Why did Jesus and Paul not condemn slavery?

Nowhere in the New Testament will you find a condemnation of slavery, nor an updating of the Mosaic slave code. Instead you have stuff like Ephesians 6 where slaves are told to be “obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling”; and Philemon, where Paul sends back a runaway slave to his Christian owner. Jesus does not raise a word against the practice.

How can this be? If slavery is a human evil, how can the Master and his servants have had nothing to say against it?

Therein lies the answer. For Jesus and Paul, the master-servant (= slave) relationship was both a fact of life (not dissimilar to employer-employee, father-son) and a sign of all our client relationships with God. Jesus uses this relationship in the parable of the faithful steward (Luke 12:43-48):

Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing [acting faithfully].
Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath.

But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken;

The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.

And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.

But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

Here the Christian becomes the vilicus, or houshold steward (still a slave; think of Joseph in Potiphar’s house); Christ is the absent paterfamilias who will return to reward or punish him according to his faithfulness.

For Jesus and Paul then, because we all live in a client relationship (God-Man; or better, Christ-Christian), extending that relationship to human interactions is not morally problematic. As such, slavery requires no condemnation for we are all slaves. All that remains is for slaves to “fear” their masters; and for masters (who are not the real masters, only the stewards), to not beat their slaves and otherwise act like delinquents.

Moral? Even Jesus’ words in the New Testament are wedded to their time.

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    The Greek word doulos means “slave,” but is almost always given a softened rendering in the KJV, “servant,” as in “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.”

    So here’s an interesting thought exercise. Next time you read in the NT, replace every occurrence of “servant” with “slave,” and see how the tone shifts for you.

  2. “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ.”

    Also, we are often told that Jesus “bought” us.

    This puts a different spin on the faith vs. works debate. If we are in fact God’s slaves (and do not recoil at that word!), then our reward is not wages. We are not labouring to earn a salary. Good works are simply a requirement of our servitude.

  3. Interesting idea about Jesus’ words being wedded to his time. Are there any titles for Our Lord that would be more accurate in the 21st Century?

  4. “He that is greatest among you shall be your slave”
    nice

  5. Doc, it does sound weird doesn’t it? But Kevin is right, doulos = slave. “Servant” sounds better; but, of course, a servant is still a slave.

  6. D. Fletcher says:

    A servant is not a slave. A servant has a choice not to serve. A slave does not have this choice.

  7. Sure, D., when we’re talking about servants, say, of some Lord of the Manor.

    The point I am trying to make is that as far as the NT is concerned doulos = slave. We say servant because it sounds softer. But it means slave.

    Another symbolic relationship: Abraham and Eliezer (see Gen 24). Eliezer is Abraham’s slave, household steward, and trusted agent (he finds Isaac a wife). Before Isaac’s birth he was even going to be the heir to Abraham’s estate.

    God = Abraham
    Eliezer = Us

  8. D. Fletcher says:

    Even in the case of Abraham and Eliezer, are we sure he wasn’t more of a servant? That he could have left at any time?

    It’s still a difficult choice, because leaving the “master” might mean… starving. But, it’s not slavery in the sense we think about it.

  9. The ancient Semitic concept of “slavery” was more nuanced that our modern notions of it. When we talk about slavery, we are thinking about Slavery as practiced in Colonial America up until the Civil War where slave owners held their slaves and posterity as property the same as cattle. Even among American slaveholders, there was a wide range of quality of treatment. Virginia slave holders generally were rather benevolent and the further south you went the generally less benevolent they were, and in the Carribean they were treated horribly. Life expectencies among slaves in virigina was pretty much the same as for free and indentured whites. Not so in the Carribean.

    The ancient Semitic view was more along the lines of being what we would term an “indentured servant”, per the various Law of Moses discussions of being in debt and falling into servitude or selling someone into servitude. It isnt all that clean cut, as there are plain instances of people-ownership-slavery, but within the Law of Moses, people came into and out of indenture because od debt in the rotation of the Jubilee years, and owners were explicitly encouraged to treat those under indenture well enough that when the term of indenture ended the person in servitude would want to stay on working there and not leave. The Law clearly advocated humane treatement to “servants”. See Exod 21:2-11, Deut 15:1-18.

  10. D. Fletcher says:

    Though slavery was practiced in the ancient world, it was tied to warfare — prisoners of war became slaves. Even the word “slave” comes from prisoners who were Slavik peoples.

  11. I don’t generally like Doritos, but Extreme Dorito said what I was thinking, only more eloquently.

  12. I, also, sustain Br. Dorito.

  13. D, Eliezer was a slave. As ED points out, this does not mean that Abraham beat him and he walked around in chains. In fact, Eliezer was Abraham’s trusted agent and probably enjoyed a certain amount of autonomy. But at the end of the day, he was a slave; Abraham owned him; Eliezer could not simply walk away.

  14. D. Fletcher says:

    How do you know that Ronan?

  15. Ronan, Eliezer might not have wanted to walk away. Abraham was the man at the time. He was wealthy, prosperous, benevolent and the local military power. Where else was there to go?

    But, D does have a point in general. The ancient Israelites did plunder their neighbors and take possession of their women and stuff (Gen 34), and that was apparently endorsed by the Lord in Deut 20:14 (Eeew!). What exactly their status is isnt entirely clear, but, regardless, that kind of thing is difficult for us to accept in our modern notions of humanitarian behavior.

  16. D,
    I know it because:
    a) Eliezer is called the ‘ebed of Abraham. ‘ebed = slave.
    b) An ‘ebed is someone who, by definition, is the property of another.

    It is true that according to Ex 21, a slave who comes in “by himself” can go out “by himself.” But I don’t know if this can be applied to patriarchal slavery or to practices in general (the Israelites constantly break their own slave laws). I think Ex 21:3 applies only to Hebrew slaves anyway; Eliezer was from Damascus.

    But, as ED says, being the trusted slave of a rich, righteous bloke like Abraham was a good gig. I doubt Eliezer would have wanted to leave.

  17. I think slavery was a norm to them and they just reflected their times. Well, Paul, anyway. Maybe even Jesus.

  18. If you were a parent back in the day, selling your child into slavery was a way to make sure that they were generally well fed and well treated (something that you often couldn’t guarantee yourself). Slaves most often came from other cultures, but were generally well treated (and were considered vastly more valuable than most other possessions). It wasn’t all bad.

    That said, there is a reason why the Israelites wanted to escape slavery in Egypt. It wasn’t that great either.

  19. Mark Butler says:

    I too sustain Brother Dorito.

  20. Aaron Brown says:

    Regarding Jesus’ words being “wedded to their time” … I often find myself wanting Christ to teach all the same moral precepts that I find important (don’t we all?), but I’m often disappointed. There’s simply no denying that, in the scriptures, he often doesn’t do that. I have always tended to view this as a function of early Christianity’s focus on the individual’s relationship to God (Christ) and a focus on self-betterment and charity towards one’s neighbors, rather than a critique of the social order or certain political arrangements. Christ just wasn’t interested in teaching his followers how to overthrow the system. And it is for this reason that I am always skeptical of religious arguments that suggest true Christianity, properly understood, mandates that believers adopt particular political positions and platforms.

    Aaron B

  21. D. Fletcher says:

    I agree with all the points here. I think it’s very difficult to call Jesus on his lack of chastisement of slavery, without knowing how slavery was really perceived at the time. Even is someone is given the title of slave (in the OT), this is obviously such a different thing than our perception of it today.

  22. Mark Butler says:

    I should also say that though certainly some ancient cultures perverted it in the same way we do, the righteous Hebrews did not have an ideal of property as something one can dispose of at will, but rather only as stewardship. In other words, we are all servants, Jesus Christ included. No one owns anything, because we are all bought with a price. And of course the price is the grace of God – His benevolent long suffering to keep us in daily bread. Otherwise, we would have no moral obligation to God at all, above our obligation to any other man.

    So Abraham did not own his servants. God did – Abraham ministered unto them as a steward. Abraham was not God, nor properly speaking ever will be. The path to exaltation is servant-hood, not self-aggrandizement. That means that any absolute notion of property is a perversion of the gospel of Christ.

    So whatever word they used, or however the concept was perverted in contemporary societies, we can justly say that the modern concept of slave owner never corresponded to the behavior of a righteous steward.

    What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
    For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
    (1 Cor 6:19-20)

  23. Aaron,
    Good point. The reason why early Christians were not interested in the political and social order was that they were convinced the coming of the “kingdom of God” was imminent.

    D,
    I agree…to a point. Some ancient slaves lived terrible, awful lives. It was every bit as bad as we perceive of it today.

    ____

    To sum: Jesus and Paul seem to condemn cruel masters (and disobedient slaves). They say nothing about the institution. One day in the future people may be appalled at capitalism. But it seems that we can live with, even embrace, the virtues (as we see them) of capitalism whilst also encouraging people to be charitable (Ayn Rand turns in her grave). I think it’s analogous.

    Oh, and Mark nails it: we are all bought with a price and have duties towards a Master. Which is why, to them, a master/slave relationship was not, in and of itself, abhorrent.

  24. Mike Parker says:

    This general concept — prophets were “men of their times” who accepted the social and cultural institutions and beliefs of the worlds in which they lived — goes a long way toward resolving some of the difficult questions about scriptural and LDS Church history. (Like the priesthood ban, for example.)

  25. Sorry if I’m repeating what might have already been said. Jesus Christ may not have openly condemned slavery but he did teach that God is no respecter of persons. It seems that, as has been said or suggested, slavery in biblical times was as much a system of class distinction and servitude rather than a system, as experienced in Colonial America, of racial distinction that permeated into long standing, institutionally sanctioned, prejudices and brutality for decades after the “slaves” were freed. It seems to me, in my uninformed opinion, that Christ never let anyone, including and especially slave owners, off the hook when it came to humane treatment of our fellow man. It seems that perhaps slave owners in those times would be held to a high standard when it comes to their benevolence toward their slaves and they might have acted accordingly. Certainly, just as in all dispensations, some of them did not follow that code.

  26. “The reason why early Christians were not interested in the political and social order was that they were convinced the coming of the “kingdom of God” was imminent.”

    Perhaps, but it is just as likely that they never thought about it. If it is just the way things are, we often don’t question it.

  27. Eric Russell says:

    But Ronan, surely Christ knew the “kingdom of God” was not imminent, and thus cannot explain his seeming lack of interest.

    In any case, I think it’s fair to say that just because Christ doesn’t discuss X in the gospels, doesn’t mean it’s not of moral import, but I do think Aaron has a really good point.

  28. Ronan:

    I always appreciate the gospel insights you have. I always wish you had chosen AA over MD so that I could have benefitted in person from your insights.

  29. Eric,
    The thing is Christ does mention slavery (in the parable I quoted) and says nothing against it. In fact, he idealizes the righteous master/slave institution.

  30. Cheers, Jordan. Alas, what could have been!

  31. D. Fletcher says:

    The parable is… a parable — which may or may not be applicable to our real lives (as we lived them 2,000 years ago). It isn’t meant to be therapy, but faith-promoting.

    It is interesting, though, now that I think about it, the Church throughout history has certainly preached *obedience*, as in a slave to a master.

