The war [of 135 A.D.] had one incidental result of which mention must be made briefly here: it brought about the final separation of the Nazarenes from the rest of the Jews. Hitherto these "disciples of Jesus the Nazarene" had been a coventicle within the synagogue, rather than a sect. Their peculiarity was the belief that the Messiah foretold in the Scriptures had appeared in the reign of Tiberius in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who had been executed by the procurator of Judaea, Pontius Pilate, at the instance of the chief priests, as a prospective revolutionary, "the king of the Jews." His followers believed that he had come to life again and been taken up to heaven, whence he would soon come again in power and glory, to execute the divine judgment on those who had rejected him and usher in the expected golden age. For the rest they were pious and observant Jews, who worshipped in the temple and in the synagogues like others. Their efforts to make converts to their belief, especially at the beginning, when they gathered crowds around them in the courts of the temple to argue about it, led to the intervention of the authorities to prevent disturbances, but there was no attempt to put a ban on the belief itself. The Jews had no doctrine about the Messiah invested with the sanction of orthodoxy, and on the fundamental articles of Judaism, the unity of God, his peculiar relation to Israel, the revelation of his character, will, and purpose in Scripture, the Nazarenes were as sound as any Jews could be. On the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment they held with the Pharisees, with all the more tenacity because the resurrection of Jesus was the cornerstone of their faith, and in their observance of the Law conformed to tradition as expounded by the Scribes and Pharisees.

The destruction of Jerusalem, interpreted as a judgment of God on the nation which had repudiated the Messiah He had sent and the precursor of the greater crises to follow, lent to their propaganda a revived activity and a new argument; and, to judge from the acutely hostile utterances of several of the leading rabbis of the two generations after the war, it had considerable success. The commination which Rabban Gamaliel II caused to be introduced in the daily prayer was presumably meant to make it impossible for a Nazarene to lead the prayers in the synagogue or to join in them. What effect this had in driving them out of the synagogue is unknown.

It was impossible, however, for those who had their own Messiah in Jesus of Nazareth, and saw in the commotions of the times the signs of his imminent coming from heaven to judgment, to acknowledge the revolutionary Messiah, Bar Cocheba, and join their countrymen in the revolt. According to Justin Martyr, Bar Cocheba took dire vengeance upon them if they refused to deny Jesus their Messiah. That their disloyalty to the national cause should have been visited upon them by the revolutionists is natural enough, without emphasizing the motive of persistent religious antipathy as Justin does in the context. Probably those who could sought refuge outside the area of war.

When the war was over, they, as Jews, were forbidden to enter Aelia equally with the rest. The succession of bishops of the circumcision in Jerusalem ended; the church that replaced them was a Gentile church. The Nazarenes and off-shoots from them are found thenceforth east of the Jordan, and later in the region of Aleppo. Coincidently, the rabbinical invective subsided when they became a sect outside the synagogue.

Meantime the messianic faith of the disciples of Jesus had spread through Greek-speaking Jews to Gentiles, and in the process had become Christianity, which presently cut loose from Judaism altogether, throwing off the Law, written as well as unwritten, even to the cardinal observances of circumcision and the sabbath, and by its worship of "the Lord Christ," the Son of God, seemed to infringe the principle of monotheism. In Jewish eyes it was not a heretical Judaism, but- whatever it might have owed to Judaism in its origin- was in its nature a wholly different religion. There can be no doubt that the knowledge of this development abroad increased the prejudice against the Nazarenes at home, although they were as averse as the rabbis themselves to its antinomian trend.

Christianity made many converts among Greek-speaking Jews and many more in the Gentile fringe of the synagogue; but neither the Nazarenes in Palestine, whom the church soon branded as heretics for their backwardness in Christology and their adherence to Jewish observances, nor Gentile Christianity made any mark on Judaism. Even reminiscences of controversy are infrequent in the Tannaite literature.

 

from pages 90-92, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era