Philippe Therrien Reviews Jewish-Christianity and the History of Judaism (A. Yoshiko Reed)

Reviews of the Enoch Seminar 2021.12.07

Annette Yoshiko Reed. Jewish-Christianity and the History of Judaism. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2018. Pp. xxx+555. ISBN: 978-3-16-154476-7. 174 €. Hardcover.

Jewish-Christianity and the History of Judaism

Philippe Therrien
Université de Lausanne/Université Laval

In this volume, Annette Yoshiko Reed explores the construction of religious identity in sources traditionally referred to by scholars as “Jewish-Christian” (or “Judaeo-Christian”). She intends to determine what they can reveal about the history of Judaism and how Jewish sources can help us in their interpretation. She retraces their reception in modern scholarship and their use in the development of narratives regarding Jewish and Christian relationships. This allows her to make methodological and conceptual considerations on the modern notions underlying the study of these texts, such as Judaism,” “Christianity,” “Jewish-Christianity,” but also “religion,” “identity,” and “otherness.

The book gathers and expands fourteen papers and three previously unpublished works, spanning from 2003 to 2017. The contributions are organized into two main sections: in “‘Jewish-Christians’ and the Historiography of Early Jewish/Christian Relations,” Reed illustrates the fluidity between Judaism and Christianity in the first four centuries and accounts for different ways to approach religious difference in Late Antiquity. In “‘Jewish-Christianity’ in Jewish History and Jewish Studies,” she seeks to uncover the place of Christian and Jewish-Christian sources in Jewish history, and how the history of Judaism can shed light on the origins of Christianity. If the volume presents itself as “collected studies,” considerable effort has been deployed to revise and update each paper. Readers will be grateful for the care to make this book a useful research tool through the inclusion of indexes (ancient sources and modern scholarship), a timeline (Appendix A), and an extensive commented bibliography (Appendix B).

Reed shows how the notion of “Jewish-Christianity” is problematic because it results from ancient and modern normative discourse. The use of this category had often implied heterodoxy, dissidence, and syncretism, which has led to the marginalization of texts labeled as such. Despite these pitfalls, she makes a case for the continued usefulness of this category, which can be used as an “irritating heuristic” (pp. xii-xiii) to interrogate both ancient texts and modern assumptions, especially regarding the existence of Christianity and Judaism as two distinct and exclusive entities. Within these parameters, she uses “Jewish-Christianity” to refer to:“premodern figures, sects, and sources which can be meaningfully defined as both ‘Jewish’ and ‘Christian’ and which thus do not fit into a modern taxonomic system that treats ‘Judaism’ and ‘Christianity’ as mutually exclusive” (pp. xxv-xxvi). Her definition is based on literary analysis, as she does not seek to retrace a specific history of “Jewish-Christianity,” but bring to attention neglected sources and determine their place in the religious and cultural landscape of Late Antiquity. To this end, she studies the construction of identity in “Jewish-Christian apocrypha,” mainly the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies and Recognitions but also the Apocalypse of Peter, the Protevangelium of James, the Didascalia apostolorum, the Ethiopic Book of the Cock, and the Gospel of Nicodemus, with a special interest in how they could reveal relationship with rabbinic traditions (chapter three).

The originality of Reed’s approach is the integration of “Jewish-Christianity” into Jewish studies. This notion has largely been studied within a Christian framework, by studying this “phenomenon” in the context of early Christianity and its diversity, while Jewish sources remain rarely used. Benefiting from insights from recent scholarship on identity and religion, Reed follows important developments in Second Temple Judaism highlighting the Jewish matrix of early Christianity to tackle head-on modern assumptions and scholarly habits that often lead to a misinterpretation of the sources, such as the existence of a single, monolithic “Judaism” in Late Antiquity, Judaism and Christianity as exclusive “religions” in the first centuries ce (and the model of the “Parting of the Ways”), the translation of the term Ioudaios intented to serve as a foil to Christianos (Appendix C), and the “Christian Gaze,” which is the construction and definition of “Judaism” from a Christian perspective, as an identity imposed from the outside (Appendix D). She details the complexity and diversity of Jewish traditions regarding messianism (chapter seven) and mysticism (chapter ten), as well as the influence of Hellenism (for instance, chapters two, four, and five).