  32. An African American friend of mine once told her mother-in-law, who is Caucasian, that Black Mormon pioneer Jane James was sealed as a “servant” to Joseph Smith after her repeated requests to accept Joseph’s earlier invitation and be sealed to his family as a child. With the way Church thought evolved, many believed that Blacks were destined to eternal servitude and so felt that the best they could offer Jane was servitude. My friend’s mother-in-law was appalled, but comforted herself with the idea, “But we’re all servants of God, aren’t we?” Obviously, the issue of compulsion is really at core here. We choose to be servants. Slavery is compelled. When we look at the record of Jane being offered the eternal position of a servant rather than a child, we see the inequality of the stations and the implications of both. We first must recognize that we are children of God. We can then choose whether or not we will be servants in God’s kingdom. The idea that someone else would choose that for us should feel like a slap.

  33. Responding to the original.

    Just because our contemporary society has seen fit to obsess about only two or three select “human evils” doesn’t mean that Christ and the Apostles are likewise so limited.

    Slavery is one of modern America’s “pet sins.” To hear academia talk, you’d think it was one of the only sins we ever had.

    What I’m saying is – they had bigger fish to fry. Just because you’ve been raised in school obsessing only about select problems in the world doesn’t mean that they are the most important human problems in existence.

    Or even the most important.

  34. The “you” in that post is, of course, amorphous and hypothetical, and not personally directed.

  35. There is some recognition in the Old Testament that slavery is unfortunate. The Hebrews didn’t much like their position of servitude in Egypt — they disliked it enough at any rate that Egyptian servitude became a symbol of other suffering and captivity later on. But nowhere does the Bible say that slavery is per se wrong.

    But it’s interesting to note that Moses freed the Hebrews, but did not free all the Egyptian slaves–presumably there were other slaves beside the Hebrews. The reason why the Hebrews are freed is because God has something else in mind for them–not because slavery was bad per se. Abraham owned slaves and the Torah later assumes that the Hebrews will own slaves, even outlining laws for their treatment. (Though it’s important to note that these are quite humane by ancient standards. For more on this, here’s a useful, if somewhat apologetic, discussion.)

    In short, the God of the Bible is emphatically not an abolitionist. The reason for this is quite simply that the Bible (both in the Old Testament and the New Testament) reflects the moral outlook of the cultures that produced it. This goes from the latent polytheism that was never edited out (e.g., the 10 commandments does not say that other Gods should not be worshiped, but that other gods should not be put before Jehovah) to the notion of collective responsibility that eventually evolves into individual responsibility in the writings of the Deuteronomist and Ezekiel to the bland nature in which the Bible address involuntary servitude.

    It’s a mistake to try to read ancient documents as though they cater to the moral sensibilities of 21st century western culture.

  36. (Haven’t had time to read anything but the post itself…)

    I don’t think teh question has been properly asked, since there’s no contextualization of slavery in the OT or NT. It differed markedly from our western concept which carries so much racist and oppressive baggage.

  37. D. Fletcher says:

    “It’s a mistake to try to read ancient documents as though they cater to the moral sensibilities of 21st century western culture.”

    DKL is right on, here. I tried to say it upthread, but it didn’t come out this well.

    :)

  38. According to Dinesh D’Souza, Aristotle also justified Athenian slavery. Aristotle wrote:

    “It is clear that some are by nature free, and others are by nature slaves, and for these latter the condition of slavery is both beneficial and just.”

    D’Souza explains:

    “Aristotle also denounces virtually all non-Greeks as barbarians. Yet although he supports the institution of slavery, Aristotle distinguishes between natural slavery and conventional slavery, recognizing that many foreign people are enslaved purely as a result of accidents such as shipwreck, kidnapping, or being captured in wars. Aristotle makes a crucial distinction between free men who are capable of being citizens and slaves who are by nature incapable of assuming personal and civic responsibilities. Aristotle writes, “there is an interest in common between master and slave … when they are by nature fitted for this relationship, but not when the relationship arises out of the use of force.”

    This view seems, in some ways, reminiscent of US President Abraham Lincoln’s stated opinion that immediate emancipation of the “negro slaves” was not a good idea because the slaves were not yet ready for freedom and citizenship. Lincoln later felt his hand forced to emancipate the slaves, but he made it clear that if he could have saved the Union without freeing a single slave, he would have done it.

    It should also be noted that Sophists and the Stoics argued that slavery was sustained solely by might, and not, as Aristotle posited, by right. The playwright Euripides noted that slaves were often superior in intelligence and talent to their masters. And Diogenes himself, when caputred by pirates and taken to be sold, he pointed to a Corinthian buyer and pleaded, “Sell me to him, he needs a master.”

    Dinesh D’Souza, “The End of Racism” pp. 41-42.

    I bring up Aristotle and others, not to imply that Christ or Paul were making similar arguments, although I would argue that the “readiness for freedom” idea is much more compelling than we give it credit for. My point is simply that the issue of slavery is one that we have never experienced firsthand, and have never had to grapple with ourselves. It’s easy for us, with the weight of history’s judgment on our side, to sit back and condemn the “old ways.” But we mustn’t forget that we simply weren’t there, and the debate was much more nuanced than the sort of discussion one hears among contemporary liberals.

    Perhaps a few of the same considerations, problems and contradictions that faced Aristotle also faced Jesus and Paul. Hard to say what the right answer to the “slavery question” would have been under the ancient Roman empire.

    But it’s also important to note that Paul also coined the biblical passage “There is neither black nor white, bond nor free, but all are brothers in Christ” (yes, I know I butchered that quote – I’m going from memory here). This suggests that at least, Paul was talking about an “enlightened” form of the master-slave relationship.

    My final thought on this:

    Why should Christ spend the time preaching against slavery when it was a problem the human race would “solve on its own” without a mandate from Him?

  39. Mark Butler says:

    I believe the following is the most relevant scripture on the subject:

    And again I say unto you, those who have been scattered by their enemies, it is my will that they should continue to importune for redress, and redemption, by the hands of those who are placed as rulers and are in authority over you—

    According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles; That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.

    Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another. And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.
    (D&C 101:76-80)

    This scripture clearly teaches that the Civil War was the necessary second phase of the Revolutionary War. That the Consitution of the United States was established for the very purpose of freeing slaves (and others) from bondage, whether it be religious bondage or indefinite and unwarranted servitude.

    Now off of the top of my head, where do the scriptures ever describe bondage as a healthy thing? Certainly not in the Book of Mormon.

    The only place I know of that is comparable is the scripture that says that the Lord shall bring again the captivity of Jacob, i.e. he will redeem them from bondage to the world, and bring them into captivity to Him, that they may serve Him in righteousness and truth.

    I think it is also worth noting that the highest general relationship between God and man ever described in the scriptures (more than a dozen places in the D&C) is not as servants, but as friends. Of course we have to become worthy of that relationship first. As the Lord said:

    And then shall the Jews look upon me and say: What are these wounds in thine hands and in thy feet? Then shall they know that I am the Lord; for I will say unto them: These wounds are the wounds with which I was wounded in the house of my friends. I am he who was lifted up. I am Jesus that was crucified. I am the Son of God.
    (D&C 45:51-52)

  40. TrailerTrash says:

    Um, all this apologizing for ancient slavery is highly problematic. I mean, one can point to instances of American slavery that “weren’t that bad” too, but it doesn’t really answer the ethical issues of slavery as an institution.

    It is all fine and dandy to say that ancient people’s had different moral sensibilities and so forth, but this too avoids the hard question of dealing with the authority of these ancient sources which teach bad ethics. The question still remains of what to do with these texts, how to determine when our ethics are superior, and how we should ethically make use of this sort of difficult language. Is it appropriate to speak of our relationship to God as a master/slave relationship, to idealize this institution, and even to do theology from it, knowing what an ugly practice it is?

    Simply saying that the scriptures reflected their time doesn’t get at the real issues at stake here.

  41. Mark Butler says:

    Ditto, TT.

  42. No TT, the “real” issue is not whether slavery is moral or good or whatever.

    The real issue is “why didn’t Paul and Jesus say something about it.”

    The answer to that question may have absolutely nothing to do with whether slavery is moral or not.

    The issue of the moral ambiguities of slavery does matter however when you start talking about the situation that Jesus and Paul were obliged to “make do” in.

  43. I believe it was because Jesus and Paul were trying to change the people and not the institutions. I would even say that Jesus taught that when you try to change the institutions you end up getting crushed by them. On the other hand, when you change the people, they change the institutions on their own.

    As for ancient slavery, it could be good or bad. There were some slaves who ended up better off than their masters. At other times, there were plenty that got treated very horribly. Slavery was (in many cases) more like working for minimum wage or as a waiter is today; better than the alternative of starvation and destitution. There was usually only two outcomes of no longer a slave if you were one. The best was becoming rich (many actually earned profits helping with their master’s industry. Eventually they could buy their freedom, yet often remained with the master’s house). The worst was destitution and starvation. Very few found a middle ground.

  44. “I would even say that Jesus taught that when you try to change the institutions you end up getting crushed by them.”

    huh??

  45. TrailerTrash says:

    Seth, you are missing my point. I am saying that the answer to the question you pose of why they didn’t say anything about it can only lead us to apologize for this fact. I am suggesting that we must ask the next question. Since Jesus and Paul didn’t say anything about it (which isn’t exactly correct, there is a major debate about Pauline passages in 1 Cor 7 about slavery that says the opposite of how we have traditionally translated it and Philemon as an anti-slavery text that seem to show evidence that he opposed slavery. Still, other deutero-Pauline texts are much more in favor of it and we must deal with those canonized texts), okay, since Jesus and Paul didn’t oppose the institution of slavery, how are we to act, think, and proceed with regard to slavery? Does this mean that we too can be neutral about contemporary slavery? Does this mean that we can justify it if it “isn’t always that bad”? What are other instances in which our current morals override those of the text?

    The historical question about why Jesus and Paul didn’t say anything doesn’t help us to answer the ethical question of the meaning of this fact.

  46. Does this mean that we too can be neutral about contemporary slavery?

    No.

  47. TrailerTrash says:

    Ronan, why not? On what basis do you come to that conclusion? What are the hermeneutical rules that allow you to take a more rigorous stance than the scriptures?

  48. TT,

    My gut. Sorry that I can’t provide better hermeneutics.

  49. TrailerTrash says:

    I am sorry, I must have confused this thread as a place for discussing arguments, not random opinions.

    I like ponies.

  50. TT,

    What you want me to do is to say, “Slavery is evil [it is]; Jesus did not denounce slavery; therefore X.” Am I correct?

    What is X?

    Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure, but it is a reminder that things like “WWJD” are hopelessly ambiguous (note a previous conversation that wondered whether Jesus would torture). I simply don’t have the answers you want.

    It may be that the words of Jesus recorded in scripture are not the final arbiter of human action. It may be that we are also agents unto ourselves in determining right from wrong. I’m cool with that. I think that as time goes on, human society has evolved for the better. We are all creatures of our time, the historical Jesus included.

    BTW, I feel the need to say that my post itself carried with it no opinion on this matter. I was simply trying to describe why Jesus and Paul saw nothing wrong with an institution as natural to them as employer-employee is to us. It’s not an apology for that fact; neither is it a condemnation.

  51. From the original Millenial Star:

    We have heard men who hold the priesthood remark, that they would do anything they were told to do by those who presided over them, (even) even if they knew it was wrong: but such obedience as this is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself, should not claim rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from his folly. A man of God, who seeks for the redemption of his fellows, would despise the idea of seeing another become his slave, who had an equal right with himself to the favour of God; he would rather see him stand by his side, a sworn enemy to wrong, so long as there was place found for it among men. Others, in the extreme exercise of their almighty(!) authority, have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the Saints were told to do by their Presidents, they should do it without questions.

