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Bridging between Sister Religions

The Brill Reference

Library of Judaism

Alan J. Avery-Peck (College of the Holy Cross)

William Scott Green (University of Miami)

Editorial Board

David Aaron (Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati)

Herbert Basser (Queen’s University)
Bruce D. Chilton (Bard College)
José Faur (Netanya College)
Neil Gillman ( Jewish Theological Seminary of America)
Mayer I. Gruber (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)
Ithamar Gruenwald (Tel Aviv University)
Maurice-Ruben Hayoun (University of Strasbourg and
Hochschule fuer Juedische Studien Heidelberg)
Arkady Kovelman (Moscow State University)
David Kraemer ( Jewish Theological Seminary of America)
Baruch A. Levine (New York University)
Alan Nadler (Drew University)
Jacob Neusner (Bard College)
Maren Niehoff (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Gary G. Porton (University of Illinois)
Aviezer Ravitzky (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Dov Schwartz (Bar Ilan University)
Güenter Stemberger (University of Vienna)
Michael E. Stone (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Elliot R. Wolfson (University of California, Santa Barbara)


The titles published in this series are listed at brill.com/brlj

Prof. John T. Townsend
Bridging between Sister Religions
Studies of Jewish and Christian Scriptures Offered in
Honor of Prof. John T. Townsend

Edited by

Isaac Kalimi

Cover Illustration: “The First Polyglot Psalter. Psalterium, Hebraeum, Graecum, Arabicum, Chaldaeum”
Ed. Agostino Giustiniani, O.P. (1470–1536). Genoa: Petrus Paulus Porrus, August and November 1516.
Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations. Reprinted with

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Townsend, John T., honouree. | Kalimi, Isaac, editor.

Title: Bridging between sister religions : studies of Jewish and Christian
scriptures offered in honor of Prof. John T. Townsend / edited by Isaac
Description: Leiden : Boston : Brill, 2016. | Series: The Brill reference
library of Judaism, ISSN 1571-5000 ; VOLUME 51 | Includes bibliographical
references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016025922 (print) | LCCN 2016027851 (ebook) |
ISBN 9789004324534 (hardback : alk. paper) | ISBN 9789004324541 (E-book)
Subjects: LCSH: Judaism—Relations—Christianity. | Christianity and other
religions—Judaism. | Bible—Criticism, interpretation, etc. | Rabbinical
literature—History and criticism.
Classification: LCC BM535 .B727 2016 (print) | LCC BM535 (ebook) | DDC
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016025922

Typeface for the Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic scripts: “Brill”. See and download: brill.com/brill-typeface.

issn 1571-5000
isbn 978-90-04-32453-4 (hardback)
isbn 978-90-04-32454-1 (e-book)

Copyright 2016 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands.

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List of Abbreviations ix
List of Contributors xiii

Part 1
The Man and the Book

1 An Introduction 3
Isaac Kalimi

2 Biography and Bibliography of John T. Townsend 11

Isaac Kalimi

Part 2
Hebrew Bible and Its Interpretation

3 Divine Vulnerability: Reflections on the Binding of Issac

(Genesis 22) 19
James L. Crenshaw

4 Shifting Emphasis: Examples of Early and Modern Reception of the

Book of Amos 31
Göran Eidevall

5 Interpreting the Writing on the Wall in Daniel 5 42

Anne E. Gardner

Part 3
New Testament and Its Interpretation

6 The Jewishness of the Gospel of Mark 69

Lawrence M. Wills

7 Jesus’ Work as a Healer in Light of Jewish Purity Laws 87

Cecilia Wassen
viii Contents

8 The Ἰουδαῖοι in the Gospel of John 105

Robert L. Brawley

9 Acts, the “Parting of the Ways” and the Use of the Term ‘Christians’ 128
Joseph B. Tyson

10 Early Christian Attitudes toward ‘Things Jewish’ as Narrated by

Textual Variants in Acts: A Case Study of the D-Textual Cluster 141
Eldon J. Epp

Part 4
Talmudic and Midrashic Studies

11 Some Aspects of Interreligious Polemic in the Babylonian Talmud 175

Yaakov Elman

12 Egyptian Motifs in Late Antique Mosaics and Rabbinic Texts 195

Rivka Ulmer

13 The Binding Fragments of Midrash Tanhuma (Buber) from the

Municipal Library of Trier 217
Andreas Lehnardt

Part 5
Jewish–Christian Relationship

14 “We Love the God Who Loved Us First”: The Second Blessing of the
Shema Liturgy 241
Reuven Kimelman

15 Jewish Mysticism, Nostra Aetate and Renewal in Judaism and

Christianity 262
Bruce Chilton

16 Hanukkah and Community Identity in 1–2 Maccabees and John 284

Michael W. Duggan

Index of Authors 315
Index of Scripture 322
List of Abbreviations

AJSR Association for Jewish Studies Review

BASOR Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research
BBR Bulletin for Biblical Research
Bib Biblica
BibInt Biblical Interpretation
BRev Bible Review
CBQ Catholic Biblical Quarterly
DSD Dead Sea Discoveries
ET English Translation
EvQ Evangelical Quarterly
ExpTim Expository Times
Henoch Henoch: Historical and Philological Studies on Judaism
HTR Harvard Theological Review
HUCA Hebrew Union College Annual
Int Interpretation
JA Journal asiatique
JAC Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum
JBL Journal of Biblical Literature
JJS Journal of Jewish Studies
JQR Jewish Quarterly Review
JSJ Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and
Roman Periods
JSNT Journal for the Study of the New Testament
JSOT Journal for the Study of the Old Testament
Judaica Judaica: Beiträge zum Verstehen des Judentums
LCL Loeb Classic Library
LTQ Lexington Theological Quarterly
LXX The Septuagint
MGWJ Monatschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums
MS Manuscript
MT The Masoretic Text
NovT Novum Testamentum
NTS New Testament Studies
OG The Old Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible
P / Pap Papyrus
PAAJR Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research
pl(s). Plate(s)
x List of Abbreviations

Prooftexts Prooftexts: A Journal of Jewish Literary History

RB Revue biblique
REJ Revue des études juives
RRJ Review of Rabbinic Judaism: Ancient, Medieval and Modern
Shofar Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies
Sinai Sinai: A Monthly-Journal for Torah and Jewish Studies
SyrH Syro-Hexapla (Syriac translation of Origin’s Hexapla)
Textus Textus: Studies of the Hebrew University Bible Project
Th. Theodotion’s Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible
TLZ Theologische Lituraturzeitung
UF Ugarit-Forschungen
VT Vetus Testamentum
ZAW Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft
Zutot Zutot: Perspectives on Jewish Culture

Biblical Books

Gen Genesis
Exod Exodus
Lev Leviticus
Num Numbers
Deut Deuteronomy
Josh Joshua
Judg Judges
1–2 Sam 1–2 Samuel
1–2 Kgs 1–2 Kings
Isa Isaiah
Jer Jeremiah
Ezek Ezekiel
Hos Hosea
Joel Joel
Amos Amos
Obad Obadiah
Jon Jonah
Mic Micah
Nah Nahum
Hab Habakkuk
Zeph Zephaniah
Hag Haggai
List Of Abbreviations xi

Zech Zechariah
Mal Malachi
Ps Psalms
Prov Proverbs
Job Job
Song Song of Songs
Ruth Ruth
Lam Lamentations
Qoh Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes)
Esth Esther
Dan Daniel
Ezra Ezra
Neh Nehemiah
1–2 Chr 1–2 Chronicles

1–2–3–4 Macc 1–2–3–4 Maccabees

1–2 Esdr 1–2 Esdras
Sir Ben Sira / Sirach (Ecclesiasticus)

Matt Matthew
Mark Mark
Luke Luke
John John
Acts Acts of the Apostles
Rom Romans
1–2 Cor 1–2 Corinthians
Gal Galatians
Eph Ephesians
Phil Philippians
Col Colossians
1–2 Thess 1–2 Thessalonians
1–2 Tim 1–2 Timothy
Tit Titus
Phlm Philemon
Heb Hebrews
Jas James
1–2 Pet 1–2 Peter
1–2–3 John 1–2–3 John
Jude Jude (Judas)
Rev Revelation
xii List of Abbreviations

Texts from Dead Sea Scrolls

1QH The Hodoyot (Thanksgiving Hymns)

1QpHab Pesher Habakkuk (The Habakkuk Commentary)
1QS The Community Rule
1QSa The Rule of the Congregation
4Q174 The Florilegium
4Q274 The Tohorot
4QDana A manuscript of Daniel
4QMMT The Halakhic Letter
11QT The Temple Scroll
CD The Damascus Document
List of Contributors

Robert L. Brawley
(Ph.D., Princeton Theological Seminary) is Professor of New Testament,
Emeritus, at McCormick Theological Seminary. He is the author of Luke-Acts
and the Jews: Conflict, Apology, and Conciliation (Society of Biblical Literature
Monograph Series 33; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987); Centering on God: Method
and Message in Luke-Acts (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox, 1990); and
Text to Text Pours Forth Speech: Voices of Scripture in Luke-Acts (Bloomington
and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, 1995). He is editor-in-chief of
The Oxford Encyclopedia of Bible and Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2014; two volumes).

Bruce Chilton
(Ph.D., Cambridge University) is a scholar of early Christianity and Judaism. He
has taught in Europe at the Universities of Cambridge, Sheffield, and Münster,
and in the United States at Yale University (as the first Lillian Claus Professor of
New Testament) and at Bard College. Currently Bernard Iddings Bell Professor
of Religion at Bard, he also directs the Institute of Advanced Theology there.
Among his most recent books are Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography (New
York: Doubleday, 2000); Redeeming Time: The Wisdom of Ancient Jewish and
Christian Festal Calendars (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002); Rabbi Paul:
An Intellectual Biography (New York: Doubleday, 2004); Mary Magdalene: A
Biography (New York: Doubleday, 2005); The Cambridge Companion to the Bible
(editor; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Abraham’s Curse: Child
Sacrifice in the Legacies of the West (New York: Doubleday, 2008); The Way of
Jesus (Nashville: Abingdon, 2010); Visions of the Apocalypse (Waco, TX: Baylor
University Press, 2013); and Christianity: The Basics (London and New York,
Routledge, 2015).

James L. Crenshaw
(Ph.D., Vanderbilt University) Robert L. Flowers Emeritus Professor of Old
Testament at Duke University, has published widely in wisdom and prophetic
literature of the Bible. Some of his books include: A Whirlpool of Torment:
Israelite Traditions of God as an Oppressive Presence (Philadelphia: Fortress,
1984); Ecclesiastes (Old Testament Library; Louisville, KY: Westminster John
Knox, 1987); Urgent Advice and Probing Questions: Collected Writings on Old
Testament Wisdom (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1995); Joel (Anchor
Bible 24C: New York: Doubleday, 1995); Education in Ancient Israel: Across the
xiv List of Contributors

Deadening Silence (Anchor Bible Reference Library; New York: Doubleday,

1998); The Psalms: An Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge: W. B.
Eerdmans, 2001); Defending God: Biblical Responses to the Problem of Evil
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Old Testament Wisdom (3rd ed.;
Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2010); Reading Job: A Literary and
Theological Commentary (Macon, GA: Smyth and Helwys, 2012); Qoheleth:
The Ironic Wink (Studies on Personalities of the Old Testament; Columbia, SC:
University of South Carolina Press, 2013).

Michael W. Duggan
(Ph.D., Catholic University of America) is Professor of Religious Studies
and Theology at St. Mary’s University in Calgary, Alberta. He is the author
of The Covenant Renewal in Ezra-Nehemiah (Neh 7:72b–10:40): An Exegetical,
Literary, and Theological Study (Society of Biblical Literature Dissertation
Series 164; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2001). Among his recent
articles are “The Family Measure in 2 Maccabees: A Mother and Her Seven
Sons (2 Macc 7:1–2),” in A. Passaro (ed.), Family and Kinship in the
Deuterocanonical and Cognate Literature (Berlin and Boston: W. de Gruyter,
2013), pp. 283–300; and “1 Maccabees: Emotions of Life and Death in Narrative
and Lament,” in S. C. Reif and R. Egger-Wenzel (eds.), Ancient Jewish Prayers
and Emotions (Deuterocanonical and Cognate Literature 26; Berlin and
Boston: W. de Gruyter, 2015), pp. 95–116. His research focuses on Second Temple
Judaism and early Christianity, with particular interest in the Jewish roots of
Christianity, the poetics of biblical narrative, social science criticism, and mat-
ters of social justice. He is an associate editor of the Catholic Biblical Quarterly.
He is an active participant in Jewish-Christian dialogue in his local community.

Göran Eidevall
(Ph.D., University of Lund, Sweden) is Professor in Hebrew Bible / Old
Testament exegesis at the University of Uppsala. He is the president of the
Swedish Exegetical Society and the Forum for Jewish Studies in Uppsala.
His main publications include: Grapes in the Desert: Metaphors, Models,
and Themes in Hosea 4–14 (Coniectanea Biblica Old Testament Series 43;
Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1996); Prophecy and Propaganda: Images
of Enemies in the Book of Isaiah (Coniectanea Biblica Old Testament Series
56; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2009); Sacrificial Rhetoric in the Prophetic
Literature of the Hebrew Bible (Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen, 2012); Amos: A New
Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Anchor Yale Bible; New Haven,
CT: Yale University Press), forthcoming.
List Of Contributors xv

Yaakov Elman
(Ph.D., New York University) is Harold Herbert S. and Naomi Denenberg
Professor of Talmudic Studies at Yeshiva University, and was an associate of
the Center of Jewish Studies at Harvard University. He is the author or editor of
seven books and dozens of articles in rabbinic intellectual history and Pahlavi
studies, including: Authority and Tradition: Toseftan Baraitot in Talmudic
Babylonia (New York: Yeshivah University Press, 1994); The Living Nach:
A New Translation Based on Traditional Jewish Sources (2 vols.; New York and
Jerusalem: Moznaim, 1994–1996); and Hazon Nahum: Studies In Jewish Law,
Thought And History, Presented To Dr. Norman Lamm On The Occasion Of His
Seventieth Birthday (edited; New York: Yeshivah University Press, 1997).

Eldon Jay Epp

(Ph.D., Harvard University) was Associate Professor, University of Southern
California (1963–1968), Harkness Professor of Biblical Literature and Dean of
Humanities and Social Sciences, Emeritus, Case Western Reserve University
(1968–1998); Lecturer/Visiting Professor, Harvard Divinity School (2001–2014);
Guggenheim Fellow (1974–1975); and President of the Society of Biblical
Literature (2003). Eldon is author of The Theological Tendency of Codex Bezae
Cantabrigiensis in Acts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966);
Perspectives on New Testament Textual Criticism: Collected Essays, 1962–2004
(Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2005); Junia: The First Woman Apostle (Philadelphia: Fortress,
2005); co-author, Studies in the Theory and Method of New Testament Textual
Criticism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1993); co-editor, New Testament Textual Criti­
cism: Its Significance for Exegesis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981) and
The New Testament and Its Modern Interpreters (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989);
and author of sixty articles.

Anne E. Gardner
(Ph.D., University of Edinburgh) is currently a Senior Research Fellow in the
Australian Centre for Jewish Civilization at Monash University, and previ-
ously taught for twenty-six years at a different Australian University. She is
the Hebrew Bible Editor of the Australian Biblical Review and was the joint
recipient of the Krister Stendahl Medal in 2012. Dr. Gardner is widely published
in the area of Daniel and other works from the Hebrew Bible, Apocrypha,
Pseudepigrapha and Dead Sea Scrolls. Currently she is completing a mono-
graph on Jerusalem from earliest times to the raid of Sheshonk, and when that
is done will return to her work on Daniel.
xvi List of Contributors

Isaac Kalimi
(Ph.D., The Hebrew University of Jerusalem) is Gutenberg-Research-
Professor in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies and Ancient Israelite
History at Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz; a Fellow of the Gutenberg
Forschungskolleg at the same university; Senior Research Associate at the
University of Chicago; and Corresponding Member of the Belgian Royal
Academy for Overseas Sciences. He has edited or co-edited a number of vol-
umes, such as: Biblical Interpretation in Judaism and Christianity (Library of
Hebrew Bible / Old Testament Studies 439; New York: T. & T. Clark, 2006);
Jewish Bible Theology: Perspectives and Case Studies (Winona Lake, IN:
Eisenbrauns, 2012); New Perspectives on Ezra-Nehemiah: History and
Historiography, Text and Literature (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2012);
Scriptural Authority in Early Judaism and Ancient Christianity (Deuteroca­
nonical and Cognate Literature Studies 16; Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 2013);
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Ethics (Area Editor, Hebrew Bible
and Ancient Judaism; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014; two volumes);
Sennacherib at the Gates of Jerusalem: Story, History and Historiography
(Culture and History of the Ancient Near East 71; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2014).
He has authored numerous books, including: Zur Geschichtsschreibung des
Chronisten (Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft
226; Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1995); Early Jewish Exegesis and Theological
Controversy (Jewish and Christian Heritage 2; Assen: Royal Van Gorcum; now
under: E. J. Brill, Leiden, 2002); An Ancient Israelite Historian (Studia Semitica
Neerlandica 46; Assen: Royal Van Gorcum; now under: E. J. Brill, Leiden,
2005); The Reshaping of Ancient Israelite History in Chronicles (Winona Lake,
IN: Eisenbrauns, 2005; reprinted 2012); The Retelling of Chronicles in Jewish
Tradition and Literature: A Historical Journey (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns,
2009); Das Chronikbuch und seine Chronik (Fuldaer Studien 17; Freiburg:
Herder, 2013).

Reuven Kimelman
(Ph.D., Yale University) is Professor of Classical Judaism at Brandeis
University. He is the author of The Mystical Meaning of ‘Lekhah Dodi’ and
‘Kabbalat Shabbat’ (2nd ed.; Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2014; Hebrew); and
the audio books The Hidden Poetry of the Jewish Prayerbook: The What, How,
and Why of Jewish Liturgy; and The Moral Meaning of the Bible: The What,
How, and Why of Biblical Ethics. His forthcoming book is The Rhetoric of Jewish
Prayer: A Historical and Literary Commentary on the Prayerbook. He has been
commissioned to write the JPS Siddur in its series of Jewish classics.
List Of Contributors xvii

Andreas Lehnardt
(Ph.D., Free University Berlin) is Professor for Judaic Studies at Mainz
University. He is head of a project on Hebrew binding fragments in Germany
called “Genizat Germania.” His main research fields are Jewish manuscripts
and fragments, Rabbinic literature, and Haskala. He is author of a book on the
Qaddish (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2002) and numerous articles on Jewish his-
tory and literature. He is member of the Executive Committee of the European
Association for Jewish Studies, and the Verband der Judaisten in Deutschland.

Joseph B. Tyson
(Ph.D., Union Theological Seminary in New York) is Professor of Religious
Studies, Emeritus, at Southern Methodist University, where he taught from
1958–1998 and served as Chair of the Department of Religious Studies for sev-
enteen years. He has written a number of essays in professional journals and
is the author of a dozen books, many on the Gospel of Luke and the book of
Acts. Most recently, he was co-editor, with Dennis Smith, of Acts and Christian
Origins: The Acts Seminar Report (Salem, OR: Polebridge, 2013). In 2013 the
Westar Institute inducted him into the David Friedrich Strauss Society.

Rivka Ulmer
(Ph.D., J.-W. Goethe Universität, Frankfurt am Main) the first Jewish Studies
appointment at Bucknell University (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur
Foundation Chair, 2002–2007). Professor of Jewish Studies, Bucknell University;
Affiliate Professor, University of Haifa. Chair of the Midrash Section, Society
of Biblical Literature (2002–). Her research interests include: Rabbinic
Literature with an emphasis on Midrash; Medieval Hebrew manuscripts; Text-
linguistic, semiotic, and cultural approaches to texts; Comparative Literature:
Egypt and Israel; Apocalyptic Literature and Messianism. Her publications
include: A Synoptic Edition of Pesiqta Rabbati Based upon All Extant Hebrew
Manuscripts and the Editio Princeps (3 vols.; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997–1999;
repr. Lanham, MY: University Press of America, 2009); Egyptian Cultural Icons
in Midrash (Berlin and New York: W. de Gruyter, 2009); Turmoil, Trauma, and
Triumph: The Fettmilch Uprising in Frankfurt am Main According to Megillas
Vintz (New York and Frankfurt a. M.: P. Lang, 2001); Talmud Yerushalmi:
Ma’aserot. Ma’aser Sheni (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1996); “Pesiqta Rabbati:
A Text Linguistic and Form-Analytical Analysis of the Rabbinic Homily.” JJS
64 (2013); “The Contours of the Messiah in Pesiqta Rabbati.” HTR 106 (2013);
“Manuscript fragments of Pesiqta Rabbati from the Cairo Geniza and European
Collections.” HUCA (forthcoming).
xviii List of Contributors

Cecilia Wassen
(Ph.D., McMaster University, Canada) is Associate Professor of New Testament
Exegesis at Uppsala University. She is the author of Women in the Damascus
Document (Society of Biblical Literature Academia Biblica Series 21; Atlanta:
SBL / Leiden: Brill, 2005), and has written numerous articles on the Dead Sea
Scrolls and the New Testament, on topics such as purity laws, the historical
Jesus, women and families, angels, and Temple metaphors. She is the editor of
several books, including: Giving Thanks to the Lord: Essays on Prayer and Poetry
in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature in Honor of Eileen Schuller on the
Occasion of Her 65th Birthday (with J. Penner and K. M. Penner; Studies in the
Texts of the Desert of Judah 98; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2011); The Scrolls from Qumran
and the Concept of a Library (with S. W. Crawford; Studies in the Texts of the
Desert of Judah 116; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2016).

Lawrence M. Wills
(Th.D., Harvard Divinity School) is the Ethelbert Talbot Professor of Biblical
Studies at Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts. His fields
of research include Hebrew Bible, ancient Judaism, and early Christianity.
His most recent book is Not God’s People: Insiders and Outsiders in the Biblical
World, and he is completing a commentary on the Book of Judith for the
Hermeneia series.
Part 1
The Man and the Book


An Introduction
Isaac Kalimi

Friends and colleagues of Professor John T. Townsend from several coun-

tries have gathered to honor him with the fruits of their study on Jewish and
Christian religious and literary legacies, and to share some fresh thoughts
about bridging between them. It seems that all contributors of this Festschrift
are united by the words of the Prophet Malachai: “Have we not all one father?
Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously every man against
his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?” (2:10). Townsend has
been a tireless champion for respectful dialogue between Jews and Christians,
and this volume is a token of deep appreciation for his engaging personality,
consistent loyal friendship, and significant written and verbal scholarly contri-
butions on New Testament portrayals of Judaism (particularly in the book of
Acts) and Rabbinic Judaism (especially Midrash Tanhuma [Buber]). More than
once John has kidded with me that he himself unites Judaism and Christianity
in his body: “Look Isaac, my heart is Jewish, but my stomach is Gentile.” John’s
voice has always been clear and straightforward against any kind of anti-Jewish
or anti-Semitic assertion, and this is reflected in every facet of his scholarship.
Ahabat Am Yisrael ve-Eretz-Yisrael (“love of the Jewish people and the Land of
Israel”) is in every sense part and parcel of John T. Townsend.
The volume honors Johnʼs contributions through five essential parts,
focused on Townsend himself, the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, Rabbinic
Judaism, and Jewish-Christian relations more broadly. The first section con-
cerns the “Man and the Book,” including a brief biography of John T. Townsend
and a list of his scholarly writings.
This is followed by part two, “Hebrew Bible and Its Interpretation,” which
contains three articles that each relates to a particular section of the TaNaK.
It opens with the contribution of James L. Crenshaw, “Divine Vulnerability:
Reflections on the Binding of Isaac.” Crenshaw suggests that the struggle to
determine whether the deity depends on human response or is sufficient unto
itself is not foreign to the Hebrew Bible. Long before classic philosophical
concepts entered the picture, the harrowing story of the binding of Isaac in
Genesis 22 threw a question mark over God’s omnipotence and omniscience.
He argues that the first of these falls with the divine imprecation, “Take, I beg
of you” (Gen 22:1) and the second one collapses with the words, “Now I know”

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���6 | doi ��.��63/9789004324541_002

4 Kalimi

(Gen 22:12). Moreover, the notion of God as supremely good cannot stand
alongside the introductory remark of the narrator, “After these things Elohim
tested Abraham,” given the sinister nature of that test. The question of divine
necessity permeates the drama that unfolds in this story and throughout the
Bible. For the biblical authors, vulnerability was not just a human charac-
teristic; it also belonged to the divine sphere, reaching deep into the nature
of the Lord, as Abraham Joshua Heschel recognized. Thus Crenshaw exam-
ines the artistry of the story about the binding of Isaac, and suggests that, like
Abraham, moderns face a chilling decision: Do they sacrifice belief in God at
the altar of rational thought as promoted in much scientific literature today?
Or can they adjust their view of deity enough to make a place for mutual
The second chapter in this section is by Göran Eidevall, “Shifting Emphasis:
Examples of Early and Modern Reception of the Book of Amos.” Here Eidevall
treats a few aspects of the long and rich reception history of the book of
Amos. Examples drawn from the Dead Sea Scrolls, the New Testament and
the Babylonian Talmud are juxtaposed with interpretations that are cur-
rent in the contemporary scholarly discussion. In this way, he attempts to
show that ancient and modern readers have focused on quite different topics
and themes within this prophetic book. On the one hand, the earliest textual
attestations of Amos’ reception and interpretation, the Damascus Document
(CD) and Florilegium (4Q174) found at Qumran, as well as the Acts of the
Apostles, quote the same two passages: Amos 5:25–27, which refers to the wil-
derness wanderings, idolatry, and exile “beyond Damascus,” is quoted in CD
7:14–19 (combining Amos 5:26–27 with 9:11) and Acts 7:42–43 (citing Amos
5:25–27). Meanwhile, parts of Amos 9:11–15, the book’s hopeful epilogue, are
quoted both 4Q174 I.10–13 and in Acts 15:15–17. By contrast, in contemporary
commentaries and monographs on the book of Amos, other passages tend to
be regarded as more central to the book’s message, especially those that seem
to reflect a concern with social justice for the oppressed. Eidevall attempts to
explain this shift in emphasis from ancient to modern readings.
Anne E. Gardner handles an enigmatic biblical theme in the Ketubim
(Writings), namely: “Interpreting the Writing on the Wall in Daniel 5.” Her
investigation of the “the writing on the wall” through archaeological data and
textual analysis concludes that Babylon must be its place of origin, and that
the earliest extant version is preserved in the Old Greek Prologue, which is
based on a Hebrew original. It is argued that the main text of the Old Greek
preserves the message of the Prologue to some extent, but did not always fully
comprehend it, while the Masoretic Text, which is in Aramaic, deviates from
it because of differences between Aramaic and Hebrew, although it provides
evidence that it was aware of the earlier Hebrew version. The “writing” on the
An Introduction 5

wall then provides data that help in the process of unravelling some of the
major difficulties that the book of Daniel presents to scholars.
The third part of the volume concentrates mainly on the portrayal of Jews
and Judaism in particular texts of the New Testament, and its reception. It
starts with the article of Lawrence M. Wills, “The Jewishness of the Gospel
of Mark.” Wills notes that there has been a broad and steady development of
new scholarly appraisals of the Jewishness of Jesus and his first followers. The
Gospel of Matthew was recognized as fully committed to Jewish observance,
the “New Perspective” on Paul established that he expressed more continuity
and less disjunction with first-century Judaism than was previously thought,
Revelation is now seen as similar to Matthew and James in terms of obser-
vance, John’s anti-Jewish statements are viewed sociologically as a sectarian
polemic against the “near Other,” and so on. Even the view of the Gospel of
Mark as a “gentile” gospel that has broken ties with observant Judaism is now
being questioned. From studies such as these many other scholars also pointed
out the obvious: The historical Jesus must have been fairly observant himself,
and may never have engaged in any significant re-thinking of whether his dis-
ciples would obey Jewish law. Wills focuses on the leading edge of this develop-
ment, especially in regard to the Gospel of Mark, and explores where the new
consensus leads us in terms of the general question of the Jewishness of Jesus.
A broadly similar topic, including many of the same texts in Mark, is treated
by Cecilia Wassen, “Jesus’ Work as a Healer in Light of Jewish Purity Laws.”
She notes that Jesus is known to have touched people in his work as a healer.
According to the Gospels he even touched ritually-impure people and entered
into the houses of the dead, whereby he would have contracted ritual impurity.
Since Jesus did not actively avoid impurity scholars often assume that he was
disinterested in purity laws or that he somehow challenged the whole purity
system. Thus Wassen engages with the common scholarly arguments for such
reconstructions and demonstrate their weaknesses. She concludes that there
is no reason to suggest that Jesus was disinterested in purity laws. Importantly,
all people are impure rather frequently, and Judaism provides clear means of
purification, which Jesus does not challenge. Jesus simply acted in line with his
work as a healer when he touched people, which meant that he also contracted
ritual impurity on a regular basis. Nevertheless, this did not imply any rejection
of the purity laws.
In his study, “The Ἰουδαῖοι in the Gospel of John,” Robert L. Brawley discusses
the fact that both the Gospel of John and its interpreters have often cast a
negative light on the Ἰουδαῖοι (traditionally, but misleadingly, translated “the
Jews”). This essay revisits the presentation of the Ἰουδαῖοι in the Fourth Gospel
as a question of the ethics of interpretation, and insists that these personages
in John should not be characterized more negatively by interpreters than they
6 Kalimi

