Continuity — Jewish in the First Century

We've seen that the audiences that the character of Paul is addressing in the epistles that bear his name are decidedly gentile. Before continuing, it might be a good idea to riff for a bit on what we mean when we speak of a "mere Judaism" (to paraphrase C.S. Lewis) in the New Testament period. Have the Dead Sea Scrolls added to our understanding of this ancient undergirding structure that Christianity sprang from and ostentatiously tried to emulate? What did it mean to be a “Jew” in the first century? What were the distinguishing hallmarks of Jewish self-identification?

Even at this preliminary level, these questions don't have easy answers. There are problems involving definition and scope that have to be faced. A whole book could be devoted to this subject alone.[1] One huge problem is the fact that the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. pretty much ensured that very little of the contemporaneous historical record of the once-thriving socio-religious phenomenon that we can for the moment label simply as “Second Temple Judaism” survived.  It wasn’t until after rabbinic exiles began to affirm their status as the rightful heirs and continuers of the Pharisaic tradition (they would eventually inform the Talmud) that any near-contemporary indication of what the pre-fall setting might have looked like could be recorded. Meanwhile, there’s a huge lacuna in the record right exactly where our eyes want to look.

Another major problem is that the Christian scriptures are in essence polemics against, and therefore not the best, source of information about, the Judaism of Jesus’ (and Cepha’s and Paul’s) day. When the gospels do mention the Jews, it’s the Pharisees that they single out more often than not, and even then it’s a hyper-legalistic caricature of the Pharisees that is depicted, rather than any useful information about them. Once a very dignified tradition, now become the favorite whipping boy of the evangelists, Pharisaism is categorically equated with hypocrisy and guile, getting the brunt of much scorn and derision. But I think that taking the theologically motivated, myopic mischaracterization of the Pharisees that is found in these scriptural discourses at face value would not only be intellectually naïve, it would also do a huge disservice to the memory of a once highly influential religious order that was beloved in its day for its emphasis on scholarship-in-service-of-compassion. One could say that these Pharisees were the stoics of the far-East, in a way. Their moral resolve was admired by their Pagan neighbors (cf. "god-fearers").[2]

Josephus and Philo show three major forms: this Parisaism, Sadduceeism, and Esseneism. If there are ways to distinguish between different kinds within this general umbrella heading of Judaism, what was it exactly that marked these people as Jewish in their own eyes, whatever their partisan inclination might have been? What was the common denominator? The textual silence disallows for certitude, but while it is true that we must be cautious in assessing the Sitz im Leben in question (lest we place too much value on our conjectures), to the limits that our sources and our abilities permit, we must try to delineate some basic commonalities if we are to understand the curious origins of Christianity in any meaningful way.


The closest thing to a creedal statement in Jewish tradition is what is known as the Shema,[3] a kind of Jewish pledge of allegiance directed at the people of Israel to acknowledge and to affirm that the God of Israel is One and one only. Recited daily, it is a promise to implement this faith of the ancient fathers in their daily living. This insistence on the essential unity of God is one of the most defining aspects of being Jewish in the first century (and even now). Granted, the Jews have not always been so fiercely monotheistic. It has been shown that the road to the strict monotheism that we are so used to ascribing to the Jews was in fact a fairly long hard-fought one. They got there incrementally. Not until later prophets like Jeremiah did this rigorous monotheism finally stick, but it did stick eventually. Obviously, the history of Jewish monotheism is beyond the scope of this essay. Suffice it to say that an inviolable monotheism had long been in place in the socio-religious self-identity of the Judean people by the time of the Roman occupation. Indeed, the Romans were so perplexed by the obstinacy of Jewish monotheism, apparently so respectful of their devotion to it, that they sometimes made exceptions and allowances for the religious sovereignty of the Jews in their imperial mandates. Once the Jews finally had attained a full-force universal monotheism, they became famous for it among the nations.

If monotheism was so central to Judaism, we may ask: What were the attributes of this singular Jewish God? We can form a few fundamental ground rules regarding the theology of the first century.

They are reducible to the following:

  • First, Yahveh is the sole creator of the universe and of this world and of everything therein.

  • Second, that he (this god is male) is the Lord and ruler of said creation and that, to this end, he exercises a protean relationship with it in which he interacts with, oversees, and affects it. Mankind in general has dominion over creation, but Yahveh’s people, specifically, are a kind of ‘fortunate son’ that was endowed with the Word (Torah) with which to navigate Yahveh’s plan for human history.

