The Split of Early Christianity and Judaism

Northern Renaissance painting illustrates a great parting of the ways

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in 2014.—Ed.


Robert Campin’s Marriage of the Virgin dramatically captures the split of early Christianity and Judaism. Scala/Art Resource, NY.

Christianity and Judaism, two of the world’s major religions, shared the same foundation—ancient Judaism. The two religions, however, eventually split in a series of partings, becoming two separate entities.

There is one painting that dramatically illustrates the split of early Christianity and Judaism: Robert Campin’s Marriage of the Virgin. In his article “Parsing ‘The Parting’ Painting,” which appears in the July/August 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Theodore Feder examines the telltale symbols present throughout the Northern Renaissance painting. As Feder explains, “It is the one—and only—painting in the entire history of art that fully delineates the actual physical parting of the ways between the Church and Synagogue.”

In the free eBook Paul: Jewish Law and Early Christianity, learn about the cultural contexts for the theology of Paul and how Jewish traditions and law extended into early Christianity through Paul’s dual roles as a Christian missionary and a Pharisee.

Campin, also known as the Master of Flémalle, painted the Marriage of the Virgin around 1420. The painting depicts the marriage of Mary and Joseph. They are being married in front of the portal of the Church, constructed in the Gothic style. The Church is built around a preexisting building, the Jerusalem Temple, which is constructed in the Romanesque style. Feder explains this significance: “The painting in question purports to show how the physical edifice of the Church literally encompassed the physical edifice of the Synagogue while sharing its foundations … Throughout there is an unusual recognition of the debt Christianity owes to Judaism, even if its posture is one of supersession.”

While the two religions are still one in the painting, the scene shows the nascence of Christianity and foreshadows the split of early Christianity and Judaism.

To learn more about the different symbols alluding to the gradual split of early Christianity and Judaism in Robert Campin’s Marriage of the Virgin, read “Parsing ‘The Parting’ Painting” by Theodore Feder in the July/August 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.


BAS Library Members: Read the full article “Parsing ‘The Parting’ Painting” by Theodore Feder in the July/August 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on July 18, 2014.


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The Archaeological Quest for the Earliest Christians: Part 1 and Part 2 by Douglas Boin

Now available in the BAS Store: Partings—How Judaism and Christianity Became Two. Never before has this multi-faceted process been documented so engagingly and so authoritatively by so many eminent scholars. Read more >>


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  1. Hilary says

    Well, as a Jew living in Europe I’d say this has a lot more to do with the history of architecture than the splitting of early Christianity away from Judaism. It is a simple fact that Europe has many beautiful churches which were initially romanesque and then had extensions and alterations built onto them in the later gothic style. A porch is quite a typical feature to be added on later.

    Unless there is _documentary_ evidence for symbolism being claimed here, I’d say it’s hogwash. Camplin simply based his painting on the sort of church architecture he saw around him. Possibly a specific church, which may no longer survive, or possibly just a generalised typical one.

  2. Lawrence says

    It’s too bad the split between the Jews and the Christians didn’t take it’s full effect in the most meaningful way. Unfortunately the church never seemed to get a great sense of being a part of a different covenant instead of an extension of Judaism. The Epistle of James proves that the church never realized it’s full identity as a whole, thanks to the natural tendency of sin to encourage sinners to fall into a religion of legalism. Church history clearly shows Christianity falling into the trap of offending both covenants; Christ’s and the Law, by mixing the two as did James, the so called “Lord’s brother”.

  3. Armand says

    Ouch! Tough crowd! The part the artist fails to illustrate is the earliest form of “Christianity” namely, a ‘newer’ version of Judaism. Christ was a Jew that practiced Judaism, preached it, and never believed anything else but “the law.” “Christianity” – as it later became; i.e., a religion based on the belief that Jesus was himself God, which, of course, he never proclaimed. I guess we can all thank Paul who never met Jesus, never knew him, doesn’t seem to know much about him, his life, birth, or, especially, Jesus’ self concept, i.e.; as an apocalyptic preacher of orthodox Judaism. (Verily I say that this generation will not pass before all these things come to pass.)

  4. Miroslava says

    What silly comments. Please do your proper research on the history of Judaism and Christianity and theology of St. Paul before posting prejudiced and ignorant thoughts.

  5. Elena says

    Armand — every time Jesus says, “I am…” in the Gospel of John, He is saying that He’s the same as the God called “I am” of the Hebrew Scriptures.

    Every time He accepts worship fm those around Him in the synoptics, He is affirming that He is worship worthy — He is God in the flesh.

