Friday, June 8, 2012

Early Judaic African Christianity

For my write-up today on The Cambridge History of Christianity: Origins to Constantine, I'll quote what Maureen Tilley says about early African Christianity on page 386:

"The Semitic roots of Punic religion raise the question of the origins of Christianity in this region.  Unfortunately, they are unknown.  Africans never claimed a founding apostle like other churches, such as Alexandria's Mark or India's Thomas.  There was great respect for Christians at Rome, but no tradition of a foundation from that city.  In fact, Christian practice suggests alternate roots.  Most scholars connect Christianity to Jewish communities in and around Carthage.  Evidence includes Hebraisms in their Latin Bible, Tertullian's familiarity with oral traditions later enshrined in the Talmud and Mishnah, and the burial of both Jews and Christian Jews in the Gemart cemetery.  African Christianity also exhibits some of the hallmarks of the 'Jewish Christianity' of the first centuries, e.g. the apostolic decree of Acts 15:19-20 treated as normative as late as Tertullian (Apol. 9.13) and Minucius Felix (Oct. 30.6), Tertullian's knowledge that Jews knew Christians as Nazarenes, a heretical sect (Marc. 4.8), the angel-Christology of pseudo-Cyprian's De centesima (PL, supp. I, cols. 53-67), and the Christian observance of some Jewish festivals as late as 436 (fourth Council of Carthage, canon 89).  Finally, local churches were governed by a board of elders, the seniores laici ('lay elders'), similar to Jewish congregations (or possibly the Punic suffetes).  While the aggregate evidence is not conclusive, the burden of proof nonetheless is on those who would offer alternative explanations, such as a resort to a general Semitic or Punic culture."

What Tilley says is consistent with what I wrote about in my post, Tertullian, OT Law, and the "Husband of One Wife", in which I talk about Tertullian's appeal to Old Testament laws as if they were normative for Christians.  What I show in that post demonstrates that not only African Christianity did that sort of thing, but its presence in Tertullian's African Christianity is consistent with African Christianity's Judaic orientation.

Tilley's statement about the Acts 15 decision being normative in African Christianity as late as Tertullian intrigues me.  Does that mean that much of the rest of Christianity did not deem that ruling to be normative?  If not, why not?  Was it because that ruling was about how Gentile Christians should act in a manner that does not offend Jewish Christians and Jews, and that was not considered to be relevant when Christianity split from Judaism and Gentiles came to dominate Christianity?

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