The switch in the perception of Jesus from charismatic prophet to superhuman being coincided with a geographical and religious change, when the Christian preaching of the Gospel moved from the Galilean-Judaean Jewish culture to the pagan surroundings of the Graeco-Roman world. At the same time, under the influence of Paul's organising genius, the church acquired a hierarchical structure governed by bishops with the assistance of presbyters and deacons. The disappearance of the Jewish input opened the way to a galloping "gentilisation" and consequent de-judaisation and anti-judaisation of nascent Christianity, as may be detected from a glance at the Epistle of Barnabas.
This letter — falsely attributed to Barnabas, the companion of Paul — is the work of a Gentile-Christian author, probably from Alexandria. It was most likely written in the 120s CE and almost made its way into the sacred books. It is included in the oldest New Testament codex, the fourth-century Sinaiticus, but was finally declared non-canonical by the church. A reference to the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem definitely dates it after 70 CE, but the absence of any allusion to the second Jewish war against Rome suggests that the epistle was written before 135 CE. It is a hybrid work, in which moral instructions (Barn. 18-21) based on a Jewish tractate on the way of light and the way of darkness, attested to also in the Didache 1-5, and ultimately in the first-century BCE Community Rule among the Dead Sea Scrolls, is preceded by a lengthy anti-Jewish diatribe (Barn. 1-17). The author depicts two quarrelling parties designated simply as "we" and "they", the first representing the Christians and the second the Jews, and the dispute is founded on the Greek Old Testament, which both factions consider their own property.
The aim of Barnabas is to instruct his readers in "perfect knowledge" (gnosis) by revealing to them the true meaning of the essential biblical notions of Covenant, Temple, sacrifice, circumcision, Sabbath, and food laws. He insists that the Jews are mistaken in taking the institutions and precepts of the Old Testament in the literal sense; they are to be interpreted allegorically in conformity with the exegesis in vogue in Alexandria. In fact, the laws of Moses have been spiritualised in the new law revealed by Jesus (Barn. 2.5). Sacrifice should not amount to cultic slaughter, but demand a broken heart, nor is forgiveness of sin obtained through the killing of animals, but through the mystical sprinkling of the blood of Christ (Barn. 5. 1-6). The ideas of Paul, ignored by the author of the Didache, are in the forefront of Barnabas's thought. According to him, those endowed with gnosis know that the grace of the true circumcision of the heart is dispensed, not by the mutilation of the flesh, but by means of the cross of Jesus (Barn. 9. 3-7).
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