I have just read Craig Evans’ From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation. This is a book aimed midway between scholars and a popular audience, exploring some of the events that occurred in the emergence of Christianity within Judaism, and its eventual split from Judaism. Evans argues that while Jewish Christianity emerged as a somewhat familiar reform movement within Judaism that had support and approval from common people, the clash of the aristocratic priesthood with the leaders of the Christian movement over the purity of the temple was a key factor in the sect splitting off from Judaism and becoming a rival movement. This factor was supplemented by others, such as the destruction of the temple, the Jewish revolts against Rome, and of course the Christian conviction that Jesus was a risen and ascended heaven-based Messiah, who could be worshipped alongside the Father.
This is a useful perspective, and I found that it did clarify some things for me, particularly with the aid of numerous relevant first century primary sources. This is Evans’ forte, I think. Throughout the book there are boxes with helpful summaries of relevant historical data – whether lists of emperors or of Messianic pretenders, or of high priestly appointments, or other such things. This will be a resource that I’ll draw upon for class notes in setting the scene of the Gospels.
Evans presents his argument that the family of Annas had an ongoing vendetta against the family and followers of Jesus as worthy of scholarly consideration. I agree, it’s a helpful factor to think about. As I read the book, though, I was sure that I had encountered this argument before, in the work of Paul Barnett. I searched a number of Barnett’s books on Jesus and early Christianity (there are a lot, stretching over the last three decades), but I couldn’t find what I was looking for. Still, I felt certain he had somewhere used the word ‘vendetta’ to describe the relationship between Annas’ priestly descendants and the early Christian movement. But Barnett wasn’t listed in the bibliography. As it happened, I was at a conference in Melbourne on the weekend, where Barnett was present – the Paul as Pastor conference at Ridley…
Barnett is seated on the right; Brian Rosner is hosting this panel session. So I chatted with Paul Barnett and asked him whether this is something that he had posited in his works. He said that he had indeed made this suggestion – but he couldn’t point me to an exact place. However, he said that it’s hard to go beyond speculation about the relationship between Annas’ family and the family/followers of Jesus, so we should be cautious. Evans is indeed appropriately cautious in his work. I’m not suggesting here that Evans was actually drawing on Barnett; just saying that if you want to follow up Evans’ ideas further, it would be worthwhile looking into Barnett’s catalogue of work… somewhere!