Thursday, November 20, 2014

E.P. Sanders on Learning Hebrew as a Living Language

Excerpts on learning languages (mostly Hebrew) from E.P. Sanders's intellectual autobiography:
"I learned many things from going to church, but not that reading the Bible required Hebrew and Greek, nor that understanding it required German and French" (13).

"I studied German in Göttingen from June until October 1962 and then went to Oxford to see what David Daube could arrange. This resulted in my working on rabbinic Hebrew for two terms. Dissatisfied with my progress, I decided to study modern Hebrew to learn how to read unvocalized texts, and went to Jerusalem. There Yigael Yadin twisted the arm of Mordechai Kamrat, who accepted me as a private pupil, and I began to acquire a serious amount of Hebrew" (14).

"In the fall of 1968, my beloved friend and teacher, Mordechai Kamrat, took me in as a student again. Kamrat was one of the two most remarkable people I have ever known....Kamrat knew all languages.... [Footnote: As far as I discovered, he knew Latin and Greek, as well as all of the Slavic, Germanic, Romance, and Semitic languages that are spoken today.] And he could teach anyone anything. Like many Israelis, he was chronically short of money. I paid him a weekly sum that seemed reasonable at the time; it was about the same as I later paid for my daughter's piano lessons. Dr. Kamrat had started studying the Talmud at the age of four in Poland. Befriended by a Catholic priest, he was given access to a library and began to acquire languages other than Yiddish, Aramaic, Hebrew, Polish, and Russian, and knowledge other than Talmudic. He ended up with a Ph.D. from the University of Krakow in pedagogical psychology, went to British-controlled Palestine (the only one in his family to escape the HOlocaust), and figured out how to teach Hebrew to immigrants from anywhere. He taught me modern Hebrew and rabbinics in the same way: inductively, with drill." (18)

Source: Sanders, E. P. “Comparing Judaism and Christianity: An Academic Autobiography.” Pages 11–41 in Redefining First-Century Jewish and Christian Identities: Essays in Honor of Ed Parish Sanders. Edited by Fabian E. Udoh, Susannah Heschel, Mark A. Chancey, and Gregory Tatum. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Erwin Goodenough as a Precursor to "Common Judaism"

In the previous post I suggested that it was apparently Jacob Neusner not E.P. Sanders who first coined the term "common Judaism." Here I consider the influence of Erwin Goodenough on both Sanders and Neusner.

In the final volume of his massive Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period, Goodenough referred to a "common Jewish denominator" and "minimal Judaism":
"In discussing the Judaism of hellenistic Jews, therefore, we must assume that if they remained Jews they were loyal to some common Jewish denominator....
"This I may call minimal Judaism, if in that term I paraphrase my 'common denominator.' Jews are still Jews, as they have always been, insofar as they give their best to their fellow Jews, not as one would simply be loyal to one's relatives, but with the sense that the Jewish group is different from all other groups, and that its identity must at any cost be kept alive. For the Jewish People had their importance as bearers of the Covenant with Yahweh, as revealed in the Torah. The mass of Jews find the metaphysical and theistic confirmation of their group explicit in the ritual of synagogue and home, and in the Bible."
- Erwin R. Goodenough, “Chapter One: Literary Sources for Hellenistic Judaism” in Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period Volume Twelve: Summary and Conclusions (Bollingen Series; New York: Pantheon Books, 1965), 12.7-8
Sanders later wondered if this passage had sub-consciously influenced his references to "common Jewish piety", a "common Jewish theme" (239, 293), and "common to Judaism" in Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Fortress, 1977), 239, 293, 422:
"In rereading Erwin Goodenough's Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman the spring of 2004, I discovered that he had written that Jews were loyal to 'some common Jewish denominator'....These pages, which I had read in 1964 or 1965, contained no pencil marks indicating that I had regarded the terms or the proposal as important. I nevertheless wonder whether they lodged in my subconscious mind, to surface ten years later. I wish that I had rememebered these pages, since I would have been delighted to have Goodenough's support on both Philo and Judaism in general." - E.P. Sanders, “Common Judaism Explored” in Common Judaism: Explorations in Second-Temple Judaism (Wayne O. McCready and Adele Reinhartz, eds.; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008), 228 n. 8. 
For his part, Neusner edited a volume of essays in Goodenough's memory and much later abbreviated Goodenough's massive project into a single volume. The preface to volume 12 in Goodenough's Jewish Symbols also contains this note: "A new obligations has arisen for the critical aid that a recent acquaintance, a brilliant young scholar, has given during the last two years, Jacob Neusner."

