Is “Judaism” a Jewish concept? Daniel Boyarin doesn’t think so.

Daniel Boyarin is one of the world’s foremost Talmudic scholars. In a recent book, Judaism: The Genealogy of a Modern Term, he argues that the use of the term “Judaism” as the “name” of the religion of the Jews was a Christian invention, and not necessarily a friendly usage. “Judaism,” he argues, wasn’t used by Jews as the name of their religion until modern times, as the Christian term took hold. In his deeply detailed linguistic study, he traces the use of the word “Judaism” over the course of history down to modern times. The thesis is, of course, controversial. The LA Times Book Review assembled several scholars to comment on the book. You may want to check it out.

He starts with how the term “Judaism” (in its original Greek formulation), was used in in the first centuries just before and after Jesus. He argues, based on linguistic parallels with the Greek usages, that the term did not reference religious beliefs. Rather it referred to a regional ethnic identity for people living in a specific geographical area. Judaism was, then, a term that referred to the behavior of people living in the country called Judah. A “Jew” was someone who behaved like people who lived in Judah. It applied to general behavioral considerations and the word didn’t specifically reference religious beliefs. It encompassed a wider range of regional behaviors. I’m not sure I’m fully or accurately capturing Boyarin’s argument here. The book is not a casual or easy read.

Centuries later, he says, the term was understood to define a set of legal values or doctrines. Citing example from some medieval texts, when an inquisitor (I’m not talking church inquisition here) asked a Jewish teacher to explain what Judaism meant, the Jew was expected to describe their legal practices or doctrines, what rules they applied to assorted situations.

Modern Jews might take offense at this distinction, arguing that their laws are their religion, that the two concepts are indistinguishable from a religious perspective. But that is not quite the issue that Boyarin raises. The question is whether prior to modern times, did Jews use the word “Judaism” as the name of their religion. He argues that there is no linguistic record of the Jews using that term as the “name” of their religion until modern times and that there is evidence that the term “Judaism” was used to name something that did not mean just their religion.

Book Review: Priests in Exile: The History of the Temple of Onias and Its Community in the Hellenistic Period

While the temple in Jerusalem was the iconic center of life for Jewish people in the Second Temple Period, it’s not very well known that there where other Jewish temples that existed alongside and in contrast to the Jerusalem temple. Although a lot isn’t known about these other centers of worship, they included the anti-Jerusalem Samaritan Temple; a temple in Egypt’s Persian era at Elephantine that may have worshipped more gods than just Yahweh; and the very historically problematic Oniad dynasty temple allegedly in the Egyptian city of Leontopolis, mentioned in the writings of Josephus and 2 Maccabees.

Meron M. Piotrkowski’s Priests in Exile: The History of the Temple of Onias and Its Community in the Hellenistic Period attempts to unravel the mystery surrounding the Oniad movement and fill in the many gaps in the historical record, about which there are many academic arguments. If this sort of thing excites you then mosey over to Ancient Jew Review for Miguel Vargas’s lengthy and interesting review of Priests in Exile: The History of the Temple of Onias and Its Community in the Hellenistic Period

Biblical Studies Carnival # 165. October 2019

Welcome to my Biblical Studies Carnival. It’s my first stroll down the midway and there sure has been a lot to see. Couldn’t catch everything, so I might have to come back another time. I’m assuming you have lots of handy candy from last night’s trick-or-treating. Hope you enjoy the show.

Commentary

Bruce Chilton has some questions about early Christian developments regarding the “empty tomb” teachings. Based on his recent book, Resurrection Logic.

The conventional presentation [empty tomb] has become so prevalent that it needs to be mentioned in order to be set aside because it flies in the face of the fact that “the empty tomb” is a latecomer to the traditions regarding how God raised Jesus from the dead. The resurrection was conceived of as bodily by Jesus’ disciples, but they did not all assert a single origin story, nor did they always conceive of his body in a physical way.

Alex asks: Did the disciples see the son of man coming in his kingdom in AD 70?

From Nijay Gupta. An Interview with Joseph R. Dodson, Co-Editor of Paul and the Giants of Philosophy.

Religion Prof, otherwise known as James McGrath, has some observations on how modern perspectives from literature and other sources can mislead us as to how we interpret the bible in the context of its own time.

Bill Heroman has some book notes on the Gospels as Biography.

An interview with Michael Bird on his collaboration with N. T. Wright for The New Testament in Its World, and the keys to fruitful New Testament study.

