The puzzle and politics of historical reconstruction

The case of the rise and development of Christianity and Judaism


  • Anders Runesson University of Oslo


Jewish and Christian Interaction, Judaism, Christianity, Parting of the Ways, Cultural Change, Institutions, Historic sites, Mediterranean Region


This essay focuses on the topic of the emergence of Christianity and Judaism as related but distinct religious traditions, as an example of a process of religious and cultural change, which has had an enormous impact on Western and other societies around the world. At the heart of this question lies what appear to be contradictions between normative practices in antiquity and those we know of today, leading us to consider the historical and hermeneutical issue of continuity and change over time; its how, when and why. Rejecting the idea that theological differences between Judaism and Christianity necessitated a ‘parting of ways’ between them, it is argued that social, political and colonial decision-making was essential to this process, and that, furthermore, a historical focus on institutional realities in the ancient Mediterranean world, including in Jewish society, will challenge many long-held assumptions about the origins not only of Christianity but also of Judaism. The general historical reconstruction offered is then applied to a specific archaeological site, Capernaum, showing how traces of the larger pattern of development from the first to the fifth century CE may be seen in the histories of two buildings in this town.

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How to Cite

Runesson, A. (2022). The puzzle and politics of historical reconstruction: The case of the rise and development of Christianity and Judaism. Approaching Religion, 12(1), 4–17.