    When the Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience, as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their hearts to do wrong themselves. and wish to pave the way to accomplish that wrong; or else because they have done wrong, and wish to use the cloak of their authority to cover it with…

    (Apostle Samuel Richards, Millennial Star 14:593-594)

  52. The quotation is a useful reminder that slavery entails suppression of an individual’s own sense and knowledge of right and wrong, and requires acceptance and acquiescence and participation in actions that are affirmatively wrong, solely because they are directed by a person with the power to coerce compliance.

    Such a practice, whether implemented by physical or psychological coercion is horribly destructive.

  53. The real issue is “why didn’t Paul and Jesus say something about it.

    As far a Jesus goes, we have no idea whether or not he did say something about it; none of the Gospels were actually written by people who enjoyed the company of Jesus. The Gospels were written by people at least a generation removed from Jesus. What evidence exists that there is really any first hand account in the Gospels? I think this speaks directly to the question of whether or not Christ was tainted by his times: we have no idea.

    This also comes to bear on the question of Paul. If Jesus did speak about the question of slavery, Paul was not there to hear it.

  54. TrailerTrash says:

    Jared E.,
    Fine. The inscribed Jesus never said anything about it. But what does whether Paul was there have to do with anything? Certainly he wrote a lot of things that the inscribed Jesus never mentions. He even disagrees with the Lord’s saying on divorce in 1 Cor 7.

    Ronan,
    I am not asking what Jesus would do. I am asking what we should do.

    You have suggested one approach: that we should apologize for Jesus and Paul by arguing for the historical relativity of slavery, or that Jesus and Paul took a pragmatic approach to slavery. Despite what you assert, this is an apology: “Jesus and Paul saw nothing wrong with an institution as natural to them as employer-employee is to us.” I see this answer as deeply problematic.

    First of all, plenty of people objected to slavery as immoral in the ancient world. Jesus and Paul didn’t (well, Paul actually might have…). Slavery was not simply a “natural” institution (eek!), but a highly contested one. The very existence of household codes about treating your slaves well shows contestation about the status and treatment of slaves.

    Second, I have suggested that an explanation of why Jesus and Paul didn’t argue against slavery is an insufficient answer to this issue. I have asked about the ethics of the sort of apology that you have put forth, as well as others who have continued to valorize the master/slave relationship as an ideal, divine type. If we grant that slavery is evil, why do we continue to use it as a positive theological metaphor? Don’t we continue to condone slavery in this way?

    Third, I have asked a hermeneutical question. History doesn’t equal meaning. Even if one accepts the historial arguments that you have put forth, it still doesn’t tell me anything of value. Why do I care what Bob and Joe from 2000 years ago think about slavery? The issue here is that Paul and Jesus are not Bob and Joe, they have some authority on our lives. But how much and how do we decide when that authority has its limits? This is why your apologies are problematic. Why wouldn’t Jesus’s and Paul’s positions be equally acceptable today? What has changed? If they were good enough for Jesus, then why can’t I take a neutral stance on slavery as well?

    Most importantly, what about other conflicts of values between Jesus/Paul and modernity? Why should we reject Paul’s teachings about slavery, but not his teachings about homosexuality, the status of women, or the atonement? My hope is that we have more than our guts to go on.

  55. First, of all I don’t see any reasons to consider Jesus’s moral precepts to be complete.

    Second: I also don’t see any reason to consider Jesus’s moral admonitions to be perfect or even optimal. Jesus’s moral admonitions simply parroted the established wisdom that the Pharisees has developed over the century preceding Christ’s birth. Jesus may well have been perfect in some sense, but he was not perfect in his knowledge of the world; e.g., there’s no reason to suppose that he knew Newtonian physics.

    Do we really want to say that the Pharisaical morality of the 1st century BC is perfect just because the New Testament attributes large portions of it to Jesus? I think that Pharisaical wisdom is terrific, even if it is, at times, deeply flawed, But not even the Pharisees would have argued that their own approach to morality was perfect.

    Third, though it’s immoral to own slaves, is it immoral to be agnostic about slavery? Is it even immoral to think that slavery is OK so long as you never own a slave? It probably is now, but has it always been? I, for one, think that it’s entirely possible that Jesus thought slavery was just terrific (not that it was probable–just possible; there’s no evidence either way). So long as he never owned a slave, this needn’t be considered a sin.

  56. TrailerTrash says:

    DKL: “Jesus’s moral admonitions simply parroted the established wisdom that the Pharisees has developed over the century preceding Christ’s birth.”

    This is factually incorrect. Jesus (even the inscribed one) was not a Pharisee. Jesus’ relationship to the Pharisees was much more complex. In some cases, his teachings are similar, in other cases they are not. The problem is that we actually know almost nothing about Pharisees before Jesus’ birth, which makes any sort of historical comparison difficult.

    Also, the whole tone of these discussions which argue that Jesus and Paul were “products” of their time is a bit suspect. On one hand, this is true (how could it be otherwise?). On the other hand, this is a pretty poor view of human agency and history since it only sees people as products, and not producers of thier time. If we change this around and consider everyone to be a producer of thier time, there is a different level of accountability. Besides, this is the only way to explain historical change. If we were all products of our time, then only history has agency and it would simply repeat itself. However, if humans have agency, then historical change is possible.

  57. TT,
    I reject your proposal that I was engaged in an apology. I have simply said that Jesus did not condemn slavery and tried to explain why. In my post I do not think I said whether this was a good or a bad thing. It simply is.

    But you strike at the heart of an interesting conundrum and I know what you are getting at. I reject slavery; Jesus didn’t. As a believer in Jesus, how can I do this? Yes, that is interesting, I grant you.

  58. TrailerTrash says:

    Ronan, perhaps I am just defining apology more broadly than you. I was simply saying that you were defending Jesus and Paul from an accusation of immoral conduct with respect to slavery. I don’t see anything nefarious in saying that you were “defending” them with a historical explanation that would get them off the hook, but then again, I don’t really see this as a neutral historical issue.

  59. But what does whether Paul was there have to do with anything? Certainly he wrote a lot of things that the inscribed Jesus never mentions. He even disagrees with the Lord’s saying on divorce in 1 Cor 7.

    TT,
    How can you possibly say that Paul disagreed with what the Lord said? I think what you mean is that Paul disagreed with what the authors of the Gospels ascribe to Jesus. To say that Jesus said ‘such and such because it says so in the Gospels…” is a large assumption.

    It is also interesting to note all four Gospels were written after Paul.

    Kevin, what are your thoughts on how reliable the Gospels are in comparison with the epistles of Paul on the subject of the actual sayings of Jesus?

  60. Kevin Barney says:

    That’s a huge, subject, Jared E. The authentic letters of Paul are earlier than the Gospels, and all else being equal earlier is more reliable than later. But I don’t think it’s really possible to generalize; each saying has to be evaluated on its own merits.

  61. Jared E.,
    In 1 Cor 7:10-11, Paul says that the Lord gives one command, but then Paul immediately disagrees with it by adding a caveat. Pretty much everyone agrees that Jesus’ sayings against divorce are authentic since both the synoptic Gospels and Paul know of them. Of course, one could take the extreme view that there is no access to the historical Jesus. However, this doesn’t really matter for my point that Paul explicitly disagrees with one of the sayings ascribed to Jesus.

  62. TrailerTrash says:

    Sorry, that last comment was by me!!

  63. TT is asking good questions (which for some reason I cannot highlight and copy into the comment box; what’s wrong with my browser?). On the hermeneutic problem, perhaps one approach is to reject the notion that God’s revelation was completed in the person (and precepts) of Jesus, but rather that it continues in the unfolding of the corporate body of Christ, some limbs of which God permits to remain mangled and bleeding for a time to serve some higher instructive or exigent purpose—or to serve no purpose at all, but because proximate justice is not important to God. The latter is a frightening answer, but perhaps no more frightening than the prospect that God concedes ethics to historical drift.

    What’s more interesting to me is the fact that, although Jesus didn’t reject slavery, many Christians invoked his name in their efforts to do so. I don’t know very much about American abolitionism, but I have read a little about British abolitionism, primarily Hannah More and the Clapham Sect: in their anti-slavery writings, they put together Christian concepts of mercy, soul and redemption to campaign against slavery.

  64. TrailerTrash: The problem is that we actually know almost nothing about Pharisees before Jesus’ birth, which makes any sort of historical comparison difficult.

    This is factually incorrect. We actually do know a pretty good amount — both in terms of specific beliefs and overall tradition. The problem is that what we know indicates that it is highly probable that Paul is lying about having been trained as a Pharisee. This leads Christian writers to over-emphasize (like Book of Mormon apologists) areas where some information appears to be lacking or in which dates are can be disputed (e.g., the Pharisaical writings in the Babylonian Talmud) in order to create the impression that not a lot was known or can be known. The fact is that everything we have indicates that they taught the teachings that the New Testament puts into Jesus’s mouth. It’s defies reason to claim that the Jews magically picked up the “revolutionary” approach they’d eschewed for decades just after the New Testament period.

    The only thing that complicates the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees in the New Testament is the utter historical implausibility of the account. Jesus is shown advancing well-documented Pharisee positions, and the Pharisees are shown arguing against the positions they were known to have held.

    TrailerTrash: Also, the whole tone of these discussions which argue that Jesus and Paul were “products” of their time is a bit suspect. On one hand, this is true (how could it be otherwise?). On the other hand, this is a pretty poor view of human agency and history since it only sees people as products, and not producers of their time.

    If I never hear the term “human agency” again, then I’ll be able to die happy. “Human agency” and “free will” are nothing more than linguistic frameworks for ascribing credit and blame, but they have absolutely zero usefulness outside of that.

    We prioritize our entire life around the assumption that people will not exercise free agency. For example, do you hesitate the use FedEx to overnight something because someone might, “choose” simply not to deliver your package? Do you refrain from getting your haircut because the barber may “choose” to cut all your hair off against your wishes? Free agency has nothing to do with which moral precepts we advance.

  65. TrailerTrash says:

    DKL, I know that this isn’t your field so I don’t fault you for being ignorant about some of the details. You are just making some assertions here that have absolutely no warrant.

    The sources we have for 1st c. BCE- 1st c. CE Pharisees are the NT and Josephus. Before that there is not a single scrap of evidence so there are no “well known” positions that the Pharisees are known to have held. You might be thinking that we know about the Pharisees from the Rabbinic material, but this is difficult both in terms of dating and in terms of the complex relationship between the Pharisees and the Rabbis. The Mishnah is late 2nd, early 3rd c. and the rest of the Talmud is much later than that. How we got to Rabbinic Judaism is anyone’s guess. What we do know is that there isn’t much of a Pharisaical “position” on many things. It was a diverse movement and most people now think that it had more to do with practice that with specific beleifs (the resurrection is the exception here). As for the Rabbinic material, there are no “Pharisaical writings” in the Babylonian talmud. In fact, at one point the Talmud calls the Pharisees heretics.

    I am not sure why you think Paul is lying about being a Pharisee in Phil 3. Virtually every leading scholar on Paul believes him.

    I’d be happy to supply bibliographies on any of these points if you are interested.

