Saturday, February 27, 2010

the problem with teenagers?

I've always assumed that I hate the mall and other locations teeming with teens and post-teens who drink Mt. Dew and still live with their parents simply because I'm getting old and irritable. I have no desire to deny my age or my temperament. But according to the Damascus Document (an ancient Jewish text included among the Dead Sea Scrolls), perhaps my distaste for all things pubescent has spiritual roots as well. Cecilia Wassen discusses the Damascus Document's exclusion of youths, among other classes of the unclean, in her essay, "What Do Angels Have against the Blind and the Deaf? Rules of Exclusion in the Dead Sea Scrolls" (Common Judaism: Explorations in Second-Temple Judaism, edited by Wayne O. McCready and Adele Reinhartz [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008], 115–29). She says,
Unlike [the War Scroll], [the Damascus Document] does include youths in its list of excluded categories. This exclusion may reflect an underlying fear of demonic affiliation. A youth has not been formally initiated yet, according to the prescriptions in [the Damascus Document]. It is revealing that the angel Mastema (an alternative name for Belial or Satan) is said to turn from a person when he takes the oath at the entrance; as the ritual reads, "On the day when a man takes upon himself an oath to return to the Torah of Moses, the angel Mastema shall turn aside from him if he fulfills his words" (CD XVI 4–5). Menahem Kister explains that the entrance ritual in itself was seen as a ritual of exorcism. Hence, youths, as not full members, were viewed as potentially being under the influence, or possession, of evil powers until the moment of their entrance (CD XVI 4–5). (127)


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Matthew and the parting of the ways

Anders Runesson's essay, "From Where? To What? Common Judaism, Pharisees, and the Changing Socioreligious Location of the Matthean Community" (Common Judaism: Explorations in Second-Temple Judaism, edited by Wayne O. McCready and Adele Reinhartz [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008], 97–113), is as awkward as its title. I think I'm sympathetic to his overall thesis, but it isn't easy to tell.

But his final paragraph uses a familiar phrase in a peculiar way:
In conclusion, the Gospel of Matthew provides us with early evidence of an inner-Jewish parting of the ways, very different in character from the process that much later would lead to the establishment of "Christianity" as a religion independent of "Judaism." Indeed, the use of the Gospel of Matthew by non-Jewish Christ-believers as a resource in that later process of identity formation is a fascinating and hermeneutically complex problem that deserves further study. (113)

My question: How helpful is it to refer to "an inner-Jewish parting of the ways"? The point is clear enough: the Matthean community (if we can still speak of a "Matthean community") split from a[nother] Jewish group rather than from Judaism itself. But the metaphor parting of the ways has been used historically to refer to the differentiation and dis-identification of Jewish ways of being from their Christian counterparts, and vice versa. If Matthew presents evidence of and for continued Jewish identities for those who found their traditions in its telling of Jesus' story, shouldn't we jettison parting of the ways language tout court?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Albert Baumgarten and sources of the gospels

In Albert Baumgarten's essay, "Pharisaic Authority: Prophecy and Power (Antiquities 17.41–45)" (Common Judaism: Explorations in Second-Temple Judaism, edited by Wayne O. McCready and Adele Reinhartz [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008], 81–96). Baumgarten presents a compelling analysis well worth the time it takes to read it, but it also betrays an assumption that is both (i) common among historians of Second Temple Judaism and (ii) badly in need of correction.

Baumgarten gathers Jewish sources and what they might reveal about Pharisaic practice of and reputation for trading in religious matters (esp. knowing the future). I was particularly impressed to read his intention to move outward from Josephus "to other ancient Jewish sources, notably the New Testament and Qumran" (85; my emphasis), as part of his analysis. First, the identification of the texts of the New Testament as "Jewish sources" (rather than, perhaps, anti-Jewish sources), and second, the realization that their relation to Second Temple Judaism is analogous to the DSS represent appropriate adjustments in our approach to the New Testament at least and perhaps all of first-century CE Christian texts.

But then when Baumgarten turns to consider Matt 12.22–9 (the Beelzebul controversy) and Jesus' interaction with Pharisaic opponents, he aligns Matthew alongside other written texts (and nonextant texts at that!) rather than positioning the evangelist within the world of interaction among Second-Temple Jews. When Jesus asks the Pharisees, "by whom do your own people drive [the demons] out?" (Matt 12.27), Baugarten says, "This passage suggests that the author of the Gospel of Matthew had access to a source that attributed to the Pharisees the ability to exorcise demons" (91; my emphasis).

