Karin Zetterholm, “Jesus-Oriented Visions of Judaism in Antiquity” Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis 27 (2016), 37-60, is another off the production line of the “Ways that never parted” factory. What is positive about this arm of scholarship is the recognition of a more diverse Judaism than the rabbinic sources might lead us to recognize. What is less positive, however, is a failure to recognize that the boundaries, though resistant to modern cartographic effort, were real to those who experienced them. Were they not, then literature like the Didascalia would not have been produced.
Zetterholm argues that the Didascalia is “Jewish”, and that the account given by the deuterotic redactor might be understood within a Jewish frame.
Although the author claims to be a Jew, calling himself a disciple ‘from the House of Judah’ (DA 26 407:248/ 408:230), this is often dismissed by scholars as being part of the literary fiction that attributes authorship to Jesus’ original disciples. However, some scholars have argued that his extensive knowledge of Jewish traditions and practices beyond what is found in the Bible, and his use of ‘rabbinic-like’ hermeneutics indicate that the author was a Jew.
We can hardly take part of the apparatus of pseudonomy as autobiographical; the redactor’s statement that he is “from the house of Judah” is no more autobiographical or credible in itself than the claim that these disciples met in Jerusalem to write the Didascalia. Certainly there is knowledge of “rabbinic-like” hermeneutics, but this tells us nothing of the redactor’s birth. Even if he is Jewish by descent, why is that significant? Birth does not give access to a halachic or haggadic tradition. What, indeed, does a statement that an author or redactor is Jewish actually mean in the context of this train of thought? The concern for Jewish identity grounded in birth indeed seems to me to be a peculiarly recent concern. What is of concern to the redactors of DA is praxis (law observance, or not) and belief.
She goes on:
“He (the redactor of DA) calls the members of his community ‘Christians’, a fact that would seem to make the Didascalia difficult to claim for Judaism, but we should not automatically assume that ‘Christian’ here means non-Jewish. For us, ‘Jewish’ and ‘Christian’ are mutually exclusive categories, but the author of the Didascalia rather seems to use ‘Christian’ in the sense of a specific kind of Judaism – a subgroup within Judaism who believes that Jesus is the Messiah.
It is nonetheless a subgroup which includes gentiles. As such it is a strange type of Judaism, if Jewish birth is the critical factor in determining who belongs. The claim of the redactor that the real Jews are actually the Christians is in any event not an attempt to be inclusive, but is a supersessionist claim, like that of Melito (Jewish by birth!) that the church is the true Israel.
None of this intended to deny that the “parting of the ways” was extended and untidy, that there were diverse groups defining themselves variously as Christian and Jewish (who may have been separated from other groups also claiming to be Jewish or Christian), that some Christian were law-observant, or indeed that the intellectual world of at least one redactor of DA was close to that inhabited by contemporary Jews. But to suggest that DA is evidence that the distinction between Jew and Christian in fourth-century Syria is artificial is to miss the point altogether.