    As for agency, I think we might be speaking of different kinds of agency. To be honest, I have no idea how your responses here are relevant to a claim that there is such a thing as agency. I have not argued for “free will”, but simply agency. I am making a sociological/historiographical argument that people cannot simply be “products” of their history since there is no way to explain historical change or to account for individual difference. If you are familiar with Bourdieu, I am speaking of a kind of agency that exists within the habitus. Thing of it like cooking. The ingredients might be set, but there are a variety of recipies I can use with those ingredients. I am tired now, so I will explain more if you have no idea what I am talking about.

  66. Mark Butler says:

    1 Cor 7:10-12 seems to me to be precisely compatible with Jesus Christ’s teaching that divorce leads to adultery. i.e. Paul is saying that if a wife departs from her husband and does not get remarried, there is a possibility for them to be reconciled, as if the departure never occured at all.

  67. TrailerTrash says:

    Mark Butler: I am sorry to have caused a fuss over this since it isn’t really relevent to the original post, but we have 1 Cor 7:10-11 Paul quoting a saying of the Lord: “The wife should not separate from her husband and the husband should not divorce his wife.”

    Paul adds in an exception to this that the wife who does choose to separate (something which is forbidden according the saying that he has quoted), should remain unmarried (indicating that separation here is equivalent to divorce) OR be reconciled. Paul softens the interdiction against divorce by allowing for it as long as the woman does not remarry.

    Just to clarify one other thing, Jesus sayings on divorce don’t say that it leads to adultry, but that remarriage IS adultery.

  68. My understanding is that Jesus was speaking about a very specific type of situation … that is, if a married man (with a very legalistic approach to life) decides he wants to be with a woman who is not his wife, and he divorces his wife to marry that woman, then he is still committing adultery.

  69. TrailerTrash says:

    danithew,
    It depends on which version of the saying you are talking about. Paul’s version is very clearly only about divorce. Your reading doesn’t apply to the version of the saying that Paul quotes here.

    However, Luke 16:18 may be interpreted in they way that you propose, that the man’s motives for divorce are being indicted if he divorces “for the purpose of” getting remarried. This may be a possible reading, though I don’t consider it plausible. The ambiguity arises from the fact that the saying stands alone without any other context. The version of the saying here says that divorce AND remarriage is adultery. As you say, it could mean divorce for the purpose of remarriage is adultery, or it just could say that both are sins in themselves.

    However, in Matthew 19:9 and Mark 10:11-12, the same saying is preserved, but it is given in a larger context of a conversation with the Pharisees who follow the Law which allows divorce. In these passages, Jesus saying is coupled with another concerning marriage “what God has joined together let no one separate.” In Mt and Mk, Jesus both forbids divorce and remarriage indepedently, which is also closer to the Pauline version, which points to multiple attestations of the same saying.

  70. TT,
    Exactly what was the point of this tangential discussion?

  71. Jared E.,
    I conceded long ago that this was tangential and tried to get out of it, but people kept bringing it up so I kept responding.
    I am honestly at a loss to understand how exactly it got started. I was confused by what you meant in 53, so I responded in 54 and it took off from there.

  72. TrailerTrash says:

    Sorry again, that last one was by me again. I have been in discussion with T-ylor on another blog…

  73. TrailerTrash: I know that this isn’t your field so I don’t fault you for being ignorant about some of the details. You are just making some assertions here that have absolutely no warrant.

    Thanks for being so gracious about my ignorance. I do my best to return the favor.

    TrailerTrash: The sources we have for 1st c. BCE- 1st c. CE Pharisees are the NT and Josephus.

    First of all, let’s nix the NT as a proposed source for Pharisees, since it’s mostly propaganda.

    Second, it’s important to qualify Josephus as a source, by noting that his characterization of the Pharisees represents a sanitized view that focuses on their philosophy, apparently to make them attractive to Roman readers.

    TrailerTrash: …at one point the Talmud calls the Pharisees heretics.

    This is completely meaningless out of context. The Talmud uses the terms translated as “heretic” in a multiplicity of ways, sometimes even in a just legal or historical manner (e.g., the way that we refer to the “Marcian heresy” simply to identify the belief by historical status, with no pejorative overtones). Thus, it uses “heretic” to refer to everything from sects that think its OK to say “Jehovah” to anyone who says that the world has more than one leader.

    TrailerTrash: You might be thinking that we know about the Pharisees from the Rabbinic material, but this is difficult both in terms of dating and in terms of the complex relationship between the Pharisees and the Rabbis…. How we got to Rabbinic Judaism is anyone’s guess.

    This is the customary response. In fact, it is exactly the apologetic approach I predicted in my first comment directed at you. There is a religious tradition called Pharisaism that became rabbinical Judahism (passing through an intermediate phase of Talmudism). The genealogy is direct — it’s the natural, organic evolution of one phase of Judaism into the next. That’s why Rabbinic Judaism is essentially Pharisaic in nature.

    You want to imply that there is no more relation between Pharisaism and rabbinic Judaism than there is between (say) Zoroastrianism and rabbinic Judaism. This is simply preposterous.

    TrailerTrash: I am not sure why you think Paul is lying about being a Pharisee in Phil 3. Virtually every leading scholar on Paul believes him.

    Perhaps I wasn’t clear. I intend by my statement to say that virtually every leading scholar on Paul is wrong.

    Paul claims that he was taught by Gamaliel, who is one of the few characters in the New Testament for which there is independent confirmation of his existence. Acts represents him as a leading Pharisee who begs for moderation in the treatment of Jesus’s followers, saying (in effect) “If their Jesus is the Messiah, then he’ll return. If he’s not, then they’ll be repudiated by his absence.” (A compelling argument on some level, until you think real hard about it and realize that according to Gamaliel’s standard history has repudiated Jesus’s followers. But that’s an altogether different topic.)

    And, of course, the question of whether Jesus would return to restore the Kingdom of God was a political one, not a doctrinal one. If Jesus had been teaching views offensive to Pharisees, then there would have been reason to try his followers quite independently from their position on whether Jesus would return. In this case, prominent Pharisees would have dismissed the question of whether Jesus would return and dispatched with his followers for purely doctrinal reasons (as the New Testament pretends was done to Stephen, but I’ll cover that below.)

    And we know that historically, the Pharisees generally did take a wait-and-see attitude toward Messiahs. It was the Sadducees, who functioned as a kind of collaborationist regime beneath the Roman overlords, who were concerned to put down would-be Messiahs. It is almost inconceivable that a devout Pharisee would perform police work to round up followers of a would-be Messiah for the high priest, the leader of the Sadduccees (as Paul is depicted in Acts 9).

    Then there’s the argument that Paul’s writings use rabbinical argumentative forms, which can only be maintained by those without training in rabbinical argumentation. The one genuine rabbinical-style argument that Paul uses is the a fortiori argument, which he botches repeatedly. Most of Paul’s a fortiori arguments are invalid by rabbinical standards. Not the mark of good training. Occasional logical errors are to be expected, but repeated and systematic logical errors must be taken as evidence of a lack of training — an author who is merely aping the style of other writers without a firm grasp of the particulars.

    All of Paul’s quotes from the Hebrew Bible come from the LXX. There’s no evidence that he knew Hebrew. And Paul’s interpretations of the Old Testament are almost as bad as Matthew’s, never evidencing anything more sophisticated than a layman’s understanding of a translation.

    Going to the story of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, in which Paul was supposedly a collaborator: I’ve written about this elsewhere, and there’s no reason to repeat it here. Suffice it to say, the story is nonsensical on too many levels to have anything approaching the ring of truth.

  74. Extreme Dorito’s excellent comment 9 deserves to be reread. I’ll add one thing to that:

    The so-called slavery by prophets like Abraham was not slavery. Often individuals needed protection. In those days if you lived outside of a city, you were vulnerable to marauding robbers. To obtain protection, a person might join rather large groups like Abraham’s large group. To join, they became servants. They were always free to leave but had to earn their way – as any employee does – as long as they stayed with the group. In fact, as one of the other commenters said, the word “servants” rather than “slaves” should be used to describe those seeking such protection under men like Abraham.

  75. DKL,
    This response is more sad than funny, not to say that I didn’t laugh. I apologize to everyone for the long comment, but I had to clear up some misinformation.

    First of all, let’s nix the NT as a proposed source for Pharisees, since it’s mostly propaganda

    There is absolutely no warrant for this claim. What are the statements about the Pharisees that you take to be false? Even if you are right that it is mostly “propaganda”, it doesn’t make it entirely worthless. Even propaganda is useful for telling us about history. In any case, you have to make the argument to show that the information it provides is false. Besides, now you have just limited yourself to Josephus as the only near contemporary historical source. Not too fast…

    it’s important to qualify Josephus as a source, by noting that his characterization of the Pharisees represents a sanitized view that focuses on their philosophy, apparently to make them attractive to Roman readers.

    You are correct that Josephus is a problematic source for the Pharisees, but there is no warrant that he has “sanitized” them. Sanitized them from what? How were they dirty? If anything, he has depicted them as more influential among the people than they actually were. Some have noticed that in Antiquities he has a more positive view than in the Jewish War. Steve Mason’s research is the best on this topic.

    Oh, but wait, now you have argued that the only two sources that we have for the Pharisees in the 1st c BCE and 1st C CE are completely unreliable! On what possible basis can you claim to know anything about the Pharisees then? Besides, wasn’t this my argument initially anyway, that we can’t make accurate claims about the relationship between Jesus’ teachings and the Pharisees because we don’t have accurate information about them. Um, thanks for proving my argument.

    Rather, since we only have these two sources about the Pharisees, the real historian will look for shared descriptions between the two, like the fact that the Pharisees believe in the resurrection, interpret the law, and hand down traditions of the elders.

    Thus, [the Talmud] uses “heretic” to refer to everything from sects that think its OK to say “Jehovah” to anyone who says that the world has more than one leader.

    Um, evidence please? Since heretics (minim) don’t have a share in the world to come, I find it hard to believe that they were OK. It is a decidedly pejorative term, but let’s not get caught up in debates about the minim since these are later than the period under discussion.

    In fact, it is exactly the apologetic approach I predicted in my first comment directed at you. There is a religious tradition called Pharisaism that became rabbinical Judahism (passing through an intermediate phase of Talmudism). The genealogy is direct — it’s the natural, organic evolution of one phase of Judaism into the next. That’s why Rabbinic Judaism is essentially Pharisaic in nature.

    If by Christian apologists, you mean orthodox Jews like Shaye Cohen at Harvard and Daniel Boyarin at Berkeley, then I will grant you this argument. In fact, can you name a single Christian apologist who makes this argument? If anything, the opposite is true. Christian apologists typically want to make Rabbinic Judaism directly in line with Pharisaism to prove that Judaism is essentially legalistic and added burdensome “traditions” of the elders. Only strict literalists still believe in the myth of Yavneh.

    Why are you so willing to dismiss the NT as beyond historical value because it is “propaganda” but seem to swallow whole rabbinic mythology about its origins even though these texts are written 200-400 years after the fact? What’s up with that?

    Unfortunately, this historical genealogy that you mention has come under wide criticism. This assertion that what the Rabbis were teaching is exactly what the Pharisees were teaching 200 years earlier is historically naïve at best, wreckless and intellectually dishonest at worst. Why? Well, there is the issue of the rather late dating of the rabbinic materials and their obviously sculpted views. But also because in all the masses of Rabbinic literature, not once is a Rabbi called a Pharisee. The Rabbis call their historical predecessors “sages”, not Pharisees. Also, in some cases the Sadducean legal position is taken over the Pharisaic position (Bab. Niddah 33b)! Indeed, “Pharisees” (lit. “separatists”) becomes a term of abuse in Rabbinic literature. Oh, and there is the fact that there is not a single early Christian author that identifies the Pharisees with the Rabbis either. In fact, Justin Martyr in 150 CE says matter-of-factly to his Jewish interlocutor Trypho that Pharisees aren’t real Jews (Dial. 80.4-5).

