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“Paul, the Pagans’ Apostle”

Paula Fredriksen’s awaited book on Paul has now appeared:  Paul, the Pagans’ Apostle (Yale University Press, 2017; the publisher’s online catalog entry here).  And unlike some other recent works, it’s a comparatively modest-sized tome (319 pp. including endnotes, bibliography and indexes).  But its modest (more reasonable?) size encompasses a pithy and highly readable portrait of her subject.  I won’t attempt here a full review, but will merely highlight a few matters.

Fredriksen emphasizes two things about Paul above all else:  (1) He was, and remained, Jewish; and (2) his apostolic mission was driven by a powerful eschatological conviction prompted by his belief that God had raised Jesus from death and exalted him as universal Messiah.  More specifically, she contends (persuasively to my mind) that Paul saw Jesus’ resurrection as ushering in the eschatological time foretold by biblical prophets in which the pagan “Gentile” nations would turn from their idols and embrace the one true God of Israel (e.g., Zechariah 8:20-23), and Paul saw himself as specially called by God to declare God’s eschatological acceptance of the Gentiles and summon them to turn to God.

She memorably designates Paul’s churches as comprised of “eschatological Gentiles,” and distinguishes them sharply from Jewish “proselytes.”  Proselytes were Gentiles (she prefers the term, “pagans”) who “converted” to Judaism, forsaking their birth-nations and families to become members of the Jewish nation, and so live by Torah.  Paul insisted, however, that Gentiles now didn’t need to undergo proselyte conversion, indeed, they must not do so, but instead were now granted full acceptance by God as Gentiles/pagans, simply on the basis of responding in faith-commitment to the gospel of God’s grace.  The new eschatological situation initiated by Jesus’ resurrection, Paul believed, had created this new redemptive programme.

There are a number of other things as well to commend about the book.  For example, she (again, rightly in my view) grants that Paul saw Jesus as Messiah of Israel/Jews as well as pagans/Gentiles.  No “two ways” (German: Sonderweg) theology for her!  Also, she insists (against a long-standing Christian theological view/assumption) that for Paul “Israel” remained the Jewish people.  So, for example, the salvation of “all Israel” in Romans 11:26 refers to Jews en masse coming to recognize Jesus as their Messiah, in an eschatological setting brought about by God.  She also rightly notes that, actually, Paul continued to promote observance of commandments of Torah, among which forsaking idols was primary.  He simply didn’t require pagans to become Jews, so the number of applicable commandments was fewer.

There are, however, several views in the book with which I disagree.  I’ll confine myself here to two of them.  First, I remain unable to follow her proposal that Pharisee Saul’s persecution (his term) of “the church of God” (e.g., Galatians 1:13-14) comprised flogging Jewish Jesus-believers because they were recruiting pagans, and so could cause trouble for the local synagogues.  In a previous posting here I’ve laid out my own reasons for my dissent, and the view that seems more compelling to me.  In short, I continue to judge that Paul/Saul sought to “destroy” (his term) the young Jesus-movement because he regarded its claims about Jesus to be outrageous.

And perhaps the other major matter is my view that the devotional pattern of early circles of Jesus-believers represents a novel “mutation” in Jewish tradition of the time.  Much as I appreciate Fredriksen engaging my proposal in an extended endnote (238-39 n. 15), I have to say that her response doesn’t really address the matter adequately.  For example, regarding the phrase “to call upon the name of the Lord (Jesus Christ)” (e.g., Romans 10:9-13; 1 Corinthians 1:2):  It isn’t just the verb “epikaleo” but the full expression that shows its derivation from, and reference to, the uses of the Old Testament expression for worship of YHWH.  Of course, the verb itself is used more widely to signify “calling upon/invoking” a human or a spirit-being (e.g., in magic).  But the full expression that Paul uses is a biblical one, and the “Lord” whose name that he says believers now call upon ritually is “Jesus”.  That’s a pretty noteworthy move!   For what Paul refers to isn’t some private magical act, but the open, corporate, community-identifying acclamation/invocation of the risen/exalted Jesus.