  6. Kurt says

    Myth Versus Fact—The Truth About Jesus
    BELIEF: Jesus was an only child.
    That Jesus had siblings is clearly indicated in the Gospels. Luke’s Gospel refers to Jesus as Mary’s “firstborn,” implying that she later bore other children.* (Luke 2:7) Mark’s Gospel reports that some in the city of Nazareth equated Jesus with his siblings, regarding him as nothing special. They asked: “Aren’t James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon his brothers? Don’t his sisters still live here in our town?”—Mark 6:3, Contemporary English Version; Matthew 12:46; John 7:5.
    Despite what the Gospels say, many theologians maintain that Jesus was an only child. Some suggest that the brothers and sisters in question were actually Jesus’ cousins.* Others speculate that these siblings were Mary’s stepchildren. But consider: If Jesus were Mary’s only child, would those Nazarenes have said what they did? On the contrary, some of them likely witnessed Mary’s pregnancies with their own eyes. They knew firsthand that Jesus was one of many children born to Mary.

  7. Marilyn says

    Doesn’t the Bible say throughout the different books and readings say, “the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost”? As I understand after going to Bible studies, the Bible shows that they are all one in the same. I am by no means a scholar, but by reading and studying scripture Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is Jesus, After that being said, I would think they are all the same person.

  8. Kurt says

    Dear Marilyn
    The Trinity is not a teaching of Jesus or of the early Christians. As noted previously, it is “a teaching of the church.” In its 1999 issue on the Trinity, The Living Pulpit observed: “Sometimes, it seems that everyone assumes that the doctrine of the trinity is standard Christian theological fare,” but it added that it is not “a biblical idea.”
    The New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) discusses the Trinity at length and admits: “The Trinitarian dogma is in the last analysis a late 4th-century invention. . . . The formulation ‘one God in three Persons’ was not solidly established, certainly not fully assimilated into Christian life and its profession of faith, prior to the end of the 4th century.”
    Martin Werner, as professor at the University of Bern, Switzerland, observed: “Wherever in the New Testament the relationship of Jesus to God, the Father, is brought into consideration, whether with reference to his appearance as a man or to his Messianic status, it is conceived of and represented categorically as subordination.” Clearly, what Jesus and the early Christians believed is far different from the Trinity teaching of churches today. From where, then, did this teaching come?
    read more:

  9. LEONARD says

    Dear Marilyn and Kurt
    The second Nicene Creed (481 AD) is the basis for the Christian Triune God concept (one God three persons).
    The first Nicene Creed (325 AD) is the basis for Binatarian Christianity (one God two persons i.e. the Father and the Son).
    The New Testament describes the Father as the Christian One God. Jesus is separately described as the Great God. The first Christians were Unitarian Christians i.e. the Father is one God and one person, as in “Hear oh Israel, thy God is one.”

  10. JOHN says

    Stop all this squabbling: would Joshua (Jesus) say, “Spend time discussing my nature” or would he say, “Love each other” & say “Love Thy Neighbour As Thyself”, as Hillel said, the Golden Rule of Judaism, & help the 2bn+ people today who do not have enough to eat or to drink or a decent place to live. DO THAT & all becomes clear

  11. Chad says

    Trinity is taught clearly in the Tanakh, I refer you to “One God or Three?” Stanley Rosenthal 1978.
    I found one link to it
    Sorry,not loanong out my copy :-)

  12. Kurt says

    Examining the Trinity
    This website examines the unscriptural and pagan history of the Trinity Doctrine – often through the admissions from Trinitarian’s own sources. This site also provides comprehensive research that exposes the false reasoning behind almost every Trinity ‘proof-text’. Subjects can be found through the Indexes, Links or the Search Box below.

  13. Hilary says

    I’d add, that when you look at a close-up of the image, the details of the porch – the supposedly Christian bit – show deeply Jewish imagery. This is about archtectural history, not religious symbolism.

    Clicking on the image from this link lets you zoom in:

  14. Mario says

    If any issues that concern the theological aspect of such view always take into account the role of the Church. Such relativity could give sound and balance assessment. The gospel refer the Church-as the pillar and bulwark of the truth….having personal point of view is quite fair but we need to expound it in light of the magisterial as the preserver of such divine office…not to much one side but likewise take heed his word: Lean not on your understanding but trusting in me…

  15. Kathy says

    Read the Book of Acts.

  16. Alvaro says

    this articles tries to bring to the table a thought about the division of jews and gentile believers and all it seemed to have brought up is a silly discussion on technicality on whether there is one God two Gods three Gods, unitarians trinitarians, birth of Catholicism etc. still there is no true comments on the “division” of the church from Jew born believers and gentile born believers.
    Ephesians 2:12-13 comes to mind
    12 that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ
    (Ephesians 2:12-13 NKJV)

    basic fact is if you base your beliefs in new testament doctrine then in result you cannot deny that you are now part of the commonwealth of Israel or in other words an Israeli, a jew, etc. the bible never draws a line of separation but instead says whomever accepts and beliefs is now part of what is already in existence.

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