Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Judaism and Christianity (Ign. Magn. 8–10)

Michael Holmes introduces chapters 8–10 of his English translation of Ignatius' letter To the Magnesians with the subheading, "Judaism and Christianity." Naturally, my ears pricked up (which was a particularly strange sensation since I read with my eyes; thankfully, my eyes did not "prick up").

The section begins, "Do not be deceived by strange doctrines or antiquated myths, since they are worthless" (Ign. Magn. 8.1).1 In the preceding context (Ign. Magn. 7) Ignatius exhibits an affinity for Johannine theology, claiming that "the Lord did nothing without the Father" [ὁ κύριος ἄνευ τοῦ πατρὸς οὐδὲν ἐποίησεν; ho kyrios aneu tou patros ouden epoiēsen (7.1)]. He also echoes the Pauline encomium to unity in Eph 4.1–6, through which Ignatius emphasizes the role of the bishop (the singular is important) and the presbyters (note the plural) in delimiting "right" [εὔλογον; eulogon] worship from "worthless" [ἀνωφελέσιν; anōphelesin] "doctrines and myths" (8.1). So far nothing suggests an anti-Judaic polemic.

The very next phrase, however, makes clear Ignatius' meaning. "For if we continue to live in accordance with Judaism, we admit that we have not received grace" [εἰ γὰρ μέχρι νῦν κατὰ Ἰουδαϊσμὸν ζῶμεν, ὁμολογοῦμεν χάριν μὴ εἰληφέναι; ei gar mechri nyn kata Ioudaïsmon zōmen, homologoumen charin mē eilēphenai (Ign. Magn. 8.1)]. The word "Judaism" [Ἰουδαϊσμός; Ioudaismos] is a rare word, with only seven occurrences in all the texts comprising our Septuagint and New Testament.

  • In 2 Macc 2.21, Judas Maccabaeus and his brothers are said to have fought bravely for "Judaism" [ὑπὲρ τοῦ Ἰουδαϊσμοῦ; hyper tou Ioudaïsmou].
  • Similarly, in 2 Macc 8.1, Judas and his companions secretly enter the villages and summon "their kinfolk and those who had persisted in Judaism" [τοὺς συγγενεῖς καὶ τοὺς μεμενηκότας ἐν τῷ Ἰουδαϊσμῷ; tous syngeneis kai tous memenēkotas en tō Ioudaïsmō]. An observation and a question: First, 2 Maccabees 7 is the famous account of the woman and her seven sons who were martyred for their religious practice (not their religious faith). Second, Is the participial phrase "those who had persisted in Judaism" intended to identify a second group, separate from Judas' kinfolk, or is this two ways of identifying the same group? I lean toward the latter, perhaps with the stipulation that the participial phrase further specifies which of his kinsfolk Judas and his companions called to arms.
  • In 2 Macc 14.38, a man named Razis, an elder of Jerusalem who had been given the epithet "father of the Jews" [πατὴρ τῶν Ἰουδαίων; patēr tōn Ioudaiōn (v 37)], is said to have been accused observing Judaism [= Jewish practices] and to have surrendered both his body and his soul for Judaism (the term Ioudaïsmos occurs twice in this verse).
  • In 4 Macc 4.26 Antiochus tries to force the Jews "to renounce Judaism" [ἐξόμνυσθαι τὸν Ἰουδαϊσμόν; exomnysthai ton Ioudaïsmon] by forcing them via torture to eat defiling foods. It's worth noting that 4.23 makes clear that the observance of the ancestral law, rather than any particular religious conviction (or "faith"), is especially in view.
  • So the two occurrences of Ioudaïsmos in Gal 1.13–14 present a particularly interesting problem. Paul refers in 1.13 to "my former life in Judaism" [τὴν ἐμὴν ἀναστροφήν ποτε ἐν τῷ Ἰουδαϊσμῷ; tēn emēn anastrophēn pote en tō Ioudaïsmō] and claims in 1.14 to have "advanced in Judaism" [προέκοπτον ἐν τῷ Ἰουδαϊσμῷ; proekopton en tō Ioudaïsmō] beyond his peers. On the face of things Paul could be referring to either his religious convictions or his religious practice when he refers to his Ioudaïsmos. But on closer inspection, a number of factors push us toward understanding "Judaism" in terms of behavior rather than religious belief. First, this referent characterizes the other five uses of Ioudaïsmos in the Maccabean literature cited above. Second, Paul himself makes clear that he is discussion his former pattern of behavior, both by his use of ἀναστροφή [anastrophē; "behavior, life, conduct"] and by immediately going on to discuss his persecution of "the church of God" (a behavior rather than a belief). As a result, in Gal 1.14 when Paul describes himself as "more zealous for his ancestral traditions" [περισσοτέρως ζηλωτὴς τῶν πατρικῶν παραδόσεων; perissoterōs zēlōtēs tōn patrikōn paradoseōn], he is most likely referring to his observance of Judaic customs rather than his acceptance of Judaic theology.

