Luke, Judaism, and the Scholars: Critical Approaches to Luke-Acts

Luke, Judaism, and the Scholars: Critical Approaches to Luke-Acts

Talbert, Charles H

JOSEPH B. TYSON, Luke, Judaism, and the Scholars: Critical Approaches to Luke-Acts (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999). Pp. xi + 196. $29.95.

Tyson, professor emeritus of religious studies at Southern Methodist University, surveys selected critical scholarship on the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as it relates to the interpretation of Luke’s treatment of Jews and Judaism. Chapters on the work of F C. Baur, Adolf von Harnack, Adolf Schlatter, Ernst Haenchen and Hans Conzelmann, Jacob Jervell, Jack T. Sanders, Robert L. Brawley, and Robert C. Tannehill show that prior to the Holocaust, views about Judaism were more negative; afterwards, they have been less so but only in degree.

The scholars surveyed in the volume share a certain assumption: Judaism and Christianity are different religions. The contention of T. is twofold: first, Christian NT scholars depict Judaism negatively when they write about Luke-Acts, and second, they advocate supersessionism. There is a range of guilt from the acute (Harnack) to the mild (Jervell), with a range of variation in between. T. operates with the same assumption: Christianity and Judaism were, and are, two different religions. He also judges the twofold contention about the authors surveyed to be a bad thing. It would be good if Christian NT scholars did not depict Judaism negatively when they wrote about Luke-Acts, and it is desirable that they not advocate supersessionism. Part of the difficulty for the scholars is that Luke-Acts contains both positive and negative statements about Jews and Judaism.

Tyson correctly criticizes the use of terminology like “late Judaism” and the depiction of ancient Judaism, derived from Ferdinand Weber and Wilhelm Bousset, as a religion characterized by a remote God and a legalistic system. This depiction’s frame of reference is badly dated, however. Gabriele Boccaccini’s book Middle Judaism: Jewish Thought, 300 B.C.E. to 200 CE. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991) has caused a revolution in our ways of thinking about such matters. Christianity and rabbinic Judaism became normative systems only in the second century C.E. Before then, they were only two of many Judaisms of their time. The blood tie between rabbinic Judaism and Christianity is not that of parent and child. They were siblings. As a result of the great anti-Roman revolts of the first and second centuries C.E. most of the middle Judaisms fell into oblivion, leaving these two survivors to become increasingly estranged and hostile, separating from one another. Each rewrote their common history after its own likeness, and each proclaimed itself the only legitimate heir of ancient Israel and its Scriptures. Christian Judaism and rabbinic Judaism matured into the two living religions we know today. The debate over which is the more authentic (the true Israel) belongs to confessional polemics. To say that rabbinic Judaism is a development from ancient Judaism while Christianity is a new religion is to rely unjustifiably on rabbinic Judaism’s revision of the common history.

Given this advance in our understanding of ancient Judaisms, the question whether Luke-Acts was anti-Jewish or not is nonsense. Luke-Acts represents one stream of middle Judaism. At best, its polemic is that of one sibling against another. Would one call Qumran’s polemics against the hierarchy in Jerusalem anti-Jewish? What about rabbinic attacks on the Sadducees? In Acts, therefore, “the Jews” must mean something like “establishment Judaism of the synagogues.” Furthermore, to defend rabbinic Judaism against the charge of legalism is not to say that there were no legalistic Jews in the period running from 300 B.C.E. to 300 C.E. If supersessionism must be used in the debate (I think it is inaccurate and inappropriate), then one must use it for both Christian Judaism and Rabbinism, not just for the former. Both survivors of the revolts, not just the one, came to see themselves as normative.

If T. has transcended the categories of the late nineteenth century, he has not yet gotten out of the box of the late twentieth century’s view of ancient Judaism. The impact of his interesting survey of scholars is thereby vitiated.

Charles H. Talbert, Baylor University, Waco, TX 76798

Copyright Catholic Biblical Association of America Jul 2000

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