Christianity's Origins 
(The Mechanisms by which it arose from and defined itself against Judaism)

Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld y de la Torre, M.A. Ed.

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22 Jan. 2003

Although many are aware that Christianity as a religion arose in course of the first century A.D. (Anno Domini, "the year of our Lord"), not so well known to the populace at large is "by what mechanisms" the Christians came to have a differing understanding of the Bible or Old Testament, contra the mainstream Judaic understandings and interpretations preserved by the Rabbis. This brief article will explore this somewhat "overlooked" topic.

Christianity claimed that its understandings or interpretations of God's message or intent for his people, present in the Old Testament, superceded earlier Jewish understandings and interpretations preserved by mainstream Rabbis of the first century A.D.

How did this "challenge" to Rabbinic Judaism's interpretations arise ?  Secular Humanists and Critical Scholarship have identified "the mechanisms" which caused the birth of Christianity, that is how and by what means Christians came to have a differing understanding of God's message via the Old Testament texts.

Jewish scholars who have studied the origins of Christianity have noted that it was NOT born of the Old Testament, it was born of Hellenized Judaism. Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire ca. 333 BCE; over a period of some 300 to 400 years, Greek metaphysical thought about God, and man's relationship with him, came to influence certain individuals, quarters and sects of Judaism. Christianity, then, arose from Hellenized Judaism, a form of Judaism which had come to accept certain Greek metaphysical views about God and man. Some sects of Judaism were less "Hellenized" than others. 

An important NEW concept was introduced to Hellenized Judaism via the Greeks, the employment of "Greek Allegory" to derive NEW  MEANINGS FROM ANCIENT TEXTS. The Christians, however were not the first to employ Greek allegory, they were preceeded by earlier Hellenized Jewish efforts. In Alexandria, Egypt, a Hellenized Jew, called Philo, attempted to reconcile Jewish scriptures with current Greek metaphysical thought. He did this via the employment of Greek allegory. His work, which survives, quotes various verses from the Old Testament, and then re-interprets these verses as reflecting Greek metaphysical concepts.

So, the Christians did NOT "invent" allegory as a methodology by which to derive new meanings of ancient texts (the Old Testament), they merely "utilized allegory," which by thier time, was regarded by certain sects of Hellenized Judaism as a "legitimate device or procedure" to derive a different interpretation of God's intent for his people, and mankind.

Greek Allegory and the Christian reinterpretation of the Hebrew Bible: 

Professor Angus on Greek Allegory: 

"Allegory was the application of philosophy to mythology, which sought in the myths, however crude, a hidden spiritual meaning. Allegory was probably developed earlier among the Greeks than among the Jews. The Stoics, deriving this method from the Cynics, brought it to perfection as a theological weapon, by means of which they were able to conserve the form of popular religion while transforming the content...How early the allegorical method was adopted by the Jews it is difficult to determine with certainty. It certainly would be in demand as early as the translation of the Septuagint in Egypt. Aristobulus used it freely in his exposition on the Pentateuch, and Schurer believes that allegoric exegesis was in vogue in Palestine a considerable time before the days of Philo, who applied it wholesale to the Hebrew scriptures. He was followed by Paul, through whom allegory entered upon its long career in Christian theology. 

THE ALLEGORICAL METHOD enabled writers to link the present with the past; it could bring any ritual or drama into line with current ethics. It UTTERLY IGNORED THE  INTENTION OF  THE WRITER of the original and obvious significance of a mystery ceremonial, AND REPLACED THESE BY THE READER'S OR OBSERVER'S OWN INTERPRETATION. It idealized what was said into what should have been intended. Abundant scope was offered to this prevalent allegorism by the symbolism of the mysteries." 

(pp. 49-50, S.Angus. The Mystery Religions. Dover Publications. [1925], 1975)

Flusser, a Jewish scholar, bemoans the fact that many Christian scholars are apparently unaware of Jewish scholars' research on the origins of Christianity, noting it arose from Hellenistic Judaism, NOT directly from the Old Testament (the emphasis is mine)- 

"It has been largely forgotten by Christian scholars and believers that the New Testament is NOT a direct heir of the religious and moral attitude of the Old Testament. Between the compilation of the Old Testament and time of Jesus, many centuries elapsed and the very nature of the Jewish approach to God and man had been transformed. CHRISTIANITY AROSE ON THE BASIS OF THESE FRESH NEW JEWISH ACHIEVEMENTS...On the other hand, there seems to be a kind of inhibition in the mind of 'gentile' scholars who still hesitate to consider the results of studies about the origins of Christianity written by Jewish born human beings. Strangely enough this restraint in regards to Jewish scholarship can also often be observed even in the field of the research of Jewish sources. Seldom are the Jewish contributions in this area of scholarship utilized by Christian scholars. Often these works are not even known to them." 