Granted, the distinction here can only ever be analytical (practice and belief are, after all, mutually informing). But the biblical (LXX and NT) evidence suggests that the term Ioudaïsmos refers to practice more directly than it does to belief. When an author rejects living "according to Judaism" [κατὰ Ἰουδαϊσμόν; kata Ioudaïsmon (Ign. Magn. 8.1)], the likelihood is that he has in mind Jewish practices rather than Jewish beliefs.2 This is an important distinction, I think, because a lot of the NT attests debate regarding how to behave like faithful Israel rather than how to believe like faithful Israel. Even Ignatius, whose indebtedness to Hebrew biblical traditions is remarkably slight (as I've noted on three different occasions), goes on to appropriate Israel's prophetic tradition for "Christ Jesus" (Ign. Magn. 8.2).

In 9.1, then, Ignatius refers to those who lived [ἀναστραφέντες; anastraphentes (the same root that Paul used in Gal 1.13)] by the old practices and who "no longer [keep] the sabbath but [live] in accordance with the Lord's day." Here we seem to have a clear recognition that Jesus' first followers were Jewish, a fact that makes all the more significant their quitting the Sabbath and observing the first day of the week (the day of the resurrection). Implicit in all of this is a not-too-subtle critique of other Jews who, down to Ignatius' own day, continue to observe the Sabbath but not the Lord's day. Magnesians 10.1 refers explicitly to "the way we act" [καθὰ πράσσομεν; katha prassomen], and 10.3 goes on to declare it "utterly absurd to profess Jesus Christ and to practice Judaism" [ἄτοπόν ἐστιν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν λαλεῖν καὶ ἰουδαΐζειν; atopon estin Iēsoun Christon lalein kai ioudaïzein]. Holmes's translation of ioudaïzein as "to practice Judaism" rightly highlights the behavioral aspects of this verb; the issue is precisely one of behavior (which day of the week to observe, what foods to eat, etc.). Even the remainder of 10.3, which highlights "belief" [πιστεύω; pisteuō ("I believe")], maintains this emphasis (i.e., note that "belief" is something that "every tongue" does).

These three chapters—Ign. Magn. 8–10—provide some very interesting material to think about for any discussion of Judaism, Christianity, and the interaction/distinction between the two in the first centuries CE. I seriously doubt I've scratched the surface with these thoughts, but this passage, I think, is one to which I'll find myself returning in future writings.

1 Translations of Ignatius in this post, unless otherwise stated, come from Holmes 2007: 207, 209. All Greek texts come from Holmes 2007: 206, 208. Translations of Septuagintal texts are my own; the Greek LXX text is that of Rahlfs, accessed via BibleWorks 8.

2 Holmes lists two textual variants here. The reading found in the main text, "according to Judaism" [κατὰ Ἰουδαϊσμόν], is found in the Latin translation of the middle recension of Ignatius' letters. Codex Mediceo-Laurentianus (the only surviving Greek ms of the middle recension) reads "according to the law of Judaism" [κατὰ νόμον Ἰουδαϊσμόν (?; I would have expected the genitive here)]. The Greek mss of the long recension (and the Armenian version [middle recension]?) read "according to the Judaic law" [κατὰ νόμον Ἰουδαϊκόν]. These variants do not impact my argument, except insofar as the term Ioudaïsmos disappears in the third reading.

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