Why does this passage suggest anything about the sources to which Matthew had access?! Why are we so uncomfortable with the notion that the evangelists (and other tradents of the early Jesus tradition) were themselves experienced participants in the world they inhabited, including their experience reading, performing, enacting, recalling, celebrating, transmitting, and teaching from the stories from and about the sacred scriptures and Jesus of Nazareth?

Most importantly, even if Baumgarten's heavily text-conversant model of the ancient world were appropriate, nothing about Matthew's text would actually suggest a source attributing exorcistic prowess to the Pharisees. As Baumgarten notes (253, n. 49), the Lukan parallel to this pericope (Luke 11.14–22) handles the identity of Jesus' opponents differently but contains the same question, "by whom do your own people drive them out?" Again, on the presumption that we should analyze the evidence in terms of written sources and textual manipulation, the most we could say is that Matthew appears to have had access to a source that attributed exorcistic abilities to Jesus' opponents, and someone—whether Matthew himself, Matthew's source, or someone else we cannot know—thought it made sense to attribute these abilities to Pharisees.

Of course, I don't see any justification for the immediate appeal to sources and especially to the view that, even if written sources are found behind our texts, our texts generate meaning vis-à-vis their sources. I realize the question of how an author manipulates his or her sources sheds light on their own writings, but in the hand of redaction critics comparative analysis has tyrannized any attempt to understand the gospels as autonomous expressions of the Jesus tradition.

for sale, cheap

Okay, maybe not cheap, but definitely cheaper than I've seen elsewhere. T&T Clark just sent a flyer for my Structuring Early Christian Memory [list price: £70.00]. With the flyer you can get your very own copy for only . . . [wait for it] £45.50 (at the time of this writing converts £45.50 GBP into $70.30 USD). The book will ship from England, so you'll have to decide whether or not this price, along with the cost of shipping, makes this the most economical way to get your own copy of what some have called "the best book on the historical Jesus ever published by Rafael Rodríguez." If you're interested, let me know and I'll send you the flyer.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Polycarp's Letter To the Philippians, check.

I just finished reading Polycarp's letter To the Philippians. I'd be very interested in any comments you may have on this fascinating letter. For example, as far as I could detect, Philippians evinces very little awareness of Hebrew biblical texts and traditions, which is both similar to and, in important respects, different from the more-familiar letter from Paul to the Philippians. I'm not trying to be coy here; I don't see very much from the Hebrew Bible in Paul's letter, but I'm also convinced that the so-called Carmen Christi (2.6–11) is itself heavily indebted to Isaiah 45. But that's neither here nor there; unless I've missed something, Polycarp's letter clearly owes little, if anything, to the Jewish scriptures.

On the other hand, this fairly short text has a surprisingly dense number of allusions (and even quotations) from New Testament traditions. Polycarp cites synoptic Jesus tradition in Phil. 2.3, though the precise relation to Matthew 7 and 5 (as well as other texts) is somewhat complicated:
[B]ut instead remembering what the Lord said as he taught: "Do not judge, so that you may not be judged; forgive, and you will be forgiven; show mercy, so that you may be shown mercy; with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you;" and, "blessed are the poor and those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God." [see my comments in a previous post]

Polycarp also refers explicitly to Paul on a couple occasions (3.2; 9.1; 11.2–3) and echoes traditions found in 1 Peter in Phil. 10.2. Of course, Polycarp also refers to both the letters and the person of Ignatius. Finally, Polycarp also cites Ephesians in Phil. 12.1.

In other words, while Polycarp exhibits very little interest in Moses and the Torah or any of the prophetic or other writings, he does seem very interested in the traditions and/or texts that we now refer to as the New Testament. Polycarp does not yet provide evidence of an awareness of any "canon" of NT texts, but the conjunction of citations and allusions, along with the reference to Eph 4.26 at 12.1 and the reference to these as "scriptures" [sacris literis; scripturis], raises some very interesting questions.

