Tuesday, October 25, 2005

What Is A Judaism and How Do We Study It?

Both Mike and Raf have been asking questions that I have been mulling over, off and on for nearly five years now, still with no epiphany! I was hoping that one of them might come up with an answer plausible enough that It would become the 'consensus' view, and I could just cite them, and begin to use that space in my brain again for something else.

I think a set of corollary questions are: Just what is a Judaism? How do we make use of the various texts of the Second Temple period for a reconstruction of history and theology? And the big question for me is then how can we use this information to better understand Paul, Jesus, Pharisees, or whatever is of interest to us, without manipulating it to say what we want it to say?

Some of the various attempts at describing Judaisms can be polemically explained and dismissed by the rhetorical genius that is Jacob Neusner, in a number of his writings, I don't have the book with me but will post it, after I hop over to USF.

I am aware of Philip Esler's socio-scientific explanation of ethnicity, but found it hard to swallow, but that may simply be because it was a foreign idea to me, and sometimes it takes time for those types of ideas to penetrate my thick cranium.

Enter Francis Watson into the fray, with some of the comments he makes in his, Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith. Where he poses the question of what it might mean to call Paul a Jew? The short answer for Watson is found in Rom 3.1-2 where Paul places unique significance of being a Jew in the reception, preservation, and propagation of the scriptures. Jews are those who possess, cherish, study, teach, and argue about the scriptures. Therefore to call Paul a Jew is to say that he reads the same texts as his fellow Jews, but reads them differently. The thesis is that all Jews interpret the same texts, the Torah and the Prophets; they interpret these texts in order to interpret the world around them.[1]

In all fairness Francis is only setting up a fruitful way of engaging the various texts, he is not out to answer the question of what it means to be a Jew qua Jew. Careful to distance himself from an essentialist view of Judaism, he offers an interesting way into the texts without having to deal with the anachronisms that Judith Lieu has been warning about.[2]

[1] Francis Watson, Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith. (London T & T Clark, 2004), 1.
[2] Francis Watson, xi.


Rafael Rodriguez said...

Yes; I think Watson's comments (inasmuch as you accurately reproduce them) are probably unhelpful. Here the question is (or could be): were Paul's readers Jews? But if they read his letters and thought of them as authoritative - not to say scriptural - and/or used them to establish a hermeneutical key for reading (other) Jewish texts, then Watson would seem to place them beyond the pale of Judaism.

But I haven't read Watson, and your comments later suggest Watson wouldn't follow this line of argument. Still, I suspect some of Wright's arguments (re: election, monotheism, etc.) are helpful for trying to understand what we're referring to when we speak of 'Judaism(s)'. I wonder - but am wary about - how far we could run with the idea that anyone who claimed to be Jewish was Jewish. There are obvious problems with using this as a sole - or even primary - criterion, but I think the discussion needs to take this into account. What do you think?

metalepsis said...

Well what I get out of Watson is that Paul describes Jews as those who interpret the Torah and the Prophets. So Paul is doing a very Jewish thing, if not the quintessential Jewish thing. He is, according to Watson, attempting to tease out the paradox already in the Torah and Prophets between Law and Promise, thus he does not view Judaism as a monolithic religion, but fluid.

As to whether Paul thought of his readers as Jews, I don't know! That is the jugular though isn’t it! I could make a case, but I probably wouldn’t even buy it.

The interesting thing with Wright then, assuming exile and return is appropriate rubric, what does it mean for a Roman Gentile to be inscribed into the formative traditions of exile and return?

On every Jew being a Jew; we essentially have to give everyone a fair shake, but we can not harmonize too quickly, especially between time periods. As you know it is a pet peeve of mine to use the Mishnah as proof of what Hillel thought of NT times.