The first chapter of Noll’s book deals with a crisis in ancient Judaism that had implications for the Jesus movement. He starts out by talking not about Christianity but rather Judaism. This is important because Judaism is the context out of which Christianity emerges (as he says on p. 15, Christianity was an “offshoot” of Judaism), and that emergence is the focus of the chapter.
Then, on the fall of Jerusalem itself, he describes the unimaginable horrors that the residents of Jerusalem experienced during the siege. Reading accounts of other sieges in the Bible (drinking one’s own urine, eating newborn babies for lack of other meat, etc.) are enough to turn one’s stomach.
Finally, Noll captures the event’s significance well at the top of p. 17: it helped “to move Christianity outward, to transform it from a religion shaped in nearly every particular by its early Jewish environment into a religion advancing toward universal significance in the broader reaches of the Mediterranean world, and then beyond.” Many of the letters in the New Testament capture various elements of the challenges in this regard that Christianity faced at this time (e.g., Galatians on following the Jewish law, Colossians on the possible influence of Jewish philosophies, Revelation on the possibility of continued interaction between Christians and Jews, etc.).
If you’d like to read some of Josephus’s eyewitness account, click here: http://orion.it.luc.edu/~avande1/jerusalem/sources/wars6.htm
Here are some questions to respond to:
- The questions that Noll discusses on p. 18 are important. What are other episodes in church history in which you have noticed Christians wrestling with questions like these: “What is the truth about God and Jesus’ relation to God?” “How do we know the truth in these matters?” “How do we put these truths into action?” In those episodes, how did Christians answer one or more of the questions here? Or, if you don’t know about episodes in history, how do you see that happening in our own day?
- It is interesting that, on pp. 23 and following, Noll describes the problem of “doing history” from scant evidence. We don’t have that problem too often nowadays, given our contemporary glut of information. But in some instances — for example, the death of Osama bin Laden a few years back — we are often dependent on less-than-full information. In such cases and in your experience, how does the stance of the interpreter affect the interpretation/narration of a situation? Have you been involved in a situation like that, for example, in a car accident?
- Of the “three stabilizing elements” for Christianity that Noll describes beginning on p. 25 (canon, episcopacy, and creed), which has been most important for your own experience of Christianity? Why do you think this is the case?
- This episode shows that racial tensions are not just something that Christians are dealing with in our own day. How does the story of what happened in the early church affect your thinking about racial tension in the church today?
- The stories of Jesus’ crucifixion depict both the “Jews” and the Romans as a type of “enemy” of the Jesus-followers. When you were reading about the “Jewish War” with Rome, did you find yourself sympathizing more with one or the other? What kinds of things do you think influenced the way that you respond to reading about that conflict?
Image credit for David Roberts’s The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Jerusalem_(70_CE)
Suggested next click: Chapter 2