Ethnicity, ethnocentrism, and the Matthean ethnos
Dennis C. Duling
In the light of the horrors of war and ethnic conflict, ethnicity has become a subject of increasing scholarly investigation, which now includes the field of religion and the Bible. I begin by surveying and commenting on important studies on ethnicity in Matthew by David Sim and John Riches. Then I offer a brief overview of ethnicity theory and create a simple model of ethnicity. After exploring the model linguistically and conceptually with literature from antiquity, I show how modern ethnicity studies can offer insights into ethnicity in Matthew and in particular how priestly voluntary associations called ethne might help to interpret the special fruit-bearing ethnos of Matthew 21:43 in terms of an alternative leadership to the priests of Jerusalem.
Ethnic cleansing is one of the horrible tragedies of modern times. Not surprisingly, ethnicity and ethnic conflict have become a subject of modern scholarly investigation and there has been an explosion in literature (e.g., Scott; Jenkins: 1994; 1996; 1997; Sollors; Hutchinson & Smith; P. Q. Yang). Researchers in the field of religion have been quick to see it as a significant area of research (Buell) and specialists in Biblical interpretation have begun to explore its importance in antiquity and for the Bible (Brett; Denzey; Esler; Duling: 2003; forthcoming; Matlock). In the last decade two scholars, David Sim and John Riches (chs. 7, 8), have addressed the topic in relation to the Gospel of Matthew. In this article I shall summarize their views, offer a brief overview of modern ethnicity theory, and develop a simple model for interpreting ethnicity. Then I shall briefly explore the model linguistically and conceptually for both antiquity in general and the Gospel of Matthew and its context. In passing, I offer my own views on the work of Sim and Riches and conclude with my own observations about the Matthean ethnos in relation to an overall perspective.
Previous Study of Ethnicity in Matthew: Sim and Riches
David Sim’s excellent article (1996) can be briefly summarized in three points:
1. To be considered ethnically “Jewish” in the first century, a person had either to be born Jewish or to become a full proselyte which, within the framework of “covenantal nomism” (Sanders 1977 passim; 1992: 190-240) and its privileges, meant strict Torah observance according to the norms of one’s sect. For males this included the requirement of circumcision. By this legal standard uncircumcised male “God-rearers” were not considered to be fully Jewish. With rare exceptions–Josephus and Philo mention instances in which proselytes to Judaism were not circumcised–circumcision was thought to be the primary ritual boundary marker for Jewish (male) ethnic identity.
2. Diaspora Jewish and Pauline groups did not require strict Torah observance for Gentile proselytes. Thus, circumcision was not an absolute requirement. In both Pauline letters and Acts Paul’s opponents are called “the circumcision party” (Gal 2:12; Acts 11:12; cf. Titus 1:10). Paul attacks such persons as “mutilators of the flesh” (Phil 2:3). This group (or one like it) is also behind the conflict about eating with Gentiles at Antioch (Gal 2:9). In contrast, the writer of Matthew required strict Torah observance, at least until the parousia (Matt 5:18; 28:20); the Matthean debates are not about the Torah itself, but rather the correct interpretation of the Torah (Matt 5:17-20). Thus, says Sim, the Matthean writer, in contrast to Paul, considered his group to be ethnically Jewish.
3. The writer of Matthew never mentions circumcision–baptism is the only explicit entry rite (28:19)–but Sim deduces that Matthew’s “Christian Jewish” group must have required circumcision for male Gentile proselytes. The reason that it is not mentioned is that the Matthean mission included non-believing Jews (10:6) as well as Gentiles. This is the best meaning of the gospel’s being preached to “all the nations [ethne]” in the final scene (29:19). This also explains why it was not at issue between Matthew and his Pharisaic opponents. For Sim, “circumcision for male Gentiles is simply taken for granted” (Sim 1996: 193), just as it is, argues Sim, in passages about admitting proselytes to the Qumran sect (CD 14:4-6: IQS 6:13-23–the latter text, however, is about admitting those in “Israel”–6:13).
John Riches’ goal is to illumine the “sense of identity” of the Matthean community by stressing two ethnic markers, kinship and place (Riches 2000: chs. 7, 8). His different approach yields a different result. With respect to kinship, the Matthean writer, building on Mark, holds that true discipleship is not based on family status, but on following the itinerant, homeless Jesus (cr. Davies 1991; 1994). Descent in the gospel matters only in one instance, the genealogy of Jesus, where Matthew stresses putative “Jewish” descent from Abraham and David (Matt 1:1-17; cf. Riches: 291). However, Riches says, this genealogy actually “flaunts” Jesus’ Gentile ancestry because the prototypical wanderer Abraham and the four women have Gentile background. Ironically, claims Riches, Jesus’ apparent Jewish roots imply universalism (231). So much for kinship!
Similarly, Matthew “remakes” place, by which Riches means sacred space. Here Riches agrees with W. D. Davies: in Matthew “theology is de-territorialised and attachment to Land and Temple replaced by attachment to the person of Jesus” (Riches 254; cf. Davies 1994: 366-76). For example, whereas Deutero-Isaiah’s vision of the “way of the Lord” takes remnant Israel from the desert to Mount Zion (e.g., Isa 40:3), the Matthean writer replaces “Mount Zion with a mountain in Galilee” (254). As in Mark, being with Jesus is place enough (Matt 8:20-22; Riches later argues that Matthew is going beyond Isaiah’s Zion tradition, see 272). Again, Moses and the new Exodus/promised land motifs are universalized. Thus, place-oriented formula quotations in the infancy (Matt 2:6 [Bethlehem], 2:15 [Egypt], 2:23 [Nazareth]) anticipate the place-oriented formula quotation “Galilee of the Gentiles” as the special “place” where Jesus offers salvation to those who “sit in darkness” (4:14-16). Finally, this passage anticipates the final, universal mission to “all Gentiles” (28:19).
Here are a few more Riches examples. The crowd responds to Jesus’ victory over Satan with the words, “never was anything like this seen in Israel” (9:33). The Gentile centurion has faith unlike anything ever seen “in Israel” (Matt 8:10) and represents those who come “from east and from west” to receive salvation. A Canaanite woman of “great faith” is healed (15:21-28). In the weeds parable the seed falls everywhere and the whole world is to be judged (13:24-30, 36-43). Israel’s election is called into question “by the crowd’s rejection of its Messiah” (27:15). The Messianic banquet is wherever Jesus is present with his disciples (18:20; cf. 1:23; 28:20). “God rejects Israel’s leaders: the kingdom has been taken away from them and given ‘to a nation [ethne] producing the fruits of it’ (21:43)” (252). In short, evil is so pervasive that an ethnos [“nation”] based on descent, ancestral customs, or land always falls short. There is both continuity and discontinuity with historical Israel; ethnic boundaries grow to include outsiders. In short, “Matthew metaphoricises ethnicity” (318-19).
Although I admire Sim’s analytical prowess in taking the thesis of Matthew’s “Christian Judaism” to its logical conclusion, my own view of the Gospel’s tensions and ambiguities has more in common with the views of Riches (see, e.g., Duling 2002). However, in what follows I want to broaden Riches’ view of ethnicity. I also make rather different arguments about ethnos in the Matthean Gospel itself. Finally, I develop Matthean ethnicity based on the study of voluntary associations and marginality: the Matthean group stands between Israel and non-Israel (Duling 1995; 2002; cf. Senior).
As a beginning, it is necessary to say a few brief words about ethnicity and ethnicity theory.
Contemporary Ethnicity Theory
The now familiar term “ethnicity” appears to have been coined in 1941 as an alternative to “race” (Warner & Lunt, in Sollers: 13-14). It first appeared in the OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY in 1953 and did not became a major social-scientific concept until the 1960s. In this early period two major approaches to ethnicity appeared.
The first, derived from Eduard Shils and Clifford Geertz, is now called Primordialism (Shils; Geertz). Its representatives stress that ethnic groups are held together by “natural affections.” These are bonds so compelling, so passionate, so “coercive,” and so overpowering, that they are fixed, a priori, involuntary, ineffable, even “sacred.” These bonds are deeply rooted in family, territory, language, custom, and religion. They are the major foundation for group norms, values, and behavior. They are thus “primordial.”
Within the Primordialist camp there are two major theoretical alternatives. Socio-biological Primordialists stress what is “natural,” that is, they hold that humans are fundamentally self-interested and therefore seek to maximize their individual “fitness” by kin selection within their own kin group (Van den Berghe). In contrast, Cultural Primordialists, who are in the majority, follow in the footsteps of Shils and Geertz and argue that these bonds, although seemingly “natural,” are culturally generated.
The major alternative to Primordialism is Constructionism. This perspective is associated with Frederik Barth (1969: 13-14) who in the 1960s leveled a critique at traditional Cultural Primordialists’ tendency to think that the cultural markers of ethnic identity are more or less “objective.” For Barth the “cultural stuff”–distinguishing cultural features such as kinship definition, place of origin, dress, food practices, and the like–is important for social boundaries, but not as important as the act of social boundary marking itself From this perspective ethnic identity is not inherent, fixed, or natural; rather, it is fluid, freely chosen, and thus can he seen to he perpetually constructed, that is, continually reconstructed. Barth shifts the theoretical emphasis to how and why ethnic groups generate and maintain their group boundaries. The subtitle of his work reflects this emphasis: “the social organization of cultural difference.” Barth’s position is formalist, abstract, a-historical, and “subjectivist.” In a self-evaluation in 1994, he considered himself to have anticipated Postmodernism (Barth 1994).
Three other, related, approaches may he briefly noted. The approach of Instrumentalism takes Constructionism further by arguing that a group’s conscious construction of its ethnicity is rational and self-interested; that is, it is constructed to further the group’s political-economic agenda (Varshney). A Social Psychological approach argues that cultural and economic advantages of a particular ethnic group lead it to develop kinship myths based on collective honor, and therefore to stereotype outsider groups ethnocentrically (Horowitz). Finally, Ethno-symbolists analyze the way that an ethnic group’s nostalgia about its perceived past–cosmogonic myths, election myths, memories of a golden age, symbols–shapes its ability to endure, yet change and adapt (Armstrong).