It is to call into question “modern metanarratives” that she decided to retain the category of “Jewish-Christianity.” She explains: “Precisely due to its clumsy hybridity, ‘Jewish-Christianity’ can provide a focus to help us to identify materials conventionally omitted in the modern study of the Jewish and Christian past, while also pushing us to ask how premodern conceptualizations of identity might differ from our own” (p. xxvi). The question is no longer “Is this text Jewish-Christian?” but rather “What assumptions have led us to need this concept?” To rectify the situation, she makes extensive use of ancient literature and centers her attention on the self-designation of texts, rather than applying misleading categories to them. It could be argued that her literary approach leads to a definition of Jewish-Christianity that is too abstract and not anchored enough in the social reality behind the texts. It is true that she does not employ any traditional typology, which usually includes consideration regarding ethnicity, doctrines, and praxis. But this is precisely the strength of her methodology: by focusing on texts, she can efficiently take into account their particularities. These texts were certainly produced by individuals and communities, but most of the information regarding them comes from heresiological sources and thus is greatly distorted. Reed manages to bypass the unreliable information by developing a definition that can still be used for socio-historical inquiries. Her main objective is“to avoid the imposition of any single image of ‘Jewish-Christianity’ on all of our sources as well as the problematic equation of Jewish ethnicity with specific proclivities or limitations. To [Reed’s] view, a flexible definition of this sort has the benefit of opening our understanding of ‘Jewish-Christianity’ to include more firsthand sources for fluidities and hybridities among biblically-based religious identities interacting in different ways in different locales” (pp. 112-113).

For these reasons, Reed’s book is not intended as an introduction to “Jewish-Christianity,” nor does she seek to bring forth its final and ultimate definition. On the contrary, Reed’s work debunks the assumption that a concept should be defined definitively and once and for all. It can be modulated according to the functions it has to serve as long as its definition is clear and in dialogue with previous research. This is another of Reed’s strengths: her extensive knowledge of modern scholarship in English, French, and German allows her to deepen and broaden her reflections. For instance, she details various functions of the notion of “Jewish-Christianity” from its invention by John Toland to the Wissenschaft des Judentums and the Jewish studies of the early 20th century in North America (intro and prolegomenon). Special attention is made to German scholars such as Augustus Neander, Gershom Scholem, Heinrich Graetz, and F. C. Baur, to whom considerable attention is given throughout the book.

Special attention is given to the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies and Recognitions throughout the book. These two writings, composed in their final version in fourth-century Syria, have long been studied from a diachronic perspective to gain information about “Jewish-Christianity” in apostolic times or in the second century in light of Baur’s theory of the two “parties,” which opposes Paul’s Gentile-Christianity to Peter’s Jewish-Christianity. According to this theoretical frame, since it implies an early separation between Judaism and Christianity, “Jewish-Christian” elements can only belong to earlier redactional layers of the Pseudo-Clementines. However, recognizing their complex genesis, Reed studies these texts in their final state to show how the boundaries between Judaism and Christianity are not only fluid but still open to debate in fourth-century Syria. In this context, she calls into question the model of the “Parting of the Ways” because it cannot explain why materials from the third, fourth, and fifth centuries showcase features that cannot be classified as either Jewish or Christian (at least according to our modern conceptions). Indeed, an early separation of Christianity and Judaism is “neither plausible nor heuristic” especially since “in the second and third centuries ce, neither group held the authority that they so vociferously claimed for themselves” (pp. 27-28). In this context, the question of their composition and their relationship to the Grundschrift, or any other hypothetical source, is less important than the necessity to explain the texts in the state in which they were transmitted to us. Choices were made by the redactors of the Homilies and the Recognitions, choices that can be studied in a synchronic perspective to gather information about the late antique Syrian religious and intellectual context.

