Thursday, September 07, 2006

Paula on Paul

On Paleojudaica, Jim Davila draws attention to a great interview with Paula Fredriksen on Vision:

Interviews: Paula Fredriksen
Paul and Paula

You can read the full interview, or you can watch a clip. It's full of interesting remarks, and would be ideal for new students of Paul -- I am going to recommend it to my class. Some personal highlights:
The way most modern people get their idea of ancient history is through the movies. In the movies, Romans dress differently from everybody else. The Romans are the ones speaking with a British accent, and the good, liberty-loving slaves are speaking with American accents. It’s an oral coding for the different populations.
It is so encouraging that an American has spotted that too, an aspect of American films British people often laugh about. (It's not just true of the ancient world; baddies in American films set in the contemporary world often have English accents, even when they are supposed to be French or German).
In I, Claudius, when Herod Agrippa comes on stage after he’s been home in Palestine for a few years, he has prayer curls the way an 18th-century Polish Jew would, because the movie has only a few seconds to indicate visually who the character is. But the historical Herod, of course, would have looked just like any other Roman. And Paul, for that matter, would probably have been clean-shaven too. People dress like each other if they’re contemporary. This idea of clearly separate populations comes from trying to code these people—historically, when we try to distinguish between them, and also visually, with movies, to make it easier to tell the story. In real life, these populations all swim in the same sea. The Western Jewish population is speaking the great Western vernacular of Greek, and there’s a normal tendency to adopt local habits.
I must admit that I've never imagined Paul as clean shaven, but come to think of it, that description of his appeareance in The Acts of Paul and Thecla does not mention a beard (and it does mention his eyebrows). I was also intrigued by Prof. Fredriksen's answer to the following:
DH: We hear increasingly about the new perspective on Paul; what exactly is the “old” perspective?

PF: The old perspective on Paul is that he became a Christian, and that that meant something other than being Jewish. It’s captured very nicely in a children’s Christian cartoon I once saw, where Paul is on the road to Damascus, and he has the Jewish male head covering—the kippa—on his head. He gets knocked down, the shining light is on him, Jesus speaks to him, and for the rest of the cartoon he doesn’t have a kippa anymore. Finished. He’s “Christian.” Christianity is so easily imagined as somehow the opposite of Judaism, because that’s how Christianity has presented Judaism to itself in the centuries long after Paul. In Paul’s lifetime, Christianity is only understandable as an extreme form of Judaism. And Paul thinks of himself as a Jew. What’s his choice? The only other option would be to think of himself as a gentile.
But I would also have liked to have heard her answer to the question "What is the new perspective?" because the answer to that question is not entirely clear to me. It's a bit like "What is the third quest of the historical Jesus?" It is coming to mean some quite different things to different people. I hope to post a little more on my thoughts on that, as it happens, in due course.


Eric Rowe said...

It is such a popular idea among scholars today to minimize the notion of conversion when speaking about early Christianity, or at least Jewish Christianity.

Fredriksen says, "In Paul’s lifetime, Christianity is only understandable as an extreme form of Judaism. And Paul thinks of himself as a Jew. What’s his choice? The only other option would be to think of himself as a gentile."

This seems like such a false dichotomy. It is possible (and I think true) that, while Paul did always consider himself Jewish, that he also believed that the difference beteen Jews who believed Jesus was the Messiah and those who did not was as large as the difference between Jew and Gentile. Not only does Ephesians (which I assume Fredriksen considers inauthentic) speak of the Church as a new man, distinct from both Israel and the nations, but 1 Corinthians (which I'm sure she accepts as authentic) uses a very similar taxonomy (10:32).

New-view-of-Paul people often accuse old-view-of-Paul people of anachronism, seeing early Judaism and Christianity through modern lenses. But here I think it is they who commit the anachronism by demanding that the concept of "conversion" apply only to switching from one major religion to another--which definition comes more from academia than real life. There are alot of Christians today who are raised in a church and then have a born-again experience, continuing in the same church, and who have no difficulty calling that experience a conversion. This is also not a phenomenon unique to contemporary American evangelicalism, but is very much in line with Paul's conversion. The NT uses forms of the word strepho not only for conversions of Pagans, but also of Jews to Christianity. Paul viewed his conversion as a turning from being the Lord's enemy to being His friend. And, without a doubt, this had an impact on how he appraised the conceptions of other Jews who thought they could be right with God apart from Jesus, an impact that is seen throughout his epistles.