There have been attempts to critique, integrate, and synthesize these various approaches (Scott; P. Q. Yang: 47-56). Generally, most ethnicity theorists agree with Barth that ethnic group members ascribe their ethnicity to themselves and change their views periodically. Thus, Constructionism has become the dominant theoretical perspective. Yet, there is still great interest in the “cultural stuff,” and there is still wide disagreement about whether self-constructed ethnicity is irrational and ineffable, as Primordialism suggests, or rational and self-interested, as the Instrumentalists hold. In what follows, I attempt to construct a model based on an expansion of the “cultural stuff” first laid out by the early Primordialists, but I recognize with the Barthian Constructionists that cultural characteristics are subject to self-definition and change by the group itself.
A Socio-Cultural Model of Ethnicity
Shils and Geertz highlight five cultural features of ethnicity: family, territory, language, custom, and religion. Schermerhorn’s ethno-symbolic refinement, which analyzes “the ethnie” (an ethnic community), replaces “family” with “kinship patterns” and “territory” with “physical contiguity”; he also adds three features, “tribal affiliation,” “nationality,” and “phenotypical” (i.e., genetic) features (Schermerhorn: 12 [quoted in Hutchinson & Smith: 12]). Hutchinson and Smith expand Schermerhorn’s eight cultural features with three more: (1) a common proper name that identities and expresses the “essence” of the ethnic group; 2) myths of common ancestry (often fictive) that often include great heroes and heroines; and 3) shared historical memories, which can be fictive, as well (Hutchinson & Smith: 6). These eleven cultural features influence the ethnie’s values, norms, and behavior.
The model diagrammed on the next page incorporates these eleven features, reducing them to nine by placing family, tribe, and nation at the same level. It is thus a socio-cultural umbrella that highlights “cultural stuff,” but its broken lines and temporal arrow attempt to allow for Barth’s widely held perspective that the “cultural stuff” is socially organized.
Not every analysis of ethnicity stresses every one of these cultural features. Furthermore, the Constructionist critique of Cultural Primordialism’s “objectivism” raises the important question whether any feature is so constitutive that there is no “ethnicity” without it (Buell: 243-44). While there is no consensus on an answer to this question, even Constructionists usually admit that kinship relations and myths of common ancestry (Nos. 5, 6) are virtually universal and that some reference to a homeland, that is, territory or land (No. 8), is not far behind. Given that generalization, Riches” focus on kinship and place in Matthew is apt.
Finally, Constructionists claim that groups construct their ethnic boundaries primarily in two ways: (i) in relation to likeminded, like-practiced peers, a “we” aggregative self-definition, and (2) in relation to others, a “we-they” oppositional self-definition (J. M. Hall: 47). The latter is usually ethnocentric.
Ethnicity and Antiquity
The model of ethnicity on the next page, which highlights key representative (not comprehensive) socio-cultural features (a homomorphic model) is an outsider’s model (etic model) that is “imposed” on the available data. It is general and abstract and therefore runs the risk of oversimplifying distinctive local ethnographic and historical information. Finally, it is in danger of being academically ethnocentric (Denzey: 489-93). However, models that omit detail in this way should not be seen as true or false, but rather heuristic. They invite criticism and modification–even alternative reconstruction. In the meantime, discussions of “ethnicity” can look for just such salient features in ancient writers’ comments about themselves and others. Here are examples of such comments.
The first example comes from Herodotus:
For there are many great reasons why we should not … [desert to
the Persians], even if we so desired; first and foremost, the
burning and destruction of the adornments and temples of our gods,
whom we are constrained to avenge to the utmost rather than make
pacts with the perpetrator of these things, and next is the
kinship of all Greeks in blood and speech, and the shrines of gods
and the sacrifices that we have in common, and the likeness of
our way of life, to all of which it would not befit the
Athenians to be false [Herodotus, HISTORIES
8.144.2, italics mine].
Herodotus emphasizes several characteristics of the above ethnicity model: (1) common blood (name, biological family, kinship patterns, and perhaps phenotypical features and myths of common ancestry); (2) common language; (3) common religion (religious practices, with shared historical memories implied); (4) common customs (customs, dress, food, music, houses, body markings, and the like). Hall calls Herodotus’ comment an “oppositonal self-definition” (J. M. Hall: 45-51). Shaye Cohen would accept Herodotus’ view as Constructionist when he calls it “transitional” (Cohen 1999: 132). Yet, “cultural stuff” is important.
A second example comes from the ancient geographer Strabo:
For the ethnos of the Armenians and that of the Syrians and Arabians
betray a dose affinity, not only in their language, but in their
mode of life and in their bodily build, and particularly wherever
they live as close neighbors [GEOGRAPHY 1.2.34–italics mine].
The emphasis in Strabo is on language, customs, phenotypical features, and land or territory. It is instructive to compare these statements with two comments in the Biblical “table of nations”:
He also said, “Blessed by the LORD my God be Shem; and let Canaan
be his slave” [Gen 9:26].
These are the sons of Shem, by their families (LXX phylais), their
languages (glossas), their lands (chorais), and their nations
(ethnesin) [Gen 10:31].
In examples such as these the language, family, territory, and religion of Shem, the mythical ancestor of the Israelites, is being contrasted with those of Ham, the mythical ancestor of the Canaanites.
There is obviously much overlap between modern and ancient views of ethnicity, although one needs to tread carefully. I would like to take a closer look at this similarity, first by examining the term ethnos in the Matthean author and his world.
Ethnos in Antiquity
The ancient Greek word ethnos originally had a broader semantic range than the modern term “ethnicity” suggests. In early Greek writings the singular ethnos could refer to almost any kind of group or grouping–and of almost any size: flocks of birds, swarms of flies or bees, bands of warriors and young men, and groups of the dead (Sophocles, PHILOCTETES: 1147; ANTIGONE: 344; see Saldarini 1994: 68-83; J. M. Hall: 34): It could also refer to the gender categories men and women (Pindar, OLYMPIODES: 1.66; PYTHICAN ODES: 4.252; see J. M. Hall: 35) or the inhabitants of a small village, a city, several cities, or a whole region (J. M. Hall: 34). In some of these cases “group” would be a quite legitimate translation, although in others “people” or “nation” (but not a modern nation-state) seems more accurate. Herodotus allowed that people in different geographical regions could be of the same ethnos if they were migrants to those regions. Finally, ethnos could also refer to a guild or trade association (Saldarini 1994: 59). In a personal communication to me John Kloppenborg quotes S. R. Llewelyn: “… Plato refers to various types of trade or social groupings as ethne, i.e., doctors, shipbuilders, citizens, soldiers, bandits, thieves and any other association (allo ti ethnos)” (Llewelyn: 39; see GORCIAS 455b and REPUBLIC: 351c). Kloppenborg then adds other references (Mahaffy & Smyly: III 59.B.4; Dittenberger: 90.A.17 [196 BCE]; Wessely: XV 32.v.8 [II/III CE]; Grenfell & Hunt: XLIX 3470.16 [131 CE]). Clearly, an ethnos was not only an ethnic or ethnic group in the modern theoretical discussion of ethnicity, but could have broader connotations.
This broad semantic range persisted into the Hellenistic period. However, by this time the Greeks increasingly referred to other peoples with the term ethnos–in Athens a voluntary association of Thracians was called an ethnos (Kirchner: 1283 [260/61 BCE])–but the Athenians preferred to call themselves genos, a term that suggests common ancestry, as in the expression genos Hellenon, “a family of Hellenes.” The Romans made the same distinction in Latin: others were a natio but they were a populus. In Greek the plural form ta ethne was even more frequently used for other peoples; indeed, it usually had the ring of ethnocentric stereotyping, although it was not as oppositional as the term barbaros (Geary; cf. Denzey: 494-95).
With respect to ancient Israelite literature, J. G. Muthuraj has reexamined ethnos and ethne in the Septuagint, 1 Maccabees, Philo, Josephus, and the early historiographical literature. He argues that the dominant meanings of Hebrew goy and goyim and Greek ethnos and ethne are simply “people(s)” or “nation(s)” of the world, that is, the terms have a positive or neutral sense. When “otherness” is in view, he claims, Israelite writers sought prefixes with allo-, such as allotrios (“non-Israelite”), allophylos (“foreigner”), allotrioi ethnoi (“foreign nations”). His conclusion is that English translations such as “Gentiles” “pagans,” or “heathens” are ethnocentrically biased judgments about outsiders by modern Jewish or Christian monotheists. Muthuraj’s argument offers an important insight, especially because ethnos in the Maccabean and Philonic literature can at times represent Israelites (1 Macc 8:23; 10:25; 11:30; 12:3; 13:36; 14:28; 15:1-2; 2 Macc 11:27; Philo, THE DECALOGUE: 96). Nonetheless, it is clear that goyim in the Hebrew Bible and ethne in the Septuagint are often oppositional terms for outsiders. This is especially the case in the Maccabean literature again, which is similar to the increased delimitation in Greek and Latin as such. For example, the author of 1 Maccabees says that those who practiced epispasm “abandoned the holy covenant” and “joined with the ethne and sold themselves to do evil” (1. Macc 1:15). 2 Maccabees refers to “blasphemous and barbarous ethne” (2 Macc 10:4 [blasphemois kai barbarois ethnesin]; cf. 2:21 [ta barbara plethe]). The adjective ethnikos and the adverb ethnikos often carry similar nuances. It is true that a few ancient intellectuals offered etymologies trying to show that Israelites and Spartans were from the same ethnos and that other Israelite writers–Eupolemus, Artapanus, Aristobulus, and even Josephus–attributed Hellenistic culture to the Israelites (Gruen: 91, n. 81). However, while these usages affirmed Greek culture, they in fact asserted the superiority of the Israelites. The conclusion is that Muthuraj’s generalization is somewhat overdrawn; context will determine whether ethnos is neutral (e.g., Gen 17:6, 16; Tob 3:5) or oppositional (Zech 12:9; cf. Zech 14:16; Tob 3:4), whether it can or should be translated a “people” or “Gentile,” “pagan,” or “heathen.”
