"In Search of 'Jewish Christianity' and its 'Theology':

Problems of Definition and Methodology"

by Robert A. KRAFT (University of Pennsylvania)

[Appeared originally in Recherches de Science Religieuse 60(1972) 81-92]

Cardinal Daniélou's volume on The Theology of Jewish Christianity1 has played an extremely important role in the formation and development of my own interests and work as a student of Christian origins. While still a neophyte doctoral student at Harvard, I was given the assignment of preparing a detailed report on that book as a means not only of learning more about Christian origins and about current approaches to that subject, but also as my first real introduction to French literature. A direct result of that assignment was my first publication -- a brief review of Daniélou's book.2 Indeed, it was largely because of what Daniélou wrote about "Jewish Christian exegesis" that I decided to examine the use of Jewish sources in the Epistle of Barnabas as the subject [[82]] of my doctoral dissertation.3 Thus I have a profound respect for the wealth of information contained in Daniélou's investigation, and for the stimulating manner in which he synthesizes and presents the material. It is a book that I regularly recommend to my graduate students as basic reading for their work in Christian origins.

1 Théologie du Judéo-Christianisme (Paris: Desclée, 1958); English edition and translation (including some revision by author) by J.A. Baker (Chicago: Regnery /  London: Darton-Longman-Todd, 1964). For the series title, see below, n. 4. Page numbers will be cited by giving first the page of the original French (if the material is present in the French) marked by an asterisk (*), followed by the equivalent page number of the English translation ( = ET). The English wording used herein is not necessarily taken from the ET, but may be the author's own translation. I would like to thank Mr. Harold Remus for his many valuable suggestions regarding the final form of this essay.

2 Journal of Biblical Literature 79 (1960), 91-94. Approximately 50 reviews or notices of the volume are listed in the bibliographies to Biblica. It would be a valuable project to synthesize the comments of the reviewers, but that has not been attempted here.

3 The Epistle of Barnabas: its Quotations and their Sources (Harvard University, 1961); a precis appeared in Harvard Theological Review 54 (1961), 300. The dissertation is available in microfilm from the Harvard University Library.

 Nevertheless, I continue to have serious reservations about the central focus of Daniélou's book as I understand it -- his "theology" of "Jewish Christianity." On the one hand, I find myself questioning the very concrete manner in which he speaks of "the theology" of Jewish Christianity. Is it historically accurate to suggest that anything so neat and seemingly homogeneous ever existed among early Christians? I have no doubts that there was at work in certain Jewish circles during the hellenistic period a somewhat intangible Zeitgeist that clearly included many factors and ideas treated by Daniélou under the heading "Jewish Christian theology" -- a spirit of the times into which Christianity was born and in which many early Christians continued to exist for a long period. But to me, there is a vast difference between often heterogeneous (sometimes even competing!) yet typical factors at work in a particular cultural milieu at a particular time, and a concrete homogeneous "theology" of the sort that Daniélou seems to be proposing.

On the other hand, I sometimes find myself uncomfortable about the methods employed by Daniélou in seeking to identify and isolate elements that he feels were part of this "Jewish Christian theology." Does his search for a "theology of Jewish Christianity" arise inductively from clues provided by the ancient sources themselves? Are there adequate criteria for determining which sources can be expected most closely to reflect this "theology"? Are the various sources analyzed in a consistent manner in the attempt to draw relevant information from them? Admittedly, historical investigation must by its very nature frequently involve circularity of argument, but what "controls" exist by which to regulate the argument as adequately as possible? It is to such issues as these that I [[83]] wish to turn my attention in this critical appreciation of, and attempt to contribute to, the ongoing work of Cardinal Daniélou.

(1) The Context of Discussion: Definitions and Presuppositions

At the outset, it should be recognized that Daniélou's treatment of "Jewish Christian theology" is the first part of a larger project in which he intends to deal with the "history of Christian doctrine(s) before Nicea."4 Volume two appeared in 1961 under the title "Gospel Message and Hellenistic Culture in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries," focusing on the "Greek milieu" (especially Justin, Irenaeus, Clement, Hippolytus, Origen, and Methodius).5 A third volume on Latin theology in the same period has been promised.6 This helps to explain the opening words of the English version of volume one:

4 <fr>Bibliothèque de Théologie: Historier des doctrine chrétiennes avant Nicée.</fr)

5 Message Evangélique et Culture Hellénistique aux IIe et IIIe siècles (1961). An English translation has been promised for the near future.

