Apocalyptic Interpretation, Christian Origins, Judaism, New Perspective on Paul, Pauline Theology, Second Temple Judaism
James H. Charlesworth has crafted 12 questions to guide his review of N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God. The stated goal of the questions is to allow him “to classify the best approach to the very complex world of Second Temple Judaism in ancient Palestine and in the Diaspora, Paul’s relation to it, and Wright’s presentation of each.”¹
So here is my idea for how someone could use Charlesworth’s questions to write a book (publishers take note). The questions (or some modification of them) would serve as a great tool for comparing various contemporary presentations of Paul. Charlesworth himself should contribute the Foreword or Introduction so as to give him the proper credit for the questions. I propose that the following works on Paul could profitably be analyzed on the basis of Charlesworth’s questions:
- F.F. Bruce. Paul Apostle of the Heart Set Free. Paternoster Press, 1977.
- James D. G. Dunn. The Theology of the Apostle Paul. Eerdmans, 1998.
- Thomas R. Schreiner. Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology. InterVarsity Press, 2001.
- Michael J. Gorman. Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters. Eerdmans, 2004.
- Anthony C. Thiselton. The Living Paul: An Introduction to the Apostle’s Life and Thought. InterVarsity Press, 2009.
- N.T. Wright. Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Fortress Press, 2013.
- John M.G. Barclay. Paul and the Gift. Eerdmans, 2015.
- E.P. Sanders. Paul: The Apostle’s Life, Letters, and Thought. Fortress Press, 2015.
So what are Charlesworth’s questions? (below I have replaced “Wright” with “our author” to make them applicable to other works)
- I am certain that [our author] would assiduously avoid any semblance of Anti-Judaism (Anti-Semitism), but would he agree with the stellar group of Pauline specialists who convened in Rome in 2014 to demonstrate how Paul now must be understood within Second Temple Judaism?
- Paul states that he is proud to be a Jew and a Pharisee, so does [our author] err and cast Paul as a “Christian,” sociological and theological category which is anachronistic to many experts for the period before 70 CE?
- Does [our author] avoid such misleading dichotomies as “Hellenistic Judaism” versus “Palestinian Judaism” and “Orthodox Judaism” versus “Sectarian Judaism”?
- In examining pre-70 CE sociological and theological contexts, does [our author] choose to use terms that are now relegated to the dust bin, according to most scholars, such as “canonical,” “canon,” “extra-canonical,” as well as “church,” “orthodoxy,” and “heresy”?
- Does [our author] appreciate how significantly the concepts and terms in the Dead Sea Scrolls have revolutionized scholars’ approach to Second Temple Judaism, Christian Origins, and Paul? And specifically, how dies he use the evidence of “works of law” now found in Second Temple Judaism to clarify the same term in Galatians?
- If [our author] sees a unity within Second Temple Judaism, what is it and how does he obtain that insight; and if he sees only diversity, how does he explain the colossal change in 66 CE?
- Does [our author] appreciate the many groups and sects within Second Temple Judaism and does he do justice to the Samaritans?
- How does [our author] treat the “sacred writings” in the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (that is, does he find God’s Word in any of them, as did the early Jews and “Christians”?); and does he engage the authors who have claimed Paul quoted from or at least knew one or more these documents?
- Does [our author] perceive that Paul’s main inheritance from Judaism is apocalyptic eschatology?
- Would [our author] agree with those that conclude Paul broke from Jesus by rejecting the purity laws, dietary restrictions, circumcision, and taking the “good news” to Gentiles?
- Has [our author] found “the heart of Paul’s theology” or has he allowed Paul to be as contradictory as he seems to be in his authentic letters?
- Where do we find Paul’s genius and creativity and how do we know that when so many ideas we all once concluded had originated with Paul are now being discovered in early Jewish texts?
Some of the questions may need to be reformulated. Charlesworth’s own presuppositions are apparent in more than one. Nevertheless, they do serve as launch point for further discussion of how different authors handle the issues concerned. I think it would be quite revealing to consider how each of the above mentioned works on Paul deals with each of these topics. It will go a long way toward demonstrating the relative strengths and weaknesses of each work. Further, it would potentially uncover additional areas where more work is needed.
So…will someone please take this idea and run with it?
¹ See “Wright’s Paradigm of Early Jewish Thought: Avoidance of Anachronisms?” in God and the Faithfulness of Paul (Mohr Siebeck 2016) edited by Christoph Heilig, J. Thomas Hewitt, and Michael F. Bird, 207-234, 207.