In summary, early ancient Greco-Roman literature ethnos and ethne had a wide variety of meanings. The singular originally referred to any group of any size and could sometimes refer to a voluntary association. However, in the Hellenistic period the Greeks’ use of singular ethnos and both Greek and Israelite use of plural ta ethne could at times take on a negative valence. Context rules, but it is also the case that ethnocentric usage of the term ethnos is growing.
Ethnos in Matthew
How does the writer of Matthew use the terms ethnos and ethne? The fifteen instances of ethnos/ethne and three instances of the adjective ethnikos in the Gospel also have a wide semantic range (Saldarini 1994). I suggest the following categories:
(1) Indefinite singular ethnos used in a general, apparently neutral, way (“ethnos will rise against ethnos”) and taken from Mark (Matt 24:7 [Mark 13:8]).
(2) Indefinite plural ethne, probably used as an oppositional stereotype: disciples/missionaries should not go out among the ethne or enter any town of the Samaritans (Matt 10:5).
(3) Indefinite phral ethne used oppositionally as an ethnocentric stereotype: ethne materialistically seek food, drink, and clothing (you must not); rulers of the ethne lord it over them (you must not) (Matt 6:31-32 [Q 5:29-30]).
(4) A more definite plural expression (panta ta) ethne used as specific opponents of the Jesus and the disciples: Jesus will be delivered to the ethne who will mock, scourge, and crucify him (Matt 20:19 [Mark 10:33]); Jesus’ followers will be hated by panta ta ethne (Matt 24:9); followers will be dragged before rulers and kings “for my sake,” to bear witness before them and the ethne (Matt 10:18 [cf. Mark 13:10]).
(5) Indefinite ethnikoi in the plural used oppositionally: the ethnikoi salute only their own brothers like the tax collectors who love each other (Matt 5:46 [Q 6-.32], 5:47 [Q 6:33]), and they heap up empty phrases when they pray (Matt 6:7). When unrepentant Matthean members are banned from the community, they should be treated “like ethnikoi and tax collectors” (Matt 18:17; cf. 5:46 just noted).
It would be easy to conclude from these five categories that especially the plurals (ta) ethne and ethnikoi are negative, oppositional terms in Matthew and that they parallel a growing hostile oppositional usage in late antiquity. That would be a valid conclusion.
However, several other, different instances of ethne in Matthew preserve the persistent neutral or more positive sense.
6) Ethne used neutrally, perhaps positively, in two formula quotations. The formula quotation about “Galilee of the ethne” (Matt 4:15 [Isa 8:23-9:1 LXX]) hints at Jesus’ inclusiveness, as suggested by the earlier formula quotations about place–another formula quotation says that Jesus proclaims justice to the ethne who place their hope in him (Matt 12:18 [Isa 42:1 LXX-]; 12:21)–and mission to the ethne at the conclusion of the Gospel (Matt 28:19).
7) Panta ta ethne used neutrally or positively. In contrast to category 4, the Matthean version of the little apocalypse has Jesus command that the gospel be preached throughout “the whole world” as a testimony to panta ta ethne (Matt 24:14). As Riches realizes, this comment seems to point forward to the Gospel’s concluding statement, “Go therefore and make disciples of panta ta ethne, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19). The usual interpretation is that the latter means outsiders–“nations” or “Gentiles”–and the usual debate concerns whether it includes or excludes Israelites. I would accept the view that the final thrust of the Gospel is the inclusion of non-Israelite ethne (contrast Matt 10:6).
8) The ethnos that produces fruit (Matt 21:43). This last text seems to be different from all other uses. I shall consider it more carefully after taking up some other aspects of ethnicity.
The above references suggest that there is an outsider/insider ambiguity or tension about the ethne in Matthew, which is not surprising considering other Matthean tensions. The more positive use just noted can be illustrated by other terms and themes in the gospel. One example is the four uses of hekatontarkoi, “centurions.” Three are found in the centurion’s servant from Q (Matt 8:5 [Q 7:1]; 8:8 [Q 7:6]; 8:13), which says that “in no one in Israel have I found such faith” (Matt 8:10 = Q 7:9). The fourth reference is the centurion’s confession of Jesus as Son of God in the crucifixion story taken from Mark (Mark 15:39 = Matt 27:54). A second example is the Canaanite woman miracle story in which, again, an outsider (and woman!) becomes the model for faith and Jesus is finally willing to cross ethnic boundaries (Canaanite “dogs” are accepted like lost Israelite “children”) (cf. many articles in Levine & Blickenstaff). Third, Pilate claims that he is innocent of the blood of Jesus in contrast to “the people” (ho laos) who say, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matt 27:25). Finally, one should recall Simon the Cananaean and the cross-bearer Simon of Cyrene (Matt 10:4; 27:32), outsiders who become insiders in the narrative.
In short, while on the one hand the plural ethne is often used oppositionally to create self-identity among Israelites and members of the Matthean group, the Matthean writer also has representatives of the ethne who are valued positively, and on occasion they provide models of true behavior and confession. Context rules, and there are clear examples of ethnic inclusiveness in the gospel.
Exploring Features of the Ethnicity Model
One could argue that to speak of “Jewish ethnicity” or “Christian
ethnicity” in antiquity is dangerously anachronistic, since both
context and content of the term ethnos in the fast century before
the Common Era and the three centuries that followed remained
rather different than what modern social theorists mean by
ethnicity in the contemporary context [Denzey: 495].
Although the ancient term ethnos has a broader semantic range than the modern term ethnie, there is much overlap. Thus, I do not accept this argument, but attempt to clarify likenesses and differences in the larger semantic field (cf. Duling 2003), calling attention to the nine features in the above model.
Various groups refer to themselves and others ethnically by names. Herodotus speaks of Ionians, Dorians, Herakleeidai, and Akhaians among the Greeks, that is, with aggregative self-definitions (“we”). However, Herodotus’ descriptions of Persians, Egyptians, Skythians, and Libyans as barbaroi betrays an oppositional self-definition (“we” versus “they”) (J. M. Hall: 47). On the Israelite side Deuteronomy refers oppositionally to driving out seven impure “nations” (Hebrew goyim; LXX ethne) from the land (Deut 7:1-4). As noted previously, in the Maccabean literature the Israelites themselves can be called an ethnos; yet ethne in the plural can describe those who are to be put out of the country (charas), to be replaced by “Judaean men” (andras loudaious) to preserve “ethnic” purity (1 Macc 14:35-40).
The author of the Gospel of Matthew prefers to use geographical origins for outsiders. Typical examples are “a Canaanite woman from that region (Tyre and Sidon)” (Matt 4:24-25; 15:21-28 [Mark has “Greek” (Mark 7:26)]) and “a man of Cyrene, Simon by name” (Matt 27:32). The author prefers “Israel” (cf. Gen 32:28; Matt 2:6; 2:20; 2:21; 8:10; 9:33; 10:23; 15:31; 19:28; 27:9; 27:42) or “House of Israel” (Matt 10:6, 15:24) for insiders. Nine of these twelve references, which refer mainly to land, belief, and descent, are most likely the author’s view (“Israel” [9:30]; Israel as God’s people in a formula quotation [2:6 (2 Sam 2:5)]; “God of Israel” [15:31]; “sons of Israel” [27:9]; “house of Israel”[10:6; 15:24]; “land of Israel” [2:20, 21]; 10:23: “towns of Israel”]; the three exceptions not from Matthew include the title “King of Israel” from Mark [27:42 (Mark 15:3)] and two references to “Israel” from Q [8:10 (Q 7:9) and 19:28 (Q 22:30)], both political/territorial). In short, the customary ethnic usage in Matthew is “Israel” and “Israelite” with respect to land, belief, and mythical descent.
The term loadaios has generated much analysis (Von Pad, Kuhn, & Gutbrod [TNDT]: 3:360-61; Kraemer; Harvey; Hanson & Oakman; Cohen 1999: 70). Originally used as an outsider’s description of Israelites, often in a neutral, descriptive sense (Cohen 1999: 71 n. 5; Denzey: 496; cf. Hecataens of Abdera; Strabo, GEOGRAPHY: 16.2.2.), some Israelites began to use Ioudaios for themselves in expressions such as “the ethnos of the loudaion,” or simply “the loudaioi” (Von Rad, Kuhn, & Gutbrod [TNDT]: 3:360-61; 1 Macc 8:23, 25, 27: [to] ethnos ton loudaion); 8:29: ton loudaion). Not surprisingly, Diaspora literature picked up what was originally outsider usage, as well. Hanson and Oakman (176) list five nuances of Ioudaios in the period under consideration, depending on context:
* The inhabitants of Judea (geographical);
* All the inhabitants of Palestine (more broadly geographical);
* All those in the Mediterranean and Middle East with “ethnic” connections to Judea;
* Those who professed allegiance to the state religion of Judea, including converts (political);
* Elites of Judea in contrast to peasants (social).
Shaye Cohen’s nuances (1999: 70) overlap, but only in part. He lists the following:
* an “Israelite” by birth and/or geography, broadly defined (including Galileans, Idumeans, and the like);
* Ioudaios as a citizen or ally of the Israelite state (political); and
* “Jew” as one who follows certain practices (religion or culture).
Cohen’s willingness to continue using the term “Jew” for a religious category is due to the fact that he thinks that in the second half of the second century BCE male non-Israelites could become proselytes by circumcision without any “ethnic (birth)-geographical” association. His main example is Izates of Adiabene (Josephus, ANTIQUITIES: 20.2.3-5 [17-53]) who thought he could not become a Ioudaios without being circumcised. Cohen thinks that there is no apparent connection in the account with “geographic/ ethnic” meaning. He then argues that the “ethnic” (religious/cultural) sense remained when the geographical sense waned in the Diaspora. However, it could be argued that in the Izates of Adiabene example, the homeland/geographical nuance persisted, that is, when Izates’s mother saw how satisfied and happy Izates was with his new Israelite identity, she made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship in the Temple (Josephus, ANTIQUITIES: 20.2.3-5 [17-53]).