Scriptures

Joy? No joy? Dr. Claud Mariottini discusses translation conflicts with respect to Isaiah 9:3

Another translation question. Bill Mounce asks, “Was Moses Exposed, Abandoned, or Thrown Out? (Acts 7:19)

Lynne Moss Bahr explores time concepts in the Jesus stories in light of continental philosophy. She has a book on the subject.

Over at Zondervan Academic. Who wrote 1, 2, & 3 John?

Paul’s Opposition in Corinth in 2 Corinthians from Reading Acts by Phil Long, who has heroically kept the monthly carnivals going for these many years.

Robert Cargill argues that Melchizedek of Salem was actually King of Sodom and that Salem was not a toponym for Jerusalem. Controversial, yes. He also has a book length study of this and related issues.

Is there a connection between Jesus and Elisha and leprosy? Brant Pitre at The Sacred Page thinks so. He might want to consider Luke 4:24-27 in future discussions of the issues he raises here.

How is disagreement resolved in the Council of Acts 15? Ian Paul at Psephizo,

Revelation Roundup, from Religion Professor.

On my blog, I ask, Did God rest on the Seventh Day or the Eighth?

Text Criticism

Larry Hurtado discusses 1 Enoch: An Update on Manuscripts and Cautionary Notes on Usage. Also, an exploration of the differences in how Muslims and Christians do text analysis on the New Testament and the Qur’an.

Arthur Hunt, Harold Idris Bell, and Edward Maunde Thompson on the Date of Codex Sinaiticus From Brent Nongbri at Variant Readings.

Bart Ehrman tells us about “Crazy Things Textual Scholars Say.” I’m old enough to remember the TV prequel, Kids Say the Darnedest Things.

At Aeon: An early influential bible critic you probably never have heard of.

History

God in Conflict: Images of the Divine Warrior in Ancient Jewish and Early Christian Texts, by Scott C. Ryan. From Bible and Interpretation.

Evie Gassner asks: How Jewish was Herod?

Historian Linda Zollschan Challenges World Opinion about the Roman Coin inscription “Judaea Recepta.”

Solving the Mystery of the City in Isa 24-27: The Fall of the Assyrian Palace at Ramat Raḥel:

 “Who built these impressive structures in the seventh century and used them as a base to oversee Judah and its economy? It was a period of major historical and political changes in Judah.”

Mythism debate. Back in 2016, Craig Evans and Richard Carrier debated whether or not Jesus existed. Evans Yea and Carrier Nay. No surprise there. Shortly thereafter, Evans published an assessment of the arguments, which was reprinted in March of 2018. Carrier recently learned of the publication and responded.

Book Reviews

To Cast the First Stone by Jennifer Knust and Tommy Wasserman. It is widely accepted among biblical scholars that John’s account of Jesus and the Adulterous Woman (John 7:53-8:11) was not original to the Fourth Gospel, although a number of Evangelical text critics disagree. (I don’t say that as a put down.) At the 2018 SBL annual conference, in a panel discussion of this work, Bart Ehrman declared that he was sad to report that he had nothing critical to say about this book and considered it the definitive work on the story of Jesus and the Adulteress. Many scholars agree, but not James Snapp, Jr, who provides a lengthy critique.

The Apostolic Fathers: A New Translation. H. H. Drake Williams review’s Rick Brannan’s book. The text focuses on a translation that adheres more closely to the underlying Greek.

The Emperors and the Jews, by Ari Lieberman. Favorably reviewed by Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein.

That All shall be Saved by David Bentley Hart.  Reviewed by Andrew Perriman. (O.K. I admit. I had to look up “magniloquent.” Thought it was a Disney Princess. Guessed again. Still wrong.)

“I’ve done a couple of posts so far critically reviewing aspects of David Bentley Hart’s magniloquent anti-infernalist treatise That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, & Universal Salvation. My interest has been mainly in his use of the biblical material; I am not convinced that the theological arguments against hell and for universal salvation need to be made.”

Essential Companion to Christian History from Zondervan. Reviewed by Jim West.

The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Full History by Weston W. Fields. Reviewed by Anthony Ferguson at Evangelical Textual Criticism.

Miscellaneous

Bart Ehrman is leading a tour to Rome and other sites April 14–24, 2020, featuring lectures on pagan-Christian relationships in the early centuries. Interested?

The Evangelical Textual Criticism blog-folk are organizing their annual dinner gathering at SBL 2019 in San Diego. Details here.

This is troubling. More here. And here. And here.

A is for Apple, Alef Beth is for Learn Wisdom. A chart based on Talmudic teaching for learning the Hebrew Alphabet.

Some video lectures on Christian History by Diarmid MacCollough. These were recommended to me for inclusion in the roundup but due to time constraints I haven’t viewed them yet.

