What If Constantine Had Converted to Judaism Instead?

The following is a short piece I wrote tonight for a Jewish-Christian Relations seminar in response to Prof Marc Saperstein‘s question of what would have happened had Constantine converted to Judaism rather than Christianity in the 4th Century CE:

Prof Marc Saperstein’s question of how history might have been different had Constantine converted to Judaism rather than Christianity is freighted with an incalculable number of strands that if tugged at any one location might disassemble into a morass of muddy conjectures. However, what Saperstein taps into with this question is important to consider for properly understanding the history of Jewish-Christian relations as well as the present and future tenses of that relationship primarily because Saperstein advocates for an understanding of faith that allows for, and encourages, self-criticism on all fronts.

Saperstein’s conjecture has merit in terms of helping the contemporary audience seeking to better understand and reckon with Jewish-Christian relationship(s) for three major reasons that will be discussed below. First, as Christopher Leighton and Daniel Lehmann point out, “the coupling of religious conviction with political power has repeatedly generated noxious consequences, and no religious community can place itself beyond the temptations of zealotry.” Second, the interplay of competing religious traditions and convictions within a relatively close (or competing) community engenders the evolution of responses and internal narratives in order to both compete and exist. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the question put forth by Prof Saperstein frames the meta-narrative of Jewish-Christian relations within the lens of a needed recognition of the importance of culpability and dialogic conversation on the questions of theology, practice and history.

Leighton and Lehmann’s point that the connection of political power with religious zealotry has repeatedly given rise to less-than-desirable consequences is absolutely apt when considering what would have happened had Constantine converted to Judaism rather than Christianity. Given the current model of understanding the history of first century Judaism, the religion was undergoing a period of growth and consolidation that would cement core beliefs in such tenets as the primacy of the Torah, the importance of table fellowship and the establishment of the Rabbinical order. A similar trajectory would occur in Christianity, but it would take the adoption of Christianity by Constantine in order for the final cementing of Christian doctrine to occur at the Council of Nicea. Had Constantine chosen to adopt Judaism over Christianity, a similar formative event such as Nicea would have probably occurred within the Jewish community, giving rise to a set and organized number of orthodox principles ruling out alternative readings of the Torah, Midrash, Targum and tradition, including Christianity. Of course, this would have led to empire-sanctioned crack-downs and/or persecutions on competing religious practices invoking both the Israelite God (in the case of the Christian movement) as well as other “pagan” religions. Given that Judaism had a recognized place in the Roman Empire before the “parting of the ways” with the Jesus movement, it would not be a far reach to imagine that the Christian movement would have been quickly relegated to a cult status and perhaps gone the way of such movements as Mithraism.

The key question here is whether or not the Jesus movement, and eventually the Christian movement, had enough staying power and claim to a line of tradition in order to perservere in light of a systematic adaptation of Judaism, or whether Christianity would have been able to reconcile itself as a facet and subset of a wider Judaic movement within the Roman empire. This question is best answered when the topic of adaptation in light of either reform or adaptation of a movement due to outside influences. Leighton and Lehmann remark on the development of Jewish responses to the dominant Christian culture, and there is little doubt that the Christian movement would have had to undergo similar changes or either collapse under its own weight due in part to the revered antiquity of Judaism and the lack of the Christian movement’s antiquity within the religious world of the Roman Empire. So, unless the Christian movement would have been able to secure a line of tradition or line of theology that convincingly tied it to the antiquity of the Israelite religion, it would have been a very precocious situation for the Christian movement in a Jewish Roman Empire. This would be especially true given the writings of the Patristics such as Justin, Melito, Iranaeus or Epictetus. In other words, the friction which led to the creation of Christianity might have been its undoing had Constantine adopted Judaism rather than Christianity.

Lastly, Saperstein’s question invokes the need for both Christianity and Judaism to not only put away the violent and unproductive practice of ignoring each other in terms of respective practice and theology (respectively), and instead frames the essential need for both Judaism and Christianity, in their varied modern forms, to recognize and attempt to better understand the historicity of their symbiotic relationship. Had Constantine adopted Judaism rather than Christianity, this key point would not be any different, hence the point should be given utmost primacy when considering the current (and historical) state of Jewish-Christian relations. Had Constantine adopted Judaism, there still would have been a fledgling Christian, or Jesus, Movement that would have sought to bring about the reforms within Judaism which Jesus of Nazareth preached and taught. That movement would have certainly have had to react in accordance with empire adoption of Judaism. Similarly, practices such as keeping Kosher, circumcision and table fellowship so important to the Jewish faith (and hypothetically which would still be important and central even if Judaism had been adopted by Constantine) would have been reacted to and perhaps adopted by early Christians.