are in the narrative itself. Discussions of this theme in academic study have
been strongly influenced by J. Louis Martyn’s allegorical reading of John as
reflecting the parting of the ways between the synagogue and John’s commu-
nity, especially focusing on the birkath ha-minim. The latter has been discred-
ited, and this essay adds to this revision a discussion of John’s coinage of the
adjective ἀποσυνάγωγος. Readers of John have often attempted to reproduce
the historical world behind the text, but this overlooks the literary character
of John as a fictive narrative. To determine the place of the Ἰουδαῖοι in John,
the essay explores the literary characterizations and identifications of the
Ἰουδαῖοι in the narrative world, focusing especially on the difficult text in John
8:44: “You are of the father the devil” (the use of the definite article warrants
a possible translation: “You are of your father the devil”). The fundamental
thesis is that in John’s narrative world the Ἰουδαῖοι rarely refer to the entire
people or the nation, and when it does, as in John 4:22, it is either neutral
or positive.
Joseph B. Tyson handles “Acts, the ‘Parting of the Ways,’ and the Use of the
Term ‘Christians’.” According to Tyson, issues relating to the “parting of the
ways” between early Christians and early Jews have received a great deal of
scholarly attention in recent decades, and the complexity of the situation has
been increasingly recognized. In most studies of the “partings,” the book of
Acts has been mined for whatever reliable history it may report, but the con-
text of its composition has not often been regarded as relevant. One reason
for this perceived irrelevance is the date at which Acts is thought to have been
written. Although the common critical date for Acts is c. 80 CE, there are good
reasons for dating Acts in the first quarter of the second century. In this article
Tyson accepts the later date and focuses on the context of the composition
of Acts. The essay then examines the names that Acts uses for Jesus believers,
in particular, the term “Christian(s).” Although it appears only twice in Acts,
its use here nevertheless suggests that, for this author and his readers, it is a
familiar term that needs no explanation. Such a situation would appear to be
unlikely for the first century. But in the second century the term “Christian”
became familiar, and its use in Acts, if written about 115–120 CE, would be nei-
ther surprising nor inappropriate.
Eldon Jay Epp’s contribution, “Early Christian Attitudes toward ‘Things
Jewish’ as Narrated by Textual Variants in Acts,” discusses each of the two dis-
tinct textual streams through which the Acts of the Apostles has been pre-
served, and how these textual variants reflect differing views and narratives
of events in that New Testament writing. The study selects items regarding
early Christian attitudes toward “things Jewish” as they appear in what is
now termed the B-Textual Cluster over against their presentation in the so-
called D-Textual Cluster of witnesses. The interest here is not to determine the
An Introduction 7

earliest attainable text in each instance, but to extract the varying narratives
that emerge from each variant reading, and what they imply about issues and
controversies in early Christianity. Epp’s essay analyses several variation-units
that depict or imply developing attitudes and relationships between Jews and
Judaism and the emerging Christ-faith community, which rapidly was becom-
ing predominantly Gentile. Examples are furnished with text-critical appara-
tuses of the manuscripts and other witnesses supporting these informative
variants. The larger purpose of the essay, however, concerns the very recent
suggestion that the long-standing concept of “text-types” in the New Testament
be abandoned, especially in the text of Acts. This essay calls that premature
and provides detailed evidence from variants that a clearly identifiable textual
entity exists, distinct from the always opposing B-Textual Cluster. The point
is that current methods are inadequate—involving Greek witnesses com-
pared only with Greek, whereas the D-Text’s primary witnesses are not only in
Greek, but largely in Latin, Syriac, and Coptic, so a more comprehensive
approach is requisite.
Part four concentrates on talmudic and midrashic studies. It begins
with Yaakov Elman’s essay, “Some Aspects of Interreligious Polemic in the
Babylonian Talmud.” Elman notes that Sasanian Mesopotamia was home to a
rich blend of competing sects and religions, some of high antiquity and some,
like Christianity and Manichaeism, of more recent vintage, and argues that
the Babylonian Rabbis responded to the challenge of defending their faith in
this teeming marketplace of ideas. The essay isolates three issues that were
of major concern, and examines the ways in which the Rabbis responded to
each of them: 1. religions founded on recent revelations and contemporary
prophets, and 2. a new emphasis on a written scripture—both of which were
a challenge to Zoroastrianism and Rabbinic Judaism—and 3. the claim to
contemporary, supernatural validations of the faith, along with the ability to
attract many converts. These were the challenges represented by Christianity
and Manichaeism. In responding to these challenges, the Babylonian Rabbis
demonstrate their awareness and knowledge of the varied theological tradi-
tions they faced.
Rivka Ulmer’s study discusses “Egyptian Motifs in Late Antique Mosaics
and Rabbinic Texts.” Egyptian motifs in buildings in the Land of Israel of late
antiquity are well-documented; however, the investigation of their Egyptian
sources has received little attention. The Rabbis who created Midrash devel-
oped and strengthened Jewish identity by using and interpreting Egypt and
Egyptian cultural icons to present this civilization as the “other,” and thus dis-
tanced themselves from “non-rabbinic” Jews and their depictions of Egypt and
its gods. The identification of Egypt with the Nile is, perhaps, the foremost of
these “cultural icons.” The Nile, called the “the river” (iterw) by the Egyptians,
8 Kalimi

dominated Egypt, although it was the habitat of dangerous creatures (hippo-

potamus and crocodile). The Nile also played a major role in the biblical exo-
dus narratives and rabbinic interpretations. However, the Nile was not viewed
as “sacred” until the Ptolemaic period, and an Egyptian river god was created in
Roman times. The authors of midrashic texts assume that the Egyptians wor-
shiped the Nile as a god. Ulmer analyzes the representations of the Egyptian
“river god” in Nilotic scenes and in rabbinic texts. The mosaics in Israel closely
follow Greco-Roman Nilotic scenes and the views of the Nile are cultural
interpretations of an imagined landscape. The conception of the Nile god in
rabbinic texts and in mosaics was borrowed from the Greco-Roman cultural
context; it documents an aesthetic preference for Roman art. Nilotic scenes
and rabbinic texts may reveal an engagement with the memory of Egypt and a
rejection of the Nile “god.”
This section closes with Andreas Lehnardt’s essay on “The Binding
Fragments of Midrash Tanhuma (Buber) from the Municipal Library of Trier.”
He examines two fragments of Midrash Tanhuma, a homiletic Midrash on
the Pentateuch according to the edition of Salomon Buber (Vilnius 1885),
preserved in a book binding. The manuscript used by Buber is a textual wit-
ness which in today’s scholarship is no longer assumed to represent the
earliest version of Midrash Tanhuma. Although this recension seems to pre-
serve early traditions, it reflects an Ashkenazic version collected and edited
by Jews in (Byzantine) Italy. In recent years more and more new textual
witnesses have been identified—mainly fragments persevered in the bind-
ings of books and manuscripts owned and used by Christians. The article
re-examines two fragments found already at the end of the 19th century
in the municipal library of Trier. It contains a description of the host vol-
ume and a transcription of the fragment with references and notes to all
parallels and the most important textual variations. The analysis tries to show
that the text differs in many ways from the printed edition and supports the
suggested means of transmission of the Tanhuma Buber manuscript tradition
in the medieval period.
The final part of the volume sheds light on Jewish—Christian relations
more broadly. First, in “ ‘We Love the God Who Loved Us First’: The Second
Blessing of the Shema Liturgy,” Reuven Kimelman provides a literary analysis
of the second blessing of the Shema Liturgy in the light of its historical con-
text. The blessing constitutes an argument for God’s love of Israel and a call for
Israel to reciprocate the love. It thus precedes and paves the way for the first
biblical section (Deut 6:4–9) of the “Recitation of the Shema” and its opening
demand: “You shall love Adonai Your God with all your heart/mind, with all
your body/soul, and with all you have/with even more” (Deut 6:5). The blessing
An Introduction 9

makes the case that Israel’s love of God reciprocates God’s love of Israel.
Presenting the election of Israel as an expression of God’s great love, it begins
with “everlasting love have you loved us,” and concludes that God “chooses His
people Israel out of love.” By positioning a blessing about God’s love before the
Shema’s demand to love God, the point is made that we are to love the God
who loved us first. The blessing holds that experiencing the grace of guidance
provided by the study of Torah and the doing of the commandments leads
to the conclusion that they were given out of love. In contrast to the position
that compliance with the commandments expresses love for God, the bless-
ing maintains that compliance with the commandments engenders such love.
Since God’s love of Israel is what nourishes a God-loving Israel, the blessing
entreats God to render us capable of returning the love. The commandment
to love God becomes liturgically an act of reciprocity—“the love of the lover.”
A loving God can demand love.
Bruce Chilton concentrates on “Jewish Mysticism, Nostra Aetate, and
Renewal in Judaism and Christianity.” He claims that Nostra Aetate, perhaps
the most seminal document to come out of the Second Vatican Council,
broke through obstacles to interfaith relations. The Declaration rejected anti-
Semitism, along with any form of racism or attribution of ethnic guilt, and
urged Catholics to see the rich contributions of world religions to our common
humanity. Chilton argues that the roots of that achievement reached down
into the investigation of mysticism since the beginning of the twentieth cen-
tury. When Evelyn Underhill (1875–1941) took up the topic, she was partially
inspired by the Kabbalah, and her investigations contributed to the scholar-
ship of Gershom Scholem (1897–1982), Harry Wolfson (1887–1974), and Erwin
R. Goodenough (1893–1965). The last three scholars, in turn, have fed the
revolution in the study of the New Testament that is a part of the post-War
inheritance of Christianity, as well the redefinition of Judaism after the Shoah.
Although often suspected of heterodoxy, scholars of mysticism have contri-
bution to the renewals of Judaism and Christianity, and the current phase of
research promises more to come.
The volume ends with Michael W. Duggan’s contribution on “Hanukkah
and Community Identity in Maccabees and John.” He examines the role of
the Hanukkah narratives in shaping community identity in 1 and 2 Maccabees
and in the Gospel of John. The study examines five documents: the four ver-
sions of Hanukkah in 1 and 2 Maccabees (1 Macc 4:36–59; 2 Macc 1:1–9; 1:10–
2:18; 10:1–8), which originated between 150 and 100 BCE; and the festival of
Hanukkah in the Fourth Gospel, which was completed around 100 CE, thirty
years after the destruction of the Temple (John 10:22–39). The paper consists of
two major sections. First, it investigates issues of community identity in each
10 Kalimi

presentation of Hanukkah in the Maccabean literature: the two accounts of

Judas Maccabeus reclaiming the temple (1 Macc 4:36–59; 2 Macc 10:1–8) and
the two letters from Jerusalem to Egypt that preface the abridgment of Jason of
Cyrene’s work (2 Macc 1:1–9; 1:10–2:18; cf. 2:19–15:39). Second, against the hori-
zon of the Maccabean corpus, the essay describes the radical re-interpretation
of Hanukkah in the Gospel of John (John 10:22–39). It then traces the connec-
tions between the Hanukkah festival and the Temple, the priesthood, and the
destiny of Jesus in John, all of which are components in the shaping of iden-
tity in the Johannine community. Duggan concludes by highlighting exegetical
and theological focal points that are central to Jewish-Christian dialogue in the
21st century.
It goes without saying that the opinions stated in these studies are the
responsibility of their respective authors. Nevertheless, it is greatly hoped that
this rich collection will inspire many more readings of Jewish and Christian
Scriptures, and further close engagements between Jews and Christians.

Biography and Bibliography of John T. Townsend

Isaac Kalimi

1 Townsend’s Biography

John Tolson Townsend was born in 1927 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, of Canadian
parents, but he grew up in the United States. Before her marriage in 1926, his
mother taught piano at the Halifax Conservatory and had her son studying
piano from the age of six. The result was not so much an ability at the keyboard,
but a love and understanding of music that has continually enriched her son’s
life. His father was an Anglican clergyman who was ordained in Dawson City in
the Canadian Yukon Territory, before the First World War and during the Yukon
gold rush. After the war, his father served in a large parish in Halifax but longed
for further intellectual study. He therefore resigned from his parish in order
to attend Harvard University, and began studying for a doctorate at the age
of thirty-nine. While at Harvard, he served in a small parish in Rhode Island
where he worked the rest of his life. Unfortunately, his parish work was so suc-
cessful that after receiving his Ph.D. in medieval history he never was able to
pursue a teaching career in a university. Nevertheless, his appreciation of the
intellect was instilled in his son, John, and has remained a continuing influ-
ence throughout his life. He also steered John’s education so that he learned
the languages necessary for advanced study in the arts, namely Latin, Greek,
French and German, but not Hebrew.
John was reared in Rhode Island from the age of six months. He mostly
attended public schools in Pawtucket through grade eleven. Then, hav-
ing turned sixteen, he was able to earn enough money and a scholarship to
enter Moses Brown, a Quaker prep school in Providence, RI. After graduating
from Moses Brown, he attended Brown University, where he earned an hon-
ors degree in ancient, classical languages. From there he studied theology at
Wycliffe College, an Anglican seminary at the University of Toronto, from which
he received his L.Th. (Licence of Theology). After his ordination to the priest-
hood in the Episcopal Church, he entered Harvard Divinity School to study the
New Testament. From there he earned an S.T.M. (Master of Sacred Theology)
in 1953 and a doctorate in New Testament in 1959. Following two years of par-
ish work, he accepted an offer to teach New Testament and biblical languages

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���6 | doi ��.��63/9789004324541_003

12 Kalimi

at the Philadelphia Divinity School, which merged into the Episcopal Divinity
School in Cambridge, MA. During his teaching years he also studied at the
Ulpan Etzion and Hebrew Union College, both in Jerusalem. Moreover, he
taught for a semester at Brandeis University as a visiting professor.
Following his official retirement in 1994, Dr. Townsend also taught Jewish
studies at Harvard Divinity School for fifteen years. He has always been active
in Jewish-Christian matters and has been a contributing member of the
Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations, serving one year as
its chairperson. Apart from his published books and numerous articles, he has
read many papers at other learned society meetings, including the Society of
Biblical Literature and the Association for Jewish Studies.
Dr. Townsend’s interest in Jewish Studies came about by a series of fortunate
accidents. He had avoided studying Hebrew in Seminary, and while studying
for his doctorate at Harvard, he limited his study of Hebrew to the one year
minimum that his degree required. Then two years after receiving a doctor-
ate in New Testament Studies, he found himself as one of two nominees for a
position teaching New Testament and biblical languages at the Philadelphia
Divinity School. When he realized that he was expected to teach Hebrew, he
decided to recommend the other nominee for the position; however, when
the other nominee decided to teach elsewhere, Dr. Townsend was offered
and accepted the position in Philadelphia in spite of his minimal knowl-
edge of Hebrew. He found that he had to relearn Hebrew along with the stu-
dents of his first class. Then when the time came for his first Sabbatical leave,
he obtained a fellowship to study in Israel. There he not only greatly improved
his knowledge of Hebrew, but he learned how to teach the language more effec-
tively by using Israeli methods. What was more significant for Dr. Townsend,
however, was that he learned to appreciate Judaism in general and rabbinic
literature in particular, both for themselves and as an essential tool for inter-
preting the Christian New Testament. He learned to read the New Testament,
not as representing a separate religion, but as a Jewish sectarian supplement to
the Hebrew Bible. That experience has continued to influence his writing and
teaching to the present.
Scholars may well remember Dr. Townsend because of his translation of
the Midrash Tanhuma (Buber). He may be remembered more widely because
of his rewriting of the passion narrative of Jesus without anti-Jewish impli-
cations. However, his most important contribution to Christian and Jewish
scholarship will likely lie in his recognition of the importance of the very anti-
Roman School of Shammai. His two short essays on the subject show, not only
that early Christianity had much in common with the Pharisees, but that it
Biography And Bibliography Of John T. Townsend 13

tended to follow the School of Shammai rather than that of Hillel. In other
words, while Rabbinic Judaism grew out of the school of Hillel, the earliest
Christians favored the school of Shammai.
Let me close by wishing John the wonderful blessing of the wise man in
Proverbs 3:2–4, “For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to
you. Let not grace and truth forsake you; bind them around your neck; write
them on the tablet of your heart; so shall you find favor and good understand-
ing in the sight of God and man.”

2 Townsend’s Bibliography

The following list does not include Townsend’s reviews of many books, in
English, French and German, for several journals.

1. The Jerusalem Temple in New Testament Thought (Dissertation, Harvard

Divinity School, 1958; UMI Dissertation Services, Ann Arbor, MI: Bell and
Howell, 2000).
2. “The Speeches in Acts,” Anglican Theological Review 42 (1960),
pp. 150–159.
3. “Matthew XXIII. 9,” Journal of Theological Studies 12 (1961), pp. 56–59.
4. “I Corinthians 3:15 and the School of Shammai,” Harvard Theological
Review 61 (1968), pp. 500–504.
5. “Ancient Education in the Time of the Early Roman Empire,” in S. Benko
and J. J. O’Rourke (eds.), The Catacombs and the Colosseum: The Roman
Empire as the Setting of Primitive Christianity (Valley Forge, PA: Judson
Press, 1971), pp. 139–163.
6. “Rabbinic Sources,” in J. Neusner (ed.), The Study of Judaism: Bibliographical
Essays (New York: Anti‑Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, 1972),
pp. 35–80.
7. “What Happened After the Cross?” The Episcopalian (April 1974), pp. 8–9.
8. “Minor Midrashim,” in L. V. Berman (ed.), Bibliographical Essays in
Medieval Jewish Studies: The Study of Judaism (New York: Anti‑Defamation
of B’nai B’rith, 1976), vol. 2, pp. 333–392.
9. “ ‘The Reproaches’ in Christian Liturgies,” Face to Face 2 (Summer/Fall,
1976), pp. 8–11.
10. A Liturgical Interpretation of Our Lord’s Passion in Narrative Form (Israel
Study Group Occasional Papers 1; New York: The National Conference of
Christians and Jews, 1977).
14 Kalimi

11. “The Gospel of John and the Jews: The Story of a Religious Divorce,” in
A. T. Davies (ed.), Anti-Semitism and the Foundations of Christianity
(New York: Paulist Press, 1979), pp. 72–97.
12. “II Thessalonians 2:3–12,” in P. J. Achtemeier (ed.), The Society of Biblical
Literature 1980 Seminar Papers (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1980),
pp. 233–250.
13. “The Jerusalem Temple in the First Century,” in L. E. Frizzell (ed.), God
and His Temple: Reflections on Professor Samuel Terrien’s The Elusive
Presence: Toward a New Biblical Theology (South Orange, NJ: Seton Hall,
1981), pp. 48–65.
14. “The Date of Luke‑Acts,” in C. H. Talbert (ed.), Luke‑Acts: New Perspectives
from the Society of Biblical Literature Seminar (New York: Crossroad, 1984),
pp. 47–62.
15. A Liturgical Interpretation in Narrative Form of the Passion of Jesus Christ:
With a Dramatic Arrangement for Congregational Use (2nd ed. of A
Liturgical Interpretation of Our Lord’s Passion in Narrative Form; Israel
Study Group Occasional Papers 1; New York: The National Conference of
Christians and Jews, 1985).
16. “Missionary Journeys in Acts and European Missionary Societies,”
Anglican Theological Review 68 (1986), pp. 99–104.
17. Midrash Tanhuma (S. Buber Recension): Translated into English with
Introduction, Indices, and Brief Notes, Volume I: Genesis (Hoboken, NJ:
Ktav, 1989).
18. “Wisdom,” in M. Smith and R. J. Hoffmann (ed.), What the Bible Really
Says (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1989), pp. 187–196.
19. “The New Testament, the Early Church, and Anti‑Semitism,” in J. Neusner,
E. S. Frerichs, and N. M. Sarna (eds.), From Ancient Israel to Modern
Judaism: Intellect in Quest of Understanding, Essays in Honor of Marvin
Fox (Brown Judaic Studies 159; Atlanta: Scholars Press: 1989),
pp. 171–186.
20. “Anti‑Judaism in the New Testament,” in W. E. Mills et al. (eds.), Mercer
Dictionary of the Bible (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1990),
pp. 33–34.
21. “Education, Greco‑Roman Period,” in D. N. Freedman et al. (eds.), Anchor
Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), vol. 2, pp. 312–318.
22. “The Contributions of John Knox to the Study of Acts: Some Further
Notations,” in M. C. Parsons and J. B. Tyson (eds.), Cadbury, Knox and
Talbert: American Contributions to the Study of Acts (Atlanta: Scholars
Press, 1992), pp. 81–89.
Biography And Bibliography Of John T. Townsend 15

23. “Targum, Talmud, and Midrash: Their Value for New Testament
Interpretation,” in a special edition of the Sewanee Theological Review 37
(1993), pp. 26–38.
24. “Creation and Gender in Rabbinic Literature and the Early Church,”
Encounter 55 (1994), pp. 1–21.
25. Midrash Tanhuma (S. Buber Recension): Translated into English with
Introduction, Indices, and Brief Notes, Volume II: Exodus and Leviticus
(Hoboken, NJ: Ktav, 1997).
26. “Acts 9:1–29 and Early Church Tradition,” in R. P. Thompson and T. E.
Phillips (eds.), Literary Studies in Luke-Acts: Essays in Honor of Joseph B.
Tyson (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1998), pp. 87–98.
27. Midrash Tanhuma (S. Buber Recension): Translated into English with
Introduction, Indices, and Brief Notes, Volume III: Numbers and
Deuteronomy (Hoboken, NJ: Ktav, 2003).
28. “The New Testament and the House of Shammai,” in A. J. Avery-Peck,
D. Harrington, and J. Neusner (eds.), When Judaism and Christianity
Began: Essays in Memory of Anthony J. Saldarini (Supplements to the
Journal for the Study of Judaism 85; Leiden: Brill, 2004), vol. 2,
pp. 405–419.
29. “The Significance of Midrash” in L. M. Teugels and R. Ulmer (eds.), Recent
Developments in Midrash Research: Proceedings of the 2002 and 2003 SBL
Consultation on Midrash (Piscatway, NJ: Georgias Press, 2005), pp. 17–24.
30. Peter A. Pettit and John T. Townsend, “Judaism as a Living Faith, Enriched
by Many Centuries of Development,” in M. C. Boys (ed.), Seeing Judaism
Anew: Christianity’s Sacred Obligation (New York: Sheed & Ward, 2005),
pp. 115–123.
31. Christianity in Rabbinic Literature, in I. Kalimi and P. J. Hass (eds.),
Biblical Interpretation in Judaism and Christianity (Library of Hebrew
Bible/Old Testament Studies 439; London: T&T Clark, 2006), pp. 150–159.
32. “The Demise of the School of Shammai and the Fall of Jerusalem,” in L. M.
Teugels and R. Ulmer (eds.), Interpretation, Religion and Culture in
Midrash and Beyond: Proceedings of the 2006 and 2007 SBL Sections
(Piscatway, NJ: Georgias Press, 2008), pp. 69–78.
33. “Rabbinic Literature,” in R. L. Brawley et al. (eds.), The Oxford Encyclopedia
of the Bible and Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), vol. 2,
pp. 181–192.
34. “Misunderstood New Testament: Mark 2:23 and Galatian 2:1,” in A. J.
Avery-Peck, C. J. Evans, and J. Neusner (eds.), Earliest Christianity within
the Boundaries of Judaism: Essays in Honor of Bruce Chilton (Leiden: E. J.
Brill, 2016), pp. 346–356.
Part 2
Hebrew Bible and Its Interpretation


Divine Vulnerability: Reflections on the Binding of

Issac (Genesis 22)

James L. Crenshaw

The seductive power and simple artistry of the story about the binding of Isaac
almost compensate for its disturbing features. Yet when its drama and nar-
rative craft are exhausted, some things linger to trouble readers. Those who
believe the tale is divinely inspired are confronted with a portrayal of the deity
from which they rightly recoil.1 Others who view the story as a product of cre-
ative imagination are struck by the psychological damage it can do, especially
to children.2 There seems to be no escaping the harmful effect of this harrow-
ing tale. The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard realized that the story
impugns either God’s character or Abraham’s.3 That left him with an unten-
able position: hoping to solve the dilemma by transforming the father into a
monster, at least in Isaac’s eyes. Alternatively, from that day Abraham’s eyes
were darkened, he grew old, and never knew joy again. Estrangement would
surely have followed, as I tried to capture when writing the following poem.4

1  Not everyone is offended by acts attributed to God that, committed by humans, would be
immoral and even criminal. The extremes to which defenders of the deity will go are on
exhibited in several essays in M. Bergman, M. Murray, and M. C. Rea (eds.), Divine Evil: The
Moral Character of the God of Abraham (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). I prefer the
biblical questioning of God in the book of Job and Psalms of Lament, or the radical honesty of
Qoheleth. See my “Qohelet and Scriptural Authority,” in I. Kalimi, T. Nicklas, and G. G. Xeravits.
(eds.), Scriptural Authority in Early Judaism and Ancient Christianity (Deuterocanonical and
Cognate Literature Series 16; Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 2013), pp. 17–41.
2  P. Höffken, “Genesis 22 als Religionspädagogisches Problem,” in F. Wintzer, H. Schröer, and
J. Heide (eds.), Frömmigkeit und Freiheit: Theologische, ethische, und seelsorgerliche Anfragen
(Rheinbach-Merzbach: CMZ Verlag, 1995), pp. 221–237.
3  S. Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1941). Kierkegaard’s dif-
ferent scenarios for the impact of this ordeal on father and son utilize various modes of a
mother’s weaning an infant from breast milk. The total effect is mesmerizing.
4  J. L. Crenshaw, Dust and Ashes (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010), p. 17. The combination
of sources, Elohist and Yahwist, becomes complicated once the angel of the Lord appears.
I take the words “from me” to imply that the angel is thought of as speaking in the
Lord’s voice. The Book of Jubilees attributes the test of Abraham to Mastema, not Elohim
(17:15–18:19), while Pseudo-Philo blames jealous angels (Biblical Antiquities 32:1–4). On these

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���6 | doi ��.��63/9789004324541_004

20 Crenshaw


The familiar voice that bids me

go to an unknown mountain
pierces my heart but stays the knife
in a trembling hand.
The deed’s undone,
yet the unspeakable lingers
between me and Sarah,
Isaac and his dad,
the three of us and that voice,
suddenly alien.

