Friday, September 03, 2010

Luke's Ambivalence Towards Judaism

Joseph Tyson tries to get a handle on the question of Luke's ambivalence towards Judaism, and to account for the pro-Jewish side he finds the answer in a late dating of the gospel (c. 120 CE). "Luke rejected Marcion’s theology, and, to counteract his influence, he stressed the connection of Jesus and his apostles with Jews and Judaism." Even aside from the unlikelihood of a late dating, an explanation like this doesn't cut it for me. In listing the anti-Jewish texts of Luke-Acts, Tyson curiously has nothing to say about the strongest one of all: Lk 4:28-30, the only occasion in all of the synoptics (let alone Luke) where the Jews try to kill Jesus apart from general plotting which leads to his crucifixion. The only parallels to Lk 4:28-30 are found in John's highly sectarian gospel (Jn 5:18, 8:59, 10:31), and with Philip Esler I think Luke was also sectarian.

Once we appreciate Luke's sectarian outlook, there's little need to draw on heresies like Marcionism to account for his pro-Jewish retentions. If Esler is right that the Lukan community was made up of Jews and Gentile God-fearers who had been painfully excluded from the synagogue, then the fierce ties to Judaism make perfect sense. Luke becomes a parochial version of Matthew, reverent of the Torah for more isolationist reasons. Unlike Matthew who wanted to re-Judaize Christianity as much as possible, Luke wanted to legitimate its development out of Judaism as much as possible -- and his general strategy was to show that Jesus respected the law for Jews as much as he transcended it for pagans. Judaism thus becomes a legitimate faith carrying within itself the seeds of its own transformation. Unlike the Matthean community which was deviantly and nastily competitive (but not apostate or sectarian), the Lukan Christians were no longer part of the synagogue, in no small part because they followed the same practice as the Pauline and Markan communities which put them beyond the pale: mixed table-fellowship. (The Mattheans, following the authority of Peter (Mt 16:18; Gal 2:11-14), refused to engage in such practice, as seen in the way Matthew revises his Markan source in Mt 15:21-28/Mk 7:24-30; so Esler, Community and Gospel in Luke-Acts, p 92; it's one of Luke's greatest coups that he was able to claim the support of Peter and James by reversing their historical roles.) The Mattheans adhered to the Torah in the context of messianic renewal, and they retained ties to the synagogue by the skin of their teeth. The Lukans, Jews and God-fearer's alike, also respected the Torah (far more than Paul and Mark), but they allowed for its transcendence in ways that made them cast-outs.

The way I see it, Luke was pro-Torah like Matthew, but also sectarian like Paul, Mark, and John, and it's the relationship between these two that defines our answer to the question of Luke's ambivalence towards Judaism.


Blogger Richard Fellows said...

Help me think this through. Was Matthew's intended audience mainly Jews or mainly Gentiles or both, in you view?

Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Hi Richard,

Matthew's community seems to have consisted primarily of Jews. They followed Torah in the context of a messianic renewal (Mt 5:1-7:28) which called for internalization and intensification: thus were Jesus' "new" teachings and Moses' "old" equally valid (Mt 9:17 vs. Mk 2:22). Matthew toughened the Markan teachings on the Levitical food laws (Mt 15:1-20 vs. Mk 7:1-23), cited Peter (who treacherously triumphed over Paul at Antioch for insisting on circumcision as the prerequisite for mixed table-fellowship) as the supreme authority (Mt 16:18), and like Peter before him had no use for mixed table fellowship (Mt 15:21-28 vs. Mk 7:24-30).

This isn't to say that Matthew isn't Gentile-friendly, for he acknowledges the simple reality: that salvation has come to the Gentile nations (Mt 28:19) at the expense of Israel (Mt 21:43). But he insists that Jews keep a fair distance from foreigners despite this, or perhaps even because of it. Matthew was concerned with saving the lost sheep of Israel more than ever now (Mt 10:5b-6), and re-Judaizing Christianity was the only way he saw this feasible.

Appreciating the difference between texts like Lk 4:28-30, Jn 5:18, 8:59, 10:31 and those of Mt 23:1-39, 27:25 is key here. The former point to extreme animosity between the Lukan/Johannine communities and the synagogue. The latter indicate nasty internal critique, implying that Matthew's community was deviantly competitive, but not (yet) apostate or sectarian.

Blogger Richard Fellows said...

Thanks for the clarifications, Loren.

One quick comments/question. You seem to be assuming that Matthew's audience knew that Peter stood for loyalty to Torah, because you believe that this is why Matthew cites Peter as the supreme authority. On the other hand, you believe that Acts completely misrepresents Peter's position, which suggests that Luke's audience did not know what Peter actually stood for, because otherwise Luke would not have got away with this misrepresentation. Isn't there a tension between your assumptions here? Did the gospels' audiences know what Peter stood for or not.

As you know, I do not see treachery in Gal 2:11-14 or indeed any division between Peter and Paul. In any case, if there had been the split that a lot of people suggest, Luke would never have got away with his presentation of Peter. You describe it as a "one of Luke's greatest coups". Implausibly great, I think.

Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Yes Richard, we've hashed out the Antioch incident before, and will probably forever disagree about the (historical) relationship between Paul and the pillars. But let's focus on the general issue of misrepresentation, which I'm surprised you see as so implausible.