(pp. xvii, xxviii, "Introduction." David Flusser. Judaism and the Origins of Christianity. Jerusalem. The Magnes Press. The Hebrew University. 1988. ISBN 965-233-627-6 )

Lamberton discusses at some length the Greek's employment of "Allegory" as a tool of Exegesis in religious matters (his concern is how Homer was transformed into a "theologian," his work becoming a  "sacred text" by some later commentators):

"Our concern here will be to examine one among several traditions of the interpretation of Homer in antiquity: that characterized by the claims that Homer was a divine sage, with revealed knowledge of the fate of souls and of the structure of reality, and that the Illiad and Odyssey are MYSTICAL ALLEGORIES yielding information of this sort if properly read...It has been customary among recent students of Homer to minimize the importance of the prophetic element in Homeric diction and, on the contrary to emphasize the absence of any pretense to supernatural insight in the narrative voice. J. Tate sums up the negative evidence:

"Homer...does not claim to be 'contolled' by a spirit not his own, or to utter oracles containg manifold significance...Nor does he claim the standing of priest...The Homeric claim to inspiration does not imply profound wisdom or even veracity."

Tate's point is that the "divine" Homer of Plato, whom the Neopythagoreans and Neoplatonists systematically expanded (in isolation from the ironies and contradictions of the relevant passages of Plato) into a seer and sage, has no Homeric roots whatsoever." 

(pp.1-2. "The Divine Homer and the Background of Neoplatonic Allegory." Robert Lamberton. 
Homer the Theologian. Berkeley. University of California Press. 1986, 1989)

"Again by Herodotus' account, Homer and Hesiod were the very first poets, and that 'the most ancient is the most revered' was a pervasive principle in Greek culture. The Illiad and Odyssey were thus inevitably placed in a position of very great honor and inspired an awe..." 

(p.11. Lamberton)

"It seems to have been generally true in antiquity that exegesis was the province of the educator, and specifically of the philosophical educator. Only infrequently was such exegesis given an importance that implied a pretense to permanence, and so only infrequently has it entered the preserved literature, beyond the scholia. Methods of reading and interpreting were doubtless varied: the Stoa favored allegorical exegesis and passed that taste on to later Platonism and to the tradition under examination here, though we have no reason to believe that Stoics or Platonists invariably approached all myths and texts as allegorical...The available evidence the eyes of the philosophical traditions of late antiquity, that no clear distinction was made between reading Homer as "literature" and reading him as scripture. The philosophers, moreover, are more likely to offer us insights into methods of reading and interpretation in antiquity than those whose training was specifically grammatical or rhetorical...But common to all...they are interested in literature as a source of truth, and they are all, to a greater or lesser extent, in search of what we might call a body of scripture rather than literature." 

(p.14.  Lamberton)

"It is the second alternative open to the defender of Homer that will be of greatest concern in the present study, the mode of interpreation that we are accustomed to call "allegorical" in the context of antiquity. There is a general failure in antiquity to make clear distinction between allegorical expression and allegorical interpretation. What we call "allegorical interpretation" in this context normally takes the form of a claim that an author has expressed himself "allegorically" in a given passage. This is summed up in the scholiasts' frequently repeated, compressed observation, "He says which they indicate that the passage in question says one thing, viewed superficially, but means another. There is never any suggestion that the goal of the commentator is anything but the elucidation of the intention or meaning of the author. Neither does the interpreter normally feel compelled to justify his claim that the text under consideration "says other things" than the obvious. His goal is to find the hidden meanings, the correspondences that carry the thrust of the text beyond the explicit. Once he has asserted their existence, he rarely feels the need to provide a theoretical substructure for his claims. If such a substructure is implied, it is often no more than the idea that a prestigious author is incapable of an incoherent or otherwise unacceptable statement, and that an offensive surface is this a hint that a secondary lurks beyond." 

