction. Last week we tried to get a cursory look into the historical and political world out of which Christianity was birthed.
Starting back in the 6th century BCE, the Persians, upon conquering the Babylonians, allowed the Jews to return to Judea and rebuild the temple, though the Jews were still under Persian control, from about 539-330s BCE). After Alexander the Great becomes King of Macedonia (in 332 BCE), his armies conquer the East (almost the entire Persian empire), but he dies very young (in 323 BC). His Hellenistic empire is then divided between four generals, and is eventually two long-reigning dynasties rule in the East: Ptolemies and Seleucids. During this time the Jerusalem Temple was desecrated by the Seleucids, thereby sparking the Maccabean revolt. Through the revolt the Jews recaptured and rededicated the Temple in 164 BCE. After the revolt the Jews, with a family line known as the Hasmonean Dynasty, briefly regained full independence from 141-63 BCE. However, in 63 BCE the Roman General Pompey led the take-over of Israel in 63 BCE, and thus we enter the Roman world of Palestine in which the Jesus movement was birthed.
One small note: the authors that we are reading and the language used speaks of the “Jesus movement” for a specific period of time before there was actually anything that resembles what we would call “Christianity.” This refers to the experience of the disciples and all during this time when Jesus was only known as a radical rabbi who doing and saying some amazing things.
This all gets very messy and complicated, and I don’t yet fully grasp all that was going on. But our purpose for revisiting these events and this world show that there is a great political power struggle between all of the groups in this region, including the Jews. It is a period of intense battle over power and territory. But during this time there is also great change occurring within the Jewish religion, for it is within this time that groups such as the Essenes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees, along with many others. Importantly though, the very notion of “Judaism” was also emerging at this time.
I think what is generally thought is that Judaism is simply the continuation, the “modern” version of the Israelite religion. However, I’m learning, Judaism was one sect emerging from the Israelite religion at or around the very same time that Christianity emerged. Thus, the idea is that there is a lot more going on than the simple picture we see in the New Testament. This is not new, for the historical study of Scripture has been a central place in the study of Christianity, especially within the last half-century.
What we are beginning to see is that there is no simple one point in time that we can call the “beginning” of Christianity. Within all of the political and religious struggle there is a great debate over the question concerning what it means to be Jewish – and the Jesus movement starts out organically as one more answer to that question. And I find it just fascinating to realize all of the different things going on in the world at this time, because we can begin to see how Christianity came out of a very complex world!