Volume 46 - Issue 2

Diognetus and the Parting of the Ways

By Florenc Mene


Is it possible to speak of a real separation between Jewish and Christian communities in the first two centuries of the Christian era? A major strand of scholarship denies the tenability of the traditional Parting of Ways position, which has argued for a separation between Christians and Jews at some point in the second century. The purpose of this article is to explore what the second-century Letter to Diognetus reveals about its author’s attitude regarding the Jew-Christian relationship at that time and from that community’s perspective. After exploring four of the document’s features, which reveal the author’s attitude regarding the Jew-Christian relations, this article concludes that Diognetus seems to reflect a historical situation where Jews and Christians were viewed as separate entities, at least for its locality.

In response to Adolf von Harnack’s inadequate supersessionism—according to which Christianity emerged from its very birth as a separate entity from a dying Judaism—the mid-twentieth century saw the rise and dominance of the parting of ways (henceforth, PW) approach.1 It affirmed Christianity’s Jewish identity, emphasized Judaism’s vitality, and posited a separation between the two at some point in the second century. In the last decades, however, this position has come under heavy attack. Its perceived weaknesses have led many scholars to doubt whether such a definitive parting of ways really (if ever) occurred.2

Different features of the classical PW position have also been critiqued in the recent book provocatively titled The Ways that Never Parted. Admittedly, its contributors belong to a spectrum of views regarding the eventual separation of Judaism and Christianity. Nonetheless, its overall aim is to demonstrate that the traditional PW position is no longer tenable as such.3 As evidenced in this volume, bound up with the critique of the PW are certain fundamental, if theoretical, issues related to identity and image/reality. For example, how can one meaningfully speak of a separation between Judaism and Christianity when such an identification and definition constitutes a theoretical impossibility? And how much does early Christian anti-Jewish polemic reflect the reality of the situation on the ground rather than an image forged by the early apologists in order to impose it on their readers?4

Daniel Boyarin, one of the volume’s contributors and, likely, its source of inspiration, represents the more radical end of the spectrum. He would deem it impossible to argue for a meaningful differentiation between groups of people who appear to be separate. While he would grant that, eventually, Judaism and Christianity did part ways institutionally, this was arbitrarily initiated and accomplished by a Christian elite that was trying to create boundaries in order to legitimate itself as a separate entity from the Jews. To that end it employed heresiology. By defining the nature of heresy it constructed boundaries that excluded both Jews and those Christians who held a different opinion. In other words, Judaism, for Boyarin, was invented by Christianity in the latter’s bid to forge its own identity. This was not a natural parting of ways, but an enforced partitioning.5

In the wake of Boyarin’s critique, particularly as evidenced in his negation of an ideological Judaism-Christianity separation, the purpose of this article will be to explore what the second-century Christian document Letter to Diognetus (hereafter Diognetus) might reveal about its author’s attitude regarding the Jew-Christian relationship in his time and from his perspective. In other words, does the author portray a separation between his Christian community and the second-century Jews, or was this simply an attempt at forging a reality that did not yet exist? The thesis of this article is that, despite its complexities, Diognetus does seem to reflect a situation where Jews and Christians were viewed as separate entities. It is, thus, viable to envision a separation sometime in the second century for the community that Diognetus represents.6

To achieve its purpose, after briefly mentioning the issue of dating Diognetus, this article will explore four of the document’s features in order to reveal its attitude to the Jew-Christian relations in its locality. These characteristics are as follows: (a) the letter’s striking silence regarding arguments from Scripture and prophecy; b) its distanced interaction with Jewish worship; (c) by contrast, its more tangible interaction with pagan worship; and (d) its appropriation of the term γένος to describe Christians. The first two features become even more accentuated when Diognetus is compared to other second century Christian apologists. The last two are not necessarily unique to Diognetus, but, in tandem with the first two, provide a clearer understanding of its author’s position. Finally, a summary will be provided as to what may be deduced from the brief exploration of this letter.

1. Date and Integrity

Providing a date for Diognetus has proven an extremely difficult enterprise. Henri Marrou, for example, provides a broad gamut of possible dates from ca. 120 CE to 310 CE.7 Ultimately, he sides with a second century date because of the letter’s close and numerous points of contact with writings of the apologists of this period (e.g., the Preaching of Peter, Aristides, Justin Martyr, Melito, etc.).8 Similarly, Henry G. Meecham, after providing a plethora of different dates assigned to this letter, favours a date of c. 150 CE.9 Clayton N. Jefford, too, is inclined towards a ‘mid to late 2nd-century’ date.10 Thus, a second century date, while still a conjecture, appears more compelling than a later period. It is on this assumption that the argument of this article will proceed.

As to the unity of Diognetus the debate centres on whether the two final chapters (11–12) belong with the first ten. While some see the same hand behind the whole letter,11 others detect two different authors.12 Ultimately, Bart D. Ehrman’s conclusion that chapters 11–12 have come from a different hand seems to be the most plausible hypothesis.13 Thus, this article will only consider the argument of Diognetus 1–10.

