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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Jews and non-Jews eating and not eating together...

…does not necessarily have much do with circumcision…

Or at least this isn’t a view that doesn’t come through in some of the key literary sources.

Mike Bird has some texts on Jewish and non-Jewish table fellowship. Mike doesn’t really add any comments but Loren Rosson does in the comments section:
The problem of mixed table fellowship (to which circumcision was the remedy) was ubiquitous, which is why I often emphasize in the context of Paul's Gentile mission that it's impossible to think about the question of "no circumcision" without direct and immediate implications for mixed table fellowship..

I don’t think this is right, certainly not the heavy emphasis on circumcision as the remedy. But first let’s look at some of the sources. As E. P. Sanders (who is still one of the best to read on this topic) pointed out years ago, the non-Jewish texts have to be treated with some scepticism (or whatever the right word is) because they are often hostile. They are also the generalising views of outsiders which are not wholly informed (indeed why would they really care) and really ought to be combined with Jewish texts which give inside explanations. And after scepticism about non-Jews generalising, to generalise: early Jewish texts (I leave rabbinic literature to one side for now) have a clear tendency to explain the problem in terms of food and/or idolatry. Circumcision doesn’t really come into it. Purity probably wasn’t an issue because it seems very unlikely that so-called gentile impurity was defiling in the sense that Jews with the various impurities described in the Bible were.

So let’s look at a few. Daniel 1 has Daniel and his companions eating their own food because they did not want to defile themselves with the royal food. The foreign food is quite explicitly the problem, though quite why is another question. Note that the translation for what they will eat is usually given as something like ‘vegetables’ but the Hebrew is the plural of zr‘, literally ‘seeds’. I’m not sure of the significance of this but it is worth speculating that we might have an early example of a strict concern for intra-Jewish table purity given that seeds are not as susceptible to impurity according to Leviticus 11. But in terms of the main point it seems that foreign food is the problem.

Next, Judith 12:
So Holofernes said to her [Judith], “Have a drink and be merry with us!” Judith said, “I will gladly drink, my lord, because today is the greatest day in my whole life.” *Then she took what her maid had prepared and ate and drank before him.* Holofernes was greatly pleased with her, and drank a great quantity of wine, much more than he had ever drunk in any one day since he was born. (Judith 12.17-19)

Judith had different food made for her. Clearly table fellowship is made possible having kosher food made especially available. There are plenty of modern analogies to observant Jewish people eating with gentiles by having food prepared.

Next, some additions to Esther:
‘And your servant has not eaten at Haman’s table, and I have not honoured the king’s feast or drunk the wine of libations’ (Add. Esther C 14.17)

Here we have Esther avoiding eating at the table which may or may not be due to foods prohibited in the Torah. Still, the food is the centre of the issue. But clearly significant is avoiding of the wine of libation and thus idolatry. Important to note: there are specific circumstances given and there is NOT a blanket ban on eating with gentiles.

More food centred problems:
‘After I was carried away captive to Assyria and came as a captive to Nineveh, everyone of my kindred and my people ate the food of the gentiles, but I kept myself from eating the food of the gentiles.’ (Tobit 1.10-11).

Again, food is the problem and why would a Jew eat pork etc? Again, note that eating with gentiles as such isn’t the problem.

One of the most entertaining – and a little unclear – is retained in Joseph and Aseneth:
Joseph said…‘It is not right for a man who worships God, who with his mouth blesses the living God, and eats the blessed bread of life, and drinks the blessed cup of immortality…to kiss a strange woman, who with her mouth blesses dead and dumb idols, and eats of their table the bread of strangulation, and drinks of their libations the cup of treachery…it is not right for a woman who worships God to kiss a strange man, because this is an abomination in God’s eyes…’ (Joseph and Aseneth 8.5-8)

Whatever the provenance of the story, the context of idolatry is very strong here. Perhaps the ‘abomination’ refers to both idolatry and banned food (bdelugma certainly can refer to both). Again, no blanket ban: reasons are given.

Now you may notice how I keep talking about the reasons being given (food and idolatry) rather than a blanket ban. In this context, a sometimes misread text is particularly important, namely Aristeas 181 and the banquet between Egyptian king and his Jewish hosts:
“Everything of which you partake,” he [the Egyptian king] said, “will be served in compliance with your habits; *it will be served to me as well as to you*.” They expressed their pleasure and the king ordered the finest apartments to be given to them near the citadel, and the preparations for the banquet were made. (Letter of Aristeas 181)


The food is central and following the assumed logic of the previous texts comes to the fore here, i.e. when the conditions for the food are acceptable table fellowship is possible. Contrary to some uses of Aristeas, it is quite clear that the Jews and non-Jew will eat the same food and thus problem solved. Table fellowship is possible if the circumstances are right. Notice that circumcision is not mentioned here.