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Origins of "Common Judaism"

About 10 years ago, I tried to track down the origins of "Common Judaism," the expression that E.P. Sanders popularized in Judaism: Practice & Belief. Now, thanks to Google Books search, I believe I have found the answer.

When he first introduced the term, Sanders did not treat it as a new expression or even as a label:
Within Palestine, ‘normal’ or ‘common’ Judaism was what the priests and the people agreed on. . . . ‘Normal’ Judaism was, to a limited degree, also ‘normative’: it established a standard by which loyalty to Israel and to the God of Israel was measured. . . . Thus whatever we find to have been ‘normal’ was based on internal assent and was ‘normative’ only to the degree that it was backed up by common opinion – which has a good deal of coercive power, but which allows individuals who strongly dissent to break away.” - E.P. Sanders, Judaism: Practice and Belief: 63 BCE - 66 CE (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1992), 47
As he acknowledges on the following page, Sanders's definition of common Judaism is indebted to Morton Smith's earlier description of "normative Judaism": 
“Down to the fall of the Temple, the normative Judaism of Palestine is that compromise of which the three principal elements are the Pentateuch, the Temple and the ‘amme ha’arez, the ordinary Jews who were not members of any sect.” - Morton Smith, “Dead Sea sect in relation to ancient Judaism,” New Testament Studies 7 (1961): 356.
In that article, Smith refers to an earlier essay that he published in 1956, in which he states:
"If there was any such thing, then, as an 'orthodox Judaism,' it must have been that which is now almost unknown to us, the religion of the average 'people of the land.'" - Morton Smith, “Palestinian Judaism in the First Century” in Israel: Its Role in Civilization (Moshe Davis, ed.; New York: Israel Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary, 1956), 81.

Evidently the question about the core of "normative Judaism" was a live one, because William Farmer, in a book also published in 1956, says something along similar lines, but without the same emphasis on the common people:
“If there were such a thing as ‘normative Judaism’ in the first century A.D., we would have to define it in terms of this national resistance movement, which as we have seen placed so very great importance upon the Land, the Law, and the Temple. Certainly the popular theology of Jesus’ day had its roots in this nationalistic theology which reached back through the Maccabean period into the pre-exilic history of Israel” - W. R. Farmer, Maccabees, Zealots, and Josephus: An Inquiry into Jewish Nationalism in the Greco-Roman Period (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1956), 190. 