[NB: In looking back over Michael Holmes's introductory comments to Philippians, I noticed that he appraises Polycarp's use of Hebrew biblical texts and traditions very differently than I have. Holmes says, "[Philippians] reveals, in addition to a direct and unpretentious style and a sensitive pastoral manner, a deep indebtedness to the scriptures (in the form of the Septuagint); specifically, he apparently draws upon Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Tobit" (2007: 272–3). Clearly I've missed something. I don't see how Polycarp has made use of any of these texts, but I would trust Holmes here rather than myself. (In addition, Holmes refers to W. R. Schoedel's study, Polycarp, Martyrdom of Polycarp, Fragments of Papias, vol. 5 of The Apostolic Fathers, ed. R. M. Grant [Camden, NJ: Nelson, 1967], 4–5.)]

Monday, February 22, 2010

more on Susan Haber on purity practices

In my previous post I took up Susan Haber's essay, "Common Judaism, Common Synagogue? Purity, Holiness, and Sacred Space at the Turn of the Common Era" in Common Judaism: Explorations in Second-Temple Judaism. My comments weren't particularly deep, but in the comments John Poirier has made a few very helpful comments, which I wanted to take up on the main page. Poirier wrote,
Yes, Haber's right, but she doesn't go far enough when she writes "Such holiness was associated not only with the temple but also with the biblical scrolls that were read on the Sabbath, and perhaps even the synagogue in which the Torah was read and studied." She left out other daily holy activities, like praying. (I haven't read her article. I'm just going by what you've quoted, Rafael.) The hemerobaptists had a problem with the Pharisees because they would say their morning blessings without first purifying themselves by immersion.

He then points out, in a later comment, that the Pharisees weren't advocating prayer without purification; the debate concerned precisely the means of purification (immersion vs. hand-washing).

Poirier's focus on prayer struck me as interesting, in part because I myself had never considered the purificatory requirements prior to prayer. Of course, it makes perfect sense to include prayer here; notice, at a very basic level, the way prayer and sacrifice (which happens in the Temple) are intimately linked in Isa 56.7 (cited by Jesus in the Temple incident) as well as in the phrase "hour of prayer" (see Acts 3.1). I think both of these uses of prayer (Heb. תפלה; tĕphillâ; Grk. προσευχή; proseuchē) equate this word with sacrifice, which should tell us something about an understanding of prayer in Second Temple Judaism.

If sacrifice in the Temple could be referred to as prayer, then it follows fairly naturally (though not automatically) that prayer in other venues (e.g., the synagogue) would require purificatory rites. So I was particularly interested to note that Haber does indeed move in the direction Poirier mentioned. In her discussion of Diaspora synagogues Haber suggests, "It is possible, however, that the water was used for ritual ablutions prior to prayer or the handling of the Torah" (71). Then, on the next page, she cites a passage from the Letter of Aristeas, which deserves mention here:
Following the custom of all the Jews, they washed their hands in the sea in the course of their prayers to God, and then proceeded to the reading and explication of each point. I asked this question: "What is their purpose in washing their hands while saying their prayers?" They explained that it is evidence that they have done no evil, for all activity takes place by means of the hands. (Aristeas 305–6)

Haber goes on to explain, "In this passage, hand washing is associated with both prayer and the handling of Scripture" (72). Given the frequent reference to synagogues as "[houses of] prayer" (προσευχή; proseuchē), and the evidence Haber evinces to suggest that "the synagogue building was regarded as sacred from an early period" (73), the link between purity, purity practices, and prayer seems especially secure.

One more question: Poirier, in his most recent comment, notes the Pauline exhortation to abstain from sex (only) for the sake of prayer (see 1 Cor 7.5). I'm not sure if I'd make anything of this particular gospel tradition, but in light of the connection between purity, space, and prayer, should we understand Jesus' instruction to pray in secret (see Matt 6.5–6) in terms of debates about purity? In other words, does the Matthean Jesus suggest prayer in the synagogue and on street corners, in the hands of "the hypocrites," suffers some sort of impurity?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Susan Haber on purity practices

I've assigned the edited volume, Common Judaism: Explorations in Second-Temple Judaism (Wayne O. McCready adn Adele Reinhartz, eds.; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008), for my graduate-level course, The World of the New Testament. I note the late Susan Haber's discussion of the widespread practice of purity rituals (whether immersion in the land of Israel, or sprinkling, splashing, and/or handwashing in the Diaspora) among Second Temple-era Jews in her essay, "Common Judaism, Common Synagogue? Purity, Holiness, and Sacred Space at the Turn of the Common Era" (63–77). She notes, "Jews everywhere performed these purificatory rites whether or not they approached the sacred precincts of the Jerusalem temple" (65). She then goes on to explain this practice in the following terms:
Two factors help to explain this widespread practice. First, Jews of the first century believed that the biblical laws, including the purity laws, were divine in origin and hence were a requirement. Their concern was not whether to keep the law but how to do so within their own social and cultural context. Second, according to the law, only those who were in a state of purity could have contact with the sacred. Such holiness was associated not only with the temple but also with the biblical scrolls that were read on the Sabbath, and perhaps even the synagogue in which the Torah was read and studied. Jews purified themselves so that they could draw near to that which was holy. (65)

