The Shema And Early Christianity -- By: Kim Huat Tan

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 59:2 (NA 2008)
Article: The Shema And Early Christianity
Author: Kim Huat Tan

The Shema And Early Christianity1

Kim Huat Tan


If Christianity emerged from the matrix of Judaism, how it conducted a dialogue—if it did at all—with the Jewish confession of its unique faith and praxis is a most interesting question. This essay claims not only did this take place frequently, as evident in the deployment of the Shema in many NT passages, it was also a flashpoint of debate between the Church and the Synagogue in the first century. It became an impetus of early Christian theological development, principally in the understanding of the constitution of the eschatological community and the identity of Jesus Christ.

1. Introduction

The Shema2 is in Jewish thought the supreme affirmation of the unity of God and its recitation may be regarded as the acceptance of the yoke of the kingdom of heaven.3 This being the case, it will be highly fascinating to study how early Christianity responded to the Shema, whether in its dispute with the Synagogue or for its own doctrinal development. Needless to say, the results accrued from such a study will have great significance for our understanding of the character of early Christianity and its parting of the ways with Judaism.

In order to proceed, an assumption has to be made. Along with the majority of the scholars, I trace the practice of the twice-daily recitation of the Shema back to pre-70 Judaism although the rabbinic period

certainly ensured that this practice became entrenched and widespread.4 Such an assumption may indeed be called into question in the light of b.Berakhot 21a5 and the peculiar use of it by Justin Martyr in his dialogue with Trypho.6 Without discounting the significance of these data, I have none the less concluded in a previous essay why it is still valid to regard the twice-daily recitation of the Shema as having its roots in that period.7 I shall not rehearse the arguments here but shall simply base myself on the results established there.

Others have laboured and I have entered into their labours. Unfortunately, not very much has been done in this area, even though the importance of the Shema to Judaism is widely recognised. Nevertheless, two names stand out and they must be mentioned so as to set my essay in context:...

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