The final conclusion is that the historical speculation engendered by Saperstein’s question of Constantine’s adoption of Judaism should not be seen as so wildly hypothetical as to be discredited in light of the historical and present-day consequences. Instead, Saperstein’s point in raising the question should be acknowledged and discussed within the wider context of Jewish-Christian relations since the point of studying history is not to necessarily commune with the dead, but to understand from their example and commune better with the living.


Christopher Leighton and Daniel Lehmann, “Jewish-Christian Relations in Historical Perspective” in Irreconcilable Differences?, eds. David F. Sandmel, Rosann M. Catalano, Christopher M. Leighton (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2001) 25.

Research Day

Going back to school does have its benefits… you can completely geek out and surround yourself with out of print books and arcane ideas all in the name of pursuing knowledge:

Today, I’m writing a paper on Dura Europos and its overlooked place in the (I argue non-historical) Parting of the Ways model that describes early Christianity and Judaism.


I’ll post it when it’s polished.

Oh, and I’m going to be applying to PhD programs this coming week in anticipation of starting on that work full time next Fall. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

Research Day on TwitPic

Leveraging Social Media Presentation Feedback

My presentation at Affiliate Summit East earlier this month in Boston had pretty good reviews. Thanks so much to Missy Ward, Shawn Collins and Amy Rodriguez!

Here’s the presentation:

And here are the reviews:

Sunday – Leveraging Social Media

Sam Harrelson, Publisher, CostPerNews

Well done! Learned a great deal!!!!!!

Sam provides great insight and experience on many social media options.

Good session for beginners who don’t know social media sites. I was looking for something at a more advanced level.

Awesome presentation, very informative.

1. No handouts, why not? Outline, urls, etc…
2. No twitter “how to” examples for affiliates. Coupon, theme, personal vs. website, vehicle examples; insurance, loans, games.

Speaker was very knowledgeable but room configuration (large pole in the middle) made the session a little less desirable.

It’s warm in the room. Clearly not enough seats. Need to get more chairs in the room. Speaker talked too vague in terms, seemed to jump around a little hard to follow. Clearly speaker is very knowledgeable. But I didn’t really walk away with any specific concepts, points.

Could have been about 30 min longer to go into more detail

Sam did a great presentation on social media. Learned a lot of good strategies to leverage these tactics in the right way as a marketer.

Great overview of tools, would like more practical examples.

I have not used the social networking channel yet and was unsure how I could. The session provided a better understanding, such as twitter search and trwhil.

Spent too long on one subject. Did emphasize values of twitter-like tools. Entertaining and engaging powerpoint presentation.

Interesting, Sam presents well. However as Sam wrapped up, it was really a presentation on technologies in the social media space.

Very informative! Really enjoyed and got some great ideas and input.

Very good session, he knows what’s happening in terms of new web applications.

Very interesting. Would be interesting to see demos of each social site. I like his encouragement for interaction and questions.


Great show. Thanks for bringing in seats.

Nice coverage of social media websites, there is a twitter love is you! Wish you had talked about social shopping sites like stylefeeder.com that have built apps on facebook to grow business.

More examples would have been helpful (of how to actually use the apps for Marketing), but good overall nonetheless.

For a general overview, I think there could have been more of a well rounded view of tools. Sound was low in the beginning so hard to hear – but all in all – pretty good, great topic.

Good overview of new/up and coming social companies/tools. Would have liked to hear/learn more on how affiliates/merchants could leverage and integrate otherwise extremely helpful.


Stats at beginning were boring. Examples not well thought out. Too much time spent on twitter. Not enough examples how merchants or affiliates are using these services successfully. Geared towards how to use for self. *good example is jetblue

The content did not deliver on the description for the session. It was really a “what is twitter” session than a “How to leverage”

Great info didn’t talk into mic enough, could barely hear him at back of room so missed lots of details. Fast paced. Good stuff what I could hear – whew! 

———————————————————————————————————————-Interesting! The guys works best with Q and A.

Very thorough. In spite of twitter preference, still managed to fit a lot of information about many social networks in a short time frame. Also added lots of good tertiary information about each network, such as desktop clients.

Great information, good direction to not waste time, reasons for implementation, great marketing strategy

Excellent presentation and content.

Excellent presentation, good info, engaging speaker, very accessible.

Good session. Very knowledgeable about social media. Would have liked to see one real example of how social media has been used to support affiliate marketing programs.

Information was helpful but not for mass marketing.

Insightful with good focus and recommendations about social media. A lot of ideas to consider.

Good introduction to “What’s Hot” in social networking. Some good tools that aggregate the content.

Lots of interesting information.

Some good information, had to fight sleep though. I came away feeling I learned something but wasn’t fully sure what that was. Hope I can quantity when I get the powerpoint later or look at the video later.


I had fun and learned some things myself during the presentation. Glad to see a couple of others did as well.

