Paul: Christian or Jew? (Or both?)

Judith Shulevitz, writing at Tablet, examines the New Perspective from the Jewish standpoint.  Money quote:

Paul didn’t nullify Jewish law, nor did he, as Luther would claim later, place grace above works (that is, to paraphrase crudely, the acceptance of Jesus over the performance of mitzvot), or justification by faith above justification by law (being seen as righteous by God by virtue of your belief, rather than by virtue of your good deeds). Or rather, Paul did do those things—a less Lutheran version of them, anyway—but he didn’t mean for the whole world to do them, too. He attacked Jewish law only in the context of a very narrow debate raging in the earliest decades of the Jesus movement. Some Jewish Jesus-movement activists said that their pagan acolytes had to convert to Judaism before they could join the movement. Paul disagreed in the strongest possible terms (he did everything in the strongest possible terms). He maintained that these gentiles had to follow only the pre-rabbinic equivalent of the Noahide laws—the seven edicts against idolatry, adultery, etc., that all non-Jews are expected to follow. After hearing Jesus’ call—the first and still greatest revisionist, Krister Stendahl, insists that Paul experienced a call, in the manner of a Protestant minister, not a conversion—Paul took it upon himself to roam Asia Minor and preach the gospel to gentiles, and he so opposed their becoming Torah Jews that he devoted most of his letters to assaulting all the other evangelists who thought they should. These, one deduces, had been following him from city to city and telling his congregants that he was wrong about Judaism, which naturally enraged him.

If all this is true, it follows that when Paul condemns Jews, he is aiming his barbs at my meddling fellow Jewish missionaries of Christ, not the Jews, a people I harshly reject. And when he speaks of Judaism having been superseded, he means Judaism as a lifestyle to be aspired to by pagans, not Judaism as practiced by Jews.

I don’t agree with everything in the piece, naturally, but this is the first time I’ve encountered a Jewish reaction to the New Perspective on Paul, which, you’ll remember, tries to place Paul back in his 1st-century Jewish context.

(Hat tip: Goldblog)

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