Monday, June 16, 2014

The Rest of Satlow

I've posted several times on Michael Satlow's new book How the Bible Became Holy (Yale, 2014). (1, 2, 3). This'll be my last post on the book, covering its third part, on early Christianity (chs. 11-14) and the rabbinic movement (ch. 15). I'll just be going through the stuff I highlighted on my Kindle while reading through it.

Satlow says that "we can be relatively sure that most Jews in Judea and Galilee [at the time of Jesus] would have ascribed authority to most if not all of the books included in the Jewish Bible, [though] the limits of scripture--both what 'counts' and how it counts--were still fuzzy" (p. 209).

What he means about how it counts has to do with what kind of authority it possesses. In the epilogue (p. 278), he distinguishes three different kinds of authority: literary, oracular, and normative. Satlow insists that most of the time for most people, scripture functioned with oracular authority rather than normative authority. For instance, when Jesus read from Isaiah in Luke 4:
The choice of reading Isaiah, no less this passage in Isaiah, appears to have been entirely random, not part of any regular lectionary cycle. This, in fact, is an important feature of Luke's story: scripture plays an oracular function here. (p. 202)
I don't think this is quite right. Luke does not represent the choice of the Isaiah scroll as random; it was the scroll that was handed to Jesus. Luke does not say that it was a part of a lectionary cycle, but it may have been. The choice of the particular passage may have been random, but I don't think it was, since Luke says that Jesus "found" (εὑρίσκω) the passage. Now, that doesn't mean that the reading of this passage had been pre-arranged (as if following a lectionary), but it does seem to mean that Jesus chose it on purpose. But anyway, none of these caveats mean that the type of authority exerted by the Isaiah scroll was not oracular; I suppose I would agree with Satlow, but this seems an unremarkable point, so the scroll of Isaiah is filled with, well, oracles, so what other kind of authority should it exert?

The next chapter discusses Paul. "Like many Jews of his time, he understood scripture primarily as a collection of divine oracles" (p. 211). I guess I agree with this (cf. Rom. 3:2). Later: "Although Paul uses scripture in a variety of ways, he most commonly cites it for its oracular authority" (p. 220). I'm not sure that we should distinguish oracular from normative authority in the case of Paul. While Paul does think that prophecies are being fulfilled in his own day, he also uses scripture to guide the ethics of his communities. See e.g. Rosner. But maybe Satlow would not call this 'normative', I don't know.

On the Gospels (ch. 13):

  • "Matthew, like Paul and Mark, locates the value of scripture in its prophecies" (p. 230).
  • Regarding Luke 24: "Luke thus positions Jesus not just as the fulfillment of scripture but as the very key to their understanding: Jesus himself unlocks their true, secret meaning. This goes beyond Matthew. For Matthew, scriptural prophecies refer to Jesus; scripture and Jesus are distinct from each other. For Luke, scripture and Jesus are more completely intertwined" (p. 231).
  • "The author of John is not ready to abandon scripture altogether, but he does displace its importance in favor of Jesus as the prime vehicle of God's revelation. Scripture was still relevant, but now theologically less so" (p. 234).

I appreciate his attempt to draw out some differences among the Gospels, but I'm not sure that he's been very successful. I would have thought each Gospel writer would have pretty much affirmed all of these points. Jesus is the key to scripture. He fulfills the prophecies. He is the prime vehicle for God's revelation.

About the canon(s) of Jewish scripture (ch. 14), Satlow says that Josephus' list in Against Apion "is not a description of a well-known and accepted Jewish canon. It is, rather, the somewhat wishful thinking of a Jewish intellectual" (p. 244). "I would like to suggest that Josephus' concept of scripture in fact developed specifically in Rome" (p. 245). Satlow means that in Palestine there was still no interest in defining which books were scripture, just as there was less interest in scripture at all in Palestine than in the diaspora. (This is a point that Satlow has been arguing for several chapters now.) When Josephus arrives in Rome, he's still thinking like a Judean, so "his earliest composition, when he was fresh in Rome, exhibits limited interest in and knowledge of scripture" (p. 246). That'd be the Jewish War. Even though Josephus says in that work that "many Jews before me have accurately recorded the history of our ancestors, and these records have been translated by certain Greeks into their native tongue without serious error," Satlow assures us that this "reference here is to the writings of earlier Jewish historians, not to the history told in scripture" (p. 246). But of course later his Jewish Antiquities displays a great interest in scripture, in other words, after he has been in Rome for some time. Satlow acknowledges that the contrast might be due to the genres of the respective works, but he rather thinks it is because Josephus only at this later time gave much thought to scripture.
Josephus relates that on the fall of the temple Titus gave him a gift of "holy books" [Life 418]. This is the term that Josephus uses most frequently in his later works to refer to scriptures, and it is possible that this was the first time that he had possessed a copy of them. Over the next two decades Josephus worked his way through them systematically [...]. (p. 247)
The rabbis occupy ch. 15. Satlow says that the rise of scripture's prominence among the rabbis "looked like a Sadducean victory" but "it was a pyrrhic [victory]" because the "text was objectified, almost fetishized" (p. 259). You'll need to look back at my post on ch. 8 to get the background for these ideas. The rabbis incorporated the earlier Pharisees and Sadducees into one unity movement. [I'm not sure how this works in terms of the rabbinic self-representation: the Rabbis usually seem to identify the Pharisees and not the Sadducees as their predecessors. I don't recall Satlow dealing with this point, but I may have missed it.]
Rabbi Ishmael's approach bore a strong relationship to that of the Sadducees: scripture was seen as the authoritative guide to proper practice. Rabbi Akiva's approach was Pharisaic: tradition took precedence, even when it seemed to conflict with scripture. (p. 263)
Even in second century CE, the position of scripture within some streams of Judaism was precarious:
If Bar Kosiba had any knowledge of scripture or gave to it any authority, he does not demonstrate it in his documents. Nor do these documents show any awareness of the rabbis. (p. 264)
But, finally rabbinic literature moves beyond viewing scripture as oracular and sees it instead as normative.
 Paul and the authors of the pesher literature and gospels primarily mined scripture for its oracles and prophecies. While the rabbis, like these authors, formally divided the citation of scripture from its interpretation, the use to which they put these divisions fundamentally differed from these earlier authors. The rabbis almost never used scriptural verses to verify or announce prophecies. Although at this stage they were probably still not reacting directly to Christian claims, they adopted a different approach to scripture. For the rabbis, it was not a collection of oracles but the source of all true knowledge. It was not just a historical record of God's revelation but the very place at which God continued to reveal his will to his people. (p. 268)
In the Epilogue:
Despite rabbinic insistence on the importance of the very text of the Bible, Jews would not come to a final consensus about a standard Hebrew text until the eleventh century CE. It was only then that Maimonides, a towering and revered intellectual figure in his time, declared that one particular text--that of the Aleppo Codex--was to be considered the standard. (p. 277)