When the past becomes a battleground, as it often does in honor-shame cultures, sects compete and claim ownership of heroes (whether real or fictional) to support their vision, and it matters very little how wild and laughable the end result is. Paul's use of Abraham is an obvious example. His "proof" that Abraham was justified by faith apart from circumcision would have been laughed to scorn by his contemporaries, but that didn't stop him. Another example is John's use of the unnamed woman who anoints Jesus (Mk 14:3-9/Mt 26:6-13; cf. Lk 7:36-50), whom he actually turns into Mary (Jn 1:11-12:11) to support his agenda of love and devotion in domestic settings. (In the synoptics, the woman prefigures the gospel being preached to the world, but in John the "spread" of this event is only to the Lazarus-Mary-Martha household, serving a highly sectarian view which allows loving one another (Jn 13:34), but not outsiders/enemies.) It's fascinating how audaciousness is almost inherent to the sectarian point of view.

Whether it's Paul claiming Abraham to justify circumcision-free faith, John claiming Mary to stress care and love for insiders only, or Luke claiming Peter to justify mixed table-fellowship (Acts 15), etc... you get the drift. The more sectarian the group, the more audacious the revisionism, and that's precisely one of the reasons I understand Luke to be as sectarian as Paul and John. So I don't see tensions in my working assumptions. The root of our difference lies in how we interpret the actual historical role of Peter, regardless of the degree to which Peter was later revised.

Blogger Richard Fellows said...

Loren, there is quite a lot of unsupported assertion in your last comment, though I appreciate that the a comment box does not lend itself to an essay.

You suppose that Peter was a hero to Luke's community, and that Luke wanted to claim ownership of him. But isn't it more likely, on your understanding of the history of Paul's relationship to Peter, that Peter would have been considered a villain by Luke's community? You cannot suppose that Peter was a hero figure whom no-one could criticize, if you also suppose that Matthew needed to build Peter up in Matt 16:18.

I am not convinced by your two proposed parallels, which even if valid, would be exceptions and not the norm.

Why would Paul write stuff about Abraham that would expose him to ridicule? Would he not have then been playing into the hands of his opponents?

Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Richard, if you find the idea of prototypes and the manipulation of collective memory that far-fetched, there's little sense in carrying this further in comments. But briefly:

You suppose that Peter was a hero to Luke's community, and that Luke wanted to claim ownership of him.

Peter was a highly influential figure in the Christian movement, and so it's little surprise that Luke wanted to seize the high ground by claiming ownership of him.

Why would Paul write stuff about Abraham that would expose him to ridicule? Would he not have then been playing into the hands of his opponents?

You may as well ask, "Why would Paul promote a particular doctrine of justification that would expose him to ridicule?" He justified his gospel with the best proof-texts he could find, but few would have been convinced that he proved his case by citing Gen 15:6 while ignoring Gen 17:9-14. Selective appeals to scripture and audacious revisionism were far from exceptional. Perhaps heroic prototypes will be the subject of a future post.

Anonymous Arianne A.G. said...


I just want to comment on the discussion that you and Richard are having on what Peter represented to the early church and evangelists.

I must say that I remain unpersuaded that Matthew upholds Peter as the leader of the early Church because he represents Jewish, anti-Pauline Christianity. Here's a major problem: If Matthew is trying to "re-Judaize" Christianity, why does he virtually ignore the importance of Jesus' brother James? After all, the Judaizing Ebionites revered James as the "true" leader of the moment. However, Matthew gives no hint that Jesus' brothers were of particular significance, instead insisting that his followers are his actual family. This doesn't seem consistent with the hypothesis that Matthew had anti-Pauline, re-Judaizing intentions. Indeed, the Ebionites and Nazoreans did not use our canonical Greek Matthew, but some other gospel that does (based on the fragments we have) appear to give much more attention to James.

Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

I've often wondered about that, but if Matthew's gospel came out of Antioch, it's no surprise that Peter is favored over James. Also, Matthew's re-Judaizing strategy isn't the same as that of the Ebionites; as you note, for instance, Matthew believes in the importance of fictive kin. Matthew's esteem of Peter and the Ebionites' of James may point to subtle differences among the "Judaizing" pillars that are clouded under Paul's rhetoric.

Blogger Richard Fellows said...

Arianne A.G. makes a good point. Objectivity requires that all data points be considered; not only those that fit the theory. James does seem to be a data point that does not fit. (Though I don't see him as a Judaizer, as you know, but you do).

I don't see why Antioch would necessarily favor Peter over James. If Antioch observed Peter defer to James when he chose to not to eat with Gentiles, as you suppose, then Antioch would have known that James had authority over Peter. Why, then, would Antioch promote Peter over James?

In any case the villains in Gal 2:11-14 are the men from James, not Peter, who is accused of hypocrisy, not treachery. But that takes us back to well trodden ground.

Blogger the_cave said...

Lk 4:28-30, however, is not a very good example of Luke's sectarianism, since it was authored by Marcion (Marcion probably being the source of Luke's gospel, though the solution of a proto-Luke is technically possible, albeit unlikely).

I agree (like Tyson) that Luke was sectarian; he was anti-Marcionite! However, his source, Marcion, was also sectarian; it's Marcion who is the source of the anti-Judaistic element that you identify.

I myself would go even further and say that Marcion was not simply anti-Judaistic: he was anti-Cerinthean. It's Cerinthus who began the Matthean, pro-Torah gospel tradition (though he himself of course had his sources).


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