6 See the opening paragraph of volume 2.

Three worlds went to the making of the Christian Church, three cultures, three visions and expressions of truth -- the Jewish7, the Hellenistic and the Latin; and each of them produced its own distinctive Theology [[p. 1 ET]].

7 Probably it would be more accurate to read here "Jewish-Semitic"; see below.

But exactly what Daniélou's reasons are for this seemingly arbitrary division of the (theological) world into three parts on the basis of cultural-ideological-linguistic criteria is not explained. Whether the evidence contained in the various witnesses from each "world" would support such a division of requires close, systematic scrutiny and cannot be pursued here. But a feeling of artificiality and arbitrariness is left at the outset by this procedural presuppostion in Daniélou's treatment of pre-Nicene theology.

In the same vein, Daniélou states that volume one will deal with the earliest stage of Christian theology, up to the mid-second century (pre-Justin, so it seems). But the reasons for this chronological division are not sufficiently clarified. Doubtless it has something to do with the way in which [[84]] "conventional courses of instruction on the history of Christian doctrine" have tended to begin with second century Christianity and examine its relationships to Greek philosophical thought (cf. Harnack).8 Daniélou wishes to examine what preceded that sort of "Greek" development and to deal with the earliest stage of Christian theology. Thus he states, without any argumentation beyond a reference to the work of L. Goppelt9, that "Christianity which had spread throughout the entire Mediterrranean basin, remained Jewish in structure until the mid-second century" (19* = 9 ET). Again, when discussing criteria for identifying "Jewish Christian" writings, he states that "the Jewish Christian period extends from the origin of Christianity to around the mid-second century" (21* = 11 ET). Why so? Daniélou admits that "Jewish Christian theology" survived to some degree in later Syrian Christianity, and also indicates the presence of "Jewish Christian" ideas in "heterodox" persons and movements that continued to exist beyond the second century (e.g. Ebionism and certain "gnostic" groups; see below). He claims not to be interested in heterodox "Jewish Christian" groups <ln>per se </ln>, but only as they shed light on "orthodox" Jewish Christian ideas. This delimitation of content, with its focus on "orthodox" Jewish Christianity, also may provide a concealed clue as to the chronological assumptions behind Daniélou's presentation. Apparently "orthodox" Jewish Christianity must be in some sort of direct continuity with the "orthodox" Christian theology (theologies? Hellenistic and Latin !) of the second and third centuries, and thus is treated within the chronological limitations noted above. But if one concentrates on the conceptual similarities between various early Christian writings and movements, without attempting to impose on them (later) theological judgments regarding "orthodoxy" of "heterodoxy," the approximate limit of mid-second century would seem to be [[85]] quite arbitrary. On the other hand, it also needs to be asked whether significant alternatives to DAniélou's "Jewish Christian theology" might not have existed already in first century Christianity -- whether all Christianity was, in fact, "Jewish in structure until the mid-second century" (19* = 9 ET). Daniélou seems to admit that the "biblical theology" of the New Testament writings "has points of contact and affinities with extra-canonical theology...of both Hellenistic and Jewish Christian type" (p. 1 ET; cf. 433*) does this not suggest the possible existence of a theological orientation which was "hellenistic" and non-Jewish-Christian (by Daniélou's definition; see below) in "orthodox" circles prior to the middle of the second century? But more of this problem of diversity below.

8 See p. 1* = 2 ET: "Harnack, for example, regarded theology as born from the union of the gospel message and Greek philosophy; and in his History of Dogma, a Jewish Christian theology finds no place simply because he never suspected its existence."

9 Christentum und Judentum im ersten und zweiten Jahrhundert: ein Aufriss der Urgeschichte der Kirche (Gütersloh: Bertelsmann, 1954); English translation of the first part in Jesus, Paul and Judaism (1964). Daniélou's reference to Goppelt's work is general and rather vague.

Another difficulty relating to the context in which Daniélou's discussion is presented and the presuppositions behind his presentation has to do with the meaning of the term "theology" as it is used in the phrase "the theology of Jewish Christianity" or in the above-mentioned idea that each of the "three worlds" of early Christianity "produced its own distinctive Theology." By "theology," Daniélou claims to indicate "an attempt to construct an overall view based on the foundation provided by the divine events of the incarnation and resurrection of the Word" (433* =1 ET). By definition, this would be "orthodox" theology as over against approaches to Christianity in which incarnation and resurrection are not focal. At one point Daniélou seems to be making a distinction between the sort of "theology" for which he is searching and the particular theological positions of individual representatives of early Christianity:

Our concern is not to describe and analyze theologians, but a Theology. None of the great writers of the early Church belongs wholly to one tradition, to one alone of the three worlds mentioned earlier... It may not be out of order to warn the reader that a complete portrait of any particular Christian theologian of the first two, or even three, centuries will not be found either in this volume or in the second, each taken by itself. ...The principal subject remains the world of belief and not its outstanding exponents. In so far as the conceptions of individuals are represented her, it is rather those of the nameless thousands of believers who did not move between the worlds, but worshipped God through the eyes, and served him through the ordinances of their Jewish forefathers"  [[pp. 3-4 ET, italics mine]]. [[86]]

Even Paul, who for Daniélou qualifies as "Jewish Christian" (19* = 9 ET), apparently does not represent a purely "Jewish Christian" theological position but also stands between the Semitic-Jewish and the hellenistic-Greek thought worlds (see 433* = 1 ET).

In one sense, then, Daniélou's "theology of Jewish Christianity" (as also his "hellenistic Christian theology") seems to be an idealistic abstraction -- a purified and systematized distillation of various ideas drawn from a variety of sources, without special regard for the question of whether any actual person or group of persons ever consciously adhered to such a "theology." This "Jewish Christian theology" would be related to actual early Christians as the Platonic world of ideas is thought to be related to the empirical world. Yet, Daniélou also suggests that there were "nameless thousands of believers" who actually adhered to such a "Jewish Christian theology" -- believers whose ideas are reflected in the variety of sources from which Daniélou has collected data by which he reconstructs "the theology of Jewish Christianity." Unfortunately, the elusiveness of this group makes it difficult to measure their precise relationship to Daniélou's "Jewish Christian theology."

I must admit that such an approach in which concrete historical evidence seems subservient to principles accepted on other grounds, makes me very uncomfortable.10 For myself, I prefer to investigate history and the ideas of people in history inductively, avoiding <ln>a priori</ln> judgments whenever possible. I do not find it objectionable to speak of the ideas and theological orientation of particular individuals (e.g. the "theology" of Paul), while recognizing that not every such individual consciously attempted to achieve some sort of consistent overview that could be called a theological "system." Indeed, I am willing to admit that certain theological ideas can even be implicit in what a person says or believes, without the person being fully conscious of his "theology" at every point. And certainly a given group or community can be said to have a selfconscious theological position (e.g. Marcionite theology) [[87]] even though not every member of the group necessarily possessed a theological awareness of the details of the group position. But in each instance an identifiable historical entity (person or group) had existedand can be examined by means of critical historical methodology. It seems to me legitimate to ask whether any historically identifiable and selfconscious entity (person or group) ever existed behind Daniélou's "Jewish Christian theology"? Is there any way of breaking through the circularity of argument whereby the reconstructed "theology" provides the primary evidence for the existence of "Jewish Christianity" as an entity, while the supposed existence of Jewish Christianity as an entity is the rationale for reconstructing Jewish Christian theology? It is true that in Daniélou's presentation, his (orthodox) Jewish Christianity gains a semblance of concreteness by being contrasted with identifiable brands of "heterodox" Jewish Christianity (e.g. Ebionites, Elkesaites, certain "gnostic" group), but this does not solve the problem in a convincing manner; rather, it simply serves to further change the focus of the discussion from the meaning of "theology" for Daniélou to the meaning of "Jewish Christianity" itself.

10 I am similarly uncomfortable with terms such as "biblical theology" or "New Testament theology" or even "theology of the Apostolic Fathers," all of which relegate the ideas of individual authors to a synthetic abstraction based on an <ln>a priori</ln> judgment or assumption regarding the "unity" of the particular collection of writings.


(2) Defining "Jewish Christianity"

For Daniélou, "Jewish Christianity" does not refer to a particular selfconscious group but is an umbrella term used to designate a type of Christian outlook -- the expression of Christianity in thought forms borrowed from "Spätjudentum" (see 19* =9f ET). It includes two other groupings sometimes referred to as "Jewish Christian" in modern discussions: (1) "Ebionite" and related "heterodox" groups for which Jesus is prophet or messiah, but not son of God (although Daniélou does not wish to focus on this sort of Jewish Christianity as such); and (2) the "orthodox" Christianity represented by the earliest community at Jerusalem, led by James and his successors (sometimes later called "Nazarenes"), for whom Jesus' messiahship implied divinty. It also includes every other early Christian or group for whom characteristically Jewish thought forms were basic, regardless of whether such Christians had any direct connection (including genealogical) with any Jewish community or with the Jewish world [[88]] at large.11 It should be noted that Daniélou simply presents this definition of "Jewish Christianity" as the way in which he chooses to use the term;12 no attempt is made to derive the idea of such "Jewish Christianity" inductively by means of careful analysis of ancient references to particular individuals (e.g. James, Paul, Cerinthus) or groups (e.g. "Hebrews" vs. "Hellenists," "circumcision party," "Ebionites") described in ancient sources as being closely associated with Judaism in one way or another. Indeed, the definition seems to presuppose the results of Daniélou's investigation, that a body of characteristically Jewish thought underlies most of the earliest Christian sources.