returning to the Apostolic Fathers

Since I finished reading Ignatius' letters about six weeks ago or so I haven't continued reading through the Apostolic Fathers, mostly because I was fascinated by Ignatius and I didn't want to "move on" from him. But in those weeks my little green volume has beckoned me from my shelf, and so this morning I resumed my reading by beginning Polycarp's Letter to the Philippians. Michael Holmes presents a brief, helpful introductory discussion, but the text itself begins fairly straightforwardly. After a nearly Pauline salutation and introduction, Polycarp urges the Philippian Christians to "gird their loins" for loyal service to the Lord. What I find fascinating, however, is how Polycarp employs a piece of Jesus' teaching in service of his exhortation. Jesus' words about judgment and forgiveness, as well as his blessing on the poor and persecuted, did not originally bolster a call to service, at least not as they are preserved in the gospels. Nevertheless, notice how Polycarp's exhortation reapplies Jesus' teaching (and picks up an echo of Paul's teaching in Romans 12!):
Therefore prepare for action and serve God in fear and truth, . . . the one who raised him from the dead will raise us also, if we do his will and follow his commandments and love the things he loved, while avoiding every kind of unrighteousness, greed, love of money slander and false testimony, not repaying evil for evil or insult for insult or blow for blow or curse for curse, but instead remembering what the Lord said as he taught: "Do not judge, so that you may not be judged; forgive, and you will be forgiven; show mercy, so that you may be shown mercy; with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you;" and, "blessed are the poor and those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God." (Polycarp, Philippians 2.1, 2–3)

I also note that the exhortation to not judge (see Matt 7.1) is separated from the saying on measurement (see Matt 7.2) by Jesus' exhortation to exercise forgiveness (compare Matt 6.14–15; 18.35) and a parallel—but unattested—saying, "show mercy, so that may be shown mercy" [ἐλεᾶτε, ἵνα ἐλεηθῆτε]. I think this is very interesting. Does Polycarp have access to tradition that no longer exists? Or is he just vamping, producing variations on a theme here? Or is the saying at Matt 5.7—"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" [μακάριοι οἱ ἐλεήμονες, ὅτι αὐτοὶ ἐλεηθήσονται]—a factor here?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Adele Reinhartz on historical reconstruction

At the end of her essay, "We, You, They: Boundary Language in 4QMMT and the New Testament Epistles" (Text, Thought, and Practice in Qumran and Early Christianity [Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah 84; Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009], 89–105), Adele Reinhartz states clearly and concisely the perils that face any historian of antiquity who attempts to move from historical observation to historical hypothesizing. This shouldn't deter us from attempting both global (or synthetic) and local (or specific) theorizing, whether we're dealing with what became canonical biblical texts or with other texts from antiquity. But it should warn us to remember that what we think we know about the ancient world is like archipelagos amidst the vast ocean of missing and non-extant data we would like to know. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the mid-twentieth century makes very clear that when the ocean of our ignorance recedes just a little bit the entire topography of our knowledge of antiquity may find itself in need of remapping.
As always, it is helpful to keep in mind [Lawrence] Schiffman's comment that the historian of Judaism has evidence for what was only a small part of the canvas of Jewish history in late antiquity. While it is important to examine our extant sources for clues to the meaning and context of MMT, we cannot rule out the possibility that MMT may allude to individuals, groups and events that are not present in the corpus of literature that has survived to our own days. Thus moving from any set of observations to a historical hypothesis is fraught with danger. (Reinhartz 2009: 104)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Jesus and the Twelve

