By Anouar Majid
Not long after I reviewed Reza Aslan’s work on Jesus, I came across Geza Vermes’s excellent study, Christian Beginnings: From Nazareth to Nicaea
(2013), that shows how Jesus’ iconoclastic but decidedly Jewish message grew in time into the complex faith of Christianity. We need to know that Judaism was, at first, a monolatry, meaning that Jews, without having to discredit other people’s divinities (not just hand-made idols), worshipped their God only. The idea of one God for the whole world—monotheism—developed in the 6th century BC following the exilic (forced transfer to Babylonia) and post-exilic (return to Judah) periods. Still, Judaism was a religion of deeds, not one of faith and dogma, as the belief system developed by Paul and John would later become. The Christianity that emerged in the first five centuries of our era would have been unrecognizable to the charismatic preacher known to us as Jesus.