Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Wednesday Wright - Paul and the Faithfulness of God, chapter 2

Dare I say that I've restarted reading N. T. Wright's Paul and the Faithfulness of God? I finished chapter one in January of 2014! Wright has a book coming out this Fall on the history of the interpretation of Paul that I'm very much looking forward to, but may I find the strength to continue through this Leviathan until then.

So here are some observations from chapter 2 to jump start myself. My last post was here.

1. The title of chapter 2 is, "Like Birds Hovering Overhead." It comes from Isaiah 31:5: "Like birds hovering overhead, so the Lord of hosts will protect Jerusalem; he will protect and deliver it, he will spare and rescue it" (NRSV). So this 122 page chapter is going to be on the Jewish background to Paul.

Wright has already covered much of this territory in the first volume of the series: The New Testament and the People of God (NTPG). So in this chapter, he hopes especially "to bring out the way in which the faithfulness of Israel's God functions as a theme throughout so much of the period" (77) of the New Testament (the Second Temple Period or early Judaism).

2. So how about the Pharisees? Twenty years ago I found Wright's version of the Pharisees compelling. Mind you, if he was cautious to weigh in around greats like E. P. Sanders and Jacob Neusner, you can imagine how foolish I feel to have an opinion.

Nevertheless, I find his sense of them to make good sense. They were very popular and influential. He were active in promoting their perspectives. They were far more than a pure-food club but many were highly active politically. Wright largely divides the active from the non-active between the School of Shammai (active) and the School of Hillel (non-active).

So if we are to see the pre-believing Paul, if we are to see what zeal for the Law looked like, we need only turn to 1 and 2 Maccabees. Ioudaismos meant, "not simply the practice of a 'religion', but the active propagation of the ancestral way of life and its defense against attack whether from outside (as in the case of Mattathias) or inside (as in the case of Saul of Tarsus)" (89).

3. The third section of this chapter is the last I want to hit today. "Torah is a symbol which by its very nature is about praxis" (91).

There's some material on the temple here, which is of great interest to me. Wright goes a little too far, I suspect, when he says that "when you went up to the Temple, it was not as though you were 'in heaven'. You were actually there" (97). That comment just sounds ridiculous to me, at least when it comes to the overwhelming majority of Jews. I'm sure there were some heady Jews like Wright who thought that. But how many farmers or blue collar workers in your congregation would have thought that?

In general, I was disappointed with the next few pages (102-107).

a. Temple = cosmos.
b. Temple is connected with David.
c. Restoration of king = restoration of temple = new Genesis = new Exodus

"To those who pored over Torah night and day, looking for the consolation of Israel, this combination of motifs - Temple, presence, glory, kingship, wisdom, creation, exile, rebuilding, and unfulfilled promise - would be part of their mental and emotional furniture. Touch one and you would touch them all" (107).

Show me the texts. He is filling in too many gaps, seeing too much system. Are these all potentially related themes? Yes. But in reality groups tend to focus on some and not others. People aren't consistent, even thinkers, unless you're N. T. Wright. (P.S. There aren't many of those.)

In short, there seems to be a lot of ahistorical hermeneutic here disguised as a historical one. He is constructing too many connections between ideas in texts and not listening enough to the individual particularity of texts in history. It's not that I don't think there are some Jewish expectations to be found in the literature. It's that he just seems to take it too far, to reconstruct too much "common Jewish expectation" here.

More perhaps next Wednesday.

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