From ancient times until today, Jews and Christians have lived in constant contact with each other. In a previous post, I wrote about some of their intellectual collaboration during the Middle Ages (“Did Jews, Christians, and Muslims Ever Think Together?”). But what about the conflict between Judaism and Christianity? After all, these religions presented competing versions of “the Truth”!

One manifestation of the conflict between Judaism and Christianity was a series of “disputations” or public debates in various European cities. Two of the most famous such disputations took place in Paris in 1240 and in Barcelona in 1263. In Barcelona the famous mystical scholar-rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (Nachmanides) represented the Jewish side. He was opposed by Pablo Christiani (“Paul the Christian”), a convert from Judaism to Christianity whose previous name as a Jew had been Shaul (“Saul”).

The debate could not be an open and equal consideration of ideas, because it took place in an environment of Christian political domination. The Dominican friars who organized the disputation wrote that the event did not allow any questioning of the truth of Christianity – for that, they said, was already certain. Rather, the debate took place specifically for the purpose of showing the Jews the errors of their ways. For his part, Nachmanides, having been summoned by King James I of Aragon, had no choice but to participate and defend his understanding of Judaism as best he could in this rigged situation. He was in fact much more fortunate than some others who found themselves in similar positions, for he managed to secure the right to speak his mind freely (instead of facing harsh punishment should he be regarded as “blaspheming” Christianity during the debate).

Partly as a result, the disputation covered essential differences between medieval Judaism and Christianity in some detail. Moshe and Pablo argued over whether the Messiah/Christ had already come; whether he was divine; why, if he had come, he had not brought peace to the earth; whether the Torah (Instruction/Law) given by Moses remained valid. It is difficult to say who “won” the debate, since the Latin (Christian) and Hebrew (Jewish) accounts give very different impressions on this score!

The conflict between competing “truths” also led to much darker realities in European history, including extreme hostility and violent anti-Jewish persecutions. An already huge body of literature called adversus Iudaeos (“Against the Jews”) continued to grow. It was only in 1965 with the Nostra aetate declaration that the Catholic church clearly departed from such an antagonistic stance. Nowadays much Jewish-Christian dialogue – or even continued debate about the very same questions! – thankfully takes place in a much friendlier environment. This would probably please Gilbert Crispin, the abbot of Westminster in the late 11th century, who wrote about a Jewish acquaintance, “Each time that we would meet, immediately we would have a talk in a friendly spirit about the Holy Scriptures and our faith.”

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104 COMMENTS

    • Thank you for the comment, Fred. I'm not sure exactly what you mean. In the Middle Ages Jews and Christians were distinct groups -- kept separate by law, in fact. As for the Biblical אלהי העברים (Elohe ha-Ivrim) "God of the Hebrews," which is found in six places in Exodus, I would agree that this is a name for the Creator. For instance, Exod. 5:3 equates אלהי העברים (Elohe ha-Ivrim) "God of the Hebrews" with יהוה אלהינו (YHWH Elohenu) "YHWH our God." The Name "YHWH" refers to the Creator, as seen from Genesis 2 and other places.

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    • Dear both, Jews/Gentiles were and are separated by the wall of the Law of Moses. Study of Hebrew scripture makes it clear, BUT G-D in His mercy sent Jesus Christ and IN HIM Ephesians 2 the wall of partition was removed. By grace we both, Jew and Gentile are saved.

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    • You are right Fred. He is God of the Hebrews and also God of the believing Gentiles (Christians). Being the Creator, He is God overall, whether one believes in Him or not. One's status of belief does not change the truth about Jehovah God. He is God.
    • God has made it CLEAR, that Gentiles are saved by his GRACE, and that The Jewish nation, the 12 tribes of ISRAEL are his CHOSEN people. We therefore are ALL the LORD'S CHILDREN if we BELIEVE, and DO HIS WILL!

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  1. There is no "vs." between Christianity and Judaism. Christianity springs from Judaism. Shalom. May the peace that Jesus the Christ offers be with you.
    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Name of God and Exploring Jewish Interpretation. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!
  2. Dr. Yeshaya Gruber ,of Israel Bible Weekly ;
    Dear Sir, I have a question, & a comment if I may, as of interest &
    without bias , you may see your way clear to consider for my clarification of a vexed subject.
    Question } ... Is Catholicism considered within the term " Christianity " ?
    Comment } ... Could you please explain for me why " Judaism " is set apart from Christianity when the
    Jewish Disciples & Apostles believed & preached the teachings of Christ ? { Yeshua/ Messiah} .. Having read & studied just a little, I wonder why, or how the ' Judaism vs. Christianity' question may arise. Sincerly, Brian.W.
    • Thank you for the interesting questions, Brian. Here I am using the terms "Judaism" and "Christianity" to describe historical phenomena. Hence, yes, Catholicism certainly qualifies as part of historical "Christianity"; and "Judaism" is necessarily regarded as a separate religion and grouping (as was in fact entrenched in law beginning in the Roman Empire). You are correct that in the first century, this division did not yet exist -- it belongs to a later period of history. In fact, one might even say that neither "Judaism" nor "Christianity" per se exists in the Bible! Some scholars, like Daniel Boyarin, argue that what we mean by "religion" only came into existence sometime from the second to the fourth century; the earlier Biblical realities are somewhat different.

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  3. I visited Israel last year and I am very interested in Bible history. I hope to visit again and would like to know more before I go again.
  4. So far what I have read are quite interesting. I have always considered the Jews as our eldest brothers. The one I follow is a Jew (Jesus Christ)
    I am I can read and deepen my knowledge in general. I'm a opened minded person
    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Name of God or Exploring Jewish Interpretation. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!
  5. There is no contrary between Judaism and Christianity, Judaism come first and then Christianity. We Christian serve the same God of Judaism, and if we watch what Paul had written in Roman chapter 11 we shall understand that we Christian are the branches of the Olive tree, and Judaism was the root of the Olive tree.
    Of course there was time and season for everything, if we read on Zech.21:4~14 we shall understand that there is time and season for Christians and after that there is time and season for Judaism. On verse 7 we understand about 'Staff of Kindness' or 'Rod of Noam', and 'Staff of Bond' or 'Rod of Chabal', and then we shall understand what is going on until Lord Yesus comes again. The very basic problem for Judaism was the acceptance of Lord Yesus as HaMashiah, which had promised to the Jews.
    Let's HaShem bless us abundantly, shalom !
    • Thank you for joining the discussion, Gortap! Unfortunately, in historical terms there has been quite a big clash between Judaism and Christianity. I think you are right that Romans chapter 11 was intended to avoid such a division; but it seems to have been disregarded by most readers, beginning already in the second half of the first century. When you talk about Zechariah, I think you mean chapter 11. You may also wish to read my related responses to Fred, Michael, and Brian (above).

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    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Name of God or Exploring Jewish Interpretation. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!
  6. Thank you Dr Yeshaya for this interesting article. It is so wrong to seek to force ones opinions or faith onto another person. We may debate and talk sensibly but to belittle or hurt a person because they are not of the same persuasion is so very wrong. We are all Gods creation and our beloved Saviour was born a Jew. I may seek to persuade but in no way can pressure another person to believe in the Lord Jesus as the only way to Our Father.
    Tank you again.
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