The Christian Minority of the Circumcision (2)
B. IDENTITY OF THIS MINORITY
It is impossible to understand the juridical position of this first Christian minority without establishing correctly identity. Account must be taken of the Jewish majority from which it came and which very Soon persecuted it, of the imperial might which it also came up against, and finally the second Christian minority originating from the gentiles, which was going to substitute it. The first question in law regarding a moral entity, as it is for a person, is certainly that of identity. Hence this is question posed immediately for the Judeo-Christian minority of Circumcision. Its identity, which has only come to light in the last years, explains quite well its juridical status.
For about the last twenty years the attention of specialists has been directed more and more to this first Church of the Holy Land Literary studies and archaeological research, at the same time, although independently at first then in collaboration, have brought to light the nature of this first Christian minority community which was born among Jewish people of the first century of our era. Cardinal Danielou presented its theology(36) and the different signs of it as found in ancient texts(37) Fathers Testa(38) and Bagatti(39) of the Franciscan Biblical Institute of the Flagellation Jerusalem have, on their part, compiled an inventory of all the recent Judeo-Christian discoveries and explained them with the help of numerous texts which had until then remained hidden.
It was thought that the Judeo-Christian Church had been a rather modest and ephemeral Palestinian reality of the beginnings. Recent studies provoked by an astonishing convergence of discoveries, have modified this view. Judeo-Christian communities expanded from Palestine and endured until the fifth century. Judeo-Christian theology has already thoroughly studied by Danielou and Testa. It takes the rather disconcerting but elaborate form of expressive symbolism. We will have to be here with a brief summary, which follows. "This complex of symbolism hinges around five Principle elements. Mystical letters, which at that time signified theological concepts, like initials or similar by their simple external shape, numbers, which also have a theological meaning such as representing Christ or antichrist. The cross, appearing with all kind of symbolical additions. The monogram and the different symbols of the name of Christ. And finally the hidden mystery where Various characters differentiate the orthodox symbolism from the heterodox. This very rich system was also linked to the theory of seals or symbolsm not only of spiritual realities, but also of physical marks engraved on the body, clothes and objects.(40)
As soon as the existence of the Judeo-Christian cornrnunitv and its teaching was definitely identified then its inspiration was recognized even expressed in most of the earliest Christian literature. This is seen for exaniple in the Ascension of Isaiah, the Testament of the Telve, Patriarchs, in certain sibylline Oracles, in the apocryphal gospels, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Didache, the Pastor of Hermes and the Letter of St ignatius of Antioch. All the Fathers of the Church of the second and third centuries are permeated with Judeo-Christian (41) themes. But even the Apocalypse of St John is already a good witness in this region of Asia Minor where Judeo-Christian aspects were important and gave trouble enough to St Paul.
At the beginning the Judeo-Christians must have been a minority within the Jewish masses this would have made it very difficult distinsh them(42). At the approach of the 7OAD war. when the Jerusalem community fled to Pella(43), they do not give the impression of being very numerous. Also this emigration was not recorded in the history written by Josephus. However, it is probable that this minority became more important after the war of 70AD had decimated the Jewish population, and even more so after the war of 132-135AD in Judea.
It can also be asked as to what degree, at the beginning, th Christian minority could be distinguished from the Jewish population. In Rome under Nero(44), this distinction was well established. It is also possible that the Romans were aware of it in Palestine. They could have known of the "voluntary exile"(45) to Pella of the Christians in 68AD. It is quite possible that the strict interdiction(46), forbidding the Jews access into Jerusalem after 135AD, did not affect the Judeo-Chnstians with the same rigour. This would be because they were opposed to the sedition since it was contrary to their principles(47). In fact they had been the object of the severity of Bar Kochba. This was aggravated by their faith in Jesus Christ which excluded all nationalism and so contrasted with the pretensions of the leader of the insurrection. However, after this they were in fact to be found on Mount Sion(48), but certainly, outside the enclosure of Aelia Capitolina. By the 4th century the main concentration of Judeo-Christians in Jerusalem was confronted by the Church originating from the gentiles.
