Monday, May 07, 2012

Dunn inconsistent?

I'm sorry for the long silence. And I'm afraid it's likely to continue. But I just want to bring two quotes from a single article together and ask out loud (even if just to myself) whether these are consistent. First, some background.

I'm finishing up my comments on Paul's letter to the Romans, and I'm reading through some random articles on the famous passage, Rom. 13.1–7. I find myself persuaded by Stowers, Das, and Co. that Paul writes Romans with an audience of gentile believers in mind, whether or not he also knew that there were Jewish believers in Rome. This is an important point: No amount of evidence for the presence of Jewish Christians in Rome early in Nero's reign (56–58 CE) changes the fact that, wherever Paul explicitly identifies his audience in the text itself (his "encoded audience"), he identifies them as gentiles (e.g., 1.5–7, 14; 11.13; 15.15–16, 18). Though Paul has quite a bit to say about Jews and/or Jewish believers (see esp. chapters 9–11, 16), nothing in Romans strikes me as Paul speaking to them. This is a minority position among Romans scholarship, as far as I can tell, but it clarifies a number of problems that have historically attended the interpretation of this long and complicated letter. (For the proof that supports this assertion, you'll need to contact a certain publisher in Grand Rapids, Mich., beg them to accept and publish my book, and then buy the book and read it.)

Now onto the quotes. I'm briefly reading James D. G. Dunn's article, "Romans 13.1–7: A Charter for Political Quietism?" (Ex Auditu 2 [1986]: 55–68), which he published two years before his important two-volume Romans commentary in the Word Biblical Commentary series. In this article, Dunn makes the following two claims (I've quoted Dunn at length to provide a sense of context; I'll put the relevant phrases in bold typeface):
We might simply add the evidence of Paul's letter to Rome itself. For though it is clearly writen with Gentiles particularly in view (1.6,13-15; 11.13,17-21), it also presupposes a thorough knowledge of the ÖT and a considerable concern with Jewish self-identity. This could conceivably be a matter of Paul's self-indulgence, writing to satisfy his own concerns, regardless of whether his readership was able to make much sense of what he said. But this is very unlikely: the situation of the Roman Christians alreadly outlined above would almost certainly mean that questions of Jewish self-identity were questions for many Jewish Christians in Rome as well as for Paul; and the preservation of the letter by Roman Christianity implies that it was valued for its relevance in Rome. It should also be noted that knowledge of the OT within the ancient world was confined almost wholly to Jewish and Jewish-derived communities: the LXX is not known in Greco-Roman literary circles. Consequently to be able to assume such a knowledge of the scriptures as Paul does in Romans he would have to assume that his readership by and large had enjoyed a substantial link with the synagogues in Rome. (pp. 57–58)

Then, in almost the same context, Dunn writes:
At the same time there is clear evidence that the Jewish community in Rome was quite influential. For example, a population of 40,000 to 50,000 made them a substantial minority ethnic group within Rome itself, and because of Jewish support for Julius Ceasar Jews were given special privileges denied to other religious groups 'to assemble and feast in accordance with the native customs and ordinances' (Josephus, Ant 14.214–6). Cicero in his speech on behalf of Flaccus says he will speak softly since the attendant crowd were liable to favour the Jews (Flacc 28.66–67). Horace speaks of the success of Jewish proselytization—'we, like the Jews, will compel you to make one of our throng' (Serm 1.4.142–3). Judaism evidently proved attractive to not a few, including ladies of nobility like Fulvia and Poppaea, the wife of Nero (Josephus, Ant 18.82; 20.195). And early in the second century Juvenal complains about the way Judaism spread its influence by gradually winning over whole families—pork abstaining and sabbath-observing fathers who were surpassed by their sons going on to embrace circumcision and the whole Jewish law (Sat 14.96–106). No doubt it was precisely this attractiveness to some which made the Jews all the more hated and feared by others. (pp. 58–59)

My question: Is it legitimate for Dunn to imply that Romans must address an audience that includes Jewish members ("a substantial link with the synagogues") because the Septuagint (a Greek version of the Old Testament, abbreviated "LXX") was a back-water text, known only within Jewish circles, and then on the very next page to assert Judaism's attraction to gentiles? Granted that "Greco-Roman literary circles" weren't impressed with the LXX, if Roman Jews had made substantial inroads into various gentile communities and attracted a large (even alarming) number of proselytes, wouldn't the Hebrew biblical corpus find a sympathetic audience among precisely these gentiles? And if believers in Rome, for whatever reason, where no longer associated with/welcomed in the synagogues, doesn't Judaism's/the LXX's reception among gentiles in Rome leave open the possibility that Paul writes to precisely those to whom he claims to write (i.e., gentile believers in Rome)?

On closer inspection, I notice that Dunn mentions "Jewish and Jewish-derived communities" (my emphasis). But what, I would ask, is a "Jewish-derived community" if not a gentile community for whom the Hebrew Bible, probably in Greek (i.e., the LXX) had taken on authoritative (inspired?) status? I cannot see that Dunn's treatment of this particular issue is helpful.

