Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New perspectives on Judaism

I thought I would take down some notes on the change that took place in the late twentieth century on our understanding of Judaism at the time of Christ in relation to early Christianity. These changes brought on three movements in New Testament studies: 1) the new perspective on Paul, 2) the third quest for the historical Jesus, and 3) the partings of the ways discussion.

More than any other figure, E. P. Sanders catalyzed these movements with his 1977 Paul and Palestinian Judaism. In Jesus studies, his Jesus and Judaism was less momentous, but still significant. Prior to him, we might point to rumblings like W. D. Davies' Paul and Rabbinic Judaism. But Krister Stendahl's "Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West" ranks up there for me as the real tour de force, my starting point.

Again, following my stream of consciousness to get these notes out, some basic shifts are:

New Perspective on Judaism
1. Judaism in general believed that acceptance before God was a matter of God's grace. No one could earn favor with God. All have sinned.

2. Jews kept the Law in response to God's grace, not to earn it. Keeping the Law was about "staying in" not "getting in."

New Perspective on Paul
1. Paul did not see himself as changing religions when he believed on Christ. Paul is not his Christian name but a name he probably had his entire life.

2. Paul did not consider himself a miserable failure at keeping the Law before he believed on Christ.

3. Even after believing, works remained a major part of Paul's equation, so much so that works might nullify one's salvation.

Third Quest for the Historical Jesus
1. Emphasis on the fact that Jesus was a Jew. Jesus' message likely fit within the spectrum of options current within Palestinian Judaism at the time. Jesus' message fits well within apocalyptic Judaism, as does John the Baptist's.

2. Jesus is not likely to have sparred much with Pharisees in Galilee, since they were overwhelmingly located in Jerusalem (Sanders).

3. The picture of Pharisees in Matthew in itself is not the entire picture. The portrait in the other gospels is more positive, especially in Luke-Acts. Pharisees were not all legalists, and Matthew's portrayal may have as much to do with conflicts at the time of his writing (ca. AD75-80) as with conflicts at the time of Jesus himself.

Partings of the Ways
1. Christianity was a form of Judaism in the first century, not a distinct religion. Gentile converts would have seen themselves converting to a form of Judaism. There was no official Roman policy relating to Christians in the first century. The question of whether Christianity was a "religio licita," a legal religion, was not a major factor in the first century.

2. The one of the Eighteenth Benedictions relating to heretics was not in play in the first century. There was no Jewish policy on expelling Christians from synagogues.

3. The early Christians did not see their worship of Jesus as a violation of monotheism, although different scholars explain this phenomenon in different ways.

4. The contribution I hope to make to this discussion is the claim that most Christians also stood within the main options for attitudes toward the temple while it stood.

What have I missed? I may edit this list as things occur to me...


Ben Garrison said...

Dr. Schenck,

I'm intrigued by the contribution you would like to make to this 'third quest' and the relationship of Christians to the temple while it stood. The only major third quest publicationI've read at this point is JESUS AND THE VICTORY OF GOD by Wright. One of the big ideas I took away from the book is the idea that the Gospel writers saw the destructionof the temple as Jesus' vindicationas the Son of Man.I don't think he specified this, but it seems that he thinks the historical Jesus spoke in this way, therefore implying that early Christians thought the destruction of the temple would be part of the eschatological happenings related to Jesus ministry.Did you understand him this way? Agree? Does this attitude toward the temple fit within the main options you alluded to above? Thanks for you input. Your blog is a source of constant new ideas for me.

Derek said...

Thanks, Ken. I like how you ordered these. I also start with Stendahl's work when teaching through these concepts. I wonder if mention of the emphasis of Jesus as prophet (and the specific ways he used the parables a la NT Wright) would be helpful for the third quest.

By the way, do you plan to attend the Wright conference in April? I'm looking forward to it.

Ken Schenck said...

I think I'll have to attend the conference, if there is still space by the time I get around to it. I do think prophet is a very important piece of the puzzle.

Ben, I'll think about this and hopefully respond later...

lg6 said...

Hi Ken - Im not so sure how 'Jewish' these perspectives are... i don't know many Jews today that believe 'we have all sinned'... that is a christian teaching that believs we are all born sinful'... something Judaism has never taught. the whole idea of G-d's grace - that is also christian. Maybe i am confused on the title - these are christian perspectives on Judaism? Not Jewish?

Ken Schenck said...

I did mean ancient Judaism. I don't have the Dead Sea Scrolls at hand but the Qumran hymns often have a sense of utter depravity, predestination, and God's grace as the sole basis of His rescue. The idea is that God is not forced to reward Israel because of how good they are but does so freely because He loves them.

I am not arguing that ancient Jews had some sense of total depravity (although the Qumran hymnist approaches that sometimes rhetorically), only that they did not expect a Jew never to have ever sinned (then why sacrifices) and that they did not believe their lives demanded God's favor.

By the same token, I do not think early Christianity (even Paul) clearly articulates a doctrine of total depravity and I believe it had expectations of works that many would consider "works righteousness."

Mark Hancock said...

Heady stuff. But thanks!