Research Notes on I Peter

I am pleased to see Torrey Seland’s new blog which focuses on the underrated epistle of I Peter. (And it’s nice to know that Torrey has other interests besides Philo!)

Torrey mentions Jack Elliott’s new book, Conflict, Community, and Honor: I Peter in Social Science Perspective, which I’ll have to put at the top of my reading list since Elliott is the top authority on I Peter. Torrey notes that, “strangely enough, Elliott does not substitute ‘Jews’ with ‘Judeans'”, despite having been the leading crusader for doing this. I wonder why.

RBL Review of Peter Jeffery

As noted by Mark Goodacre and Stephen Carlson, there is an extraordinarily lengthy RBL review (almost 50 pages instead of the usual 3-4) of Peter Jeffery’s indictment of Morton Smith:

Peter Jeffery
The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled
Reviewed by Scott Brown

Brown protests too much in the space of 47 pages (has there ever been an RBL review even a fraction this long?), with overstatements noted by Stephen, and I think the review sinks his ship even further. The cases made by Stephen Carlson and Peter Jeffery are so conclusive, in my view, and need virtually no defending at this point. (See my reviews of Carlson and Brown and Jeffery.) Someone in Brown’s awkward position can either concede defeat or go on fighting, and it’s clear by now that he isn’t going to have the grace to do the former.

Luther’s Trap

Aside from mistranslating Ioudaios as “Jew” in the New Testament, the most pervasive scholarly mistake is probably Luther’s trap in Rom 14:1-15:6, defined by Mark Nanos:

“Luther recognized that Paul was clearly instructing the ‘strong’ not to judge the opinions of the ‘weak’; however, Luther tripped into the very trap of judging them and then read this judgment as Paul’s. That is, Luther was tripped by the faulty assumption (1), that the ‘weak’ were Christian Jews, into the trap of assumption (2) with its inherent, inescapable contradiction wherein he indulges in the very same kind of judging Paul warned the ‘strong’ (which Luther considered himself) to avoid.” (The Mystery of Romans, p 92)

Nanos then proceeds to demonstrate why the “weak in faith” in Rome were non-Christian Judeans rather than Christian Judeans.

*Note: From this day foreward, in the wake of Elliott’s essay, I will be religiously using “Judean” instead of “Jew”, the latter only when citing others (as above).

Is Hector Avalos Right?

In The End of Biblical Studies, Hector Avalos argues that the bible is too irrelevant to take seriously. If the routes taken to this blog are any indication, maybe he’s right. Here are my three blogposts which get the most visits, none of which pertain to The Busybody’s biblical focus:

Fatal Revenant
The 25 Most Controversial Movies of all Time
Pedophilia and Ephebophilia

Never mind the bible: people want fantasy, scandalous film, and young flesh (or perhaps a combination of all three). Come to think of it, the bible has plenty of this stuff — fantasy, controversial themes and imagery, low ages of consent — so what’s the problem? Maybe the bible is pretty relevant after all.

Jesus the Israelite: Questions of Anti-Semitism

After a stimulating Crosstalk discussion and blogpost in which I push for dropping the terms “Jew”, “Jewish”, and “Judaism” in Jesus’ time, it’s worth addressing the specter of anti-Semitism. Jim West wrote:

“I wonder – as an aside – why Loren seems to want to drive a wedge between Jesus and Judaism. If I have misunderstood his intention I apologize. But it seems that the discussion so far is trending in that direction and so it sounds very similar to the debates about the Jewishness of Jesus in the 20’s and 30’s.”

And Rebecca Lesses says to me:

“You should be aware that at least to me, you’re beginning to sound like the bad old days in the study of the New Testament, when scholars did their best to divorce Jesus from Judaism, in order to make him look so much better than the ‘legalistic’, ‘dessicated’ caricature they drew of current-day Judaism.”

On the one hand it’s hard for me to take these accusations seriously, since I’ve combatted anti-Semitic caricatures as much as anyone — not only on this blog but on various academic list-serves. E. P. Sanders has put legalism to rest. No one is using Judaism as an implicit foil by denying that it existed in the second Temple period. The above reactions are actually part of the problem here, because when people associate the arguments of Elliott and Esler with antiquated Lutheran scholarship, it shows how much we’ve come to lean on the crutch of a supposed “Jewishness” for fear that we’re automatically siding with dated paradigms. But you don’t need a non-existent Jewishness to avoid these pitfalls.

And I should be clear on another point. I make no assumptions that Jesus’ way of being a Galilean Israelite was inherently better than (say) a Pharisee’s way of being a Judean Israelite. Good guy/bad guy contrasts have no more place in an historical discussion than do foils and false starts. This is one point where I agree with April DeConick, who warns against portraits of “Jesus the ‘good’ Israelite from the north revolting against the ‘bad’ [Judeans] of the south”. But that’s not where I see scholars like Elliott and Esler going, and it’s certainly not where I am in any case.