In the Gospel of Matthew four of five uses of Ioudaios, three from Mark, are in the expression “King of the Ioudaion” used by outsiders, either the Romans (Mark 15:2 = Matt 27:11; Mark 15:18 = Matt 27:29; Mark 15:26 = Matt 27:37 [the titulus]) or the magoi, in a political sense (Matt 2:2). This usage suggests that the evangelist was aware of the fact that this description continued to be in use by outsiders. However, a fifth usage, namely, his literary aside to his reader that the story of the theft of Jesus’ body “has been spread among the Ioudaioi to this day” (Matt 28:15) is in a different category. Some scholars have argued that this verse shows that the author was not a Ioudaios, but that argument seems to have lost favor. If not held, the reference is to Israelites. Either way, the reference is ethnic.
2. Myths of Common Ancestry.
A common ethnic marker is the claim by members of a group to have common ancestry. When Herodotus writes about Ionians, Dorians, Herakleeidai, Akhaians he also mentions myths of origins in relation to genealogies of the eponymous ancestors Helen, Doros, Aiolos, Ion, and Akhaios (J. M. Hall: 43). Wealthy Greeks attempted to enhance their status by paying temple priests to create ancestral genealogies for them (J. M. Hall: 41; cf. Hood). Among the Israelites Biblical genealogies with fictive ancestors were common; indeed, the very names “Israelite” and Ioudaios suggest the eponymous ancestors Jacob/Israel and Judah. “Son of Abraham” (Matt 1:1) also recalls the ancestor. Some ancient Israelite writers claimed that both Israelites and Spartans were descended from Abraham (see previously).
Semantically, the Greek terms genos (“[birth] family,” “offspring,” or “descendants”), phyle (“tribe,” “people,” “clan”), pater in the sense of eponymous ancestor, oikos (“house”), and a host of agricultural/horticultural metaphors -rhiza (“root” or “descendant”), anatole (“descendent” or “offspring,” from anatello, “I cause to rise,” [translating Hebrew zemach, “shoot”]), karpos tes osphyos (“fruit of the genitals”), sperma (“seed”), and spora (“what is sown,” “seed,” “ancestry,” “parentage”)–have generated linguistic fields that pertain to myths of common ancestry (see further Duling: 2003). The genealogy of Matthew (Matt 1:1-17; geneseos, “of the genealogy,” in 1:1 implies genos) makes the status claim that Jesus was descended from Abraham and especially King David through royal ancestors. Non-Israelite associations of Abraham are also present, as Riches claims. One ancient Israelite traditional says that Abraham was from the “land of Aram,” a Syrian ancestral homeland (Dent 26:5; Millard: 345-50). Another tradition says that Abraham and his clan were from “Ur of the Chaldeans,” a Mesopotamian ancestral homeland (Gen 11:28, 31). In either case, the “father” of the Israelites turns out to be an “outsider” and it is he who will become the “father of a multitude of ethnon” (Gen 17:4-5, LXX). Once again, however, there is a tension drawn from the Q-based Baptist saying: “… do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Matt 3:9); baptism, which becomes initiation, supersedes Abrabamic descent.
To be sure, the genos of Jesus remains important in relation to that other great ancestor, King David (Matt 1:1; 1:17; 1:20), and to his place of birth (Matt 2:1). While the Gospel retains this ethnic identity, the metaphorical sense of “Son of David” in the healing stories ultimately transcends genos (Matt 9:27 [Mark 10:46]; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30 [Mark 10:46]; 21:9, 15). David is also the author of psalm-prophecies about the Messiah (Matt 22:41-46 [Mark 12:35-37]), and his key suggests the keys of the Kingdom (16:19 [Isa 22:22]). As Riches observes, counter-themes subvert both kinship and place among Jesus’ followers. Indeed, it is possible for the author to raise the question whether the Messiah must be the Son of David (Matt 22:42).
3. Shared “Historical” Memories.
Greco-Roman examples are Homer’s ILIAD and Greek and Roman histories. Israelite examples are patriarchal stories, the Deuteronomic history, the Court History of David, and Josephus’ ANTIQUITIES and WARS OF THE JEWS. Authors of the Jesus Movement remembered many of the same stories. Quotations and allusions to sacred texts and Biblical “history” in Matthew are too extensive to cover here, but key examples should be noted: descent into Egypt (Matt 2:13-14), Passover (Matt 2:15; 26:2, 17-29 [Mark 14:1, 12-25]), Exodus (Matt 2:13 [Hos 11:1]), desert temptation (Matt 4:1-11 [Dent 8:3; 6:13, 16; Exod 19.1-6]), Moses themes (Matt 2:15; 2:16; 5:17-20; 4:8; 4:1-11; 5:1; 8:1; 8:4; 8-9; 14:23; 15:29; 17:1, 2, 9; 19:7; 22:2-3; 28:16; 22:24; and the five-book structure, see Allison), Joseph themes (Gen 37:5-11; cf. ch. 1), Elijah themes (Matt 3:4; 4:17 [Mark 1:15]; 3:2; 11:5, 7-19; 12:40; 17:9-13), Davidic themes and psalms (see above), Solomonic magic (1 Kgs 19:2, 5-8), and Isaianic allusions and quotations (e.g., Matt 4:14-16 [Isa 61:1]). In all of this, the Gospel of Matthew, more than the other canonical gospels, lives and breathes the shared historical memories of the Israelites and Jesus Movement people.
Closely related to common ancestry, kinship is one of the two most important social status indicators of Mediterranean antiquity, the other being politics (Malina: Ch. 5). Kinship includes patriarchy, patrilineal descent lines (except for magical texts), patrilocalism, defense strategies of marriage, and identity by male generation. These themes, of course, typified pervasive male dominance. With respect to the semantic field in the Gospel of Matthew, there is a superabundance of terms about kinship and family (Duling 2003; Louw & Nida). Recall also that the ancients could transfer kinship terms to members of groups, including members of voluntary associations (Duling 1999). Examples are pater (“father”) as an association or synagogue leader and adelphoi (“brothers’) for group members.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Mary (human mother), Joseph (Davidic descent), and Jesus’ siblings are important for Jesus’ human genos (Matt 1:1, 16; 13:53-58 [Mark 6:1-6a]). Jesus honors his parents (Matt 15:4). Nonetheless, Jesus also has a more-than-human genos (Matt 1:18); God is his more-than-human father and his human family is less insignificant than his fictive family–if it does the will of that father (Matt 12:46-50 [Mark 3:31-35]). The most dramatic illustration is that the necessity of burying one’s father is made secondary to followiug Jesus (Matt 8:22 [Q 9:59-60]; cf. Tob 4:3-4). Finally, although the Matthean gospel has a softer version of the hard saying in Q that disciples should “hate” family members (Q 14:26; cf. GTH 55; 101), it still emphasizes that a true disciple should not love them “more than me” (Matt 10:37), a version that conflicts with the importance of honoring one’s family: the ambiguity or tension in Q is softened, but maintained.
5. Phenotypical Features.
Phenotypical features in antiquity were often associated with family, land, and especially climate (Malina & Neyrey: Ch. 1). Such features evoked outsiders’ descriptions, which were typically ethnocentric. For example, it was believed that Ethiopians were dark and had curly beards and hair because the sun had scorched them, but Europeans were white and had frosty skin and straight, yellow hair because of their northern climate (Pliny, NATURAL HISTORY: 2:80.189). Big people were thought to come from rugged, mountainous regions; tall people from highlands; and dark skinned people from lowlands (Hippocrates, AIR, WATER, AND PLACES 24:1-4). Corinthians and Leucadians were said to be small-limbed with small eyes and a small face (Pseudo-Aristotle, PHYSIOGNOMIes 808a, 30-33e). Yet, according to Cohen “not a single ancient author comments on the distinctive size, looks, or coiffure of the Jews,” although there are notations about their beards (Cohen 1999: 28).
There seem to be no ethnos/genos-related phonotypical features in Matthew.
Spatial proximity, territory, and geography are terms that can be used to refer to one of the three most important identity markers, “land” or “homeland,” the other two being kinship and mythical ancestry (Malina & Neyrey: Ch. 1). Indeed, common place of origin is often connected with genos, one’s origins by common descent and parentage.
Among the Greeks, religious practices were sometimes associated with regions (J. M. Hall: 45). In Israel the covenant promise included the land (Gen 15:18-21). The semantic field for place (topos) takes on great significance for both individual and collective identity.
Land and place associations related to ethnic collectivities are very common in the Gospel of Matthew (Duliug 2002). The writer mentions “part” or “district” (ta mere) three times, one each in relation to Galilee (Matt 2:22), Tyre and Sidon (Matt 15:21), and Caesarea Philippi (Matt 16:13). Galilee occurs by itself twelve times (Matt 3:13; 4:12; 4:23, 25; 17:22; 19:1; 21:11; 26:32; 27:55; 28:7; 28:10, 16) and the Sea of Galilee three times (Matt 4:18; 15:29; 28:16). The Gospel also has references to “land (ge) of” Judah (Matt 2:6), Israel (Matt 2:20, 21), Zebulun (Matt 4:15), Naphtali (Matt 4:15), and Sodom and Gomorrah (Matt 10:15; 11:24). It mentions the “region (ta oria) of Judea beyond the Jordan,” the wilderness of Judea, and simply Judea (Matt 19:1; 3:1; 2:1, 5, 22; 3:5; 14:16). One of the best statements is 4:23-25: “And he went about all Galilee … (24) So his fame spread throughout all Syria … (25) And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan.” A key reference pertaining to Jesus, as Riches noted, is the reference to his homeland, “Galilee of the ethnon.” Yet, in apparent tension with it is 10:5: “Go nowhere among the Gentile places (hodon ethnon), and enter no town of the Samaritans.” Egypt is also mentioned (Matt 2:13, 14, 15, 19). To these we may add persons identified by place, such as Simon the Cananaean, the Canaanite woman, and Simon of Cyrene (Matt 10:4; 15:22; 27:32).
It is common to identify persons ethnically by their (home)land in the Gospel, but it is also true that the Gospel contains much topographical symbolism, for example, the mountain, especially in relation to Moses (Allison: passim). This observation, however, moves beyond literal place. There are possible hints in the story that the Gospel of Matthew was written “beyond the Jordan,” that is, east or northeast of the Jordan (Matt 19:1; 4:15; see Theissen: 249-52); however, Antioch and Galilee/southern Syria are most often defended. It is coordinate with Riches’ point about metaphorization: the most important “place” is with Jesus.
