Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Jesus the Israelite?

As a response to some of my responders to my last post - My concern about the discussion is exactly the implication of Elliott's title: "Jesus the Israelite was neither a Jew nor a Christian." I don't want to see the distinction between Judaism in Galilee and Judaism in Judea move in the same direction as we saw when the feminist biblical scholars began arguing that Jesus supported women while the rest of the Jews of his time did not. Eventually Jesus was revolting against Judaism, a problem that Fiorenza had to deal with in her book In Memory of Her. I don't want to see the same mistake made here - that Jesus was a "good" Israelite from the north revolting against the "bad" Jews of the south.

The Galilean-Judean distinction that is being used by some scholars is not necessarily an emic enterprise as Deane suggests in her comments on my last entry. My observations suggest that it is etic. It appears to me to be a contemporary way for some scholars to call Jesus something other than "Jew" and to soften or deny the anti-semitism that was part of the Christian movement and is found in first-century Christian texts. If Jesus was only against Judeans in the south, then that lessens the anti-semitic nature of the gospels, especially John. Yes, I continue to have major concerns that scholarship on Jesus is largely about how unlike other Jews Jesus was. This is not an ad hominem argument! It is an actual observation, and it begs us to become introspective, to come to terms with our biases, Christian or otherwise.

I also have concerns that this enterprise is connected to Q and the now popular opinion among many North American scholars that it represents a lost Galilean form of Christianity that was in opposition to Jerusalem. The evidence for this is slim. Not only is this idea based on a minimally reconstructed hypothetical document, but its foundational argument lies in the cities named in the Q material. Honestly, what does this mean that Q names Galilean cities? Could it have to do with the fact that Jesus was from Nazareth and his mission was around this area until he went south bringing his message to Jerusalem? All his disciples ended up in Jerusalem - like Jesus they took a Galilean movement to Jerusalem.

Does Jesus' orientation as a Galilean make him opposed to the Judeans in the south? Was his brand of religion different from that in the south? Was he inclusive of Samaritans? Not if we take Matthew 10:5-6 seriously. He appears to me to have understood "Israel" to mean all Jews, northern and southern, but not Samaritans or Gentiles. His movement appears to me to have been about reconstituting the twelve tribes of Israel. The use of the word "Israel" is not a designation for the north, but the designation of the ideal nation of God's reconstituted people gathered together at the end times. So Jesus took his movement and twelve disciples south to Jerusalem, where he taught and probably got arrested because of a riot he caused at the Temple. Over what we can only guess. He may have had concerns like the Jews at Qumran that the Temple had been defiled. But if we take seriously his saying in Matthew 5:23-24 about taking your offering to the altar after you have been reconciled to the person you sinned against, it doesn't look like he was anti-Temple. His disciples certainly weren't. After Jesus' death, we hear from Luke that they taught regularly at the Temple and attended daily the prayers. James, the leader, was said to be so regular a temple-goer that he developed calluses on his knees because of his prayer posture.

As for "ethnic" Judaism, this is also an etic concept now in vogue. It is a taxonomy that is confusing at best. Ethnic Judaism is largely the consequence of secularism and WWII when agnosticism and atheism became real options for Jews. In the ancient world, to be Jewish involved the religious dimension: to be devotee of Yahweh, to be part of his covenant, to be recipients of his promises, to be observers of his law. So to use "ethnic" Judaism as a descriptor of the Second Temple Period runs amok because of its association with secularism.


Nick Kiger said...

Your last paragraph raises a great question about what it meant to be "religious" or "secular" in the ancient world. I don't know that a distinction would have been made. When looking at a Greco-Roman religious practice can we distinguish a religious Roman from a secular Roman? I think not. We may be able to distinguish a pious Roman from a less-pious Roman but other than that I don't think this distinction existed in the ancient world, especially at the level we hold it today.

Jared said...

This should not deny, however, 1) local variations and 2) temporal variations in the Second Temple Period, even as they revolve around some core issues of Temple, Torah, exclusive worship of YHWH, etc.

