Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Quote of the Day - Why People Believe

One of the most interesting results to come out of this study was that the intellectually based reasons of "good design" and "experience of God," which were in first and second place in the first question of Why do you believe in God?, dropped to sixth and third place for the second question of Why do you think other people believe in God? Taking their place as the two most common reasons other people believe in God were the emotionally based categories of "comforting" and "raised to believe."

Michael Shermer, How We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God (Second Edition), Owl Books, 2003. p.85

Shermer goes on to suggest that the reason for this is an attribution bias--we tend to view ourselves as rational, and others as emotional. I'd take it a step farther than that, and suggest we tend to see in others a reflection of self, while insight is--as Loren Rosson often points out--quite frequently self-deception.

Paul in The Lutheran

Wow. I don't even have a baby yet, and time is already a scarce commodity.

As mentioned by Mark Goodacre, there's an article in the most recent issue of The Lutheran dealing with the New Perspective on Paul.

Mark expresses his hope to offer some comments on the application of 1QS, and 4QMMT has been done to death (and, contra Wright, I think Donfried is right. It is expressing works-righteousness, though Wright is right in that the context affects what's being said such that it's not as contra Paul as it seems). So while I won't touch on either of those, I will note what seems, to me, to be another shortcoming of the article.

Evidence is increasingly mounting that Qumran has nothing to do with the Dead Sea Scrolls. While they may or may not be Essenes, it's becoming quite difficult to equate the texts with the site. While his point holds--whoever wrote the texts was clearly concerned with "purity,"--this can be established textually with ease. Why does he try to establish it from the remains of K. Qumran, an argument that is increasingly tenuous?

Another error, IMO, is the failure to even acknowledge, much less address, the arguments of Fitzmyer than 2Cor.6.14-7.1 is interpolated. To be sure, this suggestion has been challenged (Amador, for an example available online), but if one is going to analogue 2Cor to Qumran, one is loathe to neglect to so much as mention the possibility.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

I'm Still Here - Quote of the Day

Well, it's been quite the hectic week, including several computer crashes (playing with things I shouldn't be, as usual), and two trips to the hospital (my wife assures me she knows the difference between Braxton-Hicks and labour now. I remain a skeptic. But better to err on the side of caution and all that).

So, in a token display of my-blog's-not-dead, here's a quote of the day to tide you over until next time (which should be less of a wait than this has been):

Paul is a Jewish Christian concerned to see God’s promises to Israel brought to complete fulfillment. Christianity is the fulfillment of Judaism, not the annulment of it. The fulfillment of Judaism means the incorporation of Gentiles into the people of God. Paul’s argument in Romans is corporate. He is redefining the people of God to embrace Gentiles, as well as Jews. It is about God as the God of Jews as well as Gentiles; it is about the seed of Abraham; it is about incorporation into the new humanity of Christ over against the old humanity of Adam. Paul is redrawing the boundaries that mark out the covenant people of God.

Toews, John E.: Romans. Scottdale, Pa. : Herald Press, 2004 (Believers Church Bible Commentary), S. 31

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Paul the Law and the New Perspective Part V

Complete Series

I'd originally intended to present a few posts outlining covenantal nomism, however, further reflection has led me to suspect that not only is it not necessary to my topic question--What is the New Perspective on Paul--it might even serve to draw attention away from it. So further discussion on covenantal nomism might be the topic of a later series, while for now, I'll instead move directly into the final post in the series, and a look at the New Perspective on Paul

The New Perspective on Paul

We have seen thus far that there was a long tradition of viewing Judaism as legalistic, and viewing Paul in that light. More specifically, Paul was traditionally read as opposing that legalism. With Sanders' seminal work, Paul and Palestinian Judaism calling into question that perception of Judaism, suggesting instead that it should be viewed as a religion of covenantal nomism. This new understanding of Judaism demanded a new understanding of Paul, which Sanders turned his attention to in the second half of Paul and Palestinian Judaism as well as in his follow-up essays, collected in Paul, the Law and the Jewish People.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Sanders' understanding of Paul is the emphasis he places on who Paul's audience was: They were Gentiles. Paul preached to Gentiles, on behalf of Gentiles. The thrust of his message on justification concerns Gentiles over and against the Judaizers, who would have it that Paul's converts accept the Mosaic Law, including (and most emphasized by Paul) circumcision.