Who can deny the artistry of the story about the supreme test for father and son,
perhaps also for the God they worshiped, if the particle of entreaty attached to
the divine imperative provides a hint of compassion. “Take, I beg of you, your
only son whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him
as a burnt sacrifice on one of the mountains that I will make known to you.”5
Never mind that God seems to have forgotten that Abraham has another son,
Ishmael, as well as a servant Eliezer who was, according to ancient custom, like
a son to the patriarch.6
Perfect symmetry balances five uses of Elohim with five YHWHs (= the
Lord), the latter sometimes part of a traditional formula such as “angel of
the Lord,” and three signs of the direct object in connection with the journey
and an equal number when preparing for the sacrifice.7 Unless one follows the

post-biblical sources, and further rabbinic texts discussed below; see in detail I. Kalimi, “Go,
I Beg You, Take Your Beloved Son and Slay Him!: The Binding of Isaac in Rabbinic Literature
and Thought,” RRJ 13 (2010), pp. 1–29.
5  As early as Rashi, the particle of entreaty in Gen 22:1 was interpreted as softening the harsh
imperative, hence my translation “Take, I beg of you. . . .” See already Babylonian Talmud,
Sanhedrin 89b.
6  The Rabbis were aware of this issue, see Rashi ad loc and already Babylonian Talmud,
Sanhedrin 89b: ‫ ־אשר אהבת‬,‫ את יחידך־זה יחיד לאמו וזה יתיד לאמו‬,‫את בנך־שני בנים יש לי‬
‫ וכל כך למה־כדי שלא תטרף דעתו עליו‬.‫ את יצחק‬.‫( ־תרוייהו רחימנא להו‬Isaac Kalimi).
7  On the narrative artistry of this story, see J. L. Crenshaw, “A Monstrous Test: Genesis 22,” in
A Whirlpool of Torment: Israelite Traditions of God as an Oppressive Presence (Minneapolis, MN:
Fortress Press, 1984, reprinted by SBL, 2008), pp. 9–29, and Defending God: Biblical Responses
to the Problem of Evil (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. 57–65, 214–216. Note 9,
p. 214, gives a bibliography of the different approaches to Genesis 22. A much longer bibliog-
raphy is found in J. Erbach, Gott im Wort: Drei Studien zur biblischen Exegese und Hermeneutik
(Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1997), pp. 5–7.
Divine Vulnerability 21

Septuagint or the Vulgate, the symmetry is broken when Elohim calls Abraham
only once but the heavenly messenger addresses him twice by name in a man-
ner that will be replicated when the Lord speaks to Moses from the burning
bush. Inverted sentence order occurs at the outset, placing the onus of the test
on Elohim, not on an alien deity or a subordinate like the Adversary who will
play a major role in a similar test, that time with Job as the victim of divine
malfeasance.8 Information intended for readers is withheld from Abraham:
“This is a test.” They are not told what the outcome of the test will be. When
the weather channel tests its system by emitting a jarring alarm, we are quickly
assured that there is nothing ominous involved. Ancient readers were less for-
tunate; they were kept in the dark until the last second, forcing them to ask:
“Will Abraham actually turn his beloved son into ashes?” Everything up to this
moment suggests that he will do so.
We see a thing of beauty in the short story with an almost perfect pattern, a
chiasm of frame, command, journey, the binding of Isaac, command, journey,
frame. The narrative has anticipation, increasing tension (“the place that I will
make known to you,” “Abraham said to the lads, ‘You stay here with the ass;
I and the boy will go yonder; we will worship and return to you’”). It also has
pained dialogue between father and son, with a daring request for clarification.
Was Isaac’s invocation, “My father” a desire to reclaim the status of son once he
has been lumped together with the lads as “the boy”? Was the inquiry, “Where
is the lamb for the burnt offering?” somehow connected with this change in
address? And is Abraham’s response ambiguous, except in ‫“( הנני‬Here I am”), as
if attentive both to God and to Isaac? The syntax permits “my son” to be either
apposition or vocative. In other words, Abraham may be saying: “My son, God
will provide the victim” or he may say “God will provide the victim, namely
you.”9 The haunting refrain, “The two of them journeyed together,” leaves
unexpressed what has been called the most poignant and eloquent silence
in all of world literature.10 The two instances of the refrain form an inclusio
but do not give way to a third when Abraham and his two servants return to
Beer-sheba where Abraham must face his wife alone and tell her what he has
been doing for nearly a week. Sarah has not been privy to Abraham’s plans for
their beloved son, although Midrash Tanchuma has Abraham on departing tell

8  In the final analysis, this means of distancing the Lord from malicious conduct fails in
that the Adversary can only act by permission of the one who rules over the heavenly
beings. For my understanding of this text, see J. L. Crenshaw, Reading Job: A Literary and
Theological Commentary (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2010).
9  Compare Rashi’s commentary on Gen 22:8.
10  E. A. Speiser, Genesis (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964), p. 164. First-time readers, too,
wait in stunned silence as father and son walk that lonely road.
22 Crenshaw

Sarah he is taking Isaac to be educated at a distant location.11 No wonder rab-

binic speculation includes the tragic ending that Sarah lets out six shrieks and
dies, or that Pseudo-Jonathan has Satan inform her that Isaac has been slain.12
The literary critic Eric Auerbach characterized the story as fraught with
background, in contrast to Greek storytelling, specifically in Homer’s account
of Odysseus’ scar, where foregrounding occurs.13 Its “bare bones” language is
broken only by terms of endearment (“your son, Isaac, whom you love” and
“his father Abraham”). Huge gaps openly invite readers to activate the imagi-
nation, which they readily have done. How old was Isaac? “Thirty seven,”
a number based on Gen 17:17 and 23:1. He was therefore strong enough to resist
had he chosen to do so. How did Abraham respond to God? By engaging in
dialogue. It went something like this: “Which son? I have two sons.” The one
you love. “I love both of them.” Isaac. (Let us not forget Eliezer. Abraham could
have said: “I have three sons”).14 Alternatively, because only Abraham and Isaac
saw God in a cloud forming a column from heaven to earth, the servants were
not worthy of being offered up to the Lord.15
The initial words, “after these things,” link the story with what precedes,
but how wide is the net? Inter-textual association with Genesis 12, the call of
Abraham to leave parents and homeland, which is tantamount to sacrificing
them symbolically, requires us to spread the net widely. When the angel com-
mends Abraham for being willing to offer up his son, it repeats the threefold
promise from the earlier experience. Obedience will lead to blessing, progeny,
and land now in the hands of Canaanites. In a sense, he has been asked to
give up both past and future, with only a precarious present existence far from

11  Abraham said to Sarah, “There is a place far from here where they educate boys; I will take
him there and educate him. She replied: Go in peace”; see Tanhuma (Buber) Vayyera 22;
Kalimi, “The Binding of Isaac in Rabbinic Literature and Thought,” p. 26.
12  Leviticus Rabbah 20:2 and Pseudo-Jonathan on Gen 22:20. Kalimi, “The Binding of Isaac
in Rabbinic Literature and Thought,” p. 27 notes that the Rabbis did not explain the dis-
crepancy between Abraham’s return to Beer-sheba and Sarah’s death at Hebron. Kalimi
wonders if they meant that she left Beer-sheba on learning what Abraham had done.
13  E. Auerbach, Mimesis (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953). That Auerbach’s
judgment about Hebrew narrative does not apply to every biblical text was recognized
long before Robert Alter’s criticism in The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York: Basic
Books, 1981).
14  On these rabbinic interpretations, see Kalimi, “The Binding of Isaac in Rabbinic Literature
and Thought.”
15  G. Vermes, Scripture and Tradition in Judaism (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1961), p. 196 describes this
“Cambridge fragment of the Tosefta of the Palestinian Targum” as “foreign to the most
ancient version of the narrative.”
Divine Vulnerability 23

home. One could translate “After these words” as in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan.

What words? According to this text, Ishmael and Isaac argued with one another
about who was more worthy to receive the inheritance. Isaac claimed to be
willing to give up his members were God to require it. Hence the divine test.16
More telling than Genesis 12 is the immediate context. Thematic links lead
readers back to the story about a jealous Sarah who persuades her spineless
husband to drive a rival wife and her son into the desert where they will surely
die from exposure. Although Abraham expresses dismay over the likelihood
that both Hagar and Ishmael will die in the desert, God shows no such compas-
sion until the ordeal has almost run its course. Still, both patriarch and matri-
arch are complicit in what seems to entail the death of two people. What father
can be so heartless? The story does not suggest that he was worried about his
ignorance concerning their fate. Yet this is the man who is asked in the very
next episode of Genesis to kill his only remaining son, so far as he knows. Will a
seriously flawed Abraham sully the narrative that follows? Why does he acqui-
esce in a monstrous test?
Where is the chutzpah as manifest in the plea for the doomed citizens of
Sodom and Gomorrah?17 Why does he not argue with God that he has sup-
pressed his feelings for Isaac out of a greater desire to be obedient? Surely he
loves Isaac more than he cares for strangers in condemned cities. Is Hermann
Gunkel right that Abraham demonstrates his love for his son by carrying the
fire and the knife?18 The sole clause of apposition, “whom you love,” reverber-
ates in the silence that is broken only by footsteps for three long days, symbolic
of the last minute.19 We can imagine a journey characterized by downcast eyes
except to see the mountain designated for the site of immolation. And yet, see-
ing is thematic for both Genesis 21 and 22. Although divine accompaniment is
implied by the promise to make known the place for the burnt offering, readers
are not told when or how that information was disclosed to Abraham. We are

16  Kalimi, “The Binding of Isaac in Rabbinic Literature and Thought,” p. 9. E. F. Davis, “Self-
Consciousness and Conversation: Reading Genesis 22,” BBR 1 (1991), pp. 27–40 writes that
the Rabbis “teach us to read with the heart of the mystic, intoxicated with God, utterly
bound and utterly free, whose suffering is transformed and obedience is completed in
love” (p. 40).
17  On this text, see J. L. Crenshaw, “The Sojourner Has Come to Play the Judge: Theodicy on
Trial,” in T. Linafelt and T. K. Beal (eds.), God in the Fray: A Tribute to Walter Brueggemann
(Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1998), pp. 83–92.
18  H. Gunkel, Genesis (8th ed.; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1969), p. 237.
19  G. M. Landes, “The ‘Three Days and Three Nights’ Motif in Jonah 2:1,” JBL 86 (1967),
pp. 446–450.
24 Crenshaw

left with the question: “Was the knowledge gained by God (“Now I know”)
worth the terrible cost of such a test?20
Some small compensation may be found in the many artistic renderings of
the agony experienced by father and son, however eager Abraham may have
been to obey and however willingly Isaac may have presented the throat, as in
rabbinic speculation.21 Who can ever forget the depiction of Abraham’s suf-
fering by Rembrandt, once he had a son?22 What a contrast with the earlier
painting of 1635 that emphasized the patriarch’s eagerness to obey God at any
cost. Now twenty years later, a face is etched in pain while a comforting arm
cradles Isaac to shield his eyes from the knife that a moment before had been
poised to slit the throat.23 The many paintings of the story in the catacombs
and the thousands of artistic renderings to the present day suggest that artists
have seen the story as a test of their own ability to depict pathos on such a
grand scale.
Beauty alone cannot justify this storytelling. Nor can the sacrifice of one’s
son be defended as the ethical norm, as Jon D. Levenson does when reject-
ing Kierkegaard’s interpretation of the deed as a “teleological suspension of
the ethical” by a Knight of Faith.24 Human sacrifice, even if normal during

20  J. L. Mays, “ ‘Now I Know’: An Exposition of Genesis 22:1–19 and Matthew 26:36–46,”
Theology Today (January, 2002), pp. 519–525 calls these two tests “a clarifying experience
for God” (p. 520).
21  See R. M. Jensen, “The Offering of Isaac in Jewish and Christian Tradition. Image and
Text,” BibInt 11 (1994), pp. 85–110.
22  Rembrandt’s marriage to Saska resulted in four children. The first three, two daughters
and a son, died shortly after birth (their son, Rombartus, lived slightly more than two
months, their two daughters, both named Cornelia, lived only two weeks). Their fourth
child, Titus, named after Rembrandt’s sister Titia, died in the plague at nearly twenty-
seven years old, just over a year before Rembrandt’s death in 1667.
23  In this painting, Isaac is not bound, the angel holds both Abraham’s arms while conveying
a message canceling the original command, and both father and son are open-mouthed
as if struck by the angel’s words and the radiance of the light above the three figures.
J. I. Durham, The Biblical Rembrandt: Human Painter in a Landscape of Faith (Macon:
Mercer University Press, 2004), 103 comments: “He has put himself on Mount Moriah.
And anyone really seeing this painting in the Hermitage has been right there with him.”
On these two paintings and the very different one of Abraham and Isaac from 1645, see
G. von Rad, Das Opfer des Abraham (Mainz: Kaiser Verlag, 1971), 86–94.
24  J. D. Levenson, The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child
Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993). Levenson’s
criticism highlights the problem of imposing modern views on ancient literature, very
much in vogue today because of its injurious effects on many. T. E. Fretheim, Abraham:
Trials of Family and Faith (Columbia, SC: The University of South Carolina Press, 2007) is
Divine Vulnerability 25

patriarchal days, was horrifying in the same way genocide and slavery were.
We do not know whether the requirement in Exod 22:29a to offer up one’s
first born son in the same way sheep and oxen were to be slaughtered was
ever implemented.25 According to Jeremiah, such a thought never entered the
Lord’s mind. We can certainly say that the killing of one’s offspring was abomi-
nable even if thought to be divinely authorized. In this regard, Immanuel Kant
is right.26 The argument even exists today in legal defense of the criminally
insane; it is called command hallucination, the belief that God orders some-
one to kill another human being.27 No one in his or her right mind could take
such a command seriously. Then was Abraham mistaken, as in Genesis Rabbah
56:8 where God says: “I did not command you to sacrifice your son but to take
him up to a mountain.28
Nor can the episode be justified by its “happy outcome,” whether by follow-
ing the story line or by assuming that Abraham actually slew Isaac and angels
carried the body either to Sheol or to the Garden of Eden, where the dew of
heaven revived him and for three years he was nursed back to health by angels.
As Shalom Spiegel has shown in exquisite detail, the tradition about the ashes
of Isaac ante-dates the death of Jesus and requires the belief that Isaac really
died.29 After all, he is strangely absent on the return journey, and he is not
mentioned in connection with his mother’s funeral. That he died is not the
opinion of the mother of the seven martyred sons in Second Maccabees 7
who chides father Abraham with the words: “Yours were the trials, mine the

not entirely convinced by Levenson’s argument. Fretheim mines the story for its theologi-
cal profundity while recognizing its dangers to the mentally unstable as well as the fear
it generates in children.
25  After all, the prophet Micah pondered that possibility: “Shall I give my firstborn for my
transgression, the fruit of my body for my own sin?” (Micah 6:7b). He offers a better alter-
native, which he thinks has been communicated by God: “Doing justice, loving kindness,
and walking humbly with your God.”
26  Kant’s concern was that the command was contrary to moral law and therefore a decep-
tion, definitely not coming from God. To this, Berel Dov Lerner objects that the philoso-
pher ignored God’s promise and covenant. Lerner also accuses Kierkegaard of refusing to
take seriously the possibility of the miraculous. See Lerner, “Saving the Akedah from the
Philosophers,” JQR 27 (1999), pp. 168–169.
27  Dealing with schizophrenia is still in its infancy. How does one assign blame when the
voices are real?
28  In short, rather than ‫( שחט‬to slaughter), God uses the verb ‫ עלה‬which means “to go up”
and by extension “a burnt offering,” that which ascends to God. See in detail, Kalimi. “The
Binding of Isaac in Rabbinic Literature and Thought,” p. 5.
29  S. Spiegel, The Last Trial (New York: Schocken Books, 1967).
26 Crenshaw

performances.”30 Nor was it the view of those who said the ram’s blood was as
if that of Isaac, or the ram’s name was Isaac.31 Still, if Isaac actually died at his
father’s hand, Christians had no claim to superiority over their Jewish brothers
and sisters, for both looked to the redemptive power of a slain hero. In both
theological traditions, there could be no redemption without spilled blood.
It did not help that in some circles people believed the Lord killed and made
alive, wounded and bound up32 as stated in Deut 32:39, or that the author of
Exodus called the Lord both warrior and healer. We must consider what Karel
van der Toorn has called the principle of similitude, of similarity between God
and mortals.33 Humans have always depicted the deity in their own image, or
as Robert Wright has shown in The Evolution of God, used images that convey
their deepest desire.34 In short, for children of the Enlightenment, God is a
literary construct. The problem arises when this fabrication is viewed as abso-
lute, demanding a bended knee. The result is vividly illustrated in Jack Miles’
scintillating book, God: A Biography.35 A shadow side of the deity resembling
the demonic emerges and eventuates in the Satan as a means of salvaging
divine character. Defending God is a fruitless enterprise, as I have shown in an
exhaustive treatment of the biblical and extra-biblical data.36
Any discussion of the shadow side of God leads to the book of Job, especially
the prose introduction and conclusion, with its obvious inter-textual links to
Genesis 22. Sarah Japhet and Andreas Michel have laid bare the semantic
affinities between the two stories about a divine test (although most of these
are frozen idioms; I. Kalimi).37 They include, among other things, “stretch

30  Technically, the performances in this “martyr legend” belonged to the seven sons, although
their mother is described as urging them to face death courageously and therefore would
have suffered unimaginable psychological stress. The emphasis on resurrection conve-
niently hides that element of the story.
31  Kalimi, “The Binding of Isaac in Rabbinic Literature and Thought,” p. 25.
32  J. L. Crenshaw, “Divine Discipline in Job 5:17–18, Proverbs 3:11–12, Deuteronomy 32:29, and
Beyond,” in K. Dell and W. Kynes (eds.), Reading Job Intertextually (Library of Hebrew
Bible/Old Testament Studies 574; London: Bloomsbury T. & T. Clark, 2013), pp. 178–189.
33  K. van der Toorn, “Sources in Heaven: Revelation as a Scholarly Construct in Second
Temple Judaism,” in U. Hübner and E. A. Knauf (eds.), Kein Land für sich allein: Studien
zum Kulturkontakt in Kanaan, Israel/Palästina und Ebirnari für Manfred Weippert zum 65.
Geburtstag (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2002) pp. 265–277.
34  R. Wright, The Evolution of God (New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2009).
35  J. Miles, God: A Biography (New York: Knopf, 1995).
36  Crenshaw, Defending God.
37  S. Japhet, “The Trial of Abraham and the Test of Job: How Do They Differ?” Henoch 16
(1994), pp. 153–172; A. Michel, “Ijob und Abraham. Zur Rezeption von Gen 22 in Ijob 1–2
Divine Vulnerability 27

forth your hand,” “offer up a whole burnt offering,” the imperative “take,” the
lifting up of the eyes from afar, the expression “after these things,” and “my
servant” as the designation for both Abraham and Job. A much-maligned Job
thought he was undergoing a test from which he would emerge successfully
“like gold refined in fire” (Job 23:10). Enthusiasts like the composer of Psalm 26
asked to be subjected to a divine test, and testing was mutual. Humans put
God to the test, even on occasion prodded by the Lord to do so, as in the
case of King Ahaz, who is told to make the test as deep as Sheol or as high as
heaven (Isa 7:11). In the eyes of the prophet Isaiah, nothing was impossible
for God.
Regrettably, God as described in the Bible could not be trusted to be consis-
tent, as the incidents involving Ishmael and Isaac reveal. In the former case,
the deity showed a compassionate side, but in the latter instance a hostile
demeanor. Which God does Abraham encounter, the one who rescued Ishmael
and Hagar or the one who commanded the patriarch to undergo an agonizing
three days? Amazingly, the Bible celebrates this ambiguity in a liturgy empha-
sizing the thirteen divine attributes: The Lord, merciful, compassionate, kind,
long-suffering . . . but also punishing sinners to the third and fourth generation
(Exod 34:6–7).
One can say that the biblical description of a flawed deity is mirrored in
a perverse humankind, a concept that reaches its highest point in Jer 17:9a
(“The human mind is wholly sick; who can fathom it?”). How else could it be?
Deceitful minds only produce corrupt theological dogma,38 a biblical insight
that seems to have been lost on inerrantists and extremists everywhere. Jewish
lore about the yetzer hara’ and the Christian model prayer arise from the rec-
ognition that a fundamental flaw exists in human beings. Does a flaw exist
in God too? Some have thought so, for it is difficult to imagine that a benevolent
God would create an evil inclination and lead good people into temptation?
When we pause long enough to ask what could possibly justify the mon-
strous test, answers fail to ease our angst. Some have said that it aims to build

und 42:7–17,” in A. Michel and H.-J. Stipp (eds.), Gott—Mensch—Sprache: Schülerfestschrift

für Walter Groß zum 60. Geburtstag a, 30. Juni 2001 (Arbeiten zu Text und Sprache im Alten
Testament 68; St. Ottilien: EOS Verlag, 2001), pp. 73–97. B. N. Fisk, “Offering Isaac Again
and Again: Pseudo-Philo’s use of the Aqedah as Intertext,” CBQ 62 (2000), pp. 481–507
argues that the net should be spread wider to include stories about Jephthah, Deborah,
and Balaam.
38  J. L. Crenshaw, “Deceitful Minds and Theological Dogma: Jer 17:5–11,” in E. Ben Zvi
(ed.), Utopia and Dystopia in Prophetic Literature (Helsinki: Finnish Exegetical Society;
Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006), pp. 105–121.
28 Crenshaw

character, a conviction that has been converted into a proverb: “Whom God
loves, he chastens, just as a father disciplines the child he loves” (Prov 3:12).
The church theologian Irenaeus used this argument of soul building to explain
adversity, the suffering that tests the human spirit. Unfortunately, there is pre-
cious little soul building here, and only for Abraham. One could argue that for
him the experience was soul-wrenching rather than soul building.
Then what about Isaac? Does not Jewish tradition say that three tears fell
from Abraham’s eyes into those of Isaac, or that the tears of the angels melted
the knife in Abraham’s hand?39 Nowhere is Isaac explicitly offered an oppor-
tunity to exhibit courage except in rabbinic imagination, where he asks to be
bound securely lest his body tremble and the sacrifice be ruined.40 And Sarah?
She is completely excluded from any possibility of improving her character,
which has been sorely tested in the story leading up to Genesis 21, where, no
longer victim, she instigates extreme suffering on a rival wife and son.
This line of thought leads to the question: “Who is the central character in
the story involving Abraham and Isaac?” In some Jewish readings, Isaac takes
center stage, with Abraham standing nearby, but in others, as well as in many
Christian readings, Abraham is the hero. Perhaps God is a close rival to the
human characters in both traditions. Who gets left out? Sarah, by implication,
but the ram that was caught in the thorns receives no credit for paying the ulti-
mate price by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The silence about
the real victim has persisted until quite recently, and the voices seem to fall on
deaf ears for the most part.
For some readers, the story is justified in that it chronicles the transition
from sacrificing the first born to the time when a substitute was accepted.
This interpretation may be correct, although the point is a subtle one, never
made explicitly.41 No one can miss the implication of the angel’s remarks: The
thought is tantamount to the deed; however, Isaac has already been saved, so
the ram cannot be considered a substitute for him, because it appears after
God has already told Abraham not to sacrifice Isaac.
Now if it is true that the story is a creation of a flawed human being, and if
people have created God in their own image, does it not follow that the deity is
vulnerable like the ones after whom the majestic Being is modeled? Does the
mere hint that Elohim recognizes the enormity of the ordeal facing Abraham

39  Genesis Rabbah 56:7.

40  Genesis Rabbah 56:8.
41  Davis, “Self-Consciousness,” pp. 31–32 rejects it. Her reasons: (1) the absence of any sugges-
tion that the command accords with established custom; (2) the lack of historical refer-
ence; (3) silence about any struggle by Abraham for ethical discernment; and (4) God’s
failure to repudiate human sacrifice.
Divine Vulnerability 29

suggest divine vulnerability? Perhaps. I have expressed that idea in a reflection

on Genesis 1.42

The Tear

Had God known the course of those first words,

he would ne’er have spoken,
ripping night from day,
land from sea, you from me.
Instead, God shattered eternity’s silence
and then cried, a tear falling
from divine eyes into mine,
exploding in a shriek of eternity.

According to the Bible, the act of creation did not arise from loneliness but
from self-emptying love, which exposes God to human willfulness. No one
has seen this truth more clearly than Abraham Joshua Heschel, who talked
about divine pathos, turning Aristotle’s concept on its head.43 The Lord is the
most moved mover, not the unmoved mover, according to Heschel’s apt turn
of phrase. Christians, too, invoke a similar theological argument, that a self-
sacrifice on the deity’s part is the means of restoring an estranged humanity
to its divine source. Here the dual nature of God is laid bare: He wounds but
binds up, kills but brings to life. In this instance, however, the victim is para-
doxically none other than the one who afflicts. It follows that the monstrous
test of Abraham has cosmic significance insofar as it discloses the character of
God as intrinsically vulnerable.
One thing becomes clear from Genesis 22. It leaves no room for presum-
ing that God presents a smiling countenance to exemplary humans. Closer to
the truth is the pained recognition at the end of Psalm 88 and Lamentations
5 that the Lord has utterly abandoned and rejected his people. Loneliness on
the part of humankind and suffering on God’s part naturally follow. Thus the
two poets have authentically described the human condition. Experience has
taught them that the comforting message of theism is hardly that, indeed it
only increases angst. They have projected their own vulnerability onto the
heavens. Kindred spirits went even further. The author of the book of Job per-
ceived that genuine religious devotion asks nothing in return, is truly without
cause, against logic. Qoheleth is even more radical, insisting that ultimately

42  Crenshaw, Dust and Ashes, p. 19.

43  A. J. Heschel, The Prophets (New York: Harper & Row, 1962).
30 Crenshaw

life is empty, short, and futile.44 Human vulnerability, that is, matches divine
vulnerability. So a monstrous test faces moderns too, one that leaves them
alone on a journey into oblivion. At journey’s end, we have no guarantee of
being met by a solicitous angel with words of blessing. Like Greek tragedy,
the story tugs at the heart, asking how far mortals are capable of going while
serving the Eternal One. For ancients, the question was: Will they sacrifice
what is most precious, the fruit of their bodies even when not as payment
for the “sin of their souls,” to use the language of Micah? For us, the question
has taken a different turn: Will silent heavens require us to slay our belief in
In this context, it is easy to solve the problem presented by the unflattering
picture of God. We can admire the artistry of the story, lifting up its capacity to
energize the imagination and celebrating the supreme sacrifice of the human
spirit for what is thought to be a noble end. We can even convince ourselves
that we need a sense of awe that is grounded in the sublime, without which
life would be impoverished. For some believers, however, more is required.
They must accept the story line and say that the divine experiment depended
on Abraham’s willingness to obey God regardless of the consequences.
And that means that the patriarch’s checkered history of partial obedience
exposed divine vulnerability at its core.
In the final analysis, we are faced with a heart-rending story, whether
the product of the human imagination or divine inspiration, and its linger-
ing effects haunt Christians who try to understand the passion narrative and
Jews for whom a contemporary form of the binding of Isaac has been a hor-
rific nightmare. It is thus possible to say that humans today are subjected to a
monumental test, whether to sacrifice belief in God or to take a leap of faith in
the faint hope that our ancestors have not been completely blind and deaf to a
deeper reality, divine vulnerability.46

44  See J. L. Crenshaw, Qoheleth: The Ironic Wink (Columbia, SC: The University of South
Carolina Press, 2013).
45  For many Westerners, science has replaced God. In this new world, poetry, music, and art
no longer are believed to connect humans with a transcendent realm.
46  I thank my friend and colleague Ellen Davis for reading an earlier version of this essay and
making helpful comments for its improvement. She, too, emphasizes divine vulnerability
when interpreting Gen 22:1–19.

Shifting Emphasis: Examples of Early and Modern

Reception of the Book of Amos

Göran Eidevall

1 Introduction

The book of Amos has been read and interpreted during more than two thou-
sand years, within diverse branches of Judaism and Christianity, as well as
within academic contexts. Time and again, new historical situations and new
interpretive communities have engendered new ways of reading.1 In some
cases, indeed, the differences are so great that one may ask: Have these inter-
preters really been reading the same book? In my opinion, the differing, and at
times strongly divergent, interpretations that have been produced during the
centuries are best explained in terms of shifting emphasis. On a closer exami-
nation, the book of Amos contains a variety of topics and perspectives. As a
consequence, it lends itself to more than one line of interpretation. It depends
on how you define the book’s centre, or its core message. Due to social and
ideological changes, passages that were previously regarded as central may
become marginal, and vice versa. I shall discuss some examples of such shifts
in emphasis below.
It is, of course, not possible to cover two thousand years of reception history
in a short article. However, Amos has not always belonged to the most pop-
ular or most extensively commented books in the Hebrew Bible. During the
medieval era, one may in fact speak of a relative neglect of the book of Amos,
among both Jewish and Christian scholars.2 As suggested by Donald Gowan,

1  For helpful surveys of the entire history of Amos’ reception and interpretation, see J. Barton,
The Theology of the Book of Amos (Old Testament Theology; New York: Cambridge University
Press, 2012), pp. 161–177, and R. Martin-Achard, Amos: l’homme, le message, l’influence
(Genève: Labor et Fides, 1984), pp. 163–242.
2  See L. Markert, “Amos, Amosbuch,” Theologische Realenzyklopädie (Berlin: W. de Gruyter,
1978), vol. 2, pp. 484–485. Cf. also Martin-Achard, Amos, pp. 186–206. The book of Amos was
of course not overlooked by the rabbis or the early Christian theologians. A guide to the refer-
ences to Amos in the Talmud and in other parts of the rabbinical literature has been provided
by J. Neusner, Amos in Talmud and Midrash (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2007).
For a discussion on the patristic commentaries on Amos, see J. G. Kelly, “The Interpretation

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���6 | doi ��.��63/9789004324541_005

32 Eidevall

this was probably to a large extent due to the book’s rather harsh message:
“Both Jewish and Christian interpreters typically sought messages of comfort
and hope in the Old Testament, and there is little of that to be found in Amos.”3
In the following, I shall therefore concentrate on what I take to be an especially
intriguing and illuminating comparison: between the most ancient and the
most recent stages within the history of Amos interpretation.
The earliest known explicit reference to this prophetic book is found in
Tobit 2:6, which features a quotation from Amos 8:10.4 Here Amos is remem-
bered as a prophet of doom, who had spoken about disasters and hardships
similar to those experienced by Tobit and his family. The words from Amos 8:10,
announcing that feasts will be turned into occasions of lamentation, are cited
as a fitting comment on the situation described in the narrative.5 However,
there is no indication that this oracle was quoted for theological reasons.
The author does not provide an interpretation of Amos 8:10. For the purpose of
this paper, the attestations of Amos reception in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the
New Testament are of greater interest.

