When discussing the topic of how Jews in history have viewed Christians it is crucial to also look at the geopolitical context in which we ask the question.

The earliest Christians - including Paul, or Saul as he was originally known - were mistrusted by Jews. It must be remembered that although the Romans ruled the empire in which almost all Jews lived, in particular in the Land of Israel, the Jews constituted the religious majority. The Temple still stood - albeit that by Jesus’ time its days were numbered - and they still wielded considerable power.

It may seem obvious, but the figure of Jesus was an important marker in how Jews viewed Christians. It is also important to note that Jesus was not a Christian, but his teachings form the basis of the religion. For Jews, then as now, rejected the idea that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. This feature is one of the main departures between Judaism and Christianity, and one that has been apparent from the start. These Jews kept Jewish law, including circumcision, the prohibition of work on the Sabbath and Judaism’s strict dietary restrictions.

Take Paul the Apostle for example, a man who was originally implacably opposed to the first Christians and had been one of their persecutors. He was on one such mission to Damascus when he experienced a conversion experience that changed his life, turning him into Christianity’s first and greatest theologian. Over time, as Christianity developed and its adherents were given permission to relinquish such a strong grasp on Judaism’s strictures, it no longer became a matter of law but of faith.

We also need to add more historical context to the contest among Jews, not just between Judaism and the earliest Christians. In the first century CE, Jewry had to contend with the sometimes harsh and arbitrary Roman rule, and its own adherents were divided into three competing, though not equal groups: Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes.

Jews, who had and have such reverence for the three patriarchs - in particular Abraham, the father of monotheism - viewed Pauline theology as an attempt to subvert the “natural” order. God’s covenant was made with Abraham and his descendants. This did not mean that people of other religions or none could not share in redemption. It did mean, however, that Jews felt as though Christianity was attempting to usurp its identity - which was ultimately very threatening.

The relationship between Jews and Christians changed beyond recognition with Christianity’s growing acceptance under Emperor Constantine the 4th century CE. So much so that in an astonishing revolution - considering that its adherents had been persecuted and purged - Christianity became the Roman Empire’s official religion. Jews had not been in control of their own destiny anywhere for centuries already, but Christianity’s strident ascendency would set in motion almost two millennia of difficult and complicated relationship with Jews and Judaism. Sometimes Jews were tolerated and left to their own devices. However, at other times blood libels, superstition and accusations of Christ-killing led to murderous actions against Jewish minorities - sanctioned by the states in which they lived. Jews found it difficult to escape the stain or mark of the devil, continuing the Church Fathers’ contention that the Jews were a “rejected people.” It was the birth and continuation of replacement theology - in which Judaism’s previously elevated position as the mother religion was entirely displaced by Christianity.

Judaism had never enjoyed a hugely significant number of adherents; God had always made it clear that though they would be less numerous than other nations, they would remain his beloved people. Christianity came along and challenged that notion of chosenness. That coupled with its increasing political power and wealth meant that Jews had an ambiguous relationship with Christians at best. On an individual basis Jews and Christians may have been able to get along with each other, but at a national and supranational level Christianity dominated its older sibling.

Author's Bio: 

The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews is a non-profit organization founded in 1983 to promote understanding between Christians and Jews, and build support for Israel. Learn more about the IFCJ here: https://www.facebook.com/FellowshipFan/
The IFCJ was founded by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, a leading advocate of religious freedom who has dedicated his work to building bridges of understanding between Christians and Jews. Learn more about Rabbi Eckstein here: http://www.ifcj.org/who-we-are/leadership/rabbi-yechiel-eckstein.html