Luke, the Jews, and the Politics of Early Christian Identity

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This dissertation explores the nature of early Christian identity in relation to non-Christian Jewish alterity as these are portrayed in the Gospel of Luke. Recent study of the relationships among Jews and Christians in the first centuries of the Common Era has been marked by an increasing awareness of the substantial overlap that existed between what would emerge only later as clearly delineated “Jewish” and “Christian” identities. The study of the so-called “parting of the ways” between Jews and Christians has thus opened up new avenues for inquiry into questions that were once thought, at least by New Testament scholars, to be settled by paradigms that are now roundly judged to be unsatisfactory. However, these developments in the study of early Jewish/Christian relations have not yet prompted an adequate reinvestigation of the place of the Lukan writings within the conflicts and convergences of early Jewish and early Christian life. This dissertation therefore examines Luke’s Gospel as both a theological text and an historical artifact in the light of the question of how early Christian identity was conceived in relation to early Christian conceptualizations of Jewish identity. It seeks to explain the theology of Israel exhibited in the Lukan narrative and to situate this theological narrative within its historical setting in a manner that sheds light on both the author’s mode of explicating religious identity and alterity and the otherwise shadowy history of earliest Jewish/Christian relations.

Methodologically, this study utilizes standard tools of biblical criticism, including historical and literary approaches. Source-critical and redaction-critical analyses are combined with historical-critical reflection on early Christianity, early Jewish/Christian relations, and the gospel tradition in order to evaluate the socio-rhetorical nature of Luke’s presentation of Christian and non-Christian Jewish identities. Through this exegetical analysis, I argue that the orientation toward non-Christian Jewish others in Gospel of Luke (along with the Acts of the Apostles, which is treated in connection with Luke’s gospel throughout) is not adequately described by standard theories of identity construction in early Christianity, in which Christian identity is said to have taken shape historically as the church distanced itself socially from non-Christian Jews and formulated its self-understanding in contradistinction to its constructed image of a denigrated non-Christian Jewish alterity. Against this model, I argue that Luke’s theological presentation of Christian and non-Christian Jewish identities exhibits a consistent parallelism in Luke’s call to the church and to those outside its community to repent and gather with Jesus in the face of coming judgment. I argue further that this rhetorical characteristic of Luke’s gospel is best accounted for by positing a social context in which the evangelist lived in close proximity to both the Christian church, which he called to greater faithfulness, and to non-Christian Jews, whom he called to repent and sought to persuade to accept his vision of the fulfillment of hopes of Israel in Jesus of Nazareth.






Smith, David (2018). Luke, the Jews, and the Politics of Early Christian Identity. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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