7. Common Language.
The Herodotus quotation above illustrates language as a major ethnic marker. Indeed, languages in antiquity preserved and spread an elite culture that marked social boundaries and reinforced “political and cultural coherence, or group identity (Bowman & Wolff: 12). The Greek term barbaros seems to have referred originally to the babbling of non-Greeks (E. Hall: 172; Harrison; cf. J. M. Hall: 45). Egyptians called those who did not speak Egyptian “other-tongued” and Persians thought that those who have the same language should not engage in war with each other (Harrison). Cohen argues that there was no special “Jewish Greek”; Israelites spoke Greek like everyone else (Cohen 1999: 34-35). However, Hamilton claims that “the use of Hebrew in the post-exilic books of the Bible was itself a conscious act of establishing ethnic boundaries. The use of Hebrew allowed one to assert one’s Jewishness simply by speaking” (Hamilton 1998-2002). On the Greek language side, Diaspora synagogue Israelites had a Septuagint-based in-group Greek, as did ancient Christ believers (Malherbe: 35-41).
The clearest reference to language as an ethnic marker in Matthew is the well known challenge to Peter: “Certainly you are also one of them, for your lalia betrays you” (Matt 26:73). The term /al/a in this verse means literally “form of speaking”; it is usually translated “accent,” but can also refer to “dialect” (Liddell-Scott-Jones-McKenzie: 1026). Either way, the comment refers to regional difference. Special Israelite customs were also common, as the following section indicates.
To ethos, to ethos, synetheia, and ta nomima refer to to “custom” or “habit,” that is, traditionally accepted, socially sanctioned patterns of behavior. The root meaning of ta nomima implies conformity with law (nomos), and thus it also means “statues,” “ordinances,” “dues” (Liddell-Scott-Jones-McKenzie: 1179b). In the Septuagint they are often linked with ta dikaiomata, also “ordinances.” A good example of conformity to customs is that a sixth-century Greek poet, Anakreon, remarks that Dorians were known by their dress (Hall 1997: 38) and Thucydides mentions that the inhabitants of Gela in Sicily adopted Dorian customs (Pindar, PYTHIAN ODES 1.62-65). On the Judean side, an illustration of religious “customs” comes again from 1 Maccabees: “And the king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the cities of Judah; he directed them to follow customs strange to the land (nomimon allotrion tes ges),” whereupon a number of cultic practices and items are mentioned (1 Macc 1:44). Cohen argues that outsiders normally would not have identified Israelites by any customs, for example, special Israelite names, occupations, or distinctive dress, but he admits that the rabbis themselves considered tasseled fringes (tzitzit) and phylacteries (tefillin) specific to Israelites (Cohen 1999: 30-34). Yet, traditionally accepted Israelite nomima were usually considered to be religious in contrast to non-Israelite nomima, and thus in most respects they were oppositional.
Ordinary customs in the Gospel of Matthew are mentioned in passing. They include formal meal etiquette: advance invitations, Matt 22:3, and seats of honor, Matt 23:6; customary fasts (Matt 6:16-18); male dress, including fringes on the male’s outer garment (tzitzit) and phylacteries (tefillin) (Matt 9:20-22; 23:5; 11:8; 3:11; fringes: Num 15:37-41; Deut 22:12; ARISTEAS 157-58; Josephus, ANTIQUITIES: 4.213; phylacteries: ARISTEAS 157-58; in the rabbinic imagination, fringes and phylacteries were Israelite ethnic markers, cf. Cohen 1999: 34); sandals (Matt 3:11; 10:10); tearing one’s clothes in times of distress (Matt 26:65 [cf. 2 Kgs 18.37-19.3; Acts 14.14]); repentance in sackcloth and ashes (Matt 11:21); marriage customs (Matt 1:18-25; 11.17a [see Jet 9.17-22]; 25:1-13); divorce certificates (Matt 19:7 [Mark 10:4]); and funeral customs (Matt 8:21 [Q 9:57]; Matt 11:17b; 27:59; 23:27). Many of these customs reinforce traditional Israelite patriarchy.
Yet, there are clear challenges to law and custom in Matthew. Neither the dress (Matt 3:4) nor the diet (Matt 3:4) of the Baptizer is customary, although perhaps expected of certain prophets. Jesus leaves his village and does not follow his father’s trade (Matt 13:55). He associates with women in public and eats and drinks with the expendables and the unclean. He is charged with being a “glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matt 11:18-19 [Q7:34]; but cf. Deut 21:20 for the stubborn and rebellious son). He recommends for his followers a life-style that includes no wealth, no change of clothes, and no sandals (Matt 10:9). There is some inconsistency about fasting: Jesus does it, his disciples do not (but would in the future), and when fasting, one should fast privately, not publicly (Matt 4:1-11; 6:16-18; 9:1417 [Mark 2:18-22]). Honoring one’s parents is important (Matt 19:19), but one should not love them “more than” Jesus (Matt 10:37, softening Q 14:26). Following him apparently absolves one from burying one’s father (Matt 8:21). Jesus’ true family is not biological, but consists of those who do the Father’s will (Matt 12:46-50 [Mark 3:31-36]). Jesus teaches that except in cases of porneia, divorcing a woman leads her to commit adultery; indeed, a divorced man’s remarriage is an act of adultery, and so is his marriage to a divorced woman (whether he has been married or not) (Matt 5:32; 19:9). Such observations are about customs, but overlap with religious law, the next category.
9. Common Religion and Religious Practices.
Herodotus claimed that one feature of Greek self-identity is religion (Herodotus 8.144.2). The primary emphasis in Greek religion, according to Neils, was ritual, for example, festivals, religious processions, oracles, athletic contests, gifts, and sacrifices (Neils 1992). While Israelites valued ritual, the more important norm had become the sacred text and its interpretation by specialists. Here I limit myself to law, especially the Sabbath, food, and circumcision, all important in the ethnic identity discussion.
With respect to law, Sim focuses on Sanders’ “covenantal nomism,” which stresses salvation as God’s special gift to his covenant people, rooted in three emphases: the promises of descendants and the land to ancestor Abraham, deliverance of Israel by God’s gracious acts, and obedience to God’s commandments. The sign of covenantal election was male circumcision (Sanders 1977; see above, section 1). For Sanders covenantal nomism was normative in Palestine and very widespread in the Diaspora, although secondary in writers such as Philo (Sanders 1977: 426, 235-36). John Collins, however, offers a somewhat different legal perspective, emphasizing that in Diaspora literature Torah laws that were offensive to non-Israelites were usually avoided. Even in Palestinian literature alternatives to covenantal nomism existed, for example, the seer’s revelatory vision and wisdom. As Collins says, “Despite the undeniably central role of the covenant law in the Jewish tradition, not all strands of Judaism had their primary focus on the law, and even those that did understood it in various ways” (Collins 1986: 15). For Collins there was no universal means by which Israelites identified themselves (at least at the ideological level; cf. Hamilton 1998-2002 for the Achaemenid Period). Given Sim’s dependence on Sanders, Collins’ shift in emphasis is a significant counterweight. Three of Collins’ law-based examples relevant for ethnic identity are Sabbath, dietary regulations, and circumcision.
Romans recognized that Israelites would not do business on the Sabbath (Y.-E. Yang; cf. Ovid, REMEDIA AMORIS 217-20; Frontinus, STP, ATEGEMATA 2.1.17; for the Sabbath, see Gen 2:1-3; Exod 20:11: 31:17). Indeed, Seneca and Tacitus said that they were lazy for not working on the Sabbath (Seneca, ON SUPERSTITIONS, as cited by Augustine, THE CITY OF GOD 6, 11; Tacitus, HISTORIES: 5.4.3) and Josephus wrote that Plutarch and Agatharchides ridiculed them for refusing to engage in war on the Sabbath (Seneca, ON SUPERSTITIONS: 8; Josephus, AGAINST APION: 1.210). Yet, Josephus claimed that non-Israelites were attracted to Israelite religious observances, including the Sabbath rest, fasting, and food regulations (Josephus, AGAINST APION: 2.282 ); he, himself, vacillated on the issue of waging war on the Sabbath (opposed: Josephus, AGAINST APION: 2.21-27; ANTIQUITIES: 16:27-30; observed: AGAINST APION: 2.282). While there were extensive Rabbinic debates about what kinds of work are forbidden on the Sabbath (Y.-E. Yang: 91-95), the tendency in Diaspora writings was to avoid mentioning the Sabbath laws (Collins 1986: 147, 153 [SIBYLLINE ORACLES], 161 [TESTAMENTS OF THE TWELVE PATRIARCHS]). Moreover, although Philo stressed observance, he universalized it by allegorizing it (Philo, ON THE CREATION: 89-128).
The Matthean writer also has a “loose constructionist” view. Nine of ten Sabbath references are clustered in back-to-back stories (Matt 12:1-8 [Mark 2:23-28] and 9-14 [Mark 3:1-6]; cf. also Matt 28:1 [Mark 16:1]; omitting 28:1). Five in this context are from Mark (Matt 12:1 [Mark 2:23]; Matt 12:2 [Mark 2:24]; Matt 12:8 [Mark 2:28]; Matt 12:10 [Mark 3:2]; Matt 12:12 [Mark 3:4]); the Matthean writer adds four (Matt 12:5 [2x]; 12:11; 12:24]) in which Jesus challenges the Pharisees’ “strict constructionist” views. In the first story, Jesus defends the disciples’ unlawful act of plucking grain on the Sabbath by drawing on David’s precedent of unlawful eating the bread of the Presence (1 Sam 21:1-7), “for the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” He adds that temple priests were permitted to break the Sabbath law (Matt 12:5; see Num 28:9-10) and in any case mercy is more important than temple sacrifice (Matt 9:13; 12:7 [Hos 6:6]), implying that it is also more important than strict Sabbath observance. In the second story, Jesus heals the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath. One needs to be aware that while there is no Torah prohibition against healing on the Sabbath and at least some Rabbis allowed for helping an animal get itself out of the pit (such as with a ramp) or feeding it while it is still in the pit to keep it alive (M. YOMA 8.6; MEKILTA on Exod. 22:2; cf. Davies & Allison 1991:318), stricter Rabbinic views forbade healing or lifting an animal from the pit on the Sabbath (M. BESA 3.4; see Schiffman: 278). Such strict views can be found also in the Dead Sea Scrolls (CD 11.13-14; cf. Josephus, WARS OF THE JEWS: 2:8,9). The Matthean writer does not abrogate the Sabbath (12:7-8 [contrast Mark 2:27]), he goes a little further than the loose interpretation and totally against the strict interpretation when he adds to Mark that Jesus’ said that it is permitted to lift a sheep out of the pit on the Sabbath (Matt 12:11-12). Jesus is thus portrayed as a “loose constructionist” who challenges strict Sabbath interpretations (Schiffman: 315).