In his 2008 retrospective essay on "common Judaism," Sanders returns to Morton Smith's combination of "the Pentateuch, the Temple, and the ‘amme ha’arez":
"These words seemed totally convincing to me, for the good and simple reason that they corresponded to the evidence. And so I did what I could to reconstruct the Judaism of the common people, paying some attention, of course, to the famous parties but trying to focus on the Petnateuch, the temple, and the ordinary people. I could not use the words 'orthodox' or 'normative,' since both imply control, and I thought that there was relatively little control over what ordinary people did and thought (apart from their activities in the temple). The only term I could think of for Smith's Judaism was 'common Judaism.'" - E.P. Sanders, “Common Judaism Explored” in Common Judaism: Explorations in Second-Temple Judaism (Wayne O. McCready and Adele Reinhartz, eds.; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008), 17.
Sanders was not the first to coin the term, however. If Google serves me right, the first occurrence of the term in an equivalent sense is by the early Jacob Neusner in 1974:
"Before the destruction, there was a common 'Judaism' in the Land of Israel, and it was by no means identical to what we now understand as rabbinic Judaism. The common religion of the country consisted of three main elements, first, the Hebrew Scriptures, second, the Temple, and third, the common and accepted practices of the ordinary folk--their calendar, their mode of living, their everyday practices and rites, based on these first two." - Jacob Neusner, "Introduction" in Understanding Rabbinic Judaism, from Talmudic to Modern Times (Jacob Neusner, ed.; KTAV, 1974), 12.
(The statement reappears in essentially the same form in another 1978 essay by Neusner; by 1984 the later Neusner had apparently rejected the idea. The idea of a "common Judaism" is mentioned by Neusner only to be dismissed in 1986.)

Two Observations:
  1. Neusner's formulation of "common Judaism" is clearly a close paraphrase of Morton Smith's 1961 statement about "normative Judaism," but with no acknowledgement anywhere of Smith as the source. (Smith was Neusner's teacher--if I am not mistaken, his Doktorvater.)
  2. Since Sanders wrote Judaism: Practice and Belief and introduced the concept of "common Judaism" in part to respond to the later Neusner's insistance that we should speak of "Judaisms" in the plural rather than "Judaism" in the singular, it is ironic that the term apparently originated with Neusner himself.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Free Access to Ioudaios Articles

Shameless self-promotion alert: SAGE is offering free access to its journals in Theology and Religion during the month of November, including Currents in Biblical Research. So if anyone has been itching to get their hands on my series of articles on Ioudaios (or anything else published in CBR, JSNT, JSOT, JSP, Int, SR, or ExpT, to name a few), now is your chance.

Click on this link to register for free access.

And here are links to my articles:

Miller, David M. “Ethnicity, Religion and the Meaning of Ioudaios in Ancient ‘Judaism.’” Currents in Biblical Research 12, no. 2 (2014): 216–65.

________. “Ethnicity Comes of Age: An Overview of Twentieth-Century Terms for Ioudaios.” Currents in Biblical Research 10, no. 2 (2012): 293–311.

________. “The Meaning of Ioudaios and Its Relationship to Other Group Labels in Ancient ‘Judaism.’” Currents in Biblical Research 9, no. 1 (2010): 98–126.

(You could also email me for a copy under the terms of "fair use.")

Friday, October 31, 2014

Luke's Conception of Prophets Considered in the Context of Second Temple Literature

Despite my supervisor's encouragement, I never submitted the Ph.D. thesis that I defended 10 years ago this month for publication as a monograph. While the topic of prophecy in early Christianity and early Judaism remains an ongoing research interest, and the dissertation has provided a starting point for several other journal articles,  essays, and conference presentations (click here for details), any book that eventually materializes will be very different from the dissertation I originally defended--not so much because I disagree with what I argued there, but because I have moved on in my thinking, and because a book should be more focused than the very broad scope of the original thesis. Since the thesis is freely available online, I thought I would link to it here for anyone with an interest in the topic: 
Miller, David M. “Luke’s Conception of Prophets Considered in the Context of Second Temple Literature.” Ph.D., Hamilton, ON: McMaster University, 2004.

Here is the abstract:
The fresh assessment of Luke's conception of prophets undertaken in this thesis is doubly warranted, both by recent scholarly debate about Second Temple Jewish beliefs concerning prophets and by ongoing discussion about Luke's terminology for prophets. The results of the thesis shed light not only on the role of prophets in Luke-Acts, but also on the author's familiarity with beliefs about prophets held by (other) Second Temple Jewish writers.