  • Third, that he has a right to exclusive worship from his people. This third attribute of the Jewish god is crucial to the collective understanding of the gentile nations concerning the Jewish people. So well known did this fastidious refusal to entertain any other gods become that the Jews were able (in time) to command exemption from participation in certain compulsory empire-cultic rituals. It became clear to the Romans that most Jews would sooner die en masse than to succumb to any demands that they either abandon their god or succumb to the rule of another. The Romans—experienced pragmatic statesmen that they were— knew that killing every fanatic in a an unruly hyper-zealous conquered province was no way to run an empire or to raise revenue or tribute, and so the conquerors soon learned to allow the Jews some semblance of religious sovereignty in the interest of imperial efficacy and smooth sailing.

That fact that their god is One and sovereign was the most vital component, the definitive determinant of Jewish self-identity at the turn of the era.  It’s safe to say that the Jews were deeply committed to this idea of the unity and exclusivity of their god during that time. We have no reason to doubt this strict monotheism, despite its disappearance from the textual radar for a moment.

The Dead Sea Scrolls in fact reinforce this extreme monotheistic tendency and fervor. The Targum of Job (from Cave 4), for example, makes numerous changes to the traditional story for theological reasons. In chapter 38, where a whirlwind asks a number of rhetorical questions intended to portray God as sovereign over all:

Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb? [4]

The scene is dependent on a depiction of a kind of heavenly court (a common enough motif in Near-Eastern and biblical mythology), with the stars personified as singing and sons of god rejoicing. The Qumran targumist however is troubled by the personification. To avoid the anthropomorphism, he renders the phrase as "they shone all at once." The mention of "sons of god" in verse 7 is further problematic as it may lead to a mistaken polytheism. The targumist substitutes the word "angels" instead, making them unambiguosuly subordinate to God.

The evidence is strong. We may thus grant this much: The Jews of Palestine would not have accepted the worship of a crucified god-man in their midst.   This would have been a blasphemy of the highest order, probably even punishable by death.
But, can Boyd show that Jews in fact did accept this new form of Christ worship anywhere? It would be fantastically wonderful if we had the writings of any other famous Chrtistians of the day: Cephas, Barnabas, Apollos, Yacob, Thecla ... anyone. They’d give us some perspective on what each of these factions theologically espoused about Jesus. But we don’t have these writings. Only the Pauline viewpoint survived. And in that perspective Jesus is already referred to as κυριος (kyrios=Lord=Yahveh). To equate a human being with the god of Israel is definitely not a very Jewish thing to do. On this we can all hopefully agree. It's important to keep in mind that when the details within the Torah were being parsed and exposited in the usual Jewish ways in compiling the Talmud (midrash, allegory, pesher), there would be majority and minority opinions and conclusions that rabbis would come to, but there were limits to how far they could stretch the scriptures. One could not conclude after a given midrash, for example, that the seventh commandment of the Decalogue reads "Thou shalt commit adultery." All interpretations must fit within a consistent domain of meaning. Likewise, a Judaism that espouses the adoration and exaltation of a god-man as the ultimate superseding of Judaism looks awful suspect to me as a tenable form of "Judaism." Furthermore, as I have been stressing all along, we have no reason to think that this holy bi-nity that Paul had taken to preaching to the gentiles was subscribed to by the Jerusalem Jesusist conclave. We do, on the other hand, have many reasons to think that Jews actually rejected the Paulinists at every turn (e.g. the author[s] of Paul's epistles' own words, the surviving textual evidence of opposition from Marcion and Epiphanius,  . . . the Ebionites, etc—Paul was even considered the apostle of the heretics by some). For now, though, let us simply mark fierce monotheism as one of the characteristic traits of a Jew in the 1st century.

People of the Book

The Torah (“law”, “instruction”), the Hebrew Bible, is essentially a self-contained library which deals with one people’s wrestling with their concept of the divine. It is a tendentious, epic tale of creation, a history of a god among his people, forever experiencing growing pains together along the way, all set in a wondrously poetic language worthy of the mysteries contained within it.

The Jews not only were the first monotheists of influence in the world; they were also the first people to vouchsafe their religious identity by means of this “book” in which they kept a record of their god’s interactions with them into the distant past and on which they staked their faith into the distant future. Sent down to God’s esteemed messengers, the prophets (seers), Torah was the portal through which God’s will was revealed to the people and, as such, it was held in a correspondingly revered position.

