After the fall of Jerusalem in 70 the Pharisees became prominent in the reconstruction of Jewish society, and the form in which Jesus’ criticisms have come to be expressed in Matthew 23 evidently represents the sense of rivalry between Pharisees and Christian Jews about the need for precise observances of the Law. With the Temple destroyed the prescribed sacrifices could not be offered unless ‘sacrifice’ was redefined to include prayer and Bible study. There was a sad general conviction that true prophecies had come to an end (bSot. 48b and elsewhere). There might still be false prophets. The Christian notion that a second Moses could come to replace the original Torah was abhorrent to the conservative rabbis (Deut. Rabbah 8. 6). So Temple cultus was now to be succeeded by disciplined study of the Torah and of the oral tradition, which was hardly less respected as given on Sinai. The Sayings of Rabbi Nathan (4. 9b) declare that ‘the study of the Torah is dearer to God than burnt offerings’. Good works make as good an atonement as sacrifices. Justin in the second century reports that for at least some Jews the destruction of the Temple and the impossibility of sacrifices after Hadrian’s paganization of Jerusalem were accepted as a providential liberation for a religion of the spirit based on the study of the Torah and the traditions with synagogue prayers (Dial. 117. 2). In principle such Jews shared the judgement stated by Jesus (Mark 14: 58) that if the Temple were to be destroyed, satisfactory alternative arrangements could be made within a mere three days, a saying which, in combination with the cleansing of the Temple traders, provoked deep anger among the Temple authorities, becoming an occasion for trial and handing over to Pilate. Nevertheless, in a Judaism without sacrifices or pilgrimages to the holy city it would become difficult for a less strictly observant synagogue to be distinct from a Christian group, or to exclude secret believers in Jesus the Messiah (John 9: 22). The feeling of polarity is evident in Paul’s letter to the Christian Jews in Rome asking for their prayers that in his imminent visit to Jerusalem he may be delivered from ‘unbelievers’ (15: 31) who, at any rate temporarily, have become ‘God’s enemies’ (11: 28). The report in Suetonius of Jews in Rome rioting ‘at the instigation of Chrestus’ implies that anger was running high.
* Henry Chadwick,
The Church in Ancient Society: From Galilee to Gregory the Great
[Η Εκκλησία στην Αρχαία Κοινωνία: Από τη Γαλιλαία έως τον Γρηγόριο το Μέγα],
Oxford University Press, 2001,