Friday, September 28, 2007

Research Notes on I Peter

I am pleased to see Torrey Seland's new blog which focuses on the underrated epistle of I Peter. (And it's nice to know that Torrey has other interests besides Philo!)

Torrey mentions Jack Elliott's new book, Conflict, Community, and Honor: I Peter in Social Science Perspective, which I'll have to put at the top of my reading list since Elliott is the top authority on I Peter. Torrey notes that, "strangely enough, Elliott does not substitute 'Jews' with 'Judeans'", despite having been the leading crusader for doing this. I wonder why.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

RBL Review of Peter Jeffery

As noted by Mark Goodacre and Stephen Carlson, there is an extraordinarily lengthy RBL review (almost 50 pages instead of the usual 3-4) of Peter Jeffery's indictment of Morton Smith:

Peter Jeffery
The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled
Reviewed by Scott Brown

Brown protests too much in the space of 47 pages (has there ever been an RBL review even a fraction this long?), with overstatements noted by Stephen, and I think the review sinks his ship even further. The cases made by Stephen Carlson and Peter Jeffery are so conclusive, in my view, and need virtually no defending at this point. (See my reviews of Carlson and Brown and Jeffery.) Someone in Brown's awkward position can either concede defeat or go on fighting, and it's clear by now that he isn't going to have the grace to do the former.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Luther's Trap

Aside from mistranslating Ioudaios as "Jew" in the New Testament, the most pervasive scholarly mistake is probably Luther's trap in Rom 14:1-15:6, defined by Mark Nanos:
"Luther recognized that Paul was clearly instructing the 'strong' not to judge the opinions of the 'weak'; however, Luther tripped into the very trap of judging them and then read this judgment as Paul's. That is, Luther was tripped by the faulty assumption (1), that the 'weak' were Christian Jews, into the trap of assumption (2) with its inherent, inescapable contradiction wherein he indulges in the very same kind of judging Paul warned the 'strong' (which Luther considered himself) to avoid." (The Mystery of Romans, p 92)
Nanos then proceeds to demonstrate why the "weak in faith" in Rome were non-Christian Judeans rather than Christian Judeans.

*Note: From this day foreward, in the wake of Elliott's essay, I will be religiously using "Judean" instead of "Jew", the latter only when citing others (as above).

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Is Hector Avalos Right?

In The End of Biblical Studies, Hector Avalos argues that the bible is too irrelevant to take seriously. If the routes taken to this blog are any indication, maybe he's right. Here are my three blogposts which get the most visits, none of which pertain to The Busybody's biblical focus:

Fatal Revenant
The 25 Most Controversial Movies of all Time
Pedophilia and Ephebophilia

Never mind the bible: people want fantasy, scandalous film, and young flesh (or perhaps a combination of all three). Come to think of it, the bible has plenty of this stuff -- fantasy, controversial themes and imagery, low ages of consent -- so what's the problem? Maybe the bible is pretty relevant after all.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Jesus the Israelite: Questions of Anti-Semitism

After a stimulating Crosstalk discussion and blogpost in which I push for dropping the terms "Jew", "Jewish", and "Judaism" in Jesus' time, it's worth addressing the specter of anti-Semitism. Jim West wrote:
"I wonder - as an aside - why Loren seems to want to drive a wedge between Jesus and Judaism. If I have misunderstood his intention I apologize. But it seems that the discussion so far is trending in that direction and so it sounds very similar to the debates about the Jewishness of Jesus in the 20's and 30's."
And Rebecca Lesses says to me:
"You should be aware that at least to me, you're beginning to sound like the bad old days in the study of the New Testament, when scholars did their best to divorce Jesus from Judaism, in order to make him look so much better than the 'legalistic', 'dessicated' caricature they drew of current-day Judaism."
On the one hand it's hard for me to take these accusations seriously, since I've combatted anti-Semitic caricatures as much as anyone -- not only on this blog but on various academic list-serves. E. P. Sanders has put legalism to rest. No one is using Judaism as an implicit foil by denying that it existed in the second Temple period. The above reactions are actually part of the problem here, because when people associate the arguments of Elliott and Esler with antiquated Lutheran scholarship, it shows how much we've come to lean on the crutch of a supposed "Jewishness" for fear that we're automatically siding with dated paradigms. But you don't need a non-existent Jewishness to avoid these pitfalls.