Fredriksen complains that my claim that the dyadic devotional pattern reflected already in our earliest Christian texts is a distinctive “mutation” in Jewish tradition rests upon an argument from silence.  Yes, we don’t have near enough knowledge of what went on in synagogues, but it isn’t really “silence” from which I argue.  We do have some information, descriptions, narratives, and, importantly, a pretty interesting body of prayers of the time.  There were no second beings other than YHWH reverenced in the Temple.  Not Moses, or Enoch, or Michael.  There are also no indications of invocations of second beings as part of synagogue gatherings either.  Of course, our knowledge is limited–that’s why from 1988 onward I’ve said that *within the limits of our knowledge* it appears that early Jesus-devotion comprises a novel mutation, a “dyadic” pattern that doesn’t seem to have an analogy in other Jewish circles of the time.

Consequently, we differ somewhat over how to estimate Paul’s beliefs about Jesus.  In Fredriksen’s view, Paul’s belief was mainly that Jesus is the promised Messiah, now the heavenly-enthroned Messiah to be sure.  I agree that Paul saw Jesus as Messiah, but I contend that Paul saw Messiah Jesus as also the “Lord” of believers, who is now to be reverenced in the remarkable ways that I’ve documented for several decades now.

But I conclude this posting by reiterating my admiration for the learning, wit, creativity, and sheer hard work reflected in Fredriksen’s new book.  Nice going, Paula!


“God and the Faithfulness of Paul”: US Edition

A quick note to pass on word that the large multi-author volume, God and the Faithfulness of Paul, engaging N.T. Wright’s two-volume recent work, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, has now been published also by Fortress Press (publisher’s online catalogue entry here).  The US price, $49, will make this multi-author assessment of Wright’s work much more readily affordable.

In an earlier posting here, I gave a brief overview of the book.

Galatians and Paul’s Jerusalem-Collection Re-visited

In an essay from 1979 I floated the idea that Paul’s collection-project for Jerusalem may have been used against him by his critics in the Galatian churches:  “The Book of Galatians and the Jerusalem Collection,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 5(1979), pp. 46-62.  In recent weeks, I’ve returned to that essay while reading Bruce Longenecker’s book, Remember the Poor:  Paul, Poverty, and the Greco-Roman World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010).

Longenecker’s main aim in that book is to argue (contrary to the claims of some other scholars) that the Apostle Paul did promote support for the poor and needy in the early churches that he founded, and I find his case largely persuasive.  In pursuing that aim, Longenecker also discusses attitudes toward the poor more generally in the pagan and Jewish contexts, estimates the economic stratification of the first-century world, and several other matters as well.

But what drew my attention to my 1979 article again is Longenecker’s extended discussion of Galatians 2:10, which is also a key text in my article.  Many scholars over the years have judged that Paul’s statement here that the only thing requested of him by the Jerusalem-church leaders was “that we should remember the poor, which I was eager to do,” refers to his large collection-project for Jerusalem.  Longenecker mounts a sustained case against this view, however.  He observes that in the first few centuries there is no indication that early Christian writers took the verse this way.  Instead, they seem to have read it simply as affirming Christian charity for the poor.  Also, Longenecker criticizes the frequent view that “the poor” in Galatians 2:10 is a technical term for the Jerusalem church, drawing particularly on the article by L. E. Keck,“The Poor Among the Saints in the New Testament.” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 56 (1965): 100-29.  (My proposal does not involve reading “the poor” as a technical term for Jerusalem or relating it to the later “Ebionites,” and so Longenecker’s critique of such views does not apply to my proposal.)