2. Four Revealing Features of Diognetus

Written to an unknown (possibly fictitious) pagan seeker and dignitary by the name of Diognetus, this letter gives an overview of its entire contents from the very beginning, particularly about (a) why Christians differ strikingly from both pagans and Jews in their group-identity and worship; and (b) why this religion/group came into existence so late in the world history: ‘which God they believe in and how they worship him … neither taking into account those considered gods by the Greeks, nor observing the superstition of the Jews …, and just why this new race or way of living came into existence now and not earlier’ (Diognetus 1:1).

Diognetus has many similarities to other second century Christian writings, in particular to Barnabas, Ignatius, Aristides, Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, and the Preaching of Peter.14 These apologists were trying to create space for Christianity as a separate entity from Judaism and paganism. There are, however, two striking differences in Diognetus compared to the apologists, which might serve to highlight its author’s position on the relations between Jews and Christians: its absence of explicit quotations from the Jewish Scriptures and its indifference towards Jewish practices. These two features will be considered first, before addressing the letter’s interaction with pagan worship, and its use of the γένος language.

2.1. Absence of Arguments from Scripture

Early Christian apologists generally focused on the Jewish scriptures to legitimate Christian identity. Barnabas, for instance, uses Scripture extensively, albeit giving it a different interpretation from the Jews. To its author, the Scriptures do not belong to Jews, but to Christians (Barnabas 13; 14.1–4); thus, for him, ‘covenant people’ ‘is a title exclusively reserved for the Christians’.15

The Preaching of Peter, likewise, exhibits a willingness to interact with Jews by means of Scripture in order to prove Jesus’s claims. For instance, it notes that Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection were all to be found in the prophets and it emphasizes that Christians ‘say nothing apart from the Scriptures’ (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 6.15, quoting from the Preaching of Peter). Scriptural fulfilment is ‘a significant, if not central, aspect of [this] work’.16 Furthermore, the Preaching of Peter cares enough about the Jews to call on them to repent, believe in Jesus, and be forgiven. Justin, too, in his Dialogue with Trypho, quotes Scripture extensively to prove that it spoke of Christ, that the true people of God are now the Christians, and that Jews simply do not want to understand the scriptures.17 He, too, nonetheless, concludes with a call to Jews to believe in Jesus (Dialogue 142).

Diognetus, on the other hand, is closer to Aristides in that ‘both ignore the Old Testament as far as actual citation is concerned, and neither uses the argument from prophecy’.18 Aristides, however, does not completely disregard Jews. It admits that they are nearer to the truth than other groups, and that Jesus was Jewish. At this point, Diognetus parts ways with Aristides too. Despite speaking about Jesus and his mission at length (chs. 7–8), Diognetus fails to mention Jesus’s Jewishness, or at least that he came to the Jews first. Its Jesus is purely the revealed Son of God sent to ‘us’, the entire world. Christ comes across as having descended from heaven unexpectedly, rather than as the fulfilment of prophecy. Such is Diognetus’s lack of overt interaction with the Jewish Scriptures.

It might be, as Michael F. Bird has pointed out, that Diognetus’s content echoes Jewish Scriptures and even New Testament writings.19 However, while its author may have used Old Testament-like forms of critique against pagan sacrifices and idolatry, it is striking that he never quotes Scripture explicitly when he addresses Jewish practices—despite the fact that these writings constituted the lowest common denominator between Christians and Jews.20

2.2. A Distant Interaction with Jewish Practices

Diognetus’s scriptural silence becomes even more telling in view of a second feature: its author’s indifference to Jewish practices. Early church literature, in general, interacts with Jewish practices while ultimately denying their legitimacy.21 Some consider Jewish worship unacceptable on the grounds that Jews had misunderstood Scripture (e.g., Barnabas 2.4). Others, like Justin, maintain that Jewish sacrifices, feasts, the Sabbath, and circumcision were truly commanded by God but only because of the Jews’ idolatrous tendencies (Dialogue 19), or in order to mark them out for punishment by Rome (Dialogue 16), or because of their ‘hardness of heart’ (Dialogue 18). At any rate, whether they consider Jewish practices as wrong-headed by nature or as being superseded by Christ’s arrival, the apologists do try to engage with Jewish concepts. The Jew, even if indirectly, is given a voice in the polemic.

The author of Diognetus, however, is again markedly different from second-century apologists. He is polemical against Jews but not in the way one might expect. For example, he ignores the fact it might be expected of Christians to deal with Jews differently than with pagans. He simply lumps these two groups together (e.g., Diognetus 3.5, speaking about the Jews and their sacrifices: the Jews ‘do not seem to me different at all from those who show this same reverence to the deaf images: the latter, to those unable to receive this honour, and the former [i.e., the Jews] think they are offering it to Him how needs nothing’) and equates those who worship the wrong gods (pagans) with those who worship God wrongly (Jews). His anti-Jewish rhetoric (chs. 3–4) is indeed present but lacks the urgency of other apologists, such as Barnabas or Justin’s Apology. For Diognetus, Jewish sacrifices, rites, and circumcision are simply obtuse and absurd on grounds of reason, not revelation (Diognetus 4.1–6).22