The Hebrew Bible lends a certain ‘concreteness’ to Judean history. It lends a physicality, a permanence to its divine mandate. Then as now, people were enthralled with the written word. Important things have always been written down. Then as now, few things sound as authoritative as:

'It is written.'

Everything that has had any kind of legal worth is written down. Oaths, for example are still commemorated in this manner. The written word is powerful because it doesn‘t allow us to forget or to overlook. The Jews could boldly back up their cultural inheritance by appealing to these ancient records. This impressed their pagan neighbors immensely, who for the most part took them seriously, even when occasionally critical of them. The Torah was the medium on which the covenant (treaty, deal) between the Hebrew god and the people was signed and sealed. The chosen people had a written receipt to back up their legitimacy. It became a very important feature of Jewish life. Methods were devised to explore its depths, mostly borrowed from the stoic philosophers, but these methods took on a brilliance of their own in the new lyrical Jewish context. Torah’s perennial mysteries were available to all those who sought to understand them. The more conservative priestly aristocracy (the counterpart Sadducees) reportedly preferred to stick to the five ‘lawful’ books of the Pentateuch, but the Pharisee school of thought, who accepted the prophets and writings, appear to have prospered. They eventually became the most influential Judaic sect both in Jerusalem and in the hinterland. The Pharisees were the people’s party at the time in question (so Josephus).

While the Sadducees still took care of maintaining the esoteric ritual aspects of the Judaic tradition, a duty bestowed to them through heredity, it was the Pharisees that took care of introducing the people into the endless cultural repository which is Torah. They did this in an open way. So open, in fact that they even tolerated the presence of gentiles in their midst. The god-fearers, these peripheral gentile hangers-on, seemed to greatly admire the ‘solidity’ of the Hebrew scriptures, the strictures of its highly refined moral codes. Gentiles, they sought to emulate the Jewish faith. They, I think, are the key to understanding the proliferation of the early Christian movement.

A crucial distinction must be made here which will become more relevant later. Unlike their proto-Christian brethren, the motives of Judeans don’t seem to have been missionary in nature. The Jews didn’t recruit people. They never had before, they had no need to as long as Judaism was a nationality, a tribal recognition, a bloodline inheritance. They saw no harm in tolerating gentiles, and in fact by the time leading up to the Revolt god-fearers, were a common sight around the synagogues, but that’s different than setting off on a mission to convert the nations to a Jewish god. The orbiting god-fearer came to Yahveh of his own accord. Jews are not missionaries.

Why would gentile god-fearers feel entitled to appeal to Jewish scriptures to defend their universalist religious innovations against the stability of traditional Judaism? I think that having a book was realized to be necessary early on in this new movement. I'll have some opinions on these questions as they appear again in our discussion. for now, let's continue our essentials-of-Judaism laundry-list.


The attributes of the Jewish god, that he is Lord over his creation, and that he requires exclusive tribute from it, are the basis of the idea of a divine covenant which distinguishes the Jews as their god’s unique chosen people. The idea of an exclusive covenant between a god and a people was a peculiarity that had enormous significance for the self-understanding of the people of Judea (and of surrounding areas of Samaria and the Galilee and into the Diaspora) in the first century. The concept of “covenant” has a long history parallel to that of monotheism which has also evolved over time into its present day form.

The nature of this covenant can best be seen in some of the metaphors and analogies that are used to describe it in the Bible. Israel is Yahweh’s ‘bride.’ (Jeremiah 2:2) Yahveh is lord of the manor. Yahveh is a mother-bear (Hosea 13:8). Israel is a “holy thing belonging to Yahveh, the first of his produce.” (Jer 2:3) These and other verses indicate that God is joined to Israel by some kind of exclusive pact.[6]

Though Yahveh had definitely taken the initiative in these dealings, he had not forced himself on an unwilling people. There is a symbiosis at work here. People were not shanghaied into the deal. They entered willingly, sacrificing, observing the appointed feasts, living lives of religious contemplation. Their cultural inheritance was a badge of honor and distinction to them.