Sanders chooses to break this question of justification into two parts: "Getting in" and "staying in." Paul's criticism of the Law is thus based upon the question of "how to enter the body of those who would be saved."(1) It is a question of getting in, not one of staying in. Equally importantly, Sanders does not see Paul's opponents on the matter as "Jews," per se, rather they are "Jewish Christians." With this in mind, the suggestion that Paul's issue is one of "faith in Christ" versus "works of the Law," as either are traditionally understood, has little cogency. Paul is not here criticizing Judaism or Jews, he is offering a scathing criticism of Christian missionaries. The argument with these missionaries addresses how one "gets in," or more specifically, how one enters into the people of God to take advantage of the covenantal promises. Thus Sanders suggests that

when Paul opposed "faith" to "law" the question was what is required to be a member of the group that would be saved(3)

Sanders suggests that, as in traditional Judaism, Paul believed one would be saved (entered into the covenant) by virtue of faith, as in traditional Judaism, one's works would determine reward and punishment. As to the question of "staying in," Paul saw no opposition between faith and works, and indeed saw the latter as the natural expression of the former, and it is appropriate for a functional congregation that one preform some form of the Law (though Paul does not seem to espouse the more traditional Jewish acts of Torah).

To Sanders, the most important point in reading Paul is to understand the context--not only what he was saying, but why he was saying it and to whom. This seems almost a truism, but is one that had been frequently overlooked in Pauline studies.

[Paul]'s answers to questions of behavior have a logic of their own. There is no systematic explanation of how those who have died to the law obey it. Yet he regarded Scripture as expressing the will of God. We should recall that even the statements that righteousness is not by the law are supported in part by Scripture. Thus it was natural that, when questions of behavior arose, he would answer by waying that, among other things, that Christians should fulfill the Law. (4)

Yet while Sanders does not find in Paul the traditional rejection of Judaism for the traditional reasons, he still finds that Paul did reject Judaism (or at least Judaism as it is tradionally understood).

Paul in fact explicitly denies that the Jewish covenant can be effective for salvation, thus consciously denying the basis of Judaism.(5)

To Sanders, Paul has arrived at this by working backwards. He begins with the conviction that faith in Christ is God's ultimate plan for salvation. Faith in Christ is not the Law. Thus the Law does not lead one to salvation. Instead there exists a new plan, one entered into equally by Jew and Gentile alike--the previous boundaries, the markers for those engaged in the covenantal promises, the "tuition" from the previous analogy are no longer valid. Mosaic Law is excluded as a means of entry into the covenant, it is a covenant for all mankind. Paul's fundamental problem with Judaism, suggests Sanders, is that it has no Christ. In perhaps the most oft cited passage in the New Perspective on Paul, Sanders suggests that "“In short, this is what Paul finds wrong in Judaism: it is not Christianity.”(5)

While Sanders has had many critics both within(6) and outside(7) the NPP, the general paradigm of the New Perspective is nonetheless to be found in his works. Put in simplest terms, the NPP can be summarized like this: Paul did not oppose legalistic Judaism, and he wrote to Gentiles.

(1) E P Sanders, Paul the Law and the Jewish People, Fortress Press, p.45, hereafter PLJP

(2) PLJP 107-110

(3) PLJP 114

(4) PLJP 114

(5) PPJ, 551

(5) PPJ, 552

(6) See esp. the various works of James D G Dunn, though NPP critics of Sanders are plentiful--eg Wright, Gager etc.

(7) Eg Schreiner, Carson, Kim

Recommended Reading

The books mentioned here are uniformly positive on the NPP. The aim of the series has been to introduce one to it, not to debate its validity, so this seems the appropriate route to take.

E P Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism
E P Sanders, Paul, the Law and the Jewish People
James Dunn The Theology of Paul the Apostle
James Dunn Romans 2 Vols. (Word Biblical Commentary Series)
James Dunn Paul and the Mosaic Law
John Gager Reinventing Paul (see my comments here and here. Gager's construction of Paul is wrong, but as an introduction to the NPP, it's not too shabby, concise and easily understood by the novice)
N T Wright What St. Paul Really Said
Gerald F. Hawthorne et al. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters

Saturday, August 19, 2006

New Blogger Beta

Readers may notice the new layout--I'm not a big fan, but it's the best available, IMO, that takes advantage of the new blogger features available in the Blogger Beta.

Particularly useful, bloggers now have the option of using tags. I hadn't really appreciated how useful tags would be until I started by series on the New Perspective on Paul (which, by the way, will continue either later today or tomorrow AM. Things keep preventing me from getting to it, but the weekend is, for the most part, quite free). Fortunately, before I finished it, tags were available. So the entire series can be accessed from one link Which is quite useful indeed. My only caveat is that they're in descending chronological order (I'd prefer ascending), but I'm sure there will be a hack to get around that before it's out of beta.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Alas, I Hardly Knew Ye

Over six hundred billion pages of content. That's 100 pages for every person alive. A number comparable to all the content produced between 1895 and 1995.