2 Amos in Qumran

Unfortunately, an Amos pesher has not been discovered in the caves at

Qumran. However, there is no doubt that this prophetic book was studied by
the Qumran community.6 This is attested by three writings among the Dead
Sea Scrolls. To begin with, an unmarked quote from Amos 8:11 (a prophecy con-
cerning hunger and thirst for the divine word) occurs in an exegetical text,

of Amos 4:13 in the Early Christian Community,” in R. McNamara (ed.), Essays in Honor of
Joseph P. Brennan (Rochester, NY: Saint Bernard’s Seminary, 1977), pp. 60–77.
3  D. E. Gowan, “The Book of Amos: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections,” in L. E. Keck
et al. (eds.), New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), vol. 7, pp. 337–431 esp. 340.
4  The book of Tobit is commonly dated to the third or the second century BCE See C. A. Moore,
Tobit: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Anchor Bible 40A; New York:
Doubleday, 1996), pp. 40–42.
5  Similarly Barton, The Theology, p. 164.
6  For a more detailed discussion of the use of the book of Amos in the Dead Sea scrolls and in
the Qumran community, see H. von Weissenberg, “The Twelve Minor Prophets at Qumran
and the Canonical Process,” in N. Dávid et al. (eds.), The Hebrew Bible in Light of the Dead
Sea Scrolls (Forschungen zur Religion und Literatur des Alten und Neuen Testaments 239;
Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012), pp. 357–375. Cf. also A. Park, The Book of Amos
as Composed and Read in Antiquity (Studies in Biblical Literature 37; New York: P. Lang, 2001),
pp. 178–191.
Shifting Emphasis 33

the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C. Even more importantly, the book of Amos

is cited as authoritative scripture in two other texts, namely the Damascus
Document and 4QFlorilegium.7
In the so-called Amos-Numbers Midrash in the Damascus Document
(CD A 7:13b–8:1a), two Amos passages, 5:26–27 and 9:11, have been conflated.
Notably, both quotations are introduced by a formula, “as it says (‫)כאשר אמר‬,”
which indicates that an authoritative source is being cited. However, the
interpretation of these passages is characterized by a high degree of creativ-
ity. Clearly, the exegete responsible for the Amos-Numbers Midrash had little
interest in the function of these prophecies in their original historical context.
Rather, he seems to have been convinced that the true sense of these prophetic
words was linked to later historical events, and in particular to the rise of the
community to which he himself belonged.
Amos 5:26–27, a somewhat obscure allegation (in the form of a rhetorical
question), followed by a prediction of deportation “beyond Damascus,” has
here been transformed into a prophecy concerning rescue for the faithful in
“the land of the north.” This midrash-like interpretation takes as its point of
departure two enigmatic words in Amos 5:26: ‫ סכות‬and ‫כיון‬, which have been
vocalized sikkut and kiyyun, respectively, in the MT. According to modern
scholarship, these expressions most likely represent pejorative forms of the
names of two Mesopotamian astral deities, Sakkut (dSAG.KUD) and Kaiwan
(kajamānu).8 It is unlikely, though, that the author of the Damascus Document
was aware of that. His interpretation seems to have been guided by ambi-
tion to find a contextually relevant meaning, and the observation that these
strange names appear together with the Hebrew words for “king” (‫ )מלך‬and
“star” (‫)כוכב‬. Further, reading sukkôt (tents, tabernacles) rather than sikkut/
sakkut, this early interpreter managed to establish a connection to the prom-
ise in Amos 9:11, concerning the future restoration of “David’s fallen hut / tent
(‫סכת דויד הנפלת‬, sukkat dāwîd hannōfelet).”9 These operations resulted in the
following interpretation:

. . . all who held fast escaped to the land of the north. vacat As it says,
‘I will exile the tents (‫ )סכות‬of your king and the foundation (‫ )כיון‬of your
images beyond the tents of Damascus’ [Amos 5:26–27]. The books of Law

7  For further details, see von Weissenberg, “The Twelve,” pp. 368–374.
8  See S. Paul, Amos (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1991), pp. 194–198, with convincing
arguments for this reconstruction of the text’s original points of reference.
9  For a more elaborate discussion, see P. von der Osten-Sacken, “Die Bücher der Tora als Hütte
der Gemeinde. Amos 5 26f. in der Damaskusschrift,” ZAW 91 (1979), pp. 423–435.
34 Eidevall

are the ‘tents (‫ )סכות‬of the king’, as it says, ‘I will re-erect the fallen tent
of David’ [Amos 9:11]. vacat ‘The king’ is <Leader of> the nation and the
‘foundation (‫ )כיון‬of your images’ are the books of the prophets whose
words Israel despised. vacat ‘The star’ (Amos 5:26) is the interpreter of
the Torah who comes to Damascus, as it is written, ‘A star has left Jacob, a
staff has risen from Israel’ [Num 24:17].10

In the Amos-Numbers Midrash, the two passages from Amos (5:26–27 and 9:11)
are thus interpreted as predictions of events of importance for the author and
his sectarian community. Interestingly, the strange terms sikkut and kiyyun
are read as references to writings that were considered authoritative by the
primary addressees: the Torah and the prophetic books.
Amos 9:11 is cited in another Qumran text, as well, namely in 4QFlorilegium
(4Q174 1:12). Once again, reference is made to “the interpreter of the Torah”
(most probably, a leader within the Essene community), as well as to a mes-
sianic figure:11

He (is) the Shoot of David who will arise with the interpreter of the Torah
who [ ] in Zi[on] in the latter days, as it is written, “And I will raise up the
booth of David that is fallen.” [Amos 9:11] He (is) the booth of David that
is falle[n w]ho will arise to save Israel.12

These observations indicate that the Qumran exegetes were mainly interested
in the eschatological aspects of the oracles collected in the book of Amos. As
will be shown below, a study of the reception of Amos in the New Testament
yields a similar picture.

3 Amos in the New Testament

It is a remarkable fact, and probably not just a pure coincidence, that the
few excerpts from the book of Amos that are found in the New Testament
are almost identical with the small selection of Amos quotations in the Dead
Sea scrolls. Whereas the latter includes Amos 5:25–26; 8:11 and 9:11, the New
Testament selection consists of 5:25–27 and 9:11–12. Evidently, the last verses of

10  CD A 7:13b-20a; translation from the Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Library.
11  See von Weissenberg, “The Twelve,” pp. 371–372.
12  4Q174 1–2 i 21:11–13; translation from the Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Library.
Shifting Emphasis 35

chapter 5 and chapter 9, respectively, were regarded as particularly significant

by more than one Jewish group during this period.
Both the New Testament quotations are found in the Acts of the Apostles,
where Luke has inserted passages from Amos into two speeches.13 In Acts
7:42–43, the passage Amos 5:25–27 is cited by Stephen, within the context of a
historical survey, as a prophecy presaging the Babylonian exile.14 In Acts 15:15–
18, James cites Amos 9:11–12, in the Septuagint version, as a justification for the
on-going mission to the Gentiles.15 The motif of rebuilding David’s fallen hut
has here been combined with the motif of large-scale conversion among “all
other peoples”: “as it is written, ‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the
dwelling of David, which has fallen; from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set
it up, so that all other peoples may seek the Lord—even all the Gentiles over
whom my name has been called” (Acts 15:15b–17a).16

4 General Tendencies in the Earliest Stage of Amos’ Reception

Apart from the fact that they cite almost exactly the same textual passages,
there are some further intriguing similarities between the examples of
Amos’ reception discussed above, from the Qumran texts and from the New
Testament. In both cases, the interpreters appear to have regarded the book of
Amos as a repository of predictions concerning the future, pertaining in par-
ticular to their own time and their own community. In addition, both com-
munities cited the book of Amos as an authoritative source, in support of their
own eschatological and messianic expectations. This applies especially to the
passage Amos 9:11–12.
It is worth noting that Amos passages containing social or cultic critique
(e.g., 2:6–8; 4:1–5; 5:7, 10–12, 21–24; 6:1–7) are not cited in the extant sectarian
material from Qumran.17 Those parts of the book of Amos are likewise missing

13  For an in-depth analysis of these two Amos quotations, see E. Richard, “The Creative Use
of Amos by the Author of Acts,” NovT 24 (1982), pp. 37–53.
14  Cf. Martin-Achard, Amos, pp. 180–182.
15  On the rhetorical and theological function of the quote from Amos 9 in Acts 15, see
R. Bauckham, “James and the Gentiles (Acts 15:13–21)” in B. Witherington III (ed.), History,
Literature, and Society in the Book of Acts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996),
pp. 154–181, and W. E. Glenny, “The Septuagint and Apostolic Hermeneutics: Amos 9 in
Acts 15,” BBR 22 (2012), pp. 1–26.
16  Translation quoted from the New Revised Standard Version.
17  This has been observed by von Weissenberg, “The Twelve,” pp. 373–374, who suggests,
quite plausibly, that those parts of the book of Amos which contain social and cultic
36 Eidevall

in the New Testament’s use of Amos. From the point of view of modern schol-
arship, which tends to view the indictments of injustice as more central to the
book’s message than passages like 5:25–27 and 9:11–15, such a perspective on
Amos might perhaps seem narrow or even distorted.

5 Amos in the Modern Era: An Advocate of Justice

Before discussing the modern image of Amos as a champion of social justice,

it should be mentioned that this theme was emphasised already during the
Renaissance era, by Girolamo Savonarola, a controversial Dominican friar and
political reformer in Florence. In a series of sermons on Amos held in 1496,
Savonarola used social-critical passages such as Amos 2:6–8 in rhetorical
attacks against contemporary corruption.18 At the same time, he urged the lis-
teners to endorse his own political reform program, as an (allegedly) appropri-
ate response to the message preached by Amos (or by Savonarola). After this
interlude, let us move on to the 19th century, and the emergence of academic
research on the prophets and the prophetic literature.
Commenting on the modern history of reception and interpretation of
Amos, A. Graeme Auld has noted that this book is commonly regarded as
“an important source for the claim that Israel’s classical prophets had a fun-
damental concern with social justice.”19 However, such an understanding
of the so-called classical prophets is a rather new phenomenon.20 Towards
the end of the 19th century one can observe a new emphasis on ethical,
social and political aspects of the messages ascribed to prophets like Isaiah
and Amos. According to Julius Wellhausen and others, those prophets were
forth-tellers rather than foretellers, and more concerned with ethics than with

critique were not deemed to be easily reconcilable with the theological outlook of the
Qumran community.
18  See A. Mein, “The Radical Amos in Savonarola’s Florence,” in A. C. Hagedorn and
A. Mein (eds.), Aspects of Amos: Exegesis and Interpretation (Library of Hebrew Bible /
Old Testament Studies 536; London: T & T Clark, 2011), pp. 117–140, with generous excerpts
and insightful comments.
19  G. Auld, Amos (Old Testament Guides; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1986), p. 9.
20  For an overview of early and medieval Jewish and Christian Amos exegesis which seems
to support such a conclusion, see Martin-Achard, Amos, pp. 186–210. Of course, passages
such as 2:6–8 were treated by patristic commentaries as well as by medieval Jewish com-
mentators, but they did not depict Amos as a spokesman for social reforms.
Shifting Emphasis 37

eschatology.21 In the 20th century the book of Amos attracted great interest
among biblical scholars. Both inside and outside the academic guild of exe-
getes a new image of the prophet Amos, as an advocate of social and economic
justice, grew popular. This development has been succinctly summarized by
Andrew Mein: “If the burden of prophecy was not messianic prediction but
social analysis and moral critique, then Amos was well placed to emerge from
the shadows and take centre stage.”22
In the second half of the 20th century the book of Amos became a source of
inspiration for various protest and reform movements. In his famous speech,
“I have a dream” (Washington, DC, 1963), Martin Luther King Jr. quoted Amos
5:24, as he exclaimed: “No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied
until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’ ”23
In the subsequent decades, the image of Amos as a spokesman for the poor
and the oppressed became common in liberation theology, above all in Latin
America.24 This line of interpretation has left its imprints in historical-critical
scholarship as well.25

6 A Case Study: Haroldo Reimer

In the following, I will offer a brief summary of the interpretation outlined

by a biblical scholar from Brazil, Haroldo Reimer, in 1992.26 To my knowledge,
Reimer’s book is the only extant internationally published monograph on

21  See H. Clifford, “Amos in Wellhausen’s Prolegomena,” in Hagedorn and Mein (eds.),
Aspects of Amos: Exegesis and Interpretation, pp. 141–156.
22  Mein, “The Radical Amos,” p. 117.
23  See further M. D. Carroll R., Amos: The Prophet and His Oracles (Louisville, KY: Westminster
John Knox, 2002), pp. 57–59.
24  References to representative works are provided by Barton, The Theology, pp. 177–180,
and Martin-Achard, Amos, pp. 260–270. For a helpful survey of literature on Amos
written from liberationist perspectives, from all parts of the world, see Carroll R., Amos,
pp. 53–72. See also A. R. Ceresko, Introduction to the Old Testament: A Liberationist
Perspective (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1992), pp. 180–184.
25  See, e.g., G. Fleischer, Von Menschenverkäufern, Baschankühen und Rechtsverkehrern: Die
Sozialkritik des Amosbuches in historisch-kritischer, sozialgeschichtlicher und archäolo-
gischer Perspektive (Bonner Biblischer Beiträge 74; Frankfurt am Main: Athenäum, 1989).
26  H. Reimer, Richtet auf das Recht! Studien zur Botschaft des Amos (Stuttgarter Bibelstudien
149; Stuttgart: Verlag Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1992). Cf. also H. Reimer, “Amós, profeta de
juicio y justicia,” RIBLA 35/36 (2000), pp. 153–168.
38 Eidevall

Amos, which is authored by an academic biblical scholar who represents the

particular perspective of Latin American liberation theology.
According to Reimer, the main theme of the book of Amos is justice.27 Like
most modern interpreters, he emphasizes those passages that criticize mal-
treatment of the poor and corruption in the courts (e.g., Amos 2:6–8; 5:7,
10–12).28 Unlike many other biblical scholars, however, Reimer maintains
that the prophecies of doom and destruction (such as the passages 2:13–16;
5:1–3; 8:1–3) do not concern the entire population of Israel or the Northern
Kingdom.29 Only the oppressors, he claims—that is, the royal house, the
priests, the judges and administrators, and the military—will be hit by
the coming disaster(s) decreed by the Lord. According to his reading, Amos
held out promises of a bright future to the victims of the oppression, and espe-
cially to those poor farmers who had been driven into debt slavery. They were
going to be liberated.
Reimer’s interpretation of Amos 5:16–17 illustrates his approach.30 The text
can be translated as follows: “Therefore, thus says YHWH the God of hosts,
the Lord: In all open squares there will be wailing, and in all streets they will
say ‘Woe! Woe!’ They will call the peasant to mourning, and those skilled in
lamentation to wailing. In all vineyards there will be wailing, for I am going to
pass through the midst of you, says the Lord” (Amos 5:16–17, my translation).
Despite discussions about several details, there is a near consensus among
modern commentators regarding the general interpretation of the passage.31
Most likely, the aftermath of a national catastrophe is depicted: a catastro-
phe affecting cities and countryside, rich and poor alike. Because so many
had died, one may infer, unskilled peasants would have to assist the profes-
sional lamenters.32 According to Reimer, however, the disaster described was
in fact confined to the cities, and the mourning rites were organized by the

27  Reimer, Richtet auf das Recht, pp. 22–23, 226–234.

28  Ibid., pp. 31–50, 100–113.
29  Ibid., pp. 23–24, 54–58, 63–64, 81–85, 229.
30  Ibid., pp. 118–122.
31  See, e.g., Paul, Amos, pp. 179–180, and J. Jeremias, The Book of Amos: A Commentary
(Translated by D. W. Stott; Old Testament Library; Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox,
1998), pp. 96–97.
32  One may detect a note of social critique in this oracle of disaster. The idea would
seem to be that the poor peasants would be forced to do their masters and oppressors
(cf. Amos 4:1; 5:10–12) a last service: to sing at their funeral. See H. Gese, “Kleine Beiträge
zum Verständnis des Amosbuches,” VT 12 (1962), pp. 417–438 esp. 432–433.
Shifting Emphasis 39

agricultural workers, in a situation where their former oppressors had miracu-

lously disappeared, as a result of divine intervention.33
It lies beyond the scope of this paper to criticize the complicated and ques-
tionable syntactic and text-critical presuppositions which enable Reimer
to present such an exegesis of Amos 5:16–17. The point I would like to make
is rather that Reimer is admirably consistent, as he outlines his reading of
the book of Amos. Reimer’s view of the prophet (who is himself presented
as an agriculturalist, Amos 1:1; 7:14) as a leader of the agricultural workers
in their struggle would seem to require precisely this kind of (albeit some-
what thwarted) textual interpretation. According to Reimer, it is possible to
unlock the seemingly harsh message of the book of Amos and discover that
it is in fact fused with solidarity with the weakest, and ultimately based on a
vision of a new society, organized in an “acephalic” (that is, radically egalitar-
ian) way.34

7 Deconstructing the Image of Amos as a Spokesman for the Poor

As a young student, in the late 70s and early 80s, I found such liberationist
readings of Amos attractive, and almost immediately convincing. Moreover,
all the lectures and the literature on Amos that I came across in those years
tended to convey one and the same image of Amos: as an advocate of social
and economic justice, a spokesman for the poor and oppressed people. Against
that background, Reimer’s reading would seem quite reasonable. Later on,
however, and especially during the last years as I have been working on an
Amos commentary (forthcoming in the Anchor Bible series), I have discovered
that this popular picture of Amos as a political reformer (or even as a revolu-
tionary) lacks explicit support in the actual wordings of the text. It is an unde-
niable fact that certain passages are concerned with social justice. Arguably,
though, the repeated accusations concerning lack of justice serve primarily as
motivations and justifications for an inevitable disaster, decreed by the deity:
the downfall of the Northern kingdom, understood in terms of divine punish-
ment. The underlying idea would seem to be that a kingdom which failed to
uphold basic standards of justice had lost its raison d’être. However, this does
not necessarily translate to a call for radical social reforms.
Utterances asserting that the Lord will vindicate the poor and oppressed
are conspicuously missing in the book of Amos. In the words of James Linville:

33  Reimer, Richtet auf das Recht, pp. 119–122.

34  Ibid., p. 231.
40 Eidevall

“Despite a call to repent and let righteousness well up like rivers (Amos 5:24) and
to seek God and the good (5:14–15), there is precious little in Amos that actually
calls for the relief of the misery of the poor. Rather, the preferred response to
corruption is divine violence.”35 In the actual text of the book of Amos, noth-
ing is said about active solidarity with the poor. No reforms are suggested. On
a closer examination, the farmers are depicted as lamenting their dead, not
as celebrating their liberation (5:16–17). It is worth noting that the book’s epi-
logue, 9:11–15, does not refer to the theme of (in)justice. One would expect that
this concluding utopian vision should address the most central theme(s) in
the book. However, while the much-debated passage promises abundance and
prosperity, it fails to proclaim the end of corruption and oppression. This is
probably the reason why Haroldo Reimer barely mentions the passage in his
monograph, which otherwise covers the book of Amos in its entirety. Instead,
reading between the lines, as it were, Reimer attempts to reconstruct an egali-
tarian vision which is not explicitly formulated in the transmitted text of this
prophetic book.36

8 Ancient and Modern Amos’ Reception: A Concluding Comparison

In several respects, the two stages in the history of Amos’ reception that have
been discussed above, the earliest and the most recent stages, stand out as
strikingly different. Whereas the ancient sources fail to mention the textual
passages that are regarded as central by many modern interpreters, namely
those that express social and cultic critique, the eschatological passages that
attracted the interest of the ancient exegetes are often seen as “secondary”
(and hence as less central to the book’s message) by today’s scholars.
However, it is also possible to detect some basic similarities between
the strongly divergent interpretations that have been presented here. Thus, in
each case the special emphasis can be explained as arising from the specific
historical context of certain interpretive communities. In the Qumran sect
and the emerging Christian church, groups who were eagerly looking forward
to the messianic era and the end of history, the book of Amos was, quite nat-
urally, treated as a collection of eschatological predictions. As we have seen,
somewhat obscure passages, such as Amos 5:25–27, suited their exegetical
enterprise quite well. Far from surprisingly, biblical interpreters in the 19th

35  J. Linville, Amos and the Cosmic Imagination (Society for Old Testament Study Monograph
Series; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008), p. 116.
36  Reimer, Richtet auf das Recht, pp. 225–234.
Shifting Emphasis 41

and 20th centuries, an era characterized by democratization and struggle for

equality and welfare, read the book of Amos from a markedly different per-
spective. To them it seemed rather self-evident that the book’s central theme
should be identified as justice in society, here and now, in a straightforward
political sense. As a consequence, the saying in 5:24, interpreted as a call for
justice, came to be regarded as much more central than the following verses,
Whereas the Qumran exegetes imagined that Amos was referring to the
rise of their own community, a modern scholar and liberation theologian like
Haroldo Reimer construed an Amos who appeared to share the conditions and
the concerns of his own community in Brazil: an Amos struggling for the rights
of the poor people in the countryside, in fierce opposition to the oppressive
power exercised by the state and the military forces.
On a different note, one may add the observation that these two stages in
the history of Amos’ interpretation can be connected to two major stages
in the redaction history of this prophetic book. The eschatological interpreta-
tion practiced at Qumran, and by Luke in the New Testament, is thus roughly
consonant with the theological profile of the final edition of the book of Amos,
which appears to have foregrounded questions concerning judgment and sal-
vation, in line with the message of the book of Joel (which precedes Amos
in the book of the Twelve).37 By contrast, the modern emphasis on passages
expressing critique against the ruling elite in Samaria would seem to be largely
consonant with the first edition of the book, which served to explain the
downfall of the Northern Kingdom in 722/1 BCE.38 However, the popular image
of the prophet Amos as an advocate of social and political reforms is arguably
an anachronistic construction.

37  See, for example, Jeremias, The Book of Amos, pp. 8–9.
38  The hypothesis that the first edition of the book of Amos originated after 722/1 BCE
has been convincingly defended by J. Radine, The Book of Amos in Emergent Judah
(Forschungen zum Alten Testament 45; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010), pp. 46–79. Cf.
also Jeremias, The Book of Amos, p. 5, and K. Möller, A Prophet in Debate: The Rhetoric of
Persuasion in the Book of Amos (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement
Series 372, Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 2003), pp. 119–120. See further the Introduction
in G. Eidevall, Amos: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Anchor Yale
Bible 24A; New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, forthcoming).

Interpreting the Writing on the Wall in Daniel 5

Anne E. Gardner

The writing on the wall is a common term indicating that what is likely to hap-
pen in the future is foreshadowed in signs that are around us now. It derives
from Daniel 5 where, during a feast or festival, the Babylonian ruler saw a hand
whose fingers wrote on the plastered wall of his banqueting hall. The story is
told in a number of different versions: in Greek it appears in the Old Greek
(OG) Prologue; in the Old Greek text itself and in Theodotion (Th.). A fur-
ther manuscript of the OG is in Syriac. In Aramaic it appears in the Masoretic
Text (MT) and fragments (Dan 5:5–7; 12–13; 13–14; 16–19) that were found at
Qumran (4QDana, Frgs. 9; 10; 11; 12), although unfortunately none of the latter
include the words on the wall or their interpretation. The words on the wall
vary slightly within the versions and their interpretations also vary. Such dif-
ficulties are usually thought of as minor in the context of the many enigmas in
the book of Daniel where two genres of writing (court tales and visions),1 three
time periods (the Babylonian, Persian and Hellenistic)2 and, in the Masoretic

1  For discussion about the genres of both court tales and visions cf. J. J. Collins, Daniel
(Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1983), pp. 38–60. Recent works which concentrate
on the court tales include L. M. Wills, The Jew in the Court of the Foreign King: Ancient Jewish
Court Legends (Harvard Dissertations in Religion 26; Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 1990); R. G.
Kratz, Translatio Imperii: Untersuchungen zu den aram̈ ischer Danielerz̈ahlungen und ihrem
theologie-geschichtlichen Umfeldt (WMANT 63; Neukirchen Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1991);
T. L. Holm, The Book of Daniel in the Light of the Story Collection Genre. The Biblical Daniel
Narratives and Ancient Story-Collections (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2013).
2  The court tales are set in the Babylonian period, except Daniel 6, which is set in the time of
Darius the Mede (a fictional character), and mentions Cyrus the Persian in its final verse.
Cyrus the Persian also appears in Dan 10:1. Daniel 11 has clear references to the Hellenistic
period. The question of when Daniel came into being is disputed. Tradition holds that it was
prophecy dating from Babylonian times, but in the 19th and 20th centuries some scholars
maintained that, while the work was a unity, it was composed in the second century BCE
Others think that the court tales were earlier than the visions and composed in the Persian or
early Hellenistic period. For a fuller summary with references to scholars who hold particular
views cf. Collins, Daniel, pp. 26–38.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���6 | doi ��.��63/9789004324541_006

Interpreting The Writing On The Wall In Daniel 5 43

Text, two languages (Hebrew and Aramaic)3 appear. Daniel 5 itself is a court
tale whose date is disputed, with some scholars holding the opinion that it
came into being at the time of the Maccabean Crisis4 although the majority
claim that it was earlier, and Müller asserts that it, along with Daniel 4, was the
earliest of all the tales.5 The place where it was written, along with that of the
other court tales, has also been disputed.6 Even the language of the earliest ver-
sion of Daniel 5 has been a matter of speculation.7 An exploration of the words
on the wall and their interpretations in the different versions of Daniel 5 forms
the major part of this chapter and helps to clarify some of these issues, as well
as the relationship of the versions to one another, but data from archaeological

3  Daniel 1–2:4; 8–12 are in Hebrew and 2:5–7:28 are in Aramaic. Scholarly views about the two
languages are linked to their opinions about the development of the book. For a synopsis
cf. Collins, Daniel, pp. 24–38.
4  P. R. Davies, Daniel (Old Testament Guides; Sheffield: JSOT, 1985), p. 49. M. Hilton, “Babel
Reversed—Daniel Chapter 5,” JSOT 66 (1995), pp. 99–112 esp. 101–102, thinks that Davies is
correct because of the phrase in verse 5, “opposite the candlestick,” which he says links with
Num 8:2, 3 as well as 1 Macc 4:50; 2 Macc 1:18–22; Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 21b. Hilton’s
argument is not convincing for the word used for “candlestick” in the MT is Persian in origin
as will be seen later in the present paper.
5  H. P. Müller, “Magisch-mantische Weisheit und die Gestalt Daniels,” UF 1 (1969), pp. 79–94
esp. 86.
6  Apart from the story of Ahiqar, usually thought to have originated in Mesopotamia (it is set
in the Assyrian and Egyptian courts), no court tales from Mesopotamia have come down
to us unless one includes the tales in Herodotus, some of which relate to the Persian court.
For a discussion of the tales in Herodotus see Wills, The Jew in the Court of the Foreign King,
pp. 55–70, who sees an Ionian connection to the genre. He notes though that Persia con-
quered that area. The court tale seems to have been prolific in Egypt and Holm, Of Courtiers
and Kings, pp. 476–478 argues that the tales in Daniel exhibit a strong Egyptian connection
although she falls short of saying that they originated (my emphasis) in Egypt, as asserted
by other scholars such as R. Albertz, Der Gott des Daniels: Untersuchungen zu Daniel 4–6 in
der Septuagintafassung sowie Komposition und Theologie des aramischen Danielbuches (SBS
131; Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1988), p. 161, who thought that the earliest forms of
Daniel 4–6 were written in Greek in Alexandria in the mid-third century BCE; L. G. Perdue,
The Sword and the Stylus: An Introduction to Wisdom in the Age of Empires (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 2008), p. 361 who asserts that wisdom circles in Egypt were responsible for the
book of Daniel, thus exhibiting a similar view to J. C. H. Lebram, Das Daniel Buch (Zürcher
Bibelkommentare AT 23; Zürich: Theologischer Verlag, 1984), p. 20 who sees wisdom teachers
with a close connection to Egypt as the most likely authors.
7  The majority of scholars assume that Aramaic was the original language but, as seen in the
previous footnote, Albertz thinks Daniel 4–6 were composed in Greek.
44 Gardner

excavations of Babylon is also included and provides the starting point for the

1 Archaeological Data and Daniel 5

When he excavated the city of Babylon early in the twentieth century, Robert
Koldewey8 enthused that the largest chamber of the Principal Court of the
Southern Citadel was surely where Belshazzar’s feast took place. He describes
the chamber as 17m wide and 52m long with walls washed with white gypsum.
The long walls, he says, were 6m thick which was much thicker than the walls
at either end, suggesting that the long walls supported a barrel-vaulted roof.
The chamber had a large central door and two side doors. Opposite the central
door was a double recessed niche where he thinks the throne stood and from
which the king could have seen anyone in the court.9 He then presents his
Figure 64 which he labels “Decoration of the Throne Room”. A better portrayal
of this Figure appears in another of Koldewey’s works and it is the latter, which
he entitles “Emaillierter Kunstein vom Perserbau”, rather than “Decoration of
the Throne Room” that is reproduced below. As can be seen, a hand with the
fingers bent towards the palm is pictured.
The hand is holding a staff / pole / spear and a sleeve is apparent over the
lower part of the arm and what appears to be a portion of the chest is covered
in material of the same pattern as that on the sleeve. In addition, on the chest
is a loop shaped pattern or object. As no other part of the figure has survived,
identification or further information about it depends upon matching its fea-
tures to those of other known artwork.
While a number of figures in Ancient Near Eastern artwork grasp a staff /
pole / spear,10 other features of the image from the column in the Throne
Room are found only in Persian representations, thus providing support to
Koldewey’s designation of the pictured figure. The guardsmen on the frieze

8  R. Koldewey, Excavations at Babylon (trans. A. S. Johns; London: MacMillan & Co., 1914).
9  Koldewey, Excavations at Babylon, pp. 103–104.
10  E.g. Shown on https://classics.unc.edu/academics/courses-2/clar-241-the-archaeology-of-
the-ancienr-near-east/image-index/assyrian-empire/ are the following images: Located
in the North-West Palace at Nimrud is a relief showing Shalmaneser III of Assyria (859–
824 BCE) greeting the King of Babylon. Each has a short staff in his left hand, rather than
his right, but that could be because they are grasping each other’s right hand. An image
located in Throne Room Court (VIII) at Khorsabad (Dur Sharrukin) is probably of Sargon
II (721–705 BCE) and his vizier. Sargon is holding a staff in his right hand. In addition,
there are a number of Assyrian reliefs of guards holding spears.
Interpreting The Writing On The Wall In Daniel 5 45

figure 5.1 From R. Koldewey, Das Wieder Erstehende Babylon (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1914),
Fig. 80, facing p. 128.

from a section of the Palace of Darius I in Susa, held in reconstruction in the

Pergamon Museum in Berlin, have in common with the image from the Throne
room of the Southern Citadel in Babylon a spear grasped by the right hand
with the palm partially visible, a bracelet on the wrist, wide flowing sleeves
which are highly decorated with patterns in bands, a continuation of the same
pattern on the material covering the chest and the curious loop evident on the
chests of all figures.11 Herodotus (Histories 7.83), who provides a description of
such guardsmen, labels them as “Immortals.”