Of course, who knows how things varied on the ground, away from these texts…?

But let’s finally look at the famous extreme example from Jubilees and the following patriarchal advice:
‘Keep yourself separate from the nations, and do not eat with them; and do not imitate their rites, nor associate with them; for their rites are unclean and their practices polluted, an abomination and unclean. They offer sacrifices to the dead and worship demons and they eat among the graves; yet all their rites are worthless and to no purpose.’ (Jubilees 22.16-17)

As Sanders pointed out, this is sectarian so should be taken on its own terms and it may tell us little about how Jews throughout the ancient world behaved. However, note again, even in this extreme example, the reasons for separation and not eating with them is because of the naughty practices of non-Jews, including their idols etc. It isn’t that far removed from the logic underlying the other Jewish texts.

For this reason and several others I suspect the same kinds of issues underlying the Antioch incident recorded in Gal. 2. But that’s another story….

Anyway, I’ve discussed this and the scholarship in lots more detail in Date of Mark’s Gospel, ch. 5. And, believe it or not, though obviously in less detail, in the new Bird and Crossley book…

19 Comments:

Blogger Doug Chaplin said...

And, of course, blinded by the Galatian situation, most people import this into the discussion of 1 Corinthians where actually the same issues of food and idolatry crop up sans circumcision

August 20, 2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The ban is for 2 reasons
1. Impure food
2. prevent socialization with non Jews (source : Talmud)

August 20, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

I suggest that most of the so-called non-Jewish texts (you could have said New Testament) were once completely Jewish and were not hostile to circumcision, but were hostile to sacrifice and priests. What we have are developments to fit the later cult of Jesus, when no doubt there were clashes over the issue of circumcision - hence the development of the Pauline theology in response.

August 20, 2008

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Geoff, when I said non-Jewish I did not mean the New Testament texts at all (why would I call them non-Jewish????). I meant the famous texts such as Tacitus etc. I'm not sure I'd call these 'so-called non-Jewish'. 'Non-Jewish' is a perfectly adequate description for, er, non-Jews.

August 20, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

James, OK, my misunderstanding. It's a pity E P Sanders didn't produce an Index for his book Judaism - a pain to refer to, and you didn't give a reference.

But I presume that you would agree that like the non-Jewish texts (such as Tacitus), the NT is equally hostile to circumcision. And for me this was probably because the editors of the NT were more than likely influenced by the very same Flavians who influenced Tacitus and other Roman writers. As you know, it is my hypothesis, that the original documents of the NT were prophetic, completely Jewish, and circumcision was not the issue. And the prophets had not died-out as is generally assumed, but were very much on the offensive against the priests and the temple cult of animal sacrifice.

August 21, 2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments on this subject James. Have referenced your blog at http://firstfollowers.vision.org/blog/169992

Peter Nathan

August 22, 2008

 
Blogger Leon said...

There is an underlying assumption made by most scholars in these discussions. I am glad to see, James, that you are not making it. But most scholars assume that Judaism was a tribal, i.e., narrow, religion, while Paul and Christianity created something universal. There is a further assumption that Judaism was hostile to gentiles and Christianity was not. Scholars use these false, theological assumptions to rewrite the evidence of ancient Judaism. I have a gut feeling that despite the better work of a few scholars like James Crossley, the great majority will ignore it and continue to denigrate ancient Judaism — unless and until they are confronted with their prejudices.

From a Jewish point of view, it is a tragi-comic spectacle to see so many Christian scholars obsessed with discussing ancient Judaism. The majority are arrogant enough to believe that they own ancient Jewish culture and can describe it or mis-describe it anyway they want. They reduce Judaism to some litany from among the following: Temple, rituals, purity concerns, dietary laws, circumcision, territory. Virtually everyone who has written anything on the historical Jesus has used some assortment of these factors as the defining features of ancient Judaism. That includes Ben Witherington, William Arnal, Steve Mason, John Elliott, and many more.

