Monday, February 24, 2014

Jewish Literature from the Pre-Hasmonean Hellenistic Era

I've read parts of David Carr's Formation of the Hebrew Bible before (recently reviewed here, or earlier here), but I've just now gone through carefully his ch. 6 on the Hellenistic Era up to the Hasmonean Monarchy (pp. 180-203).

Carr tries to identify pre-Hasmonean Hellenistic-era textuality in Israel. He admits that the evidence is difficult to sift. But he thinks he can identify some texts to associate with this period in the following categories: apocalyptic, wisdom, diaspora, and priestly revision of previous texts (especially Torah).

A few comments, some negative, some just curious (like this first one):

Wisdom of Solomon. Carr mentions this work as an example of an example "of a Hellenistic (or perhaps early Roman period) attempt to balance Qohelet's perspective with a more orthodox emphasis on judgment" (p. 194). I'm not sure what it is that makes Carr think that Wisdom of Solomon is responding to Qohelet specifically, but fine, I'll not argue (right now). My curiosity was raised by a different issue, one I hadn't quite thought about in these terms before. Carr adheres to the standard view that Wisdom was originally composed in Greek. But he earlier mentioned the resurgence of Hebrew writing during the same period (pp. 182-83): "already in the first half of the Hellenistic period, 'Hebrew' comes to be the idiom that best reflects the claim of a text to provide access to pre-Hellenistic antiquity" (p. 183). This makes sense. How could a work represent 'ancient Israelite literature' if it is not composed in Hebrew? (I have written about patristic views on this matter extensively in here.) But that raises the question of the nature of the pseudepigraphical claim of Wisdom of Solomon. Granted, Solomon is not named in the text, but he is the "voice" assumed in the text. The fact that it's written in Greek means, it seems to me, that few in this early period would have thought that the text was actually written by Solomon. That in turn raises the question as to the motive of the author of the work: was he trying to get people to think that Solomon wrote it? It seems unlikely to me.

These are probably pretty superficial comments on the nature of pseudepigraphy for those who really study this issue, but I have not really studied the issue. I'll note in conclusion on this issue that nobody calls Moby Dick a pseudepigraphon, even though it is written in the voice of "Ishmael," who did not write the book.

Diaspora Literature. Carr has a very brief section on diaspora literature of this time period (p. 195), in which he mentions some books that are "clearly diaspora Jewish works" (p. 195), but I wonder what makes it so clear. The works in question are Tobit and Daniel 1-6 "along with associated diaspora narrative fragments found at Qumran." What makes these "clearly diaspora Jewish works"? Of course, they are set in the diaspora, but does that mean that they were clearly written in the diaspora? I don't see why that should necessarily be the case. I'm not wanting to argue that these works are not diaspora works, I just want to suggest that there is not necessarily one-to-one correspondence between their setting and their provenance. No episodes of Star Trek were written in outer space.

Chronicles. Just a couple of questions:

(1) If Chronicles was the priestly replacement for Samuel-Kings (pp. 196-98), why do we still have Samuel-Kings? Why was Samuel-Kings preserved in the tradition, if the priests wanted to promote their new and improved version of Israel's history--Chronicles? Carr's answer: because the Hasmoneans favored Samuel-Kings (p. 201). In the previous chapter he had discussed some Hasmonean-era editing of the Former Prophets (pp. 171-72), about which he had said:
These cases of potential documented revision in the proto-MT (compared to other manuscript traditions) are often uncertain and limited in scope. Nevertheless, in so far as some of these cases hold, they show a profile of final redactors of the proto-MT with particular interest in the Deuteronomistic tradition, especially the period of the Judges (Judg 1:1-3:11; also 6:7-10), something also seen in demonstrably Hasmonean works (e.g., 1 Maccabees and Judith [on which see pp. 156-58]). (p. 172)
Yikes! Is that really the evidence? There are some features of Judges that look redactional, and other Hasmonean works also express an interest in Judges, so we can date the redactional features to the time of the Hasmoneans and then say that the Hasmoneans really liked the Deuteronomistic History, so they preserved it alongside Chronicles, which had been preferred by the pre-Hasmonean priests. Maybe that's the best that can be done, but I think I'd rather say 'I don't know'.