The Judaism in Judea probably did differ than that in Galilee (and that in the Diaspora, such as Alexandria, Rome, etc.), not only in terms of different INTERPRETATIONS (not rejections) of central religious institutions that were a part of the world of all Jews (Torah, Temple, God, Sabbath observance, etc.), but also social, economic, and demographic differences (on all these issues, see Goodman, _Ruling Class of Judea_ and a newer and much better argued synthesis in Schwartz, _Imperialism and Judaism_). This is not to say that one is "good" and the other is "bad" or one is "better" than the other. Such terminology should not exist in our studies. And such variation should not contribute to a major problem in NT and early Christianity scholarship of "Christian exceptionalism."

Moreover, the practices and terminology of Jew/Judean/Judaism change throughout time. In the Persian period, it appears to be primarily a geographical designation: Yehudi/Yehudit is someone from the Persian district of Yehud in the region "beyond the river." Moreover, the definition of "who is a Jew" was disputed among ancient Jews themselves, especially when you get into the sticky border cases of intermarriage and conversion...which can tell a lot of whether family/kinship relationships predominate or practices predominate (see the very different ideas in Ruth, Ezra/Nehemiah, Joseph and Asenath, etc.). Ezra/Nehemiah clearly rely upon lineage and portray conversion as an impossibility, BUT they were clearly opposing those in their society that did think it was possible. Ruth, from roughly the same period, views intermarriage itself as a form of conversion. Then Joseph and Aseneth suggests that intermarriage can only occur AFTER conversion (contra Shaye Cohen). One would note in this context that Galilee only came under Judean rule under the Hasmoneans in which there were probably mass conversions and/or mass emigration and/or already a sizeable large Judean settlement in Galilee.

HOWEVER, by the first century CE, Jesus clearly was someone who would have counted from all sides of the ancient debate whether by ethnos or by practice as a Ioudaios/Yehudi, even given some interregional variances.

Steven Craig Miller said...

April asks: Does Jesus' orientation as a Galilean make him opposed to the Judeans in the south?

One obvious problem is that we have so little hard data about the 1st century Galilean “Judaism” that one person’s speculation is just about as good as the next person’s speculation on the problem. At the very least, the gospels record that Jesus and the Pharisees were often in disagreement, was it due in part to the fact that Jesus was from Galilee and the Pharisees had their headquarters in Jerusalem? Geza Vermes has suggested that part of their disagreement stemmed from regional variations in Judaism. His argument seemed to me to be plausible, at the very least, it seems to me to be more plausible than the notion that there were no differences of opinion between Galileans and Jerusalemites. But I would be skeptical of taking the regional argument too far, we just don’t have enough hard data.

Deane said...

I don't have immediate access to the recent article by Elliot, so I'll leave it open as a possibility to ponder whether some of these scholars are wanting to take the "Jew" out of Jesus or are motivated by eliminating the (arguably) anti-Semitic comments in the NT. I’ve just read Hector Avalos, who points out actual instances of bible translators softening the statements about Jews/Judeans, and agree that the translators have this precise motivation (pp 56-58 in The End of Biblical Studies). But, in the absence of specific proof, I would presume that scholars are interpreting the data before them, so for now I don't accept your general criticism of participants in the current Jew/Judean debate.

Yet, isn't there a danger in all these arguments from motivation? If people are motivated to soften the arguably anti-Semitic statements in early Christian literature, it is still a valid question to ask if their stated reasoning (not their unstated motivation) is sound. The two don’t necessarily correspond. As Popper noted, motivation can be irrational, but the science can still be rationally sound. There may be some scholars who not only distinguish Judean Israelites from northern Israelites but are also motivated to call them "bad" and "good" as you suggest (are there really any?), but there conclusions can still be sound. Even Gerhard Kittel wrote one or two sound entries about Jewish culture in his dictionary ...

Fiorenza's method of criticism proceeds by focussing on motivation, of course. In her (post-modern) way, she claims one can be a “critical” interpreter even if one limits criticism to “an explicit articulation of one's rhetorical strategies, interested perspectives, ethical criteria, theoretical frameworks, religious presuppositions, and sociopolitical locations". This approach is defended by Daniel Pate, amongst others. But none of these factors address the strategies and devices of the text itself. If the text is so hard to interpret after all these centuries, then we might just put up our hands and admit as much. But I don't see how it is defensible to fill the gaps in our knowledge with personal whim, as Fiorenza does, and still claim to be critical. "I don't know" is critical. "I wish the text said this" is uncritical. But, that's just my problem with Fiorenza, and I'm starting to digress ...

