2010-01-10

Eddy & Boyd: in denial over Bible’s antisemitism?

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by Neil Godfrey

The Amplified Bible  version of 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16:

Who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and harassed and drove us out, and continue to make themselves hateful and offensive to God and to show themselves foes of all men,

Forbidding and hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles (the nations) that they may be saved. So as always they fill up [to the brim the measure of] their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last [completely and forever]!

Eddy and Boyd have surprisingly little to say about the often remarked antisemitic tone of this passage:

Likewise, the charge that the perspective of this passage is too “anti-Semitic” to have come from Paul is less than effective. Recently, 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”)

That is the total sum of their rebuttal of this point. (This was discussed in the previous post, (4)).

I am curious as to why they bracketed the word anti-Semitic with inverted commas. Do E&B think that the passage is not really antisemitic, or that the accusation is not a serious one? Do they simply profess not to see what others “often remark” upon?

In following up the discussion of this charge through the various articles they footnote, it seems that only one other author, (Simpson), demonstrates a similar hesitation to acknowledge a common observation:

Gentile authors of the Hellenistic-Roman world repeatedly spoke of the Jews as a people which . . . were standoffish and hostile toward other people. Because these statements have been identified with “Gentile anti-Semitism,” their appearance in 1 Thess 2:15 has been regarded as evidence against Pauline authorship of that verse. . . .

The writer of 1 Thess 2:15, for his part, uses ancient Gentile generalizations about Jews because of their suitability to the occasion, because, that is, they . . . link up with the continual sinfulness of “the Jews” . . . . (J. W. Simpson, “The Problems Posed by 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 and a Solution.” Horizons in Biblical Theology 12 (1990) pp. 56-57)

Strange how some modern authors cannot bring themselves to call a spade a spade when it comes to the Bible. Given the history of Christian antisemitism it is surely inexcusable for any public intellectual to hold their fire when addressing verses that have historically fanned that evil.

Since E&B have nothing more to say about the antisemitism of these verses, I thought it worthwhile to fill the gap. It is, after all, a most significant point in the argument over whether these verses were written by Paul or inserted by a later forger — as Simpson, quoted above, acknowledges.

Jeffrey Lamp writes of this passage (though E&B do not mention this):

What puzzles interpreters is the transparently harsh tone. Hagner argues that the language of indictment is both polemical and highly emotional . . . (J. S. Lamp. “Is Paul Anti-Jewish?” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 65 (2003): 411)

Jeffrey Lamp also cites F. F. Bruce’s description of these words as

an “indiscriminate anti-Jewish polemic” that is “incongruous on the lips of Paul.” (Lamp, 408)

On the Jews being contrary/hostile to all mankind

Birger A. Pearson writes

The phrase και πασιν ανθρωποις εναντιον  [and are hostile against/contrary to all mankind] picks up a theme from Greco-Roman anti-Semitism, as was noticed already by Baur. It is somewhat surprising to find the characteristic Gentile charge of “misanthropy” against the Jews reflected in Pauline correspondence, though it is widespread in the Greco-Roman world of the period. (“1 Thessalonians 2:13-16: A Deutero-Pauline Interpolation” Harvard Theological Review (1971): Vol.64 No. 1 p. 83)

Pearson’s footnotes direct readers to “Dibelius’ commentary for discussion and for a list of texts from Greek and Latin authors illustrating pagan anti-Judaism . . .” and other French and German studies.

Simpson attempts to qualify the racism of these gentile descriptors of Jews:

These standardized statements about the Jews did reflect some truth about Jewish efforts to maintain the distinctiveness of Jewish life and religion. They are found earliest in writers whose objective was to satisfy curiosity (e.g. Hecataeus and Pliny). An Egyptian anti-Jewish tradition developed, but apparently did not reach beyond priestly circles before the Alexandrian crisis of the thirties and forties of the first century CE. The standardized statements did come to be used by anti-Jewish writers (e.g. Cicero, Tacitus, and Juvenal), but recent assessments have shown that these writers were not typical, as has been thought. (p.57)

Simpson refers for support to studies by Gager and Stern in the 1970’s. I don’t know the basis of those assessments or the state of scholarship since then. But regardless of the extent of their “typicality”, the same charge as we expect from a Cicero, a Tacitus or a Juvenal is found here in 1 Thess 2:15. Philostratus, when he wrote the Life of Apollonius (of Tyana), put an antisemitic diatribe into the speech of a certain Euphrates:

For the Jews have long been in revolt not only against the Romans, but against humanity; and a race that has made its own a life apart and irreconcilable, that cannot share with the rest of mankind in the pleasures of the table nor join in their libations or prayers or sacrifices, are separated from ourselves . . . . (Philostratus, 5.33)

As Pearson goes on to remark, Paul expresses some pride in his status and identity as a Jew in such passages as:

I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. (Galatians 1:14)

circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. (Philippians 3:5-6)

We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ (Galatians 2:15)

I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. (Romans 11:1)

It does not sound likely that the one who wrote the latter passages also wrote of Jews in stereotypical fashion as being hostile to the human race.

The Jews continue to suffer ongoing punishment for their sinful nature

When it comes to the charge that 1 Thess 2:15-16 proclaims that God is pouring out his wrath on the Jews for their sins, particularly for their killing Christ, Simpson is more willing to face up to the facts of the evidence. This section in 1 Thessalonians cannot be reconciled with Paul’s thought in Romans.

It is accurate, therefore, to speak of God’s wrath being on “the Jews” as a part of the course of Romans 9-11. But Romans 9-11 does not end with “wrath”: there is its greatest difference from 1 Thess 2:15f. (p. 59)

E&B’s dismissal of the anti-Semitism of the passage

Eddy and Boyd do not discuss the antisemitism of these Bible verses in any depth at all. They do not raise the antisemitic points addressed in the sources they quote in other contexts. Some of these overlap with other points raised in my earlier posts in this series, and with the one I raise in the next post.

This post was simply to highlight that the antisemitic tone of this passage is something “often remarked” upon in the literature, but that Eddy and Boyd for some reason have opted essentially to bypass this observation.

This is curious for two reasons. Antisemitism stands opposed to the sentiments expressed in other Pauline writings, and the charge E&B are attempting to refute is that this Thessalonians passage was not written by Paul. One would expect public intellectuals to responsibly denounce an interpretation of a passage that has been used for evil (as Simpson does), or to condemn the passage itself and not leave room for any of their readers to continue to use it for ill (Pearson).

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Neil Godfrey

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