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Did the Jews Reject Jesus?

April 3, 2012

Skarphedin put up a lengthy skeptical examination of the New Testament over the weekend. It’s refreshing at a time when so many atheists seem happy to rest their case with “religion is stupid!” I intend to work through them one or two at a time over the next month or so.

Today: the Jewish reception of Jesus.

Message poorly prepared. Why was it that God was supposed to have spent all this time preparing Jews and the world for Jesus coming, and yet when he came, the disciples had to twist Jewish scriptures to fit their view of Jesus. God somehow spectacularly failed to clearly prepare his coming, so that Jews still don’t understand how Christians twisted the OT into alignment with their new revelation.

Not being a Christian is a major element of identity for contemporary Jews—and presumably for Jews living at any point after a few centuries from Christ. But did ‘the Jews’ really reject Jesus? Well, religions spread through social networks, and for early Christians, that meant the Jewish diaspora. There were a lot of Jews in the Roman Empire, and many of them did in fact become Christians. Conversion seems to have followed the path of the diaspora, and conversion of Jews continued for four or five centuries.

For all we know, contemporary Jews are basically a hard-core rump of Judaism. Here’s Rodney Stark (Cities of God,chapter 5):

Population data lend further support to the assumption of a very large number of Jewish converts. As noted, the Diasporan Jews constituted at least 10 percent of the total population of the empire, and perhaps as much as 15 percent. Medieval historians estimate that Jews made up only 1 percent of the population of Latin Europe in about the tenth century. Granted, some of that percentage decline was caused by the Islamic conquest of areas having substantial Jewish populations. Nevertheless, the figures also suggest a considerable decline in the Diasporan population during that millennium, which is consistent with there having been a substantial rate of conversion. Nor was the survival of strong synagogues inconsistent with that supposition. Indeed, by peeling away all of the tepid, Hellenized Jews, conversion to Christianity would have left an increasingly orthodox, highly committed Jewish community, a community ideally constituted to sustain obdurate resistance to Christianization.

Now I should say that even if the vast majority of Jews did in fact reject Jesus, I wouldn’t really be bothered by that. One of the major themes of the OT is Israel’s constant faithlessness. If many were called but only a few chosen, that would almost be more consistent with the OT than otherwise. At this point the question could only be: why does God not reveal himself more openly to more people/everyone? Which is a fair question, but a different one.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 3, 2012 5:11 pm

    I suppose the question then would be: have standard Jewish interpretations changed over time to make them less amenable to Christian interpretations. But there’s only so much interpretation one can do with the Old Testament and my general point was that there is very little in the Old Testament that would seem to significantly foreshadow the story of Jesus. The continuities make sense within a human tradition, but if it was being guided by God, it’s not very impressive. After all, it’s Christians who make a big deal about no one expecting someone like Jesus.

    And, if Christianity did best at first among diaspora Jews, still I’ve never heard anyone claim that, for example, the majority of Jews ended up converting – the attitude Christians developed towards Jews suggests more that Jews were not nearly as responsive as Christians thought they should be.

    Also, as for the ‘faithlessness’ comment – that might explain the willingness of many Jews to adopt Christianity – Christianity was yet another way for Jews to try to have it both ways, as Stark also discusses.

  2. quixliver permalink
    April 3, 2012 5:16 pm

    Romans 9, dude, Romans 9.

    Why doesn’t God put more effort into His love affair with the Jews in particular, and mankind in general? This is a problem with most ‘Modern’ Christianity, but not for those of Reformed or ‘Calvinist’ bent. It is His choice. The call was general, but few were chosen and they were chosen, not just invited.

    “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

    • April 3, 2012 5:27 pm

      This is a fair answer to what I said was a fair question.

    • April 3, 2012 6:46 pm

      But that doesn’t make the message any more coherent. Is the response to the apparent lack of divine guidance of the biblical message just “meh, God doesn’t care that much”?

      It’s hard to tell the difference between a God that’s so haphazard and a God that isn’t there.

  3. April 3, 2012 10:14 pm

    Some did convert; others didn’t; the descendents of the latter are today’s Jews (along with some gentiles who intermarried into their community), that’s all.

    Not sure why this is important; the whole point is, the Old Covenant was expanded in the New Covenant to include Gentiles, but effectively, that meant breaking off the branches which did not follow. Paul explained this in Romans 11.

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