In 135AD Hadrian wanted to erase everyihing Jewish by means of his pagan temples. In this policy he also included the Christian holy places of which he must have been informed. On Golgotha and the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem he erected the Capitol with its temples to the triad, Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. In Bethlehem the Christian grotto was consecrated to Adonis. These desecrations would certainly not have destoyed the memory and the veneration of these holy places(49) by the Christians. The community of Christians derived from the gentiles would have received the tradition from the Judeo-Christians. In any case, the latter must have returned very quickly to these places if indeed they had had to leave them. They must have shown a sensitive fidelity, the same as they demonstrated for all their traditions.
C. THE FRAGMENTATION OF THIS MINORITY AND ITS DISAPPEARANCE
Every attempt to establish the religious identitY, of the Judeo-Christians concludes with the generalisation that they were the Nazarenes".(50) Apart from which this was the first generic name for the Jews who were converted to faith in Christ. Epiphanius and Jerome referred to them by this name and as "believing Jews". In spite of their Jewish customs, such as the circumcision and the Passover celebrated on the 14th of Nissan, they were considered as authentic Christians. The Nazarenes themselves considered that they were identical to the Christians who had come from the gentiles. The Jews called them "minin" or, as they used to say, "heretics". They detested them because of the proselytism which they indulged in so close to them. It was above all in Galilee, where they lived side by side, that relations were tense.
It is difficult to retrace the organization of this Judeo-Christian minority. After James the Less was put to death in 62AD, Simeon, his cousin and also cousin of Our Lord, became bishop. He was martyred in lO7AD under Nero. Eusebius gives us an abnormal list of 13 bishops for the 28 years, up to the beginning of the succession of hierarchy coming from the gentile Christians in 135AD. It is supposed that certain of these names are of bishops of other episcopal sees in the country, and not only those of Jerusalem(51). St Epiphanius seems to suggest a governing body elders, perhaps in turns, as with the Jewish high priests. He says:
"They have their priests and their heads of synagogues: in fact they call their assemblies, not churches, but synagogue(52).
Besides the group of Judeo-Chistians, "believing Jews" and considered as authentic Christians, authors such as Eusebius and Jerome tell us of true sects. St Irenaeus and Hegesippus each name seven of them. The main one being that of the Ebionites, the others were the Sampsenes, Arehontiques, Valerians, Helkesaites, Audiens and Messaliens(53).
The Ebionites(54) were already considered by everybody to be outside Christian orthodoxy. They rejected the divinity of Christ who they considered only as the Messiah. Naturally they rejected Paul and his doctrine on the nullity of the old Law. They also had their own canon of the Scriptures.
These sects were fairly local and it seems that they were clear made up of aberrant fringes derived from the Judeo-Christian commnities They were also to disappear at the same time as the latter.
At first it was thought that the Judeo-Christians had disappear along with the Jews in Jerusalem at the time of the war of 132-l35AD. And that the beginning of the hierarchy taken from the gentile-Christians in the Holy City marked their demise. However, both recent archaeologic discoveries and a more attentive reading of ancient texts, including the Talmud where echoes are found of their conflict with the Jews, prove that the Judeo-Christians endured until towards the end of the 4th century(55).
There are many reasons to explain their disappearance. Being integrated with the Church coming from the gentiles, which had become the great Christian Church, they were caught up in the basic hostili towards it.
One of the first conflicts had been that of their fidelity to t observances of the Jewish law. Since the Judeo-Christians of Palestine had remained in a Jewish atmosphere and consisted of converts from the Pharisees and Jewish priests(56) it was natural that they were determined to keep, along with their new faith in the divinity of Christ, the observanc of the Law. Likewise, it was also logical for the "Hellenists", or Jews the diaspora, living as they were alongside the pagans and seeing these seized and converted by the Holy Spirit as they themselves had been, were soon inclined to free them from their observances, which in themselves were unessential. In fact it was from the Hellenistic society that the Apostles to the gentiles were to come, with the exception of Peter who was more timid than the others, such as Paul, Philip, Silas, Barnabbas and so on(57).
