Continuing from Taking Eddy & Boyd Seriously (3) . . . .
Indicting “The Jews” for the murder of the Lord Jesus
Having insisted that 1 Thess 2:13-16 was indeed written by Paul, Eddy and Boyd (The Jesus Legend) must now attempt to argue that the contents of the passage are not antisemitic.
One of the slogans of antisemitism through the ages has been “the Jews killed Christ”. The author of this Thessalonians passage puts the blame for the death of Jesus squarely, solely and unequivocally on the Jews:
For you have suffered the same things from your own country-men, just as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us . . .
Birger A. Pearson (“1 Thessalonians 2:13-16: A Deutero-Pauline Interpolation” Harvard Theological Review (1971): 85) observes that in all other letters of Paul,
[Paul] never attributes the death of Jesus to the Jews. 1 Corinthians 2:8 is the best example of Paul’s own view: Jesus was brought to his death by the demonic “rulers of this age” who did not know that by doing so they would defeat themselves in the process.
(Pearson remarks in passing that Origen in his commentary on Matthew interprets “the rulers of this age” in this way.)
Eddy and Boyd’s “rebuttal” of the above
Could Paul really have accused the Jews of killing Christ? Why certainly! say E&B, but he didn’t mean to sound like he was blaming “all Jews”, or only the Jews, collectively:
There is simply no reason to suppose that Paul could not have believed that several groups — including some Jews and some secular authorities and/or spiritual powers — were responsible for bringing this event about. (213)
Note how E&B deftly convey the idea that only “some Jews” were indirectly responsible (“bringing this event about”) for the death of Christ. Only “some Jews”? That’s not what is said in 1 Thessalonians 2.
But what is the evidence E&B have that Paul did not write what he supposedly (according to E&B) believed?
[A]ll four canonical Gospels and Acts ascribe responsibility for Jesus’ death to Jews and Romans . . . and there is little reason to think that Paul’s view was necessarily more narrow. (213, citing Weatherly)
And there you have it. That’s all the “evidence” E&B offer to assure us that 1 Thess 2:15-16 is not blaming the Jews alone for killing Christ. Paul’s silence does not stop us from knowing what he was really thinking. If Paul wrote that “the Jews” killed Christ, then we can be sure that behind his written word he really meant that only some Jews, along with the Romans, as well as a few bad angels, were responsible “for bringing about” the death of Christ. How can we be sure of this? E&B answer by saying they can’t think of a reason to deny it! If others who wrote long after Paul, and who frequently expressed teachings quite contrary to Paul’s (e.g. Matthew, Luke-Acts), if these thought it, then so did Paul. Why not? conclude E&B.
In short, E&B declare that we do not need the words in Paul’s writings to know what he was thinking. And if we see something in his letters we do not like, then we can be sure Paul did not mean it in the way it might sound at face value.
Here is Birger Pearson again, this time noting when Christians first began to attribute the destruction of Jerusalem to the guilt of the Jews for killing Christ. (Keep in mind Paul wrote his letter/s in the 50’s ce)
It will certainly not do to use the speeches in Acts as an example of the early origin of this topos, for . . . one finds very little of primitive Palestinian Christianity in the speeches of Acts; on the whole the speeches reflect the work and thought of the author of Luke-Acts. In my view, one must look to a time after 70 AD for such a development. (p. 84)
Perhaps even a time after the second Jewish (Bar Kochba) war (135 ce) might also be considered.
Blaming “the Jews” collectively: Antisemitism or Convention of Corporate Identification?
1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 says a lot of nasty things about “the Jews”.
- killed the Lord Christ.
- killed their own prophets.
- persecuted the church.
- do not please God.
- are against all mankind.
- try to stop the gospel being preached.
- are always filling up the totality of all their sins.
- have suffered the wrath of God to the uttermost finality.
Did “Paul” here really mean “the Jews”? Of course not, say E&B. He only meant “some” Jews.
In support of this claim that Paul was not expressing hostility against Jews in general, E&B refer readers to Jeffrey Lamp.
Jeffrey Lamp has read 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 in light of Testament of Levi 6 and concluded:
Both the context of 1 Thess 2:13-16 and the comparison with Testament of Levi 6 strongly suggests that the use of generalizing language neither consigns all individuals within the group of “the Jews” to perdition nor implies that all individuals within this group are guilty of any or all points of Paul’s indictment against the group.
[J. S. Lamp, “Is Paul Anti-Semitic (sic*)? Testament of Levi 6 in the Interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16.” CBQ 65 (2003): 427.]
(*- the online version of this article has ‘Anti-Jewish”)
Well that does sound reassuring. Unfortunately when one reads the full article by Jeffrey Lamp that reassurance vanishes. (One soon learns to check E&B’s footnotes to see if they really do support what they are arguing!)
The individual exceptions, according to Lamp, are the logical ones listed in the 2:13-16 itself:
- the Jewish Christians in Judea that are being persecuted by their fellow Jews
- the Jewish prophets of old whom the Jews killed
- Jesus Christ himself, whom the Jews killed
But isn’t that how antisemitism has always worked? The only good Jew is one who forsakes his Jewishness and converts to Christianity? If those are the only exceptions then we have no grounds for ameliorating the antisemitic message of these verses.
Lamp compares the Thessalonian passage with a remarkably similar one in Testament of Levi 6. In the Testament, it is the Shechemites who (like the Jews)
- bear the mark of the covenant, circumcision;
- had a lengthy history of persecuting an individual (Dinah) in the family of Jacob and the whole house of Abraham;
- have their whole city punished for their crime(s)
Even though only one individual Shechemite had been responsible for the rape of Dinah, Levi considered it a just thing that the whole city be regarded as culpable and punished. Their ancestors had, after all, given Abraham a hard time, too.
The reckoning of culpability was made on the basis of corporate identification, irrespective of whether each individual Shechemite man, woman, or child had actually done anything themselves to deserve such recompense. (p.423)
If the conceptual parallels between the passages (Test Levi 6 and 1 Thess 2:13-16) hold . . . then it would seem that Paul considers “the Jews” corporately responsible for the catalogue of crimes (1 Thess 2:15-16a) and the habitual disposition that led to these crimes (v. 16b), and thus liable to the judgment for them (v. 16c). This manner of characterization reflects the covenantal and prophetic conventions of corporate identification found in the OT. (p.424)
Okayyy . . . well assigning corporate identity and responsibility to a whole race on account of the actions of some of that race sounds like a euphemism for plain old dirty racism to me. But because we find it throughout the Holy Book it cannot be called “racist stereotyping” but, rather, a “convention of corporate identification”. Sweet.
E&B have once again offered pabulum to their readers. They have suppressed the real facts in the article they cite in support of their assertion that the passage in question is not antisemitic. The fact is that there is no way to avoid the conclusion that this passage implies that the only good Jews are those who have converted to Christianity and who are accordingly hated by their fellow Jews.
But there are a few other very strong antisemitisms in these verses that E&B for some reason completely fail to mention, let alone dispute. Maybe they reasoned that sometimes the best rebuttal is to ignore an uncomfortable argument.
Will discuss these in a future post.
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