Longenecker’s own proposal for Galatians 2:10 is that it accurately reflects a request from the Jerusalem-church leaders that Paul should promote the kind of “indigenous” benevolence among his pagan/gentile converts (that is, benevolence of believers to other believers in the same local church) that (Longenecker argues) was more characteristic among Jewish circles of the time.  Indeed, Longenecker contends that the Jerusalem leaders regarded this “indigenous” benevolence the key expression of the genuineness of the gentile churches, and their linkage in piety/faith with Jewish churches.

Although some reviewers appear to have been taken with Longenecker’s argument about the verse, I remain (at least for now) unsure that it succeeds, and I continue to hold forth the proposal I made in that 1979 article.  Specifically, I still suggest that Galatians 2:10 is a key part of Paul’s very defensive account in Galatians 1—2, and that in this verse Paul attempts to deflect the accusation that his collection for Jerusalem was a levy laid upon him that proved his inferiority to the Jerusalem-church leaders and that falsified his claim to an independent apostolic authority.  Longenecker and I have had some cordial email exchanges over the text in the last couple of weeks.  But I think that we’ve simply had to agree to disagree for now.

That is, I reiterate my suggestion that in Galatians 2:10 Paul addresses the accusation about his Jerusalem collection by insisting that the request of the Jerusalem-church leaders was (1) really that he and Barnabas continue the sort of benevolence that they had already been involved in (as implied in the plural, present-subjunctive form of the verb, ἵνα μνημονεύωμεν, “that we might [continue to] remember the poor”), (2) that it was to be taken, not as a tax but an expression of concern for the poor/needy (albeit, particularly the poor in the Jerusalem church), and (3) that this was something that he was entirely happy, even eager to do (as expressed in the singular, aorist verb, ἐσπούδασα).  I suggest that, from the standpoint of the Jerusalem-church leaders, the request was that Paul’s pagan/gentile churches should continue to affirm their solidarity with their Jewish/Judean fellow-believers in a tangible manner.

I continue to think that this makes good sense of Galatians 2:10, particularly doing justice to it as part of the highly defensive account of his relations with the Jerusalem-church leaders, indeed, the concluding statement of that account.  In my 1979 article, I offered a good deal of supporting data from Paul’s letters to suspect that Paul’s Jerusalem collection could have been used against him by his opponents in Galatia, which would explain why Paul felt it necessary to include the topic in his defence of his apostleship in Galatians 1—2.

This still seems to me more plausible than Longenecker’s proposal that what the Jerusalem leaders required of Paul was that his converts exercise generosity among themselves locally (not generosity for Jerusalem), and that the Jerusalem leaders regarded this as the single most important indicator of gentile fellowship with their Jewish co-religionists.  Contrast this with the account of the requirements of gentile believers ascribed to the Jerusalem leaders in Acts 15:28-29, where eating food offered to idols, “blood and things strangled,” and fornication are listed.

My hypothesis remains (at least for now) that Paul had to address his collection for Jerusalem in responding to the Galatian crisis, and that is why we have his statement in Galatians 2:10.  We know that he solicited the Galatian churches to participate in the Jerusalem collection (1 Corinthians 16:1), and we know that his apostolic authority and the adequacy of his gospel were challenged in the Galatian churches (which required his letter to them).  We also know that Paul elsewhere portrayed the Jerusalem-collection as an expression of generosity in his effort to ensure that the Corinthian believers followed through in their commitment to the project (as in 2 Corinthians 8), which fits with his characterization of the request of the Jerusalem leaders in Galatians 2:10.  And we also have Paul’s reference to the collection as both a “ministry to the [Jerusalem] saints” and a sharing of resources with “the poor among the saints in Jerusalem” (Romans 15:25-26).

We also have strong indications, however, that, for Paul, the Jerusalem-collection project was much more than simply relief for the Jerusalem poor.  He also saw the project as a major expression of the faith-solidarity of his churches with their Jewish fellow-believers in Judaea, and likely hoped that it would confirm to the Jerusalem leaders the validity of his gentile-mission.  These hopes seem to lie implicit in his poignant statements about the project in Romans 15:22-33).  The success of the Jerusalem-collection will, he hopes, fire him with “the fullness of the blessing of Christ” (v. 29), and with “joy” (v. 32).  Though he fears “unbelievers” in Judaea (v. 31, which I take to be Jewish outsiders to the Jerusalem church), he plans to go to Jerusalem with the collection and with delegates from the participating gentile churches.

