During the week covered by this review, we received 3 articles on the following subjects:
Christians in Israel
Haaretz, July 19, 2019
Archeologists (among them Professor R. Steven Notley of Nyack College) believe they found the Church of the Apostles which, according to Christian Tradition, was a Byzantine church built over the home of disciples Peter and Andrew. The excavation uncovered mosaics that are said to appear only in churches. The researchers connected the structure to a report written by the Bavarian Bishop Willibald, who, during a tour of the Holy Land in 725 CE, wrote that he saw the church of Peter and his brother Andrew on his walk between Capernaum and Kursi. No other church has been found on that path. The archeologists are waiting for further proof, such as an inscription, before making a more decisive claim as to the new location of the town of Bethsaida. Their theory competes with an alternate explanation, which links the town of Bethsaida with the nearby site of e-Tell instead of their location in el-Araj. El-Araj dates back to the Second Temple period (at the latest), when it functioned as a Jewish fishing village. It is likely that the church was abandoned after the rise of the Umayyad caliphate, between the seventh and eighth centuries.
Globes, July 24, 2019
This was a long exposition on the history of the rise of Christianity, with a particular emphasis on the Apostle Paul. Paul’s background as a Pharisee and zealous Jew is given. The scholar N. T. Wright is quoted as saying that Paul was the “most stringent” of Jews, while E. P. Sanders is quoted as describing Paul as a revolutionary. Paul never met Jesus, but he did persecute Jesus’ followers in the service of the Sanhedrin. Two to three years after Jesus’ crucifixion, Paul was sent from Jerusalem to Damascus to purify the Jewish community of Christian influence, when on the road he had a vision of Jesus Christ. The term “Damascus Road” has since become a hallmark phrase of Western culture, meaning a sudden moment of enlightenment or a change of heart. Paul’s experience on the Damascus Road changed the course of history, “for better or for worse”. Without that event, the Bible would not have become the best-selling book of history. It was Christian missionaries, not rabbis, who spread the holy book.
Until the time of Paul, the followers of Jesus comprised a small sect of Jews who prayed in Jewish synagogues and kept Torah. The first Christians did not believe in the divinity of Jesus. That theological development would take place over the course of generations, and Paul was among the first to prop up that interpretation. To this day, theologians debate over the extent to which Paul meant for the followers of Jesus to abrogate the old covenant. His letters can be interpreted in different ways. But from that moment onwards, Christ’s followers began to abandon Judaism. It was Paul who gave them “an out”. Paul was “marketing a new product”, and became the owner of a new religious brand that he intended to distribute to the ends of the earth.
Christian Jews managed to survive up until the tenth century CE. There is evidence of their presence in the Arabian Peninsula, where one controversial interpretation argues that they impacted Muhamad. It is difficult to know when there was a final parting of ways between Christianity and Judaism. Scholar James Dunn has argued that salvation in ancient Judaism revolved around the double axis of law and free choice, while Paul’s view of salvation revolved around the double axis of obedience and grace. One did not have to be “worthy” of grace, only ready to receive it, which explains how Christianity spread so rapidly. Paul had exempted believers from the need to be found worthy through a strict observance of the law. He told his pagan audience they did not have to circumcise their sons, and that there was no longer a need to be a part of the Abrahamic or Davidic line in order to be included within the ranks of the “chosen people”. The arrival of Martin Luther in later centuries minimized even further the role of observance in relation to salvation. He emphasized “faith alone”. Given that a hierarchy was no longer necessary in mediating between God and the individual, pluralism flourished within Christianity. The Lutheran revolution paved the way for the rise of Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism, which is now a global force. It is estimated, for example, that there are 100 million Evangelicals Christians in China. The author concludes his survey by saying: “There is no need to love the product in order to be impressed by its marketing.” in reference to Pauline Christianity.
Christians in Israel
Hadashot Haifa VeHatzafon, July 24, 2019
Father Yousef Matta, the Greek Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Galilee, recently toured Rambam Hospital in the North of Israel. During the visit, he met with the director of the hospital, and donated 150,000 shekels, raised by Greek Melkite Catholic congregants. Father Matta thanked the staff at Rambam for carrying out God’s work with such professionalism, and praised the hospital for representing Israel in all its “beautiful diversity”.