Tag Archives: Judaism

Thoughts About 2017’s Jewish Philosophical Theology Workshop in Jerusalem

As I mentioned before on this blog, I recently spent some time in Jerusalem for a Jewish philosophical theology workshop. In light of my time there, I decided to write a few blog posts for Fuller Seminary’s Analytic Theology Blog.  Below you will find the links to various blogs, including a blog where I interact with Billy Abraham and a blog where I try to draw some connections between Yoram Hazony’s account of “Truth” and Wolfhart Pannenberg’s account. ENJOY!YSS

 

THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE HEBREW BIBLE

WHAT IS “THE PHILOSOPHY OF HEBREW SCRIPTURE?”

FATHER ABRAHAM AND THE EPISTEMOLOGY OF EXODUS

HEBRAIC AND PANNENBERGIAN ACCOUNTS OF TRUTH

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The Herzl Institute – Young Scholars Workshop

Today I got word that I was accepted to be a participant at the Herzel Institute (Jerusalem) Young Scholar’s Workshop and Conference on Revelation at Mt. Sinai:

It is with great pleasure that I am writing to inform you that we are able to offer you a place at our Young Scholars Workshop which will take place in Jerusalem on June 12-22, 2017. The workshop will involve a week of classroom seminars and discussions, visits to key sites in Jerusalem, as well as an international conference at which leading scholars in Jewish Philosophical Theology from around the world will present. Our program includes lunches and informal meetings, and plenty of time to engage others in conversation.

During the workshop, participants will present a 15-20 minute symposium paper in response to reading materials that will be sent out prior to the workshop. The paper will be presented in a classroom seminar for discussion by workshop participants and scholars.

We will be discussing topics such as: “The Bible as Philosophy?” “The Metaphysics of Hebrew Scripture”; “Is the Biblical God Perfect Being?”; “What Does It Mean for God to Speak?”; “Bible as a Tradition of Inquiry”; “Approaching God Through Metaphor”; “God’s Plans, Failures and Alliances”; “Should God Be Our King?”; “Discovering a Name of God”; “Who Makes Things Happen in the Bible?”

I would never have imagined I would be going to Israel for a theological conference, let alone have the expenses covered by a scholarship. This is such an amazing opportunity. If you are wondering what the Herzl Institute is, here is some info:

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The Herzl Institute will serve as a hub of collaboration, research and joint learning for Jewish scholars, clergy, lay leadership and students who seek better answers to the challenges ahead through a more rigorous engagement with the riches of Hebrew Scripture and rabbinic sources.

The Herzl Institute welcomes the participation of Christian and other non-Jewish scholars and students who see the sources of Judaism as offering an opportunity for foundational renewal within the context of their own nations and faith traditions. The Herzl Institute will conduct an array of intensive outreach activities, including public events, publications, and new media platforms aimed at bringing the fruits of its work to a broad public in Israel and abroad.

Called or Converted? (Pt. 2)

A short while ago I began to address the question whether Paul was called or converted. It’s a question that has preoccupied a lot of scholars – especially in our post-holocaust world. It seems to many (including E.P. Sanders) that if you say that Paul converted away from Judaism and towards Christianity you are being anti-semitic i.e. that Judaism is a lesser religion than Christianity. This is a ridiculous accusation – if in fact Paul was converted and not called to another form of Judaism – that in no way implies anti-Semitic feelings. Its simply calling a spade a spade – Paul either converted or he didn’t. I understand that to say that he converted from Judaism to Christianity is a bit anachronistic: Christianity as an institutionalized religion was not a thing – and they certainly did think of themselves as starting a brand new religion. I think the issue – calling or conversion – boils down to how much contunity you see between Paul’s Judaism and the fulfilled Judaism as taught by Jesus Christ.

In his rather thick book Paul: Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ, Thomas Schriener says something very similar. He points out that some scholars today maintain that Paul was called and not converted – “In other words, Paul did not conceive of himself as forsaking Judaism and joining a new religion called Christianity when he was summoned to be an apostle.” (45) Schriener however believes that those who try to segregate Paul’s call from his conversion are mistaken – it is appropriate to speak of a call and a conversion. He argues this by pointing us to Paul’s own words in his letters. Paul says that he was “formerly in Judaism.” (Gal 1:13) – implying that he is no longer a part of Judaism. Tom points out that Paul could have easily spoken of his call to apostleship as the fulfillment of his Judaism, but he never does.

