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Who Are the People of God?

Who Are the People of God?: Early Christian Models of Community

Howard Clark Kee
Copyright Date: 1995
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Who Are the People of God?
    Book Description:

    In this provocative book, an eminent scholar examines the complex factors that shaped Judaism and early Christianity, analyzing cardinal Judaic and Christian texts and the cultural worlds in which they were written. Howard Clark Kee's sociocultural approach emphasizes the diversity of viewpoint and belief present in Judaism and in early Christianity, as well as the many ways in which the two religions reacted to each other and to the changing circumstances of the first two centuries of the Common Era.According to Kee's interpretation of Jewish documents of the period, Jews began to adopt various models of community to bring into focus their group identity, to show their special relation to God, and to articulate their responsibilities within the community and toward the wider culture. The models they adopted-the community of the wise, the law-abiding community, the community of mystical participation, the city or temple model, and the ethnically and culturally inclusive community-were the means by which they responded to the challenges and opportunities for reinstating themselves as God's people. These models in turn influenced early Christian behavior and writing, becoming means for Christians to define their type of community, to understand the role of Jesus as God's agent in establishing the community, and to outline what their moral life and group structure, as well as their relations with the wider Jewish and Greco-Roman culture, ought to be.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15777-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction Ancient History and Contemporary Historiography
    (pp. 1-16)

    The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 and of a Gnostic library two years earlier in Egypt has provided biblical scholars with information and insights that have resulted in a fresh historical reconstruction of Judaism and nascent Christianity in the period from 200 B.C.E. to 200 C.E. This challenge has been heightened by archaeological finds in Israel and the wider Mediterranean world that provide new evidence about the development of Judaism in this era. Concurrent with these new finds have appeared fresh analyses of such well-known Jewish documents as the Mishnah and Talmud, as well as the so-called...

  5. 1 Models of Community in the Literature of Postexilic Judaism
    (pp. 17-54)

    The return of the tribes of Benjamin, Levi, and Judah from exile in Babylon with the support of the Persian rulers appears to have been a protracted process extending over more than a century: from the initial stages in the reign of Cyrus (ca. 538 B.C.E.) through the reign of Darius (521–485), until three phases of reconstruction of the city of Jerusalem were carried out under Artaxerxes I (in 445–424 and in 434–426) and Artaxerxes II (404–358). The responses to and interpretations of these restorative developments for the sociopolitical life of Israel as well as the...

  6. 2 The Community of the Wise
    (pp. 55-87)

    Both types of the community of the wise that one finds in Judaism of the postexilic period can also be discerned in the early Christian writings. First are those that build on perceptions of wisdom shared, in part, with the wider culture contemporary with the group, on the basis of which is affirmed an understanding of God’s purpose to structure an ordered society of the wise and obedient. In contrast to this perception of wisdom is that of those who are convinced that God has vouchsafed to an elect community his purpose for them and for the creation—a purpose...

  7. 3 The Law-abiding Community
    (pp. 88-120)

    The varied and conflict-ridden history of the Jewish people in the four centuries beginning 200 B.C.E. resulted in a range of modes in which they came to understand themselves to be the people of God, culminating in the emergence of rabbinic Judaism in the second to sixth centuries C.E. The fundamental issue, for which many answers were provided in this period, was, What are the criteria for participation in the life of the true Israel, God’s covenant people?

    A major crisis precipitated in 168 B.C.E. by the decree of the Seleucid ruler of Syria, Antiochus Epiphanes, requiring all his subjects...

  8. 4 The Community Where God Dwells among His People
    (pp. 121-144)

    As I noted in chapter 1, in the prophetic and hymnic traditions of Israel—before, during, and after the Babylonian exile in the sixth century—a frequently recurring model for the renewal of God’s people that was to follow the impending (or already experienced) judgment of God on the disobedient covenant community was the city. It was variously called: Zion, the holy city, the holy hill, Jerusalem, or simply “the city.” What is implied in this term is not merely an urban or cultic center or even the capital and sanctuary of a fallen nation about to regain a new...

  9. 5 The Community of Mystical Participation
    (pp. 145-178)

    In the classical philosophical system formulated by Plato, two major concerns were how to understand and perceive the gods and the realm of the eternal, and how individual souls might move beyond the transitory sphere of human existence into that eternal realm. This analysis of the human situation in relation to the divine had a powerful and enduring impact on subsequent philosophical and religious thought in the wider Greco-Roman culture, including Jewish intellectuals in the second and first centuries B.C.E. and in the subsequent centuries into the Byzantine period. My investigation will require that I analyze the ways these concepts...

  10. 6 The Ethnically and Culturally Inclusive Community
    (pp. 179-207)

    Although the emphasis throughout the Jewish scriptures is on the unique relationship of Israel with God, which has been established by divine choice and is to be maintained by preserving ethnic and ritual purity, there are important features that offer a different point of view. In the Prophets, the Psalms, and especially some of the writings of the Hellenistic period, there is affirmation of the divine intent that people from other nations are to share in the blessings of God’s people and to join with them in honoring the God of Israel, who is Lord of all creation. Further, there...

  11. 7 The Community Models Develop in the Post–New Testament Period
    (pp. 208-228)

    The continuing impact of the models of community that arose in postexilic Judaism and evolved in early Christianity is evident in the Jewish and Christian literature of the second and subsequent centuries, in spite of major developments in both movements toward institutionalization. Internal and external factors contributed to a process of reshaping for the early Christian communities as early as the end of the first and the opening years of the second century C.E. With respect to Judaism, these forces for change included such political events as the failure of the second Jewish revolt led by Bar Kochba (132–135),...

  12. Critical Note Priority in the Gospel Tradition
    (pp. 229-234)

    In spite of earnest efforts by a few scholars to prove the priority of Matthew among the canonical Gospels,¹ the dominant assumption for the past seventy-five years has been that Mark was the earliest gospel and that a source of sayings (Q) was used by the authors of Matthew and Luke to supplement Mark, in addition to material that they added on their own.² During the past twenty-five years, building on the hypothesis of Q and Mark as the basic sources of the gospel tradition, interest has flourished in the points of view represented by the evangelists—and by the...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 235-270)
  14. Index
    (pp. 271-280)