One blog created every second. Paired with other updates and additions to blogs, homepages and other websites, we're talking about millions of pages of content created every day.

We live in a world where "wiki" is part of our everyday vernacular. Where people who don't know the difference between C++ and an orange soda know the principle of Open Sourced Software. A world of YouTube, Myspace and Google Video. A world of user-generated information.

Now some dates:

1980. 26 years ago. Tim Berners Lee develops the first working hypertext system for sharing information. It became the backbone for the World Wide Web.

August 9, 1995. The Netscape IPO changes the world. The 'net is made mainstream. The information age has begun.

The ten years since have done more to change the world than any other decade in history. The web makes the printing press look like the hoola-hoop in terms of impact. Nothing--nothing--has had so immediate, far-reaching, and global effect.

Nearly eleven years to the day later, that world comes crashing down. The web is on its last legs, and we will all be the less. For Roger Pearse has seen JSTOR.

Okay, so this has been a bit of a tongue in cheek poke at the hyperbolic title of Roger's post. But my disagreement with his suggested demise of the user-generated information that defines the current 'net (at least for those who share "our interests," but his reasoning carries over to pretty well any academic field) is genuine, and based entirely on the information and dates provided above.

It's easy to forget how young the Web is. It's so permeated nearly every aspect of our lives that it's difficult to imagine it not being there. We don't simply benefit from it, we rely on it. That view--not seeing the web as being in the infancy stages that it certainly is--is the fundamental flaw in Roger's pessimism.

An example of this pessimism? Roger suggests that the abundance of information on Severus Sebokht found in a search in the JSTOR proves its advantage over the 'net, where Google produces relatively few results (Google, incidentally, provides 339 results, which doesn't seem that bad for an obscure 7th century bishop. I'm not sure what the JSTOR provides--I can only access it at the university, which is a heck of a drive from here, but I'd guess it's actually less than that).

Let's stop a moment and reflect on this. Google, searching predominantly user-created pages, the huge majority of which were created in the last ten years, finds less information than over a century's worth of academic journals devoted to that subject matter. So what?

The fundamental--and wholly unexpected--premise of the 'net is that consumers create the content. As time goes on, more users will create more content. It's rate is constantly accelerating. If he was so inclined and so interested, Roger could create the content on the obscure bishop in question. And if he doesn't, sooner or later, someone else will.

Roger is right in that the user-generated web and projects like the JSTOR cannot co-exist indefinitely. But open standards always win out. And in the end it will be the web, not JSTOR, that remains. The web will do what JSTOR can never do in return: render it obsolete. While I would not match Roger's prediction of a scant ten years (though at the current rate of the net's accelerating growth, it might not be out of the question), in due course it will be the web that kills projects like JSTOR, not the other way 'round.

Roger's suggestions that the fat-cat publishers are going to endeavour to drive sites like his off the 'net is unrealistic. Even if Roger doesn't recognize the futility of such a gesture, publishing houses surely do. They don't have the RIAA (who is probably going to lose their first actual trial anyway) behind them. They cannot possibly hope to control access to such information, nor to prevent users from creating and providing it.

The web is going to become more heavily integrated into our lives, more of a creative outlet, more of a source to both dispense and gain information, not less. And the presence of JSTOR isn't going to change that.

As late as February of '95, pundits in such notable publications as Time and Newsweek were issuing the same sort of negative predictions Roger is now (the 'net will never succeed commercially, users will never create enough of their own content to make it worthwhile). Like Roger, they were all wrong.

Updated to Add

Just to add a bit above, in light of further consideration of Roger's comparison to iTunes in the comments, which is, in fact, quite useful here.

iTunes, in time, will also pass. It's simply an effort to adapt to the digital age. But it's ultimately a change in method of distribution. That's all well and good, but has nothing to do with why the web succeeds as it does.

The principle behind the distribution of content--all media content--is that consumers will not create their own. And it is this that was the unexpected discovery of the web: Given the resources and the audience, people will create content in abundance. It is not the method of distribution that is challenged, it is the entire model.

The collapse of traditional media will, of course, take time. But how fundamentally altered it has already been--again, it's only been a decade--attests to the fact that it will collapse.