    You want to imply that there is no more relation between Pharisaism and rabbinic Judaism than there is between (say) Zoroastrianism and rabbinic Judaism. This is simply preposterous.

    I have never argued anything of the sort. I said that there was a “complex relationship”. I have said that you cannot assert that a Rabbinic teaching was necessarily held by a 1st c. Pharisee. I have said that you cannot assert that Jesus is simply derivative of Pharisaic doctrine.

    The real issue is that the rise of Rabbinic Judaism is quite mysterious. To be honest, most scholars do think that there is some connection between Pharisees and Rabbis, though there is VERY little evidence about what this connection might mean. It certainly isn’t enough to make any of the historical claims that you have made about 1st c. Pharisees. All the evidence points to a very complex relationship between the Rabbis and all of the Jewish sects, including Sadducees and Essenes. Since the Pharisees were exclusivist sectarians, the Rabbinical solution was to be more pluralistic. Those who continued to follow the exclusivism of the Pharisees were heretical.

    Perhaps I wasn’t clear. I intend by my statement to say that virtually every leading scholar on Paul is wrong. Paul claims that he was taught by Gamaliel.

    Just a friendly tip: If you want to claim that you know more than expert scholars about Paul, then you should first learn what Paul actually said. Just a tip, take it or leave it. Paul no where says that he was a student on Gameliel. That was Acts. You’re right about one thing, that this is likely false since the dates don’t match up. Paul just says that he was a Pharisee (Phil 3:5) and that he was zealous for the traditions of the anscestors (Gal 1:14; this notion of “traditions” is ascribed to Pharisees in Paul, the Gospels and Josephus). There is really no reason to disbelieve him.
    Next, you make a bunch of convoluted assertions without any evidence about what Pharisees would have done if such and such was the case and what Pharisees attitudes were about Messiahs, etc. If you can point to a single text that demonstrates any of these points, I’d be happy to try to figure out what you are talking about.
    Then there’s the question of whether Paul used rabbinic rhetoric and argumentative style. Since the only rabbinic styles we have come from 150 years after Paul, I am not convinced that this is evidence against Paul’s Pharisaism. We also have no idea what Pharisaic “training” would have been like. Josephus says that he submitted to it, but he doesn’t seem to use “rabbinic” exegesis either.

    All of Paul’s quotes from the Hebrew Bible come from the LXX. There’s no evidence that he knew Hebrew. And Paul’s interpretations of the Old Testament are almost as bad as Matthew’s, never evidencing anything more sophisticated than a layman’s understanding of a translation.

    Even though I agree that Paul didn’t know Hebrew, or at least didn’t know it well (it isn’t exactly true that all of his quotations are found in the LXX), this wouldn’t prove that he wasn’t a Pharisee. Where does it say that Pharisees had to know Hebrew? About his “bad” interpretations, I suppose this is a matter of taste, but I find many of his interpretations quite profound. His reading of the Abraham story is a work of genius to me. Anyway, given the standard that you seem to be using for “good” interpretation, I doubt you would find the rabbinic exegesis any better than Paul’s or Matthew’s.
    Finally, about Stephen in Acts. So, Luke got stuff wrong. What’s your man gotta do me? I ain’t tryin to hear dat see.
    Again, I don’t fault you for what you don’t know. Just don’t try to pretend that you actually do know what you’re talking about.

    Best,

  76. Mark Butler says:

    TT (#67),

    Yes. I agree it is a softening of sorts, but that Paul’s doctrine is based on the same principle as Christ’s perhaps even identical to it in actual practice (sometimes the Lord emphasizes things that they may weigh upon our minds). I have never thought of the Lord as a hyper-legalistic adminstrator anyway. I would rather be brought before his court than any mortal one, under any condition whatsoever.

  77. TrailerTrash, Again, I don’t fault you for what you don’t know. Just don’t try to pretend that you actually do know what you’re talking about.

    Well, TrailerTrash, yours is a pretty convoluted response. I go into some detail about it below, but I think that if you’re going to tout credentials, you should show more than a cursory familiarity with the topic of your supposed qualification.

    TrailerTrash: now you have argued that the only two sources that we have for the Pharisees in the 1st c BCE and 1st C CE are completely unreliable!

    Actually, I haven’t. Josephus is reliable, but you have to keep in mind that he minimized the messianic element of their outlook. I don’t fault you for using straw men, because they probably don’t go over that in your scholarly New Testament classes.

    Plus, the Talmud contains quite a lot of information on specific Pharisees and their teachings. You’ve dismissed this out of hand in favor of the New Testament. Apparently something in your “scholarly” background has convinced you that this is appropriate.

    TrailerTrash: Um, evidence please? [for the claim that the Talmud uses “heretic” to refer to everything from sects that think its OK to say “Jehovah” to anyone who says that the world has more than one leader]

    I’d expect someone as scholarly as yourself to already have a grasp on this, seeing how basic it is. Sources for this are everywhere. I chose to grab my examples from the Heresy and Heretics article in the Jewish Encyclopedia, because that’s a fairly uncontroversial source:

    In summarizing the Talmudic statements concerning heretics in Sanh. 90-103, Maimonides (“Yad,” Teshubah, iii. 6-8) says:

    “The following have no share in the world to come, but are cut off, and perish, and receive their punishment for all time for their great sin: the minim, the apiḳoresim, they that deny the belief in the Torah, they that deny the belief in resurrection of the dead and in the coming of the Redeemer, the apostates, they that lead many to sin, they that turn away from the ways of the [Jewish] community. Five are called ‘minim': (1) he who says there is no God and the world has no leader; (2) he who says the world has more than one leader; (3) he who ascribes to the Lord of the Universe a body and a figure; (4) he who says that God was not alone and Creator of all things at the world’s beginning; (5) he who worships some star or constellation as an intermediating power between himself and the Lord of the World.

    ….It is noteworthy, however, that Abraham ben David, in his critical notes, objects to Maimonides characterizing as heretics all those who attribute corporeality to God; and he insinuates that the cabalists are not heretics. In the same sense all Biblical critics who, like Ibn Ezra in his notes on Deut. i. 2, doubt or deny the Mosaic origin of every portion of the Pentateuch, would protest against the Maimonidean (or Talmudic; see Sanh. 99a) conception of heresy.

    The first embedded quote contains the examples that I sited, the additional commentary on that quote indicates that the term heretic can be used in this sense both to denote (a) those traditionally defined as “heretic” by some historical figure or body, and (b) those who actually believe things that are objectionable.

    TrailorTrash: Just a friendly tip: If you want to claim that you know more than expert scholars about Paul, then you should first learn what Paul actually said. Just a tip, take it or leave it. Paul no where says that he was a student on Gameliel.

    Well, aside from the fact that your “friendly tip” is actually a caustic swipe unbecoming of a scholar such as yourself, saying that Paul never said he he was a student of Gamaliel is like saying that Jesus never uttered the Golden rule.

    Though the statement never occurs in Paul’s epistles, it is attributed to him in Acts. In other words, Acts doesn’t simply describe Paul as a student of Gamaliel, it depicts Paul announcing to a crowd that he is a student of Gamaliel at the start of a sermon in order to invest himself, as a source, with a religious authority that he lacks. Whether Paul did, in fact, say this himself or whether Acts’ author mistakenly attributed it to Paul, it is propagandistic.

    Nevertheless, I’m glad that we can agree that Paul was not a student of Gamaliel.

    This comment is already too long. I regret that this doesn’t answer all of your “scholarly” misgivings, but you really are all over the map. Normally, I’d recommend that you take more classes, but it would seem that the classes you’ve taken thus far have accomplished so little than I doubt additional coursework would be fruitful in your case.

  78. TrailerTrash says:

    DKL,
    No need to play the clown anymore. Ad hominem arguements are much less effective when you don’t actually have a leg to stand on. In any case, you’re right, we’ve probably worn this out. You actually don’t answer any of my questions, concede practically every point and just continue to assert stuff, which kind of kills the discussion. And I was having so much fun!
    As for my response seeming “convoluted” to you, I am sorry. I offer to explain anything you don’t understand. I have seen you accuse other people of this before when I have perfectly understood thier point. Oh well, whatever works. I don’t really take this as a debate, more of a chance to catch you up on scholarship that goes beyond the online Jewish Encyclopedia, a text with its own history and interests.

    As for the point about “heretics”, I have already said that the Talmudic definitions really aren’t what is at issue here (let alone tannaitic from the 6th c. and Maimonidean from the 12th c.). I also wasn’t very clear about what I was asking for as evidence. I was asking you to back up your insinuation that “heretic” was a neutral term in Rabbinic material. (as a side note, don’t trust the ahistorical EJ on this since they don’t distinguish the Greek and the Hebrew terms). My point was only to show that the Rabbis don’t see themselves as descended from the Pharisees, and that therefore we cannot import Rabbinic material as evidence for what the Pharisees beleived in the 1st. c., which I take that you have conceded. Once you concede this point, your entire argument is basically over (well, technically it was over before that because you can’t demonstrate that all of Jesus’ teachigs are also found in Rabbinic material either, but this claim is less important than the historiographical one that I have made about your assumptions for the basis of a comparison b/t Jesus and the Pharisees).

    Now, just to tidy up the corners:

    the Talmud contains quite a lot of information on specific Pharisees and their teachings. You’ve dismissed this out of hand in favor of the New Testament.

    Where is this evidence? Can you site some passages from the Talmud that tells us so much accurate information about 1st c. Pharisees? You’re right that I have argued that this 200-400 year old information with heavy ideological and historical interests is less than perfect for telling us about the 1st. c. I’d love for you to prove me wrong. I hate to sound like a broken record, but you’re stalling has grown old.

    Josephus is reliable, but you have to keep in mind that he minimized the messianic element of their outlook.

    Again, I am interested in how you claim to know about the Pharisees’ “messianic element.” Is there a single ancient text that you can refer to as evidence for this claim? Since neither the NT, Josephus, nor the Rabbinic material characterize the 1st. c. Pharisees as having messianic fervor, I am quite curious to know how you claim to know this.

    In sum, I hope that this is the end of our your strange argument that Jesus, who claims that he isn’t a Pharisee, actually is a Pharisee and that Paul, who claims that he is a Pharisee, actually isn’t. It is now obvious that your initial claim that Jesus is completely derivative of Pharisaic doctrines is a claim without any foundation (I can’t even think of one scholar who makes this claim). I advise readers (are there any??) to accept my original point that Jesus’s relationship with the Pharisees is more complex. The methods for determining this are also highly complex since we don’t have reliable evidence about the full range of Pharisaic beleifs and practices during and before the life of Jesus. The original conclusion still stands, that sometimes Jesus agrees with them, sometimes not. Finally, there is no reason to call Paul a “liar” with respect to his own description of his life as a Pharisee.

  79. I’ve been reading.

  80. TrailerTrash says:

    “200-400 year old information” should read “information that is 200-400 years later”

    greenfrog, thanks for reading!

  81. TT and DKL,
    Could you provide a list of scholarly articles which approach the topic you’ve been arguing about? Just a few really good articles which provide a solid foundation to start from.

