Saturday, September 12, 2009

Steve Mason on Josephus, Jews, and Gospel

I've enjoyed and benefitted from several of Steve Mason's works on Josephus in the past few years (evident in my forthcoming Crossing Over Sea and Land) and below I'd like to do a quick book notice on his latest publication Josephus, Judea, and Christian Origins: Methods and Categories (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2009 [Available from Alban Books in the UK]) and briefly interact with his thought provoking article in Bible and Interpretation on "Methods and Categories: Judaism and the Gospel" which is adapted from the forementioned book.

Mason's study on Ioudaismos is highly informative and I don't contest most of what he says esp. the relation of Ioudaismos to Ioudaizein. What I do find objectionable is his view that Ioudaismos only became a "system" in the minds of later Christian interpreters. I doubt that because: (1) Paul's remarks in Galatians 1 about advancing in Judaism beyond most of his contemporaries assumes his advancement in beliefs and behaviours charactistic of the Judeans. In Mason's analysis Ioudaismos becomes equivalant to zelous which I doubt. (2) Philo and others can refer to the Israelite religion as a form of national philosophy which is a system of belief, indeed, they arguably reduce it to a set of philosophical tenets with some nationalistic trimmings. (3) The existence of sects like Pharisees and Essenes requires elements of an ideological profile that differentiates them from one another (i.e. sectarianism) and but also features that they share as well (i.e. Judaism). (4) The other problem of linking Ioudaismos to Ioudaizein is that, strictly speaking, Jews don't judaize! To "judaize" is something that only a non-Jew can do. For example, in Gal 2 Paul accuses Peter of forcing Gentiles to "judaize". Usage in Josephus confirms this since in Jewish War there is the story of the Roman commander Mitellius who offered to judaize to the point of circumcision. The Gentile inhabitants of the city of Antioch had to be wary of the "judaizers" who they feared would support the Jews during inter-racial tensions in the city. (5) Similarly, I would dispute Masons' claim that the category of "religion" did not exist, because it certainly did as the words threskeia and pietas denotes one's relgious behaviour. Where Mason's point is valid is that religion was not ordinarily divorced from territorial deities or regional loyalties. In counter-point, I would maintain the appropriateness of the term Judaism for signifying ethnicity and shared custom (John Barclay's definition!).

On "gospel", Mason's lexical study is again illuminating, esp. his translation of euangelion as "announcement" which I suspect (though I need to think more on this) does work. Once more, however, I contest his findings in one particular area. He writes: "I propose, to euangelion appears to be a term characteristic of Paul’s mission. It was something that he connected only with his own work, often in strikingly proprietary terms. He was eager to associate his own converts and followers with to euangelion as a shared treasure, but he became notably reticent to associate Christ-followers of other persuasions with it—not because they were unworthy, necessarily, but simply because they were different and not part of his mission, which was called to euangelion." But Paul did not connect "gospel" exclusively to his own work since he tells the Galatians that he and the Jerusalem church agreed on the "gospel" for the circumcised and uncircumcised (Gal 2:8-9) and he told the Corinthians that they could have heard the same gospel from Peter or from the other Apostles (1 Cor 15:11). Indeed, primitive gospel summaries found in Rom 1:3-4 and 1 Cor 15:3-5 look distinctively pre-Pauline. Luke also has a redactional habit of substituting euangelion for the verbal form euangelizomai. Luke is certainly a Pauline fan, but he is also an independent thinker and using non-Pauline sources as well. Even Mark who is a Pauline disciple seems to have Petrine sympathies as well according to the content of his Gospel and in later Christian tradition. Gerd Theissen suggests that Mark's use of "gospel" is "coloured" by usage of the word in the late 60s in association with Vespasian's rise to power. In the Synoptic Gospels Jesus does proclaim a gospel which many have taken to be a wild anachronism esp. if it is freighted with Pauline connotations. Even so, Jesus never proclaims the gospel of his death and resurrection which marks a fundamental discontinuity between the Synoptic Jesus and Paul. Jesus' statement about the "gospel of God" (e.g. Mk 1:15) seem clearly at home in a Palestinian context with analagous language found in Qumran (e.g 4Q521 col. 2). Paul was undoubtedly the main distributor of term "gospel" and he popularized a particular form of the expression in the early church, but I doubt that he was the progenator of the expression or even the single conduit through which it entered the grammar of the early church.

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