[Name Redacted]'s Reviews > Judaism in the New Testament

Judaism in the New Testament by Bruce Chilton
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Jun 27, 2011

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bookshelves: academia, history, languages, magic, philosophy, mythology, politics, religion, society

Final Impression: The bloom has definitely fallen from the Chilton/Neusner rose. Once you pass the 100 page mark, the authors engage in endless amounts of personal exegesis, both "scriptural" and historical, and while their forays into anti-New Testamentism are only occasional, they waste roughly 90 pages "knowing" where they cannot "show" -- a gaffe for which i cannot forgive them, as they spent so many pages deriding E.P. Sanders for the very same thing! Neusner in particular clearly cannot resist (especially while discussing the Gospels) attempting to prove that the Mishnaic interpretations are superior to those of Paul, Peter, Barnabas, James, Luke, etc. (he asserts that all these individuals were directly responsible for separate strains of Christianity he feels are evident in the New Testament texts) and Jesus himself. Towards the end, this book became less a scholarly investigation into early Christianity as a viable and valid form of Judaism and more a thinly-veiled polemic attempting to deride the insufficiency of Christianity's "Judaism" when compared to the "Judaism" of the Mishnah and Talmud. Overall I think this book is invaluable, but only for the first 100 pages. Those are EXCELLENT; the rest is empty speculation and Rabbinic anti-Christian polemics, neither of which have a place in an ostensibly scholarly, objective work. The fact that it has no "conclusion" chapter, ending abruptly and incoherently after a lengthy discussion of "The Epistle to the Hebrews" and leaving the reader to wonder what the point of the whole excercise ultimately was, makes it feel even sloppier -- as though they worked themselves up into a frenzy, suddenly came out of it, and wandered away from the text.

Fourth Impression: The book stumbles a bit once it begins to actually examine the New Testament texts (roughly 100 pages in). While comparing and contrasting the New Testament as a whole with the Mishnah, Talmud and Qumran documents, the scholars maintain a surprising and refreshing degree of distance and objectivity; each text-group and its authors are analyzed as though they were presenting an authentic approach to the Torah, to "Judaism", and to "Israel", and are examined on their own terms. However, once they begin examining the New Testament itself they fall into the same traps for which they (vociferously) condemned E.P. Sanders -- that is, "knowing what [they] cannot show" and assuming what they cannot prove. This ruins the impact of their analysis as they present unverifiable suppositions about the nature of early Christianity and the early Jerusalem Christian community as though they were demonstrable facts. There are also clear moments where Chilton and Neusner's personal biases creep in; these were pardonable, for instance, when Neusner referred to the authors and compilers of the Mishnah with reverential terms such as "our sages of blessed memory" because they did not imbalance his actual analysis of the texts; however they taint the otherwise-rigorous objectivity of their analyses of the New Testament texts, especially after the 100 pg mark when, for instance, their personal disdain for Pauline theology/exegesis doesn't simply bleed through -- it is made explicit. Hmmm. I was hoping this one wouldn't turn out to be another disappointment!

Third Impression: From page 46 - "But the authors of the Dead Sea documents viewed themselves as Israel, that is the key to their existence, and when we ignore the premise of their writing and subtitute the premise of our interest in them, we close ourselves off from the possibility of hearing what they are saying." HECK YEAH! It's about time someone admitted this. But wait, there's MORE! "In substituting the [historical] truth...for the claims of a supernatural character, we ignore the religion of the documents in favor of their (allegedly) historical detritus." So far, so fantastic.

Second Impression: So far I'm impressed, but that was the case with Sandmel's "Anti-Semitism in the New Testament?" too, and we know how that turned out. Chilton & Neusner's overall argument is that scholars, religious and otherwise, persist in believing in a normative, singular, supremely-ahistorical "Judaism" which existed in the Second Temple period; these scholars then proceed to shoe-horn that belief into the study of the New Testament, comparing the Christian foundational texts' depictions of Jewish and Christian religious life to a normative Judaism which NEVER EXISTED. Incredibly, incredibly refreshing! They are absolutely correct! There was no singular, normative "Judaism" existant back then -- it's a joint-creation of Christians, Rabbinic Jews and humanists/secularists, and it clouds the study of Christianity and Judaism alike. Chilton & Neusner then argue that, when studying the New Testament, scholars should understand that the authors of the texts saw the words of Jesus as the true "Torah" -- the fulfillment and continuation of what began with the Patriarchs, Moses, and the ancient prophets -- and therefore saw themselves as the true Israelites, the true Jews. To them, Christianity WAS Judaism, the fullest and completest version of Jewish religion ever. The authors were not condemning "Judaism" or "Jewish religion", but rather the competing versions and interpretations of a religion they saw themselves as sharing with thousands, if not millions, of other "Jews". This argument meshes nicely with Schiffman's from "Who Was a Jew?" that the ultimate split between Christianity and Judaism was actually a difference of understanding regarding the nature of being a "Jew"/"Israelite". I am excited to keep reading this book! The one flaw has so far been their conviction that there are only two types of Christianity and two consequent interpretations of Christian history; Roman Catholic and Protestant. Orthodox Christianity is ignored, as are all other Christian sects.

First Impression: Another dang book with roman numeral pages that aren't counted as part of the total page count, while the indices ARE counted. Dagnabbit.

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Reading Progress

June 27, 2011 – Started Reading
June 27, 2011 – Shelved
June 27, 2011 – Shelved as: academia
June 27, 2011 – Shelved as: history
June 27, 2011 – Shelved as: languages
June 27, 2011 – Shelved as: magic
June 27, 2011 – Shelved as: philosophy
June 27, 2011 – Shelved as: mythology
June 27, 2011 – Shelved as: politics
June 27, 2011 – Shelved as: religion
June 27, 2011 – Shelved as: society
June 30, 2011 –
page 2
July 1, 2011 –
page 22
July 1, 2011 –
page 45
July 1, 2011 –
page 59
July 2, 2011 –
page 70
July 2, 2011 –
page 98
July 2, 2011 –
page 105
July 3, 2011 –
page 111
July 4, 2011 – Finished Reading

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