In my freshman-level Gospel Narratives course I have a lesson on "Jesus' Disciples" that tries to explore the significance and function of the Twelve within the context of Israelite tradition. I begin that lesson by rejecting the popular idea that interprets Jesus' choice of twelve disciples in terms of small group leadership theory and practice. I begin that lesson the with the following:
Like Jesus’ healings and exorcisms (see Lesson 9), Jesus’ calling and equipping of twelve disciples to participate in the gospel program is largely misunderstood. Contemporary preaching, heavily influenced by the last couple decades’ emphasis on leadership, portrays Jesus as a leader of a small group of men facing an impossible challenge: to change the world. As a brief experiment, I googled the words Jesus leadership disciples, which returned over 200,000 hits. The very first search result [!] returned an essay by Barry McWilliams, “Jesus’ Leadership Principles and Method of Training His Disciples.” McWilliams frames Jesus’ choice of twelve disciples in terms of small-group leadership. “Jesus could have made a play for the masses and sought to usher in the kingdom by popular acclaim.” But large numbers of followers, apparently, would not have served Jesus’ purposes. “The Lord knew that quality of discipleship and not quantity of disciples was more important” (my emphases). McWilliams emphasizes the point a little further on: “[Jesus] did not try to reach all the masses with the Gospel. Even if He had wanted to, the task would be too big. Rather He concentrated on a few selected ordinary men, who were ‘with Him’ and to whom he gave both verbal instruction and a constant example—preparing through their time with Him to do the same. A similar method of discipleship was practiced by the early churches in Acts.”

I don’t want to single McWilliams out as a “bad” Bible teacher. Quite the contrary. Precisely because of his (apparent) lack of formal biblical education McWilliams provides an excellent glimpse into how Jesus’ relationship with and purpose for the Twelve is understood in popular Christianity. I also don’t disagree with McWilliams’s larger point, that leaders are more effective when discipling a manageable number of close relationships rather than broadcasting themselves to massive crowds. Rather, I am concerned that views such as McWilliams’s miss what’s actually going on with Jesus’ selection of twelve disciples and the references to them as “the Twelve.” For this reason, I want in this lesson to put Jesus’ calling of his disciples, and his commissioning of them to continue his mission, back into historical and biblical perspective.

It's one thing to take aim at popular-level Christian thinking and aim at greater precision. But this morning, as I was preparing for my senior-level Gospel of Mark class, I was going over David Rhoads's book, Reading Mark, Engaging the Gospel (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), which my students have reviewed. In his fifth chapter, "Network for Mission: The Social System of the Jesus Movement in Mark," Rhoads analyzes Jesus' program and relation with his disciples and larger circle of followers in terms of sociological analyses of networks. I'm struck that there's an awful lot to disagree with if I read Rhoads in terms of Jesus' intentional decision to employ networking principles and practices (a reading Rhoads's writing readily encourages). But Rhoads's essay is more helpful if we read it as an analysis in terms of networking principles and practices without ascribing any these to Jesus' intentions (which, I think, is how Rhoads intends us to read his analysis).

Even so, I think there are some larger connections and similarities between McWilliams' popular analysis and Rhoads's technical one. Given my own affinity for sociological perspectives and the questions they open up for biblical scholarship, I'm especially concerned that such perspectives don't facilitate our reading the texts in contemporary rather than ancient contexts. Of course, all readings of the text are contemporary readings. But I can't help but think that there's a real difference between analyses that help us register and begin to account for the differences between our worlds and the worlds in which the NT texts were written, performed, and read, on the one hand, and those that help us smooth over those differences and appropriate the texts more easily, on the other. I suspect that "Network for Mission" may be more of the latter than the former.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Paul and the Temple

As I mentioned previously, I'm reviewing Ruth A. Clements and Daniel R. Schwartz's book, Text, Thought, and Practice in Qumran and Early Christianity. Eyal Regev's essay, "Temple and Righteousness in Qumran and Early Christianity: Tracing the Social Difference between the Two Movements" (63–87), is the first treatment I've come across that places Paul's appeal to Jerusalem's Temple in proper perspective (though, judging from his footnotes, I just haven't been looking in the right places). That is, Regev doesn't assume that finding "Christian" analogs to the Temple ipso facto degrades the Temple as the locus of God's presence on earth. Instead, Regev proposes a four-fold typology of references to the Temple that recognizes participation, analogy, criticism, and rejection; "Only the last-named category really justifies the commonly held view that the early Christians substituted new alternatives for the Temple" (66). When it comes to Paul, specifically, Regev writes:
It seems that Temple, sacrifice, and priest are characterized in these analogies in an extremely favorable light; it would be a disgrace to draw an analogy between the most sublime Christian beliefs and an irrelevant Jewish cultic practice. . . . I suggest that since Paul used the imagery of the Temple and sacrifices as a model for sacredness and closeness to God, he had some appreciation for the Jewish cult" (68, 69).