Real Time

I’ve been having conversations with folks about why Identi.ca (or Laconica, the mothership code base of which Identi.ca is the flagship derivation, but there are many possibilities available such as Leo Laporte’s TWiT Army) matters so much for the present and future and why Twitter has failed to keep the great commission by hampering its real time flow (made possible via XMPP) in hopes of monetizing it with partners such as Zappos.

The question here is what use is a service such as Twitter if the ability to Track keywords in real time is not an option. To some of us who used Twitter primarily for this function for months and months, Twitter’s plug-pulling action was a punch in the face. Suddenly, we had to rely on RSS, Summize or API clients such as Twhirl.

But the power of Twitter is not, and has never been, about latent searches, API calls or RSS deliveries to find relevant information. What makes (made) Twitter so revolutionary is the real time experience.

While those means of parsing data are sufficient for some, those means are 3 steps back in the general evolution of the web that Twitter had started to spur. Just as more and more users were being converted to the power of Track via IM, Twitter closed off the firehose and took the goose that will lay its golden monetization egg back into the royal stable, away from us peasants, forcing us to glean the fields at night after the nobles had finished their harvesting for the day.

Real time matters. And that is why Identi.ca matters. Identi.ca recognizes the power of real time and with its federated sense of micro-blogging and its wise reliance on developers for Track, Identi.ca has the foundations in place to provide the type of experience that will transform the web and relegate the Twitter silo to CompuServe status.

Here are a few great pieces I’ve come across that reverberate this growing awareness (and demand) for real time trackable services to fill the gap that Twitter created…

Joe Magennis nails it with this piece on Identi.ca and community building. I particularly enjoyed his reminder that the current Twitter/Identi.ca microblogging environment looks a lot like email in the early days when a CompuServe subscriber couldn’t email a Prodigy member because of data silos:

What’s a real world example?

Right now I am in the process of working with a client who is opening a motorcycle service shop. The owners are interested in developing a strong base of local riders who trust them to perform superior service on their equipment. The owners are also very involved in advancing a local riding chapter that organizes events, hosts charity rides and in essence builds a community with the repair shop as the center …

I see micro-blogging as a way for the entire group to communicate about upcoming rides, as a way to follow riders who might be taking a long cross country trip, or simply to connect when the weather turns against getting together for a day on the open road.

Here’s a though provoking piece from Echovar:

As we deepen the questions about the real time web, we uncover the startling fact that underneath all the layers of technology and specialized lingo, we find only ourselves. Human beings, mortals, gathering together to share our joys and sorrows, our dreams and aspirations, our humanity. As we pound out, hammer and tongs, the basic shape of our experience through the real time Network, we would do well to heed the words of that guy who said, “what if all this stuff really matters?

Karoli makes the epistemological connection between the power of real time and the more political “fierce urgency of now” movement that Obama supporters mind find familiar:

In a time where young men and women are dying alongside tens of thousands from the country we occupy without invitation, when everyone is suffering from foreclosures and four-dollar a gallon gas, in a time where our standing in the world is in grave danger and we’ve lost all moral authority to conduct ourselves with diplomacy and dignity, all that is urgent is NOW. And inside now, change.

And finally Amyloo gives a practical example of how and why real time matters to fans, businesses and the wider social web:

Weezer outrage. Last night I noticed a Weezer song used in a Beaches resort commercial. I wondered if other fans were reacting in the same negative way I do when a song I like has been cashed out. They were. Check out the Twitter search compared with the blog search. No comparison. You’d have to spend 100 times longer on the blog search to open each post and see if it’s relevant, while the Twitter results page tells you the answer in a glance, a few seconds.

I’ll leave it to your own imagination to connect the dots and see how it might be to a company’s advantage to use this resource, especially a consumer-facing company.

Search is valuable, but track, the lightning-quick realtime stream via IM and XMPP, is gold. Steve Gillmor has to be right; that has to be why Twitter has clammed up and blocked it off. I guess the only answer is to drill offshore, or threaten it.

People using Twitter (or people interested in why other people use Twitter) need to see past the initial surface rendering of the service as a social network. The real power of Twitter is/was its real time facility. The implications for business, social, political, religious, etc are astounding.

Yet, there is very little recognition among the wider base of users as to what they are missing. Look at the cave walls around you… those are not real beings… they are shadows being projected from a much brighter and much more real time world outside the Twitter cave.

Bible 2.0

Twelve (?!?!) years ago in 1996, I bought the first edition of the Harper Collins Study Bible (NRSV of course) for a summer school session of Old Testament 101. Back then, I was a self-assured Chemistry / Computer Science freshman double major at Wofford College and decided to take summer school to get a couple of required classes “out of the way.”

One of those classes was Prof John Bullard’s Old Testament class. Prof Bullard is/was a legendary “old school” prof who had a very straightforward method of interpretation and teaching. To my ears, hearing him dissect and then re-assemble Genesis 1 was the most astonishing thing I’ve ever heard. Within the first five minutes of class, something had sneaked up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder… my life had changed. I switched my major to Religion that first day of summer school.