As Belshazzar is likely to have been killed by a Persian,12 the presence of the

image of a Persian guardsman in the Throne Room could have been a reminder
of that event—one that Judaeans would have ascribed to the will of their God.
Perhaps the image of the guardsman was also the inspiration behind the
description of the hand whose fingers write on the wall in Daniel 5. If so, it
would help us to understand some of the details that appear in the different

11  The loop may be a representation of the Faravhar symbol whose meaning is disputed
cf. M. Issit and C. Main, Hidden Religion. The World’s Greatest Mysteries and Symbols of
the World’s Religious Beliefs, (Santa Barbara, California; ABC-CLIO, LCC, 2014), p. 133. For
a visual representation of the guardsmen on the frieze in the palace of Darius I in Susa
cf. www.ancient.eu/image/147/.
12  Cf. Xenephon, Cyropaedia 2.1, which says that Gobryas who had been appointed as Cyrus’s
governor in Babylon “killed the son of the king”.
46 Gardner

versions of Daniel 5. In the OG Prologue “fingers like those of a human came

forth and wrote on the wall of his house upon the plaster” which could
correlate to the unfolding of the fingers pictured on the image. The OG in
Dan 5:5 expresses itself in like manner to the OG Prologue but is explicit that
the “fingers” belong to a “hand.” The MT, 4QDana Fgt. 9, and Th. have similar
descriptions, although each of them adds a further detail concerning the hand.
The MT and 4QDana Fgt. 9 mention that the palm (‫ )פס‬of the hand was visible
while the writing was underway (5:5) and why this would have been so has
been much debated by scholars.13 However, if the hand of the image on the
column was the inspiration behind this detail, the palm would have been vis-
ible when the fingers straightened in order to write. Th. Dan 5:5 differs consid-
erably, for it says that the king saw the knuckles or joints (α�στραγάλους) of the
hand that wrote. This does not accord with the picture of the hand on the col-
umn in the throne room, for the knuckles or joints were visible when the hand
was at rest; for them to be seen when the fingers were writing, the obverse side
of the hand would have had to have been pictured. Perhaps Theodotion was
unable to visualise how a palm could be visible when the fingers were writing
and so he “rectified” the picture, adding his own embellishment. If such a con-
clusion is correct, there should be other indications that Theodotion’s version
of the writing on the wall is subsequent to the others and this will be seen to
be the case later in the chapter.
While the column picturing a hand may be a pointer to the genesis
of the tale in Babylon, unfortunately it does not help us to date precisely when
the allusion to it was incorporated into Daniel 5. As seen, the image is likely
to be of a Persian guardsman, probably one of the “Immortals” designated to
guard the life of the king. After defeating the Babylonians, the Persians made
Babylon a royal residence and so the Southern Citadel or Palace, which com-
prised five buildings around a central courtyard,14 continued to exist.15 Exiles
from Judah were also associated with the Southern Citadel, for there is

13  J. A. Montgomery, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Book of Daniel (ICC;
Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1926), p. 255 summarises the eclectic views of older scholars.
J. Goldingay, Daniel, p. 101 provides the views of some more recent scholars.
14  Cf. J. Goodnick-Westenholz, “Babylon Wonder of the World” in J. Goodnick-Westenholz
(ed.), Royal Cities of the Biblical World (Jerusalem, Bible Lands Museum, 1996), p. 210.
15  Herodotus, Histories 3.150–160 tells of a revolt by Babylon during the reign of Darius.
Darius recaptured the city and pulled down its defences including the city gates, impaled
the leading citizens, but allowed the rest to return to their homes.
Interpreting The Writing On The Wall In Daniel 5 47

textual evidence from Babylonian records16 that Jehoiachin, the penultimate

king of Judah, was held in the Southern Citadel after his deportation to Babylon
by Nebuchadnezzar II, and it was within the same complex that he later
ate at the king’s table. It is well known that after the Persians permitted the
exiles to return home, many remained in Babylon and some, like Nehemiah
(Neh 2:1), were probably in the service of the king. However, the throne room
of the Southern Citadel was still in existence in the Hellenistic period, for it
was where the body of Alexander the Great lay in state.17 The evidence from
the Southern Citadel then permits Daniel 5 to have originated at any time
between the early Persian and the Hellenistic periods.
Another pointer to the origin of the tale in Babylon is that the name of
the monarch in Daniel 5 (Βαλτασαρ in the Greek versions and ‫ בלשאצר‬in the
MT) is close to the name of an actual historical figure at the time of the Fall of
Babylon.18 Prior to the beginning of the last century when archaeological exca-
vations provided evidence of the existence of Bel-šar-uṣur, as he was called in
Akkadian,19 he was unknown from a historical perspective. The only literary
works, other than Daniel, that mention him are Baruch 1:11, 12 and Josephus,
Jewish Antiquities 10.11 both of which are thought to depend on Daniel in this
regard. This suggests that whoever composed the tale had local knowledge.
A further connection between Daniel 5 and Babylon has been indicated
by Broida.20 She points out that in Mesopotamia there were compilations, in

16  VA Bab 28186 held in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin Preussischer Kulturbesitz
Vorderasiatisches Museum; cf. J. Goodnick-Westenholz, “Babylon Wonder of the World,”
pp. 211, 213.
17  According to Arrian the Nicomedian, Alexander was located here while he was dying cf.
E. J. Chinnock (Trans.), The Anabasis of Alexander; or The history of the wars and conquests
of Alexander the Great (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, Book VII, chapter xxv.
A digital version can be accessed at https://archive.org/stream/cu31924026460752/
cu31924026460752_djvu.txt Although Arrian was born about 85–90 CE, he explains in the
Prologue to his work that it is based on the writings of Ptolemy and Aristobulus (whose
works are not extant today) because they shared Alexander’s campaigns. Thus there is the
likelihood that Arrian’s account is fairly accurate.
18  Belshazzar is said to be a king in all versions of Daniel 5 as well as in Dan 7:1; 8:1. In reality
Bel-šar-uṣur was a viceroy not a king, as is clear from the cuneiform documents found
in Babylon which call him mâr šarri (son of the king) cf. R. P. Dougherty, Nabonidus and
Belshazzar: A Study of the Closing Events of the Babylonian Empire (Yale Oriental Series.
Researches. Volume XV; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1929), p. 136.
19  Cf. Dougherty, Nabonidus and Belshazzar, pp. 93–104, 119–137.
20  M. Broida, “Textualizing Divination: The Writing on the Wall in Daniel 5:25,” VT 62 (2012),
pp. 1–13.
48 Gardner

writing, of omens which revealed the will of the gods, as long as the omens were
properly interpreted.21 Further, she points out that word play was common in
Mesopotamian writing and its interpretation, as is the case in Daniel 5.22 The
link between writing, its interpretation and the revelation of the divine will
did not cease in the Persian period. According to Broida, the Magi performed
the role that previously had been carried out by Babylonian specialists in the
interpretation of omens,23 and it is to the Persian period that Broida assigns
Daniel 5.24 She may well be correct about the date, although it is misleading to
imply that the Babylonian cult and its personnel ceased. On the contrary, the
Cyrus Cylinder makes it clear that the Persians were quite prepared to support
the god of Babylon, Bel, and his cult.25 The question of dating will be discussed
further at the end of the chapter in the light of the findings about the writing
on the wall in the versions.

2 An Overview of the Writing on the Wall in the Versions

In their discussions of the writing on the wall and its interpretation within
Daniel 5, scholars usually concentrate their efforts on the Masoretic Text and
tend to refer to the versions only in a secondary way. This is understandable,
given that the MT is the version included in the Hebrew Bible. It is also in a
Semitic language, unlike the OG Prologue, the Old Greek and Theodotion.
Nevertheless, there are difficulties in the MT and variations in the versions.
For the sake of the convenience of the reader these are presented here in a
tabular format.

21  Broida, “Textualizing Divination,” p. 4.

22  Ibid., pp. 9–11. Broida refers to S. B. Noegel, Nocturnal Ciphers: The Allusive Language of
Dreams in the Ancient Near East (American Oriental Series 89; New Haven: American
Oriental Society, 2007).
23  Ibid., p. 4.
24  Ibid., p. 12.
25  The Cyrus Cylinder is politically motivated and puts forward the propagandist view that
the people welcomed Cyrus because Bel had been neglected by Nabonidus. Therefore,
Cyrus is not likely to have attempted the overthrow of Bel. Indeed it is known that Bel
continued to be worshipped through to the Hellenistic period and that the New Year’s
Festival was still celebrated in the third century BCE; cf. S. Langdon, The Babylonian Epic
of Creation (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1923), p. 20.
Interpreting The Writing On The Wall In Daniel 5 49

mt Th. OG OG Prologuea

5:25 Daniel speaking: Daniel says “And “Then Daniel (No Daniel) The
“This was the this is the stood before the writing is “Mane,
writing that was ordered writing writing and read Phares, Thekel.”
inscribed, Mene, Mane, Thekel, it and thus he
Mene, Tekel, Phares” answered the
Upharsin” king” (OG Dan
5:26–28 Daniel still Daniel still “This is the (No Daniel)
speaking: “This is speaking, writing: it is “Their
the interpretation “This is the numbered, it interpretation
of the word: Mene; interpretation is reckoned, is: Mane, it is
God has numbered of the word: it is done away numbered;
your kingdom and Mane: God has with. The hand Phares, it is
brought it to an measured your that wrote taken away;
end. Tekel; you are kingdom and stopped and Thekel, it is
weighed in the finished/fulfilled this is their established.”
balances and it; Thekel: it has interpretation.”
found wanting. been weighed in (OG 5:17)
Peres; your the balance and A somewhat
kingdom is divided found wanting; different
and given to the Phares: your interpretation
Medes and kingdom is is given in OG
Persians.” divided and Dan 5:26–28,
given to the again by Daniel.
Medes and “The time of your
Persians.” kingdom is
numbered, your
kingdom is
coming to an
end, it is cut off
and finished;
your kingdom is
given to the
Medes and the

a The translation of the OG Prologue given here is that of Collins, Daniel, p. 237.
50 Gardner

It is notable that the order of the three words written on the wall in the MT
and Th. differs from the order in the OG Prologue. The OG does not provide the
actual words, only their interpretation, which it attempts twice (vv. 17; 26–28).
In the first, the order is like that of the OG Prologue, although it appears to dif-
fer in its understanding of the middle word;26 in the second, the order is the
same as in the MT and Th. i.e. “Thekel” or rather its interpretation is in second
place, displacing Phares (Pharsin in MT 5:25) and its interpretation, which is
in third place. The MT cites the mysterious words twice, although there are
differences between the words cited in verse 25 and those in verses 26–28. The
latter verses incorporate the interpretation of the words but in each case it is
a double interpretation. Th. has “Mane, Thekel, Phares” rather than the mene,
mene, tekel upharsin of MT 5:25. Further, it applies the interpretation of Thekel
to the kingdom, not to the king. In this, Th. appears to be closer to the OG.
In view of these difficulties, all of which will be explored further below, it is
proposed to view the versions separately, not simply as variations of the MT, to
see whether new light can be shed on the writing on the wall.

3 The OG Prologue

Many contradictory text-critical claims have been made about the OG Prologue.
It has been thought to be a summary of the OG added in order to provide the
actual words on the wall that are not included in the OG proper;27 or seen as
an abstract of the OG,28 a supplement to the OG,29 an independent tradition,30

26  Which word on the wall is purported to be enlightened by the second word in the inter-
pretation will be discussed later.
27  Montgomery, Daniel, p. 267.
28  This is the term used by T. J. Meadowcroft, Aramaic Daniel and Greek Daniel, (Journal
for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 198; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic
Press, 1995), p. 57. He does not commit himself though as to whether it was a summary
of the OG or prior to it, although on p. 58, note 1 he does refer to the contrasting views
of Montgomery and Wills. For the views of Montgomery cf. note 28 and the associated
section of the main body of the present chapter. For the views of Wills cf. note 32 of the
present chapter.
29  Albertz, Der Gott des Daniels, p. 83.
30  Collins, Daniel, p. 241. C. A. Newsom with B. W. Breed, Daniel A Commentary (The Old
Testament Library; Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox, 2014), p. 162 implies that
such a view is possible when she says “the scribe (of the OG) . . . may simply have included
portions of the alternative version, not the entire story.”
Interpreting The Writing On The Wall In Daniel 5 51

a version that is prior to all others,31 and / or the core text32 upon which both
the OG and MT are based. It will be seen later that an analysis of the words
in the writing on the wall and their interpretation provides some perspective
on these claims. The OG Prologue begins as follows:

“King Baltasar made a great feast on the day of the inauguration of his
palace and from his leaders he invited two thousand men.” The sin of
βαλτασαρ then follows. “On that day, Baltasar, exalted from the wine and
the boasting, praised all the molten and graven gods in his place,33 but
to the Most High God, he did not give praise.” As a consequence, “In that
very night, there appeared fingers like a human’s and they wrote on the
plaster of the house upon the wall opposite the lampstand: Mane, phares,
thekel.” The Prologue then adds, “And the interpretation of them is: mane,
it is numbered; phares, it is taken away; thekel, it is established / deter-
mined” (Pap 967 “it will be established”).

As in all versions of Daniel 5, elements of historical verisimilitude appear in

the Prologue: the praise of gods of metal or stone who were important in the
life of the Babylonians; the plaster on the wall of the palace; the hand on the
wall. The story outline as contained in the Prologue though is not Babylonian,
for no Babylonian would have criticised Bel-šar-uṣur for praising the gods of
metal or stone and ignoring an unseen deity; rather exiles from Judah are the
ones who would have deemed it sinful. Therefore, while the writing on the wall
by the disembodied hand is likely to have been inspired by an actual depiction
in the banqueting hall of the Southern Citadel, it is also a representation of

31  Wills, The Jew in the Court of the Foreign King, pp. 121–127 argues strenuously that the OG
Prologue is prior. He points out on pp. 124–125 that if it was merely a summary of what
is contained in the rest of the OG and the MT, the editor, amongst other things, would
have had to cut out the drinking from the Temple vessels and revert to using older Greek
language which seem highly unlikely.
32  Holm, Of Courtiers and Kings, p. 324 thinks that the OG Prologue was a “prompt” text
which provided story tellers with a few basic items to include. Details beyond these were
elaborations on the part of the story teller. Attractive though such a theory is, difficulties
are apparent with it in terms of Daniel 5, not least the closeness of the OG and MT in
aspects that are not present in the Prologue.
33  Pap 967 has “in his drink” (πότῳ) rather than “in his place” (τόπῳ), which appears in MS 88
and SyrH.
52 Gardner

what was an inner conviction on the part of the exiles i.e. that their God was
responsible for the downfall of Babylon and its ruler.34
One would expect this to be indicated by the writing on the wall: “Mane
(Μανη), Phares (Φαρες), Thekel (Θεκελ).” The interpretation in the OG Prologue
of this writing appears strange though, for while ἠρίθμηται (“it is numbered/
reckoned”), ἐξῆρται (“it is lifted up / removed / taken away”) and ἕσταται (“it
is determined / weighed in the balance”) correspond to the overthrow of
βαλτασαρ and the Babylonian kingdom, the reader is left wondering to what
the “it” refers, and what connection exists between the interpretative words
and those on the wall. Even Wills, who makes a case for the OG Prologue as
“based on an older Vorlage than the rest of the OG narrative (5:1–5) or the MT,”35
is scathing about its account of the words on the wall and their interpreta-
tion, and judges them in the light of the MT. He comments, “The OG . . . seems
to have lost some of the sense of the Aramaic text, and this is certainly
evidence that in regard to these words, (his emphasis) it is inferior to MT/Th.”36
The OG Prologue though provides a starting point from which to unravel
the difficulties presented by the versions, for it both sets out the words on the
wall and gives their interpretations in a non-Semitic language, thus allowing a
new avenue to be followed. While a transliteration from a Semitic language of
the words on the wall can be assumed, what should not be assumed is that the
characters from which they were transliterated into Greek were the same as
the ones that appear in the MT. The possible transliterations that form known
words are listed here:

• The Greek μανη transliterates the Semitic ‫ מנה‬or ‫מנא‬,

• φαρες the Semitic ‫ פרס‬or ‫פרש‬,
• θεκελ the Semitic ‫ תכל‬or ‫תקל‬.
If they were originally in Aramaic and were nouns they would be:

• ‫ מנא‬or ‫ מנה‬which means “a mina” (a weight)

• ‫ פרס‬which means “a half mina” (a half weight) or “Persia” / “Persian”

34  This view is articulated in the Prophets e.g. Isa 45:1 says that God gave Cyrus his mandate;
Isa 48:14 God “will perform his pleasure on Babylon and his arm the Chaldeans”; many
oracles against Babylon appear in Jeremiah 50–51.
35  Wills, The Jew in the Court of the Foreign King, p. 122.
36  Ibid., p. 123 note 89.
Interpreting The Writing On The Wall In Daniel 5 53

• ‫ תקל‬which means “a shekel” (a weight that was worth one fifteenth or one
fiftieth of a mina, according to Ezek 45:12).37

If the words were in Aramaic and were verbs, they would be from the following

• ‫ מנא‬which means “to number”

• ‫ פרס‬which means “to break in two”
• ‫ תקל‬which means “to weigh” or ‫“ כלל‬to complete.” Other possibilities are ‫קלל‬
“to be light” and ‫“ כול‬to hold” or “to measure.”

If the words on the wall were Aramaic nouns, their meaning (mina, half mina
and shekel)38 suggests that they describe three people as a number of scholars
have posited. A difficulty arises though, for only two Babylonian “kings” are
mentioned in the book of Daniel. Accordingly there are a number of theories
as to the identity of the kings,39 most of which are based on the order of the
weights as they appear in the MT.40 Otto Eissfeldt even includes Media and
Persia as the two halves of the half mina (‫ )פרס‬although he envisions the mina
as Nebuchadnezzar and the shekel as Belshazzar, thus mixing the categories
i.e. countries and individual kings.41 Apart from Belshazzar, the one figure
that appears in all lists is Nebuchadnezzar, but there is a difficulty here, for
Nebuchadnezzar may be secondary to Chapter 5. He does not appear in the
OG Prologue at all and in the OG is mentioned only by the Queen in a pas-
sage where his appearance could have been a later addition.42 Even in the MT,

37  The versions differ as to the number of shekels that made up a mina. The MT has fifteen;
LXX has fifty.
38  The theory that the words in Aramaic denote varying weights was first promulgated by
C. Clermont-Ganneau, “Mané, thécel, pharès et le festin de Balthasar,” JA 8 (1886),
pp. 36–67.
39  For lists cf. Goldingay, Daniel, p. 111; Collins, Daniel, p. 251.
40  The one exception comes from Frank Moore Cross (cited by Collins, Daniel, p. 251, note
102). His list of Nebuchadnezzar, Nabonidus and Belshazzar is based on the order of the
words in the OG Prologue. D. N. Freedman, “The Prayer of Nabonidus,” BASOR 145 (1957),
pp. 31–32 esp. 32 suggests the same list of kings but the values he attaches to each king are
according to the order of the words in the MT i.e. Nabonidus is the shekel.
41  O. Eissfeldt, “Die Menetekel-Inschrift und ihre Deutung,” ZAW 63 (1951), p. 109. Newsom,
Daniel, p. 176 appears to follow Eissfeldt’s view.
42  In the OG the mention of Nebuchadnezzar strikes an odd note for “your father the king”
appears to be an integral part of the Queen’s speech but “Nebuchadnezzar your father”
seems to be an awkward addition at the very end of it. It suggests that Nebuchadnezzar
54 Gardner

Nebuchadnezzar is mentioned only in a cursory fashion,43 apart from in the

major MT plus in verses 17 to 21, where the events of Daniel 4 are recalled or
have been inserted.
If Aramaic verbs lie behind the three words on the wall, the message is “it
is numbered, it is divided, you are weighed / you are light / you are measured.”
Questions arise from such a message: What was the “it”? In what sense was
it numbered? Why was it weighed or in what sense was it found to fall short
of the required weight or measurement? In what sense was it divided?44 How
do the verbs relate to the individual words on the wall? It will be seen later that
these are the very questions that the MT attempts to answer when it explains
its interpretation of the words on the wall. Difficulties are apparent then when
the words are assumed to be Aramaic.
It is possible that Hebrew rather than Aramaic lies behind the three words
on the wall in the OG Prologue. In Hebrew the words could be:

• ‫ מנה‬as a noun means either a “mina” in the sense of a weight or a portion of a

choice bit of a sacrifice, which in the Hebrew Bible is reserved for those who
serve God: for Aaron or his sons (Exod 29:26; Lev 7:33) or Moses (Lev 8:29).
‫ מנה‬as a verb means “numbered” / “reckoned.”
• ‫ פרס‬as a noun means a bird of prey (cf. Deut 14:12; Lev 11:13) as well as Persia,
and as a verb it means “to tear,” “to divide” or “to separate.” In Lam 4:4;
Mic 3:3 where the verb has such a meaning, it is written with a sin (‫ )שׂ‬rather
than a samekh (‫)ס‬, illustrating the lack of a distinction between the two
sounds. It follows then that behind φαρες could lie either ‫ פרס‬or ‫פרשׂ‬. As
there is no character corresponding to shin (‫ )שׁ‬in the Greek alphabet it is
also possible that φαρες transliterated ‫פרשׁ‬. ‫ פרשׁ‬as a noun indicates the con-
tents of the stomach or intestines45 and Brown, Driver and Briggs comment

was an afterthought, added at a later time to try to identify him with “your father the king”
and thus provide a link to the other stories in Daniel.
43  The mention of Nebuchadnezzar in the Queen’s speech in the MT can be viewed in a
similar way to the likely addition of Nebuchadnezzar in the OG (see the previous note), as
can Daniel’s mention of Nebuchadnezzar in MT 5:18.
44  A. M. Wolters, “The Riddle of the Scales in Daniel 5,” HUCA 62 (1991), pp. 155–178 posits
that ‫ פרס‬should be understood as meaning “assess.” He bases this on the use of the verb
in the Targum Onkelos.
45  Cf. L. Koehler and W. Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament,
(Revised by W. Baumgartner & J. J. Stamm with assistance from B. Hartmann, Z. Ben-
Hayyim, E. Y. Kutscher, P. Reymond; Translated and Edited under the Supervision of
M. E. J. Richardson; Leiden, New York, Köln: E. J. Brill, 1966), Vol. III, p. 976.
Interpreting The Writing On The Wall In Daniel 5 55

that it is “offal as ripped out in preparing a victim.”46 As such, it relates to

sacrifice. As a verb ‫ פרשׁ‬means “to make distinct” /“to declare.”
• Neither ‫ תכל‬nor ‫ תקל‬appears as a noun in Hebrew. If they are verbal forms
they could be 2nd p.s. imperfect qal of ‫“ כלה‬to finish,” “to come to an end,”
“to perish” or “to determine”; of ‫“ כול‬to contain” or “to nourish”; of ‫“ קלל‬to
be light”; of ‫“ קלה‬to roast”; that is, they would constitute a direct address to
Belshazzar. While grammatically any of these could lie behind thekel, con-
textually ‫“ קלה‬roast” is fitting. It is used in the Hebrew Bible of the parching
or roasting of grain (Lev 2:14), but is also used of humans on one occasion,
when two false prophets are roasted to death by Nebuchadnezzar (Jer 29:22)
because “they acted profanely [‫ ]עשו נבלה‬in Israel” (Jer 29:23). Belshazzar
too acted profanely by praising idols but not the Most High God.47 ‫כלה‬
“to finish,” “to come to an end” or “to perish” also fits the context of Daniel 5.

It is possible then to make coherent sense of the three words on the wall if
they were in Hebrew. The images pertain to a sacrifice, which accords with
Daniel 5 where a feast is taking place and the gods are being praised. “Choice
portion” (‫ )מנה‬and “offal” (‫ )פרשׁ‬both relate to body parts. ‫“ תקל‬you roast” per-
sonalises the message and applies it to Belshazzar. In the Hebrew Bible offal
was taken outside the camp and burnt when the offering was a sin offer-
ing (cf. Exod 29:14; Lev 4:11; 8:17; 16:27) thus linking with ‫“ תקל‬you roast” and
Belshazzar’s sin in not praising God. Nevertheless, the middle word on the
wall when spelt as ‫ פרס‬also means “bird of prey” / “Persia” and the third word
could be from ‫“ כלה‬finish” or “perish”. The words on the wall therefore can also
be interpreted to mean “choice portion (Babylon); a bird of prey (Persia); you
(Belshazzar) will be finished / will perish.” This would link with the historical
context of the Fall of Babylon. It also makes good sense in the literary context
of Daniel 5 where, over and above the writing on the wall, the OG, MT and Th.
make it explicit that Belshazzar was removed from power or died. It makes
good sense also within the wider biblical perspective because, after a tirade
against the uselessness of idols, God says in Isa 46:11 that he is calling a bird of
prey (‫ )עיט‬from the east (i.e. the direction of Persia). Three verses later (Isa 47:1)
the picture is presented of Babylon humiliated; without a throne and sitting
in the dust. That Isaiah uses the more common ‫ עיט‬for “bird of prey” while
the book of Daniel has ‫ פרס‬has no great significance, for Daniel wanted to

46  F. Brown, S. R. Driver, C. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament with an
Appendix containing the Biblical Aramaic (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), p. 831.
47  The praise of idols but not God constitutes Belshazzar’s sin in the Prologue. The Temple
vessels do not appear there.
56 Gardner

indicate both “Persia” and “bird of prey” with the one word. This does not mean
that ‫( פרשׁ‬offal) should be discarded for a Hebrew speaking observer would
have understood that it was another implication of the writing on the wall.
While the words on the wall appear to make better contextual sense in
Hebrew than in Aramaic, the interpretation of the three words given in the OG
Prologue has yet to be examined. In doing so, each word of the interpretation
will be measured against both a possible Aramaic and Hebrew forerunner.

4 The Interpretations of the Words on the Wall in the OG Prologue

The OG Prologue provides interpretations in Greek of the three words it

cites. ἠρίθμηται interprets the first word on the wall—the noun ‫ מנה‬or ‫מנא‬
(Aramaic) or ‫( מנה‬Hebrew). The Greek verb ἠρίθμηται also corresponds to the
Aramaic and Hebrew verb ‫מנה‬. Like them, the Greek verb is usually taken to
mean “numbered” and, relying on the MT, scholars generally understand it as
implying that your time is up. How such a meaning relates to the first word
on the wall though needs to be considered. As seen above, both the Aramaic
and Hebrew nouns can mean “mina,” which was a weight. In different eras,
the actual value of that weight in relation to other weights varied48 but, what-
ever its value, the ‫ פרס‬was a half and so would always have the same relation-
ship to the mina.49 Therefore “numbering” does not have any clear connection
to mina as a weight. As seen above though, the Hebrew noun can also mean
“a choice portion” in terms of a sacrifice. The Hebrew verb ‫ מנה‬can have the
implication of “appoint” or “ordain”50 and it is used in that sense in Dan 1:10
of the food and drink appointed to Daniel by the king. The relationship
between the Hebrew noun ‫ מנה‬meaning “choice portion” and the verb ‫מנה‬
meaning “numbered / ordained” is now apparent: God has ordained a choice
portion (i.e. of a sacrifice). This resonates with the notion of Babylon as a
sacrifice, present in Jer 51:40 where God says, “I will bring them down like
lambs to the slaughter . . .”

48  Brown, Driver and Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon, p. 584.
49  Goldingay, Daniel, p. 111 thinks that ‫ פרס‬means a half shekel, pointing out that ‫ פרס‬simply
means something divided. Goldingay adopts such a meaning because he is basing his
exegesis on the MT where ‫ פרס‬follows ‫תקל‬, but in the OG Prologue the order of these two
words is reversed.
50  Brown, Driver and Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon, p. 584. One wonders whether “to
appoint” or “to ordain” is a meaning derived from “to number.” This could be the case if
animals to be sacrificed were assigned a number in official cults.
Interpreting The Writing On The Wall In Daniel 5 57

The second word in the OG Prologue’s interpretation of the words on the

wall is ἐξῆρται which interprets φαρες. Ἐξῆρται means “to be lifted up” or
“removed.” This could relate to ‫פרשׁ‬, meaning “offal,” which was taken away for
burning. The question then arises as to which Semitic verb lies behind ἐξῆρται.
Ἐξῆρται does not translate ‫פרשׁ‬, which means to “declare” or “make distinct,”
but ‫ פרשׁ‬and its homophone ‫ פרס‬meaning “tear,” do correspond to both the
notion of offal being torn from the victim and to the image of Persia as a bird
of prey that swoops and “lifts up” its victim. In the latter application ἐξῆρται is
a good rendering of ‫פרס‬. Here the OG Prologue has something in common with
Dan 7:4 for in all versions the first beast, universally accepted to be Babylon, is
said to be “lifted off the earth.”
The third word on the wall, θεκελ, is interpreted in the OG Prologue by
ἕσταται from ἵστημι. This verb has several implications: “to make to stand,” “to
set up,” “to stand,” “to bring to a standstill” or “to place in the balance.”51 More
than one Semitic verb is its counterpart but a homophone of the third word
(‫ תכל‬or ‫ )תקל‬is the 2 p.s. imp. qal of the Hebrew verb ‫“ כלח‬to finish,” “to come to
an end,” “to perish” or “to determine.” Another homophone is the Aramaic verb
‫ תקל‬which means “to weigh”! As the first two words on the wall and their inter-
pretations make better sense in Hebrew than they do in Aramaic, Hebrew is to
be preferred in the case of the third word also. The three words and their inter-
pretations are now: Mane: “A choice portion,” Interpretation: “it is ordained”;
Phares: “offal” / “a bird of prey” / “Persia,” Interpretation: “it is removed/lifted
up”; Thekel: “you will roast” / “you will perish” Interpretation: “it is determined.”
The interpretations then correspond to the words on the wall and together
each word plus its interpretation forms a complete sentence. Notably the inter-
pretations of the three words stress that what is happening had been decided
on a higher plane than the earthly one.
A further connection with Dan 7:4 can be seen in the third word of the inter-
pretation. The Greek verb ἵστημι, used in the OG Prologue to interpret thekel
means, among other things, “to make to stand” and, after being lifted off the
earth, it is said of the first beast in Dan 7:4 that “on [two] feet like a man it was
made to stand.” For “make to stand” the OG and Th of Dan 7:4 have ̕εστάθη,
also from ἵστημι, while the Aramaic has ‫ הקימת‬from the verb ‫“ קום‬to rise,” “to
stand,” or “to establish,” thus giving rise to the suspicion that MT Dan 7:4 is
translating from OG Dan 7:4. This suspicion is increased with the realisation
that the Aramaic verb ‫ הקימת‬does not correspond to any verb used to interpret

51  Cf. H. G. Liddell and R. Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon Revised and Augmented throughout
by Sir Henry Stuart Jones with the assistance of R. McKenzie with a Supplement edited by
E. A. Barber (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), p. 841.
58 Gardner

the writing on the wall in MT Dan 5:26–28, nor can any be rendered into a
homophone of ‫תקל‬. Neither is the Aramaic verb a good translation of ‫כלה‬, the
Hebrew verb which in 2nd p.s imp. qal is a homophone of ‫תקל‬. Together these
points strongly suggest that whoever wrote / translated Dan 7:4 into Aramaic
had in front of him the Greek text of the OG and thus the difficulties associated
with the textual tradition of the book of Daniel are increased.
It seems clear then that Hebrew lies behind the writing on the wall in the
OG Prologue and that the OG Prologue was known to the author of Daniel 7, at
least as far as OG Dan 7:4 is concerned. Further, MT Dan 7:4 seems to be based
on the latter. The Old Greek, the Masoretic Text and Theodotion versions will
now be examined to see what they can contribute to our knowledge of the
writing on the wall and its transmission.