And I should be clear on another point. I make no assumptions that Jesus' way of being a Galilean Israelite was inherently better than (say) a Pharisee's way of being a Judean Israelite. Good guy/bad guy contrasts have no more place in an historical discussion than do foils and false starts. This is one point where I agree with April DeConick, who warns against portraits of "Jesus the 'good' Israelite from the north revolting against the 'bad' [Judeans] of the south". But that's not where I see scholars like Elliott and Esler going, and it's certainly not where I am in any case.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Quote for the Day: "Words That Make Us Lie"

Donald Akenson -- ever known for his sweetness and tact -- has the following to say about using "Jew" in a pre-70 context (Saint Saul: A Skeleton Key to the Historical Jesus, pp 55, 61-62):
"Language teachers sometimes refer to 'false-friends', words that are familiar in one language, but which, when they are found in another tongue, mean something entirely different. Unfortunately, the present-day vocabularies of the Jewish and the Christian faiths are so full of false-friends that they almost seem designed to lead us astray. We need to guard ourselves against words that give false continuity...

"Two pivotal words that we will not use to refer to the historical situation before 70 CE are: 'Christianity' and 'Judaism', and their derivative forms 'Christian', 'Jew', and 'Jewish'. That is a very tough line indeed, but the reasons for it are dead-simple... Each of those sister faiths came into being as responses to the ancient world's equivalent of a nuclear explosion, the virtual levelling of the great Temple during the Roman-Jewish war of 66-73 CE... We cannot use 'Christian' or 'Jewish' to describe pre-70 groups, because doing so presupposes a false continuity which, in each case, will lead us to lie to ourselves."

Friday, September 07, 2007

Jesus Was Neither Jewish Nor Christian

In Jew or Judean? I explained why I think "Jew" is a mistranslation in the New Testament. Chris Weimer rebutted in Jew or Judean Again, and we had a few rounds in comments. Now, coming from the current issue of The Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, Jack Elliott confirms my convictions even more. Everyone should read his well-argued essay -- even if debates about nomenclature tend to wreck your digestion.

It's called "Jesus the Israelite was Neither a 'Jew' nor a 'Christian': On Correcting Misleading Nomenclature", JSHJ Vol 5.2, pp 119-154. Elliott discusses identification, insider and outsider language, the fact that Jesus is never called Ioudaios in the NT (save on three occasions, and by outsiders), that Ioudaios was understood in either a narrow regional sense or broader ethnic sense (depending on context) -- but in any case correctly translated as "Judean" and not "Jew", and the usage of Ioudaios in the Gospels, Acts, and letters of Paul. In the end, he outlines his "Resulting Picture" (pp 146-147):
(1) Jesus identified himself and his associates as Israelites, and his mission was directed to the House of Israel. He was identified by other Israelite insiders according to his Israelite family and lineage and by his place of birth and upbringing, Nazareth and Galilee. He was Yeshua bar Yoseph, an 'Israelite', a 'Galilean', a 'Nazarene from Nazareth of Galilee, but not a 'Judean' resident in Judea.

(2) Jesus never called himself a Ioudaios and was never designated as such by fellow Israelites. He was called, or thought of as, a Ioudaios only by non-Israelite outsiders whose terminology was consistent with Hellenistic and Roman practice, designating as 'Judean' all residents of Judea, together with all those connected to Judea by blood relations, Torah allegiance, patriotism, and loyalty to Judea, the holy city of Jerusalem and the Temple.

(3) His first followers were identified by fellow Israelites also as 'Galileans', 'Nazarenes', or members of 'the Way', but never as 'Judeans'.

(4) They too, like Jesus, viewed themselves as Israelites. They preferred 'Israel' and 'Israelite' as self-identifiers when speaking to the ingroup Israel and when addressing fellow disciples.