So, with no desire to play off against each other Paul’s Jerusalem-collection project and his promotion of intra-community benevolence in his churches, I continue to propose that Galatians 2:10 makes sense (even better sense) as Paul’s response to the accusation that his Jerusalem-collection proved that he was inferior to the Jerusalem leaders, and not a fully authentic apostle.  He insists that the Jerusalem leaders laid no requirement on him (Gal. 2:6; “nothing on me”), and instead portrays them as expressing the request or desire that Paul and Barnabas continue to “remember the poor” (the subjunctive construction in 2:10 expressing this softened view of the matter), and that he himself was entirely (or even already) eager to do this.

In the final part of my 1979 article, I also proposed that, after addressing the substantial issues of his authority and the validity of his message in Galatians 1—6, in Galatians 6:6-10 Paul then renews his original appeal to the Galatian churches to participate in the Jerusalem collection.  I won’t take the space here to lay out that case again.  I grant that it is a matter of judgement, but I do feel just a bit hard done by in John Barclay’s dismissive comment that “There is nothing to justify Hurtado’s suggestion” about these verses (Obeying the Truth:  Paul’s Ethics in Galatians, 163 n. 59).  For I did offer a rationale for my proposal.  Moreover, the great J. B. Lightfoot made a similar proposal (in his commentary on Galatians).  Whether the basis for my proposal is persuasive or not, each one will have to judge; but it’s hardly “nothing.”  That, however, is a matter for another occasion.

St. Lawrence: “Well done”!

Today (10 August) is the feast day of my namesake, Lawrence, Deacon in the Roman church, executed 258 CE in the persecution of Christians under Valerian.  I have nothing to add to the limited knowledge we have of him.  This posting is simply a somewhat self-indulgent nod to the guy who made the name “Lawrence” (and my name derived from it) so frequently used to this day.

The standard information is that he came from southern Spain (from where my Spanish ancestors likely derive), and moved to Rome where he became a Deacon in the church.  As such, his special responsibilities were to distribute church funds to widows and orphans.  At some point, he is said to have been ordered by the imperial authorities to hand over the funds of the Roman church to the state.  He didn’t exactly comply (the story is that he trotted in the church widows and orphans and pointed to them as the wealth of the church), and so was executed.

The traditional story is that he was roasted alive on an iron grill, although many scholars now think that, instead, he was likely beheaded, along with some other Roman Christians of that same persecution.  But in the traditional story, he is also said at one point to have called out, “I’m well done on this side, so you can turn me over!”  Whether authentic or not, it’s apparently that account that made him the patron saint of cooks and comedians!

One further story, and this one I can vouch for.  After my book, Lord Jesus Christ:  Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, appeared (2003), I was invited to Berlin for a day-seminar devoted to the book, held by the New Testament section of the Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft für Theologie.  Several eminent German scholars had been invited to deliver critical engagements with portions of the book.  After the first ones in the morning session, the convener of the day turned to me and said with a twinkle in his eye, “Well, like your namesake, you are now perhaps roasted on the one side.  So we break for lunch, and then this afternoon we turn you over!”

But to return to Lawrence of Rome, we scholars in comfortable settings today have the luxury of investigating how he was executed, and can debunk the traditional story of his being roasted.  Nevertheless, it does seem historical that he was executed, and likely for refusing to accede to the totalitarian demands of the Roman government.  The traditional story portrays him being very “cheeky” with the Roman authorities (to use a British expression).  Personally, that makes him all the more endearing to me!  In any case, whatever your favorite “sundowner” drink, let’s raise one to Lawrence today.