5 The Interpretation of the Writing on the Wall in the Old Greek


The OG provides two sets of interpretations but not the three words on the
wall. Because of the complexity, a table of the Greek verbs used to interpret
the writing on the wall in the various passages in the OG is provided here:

OG Prologue OG 5:17 Interpretation OG 5:26–28 Interpretation

ἠρίθμηται interprets Mane ἠρίθμηται ἠρίθμηται

ἐξῆρται interprets Phares κατελογίσθη συντέτημεται
ἕσταται interprets Thekel ἐξῆρται τοîς Πέρσαις δίδοται

In OG 5:17, Daniel interprets the writing as follows: ἠρίθμηται (it is numbered),

κατελογίσθη (it is reckoned), ἐξῆρται (it is done away with). ’Hρίθμηται (it is
numbered) matches the OG Prologue in terms of the Greek verb used but
κατελογίσθη does not. Here there are two possibilities: a) since both Greek
verbs can be translations of the Hebrew (or Aramaic) verb ‫מנה‬, it appears that
the OG could be interpreting the first word on the wall twice; that is it assumed
or it translated from a text which read ‫( מנה מנה‬as a Hebrew or Aramaic text
would if it placed the first word on the wall and its interpretation side by side!).
Interpreting The Writing On The Wall In Daniel 5 59

The MT in Dan 5:25 also has ‫ מנה‬twice and so a link in textual transmission
between the MT and the OG may be indicated.52 b) Alternatively it is possi-
ble that ‫“ פרשׁ‬to make distinct” or “to declare” lies behind κατελογίσθη. If so,
it means that κατελογίσθη interprets what was the second word on the wall
in the OG Prologue; that is, it understood ‫( פרשׁ‬offal) to mean that Belshazzar
had been declared (‫ )פרשׁ‬to be offal! The last word of the interpretation
in OG Dan 5:17, ἐξῆρται (it is taken away), is identical to the middle word in
the OG Prologue (ἐξῆρται), behind which lay the Hebrew verb ‫“ פרס‬torn.” It is
noteworthy that OG 5:17 omits the final word of the OG Prologue. Whether the
latter was by accident or design is unknown,53 although its omission is likely
to have paved the way for the reversal of the interpretations of the second and
third words on the wall in OG 5:26–27, the MT and Th.
In OG Dan 5:26–28 where the second set of interpretations appears, more
explanation is provided and for the most part different verbs are used com-
pared to the ones in 5:17. Indeed the only verb shared with OG 5:17 and the OG
Prologue is ἠρίθμηται (used to interpret ‫)מנה‬. OG Dan 5:26–28 state, “the time of
your kingdom is numbered [ἠρίθμηται], your kingdom is picked out/declined
[ἀπολήγει], it is cut off and it is finished [συντέτμηται κὰι συντετέλεσται], your
kingdom is given to the Medes and the Persians [Πέρσαις].” The interpretation
here specifies that the kingdom is the subject of each verb, and so indicates
that the writer did not fully understand the writing on the wall. This impres-
sion is strengthened with the (implicit) removal of ϕαρες (‫ )פרס‬from second to
third place. Nevertheless it seems that the words on the wall and their interpre-
tations have been run together in 5:26–28: ἠρίθμηται translates ‫ מנה‬in Hebrew
and it is paired with ἀπολήγει (picked out for the purpose of being rejected),54
which corresponds to “appointed” / “ordained,” the meaning of the verb ‫מנה‬
in Hebrew that was shown above to lie behind the word in the OG Prologue;
συντέτμηται κὰι συντετέλεσται (it is cut off and it is finished), which correspond,
although not in grammatical person, to θεκελ and its interpretation, behind
which lies the Hebrew verb ‫כלה‬. Πέρσαις which is in final place corresponds

52  Here a number of possibilities present themselves: one copied from the other, or both
drew from a Vorlage where ‫ מלה‬was repeated, or one of them adapted its text at some
stage to conform to the other.
53  It is possible that at some stage there was confusion between two Greek verbs: while
καταλογίζομαι means “to count” or “to reckon,” κατηλογέω means “to make of small
account” or “to neglect.” If the second Greek verb was intended, then it could have trans-
lated the third word on the wall but was transposed to second place when a copy of the
text was made by someone who did not recognise the rare verb κατηλογέω (cf. Liddell and
Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, p. 927) and assumed that it was a mistake for καταλογίζομαι.
54  Cf. Liddell and Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, p. 206.
60 Gardner

to ϕαρες (‫ )פרס‬but the verb δίδοται (given) differs from the OG Prologue both
in terms of the word used and its sense. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that
5:26–28 reinstates ϕαρες, whose interpretation it probably saw as missing
in OG 5:17 if it considered κατελογίσθη to be a second interpretation of ‫מנה‬.
Even though the author of OG 5:26–28 appears to have either misunderstood
or to have reinterpreted the writing on the wall, the Hebrew behind his words
is still apparent.

6 The Interpretation of the Writing on the Wall in the MT

The MT provides the set of three words on the wall twice. In 5:25 it has ‫מנא מנא‬
‫תקל ופרסן‬. The double ‫ מנא‬has caused difficulties for scholars.55 However, it
was pointed out in connection with OG 5:17 that that verse also implies the
doubling of the first word and possible solutions were discussed then. In MT
Dan 5:26–28 each word on the wall is cited again (although ‫ מנא‬appears only
once) and its interpretation is given: “This is the interpretation of the word
‫מנא‬: God has numbered [‫ ]מנה‬your kingdom and brought it to an end [‫;]השלמה‬
‫תקל‬: you have been weighed [‫ ]תקילתה‬in the balance and found [‫]השתכחת‬
wanting; ‫פרס‬: your kingdom has been divided [‫ ]פריסת‬and given to Media
and Persia [‫]פרס‬.” It is immediately obvious that the MT not only provides a
homophone for each word on the wall but also feels the need to explain what
the homophone implies.56 The first verb ‫“ מנה‬numbered” is a homophone
of the word on the wall ‫ מנא‬which is an Aramaic spelling and so here must
indicate a “mina,” but the question then arises, how and in what sense is a
“mina” numbered? The MT explains it with ‫ השלמה‬which appears to be the
haphel of ‫שלם‬. The reason for the choice of this particular word is likely to
be two-fold: a) In terms of meaning, “brought to an end” indicates that the
numbering is time-based,57 b) the verb ‫ שלם‬calls to mind the noun ‫שלם‬, that
is, a peace offering which is between God and his worshippers.58 That an

55  Meadowcroft, Aramaic Daniel and Greek Daniel, p. 77, note 3 lists the views of commenta-
tors on the doubling of ‫מנא‬.
56  A. A. Bevan, A Short Commentary on the Book of Daniel (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1892), p. 106 suggests that the interpretation seems to be “an attempt to extract from
the words (of v. 25), in spite of grammar, a meaning suitable to the occasion.”
57  It is possible that it reflects the interpretation present in the OG Prologue of the third
word on the wall, thekel, but which in the OG may have been transposed to follow “num-
bered” through the error of a copyist—see above, note 54.
58  Brown, Driver and Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon, p. 1023.
Interpreting The Writing On The Wall In Daniel 5 61

allusion to sacrifice is present even in the MT provides further confirmation

that the writing on the wall in its earliest formation was in Hebrew, for only in
that language can ‫ מנה‬mean “a choice portion.”
The second word interpreted in the MT is ‫תקל‬. As seen earlier, as an Aramaic
noun this word indicates a “shekel” which is smaller than the ‫ פרס‬which was
half a mina. The MT found a way of interpreting the Aramaic shekel (‫)תקל‬
with a verb (‫ )תקילתה‬from a root which is its homophone, but again needed
to explain its interpretation in order to make clear the implication of a shekel
being weighed in the balance. Accordingly it adds, “You were found lacking”
(‫)השתכחת חסיר‬. The verb ‫ שכח‬in Aramaic has the meaning “find.” It is used
three times of Daniel in chapter 5 of the MT, and on each occasion what was
found in him was “understanding” (5:11, 12, 14), amongst other good qualities,
and twice “wisdom” (5:11, 14). These were “lacking” in Belshazzar. It is note-
worthy that the same verb in Hebrew has the connotation of “forget,” and
those who knew this might well have seen a play on words here, i.e. that you,
Belshazzar, are forgotten because you forgot God. The other word on the wall
‫ פרס‬has been placed last and it is said to refer to the “Persians.”59 The homo-
phone of the Aramaic noun ‫ פרס‬meaning “half-mina” is the Aramaic verb ‫פרס‬
“divide,” which the MT explains by saying that the kingdom was divided among
the Medes and the Persians.
It is apparent then that a strenuous effort was made to provide homo-
phones in Aramaic of the words on the wall which are also presented in the
MT as Aramaic. However, the difficulties the MT was labouring under can
still be seen: There is no satisfactory relationship between the actual words
on the wall (weights in Aramaic) and their interpretation; the notion that the
kingdom was divided after it fell is not historically accurate although it does
help to explain the introduction of the Medes who were not independent
at the time of Babylon’s fall. Rather, according to the Nabonidus Chronicle,
the Medes had come under the yoke of Cyrus the Persian in the sixth year
of the reign of Nabonidus, i.e. some eleven years prior. This suggests that the
Medes were introduced in order to provide a way of explaining the use of
the verb ‫ פרס‬whose only meaning in Aramaic was “divide.” The notion of the
Medes as involved in the fall of Babylon also appears in the Prophets (Isa 13:17;
Jer 51:11, 28) but as the passages that cite them have been assigned a late date by
some commentators,60 one wonders whether the Prophetic references to the

59  Noticeably in 5:25 ‫ פרס‬is rendered as a plural, paving the way for this interpretation.
60  Isaiah 13 has long been the subject of debate and has been described as proto-apocalyptic.
Scholars are divided though as to whether Isa 13:17 is part of an exilic group of oracles
which came about prior to the rise of Persia i.e. at a time when Media, even though it was
62 Gardner

Medes came about under the influence of the Book of Daniel rather than the
other way around.

7 The Interpretation of the Writing on the Wall in Theodotion

Th. reads, “Mane, Thekel, Phares. . . . Mane God has measured [ἐμέτρησεν] your
kingdom and finished it [ἐπλήρωσεν]; Thekel, it has been weighed in the bal-
ance and found wanting; Phares, your kingdom is divided and given to the
Medes and Persians” (Dan 5:25b–28). Th. does not have the double Mane or
plural Pharsin of MT Dan 5:25. For the most part, Th. follows the outline of
MT 5:26–28, although in its interpretation of the first word it appears to devi-
ate from it as ἐμέτρησεν can have the nuance of “numbered,”61 but its primary
meaning is “measured,” while ἐπλήρωσεν (finished) has the sense of “fulfilled”
rather than “brought to an end.” Both these Greek verbs recall words that can
be rendered as homophones of Thekel: ‫כול‬, the Aramaic verb for measure, and
‫כלח‬, the Hebrew word for “finish” / “complete” but which can also have the
nuance of “fulfil.” In its use of ἐμέτρησεν, rather than the more usual ἠρίθμηται for
“number,” Th. is probably alluding to Isa 40:12 which asks, “Who has measured
[ἐμέτρησεν] the waters . . . and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills
in a balance?” The incomparability of God is presented here and Theodotion
would have seen a clear link between the Isaianic passage and Daniel because
of “weighed in the balance.” Further, the Isaianic passage goes on to show that
idols are worthless (Isa 40:18–24), thus connecting in another way with Daniel 5.
In using ἐπλήρωσεν (“fulfilled”), Th. is emphasising the divine fulfilment of
what he sees as prophecy: God had made a pronouncement and it had indeed
come to pass.

8 The Time of the Earliest Version of Daniel 5

The words written on the wall in the OG Prologue have been shown to be
transliterations from Hebrew, not Aramaic. This strongly suggests that literate

allied to Babylon, represented its greatest threat cf. O. Kaiser, Isaiah 13–39 A Commentary
(Old Testament Library; London: SCM Press, 1974), pp. 2, 9. For the views of scholars about
the authenticity / inauthenticity of the oracles in Jeremiah 50–51, including Jer 51:11,
27–28, cf. G. L. Keown, P. J. Scalise, and T. G. Smothers, Jeremiah 26–52 (Word Biblical
Commentary 27; Dallas: Word Books, 1995), pp. 357–364.
61  Liddell and Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, p. 1122.
Interpreting The Writing On The Wall In Daniel 5 63

members of the Judaean Exilic community in Babylon were responsible for the
initial composition. Accordingly, a Persian date is the most appropriate time
for the genesis of Daniel 5. It is clear also that the OG Prologue was not a sum-
mary of the OG text, for the Prologue presents a coherent picture of the words
on the wall and their interpretations.
That the OG Prologue is in Greek immediately informs us that it was trans-
lated from Hebrew at a time when Greek had become the most familiar lan-
guage for some Judaeans. As Alexandria had a large Judaean population, it was
probably there that the translation was made.62
In the OG, the interpretation of the writing on the wall seems to have hap-
pened at two different stages. In the first (OG Dan 5:17), the interpretation
exhibits points of contact with the OG Prologue or its Vorlage but interprets
twice either the first or second word and omits the third. Therefore the OG
must be subsequent to the Prologue. The second stage appears in 5:26–27
where in a dramatic fashion it stresses through the pairing of verbs that it (the
kingdom) was numbered, picked out, cut off and finished. An interpretation
for ‫פרס‬, which it probably thought was missing in OG 5:17, is included. While
OG 5:17 may have paved the way for this, it may also have been the intention of
5:26–28 to put the Persians at the end, for in historical terms they were the final
act in the tale of Babylon’s downfall. Hebrew still seems to be the language
lurking in the background.
The case of the MT is harder. As the present text of Daniel 5 stands, the
MT is more extensive than the OG and like OG 5:28 it has the Persians at the
end of its interpretation of the writing on the wall. However, that does not
necessarily mean that the entire composition was begun after the OG was
compiled, and there are signs in the MT that it was not entirely a late version.
That there was probably a link between the MT and the OG Prologue has been
noted by Collins because the OG Prologue says that Belshazzar invited two
thousand nobles to his feast and the MT says that “he gave a great feast for
his thousand nobles and drank wine before the thousand.”63 Goldingay
points out, on the basis of the measurements of the banqueting hall, that
even a thousand people would have found themselves crowded.64 It is of
course possible that the number of guests was fictional but, as the setting
for the feast appears to have some verisimilitude (suggesting that the origi-
nal composer of the tale was familiar with the hall), the number of guests

62  As seen above in note 6, a number of scholars have posited that Egypt was the place
where the court tales were written originally.
63  Collins, Daniel, p. 241.
64  Goldingay, Daniel, pp. 108–109.
64 Gardner

that the hall could hold was probably fairly accurate. If so, it suggests that
the OG Prologue misunderstood its Vorlage when it added one thousand to
one thousand and claimed that two thousand nobles were present. It also
suggests that it based itself on the same Vorlage as the MT. A pre-Hellenistic
time of inception for an Aramaic version of the tale may be indicated also
by words in the MT which are thought to be from Akkadian and Persian.65
Included among those from the latter language is the word used for “candle-
stick” (‫ )נברשה‬in MT Dan 5:5.66 As a light of some sort appears in all versions
including the OG Prologue, it suggests that a light opposite the column pic-
turing the hand reflected historical reality. Other words for “light” could have
been used; that they were not suggests that the inception of MT Daniel 5
was in the Persian period. Because the MT is in Aramaic, the words on the
wall no longer mean what they meant in Hebrew and so had to be explained.
Nevertheless, the MT appears to be aware that a sacrifice lay behind the words
on the wall, something that the OG does not seem to know. It is probable then
that the MT is an Aramaic version of an earlier Hebrew tale first composed dur-
ing the Persian period but which evolved over time. That there is evidence that
the tale expanded will be demonstrated in a subsequent publication.

65  Cf. Montgomery, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary, pp. 20–21 lists some. F. Dalrymple-
Hamilton, An Inductive Grammar of Biblical Aramaic (Edinburgh: The Edina Press, 2012),
p. 7 indicates that because the Persian words include common ones, they should be
placed, at the earliest, in the late Persian period. In making this remark, he is commenting
on the Persian words in all the Aramaic court tales of Daniel, not simply Daniel 5. Daniel 5
only has three words derived from Persian: one is discussed in the main body of the pres-
ent chapter. The other two are: the word for chain/necklace (K: ‫ המונכא‬Q: ‫ )המניכא‬in MT
5:7 cf. F. Rosenthal, A Grammar of Biblical Aramaic (2nd revised edition; Porta Linguarum
Orientalium; Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1963), §189—a chain or necklace appears in
all versions except the OG Prologue and so is likely to be part of the early elaboration of
the basic story; “reward” (‫ )נבזבה‬in MT 5:17—a reward appears elsewhere only in Th. (cf.
Rosenthal, A Grammar of Biblical Aramaic, sections 62, 190) suggesting it is an MT plus.
 One word in Daniel 5 may be a loan word from Greek; this is ‫הכרזו‬, from the root ‫כרז‬
“to announce publicly,” which appears in MT Dan 5:29. Dalrymple-Hamilton, An Inductive
Grammar, p. 185 comments, “It should be noted that this is a denominative verb from ‫כרוז‬
‘herald’ which may be a loan word from the Greek κ̂ηρυξ as in 3:4.” However, although the
main sentiment of 5:29 appears in the MT, Th. and the OG, it is only in the MT and Th. that
the detail appears about making a public announcement at the time of the giving of the
reward. As such, it is likely to be a later elaboration and so could have been added during
the Hellenistic period.
66  Rosenthal, A Grammar of Biblical Aramaic, §190.
Interpreting The Writing On The Wall In Daniel 5 65

9 Postscript

The MT of Dan 5:8 indicates that the Babylonian learned men were unable
to read the writing on the wall. This has provoked the question, “Why not?”
As Hilton points out, according to Song of Songs Rabbah 3:4, the Rabbis pon-
dered this matter: Rabbi Hiyya thought the words were written downwards,
not across; Rabbi Simeon ben Halafta that they were written in atbash; the
Sages that they were written backwards.67 Modern scholars have suggested
that the inability to read the writing in the MT was made to correspond to
Daniel 2, where the Babylonian wise men were unable to tell Nebuchadnezzar
the contents of his dream, thus increasing the worthiness of Daniel who was
able to do so. While this is a plausible solution to the problem,68 the matter
can be explained by the words originally being in Hebrew. It has been noted
in the present chapter that the meaning of the words is different in Hebrew to
Aramaic. Accordingly, a non-Hebrew speaker would not have been able to read
the words, as reading an unpointed text is only possible if one understands it.69
That the Babylonian learned men were unable to read it, suggests in addition
that the earliest Aramaic version of the tale retained the words on the wall
in Hebrew rather than transcribing them into Aramaic homophones, and so
naturally a Hebrew speaker was required to read them.

67  Hilton, “Babel Reversed,” pp. 105–106.

68  Holm, Of Courtiers and Kings, p. 462 notes that similar motifs were apparent in Egyptian
court tales.
69  Goldingay, Daniel, p. 109 points out that reading an unpointed text is dependent upon
understanding it, and Montgomery, The Book of Daniel, p. 264 made a similar point.
Part 3
New Testament and Its Interpretation


The Jewishness of the Gospel of Mark

Lawrence M. Wills

1 Introduction

As a master’s student at Harvard Divinity School in the 1970s, I had the pleasure
of cross-registering for a course on post-biblical Judaism with John Townsend
at Episcopal Divinity School. Little did I realize at the time that we would be
forging a life-long relationship, studying many of the same texts and issues.
Since I was in the process of converting to Judaism, it also never occurred to
me that I might someday hold a teaching position at a seminary, much less
his position at Episcopal Divinity School, teaching the same set of courses. In
honor of my former professor and predecessor in my own position, I take up
a topic that resonates with his contributions to the field, the question of the
Jewishness, or lack thereof, of Mark’s gospel.1
Some background to this issue is necessary. Since World War II there have
been sweeping changes in the field of New Testament studies. In addition to
the bold new theoretical challenges of the “cultural turn”—analysis of race,
class, gender, and ability; postcolonial studies; literary studies; even cognitive
science—there have also been new approaches in the area of historical criti-
cism as well concerning the Jewish context of the New Testament. A fundamen-
tal re-thinking of the relation of New Testament texts to first-century Judaism
has occurred. First, as a result of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and
other texts and archaeological research at other sites, along with a new aware-
ness of sociological and anthropological theory, the historical knowledge of
first-century Judaism has been greatly expanded. But perhaps more important,
since World War II the Christian theological assumptions that determined the
interpretation of New Testament texts have been radically challenged—and
this mainly by Christians, with John Townsend among them.2

1  I presented some of the conclusions of this essay in the Robert and Myra Kraft and Jacob
Hiatt Lecture at Brandeis University, January 30, 2013, and would like to thank Bernadette
Brooten and the faculty and students of the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department at
Brandeis for very helpful responses.
2  A fuller discussion of the context of these changes and some of the important scholarly con-
tributors is provided in L. M. Wills, “Negotiating the Jewish Heritage of Early Christianity,”

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���6 | doi ��.��63/9789004324541_007

70 Wills

At the end of World War II the former consensus had seemed so consistent
and so strong that it appeared that nothing could dislodge it. This consensus
could be summarized thus: Through the lens of Paul, the New Testament as
a whole (with the exception of the Epistle of James) was read as the story of
Jesus and his disciples divorcing Judaism and establishing a new commu-
nity that affirmed the faith of sinners over the law observance of hypocritical
Pharisees and other Jewish leaders. The inclusiveness of the new commu-
nity extended to gentiles as well, with the result that the movement quickly
became majority-gentile, non-observant of Jewish law, and essentially “post-
Jewish.” But the last half of the twentieth century and the first part of the
twenty-first has witnessed a revolution in how scholars, and laypeople as well,
view the Jewishness of Jesus and his first followers. One by one, the texts of the
New Testament came to be questioned in regard to this scenario. The Gospel
of Matthew was recognized as fully committed to Jewish observance.3 Some of
the passages seemed very “Jewish,” and it came to be argued that Matt 5:17–20
might mean exactly what it says:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have
come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and
earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from
the law until all is accomplished.

The hypothetical sayings source Q, a likely source for Matthew and Luke, once
thought to express the radical freedom of Jesus’ community from Jewish law,
was now seen to be compatible with Jewish observance. The absence of ref-
erences to Sabbath observance, kosher food laws, or circumcision did not
indicate that these observances were rejected; rather, the text likely does not
mention them because they were not questioned. In addition, the polemical
statements in the Gospel of John about “the Jews” were subjected to sociologi-
cal analysis, with the result that the prejudicial nature of the statements was
recognized and the use of the extreme dualism as a theological foundation

in M. Aylmer, C. B. Kittredge and D. A. Sanchez (eds.), Fortress Commentary on the Bible: The
New Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014), pp. 31–45. An important article by Townsend
is “The Gospel of John and the Jews: The Story of a Religious Divorce,” in A. T. Davies (ed.),
Antisemitism and the Foundations of Christianity (Ramsey, NJ: Paulist, 1979), pp. 72–97.
3  See esp. D. J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew (Sacra Pagina 1; Collegeville, MN: Liturgical,
1991); A. J. Saldarini, Matthew’s Christian Jewish Community (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1994).
The Jewishness Of The Gospel Of Mark 71

for the church was roundly questioned.4 The book of Revelation also came to
be read in a similar manner to Matthew and James in terms of observance,
perhaps even opposed to the followers of Paul (cf. Rev 2:20 with 1 Corinthians
8–10), and it was conjectured that the “synagogue of Satan” in Rev 2:9 and 3:9
reflected not a polemic against Jews “out there” but against other followers of
Jesus5—perhaps even the descendants of Paul’s communities. And last, but
hardly least, even Paul’s letters, which had provided the lens for later Christians
to view their separation as a divorce from Jewish legalism, also came to be radi-
cally re-evaluated. The “New Perspective on Paul” established, with a surpris-
ingly quick and broad consensus, that Paul expressed more continuity and less
disjunction in regard to first-century Judaism than was formerly believed.6
From studies such as these many scholars also began to point out the obvi-
ous: the historical Jesus must have been fairly observant himself, and may never
have engaged in any significant re-thinking of whether his disciples would
obey Jewish law as it was generally observed. After all, when Paul, who never
met Jesus, argued for a mission to gentiles without the law, he had to argue
strongly with the disciples who had been close to Jesus (Galatians 1–2). The
latter assumed a general requirement of Jewish observance even for new gen-
tile members of the movement. All of this re-examination of New Testament
texts is especially relevant in a tribute to John Townsend, because he began his
career investigating these issues, and was moved by that experience to learn
Rabbinic Hebrew and become a scholar of Midrash.
Yet, while a greater continuity with Judaism was found in one New Testament
text after another, there was one very important exception: the Gospel of
Mark. The earliest of the gospels—and therefore the closest in time to Jesus—
and the gospel that many now count as the boldest theologically, seemed to
remain in the “gentile” fold. It was still assumed that it was likely written by
a gentile (on the basis of some apparent mistakes about Jewish practice), the
audience was likely gentile (on the basis of information that seemed neces-
sary for a gentile audience), and it described a movement of Jesus from Jewish
to gentile territory, thus, so it was assumed, justifying the gentile mission at

4  The metaphor of divorce for this split was effectively developed by Townsend, “Gospel of
John and the Jews”; see also A. Reinhartz, The Word in the World: The Cosmological Tale in the
Fourth Gospel (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992).
5  D. Frankfurter, “Jews or Not? Reconstructing the ‘Other’ in Rev 2:9 and 3:9,” HTR 94 (2001), pp.
6  On the New Perspective on Paul, see esp. K. Stendahl, Paul among Jews and Gentiles, and
other essays (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976), and E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism:
A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977).
72 Wills

the time of the Gospel’s composition. Its theology seemed to assume a Jesus
who forsook Jewish observance for the inclusion of gentiles of faith. Ironically,
after the re-assessment of the New Perspective on Paul, Mark came to appear
more “Pauline” than Paul! Mark seemed to advocate a wholesale transfer of
allegiance from Judaism to a gentile movement without the law. If Paul was no
longer seen as fully divorced from Judaism, Mark certainly was!
So perhaps it was inevitable that a re-evaluation had to come in regard to
this Gospel as well. Very much in the spirit of Townsend’s approach, I found
myself asking time and again whether those passages that seemed so securely
in the gentile, non-observant camp could be interpreted more within the
parameters of the Judaism of the first century. I was not alone. I came to real-
ize that many of the conclusions about Mark that I was drawing are congenial
with those found, for instance, in Adela Yarbro Collins’s commentary on Mark,
and I also found much agreement on these issues in conversations that I had
with the late Seán Freyne.7 Other scholars as well had made new claims about
this passage or that, with the result that each of the “clearly gentile” passages
could be seen as possibly Jewish. In this essay I will focus on the leading edge
of this development in regard to the Gospel of Mark, and suggest where the
new consensus leads us in terms of the general question of the social and theo-
logical location of Mark. In the scope of this essay I cannot treat each relevant
passage—there are many—but I address some of the most important ones.
I must begin by granting that the argument that Mark was familiar with
Paul’s theology, and followed in Paul’s footsteps on important issues, was by
no means a farfetched notion. From the second century on, it was a truism of
most readers that Mark’s theology was identical to Paul’s (as understood), and
this conclusion has continued down through Christian tradition to the pres-
ent. It is assumed by many modern scholars. It is based on, among other things,
the following observations:8

7  A. Yarbro Collins, Mark: A Commentary (Hermeneia; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2007).
Relevant to the present discussion, see S. Freyne, “Galilee, Jesus and the Contribution of
Archaeology,” ExpTim 119 (2008), 573–581 esp. 577.
8  J. Marcus, “Mark—Interpreter of Paul,” NTS 46 (2000), pp. 473–487. My list here is based
on this article, and see also his commentary, Mark 1–8 and Mark 8–16 (Anchor Yale Bible
Commentaries 27 and 27A; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002–2009). It is important
to note that Marcus provides nuanced and learned considerations of these questions—his
work is essential reading—but he draws conclusions different from my own.
The Jewishness Of The Gospel Of Mark 73

1) Mark seems to express Paul’s theology of faith over law; Mark seems to
depict Jesus abrogating Jewish purity and kosher laws.
2) Mark seems to narrate a mission of Jesus moving from Jewish territory to
gentile territory.
3) Mark seems to include historical inaccuracies on Jewish matters regard-
ing the trial and crucifixion, and also on the nature of Jewish law.
4) Mark explains customs of “the Jews,” suggesting that the audience is gen-
tile and needs this information spelled out.
5) There are details that indicate gentile, not Jewish custom, for instance,
starting the day at sunrise, and assuming that women can initiate divorce.
6) Mark, like Paul, seems at times to be negative about Peter and the

As recent scholars have moved through the supposed “Pauline” aspects

of Mark’s gospel one by one, they have found evidence that every single one of
these indicators of a “post-Jewish” position can be doubted. Here I begin with
some general observations concerning the largest theological matters. Mark,
like Paul, does emphasize the role of faith for the followers of Jesus, and does
include critical discussions of law, but it is overlooked by most scholars that
faith and believing were already rising in significance in Judaism long before
Jesus’ day.9 To be sure, Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith as opposed to
law was not present in Judaism, but even this “non-Jewish” faith-against-law
theme was only treated by Paul in two letters, Galatians and Romans. In the New