The results also challenge contemporary scholarship regarding Luke's Christology and his conception of salvation history. Luke does not distinguish prophets according to the period of salvation history to which they belong, nor does he suggest that prophecy had ceased. Instead, the prophets in Luke's infancy narrative join with the biblical prophets as they anticipate the time of fulfillment initiated by Jesus' birth. Luke was aware of expectations concerning the return of Elijah, but there is little evidence in Luke-Acts or in Second Temple literature for a belief in the "prophet like Moses" understood as an independent eschatological figure. Luke limits Jesus' prophetic role to his earthly life, subsuming it under the all-encompassing category of royal Messiah.

Luke attributes a fairly consistent but not unique range of characteristics to prophets. Though non-prophets sometimes "prophesy," the title "prophet" is reserved for individuals who served as prophets over an extended period of time. While the events of Pentecost led to an increase in prophetic activity among Jesus' followers, Luke does not portray all believers as prophets. That Luke does not identify members of the Twelve or the Seven as "prophets" points to a shift in focus: In Luke, Jesus is portrayed against the background of Scripture and first century Jewish life as one who functioned as a prophet and as the Messiah. In Acts, as exalted Messiah and Lord, Jesus becomes the primary background against which Luke's story of the church is told. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Charles Williams as a conversationalist

I would like to think this is what Paul meant when he said, "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt":
When I met Charles Williams I had read none of his books; our meetings were few and on business, yet I count them among my most unforgettable and precious experiences. I have met great and good men in whose presence one was conscious of one's own littleness; Charles Williams' effect on me and on others with whom I have spoken was quite different: in his company one felt twice as intelligent and infinitely nicer than, out of it, one knew oneself to be. It wasn't simply that he was a sympathetic listener--he talked a lot and he talked well--but, more than anyone else I have ever known, he gave himself completely to the company that he was in. So many conversations, even good ones, are really several monologues which only now and then and by accident relate to each other, for the talkers are more concerned with their own thoughts than with a living exchange of ideas, but any conversation with Charles Williams, no matter how trivial or impersonal the topic, was a genuine dialogue.

When, later, I began to read his books, I realized why this was so; the basic theme which runs through all of them is a doctrine of exchange and substitution, a way of life by which, it was clear, he himself lived.
W.H. Auden, "Introduction." Page v in Charles Williams, The Descent of the Dove: A History of the Holy Spirit in the Church (New York: Meridian, 1956).

Monday, October 20, 2014

Jordash Kiffiak on Teaching Greek as a Living Language

Autumn 2014
One of the highlights of this fall, in addition to the gorgeous weather, has been the chance to participate in a weekly Greek reading group led by Jordash Kiffiak. The group meets online for 2.5 hours to read and discuss passages from the Greek New Greek.

Jordash describes his experiences learning and teaching Greek in an interview published on Seamus MacDonald's excellent blog. A couple excerpts:
On learning Greek: "Following a second-year classical Greek course, I began memorizing chunks of text from the New Testament for academic and personal interests. This is when I first began to use ancient Greek ... in a way that approached or was living-language usage. Sometimes I would use phrases in the text I had memorised, manipulating them for new contexts. This procedure aided in both memorising text and internalising the language."
On learning outcomes for the reading group of which I am a part: After a 10-week course students can describe in their own words the situation and/or story relevant to the text we have read. For example, they would be able to tell about what happened upon Jesus' return to the Galilee (Luke 4) and what transpired in the synagogue in Nazareth. Or they would be able to describe why Paul is writing to the Philippians and what has taken place where Paul is. They will of course also be able to read the respective text, with comprehension, without recourse to aids. They will also be able to approach similar texts that they have not previously read and follow in large part what is being communicated without turning to dictionaries and the like. Students also will usually be able to describe aspects of their own life, employing concepts and language from the text being studied (again using Luke 4 as an example—where one was born, has grown up, whether one is well known and/or respected there etc.).

Needless to say, Jordash is an outstanding teacher. If you are at all curious about a living approach to teaching ancient languages, the whole interview is well worth your time.