The Rise of Christianity, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1994.


Ironically, what also encouraged the shift from sectarianism to Jewish consensus in the first century C.E. was the rise of Christianity. Although I have intentionally confined my study to issues bearing primarily on the history of Judaism, I have occasionally mentioned how the scrolls relate to Christianity. We have seen that quite a few notions found in the New Testament that were previously considered derivative of either Eastern or Hellenistic influence really evolved from the various sectarian and apocalyptic ideas expressed in the Qumran scrolls. Some of these notions actually derive from the Dead Sea sect itself; others, from the literature the sect inherited from its forebears and apparently read with great interest.

While I completely reject the simplistic assumption that Jesus or John the Baptist was actually a member of the sect, I recognize that these men shared certain ideas and a common religious milieu with the sectarians at Qumran. When the movement centered on Jesus began, and after his death developed into a collection of traditions that were then embellished in the Gospels, the fledgling religion was the inheritor of certain ideas abandoned by the emerging rabbinic consensus. Thus, notions found in Second Temple texts that were not continued into talmudic Judaism influenced the emerging church. As Christianity absorbed these ideas, the Jewish community saw further reason to reject them. Hence, Jewish self-definition crystallized as Jews identified certain ideas as being “Christian.” In effect, the Jewish community reacted to this rival religion by eliminating certain Second Temple period options from the emerging Jewish consensus.

The rise of Christianity radically altered the way Jews saw themselves and their faith. Whereas in Second Temple times divergent Jewish groups vied with one another for the mantle of the true Israel, which they each claimed, Jews now vied with the Christians, a competing group that made the same claim. By the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132–135 C.E.), the new Jewish consensus stood over against Christianity. The separation of the two faiths was essentially complete.

The internal Jewish polemic of the Second Temple period, dominated in its last stage by the argument between the early Jewish Christians and other Jewish groups—the Pharisees and the Sadducees—was now replaced by the argument with the “other.” Henceforth, the newly unified Jewish people faced off against the church that now saw itself as a distinct religious group.

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