9  See A. Weiser and R. Bultmann, “Pisteuō,” in G. Kittel and G. Friedrich (eds.), Theological
Dictionary of the New Testament (Translated by G. W. Bromiley; Grand Rapids, MI: W. B.
Eerdmans, 1969), vol. 6, pp. 182–202; Wills, “Jew, Judean, Judaism in the Ancient Period: An
Alternative Argument,” Journal of Ancient Judaism, forthcoming. The noun “faith” and the
verb “to believe” are expressed by the same root in both Hebrew and Greek. In the centuries
before Mark we begin to see the increased use of faith / believe in both Hebrew and Greek,
from the amen in liturgy and the ne’amanim, faithful ones, of the Pharisees, to the conversion
of the Ammonite Achior in Judith, where it is stated: “When Achior saw all God had done, he
came to believe fervently (ἐπίστευσεν σφόδρα) in God” (Jdt 14:10). At Wis 1:1–2 faith is parallel
to ἁπλότης, single-mindedness or sincerity, also a new term in the Jewish moral psychology
of the period. In the Jewish Amidah prayer God also maintains his ’emunah to those asleep in
the dust by reviving the dead, and is a “faithful healer.” Note also that the list of Mark’s paral-
lels with Paul that Marcus adduces in “Mark—Interpreter of Paul,” are almost all from Paul’s
Letter to the Romans. Since Paul did not found the Roman community, and the recipients
were probably more familiar with Jewish traditions, Paul may here be choosing language that
was typical of Jewish background.
74 Wills

Perspective on Paul, it is argued that justification by faith as opposed to works

of law may not have been as central to his theology as once assumed. And
while readers may interpret Mark’s references to faith as being contrasted to
law, when read without Paul’s letters in mind, they are simply about the Jewish
sort of faith. The growing role of faith and believing in Judaism was the psycho-
logical commitment to following God’s demand in Jewish law, as it was in the
Epistle of James, and as it very well may have been in Mark.10
Another broad-stroke issue is the movement of Jesus from Jewish to gentile
territory. The neat division of the territories by ethnic composition has been
questioned, but we note also a different possibility. Even if Jesus’ movements
were understood to initiate a mission to Jews first and then a mission to gen-
tiles, that is not necessarily a post-Jewish belief, nor does it say anything about
the abrogation of Jewish law. The ingathering of the nations was long estab-
lished in Jewish eschatology (e.g. Isa 2:2–4 // Mic 4:1–3). It is only because we
read this through the lens of Paul’s letters that the ingathering of gentiles is
understood as post-Jewish or post-law. Further, Mark or the audience may not
have understood the movement as Jewish-to-gentile-territory, but rather as
walking-the-boundaries-of-old-Israel. Just as Abraham walks back and forth
over the land in Gen 13:17, Jesus may be reclaiming the territory of the Twelve
Tribes. The territories through which Jesus travels were (with one exception,
Mark 7:31) part of the ancient borders of Israel. Indeed, the Hasmonean rulers
had likely systematically conquered these lands to reestablish the boundaries
of ancient Israel.11

2 Three Mark Passages as Test Cases

The following three passages in Mark have been treated as central to the notion
of a Pauline, post-Jewish Mark: the healing of the leper (1:40–45), the woman

10  D. C. Allison, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle of James (New York:
Bloomsbury, 2013), pp. 441–62 esp. 457–461.
11  See L. I. Levine, “The Age of Hellenism: Alexander the Great and the Rise and Fall of the
Hasmonean Kingdom,” in H. Shanks (ed.), Ancient Israel: From Abraham to the Roman
Destruction of the Temple (Rev. ed.; Washington, D.C.: Biblical Archaeology Society, 1999),
pp. 231–264 esp. 235, 243–244. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark (Sacra Pagina 3; Collegville,
MN: 2002), p. 21, provides the more traditional view that Jesus steps outside the traditional
boundaries of Israel in order to signal a mission to gentiles, but Yarbro Collins, Mark,
p. 369, points out that Jesus exits and quickly re-enters the ancient territory of Israel.
Mark’s statement is ambiguous, and it is possible that Mark was not intimately famil-
iar with the geography, sacred or otherwise. I benefitted as well from conversations with
Freyne on this question.
The Jewishness Of The Gospel Of Mark 75

with a continuous flow of blood (5:25–34), and the controversy regarding food

2.1 Mark 1:40–45

First, consider the healing of the leper. A literal translation of Mark 1:40–45

A leper came to him beseeching him, and kneeled and said to him,
“Lord, if you will, you can make me pure [καθαρίζω].” Moved with
pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him and said, “I will;
be made pure [καθαρίζω]!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was
made pure [καθαρίζω]. Jesus sternly charged him, and sent him away at
once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go and
show yourself to the priest, and offer for your purification [καθαρισμός]
what Moses commanded, as a proof for them.” But he went out and
began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could
no longer openly enter a town, but was out in the country, and people
came to him from every quarter.

This story, placed early in Mark, might in a “Pauline” reading be understood

as a liberation of the leper, and followers of Jesus in general, from the purity
laws of Judaism. However, a re-reading of this story shows that, while purity is
a major concern—the root καθαρ- appears four times—Jesus does not abro-
gate or dismiss the purity laws. Rather, he brings the leper into conformity
with the Jewish laws of purity. Jesus changes the leper, he does not change the
laws. He even specifies that the healed person should go to the Temple and
provide the offering that Moses commanded.12 Even so, it is argued, Jesus
deconstructs the purity concerns because he touches the leper. Purity can-
not be communicated from one person or thing to another, but impurity can,
and so Jesus willfully takes on impurity. Surely, it is further argued, this signals
the real intent of the story: The leprosy-impurity is dismissed as a concern.
But we return to the fact that the καθαρ- root is used four times, and that the
offering is commanded. The sense of this story is more likely to be found in its
literal, and “pre-Pauline” meaning. While it is true that in “normal” time only

12  Even if some irony or subversion is posited for this command, that must be argued
against the literal sense of the passage. On a different note, Yarbro Collins, Mark, p. 178,
rightly remarks that in Jewish law the purification per se does not occur until the offering
is accepted. This is technically true, but Jesus is not a typical figure; he has the eschatologi-
cal gift of the dispensation of holiness, and Yarbro Collins recognizes the special sense of
this story.
76 Wills

impurity can be transmitted and purity cannot, this story may assume that
Jesus is an eschatological agent who dispenses holiness. Jesus, unlike other
people, in other times, dispels impurity with holiness.
This at first seems absurd in a Jewish purity context—and so it is, in mun-
dane time. But in Jewish texts that assume an eschatological renewal we often
find precisely this notion of the dispensation of holiness. This can first be
observed in the context of some of the prophets who included eschatological
visions. Consider Zech 13:1–2 and 14:20–21 (with relevant words italicized):

On that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and the
inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity. On that
day, says the Lord of hosts, I will cut off the names of the idols from the
land, so that they shall be remembered no more, and I will also remove
from the land the prophets and the unclean spirit.
On that day . . . . the cooking pots in the house of the Lord shall be as
holy as the bowls in front of the altar. And every cooking pot in Jerusalem
and Judah shall be sacred to the Lord of hosts, so that all who sacrifice
may come and use them. . . .

Also Ezek 36:23–27:

I will make holy my great name, which has been profaned among the
nations. . . . I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the
countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water
upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all
your idols I will cleanse you. . . . I will put my spirit within you, and make
you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.

Now, while it is true that here it is God who is cleansing things, we find that
in later Jewish eschatological texts this shower of holiness can descend upon
saved communities away from the Temple, or indeed a figure like Jesus or
the saved themselves can bring it about. And whether the first audiences
of these prophetic passages understood them as metaphors or not is unim-
portant, because the message was later taken up, in eschatological formula-
tions, in more literal ways. In the post-biblical period some Jewish sectarian
movements saw holiness as present and available to a new community away
from the Temple.13 This is characteristic of many new religious movements
cross-culturally: Salvation is not only available in one traditionally recognized

13  For examples, see below, and note esp. E. Regev, “Pure Individualism: The Idea of Non-
Priestly Purity in Ancient Judaism,” JSJ 31 (2000), pp. 176–202; idem, “Moral Impurity
The Jewishness Of The Gospel Of Mark 77

institutional location, it is now available wherever the new, saved community

is gathered. For these eschatological movements, living within the covenant
of Israel was no longer seen as directly dependent upon the Temple. To be sure,
living within the covenant of Israel was never directly dependent upon the
Temple on a daily basis, and neither was forgiveness, but “covenant,” “salva-
tion,” and “forgiveness” changed meaning for sectarian groups in an eschato-
logical judgment context.14 Compare, for instance, 1 Enoch 10:20–22 (with key
words italicized):15

And you cleanse the earth from all injustice, and from all defilement,
and from all oppression, and from all sin, and from all iniquity which is
being done on earth; remove them from the earth. And all the children
of the people will become righteous, and all nations shall worship and
bless me; and they will all prostrate themselves to me. And the earth shall
be cleansed from all pollution, and from all sin, and from all plague, and
from all suffering, and it shall not happen again that I shall send these
upon the earth from generation to generation and forever.

At Qumran this view is especially strong; the holy spirit cleanses one from the
spirit of impurity:16

By the spirit of holiness that links him with his truth he is cleansed of all
his sins. And by the spirit of uprightness and of humility his sin is atoned.
And by the compliance of his soul with all the laws of God his flesh is
cleansed by being sprinkled with cleansing waters and being made holy
with the waters of repentance (1QS 3:6–12).17

and the Temple in Early Christianity in Light of Ancient Greek Practice and Qumranic
Ideology,” HTR 97 (2004), pp. 377–402.
14  P. Fredriksen, “Did Jesus Oppose Purity Laws?” BRev 11/3 (1995), pp. 18–25, 42–48 esp. 46
note 16, is correct that forgiveness was never restricted to the Temple, but this is a consid-
eration for mundane time. Fredriksen raises excellent questions, but tends to normalize
followers of Jesus as a non-sectarian, non-eschatological movement in regard to Jewish
15  In addition, see 1 Enoch 38.2, 91.13, and Jubilees 1.17, 23, 4.26, 50.5. The translation is from
E. Isaac, “1 Enoch,” in J. Charlesworth (ed.), Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (New York:
Doubleday, 1983), vol. 1, pp. 18–19.
16  H. Harrington, The Purity Texts (Companion to the Qumran Scrolls 5; London and New
York: T. & T. Clark, 2004), p. 40.
17  F. García Martínez (ed.), The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English
(2nd ed.; Leiden: E. J. Brill / Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 1996), pp. 5–6; cf. also 1QS
4:20–22, 9:3; and see Harrington, Purity Texts, p. 40.
78 Wills

The beginnings of eschatological holiness, referenced in some of the prophets

above, is now seen to have been realized in these eschatological texts from
before and at the turn of the era. There is an eschatological shower of purity
that pours onto the community of the saved. Among the first followers of
Jesus, “saints” (or holy ones, ἅγιοι) no longer focuses on the Temple but relates
to those who now live in this newly dispensed holiness.18 Other New Testament
texts reflect this same eschatological, sectarian holiness (1 Cor 7:14, Eph 5:25–
26, and consider John 15:2–3, where “prunes” is the same word as “cleanses,” a
double meaning likely intended by John, and Rev 21:2–3, 22, where the “holy
city” is now bigger than just the Temple).
The followers of Jesus were claiming new prerogatives for their commu-
nity—eschatological holiness, healings, forgiveness, prophecy and speaking in
tongues—and they took on a community identity that was sectarian, not to
the extent of the Qumran community, but to the extent that it was a bounded
group within the larger Jewish society. One might compare early followers of
Jesus to Quakers or the Pentecostal Church, and the Qumran sect to Amish.
Eyal Regev correctly outlines the various notions that Jewish groups espoused
concerning non-priestly purity during this period.19 This includes Pharisees as

18  Paul’s letters assume this often, but representative are 1 Cor 1:2, 6:1, 7:13–14. A similar
mechanism is recognized in mundane time in the specialized environment of the altar,
which constitutes a sort of analogous example. At Mishnah, Zebachim 9:1 it is stated that
offerings that are brought to the altar, or near the altar, or even on the ramp of the altar
are made holy (meqaddesh).
19  Regev, “Pure Individualism;” idem, “Moral Impurity.” Relevant here are also E. Stewart,
Gathered Around Jesus: An Alternative Spatial Practice in the Gospel of Mark (Eugene, OR:
Wipf & Stock, 2009), and K. J. Wenell, Jesus and Land: Sacred and Social Space in Second
Temple Judaism (London: T. & T. Clark, 2007), although they do not emphasize the escha-
tological aspect of Jesus as much as the charismatic aspect; however, the two aspects are
 Regev misses one crucial aspect that is a problem for some of the other scholars ref-
erenced here as well. He conceives of “sectarian” on the Qumran model, and assumes
that if the Jesus movement was a missionary group accepting even of “sinners,” then
they could not be “sectarian.” However, new religious movements often welcome new
adherents in great numbers and then catechize them as to the new strict boundaries;
cf. 1 Cor 5:11. A “sectarian paradox” can also be seen in the 1 Enoch 10 quotation above:
“the world” will all come to us but our evil fellow religionists will perish. See also G. G.
Stroumsa, The End of Sacrifice: Religious Transformations in Late Antiquity (Chicago and
London: University of Chicago Press, 2009), p. 104, and also K. A. Fuglseth, Johannine
Sectarianism in Perspective: A Sociological, Historical, and Comparative Analysis of
Temple and Social Relationships in the Gospel of John, Philo, and Qumran (Leiden: E. J.
Brill, 2005), who challenges some of the assumptions of an analysis of John as sectarian.
The Jewishness Of The Gospel Of Mark 79

a more mainstream movement and the Qumran community as a separatist

community, but also followers of Jesus as somewhere in between. To varying
degrees, some Jewish movements of the first century offered salvation and an
affirmation of covenant unmediated by central institutions.
At the end of time, holiness descends upon the followers of Jesus, now seen
as a relatively typical Jewish sectarian movement. Holiness or purity is dispensed
on both the community and the individual at baptism, but the texts vary as
to whether holiness could still be found in the Temple. In Mark the Temple
authorities were clearly considered to be guilty of something, and this Gospel,
like many first-century texts, assumed that God’s continuing presence in the
Temple was contingent upon the righteousness of Israel; its end was near. But
as in Ezekiel 10–11, 43–44, the holiness associated with the Temple would find
a home in the new community. Mark is thus typical of other Jewish groups,
although milder in its sectarianism than some. What these developments in
Jewish eschatology indicate is that in Mark 1:40–45 Jesus is likely understood
to be restoring purity to the leper without taking on any impurity himself, even
after touching him. Although purity and impurity is the issue, there is no abro-
gation of purity laws.

2.2 Mark 5:25–34

The healing of the woman with a flow of blood, Mark 5:25–34, appears at first
to be an exact analogy to the healing of the leper, but on closer inspection
it reflects some significant differences. Although she has had a flow of blood
for twelve years, likely understood as a vaginal flow, the words for purity or
impurity do not appear. Rather, it is an “affliction” (μάστιξ), and the healing
terms are σῴζω, ἰάομαι, δύναμις, and ὑγιής. Mary Rose D’Angelo correctly notes
that in its first-century context the story may resonate more with the woman’s
inability to have children than with her impurity.20 Certainly, the data from
ancient magic and healing, including Jewish magic and healing, would point

20  M. R. D’Angelo, “Gender and Power in the Gospel of Mark: The Daughter of Jairus and
the Woman with a Flow of Blood,” in J. C. Cavadini (ed.), Miracles in Jewish and Christian
Antiquity (South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999), pp. 83–109; eadem,
“Moral Impurity and the Temple in Early Christianity in Light of Ancient Greek Practice
and Qumranic Ideology,” HTR 97 (2004), pp. 377–402. Μάστιξ may still reference an escha-
tological affliction; cf. 1 Enoch 69.12–15. Some of the issues here are covered in A.-J. Levine,
“Discharging Responsibility: Matthean Jesus, Biblical Law, and Hemorrhaging Woman,”
in D. R. Bauer and M. A. Powell (eds.), Treasures New and Old: Recent Contributions to
Matthean Studies (Atlanta: Scholars, 1996), pp. 379–397, and S. Haber, “A Woman’s Touch:
Feminist Encounters with the Hemorrhaging Woman in Mark 5:24–34,” JSNT 26 (2003),
pp. 171–192.
80 Wills

to child-bearing as a concern much more than any perceived oppression from

ritual impurity.
The oppressive power of defiling spirits weighed much more heavily in
this story than the oppressive nature of purity codes. Above Jesus touches the
leper, which was likely perceived as significant in the story, just as he is touched
here by the woman with a flow, and just as he will also touch a corpse at 5:41.
There is no abrogation of the purity laws regarding lepers, women with a flow
of blood, or corpses; rather, at the end of time Jesus—and presumably the
saved community—can dispense the Holy Spirit away from the Temple. This
action can dispel impurity, sends unclean (that is, impure) spirits running, and
reverses death.

2.3 Mark 7:1–23

This brings us to the most important passage in Mark concerning Jewish law,
Mark 7:1–23. Much of the debate focuses quite understandably on this passage:
Every line of this complex little narrative is relevant to the question of the rela-
tion of Jesus and his followers to Judaism, and the passage has been analyzed
in detail, now also by experts in rabbinic Judaism (see below). Here I present
the Mark passage in the left column with Matthew’s version on the right. (The
Gospels of Luke and John are omitted because they do not include this pas-
sage; Gospel of Thomas 14 is not considered here because Mark is the focus of
our discussion):

Mark 7:1–23 (in part) Matthew 15:1–20 (in part)

1 When the Pharisees and some of the 1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to
scribes who had come from Jerusalem Jesus from Jerusalem,
gathered around him, 2 they noticed
that some of his disciples were eating
with defiled hands, that is, without
washing them.
3 For the Pharisees, and all the Jews,
do not eat unless they thoroughly
wash their hands, thus observing the
tradition of the elders;
4 and they do not eat anything from
the market unless they wash it; and
there are also many other traditions
that they observe, the washing of
cups, pots, and bronze kettles.
The Jewishness Of The Gospel Of Mark 81

Mark 7:1–23 (in part) Matthew 15:1–20 (in part)

5 So the Pharisees and the scribes and said,
asked him, “Why do your disciples 2 “Why do your disciples break the
not live according to the tradition tradition of the elders? For they do
of the elders, but eat with defiled not wash their hands before they eat?”

[Several scriptural and legal [Several scriptural and legal

arguments follow here.] arguments follow here.]

14 He called the people to him again 10 He called the people to him and
and said, said,
15 “There is nothing outside a person 11 “It is not what goes into the
which by going in can defile, but mouth that defiles a person, but
the things which come out are what what comes out of the mouth,
defile. this defiles.
18 Do you not see that whatever goes 17 Do you not see that whatever goes
into a person from outside cannot into the mouth
defile, enters the stomach,
19 since it enters not the heart, but and goes out into the sewer?
the stomach, and goes out into the
Thus he declared all foods clean
[literally, “Thus he cleansed all
20 And he said, “It is what comes out 18 But what comes out of the mouth
of a person that defiles. proceeds from the heart, and this is
what defiles.
21 For it is from within, from the 19 For out of the heart come
human heart, that evil intentions evil intentions, murder, adultery,
come: fornication, theft, murder, fornication, theft, false witness,
22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, slander.
deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander,
pride, folly.

23 All these evil things come from 20 These are what defile a person, but
within, and they defile a person.” to eat with unwashed hands does not
82 Wills

In 7:3–4 Mark includes an explanation that, first, reads like a necessary

addition for gentile readers, and second, seems to express a post-Pauline alien-
ation from Jewish law—two reasons for assuming that Mark is “post-Jewish,”
or at least post-observance. The Gospel of Matthew, which almost all scholars
grant is addressed to an audience that knows Jewish law and is oriented toward
Jewish observance, lacks this passage, presumably because it is unnecessary.
Further, Matthew would probably reject the thrust of it. But there are a host of
complex questions that have been raised.

1) Are the statements about Jewish practice in Mark 7:3–4 factually

2) Is it possible that these verses were not in the original Gospel of Mark?
(Matthew may lack them simply because they were not present in the
early versions of Mark.)
3) Does washing hands here appear as part of a debate between gentile fol-
lowers of Jesus and Jews, as traditionally understood, or as part of a
debate between Pharisees and other Jews? If the latter, then “Jews” might
include the followers of Jesus.

As if this were not complicated enough, after this the discussion moves in
entirely new directions. In Mark 7:2–4 the issue is the washing of hands at
meals, generalized to include related practices concerning vessels and the mar-
ketplace, but the discussion is restated and generalized further in Mark 7:15 to
all impurity concerns involving food, and generalized even more broadly in
Mark 7:19b to refer to all kosher laws: “Thus he declared all foods clean.”21 This
last statement could be seen as one of the most important verses in the New
Testament, as it describes Jesus’ intent as a sort of constitutional amendment

21  Many of the issues treated here have been analyzed very well by J. Klawans, Impurity
and Sin in Ancient Judaism (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), esp.
pp. 146–150. Klawans assumes that Mark 7:19b must be a later addition—or at least not
an authentic saying of Jesus—since if it were, it would surely have been quoted in the
bitter debates on this issue referred to by Paul in Galatians 1–2 (Acts 10:1–48, esp. vss 11,
15, are very likely a later author’s attempt to harmonize the positions of Peter and Paul).
Klawans then turns to Mark 7:15 to argue that it is also not an anti-law saying. There are
two grounds for his assertion. First, this statement is a form of rhetorical hyperbole: “not
a but b” does not really imply that a is abrogated, only that a re-balancing is necessary
(cf. Matt 23:23, where the re-balancing is explicit, and cf. also Matt 23:25–26). Yet in
Klawans’s reading, Mark 7:19b must still be seen as a radical, anti-law statement, so radi-
cal that it cannot be reconciled with the earliest traditions about Jesus, his followers, and
their arguments. Here I make an alternative suggestion.
The Jewishness Of The Gospel Of Mark 83

that justified the abrogation of all Jewish kosher laws. In regard to Mark 7:19b
there are several distinct possibilities:

1) The declaration may have been present in the original Gospel of Mark to
establish the abrogation of Jewish food laws in general. Matthew may
have then omitted it because it contradicted the view of law found in that
Gospel. This is a commonly held view.
2) It is possible that it was not originally in Mark’s Gospel, and thus not in
Matthew’s copy of Mark’s Gospel, but was added later to Mark to address
the later church’s need to read an abrogation of kosher laws back into the
life of Jesus.
3) It is also possible that this clause was in Mark’s gospel, but meant some-
thing quite different from the traditional Christian interpretation.

A defense of Mark’s Jewishness would normally proceed with option 2: Mark

7:19b was added later by a gentile church that needed a justification for
abrogating all kosher laws. But this could also be rejected as special plead-
ing, changing the original text of Mark to arrive at a message congenial to the
interpreter’s view. Here, however, I would argue that even if 7:19b were part of
Mark’s text, the passage as a whole need not be viewed as “post-Jewish.” The
phrase in Mark 7:19b is usually translated “Thus he declared all foods clean,”
but literally it says, “cleansing all foods” (καθαρίζων πάντα τὰ βρώματα), with
Jesus as the subject of the participle.22 The usual translation, “Thus he declared
all foods clean,” represents an attempt to create a meaningful rendering.
Translators have evidently felt it impossible for Jesus to actually purify foods,
and in their defense, it would be in keeping with Pauline theology if he were to
declare all foods pure. (Romans 14:20 and Acts 10 move in a similar direction.)
But after reading the eschatological Jewish texts above, it is indeed possible,
even probable, to suggest that in an eschatological context Jesus would be seen
as capable of purifying all foods. Jesus’ eschatological cleansing of a leper above
could just as easily apply to foods. A dispensation of purity that wipes away the
impurity of leprosy could also wipe away the impurities of forbidden foods—
just as Zechariah 14 had prophesied that God would wipe away the impurities
of unclean vessels.
To be sure, Yair Furstenberg and Daniel Boyarin have taken a differ-
ent approach to solve this problem, one that depends upon an exacting
knowledge of Jewish law, but does not depend upon my eschatological

22  Other possibilities can be found in Yarbro Collins, Mark, 341, 356.
84 Wills

reading.23 Their position can be summarized thus: In Lev 11:43–44 prohibited

animals are referred to as ‫שׁקץ‬, detestable, but they are not considered impure
or unclean.24 Eating forbidden animals is a morally bad thing, but not ritu-
ally contaminating; there is no communicated impurity, and no purification
ritual is prescribed to return the person to a clean state. Thus Leviticus does
not say that impurity can come through ingesting detestable foods, although
the Pharisees seem to redefine the danger in this way. For Furstenberg and
Boyarin, then, Jesus’s purifying of all foods is not abrogating kosher laws per
se, but rejecting the Pharisaic notion that kosher food can become impure and
pollute the one who eats it.25 According to Boyarin, then, Jesus “was permitting
the eating of bread without ritual washing of the hands . . .;”26 that is, Jesus was
opposing the Pharisees’ heightened concern over the danger of ritual impurity

23  Y. Furstenberg, “Defilement Penetrating the Body: A New Understanding of Contamination
in Mark 7.15,” NTS 54 (2008), pp. 176–200; D. Boyarin, The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the
Jewish Christ (New York: New Press, 2013), pp. 112–114.
24  This is the case even though the language of impurity is also confusingly found here.
‫ ׁשקץ‬seems more analogous to moral impurity as analyzed by Klawans, Impurity and Sin,
passim, or is at least a category different from ritual impurity. Carrion, for instance, at
Lev 17:15–16 is clearly ritually impure, ‫טמא‬, and not ‫ׁשקץ‬. It is confusing because in
Lev 11:43–44 both terms, ‫ ׁשקץ‬and ‫טמא‬, are used to describe the forbidden animals. See
J. Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Anchor
Bible 3; New York: Doubleday, 1991), pp. 656–658.
25  The biblical legislation includes much more stringent rules for priests, which includes the
notion that impurity can be communicated to food, which is then unfit for a priest. This
level of concern did not apply to Israel in general. It has been argued that the Pharisees
simply expanded the higher priestly purity standard to apply to all Jews; therefore, food
prohibitions for non-priests, which had been categorized as ‫ׁשקץ‬, were now categorized
like other ritual impurity. Such impurity can be communicated from food to vessel, and
also to the person who eats it. A special Pharisaic innovation, for instance, is the role
of liquids in communicating impurity, which is also attested as a legal innovation in
4QMMT from Qumran. Yet Furstenberg and Boyarin doubt that the Pharisees developed
this notion directly from a Temple-to-table reading of the priestly legislation. Rather, it
may have resulted from the more general trend of the period to expand and extend purity
concerns—consider the proliferation of mikvaot and hewn stone vessels that were not
susceptible to impurity. On this see Regev, “Pure Individualism,” pp. 181–186, idem, “Moral
Impurity and the Temple,” pp. 388–389; Yarbro Collins, Mark, p. 345. This is significant
because Mark attributes the practices to “the Pharisees and all the Jews,” and this was
deemed as inaccurate. It is entirely possible, however, that many, if not all Jews did exhibit
such a concern for purity regarding meals. Cf. Letter of Aristeas §§305–306, “Following the
custom of all the Jews, they washed their hands in the sea. . . .” and also Sibylline Oracles
26  Boyarin, Jewish Gospels, p. 195.
The Jewishness Of The Gospel Of Mark 85

connected with food, but Jesus here says nothing about the older law which
prohibited ‫שׁקץ‬.
But while it is true that Furstenberg and Boyarin can make a coherent hal-
akhic distinction that makes sense of the phrase, “Jesus made all foods pure,”
I am not convinced that that is what is going on here. Mark 7:19b might have
referred instead to the eschatological purification of all foods. In either of
these scenarios, however, this most challenging statement in Mark can be con-
textualized in the world of first-century Judaism without assuming a Pauline
understanding of the abrogation of kosher laws.

3 Conclusion

The examination of three passages in Mark, namely the cleansing of the leper,
the healing of the woman with a continuous flow, and the cleansing of foods,
shows that in the first and third case Jesus does not abrogate purity concerns
but, in an eschatological dispensation of holiness, brings unclean entities
into a pure state. In the second of these, we find that the story never men-
tions purity or impurity at all, but only a powerful healing. If the story of the
woman with a flow were connected with purity concerns by the assumption of
the audience—not an implausible leap—then it also would not be resolved
by the abrogation of women’s impurity laws, but by bringing the woman into
conformity with purity laws. This would be the same dynamic as that of the
other two stories.
The conclusions here do not cover the whole of the Gospel of Mark, but are
only intended to suggest that at every point where Mark has been interpreted
as a Pauline, post-observance, gentile-oriented text, a plausible, if not probable
case can be made that this is an error that results from reading Mark through
the lenses of Paul’s letters. A totally Jewish context can be easily imagined for
any such passage. If one combines this observation with another—that Luke
and Acts may have been written not in the first century but in the second—
we find that among first-century texts of the Jesus movement, the balance has
shifted dramatically from a gentile, post-observance perspective to a Jewish,
law-oriented perspective.
The scholars who study these passages often treat them in great detail, with
prodigious technical mastery. One wonders who in the first audiences could
have followed such detailed discussions, and I wonder whether we are influ-
enced by the earlier legislation of the Priestly Source and the later codification
by the Rabbis to assume that the average Jewish audience of the first century
could or would have registered such detail. As I tell my students, every story,
86 Wills

ancient and modern, has details that form a bigger arc, and every story con-
tains both an indicative—what happened—and an optative—how the story
constructs and alters an ideal reader. With New Testament texts, we can never
know the mind of the author or even the very first audiences, but we can think
about the arc, and the optative. In what direction was the story likely to have
pushed the earliest audiences? It is my view that these stories told the story of
an eschatological sage who transformed the purity of his community’s lives at
the end of time. And far from being atypical of Jewish sectarian traditions, this
was the re-telling of a known narrative pattern.

