Friday 4 December 2015

Mythmaker: Paul's un-Pharisaic writings

(This is the eighth part of a review of Hyam Maccoby's 1986 book Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity.)

Chapter seven sets out to deal to the portrayal of Paul's writings as bearing the influence of pharisaism. Maccoby begins by reiterating the problem of Christology.
[The] idea of 'being in Christ', which occurs frequently in Paul's letters, is entirely without parallel in Jewish literature ... this concept involves a relationship to the Divine that is alien to Judaism... The idea of 'being in Christ', however, can be paralleled without difficulty in the mystery cults.
To apply the name kurios or Lord in its divine sense to a human being who had recently lived and died on Earth would have seemed... sheer blasphemy. However, to the recipients of Paul's letters, the use of the term 'Lord' for Jesus would not have seemed shocking at all, for this was the regular term for deities in the mystery cults...
So on what basis is the claim made that Paul thinks and writes as a trained Pharisee? For Maccoby the answer is clear, the claim is specious.
Though many authors confidently assert that Paul's Epistles are full of Pharisaic expressions and arguments, few authors have made a serious attempt to substantiate this... it may safely be said that if people had not already been convinced that Paul was a Pharisee... no one would have thought of calling him a Pharisee or a person of 'rabbinic' cast of mind simply from a study of the Epistles.
Two pieces of evidence are often offered in support of Paul's Pharisee background. These are his qal-va-homer (a fortiori) arguments, and his use of midrash. Maccoby refutes both, referring to passages in Romans 5 and 11.
Paul, in his Epistles, is quite fond of using the a fortiori argument, and this has been regarded as incontrovertible proof of his Pharisee training... [however] Paul had no idea of the validity of this type of argument [in Jewish discourse]... Hellenistic writers, on the other hand, often used a fortiori reasoning, but only in a loose, rhetorical way... This is just the way that Paul uses such arguments.
Midrash is equally problematic, and Maccoby focuses on Galatians 3:13 and Romans 7:1-6 to illustrate the point.
The idea [in Galatians 3:13] that anyone hanged on a gibbet is under a curse was entirely alien to Pharisee thought, and the Pharisee teachers did not interpret the verse in Deuteronomy [21:23] in this way. Many highly respected members of the Pharisee movement were crucified by the Romans... [and] they were regarded as martyrs.
In Pharisee thought "the curse was placed not on the executed person, but on the people responsible for subjecting the corpse to indignity."

Referring to the verses in Romans 7, Maccoby is scathing.
... Paul is here trying to sound like a trained Pharisee. He announces in a somewhat portentous way that what he is going to say will be understood only by those who have 'some knowledge of law', and he is clearly intending to display legal expertise... In the event, he has produced a ludicrous travesty of Pharisee thinking. In the whole of Pharisee literature, there is nothing to parallel such an exhibition of lame reasoning.
Maccoby rounds of the chapter by noting that Paul, unlike any known Pharisee, is dependent on the Greek Bible, the Septuagint.
The indications from Paul's writings are that he knew very little Hebrew. His quotations from the Bible (which number about 160) are from the Greek translation... wherever the text of the Hebrew Bible differs from that of the Greek, Paul always quotes the text found in the Greek.
Which is an especially strange thing for someone with a Pharisee background to have done, as the Hebrew text was the only one regarded as authoritative. Maccoby concludes: "the allegedly profound Pharisaic style and atmosphere of Paul's writings is itself a legend."

1 comment:

  1. Yes, why would "God's chosen" "Hebrew scholar" to explain this "New Covenant" to the world be using a flawed pagan translation of scripture to do it??
    Why should we believe this fake as he announces the Law is now nullified? He says the giving of the Law was accompanied with signs and wonders, but where are, for symmetry, the signs and wonders to confirm this earthshattering change? There are none, just a Joseph Smith-like fanatic working with a copy of the Septuagint.