Several passages and features of the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies and Recognitions are brought up to show their relationship with Judaism. She brings to light several points of contact with rabbinic literature, such as the primacy of the Oral Torah (chapter eight), rigorous monotheism and proper praxis and sexual purity (chapter two), and the description of the Pharisees in a positive light (chapter nine). This reveals that the Pseudo-Clementines showcase a mode of piety that is in continuity with Judaism (chapter eight) and counters the supersessionist account of church history and apostolic succession that we find in Justin, Tertullian, Eusebius, and Epiphanius (chapters five, six, seven, and eight). For example, the Homilies establish parallel lines of salvation through Moses and Jesus, both presented as the True Prophet and teaching, in fact, the exact same things (chapters one and nine). Through the controversy between Clement and Appion in Homilies IV-VI, the “rule of syzygies,” and the doctrine of true and false prophecies (chapters four, five, and seven), the Homilies reconfigure binary opposition, such as “Christian” and “Jew” or “Greek” and “barbarian,” and create a new framework in which “Greek” is synonymous with impious and “Jew” is synonymous with pious, without regard to ethnic origin, echoing rabbinic considerations about ha-goyim (epilogue; Appendixnnexe D). However, the Recognitions showcase different “Jewish-Christian” features: while the Homilies want to transform the Gentiles into God-fearers and to make them abandon idolatry, the Recognitions seeks to combine Jewish praxis with Christian beliefs (pp. 48-49). By bringing to light the coherence of each version, but also by highlighting the differences between them, Reed shows the diversity of the modalities through which ancient texts can define true piety. Following in the steps of Dominique Côté and F. Stanley Jones, Reed offers an essential book for any researcher interested in the Pseudo-Clementines. She not only revitalizes the field of the study of “Jewish-Christian” sources, but also broadens the perspective in the research on the Pseudo-Clementines themselves, as the edited collection Plots in the Pseudo-Clementine Romance (to which Reed contributed) did a more than a decade ago.[1]

To study ancient religious identity, one must first deal with one’s own frame of thinking, conceptualization, and scholarly traditions. In this perspective, Reed operates on two levels: studying ancient texts on their own terms, in their own context, and tracing their reception in modern times (with a special attention to nineteenth-century German scholarship). This back-and-forth allows Reed to succeed on both fronts: she gives precise and nuanced interpretations of ancient data while calling into question problematic metanarratives and models. Her historical and literary analysis is carried out with great analytical depth and not without caution. More broadly, Reed offers an impactful methodological reflection on heuristic categories, how and why they are made, and how to make the most of them. Her insights may well be used in other fields to help overcome similar theoretical challenges.[2]

[1] Dominique Côté, Le thème de l’opposition entre Pierre et Simon dans les Pseudo-Clémentines (Paris, 2001); F. Stanley Jones, Pseudoclementina Elchasaiticaque inter Judaeochristiana: Collected Studies (Louvain/Paris/Walpole, 2012); FrédéricAmsler et al. (ed.), Nouvelles intrigues pseudo-clémentines. Plots in the Pseudo-Clementine Romance. Actes du deuxième colloque international sur la littérature apocryphe chrétienne (Prahins, 2008). For similar approaches, see Meinholf Vielberg, Klemens in den Pseudoklementinischen Rekognitionen: Studien zur literarischen Form des spätantiken Romans (Berlin, 2000); Nicole Kelley, Knowledge and Religious Authority in the Pseudo-Clementines (Tübingen, 2006); Patricia A. Duncan, Novel Hermeneutics in the Greek Pseudo-Clementine Romance (Tübingen, 2017).

[2] The category of “Gnosticism” presents similar problems as “Jewish/Judaeo-Christianity,” for both are the result of ancient and modern normative discourses. See Michael A. Williams, Rethinking Gnosticism: An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category (Princeton, 1996), and Karen L. King, What is Gnosticism? (Cambridge, 2003).

Philippe Therrien