This covenant was expressed outwardly in various ways: in the observance of feasts and of fasts, in the undertaking of pilgrimages to Jerusalem, in strict dietary discipline, and in the observance of the weekly Sabbath day. One very important way that this unique covenant was expressed was in the ritual act of circumcision (at least for boys). In the Diaspora, circumcision, kosher diets, and all of these other expressions were ways in which the community of Jews could remain tethered to the divine covenant outwardly, even zealously so, while allowing for the malleability of moral tolerance which their daily interactions with gentiles necessitated in their lives.

Of course, the downside of all of this is that all of this explicit exclusivity would necessarily breed a sense of “election” and a sense of “purity” in the people, and that would inevitably give them an air of haughtiness and superstitious rigidity in a world otherwise dominated by a pervasive Hellenistic liberalism. As a result Jews were stereotyped as aloof, bookish, pompous, cavalier, prudish.

The mere suggestion that there was a new covenant needed in order to reconcile god to man would have seemed preposterous to a Judean. The soteriological constructs contained in the Christian scriptures would have caused (and did!) much controversy. Boyd is, again, right to assert that the Jews would never have fallen for these weird teachings. But, like I have been stressing in this series, he must first demonstrate that the first Christians in Jerusalem in fact accepted these teachings if his reasoning is to have any relevance.

The Temple

During the post-exilic years leading up the First Jewish Revolt, the Temple at Jerusalem, rebuilt during Herod the Great’s industrious building streak,# was both the liturgical mother-ship and the prestigious and ornate jeweled crown of the once-mighty kingdom of Judea. For Jews of that time, all formal worship, all tribute, was directed toward this cultural centerpoint. Yearly pilgrimages to the Jerusalem Temple on appointed holy days of the Jewish calendar were prescribed by the prophets, whose adherence to Torah was the binding guideline for Jewish thought and conduct. Arriving in Jerusalem, pilgrims would set about ritually purifying themselves in preparation for the sacrifices they came to offer at the altar of Yahveh (sometimes from hundreds and hundreds of miles away). The sacrifices were the purview of an elite aristocratic priestly class who saw to the proper administration of this gargantuan religio-cultural-economic mechanism.

The Temple was such a central part of the religious practice and self-identity of the people of Judea in the years leading up to the war, in fact, that once the Romans razed it in the year 70 C.E. and the sacrificial aspect of this ancient tradition came to a screeching halt, the grim possibility that Judaism might be extinguished along with it became a very serious concern for Jews, both at home and abroad. What was once the single most defining outward symbol of a proud people’s cultic relationship to their god, the Temple, was now gone forever. A deep feeling of desolation must have pervaded the lives and prayers of not only the survivors of the long siege (there weren‘t many), but also of the large population of Jews that were dispersed throughout the empire. (If God is supposed to reside in the “Holy of Holies” in the inner recesses of the Temple—and the Temple is no more—then they were forced to ask the poignant question: "Where the hell is God now?!" )

This is one instance where the Dead Sea Scrolls come in handy. The community that compiled this impressive library in the middle of nowhere explicitly detests the contemporaneous temple authority (presumably the Hasmonean dynasty) and have established a more ascetic ("pure") theology and liturgy that bypassed the temple expression we know as normative for the period. Among all the invective thrown at the Jerusalem temple authority that is evident on most of the sectarian documents found at the Khirbet Qumran site, there is the peaceful, sedate Temple Scroll, which lays out detailed plans for the construction and running of an ideal temple, with corresponding rules of behavior … and suchlike. Without going into too much detail, the point to bear in mind is that it wasn't the insitution the Qumran sectarians objected to, obviously, but what they saw as an usurpation of the institution. This is what apparently made them pack up and split from Jerusalem's liberalisms to live in the salt and heat of the desert.

This is supported also by what is known as the MMT Document,[7] a letter from a group of people addressed to the high-priestly establishment at Jerusalem (circa 152 BCE). The authors of this letter assert that this Jerusalem core are following a bunch of wrong rulings on Jewish law, and they say that they have left the temple because of this, and that they will only come back if a number of these things are reversed. Again, leaving the details aside, what's important to my focus here is that, even though these ascetic sectarians abhorred Jerusalem's influence, they still saw value and a cultural ideal in the concept of a temple, albeit from a reformist point of view.

