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N. T. Wright on Paul the Pharisee and ancient Jews in exile

  • Steve Mason (a1)

Abstract

This article examines two topics that emerge from N. T. Wright's Paul and the Faithfulness of the Gospel: Paul the Shammaite-zealot and the ‘great narrative’ of an Israel in exile, waiting for something. The perspective adopted is that of a historian, for whom the fundamental question is whether Wright's accounts approximate plausible reality two thousand years ago. With respect to the first topic, analysis of source material on the Pharisees in the pre-70 period renders Wright's association of Paul with the rabbinic ‘House of Shammai’ and zealotry doubtful in every part. Similar issues arise in relation to the second topic, where Wright's proposal is supported by a kind of proof-texting, without methodical concern for the nature, context, coherence, themes, rhetoric or meaning of texts in situ.

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References

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1 Cf. Mason, S., ‘The Problem of the Pharisees in Modern Scholarship’, in Neusner, J. (ed.), Approaches to Ancient Judaism , vol. 3 (Atlanta, GA: Scholars, 1993), pp. 103–40.

2 The clearest example is Neusner, J. and Chilton, B. (eds), In Quest of the Historical Pharisees (Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2007).

3 Neusner, J., The Rabbinic Traditions about the Pharisees Before 70, 3 vols. (Leiden: Brill), vol. 3, pp. 240, 304 (emphasis added); similarly pp. 227, 234, 248.

4 Ibid., pp. 313–17.

5 Ibid., pp. 312–19.

6 Ibid., p. 314.

7 Ibid., p. 322.

8 Ibid., pp. 334, 338.

9 Ibid., pp. 163–79.

10 Ananus was reportedly the implacable enemy of the Zealots as well as Simon bar Giora (War 2.651–54), eventually falling victim to the former (4.314–25).

11 War 2.4.159, 358.

12 Wright uses ‘great narrative’ nineteen times, ‘grand narrative’ five times (including contrasts with a contrasting grand Roman narrative of imperial salvation, which also seems to me very doubtful). ‘Single’ is implied throughout and occasionally explicit (as on pp. 138–9).

13 E.g. p. 97. Wright uses ‘controlling narrative/story/metaphor/categories’ dozens of times, arguing also that Paul's controlling categories came from those of Judaism.

14 From Psalms of Solomon and some Qumran texts to 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch.

15 Sanders, E. P., Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), e.g. pp. 80–2, 149–50, 182, 223, 299, 330, 339, 421.

16 E.g. Runnalls, D. R., ‘The Rhetoric of Josephus’, in Porter, S. E. (ed.), Handbook of Classical Rhetoric in the Hellenistic Period 330 B.C.–A.D. 400 (Leiden: Brill, 2007), pp. 737–54.

17 Cognates appear about ninety times in War, programmatically in the proem (1.11–12, 28).

18 War 1.355, 633; 2.360, 362–4, 372, 378, 382, 398, 580; 3.29, 473, 480, etc.

19 Vespasian backdated his accession to 1 July 69, when the legions of Egypt acclaimed him (Suetonius, Vesp. 6.3; Tacitus, Hist. 2.79). Josephus insists that he was first acclaimed in Caesarea, and that Vespasian strategically arranged Egyptian support (War 4.602–21), rather ruining the Flavian story.

20 Compare War 5.461 with Herodotus, Histories 1.32.7.

21 E.g. War 2.284, 409, 413; 4.318–25; Ant. 18.9–10; 20.166, 181, 210, 214, 218.

22 Of the only 752 occurrences of this word in more than 10,000 Thesaurus Linguae Graecae texts, 187 are from Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles.

23 In Jerome, Comm. Dan. praef. et passim.

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