A useful point is provided by Tim O'Reilly (of the O'Reilly computer books), who is probably the closest thing to a prophet of the digital age on the planet. When asked what he looks for to identify what will be a successful trend (something he's able to do with alarming frequency), he asks but one question: What are they doing to harness the intelligence of their users?

JSTOR is doing nothing. It's a useful resource, to be sure. But it's one that will facillitate the content that will ultimate destroy it. People will use resources like JSTOR to create more content for the web. This is an unequivocal and observable fact--it already happens.

What they won't do is use JSTOR to replace that content. It is simply another resource for the consumer to become the provider.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Paul the Law and the New Perspective Part IV

Introducing Covenantal Nomism

In previous posts, we discussed the view of Jewish legalism, its rise in early Christianity, and its expansion through NT scholarship at large in the twentieth century. In 1977, that tide would begin to shift, in the light of E P Sanders' Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Therein, Sanders would argue (citing many a Judaic scholar in agreement with him--in stark contrast to the overwhelming majority of NT scholars against) that "Palestinian Judaism" was, in fact, not a legalistic religion, that one wasn't justified by works, and that it should instead be defined by what he termed "covenantal nomism."

The other day I read a paper in the JETS (1) that analogued covenantal nomism with a classroom. In this class, a grade of 95% or better was required to stay in, but if you received that grade, you were passed not because of your score, but simply by virtue of being in the class. Readers familiar with covenantal nomism are now scratching their heads (much as I still am), I'm sure. As far as analogies go, it's terrible. Not only is it not covenantal nomism, it is a description of the very merit theology covenantal nomism is written against. But while this analogy is terrible, it does lead me to think of a better one. Like all analogies, it's not perfect, but it does provide an idea of the general model.

Imagine signing up for a class. You pay your tuition, and begin attending. In this class, if you preform well, you get to go on a field trip. If you preform badly, you get detention, write lines, or receive extra homework. But as long as you receive these punishments, acknowledge your need to improve, and endeavour to do so, there will be no additional recourse for your poor preformance. In addition to this, as long as you stay in class and give effort and intent to succeed in it, you cannot fail. Regardless of what your grades are, you pass in the end.

That, my reader, is covenantal nomism.

The covenant is, in essence, election in exchange for obedience. But one may fail to be obedient, that is unfortunate but understood. Because of that, there are means of atonement--sacrifice, the day of atonement, suffering, even death--which make up for those shortcomings. God will reward good behavior, and punish sin, because he is just. He's merciful, but that doesn't mean he's a patsy. One takes on circumcision as their "tuition" so to speak.

The Law analogues the subject matter of the class. Since you have all but a guaranteed pass, the appropriate and grateful response is to endeavour to learn the subject matter. You may not always do it perfectly, your marks may in fact suck. Your poor preformance will not go unnoticed, but it won't affect whether or not you pass in the end. What matters is that you try to learn it. It is the effort and intent, not the end results, that matter in the final judgment.

But this exchange--the election for obedience--is not a trade, per se. It's a relationship based on an existing understanding of God. The Law is given not as a chore to be completed in order that one may earn rewards based on it. On the contrary, the Law is given to Israel in order to mark her out, to give her a tangible way to show her trust in God's promise. But, in covenantal nomism, one does not earn salvation by preforming works of the Law.

This description is brief, and leaves many things out, but that will be discussed further in later pieces (I haven't decided yet whether I'll follow Sanders lead in breaking it up by type of literature, or more broadly by topic, we'll see how it goes). But I hope it at least captures its essence: Justification--passing the class--is not earned, it is promised.

As Sanders put it, describing Rabbinic religion:

One should conclude that debates on details reflect agreement on central issues. . .From debates about why God chose Israel we infer the centrality of the conviction that he chose Israel. The debates about how to obey reveal the concern to obey. Further, the concern to obey, when studied, turns out to show a reliance on God's fiddelity to the covenant which contains the laws, not an anxious concern to learn how, by obedience, to win God's favour. Perhaps most telling are the debates about which means of atonement atone for which sins. . .since atonement for individual sins restores the penitent sinner to the right relationship with God, he originally had a right relationship with God, a relationship established by God's mercy and maintained by the individual's obedience and repentence and by God's forgiveness. . .the Rabbis believed in the enduring validity of the covenantal promise. . .The pattern is based on election and atonement, it being understood that God gave commandments in connection with the election and that obedience to them, or atonement and repentence for transgression, was expected as the condition for remaining in the covenant community. The best title for this sort of religion is 'covenantal nomism.'(2)

(1) I can't for the life of me remember who by, or in which volume, this article was--all I can remember, other than the analogy I'm about to describe, is that it referenced Schreiner's JETS 27 paper on Galatians 3:10 as "devastating" to Sanders' suggestion that it does not address impossibility of doing the whole Law. I'll try and track it down, any help would be appreciated.