The objection could be raised, however, that Diognetus protests too much. For example, its inclusion of Jews in an appeal addressed to pagans is curious. Why mention them at all as a third party if they are unimportant? Does this not look as though the separation that Diognetus portrays is more artificial than real? In addition, at one point, its author gives Jews precedence over pagans by mentioning them first (5.17: ‘By the Jews they are attacked as foreigners, and by the Greeks they are persecuted’). Jews, thus, seem to be very much present in Diognetus’s thought, possibly betraying a reality of a relationship that defies boundaries. Such an objection, however, is not unanswerable when two factors are considered. First, in all other cases Diognetus begins its discussion with the pagans first and the Jews second (e.g., 1.1, Christians do not reckon as gods those considered so ‘by the Greeks … nor do they observe the superstition of the Jews’; cf. chs. 2–3). Possibly, this single reversal of this normal order at the end of its discussion of pagan and Jewish practices (5.17) might be a rhetorical strategy to bring its anti-Jewish and anti-pagan polemic to a close. In other words, having started its denunciation with pagans, it also concludes it with them, before proceeding with an explanation of Christianity’s distinctive character (ch. 6–10).

Secondly, the mention of Jews in an address to pagans is not too surprising when it is remembered that Diognetus’s author was, after all, a Christian writer. He belongs to a line of first and second-century Christian literature that, on different levels, interacted with the Jews in order to refute them. Beginning with Paul’s letters, and continuing with Barnabas, Justin, Aristides, and up to Diognetus, one notices a spectrum of Christian engagements with the Jews. On the other hand, in view of its silence on Scripture and prophecy, and its interaction with the Jewish practices, Diognetus seems to belong to the opposite end of this spectrum as compared, for example, with Justin. True, Diognetus—in the long line of Christian apologetics—does not fail to mention its traditional opponents, the Jews. Nonetheless, the striking omission of traditional Christian arguments against Jews might be a sign that, for its author, Jews and their religion are a shadow from the past, rather than a present threat.

Tobias Nicklas has argued that Diognetus’s dismissal of Jewish praxis is to be explained by its focus on pagans. According to Nicklas, a sign that Diognetus’s primary readership was pagan is its use of Greco-Roman anti-Jewish motifs.23 Diognetus was conscious that ‘the pagan world mistrusted and ridiculed the Jews, and such writers as Cicero, Juvenal, Martial, Galen, Tacitus, Manetbo of Egypt, Seneca, Suetonius, Ovid, Plutarch, and Marcus Aurelius had little good to say about them.’24 Jews were disliked for their isolated living, rituals, and circumcision; in other words, for being different from those around them. For this reason, since (according to Nicklas) Jews had become a liability to the Christian identity after the Diaspora War, Diognetus uses pagan anti-Jewish rhetoric to assert Christianity’s separate entity and to endear it to pagans.25 Being thus conscious of the Christians’ nearness to Jews, as Bernd Lorenz would put it, Diognetus drew some borders in order to separate Christians from Jews in the eyes of pagans.26

While Nicklas’s view has its merits, it is not entirely convincing. Diognetus’s silence on Scripture cannot be accounted for simply by the fact that it is addressed to pagans. After all, another second-century Christian writer, Theophilus of Antioch, quotes Scripture extensively even though his addressee is a pagan friend, Autolycus (e.g., Theophilus, Autolycus 1.7; 1.11; 2.10; quoting Ps 3:3; Prov 24:21–22; 8:27; Gen 1:1). It might be more probable to explain Diognetus’s lack of interaction with Jews because they were a distant memory for its author. This does not necessarily mean that the Jewish community’s presence at the time had waned as Nicklas proposes.27 Incredible distance often exists between two cultural/religious entities even if they live in ‘geographical proximity’.28 This might reflect the situation in Diognetus’s time.

Additionally, contra Nicklas, Diognetus’s anti-Jewish rhetoric seems more in the line of Christian polemics than in that of pagan anti-Jewish rhetoric. Diognetus’s critique, for instance, is not characterized by the common pagan anti-Jewish vitriol, which accused Jews of being Egyptians who had been cast out of the land for contracting leprosy, of looking beggarly, of doing anything for money (including magic), or of being haters of humankind.29 Its critique is almost benign compared to such pagan rhetoric, reflecting traditional Christian anti-Jewish polemic. Nonetheless, as previously mentioned, Diognetus’s clear distance from some salient features of such Christian anti-Jewish rhetoric might reflect a separation between Christians and Jews in its day.

2.3. Interaction with Pagan Worship

In view of its lack of interaction with both Scripture and Jewish worship, it is noteworthy to observe a third feature of Diognetus: its somewhat more tangible interaction with pagan practices. This is not to say that it accurately represents the pagan perspective, but simply that it interacts with a popular concept of paganism: the worship of idols as conscious entities. Diognetus declares that idols are manmade, perishable, and have no real existence (2.3–4: ‘Are not all these made of perishable material? … shaped by their [i.e., craftsmen’s] skills into their particular forms…. Are they not all deaf, blind, soulless, without feelings, unmovable?’). As such, no one in their right mind would worship them. While some pagan intellectuals might have objected to such a caricature of paganism, Diognetus’s argument is perhaps acceptable if viewed as a critique of the common people’s concept of idol worship.30 It, thus, appears that Diognetus interacts with pagan worship at a more meaningful level than with Jewish practices. Although such anti-pagan polemic might not be considered to be in-depth or possibly even-handed, it is nonetheless emphatically present.