(p.20.  Lamberton)

"Allegorical interpretation existed before the Stoics, but it was through their prestige that its influence became pervasive in Greek thought, culminating in such allegorical commentaries on Homer as those of Crates of Mallos and other Pergamene grammarians, the rivals of Aristarchus and the Alexandrians." 

(p.26.  Lamberton)

"The important point to be gained from our meagre information on Theagenes is that both of these modes of allegory date from the period of the first Pythagoreans, ca. 525 BC. Given, then that moral and physical allegory are at least as old as Pythagoreanism and that the contributions of Neopythagoreanism to the mystical allegorical interpretation of Homer articulated and transmitted by the Neoplatonists are quite substantial, one must ask to what extent the latter mode of exegesis may have depended on early Pythagorean interpretation."  

(pp.32-33.  Lamberton)

Lamberton discusses Philo of Alexandria, Egypt, a first century A.D. Jew famed for the employment of allegory to reconcile Jewish scripture with Greek metaphysics:

"Philo is known principally for his voluminous treatises on the Pentateuch...Philo inherits the Stoic tradition of textual exegesis, already thoroughly Platonized...The specifically philosophical content of Philo's work and his overall debt to Stoicism need not concern us here..." 

(p.45.  Lamberton)

"It has long been recognized that Philo's allegorical method derives ultimately from Greek thought, and specifically the Stoic tradition of interpretation...resting primarily on the recognition in texts or myths of three levels of meaning- literal, ethical and metaphysical...By his own testimony, virtually every type of allegory offered by Philo is also, however, to be found among other interpreters of the scriptures known to him- that is, all types, including physical allegories and allegories of the soul, already existed in a Jewish context before Philo. The question here, though, is not one of the ultimate sources of this allegorizing- it is doubtless all Greek and pre-eminently Stoic in origin- but simply one of date. It would seem that we are on the safest ground if we postulate no far-reaching originality of method or approach in Philo, but view him as the principal spokesman of a school of allegorists, a school Jean Pepin is no doubt correct in tracing to an impulse among Hellenizing Jews in Alexandria to give power and prestige to their own tradition and literature in the eyes of their Greek neighbors...It is puzzling to find that in spite of his frequent indications of his concern with, and knowledge of, pagan myth and his application to scripture of techniques unquestionably derivative from pagan exegesis, he repeatedly denies that there is a mythic element in scripture," 

(pp.47-48. Lamberton)

"What has been elaborated here is the history of perhaps the most powerful and enduring of the "strong misreadings" (to use Harold Bloom's term) that make up our cultural heritage...At any given moment, in any given interpretive community, a range of (mis-) readings of any text is possible...Allegorical interpretation, ancient, medieval, and modern, has a bad reputation in our time. We imagine the allegorists to have been guilty of willful deception in distorting the meaning of texts, imposing foreign ideas upon them, and then compounding their crimes by appealing to those texts as authority for the very ideas they have fraudulently attached to them." 

(pp. 298-299. Robert Lamberton. Homer the Theologian. Berkeley. University of California Press. 1986, 1989)


Christianity arose from Hellenized Judaism. It's re-interpretations of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, employed "Allegory," which allowed a different reading of the ancient texts, a reading that opposed earlier readings by main-stream Judaism as understood and defended by the Rabbis of the first and second centuries A.D. 

Jesus as the Messiah or Christ was re-formatted as "The Logos" ("The Word" John 1:1-5) a Greek metaphysical concept UNKNOWN to the pre-hellenistic writers of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. 

Christianty's views on God's intent, employed not only an allegorical re-reading of the ancient pre-hellenistic texts, but also the selective turning of "a blind eye" to Old Testament verses that contradicted Christian teachings. For example, the Prophets all understood that God would bestow upon all his people (the Nation) in one fell swoop, his Holy Spirit, allowing them to keep his Torah (Laws), upon their return from exile in Babylon. The Christians did NOT cite these prophecies in their "New Testament," they proclaimed that (contra the Prophets), the Holy Spirit could be obtained ONLY  by those individuals, on a case-by-case basis, who confessed Jesus was the Christ and who became baptized into his death (cf. my article on God's bestowal of his Holy Spirit in the Old Testament vs. the New Testament).

Christianty's "success" in converting the peoples of the Roman Empire to the new religion was via the fusion of Hellenistic Greek metaphysics with earlier Judaic concepts. Re-packaged in Hellenistic garb (the Messiah as LOGOS), the new religion eventually eclipsed the more conservative Rabbinic Judaism which was less Hellenized. 

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