(2) PPJ, 235-6, all emphasis original.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Quote of the Day - Honor/Shame and the Beatitudes

Well, I pledged to produce the next in my series on The New Perspective on Paul, but unfortunately had some computer problems that I've just rectified, leaving me with no time to continue. In the meantime, here's an interesting take on the creation of the beatitudes:

To really be “righteous” in an honor/shame society requires public recognition. Matthew’s community had to compensate for the surrounding society’s negative judgment. They needed a public forum in which their righteousness could be affirmed. When we examine the beatitudes, we will see how an alternative quasi-public forum was created, an extraordinary tribunal, in which God provided their vindication.

Leland J. White, Grid and Group in Matthew’s Community: The Righteousness/Honor Code in the Sermon on the Mount in Semeia 35 ed John H. Elliott, 80.

If this reading--efforts to restore honor--can be found throughout Matthew--particularly (as is the case here) in "Q" passages, does this count as a point against Q? Or just convenience for Matthew? The latter seems suspiciously ad hoc to me.

Though, I suppose the flipside (as White implies in his paper) is that any Christian group would struggle with honor, having a leader who died so shamefully.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

A bit of an anomaly

While I would, to be honest, normally never bother with either this book, or any reveiw of it, it's oddly gratifying to see a conservative book on the Bible get panned by the popular media for being, well, conservative.

The Everything History of the Bible Book has decent material, mixed with stuff that Falwell and Robertson would love. The handy information and appealing style make it worth reading. But Donley's own advice, at book's end, is worth remembering: "Look at all the evidence, be logical, and most importantly, think for yourself."

Bible guide interesting, not impartial. A review of Jeffrey Donley's The Everything History of the Bible Book

As an aside for anyone interested, the NPP series is slated to resume tomorrow.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Quote of the Day - Interpretive Paradigms

"Thus, the distressing unwillingness of many interpreters to relinquish their sense of certainty is the result not of native close-mindedness but of imprisonment in a hermeneutic circle. Literary and biblical interpreters are not by nature more willful and un-self-critical than other men. On the contrary, they very often listen patiently to contrary opinions, and after careful consideration, they often decide that the contrary hypotheses “do not correspond to the text.” And of course they are right. The meanings they reject could not possibly arise except on the basis of a quite alien conception of the text. It is very difficult to dislodge or relinquish one’s own genre idea, since that idea seems so totally adequate to the text. After all, since the text is largely constituted by the hypothesis, how could the hypothesis fail to seem inevitable and certain?"

E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Validity in Interpretation (New Haven: Yale University, 1967) 166, as quoted in Walt Russel, Insights From Postmodernismís: Emphasis On Interpretive Communities In The Interpretation Of Romans 7 Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 37(2), p.517

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Paul the Law and the New Perspective Part III

From Weber to Bultmann

While Luther's general view of both Judaism and Paul would be sustained for the next four centuries, there was nonetheless a general tendency (recorded by Moore (1)) to attempt to show Christianity as cohering with Judaism, as its natural successor that any right-minded Jew should immediately convert to on those grounds alone. While there could still be a sharp bite of anti-semitism (they didn't convert, because Jews weren't right-minded), the emphasis was on continuity. This changed with the publication of F Weber's 1880 System der altsynagogalen palastinischen Theologie aus Targum Midrasch und Talmud. Weber's view would soon come to dominate Christian scholarship's opinion of Palestinian Judaism (1). Thus, for example, we find the following list regarding the interpretation of the term "works of the Law":

The most popular interpretation in the history of the church is that works of law refer to the attempt of human beings to establish their own righteousness by meritorious deeds (so Luther, Calvin, Sanday and Headlam, Burton, Barrett, Bruce, Bultmann, Käsemann, Cranfield, Morris, Fung). Works of law are often equated with legalism in this interpretation.

While we will come back to the phrase "works of the Law" later (in our discussion of The New Perspective itself), for now we'll focus instead on that particular interpretation of Judaism--as a religion of legalistic works-righteousness--and a whirlwind tour of the general model. The specifics will largely be left for later sections, where they will be discussed (and contrasted) with Sanders' covenantal nomism.