(5) Paul's usage is consistent with this pattern. He too prefers 'Israel' and 'Israelite' as self-identifiers in settings where Israelite Christ followers or Israelites outside the Christ movement are present. With an eye to the Israelite fellow believers who are in the audiences of his letters to the Philippians, the Corinthians, and the Romans, he identifies himself as an 'Israelite'. With an eye to his Gentile readers, on the other hand, he can also identify himself, as a concession to their nomenclature, as a Ioudaios.
So Jesus was no more Jewish than Christian. He was a Judean in the broad ethnic sense often used by Greco-Roman outsiders, but even better a Galilean Israelite from the insider perspective. With Elliott I'm concerned that we "agree to employ terms of identification and self-identification today that reflect, and are consistent with, the historical, social, and cultural situation and practice of Jesus and his early followers" (p 154). Sometimes we don't do this well: the tendency of some scholars to pluralize "Judaism" (and "Christianity") for the sake of emphasizing ancient diversity is unnecessary and patronizing. But erasing "Judaism" from the discussion, as revisionist as it sounds, is completely warranted.

UPDATE: April DeConick reacts strongly to Elliott's proposal, and there are some nice replies in comments (:)).

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Romans 7: The Last Word

As Michael Bird follows up with more thoughts on Rom 7, I too will wrap up yesterday's post in brief. Michael now acknowledges that the Adam interpretation has more going for it than he initially supposed, but this isn't good enough. Here's why his argument about Israel is misguided.

To suppose that "I" in Rom 7:7-25 refers to corporate Israel is no better than supposing that it refers to Paul himself. Israel had no more problem fulfilling the law than Paul did (Philip 3:4b-6). Israel has problems only in hindsight, compared to what the Spirit now offers. So Paul needs to convince Israel that the law actually leads to sin and death instead of life, and he can only do this by using examples of those who truly experienced the futility of trying to do the right thing. He thus draws on the examples of Adam (Rom 7:7-13) and Medea (Rom 7:14-25) to apply the argument to Israel and himself (Rom 7:1; "I"). But Israel is no more the example being illustrated than Paul is.

In other words, Paul is saying this: "Even though we Jews never had problems fulfilling the Torah, we were blissfully ignorant of what was really going on. The best that the law could offer is now available by an entirely different route, the Spirit, which shows us in hindsight that we never did in fact fulfill the Torah, that we only repeated the sin of Adam/Eve -- and indeed that we share more in common with the pagan than we were ever aware of."

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Biblical Studies Carnival XXI

The twenty-first Biblical Studies Carnival is up on Duane Smith's Abnormal Interests.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

What's the Problem with Adam?

Michael Bird has put up a nice post about Rom 7, and I agree with much of what he says: the rhetorical "I" is a speech-in-character reflecting the pre-Christian's plight under the law, understood retrospectively and for the first time ever, from the vantage point of faith. It's a hindsight perspective, in other words. Paul's actual experience under the law was positive. How often does Philip 3:4b-6 need mentioning after Stendahl?

But who exactly is the speech-in-character? Who is "I" in Rom 7:7-25? Is it no one in particular, Israel, Adam, or a Medea-like character out of Greco-Roman literature? Michael opts for Israel, while I say it's clearly the last two (Adam and Medea). Let's procede through Michael's post and see why.

Michael begins with the preliminary point:
What was the purpose of the giving of the law in the first place? In Romans 7, Paul sets out to answer this objection where he defends the giving of the law in redemptive-history.
It's worth noting that Paul took a crack at this question earlier in Gal 3:19-26, and with a different result. There he argued that God gave the law to consign people to sin so that they might subsequently be saved on the basis of faith. The law was an active agent confining people to sin so that they could be redeemed on another basis. But in Rom 7 the law is passive in its relationship to sin. (Thus Sanders, Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People, pp 65-86, and Esler, Conflict and Identity in Romans, pp 230-231.) God now gives the law "unto life" (Rom 7:10), but his purpose is foiled by the power of sin. Sin consigns people to sin, against the will of God -- but again demanding the solution of faith.

In other words, Rom 7 is essentially about Paul exonerating God from perversity (though at the expense of his sovereignty), in order to assure the Jewish faction in Rome that the Torah is holy, and that God always acted for the good in dealing with Israel. This is the most important preliminary point to be made about Rom 7.