By comparison, the letter’s argument against the Jews (ch. 3–4) is more muted. Even when, for instance, it states that Jewish boasting in circumcision as a sign of election is ridiculous (4.4), Diognetus does not offer a theological answer. For its author, such a claim is invalid simply on the grounds that it puts ‘the mutilation of the flesh’ (4.4) on a pedestal. While this is a logic that many pagans might have supported, it constitutes no meaningful interaction with Jewish practices. He is even more dismissive when he declares Sabbath-keeping, feasts, or Jewish sacrifices as unacceptable.

To conclude this section, Diognetus’s absence of arguments from Scripture and prophecy, its lack of interaction with Jewish practices, and its more meaningful interaction with the pagan worldview could be evidence that there is a certain level of separation between Jews and Christians by Diognetus’s time. All that the author reserves for the Jews is cold indifference, a sign that possibly, for him, these opponents are now a distant memory.

2.4. The γένος Language

There is a final feature that, added to the above-mentioned three, could lend even more weight to the impression of a real Jew-Christian separation in Diognetus: the concept of γένος. One of the purposes of the letter is to address the pagan concept of Christians as a different race from Jews and pagans (Diognetus 1:1: ‘you are greatly interested in learning about the Christians’ religion … specifically … why has this new race [γένος] or way of life come into existence’).31 Marrou opines that Diognetus protests against such a designation as race ‘vigorously … Christians are not a “people”, a particular race of men, like the Jews were, for example’.32 Yet the letter’s argument does not imply such resistance.33 Diognetus no more protests against this pagan portrayal of Christians than it does against the pagans’ impression that Christians love one-another (Diognetus 1). It seems, rather, that it takes it for granted that Christians are a race, standing apart from both Jews and Greeks. As such, the author sets out to explicate this race, rather than deny such a concept.34

Three observations may be of interest here. Firstly, in his eulogy of the Christian race (chs. 6–10) Diognetus’s author repudiates any common religious background with the Jews. For example, he describes Christianity in apocalyptic terms, as distanced from its Jewish background. For him, the Christ event occurred unexpectedly and unannounced (e.g., 8.9–11: ‘he communicated [his plan] only to his Child…. But when he revealed [the plan] through his beloved Child and made manifest the things prepared from the beginning, he granted [them] all at once to us … which none of has had ever expected’). Hans Conzelmann describes this as ‘a perspective in which “salvation history” is not only ignored but excluded. This denial is a basic motif of the whole letter.’35 Conzelmann’s description is perhaps somewhat too categorical; for instance, a term like ‘his wise plan’ (8.10) shows some connection to Jewish categories of thinking, although such language could also have come from the NT (e.g., Acts 2:23; 4:28). Nonetheless, a clear sense of distancing from Jews is noticeable in Diognetus.

Secondly, it appears that Christianity as a separate race is not Diognetus’s invention. It seems from Diognetus 1 that the author’s pagan readership already considered Christians as a separate race, a concept that is already present in the New Testament. For example, 1 Peter 2:9 identifies the church as ‘a chosen race’ (γένος ἐκλεκτόν) and ‘a people for his own possession’ [λαὸς εἰς περιποίησιν], alluding to designations for ethnic Israel in Isaiah 43:20 LXX.36 Aristides reflects the same impression. Thirdly, it may also be noted that even first and second-century pagans often viewed Christians and Jews as different, even if related, entities.37 While Boyarin would insist that an absolute definition of Jews and Christians is a theoretical impossibility,38 pagans and Christians (and possibly Jews) seem to have drawn such a distinction regardless. At least, on a practical level, they seem to have acknowledged that Christians and Jews were not the same entity. This implies that Judaism (for lack of a better term) might have been more than just a Christian construct.

As a result, Diognetus’s claim that Christians are a race, acknowledged as such by pagans, and opposed as such by Jews (ἀλλόφυλοι, 5.17),39 may be more than just an image that its author is striving to impose on his readers. It might rather depict a reality of separation between Jews and Christians, at least for his time and location. When added to the other three factors explored above, the γένος concept, while not unique to Diognetus, seems to further corroborate a state of separation between Jews and Christians.

3. Summarizing the Evidence

It was beyond the scope of this article to conduct an in-depth study and critique of the different positions related to Jewish-Christian relations in the first two centuries, nor was it its goal to completely disprove Boyarin’s claims. Its aim was rather to isolate a Christian witness from this period and to explore its implications for Boyarin’s hypothesis. So what inferences might be drawn from the analysis of Diognetus as outlined above?

As evidenced, there is a striking silence regarding use of Scripture, a lack of interaction with Jewish worship, but a somewhat more meaningful interaction with pagan practices. Diognetus does not present the Jews as present enemies but as a distant memory, a ghost from times past. When to this is added its concept of Christianity as a γένος, it seems that a separation between Jews and Christians has already occurred.

While such an analysis does not refute Boyarin’s position, it would suggest that his approach be considerably tempered. And while Diognetus’s situation does not easily fit within a clear-cut PW approach, it is still possible to deduce that there was, at least in his perception, a meaningful separation between Jews and Christians. It would be worthwhile, then, to keep exploring Diognetus for further insights into the complex Jewish-Christian relations in the first two centuries of our era.