More to the topic of conversation--and it is an interesting one, too. I really think that the debate about the self-understanding of first-century Israelites (which is, I think, the concern of the debate) are very much more close in viewpoint to your own wider positions, than those of their opponents. In Annette Yoshiko Reed and Adam H. Becker’s collection (The Ways that Never Parted), the writers show how the assumptions underlying the early “Parting of the Ways” model, which posited a definitive break between Christianity and Judaism from the first or second century AD, cannot now be sustained. Reed and Becker note, “most scholars now reject its major presupposition: the equation of rabbinic Judaism and proto-orthodox Christianity with “Judaism” and “Christianity” in a global sense” (19). Summarising the contributions in the volume, they affirm that Christianity was multiform rather than amorphous, that proto-Orthodoxy was not dominant before Nicea, and that Judaism did not consist only of rabbinic Judaism from Yavneh onwards but continued to be diverse in the Tannaitic period (19). Isn’t the Jew/Judean debate a part of this wider debate? And isn’t this attention to specifics crucial also for understanding second century “Christianity”?

Pastor Bob said...

Was Jesus Jewish? In the definition of 1st Century Judaism, certainly, if we can believe any of the information in the gospels. The problem about making arguments for differences based on geography and even gospel texts is as steve craig miller said:

"One obvious problem is that we have so little hard data about the 1st century Galilean “Judaism” that one person’s speculation is just about as good as the next person’s speculation on the problem."

I think we can make this statement larger. We have limited information about 1st century Judaism. After all, what did we have before the Dead Sea Scrolls? We had Josephus, The Talmud, including stories and Torah interpretations from earlier times, probably edited. We had the New Testament and what else? So we knew something about Rabbinic Judaism but have to admit that the was edited by later generations. We had Josephus but we aren't quite sure what Josephus actually wrote and what was added later. And we had the gospels, which had edited material to show a distinctly Christian (although from multiple viewpoints) perspective. Even in the canonical New Testaments we see differing viewpoints.

So how are we supposed to say this is a Galilean Jewish position? We don't really know the difference between Galilean Judaism and Judean Judaism. All we know is that there were differing schools of thought and we can't even be absolutely sure what each school actually thought. Example: who really were the Essenes? Were they the writers of the non Biblical material in the Dead Sea Scrolls? Did the writers/copiers of the Dead Sea Scrolls live at Qumran or not? Disagreements between archeologists on this issue abound.

Maybe a little humility is needed.

Rebecca said...

I agree with those who argue that the parting of the ways was only a very gradual process (Annette Reed's book on the Fallen Angels brilliantly discusses this issue among others) - but that doesn't mean that Judaism didn't exist until the third century. To say that there is a continuum does not mean the phenomenon under discussion doesn't exist.

And thanks, April, for raising this issue.

Geoff Hudson said...

I do not believe that Mat.5.23 should be understood at face-value. An editor has changed the text to give the impression that Jesus was pro the sacrifice cult of the temple. The editor’s purpose was to mask the fact that the prophet was about the opposite. He was pro Spirit and anti law and anti animal sacrifice. Mat.5 contained some of the prophet's most powerful teaching about the Spirit. By implication it was anti law and anti priest, and was all about being IN the Spirit.

Mat. 5.22 has: "anyone who says to his brother, 'fool', is answerable to the Sanhedrin." (to be answerable to the Sanhedrin, 'his brother' was probably 'his priest'). The next phrase in the verse is simply: "But anyone who says, 'You fool!', will be in danger of the fire of hell." One expects an indication as to whom is being addressed. I suggest that the person edited out was the Spirit of God. Blasphemy against the Spirit was the most serious crime in the prophet's book. In calling the Spirit ‘You fool’, the person was in effect blaspheming in prayer.

Thus Mat.5.23 is in the context of prayer IN the Spirit. It was not about ‘offering your gift at the altar’, it was about ‘offering your PRAYER IN THE SPIRIT. The key is the extant phrase ‘leave your gift there IN front of the altar’ which should be ‘leave your PRAYER IN the Spirit’. I render 5.23, 24 thus: "Therefore, if you are offering your PRAYER and THE SPIRIT TELLS YOU that your brother has something against you, leave your PRAYER IN the SPIRIT. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then offer your PRAYER.

Other examples from Mat.5 are:

5.3 "Blessed are the poor IN THE Spirit, for theirs is the Spirit of God." This was about people who really were poor, not ‘poor in spirit’.

