Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Interesting Discussions in Christine Hayes' Gentile Impurities and Jewish Identities

I read Christine Hayes' 2002 book, Gentile Impurities and Jewish Identities: Intermarriage and Conversion from the Bible to the Talmud.

In this book, Hayes addresses the question of whether or not the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple and rabbinic literature regard Gentiles and Gentile lands as ritually impure.  Overall, her answer appears to be no.  Within Ezra and certain pieces of Second Temple literature, there is a notion that Jews shouldn't intermarry with Gentiles because Jews are a holy seed and need to protect their people's genealogical purity, but that has nothing to do with the question of whether Gentiles are ritually impure.  When Amos 7:17 depicts Gentile lands as impure, Hayes argues, that relates more to their moral impurity rather than their ritual impurity from not following ritual purity laws, which (by and large) are for Israel alone.  Moreover, rabbinic literature often does not seem to presume that Gentiles are ritually impure: rather, there are cases in which Gentiles become ritually impure only after converting to Judaism, which is when they become subject to God's purity laws for Israel.  Before that, they are not subject to them.

The thing is, Hayes does paint a picture that is much more complex than my summary in the above paragraph, which seems to indicate that she acknowledges that the category of ritual purity is (on some level) relevant to Gentiles and how Israel relates to them.  But I don't want to get into the weeds of that in this post.  You can read the book yourself if you're interested in learning more, or you can read reviews of the book.  What I want to do here is to highlight two discussions in the book that I found particularly interesting:

1.  On pages 79-80, Hayes argues that the Book of Jubilees portrays Abraham as someone who was like Phinehas, the son of Aaron who killed the Israelite man and the Midianite woman who were flaunting their relationship before Israel, after Moses had called on the judges to kill the Israelite men who participated in the cult of Baal-Peor with Moabite women (Numbers 25).  In Numbers 25:11-13, God gives Phinehas a covenant of peace and an everlasting priesthood as a reward for his act.  And Psalm 106:31 says that God reckoned it to Phinehas for righteousness, which is similar to what is said in Genesis 15:6 about Abraham: Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness.  Genesis 15:6 is a key proof-text for the Pauline-Lutheran doctrine that people are reckoned as righteous by God on account of their faith.  Apparently, within the Hebrew Bible, righteousness could be reckoned to people for other reasons as well, for righteousness was reckoned to Phinehas for killing the Israelite man and the Midianite woman.

According to Hayes, Abraham in Jubilees is like Phinehas in that Abraham is zealous to preserve the genealogical purity of God's people, by discouraging Jacob to marry a Canaanite.  But would Jubilees have to apply Phinehas-like attributes to Abraham to arrive at this sort of conclusion, when Genesis 24:2-4 itself depicts Abraham as one who did not want his son Isaac to marry a Canaanite?  Hayes acknowledges Genesis 24:2-4, but she still thinks that Jubilees is portraying Abraham as one who was like Phinehas.  Genesis 15 is about the blessing of Abraham's seed, and Hayes believes that this is relevant to Jubilees' portrayal of Abraham as one who zealously sought to guard his seed from being polluted through intermarriage.  Furthermore, Hayes notes that Jubilees 30:20 says that Levi was considered to be a friend of God and a righteous man, after Levi and Simeon slaughtered the Schechemites and thereby protected Israel's genealogical purity from intermarriage with foreigners.  For Hayes, Jubilees has a message that an Israelite can be reckoned as righteous by standing against intermarriage.

2.  Hayes has a chapter about how Paul and the early church fathers regarded intermarriage.  I'd like to draw your attention to something that Hayes says on page 94:

"In Mk 10:1-12 and Luke 16:18, Jesus is said to have prohibited divorce for any reason, though in Matt 5:32, which post-dates Paul, he is represented as making a single exception in the case of porneia (fornication).  For Paul, also, porneia alone is grounds for separation, and possibly divorce (1 Cor 5:9-13).  Yet here [in 1 Corinthians 7:12-13] the apostle appears to contradict himself by allowing divorce (or at least separation) on the grounds of the unbelief of one partner to the marriage.  The implication is that marriage to an unbeliever is a kind of porneia."

On the preceding page, page 93, Hayes contends that Paul regards Christian intermarriage with a non-believer to be defiling to the believer and to Christ himself, as Paul regards non-believers as "defiled by idolatry and sexual immorality" (Hayes' words in conceptualizing Paul's thoughts).  Hayes refers to I Corinthians 6:15-16, in which Paul says that believers should not take the members of Christ and join them with a prostitute to form one flesh.

Hayes acknowledges that the issue gets thorny, for Paul in I Corinthians 7 goes on to allow believers to remain married to non-believers, if that is what the non-believers want.  But I still found her discussion to be interesting, due to the debates about divorce within Christianity.  Mark and Luke present Jesus forbidding divorce, but Matthew 5:32 has an exception to this prohibition: porneia.  But Paul appears to offer another ground for divorce: if a believer is married to a non-believer, and the non-believer wants to leave the marriage.  Or is this another ground?  Suppose that Hayes is correct that, in Paul's thought, intermarriage between a believer and a non-believer is itself porneia

In terms of whether I am convinced by Hayes' argumentation here, I'm not sure.  She does argue that, within Second Temple Judaism, there was a prominent notion that Jews intermarrying with Gentiles constituted porneia, and so I wouldn't be surprised if Paul carried that sort of notion into his view as to whether believers should intermarry with non-believers.  At the same time, Paul does not explicitly label intermarriage porneia.

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