Tom acknowledges that Paul did conceive of his faith as the fulfillment of the OT scriptures and in that sense Paul did see continuity with his Judaism and his Christianity. Schreiner concludes by saying that Paul understood his own calling as a conversion as well…

He does not estimate his past as a valid and acceptable way to escape God’s wrath on the day of judgment. He rejects his past with passion and vehemence and says that those who advocate such a theology stand under God’s cures. This is the language of a man who was called and converted. (47)

I’ll shoot straight with you… I think Schriener is wrong. Sure I agree with him that we shouldn’t abandon call and conversion language when talking about Paul. Paul certainly received a call upon his life (which I think is modeled after several passages in Isaiah) and certainly he was converted – if by that we mean there was a turn around in attitude towards Christ. However, I don’t think we can say that Paul was converted from Judaism to Christianity. Paul might have been converted from a form of Judaism – specifically the sect of the Pharisees – to another form of Judaism. This “conversion” required a turn around (from persecuting Christ followers to being a Christ follower.) So their certainly was a radical change in Paul. However, Paul it seems to me still talks about Christ and Christianity as the goal of the OT Scriptures – as the fulfillment of Judaism. Where all this gets tricky is that we tend to conflate the term Judaism (or the term Jew especially in John) with Judaism as a whole. Usually (its certainly the case in John when he talks about the Jews) the author is speaking of a particular group of Jews (in John’s case the temple leaders and scribes/Pharisees) not all Jews. I think Paul is doing the same thing. When he talks about leaving behind Judaism – he isn’t talking about Judaism as in OT Judaism but a specific form.

So to answer the question – was Paul called or converted? The answer is yes. He was called to a new role in a new (but actually ancient) form of Judaism to which he had recently been converted into.

Book Review – From Jesus to the Church by Craig Evans

Craig Evans was my first ever professor at Fuller Seminary – he was teaching a summer course on the gospels. That was my first ever exposure to historical Jesus studies, and I have been hooked ever since. So when I was presented with an opportunity to review Evans’ book From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation I jumped on it.

When the Jesus movement started it was almost entirely Jewish – essentially it was focused on the redemption and restoration of Israel. Evans points out that during the first forty years of this movement, Jesus and his followers competed with the religious leaders and the temple establishment for the hearts of the Jewish people. So in its earliest days, Christianity was understood as a Jewish restoration movement. However, Evans points out, when James died, Jerusalem was captured, and the temple was destroyed, the relationship between the Jewish Christians and the non-Christian Jews rapidly deteriorated. This book chronicles the process of that deterioration and it does so through the lens of conflict. Evans understands the major conflict as lying between the “family” of the high priest Annas and the “family” of Jesus of Nazareth. This conflict culminates with the clash of a Christian also named Jesus, who takes a prophetic action against the temple right after James’ death and before the destruction of the temple, and the temple establishment.

As Evans develops the theme of conflict, he asks several questions which lead up to his understanding of the root causes of the Christian-Jewish split. First Evans asks: Did Jesus intend to Found a church? Evans concludes that the answer is yes and no. He did not intend to do so in the way we think of “church” today, however he did intend to assemble a community of disciples who would have embraced his teaching. In addition to these question, he asks about the relationship between the Kingdom of God and the Church of Christ. He asks, what was James’ role within the Christian community? Are James and Paul in conflict when it comes to faith and works? What role does the temple play in the conflicts between the ruling priests and the leaders of the Christian movement? Finally, what does the relationship between Jews and Gentiles look like in the letters of Paul and in the works of Ignatius?

As he concludes this short book, Evans explains that the Temple and competing understandings of the role of the temple was a primary cause of division between Jewish Christians and Jewish non-Christians. Yet there are also other reasons why this division developed. Among these reasons are:

  • Christianity’s aggressive Gentile mission and lenient requirements for entry into the Church
  • The divinity of Jesus
  • Gentiles’ failures to observe Jewish food law, purity laws, and Sabbath observance
  • The Bar Kokhba rebellion
  • Jewish nationalist interests
  • The fact that by definition a Messiah could not be crucified This final reason was the decisive factor for why Jews could not accept Jesus as Messiah.

Pros

Evans presents the reader with a very fascinating (and underutilized) lens for interpreting the series of conflicts between Jesus followers and Jewish Religious leaders – namely the Temple. Others, namely Nicholas Perrin, have written extensively regarding the role of the Temple in early Christianity’s self-understanding. Perrin has also made an argument that Jesus and the early church saw themselves as a counter-temple and/or temple restoration movement. This book makes a similar argument, but instead uses that argument to show why Judaism and Christianity ended up splitting.