There are key dietary prohibitions in Leviticus 11, and the author of 1 Maccabees says that pious Israelites “resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food” (1 Macc 1:62). Previously I have noted Josephus’ opinion that some non-israelites adopted Israelite food practices (Josephus, AGAINST APION: 2.282 ). Collins, however, indicates that dietary laws were de-emphasized in the Hellenistic Israelite literature (Collins 1986: 143). Similarly the Matthean writer accepts and highlights the Markan anti-Pharisaic view that “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles” (Matt 15:10 [Mark 7:15]). There is certainly a precedent for the priority of “religion of the heart” in Israel (Ps 18:26; 24:4; IQS 3:6-9; 5:13-14; Josephus, ANTIQUITIES: 18.117), but there is also strong evidence that stricter Israelites did not eat with non-Israelites (e.g., Gal 2:11-14). The writer of Matthew again represents a loose, not a strict, construction of dietary prohibitions.
The third practice, circumcision, is, as previously indicated, the most debated of these three Israelite religio-ethnic practices. Genesis 17:11 contains the Torah command: “You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.” Ezekiel acids that the house of Israel breaks the covenant when it allows foreigners (LXX allogenes) who are “uncircumcised in heart and flesh” to profane the temple by entering it (Ezek 44:6-9). 1 Maccabees claims that Israelites (e.g., males) distinguish themselves from Greeks chiefly by circumcision; indeed, Israelites who wanted to look more Greek-like practiced epispasm (Hall 1988: 71-86). It is argued by some scholars that Philo thought circumcision to be necessary (Philo, ON THE MIGRATION Or ABRAHAM: 91). While some Roman writers were aware that other groups practiced circumcision (Herodotus, HISTORIES. 2.104.1-3; Diocorus Siculus, LIBRARY OF HISTORY: 1.28.3; Origen, AGAINST CELSUS: 1.22; see Lieu 1994: 360 n. 8), they associated the practice chiefly with the Israelites (Cohen 1999: 40-41, citing M. Stern [Horace, SATIRES 1.9.69-70; Persius, SATIRES 5:184; Petronius, frag. No. 37; Martial, EPIGRAMS: 7.30.5; Celsus, DE MEDICINA 7.25.1; Suetonius, DOMITIAN: 12.2; Tacitus, HISTORIES: 5.5.1-2; Juvenal, SATIRES: 14.96-106]; see Collins 1985: 163; 1986: 6). Cohen asserts that no evidence exits for assuming that native Israelites ever dispensed with the eighth-day circumcision requirement (1999: 30, 158, 169, 215). Clearly the evidence for the circumcision requirement is strong; hence, there is a good case for Sim’s view based on that of E. P. Sanders.
Yet, even here there some cause for pause. Cohen believes that circumcision was everywhere practiced, but adds that because it excludes half the population and other Eastern peoples were known to have practiced it (Cohen 1999: 39-56), it could not have been a boundary marker for Israelite self-identity in the East, as is usually thought. He adds that there is no evidence that any Israelite male actually checked another Israelite male to see whether he was circumcised (a modesty factor) and concludes generally that “Jews and Gentiles in antiquity were corporeally, visually, linguistically, and socially indistinguishable” (37).
A few specific texts raise specific questions. I Maccabees says that Mattathias and his friends “forcibly circumcised all the uncircumcised boys that they found within the borders of Israel” (I Macc 2:45). The author of Jubilees attacks those who failed to circumcise their sons, clearly implying that some did not (JUBILEES: 15:25-34). With respect to Diaspora literature, circumcision is not mentioned in the LETTER OF ARISTEAS or PSEUDO PHOCYLIDES. In a much debated passage, Philo mentions pure allegorists who had abandoned circumcision. Philo defended the practice, but he did so without condemning those who did not as unfaithful Israelites (Philo, ON THE MIGRATION OF ABRAHAM: 89-94). John Barclay reacts negatively to Daniel Boyarin’s view that there was a deep homology with the ideas of Philo and Paul and that Philo, like Paul, universalizes circumcision (Barclay; cf. Boyarin). Sim, of course, is aware of Philo’s “loose” position. In any case, Collins concludes, “In view of Philo’s comments on the allegorists, we must allow that there were some ethnic Jews who abandoned circumcision without repudiating Judaism, however much other Jews may have ‘blamed’ them” (Collins 1985: 173). Since Wolfson’s work, some scholars have argued that Philo himself might have leaned in this direction, although other scholars contest Wolfon’s view (Wolfson; Borgen).
Crucial to the circumcision question is whether male proselytes were always and everywhere circumcised in order to become full proselytes. Much evidence suggests that they were. The book of Judith says that the proselyte Anchior underwent circumcision (Judith 14:10). Josephus wrote that circumcision was forced on conquered non-Israelite males in Maccabean Palestine, that males who married into the Herodian family were circumcised, and that the Roman general Metilius converted and was circumcised (Josephus, ANTIQUITIES: 13.9.1 [257-58]; 16.7.6 ; WAR 1.17.10). In the conversion of Izates, king of Adiabene, the Galilean Eleazar convinced the king that circumcision was a necessary requirement and he finally submitted (Josephus, ANTIQUITIES: 20.2-4). The Jerusalem Talmud normally views circumcision of proselytes as a requirement (Cohen 1999: 219, n. 46). Tacitus wrote that those who “crossed over” were required to be circumcised (Tacitus, HISTORTES: 5.5.2; Juvenal, SATIRE:S 14.96-105; Cohen 1999: 157). Thus, some scholars have justifiably argued that to become a full proselyte one had to be circumcised (Nolland; Barclay; Cohen 1999: 152, 219-21; 2002: 397).
Again, however, there is some question about its universality. As with Sabbath and dietary regulations, the subject of circumcision of proselytes was avoided in Israelite Diaspora literature (Collins 1985 passim). The Sibylline Oracles stressed that conversion entails worshipping the one true God in the Jerusalem Temple, but did not mention circumcision. In the Izates story, the Israelite merchant Ananias who initially advised the royal family told the king that circumcision was not necessary to worship the God of Israel (Josephus, ANTIQUITIES: 20.2-4). Philo defended circumcision in the flesh (Philo, ON THE SPECIAL LAWS: 1:1-11). Barclay claims that Philo never abandoned literal circumcision, but defended the practice. Philo gave six reasons: 1) it prevents infection; 2) it prevents collection of dirt; 3) a circumcised heart (Jer 9:25) requires circumcised flesh; 4) it aids in delivering sperm; 5) it checks sensuous pleasures; and 6) it helps guard against the conceit that humans generate under their own power (Barclay 1998: 538-39). However, in one passage Philo virtually allegorized it away when he wrote that the proselyte is “one who circumcises not his uncircumcision but his desires and sensual pleasures and the other passions of the soul. For in Egypt the Hebrew nation was not circumcised” (Philo, QUESTIONS ON EXODUS: 2.2). Collins compares Philo’s view to Rabbi Joshua’s view in the Babylonian Talmud, namely, that baptism, not circumcision, was the prerequisite for conversion (BABYLONIAN TALMUD YEBAMOTH: 46a). R. Eliezer and the rest of the sages disagreed. In the Jerusalem Talmud, R. Joshua was said to hold both views! For Cohen the Jerusalem Talmud represents the best view. For Collins, Philo’s and R. Joshua’s views in the Babylonian Talmud are “theoretical and do not prove the actual existence of uncircumcised proselytes, but they have at least potential significance nonetheless” (Collins 1985: 174). There are other scholars who speculate about the existence of uncircumcised proselytes (e.g., Wolfson: vol. 2, 369-71; McEleney; Borgen: 61-71; 217-24; Lieu: 363). Despite his open position, Cohen remains unconvinced (Cohen 1999: 152, n. 41). However, it seems inconsistent for Cohen to defend proselyte circumcision as necessary and at the same time claim that it was not a self-identifying social/religious boundary marker. Philo knew that others practiced it, but still identified his people with it; some Greek and Roman writers also knew that others practiced it, but identified Israelites with it.
In short, circumcision was no doubt one self-identifying religio-ethnic practice–even if other peoples practiced it and Israelites did not check each other. It was the norm and can be considered part of the religious practice of Israelites; however, there seem to have been exceptions.
Was one of them the writer of Matthew? It is well known that this gospel, so full of debates about interpretation of the law, does not mention any of the common expressions related to either eighth-day or proselyte circumcision, or the failure to practice it, for example, hoi anomoi (“those who do not follow the Law [Torah]”), he akrobystia (“the foreskin [people]”), “those called circumcision (peritomes) of the flesh” (cf. Gal 2:7-9), akrobystos (“an uncircumcised man”), sebomenoi ton theon (“God fearers”), proselytes (“proselytes”), and proselyta (“full converts to the house of Israel”). Thus, any arguments about circumcision in relation to the Matthean group are ultimately conjectural and based on logic and inference, especially a scholar’s overall perspective on the gospel. If a scholar defends the Palestinian provenance, “Christian Judaism,” and the norms of covenantal nomism, circumcision is more likely to be defended as taken for granted. Matthew’s initial statement about Jesus not coming to destroy the Torah, but to fulfill it (Matt 5:17-20) becomes the norm for everything else; anyone banned from the community should be treated like a ethnikos and a telones (Matt 18:17). Only Torah interpretation is at stake. It is necessary to explain the Matthean silence in the mission statement, and the best explanation is that there are Israelites in his community. This is naturally Sims view.