Of course, this had not been the only time that Jerusalem had fallen under siege and that sacrificial practice had ceased. The exile in Babylon showed the Jews that it was possible to ‘sing one’s song of Zion in a strange land’, so to speak, without a Temple in sight. A man deprived of his eyes learns to sharpen the senses he’s got left to somewhat compensate for the loss. With the temple gone, the unity of God, the importance of Torah, and strict adherence to traditional forms of expression became that much more valued as identifiers of the faith. This is where Pharisaim was forged before the temple was rebuilt by Herod. This is why I placed the temple last on this short list of essentials, because some forms of Judaism were obviously possible in contrast to this concept. It is safe to say, however, that the concept of temple was a monolithic and normative aspect of being Jewish at the time. One could oppose the temple, but it remained a focal point, if only as an ideal.

To sum up:

We know that there was a wide variety of ways to be Jewish before the destruction of Jerusalem. There were the educated types: the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Essenes. There were also undoubtedly more folksy provincial varieties and popular, more political ones such as the Zealots. This presents us with a wide range of possible ways that people expressed their Judaism. But the threads that bound all Jews of the time as kin seem to be:

  • The first commandment. Or, to borrow a phrase from another of Judaism’s offshoots, the insistence that “There is no God but god.”

  • This god has made a covenant with his people.

  • This covenant entails adherence to the Torah.

  • The temple is central, at least symbolically. (Its destruction threw everything into a tailspin.)

Those are common denominators of the variegation of Judeans in the first century up until the razing of Jerusalem in 70 CE.  Sure, they may have argued with each other, sometimes vehemently, Sadducees about the function of Torah, Pharisees about the possibility and nature of a resurrection, but these commonalities remained.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

1 - There are quite a few.  The Beginnings of Judaism: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties, by Shaye Cohen is a pretty good one.

2 - There were exceptions to this near-universal admiration. Tacitus, for example, was less than friendly toward the Jews and their monotheistic obstinance.

3 - Deuteronomy 6:7

4 - I'd like to note, however, that there is some evidence that, even in the first century, Palestinian Judaism may not have been as monotheistic as the surviving propagandist literature portrays it. The Second God heresy involving Metatron shows that a man transformed into a divine being was not without judaic believers at the time. Somewhat later Judaic magical texts also showed that the average Jew-on-the-street might not have been strictly monotheistic (it seems that many Jews accepted that there was reason that the commandment was "You shall hold no other gods before me!" rather than "You shall hold no other gods!"). Whether this was a grecian influence, a continuation of native Judaism, or some combination of the two is impossible to know. -- For more on this reasoning, I recommend the work of Margaret Barker.  (HT to Dr. Barton for pointing me toward this concept.)
However, I do think that this thinking was esoteric and marginal and that strict monotheism was fairly normative by the time in question.

5 - Job 38:4–8 (KJV)

6 - An excellent survey of the idea of covenant in the Hebrew Bible is found in Covenant: The History of a Biblical Idea by Delbert Hillers

7 - Elisha Qimron gave a lecture on this document at the Biblical Archeology Society's conference in 1984 which sparked the academic surge that would eventually allow for the publication of the scrolls in their entirety. Even Lawsuits ensued. People are funny.


  1. "The closest thing to a creedal statement in Jewish tradition is what is known as the Shema, a kind of Jewish pledge of allegiance directed at the people of Israel to acknowledge and to affirm that the God of Israel is One and one only. Recited daily, it is a promise to implement this faith of the ancient fathers in their daily living."

    This practice is not attested until the third century or the eve of it. It is the topic of the first Tractate of the Mishnah - thus the later view that it is the essence of all things Jewish. The tannaim are represented as fretting about the details. In other words, it is a rabbinical norm and might not have characterized Jewish practice in the large for a few more centuries. You are basically accepting the picture of Rabbi Eliezer and co that was painted in the first few pages and, it seems, projecting it still further into the past as something the e.g. Paul ought certainly to have known...

    1. I think it is a valid presumption, given that Deuteronomy dates back to the time of King Josiah at the latest, and that it, as you rightly point out, was considered central enough to be included at a vital part of the first tractate by the rabbis. That it is not attested by any text before Talmudic times is not that strange considering that NOTHING is attested to during the crucial time in question.

      You could be right, maybe the Rabbis adopted this profession of strict monotheism suddenly and out of the blue, at the end of the second century ... I think that insisting on that would be ... obtuse ... more shadow boxing.

      If you have some evidence that Jewish monotheism was just a folk tradition that wasn't mandated explicitly by Torah ... you can certainly mention it now. This would be a good time.