Quote for the Day: "Words That Make Us Lie"

Donald Akenson — ever known for his sweetness and tact — has the following to say about using “Jew” in a pre-70 context (Saint Saul: A Skeleton Key to the Historical Jesus, pp 55, 61-62):

“Language teachers sometimes refer to ‘false-friends’, words that are familiar in one language, but which, when they are found in another tongue, mean something entirely different. Unfortunately, the present-day vocabularies of the Jewish and the Christian faiths are so full of false-friends that they almost seem designed to lead us astray. We need to guard ourselves against words that give false continuity…

“Two pivotal words that we will not use to refer to the historical situation before 70 CE are: ‘Christianity’ and ‘Judaism’, and their derivative forms ‘Christian’, ‘Jew’, and ‘Jewish’. That is a very tough line indeed, but the reasons for it are dead-simple… Each of those sister faiths came into being as responses to the ancient world’s equivalent of a nuclear explosion, the virtual levelling of the great Temple during the Roman-Jewish war of 66-73 CE… We cannot use ‘Christian’ or ‘Jewish’ to describe pre-70 groups, because doing so presupposes a false continuity which, in each case, will lead us to lie to ourselves.”

Jesus Was Neither Jewish Nor Christian

In Jew or Judean? I explained why I think “Jew” is a mistranslation in the New Testament. Now, coming from the current issue of The Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, Jack Elliott confirms my convictions even more. Everyone should read his well-argued essay — even if debates about nomenclature tend to wreck your digestion.

It’s called “Jesus the Israelite was Neither a ‘Jew’ nor a ‘Christian’: On Correcting Misleading Nomenclature”, JSHJ Vol 5.2, pp 119-154. Elliott discusses identification, insider and outsider language, the fact that Jesus is never called Ioudaios in the NT (save on three occasions, and by outsiders), that Ioudaios was understood in either a narrow regional sense or broader ethnic sense (depending on context) — but in any case correctly translated as “Judean” and not “Jew”, and the usage of Ioudaios in the Gospels, Acts, and letters of Paul. In the end, he outlines his “Resulting Picture” (pp 146-147):

(1) Jesus identified himself and his associates as Israelites, and his mission was directed to the House of Israel. He was identified by other Israelite insiders according to his Israelite family and lineage and by his place of birth and upbringing, Nazareth and Galilee. He was Yeshua bar Yoseph, an ‘Israelite’, a ‘Galilean’, a ‘Nazarene from Nazareth of Galilee, but not a ‘Judean’ resident in Judea.

(2) Jesus never called himself a Ioudaios and was never designated as such by fellow Israelites. He was called, or thought of as, a Ioudaios only by non-Israelite outsiders whose terminology was consistent with Hellenistic and Roman practice, designating as ‘Judean’ all residents of Judea, together with all those connected to Judea by blood relations, Torah allegiance, patriotism, and loyalty to Judea, the holy city of Jerusalem and the Temple.

(3) His first followers were identified by fellow Israelites also as ‘Galileans’, ‘Nazarenes’, or members of ‘the Way’, but never as ‘Judeans’.

(4) They too, like Jesus, viewed themselves as Israelites. They preferred ‘Israel’ and ‘Israelite’ as self-identifiers when speaking to the ingroup Israel and when addressing fellow disciples.

(5) Paul’s usage is consistent with this pattern. He too prefers ‘Israel’ and ‘Israelite’ as self-identifiers in settings where Israelite Christ followers or Israelites outside the Christ movement are present. With an eye to the Israelite fellow believers who are in the audiences of his letters to the Philippians, the Corinthians, and the Romans, he identifies himself as an ‘Israelite’. With an eye to his Gentile readers, on the other hand, he can also identify himself, as a concession to their nomenclature, as a Ioudaios.

So Jesus was no more Jewish than Christian. He was a Judean in the broad ethnic sense often used by Greco-Roman outsiders, but even better a Galilean Israelite from the insider perspective. With Elliott I’m concerned that we “agree to employ terms of identification and self-identification today that reflect, and are consistent with, the historical, social, and cultural situation and practice of Jesus and his early followers” (p 154). Sometimes we don’t do this well: the tendency of some scholars to pluralize “Judaism” (and “Christianity”) for the sake of emphasizing ancient diversity is unnecessary and patronizing. But erasing “Judaism” from the discussion, as revisionist as it sounds, is completely warranted.

UPDATE: April DeConick reacts strongly to Elliott’s proposal, and there are some nice replies in comments (:)).