This, I think, is a much more helpful approach to Temple imagery in Paul than, for example, that taken by James Dunn (see my related criticism here).

Friday, February 05, 2010

the origin of commentary writing

I've begun reviewing 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). The first essay is Markus Bockmuehl's, "The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of Biblical Commentary" (3–29), a thus-far interesting examination of pesharim at Qumran and their relation to Greco-Roman commentary practices. In a footnote Bockmuehl drops a rather interesting suggestion, which I thought I'd throw up against the InterWeb and see if it stuck:
Prof. Horbury suggests to me that the learned nature of Alexandrian poetry may itself have encouraged a commentary tradition, and that recondite biblical texts that explicitly required interpretation (e.g., Zechariah, Daniel) would have fostered an analogous Jewish interest. (9, ftn 19)

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

bound in the first century CE

In my essay, "Reading and Hearing in Ancient Contexts" (JSNT 32/2 [2009]: 151–78), I criticize one NT scholar for portraying the author of Hebrews as a writer who exists outside the constraints of his time and culture and who labors to present his point in such a way that his audience—who are so constrained—can understand what he's trying to teach them.
Davis portrays the author of Hebrews as a cultural monstrosity who wishes to communicate complex (literate?) ideas but finds himself constrained by the inability of his audience to follow ‘analytic’, ‘objectively distanced’ or ‘abstract’ discourse. Davis’s author, among other things, seems to grasp the truth he conveys in ways unconstrained by cultural or historical forces, and the task before him as he writes is to express that truth in terms that are accessible within the cultural limitations affecting his hapless readers. Though Davis rightly insists that processes of composing as well as receiving written traditions are at least somewhat culturally specific, his analysis never acknowledges that both the author and auditors of Hebrews were constrained by similar such patterns of information perception, organization, and presentation. Some authors and some oral performers were undoubtedly more effective at navigating cultural scripts when presenting written or oral information than were others, but to varying degrees they all navigated those scripts as insiders, hardly aware, if at all, that they or their audiences were constrained by any supposed ‘oral mindset’. (153–4)

Davis, of course, is just one manifestation of a common problem among NT scholars rather than a particularly inept expression of NT scholarship. As another example, notice Robert Stein's description of Jesus. Whereas my criticism of Davis concerns his conception of "orality" (as opposed to "literate" patterns of information processing and presentation), here I question Stein's implicit conception of Jesus' relation to Judaism. In Mark 1.40–45 Jesus cleanses a leper and tells him to present himself to the priest and offer the sacrifices prescribed by Moses.
Within the present story this command provides the proof of the leper's healing, even as "serving" demonstrated the healing of Simon's mother-in-law in 1:31. In the original setting of the incident and in light of 2:15–17, 18–22, 23–28; 3:1–6; 7:1–23, Jesus appears to be less concerned with demonstrating that he keeps the law than in helping the healed leper reenter society. (Stein 2008: 107–8)

Notice that "demonstrating that [Jesus] keeps the law" is an issue in our own cultural context and not necessarily an issue in Jesus'. Rather, the problem in first-century Galilee concerned how one should keep Torah, not whether one should do so. All the passages Stein cites (Mark 2.15–3.6; 7.1–23) don't present Jesus as non-Torah observant; in these passages Jesus engages in debates about the proper observation of the Mosaic covenant rather than the value of observing Torah. Notice, however, that these ways of talking about the text (Davis's and Stein's) both assume that "the good guy" (whether the author of Hebrews or Jesus himself) is more like us (literate, or unburdened by petty legalism, respectively) but forced to deal with people who aren't like us (oral, or obsessed with the Law, respectively). If only Jesus and the NT authors had had the foresight to wait until the twenty-first century to do their thing, they wouldn't have had to deal with those sad, backward people who couldn't read or were scrupulous about the Law's commands. Pity.

[Clarification: I don't think Mark is trying say that Jesus was a Torah-observant Jew; neither do I think Mark is trying to avoid the implication that Jesus kept the Mosaic Law. Rather, the Torah was the most conspicuous feature of the cultural world Jesus inhabited, and the issues he engaged concerned how to live in light of Torah rather than whether or not to do so. Jesus never had to "demonstrat[e] that he keeps the law," and so Stein has missed the point of the text.]

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