So, I have a great deal of love and reverence for that study Bible. I’ve lugged it around with me to classes at Wofford, Yale, South Carolina and now Gardner-Webb for over a decade and it is definitely showing its wear:

The entire thing is delicately held together by super glue and duct tape that has been applied and re-applied over the years.

The inside doesn’t look much better because I like to write marginalia (the original “user generated content”) as I take notes in my studies. Here’s Romans 7:

There are parts that I’ve studied heavily where you can barely read the text because of the marginalia. Thousands of years from now, my notes on Galatians will be a goldmine to some poor text critic studying early 21st century Biblical interpretation:

All that being said, I’m going to start this next period of my academic career with the newly published revised edition of the Harper Collins. This isn’t an easy decision since I have so much invested in the browning pages of the first edition, but I think it’ll be neat to have notes from my initial years of study and then have a source of notes for my more professional studies as I pursue the PhD.

One of my Prof’s from my time at Yale, Prof Harold Attridge, is the General Editor of the revised edition (Prof Wayne Meeks was the Editor for the first edition), so there’s a little connection for me there. Plus, Yale Professors John J Collins and Adela Y Collins (John was my advisor at Yale) submitted pieces for certain books. The notes and maps are revised along with some stylistic and formatting points.

I’ve been poking through the new textual notes which appear below the actual Biblical texts, and so far I’m impressed. With the old version, I was frequently frustrated with some of the things that were included (and not included) in these notes since it is incredibly easy to warp a beginner student’s mind with just one slip or one assumption. These notes, for the most part, seem more comprehensive.

Here’s Genesis 1:

So, we’ll see how it goes. I’ve got so many random notes, memories and ideas wrapped into the old Harper Collins, but I look forward to a new slate on which to project my marginalia love.

I’ll give updates as they come…


Today is my last day of being a 20-something year old.

It’s one of those big days that we in the cultures of the West like to put great emphasis upon. You spend your 20’s figuring out who you are, exploring ideas, being idealistic. Then, you transition into a real adult focused on career, family, mortgages, etc in your 30’s.

I’m not sure if that’s supposed to happen in one day or over the course of the 30th year, but I’m working on it. Having a child is a big wake up call in terms of personhood, the awareness of mortality and the need for responsibility (etc).

However, turning 30 still scares the hell out of me because I don’t want to loose my idealism which is tied so close to my own identity.

When I was 10 or 12 (maybe 11?), my best friend and I would make out these “life plans” that detailed our futures, careers, wives, etc. Mine went something along the line of going to Clemson then playing catcher for the Chicago Cubs for a while, retiring around 42, becoming mayor of Chicago then Senator and eventually running for President. It was a good plan until I blew out my knees playing catcher in high school and had to take up golf. Plus, I never made that move to Chicago.

When I was 26, I was convinced I would spend the rest of my life as an 8th grade science teacher. I was so happy with that.

Somewhere along junior or senior year of high school I realized I was going to suck as a business person and needed to find a career where I could be paid to think or do something harmless like teach. I’m still working on that plan now that I’m back at Gardner-Webb finishing up my Masters of Divinity and hopefully heading to PhD work soon enough.

When I was 24, I used a map on a trip for the first time. Don’t get me wrong… I traveled a great deal by road (and by myself) before that, but I had always just felt my way around since I have a pretty keen sense of geography. I would just sail into a big city and figure out where a concert hall or ballpark was located without much thought. But on this trip, something changed. I lost a little bit of myself on that trip.

When I was 15, I gave my first real sermon at my small country church in Mullins, SC on Youth Sunday. My topic was about the silence of the Gospels in respect to Jesus’ youth. There are the birth and infancy stories of Jesus and then we skip to Jesus as an adult with very little in-between.

As a kid with too much righteous indignation and not enough temperance, I was often frustrated with the church in terms of how the “youths” were handled and took that to the pulpit that Sunday with pictures of people we teens were turning to (at the time it was Kurt Cobain for me) and how the church was missing the (fishing) boat. I hope I never forget that sermon wherever my career path carves.

I discovered Dura Europos when I was 22. My life hasn’t been the same since.

Jesus re-emerges as an adult at age 30 after evidently spending his youth and 20’s “finding himself” and working. Even with years of Biblical scholarship, it still puzzles me as to what exactly Jesus was doing in his 20’s. Was he conflicted? Scared? Waiting for 30 to get into the game? Why did he wait? Why not give sermons on the mounts when he was 21 or 25? I always found great solace in the fact that the Gospels tell us Jesus waited until he was 30 to start taking “this stuff” more seriously.

Problem is, I’ve only got a few more hours before that solace evaporates and I have to go to Canaa.