To return to Boyarin’s position, which served as the primary challenge for exploring Diognetus in this article, theoretical questions as to an absolute definition of ‘Jew’ and ‘Christian’ are admittedly difficult (if not impossible) to answer. On the other hand, it looks like, for Diognetus, as well as for many pagans of this period, such a distinction certainly was made, however it may have been defined. That Diognetus is able to speak of ‘us’ and ‘them’, of ‘Jews’ and ‘Christians’, demonstrates that, at least on a practical level, such a separation was visible enough to the parties involved. This is also borne out by the fact that pagans, too, were often able to distinguish between these two groups.40

As to the issue of image and reality that keeps haunting the PW position, it is not easy to distinguish one from the other in Diognetus. However, claims that would suggest that the Jew-Christian separation is just an image created and imposed by proto-orthodox Christian elites are faced with an important question: how, then, was it possible that such an image became so quickly a widespread reality in Christian communities in different regions?

If the observations above hold any value, Judaism does not appear to have been, as Boyarin argues, simply an entity created by Christian elites. Rather, by Diognetus’s time, it was already viewed as a separate group from Christianity. Ultimately, whether this was the result of a long boundary-drawing process on the part of Christian elites, or of a natural process of identity formation and separation, is not fundamental to this analysis. What is to be noted is that, by Diognetus’s time, and for its specific location, such a separation had apparently become a historical reality. Thus, it would seem that Judaism’s identity was formed long before Christianity became an institution sponsored by the Empire, armed with the authoritarian arsenal to enforce, as Boyarin argues, a partitioning between the strong and the weak.

4. Conclusion

From the above, it may be concluded that Diognetus appears to reflect a situation where the separation between Christians and Jews is an historical reality rather than an image, although not necessarily to the complete exclusion of the latter. This separation, on the other hand, may well be local, and not as clear-cut or hermetic as the PW approach would wish it to be.41 There might have been more Jew-Christian interaction on a popular level than is reflected in the extant literature. Nonetheless, Diognetus’s description does seem to reflect a real separation rather than simply an attempt at creating such. Jews and Christians—notwithstanding the difficulties involved in defining these categories—are perceived as separate entities. To Diognetus and its second-century community, Jews and Christians held beliefs that were so much at odds with each-other that Christians were held in contempt by the Jews and were treated as a foreign, despised entity. Conversely, as far as Diognetus’s Christian community is concerned, Jews are as much foreign to God’s kingdom as the pagans. If there was any communication between these two groups by Diognetus’s day, it was not one between fellow—but misunderstood—‘cousins’ in the monotheistic faith of Abraham, but between the saved and the unsaved.

This has direct implications for Western Christianity’s efforts at interfaith dialogue with other faith communities in general and with Judaism in particular. While Christians and Jews have much in common, they are not one and the same community. In our time, interfaith dialogue has become a very fashionable term, even in Protestant circles. However, dialogue must not mean acceptance of the other’s position as just as correct as one’s own. Communication should not lead to compromise. Rather, it should lead to a real understanding of what others believe, so as to offer them lovingly, but uncompromisingly, the message of Jesus of Nazareth as the only viable way to inclusion into God’s community of the saved. Just as Diognetus explains, Christians must be willing to serve others selflessly, but also to suffer for Christ rather than compromise their message. Diognetus is an indictment of boundary-erasing, faith-merging ecumenism, which asserts that what unites monotheistic religions is more important than what divides them. Such a view makes a mockery of all the sides involved. All who care about the teachings of their respective religions know that compromise is not the answer. No wonder that Paul, a consummate Jew and a believer in the Jewish Messiah, went to all races and people-groups preaching that ‘there is no other name [but Jesus] under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:2). Diognetus’s author would have fully agreed. If we love our neighbours, whether those of faiths nearer or farther away from ours, interfaith dialogue is healthy only if it leads to clarity of gospel-communication, not to erasure of faith boundaries.

[1] PW proponents, such as James Parkes and Marcel Simon, have placed Christianity’s genesis and early development firmly within Judaism. Later, the Jewish revolts (the latest being Bar Kochba’s in 132–135 CE), the Jewish leaders’ hatred and excommunication of Christians, as well as the latter’s missionary zeal brought matters to a head. As a result, sometime in the second century, Judaism and Christianity parted ways, definitively becoming two completely separate religions (e.g., James Parkes, The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue: A Study in the Origins of Antisemitism [Cleveland: World Publishing, 1961]; Marcel Simon, Verus Israel: A Study of the Relations Between Christians and Jews in the Roman Empire [135–425], The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986]). See, however, James D. G. Dunn, The Partings of the Ways: Between Christianity and Judaism and Their Significance for the Character of Christianity, 2nd ed. (London: SCM Press, 2006), for a more recent and cautious (if, perhaps, too tidy) defence of this position.