5.6. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for THE SPIRIT, for BY THE SPIRIT they will be filled." Prophets were filled with the Spirit – see 5.12.

5.12. "Rejoice and be glad IN THE SPIRIT in the same way AS the prophets who were before you."

5.18."THE SPIRIT tells you the truth, the smallest letter, the least stroke of the pen, will by the Spirit disappear from the Law." This was exactly the opposite from the extant text of the editor.

5.19. "Anyone who OBEYS one of the least of THE LAW'S commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called TO JUDGEMENT, but whoever OBEYS THE SPIRIT'S commands will be glorified in heaven." This was fundamental to the prophet’s teaching – obedience of the law DID NOT give purity of spirit. Obedience of the Spirit was the proof of the indwelling purifying Spirit.

Geoff Hudson said...

Does this sound as though the prophet accepted the status quo among Jews, or was the prophet about a complete makeover:

Mt.9.16."No-one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment,
for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse.

Mt.9.17.Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved."

It sounds more like Judas's 'fourth philosophy'.

Geoff Hudson said...

So you see that in Mt.9.14, the question asked of the prophet was not about fasting, but about sacrifice which the prophets did not do. And the prophet's answer in 9.15. was that there was no need to sacrifice while the Spirit was with them - new wine in new wineskins. And the guy asking the question in 9.14, was not the fictitious John, but none other than the High priest, possibly Annas whose priests of course did sacrifice.

Loren Rosson III said...

Rebecca wrote:

I agree with those who argue that the parting of the ways was only a very gradual process (Annette Reed's book on the Fallen Angels brilliantly discusses this issue among others) - but that doesn't mean that Judaism didn't exist until the third century.

Since Judaism emerged as a response to the temple's destruction, the term doesn't communicate the prior territorial relationship the chosen people had with the land of Judea. It's in that sense that Judaism didn't exist in the second temple period. That's not to deny continuities between Judeanism and Judaism, only that there are good reasons for seriously distinguishing between the two.

David Hillman said...

Jesus was as much of a Jew as Amos was - or any of the prophets. To ask who is the truer child of Israel Amos or the priest of Bethel is not a matter of lexis but is a political and moral question. William Blake said with truth that the infidel Tom Payne was a better christian than the orthodox bishop who criticised him. But this is a moral truth and in defining who is or is not a Jew or a Christian we must leave moral judgement temporarily aside and use the word Jew to mean anyone who is part of a community that has followed the religious traditions of the Jews. This would include both liberal Jews and such traditional Jews as the True Torah Jews in London who condemn Zionism and stand in solidarity with the Palestinians and also one Rabbi whose blog on the outrage at Shechem argued that Jacob disapproved of it only tactically and went on to suggest some outrageous acts that the Isreali army should now do. Yes there have always been many Judaisms - the mistake is to define some as non Jewish for ulterior motives.
There is a fine sign on the Via Delarosa, With some quotes I think from the second vatican council, which not only regret the wickedness of the church in blaming THE JEWS for the death of Jesus, but also emphasise how wrong it was to contrast Judaism as being only legalistic with Christianity as supposedly bringing a NEW message of love and forgiveness. Both Christianity and Judaism, and indded Islam too, can offer a new covenant of Peace and Justice. Those European scholars of the 19th and 20th century who tried to separate Judaism (bad) from the prophets (good)and Christianity (also good) were reflecting the antisemitism of upper class intellectuals of the age - but this had political and economic roots not real analytical work.
In Jesus' time Galileans were fully as Jewish as Judaeans.This whatever peculiarities his community might have had in its attitude.
I'm not saying definitions can be neatly tied up (was Herod a Jew? Were the Samaritans Children of Israel?) but I am saying that there is no evidence at all that Jesus was not fully Jewish, whatever his attitude to the written Torah (must be for it), the Temple (I guess he was for it like Amos and Isiah),Samaritans (probably didn't think about them much), women at wells, publicans and sinners (how can we know), he was an Israelite, a Jew, a Hebrew.
I do not see any EVIDENCE that he quarrelled with the pharisees - and if you read Irenaeus the split between the old Israel and the New came about because of the attitude of the Apostolic church not just to Jews but to Ebionites too. Clement and John were antisemitic in a way that Marcion actually was not.
Sorry for too much spouting.