Friday, January 25, 2008

Book Note: Judaism and the Gentiles. Jewish Patterns of Universalism (to 135 CE) by Terence L. Donaldson

Baylor Press had just released a book by Terence L. Donaldson called Judaism and the Gentiles: Jewish Patterns of Universalism (to 135 CE). It is 563 pages. The thesis, that Judaism was not a particularistic religion, but was as inclusive and open to other nations as was Christianity, is not only discussed across the literature, but also physical evidence weighs in. Four main patterns of universalism are argued: (1) that there was a spectrum of Gentile sympathizers who engaged in activity that appears to imply some measure of sympathy for Jews and Judaism; (2) that there were converts, both proselytes and those Gentiles who fully adopted a Jewish life and community; (3) that there were ethical monotheists, who saw the Torah and Greek philosophy as parallel paths to the same end, a universal deity and a life of virtue; (4) that there was a belief in eschatological redemption for the Gentiles who would abandon idols and turn to Yahweh in worship.

The book is set up in a way that allows for a case-by-case examination of each piece of evidence. This is a wonderful procedure because it allows for each passage, document or inscription to be evidence for its own time and place, leaving open sociological and geographical variations. All the texts are recorded in full in the first half of the book. Each is introduced by a handy guide, telling where the original is published, what translation is used, date, provenance, original language, and short bibliography. What follows each text is Donaldson's commentary. The texts are grouped in these categories: Scripture/LXX/Apocrypha; Pseudepigrapha; Qumran; Philo; Josephus; Greco-Roman Literature; Early Christian Literature; Inscriptions.

Part 2 is a dedicated discussion of the evidence culled from Part 1. So Donaldson has a chapter each on Sympathization; Conversion; Ethical Monotheism; Participation in Eschatological Salvation.

In the end, Donaldson argues that Christianity's globalization of its religion is not a unique development of Christianity. It is firmly based in a universalism already at work in Judaism.


Geoff Hudson said...

Such a broad-brush work must inevitably be superficial, never arriving at the real history which was 'water under the bridge' by the time the extant documents were written in their "own time and place".

Leon said...

It certainly sounds like a good book. I hope to read it soon. The evidence has always been there. I have been arguing the same for years. I could not tell from your brief description if Donaldson mentions this, but high on the list of evidence should be Acts frequent references to the gentile God-fearers. They were Paul's first major gentile audience. The only other scholars I have found who make a point of Judaism's openness to the gentile world are John Gager and Krister Stendahl. Without this, Christianity could not have developed as it did. But while Judaism's appeal to gentiles was an advantage at first for the Jesus movement, it would soon turn into an obstacle when the Church came to regard Judaism's openness as competition. Marcel Simon made a point of that, if I recall.

Leon Zitzer