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Subject The Idolaters Were Not Mainline Jews or Mainline Christians - Re: Pagan Influences - This data might surprise you.
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Original Message The people who mixed pagan designs on synagogue walls and on their tombs along with Jewish themes were not Jews under Rabbinic control. This can be shown in various ways. Besides the lack of reference to these pagan practices in any contemporary Jewish literature of the period, the same lack of reference can be shown in records maintained by our Christian authorities who lived from the second to the sixth centuries. This is an important point to consider because our early Christian authorities were well versed in matters concerning the Jews and their teachings. Because the majority of Christians felt that the Jews and their religion were under a ban from God because of their rejection of Jesus as the Christ, the Christians watched with a hawk’s eye any activity by the Jewish authorities which would demonstrate this lapse from God as they viewed it to be. In this regard, Christian testimony about the Jews and their doctrines becomes an important witness to the faithfulness of the mainline Jewish people in abhorring idolatrous themes and having nothing to do with idolatry or its practices.

In showing this Christian testimony, one must be aware that during the period from the second to the sixth centuries of our era, most Jews and Christians were quite hostile to the doctrines of each other and we know that each party was looking for ways to denigrate the other. There was little friendliness between the two groups (the only exception being the dialogue between Trypho the Jew and Justin Martyr in the middle of the 2nd century). But even though Jews and Christians were virtual enemies during this period, and with Christians trying desperately in many public debates to show what they considered to be the error of Jewish beliefs, it is significant that not once (in all mainline Christian literature that has come down to us from those times) do the Christians blame the Jewish people for practicing any form of idolatry. The central accusation that Christians had of Jews was their refusal to accept Jesus as the prophesied Messiah and what Christians considered was their allegorizing away some plain scriptures which prophesied of the Messiah that Christians believed were fulfilled by Jesus. That’s it! There is not a word of Christians accusing the Jews as a whole or as individuals who were mainline Jews of the slightest idolatrous acts after the fall of Jerusalem in C.E. 70. and up to and including the 6th century.

This is a highly important point because this was the very period when Christians and Jews were battling one another over many doctrinal disputes. But the practice of idolatry by the Jews (that is, the making or using of idols, paintings, symbols, etc. in their synagogues or burial places) was a subject that never came up among mainline Christians. At no time did they consider mainline Jews as practicing idolatry.

Some might believe, however, that the reason Christians did not censure the Jews for adopting pagan ways (as the archaeological remains we have mentioned in the first two chapters of this book seemingly suggest) is because the Christians were themselves beginning to indulge in the same practice of using pagan motifs in their religious services. Some people believe that even mainline Christians were engaged in doing the same thing starting with the second and third centuries. This is because at Dura Europos was also found a small Christian church near the synagogue and it also had pagan paintings on its walls. It showed Jesus as the pagan god Orpheus.

This discovery of an early mid-3rd century church having a painting of Orpheus as Jesus is the first example of Christian folk who violated the second command against the use of images or idols. In this first depiction, Jesus is shown beardless and not with long feminine hair which became the later portrayal of Jesus from the mid-4th century onward. This latter portrayal of Jesus having long hair and a beard like the pagan gods Zeus (Sarapis) or Askelepios the pagan god of healing only came into vogue with the advent of Constantine and his family.

The discovery of this church at Dura Europos with its pagan paintings in a similar way to the synagogue of the same period that was not far away, would normally suggest to historians that Christian testimony about the idolatry of the Jews at the time was probably not forthcoming since Christians were themselves practicing idolatrous actions. And this is true enough among certain groups who were calling themselves Christians. The "orthodox" Christians referred to them as “Gnostics”; those who were mixing pagan themes with those of the Holy Scriptures (we will speak about these people shortly and discuss their idolatrous ways). But for mainline Christianity (which is normally called “orthodox Christianity” today), every single authority up to the time of Constantine condemned the slightest practice of idolatry among Christians as well as did the mainline Jews.

The following excerpts from early historical documents (which I will soon give) show the opposition by several Christian theologians during and soon after the time of Constantine to the pagan portrayals of Jesus that were just beginning to be distributed amongst orthodox Christians.

With the advent of Constantine, Christian attitude against such idolatrous use of images and pictures began to wane. In the higher social circles in Christendom (and in the emperor’s family itself), the people began to abandon the former stance of mainline Christians against idolatrous depictions in their churches. They then started to show Jesus in the form of Zeus (Sarapis) and Askelepios with long hair and a beard. This was never done among "orthodox" Christians before the time of Constantine.

The following quote (abridged) is from Eusebius’ "Letter to Constantia" (the sister of Constantine the Great). It shows the utter disdain of Eusebius (the first historian of the Christian church) for the trend toward idolatry that was beginning to occur in "orthodox" churches.

(see link - words in red - for the letters)
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these letters are amazing. check em out...

In summation, I wish to quote from one of the top ecclesiastical historians of our time on this important matter. He is Professor W.H.C. Frend. He shows the universal abhorrence of any type of idolatrous themes in what we call the orthodox churches in the second, third and up to the mid-fourth centuries. He cites in his notes the authorities for his statements.

"The origins of Christian art remain a mystery. Ostensibly, both Judaism and Christianity rejected pictorial art on religious subjects. The second commandment had forbidden Israel to make any graven image, and Christian leaders in the East and West alike, including Tertullian, accepted this. Clement and Eusebius, showing rare unanimity, considered this prohibition absolute and binding on Christians. The principal crime [said Tertullian] of the human race, the highest guilt charged upon the world, the whole procuring cause of judgment, is idolatry, and for once Tertullian commanded almost universal assent. The Syriac Didascalia laid down that no offerings were to be received from those who painted with colors, nor from those who made idols or worked in silver and bronze. At the other end of the Mediterranean world, canon 36 of the Council of Elvira stated without qualification that there should be no paintings in church lest what was painted on the wars should be worshiped and venerated."

• Frend, The Rise of Christianity, p.415

The early mainline Christians held all forms of idolatry (paintings, pictures, symbols, statues, etc.) in complete abomination. And, important to the issue before us, none of them ever accused mainline Jews of having such things in their synagogues or in their homes up to and including the time of Constantine. Historians will have to look elsewhere for the origin of the synagogue at Dura Europos and the small Christian church at the same site (which date to the middle of the 3rd century) than looking to mainline Judaism or mainline Christianity as the source of those idolatrous paintings. But really, we can now know without difficulty who were the first to bring such pagan paintings and symbols into certain types of synagogues and certain types of churches. Those people were not mainline Jews or mainline Christians.

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