Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Self-Defense on the Sabbath(s); Nomos

I started volume 4 of John Meier's A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. This is the last volume of the series that has been published thus far, but more volumes will come out sometime in the future. Meier still hopes to discuss the parables, Jesus' self-designations, and Jesus' death. He says in his intro to volume 4 that he'll do all this in volume 5, but I have my doubts, for he said in volume 3 that he'd wrap everything up in volume 4, and that didn't happen! As far as the date of volume 5's publication is concerned, I don't know. Volume 3 was published in 2001, and volume 4 was published in 2009 (in part due to the passing away of David Noel Freedman). Volume 5 will come out sometime in the future, and I'm sure it will be as comprehensive and as informative as the volumes so far.

Volume 4 is about Jesus' stance towards the Torah. I have two items for today.

1. During the Maccabean revolt, the priest Mattathias issued a ruling allowing the Jews to fight to defend themselves on the Sabbath. This ruling came as a result of Jewish casualties that resulted from their enemies attacking them on the Sabbath, when certain pious groups were resting and thus refrained from fighting back. According to this ruling, the Jews could not be aggressors on the Sabbath, but they could defend themselves.

This decision was not accepted by everybody, however. The Book of Jubilees states that fighting is prohibited on the Sabbath (Jubilees 50:7-12). The producers of Jubilees had issues with Mattathias contradicting what they considered to be God's primordial revelation to Moses about the sanctity of the Sabbath. The fact that Mattathias was a non-Zadokite didn't help, either.

On page 57, Meier talks about Josephus' stance on Mattathias' ruling. In Jewish War 2.19.2, Josephus tells a story about Governor Cestius of Syria approaching Jerusalem with his army in 66 C.E. to subdue an "incipient revolt" (Meier's words). Josephus narrates that the Jews in Jerusalem took up arms and thereby disregarded the high-day Sabbath during Sukkoth, allowing their passions to shake them out of "proper religious observance" (Josephus' words). According to Meier, Josephus obviously disapproves of what the Jews did. Meier speculates that Josephus thought that self-defense was fine on the weekly Sabbath, but not on the high-day during Sukkoth, for Mattathias' ruling applied specifically to the Sabbath.

If that is Josephus' stance, then I find it odd. So you can defend yourself on one day, but not on another? What sense does that make, when the whole point of Mattathias' ruling was to preserve life? Moreover, couldn't one do a qal va-chomer to justify Jews defending themselves on the high-day? If they could defend themselves on the Sabbath, how much more could they do so on a day that is less in holiness, the high-day during Sukkoth? After all, they could cook and do other things during the high days that were prohibited on the weekly Sabbath (see here).

2. Something that I have long heard is that Torah means teaching, whereas the Greek word used for law, nomos, means law. The implication is that the Septuagint added a legalistic dimension to the Torah that was not present in the Hebrew. Meier disagrees with this, for on page 38, he states that nomos, too, is broader in its meaning than "law": "In Greek, nomos was used in various and overlapping contexts that included religion, civil society and law, philosophy, cosmology, and royal ideology." For Meier, nomos is a good word to use in translating the word "Torah" into Greek.

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