However, the reverse logic is possible. If the Gospel was written outside the homeland, say in Antioch; if Diaspora writers avoided Israelite practices that would be offensive to Hellenists; and if covenantal nomism was not always and everywhere so normative; and if, as indicated above, the Matthean writer is a loose constructionist on issues such as Sabbath and diet, there is room for reasonable doubt also about circumcision. Matthew could have omitted reference to circumcision because of the ethne in his community, not because it consisted of Ioudaioi and was taken for granted. Perhaps the Matthean community had different requirements for Israelites and male Gentile converts (Davies & Allison 1989: 492-93). Matthew focused on the weightier ethical matters of the Torah, not the light cultic and ritual requirements. Some Israelite communities were known to have waived the requirement in favor of baptism (Saldarini 1994: 156-60). The possibility that circumcision was not practiced must remain.
Sim has offered a very strong case, indeed, but in the main I have taken a position closer to that of Riches. I have presented a broader perspective on ethnicity in antiquity and attempted to relate it to a broader view in the Gospel of Matthew. In both cases there are some ambiguities, and this is especially the case with the Gospel. Since a general perspective on the Gospel is a major factor in interpreting the particulars, it is necessary that I briefly present my own perspective.
Building on the work of marginality sociologists Gino Germani and J. M. Billson, I have attempted to illumine the ambiguities and tensions about authorship, provenance, social context, social conflict, and much else in the Gospel of Matthew in relation to several concepts of marginality (Duling 1995; 2002: notes 2, 3; cf. Carter 2000). The most commonly accepted concept of marginality is what social scientists call “Structural Marginality.” This type refers to structural inequities in the social system: some persons are in the center and some are on the periphery. It is analogous to vertical social stratification. However, in Germani’s view, persons from any level of the social hierarchy can be considered marginal if they are denied access to the goods and services they might be expected to receive (Germani: 49). Yet, it is also true that those on the margins are usually the socially and economically disadvantaged or oppressed. They are often poorer ethnic populations whose norms, values, and attitudes contrast with those in the mainstream, or center. This type of marginality can be illustrated easily in antiquity in relation to hierarchy, or vertical social ranking, that is, those on the margins are at the bottom. They are the vast numbers of poor, destitute, and expendable people, as well as women in certain contexts.
A second concept of marginality is often used in another, somewhat different, way, mostly commonly in our own culture in relation to “women and minorities” who are unsuccessful in entering professions denied them. This type of marginality is “Social Role Marginality.” Social role marginality is a subtype of “structural marginality.” It is “the product of failure to belong to a [desired] positive reference group” (Billson: 184). This type of marginality is more difficult to demonstrate in antiquity because upward social mobility was often limited or non-existent, with the exception of certain subgroups, for example, the Roman military or in religious sects and voluntary associations.
A third concept of marginality is called “Ideological Marginaliy” (Billson: 197), that is, the willed desire to affiliate with a non-normative group. It is derived from anthropologist Victor Turner’s analysis of rites of passage (Turner 1969; 1974). Turner referred to initiates who are temporarily separated (usually physically) from the larger society and its statuses and customs as “marginal” or “liminal” (Latin limen: “threshold”). They are said to be “betwixt and between,” “neither here nor there” (Turner 1969: 95) status-less, role-less, spontaneous, sexless, and anonymous. They experience a certain egalitarianism and intense comradeship, or what is today called “bonding,” in part due their common, temporary separation. Turner also called marginality “anti-structure” or communitas. Although normally spontaneous, there are periodic attempts to routinize it institutionally (Weber). Turner calls this form ideological communitas, or voluntary “outsiderhood” (1974: 133). In this case “cummunitas is what people really seek by voluntary poverty …” (1974: 266). In short, ideological marginality is not structural or role-based; it is a desired, visionary marginality, a self-styled, self-imposed liminality; it consists of individuals and groups who consciously and by choice live outside the normative statuses, roles, and offices of the larger society (1974: 133).
A fourth and final concept is called “Cultural Marginality.” This is Billson’s updated sociological language for R. E. Park’s classical, social-psychological view of the “Marginal Man.” Park had in mind especially immigrants to the USA. He described the “Marginal Man” as one who is “condemned” to live between two different, antagonistic cultural worlds without fully belonging to either, one who is “caught” between two competing cultures. “He” experiences “acceptance or rejection, belonging or isolation, in-group or out-group.” “ambiguities of status and role,” and finally “isolation, identity confusion, and alienation.” Following Park’s lead, Stonequist defined the “Marginal Man” as “unwittingly initiated into two or more historic traditions, languages, political loyalties, moral codes, or religions, one of which is more dominant” (Stonequist: 3). Those who are culturally marginal do not fully assimilate; they are said to be “in-between,” to have “status incongruence” (Schermerhorn: 407) and psychological uncertainty. While one should no longer think of them as culturally “maladjusted” or having “extreme race consciousness” (Lee: 48, 58, 62-63; Duling 2002), it is possible to describe them as “marginal.”
Employing these four nuances to the social-scientific category marginality, the author of Matthew has great concern for structurally marginal persons in Jesus stories about the outcast: forced laborers, day laborers, slaves, tenant farmers, the poor, the destitute in need of alms, eunuchs, ritually unclean, lepers, a woman with a hemorrhage, women who follow Jesus, the diseased and infirm, the blind, the lame, the deaf, the dumb, the deformed, paralytics, demoniacs, epileptics, bandits and prostitutes. The parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matt 25:31-46) offers a paradigm.
I have suggested that the possibility that the Matthean author himself was a product of social role marginality, that is, that he had been a (Pharisaic?) scribe who was denied the social role he expected, but regained his social status as a leader by affiliating with a marginal group in conflict with an opponent group, the Pharisees. This view is speculative, but was typical of those who joined voluntary associations. The author of Matthew did affiliate–probably voluntarily–with a marginal group. I have assumed that he was also ideologically marginal for freely making this choice.
Finally, I have argued that the author was a culturally marginal scribe in a culturally marginal community. He was between two or more “historic traditions, languages, political loyalties, moral codes, and religions.” Many scholars have written about the many tensions between “Judaism” and “Hellenism” in this Gospel. I have cited several such tensions in this study. With this form of marginality in mind the Gospel of Matthew is “betwixt and between”–between the Israelite and Greco-Roman worlds; between the homeland and the Diaspora; between Semitic and Greek; between Roman power with its puppet kings and the power of the king of kings; between the old righteousness and the higher righteousness; between wealth and poverty; finally, between “strict” constructionist views of the Torah and his own “loose” constructionist view. Donald Senior stated it nicely in his article “Between Two Worlds: Gentile and Israelite Christians in Matthew’s Gospel.” It is hardly any wonder that scholars have debated the identity of the author on a scale from “Gentile Christian” to “Christian Jew.” The writer of Matthew was culturally marginal, probably negotiating the “in-betweenness” of culturally marginal clusters of communities (Stanton 1994). He himself was a revisionist scribe “instructed for the Kingdom bringing out of his storehouse what is old and what is new” (Matt 13:52). It is this perspective on the Gospel that is consistent with the author’s broader view of ethnicity.
With these more specific views of marginality in mind, it is time to return to that special use of ethnos in the Gospel of Matthew passed over in the previous discussion of ethnos.
The Matthean Ethnos (Matthew 21:43)
Matthew 21:43 has a very distinctive use of the term ethnos, one that is not found in the other canonical Gospels or elsewhere in Matthew: “Therefore I tell you [plural], the kingdom of God will be taken away from you [plural] and given to an ethnos producing the fruits of it” (Matt 21:43). The meaning of “fruits” as deeds in Matthew is well established, as for example, “you will know them by their fruits” (Matt 7:16, 20 [false prophets]; 3:8 [repentance and bearing fruit]; 5:17-19 [good and bad trees]; cf. 7:17-20; 12:33; 13:22-23). In this context, the tenants of the vineyard will give the lord of the vineyard “the fruits in their seasons at harvest time” (Matt 21:41).
More difficult to interpret are the meanings of “you” (plural) and an ethnos producing the fruits of the Kingdom. The sequence of the context is (1) the “rejected stone” prophecy, (2) the fruit-producing ethnos saying, and (3) the “(rejected) stone” that (who?) has the power to destroy (Matt 21:44, added by the author). Number 1 is from Mark (12:10 [Ps 118:22-23]); but Numbers 2 and 3 are inserted by Matthew. The ethnos verse begins with “Therefore,” that is, it interprets the previous “rejected stone.” The rejected stone probably points back to the murdered son in the Wicked Tenants allegory taken from Mark 12:1-12, which is related to the still earlier Two Sons allegory (Matt 21:28-32) and the initial question about Jesus’ authority (Matt 21:23-27). Thus, the plural “you” in “Therefore I tell you” appears to refer back to the “chief priests and the elders of the people” in the temple. This group seems to be implied by the “you” (plural) that introduces the Two Sons (Matt 21:28), as well, and by the repetition of “you” (plural) in the Two Sons interpretation that tax collectors and prostitutes will enter into the kingdom before “you” (Matt 21:31). One would therefore think that the “you” being replaced by the fruit-bearing ethnos has been clearly identified: “the chief priests and elders of the people.” However, as often happens in Matthew, it may be that the audience shifts, in this case to those who come immediately after this section. If so, it shifts to “chief priests and Pharisees,” those “who realized he was speaking about them.” The section concludes with the Marriage Feast allegory, probably from Q (Matt 22:l-14//Luke 14:16-24//GTH 64), to which the Matthean writer adds the Wedding Garment allegory (Matt 22:11-14).