[2] Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert, for example, has ventured so far as to say that the Judaism-Christianity separation, if it ever occurred, did so after ‘late antiquity’ and ‘only … by political fiat when one religion gained imperial power’ (‘Jewish Christians, Judaizers, and Christian Anti-Judaism’, in A People’s History of Christianity, ed. Virginia Burrus [Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005], 2:254). Moreover, it now appears as if first and second-century Judaism and Christianity were not as monolithic as the PW approach makes them to be. Judith M. Lieu, in fact, argues that the idea of a universal separation must be laid aside and replaced with an exploration of ‘a more nuanced analysis of the local and specific before we seek to develop models which will set them within a more comprehensive overview’ (Neither Jew Nor Greek? Constructing Early Christianity, SNTW [London: T&T Clark, 2002], 18). For a treatment of Diognetus on the issue of the forging of early Christian identity, see Lieu, Neither Jew Nor Greek, 171–89.

[3] Adam H. Becker and Annette Yoshiko Reed, eds., The Ways That Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), 22–23. On the other hand, Dunn shows an awareness of nuances in the Jew/Christian categories and of gradations of their separation in the early period (James D. G. Dunn, Neither Jew Nor Greek: A Contested Identity, Christianity in the Making 3 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015], 598–602).

[4] Daniel Boyarin, for example, deems it impossible to ‘absolutely define who is a Jew and who is a Christian in such wise that the two categories will not seriously overlap’ (‘Semantic Differences; Or, “Judaism”/“Christianity”’, in The Ways That Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, ed. Adam H. Becker and Annette Yoshiko Reed [Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007], 78). He argues that only after Christianity became a state religion was it in a position to enforce an institutional separation from Judaism, although this did not necessarily change the situation on the popular level. See also Boyarin, ‘Rethinking Jewish Christianity: An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category (to Which Is Appended a Correction of My Border Lines)’, JQR 99 (2009), 28. Judith Lieu, on the other hand, has focused on the issue of image/reality. She defines image as ‘the presentation, that which each text projects concerning Jews or Judaism’, and reality as ‘the actual position of Jews and the Jewish communities in the context from which the literature comes’ (Image and Reality: The Jews in the World of the Christians in the Second Century [Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996], 2). A clarification is in order here: Lieu uses ‘image’ and ‘reality’ to refer to how the nature of Jewish-Christian interaction may be understood, as well as to the extent in which Christian writings might allow us a glimpse into the Jewish reality. This article uses image/reality in a different manner (although not necessarily unrelated), to refer to whether the situation reflected in Diognetus betrays a reality of an actual Jew-Christian separation or an image constructed by its author.

[5] Daniel Boyarin, Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity, Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 1–6, 17, 27–29.

[6] Diognetus seems a good choice particularly because it is only cursorily mentioned twice in Becker and Reed’s The Ways that Never Parted (268 n. 37, 352). Likewise, it is never mentioned by Boyarin in his Border Lines. In adding the qualifying phrase ‘at least for the community that Diognetus represents’, this article would concur with Lieu’s conclusion that it is not possible to speak in universalistic terms regarding the separation between Christians and Jews in the early centuries (Neither Jew Nor Greek, 18). Further, this article does not attempt to debunk Boyarin’s thesis wholesale, but rather to argue that Diognetus displays several key characteristics that should temper the more skeptical concepts about a separation between Jews and Christians in the first two centuries.

[7] Henri Irénée Marrou, A Diognète (Paris: Cerf, 1952), 246.

[8] Marrou, A Diognète, 251.

[9] Henry G. Meecham, The Epistle to Diognetus: The Greek Text, with Introduction, Translation and Notes (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1949), 16–19. He suggests a 150 CE date because Diognetus does not extoll the ascetic life; sacerdotalism is absent; its Christology is not nearly as detailed as that of Origen; the Holy Spirit is never mentioned; it expounds on the Son’s late arrival, a motif that appears in Justin but not as much in later apologists; and it has been traditionally assigned with Justin’s writings.

[10] Clayton N. Jefford, ed., The Epistle to Diognetus (with the Fragment of Quadratus): Introduction, Text and Commentary, Oxford Apostolic Fathers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 28. See also Florenc Mene, Letra drejtuar Diognetit, Etërit Apostolikë 8 (Tiranë, Albania: Streha, 2016), 22.

[11] Most notably, Charles E. Hill has presented a meticulous argument as to why the whole of Diognetus constitutes a single unit. Hill lists a number of scholars who would concur about Diognetus’s integrity. These include E. B. Birks, Dom P. Andriessen, J. A. Kleist, Marrou, S. Zincone, Rizzi, and Townsley. See Hill, From the Lost Teaching of Polycarp: Identifying Irenaeus’s Apostolic Presbyter and the Author of Ad Diognetum, WUNT 186 [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006], 106–27 (esp. 106 n. 40). Hill further argues that Polycarp was the author of Diognetus. His thesis hinges partly on his above-mentioned claim that Diognetus ought to be considered a single unit (i.e., including chapters 11–12). It is in this portion of Diognetus, in fact, that the term ‘disciple of apostles’ is mentioned (11.1), the same phrase that Ignatius employs regarding an unnamed Christian leader (Against Heresies 4.27–32), whom Hill identifies with Polycarp. Hill musters detailed evidence to identify possible correspondences between Diognetus’s contents and those of Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians (Lost Teaching, 136–40), as well as other literature possibly related to Polycarp. He also presents credible evidence that the rare name Diognetus was used by two members of the same aristocratic family in second-century Smyrna (Lost Teaching, 160–65). Taken together, these factors make it plausible that Polycarp may have penned Diognetus. This, in turn, would push the composition date of Diognetus back to the first half of the second century (i.e., during Polycarp’s lifetime), which would be earlier than the date accepted by most scholars. In such a case, the evidence presented in this article would suggest that the separation between Jews and Christians was perceived by Diognetus’s author to have occurred even earlier than normally thought. However, as it is, Hill’s argument about the unity of Diognetus is not completely convincing not least because, as Jefford points out ‘some movement in literary form and approach is evident between chs. 10 and 11’ (Jefford, The Epistle to Diognetus, 49). While Hill has presented a possible answer to this by positing a lost or misplaced sheet between what is now Diognetus 10 and Diognetus 11 (Hill, From the Lost Teaching, 110), these parts still read different from one-another. For this reason, this article will proceed on the assumption of a second-century date (not necessarily the first half of that century) and will consider only Diognetus 1–10.