For it forces the original question even more: who does the "I" represent in Rom 7:7-25? If Paul is really talking about the law's purpose in salvation history -- as opposed to an individual's plight under it -- then who illustrates the imposed plight and why?

Michael answers:
[Rom 7] cannot refer to the pre-Christian Paul since we find no evidence that Paul was tormented by the gravity of his sin and anguished over his inability to find a gracious God. The pre-Christian Paul knew that atonement was available through the sacrificial system in the temple and, at any rate, in the letter to the Philippians he apparently regarded himself as 'blameless' not guilt stricken (Phil. 3.6).
Agreed. Paul was no Lutheran, Puritan, existentialist, or whatever kind of anguished soul-searcher we like to suppose.
Paul is not talking about post-conversion Christians in this section since the statement 'I am of the flesh, sold under sin' (Rom. 7.14) conflicts with what he says about Christians in Romans 6 where he declares that they have been freed from sin (Rom. 6.6-7, 17-18, 22).
Paul is not talking about Adam since Paul finished talking about Adam in Rom. 5.12-21 and it is hard to think of Adam as being under the Mosaic law... Paul is speaking in the first person as 'Israel'.
This baffles me. Paul is definitely talking about Adam in Rom 7:7-13, for Rom 5-8 is a unified argument. That Adam wasn't under the Torah is no obstacle here. Paul's point is that Israel's sin under the Torah replicates Adam's disobedience under the Edenic commandment. Look at all the parallels:
(a) Adam, "alive" and newly created, is placed in Eden (Gen. 2:7-9 ~ Rom 7:9) and (b) "commanded" by God not to eat of the tree of life (Gen. 2:16-17 ~ Rom 7:8-12), whereafter (c) the serpent "seizes opportunity" to further its own ends (Gen. 3:1-5 ~ Rom 7:8) and (d) Eve complains that she was "deceived" (Gen. 3:13 ~ Rom 7:11). God then (e) kills humanity, punishing it with mortality (Gen. 3:19,22-23 ~ Rom 7:11). (See Francis Watson, Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles, pp 152-153.)
Rom 7:7-13 is saturated with the Genesis story and is a clear argument to the Jewish faction in Rome: Jewish behavior under the law replicates Adam/Eve's failure under the primal commandment in Eden, and thus sin continues to foil God's purpose, demanding a solution to salvation apart from the law. In effect, Paul refers to himself ("I") on the surface, and thus to other Jews by implication ("those who know the law", Rom 7:1), but he's really referring to Adam/Eve. His argument is exegetical, saying in effect that the Jewish plight under the law traces back to the horror of the fall.

In the next half of his argument, however, Paul draws on the common moral dilemma found in Greco-Roman literature and speaks, for the moment, as a pagan. Thomas Tobin (Paul's Rhetoric in its Contexts, pp 232-235) notes the following comparisons to Rom 7:14-25, especially Medea:
"I am conquered by evils. And I understand the deeds I am about to do are evil. But anger is greater than my resolves -- anger, the cause for mortals of the greatest evils." (Euripides, Medea 1077b-1080)

"But some strange power draws me against my will, and desire persuades me one way, and my mind another. I see the better and approve, but I follow the worse." (Ovid, Metamorphoses, 7:19-21)
Paul has assumed the role of a Medea-like character in order to portray Jewish behavior under the law as conforming to the dilemma often found in the Hellenized world -- again illustrating how useless the law has been against the power of sin. Again he refers to himself ("I") on the surface, and thus to other Jews by implication ("those who know the law", Rom 7:1), but he's really invoking an argument foreign to Jews who easily counted on the grace of God no matter how often they sinned.

And that is precisely the point. The Edenic commandment and pagan plight are invoked as analogies to drive home the hindsight perspective Paul is aiming for. Adam and Medea work wonders where Israel (as Michael supposes) can't possibly carry any punch, because Israel never really had a problem under the law (as Philip 3:4b-6 makes clear). Israel has a problem only in hindsight, and that hindsight can be appreciated only by calling on examples where the problem is real and acute.

UPDATE: Follow-up here.