In the first century, Jews who believed in Jesus were excluded from synagogues - the Johannine Community

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    Apr 27, 2015 10:27 AM GMT
    Bart Ehrman

    Stage One: In the Synagogue

    The oldest stories of the Fourth Gospel appear to indicate that the Johannine community originated as a group of Jews who came to believe that Jesus was the messiah, who nonetheless continued to maintain their Jewish identity and to worship in their Jewish synagogue. We do not know where exactly this community was originally located, except that it may have been someplace in Palestine where Aramaic was spoken.

    The reasons for drawing these historical conclusions come from our only source of information, the Gospel of John itself. Some of John’s stories emphasize Jesus’ Jewishness and narrate how some Jews came to identify him as the Jewish messiah. Since this identification of the messiah would have been of no interest to pagans (it’s a reference to the deliverer of Israel), it makes sense that the stories would have been told within Jewish communities. Since the stories presuppose knowledge of Jesus’ own mother tongue, Aramaic, they appear to have been among the most ancient accounts of the Gospel.

    This community of Jewish believers may have owed their existence to a follower of Jesus whom they later called “the Beloved Disciple.” This enigmatic figure appears several times in the course of the Gospel; he appears to have enjoyed a position of prominence among those who told the stories (see, for example, John 13:23; 19:26-27; 20:2-8 ).

    It appears that these Jewish converts attempted to proselytize other members of their Jewish synagogue. Evidence for this hypothesis is found not only in such stories as the call of the disciples, which presumably would have been told in order to show how some Jews had recognized Jesus as their messiah, but also, perhaps, in the Signs Source. You may recall the theory that this source ended with the words now found in 20:30-31: “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” The purpose of the Signs Source, in other words, was missionary. It recorded the miraculous deeds of Jesus precisely in order to convince Jews that Jesus was the messiah. Originally, then, the signs were not designed to show that Jesus was God. They indicated that he was empowered by God as his representative. Jesus was still understood to be a special human being at the stage of the community’s history in which the stories were first told, but he was not yet thought of as himself divine.



    Stage Two: Excluded from the Synagogue

    It is impossible to say how long the Jews of this community remained in their synagogue without causing a major disturbance. What does become clear from several of the stories of the Fourth Gospel is that a significant disruption eventually took place in which the Jews who believed in Jesus were excluded from the synagogue. There is no indication of exactly what led to this exclusion...

    My Reply

    Dr. Ehrman: What does become clear from several of the stories of the Fourth Gospel is that a significant disruption eventually took place in which the Jews who believed in Jesus were excluded from the synagogue. There is no indication of exactly what led to this exclusion, but it is not difficult to paint a plausible scenario. First-century Jews by and large rejected any idea that Jesus could be the messiah.

    Steefen, Personal Essayist: There is an indication of exactly what led to the exclusion from the synagogue: John 6: 53. Once Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.

    Now, at least one devout Jew will recall Leviticus 17: 10: “Any Israelite or any alien living among them who eats any blood—I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from his people.”

    John 6: 53 forced Jesus followers out of the synagogue and set Temple Authorities to have Jesus turned over to the Romans for execution. This occurs early enough in the Gospel of John, before the Last Supper where the Synoptics place the outrageous cannibalistic statement. John 6: 53 is far worse than Jesus calling himself the Messiah.
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    Apr 28, 2015 2:26 AM GMT
    Bart Ehrman: Religious groups (sometimes called “sects”) that split off from larger communities often feel persecuted — many times with considerable justification — and build ideological walls around themselves for protection.

    Steefen: John 6: 53 is one such wall. “I [Jesus] tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.

    Why is that such an effective wall against Judaism at large?

    Leviticus 17: 10: “Any Israelite or any alien living among them who eats any blood—I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from his people.”

    Calling Jesus or anyone the messiah isn’t that big of a wall. Akiba called Bar Kokhba messiah. Both messiahs experienced tragedy.

    What evidence, Dr. Ehrman, is there that the Johannine community practiced communion before the Jewish Revolt?


    I’d say the biblical Jesus (27-36 CE) had no grounds to set God’s face against him and to get cut off from his people. All of that is post Temple Destruction ideology. One needs to see the carnage in the Temple when the Temple was under siege by rebels committing sacrilege, the Idumeans killing high priests, standing on their dead bodies in way of jest, proceeding “to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial, although the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun.” – Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 4, Chapter 5, 314-317, 325. (This also questions your comment that Jesus did not have a decent burial.)

    The virtue of the God of Moses had to be so defeated as was done in Wars of the Jews that any Jew would come up with John 6: 53. As long as a synagogue honors the God of Moses, Christians with John 6: 53 need not be welcomed. The synagogue is for the face of the God of Moses to be upon you and the congregating of His people.

    With all of your textual criticism, you believe John 6: 53 dates back to 30-36 C.E.?

    And just to show where we are in agreement on this matter, we know the church in Jerusalem was not split from the larger Jewish community 33/36 - approximately 65. The split certainly did not occur while James was head of the church in Jerusalem. James certainly wouldn't want the consequences of Lev. 17: 10.

    The only way this makes sense for Jesus is if he is in prophetic mode, where he is forward in time when high priests are murdered in the temple and their killers step in jest upon their unburied, dead bodies. If Jesus had a fit over money changers, I can see him going as far as throwing in the towel given the atrocities in the Temple when it was overrun. 30-33 or 30-36, Jesus was not advocating a split between "Christian" and "Jew". Jesus' prayer for his disciples was for a kind face of God of Moses, the Father, to be upon his disciples.

    You have said other things were not authentic to the original gospels. What rationale can you give that such a verse as John 6: 53 was authentic to 30-36 C.E.? Even if we go with Jesus was in a prophetic stupor, that time of tribulation was not upon them yet, so there was no need to risk the consequences of Lev. 17: 10.
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    Apr 28, 2015 2:32 AM GMT
    Finally, it would be helpful if your post explained why the Christology became so unbridled without shame that the Johannine community semantically does not break the first commandment because although Jesus is not put before the God of Moses, he does become divine.
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    Apr 29, 2015 4:58 AM GMT
    No Jews for Jesus back then.
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    Apr 29, 2015 12:27 PM GMT
    You're right, there were no Jews for Jesus, 30-36 Common Era with a Jesus of John 6: 53.