Destroyer of the gods: Peppard’s Review

I’m a bit tardy in acknowledging the review of my book, Destroyer of the gods:  Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, by Michael Peppard (Fordham University) in America 31 July here.  It’s a thoughtful review informed by Peppard’s own expertise in the Roman world of early Christianity.

He rightly raises questions about how solidly Christians of the first three centuries actually maintained the religious exclusivity demanded and professed in early Christian texts, and he points to what he admits are only partial analogies of some features of early Christianity in other religious movements of the time.  I’m grateful that he also notes that I acknowledge these issues in the book.  For I don’t claim that all Christians always abstained from reverencing the many gods of the time.  It is evident from the evidence that Christians then negotiated their existence in various ways, and that there were sometimes bitter disagreements among them over how to do so.  But it does appear that a sufficient critical mass of Christians were sufficiently exclusive in their worship-practices to draw the criticism of them in the writings of pagan critic-observers.  Moreover, whatever decision that early Christians made about the gods, my larger point is that Christians had to make such decisions–something not required of people generally in the Roman world, certainly not required of adherents of other new religious movements of the day.

Peppard kindly praises my chapters on the religious stance of early Christianity, and on their considerable dedication to the composition, copying and distribution of texts.  He also engages helpfully my chapter in which I argue that early Christianity may have invented what we would call a “religious identity” distinguishable from one’s ethnicity.  As he notes, “identity” became a major buzzword and academic focus a couple of decades ago and the topic draws in various disciplines, and so opens out into a possible exploration that could go very wide indeed.

My point in that chapter is rather more simple by comparison:  That early Christians were to abandon the gods of their family, city, and nation, and yet were to remain members of their family, city, and nation, while confining their worship to the one deity of the Christian gospel.  The Jewish proselyte by comparison is described precisely as one who abandoned his family and nation, and becomes a member of the Jewish ethnos.  So, early Christianity introduced a practical distinction between one’s ethnicity and one’s religious commitment that seems to have been novel.  And we now take it for granted that ethnicity and religious affiliation are two distinguishable matters.

I’m grateful for Peppard’s probing discussion of these and other matters.  But I’m not sure that I can agree with his final statements: “Here then was ‘early Christian distinctiveness’: to be known as that weird group of Jews and sympathizers who decided that a convicted and crucified peasant was worthy of worship as God. Every other point of a compare-and-contrast essay pales by comparison.”

Peppard points to the famous Palatine graffito where someone (likely a pagan) scrawled a donkey’s headed figure on a cross, and ridiculed an Alexamenos (likely a Christian) for worshiping this figure, derisively referred to as “his god”  (see the Wikepedia entry here).  Surely, pagans found the gospel of a crucified savior bizarre.  But, simply to judge from the larger body of evidence of pagan observers of early Christianity, I think we have to say that the most objectionable feature was the abandonment of the traditional gods, the exclusivity of early Christian worship.  Celsus, for example, expressed a readiness to overlook everything else if Christians would only return to the gods.

But I conclude by expressing again my gratitude to Peppard for his irenic and stimulating review.

“Lord Jesus Christ”: Portuguese Edition

A surprise package this a.m. turned out to be copies of the newly-published Portuguese translation of my 2003 book, Lord Jesus Christ:  Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. The Portuguese title:  Senhor Jesus Christ:  Devoção a Jesus no Christianisno Primitivo (Santo André, Brazil:  Editoria Academia Christa; São Paulo:  Paulus Editora, 2017).  Thanks to the translator, Eliel Vieira, and the others involved in this large project.

This translation now joins the several others made:

  • Italian:  Signore Gesù Cristo:  La venerazione di Gesù nel christianesimo più antico (Brescia:  Paideia Editrice, 2006)
  • Spanish:  Señor Jesuchristo:  La devoción a Jesús en el christianismo primitivo (Salamanca:  Ediciones Sígueme, 2008)
  • French:  Le seigneur Jésus Christ:  La dévotion envers Jésus aux premier temps du Christianisme (Edition du Cerf, 2009).
  • Korean:  Seoul:  Holy Wave Plus, 2010.