Even the great Elaine Pagels has written in "The Origin of Satan" that rituals defined Judaism and contrasted this to the universalism in Matthew. This is so wrong. It is as if someone defined Christianity by the Eucharist, baptism, Xmas cards, and other rituals. Every culture has its rituals. That hardly makes for its essence. "Spirituality, justice, peace" is much closer to the identity of ancient Judaism. Pharisees fighting for a constitutional form of government is also much closer. But scholars have written all this out of history. And that's entertainment in the scholarly world.

Not one scholar pays attention to the real defining features of ancient Judaism. Not one. I don't mind scholars discussing Judaism's dietary customs. What I mind is that they never point out that this was/is a trivial part of Judaism and that the most important aspects were constitutionalism, due process, justice, peace. I protest two things: The misrepresentation of ancient Jewish culture and the fact that not one scholar is willing to confront the scholarly world with its shenanigans. Now that's real entertainment.

Leon Zitzer

August 23, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

The Judaism of the priests was narrow by virtue of the temple cult. The Judaism of the prophets was essentially independent of temple ritual and had a theology of the Spirit capable of universal application. But the prophets were suppressed and their ideas were hijacked by Pauline creators of the Jesus cult - basically the Spirit was only given then after believing in Jesus.

August 23, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Somehow animal sacrifice and the vegetarianism of various prophet-like characters, such as James do not go together. Vegetarianism was definately an intra-Jewish thing going back to Noah and the covenenant of peace - nothing to do with Gentiles.

August 23, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Hirschfeld, page 238 of Qumran in Context, wrote:

"We can conclude from this that the inhabitants of the site above En-gedi in the first and second centuries were vegetarians. This conclusion, as noted, accords with the evidence that the Essenes were vegetarians. There are numerous similar ascetic sites below the cliffs along the western shores of the Dead Sea. Bar-Adon identified sixteen such sites, all dating from the Roman period." Incidentally, the sites Hirschfeld shows on his Fig.136 are spread over a distance of some twenty miles along the shore.

So James, this brings the issue of food a little more up-to-date. In my view these folk were the prophets of that period, following the Noahic covenant. It was ever likely therefore, if they were in fact the earliest 'Christians', that our later Pauline editor would see these eaters of vegetables as being weak in faith. Clearly, the writer of Romans 14:2 implies that those who do not eat meat are weak in faith. The vegetarianism of some Jews had then become an issue with Gentiles.

And low and behold, Josephus went to the assistance of 'certain priests of my aquaintance' in Rome. (Life 3) These are described as pious, even under afflictions, but supported themselves with figs and nuts. Previously our so-called priest Josephus had lived with a chap called 'Banus' on 'hard fare'. 'Banus' wore linen clothes, was vegetarian, and bathed himself in cold water both night and day. I bet the Pauline writers had some thoughts about cold baths to calm Gentile fears.

August 23, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

The so-called Antioch incident of Galations 2 was a Pauline fabrication developed from a real incident that occured in Rome. I suggest that 'some men' who supposedly came down from Judea to Antioch (Acts 15:1) were in fact high priests, probably including Ananus the destroyer of James, who came down from Judea to Rome where they met with the 'brothers' in a synagogue. The 'brothers' of Acts 15:1 were Jews. The visiting priests could therefore not have been teaching what amounts to nonsense for Jews, i.e.: "Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved." The Pauline editor hadn't realised that Moses was not responsible for the custom of circumcision. But Moses had establised the rituals of animal sacrifice. Thus the priests were teaching 'the brothers': "Unless you sacrifice according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be cleansed." It was this teaching that brought the writer and his brother (imo prophets James and Simon) "into sharp dispute and debate with them." (Acts 15:2)

Of course the Pauline editor was fully aware of James' vegetarianism. In the fabricated letter supposedly to the Gentiles of Antioch, his obfuscatory command apparently agreed with James is thus: "You are to abstain from the meat of strangled animals." (Acts 15:29)

August 24, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Interestingly Doug, the issue of 'food' in 1 Corinthians DOES occur in connection with sacrifice. (1 Cor. 8:1). If you think this originally had nothing to do with vegetarianism you could be wrong. I suggest it was originally a comment about "animals sacrificed to God", not "food sacrificed to idols". The original writer understood that "they all possess a spirit" (changed by the editor to "we all possess knowledge"). Thus the original writer believed that sacrificing an animal was sacriligious because the animal possessed an animating spirit from God. It had a spirit whose source was the Spirit of God that made all living things live.