(2) If the pre-Hasmonean priests gave us Chronicles with its emphasis on the Jerusalem temple, motivated in part to counter the Samaritans and their claim to Gerizim (p. 198), why did these same priests not change the Torah at Deut 27:4 and elsewhere to reflect this same pro-Jerusalem concern? To understand this question, you need to know that Carr supports the originality of the reading Gerizim at Deut 27:4 rather than Ebal, as in MT. (This is not unusual; same in Tov, TCHB, p. 88. I've explained this in more detail here.) Carr argues that the Hasmoneans sponsored a Pentateuchal redaction such that Deut 27:4 was altered to Ebal (pp. 167-68). But in light of his ideas about the anti-Samaritan nature of Chronicles, which predated the Hasmonean era, why does Carr attribute the anti-Samaritan Pentateuchal redaction to the Hasmoneans and not their predecessors?
The apparent alterations in the proto-MT of Deuteronomy, in turn, are best set in the context of the destruction of the sanctuary at Mount Gerizim by the Hasmonean John Hyrcanus in 128 BCE. 
This does not inspire much confidence. I'll just mention one problem that jumps off at me: did the priestly tradents of the Jewish Pentateuch begin to feel negatively toward the Samaritan temple only after it had been destroyed? Carr's argument about the motivations leading to the composition of Chronicles assumes the opposite. Is it just me, or is this somewhat inconsistent?

Graduate Research Lectures with Joseph R. Kelly This Week

We're excited to welcome Joseph Kelly to the Florence (AL) area this week, sort-of close to his home. On Thursday, Joseph will be doing the Graduate Research Lectures at Heritage Christian University, a lecture series started a few years ago specifically for doctoral students in biblical studies or related fields and who have a close connection to the Churches of Christ. Joseph is a PhD (Old Testament) student at SBTS who expects to graduate this Spring. He blogs over at כל־האדם.

If you're in the area, you're warmly invited to attend. The lectures are free and open to the public, and the second lecture will be preceded by a mini-concert by local piano phenom Daniel Huong! We'll finish up with a small reception. The whole event promises to be excellent.

Here are Joseph's topics:

Thursday 27 February 2014
What Does it Mean to Obey God in the Hebrew Bible?
It may seem a simple question, but it resists simplistic answers for close and critical readers. Devotion to God is often expressed using ancient Israelite/Judean idioms that essentially signify obedience, a word with no Hebrew equivalent. But the Hebrew Bible contains cosmologies, narratives, and instructional texts that add multifaceted dimensions to the concept of obedience. The answer—often unexplored in Christian ethics—is plural, dynamic, and suggests Christian devotion be more thoughtful and creative.

Assessing Literary Influence in Biblical Studies
There is an unfortunate tendency in biblical studies to treat intertextuality, inner-biblical interpretation, echoes, and allusion as menu items at a fast food restaurant: You get to choose the one that best suits your subjective tastes and, as the saying goes, "have it your way." This disciplinary free-for-all has been the foundation for many PhD theses and scholarly monographs. But the generative nature of these categories of influence does not necessarily indicate a desirable kind of academic productivity. How might we assess these categories of literary influence in biblical studies?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Half Way There! (sort of, well, not really, actually)

I just finished "Book I" of N.T. Wright's Paul and the Faithfulness of God. That's 569 pages down, only about 1000 to go. So, it's not really even close to half-way, even though I'm done with 2 of 4 parts.

So, what do I think so far? Well, pretty good. I mentioned previously that the first part (= 350 pages) is all background. The 100-page chapter on Judaism (ch. 2) is really good, though I'm not sure about everything in it. (I can see why Wright wants to relate Shammai to violent resistance against Rome, and then to link Paul to Shammai, but do we actually have any evidence for this?)

I really liked ch. 6, about Paul's 'symbolic praxis', and I sorta liked ch. 7, about the 'story' that formed the basis of Paul's worldview. I only 'sorta' liked it because I only sorta understood it. I guess I can fall back on my tried-and-true excuse that I'm not a NT scholar, so someone more up-to-speed on all the discussion surrounding Paul's theology would probably have an easier time of it. Or maybe Paul is just really difficult to understand sometimes, which makes Wright sorta difficult in explaining him. I don't get the impression that Wright thinks it's all that difficult to understand (though he is the one that needed 1600 pages to explain it!). After several pages of dense discussion of the role of Torah in Paul's theology, he says: "The resolution of the paradox, then, is easy [...]" (p. 514). Oh, thanks. Or later, in the same chapter in his section on Jesus in Paul's 'story': "Once we place this element of the Jesus-story within the Israel-story we studied in the previous section, all becomes clear" (p. 526). Well, it's not exactly clear to me. Anyway, I think this is a good chapter, but I am going to have to re-read it, especially the sections on Torah and Jesus.

