Thursday, March 18, 2010

placing NT texts

I'm coming to the end of Ruth A. Clement and Daniel R. Schwartz's edited volume, Text, Thought, and Practice in Qumran and Early Christianity (Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah 84; Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009). Last night I finished Serge Ruzer's essay, "Exegetical Patterns Common to the Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament, and Their Implications" (231–51), which aims at the common exegetical assumptions underlying the diverse halakhic rulings on divorce in the Damascus Document and the New Testament. (Perhaps I should mention here that my review of Ruzer's Mapping the New Testament: Early Christian Writings as a Witness for Jewish Biblical Exegesis [Jewish and Christian Perspectives Series 13; Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2007] appeared in the Stone-Campbell Journal 12/1 [2009]: 141–2.) I find Ruzer's reading of ancient texts—especially NT texts—unconvincing and even problematic. Even so, his theoretical approach strikes me as dead-on; more people, I think, should think of the NT texts the way Ruzer does. Here's an extended quote from the conclusion to Ruzer's essay:
It is clear that if the Qumran community and the nascent Jesus movement are perceived as merely two among a number of Second Temple Jewish groups, a comparative study of the respective corpora—if not necessarily pointing to a direct development of New Testament traditions from earlier Qumran ones—may contribute to a better understanding of the Jewish setting of the former. Our discussion of exegetical parallels corroborates this basic position. I suggested a complementing direction, which can also be fruitful: we should more intensively introduce evidence from the New Testament into the discussion of texts from Qumran. Thus in this case, investigation of Paul's epistles has turned out to be useful for elucidating the meaning of the Damascus Document's marital halakhah, while the combined evidence of the epistles and the Gospels may be helpful in clarifying the nature of CD's eschatological stance and/or identity of the opponents against whom the CD exegesis polemicizes. (250)

In other words, we should not simply adduce Jewish data into our efforts to contextualize and understand NT passages and texts, but we should also adduce NT data to contextualize and understand Second Temple Jewish phenomena. A one-way movement pays lip service to the "Jewishness" of the New Testament; the two-way movement Ruzer pursues rightly takes the NT's participation in Hellenistic Palestinian and Diaspora Jewish social, cultural, and political processes seriously. In this regard, it may also be appropriate to reproduce Menahem Kister's concluding remarks to his own essay in the same volume:
Usually, and for good reasons, we seek to understand the Jewish background of the New Testament. It is not rare, however, that a passage in the Gospels supplies us with valuable evidence for the Jewish background of the Jewish texts that have come down to us. ("Divorce, Reproof, and Other Sayings in the Synoptic Gospels: Jesus Traditions in the Context of 'Qumranic' and Other Texts," 229)

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