My conversation with Ben Witherington over my forthcoming book, Destroyer of the gods, continues here and here.
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Thanks for sharing these, Larry. I am excited about the book! I have a question when you have a chance. In the final part of your discussion with Witherington on Pt. Six, you bring up the unique dynamic created by pagans ceasing from the worship of their ancestral gods – I think this is under-emphasized. However, you also touched on the fact that for a pagan who ‘converted to Judaism’ (i.e. became ethnically Jewish via circumcision) monolatry was often a more acceptable option from the Empire’s perspective.
With this in mind, I am curious how this affects your reading of Galatians (if at all). Given the fact that the ‘agitators’ don’t ultimately seem concerned with Torah observance, (Gal. 6:13) but rather with ‘circumcision’, do you think the circumstances might relate more to the dynamic mentioned above than to a simple Jewish legalism? In other words, might the concern of the agitators (expressed in 6:12 ‘only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ’) be better explained by the Roman stance towards ancestral customs (e.g. Eusebius, EH 6.12.1) than by the group in Acts 15:1?
I would love to hear your thoughts when time affords it. Thanks, Larry.
Paul’s comments in Galatians that you cite are so dependent on the situation (to which we are not otherwise privy) that it’s hard to say what to say. I presume myself that the “agitators” are fellow Jewish Christians, and that their view is that pagans who convert to Jesus should also convert to Torah-observance, signalled by circumcision. I.e., they’re urging pagans to become “Jesus-proselytes”. Paul, however, has his own “revelation” in which pagans are not to become proselytes (i.e., become members of the Jewish people), but instead become what Paula Fredriksen colourfully terms “eschatological gentiles.” I.e., they remain ethnically what they were, but now direct themselves solely to the God of Israel and his Son, with nothing more required of them. Otherwise, in Paul’s view, Christ become relativized to that additional requirement.
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