Chapter 8, the last in "Book 1," is brief (30pp.) and helpful. It addresses the "five worldview questions," or, as Wright likes to call them "Kipling's 'honest serving men." Who are we? Where are we? What's wrong? What's the solution? What time is it? The discussion in this chapter serves as a nice summary of the stuff on Paul so far in the volume.

Now some random interesting bits:
Even there, however, Paul believes that the forces of evil are already in principle defeated. (That phrase 'in principle' is helpful up to a point; yet is also a way of saying, 'We can't easily put into words how the "now" and the "not yet" function in relation to one another.' It is at least better than the arm-waving phrase 'in a very real sense', which, as students, clergy and politicians often need reminding, means 'I very much want to assert this but I haven't yet figured out how.') (p. 547)
I'm sure I've used the phrase "in a very real sense" before, and it's nice to see someone call us (including me) out on it. Now that I think about it, it does seem like a phrase that means just what Wright says, or maybe it even means "in a sense that does not actually correspond to what we normally think of as reality." I suppose "in principle" is better. But "in a very real sense" also sounds like something I could have heard or read from Wright before. Which brings me to this:
We should not imagine, as in Cullmann's famous image of D-Day and V-Day, that Paul supposes the present time to be a matter of a steady advance, with the world gradually getting better and better as God (or even the church) engages in a kind of 'mopping-up operation', eliminating bit by bit pockets of resistance to the restorative justice which God has established and is establishing in the Messiah. Any attempt to read church history that way is manifestly doomed to failure, but, more importantly, there is no sign of such a 'progressive kingdom' in Paul. (p. 548)
I do not want to disagree with Wright's point here, but as I read this--where Wright says that the present time is not a 'mopping-up operation'--I thought for sure that I had read Wright say in another book that the present was indeed a kind of 'mopping-up operation'. A little googling reveals the following:
Paul's vision of the Christian life is thus (as has often been pointed out) of a life lived between D-Day and VE-Day. The decisive battle has been won; the battles we face today are part of the mopping-up operation to implement that victory. (Following Jesus [1994] p. 21)
Well, it's been 20 years, so I guess he's changed the way he presents Paul's idea of the present time. Fine. I guess I might appreciate a note alerting us to the change. Anyway, I've never read Following Jesus, so I'm guessing that Wright used the image of 'mopping-up' in some other of his work also, though Google wouldn't tell me which.

Wright has a rather long section on how the 'messianic time' is equivalent, for Paul, to the Sabbath (555-61).
The great 'now' of the gospel, in other words, is the fresh reality for which the antecedent signpost was the sabbath. (p. 555)
My proposal here is that his emphasis on 'the now time', the time when the Messiah is ruling in heaven over all things in heaven and on earth, implies within the Jewish mindset at least that the new creation has been accomplished, and that the 'Sabbath', not in terms of cessation of work but in terms of God's dwelling in, and ruling within, the new world he has made, has been inaugurated. (p. 559) 
This is a mere hypothesis, because Paul does not actually talk about the Sabbath. This is apparently a new suggestion, and Wright thinks it quite daring: "This rather dramatic proposal--the kind of thing wise friends advise one to publish in a recondite journal rather than a mainline monograph [...]" (p. 560). Wright has put together a nice argument, but it must remain speculative simply because, again, Paul doesn't talk about the Sabbath. Actually, that's part of the reason Wright makes the proposal: he notes that the Sabbath is "omnipresent both in second-Temple Judaism and through to the present day, yet otherwise astonishingly absent in Paul" (p. 555).

Final note. Wright mentions again "Sander's pack animals" (not under that title this time, though), and he now seems more open to the idea:
how we wish we knew what sort of inns Paul stayed in, how he transported the Collection-money, whether he did indeed travel with animals as beasts of burden, what he liked for breakfast ... so much of his own 'culture' is hidden from us, and we can only guess. (p. 564)

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Few Notes on Wright's PFG ch. 6

I am reading through N.T. Wright's Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Nijay Gupta is doing a random series of blog posts on things that strike him as interesting or helpful about Wright's book (here's his third post). This post will be something like it, based on ch. 6.

First off, ch. 6 is where we really get to some meat. The first 350 pages have little to do with Paul and almost nothing to do with the faithfulness of God, except insomuch as anything in the first century concerns these topics. But finally at about p. 350, Wright turns his attention to the apostle. It's a good chapter, long (100pp., not nearly the longest in this book), about the 'symbolic praxis' of early Christianity as practiced by Paul and his churches. Especially his section on how Paul adapted traditional Jewish symbols (temple, Torah, prayer, land, family, battle, scripture) is very strong, as is his section on 'ecclesial unity' as the major new element of Paul's symbolic world. The section on baptism (419-27) was excellent, the section on the Lord's Supper (427-29) less so.