Weber's Judaism, which would later be endorsed (with subtle differences) by such notables as R H Charles, Wellhausen, Bousett, and of course Bousett's student, Rudolf Bultmann, had the following notable points (here drawing heavily from Sanders, 1977): The fall of man estranged man from God, though does not represent original sin in the Christian sense. An account was kept of both good deeds and sin, which would be weighed against each other in the judgment. Repentence exists, but its functionality is limited; it does not justify one, and it fails to bring one to the kingdom of heaven, which remained locked due to the aforementioned estrangement. Man was granted another chance, by being given the Law. The acceptance of the covenant provides short-lived grace, which is then reneged with the worship of the golden calf (a very curious interpretation!).

Fulfillment of the Law warrants salvation. Since no one can fulfill all of the Law, it ultimately comes down to the previously mentioned merits and demerits, which are weighed against each other. Additional good points can be earned for good works over and above the Law. Atonement both exists and is effective, but apparently has little effect on the final weighing (according to Sanders, Weber never really describes this conundrum).

Finally, and perhaps most misinformed, Weber suggests that God in Judaism was inaccessible.(3)

This view was disseminated rapidly. It was thus repeated by notable scholars like Albert Schweitzer and R H Charles, shortly before the turn of the century, could thus repeat it without reservation (though the latter omits the two falls) (4). Curiously (and just to mix it up a little with something not drawing heavily from Sanders), Charles could also cite Schechter and his take on the Law, in reference to Tobit, despite the fact that he is difficult to reconcile with Weber (5).

This view was later taken over by Bousett, though he would deny the possibility of transfer of merit. He would, in turn, pass it on to his student, Rudolf Bultmann, who, being the giant that he was, rapidly passed it on to NT scholarship at large, with some existentialist additions (6)

Meanwhile, Koberle's important (if incorrect) work on Judaism led to the important realization that Judaism is founded on the election. However, he saw the election as a form of nationalism, and the interpreted the literature as indicating that the commandments were a yoke. He sees Judaism as ultimately and inevitably leading to the pessimism of IV Ezra, however, he recognizes that Judaism could not have survived such a view. Here he finds the birth of the "weighing" of merits and demerits against each other. (7)

Perhaps most notable is the general absence of dealing with literature first-hand. Weber's view was, for the most part, simply repeated. It became more dangerous (and more easily promulgated), however, with the publication of Billerbeck's lenghty compilation of parallels between the NT and Rabbinic Literature. Billerbeck, having endorsed Weber's view, provided "parallels" which were frequently the product of his own imagination and preconception. Many NT scholars, lacking either access or training relevant to Tannaitic literature simply cited Billerbeck as though he was the primary source. (8) This misuse of Rabbinic material would become the basis for perhaps the most oft-referenced paper to ever come out of the JBL, former SBL president Samuel Sandmel's still relevant Parallelomania, which amounted to a crucifixion of those using Billerbeck for Rabbinic material.

Out of breath yet? Our rapid survey can perhaps be summed up as follows: There was (and in some circles still is) a pervasive view among NT scholars of Rabbinic Judaism being a religion of legalism, where one's standing before God was based on the weighing of merits, God was largely inaccessible, and atonement and grace largely ineffective as a means to correcting oneself. Judaism was viewed as a religion that brought salvation through obedience to the Law.

This can hardly be considered a thorough assessment of the view of Judaism as legalistic. I emphatically encourage any interested party to read Sanders' Paul and Palestinian Judaism, esp. p.33-59, for a more detailed survey.


(1) E P Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, Philladelphia Pa.: Fortress Press, 1997, 33. Hereafter PPJ

(2)John E. Toews, Romans, (Believers church Bible commentary Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2004), 414.

(3) PPJ, 36-38

(4) PPJ, 39 n22

(5) R. H. Charles, Apocrypha of the Old Testament, 1:304-305.

(6) PPJ 44-47

(7) PPJ 42-43

(8) PPJ 42

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Paul the Law and the New Perspective Part II

Solo Fides, the Jews and the Papacy

As discussed previously, it seems unjust to me to attribute to Martin Luther the invention of the notion that Judaism was characterized by works-righteousness. Whether the interpretation is right or wrong, it is one Luther drew upon from his predecessors, not one born of his own mind. Likewise, Luther is not the first to pit Paul against such legalism, a tendency that can be seen as early as Augustine's dispute with Pelagius (1).