Some dubious points:

  • "Mark does one thing that Paul never does: he puts scripture in Jesus's mouth. Paul almost always directly quotes scripture in order to prove that Jesus 'fulfills' the scriptural prophecy. Mark apparently knew of stories that were circulating about Jesus. In retelling them, though, he added the scriptural citations, transforming Jesus into a citer of scripture. The scripture-citing Jesus of Mark and the other Gospels is thus not an accurate representation of the historical Jesus" (p. 227). How often does Paul ever represent Jesus saying anything? 
  • On Paul: "some of his interpretations are so strained that he seems to be counting on the fact that his audience gives authority to scripture but does not actually know it well enough to take apart his arguments" (p. 220). I prefer the reading of someone like Hays
  • On Mark's Gospel: "He ends it abruptly with Jesus' appearance, after he was entombed, to Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome" (p. 228). What version of Mark ends with the appearance of Jesus' to these women? The Gospel probably originally ended at 16:8 without any resurrection appearances. 
  • "Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, and Thomas are all 'gospels'; they tell the story of Jesus's life in narrative form" (p. 235). Thomas? Narrative? Later, he sort of corrects this: "The Gospel of Thomas, for example, is more of a collection of sayings of Jesus than a narrative story" (p. 237). 
  • I found it interesting that on p. 238 (ch. 13), he attributes Colossians to Paul, though I'm pretty sure that back in ch. 12 he said he was limiting the Pauline corpus to the undisputed letters. 
  • These two sentences appear back-to-back, though in different paragraphs: "prior to the second century CE, nobody thought to create a 'closed canon,' a definitive list of specific books that should be considered 'scripture.' The notion that Jews had a closed canon of scripture is first found in the writings of Josephus" (p. 244). Josephus is at the end of the first century. The dates are not that far off, but it is striking in juxtaposed sentences that Satlow would cite a first-century source for an argument about something that he dates to the second century. 
  • About the reception of Josephus' Jewish Antiquities: "The book apparently received a mixed reception. One Greek intellectual by the name of Apion wrote what we would call a particularly scathing review, which we know only through Josephus' response to it" (p. 244). This is just silly. Josephus' Against Apion was in some ways written in response to criticisms of the Jewish Antiquities, but Apion was not one of those critics. Apion had never heard of Josephus; he died too early. See Wikipedia, or the new Schürer, 3/1.604-7.
  • On Justin Martyr: "Since the Romans, however, had destroyed the Jewish temple, Justin needed to create another unbroken chain of reliable transmission. That chain, according to Justin, could be found in the Septuagint, not the Hebrew Bible preserved by the Jews" (p. 250). I'm not sure what Satlow intends to imply about Justin's view of the Hebrew Bible, but I'm pretty sure whatever the intent, it's wrong. See ch. 5 of my Hebrew Scripture in Patristic Biblical Theory
  • "the author of 4 Ezra had essentially claimed that God continued to make his knowledge and will known through continuing revelation" (p. 267). But, just accepting the claim of 4 Ezra at face value, wouldn't that continuing revelation have been completed by the time of Ezra? So, the revelation wouldn't be continuing through the first century CE, would it?
  • "To the vast majority of Jews [at the turn of the era--time of DSS], the Hebrew of scripture would have been almost incomprehensible" (p. 274). Perhaps an overstatement? I assume he's talking about Jews in Judea. Interesting to read this just at the time of the little dust-up regarding the language(s) Jesus spoke, ignited by a brief conversation between the Pope and the Israeli prime minister. See here, and further here with links. 

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