Now, a few random notes.

Wright seems to have a problem with Ed Sanders' idea that Paul carried his tent "presumably on pack animals" (PFG p. 353, citing Sanders p. 347). He immediately follows up his quotation of Sanders with this parenthetical comment:
I am not sure about the pack animals; perhaps the reason Paul and his friends couldn't get into Bithynia was that one of the donkeys, like Balaam's ass, saw an angel in the way. (p. 354)
At first I took this to be just one of Wright's little jokes, but later he says this, again in parenthesis:
those other shipwrecks, for instance; what happened to Sanders's pack-animals in those circumstances, and to the tools of Paul's trade? (p. 413)
So, does Wright think it just silly that Paul may have used pack animals? (They are "Sanders's pack-animals," after all, and in the earlier comment he is "not sure about the pack animals".) Or am I reading too much into this?

Another little note: Gupta had pointed to p. 168 n. 367 in which Wright really burns Troels Engberg-Pedersen with the comment that he "clearly has little idea of what Judaism was or how it worked [...]." But Wright says about Engberg-Pedersen on p. 385 that he is "one of the most original voices in contemporary Pauline studies."

Finally, I appreciated the comment on p. 447 where Wright speaks of
the abysmal failure of ekklēsia to live up to its calling. That, to my mind, is the really major objection to Paul's proposal, compared with which the home-made modernist 'objection' of the so-called 'delay of the parousia' pales into insignificance.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Apocrypha in the Church Fathers

Just this week I received my copy of Sacra Scriptura, the latest collection of papers on the non-canonical texts, edited by James Charlesworth and Lee McDonald (with Blake Jurgens). These papers, I believe all, were presented at the SBL in the section Function of the Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphal Texts in Early Judaism and Early Christianity. The volume has several interesting essays, not least the first one, called "Writings Labeled 'Apocrypha' in Latin Patristic Sources." Okay, that's my paper. The title tells you pretty much what it's about. If the subject stimulates any interest in you, check out my paper, which you can find here.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Why Don't We Have Any Letters to Paul?

Several ancient collections of letters published in antiquity contain both letters to and letters from a particular individual. For instance, Cicero's collections of letters contain not only letters written by him but also letters written to him. Same for Pliny the Younger, Jerome, Augustine. But not for Paul.

We don't know where the Pauline letter collection came from. That is, we don't know who collected these letters and why, and how they first started circulating as a collection in antiquity. There have been several theories. Stanley Porter has helpfully summarized the major proposals and advanced his own proposal, most recently in his opening contribution to this edited volume.

The idea that make most sense to me is the one advocated by Porter and several other scholars (e.g., E.R. Richards in this article and this book), that Paul or his secretary saved copies of the letters he wrote (surely this is true) and issued an anthology himself, or left this task to one of his followers. This makes a great deal of sense and accords perfectly with ancient practice (again, Cicero, Pliny, etc.).

But, again, if this hypothesis is correct, why did he not include in his collection any of the letters sent to him? Such an omission would have to be intentional. What reasons could be supposed? The only thing that makes sense to me is that they were not considered authoritative, and the Pauline collection was supposed to contain only 'authoritative' statements from the apostle. Still, in light of the 'occasional' nature of the collection, it would make sense to me to include in the collection some of the letters written to Paul.

I haven't read everything on the topic, so maybe someone has addressed this issue. I see that Porter wonders, if the collection was made from Paul's personal copies, why we don't have the entire Corinthian correspondence or the Letter to the Laodiceans (mentioned at Col. 4:16). 
It is not certain why these letters are missing, unless they simply were not copied originally (Richards [pp. 220-21] suggests that Paul's "severe letter" was sent off in anger and haste) or were themselves lost in the course of Paul's travels, including his shipwrecks. (here, p. 197)
 I don't see anything particularly on my question. Doesn't mean it's not out there. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

'Egypt' and Matt. 2:15

I was reading through ch. 3 of Wright's big book on Paul when I came across this sentence. It has to do with the second half of Wisdom of Solomon, which concerns a retelling of the exodus narrative.
'Egypt' in the story stands not only, we may assume, for the pagan Egypt of the writer's own day, always capable of launching another pogrom against its Jewish inhabitants, but for any great power which oppresses and enslaves God's people. (p. 242)
This reminded me of Matt. 2:15, where I think something very similar is going on. Egypt is not 'Egypt'; rather, Judah is 'Egypt.' Judah is the "great power which oppresses and enslaves God's people." I've posted on this before, though I'm not sure the point is generally recognized.