What Luther did do, however, was bring these views to the forefront, and enhance the analogue between them and the Catholic Church, motivated not least by his doctrine of solo fides, or justification by "faith alone." He found both Jew and Catholic lacking on this front, and could thus consider Paul to have been addressing both. Thus, for example, Luther writes on Gal 3:19

The Jews had the opinion that if they kept the law they would be justified thereby.(2)

And on Gal 4:10

I have known many monks in the Papacy, which with great zeal have done many great works for the attaining of righteousness and salvation, and yet were they more impatient, more weak, more miserable, more faithless, more fearful, and more ready to despair than any other. The civil magistrates who were ever occupied in great and weighty affairs, were not so impatient, so fearful, so faint-hearted, so superstitious, and so faithless, as these justiciaries [and merit-mongers] were.(2)

This interchangability--finding in Paul conemdnation of both Jew and Papacy--is a view he would compound throughout his discussion. Luther seemed to find in Paul an uncanny semblance of his own disagreements with the Roman Church. So much so that the terms "Jews" and "Papacy" are all but interchangable in Luther's work on Galatians.

Luther's analogue is made more clear in his comments on Gal 4:3, where the comparison is explicit:

These outward virtues and honest conversations be not the kingdom of Christ, nor the heavenly righteousness, but the righteousness of the flesh and of the world; which also the Gentiles had, and not only the merit-mongers, as in the time of Christ the Pharisees, and in our time the monks and friars(4)

While much more could be spent on Luther's position both on Paul and Judaism, neither are necessary here. Suffice to say that Luther was history's most vociferous proponent of Judaism as works-righteousness, and that his voice was loudest when comparing it to Catholicism. He may not have started the ball rolling, but he does appear to have been guilty of finding in Paul a reflection of self.

Next we'll take a whirlwind look at commentators between Luther and Bultmann, before getting to the more interesting (at least to me) subject matter: Covenantal Nomism. The next section will be heavily dependent on Sanders' Paul and Palestinian Judaism and Neusner's Encyclopedia of Judaism for both the chronology and summaries (some of which I've verified, some not so much, notes will be made accordingly) of the positions of various scholars falling in that chronological range.


(1) Erwin Fahlbusch and Geoffrey William Bromiley, The Encyclopedia of Christianity, (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leiden, Netherlands: Eerdmans; Brill, 1999-2003), 3:93-94.

(2) Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, Gal 3:19.

(3) Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, Gal 4:10.

(4) Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, Gal 4:3.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Eisenman's new Book Plugged on The Jesus Dynasty 'Blog

As per the title, James Tabor has plugged Robert Eisenman's forthcoming book.

I must confess, after his last effort (which relegated his observations on the shortcomings of radiocarbon to his own thoroughly unqualified declarations by fiat) I'm more than a little reticient about anything Robert Eisenman might have to say about the Dead Sea Scrolls. What's offered in the publicity blurb posted on Tabor's site sounds eerily--too eerily for my tastes--like one Barbara Thiering.

For anyone interested in whether or not I'll overcome my biases and read the book, the answer is probably not. Fool me once, shame on you. . .

Nice Article On Romans 2:12-16

There was a nice article in Vol.42 of the JETS that readers might be interested in (yeah, it's a little dated, but I am a dilettante after all):

Paul, the Law, Jews, and Gentiles: A Contextual and Exegetical Reading of Romans 2;12-16 by Jeffrey S. Lamp

Paul and Conversion

I came across this summary of Krister Stendahl's position on Paul and conversion, as outlined in Paul Among Jews and Gentiles (which I haven't gotten out of boxes yet, so couldn't quote directly--I'm not even sure what box it's in!--though heaven knows I've wanted to.), that's germane to the discussions in the blogosphere on Paul and conversion, and largely summarizes my own take on it:

In fact, Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus was not really a conversion at all, according to traditional definitions of conversion. Paul did not change religions nor did he suffer from an inner experience of guilt or despair. Stendahl suggests that Paul’s experience is better understood as a call to be the apostle to the Gentiles. Because of this call he begins to ask questions about what happens to the Law now that the Messiah (see Christ) has come and what the Messiah’s coming means for relationships between Jews and Gentiles. Paul arrives at a new view of the Law as he answers these questions, not as he struggles with the meaning of the Law in his own life. Paul’s Damascus Road experience is part of his unique apostolic call and is not meant to be an example of a Christian conversion.

Gerald F. Hawthorne et al., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ( Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 157.

Paul the Law and the New Perspective Part I

Well, I'd originally planned to do this in fewer, but substantially longer, segments. But in the interests of time and brevity of posts, I've opted to go with shorter items in greater number. The current plan is 2 or 3 posts outlining Judaism as Legalistic, moving toward Sanders and Covenantal Nomism (which will have a few more posts than that, though I'm not sure how many yet), before finally culminating with a brief survey of current trends in NPP scholarship and opponents.

