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"From Gentile Inclusion to Jewish Christianity"

Annette Yoshiko Reed joined the Harvard Divinity School faculty in July 2022, having taught previously at New York University as a professor in the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies and Department of Religious Studies. Her research spans Second Temple Judaism, early Christianity, and Jewish/Christian relations in Late Antiquity, with a special concern for retheorizing religion, identity, and difference. Reed’s latest book explores the beginnings of Jewish angelology and demonology.Professor Yoshiko Reed began her lecture by inviting us to ponder an important question: At what point did Christianity as an identity become distinct from Judaism? At first glance, the question seems to have an easy answer. The ‘Premodern Understanding’ was that Jesus’ disciples amassed followers of their own and passed on his teachings, steadily growing until they established a unique religious presence. However, Professor. Reed made it clear that the lines were far blurrier than that. In its earliest form, all members of the Jesus Movement were, in fact, Jewish. They celebrated the feasts, practiced the ceremonies and observed the Mosaic Law. It was precisely because of their Jewish identity that the
Twelve had a conception of the Messianic role Jesus claimed to fulfill, and awareness of this factor has led to a different model of understanding the Jewish-Christian divergence, known as ‘the parting of the ways’, over against the traditional model of supersessionism. Under supersessionism, Rabbinic Judaism is a mother whose child, Christianity, grows to maturity under the care of its mother while still maintaining a separate identity. This has led many scholars to study Gentile Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism as exclusive categories containing little to no overlap. In the contemporary model, however, the two are viewed as initially overlapping circles with a shrinking in-between group (Jewish Christianity) that Christianity would eventually label as heretical for their continued observance of Mosaic Law.

Professor. Yoshiko Reed noted, however, that this is still a largely Christian perspective. In Judaic thought, there are really only two categories: Israel (Jews) and ‘the Nations’ (Gentiles). Among Gentiles, there are those who convert fully to Judaism and those who are simply ‘God-fearers’. Contrary to Christianity’s adoption of Gentiles on the basis of their faith, no one supersedes these categories in Judaism; Jews who join the ‘Jesus Movement’ are still Jews, and Gentiles who join it are still Gentiles. It is here that Professor. Yoshiko Reed asks the question: What is the fate of the Gentiles? This question is significant because it is a source of major overlap between what we now think of as Judaism and Christianity. It gets to the heart of deeper questions about salvation and the will of God. Professor. Yoshiko Reed invites us to ponder whether Christianity is simply ‘Torah for the Gentiles’ or perhaps something unique and distinct from Rabbinic Judaism altogether.