      Yes, I do indeed think that my scenario of "Shema-as-background-of-radical-monotheism" is more probable than the "Shema-as-third-century-rabinnic-discovery" that you suggest as an alternative.

      Yes . . . I do.

  2. Well, if the argument isn't damned for being prolix, then its 'shadowboxing' (I guess this means: attacking a straw man); and if neither of those then it must have an apologetic purpose. A convenient epistemology. Again, delete all these comments when you please it; I am addressing the text before me; I thought more or less this way myself ten years ago, but there's been a lot of scholarship under the bridge since then, so to speak. I started with the Shema because it was the first thing you mention. Basically every sentence suffers from similar anachronisms.

    On the Mishnah, your personal 'search for the historical Yavneh' etc. I recommend something like the first essay here, by Boyarin or any of the others just to see a bit of the 'status quaestionis'

    The Shema -- as you would expect since it's out-takes from Deuteronomy -- doesn't express what you are calling 'radical monotheism'. It's not just that it doesn't deny the existence of all the other Gods, it presupposes their existence, same as the first commandment does; it forbids worship of them and characterizes Israel as having just one of them. (This thought will make you feel impatient; it used to be the same with me.) It is not even stated in it that the other Gods are inferior, though that follows from Genesis 1, as we have it, and a million other texts -- inferences from Genesis 1 are the origin of the rather intellectual 'monotheism' problematic. If you try to trace out the history of the idea of "monotheism" that you are working with, and which is indeed present in Islam and a medieval master like Maimonides (who accused all of his contemporaries of idolatry since, as he thought, they worshipped an inner picture or image of a large human being, when they are forbidden to worship anything but something he only thinks you can think of by practicing philosophy) you will see that it arises from specifically Christian problematics (of a later period, not the one at issue here). Note, by the way, that the first line of every Christian creed *really does* deny the existence of any other god, as the Shahada does, and as the Shema *just plain doesn't.* Frankly, this is immediately obvious: that 'mono-theism' arises from confrontation with *philosophy* is something it wears on its jargon-y face. That is, the idea of the thing that the Christians are bungling, is basically due to the Christians. When you take this idea and backport it anachronistically to the 1st c or the Tanakh, of course you get spectacular apologetic effects but mostly just word salads. See for example Fredriksen "Mandatory Retirement" or the other text I linked (not that I'm that into her, except for very recent works on Paul -- a still-crude form of Jewish defensism damages her texts; she is just addressing Christian scholars with what ought to be their ABCs by now.)

  3. I started with the Shema because it was the first thing you mentioned. The anachronism goes on and on. For example, the uncritical use of the word 'Judaism' where one ought to speak of the Jewish people and their cult: again, a purely Christian construction, as e.g. Boyarin tirelessly points out. Serious writers simply do not use the expression 'Judaism' in describing 1st c. phenomena, only Christian apologists use it for the immediately succeeding centuries.

    Just to mention one more bit, since the material came up on another page: you say that Jewish nation didn't have a tendency to 'evangelize', *so* they aren't anything like Paul. But of course what you principally hold against Paul is ... precisely his unrelenting and religious adherence to this principle. The only known 'evangelizers of Jewishness' from the first century on are ... *the good pious Christian Jews Paul is attacking in Galatians.* Paul thinks they're bad uneducated Jews and thus of course also bad Christians (he probably thinks his Jerusalem 'pillars' are know-nothing Galilean bumpkins despite the fact that God has his hand on them.) Writers who make this correct point usually omit the clause, 'from the first century on', forgetting that in the glorious Maccabean period, violent massed forced circumcision of Idumeans and pagan Galileans was very much the order of the day. The earliest evidence we have of a form of Jewish ideology (and it can only be one form as we see from the acts of Hyrcanus & following) that opposes this is -- guess who? -- Paul; that it resurfaces in the rabbis is one of about 40,000 proofs that Paul is our best window into first century, and indeed specifically 'pharasaical' thinking. (Of course, that we chance to know anything about him is due to the surprising succeeding gentile movement ... but it's the same with Josephus) This thought is in some ways painful but in other ways thrilling, as the collapse of ideological obfuscation always is.

    1. That last bit about the Judaizers in Galatia is good and noted ... it still coukd of course be fiction . . . but it's a valid point ...