  82. In Jesus’ relationship with the pharisees, Jesus was restoring truth: the higher law and the correction of the pharisee’s perversion of the law of Moses. The pharisees had perverted part of the Mosiac law such that they criticized Jesus for healing someone on the Sabbath. Some of the pharisees had become so blind that one of them – Nicodemus – had to ask Jesus about a fundamental doctrine: what it meant to be born again. Notice that Nicodemus didn’t feel he could get the answer from other pharisees.

    President David O. McKay described Paul as a great missionary. Some misunderstand Paul because they don’t realize one of Paul’s great missions: to teach the Jews that the law of Moses had been replaced by a higher law.

    The New Testament is a marvelous testimony of the Savior, of His servant Paul, and of the need for each of us to change our heart.

  83. TrailerTrash says:

    Jared E.,

    No problem!

    For information on the scholarly problem of the relationship between the Pharisees and the origins of Rabbinic Judaism, the classic article is Cohen, Shaye J D., “The significance of Yavneh : Pharisees, rabbis, and the end of Jewish sectarianism,” in Hebrew Union College Annual 55 1984, p 27-53. This article is a good place to start for the basic outline of the historiography about the Pharisees. Clearly, much more work has been done since then, but you should start here.

    On Paul as a Pharisee, as I mentioned earlier this is mostly a settled question. People don’t really write background biographies of Paul anymore, but a classic one is Gunther Bornkamm, Paul (1969, 1971 English translation). The first chapter is a nice review of the relevant passages that is pretty much accepted these days. In the past 30 years the scholarly engergy on Paul has focused on Paul’s relationship to Judaism after his “conversion” and the status of women in Pauline thought.

    On Jesus’s relationship with the Pharisees, since no one argues that Jesus was a Pharisee, obviously no one argues that he wasn’t. However, there is a nice short section on this in E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, (1993) that is a good little overview for the Gospel writers’ relationship with Pharisees and how the gospel tradition grew increasingly hostile to Pharisees.

    Let me know if there is anything specifically you wanted more information about.

  84. TrailerTrash: No need to play the clown anymore.

    Let me get this straight: You’ve got the nerve to emphasize your credentials and say things like “Just a friendly tip: [insert snide comment here]“, and then imply that I’m playing the clown? Are you an altogether stable person?

    TrailerTrash: Ad hominem arguements are much less effective when you don’t actually have a leg to stand on.

    I can’t figure out if you just don’t know what an ad hominem argument is, or if you’re being intentionally ironic.

    TrailerTrash: You actually don’t answer any of my questions, concede practically every point and just continue to assert stuff, which kind of kills the discussion.

    Just saying this doesn’t make it so. I answer you as directly as possible, even being careful to quote the passages that I answer. If you think that something that I’ve said does not answer what I claim it answers, then by all means, say so. I can’t answer everyone of your silly accusations, so I’ve focussed on the ones that I can answer with the most brevity.

    In my previous comment, this included your request for evidence concerning the heretic question. I point out how you are using a straw man with regard to my opinion of Josephus. I clarify that you’re wrong about the nature of the Pauline claim to have been taught by Gameliel. Isn’t that enough? How tiresome must you be?

    TrailerTrash: My point was only to show that the Rabbis don’t see themselves as descended from the Pharisees… which I take that you have conceded.

    I want to dwell in this for a second, because this is illustrative of the problem with your approach to arguing. I say that the Talmud contains Pharisaical writings. You say that the Talmud even calls the Pharisees heretics (which, of course, is beside the point in any case). I point out that this is meaningless out of context. You claim that’s wrong and ask for evidence. I provide evidence, and you respond with a weird mix of backtracking and presumptuous statements that is too convoluted to summarize here.

    Wouldn’t it be more to the point to put forth the passage that calls them heretics so that we can examine the context? Is this too much to ask from a scholar such as yourself?

    TrailerTrash: technically it was over before that because you can’t demonstrate that all of Jesus’ teachigs are also found in Rabbinic material either

    If you’re denying the fact that Jesus’s teachings are in the Rabbinic material, then you’re a very poor scholar indeed.

    There’s the passage from Deuteronomy cited by Jesus as the first and second greatest commandments. In the Babylonian Talmud (Barkhot 13b) it is declared that reciting these verses comprised “the acceptance of the yoke of the kingdom of God.” And Rabbi Akiba (another leading Pharisee) is attributed with saying, “‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’ is the greatest principle in the Law.”

    Rabbi Hillel, the leading pharisaism of his day (1st century BC): The Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a contains the Golden rule. “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow creature.”

    Jesus believes that it’s fine to heal on the Sabbath, and so does rabbinical Judaism. There is no prohibition against healing on the Sabbath. Shabbath 7:2 lists 39 things prohibited on the sabbath, and healing is not one of them. The prohibition against healing surrounds the grinding of corn to make medicines to cure minor ailments, which entails work and is therefore bad. Healing, as such, is nowhere prohibited by the literature. In fact, failing to heal someone of a serious illness on the sabbath is considered evil. (The New Testament in this regard is obviously off the mark. 1st century Jews weren’t stupid or immoral, and the New Testament’s implication that their law would allow someone to die or be crippled rather than obtain treatment on the Sabbath is, frankly, offensive. It’s as though an anti-Mormon concluded that since many Mormon’s won’t venture to shop for Cold Medicine on the sabbath, Mormons also wouldn’t drive someone with a broken arm to the hospital.)

    Jesus taught that you should wave debts, forgive obligations that stemmed from someone else’s wrongdoing. The Rabbinical literature counsels this sort of behavior as well (Barakhot 17a), though it does not prescribe it as a practical law. Moreover, it is preposterous to suppose that the Jews took “an eye for an eye” to be anything more than advice on compensation being commensurate to the injury as a matter of practical law. So the Jews’ take is basically the same as ours today: As a practical matter, people are entitled to compensation for wrongs; as a private matter, people are counseled to be forgiving.

    Jesus’s statement “The sabbath is made for the sake of man, and not man for the sabbath” is also a rabbinical maxim (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 85b).

    I could go on and on, but it’s a little much for you to expect me to find “all of Jesus’ teachigs are also found in Rabbinic material” on a blog. I think this is a good enough sample. The main reason why it’s so easy to find Jesus’ teachings in Rabbinical material isn’t because they’re so innovative, but because they’re so commonsensical, and thus, so un-innovative. I didn’t point this out earlier, because (a) it takes a lot of space, and (b) your position that Jesus’s teachings are not found in Rabbinical judaism is very obviously bizarre.

    TrailerTrash You’re right that I have argued that this 200-400 year old information with heavy ideological and historical interests is less than perfect for telling us about the 1st. c. I’d love for you to prove me wrong. I hate to sound like a broken record, but you’re stalling has grown old.

    Here’s two off the top of my head: The lives and teachings of Gamaliel, Hillel, and Akiba are all discussed in the Talmud. I trust the Jews’ history of the Jew’s more than I trust the Christian history of the Jews or the history written by a Roman court historian. The Jews had among the most well established and reliable cultural disposition for accurately preserving oral and written traditions.

  85. Jared E, my position is an eclectic one that I’ve put together from reading several sources. It represents a view that is unconventional view, but by no means an obscure one. I personally think it’s by far the most obvious, and also the most easy to argue for.

    I’d recommend trying anything by Hyam Maccoby or by George Albert Wells. They do an excellent job of dispelling the kinds of inaccuracies and legends that YL and TrailerTrash are advancing.

    As far as this argument goes, I’ve relied rather heavily on Maccoby. (It’s too bad he died two years ago, because if he hadn’t, he could surely be lured into coming here to argue for his position.) Maccoby thinks that Paul is a converted gentile who leaves Judaism because he finds it too burdonsome. I think this is a little extreme. Maccoby also buys into the idea that Christianity originated with Paul. I think that Paul is just a Sadducee who is embarrassed by the implication that he collaborated with Romans. This explains several things, like why he hates the Pharisees, yet he is basically scripturally illiterate by scribal standards.

    And also differ with Maccoby insofar as I don’t think that Paul invented Christianity. In fact, I’m willing to argue that insofar as Paul’s morality is original at all, it has had no impact on Christian theology. Conversely, the only area where Paul’s morality overlaps with Christian morality is where it represents an uncontroversial approach for his time. Thus, I don’t see Christianity as being basically Pauline at all, so that there’s no plausible way to attribute its origin to him–though he was certainly a fearless and effective missionary; kind of the Brigham Young/Heber Kimball of his day.

  86. TrailerTrash On Jesus’s relationship with the Pharisees, since no one argues that Jesus was a Pharisee, obviously no one argues that he wasn’t.

    Sanders himself (whom you recommend as a source) argues in Jesus and Judaism that Jesus was a Pharisee.

    You claim to be a scholar?!?! I’m beginning to suspect that you’re Daniel Peterson.

  87. TrailerTrash says:

    DKL,
    If you seriously want to keep going, I have no problem with it. However, for clarity, I am going to separate out the barbs and the real arguments into to different comments. I just don’t want anyone to confuse the substance of the argument with your rhetoric. I will first respond to the substantive claims and then to the rhetorical ones. If I have overlooked something of importance, it is an innocent oversight, not a calculated omission.

    You have said: “If you think that something that I’ve said does not answer what I claim it answers, then by all means, say so. I can’t answer everyone of your silly accusations, so I’ve focussed on the ones that I can answer with the most brevity.”

    I am not sure that I have really “accused” you of anything. I have tried to pose some real questions for you. Let me repeat the ones that I don’t think you answer at all. Then I will progress to the ones that you don’t answer sufficiently.

    1. I asked: “Why are you so willing to dismiss the NT as beyond historical value because it is “propaganda” but seem to swallow whole rabbinic mythology about its origins even though these texts are written 200-400 years after the fact?”
    2. I also asked: “you have argued that the only two sources that we have for the Pharisees in the 1st c BCE and 1st C CE are completely unreliable! On what possible basis can you claim to know anything about the Pharisees then?”

    Perhaps I have missed it, and if I have, please forgive me, but I still haven’t seen an answer to these historiographical questions. To my mind, this is the real kernel of our disagreement. You seem much more willing to accept the historical validity and accuracy of Rabbinic materials than I am. These materials are very clearly dated two c. 200 CE for the Mishnah and the rest of the Talmud to the period between 400 and 600 CE, the bulk of which comes from Babylonian traditions. I see these materials as reflecting the positions and concerns of the time in which they are produced, not the positions and concerns held hundreds of years earlier. I am very reluctant to assume that these texts represent accurate accounts of 1st c. BCE and 1st c. CE debates. This seems to me to be a historiographical sin of the first order. Maybe it is just me, but I feel like I have argued this central point tireless and it has been ignored.

    3. I have asked you to justify the “assertion that what the Rabbis were teaching is exactly what the Pharisees were teaching 200 years earlier”.

    I haven’t seen any answer to this argument either. To use a Rabbinic phrase, your position is a large mountain hanging on a very thin thread. I reviewed some of the problems with this thesis above. Look, most of the amoraic heroes date to the 2nd century. Only in a few instances are there significant rabbinic teachers who are before that: Hillel, Shammai and Gamaliel being the most notable figures who date to this time. However, they are never called Pharisees in rabbinic materials. Gamaliel is known from the NT as a Pharisee, but that is the only source that calls him that. When the Rabbis do look to ancient teachers, they are called “scribes” and “sages.” Why don’t the Rabbis look to the Pharisees or emphasize their supposed Pharisaic heritage? Why do the Pharisees disappear from Rabbinic memory? These are real problems. They certainly know of Pharisees. I referenced the passage above where the Rabbis discuss the cleanliness rituals of the Sadducees and the Pharisees and side with the Sadducees. If they Rabbis are the direct, unmediated, descendents of the Pharisees, they have a funny way of showing it.