Regarding 8.1b thru 8.4 as fabricated interpolation, I see 8.5 and 8.6 as something like:

8:5.For whether in heaven or on earth, there are many spirits,

8:6.yet for us there is but one SPIRIT, from whom all SPIRITS came and BY whom we live;

This rendering is completely in accord with Gen.1 where the Spirit of God is seen as the creator and animator or sustainer. Thus 8:6b about Jesus being the creator and animator is to be seen as later creative interpolation.

August 24, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

So why did these vegetarian Essene prophets have such a Buddhist-like reverence for living creatures? Why did they oppose animal sacrifice? Did they regard the killing of animals as the premature removal of their spirits? Why were they known for being peaceful? Was it to do with Noah and the story of how God preserved the lives of animals and the family of Noah in the ark? God promised that he would never destroy the earth again and gave the rainbow as a sign of his promise. The followers of such a God could well have thought it was incumbent upon them to revere living things, especially those with 'the breath of life' in them. Was this promise why the prophets were so interested in the "the clouds of heaven" and rainmaking? And we know they studied the scriptures, and were thus more than likely capable of writing the original documents of the NT.

August 25, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Hey James, the steak and beer is no good for you. You'll have to eat vegetables and drink water like the Noahic prophet Daniel if you want to be healthy. Try it for ten days. You might gain knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning too.

August 25, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

If in Daniel vegetables are seeds, then we are more likely dealing with nut-eating prophets like 'Banus'. The question that arises is how many more of your somewhat vague examples can be explained in terms of Noahic vegetarianism?

August 25, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Originally Acts 15 was not about Gentiles turning to God (15:19), but it was about priests of Jerusalem turning to the Spirit and going over to the prophets. Thus originally Acts 15 was nothing to do with Gentiles abstaining from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality and from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. (15:20). But it was about priests who were turning to the Spirit abstaining from or ceasing animal sacrifice as a means of cleansing from sin. Hence the visit by the high priests, probably Ananias and his son Ananus, to James and Simon the leaders of the prophets, in exile in Rome. It was this issue that sparked the sharp dispute of 15:2. The high priests were losing their priests to the prophets. So they came to Rome to challenge James and Simon. Of course the Pauline editor portrayed James as a resident of Jerusalem and a supporter of the Jewish law, particularly in relation to meat preparation. The same editor had the 'men from Judea' as keen on having Gentiles circumcised, when in reality they were attempting to stop James from encouraging the prophets to cease from sacrificing animals. The high priests were not only losing their priests, they were losing income for the temple and themselves.

May be James did write a letter. If he did, it wasn't to the Gentiles of Antioch, but to the prophets of Jerusalem who had recently come over from the priests. Such a letter would no doubt have urged those recent converts to give up animal sacrifice. Thus the route of the letter would have been Rome to Jerusalem - the direction imo of all the original epistles of the NT.

August 26, 2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion. Quite agree that all discussion of table fellowship are not to do with circumcision, though examples like Esther, Judith and Aseneth won't help with circumcision, of course!
I applaud your attemt to resist simplistic categories ('Jews' didn't east with 'gentiles'). I think the general tendency is to give very analytically blunt explanations to first century religious motivations and not to see them as part of a complex of competing motivations which produce subtly different and complex forms of behaviour. Saying that Paul 'couldn't have ciurcumcised Timothy and written Galatians' is a classic example. Of course, Paul may not have circumcised Timothy and Luke may indeed have had it wrong. But it also makes perfect sense in two different sets of circumstances, one controversial (resistance of gentile Judaising), one missional (reaching Jews with the gospel). My point is that without considering the whole motivational context of an action (here Judith, Aseneth etc are good examples) you simply can't make sense of these texts. Merely outlining circumstances (though these are important) can ignore the importance of the need for a positive motivation for interaction(conversion, murder, coercision). I tried to discuss elucidate these ideas in relation to crucial texts in Barton's Idolatry volume working up some ideas in my study of Galatians 2.11-14 in my Nottingham PhD - I hope you might find it helpful.

Mark Bonnington
St John's College
Durham University

August 27, 2008

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Peter: thanks for the comments and the link.

And thanks Leon: those comments are very much appreciated.

Mark: good to hear from you. I completely agree with your points and look forward to forthcoming work. You may know that in Date of Mark I found your thesis the most convincing account of the context of the Antioch episode available (and I still do). I've noticed previously it was a forthcoming book with Paternoster: when is it coming out? Amazon seems to think it was published in 1969!!

Geoff, I've never met anyone so web-prolific, not even Bird, not even the great Jim West!

August 27, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

You haven't met JG and his puppets then.

August 28, 2008

 

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