Friday, June 18, 2010

an interesting dilemma

Philip Sellew's article, "Achilles or Christ? Porphyry and Didymus in Debate over Allegorical Interpretation" (HTR 82 [1989]: 79–100) provides an interesting discussion of Porphyry (the third-century CE neo-Platonist student of Plotinus, who wrote a number of important works, including Against the Christians) and his criticism of the application of allegorical interpretation to biblical texts. I found this comment particularly interesting:
It was clear to Porphyry from his extensive firsthand knowledge that there was much of value in the Jewish scriptures, especially in some of the prophetic writings, and that they in some sense proclaimed the One High God that he too reverenced. But Porphyry was also strongly repelled by much of the Bible, particularly by its anthropomorphic images of God, its frequent anti-universalistic or even ethnocentric tendencies, and by such occasional episodes as Lot impregnating his own daughters in Genesis 19. Porphyry could not understand why the Christians did not simply reject the Jewish writings as no longer being religiously appropriate. (Sellew, "Achilles or Christ," 92; my emphasis)

I am fascinated by this dilemma. Why didn't the Christians, especially in the third and fourth centuries CE, simply cut loose of the Hebrew Bible and its traditions and pursue a more thoroughgoing New Testament theology? Why were Marcion and his followers the only ones to reject the Old Testament tout court?

I'm not advocating this move for contemporary Christianity; indeed, I find it worrisome that so much of contemporary Christianity seems to be following Marcion's lead, at least practically if not in so many words. My question (in the previous paragraph) really is, Why? I know what the Christians said: that the Bible was God's inspired word, that Moses and the prophets proclaimed Christ beforehand, etc. And these answers are themselves rooted in the general treatment of the Hebrew Bible in NT texts. But given the polemical and rhetorical energy the Church and its writers expended in its first four centuries repudiating the Jews and their reading of those texts, why did the Christians view the Jews' Bible as God's witness to the gospel's advent? Though I'm no church historian, from my NT scholar's point-of-view this seems a question too rarely raised.


Anonymous said...

"But given the polemical and rhetorical energy the Church and its writers expended in its first four centuries repudiating the Jews and their reading of those texts, why did the Christians view the Jews' Bible as God's witness to the gospel's advent?"

Chrestianity (i.e. Marcionism, what was first but got mutilated by the proto-'orthodoxy' and became Christianity) did not build itself on the OT as on a positive foundation but as on a negative. Thus, Jesus was the better God who came and defeated Yahweh, purchased us from Yahweh by dying on the cross.

This left Chrestianity open to the rhetorical attack by Pagans that "your God is newer than all the Pagan gods and antiquity = truth, so your God is false."

The proto-'orthodoxy' who corrupted and bastardized Chrestianity into Christianity by changing the OT from negative to positive foundation, did so simply to escape the light persecution of being made fun of by Pagans for their religion not being ancient. The were sell-outs in other words.

To the original Chrestians the novelty, the newness, of Chrestianity is what made it great. To the sell-outs, it had to be faked into being more ancient than it was.

So the sell-outs changed Jesus Chrestos (Chrestos means Morally Excellent One, Good One) into Jesus Christos (Christos means Messiah) and they faked fulfillment of OT "prophecies" to make this change.

Anonymous said...

E.g. the invention of a non-existent prophecy in Mat 2:23 "he shall be called a Nazarene." Matthew making Hosea 11:1 into a prophecy of Jesus when it is actually a historical statement about the Exodus. Jer 31 about Rachel weeping being made about death of infants at his birth rather than Babylonian captivity as the OT context demands. Isaiah 7 which is about a child being born of a virgin as a sign of when two kings in Isaiah's day would be defeated by Assyria is made to be about Jesus even though in the next chapter Isaiah says God told him the prophecy was fulfilled by Mahershalalhashbaz. Micah 5 is about Zorobabel defending Palestine against Assyrian incursion not about Jesus being born in Bethlehem. Etc.

Anonymous said...

A return of Marcionism should not trouble you since the Hebrew Bible is a genocidal book, the Torah commanding more than 7 nations to be exterminated (many of them semitic tribes, thus the Torah is antisemitic). What should trouble you is continued acceptance of the OT which leads to hatemongering and warfare, and persecution of other religions or other Christian sects. Deuteronomy 13 commands that you kill your family members if they try to quit following the Torah. Is that the example we want Christians following? If you think so then you are a Calvinist devil worshiper and may God deal with you accordingly. There is nothing worse than Calvinists, not even Satanists are as bad. I mean Calvin made laws that you get your tongue perforated if you call him a hypocrite, or get thrown in jail if you disagree with his interpretation of Scripture. That's not too far off from what the OT teaches. The kings who are exhalted as great in the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles are the persecutors who destroyed the altars of other religions and killed their prophets. This is totally antithetical to the teachings of Jesus. A Jesus who accepts the OT is a Jesus who never existed, for he contradicted it how many times in the sermon on the mount? At least 5. And for this the 'orthodox' felt constrained to add in the lie "think not I have come to destroy the Torah..." But it is a lie, for if he didn't come to destroy the Torah then he didn't come at all.

Anonymous said...

Also there is the fact that the repudiation of Jewish interpretations of the Old Testament text was necessitated by the Catholic insistence on making the OT text a positive foundation for Christianity. Marcion agreed with the Jewish interpretations of the OT. The Jews said these prophecies aren't about Jesus and Marcion said DUH. Basically, in order to make the OT text the positive basis of Christianity you have to call the Jews morons. Marcion on the other hands, using the OT only as a negative basis of Chrestianity could allow that the Jews properly interpreted their text--yet reject it as being an immoral text from an immoral god.

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