Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Christian origins video, and asking the question of the Christian departure from Judaism

Dr. James Carleton Paget, from Cambridge University, looks here at current methodological trends in Biblical Studies and Christian origins. It's a fairly follow-able condensed summary of where studies have been going in the last few decades regarding the origins of the Christian faith. Of particular interest to my own work are two points that Dr Paget draws out.

Firstly he is going to insist that of the departure of "Christianity" from Judaism, the literature is increasingly emphasising a fragmented and gradual process, which re-frames, re-directs or simply questions the relevance of questions like "was Paul really a Jew?"

Secondly, he is going to insist that there is a substantial lack in "takeaway" value. "So what?", he wants to ask, about different perceptions in history about Paul, for instance.

So, since I am in the process (a highly stop-start process) of writing a manuscript on the Trinity for an interested publisher, I want to self-assess Mutated Faith and the Triune Hub according to these trends that Dr. Paget identifies. On the first count, do I allow for a less simplistic, monolithic understanding of Christianity and Judaism? How will I frame "the departure"? Since my decision is to address readers like me, with little formal training but a keen interest in Christian origins and what we are to do with some of these creeds, I don't think I need to tackle it with the same academic depth or vocabulary. However, since one of my takeaways is that there was a radical shift of Jewish focus within the Jewish followers of Jesus to a threefold centre of their faith in the first century, it would be beneficial to remember that the Christ cult fold in the tapestry of first century Judaism would not have been known by all, and would certainly not have stood out to all among the throngs of other cults and Jewish groups out there throughout the Roman empire. I would nonetheless like to suggest that in addition to the other reasons developed for increasing distance, that the Triune Hub is a major issue and identifier for the early movement (and as such, required enshrining in subsequent times via the 3rd century middle-platonic ideas available at the time) that may have been repugnant for non-Christ-following Jews, many of whom would have been expectant of a Messiah, perhaps an eternal one, but would not be ready to connect all of that to his departure and subsequent commissioning of God's Spirit as the Third, through whom (or which) all else is identified, enriched, empowered, directed to recruit collaborators for the Kingdom that God entrusted in its entirety to his Son, appointed Lord in his stead. This is not the "be-all-and-all" of separation, especially in light of the weight of research pointing toward fragmented separation, however, it should certainly add some hefty weight to the increasing burden of distinction.

As a small aside, I have been doing some thinking about distinction and separation. Not the same thing at all. If you take conjoined twins - they are clearly not separated, by definition! But they are two distinct persons. One might laugh, the other sulk. One might sleep, the other be awake. And so on - in fact, one could conceivably (or theoretically) die and the other live. Indeed, that is what has happened, I am certain, during various attempts to surgically separate such twins. Interesting that the surgical intervention is to provide separation to that which is distinct. This difference, between separation and distinction, has applicability for both the case of the Christian sect - apparently cast out of synagogues even by 60s or 70s in some cases - and the question of the emergence of the Triune God. For the Christians that were cast out of synagogues, their distinction of followers of a resurrected and exalted Messiah, Jesus, did not require their immediate separation. However, there can be a pressure that results from sustained distinction, like with the conjoined twins, that eventually pushes apart and separates the two. A counter example exists, however, in the development of the Trinity dogmas, wherein the man Jesus is increasingly associated with God, whom he prefers to call his Father, that the blinding glory with which he is drawn into at God's right hand binds them so closely together that for some, with separation now forever defeated, the distinction can also come under threat. For those that know me, they know what I will say next: to their great peril! 

So will Mutated Faith also tackle the takeaway problem? I think it should. It aims to, at least. Since it is only semi-academic will mean that the non-academic half needs to be relevant anyway. My key takeaways are that the new threefold hub, Father, Son and Spirit, is a first century Jewish phenomenon (and shouldn't shackle modern individuals and who knows maybe one day churches on a wider level to fourth century interpretations requiring talk of essence and substance), and is especially necessary for the modern evangelical church to re-adopt: for collective worship and prayer, for individual discipleship and consecration, and finally for understanding the church's role as key (but not sole) collaborator for the advancement of the kingdom of God.

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