This conflict came to a head in 49-50AD. It was discussed and settled at the meeting referred to as the Council of Jerusalem in th 5OAD(58). After the speeches of Peter and James it was decided that the gentile converts should not be held to the observances of the Law, that they only had to abstain from the meat of strangled animals, food sacrificed to the idols and from fornication.
However St Paul aggravated and kept the problem alive by teaching that Christ had abrogated the old Law with the new and the observarice of the Law was no longer obligatory for converts(59). On this question the struggle was to continue during the whole of Paul's life and the judaizing party never stopped following him in order to reimpose on his converts the yoke of the Law. It is easy to imagine that such ways of proceeding were to form a rift between the two Churches(60).
The date for the celebration of Easter proved to be another conflict during the 2nd century. The Judeo-Christian churches remained attached to the 14th of Nissan. On the other hand the gentile-Christians fixed it on a Sunday. This difference caused trouble in the churches(61). Pope Victor (189-199) ordered provincial councils. That for Palestine at Caesarea only included bishops coming from the gentile-Christians. Either invitations had not been sent to the Judeo-Christians or they had not wished to be present(62). In reality it was a question of predominance which did not make an agreement any easier(63).
Another cause of difficulties was the frequent recourse of gentile-Christians to the "believing Jews". This was the case of Origen, Eusebius and even Jerome(64). These authors, being more open minded, were careful to fully recognize the value and the legitimacy of the Judeo-Christians not to break with them(65). However, little by little, this dependence became more difficult to sustain, especially with the advent of Greek phi]osophy.
On the conversion of the Empire the gentile Church soon became the official religion. It espoused the imperial concern for unity and with increasing difficulty tolerated the Jewish customs. These seemed to present a dangerous threat of division among the faitiful. In 325, Council of Nicaca appeared to have already ratified the break since no Judeo-Christian took part in it(66). The 18 Palestinian bishops who took part in the Council were all bishops from the gentile-Christians The Cuncil confirmed that Easter should be celebrated on the Sunday. Thus a definite position had been taken and a law enacted against the Judeo-Christian custom of the 14th of Nissan. Soon after, in 341 at the Council of Antioch(67), it was decided to excommunicate and to depose those who went against the Council by celebrating Easter on the Jewish date. They also proscribed the Jewish fasts and the use of phylacteries for young Judeo- Christian(68). St Cyril of Jerusalem also warned against the sabbath dietary observances. Later Eusebius, St Cyril and St Jerome condmned the millenarianism of many Judeo-Christians. Saint Gregory of Nyssa profoundly scandalized by the Judeo-Christian theories and the divisions they caused in Jerusalem(70). In 386 St John Chrysostom dedicated eight of his homilies at Antioch to this conflict against the survival of Jewish customs amongst the Judeo-Christians(71).
It is clear that the budding Byzantine empire made its power against the remaining Jewish mores which were threatening religious unity and hence that of the civil society. In the final analysis the Judeo-Christians were becoming heretical. The gentile-Church judged them such on account of their fidelity, henceforth unbearable, to Jewish doctrines and customs. Towards the end of the 4th century the Judeo-Christians had lost most of their vitality. Many were somehow incorporated into the greater community' of the gentile-Christians which had all the benefits of power. Many others had already been won over and absorbed by the marginal sects surrounding the Judeo-Christians. These sects made them give up their Christian faith(72).
For all these reasons the beginning of the 5th century saw disappearance of this first Christian minority of Palestine. In fact it will be the only one to disappear completely. Nevertheless, the experts of its history rightly emphasise all the teaching, rich symbolism and liturgical legacy that it bequeathed to the victorious Church of the gentiles. The following section will study the juridical aspects raised by t misadventures of this first minority.
D.THE JURIDICAL PROBLEM OF THIS MINORITY: THE PERSECUTIONS
The preceding historical picture, presented as briefly as possibi described the appearance, expansion, identity and the disappearance of this first Christian minority. These are the historical facts which clearly form the basis for our juridical study. We consider these historical facts from the juridical point of view in order to discover and appreciate that other dimension, the juridical dimension which they reveal, This dimension has its interest and importance, as for all human history of a social Charachter.