[12] Jefford, The Epistle to Diognetus, 43, provides five reasons why some posit that ch. 1–10 and 11–12 are not part of the same letter.

[13] Bart D. Ehrman, The Apostolic Fathers, LCL 24–25 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 124. This, according to him, accounts for ‘the sudden shift in content and presupposed audience in chapter 11–12, along with differences in vocabulary, writing style, attitudes toward Judaism (which become more positive, as in the affirmation of the law and prophets in 11.6), and genre (the final chapter appears to be a homily)’.

[14] While space would not permit an in-depth comparison of Diognetus with these apologists, a few striking differences might suffice to show Diognetus’s attitude towards Judaism. As to similarities among apologists and the nature of their anti-Jewish arguments, see Lieu, Image and Reality, 155–90.

[15] James Carleton Paget, The Epistle of Barnabas: Outlook and Background, WUNT 64 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1994), 69.

[16] Carleton Paget, The Epistle of Barnabas, 237.

[17] Carleton Paget, The Epistle of Barnabas, 241–44. Dunn (Neither Jew Nor Greek, 562–64), provides more than seventy direct quotations mentioned on the first day of Justin’s purported dialogue with Trypho.

[18] Meecham, The Epistle to Diognetus, 59.

[19] See Michael F. Bird, ‘The Reception of Paul in the Epistle to Diognetus’, in Paul and the Second Century, ed. Michael F. Bird and Joseph R. Dodson, LNTS 412 (London: T&T Clark, 2011), 70–90. After perusing the evidence, Bird concludes that Paul was ‘clearly the most formative intellectual force’ behind Diognetus’s theology (p. 87).

[20] Jefford, The Epistle to Diognetus, 96.

[21] See, for example, Jefford, The Epistle to Diognetus, 95–96.

[22] Contrast this with Barnabas 2, which after criticizing Jewish sacrificial rites, resorts to Scripture as proof by quoting Isaiah 1:11–13 and Jeremiah 7:22–23. Also, Barnabas 9, in criticizing Jews for their views on circumcision, employs Scripture to refute them (e.g., Jer 4:4; Deut 10:16). Diognetus’s indifference is, thus, possibly the residue of what was once a more detailed interaction between Jews and Christians that now has become almost non-existent.

[23] Tobias Nicklas, ‘Epistula Ad Diognetum (Diognetus): The Christian “New Genos” and Its Construction of the Others’, in Sensitivity towards Outsiders: Exploring the Dynamic Relationship between Mission and Ethics in the New Testament and Early Christianity, ed. Jacobus Kok, Tobias Nicklas, Dieter T. Roth, and Christopher M. Hays, WUNT 2.364 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014), 490–504. See also, Tobias Nicklas, ‘Identitätsbildung durch Konstruktion der “Anderen”: Die Schrift Ad Diognetum’, in Early Christian Communities Between Ideal and Reality, ed. Mark Grundeken and Joseph Verheyden, WUNT 342 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015), 216.

[24] Lee Martin McDonald, ‘Anti-Judaism in the Early Church Fathers’, in Anti-Semitism and Early Christianity: Issues of Polemic and Faith, ed. Craig A. Evans and Donald A. Hagner (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 222.

[25] Nicklas, ‘Epistula Ad Diognetum’, 500–1.

[26] Bernd Lorenz, ed., Der Brief an Diognet, Christliche Meister 18 (Einsiedeln: Johannes, 1982), 52.

[27] E.g., Nicklas, ‘Epistula Ad Diognetum’, 502.

[28] T. M. Lemos, Marriage Gifts and Social Change in Ancient Palestine: 1200 BCE to 200 CE (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 16.

[29] Peter Schäfer, Judeophobia: Attitudes toward the Jews in the Ancient World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 22. He cites Diodorus Siculus, who said that Jews were originally Egyptians cast out from the country having contracted leprosy. Schäfer (Judeophobia) and Menahem Stern (Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism, Volume 2: From Tacitus to Simplicius, Fontes Ad Res Judaicas Spectantes [Jerusalem: Jerusalem Academic Press, 1980]) mention numerous examples of vilification of Jews by ancient Greek and Latin authors of the first centuries of the Christian era. Juvenal, for example, disparages Jews as anti-social and accuses them of strange worship and of ‘beggarly manners’ (Satires 3.10–16, 296; 14.96–106). He claims that they would even stoop to magic and fortune-telling to make some money (Satires 6.542–47). Their customs, according to Tacitus, were deemed ‘base and abominable’ (Histories 5.1–13).

