Is Christianity an extension of Judaism? Historically, Christians and Jews share many values, read the Old Testament texts, and have similar liturgical practices such as Scripture readings, recitation of the Psalms, creeds, sermons, feasts and fasts, etc. However, Christians and Jews do not agree on the substance of Abraham's faith whereby he was justified (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6, and James 2:23).
Judaism emerged long after the time of Abraham. We trace its development through post-exilic texts and through history, especially the Persian Period. The biblical narrative begins with Cyrus II of Persia who reigned from 559-530 BC.
The Book of Ezra continues where 2 Chronicles ends with Cyrus's proclamation permitting residents of his empire who were deported from Judah to return their ancestral home. The proclamation was not limited to people of Judah. Cyrus encouraged many peoples to establish their own temples in their indigenous lands. Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in 458 BC, so he was among the earlier immigrants. At that time Judah (Yehud) was a province of the Persian Empire and the appointed governor was Sheshbazzar.
Cyrus assumed control of Syria-Palestine when Babylon fell. He replaced some key officials with his own men, and Sheshbazzar was one of his appointees who enforced the policies of Cyrus. That meant aiding in the rebuilding of the Temple. During the reign of Cambyses (530-522 BC) Zerubbabel was appointed governor of Judah and the rebuilding of the Temple continued until it was finally completed during the reign of Darius I (522-486 BC). The Second Temple was dedicated in 516 BC.
During the reign of Xerxes I (486-465 BC) there was a concentrated effort to finish rebuilding the wall and Nehemiah was sent to assist with this project in 445 BC. Nehemiah became the governor of Judah and served under both Artaxerxes I and Darius II (423-405).
The Persian political influence on the returnees (who we can now refer to as “Jews”) was strong. However, they worked to establish an identity that rested on the authority of Moses as the Lawgiver. Ezra and Nehemiah insist that their innovations are applications of Mosaic Torah. They helped the Second Temple community develop as sense of being the fulfillment of the Land promised to Abraham and his descendants. This is the foundation of the religion of Judaism.
Judaism is the elaboration of rabbinic thought over 2500 years, and though it claims Abraham as its founder, Abraham was not a Jew. He was Horite Hebrew and the Horite Hebrew believed in God Father and God Son. Clearly, Judaism is not the religion of Abraham.
Prominent Jews readily admit that Abraham's Hebrew faith and Judaism are not the same. Rabbi Stephen F. Wise, former Chief Rabbi of the United States, wrote: "The return from Babylon and the introduction of the Babylonian Talmud mark the end of Hebrewism and the beginning of Judaism. This break came around 500 BC, at least 1500 years after Abraham.
For Jews, the greatest authority is the Talmud, as SUNY professor, Robert Goldberg explains: “The traditional Jew studies Talmud because it communicates ultimate truth—truth about God, truth about the world, and most important, truth about how God wants the holy community of Israel to live.”
The Rabbis are trained in argumentation and the Talmud is a record of their disputations. One drawback is the tendency of the rabbis to debate minutiae and esoteric matters. Over time the Talmud came to be of greater authority than the Hebrew Scriptures. The Talmud encourages this. Consider this exhortation: “My son, be more careful in the observance of the words of the Scribes than in the words of the Torah." (Talmud Erubin 21b), and this: "My son, give heed to the words of the scribes rather than to the words of the law." This also, "He who transgresses the words of the Scribes sins more gravely than the transgressors of the words of the Law." (Sanhedrin X, 3 f.88b)
Related readings: The Substance of Abraham's Faith; Abraham's Faith Lives in Christianity; Trinitarian Correspondences Between the Nile and Mesopotamia; Christianity is the One True Messianic Faith