The Christian Church emerged from Judaism slowly, over the course of decades.
At the earliest moment we are able to distinguish Christians from Jews, Christians had already laid the foundation and were building their “New Jerusalem” on a shifting system of syncretic beliefs.
The term syncretism is controversial among Christian Scholars, and believers.
I do not use the term syncretism lightly.
It is a term ripe with negative connotations among Christians scholars, and the studied faithful. It connotes, compromise, impurity, heresy.
It is still the mission of Christian apologists, even in the 21st century, to insist that in the Christian witness, the “New Testament,” the writings of the Apostles, and of the apostolic age, something fundamentally new, distinct, and unique was being communicated to the world.
There were some among the people I studied with who would even deny that the teachings of the Church grew out of the historical Judaism. Rather than accept the historical correlates between Christian and Jewish traditions after the common era, they insisted that the “Holy Spirit” gave the Church a new, complete, and perfect systems of belief, with no antecedent in the cultural repository of the Hebrew people, and that any similarities a person might think that they are be able to discern between the two traditions are merely coincidental.
For these scholars, the revelation of Christianity to the world is a divine dispensation. It does not emerge from the Jewish tradition, but corrects it.
For instance, even at the time of Christ the Jewish people had a ritual of “purification by water” for those seeking to convert to the Jewish faith, but these Christian apologists would insist that such rituals bore no relationship whatsoever to the baptism offered by John, in the river Jordan, or the later traditions of baptism practiced among the first generation of Apostles.
They would suggest that the Jewish ritual of water purification merely foreshadowed the dispensation of the Sacrament of Baptism. They would suggest that the Sacrament of Baptism did not emerge from the Jewish ritual, but that the Jewish ritual anticipated the coming dispensation.
While it is true that these traditions were significantly different in practice, the basic premise, that water is a vehicle for ritual purification is at the core of each. Furthermore, the Jewish ritual was a prominent feature of spiritual praxis among the sect of Jews known as the Essenes, who lived in a proto-monastic community, in the desert at Qumran, a community which is strongly identified with both John the Baptist, and Jesus of Nazareth.
It requires a profound act of denial, has always required a profound ability to deny reality, to overlook these facts, and claim that despite these facts the Church in its use of baptism brought something new to the world, a brand-new creation, a-historical and perfect.
Christian apologists in any age might believe that this is a qualitatively more “faithful” position to take.
They are wrong.
It is not.
Faith in the witness of the Church can never be predicated on lies, irrationality, or absurdities.