In just over 370 pages, Chris Hayes offers her readers a panorama of Jewish discourses on divine Law/torah/nomos, analyzing sources that range across centuries and cultures from Hellenistic pseudepigrapha and apocrypha through to the Bavli. Greek criteria of divine law – unwritten rather than written, universal rather than particular, unchanging rather than changing, natural and rational rather than “social” and situational – clashed with biblical criteria, which saw divine law as originating in the will of a supreme personal agent, God, for a particular people, Israel. These contrasting criteria of meaning and of value “collided head-on after Alexander’s conquest . . . creating a cognitive dissonance that the West has been grappling with ever since” (p. 3). What’s Divine About Divine Law traces a narrative history up through the sixth century of the consequences of this collision.
Hayes offers an analytic grid of “ten Greco-Roman discourses” about ancient law (G-R 1, G-R 2, and so on), all of which presuppose a dichotomy between unwritten divine or natural law, on the one hand, and particular, written, positive human law on the other. Part II of her study then examines Jewish responses to this G-R dichotomy down through c. 100 CE; Part III moves through several later centuries of Rabbinic formulations. Hayes concludes her study, in ch. 8, with an original and profoundly suggestive consideration of the ways that the rabbinic conceptualizations of “the Noachide Laws” speak to the tensions created by this foundational clash of Greek and Jewish worldviews. And her finale, “Writing the Next Chapters,” offers a vigorous appreciation of the ways that the rabbis exorcized Hellenistic criteria of value from their own definitions of God’s laws, which they saw, dafka, as occasionally irrational, as socially embedded, and as always modifiable according to “the circumstances of his people” (377).
Where and how does Paul fit into this history? Many Hellenistic Jewish thinkers, Philo not least of all, sought to “bridge the gap” between Greek and biblical conceptualizations of divine Law. Philo stands preeminent among these writers who identify Mosaic law with cosmic order, who correlate Torah with the logos that governs created cosmos. (The text of the LXX, of course, was itself part of this process of value-laden cultural translation.) Paul, by contrast, in Hayes’ chapter four, “minds the gap.” Paul emphasizes the ways that Mosaic Law fails as divine law according to classical criteria: it is socially particular, it changes across time, it appears at a historical moment, it is arbitrary and irrational; abiding by such law does not lead to virtue. Two immediately related questions then emerge: Why does Paul do this, and how?
Hayes draws on her earlier important work on ancient constructions of Jewish identity – genealogical or voluntary – to frame her answer. In biblical narrative, boundaries between “Israel” and “everybody else” were permeable: intermarriage and assimilation often effected membership (p. 142). In the post-Exilic period, however, Ezra articulated “an unprecedented genealogical definition of Israelite identity,” constructed upon ideas of the purity of “holy seed” – a kind of radicalization of a model previously reserved for priests. By the Roman period, then, several clashing concepts prevailed. The most familiar, which ultimately will be articulated in rabbinic halakhah, is that ritual acts can turn a non-Jew into a Jew – the prime one, for males, being circumcision. Intermarriage 2 continued as another model, especially for female affiliation. But the genealogical, Ezran idea also continued (thus, 4QMMT, or Jubilees). According to this genealogical paradigm, a non-Jew can never become a Jew. Citing Matthew Thiessen’s refinement of this idea – that any circumcision after the eighth day of the male baby’s life cannot bring one into the covenant (Gen 17) – Hayes concurs with Thiessen: Paul discouraged Gentile proselyte circumcision, she urges, not because he thought that Gentiles should not become Jews, but because he thought that Gentiles could not become Jews. Adult proselyte circumcision was mooted by the covenant of the 8th day (143-44).