And lastly,I shamelessly plug my forthcoming book, The Case for a Proto-Gospel: Recovering the Common Written Source Behind Mark and John. From Peter Lang, tentative release in November or December.

So. That’s it. Gonna stroll down the midway, catch some of the verse jugglers, hop on the camel ride through the eye of the needle, and check out that leopard-bear-lion thingie with the ten horns and seven heads.

Upcoming Carnivals

#166 November 2019 (Due December 1) – Derek DeMars, Theology Pathfinder 

#167 December 2019 (Due January 1) –  Alex Finkelson,  Scribes of the Kingdom

#168 January 2020 (Due February 1) –  Jim West  on Twitter as @drjewest,  Zwinglu Redivivus

And: If you’d like to host a future carnival, contact Phil Long at this email plong42@gmail.com or @plong42 on Twitter.

Theological Studies reviews my book “Proving Jesus’ Authority in Mark and John.”

Theological Studies 80(3) recently published a nice review of my book, “Proving Jesus’ Authority in Mark and John.” A couple of briefexcerpts:

” The result is a fine inquiry which. . . represents a positive contribution to Johannine and Synoptic scholarship. “

“Some of G.’s keen observations are well taken and should generate further discussion. In fact, their presence makes the book recommended reading for serious students of John’s Gospel.”

“As for his readers, both the general audience and specialists will be treated to a well-written, provocative, and informative inquiry into a lingering mystery in New Testament studies.”

KMT reviews Gensis Chronology and Egyptian King-lists

KMT magazine, a popular scholarly journal that covers ancient Egypt, published a review of my Genesis Chronology and Egyptian King-lists. In the most positive portion, the reviewer wrote, “The numerous tables, where they deal with Egyptian king-lists . . . are excellent, highly informative, as also is his discussion of the same. These alone are worth the price of the book (emphasis added).” I take this as a tacit acknowledgment that the book deals well with the basics of mainstream Egyptian chronological studies.

Where we part company is over whether I have made the case that the numerous precise year-to-year alignments (none of which are cited in the review) between Genesis birth and death dates and the Egyptian High Chronology starting dates of every Egyptian dynasty down to the Eighteenth, as well as the starting dates for several major Egyptian kings and the beginning date of the Egyptian Sothic cycle constitute sufficient reason to believe that there is a relationship between the Genesis birth-death chronology and the Egyptian king-lists. Given the precise chronological alignments between the Genesis birth and death dates and the Egyptian dynastic dates, I am not sure what sort of additional evidence would be needed to make the case.

I have some other criticisms of the review, but I’ll let those pass for now.

Book Review: Paul vs James

Paul vs James by Barrie Wilson ($1.99 from Amazon)

(Note: This is a Kindle book but at last check it didn’t appear to be downloadable to the Kindle device. I used the Apple kindle app to read it. I assume the Android app will also work.)

Paul vs James is an historical novel that explores the conflicts between the apostolic Jerusalem church of Torah-based Christian Jews, originally led by James the Just, brother of Jesus, and the diaspora Pauline church that rejected Torah and promoted unity among Jews and Gentiles. Set shortly after the deaths of the two title characters, as the Romans prepare to march on Jerusalem to put down the Jewish rebellion, the story focuses primarily on Mattai, and his family. Mattai, a Torah-loving rabbi and craftsman who belonged to the Jerusalem church, fears the imminent Roman assault and flees with his family to Antioch, where they establish a new life among other followers of James and the Jerusalem church, and he brings with him a secret document that he kept hidden for over two decades, one which plays an important role later in the story.

As Mattai and the family settle in to the life and rhythms of Antioch, where he and his church members are a distinct minority, the Sabbath service is visited by some followers of Paul’s teachings, among whom are future leaders of the Christian movement, and they came there to recruit members from Mattai’s congregation. This leads to a series of debates and arguments over the correct teachings of Jesus, a debate over whether to follow the teachings of Jesus while he was alive versus the alleged revelations to Paul after the death of Jesus. Wilson imagines that these sort of debates led to the creation of some of the formative documents in early Christianity.

One of the great virtues of this fiction format is that it can transform the trials and tribulations of the characters from sociological abstracts in a lecture to characters enmeshed in society, traditions, worries and concerns. Rather than a dry lecture about how some unknown individual may have written some document, Wilson’s arrangement allows you to see how characters deal with and react to problems as humans, rather than cardboard cutouts. I particularly enjoyed the fleshing out of the story with the frequent insertion of practices, traditions and diversity of thought within the Jewish community that would have no place in a basic lecture about document source criticism.

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