One interesting chapter in Evans’ book was the chapter on “Phinean Zeal and the Works of the Law.” The role of Phineas and his actions in the Old Testament as well as in 2nd temple Judaism has been an under-explored topic when talking about early Christianity. In fact, even James Dunn only devotes a small section to this topic in his massive theology of Paul. This section will be a valuable resource for those interested in the topic of “Zeal” in Qumran literature and zeal for doing good works in Paul and James.

Also, there are a lot of cool side-bars and pictures of important locations for early Christianity.

Cons

This book is a very important resource for understanding the parting of ways between Judaism and Christianity – the very fact that he presents readers with a new lens for understanding that parting of ways makes purchasing this book a must. However the book does suffer from a few flaws. For instance, its not always clear how some of his topics fit into his over all thesis. I mean to say that although these topics are relevant to the parting of ways between Judaism and Christianity, they stray from his “temple” theme.

Another issue that I have with this book is that at times Evans tends to over-Judaize the early church in Asia and Europe. For instance, in a discussion of the seven letters Revelation, Evans says:

Given the Judaic orientation of much of the polemic in the letters to the seven churches, we should assume that the people whom make up those congregations are mostly Jewish. Their opponents are not Gnostics or Hellenizers: they are Jewish skeptics and members of synagogues, who reject the claims that Christian Jews make about Jesus. (132)

I grant the fact that the seven letters are steeped in Jewish categories and language – but one cannot infer from that the fact that the congregations are mostly Jewish. All one can infer for certain is that the author of those letters has a Jewish worldview steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures and other Jewish traditions.

Conclusion

It has been a long time since I have been as excited for a book on the history of early Christianity as I have been for this one. Evans thesis is original, and it makes a lot of sense of the facts. For that reason I believe that Evans’ argument is not only plausible, its is likely correct. Jewish leaders and Christian leaders clashed over the role of the Temple. This clash eventually became separation once the temple was destroyed, and this separation became animosity during the Bar Kokhba rebellion.

(Note: I received this book free of charge from WJK in exchange for an impartial review.)

This Paycheck’s Book Purchases (October 12th)

Every time I get paid I buy a couple of books. Right now I am buying as many books as I can read in a two week span because I know that once I get married my book budget is really going to shrink. Anyway, this pay period I bought three books. I think my purchases were pretty well rounded; I bought one pastoral book, one biblical studies book, and one philosophy/theology book. So here is my list of this pay period’s paycheck book purchases.

The Pastor’s Justification – Jared Wilson

Pastors Justification

I appreciate pretty much everything Wilson writes, so I am really looking forward to what he has to say about finding my identity in Christ while being a minister. Here is the Amazon summary of the book: Ministry can be brutal. As leaders, we face discouragement, frustration, and exhaustion—and many times we face it alone. Helping us to refocus our gaze on the gospel, pastor Jared Wilson offers here practical insights, real-life anecdotes, and in-your-face truth related to the ups and downs of pastoral ministry. Honest yet hopeful, this creative fusion of biblical exposition and personal confession will help pastors weather the storms of ministry by rooting their identity in Christ.

Paul and Judaism Revisited – Preston Sprinkle

Paul and Judaism Revisited

I know Preston and I love his wisdom in approaching the issues brought up by the new perspective. I also felt like it was appropriate to read this before N.T. Wright’s tome comes out. Here is the Amazon summary of the book: Ever since E. P. Sanders published Paul and Palestinian Judaism in 1977, students of Paul have been probing, weighing and debating the similarities and dissimilarities between the understandings of salvation in Judaism and in Paul. Do they really share a common notion of divine and human agency? Or do they differ at a deep level? And if so, how? Broadly speaking, the answers have lined up on either side of the old perspective and new perspective divide. But can we move beyond this impasse? Preston Sprinkle reviews the state of the question and then tackles the problem. Buried in the Old Testament’s Deuteronomic and prophetic perspectives on divine and human agency, he finds a key that starts to turn the rusted lock on Paul’s critique of Judaism. Here is a proposal that offers a new line of investigation and thinking about a crucial issue in Pauline theology.

Experience of God – David Bentley Hart

The Experience of God

The (small) Barthian in me recoils at the prospects of natural theology, however this book looks intriguing. Here is the Amazon summary of the book: Despite the recent ferocious public debate about belief, the concept most central to the discussion—God—frequently remains vaguely and obscurely described. Are those engaged in these arguments even talking about the same thing? In a wide-ranging response to this confusion, esteemed scholar David Bentley Hart pursues a clarification of how the word “God” functions in the world’s great theistic faiths.