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.

Link to Elliott's article

Bob Webb sent me the e-link to Elliott's article, "Jesus the Israelite Was Neither a 'Jew' nor a 'Christian': On Correcting Misleading Nomenclature." He says that there were some problems with getting the online version uploaded, but that has been corrected, and it is now available electronically - for free from university libraries that have subscriptions for the journal. Thanks Bob.

I also want to point out another reference if you wish for help sorting out the use of Jew/Judean in the ancient world. I recommend reading Shayne Cohen, The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties (1999). Cohen covers what made or did not make Jewish identity during our period. He even discusses Herod the Great as a Jew. He handles tough questions like conversion, intermarriage, martrilineal descent, etc. His conclusion is that Jewishness is a construct created by the Hasmoneans in order to try to separate the Jew from the Greek.

Jew or Christian?

Some comments on those who posted their opinions in my last entry.

1. 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.
Absolutely. This is one of those "givens" for me. I'm glad that Jared articulated it. I had a paragraph written to this effect, but deleted it before I posted the last entry because I felt that it was getting too long-winded.

2. 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.
This is an absolutely essential point that many people unfortunately seem to miss. I hope Rebecca plans to publish something on this.

3. Deane said:
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.
I want to make something clear which I think is fuzzy. Long before Reed and Becker put out this collection, my doktorvater Jarl Fossum and my adopted doktorvater Alan Segal argued that Christianity was a Jewish movement long after the first century. I have been a loud advocate for this position myself both in my writing and in my classroom. You will always hear me talk about the NT literature as Jewish literature. I am not arguing that Christianity or Judaism in the first century or the second century were not multiform. Nor am I of the opinion that Christianity quickly became distinct from Judaism.

Now, having said this, at the same time I do not sustain the opinion that there was no separation between Judaism and Christianity in the first century. The creation of two separate religions from one was gradual, but it happened at different "moments" for different communities of believers within the traditions. For instance, for communities dominated by Gentiles, this separation happened more quickly than it did for communities maintaining their Jewishness. It also happened for different reasons, as complex as they are, including social identity formation alongside the most argued reasons which are usually christological or torah-related or the framing of orthodoxy.

As for the model of Boyarin, Reed, and Becker, who argue for a very late separation (if any at all), this model is not embraced by all nor has it become standard. If you haven't had a chance to read Giorgio Jossa's work yet, I highly recommend it. His important Italian book on this subject has just been translated into English: Jews or Christians?. He puts the brakes on all of this, and reassesses how the arguments for pluriformity are being (mis) used. He takes us back to Paul and the gospels, and asks us to look again from the perspective of a sociologist. Although I quibble with him over various interpretative points, I truly appreciate his candor and his willingness to reassess the current trends in biblical scholarship. Most interesting is his last chapter on Roman perspectives of Jews and Christians, and how early (60s) that they began making clear distinctions between these groups, treating them very differently from each other.

Enough for today. Must get to my writing.

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.

Now Jesus is not Jewish?

I have been so busy with the start up of classes that I haven't been able to keep up with the blogging world. But both Loren and Geoff mention that scholars on one of the list serves are discussing that Jesus wasn't Jewish. Loren mentions also the article by Jack Elliott. Doug Chaplin has also posted on the subject.

What is happening to us? I thought that "Judaisms" was bad enough, but now are certain scholars moving in the direction of deconstructing Judaism so that it will not exist at all in the Second Temple period? And/or are they really trying to argue that Jesus cannot have been Jewish?!

In my opinion, this is either nonsense to try to say something original (and perhaps sell more books and confuse the public who are finally beginning to hear that Jesus was Jewish and not a Christian!) or nomenclature gone wild (thanks to post-modernity which lately has gripped our imaginations).

Whether Jesus was a Galilean or a Judean can be an interesting erudite discussion, but it means nothing in regard to whether or not Jesus was Jewish by our conventional definition of that term. Like his brothers and sister Jews who lived in the south, Jesus was a Torah-observant, Temple-oriented, apocalyptic teacher who felt very strongly that God's covenantal promises would be fulfilled in Israel. He kept Sabbath, celebrated the festivals, was kosher, and worshiped Yahweh.

I think that it is time for us to face up to Jesus' Jewishness, and ask ourselves why the some in the academy (which many of us are a part of) continue to want to deny, ignore or get around this.

Judaism v. Judaisms

I am developing a real distaste for the trend in biblical studies toward variety, with no room for singularities. This is one of those "bad" consequences of post-modern thought in my opinion.

The notion that we shouldn't or can't talk about early "Judaism" because there was no normative expression borders on bogus. Also bogus is the notion that there was "normative Judaism" (=Pharisees) alongside other sectarian Jews like Sadducces, Zealots, Essenes, and the rest. Normative means that one understands one's particular expression of Judaism as normative. The Pharisees, Sadducces, Essenes, Zealots, etc. were Jewish - they all participated in Judaism as individual expressions of it.

To talk about early "Judaism" does not have to imply a static monolithic entity. It can just as easily refer to a dynamic religion in the second temple period with multiple expressions. It means that all Jews in this period identified with and participated in a particular set of traditions, practices, narratives, and memories as a community, although their interpretation of these may have differed from each other.

As I spoke in my NT class today, all expressions of early Judaism shared in a particular covenant relationship with a particular god YHWH, felt that the Torah was sacred and central to that relationship, and had a shared set of presuppositions about how the sacred texts were to be interpreted. They all worshiped YHWH as a god of holiness, a worship that was centered around the Temple and synagogues and that followed a liturgical festival cycle. They all shared a cosmology that pictured an enthroned king-like deity surrounded and supported by his court of angelic host. They all were involved in apocalyptic-thinking about Israel's future (even if to combat it as might be the case with the Sadducces).

So I retain the word "Judaism" in my academic vocabulary, and have begun resisting using the plural "-isms" except in rare well-defined cases.