Saturday, January 25, 2020

England - Paul and the Law 6

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52. The highlight of my first year in England was surely the Durham-Tübingen Symposium on Paul and the Mosaic Law in the spring of 1994. The papers from the conference were later published. Jimmy was the convener of the meeting and scholars on Paul came from all over.

Looking through the Table of Contents of this book you can see that we graduate students were privileged to sit on the sidelines of the greatest world experts on Paul at that time--and we literally did sit in chairs at the edge of the room. Frankly, I do not think that the current lay of the land has yet added anyone comparable. Now that Dunn is retired, I'll give John Barclay the nod, who, interestingly enough, currently sits on Dunn's chair in Durham (or shall I say Lightfoot's). And he was present at the conference.

Dunn was obviously there, whom I consider the greatest scholar of Paul in that generation. Tom Wright and Richard Hays were there. I got to show Wright to the train station as he left the conference a little early. I believe he was at Oxford at the time. It's hard to believe that the later Bishop of Durham would need to be shown how to get to the train station, but I think we were meeting in St. Johns, with which he might not have been as familiar. Perhaps I am mis-remembering.

From Germany had come Martin Hengel, whom I had met in Kentucky. At one of the meals he came over to the long table where I was sitting and spoke to Richard Hays, I think it was. I think Stephen Barton was also at the table. He was not a man of small talk, as I experienced him.

He launched in, "Luke could not have used Matthew as his source instead of Q. Can you think of it, taking a hammer to the Sermon on the Mount and scattering it around the Gospel of Luke." I don't know what got him on the topic but he was addressing the Farrer/Goulder/Goodacre hypothesis that Q did not exist and that Luke used Matthew and Mark. It seemed like an out of the blue comment at the time.

Frankly I find this argument persuasive. I can see Matthew collecting and molding Q sayings around a sermon core in Q, but I find it hard to believe that Luke would break the majestic Sermon on the Mount into pieces. Similarly, it seems to me that Luke's scattered Q sayings are sometimes less edited than Matthew's versions (e.g., "poor in spirit" in Matthew versus just the "poor" in Luke).

53. Hermann Lichtenberger was the leader on the Tübingen side. He would be my host when I spent a couple months there in the spring of 1995. He was a Methodist and a man of faith. Also from Tübingen was Otfried Hofius, who wrote a couple books on Hebrews: Katapausis ("rest") and Der Vorhang vom dem Thron Gottes ("The Veil before the Throne of God").

I believe it was Hans-Joachim Eckstein that I spoke with over a meal about Hofius' work. Eckstein was working on his Habilitationschrift that year. Germans not only have to write a dissertation but, in order to become a professor, they must write the equivalent of a second dissertation. To be frank, the rigor of the German system made me feel minuscule.

I remember saying something to Eckstein about how I had not really dug into Hofius' work because I considered the Gnostic reading of Hebrews to be anachronistic. Patiently, he explained to me that Hofius' work actually had argued against the Gnostic reading of Käsemann. Man, did I feel stupid! It would not be the last time. I plowed through most of Hofius' Vorhang eventually.

Others at the conference included from Germany, Karl Kertelge and Hans Hübner. Hübner was the strongest representative of the "old perspective" on Paul. It was interesting to see Hübner function as a man out of time, a man who had lived beyond the moment of his paradigm. In a similar vein, I believe Charles Cranfield came to one of the sessions. In retrospect I would put Stephen Westerholm from Canada as someone who was a little bit of a fish out of water.

Representing French-speaking scholarship were Peter Tomson and Jan Lambrecht. During the conference, each speaker was welcome to speak in their most comfortable language, but it was pretty much German and English. The French speakers spoke English. The other English speakers included John Barclay, Graham Stanton, Stephen Barton, and Bruce Longenecker. Sandy Wedderburn was German but spoke English. Heikki Räisänen was the sole Scandinavian representative. [1]

54. A notable absence from the conference was Ed Sanders. I heard a rumor that he was not invited out of respect for the name of Joachim Jeremias. Jeremias was a mid-twentieth century German scholar who is much respected as a person in both Germany and English speaking countries. Many would know his book, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. I believe that he was a good man and a good scholar.

His work, however, was a child of its age. It was skewed by the centuries-long inability of so many scholars to see ancient Judaism accurately rather than through the lens of the Protestant Reformation. I want to be clear. I am not saying that Jeremias was anti-Semitic, not at all. I am saying that the old perspective on Paul took some time to shake its stereotypical view of what Judaism was and what the nature of early Christianity was in relation to it.

It is often said that Luther was anti-Semitic, with quotes that seem to demonstrate it. We cannot pretend that centuries-long stereotypes of both Jews and Christianity in relation to them did not play a role in German attitudes in the lead up to the second world war, culminating in the Holocaust. Frankly views toward Jews often were not terribly different in England and the United States prior to the war. In the Protestant Reformation, Luther imposed his conflict with the Roman Catholic Church onto Paul's conflict with Judaizers. The Jews became the Catholics, and Paul was Luther.

Sanders more than anyone broke the dam on this misreading of Paul and Judaism in his 1977 book, Paul and Palestinian Judaism. A Methodist by background, Sanders was able to see that the Jewish writings did not reflect the kind of "works-righteousness" that Luther and high Protestant scholarship ever since had read into it. In fact, as he went through the intertestamental literature book by book, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, it was clear that the grace of God permeated these texts.