Any thoughts?


John C. Poirier said...


I don't think Dunn is being inconsistent here -- the existence of God-fearers does not really imply (at least to me) that the LXX made inroads among Gentiles. It may be that the God-fearers' reverence for, and knowledge of, the LXX came sometime *later* than their attraction to Jewish rituals and way of life.

But I don't think that that implies that Paul is addressing Jews. I've always found it strange that scholars should think that, if Paul quotes a lot of the OT in a letter, then that implies that the audience knows the OT. Why think that? (If I attend a paper in which a scholar quotes a lot of Heidegger, that doesn't imply that the audience knows Heidegger.) It may well be that the audience of Romans knows that the LXX is authoritative in some sense, but yet doesn't really know the text of the LXX. In fact, Paul could be using that to his advantage.

Jon Weatherly said...

I think Dunn gets a lot of mileage out of "derived," and it's not entirely inappropriate to do so. The larger point assumed is that no one in the Graeco-Roman world read the LXX who wasn't interested in Judaism, which I think is entirely fair.

John, regarding your Heidegger illustration, I think it actually makes the point. As an audience member, I may not know Heidegger (probably no one really does, but that's another matter), but if the presenter quotes him, the presenter either assumes that the audience knows Heidegger or will respect him as a respected authority in the social setting (if you were better educated, you'd revere Heidegger as do your superiors).

In rare cases, a speaker/writer will quote something from someone who's obscure for the audience, simply because the quotation expresses something aptly. That's different from quoting something because the source is deemed authoritative.

John C. Poirier said...


I agree with your point about texts being authoritative (and all that). But would you agree that Paul quoted the LXX because it was authoritative, and *not* because his readers would have recognized the texts he used? (It's hard to imagine how Gentiles could have gained much knowledge of the OT without immersing themselves in a Jewish context.) The reason the average believer today knows the OT is that he/she owns a copy.

Rafael said...

John: I like your point re: Heidegger very much (since it makes my point). Paul's citation of the Hebrew Bible in Romans suggests his own appeal to its authority as well as his expectation that his audience, no matter how familiar they are with Moses and the Prophets, will attribute authoritative status to those texts. Jon: Isn't this what you were saying?

And I agree, Jon, that Dunn gets a lot of (I would say "too much") mileage out of "derived." But I think this makes my point. I don't think that the LXX "made inroads" among gentiles prior to their interest in things Jewish. But once gentiles exhibited interest in Jewish customs, worship (i.e., God-fearers in the synagogue), philosophy, etc.), I imagine their introduction to Moses, the Prophets, and perhaps also the Writings would have been quick and extended. This is a far cry from the LXX being known in Greco-Roman literary circles, but isn't this, at least in part, evidence that some gentiles—perhaps quite a few, if Tacitus' complaints about Judaism's reception in Rome is near the mark—esteemed and were familliar with the LXX? Does it matter that this estimation and familiarity "came sometime *later* than their attraction to Jewish rituals and way of life"?

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it also depend on the way that the LXX was used? It's one thing if the LXX is just being quoted as an authoritative text; it's quite another if the argument depends on a more sophisticated reading of the LXX and nuances of theological interpretation that emerge out of those readings. This is especially the case when the authors use something like metalepsis, which would depends on knowing more about the broader context in which the quoted passages or allusions are found. What is your sense of the level of familiarity with the LXX required for following nuances in the argument of Romans?

Loveday Alexander makes a similar case for Luke-Acts saying that Luke's sophisticated knowledge of Jewish theological interpretation would mean that if he was a Gentile, he would have had to be raised in the synagogue community--a "cradle Jew."

mike whitney said...

Glad to see some people who are evaluating Romans in light of its intended audience.

Dunn seems to exclude from consideration the period of time when gentile believers would have participated within the synagogue. This may have been roughly 10 years (i.e. from 40 to 49 ) where a portion of Paul's gentile audience would have been able to learn scriptures from the Jews. We see in Rom 14, if Das' proposal is correct on this chapter, that many of the gentiles had learned and adhered to the Jewish culture (which may also be the backdrop for Juvenal's dismay).
However, it would seem that the Dunn has escaped contradiction here, on some level of thought, since the second quote from Dunn says only that there was interest or attraction. He didn't present the explicit idea that there was interest or familiarity with the LXX, only with Judaism and its culture.

But Dunn omits what is obvious namely, as you noted, that the gentile believers would have had interest in the scriptures. The content of Romans suggests that the audience knew the essential bible accounts, to at least what we would learn over several years in Sunday school. Yet the quotes of scripture in Romans only needed to be understood based on the quoted content alone (in relation to the position within the Romans text). It seems that the idea that the LXX is used 'authoratatively' is incorrect. As a consequence of this idea that the scripture is being used authoritatively we may misinterpret the mindset of the audience.

I too am trying to figure out an avenue to explain Romans in light of the realization that the audience was solely gentile. I have old information at and would like to hear from people who have begun looking at the text anew.

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