Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Dunn's Partings 4: A Temple Made with Hands

On to chapter 4 of J. D. G. Dunn's The Partings of the Ways. This title has to do with Stephen's apparent critique of the temple in Acts 7 and whether it constitutes a partitioning (to revise Dunn's language) of the ways.

Dunn's conclusion is that "the Stephen episode marks the beginning of a clear parting of the ways between Christian and Jew, as also probably to some extent between 'Hebrew' Christian and 'Hellenist' Christian - at all events the first rending of a major seam in a Judaism still best designated 'second Temple Judaism'" (94-95, italics his).

I think Dunn might use Boyarin's language if he were writing this chapter today--it is more a partitioning than a parting, if Dunn's interpretations are correct. I don't have the first edition here at home, but I wonder if the final paragraph of p. 99 is a new addition (I'll check): "the more we see a split opening up between 'Judaism' and 'Christianity' at this point, the more we must recognize that it was also a split within the new movement, between (the majority of?) Jewish Christians and others.

He also notes that "the Judaism which emerged from the first century was also able to reconstitute itself without the resource of the Temple and its cult" (99).

OK. So those are Dunn's conclusions from this chapter. What is the argument?

4.1 Earliest Followers
The first part of the chapter documents what in my mind must certainly have been the case. The core of Jerusalem Christianity participated fully in the life of the temple. Dunn makes a number of observations to support this conclusion:

1. They remain in Jerusalem (which in his mind creates serious historical doubts about the present form of the Great Commission in Matthew... he suggests the words of Matthew here "reflect a later perception of the missionary task," 77). They saw the temple as the focal point of the eschatological climax of God's purpose for Israel.

2. They attended the temple and participated in the cult. He mentions Matthew 5:23-24 again and James admonition to Paul to participate in a temple ritual in Acts 21:24. The historicity of these data need not be established since they certainly imply that some Christians had these views, or else they would not have been put in these texts.

3. Absence of a theology of the cross in the sermons of Acts.

4. Earliest Christianity differed from Qumran as much as it was alike, so need not have the same theology of the temple.

5. However, references to Peter, James, and John as pillars is temple like imagery. It is possible that the early community did see itself as the eschatological temple of God. Dunn does not believe that the early church, however, saw this fact to abrogate use of the temple, since they continued to use it.

4.2ff The Hellenists
Dunn sees the Greek-speaking Jewish community in Jerusalem quite differently from the core, Aramaic-speaking Jerusalem believers. In particular, he believes Stephen's attitude toward the temple to be what gets him killed and what becomes the core issue in the persecution of the Hellenistic believers of Acts 8. We should be careful of course not to assume that all Greek-speaking believers agreed with Stephen.

Dunn believes that Luke has drawn Stephen's sermon from a source of some kind, differing as it does in theological perspective from the bulk of Acts. Dunn follows others in noting an underlying sense of geographical displacement from Judea in the narrative presentation of Israel's history. Abraham receives his call in Mesopotamia. Jacob is buried in Shechem, Moses spends all his life outside the promised land. Stephen jumps straight from the idolatry of the calf to worship of the host of heaven, which Jews considered the basis of the exile. In short, the time of Israel in Judea is bracketed within two episodes of apostacy.

Crucial for Dunn is not just Stephen's jump to "God does not dwell in buildings made with hands" from the mention of Solomon's temple. Most crucial is the phrase "made with hands" itself, for this term is used of the idolatrous idols mentioned earlier in the sermon. To use this phrase of the temple would have been massively divisive!

4.5f Significance
Dunn sees Stephen's statements here as the beginning of a breach between Christianity and Judaism over the temple. He suggests that "it was with Stephen and the Hellenists that a theology of Jesus' death as a sacrifice which ends all sacrifice first emerged" (94). It's important to reiterate that this is only one stream within a movement and that Stephen would not have seen it as a breach too. "Stephen speaks still as a Jew eager to live within the terms actually laid down in the scriptures to his people" (93).

Dunn makes some observations about the rest of Acts 8-12 that he thinks implies the same. Philip goes to Samaria, which was not least divided with Judea over the validity of the temple. The Ethiopian eunuch would not be allowed in the temple. Paul's persecution came under the authority of the high priest of the temple. The Peter/Cornelius incident not least involves issues of purity.

4.6 Evaluation
There are some great observations in this chapter and well worth considering. Of course they go against one of my signature ideas, alluded to in Cosmology and Eschatology of Hebrews and the basis of a book proposal I have in play. My argument is that the idea of Christ's death as a sacrifice does not in itself imply the end of the temple cultus. This idea, I argue, was a realization that largely developed after the destruction of the temple, although the temple was already well marginalized within Pauline Christianity.

One doesn't want to hold onto an idea simply because you have already published a different position (although we suspect this happens all the time :-). My argument has been, however, that William Manson had the relationship between Hebrews and Acts 7 reversed. Hebrews may very well stand in the tradition of Hellenists like Stephen in Acts 7, no problem there. But I have suggested that the portrait of Stephen in Acts 7 has also been influenced by individuals like the author of Hebrews.

In other words, Luke likens Stephen to contemporaries of his like the author of Hebrews, making Stephen sound even more radical for his time than he was. I will, however, reflect more on the issue.

2 comments:

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Thank you, Ken. So, how do the Jews view the destruction of their Temple differently than the early Christians? Was this the beginning of a "spiritualized faith" that was disconnected from the "real world"?
And how do you understand this developmentally (collective, personal, historical or what)?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

And do you think that this is what is happeing presently within the Anglican communion? And has happened over and over within the Protestant tradition? Has Judiasm had the same historical events in its history ("separatists separating" besides the Quram community)?

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