Monday, October 24, 2005

Jewish and Christian Texts

Rafael Rodriguez at The Verily Verily raises some good questions about the Jewishness of the NT. He opens up by alluding to Nickelsburg’s new book Ancient Judaism and Christian Origins (which I’ve flicked through and intend to buy at SBL/ETS) on how a hard and fast distinction between Jewish and Christian texts is a false dichotomy. I couldn’t agree more. The NT remains firmly within the orbit of Jewish belief , although one does observe within the NT practices and beliefs that gradually led to the dis-synagoguing of Christians (cf. Jn 9.22; 12.42) and resulted in Christians being marginalized from Jewish communities (cf. Rev. 2.9). Still, even texts which seem overtly Christian (like Luke-Acts) should be regarded as a variation of a theme within ‘common Judaism’. What made Christian writings Christian was a theological aspect (esp. christology), hermeneutical aspect (reinterpreting the Jewish Scriptures through a christological lense) and a functional aspect (operating as Scripture in Christian gatherings). Christian Scripture, its interpretation and composition, marked a variation between and a reaffirmation of ideas and beliefs within second-temple Judaism.

At the same time, there probably did come a time when Christian Scriptures began to be recognized as inappropriate for Jewish audiences. In b.Shab. 116 it states that Jews should not bother saving ‘the books of the minim’ from the fire. The books in question probably refer to the Gospels. Also, b.Meg. 9a chastises the LXX probably because it functioned as Christian Scripture. Of course, how far these Talmudic views can be exported into the first and second centuries is an open question.

I think a larger question looming in the back ground is not how one distinguishes a Jewish writing between a Christian one, but how did one tell a Christian from a Jew? And, when did Christianity break with Judaism – more anon on that one.


metalepsis said...

A warning on book purchases:

Just to remind you Mike, that most airlines only allow 2 bags at 70 pounds to be checked in before they start charging you extra!

At this rate you may have to leave the extra clothes at SBL!

J. B. Hood said...

Mike doesn't wear "extra" clothes--like Paul Hogan, he only wears one alligator skin vest and a single pair each of all-terrain pants and boots. Since he can't take his gator-killing knife (post 9-11, something Paul Hogan never had to deal with), he should have plenty of room.

Mike, great post, the best of NTW (redef. of monotheism, election; nature of J's vocation, etc) and other recent NT scholarship coming at us full force. I just prepped for Kingdom of God lecture at this Bible College in Russia...can it get more Jewish than that?

Rafael Rodriguez said...


I think you're comments are right on (of course). But I think there are still interesting questions re: the 'christological' (re-)interpretation of the Bible, etc. PRECISELY AS Jewish phenomena. Qumran could elevate 'the Teacher of Righteousness' as the guarantor of correct exposition; Jubilees could identify its 'correct' interpretation of Torah. The identification of JESUS as the interpretive key to Israel's traditions may have been a 'Christian' practice, but it seems to me to be understandable as a Jewish manoeuvre.

As you seem to suggest, I think there are other factors (not just theological) at play in the differentiation b/n Judaism and Christianity. But inasmuch as post-70 CE Jewish groups were casting Christians beyond the pale of normative Judaism, should we follow them in this? Would, say, Johanan ben Zakkai have accepted those who read the Enochic texts as Jewish? Perhaps no more than the author of the Fourth Gospel would accept Caiaphas as a 'child of God'.

I think the larger question, though, is what use early Christian texts can be used to reconstruct 1st-century Judaism (not just in what it reacts against, but also in what it proposes) AS JEWISH TEXTS, not as Christian texts commenting on Judaism. I'd be interested in such a project, I think.