Paul’s anti-Torah rhetoric should thus be understood as a rear-guard action that he executes against rival gospel missionaries who invoke proselyte circumcision as a way for Christ-following ethnê to affiliate to Israel. Paul accordingly devalues Torah in gentile terms – Torah is not divine law; its followers cannot achieve virtue – to his gentile audience, in order to diminish the attraction of his rivals’ arguments (152). Paul was a “genealogical exclusivist” (153). “It is because Paul must both affirm and denigrate the Law to his gentile audience, it is because he wants gentiles to join with Israel without joining Israel, that he adopts, and is so well served by, a rhetoric informed by G-R discourses of ambivalence” (163). Paul’s denigration of Torah, in brief, was “a strategic accommodation to his audience” (164), enacted in the single-generation apocalyptic bubble between Christ’s resurrection and his Parousia. Centuries later, as the Kingdom tarried, Paul’s negative rhetoric metastasized, becoming definitive of Christian contra Iudaeos theology throughout the ages that he never envisaged (163-64).
In the time remaining me, Chris, I would like to put some questions to you on particular passages in the letters. I find your overall framing of this issue intriguing and promising; I wonder about some particulars. If you will allow me, then:
FIRST: Paul’s positive statements about the Law. “The Law is holy, and the commandment is holy, and just, and good” (Rom 7.12) – this, of course, expresses more than a “mildly positive” or “neutral” attitude toward the Law (cf. 141). He names nomothesia as one of Israel’s abiding privileges (Rom 9.5). Paul also boasts that he himself was “as to righteousness under the Law blameless” (Phil 3.6) – surely a claim that the Law can lead – or at least, in Paul’s case, did lead – to virtue. Finally, in Romans 13.8-10, he recites from the second table of the Ten Commandments, and urges his gentile hearers to “fulfill the Law.” In other words, Paul is not consistently negative and discouraging about the Law; he also enjoins it on his gentile communities: he simply urges that the only way for Christ-following gentiles to fulfill the Law is Paul’s way, not his rivals’ way. Since the gentiles’ living in community according to these principals is the measure of their reception of divine pneuma, or of Christ’s pneuma, it seems to me that Paul does not consistently discourage gentile law-observance: in fact, often, he positively enjoins it. He discourages circumcision in particular, not “law-observance” in general. What do you think?
SECOND: The “I” of Romans 7. You endorse Stan Stowers’ view that Romans encodes a gentile audience (152 n. 25). Stowers’ insight has recently been refined by Runar Thorsteinsson, who argues that Paul’s interlocutor in Romans 2 is a gentile – a gentile who is judaizing in ways other than in Paul’s way. I read your remarks on p. 153 as 3 holding that Paul referred to himself in Romans 7, as a premier instance of the frustrations inherent in trying to keep the law. But, as Munck and Stendahl pointed out decades ago, such a reading clashes head-on with Paul’s robust conscience on display in Philippians. Can you see the “I” of Romans 7 as the lament of a rhetorical gentile, rather than as Paul’s didactic “autobiographical” sketch?
THIRD: Who is Israel? On page 147 in n.13, you agree with me that “eschatological gentiles,” for Paul, do not “become” Jews – that is, inclusion (in the Kingdom) is not tantamount to “conversion” – but you then go on to say: “Nevertheless, [gentiles] certainly lay claim to the title ‘Israel,’ though of a specific kind – Israel according to the spirit, not according to the flesh.” You give no citation, so I wondered: where do you see Paul making such a claim? Romans 9.4-5 defines Israel as genealogical Israel. If we look at Romans 15.8-12, Paul speaks of two eschatologically redeemed populations, “God’s people” – that is, Israel v. 10 – and ta ethnê, everybody else. Gentiles become adelphoi kata pneuma, but do they thereby become Israel kata pneuma? Through Christ, they charismatically “descend” only from Abraham, not through Isaac to Jacob. And of course, as you point out elsewhere, only Israel receives Torah.
Chris, I have so many more comments and questions. What’s Divine About Divine Law? is a tour de force, and an astonishing accomplishment of great creativity and persuasive power. I look forward to continuing our conversation both on this panel, and for a long time to come. Thank you.
Paula Fredriksen The Hebrew University, Jerusalem