From both the New Testament and writings of the Early Church Fathers there is evidence that the followers of Yeshua were both Torah observant and known as a sect of Judaism. What evidence exists in the historical record after the book of Acts?
During the days following the death and resurrection of Yeshua thousands came to faith. Although "The Way" had initially stayed close to Jerusalem, periods of persecution caused the Nazarenes (as they were also called) to move out of Jerusalem and into the other parts of Israel and beyond. Eventually, with Paul's ministry, Gentiles were added in great numbers. The Beit Din (Rabbi's Court or House of Judgment) of the Nazarenes remained in Jerusalem in the capable hands of Yeshua's half brother James, known as Ya'acov HaTzaddik (James the Just). According to the writings of Josephus, when James was thrown off the pinnacle of the Temple in 62 A.D. by the chief priest (a Sadducee), the Pharisees protested over his death.
Up to this time, the Jews as well as the Nazarenes continued to worship in the Temple, although there was certainly some animosity between the groups. However, after the beginning of the Jewish revolt against Rome in 66 A.D. and the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans, the Nazarenes remembered the words of Yeshua in Luke.
Luke 21:20-21 (KJV)
20 And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.
21 Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto.
The Nazarenes fled to nearby Pella (in modern Jordan). This action was considered cowardly by the Jews, who remained in Jerusalem. The siege of Jerusalem lasted five months, the Romans invaded the city, and the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. There was much loss of life amongst the Jews and this further damaged the relationship between the Jews and Nazarenes.
In 90 A.D. Samuel the Lesser added the Birkat haMinim to the Eighteen Benedictions of the Amidah. This prayer was a curse that was pronounced on the Nazarenes ("minim" meaning "heretics"). This prayer is still said three times a day in the Jewish community.
"And for slanderers let there be no hope, and may all wickedness perish in an instant; and may all Your enemies be cut down speedily. May You speedily uproot, smash, cast down, and humble the wanton sinners -- speedily in our days. Blessed are You, LORD, Who breaks enemies and humbles wanton sinners." (Artscroll translation)
From a prayerbook from Cairo Genizah an earlier version is found:
"For the renegades let there be no hope, and may the arrogant kingdom soon be rooted out in our days, and the Netzarim (Nazarenes) and the Minim perish as in a moment and be blotted out from the book of life and with the righteous may they not be inscribed. Blessed are you, LORD, who humbles the arrogant."
In essence, this effectively threw all the Nazarenes out of the synagogues, since they would be praying a curse upon themselves if they remained. This was the desired goal of the Pharisaic Jews. Yet, life continued for both groups. Some Jews and Nazarenes apparently came back into Jerusalem.
Clearly, "The Way" was viewed as a sect of Judaism during the days after Yeshua and up until about 90 A.D. The Nazarenes also obviously participated in the worship at the Temple until its destruction. They even continued to worship in the synagogues until the Birkat haMinim was instituted. If the traditional view of Christianity was correct, 60 years should have been enough time for the believers to understand that Torah was no longer to be practiced. Historically, it must be entertained that it is today's Christianity that has misunderstood the role of Torah observance in the life of faith.
Stay tuned for Part 4 and the history after 90 A.D.
(Much of this information came from Moreh ben Friedman, "What is Nazarene (Netzarim) Judaism?," www.yashanet.com/library/nazarene_judaism and Moshe ben Shaul, "The Nazarenes," www.yashanet.com/library/temple/nazarenes.)