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Revisiting the past for the sake of reflection and discussion

By Rabbi Marc Gellman, Tribune Content Agency on

Q: I was raised Catholic. Everything I read in the Bible teaches that everyone was Jewish. How did I become Catholic? Where did Catholicism come from? I asked several people, including a priest and haven't gotten an answer. I think it would make a great article. -- From J on Long Island, N.Y.

A: Well dear J, let's begin by correcting your misapprehension that everyone in the Bible is Jewish. In addition to the big empire guys (Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians and Philistines) there were also a lot of smaller non-Jewish tribes in biblical times like the Jebusites, Hittites, Amalekites, and a variety of other and assorted "ites"). However, on the line you are concerned about, the Jewish people began around 1,800 years before zero in the time of Abraham. They left Egypt in the Exodus with Moses around 1,200 BCE and the kingdoms of Saul, David and Solomon occurred around the year 1,000 BCE. Jesus comes into the picture obviously around the year zero.

It is true that Jesus and all his disciples were Jewish. In fact whenever people try to convert me to Christianity I ask them, "Was Jesus Jewish?" They answer "Yes" and so I say, "Well, if it was good enough for Jesus it's good enough for me!"

The split between Judaism and Christianity occurred after Jesus' death with the Apostle Paul in the first century. Paul found that the Jewish laws concerning circumcision and not eating pork had severely limited his work in converting gentiles to Christianity and he began to preach that keeping such ritual provisions of Jewish law were no longer necessary for new Christians. This violation of Jewish law plus of course the claim that Jesus was the Messiah caused a final split between Paul and the Jerusalem Church led by James, and with it a final split between Judaism and Christianity. This is the period of what is called the Apostolic Church and it lasted until 325 when the Emperor Constantine -- under the influence of his mother Helena -- declared Christianity to be the religion of the Roman Empire.

The whole Roman Empire was transformed from an empire that fed Christians to lions to an empire that worshiped Jesus as God. This gigantic empire caused Christianity to split into five sees or districts by the mid-6th century called the Pentarchy: Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria. With the rise of the Islamic Empire in the 7th century the Eastern sees that were within the Islamic empire were cut off from Rome, which became the center of the Roman Catholic Church. In the 16th century the Christian world split into Catholicism and Protestantism and that is how the Christian world looks today.

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In the meantime the Jewish world slowly grew on its own and eventually became the target of anti-Semitism, which was condemned by Pope John XXIII in the 1960s as a sin that was rejected from all Catholic teachings.

All of this made possible the God Squad and my friendship with Father Tom Hartman, and all this enabled us to write a column where I could explain to you where all the Christians came from and where all the Jews went.

(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at godsquadquestion@aol.com. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including "Religion for Dummies," co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman.)

(c) 2018 THE GOD SQUAD DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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