Similarly, 1QS uses the word shuv to speak of conversion to the yahad. Again, though the yahad was a form of Judaism, they regarded Jewish non-members as sons of darkness no less than the Gentiles were. They used the word shuv for a conversion in a very black and white sense. And when scholars today demand that this very black and white use of the term can only apply to someone who leaves their original faith, they do an injustice to the exclusivistic tendencies of Jewish sects like Christianity, and Essenism.

Peter T Chattaway said...

A little off topic, perhaps, but concerning those American and British accents: At least one film has flipped this cliche around. To quote my review of Enemy at the Gates (2001), which concerns Russian snipers resisting the Nazi invasion in Stalingrad: "And, in a rare twist, the protagonists -- the people on 'our' side -- are almost all played by British actors, while the only German with any significant screen time is played by an American. This gives the film a more interesting political subtext than it might have otherwise had; it also gives us the amusing sight of Bob Hoskins suppressing his Cockney accent so he can pass for Nikita Khrushchev." Of course, the director of that film is French. :)

Stephen C. Carlson said...

I might suggest that reason for the use of a British accent for the Romans in charge is that it sounds so aristocratic to American ears.

I suppose one could have the aristocracy speaking RP, while a slave is speaking Cockney, but the class associations for the various British accents are over the headd of most Americans (including me), and, besides, a lot of the non-RP accents are hard for Americans to understand.

At any rate, film has so little time to define its characters to the audience, so it is almost forced to resort the audience's stereotyping. You can see a similar thing in Gibson's PASSION OF THE CHRIST.

Ron Short said...

I was a bit perplexed by Dr. Fredriksen’s comments about the Old Perspective on Paul (OPP). I understood her to say that the Old Perspective simply made the mistake of positing Christianity over against Judaism. For her, the big mistake of the OPP is its splitting of Christianity from Judaism. Very well, then, if this is so, is she tacitly implying that the New Perspective has “saved” us from this distorted view? This is how I read her. I hear her saying that the OPP labeled Christianity as the “opposite of Judaism,” and that the New Perspective changed this understanding.

This leads me to my comment. My understanding of New Perspective proponents such as Wright, Dunn, and Don Garlington does not lead me to believe that the New Perspective has done anything to bring together Judaism and Christianity. What the NP has done is show us that Judaism was not a legalistic religion requiring works to gain access to the people of God. In this respect, it has done us a great service by giving us a more accurate portrayal of Second Temple Judaism, a portrayal of the religion that is much more palatable to modern Western sensibilities than the legalistic version popularized by Bultmann and others before WWII. Yet, the NP, at least as it is presented by Wright and Garlington, has done nothing to lesson the divide between Christianity and Judaism.

For the OPP, the difference between Christians and the Judaism of the 1st century was grace verses works; for the NP, the difference is Christ alone as the basis for entry into the people of God versus Christ plus becoming a Jew. Paul’s opponents in Galatia, the so-called Judaizers, were working to get Paul’s recent converts to perform “works of the law.” In the OPP, the keyword of the phrase “works of the law” was “works,” which led to understanding Paul to be combating a type of merit-based soteriology. Yet, the NP has understood “the works of the law” to be shorthand for becoming a Jew. Dunn has argued that the “works of the law” in Galatians are those works that mark one off as a Jew—works such as Sabbath observance, circumcision, purity laws, and eating regulations. These “works” all have one thing in common: they are visible to outsiders and thereby serve as visible social boundary markers between Jews and non-Jews. These “works of the law” serve to mark one off as a Jew or a non-Jew. When Paul argues in his letter to the Galatians that one no longer needs to do the “works of the law” to be considered part of the people of God, he is arguing that they do not need to become a Jew. Christ is enough. The old age of the Law has ended and a new age of Christ has begun.

Back to Dr. Fredricksen…I have said all this to point out that the NPP does not allow us to posit a closer relationship between Judaism and Christianity than the OPP, as Paula seems to imply (Am I reading too much into her comments?). In fact, the NPP seems to emphasize Paul’s belief that Christ has fulfilled the Law’s purpose of defining the people of God, thus making it obsolete, and thereby ending any reason for a Gentile to become a Jew. If anything, the NPP reading of Paul shows him to be even more specifically preaching against Judaism. If before Paul was thought to be preaching against Judaism because it represented humanities efforts to be justified by merit, the New Perspective shows Paul to be preaching specifically against Judaism qua Judaism because He is convinced its time has come to an end—now is the age of Christ and Christ alone, there is no need for anything else.