The problem was a blistering chapter in a Festscrift Sanders wrote in 1987. In it he accused Jeremias either of being an incompetent scholar of rabbinic literature or, as Sanders seemed actually to think, of Jeremias intentionally misrepresenting Judaism. You can read the aftermath in two articles, one by Ben Meyer and the other by Sanders in a 1991 issue of the Journal of Biblical Literature.

It's my impression that Sanders was somewhat isolated in the Pauline scholarly world for some time after that. Only recently has he published Paul: The Apostle's Life, Letters, and Thought.

55. There were responses to Sanders, not least the two-volume collection of Don Carson and Peter O'Brien, Justification and Variegated Nomism. I did not personally think that these volumes undermined the basic thrust of the new perspective on Paul. If anything, I thought they embodied to some extent its influence.

Calvinists and Lutherans stood to lose the most to this new reading of a Judaism that believed in the grace of God and a Paul who expected works as part of the life of a believer. Wright has done the best job of synthesizing Calvinism with the new perspective, in my opinion. For him works are part of final justification, but if you are truly justified initially, you will have those works finally.

As someone from the Wesleyan tradition I have found the new perspective refreshing. Wesleyans have long been accused of works-righteousness, like the Jews of high Protestantism. A sense that Paul saw one's actions as potentially undermining final justification fits hand in glove with Wesleyan theology. You can see where there would be a natural resistance in other theological quarters.

56. Thinking back to Jeremias, rabbinic literature in itself is problematic when it comes to the study of the New Testament. I would agree with Wright that the destruction of the temple in AD70 fundamentally shaped the nature of subsequent Judaism. For example, there were militant Pharisees prior to that time. It is thus unclear the extent to which the practices and thought of rabbinic Judaism go back to the time of Christ. When I encounter Christians who do Seders, I always have the lingering question in the back of my mind--was it really done this way at the time of Christ?

It is quite common in the church to be enamored with those who might bring rabbinic insights to the New Testament. However, the Talmud and Mishnah largely do not provide background to the New Testament. They are much more the after-life of the Judaism of Jesus and Paul's day.

I was once privileged to tour Israel with a dear friend. However, I was also conscious on that trip that my friend was not really an expert on first century Judaism. It is not clear in my mind, for example, that the synagogues of Capernaum and Nazareth actually met in buildings at the time of Christ. A synagogue was a gathering, like an early church house "assembly." At the time of Christ there seems to have been a transition underway toward meeting in buildings. So maybe. Maybe not.

Disciplined history can really ruin the sentimentality of a biblical tour. [2]

If you want to know about the Judaism at the time of Christ, read the intertestamental literature. Read the Apocrypha. Read the Pseudepigrapha. When I taught the course, I used James VanderKam's An Introduction to Early Judaism, along with Vermes' Dead Sea Scrolls and a copy of the Apocrypha. This is the background to Judaism at the time of Christ, not so much rabbinic literature.

57. Dunn was a little disappointed that no greater consensus was reached by the end of the conference. I think this reflects his "T" personality. He is a modernist through and through, expecting that a group of scholars could reach common conclusions if they were objective enough. He hoped that the most likely reading of the facts would win out. This was far too optimistic.

I heard that he presented lectures at the Pontifical Institute in Rome on Hebrews, not long after I finished at Durham. Quite bold! He argued that the book of Hebrews indicated that there was no need for any human intercessor or priest between humanity and God because Christ was the sole intermediary. Of course he is right but what a cheeky thing to teach in Rome!

Chris Bounds would later describe me as a "chastened modernist." I am still generally a modernist. I aim for objectivity even though I know it is unattainable. But I have taken my lumps from postmodernism.

58. If you were to ask me what I have taken from these scholars in relation to the new perspective, it might go something like this:
  • From Sanders I took that the sense that keeping the Law was more a matter of "staying in" the people of God than "getting in." 
  • From Sanders I took the sense that some of Paul's argument is a movement back to the problem from the solution. Paul knew Jesus was the answer, therefore the problem could not be inadequate keeping of the Law because he did fine at that (cf. Stendahl). His little book on Paul was much more helpful to me than his more scholarly version.
  • From Dunn I took the insight that the "works of Law" on which Paul was focused in his arguments were primarily the works that excluded Gentiles, matters like circumcision and purity rules. His seminal essays are now collected in one place.
  • From Wright I took the sense that Romans 2 is about Gentiles who keep the Law even though they do not have the Law by nature. From him I took support for a final justification by works in 2 Corinthians 5.
  • From Hays, although not really a new perspective name, I would eventually take a sense that Romans 3:22 and Galatians 2:16 are initially about the faith of Jesus Christ. But I agree with Dunn that Paul moves on in those arguments to talk about human justification.
It is still hard for many scholars to kick against the pricks. So much of scholarship today, it seems to me, has become sentimental. Has postmodernism empowered sloppy exegesis in the guild?

[1] I used to joke about Räisänen, for whom Paul's theology was completely incoherent. He has been my footnote for that position ever since. Although extreme, I have come to appreciate him for his attention to detail and as a representative of a certain detailed savant who can only see detail and difference rather than similarity and connection.

[2] Gordon's tomb is a perfect example of this. Some nineteenth century soldier sees an outcropping of rock that looks to him like a scull. There's a garden there--1800 years later. A tomb there fits the picture book in his head, unlike the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is far too catholic in feel. All of it is rubbish. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the most likely location for the crucifixion and burial of Jesus.

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