Authors like to be read, and these various translations may mean that the work will be read much more broadly (and more easily) by people of various languages.  My thanks to all the translators and publishers.

Free Copy of “Destroyer of the gods”

A chance for a free, signed copy of my book, Destroyer of the gods:  Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, is offered by the publisher here.  The raffle begins today (01 August) and runs for through 04 August.


Another “First-Century Gospel of Mark”–Not!

For a fascinating account about tracking down a bizarre reference to a first-century papyrus of the “notes” of the Gospel of Mark, check Brent Nongbri’s recent posting here.

Brent refers also to the claim that surfaced a few years ago that a “first-century” fragment of the Gospel of Mark had been acquired by the Green family project.  I posted about this a couple of years ago here.  Things haven’t changed since then:  (1) No such papyrus fragment of Mark has been produced; (2) my limited inside-information is that none is likely to be produced, and that the earlier claim was not based on any competent analysis; so (3) the alleged “first-century” fragment of Mark is the papyrological equivalent of an urban myth.

Kruger: “Christianity at the Crossroads”

Christianity at the Crossroads:  How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church is the new book by Michael J. Kruger (SPCK, 2017; the publisher’s online catalogue entry here).  I’ve endorsed the book heartily.  Indeed, I think it’s now the best single-volume introduction to Christianity in the second century.

Kruger’s chapters address the “sociological makeup” of Christianity in that time, outsiders’ attitudes toward Christianity, ecclesiological structure, diversity, unity, Christian literature, and the canonizing process.  The book makes a particularly good choice for courses that address the period.  (And I’m on record advocating that “NT Studies” must include at least the second century, and that “Early Church” courses must take seriously the second century too.)

In a previous posting I referred to the “Cinderella Century” (here), and pointed to the excellent study of early Christian theological formation by Eric Osborn, The Emergence of Christian Theology (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993).  In my own recent book, Destroyer of the gods:  Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World (Baylor University Press, 2016), I survey features of early Christianity that made it odd in the Roman setting, but that subsequently have become unexamined assumptions for us.

I think that Kruger’s book will serve further to promote the study of this fascinating period, a time when, in the words of Osborn, Christian thinkers “had to argue for their lives.”

A.F. Segal: “The Other Judaisms of Late Antiquity”

I’m very pleased to have my gift-copy of the re-publication of some key works by Alan F. Segal in one handy volume:  The Other Judaisms of Late Antiquity, Second Edition, which now includes also his major essay, “Heavenly Ascent in Hellenistic Judaism, Early Christianity, and Their Environment” (which originally appeared in the series, Aufstieg und Niedergang der roemischen Welt, 1980).

Segal was a phenomenal scholar (and a trusted friend of mine), with a remarkable facility for languages, and a lot of good sense to his interpretative judgements.  It’s great to have these works by Alan gathered into this handy (and reasonably priced at $39.95) volume.  The publisher’s online catalogue entry is here.

The first part of this volume includes these essays:  “Dualism in Judaism, Christianity, and Gnosticism:  A Definitive Issue,” “The Ruler of This World,” “Hellenistic Magic:  Some Questions of Definition,” “The Sacrifice of Isaac in Early Judaism and Christianity,” “Torah and Nomos in Recent Scholarly Discussion,” “Covenant in Rabbinic Writings,” and “Romans 7 and Jewish Dietary Laws”.  The second part is devoted to the large essay from ANRW.  There is also a composite bibliography, plus indexes of primary sources and modern authors.

This is the second work by Segal published by Baylor University Press in the new series of republished work:  The Library of Early Christology.  In an earlier posting here, I noted the appearance of Segal’s high-impact work, Two Powers in Heaven (1977).  The republication of these works will make Segal’s contributions more readily available for scholars and succeeding generations of students.

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