The title of the series is, of course, shamelessly stolen, though slightly adapted, from Sanders' Paul the Law and the Jewish People.

Works Righteousness, Paul and Judaism: A Long Tradition

Works righteousness can perhaps most succinctly be defined as a soteric conviction that one's standing before God is based on preforming meritous deeds. In the context of Judaism, it is the view that Judaism is characterized by a conviction that one must preform a sufficient number of acts of Torah (usually as contrasted to the weight of wrongdoings) to curry God's favor.

Such a view has a long tradition when assessing Judaism, dating at least to the authorship of the book of Luke, where we find in 18:14 the contrast between the Pharisee, attempting to righteous himself by works, and the tax collector, appealing to God's mercy.(1) If the parable is pre-Lukan, it could, of course, have had a different connotation in a different context, but that's neither here nor there for the moment. Luke's presentation of the parable betrays Luke's own conviction that the Pharisees were preaching a religion of works-righteousness.(2)

This trend continued through the early Church writers (who also incorporated it into their own writings, partly in order that they may save Jewish Scripture for their religion--a turn of events that would eventually play no small role in the reformation). Thus, for example, Tertullian's Against Marcion 5.3, or his Answer to the Jews Ch.2 (3), or Justin Martyr's Against Trypho Ch.14.

That Judaism lends itself easily to such a view--particularly Rabbinic Judaism (which will be discussed more fully in subsequent posts) seems self-evident. The focus on the law leads easily to the conclusion that it is motivated directly by soteriology. And it has done so to outside observers--particularly Christian outside observers (motivated, as they are, to look for it by virtue of the Pauline corpus) for millenia.

My next post will take a fuller look at commentators on Paul and their reading of him in the light of Jewish legalism--both their conception of Judaism, and their subsequent understanding of Paul (which, I will suggest, in fact works in reverse, with the former defined by the latter).

My primary purpose in this introduction has been to show that the equating of Judaism with legalism is not, as many commentators would have it, the invention of Luther. Nor was Luther wrong in equating "Jewish Legalism" with Catholicism. It is indeed the perception of the former that inspired the latter. When Luther read in Paul an analogue to his own situation (which I'd suggest he doubtlessly did), he did so primarily on the terms of existing interpretations, not on ones of his own making. He may have attributed his own theology to Paul, but the attribution of his opponents theology to Paul's opponents was not of his making.

And no (to head off the obvious supposition), I'm not Lutheran. Or any other kind of Protestant.


(1) Irvin A. Busenitz, "The Reformer's Understanding of Paul and the Law," (.pdf) The Master's Seminary Journal 16.2, p.248.

(2) While the parable employs obvious caricature--the characters are polarized to emphasize them as foils--the point nonetheless still holds.

(3) Somewhat ironically, Tertullian could also sound eerily Sandersian at times:

But even in the common transactions of life, and of human intercourse at home and in public, even to the care of the smallest vessels, He in every possible manner made distinct arrangement; in order that, when they everywhere encountered these legal instructions, they might not be at any moment out of the sight of God. For what could better tend to make a man happy, than having “his delight in the law of the Lord? ”“In that law would he meditate day and night" (Against Marcion, 2.18).

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Citation Wiki?

I was recently discussing with Chris Weimer the possibility of working on a "Wiki" for references pertaining to Biblical studies and general antiquities. Such databases already exist, of course, perhaps most notably in the form of the ATLA Database. However, as one living in the information age, it seems to me that these sorts of resources should be 1) Free, and 2) Exploiting the intelligence of their users.

Since compiling any sort of meaningful reference database would be a massive undertaking for one or two people, the suggestion of a "wiki" format (raised by Chris) seems to make sense. However, such a thing would be contingent on the willingness of those who might use it to both share their knowledge, and help improve the project.

Since my readership, presumably, consists of people who would use such a thing, I've posted a poll (on the right) where readers who are so inclined can vote on their own interest in either seeing or contributing to such a project. In true dilettante fashion, I'll then show that there's nothing more dangerous than an amateur with statistics based on insufficient samples by offering broad conclusions based on few responses. Or maybe not. We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Biblical Studies Carnival VIII

The eighth edition of the Biblical Studies Carnival is up on Kevin Edgecomb's Biblicalia, so be sure to go and have a look.

Update Wow. Be sure to take a look at the Google results linked in the Carnival for The One Book Meme. It's wild how far and how fast it spread. Vive la blogosphere!