Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Jesus' Death in Acts; Matthew----Jew or Gentile?

I finished Anti-Judaism in Early Christianity, volume 1, and I have two:

1. S.G. Wilson states on pages 157-158: "...the soteriological significance of Jesus' death is never made explicit in the missionary speeches and is rarely apparent elsewhere in Luke-Acts. [T]he most that can be said is that 'Luke has taken over certain traditions regarding the meaning of the death of Jesus but he has not in any way developed them or drawn attention to them.' The longer reading in Luke 22:19-20 and the reference to the church as having 'been obtained by his own blood' in Acts 20:28 are not to be overlooked, and a practical theologia crucis, understood as a daily bearing of the cross modelled on the careers of Jesus and his apostles, is clearly a matter of some interest to Luke. Yet the failure of Luke to develop the positive notion of Jesus' death as an atonement, even though he is aware of it, means that there is little to counterbalance the negative emphasis on Jewish culpability. Of course, this is not necessarily a deliberate move on Luke's part, for it may well be that Paul's concentration on this theme makes him, rather than Luke, the exception in early Christianity, or that the atonement was an inner-church theme and not part of the missionary kerygma. The effect, however, whether intended or not, is that our attention is focused without distraction on the accusations against the Jews."

I found this interesting because some have argued that Luke does not believe in blood atonement and that the few passages that do refer to it are interpolations. Wilson sees those few passages as authentic, however, and he maintains that Luke knows of the notion that Jesus' death was for blood atonement but does not develop it. The result is that the Jews in Acts bear a significant amount of onus for Jesus' death, which is not even given much redeeming value in Acts. At the same time, Wilson does note that the Jews in Acts act according to the plan of God when they kill Jesus.

2. On pages 184-187, Benno Przybylski (which I will abbreviate as "BP") argues against G. Strecker's idea that a Gentile Christian was behind the final redaction of the Gospel of Matthew. Some of Strecker's arguments resemble those of John Meier and Michael Cook, who contend that Matthew was not a Jewish-Christian Gospel.

First, Strecker says that Matthew 5:43 reveals ignorance of the Jewish tradition, for it says that Jesus' audience has heard that you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. Strecker states that such a concept is not in the older rabbinic tradition. BP responds, however, that it "could easily reflect teaching similar to that of the Qumran sectarians as expressed in 1QS 1.10 or 9.21."

Second, Strecker says that Matthew is unaware of Hebrew parallelism, for Matthew 21:1-9 presents Jesus riding two animals in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, when Zechariah 9:9 is not saying that the king will ride on both an ass and also a colt. Rather, Zechariah 9:9 is using Hebrew parallelism (repeating a thought), which means that the ass and the colt both refer to one and the same animal. The argument that Matthew does not understand Hebrew parallelism is used by John Meier and Michael Cook. But I agree with BP: the rabbis themselves took parallelism literally at times, just like Matthew. For example, BP cites Psalm 28:5, which says that "He will break them down and not build them up". This looks like parallelism because a thought is being repeated. But the rabbis believed that God did not repeat himself superfluously, and so the Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael Shirata 6 held that Psalm 28:5 refers to two separate things rather than being a repetition of one idea: "He will break them down" relates to this world, and "and not build them up" pertains to the World to Come. See my post here for more information on Matthew 21 and Zechariah 9:9.

Third, Strecker says that Matthew 12:11 contradicts Jewish law. Matthew 12:11 says that the Pharisees believed that one could pull his sheep out of a pit on the Sabbath. According to BP, "Strecker argues that according to rabbinic law the owner could feed the animal or even help it to help itself but he could not actually lift it out." But BP responds that Matthew may be going with a minority rabbinic opinion, or that popular practice was more liberal than the majority rabbinic view.

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