Friday, March 10, 2006

Jesus, Torah, Sanders, Hengel and Deines

Over on Euangelion, Michael Bird has a post headed Jesus and Torah: I featuring a quotation from Martin Hengel and Roland Deines, ‘E.P. Sanders’ “Common Judaism”, Jesus, and the Pharisees’, JTS 46 (1995): 1-70 (15-16). It is not an article that Sanders himself was keen on:
Bill Farmer had urged me to read Josephus’ Jewish War while I was at Perkins (1959-62), and I had complied. What he saw in it, however, was (1) that lots of Jews were zealous for the law, which led to the view (2) that the Pharisees controlled Judaism and made people zealous, which was bad because (3) zeal for the law is the same as legalism, which is horrible. I eventually learned that none of this was true, but this experience made me miss most of the actual treasures in Josephus. Farmer’s views of Judaism were taken entirely from Joachim Jeremias. Approximately this same view of Josephus and Pharisaic control has now been argued by Martin Hengel and Roland Deines, “E.P. Sanders’ ‘Common Judaism,’ Jesus, and the Pharisees,” JTS n.s. 46, 1995, 1-70. The view is no better now than it was then. (E. P. Sanders, "Comparing Judaism and Christianity: An Academic Autobiography", April-May 2004: 36, n. 51).
One or two thoughts on the paragraph quoted by Michael:
Both Jesus and the Church fall outside the framework provided by the idea – valued so highly by Sanders – of a harmonious ‘common Judaism’.
The term "harmonious" added before 'common Judaism' illustrates one of the difficulties with Hengel and Deines's reading of Sanders. The point of Sanders' "common Judaism" is to find elements common to the majority of Jews in the Second Temple Judaism, not to imply that the Jews living then, or their views overall, were harmonious. That's why Sanders also uses terms like "common denominator Judaism". It is a simple point, but absolutely key if one is to interpret Sanders's views correctly.
After all, it is no accident that the movement initiated by Jesus opened itself step by step to an increasingly ‘law-free’ Gentile mission just a short time after his death. Nor is it an accident that the three ‘pillars’ at the Apostolic Council about eighteen years later, who were closely associated with Jesus, acknowledge uncircumcised Gentile Christians who were not under obligations to the Torah as full members of the Church, destined to experience eschatological salvation.
I have some trouble with this perspective. What is the evidence for a "step by step" movement "to an increasingly 'law-free' Gentile mission"? If anything, the evidence suggests the opposite -- Paul's Gentile converts are not compelled to be circumcised, and Gentiles eat food in fellowship with Jews in Antioch. But then some groups, the people from James in Antioch, the agitators in Galatia, push for some observance of works of the law among Gentile Christians. The natural assumption is that this kind of "Judaizing" (as Paul calls it) was an innovation and was not part of the earliest scene. As Paula Fredriksen points out in an article that should be compulsory reading for all NT students, Judaism, the Circumcision of Gentiles, and Apocalyptic Hope: Another Look at Galatians 1 and 2, JTS 42 (1991): 532-64, the early Christian inclusion of Gentiles into the people of God coheres with apocalyptic hope of the period, and it is a mistake to confuse inclusion with conversion. The key in the quotation above is "destined to experience eschatological salvation". The (male) Gentile who thinks himself to be included in the people of God, now that the Messiah has come, indeed experiences the hope of eschatological salvation, and does not contemplate circumcision. This is the earliest phase of the Jesus movement; it is later that people began to take the unprecedented step of suggesting circumcision and law-observance for Gentiles, and it is that new crisis -- in the 50s -- that Paul first meets in Antioch, and shortly afterwards finds himself reacting to in Galatians.

Update (Sunday, 22.52): thanks to Mark Nanos for these useful comments:
I would like to bring to your attention that the view you express [above], while widely shared, is precisely what my work on both Galatians in Irony of Galatians and my essay on the Antioch Incident in the edited vol. Galatians Debate and essay in Porter's vol. Paul and his opponents on the Jer. meeting seek to challenge. I like Fredriksen's essay too, and recommend it, but I do disagree on some points, one to discuss here.

I don't believe these texts support that there was (at Jer. meeting or Antioch from Galatians data, or in Galatia) this kind of judaizing from forces with the Christ-believing Judaism at work, arising later or not, but rather normal Jewish communal forces for conformity. These forces would likely have been at work from the start, although no doubt the case in Antioch is a later example of capitulating to this pressure that Paul can use to teach the Galatians. I offer several reasons for my views in these works; you might want esp. to see the Antioch essay in Debate.

I don't think the Gentiles were compelled to be circ. from before Paul; it was what made these Jewish groups suspect from the beginning. Otherwise they conformed to the common Judaism denominators (here I am supportive of the basic category Sanders seeks to establish; actually, it is an important element in my logic for identifying what makes the Christ-groups different but still falling within common Judaism, at least for Paul's groups, albeit at the boundaries, where controversy is stirred, and punishment exercised). In this policy alteration they argued that they still conformed, but made the change because of the force of God's hand which made clear that the end of the ages had dawned, when those from outside of Israel would join Israel in worship of the One God. Other Jewish (not-Christ-believing) groups, they contended, remained hitched to this-age terms for identifying these Gentiles turning to the One God when they demanded that they become members of Israel (the only place for righteous ones in the present age).

I do not deny that there were likely some Christ-believing Jewish groups who upheld proselyte conversion for non-Jews (as in Jervell's mighty-minority of early Acts 15), but I do not believe that Galatians is evidence of that case, or its example from Antioch.

The major difference I want to bring to your attention here is that your view (the common one, in this case) posits a difference between James and others of the so-called Jewish Christianity and Pauline Christianity that I do not see that the text of Galatians supports. I recognize that this was not what you were discussing, but thought you might like to know where an important element of your construction is under challenge. I hope eventually to do so in a more clearly defined big-project way.
I hope to comment on this in due course.


Justin D said...

a hearty 'amen' to the point about Sanders' common judaism.

Eric Rowe said...

I like your observation that the demand of Torah observance was the innovative element in the 50's whereas inclusion of the uncircumcised was accepted earlier. However, if Steven's sermon and the charges made against him reflect a historic situation, then the Christian movement already tolerated or advanced some views about Torah observance that rubbed other Jews the wrong way as early as the mid 30's or before.

Eric Rowe said...

Also, the idea that the Jerusalem visit in Galatians was the famine relief visit of Acts 11, not the Jerusalem council of Acts 15 is a huge discussion on its own. But, at the very least, it's worth acknowledging that this theory has some merits, and it would push the origin of the circumcision party to a time earlier than the 50's.

daviv52 said...

If the original basis for the mission t the Gentiles was the prophetic sources cited by Fredriksen, then why doesn't Paul cite these sources in Galatians to support his position?