All these complications have led to a variety of interpretations. Some exegetes have focused on the whole unit. Thus, the kingdom of God would be taken from Israel and its leaders (tenants) because of their rejection and execution of, first, John the Baptizer and then Jesus (the rejected stone/executed son). It would then be given to the Gentile church (uninvited guests) after the destruction of Jerusalem (“miserable death”/”destruction of murderers”/ burning of the city), Israel’s punishment for her sin of rejection/ murder. The Kingdom would there be taken from “you” (Israelites and their leaders) and given to a fruit-producing ethnos (the Gentile church). This salvation-historical interpretation depends heavily on the Wedding Banquet parable. God punished Israel (destroyed Jerusalem, 22:7) because she persecuted her own prophets (first set of servants), as well as the apostles (second set of servants), and she rejected and killed God’s son. Thus, God has now offered salvation to the church. The “you” is Israel and her leaders, but the ethnos as church is usually considered to be neither “Jewish” nor “Gentile,” but a “third race.” Both Graham N. Stanton and Davies and Allison have defended a version of this “third race” option, namely, there was a break between the synagogue and the church and the ethnos is a new nation, the Christian church, made up of both Jews and Gentiles (Stanton 1992: 11-12, 151-2 and passim; 1994: 9-23; Davies & Allison 1989: 23). My view that the author and his community are “between” can be coordinated with this “third race” view, although the break would is a little more like a fine-line fracture.
However, several scholars have argued that the conflict is between “Jews” who believe in Jesus and “Jews” who do not. The late Anthony Saldarini, who is representative, had a special interest in ethnos:
… the author of Matthew almost certainly refers to his own group
as the ethnos which produced the fruit of the kingdom. Even if he
did mean all the Christian communities in the Roman Empire, and even
if we imagine them as much more institutionalized than they seem to
have been in the late first century, this ethnos would not match the
definition of a nation or even that of a coherent ethnic group.
Matthew, then, uses the term ethnos of his own group in a restricted
sense. The ordinary meaning of ethnos that fits Matthew’s usage is
that of a voluntary organization or small social group. The Matthean
ethnos is a small subgroup, whose exact make-up is not specified
Saldarini is willing to call this voluntary organization or small social group a “sect” or voluntary association (e.g., 1994: 90-123). However, in reference to the allegory the vineyard, he offers a slightly different interpretation referring to the leaders. “Thus the ethnos bearing (literally “making”) fruit (21:43) is a new group of tenants (that is, true leaders of Israel) who will give the owner his share of the fruits at the appropriate time (21:41)” (1994: 60). Finally, he merges the group and leadership interpretations: “The ethnos is a group of leaders, with their devoted followers, that can lead Israel well” (1994: 61). Obviously, this is not an ethnie in the usual sense of the ethnicity model in this article; it is built on the broader meaning of the term ethnos as any sort of group.
Sim appears to follow Saldarini on this ethnos verse, as his notes show, but not quite all the way. The old tenants/leaders have the Kingdom taken away from them, but the new tenants/ leaders, are “either the Matthean community alone or Christian Judaism in general.” Concerned to show that “Christian Judaism” was still “Judaism,” he does not distinguish the Matthean community and its leaders here; rather, “Matthew’s Christian Jewish group claimed (albeit unsuccessfully) a leadership role within the Jewish community and within the Jewish religion” (Sim 1998: 149 [italics mine]).
Riches, who calls this ethnos a “fictive nation” consisting of “sons of God,” goes part way with Saldarini, but his interpretation is very unlike Sim’s:
Much of … [Saldafini’s position] … seems to me to be fight; I
cannot believe that the meaning here is that the church is to be
seen as a new ethnic grouping similar to, but wholly distinct from,
Israel. But some qualifications do also need to be made. I do not
think the self-understanding of the Matthean community is that of “a
small subgroup” or of a voluntary organisation or small social
group. On the contrary, they see themselves as part of the “many who
will come to set at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (8:11), as
those commissioned by the Son of Man, to whom all authority has been
given, to go and make disciples of all nations (28:19), and this
pressing of the metaphor of the vineyard must, sooner or later, lead
to its extension. Precisely because of the corporate sense of
ethnos, one cannot detach the nature of the leadership from the
nature of the people they lead. Israel led by the followers of Jesus
will be a different kind of grouping from that led by the Jewish
leaders opposed to Jesus and Matthew’s community [Riches: 221-22,
Riches’ main concern to “extend the metaphor” to a larger, more inclusive community brings with it a critique of Saldarini’s small group focus that leads in the direction of a different kind of, more inclusive, Israel; but it also tends to collapse the group’s leadership into the group.
I have generally come down more on the side of Riches than Sim in this article, and agree with his focus on greater inclusiveness. However, here I must part company with him, for I would have to agree with Saldarini’s focus on “sect,” voluntary association, and small group and with his initial attempt to distinguish the group’s leaders. Indeed, it may be that ethnos in this passage refers to both the group and its leaders in opposition to a priestly ethnos, to which the author of Matthew adds his favorite antagonists, the Pharisees in the following passage.
The Gospel of Matthew can be interpreted in terms of voluntary associations, which are also fictive kin groups (Duling 1999; 2002; cr. Ascough). Moshe Weinfeld’s analysis of the Qumran Community views it as a voluntary association (Weinfeld). Weinfeld’s conclusion was that except for the absence of regulations about temple sacrifices, funeral and burial rites, and membership fees and fines, the organizational structure and penal code of the Qumran Community and the Graeco-Roman guilds and associations–he studied those from Ptolemaic Egypt, Greece, and Rome–were nearly identical. Walker-Ramisch challenged Weinfeld’s comparative approach (Walker-Ramisch). She argued that that the Dead Sea Scrolls cannot be taken as evidence for a single “Qumran Community” (usually “the Essenes”) because (1) correlating literature with archaeology is questionable; (2) documents found in groups cannot tell us who produced them or how they interpreted them; (3) hypotheses about a group’s social life based on such constructs are Weberian “ideal types” with no historical reality capable of yielding a Geertzian “thick description”; and (4) Weinfeld’s analysis follows the dubious procedure of accepting both “Qumran Community” and “Christianity” as harmonizing constructs. Weinfeld himself was unwilling to call the community an “association” directly; he preferred the term “sect” because of its ideology and the three exceptions just mentioned. However, Klinghardt extended Weinfeld’s analysis to include what he considered to be all the voluntary associations. He concluded that most associations did not practice sacrifice, that not all stressed burial regulations, and some did not charge regular fees. In short, he argued, there was no reason not to call the Qumran “sect”–or perhaps a sect represented by a single scroll–an “association”: the distinction should be removed.
The sect was a private association in a legal sense … [T]he
particularly Israelite theological (and social!) concepts, such as
covenant, purity, holiness, etc., were under the altered
circumstances of the Hellenistic culture, realized in the categories
of religious associations and thus achieved innovative social
concretion in a new political and social setting [Klinghardt:
Four of the eight common features isolated by Weinfeld are precisely those of greatest interest in Matthew 18:15-17: reproof of members, exclusion from the community, temporary expulsion, and final expulsion.
Saldarini also realized that ethnos could refer to guilds and trade associations. Kloppenborg has offered some confirmatory evidence. He thinks that Saldarini’s reference to E Poland is not accurate, since Poland does not say that ethnos was an important designation for an association; also, Saldarini’s use of P. Petrie III 32r.2, v.i.3-4, ii.10-11 (III BCE) from Liddell-Scott-Jones-McKenzie (Saldarini 1994: 245, n. 64) does not provide a good example because the term probably refers to a worker who “takes on the role of the guard the people and the workshops” (so Ulrich Wilken). However, Kloppenborg, as already noted, has his own evidence for an ethnos as a voluntary association (see above). Saldarini also considered not only Pharisees, but priests, in terms of ethnos as a voluntary association (1988: 69) and Kloppenborg points to more texts that show that that the term ethnos was used specifically in relation to priestly associations (hiera ethne, Petrie III 59.B.4 [III BCE]; Dittenberger: 90.A.17 [196 BCE]; hieroethnoi, “priestly associations” (Wessely: XV 32.v.8 [II/III CE]; Grenfell & Hunt: XLIX 3470.16 [131 CE]; 3471.14 [131 CE]).
Is it possible that the special use of the term ethnos for priestly associations triggered the Matthean special use here? If so, he considered (the leaders of?) his group to be an ethnos/voluntary association in opposition to the priestly leaders as an ethnos, with whom he has also linked his main opponents, the Pharisees, as an ethnos.
Summary and Conclusion
It is generally accepted that groups construct their boundaries and attempt to maintain them; yet, they use some common cultural features to do so. The term ethnos in ancient Greek has a wider semantic range than what modern people usually mean by an ethnic group or modern scholars mean by an ethnie. Nonetheless, modern discussions of ethnicity can help to develop a model that will highlight key socio-cultural features in the process of being socially constructed.
The model can then be used to interpret ethnicity in antiquity and related to the Gospel of Matthew. At times in the Gospel the boundaries of the old ethnicity are being maintained, but at other times they are more porous. This observation is consonant with the Matthean group as a culturally marginal group. It is “in-between.” The Matthean group thus stands on the boundary “between” Israel and non-Israel, which is just where the marginal Matthean writer himself stands. The group is therefore in the process of (re-)constructing its ethnic boundaries. In this context, the writer is silent about circumcision precisely because circumcision draws the boundaries between insiders and outsiders too sharply. There is occasional precedent for that openness in the Israelite communities, especially in the Diaspora. Finally, there is the special case of a fruit-bearing ethnos in Matthew 21. This ethnos is opposed to the Pharisees and particularly to the priestly authorities. It appears at first glance to refer to the Matthean association itself, a sort of new ethnic. However, since the term ethnos can refer to ancient priestly associations, it seems better to think of this particular ethnos is an alternative leadership association within the Matthean group. If so, it pits one ethnos association of leaders against another.
Tiger Woods, tongue-in-cheek, once described himself as a “Cablinasian” (=Caucasian + Black + Indian + Asian). I dedicate this study to my Tiger look-alike son (nicknamed “Woods”), Stephen, a “Cablasian” (=Caucasian + Black + Asian), who in 1974 at the age of two and a half came to the United States from Viet Nam.
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Dennis C. Duling, Ph.D. (University of Chicago), co-chair of the Social-Scientific Criticism of the New Testament section of the Society of Biblical Literature, is author of THE NEW TESTAMENT: HISTORY, LITERATURE, AND SOCIAL CONTEXT (Thomson/Wadsworth, 2003) and a frequent contributor. The original version of this study was discussed at the SNTS in Bonn, Germany, August, 2003.
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