11 Apparently the reference to "their Jewish forefathers" on p. 4 ET either is not intended to be genealogical, or the "nameless thousands" pictured in that context (see above) are to be considered as only part of the total "Jewish Christian" group.

12 Here, Daniélou makes another passing reference to Goppelt's work noted above, n. 9.

For Daniélou "Spätjudentum" means the various sorts of Judaism in existence at the beginning of the common era, although for reasons not sufficiently explicated, he chooses to exclude Philo's Judaism from his investigation of Jewish Christianity and thus to concentrate on the Jewish-Semitic thought world.13 He sees in the development of heterodox Jewish Christian groups a continuation of the varieties of "heterodox" Judaism: Ebionism derives from an Essenic Jewish heterodoxy which emphasized the break with the "official" Jewish cult (cf. 76*, 82* = 64, 69 ET); Cerinthus represents a development of zealot messianism (82* = 69 ET); Carpocrates reflects heterodox Jewish gnosis (98* = 85 ET); etc. But even "orthodox" Jewish Christianity, with its more acceptable christology, existed in a variety of forms related to the varieties in "Spätjudentum" (19* = 10 ET).

13 See p. 20* = 10 n. 18 ET: "The influence of Philo is not included here, since it belongs to a type of Judaism expressed in the forms of Greek philosophy, and will therefore be of more direct concern in the study of hellenistic Christianity" (see e.g. volume 2, pp. 297-302).

Daniélou claims that despite the "diverse streams" within Jewish Christianity, "there was a common mentality": "a first form of Christian theology, Semitic-Jewish in expression" (20* = 10 ET), an "overall view" (433* = 1 ET), a "common basis" (1* = 3 ET), a "doctrinal system...Semitic in structure [[89]] and expression" (4 ET). But it must be asked, was there any conscious awareness of this "common" bond on the part of these "Jewish Christians"? Presumably both Paul and his "superapostle" opponents at Corinth (see 2 Cor 11) would qualify as "Jewish Christian." They would both probably even be considered christologically "orthodox" by Daniélou's standards! But that cannot change the fact that they seem to have had radically different outlooks on the basic point (to Paul, at least) of what constituted the heart of the "gospel." Should not the descriptive categories for our study of men and movements in history derive from the historical situations themeselves -- from the selfconsciousness of the participants? How can Daniélou's abstraction "Jewish Christianity" help me to understand what was happening among early Christians? Does it not, in fact, tend to blind me to the problems of which the historical participants were conscious in their own times, by viewing them from later perspectives quite foreign to them (e.g. Semitic-Jewish, hellenistic, Latin)?

(3) Probing the Sources: the Problem of Methodology

In all fairness, it must be acknowledged that Daniélou does not claim to be pursuing his subject by means of inductive historical description. Rather, he is attempting to establish a thesis which is stated at the beginning of the volume: that there was in earliest Christianity a common mentality ("Jewish Christianity") characterized by the use of techniques and ideas derived from Spätjudentum. In an attempt to identify early Christian materials that derive directly from this supposed Jewish Christian outlook, Daniélou proposes three criteria: (1) a date prior to the last half of the 2nd century; (2) use of literary genres popular in Spätjudentum; and (3) presence of ideas characteristic of Spätjudentum , especially the use of apocalyptic imagery. But Daniélou does not think it necessary that each particular writing under consideration must meet all three requirements in order to qualify as "Jewish Christian" (21* = 11 ET). The arbitrary nature of the chronological criterion has already been mentioned above. The matter of literary genre is not discussed with any precision by Daniélou, but seems to be of most significance for his first category of allegedly Jewish Christian writings, namely pseudepigraphical [[90]] works like Ascension of Isaiah, 2 Enoch (Slavonic), and Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. The statement that apocalyptic is "the dominant Jewish thought form of the period" (2* = 4 ET; see also 21* = 11 ET) requires further comment since it is of such central importance to Daniélou's thesis.