      I'm not going to delete anything, dude . . . relax . . . . why is everyone so combative and weird over what is nothing more than armchair literary criticism? ... I know that Jamnia is theoretical . . . . I know that Judaism was not as radically monothesistic as most people think . . . . I actually suspect that we agree on a hell of a lot more than we disagree on . . . . but one thing we will not agree on . . . . apparently . . . is in thinking that Paul was perfectly "Jewish" . . . yes . . . I also know that the term itself is problematic .... the shadowboxing is in your posture . . . your bedside manner ... like I'm someone to come at . . . . the fact is that I don't really care that you think Paul is thoroughly Jewish in the same sense as James is . . . . it makes no ifference to me ... I don't say this to be provocative . . . I have expressed my thoughts on a topic . . . you challenged my reasoning about it (fair enough) and I responded .... I asked you why you think Paul is more Jewish than I think he is . . . and you have argued that "Judaism" (there's that pesky word again) was probably not regulated or as textually mandated as some people think . . . . that's cool . . . . but it doesn't answer my main question . . . . . that last point re: Jewish missionaries (if they were actual rather than literary in origin) only highlights the strangeness of the paradox . . . . we know some of what "Paul's" christology/soteriology/theology (disjointed as it is) was about . . . . is there a way to infer a direct continuity between the "Jewishness/Judaicity/textual/folk/religion-of-the-Levant" that had its supposed origin in Yacob .... and the Paulinism, on the one hand, which bows down before its original recipe, while talking smack about it .... under his breath ... but in an open "letter" ... are these "letters" the way we understand the concept in the first place? . . . . it's a huge can of worms . . . . we'll never reach bottom in a format such as this . . .

      You seem to be . . . frustrated at my not seeing anything particularly Jewish about Paul . . . . but you're not addressing the continuity that I keep seeking here ... it would go a long way toward demonstrating this Judaism that is SO clear in Paul to your eyes ...

      Maybe you're right . . . maybe Paul was expressing a kind of Torah-bashing Judaism that was normative but his is the only version of the story that survived . . . it would be great if we had epistles or treatises by Barnabbas or James or Cephas or Apollos or Thecla or whoever . . . I would love to see this strange variant of anti-Torah Pharisaim corroborated somewhere.

      It would make all the difference to me. I promise.


    2. I should repeat here that the analogous continuity between Pharisaism and the later Rabbinic school is fairly clear, in my opinion ...

  4. What you are calling 'anti-Torah pharasaism' is corroborated by the rabbis. Since it means: Don't convert the nations to the Law of Moses. You think there is some kind of discontinuity between Paul and ... who? The only difference between him and any other 1st C Jerusalem fanatic is that he thinks he's seen his 'messiah'. When that happens all kinds of things happen; no doubt he went over to a more cosmic and metaphysical conception of the moment of Redemption and the restoration of Israel etc. etc. than might have been expected. It is built into the idea of a messiah that you might bump into him, but we know in advance that every case of messianic instantiation, so to say, will end in disaster. It is thus built into the idea of the moment of messianic redemption that you are going to get some strange theories going. The examples of Schneerson and Sabbatai should always be before our eyes. Of course you can say that their followers are 'not really Jewish' etc, at best mere mamzerim etc, as you do of Paul. To say it, though is pure theology; from a secular and historical it is complete nonsense. The phenomenon the Donmeh is about as Jewish as it gets from any but a pious religious point of view. Notice by the way that even the Pauline way of using the jargon of Anointed/Messiah/Christ . It used to be a favorite theme of learned writers that this 'messiah' concept doesn't really seem to get clearly expressed in the second temple literature, the few uses are all over the map, etc etc. But ... once again, as soon we bump into the rabbis, there it is clear as a bell. Maimonides is as deflationary on the topic as it gets in the tradition, but he knew he could not leave "I believe with a full heart in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may tarry I will still wait for him" out of his capsule summary. ... One more of the myriad micro-arguments that Paul is channeling a tradition that is otherwise unattested until the rabbis.

    By the way the use of the adjective 'Jewish' in e..g the Jewish people, the Jewish nation, the cult of the Jewish people, the Jewish God and of 'a Jew' and 'the Jews' are, somewhat surprisingly, not too bad when used in connection with the first c. By contrast 'Judaism' is 100% (later) Christian theology: it is inventing an other for itself, but there is no This is a favorite stalking horse of e.g. Boyarin.


anonymous comments may or may not be published ...