[30] Nicklas, ‘Epistula ad Diognetum’, 494.

[31] Author’s translation. The mention of race is not unique to Diognetus. See also, Aristides, The Preaching of Peter, or Justin’s Dialogue. For further discussion: Lieu, Image and Reality, 239–68; Lieu, Christian Identity in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 239–68.

[32] Marrou, A Diognète, 131. Author’s translation of ‘avec vigueur … les Chrétiens ne sont pas un “people”, une race d’hommes particulière, comme étaient par exemple les Juifs’.

[33] Denise Kimber Buell, Why This New Race: Ethnic Reasoning in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 32.

[34] Dennis Kimber Buell explains that, in the Greco-Roman world of that period, race did not denote mere ethnicity and it was often expressed through religion. As such, race was not immutable. Christianity could, thus, rightly be described as a ‘race’. See Buell, ‘Rethinking the Relevance of Race for Early Christian Self-Definition’, HTR 94 (2001), 449–76, as well as Why This New Race.

[35] Hans Conzelmann, Gentiles, Jews, Christians: Polemics and Apologetics in the Greco-Roman Era, trans. M. Eugene Boring (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 287.

[36] See David G. Horrell, ‘“Race”, “Nation”, “People”: Ethnic Identity-Construction in Peter 2.9’, NTS 58 (2012): 123–43. Many thanks to Brian J. Tabb for pointing me to this article, and for his other helpful suggestions; I also with to thank the anonymous reviewer for their valuable feedback.

[37] See, for example, the quoted portions from Celsus or Porphyry in Stern, Greek and Latin Authors: Volume 2 (e.g., 269, 277, 286–87 [Celsius], 432 [Porphyri]).

[38] Boyarin, Border Lines, 21.

[39] As Claudia Setzer suggests, ὡς ἀλλόφυλοι is best translated, not ‘as if [they were] foreigners’, but ‘as [the] foreigners [that they are]’. Diognetus ‘does not imply elsewhere that Christians really are not outsiders to Judaism and the Jews are mistaken in treating them so’ (Jewish Responses to Early Christians: History and Polemics, 30–150 C.E. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994), 214 n. 3, emphasis original). Interestingly, even such a first century Jewish writer as Josephus describes Christians as a φῦλον (Jewish Antiquities 18.64), i.e., as a tribe different from the Jews.

[40] Three examples will suffice. First, the Roman historian Tacitus (ca. 56–106 CE) distinguishes between Christians and Jews. He describes the Jews by saying that ‘as a race [gens], they are prone to lust…. They adopted circumcision to distinguish themselves from other peoples by this difference’ (Histories 5.5.2). Tacitus, thus, is aware of circumcision as a special mark of the Jews. Moreover, they are deemed a separate race and people. On the other hand, he deems the Christians a new “superstition” that, though born in Judea, had later spread to the capital of the world’s strongest empire, Rome (Annals 15:44.2–5). Second, the emperor Nero (ruled 54–68 CE) also considered Christians a different group from the Jews. He was able to exclude them from the Jews, identify them as the arsonists that had purportedly set fire to Rome, and execute them. As Stern notes, this constitutes ‘the earliest evidence of the treatment of the Christians as a group to be differentiated by the Roman government from the main body of the Jewish nation, thus requiring measures that would not include the Jews who remained outside the sphere of Christianity’ (Greek and Latin Authors, 2:91). Finally, Augustine (City of God 19.23) quotes the pagan philosopher Porphyry (c. 234–305 CE) as follows: ‘In these verses Apollo made manifest the incurable weakness of the Christian belief, saying that it is the Jews who uphold God better than the Christians’. Porphyry, then, distinguishes Christians from Jews, preferring the latter over the former.

[41] It must be noted that Dunn and Parkes, two PW proponents, have long acknowledged the complex nature of the Jew-Christian separation. For a fresh defence of PW in the wake of The Ways that Never Parted, see Shaye J. D. Cohen, ‘The Ways that Parted: Jews, Christians, and Jewish-Christians ca. 100–150 CE’, in Jews and Christians in the First and Second Centuries: The Interbellum 70‒132 CE, ed. Joshua J. Schwartz and Peter J. Tomson, CRINT 15 (Leiden, The Netherlands: BRILL, 2018.), 307–39. Most recently, Doosuk Kim (‘The Parting of the Way: A Survey of the Relationship between Jews and Christians in the First and Second Centuries CE’, Themelios 46 [2021]: 79–98) has presented a nuanced argument about the Parting of Ways as a gradual process that began in the first century and came into clearer view by the second century.

Florenc Mene

Florenc Mene is an author, translator, theological educator, and PhD candidate studying New Testament textual criticism at the University of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Other Articles in this Issue

1 Corinthians 5:1–13 serves as a key text when speaking about the topic of church discipline...

This article contrasts two books on missiology: Amos Yong’s Mission after Pentecost and T’ien Ju-K’ang’s Peaks of Faith...

This article surveys five narrative passages in which Canaanites hear of the works YHWH has done on Israel’s behalf and act according to what they have heard (Josh 2:10–11; 9:1–2; 9:3, 9; 10:1–2; 11:1)...