Daniélou offers no evidence in support of his claim about the dominance of apocalyptic in Spätjudentum. Certainly not every witness preserved from Spätjudentum was apocalyptically oriented, and certainly other interests such as ethical and philosophical wisdom, cult and calendar, history and legend were also characteristic of some Jewish sources and representatives. Even Daniélou's quick dismissal of Philo (and presumably any other such "hellenistic" Jewish witnesses) as relevant evidence for "Jewish Christianity" does not leave Spätjudentum without non-apocalyptic currents of thought. But if streams of Judaism existed in which apocalyptic was not particularly central, is it not possible that a similarly non-apocalyptic outlook was included among the earliest ("orthodox") Christian theological positions? Must there be but a single theological position in earliest Christianity? Even if Philo is dismissed as "hellenistic," does not that leave open the possibility that an early Christian "hellenistic theology" (to use Daniélou's terms) might also have existed from the earliest period? Perhaps, detailed, inductive investigation would reveal that in the earliest decades of Christian existence there were several competing (or at least selfconsciously different and distinguishable) theologies of "hellenistic" as well as of "Jewish" coloring, even within early Christianity of a christologically "orthodox" sort (by Daniélou's definition).

The need for adequate controls becomes most evident when Daniélou applies his criteria to the extant non-canonical literature from early Christianity. His thesis is that in earliest Christianity there is a common mentality with pronouncedly apocalyptic features. One criterion for identifying extant sources is the apocalyptic imagery. It is no surprise that the sources support the thesis! It is to be expected that the sources will show a common mentality of some sort, since they are identified primarily with respect to the kind of thought world they represent. It is not difficult to find something in common between any series of writings from approximately the same period of history. The problem is whether the method [[91]] of investigation is adequate to identify what are the most significant and characteristic features of the materials, from the viewpoint of what their ancient authors and editors intended to convey. More careful and consistent attention to the methodological problems is desirable at the outset of such an investigation.

Nevertheless, Daniélou's approach has proved fruitful in a variety of ways. Some very significant patterns of thought are seen to be common to several of the allegedly Jewish Christian sources -- e.g. angelology pervades documents such as Ascension of Isaiah, 2 Enoch, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, Shepherd of Hermas, Apocalypse of Peter, Epistle of the Apostles; the "theology of the cross" is important in Ignatius<?(t>, Gospel of Peter, Odes of Solomon, Epistle of the Apostles, and perhaps elsewhere; ecclesiological interest is obvious in Ascension of Isaiah, Ignatius, Shepherd of Hermas, 2 Clement, and Odes of Solomon. Unfortunately, no single "doctrine" or pattern of doctrines is common to all of the sources examined, nor is there a really close unity between the particular ways in which each document expresses a particular doctrine -- e.g. there is not one angelology common to all the angel-oriented sources, but several angelologies; similarly there are several ideas concerning millennium, redemption, incarnation, the cross, etc. The "common mentality," then, applies not to details of doctrine, but primarily to general areas of thought represented in various ways in the various sources. Unity is achieved by a process of theological abstraction; it is not obvious in the study of the particular documents and traditions themselves.

(4) Summary and Conclusions

It is the farthest thing from my intention to leave the impression that Daniélou's study entitled "The Theology of Jewish Christianity" has not made any significant or positive contribution to the study of early Christian histroy and thought. He has gathered together a wealth of evidence from various early Christian sources to suggest that Jewish ideas and interests were of great influence among early Christians. Even if the framework of his presentation appears to be overly dependent on what seem to be unexamined presuppositions, [[92]] and even though his method of approach may lack sufficient controls at points (all of which is simply another way of saying that I would not have approached the subject in the same manner!), the result of his labors is an impressive description of the apocalyptic Jewish atmosphere breathed by many early Christians. Whether it is helpful to call this sort of atmosphere or Zeitgeist a "theology" in the rather specific manner employed by Daniélou must be left to the individual reader to decide. But whatever one wishes to call it, the material in Cardinal Daniélou's "Theology of Jewish Christianity" recaptures an aspect of early Christian thought that the student of Christian origins cannot afford to neglect. For the reasons outlined in this essay, it is probable that the rigid historical inductivist could not have produced such a bold and convenient synthesis of materials. In that instance we would all be poorer. Despite the above-mentioned difficulties, I am convinced that our understanding of early Chrisitianity has been advanced in an important manner by Daniélou's "Theology of Jewish Christianity" with its excellent overview of the Jewish apocalyptic thought world(s) of earliest Christianity.