Published in July 2002
In spite of being Christian, the proverb “tell me with whom you walk, and I’ll tell you who you are” cannot be applied to the first years of Christianity. Research developed by the Methodist University of São Paulo (Umesp) shows that, contrary to what many historians indicate, the steps of the Jews and Christians continued to follow common paths even after the separation of the Catholic Church from the Synagogue. The project, financed by FAPESP, reveals that the two religions promoted an interchange of symbols, narratives and religious traditions, at least until the second century.
Or that is to say: they continued to walk together, but coming from distinct convictions. “Our question is to know if the continuous elements between Judaism and early Christianity were a determinant factor only during the first outbursts and Christian movements or if there was an interchange even after Christianity conquered its autonomy and its own identity, motivated by standards of experience and a common religious language”, says Paulo Augusto de Souza Nogueira, the coordinator of the thematic project Convergent Religious Structures in Judaism and Christianity of the First Century.
Made up by seven researchers who worked around three different axes, the study is going to be published in a book to be edited next year. The starting point was the understanding that the birth of Christianity was not the fruit of a radical breakaway from Judaism, a version spread throughout the ages. Based on literary documents, especially the apocalyptic traditions, the researchers identified intense bilateral relationships between Christianity and Judaism. In the opinion of Nogueira, the religion of Jesus, his followers and the following generations of Christians has to be understood starting from the practices and beliefs of religious Judaism.
“A good part of the analyses of history presupposes that the use of the Jewish traditions would have occurred during the stages of the formation of early Christian religious tradition in a single manner. Or that is, the possibility that the Christians and the Jews were mutually influencing each other for a longer period of time is discarded”, he attested. The research moved in the opposite direction to this hegemonic vision that there were no more mutual influences after their separation.
“We asked ourselves if the institutional differentiation would have implied a cut in the exchanges of religious traditions”, he adds. “Couldn’t these have co-existed even after the separation of the Christians from the Synagogue?” To answer the question, the researchers carried out a comparative study of the apocalyptic texts in the Dead Sea Scrolls, of Jewish pseudepigraphy literature (produced until 70 A.D.), and in the literature of early Christianity (both in the New Testament and in the apocryphal). The period studied goes from the second century BC until the second century AD. The choice of these texts happened because there were indications that the early Christians were apocalyptic Jews. “We went to work with a differentiated apocalyptic understanding, more so than the idea that the end of the world would arrive accompanied by cosmic cataclysms and of the redemption of the just”, he observed.
The researchers consider that the essential element of the apocalypse is the visionary religious experience, probably of ecstatic origin, which has as its principal content visions about the heavens, structures of power, the angels and the mystic cult therein developed. Access to these revelations is possible through celestial voyages. “Instead of saying that Jesus was apocalyptic only because he had believed in the end of the world, we present the religious tendency of Jesus and his followers as a reflex of a complex religious visionary tendency, in which Jesus himself becomes to be understood as someone who reveals the secrets and the mysteries of God.”