    Again, let me clarify. I do not say that there is absolutely no relationship b/t Pharisees and Rabbis. I do not say that there are no shared teachings or practices. I have only argued that you cannot assume that if R. Akiva or R. Yehuda says something in the Mishna that the 1st c. Pharisees *necessarily* believed the same thing. This really isn’t that controversial of a claim.

    4. I have also asked: “I am interested in how you claim to know about the Pharisees’ “messianic element.” Is there a single ancient text that you can refer to as evidence for this claim?”

    Again, I have not seen any answer to this claim. This also seems to be one of the major differences b/t Jesus and the Pharisees. Now, it is certainly possible that some Pharisees believed in a Messiah. However, there is simply no evidence that this was a characteristic of the group as a whole. Pharisees were likely a diverse group with lots of different, conflicting views. It was by no means a monolithic ideology (esp. if Rabbinic Judaism is an analogy). In contrast, Jesus’ movement was explicitly messianic and apocalyptic, something that would have likely been very suspect to Pharisees in the 30’s.

    Turning now to issues which to my mind you have not sufficiently answered…

    You have said: “your position that Jesus’s teachings are not found in Rabbinical judaism is very obviously bizarre,” and “If you’re denying the fact that Jesus’s teachings are in the Rabbinic material, then you’re a very poor scholar indeed,” and “It’s so easy to find Jesus’ teachings in Rabbinical material isn’t because they’re so innovative, but because they’re so commonsensical, and thus, so un-innovative.”

    I am not arguing that Jesus’ teachings fell out of the sky and no one ever said any of them before. I am only arguing that they were not all Pharisaic. I have made great pains to say in every single one of my posts that sometimes Jesus is in agreement with later Rabbinic teachings, and that sometimes he is not. Of course there are some teachings that are shared. Congratulations for pointing them out. However, there are obviously some others that are not. For instance, no where does Jesus claim to pass down the “traditions” of the elders, a characteristic that defines the Pharisees (the gospels, Paul, and Josephus all attest to this Pharisaic trait) as well as the Rabbis. These factors are so well attested that it seems impossible for anyone to claim to be a Pharisee without subscribing to these principles. However, Jesus strongly opposed these “traditions”. Therefore, Jesus is not a Pharisee. Jesus also never sought for “precision” with regard to the Law, also something that all of our sources confirm is a Pharisaic trait.

    Now, the opposition to the Pharisaic traditions in Mark 7 and Matthew 15 are complicated, so let’s leave those aside for now. Suffice it to say, as I pointed out in other posts in this thread, Jesus also opposed divorce, which the Pharisees allowed. Not only did Jesus not share the fundamental values of the Pharisees (precision and traditions), he also opposed specific teachings of the Pharisees.

    You have said: “Sanders himself (whom you recommend as a source) argues in Jesus and Judaism that Jesus was a Pharisee.”

    I haven’t read Jesus and Judaism and since you don’t give a page number or direct quotation, I am not going to put too much stock into it. However, since Sanders does not argue this in his later, more thorough work on the historical Jesus, I fail to see how this strengthens your claim.

    With regard to my request that you produce evidence of “rabbinic” Pharisees, you replied: “Here[ are three] off the top of my head: The lives and teachings of Gamaliel, Hillel, and Akiba are all discussed in the Talmud.”

    As I mentioned above, Gamaliel is the only one that is called a Pharisee, but only in the NT, never in the Talmud. Hillel is only called a sage. Akiva is not called a Pharisee and he lived in the 2nd c., well after Jesus. In fact, Hillel and Shammai are the only significant figures who lived before Jesus who are mentioned in the Talmud. They are never called Pharisees and again, the “debates” that we do have of theirs weren’t written down until centuries later, so their reliability is extremely weak.

    Since Gamaliel is literally the only known Pharisee to be mentioned in the Talmud, let’s deal with that special case. In Acts he is praised, which seems odd coming from Luke who so viciously attacks Pharisees in his Gospel. This seems to indicate that he was obviously very influential so that the Christians wanted to show that he was on their side. In any case, the “rabbinization” of Gamaliel has clearly taken place by the time we get to the Mishnah. The rabbis, like Christians, also had an interest in claiming famous, important teachers as members and sympathizers of their own group. Gameliel’s identity as a Pharisee is completely suppressed by the Talmud. This is important also because Gameliel’s grandson, Rabban Gameliel of Yavneh became an important player in Rabbinic circles. There was thus the necessity to both remember Gameliel while at the same time suppressing his Pharisaic heritage. So, the evidence you provide is actually evidence in my camp that proves that the Rabbis downplayed any Pharisaic heritage.

    Finally, you have said: “Wouldn’t it be more to the point to put forth the passage that calls [Pharisees] heretics so that we can examine the context?”

    Look, I have not continued to emphasize this point. Twice now I have insisted that whether or not Pharisees are called heretics is of secondary importance. I have listed a number of arguments besides this for why Pharisees cannot be seen as the unmediated antecedent of Rabbinic Judaism. Part of the reason that I have backed away from this specific claim about Pharisees as heretics has to do with the late arrival of the category of “heresy” in Rabbinic Judaism. There are very few texts that mention “heretics” in the Mishnah. Most of the texts that indict the Pharisees as heretics are very late. All I can give you are citations from the footnotes of Cohen’s article that I suggested above. I can’t give quotations since I don’t have the Bavli or Yerushalmi at home and I suspect that you don’t either. This is a really complicated argument and a complete tangent to the core of our discussion, so let’s just drop it.

    In sum, your claim that Jesus was a Pharisee faces numerous problems. First, the historiographical issue makes it almost impossible to compare Jesus’ teachings with his contemporary Pharisees because we don’t have enough reliable information about 1st c. Pharisees to do a detailed comparison. Second, even if we were to grant that Rabbinic material accurately reflects 1st c. Pharisaical positions, at the very least we still find Jesus in opposition to core Rabbinic principles about “precision” with regard to the Law, the importance of “traditions”, messianic/apocalyptic expectations, and divorce.

    I’ll deal with your more rhetorical, less substantive arguments in my next post.

  88. TrailerTrash says:

    DKL,
    In this response I will deal with your bluster.

    You accuse me of “touting credentials” and “claiming I’m a scholar” at least 5 times. Can you please show me where I say “I’m a scholar” or tout even one credential? You’re the only one touting my credentials (all of which you seem to invent since we don’t know each other). Sure, I claim that you have no idea what you’re talking about, but that is not really one of my “credentials”. Your false sense of expertise is never given as an example of my own. If anything, I completely defer to the expertise of others.

    You seem to consider my “friendly tip” about not misquoting Paul in the very same paragraph as you claim that all of the “experts” on Paul are wrong to be a “caustic swipe.” This is just hyperbolic whining. If you think saying that you have misquoted someone is “caustic”, I think that we have very different perceptions of reality. I am legitimately sorry if my comment really felt like I was throwing acid to your face. It was a light-hearted banter. It wasn’t intended to be so strong.

    Somehow you also claim that this “friendly tip” is an example of me touting a “credential”. Is the credential that I am supposedly touting here that I am able to give tips, or that I am friendly? If that is the case, then I suppose that I am guilty of being both friendly and able to offer tips.

    As for your exaggerated statements, the problem here is that not only do you seriously misunderstand the historical person of Jesus, but you also seem to have very little grasp of Paul. Your assertion that you corrected me is laughable. You say: “I clarify that you’re wrong about the nature of the Pauline claim to have been taught by Gameliel.” I’m wrong? You are the ONLY person here who has claimed that Paul said that he was taught by Gamaliel. Paul never says it. Forty years later Luke attributes it to Paul, but no one believes that Paul said it (well, except for you in post 73 and to try to save face you assert it again in 77). This is the most backwards reading of the progression of our discussion possible. You want to give full historical accuracy to the NT when it suits your argument, but you claim it is “propaganda” when it doesn’t.

    Furthermore, this statement of yours is simply baffling: “Thus, I don’t see Christianity as being basically Pauline at all, so that there’s no plausible way to attribute its origin to him.” You don’t appear to be aware of the fact that Paul opened the Gospel to Gentiles by eliminating the need to convert to Judaism. The claim that Paul is the originator of the Christianity that we know today has nothing to do with whether or not his “morals” are Christian (whatever that means), but by the very obvious fact that Christians don’t have to be Jews, a rather significant development which is attributed solely to Paul.

    On Josephus, first you say you want to “qualify Josephus as a source”. Then you say “Josephus is reliable.” Ah, but then you say, “I trust Jews’ history of the Jew’s more than I trust … the history written by a Roman court historian.” Well, which is it? Do you take Josephus as a reliable source about 1st c. Pharisees as reliable or not? I am sincerely confused by this flip-flopping. In any event, your ideological allegiance to the accuracy of the Rabbis still needs explaining. You appear to imagine them as free of any tainted motives in the way that they depict their own history, yet you viciously accuse everyone else of base and intentional distortion.

    Finally, there is the point about just being rude. I suggested that you don’t need to “play the clown” with all this rudeness. You are full of these random accusations that you then decline to backup, like “you respond with a weird mix of backtracking and presumptuous statements that is too convoluted to summarize here.” You also include these petty insults like: “I doubt additional coursework would be fruitful in your case,” “you’re a very poor scholar indeed” and “You claim to be a scholar?!?!” Again, since I have never claimed to be any of these things, I don’t really see the justification for these kind of attacks. I know that you take this sort of rhetorical flare to be your calling card, but in my view it just makes you look silly.

    You may have the final rebuttal. I am done. Let the readers judge for themselves. I sincerely hope that you will finally deal with some of the arguments that are one the table.

  89. Trailer Trash,

    DKL slings mud when he is losing the argument. Once he starts with the ad hominems, he is on the ropes. He doesnt know much about the NT at all, doesnt bother to seriously study it, just reads some historical stuff so as to be able to sound scholarly on the history and attack the veracity of the scriptural text. He doesnt deal with the arguments because he cannot without admitting he is wrong. So he changes the subject with insults and tangential nonsense. Dont waste your time. Everyone who has bothered to pay attention knows DKL does this all the time.

  90. Nice theory, Extreme Dorito. So what’s your explanation for TrailerTrash’s ad hominem arguments and tangential nonsense?

  91. What a shame that such an important conversation degenerated into name calling. I am absolutely certain that such bright people as those on BCC and other LDs-ish blogs can be polite and thoughtful not only in what they say but in how they say it. There is always room for wit. There is rarely room for ANY ad hominem argument. It is particularly ironic in this blog.

  92. Margaret,
    Welcome to the Nacle.

  93. So you’ve made a list of all the questions I never answered. Did you make a list of all the questions I did answer? Why do you have to focus so much on the negative?

    Anyway, your list is pretty poor. Below is each question with an exact citation of the answer that I provided:

    TrailerTrash: Why are you so willing to dismiss the NT as beyond historical value because it is “propaganda” but seem to swallow whole rabbinic mythology about its origins even though these texts are written 200-400 years after the fact?

