Thursday, June 15, 2017

Précis: Baur to Bauer and Beyond: Early Jewish Christianity and Modern Scholarship (William Varner)

Baur to Bauer and Beyond: Early Jewish Christianity and Modern Scholarship (William Varner)
A Précis of
Chapter 5 from
Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Contexts: Reconsidering the Bauer Thesis. edited by Paul A. Hartog, Pickwick Publications, Eugene, Oregon, 2015

The development, distribution, and character of Jewish Christianity in the 1st century and following represents a significant oversight on the part of Bauer and those embracing his thesis. Georg Streker wrote an appendix to the 1971 English translation of Bauer’s work titled “On the Problem of Jewish Christianity.” He followed the Bauer Thesis closely, and his presentation has been promoted by Bart Ehrman.

Streker and Ehrman basically ignored the literature on early Jewish Christianity. Varner surveys the traditional understandings of early Jewish Christian history and the distinctions between the Nazarenes and the Ebionites in early Christian writings. Some of the main modern period works treating the subject are:
FJA Hort’s 1894 Judaistic Christianity (Internet Archive)
J. Daniélou’s 1958 The Theology of Jewish Christianity (Engl. Tr. 1964)
HJ Schoeps 1949 Jewish Christianity: Factional Disputes in the Early Church (Engl. Tr. 1969) (Scribd link)
H Schonfield’s 1936 The History of Jewish Christianity (Internet Archive)
J Jocz 1949 The Jewish People and Jesus Christ

Varner traces the root of the Streker/Ehrman paradigm to Ferdinand Christian Baur’s Tübingen School Hypothesis. This view of church history uses selected aspects of the Clementine literature as its primary base. FC Baur pits Pauline (gentile) theology against Petrine (Jewish Christian) theology and finds a Hegelian synthesis of the two in Johannine theology. Varner turns to look at the common propositions between Baur, Bauer-Strecker, and Ehrman as well as their common neglect of widely documented contrary evidence in the early documents: for example, a focus exclusively on the Ebionites, neglecting mention of the Nazarenes and the historical migration and changes within Judaism and its ways of dealing with Jewish Christians after the destruction of the Temple and the failure of the Bar Kochba rebellion.

Varner then turns to present a summary of research on these questions that have been published after Ehrman’s first edition of Orthodoxy and Heresy (1996)  and his Lost Christianities (2003). This summary and the reading list points out many different helpful issues, particularly the need to be more accurate in describing the confessions and theologies of those casually labeled as Jewish or Jewish Christians in the first century.


“Erhman’s popular treatment of Jewish Christianity repeats the views of Strecker without directly acknowledging them. Ehrman’s discussion also suffers from a tendential bias by labeling all of early Jewish Christianity as ‘Ebionism.’ This is a patent anachronism that attaches to all early Jewish Christians the name of a group of Jewish believers that held aberrant views from the Jewish Christians known as ‘Nazarenes.’ Ignoring the important contributions of Justin Martyr, Ehrman does not even mention the ‘Nazarenes’ nor does he ever attempt to connect them with the pre-70 Jewish believers. By labeling them all as Ebionites, he prejudices the discussion to support his assumptions.” (p. 99)

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