    On the why I find rabbinical sources reliable in general, from comment #84:

    I trust the Jews’ history of the Jew’s more than I trust the Christian history of the Jews or the history written by a Roman court historian. The Jews had among the most well established and reliable cultural disposition for accurately preserving oral and written traditions.

    An example of what I claim is propoganda, from Comment #77

    Whether Paul did, in fact, say this himself or whether Acts’ author mistakenly attributed it to Paul, it is propagandistic.

    Plus, though it may not have been perfectly clear from the discussion, I’d like to clarify that I consider the trial and execution of Stephen to be propaganda, since we agree that many of its details are fictional and it is sculpted to paint a negative picture of the Jews.

    TrailerTrash: you have argued that the only two sources that we have for the Pharisees in the 1st c BCE and 1st C CE are completely unreliable! On what possible basis can you claim to know anything about the Pharisees then?

    First of all, I’ve said that Josephus needs to be qualified, not that he’s “completely unreliable.” You consistently misrepresent my statements. Nevertheless, also from Comment #84:

    The lives and teachings of Gamaliel, Hillel, and Akiba are all discussed in the Talmud.

    To this, you’ve added another: Shammai. You claim that neither are Pharisees, though Hillel and Shammai were the founders of the two main schools of Pharisaism. I realize that there is an effort by some (e.g., Joseph Seivers) to try to obscure the question of who the Pharisees were by introducing historically anachronistic criteria into the mix, but you can’t pretend that the traditional view of the Pharisees as the direct precursors of Talmudic and Rabbinical Jews is ridiculous and unscholarly.

    TrailerTrash: I have asked you to justify the “assertion that what the Rabbis were teaching is exactly what the Pharisees were teaching 200 years earlier

    From comment #73

    There is a religious tradition called Pharisaism that became rabbinical Judahism (passing through an intermediate phase of Talmudism). The genealogy is direct — it’s the natural, organic evolution of one phase of Judaism into the next. That’s why Rabbinic Judaism is essentially Pharisaic in nature.

    You’ve never directly addressed this. You’ve insisted that the relationship is “complex” without any further justification and claimed that the Talmud calls the Pharisees heretics, though you’ve refused to provide a citation or a quote. The ball is in your court on this one.

    TrailerTrash: I have also asked: “I am interested in how you claim to know about the Pharisees’ “messianic element.” Is there a single ancient text that you can refer to as evidence for this claim?”

    Well, you got me here. I didn’t get around to this one. Given all the questions I did answer, and all the questions that I asked that you did not answer, I’m going to pass on this one.

    Now lets take a look at the questions that I did answer:

    1. Why I think that Paul is not a trained Pharisee (summary: doesn’t know Hebrew, poor interpreter of the Old Testament by scribal standards, is anti-messianic as a Jew, does police work for the High Priest [even Munck, in his Anchor Bible volume on Acts admits this is problematic], and was not taught by Gamaliel)

    2. Why I think that the term “heretic” is used in many different ways in the Talmud; specifically to indicate everything from groups who think it’s fine to say “Jehovah” to groups who believe there’s more than one leader in the world.

    3. Why I think that Josephus is reliable, even though you keep insisting that I don’t. (from comment #76: “Josephus is reliable.” I don’t know how much clearer I can be)

    4. Why I claim that Paul claims to be taught by Gamaliel. (viz., because a colleague who worked closely with him for years attributes the quote to him; akin to someone who worked closely with me for years quoting me as saying that I went to Harvard [which, btw, I did not])

    5. The fact that the statements of Christ are found in rabbinical literature. I’ve tried to point to some of the ones supposedly most innovative, providing a sample. It’s impossible within these constraints to address them all. (It’s particularly unsporting of you to fail to acknowledge this, since you made such a big show of the fact that I hadn’t addressed it, even saying that I was “stalling.”)

    6. The name of some Pharisees covered in rabbinical literature: Gamaliel, Hillel, and Akiba

    Now lets take a look at the questions that you have refused to answer:

    1. What is the context in the Talmud wherein the Pharisees are called heretics

    2. Why Jesus was supposedly under fire for claiming to be messiah by a group of jews that was sympathetic to messiahs.

    There aren’t more questions, because I’ve spent most of my time answering your questions (and still you complain).

    At any rate, I’ve been pretty busy accommodating you and your desire to be treated as somebody worth arguing with. It’s untenable for you to maintain that I’ve been playing obscurantist games.

  94. Now I’ll address the question of bluster.

    Let’s start by getting something straight: Saying “You’re a moron” is not an ad hominem argument, because it’s an argument at all. It’s an insult. Saying “You’re a moron, therefore you’re wrong” is an ad hominem argument. You continually accuse my of being guilty of a fallacious reasoning, when all I’m doing is insulting you; i.e., meeting your rudeness with an equal measure of rudeness.

    However, saying, “You’re being rude to me, therefore your arguments are fallacious/ad hominemis an ad hominem argument–one that you yourself are guilty of by virtue of your accusation that I’m guilty of ad hominem arguments when I am not.

    In any case, it’s evident to me that you don’t really know how rude you are, so I’ll try to work with you on this.

    TrailerTrash: I know that this isn’t your field so I don’t fault you for being ignorant about some of the details.

    This isn’t the kind of thing you should say unless you’re making a special effort to be rude, and unless you’re actually reasonably qualified in your field. If you are making such an effort, then you’ve no business faulting me for rudeness. It is, in any case, evident from your contributions here that you haven’t any particular background that qualifies you to make such ex cathedra statements. (at this point, I haven’t said anything remotely rude to you.)

    TrailerTrash: This response [of yours] is more sad than funny, not to say that I didn’t laugh.

    This is an insult. You might try saying something like, “Your response surprised me. It’s apparent to me that we disagree on a great many particulars, and I don’t find merit in all of the positions you advance.” (again, at this point, I haven’t said anything remotely rude to you.)

    TrailerTrash: I apologize to everyone for the long comment, but I had to clear up some misinformation.

    Again, ex cathedra and condescending. It’s much more polite to say, “I’d like to clear up some areas where I think you’re rather clearly mistaken” or even just “You’re mistaken” works fine if you want to be direct.

    TrailerTrash: Again, I don’t fault you for what you don’t know. Just don’t try to pretend that you actually do know what you’re talking about.

    Another insult. You’ve moved passed the claim that my arguments are merely wrong. You’ve even moved passed saying that I don’t know what I’m talking about. You are now accusing me of pretending to know what I’m talking about, when I have some sense that I do not. (again, at this point, I haven’t said anything remotely rude to you.)

    [After this, I respond in a way that mocks you for taking a stance that implies that you're in some special place to call me ignorant for being an amateur, and that basically says your stupid by noting that your coursework hasn't accomplished enough to give one hope that more coursework will remedy your ignorance.]

    TrailerTrash: No need to play the clown anymore.

    Another insult. I’ve not been playing the clown. If you don’t like being mocked for claiming to be in a special position to forgive other people’s ignorance, then don’t claim to be in a special position to forgive other people’s ignorance.

    TrailerTrash: I don’t really take this as a debate, more of a chance to catch you up on scholarship that goes beyond the online Jewish Encyclopedia, a text with its own history and interests.

    So you ask me for evidence, I provide something pretty standard, and you move to an argumentative stance that presumes that this constitutes the totality of my background–nothing more than a rhetorical game, especially striking for occurring in the same paragraph as an accusation that someone else is clowning around. Plus more ex cathedra stuff.

    I could go on and on, but I think that this is an adequate show.

    I think that it’s fair to say that your claim that I’m being rude to you is a prime example of the pot calling the kettle black.

  95. Margaret Young What a shame that such an important conversation degenerated into name calling. I am absolutely certain that such bright people as those on BCC and other LDs-ish blogs can be polite and thoughtful not only in what they say but in how they say it.

    I don’t typically take a doctrinaire attitude about things, and I don’t advance ad hominem arguments, but I’m not above insulting people when I believe that an insult is warranted. I just comment for fun, and I’m very frequently chuckling (or even laughing) to myself as I type.

    I have no pretense to being above the fray; in fact, I’ve joked that I am to the fray as Grizzly Man (the man, Timothy Tredwell, not the movie) was to the bears. And someday, the fray might just eat me whole. On the balance, I’m good with that.

  96. Since I’ve taken the time to read this thread, I feel like chiming in to say that comment #94 shows just how ridiculous it is to spend so much time meticulously tracking what someone said to measure just how rude they were to you, so you can justify your rude response back to them.

    I find this “debate” over who started the rudeness in the first place and who was more rude to whom incredibly ironic in the context of a discussion about Jesus. Just because someone is rude to you doesn’t necessitate a rude response in return. I think Jesus might have said something to this effect somewhere.

    By the way, since we’re keeping score – I think DKL officially wins for being the most insulting. Trailer Trash, however, wins on the merits.

  97. Bob Dobalina says:

    DKL,
    TT/Taylor,

    Find a bar in Boston, play darts, get some good music on the jukebox, and discuss this over a drink. I think you’re done here.

  98. You bring up a good point, ECS. My comment #94 is a response to Trash’s comment #88.

    As you well know, I don’t normally care to point out other people’s rudeness, and I’m quite happy simply to be rude in response. Since Trash seemed to (1) take it a bit ill that I was being so rude to her, and (2) seemed truly unaware of how rude she herself was, I thought it might be worthwhile in this instance to point it out.

    I take it your attribution to me of victory in the area of insulting and loss in the area of argumentative merit to indicate (on the one hand) the sureness with which I can count on remaining the most reviled participant in the bloggernacle, and (on the other hand) the paucity of your knowledge of New Testament issues.

  99. I’m quite happy simply to be rude in response.

    Exactly. I guess it’s old news that you prefer to be rude rather than to be right (or, for that matter, productively contribute to a discussion), but I appreciate you bringing it to our collective attention again.

  100. Actually, you’ve got it wrong. My order of preference is like this:

    1. Being rude to Daniel Peterson
    2. Being right
    3. Being rude to everyone else
    4. Making productive contributions to the thread
    5. Being funny.

  101. TrailerTrash says:

    To Margaret and others,
    I just wanted to apologize to those who read my comments as being rude to DKL. Clearly, I think that DKL is wrong on nearly every one of his assertions. I felt like the authority with with these assertions were made was and remains unwarranted. I understand that this is not a cause to be rude, and I can honestly say that I didn’t intend to be rude. I suppose that the friendly tone of my voice as I typed these comments may not have translated and may have been miscontrued, even unintentionally. If I was unmeritoriously condescending, I apologize to DKL. If I was ever rude, I attribute it to accident rather than malice, and I apologize to DKL for the misunderstanding.

  102. Ah shit, Trailer. Clearly, I think that you’re wrong on nearly every one of your assertions. But I’m sorry, too.

  103. I think this cartoon speaks to the issue of unintentional rudeness.

  104. Exteme Dorito: Your comment 89 was excellent!

    ECS: Your comment 99 was excellent!

  105. I tell, ya. if I had a dime

  106. Yet ANOTHER thread devolves into a hateful discussion of DKL? Pathetic.

  107. What? Who?

  108. Eric Russell says:

    Bob #97,

    I believe DKL responded to that suggestion in #56 of this thread.

  109. Like teenagers and politicians, the bloggernacle tends to get the DKL it deserves.

    I’d be bothered that yet another discussion has been hijacked by the local personalities, but since my interest in the topic ended a couple dozen comments or so ago (sorry Ronan), I don’t mind so much.

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