Jesus’ Work as a Healer in Light of Jewish

Purity Laws

Cecilia Wassen

1 Introduction

Scholarship during the last couple of decades has brought a deepened under-
standing of Judaism of the late Second Temple period. Our perspective on
Jesus and the early Jesus movement has changed accordingly. Thanks to the
great works of E. P. Sanders and others, who have presented a Jesus who is
very much a product of his cultural milieu, it is now commonplace to con-
sider Jesus as a Jew, not only at birth, but also at death. Today, negative evalu-
ations of Jewish practices and beliefs are rare in scholarship, and any portrait
of Jesus that removes him from his cultural environment is not taken seriously.
Nevertheless, there is one area of Jewish life in antiquity that is still quite mis-
understood and to which one can often detect a negative attitude amongst
scholars, namely the purity laws in the time of Jesus. The whole system, or
systems since there were different competing halachic views, is a very complex
part of ancient Jewish custom and it is particularly difficult to reconstruct the
actual praxis.
Scholarly perceptions of Jesus’ stance on purity issues differ widely. I will
add my voice to the continuing discussion by exploring the purity laws in con-
nection to the healing stories that involve ritually impure people. In this essay, I
will not be able to analyze the exorcism stories since this type of healing makes
for a special case, and the impurity represented by ‘unclean spirits’ does not
fit easily into any purity system of the time.1 The focus will be on the earliest

1  ‘Unclean spirits’ are as the name indicates clearly associated with impurity; see for example,
C. Wassen “What do Angels Have against the Blind and the Deaf? Rules of Exclusion in the
Dead Sea Scrolls,” in W. O. McCready and A. Reinhartz (eds.), Common Judaism: Explorations
in Second-Temple Judaism (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2008), pp. 115–129, 270–280. But impor-
tantly, unlike regular bodily impurities there are no prescriptions for purification and one
cannot therefore lump stories of exorcism together with those of other healings of impure

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���6 | doi ��.��63/9789004324541_008

88 Wassen

stories, i.e., the story of Jesus healing a person with skin disease (a “leper”)2
in Mark 1:40–45 (// Matt 8:1–4; Luke 5:12–16), the healing of the hemorrhag-
ing woman (a zabah),3 and the raising of Jairus’ daughter in Mark 5:21–43
(// Matt 9:18–26; Luke 8:40–56), although I will touch on other healing narra-
tives in the gospels as well.4 I will not go into the questions about what spe-
cifically may be historically accurate or not. I will simply take these and other
stories about Jesus’ healing activities as early memories of a person who did
not shy away from healing the ritually impure, including people with skin dis-
ease, and from entering the houses of the dead—I think this general recollec-
tion is accurate.5 My interpretation will be based on our general knowledge of
the ancient Jewish society and healing praxis in antiquity.
Jesus’ actions in Mark 1:40–45 and 5:21–43 have traditionally been under-
stood as signifying a rejection of the purity laws in general on the part of Jesus.6
The thorough study on Jesus’ attitude towards purity laws by Thomas Kazen
from 2002 moved the discussion forward considerably. His analysis has encour-
aged scholars to debate not so much whether Jesus outright rejected the purity
laws, but rather to what extent he cared about the purity system. Kazen con-
cludes that Jesus’ attitude to impurity was “seemingly indifferent,” and that it

2  The skin disease described in Lev 13–14, ‫( צרעת‬λέπρα in LXX) is usually translated “leprosy.”
But although the term ‫ צרעת‬denotes a range of types of skin disease, it does not refer to
leprosy, i.e., Hansen’s disease, which was brought from India to the Near East by Alexander’s
armies. See J. Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16 (Anchor Bible; New York, Doubleday, 1991), pp. 816–820.
For the sake of convenience, I will occasionally use the terms “leper” and “leprosy” but I will
put but the words within quotation marks.
3  A woman with an irregular discharge of blood; see Lev 15:25–30.
4  Mark also mentions that Jesus had a meal in Simon the leper’s house (Mark 14:3; par.
Matt 26:6), but it is impossible to know whether Simon was still suffering from “leprosy”
or if he only previously had been sick. See T. Kazen, Jesus and Purity Halakhah: “Was Jesus
Indifferent to Impurity?” (Coniectanea Biblica New Testament Series 38; Stockholm: Almqvist
& Wiksell, 2002), p. 99.
5  On Jesus’ plausible association with “lepers,” see Kazen, Jesus and Purity Halakhah, p. 99. On
the accuracy of the general picture, see J. D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered (Christianity in the
Making vol. 1; Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 2003), p. 789 (although I disagree with
the conclusions he draws from this).
6  For example, Selvidge states, “the miracle story about the woman with a ‘flow of blood’ subtly
shatters the legal purity system and its restricted social conditioning”; see M. Selvidge, “Mark
5:25–34 and Leviticus 15:19–20: A Reaction to Restrictive Purity Regulations,” JBL 103/4 (1984),
pp. 619–623 esp. 622. For her full discussion on this topic, see idem, Woman, Cult and Miracle
Recital: A Redactional Critical Investigation of Mark 5:24–34 (London: Associated University
Presses, 1990).
Jesus ’ Work as a Healer in Light of Jewish Purity Laws 89

was seen as such by his opponents.7 Kazen’s work has been highly influential
and major historical Jesus scholars, like James D. G. Dunn and John P. Meier,
largely agree with him.8 For Dunn, touching the person with skin disease in
Mark 1:40–45 is a primary example of Jesus’ disregard for purity concerns
in Mark, and he adds a whole list of instances that demonstrate Jesus’ “casual
approach to impurity” in Mark, which is “firmly rooted in tradition.”9 Meier
goes further than Kazen and the “seeming indifference” to purity laws on
Jesus’ part, which the latter finds, becomes “a studied indifference” (for which
Kazen criticizes him).10 More recently, Tom Holmén also agrees with Kazen’s
assessment.11 For my own research, Kazen’s analysis of the evidence is most
valuable, but I draw different conclusions than him.
Given the common paradigm of Jesus’ indifferent attitude towards purity
laws (or “seemingly indifferent attitude”), scholars offer different explanations
as to why Jesus behaved in this way. For Kazen it was “the power of the com-
ing reign of God, which Jesus believed overpowered demons and impurities”;
thereby the kingdom took priority over any concerns about impurity.12 In addi-
tion, he interprets Jesus’ stance on purity in light of a prophetic tradition that

7  Kazen, Jesus and Purity Halakhah: “Was Jesus Indifferent to Impurity? ”, p. 344; at the same
time, Kazen asserts that Jesus still operated within the basic purity paradigm though
pushing the boundaries to a breaking point for many onlookers (p. 346). Jesus appeared
“seemingly indifferent” to impurity (p. 344); see T. Kazen, Scripture, Interpretation or
Authority? (Wissenschaftlichen Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 320; Tübingen:
Mohr Siebeck, 2013), pp. 118–119. These points that somewhat soften the edges of Jesus’
‘indifferent’ stance towards impurity are rarely noted.
8  J. D. G. Dunn, “Jesus and Purity: An Ongoing Debate,” NTS 48 (2002), pp. 449–467
esp. 461: “The point is rather that Jesus seems to disregard the impurity consequences
in such cases, so that it may be fairly concluded that Jesus was indifferent to such purity
9  The list also includes exorcising ‘unclean spirits,’ the possessed man living among the
tombs highlighted in particular (Mark 5:1–17); the healing of the hemorrhaging woman
and the raising of the girl (Mark 5:21–43), and the hand washing controversy (Mark 7:1–7;
14–23); Dunn, Jesus Remembered, p. 789.
10  J. P. Meier, Law and Love, vol. 4 of A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (New York:
Doubleday, 2009), p. 411. T. Kazen Issues of Impurity in Early Judaism (Coniectanea Biblica
New Testament Series 45; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2010), p. 167.
11  T. Holmén, “Jesus and the Purity Paradigm,” in T. Holmén and S. E. Porter (eds.), Handbook
for the Study of the Historical Jesus (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2011), vol. 3, pp. 2709–2744.
12  Kazen, Jesus and Purity, pp. 346–347. He states, “What was perceived by some as indiffer-
ence may be seen as paradoxical acceptance of the impurity concept, in which the power
of the kingdom was understood as stronger than the threats associated with impurity,
thus relativizing the need for conventional purification” (p. 339).
90 Wassen

values inner purity over outer, and social justice over strict law observance.13
In Meier’s assessment, Jesus acted as an independent charismatic prophet who
knew God’s will through “a direct pipeline,” as he puts it, rather than through
established sources of authority, such as a common tradition and interpreta-
tion of Scripture.14 According to Dunn, Jesus’ disregard for purity issues carried
a political message in that he challenged perceptions of holiness and purity
which were of primary concern for the ruling, priestly class.15 In this regard
he builds on the works by Bruce Chilton, who, with a book title such as Rabbi
Jesus, claims to place Jesus squarely within Judaism. In his view, purity is at
the centre of Jesus’ vision for the kingdom, which is evident, for instance, in
his book Pure Kingdom: Jesus’ Vision of God. But purity for Jesus is something
completely different than traditional ritual purity and applies to everyone
who enters the kingdom.16 Similarly, Holmén argues that Jesus understood his
dealings with the ritually impure as making “the unclean clean,” thus, in effect
inverting the ordinary purity rules so that Jesus would transfer purity to oth-
ers rather than becoming impure himself.17 Crispin Fletcher-Louis claims that
there is an “emerging consensus” among scholars that Jesus’ healings implied

13  Kazen, Scripture, pp. 194, 288.

14  Meier, Law, p. 415. Kazen (Scripture, p. 288) criticizes this kind of interpretation.
15  Dunn, Jesus Remembered, p. 788. He cites Marcus Borg for whom “the purity system
was the ideology of the ruling elites”; see M. Borg, Jesus in Contemporary Scholarship
(Valley Forge: Trinity, 1994), pp. 110–112. For a similar view see e.g., S. Love, “Jesus Heals
the Hemorrhaging Woman,” in W. Stegemann, B. Malina and G. Theissen (eds.), Social
Settings of Jesus and the Gospels (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2002), pp. 85–103. Fredriksen
strongly criticizes Borg’s interpretation, emphasizing that purity laws do not distinguish
between classes; see P. Fredriksen, “Did Jesus Oppose Purity Laws,” BRev 11/3 (1995),
pp. 18–25, 42–47.
16  B. Chilton, Pure Kingdom: Jesus’ Vision of God (Studying the Historical Jesus; Grand Rapids,
MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 1996); see for example, “Attaining the kingdom is a true vocation of
Israel, and Jesus treated all in Israel as suitably clean for that purpose. . . . With whatever
customs of purity they follow, fellowship at meals of the kingdom is open to them. Once
one is in Israel and preparing for the kingdom, nothing outside a person defiles one”
(p. 98). He takes Mark 7:15 as an accurate Jesus saying and understands the saying literally,
so that Jesus in effect rejects the purity laws (p. 80).
17  Holmén, “Jesus and the Purity,” p. 2712; e.g., “The sources clearly affirm that Jesus purposed
to make the unclean clean (p. 2720). C. A. Evans holds a similar view; “ ‘Who Touched Me?’
Jesus and the Ritually Impure” in B. D. Chilton and C. A. Evans (eds.), Jesus in Context:
Temple, Purity, and Restoration (Arbeiten zur Geschichte des antiken Judentums und des
Urchristentums 39; Leiden: Brill, 1997), pp. 353–376. He states concerning the hemorrhag-
ing woman: “Instead of conveying uncleanness to Jesus, whom she touches, cleanness
is conveyed to her”; and further “His willingness to touch the unclean and make it clean
Jesus ’ Work as a Healer in Light of Jewish Purity Laws 91

a contagious purity. Although this is an exaggeration, the statement still indi-

cates that this position is held by quite a few New Testament scholars today.18
Space does not allow me to engage in a full debate with these scholarly
opinions, but I can point to a few major weaknesses in their arguments. One
problem is their reliance on silence. Meier draws his conclusions mainly from
Jesus’ silence on issues of impurity: “Jesus never made any significant pro-
nouncements on purity rules and that, given the interest in this material at his
time, his silence is best interpreted as lack of concern or studied indifference.”19
In his conclusion Kazen points to all Jesus’ encounters with sources of impurity
and adds, “and it is also probable that he . . . did not purify regularly by frequent
immersions.”20 This argument from silence is especially weak not only given
the evangelists’ interests but also because the silence can be readily explained;
according to Paula Fredriksen it is precisely because purification rituals were
such a common part of life that they are not highlighted in the transmission of
the traditions surrounding Jesus. Since Jesus went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem
we can also assume that he purified like everyone else. According to John, Jesus
healed a paralyzed man by the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1–2), which was used
for immersions by pilgrims. In other words, it is implied that Jesus would purify
himself like other pilgrims.21 In addition there is of course a detailed descrip-
tion of one of his purifications, namely his baptism, but that is a topic on its
own. Contra Meier, one may suggest that Jesus was simply not remembered
as being involved in any controversy surrounding purity because there were
none. The only controversy remembered concerns hand-washing, which was
a late, Pharisaic invention (see below). Even Meier admits that Jesus’ indiffer-
ence to impurity does not fit well with what we know about Jesus’ concern over
halachic issues in general.

appears to have been a major element in his ministry” (p. 368). Evans takes the details of
the stories as historically reliable to a remarkable degree.
18  C. Fletcher- Louis, “Jesus as the High Priestly Messiah: Part 2,” Journal of the Study for the
Historical Jesus 5 (2007), pp. 57–79 esp. 65.
19  Meier, Law, p. 411.
20  Kazen, Jesus and Purity Halakhah, p. 343; he reiterates this point in Scripture, p. 118.
21  Fredriksen (“Did Jesus,” pp. 42–43) notes that the scene in John 5:1–2 at the pool of
Bethesda implies that Jesus was there to immerse. Gibson argues that the pool was an
immersion pool; see S. Gibson, “The Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem and Jewish Purification
Practices of the Second Temple Period,” Proche-Orient Chrétion 55 (2005), pp. 270–293.
Also the pool of Siloam is mentioned by John (9:1–2). J. Magness, (Stone and Dung, Oil and
Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011], p. 17) explains that this
was “an enormous immersion pool that could accommodate masses of pilgrims.”
92 Wassen

Another major problem is the presupposition that Jesus’ self-perception

as a charismatic prophet would automatically somehow place him above
the common observance of the laws, which is a fairly common view among
scholars. What is the evidence for this connection? Meier does not point to
any contemporary charismatic who would act in a similar way, which severely
reduces the strength of his argument. He points to Elijah and Elisha as role
models for Jesus. This association is very important, but as we will see below
different conclusions should be drawn from this link. In addition, Kazen shows
that Jesus’ arguments in halachic debates in their earliest forms do not reveal
any indications that Jesus claimed any special, revelatory authority for himself.
According to Kazen, his own reconstruction of Jesus’ halachic debates “does
not demand a portrait of Jesus as displaying the unique kind of authority that
is often ascribed to him.”22
The third, and most basic problem, however, in these and other studies is that
they assume that Jesus somehow challenged the purity rules (opinions vary
from seeming indifference to outright rejection) when he had physical contact
with impurity carriers. My main questions are: Would contracting impurity
ever be seen as sinful? Would people have perceived Jesus’ healing activities
as signifying a lax attitude towards purity laws, or as challenging the purity
system, simply because he touched the sick? To answer these questions, I will
begin with a short presentation of the biblical laws and the purity Halachah in
the late Second Temple period. Then Jesus’ encounter with three major sources
of impurity will be analysed: skin disease (“leprosy”), vaginal bleeding, and
corpse impurity, as they are described in Mark 1 and 5.

2 Biblical Laws

Impurity stems from bodily discharges in connection to menstruation, semen

emission (including sexual intercourse), irregular discharges (male and
female), and childbirth (Lev 12 and 15). In addition a corpse is considered
impure (Lev 21:1–4; 22:4; Num 5:2–4; 19:1–22; 31:19–24) and also one suffering
from scale disease (Leviticus 13–14). Given that menstruation and sex rendered
people impure, Jews were obviously impure frequently. In short, everybody
was impure at times. Furthermore people in general did not avoid many of
the sources of impurity: On the contrary, procreation was a commandment.
Families had between 6–8 children on average and would thus be used to han-
dling impurity in connection to childbirth, which rendered a woman impure
for a length time (seven days followed by 33 days of purification after the

22  Kazen, Scripture, p. 298.

Jesus ’ Work as a Healer in Light of Jewish Purity Laws 93

birth of a boy; fourteen days and 66 days of purification for the birth of a girl;
Lev 12:1–5). In addition, death was a common part of life and so was corpse
impurity. Adults took care of their deceased family members, not only parents
but also children as infant mortality rates were high. Corpse impurity was one
of the most severe forms of impurity, by which a person became impure for a
week (Numbers 19). Obviously, people did not neglect to take care of their dead
parents because of a concern about impurity. In other words, by fulfilling cer-
tain obligations, such as the command to be fruitful and to bury one’s parents,
people became impure. Clearly impurity was a common part of life.
Importantly, there was always a way of becoming pure, unless the source of
impurity was chronic, as it could be in cases of skin disease and permanent dis-
charge (of the male zab and the female zabah). It is also important to note that
the biblical discourse in general conveys no negative sentiments about these
impurity carriers, instead their status as ritually impure is described in a neutral
way and as a matter of fact (e.g., Leviticus 15). In other words, as Jacob Milgrom
clarifies, contracting impurity was no sin.23 Sin in connection to purity laws
pertains to defiling the sancta, that is, the Temple and consecrated food; e.g.,
Lev 12:5 states concerning a parturient: “she shall not touch any holy thing
or come into the sanctuary until the days of her purification are completed.”
Biblical laws in general do not even prescribe that ritual impurity should be
avoided, except in connection with the sacred.24 Instead, most of the biblical
laws simply clarify how to handle impurity. Nevertheless, there are also a few
instances where purity is promoted also in connection to the profane, or secu-
lar, sphere, for example in the prohibition against eating an unclean animal or
touching a dead impure animal (Lev 11:8). Furthermore, people with certain
types skin disease (“leprosy”) were required to keep a distance from others
(Lev 13:45–46), although impurity does not seem to be the primary concern
in this case, but rather fear of contagion of the disease. A fear of impurity is

23  Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16, p. 298. In the same vein, Klawans accuses New Testament scholars
of frequently misunderstanding the ritual impurity system by identifying impurity with
sin; see J. Klawans, “Moral and Ritual Purity,” in A. J. Levine, D. C. Allison Jr., and J. D.
Crossan (eds.), The Historical Jesus in Context (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press,
2006), p. 267, see also his Impurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2000). Similarly, Levine asserts: “uncleanness is not a disease, and it implies no
moral censure; it is a ritual state [in] which both men and women likely found themselves
most of the time”; see A. J. Levine, “Discharging Responsibility: Matthean Jesus, Biblical
Law, and Hemorrhaging Woman,” in D. R. Bauer and M. A. Powell (eds.) Treasures New and
Old: Recent Contributions to Matthean Studies (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1996), pp. 379–397
esp. 387. See also Fredriksen, “Did Jesus,” p. 23.
24  There is not even a prohibition against sleeping with a menstruating woman in Lev 15:24.
But see Lev 18:19.
94 Wassen

evident in laws that exclude the people who are affected by a severe kind of
impurity from the camp of the Israelites in Num 5:1–4, that is the leper, the
zab, and the one defiled through contact with a corpse (cf. Lev 13:45–46). This
is in contrast to Leviticus 15 which assumes that the impure are in contact
with others in their homes and elsewhere. Numbers 5 represents a later post-
exilic development and the prescriptions concerning the camp likely origi-
nally referred to Jerusalem and its environment during the Persian period.25
Still, there are two tendencies present in the biblical texts, as Gedalyahu Alon
explains, one that restricts impurity with regard to the sacred sphere, and one
that attempts to limit impurity also within the secular sphere.26
Few would suggest that Jesus transgressed the purity laws by defiling the
sacred sphere by entering the Temple in an impure state.27 So if he challenged
purity legislation it would have been with regard to purity in the secular sphere.
Let us then consider the rules in place for contracting impurity and for min-
gling with the impure outside of the sacred sphere in the late Second Temple
period. How would Jesus have challenged these and according to whom?

3 Purity in Second Temple Judaism

As many scholars have shown, there was an expansionist trend at this time,
whereby one was to avoid ritual impurity also in connection with the profane
sphere. Such an expansionist, or maximalist, ideal is evident particularly in
certain circles, such as among the Qumran sectarians and the Pharisees. An
expansionist approach to purity is well-documented in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The Qumran sectarians paid close attention to purity in connection to meals
and prohibited impure people from participating at some special meals,
called “the purity” / “the purity of the many” (1QS 5:13–14; 6:25; 7:16, 19).28
The ritually impure were also barred from entering into “the assembly of God”

25  Kazen, Scripture, pp. 158–159.

26  G. Alon, “The Bounds of the Laws of Levitical Cleanness,” in Jews, Judaism and the Classical
World: Studies in Jewish History in the Times of the Second Temple and Talmud (trans.
I. Abrahams: Jerusalem: Magnes, 1977), pp. 190–234.
27  Kazen ( Jesus, pp. 248–250) assumes that Jesus purified himself for Passover; so also Dunn
( Jesus, p. 789).
28  The purity requirements were less stringent concerning ordinary meals compared to spe-
cial meals at holidays and the Sabbath; see C. Wassen, “Common Meals in the Qumran
Movement with Special Attention to Purity Regulations,” in D. Hellholm et al. (eds.), The
Eucharist, its Origins and Contexts: Sacred Meal, Communal Meal, Table Fellowship in Late
Antiquity, Early Judaism, and Early Christianity. Also, the series is WUNT (Tübingen: Mohr
Siebeck, forthcoming 2016), pp. 757–782.
Jesus ’ Work as a Healer in Light of Jewish Purity Laws 95

as the Rule of the Congregation (1QSa) 2:4 prescribes: “any man who is afflicted
with any one of the human uncleannesses shall not enter into the assembly
of God.” In the same vein, in preparation for special meetings, described as
“convocation[s] for the whole assembly for judgment or for the Council of the
community or for a convocation of war” members were obliged to “sanctify
themselves for three days,” in other words to purify themselves (1QSa 1:25–27;
cf. Exod 19:10–15).
The sectarians did this in spite of the apparent separation from the
Jerusalem Temple. Their effort to maximize ritual purity was connected to a
drive for attaining and maintaining holiness, that divine force that can only be
channelled in a pure environment.29 And of course, the holiness of God was
not limited to the Temple but from the viewpoint of the Qumran sectarians, it
was a divine energy that in particular sanctified the sectarian community. Still,
even in this environment, there is very little evidence, if any, that ritual impu-
rity was associated with sin. At the same time, a sinner could never become
ritually pure by immersion; according to a passage in 1QS 3:4–6 about a sinner,
one who walks in the “stubbornness of his heart”:

He cannot be purified by atonement, nor be cleansed by waters of purifi-

cation, nor sanctify himself in streams and rivers, nor cleanse himself in
the waters of ablution. Unclean, unclean is he, as long as he rejects the
judgment of God, so that he cannot be instructed within the community
of his [God’s] counsel.30

Sinners as well were excluded from the “pure meal” of the community
(tohorah), as we know from the penal code in the Community rule (e.g., 1QS
6:25; 7:3). But there is no evidence that the ritually impure were considered
sinners.31 Instead, similar to the main biblical perspective, ritual impurity is
connected to sin or transgression when it defiles the sacred sphere, particu-
larly the Temple (e.g., CD 12:1–2; CD 5:6b–7a, which is part of the discourse on
the nets of Belial).32

29  See H. K. Harrington, The Purity Texts (Companion to the Qumran Scrolls 5; London:
T & T Clark, 2004), pp. 8–12.
30  Translation based on James H. Charlesworth (ed.), The Dead Sea Scrolls: Hebrew, Aramaic,
and Greek Texts with English Translations. Vol. 1, Rule of the Community and Related
Documents (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck/ Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994).
31  Contra Klawans who finds ritual and moral impurity conflated in some of the DSS (e.g.,
1QS, CD, 1QH, 1QpHab); Impurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism, pp. 75–91.
32  By lying with a woman who sees her bloody flux the opponents defile the temple as a
consequence (CD 5:6b–7a).
96 Wassen

4 Mark’s Accounts of Jesus’ Healings

The λεπρός (“leper”) of Mark 1:40–45 approaches Jesus and asks for help
whereupon Jesus “stretched out his hand and touched him” (Mark 1:41). As
E. P. Sanders emphasizes, Jesus’ command, “show yourself to the priest and
offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony
to them” (Mark 1:44) portrays Jesus as enforcing the biblical laws concerning
leprosy (Leviticus 13–14).33 The debate about Jesus’ actions in this story does
not refer to his command to the healed “leper,” but concerns his touch. Did
Jesus transgress any laws by touching the man? First we should note the obvi-
ous: The story is not presented as a conflict story in any way. In other words
Mark does not lead his audience to interpret the story as an example of how
Jesus challenged Jewish laws. Instead, the story is a testimony of Jesus’ healing
The purification rituals in Leviticus 13–14 to which Jesus refers are among
the most complex ones in the Hebrew Bible and are reminiscent of those in
connection to corpse impurity (Numbers 19).34 People suffering from serious
skin diseases were supposed to keep apart from others, which is emphasized in
Lev 13:45–46: “Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let
their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean!
Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live
alone; they must live outside the camp” (cf. Lev 13:46). According to Num 5:2–3
three categories of impurity carriers were to be put outside of the camp, that
is, the corpse impure, those with a discharge, and “lepers.”35 It is hard to envi-
sion that all these people would be isolated in the time of Jesus, but “lepers”
appears to be in a special category because of the severity of their disease and
an understandable fear of contagion.36 Josephus stresses the isolation of the
“lepers” (Against Apion 1.281–282).
4QTohorot (4Q274 1 i 1–4) singles out one category among the impurity car-
riers who should be isolated (although the MS is damaged): He is to “lie on a

33  E. P. Sanders, Jewish Law from Jesus to the Mishnah: Five Studies, (London: SCM, 1990), p. 91.
34  Milgrom, Leviticus, pp. 819, 830–863.
35  “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Command the Israelites to put out of the camp every-
one who is leprous, or has a discharge, and everyone who is unclean through contact with
a corpse; you shall put out both male and female, putting them outside the camp; they
must not defile their camp, where I dwell among them” (Num 5:1–3 New Revised Standard
36  See e.g., H. Birenboim, “Expelling the Unclean from the Cities of Israel and the
Uncleanness of Lepers and Men with a Discharge according to 4Q274 1 i,” DSD 19 (2012),
pp. 28–54.
Jesus ’ Work as a Healer in Light of Jewish Purity Laws 97

bed of sorrow and sit in a seat of sighs” as well as to “dwell in isolation.” The sec-
tion ends with a quote from Lev 13:45: “He shall cry, Unclean, unclean as long as
the plague affects him.” Whereas Joseph Baumgarten argues that the passage
concerns a zab,37 Milgrom, pointing to the context of Lev 13:45 itself, proposes
that the regulation applies to a person with scale disease (a “leper”).38 Kazen
suggests instead that the text relates to a purifying “leper,” which is convincing
in light of the close range of distance imposed between the impurity carrier and
others (12 cubits).39 Another text from Qumran, 4QMMT, B 64–72, criticizes
opponents who allow purifying “lepers” to enter any place containing sacred
food. In agreement with Kazen, we must conclude that “4QMMT presupposes
a common understanding, according to which ‘lepers’ are normally excluded
from their homes and cities.”40 We may draw the same conclusion concerning
the regulations for the purifying “leper” in 4QTohorot. The isolation of lepers
is implicitly confirmed in Luke 17:12, which takes for granted both that “lepers”
were forced to stay together (since they could not live in their regular homes)
as well as keeping at a distance from others: “As he entered a village, ten
lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus,
Master, have mercy on us!’ ” In this case Jesus heals them from a distance.
How did touching the “leper” affect Jesus with regard to purity? In contrast
to the extensive prescriptions for the purifications rituals for a cured “leper”,
biblical laws are not very informative regarding transmission of impurity, nor
concerning the purification rituals for anyone who has contracted impurity
through contact with a “leper.” The reason for this is likely because common

37  He highlights the reference to the bed and seat (cf. Lev 15:4); see J. Baumgarten, “The Laws
about Fluxes in 4QTohorota (4Q274),” in D. Dimant and L. H. Schiffman (eds.), Time to
Prepare the Way in the Wilderness: Papers on the Qumran Scrolls by Fellows of the Institute
for Advanced Studies of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1989–1990 (Studies on Texts of the
Desert of Judah 16; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995), pp. 1–8.
38  J. Milgrom, “4QTohoraa: An Unpublished Qumran Text on Purities,” in D. Dimant and
L. H. Schiffman (eds.), Time to Prepare the Way in the Wilderness: Papers on the Qumran
Scrolls by Fellows of the Institute for Advanced Studies of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem,
1989–1990 (Studies on Texts of the Desert of Judah 16; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995), pp. 59–68.
39  Kazen, Issues, 73–75.
40  Kazen, Jesus and Purity, p. 111. 4QMMT B 66 shows that the critique (of allowing a certain
category of people entrance into houses where there is sacred food) concerns a purifying
leper (“after he shaves and washes”). The translators clarifies this already in line B 64 “and
concerning (healed) lepers” (4Q396 1–2 iii) B 64 by E. Qimron and J. Strugnell, Qumran
Cave 4.V: Miqsat Ma’ase ha-Torah (Discoveries in the Judean Desert 10; Oxford: Clarendon,
1994), pp. 54–55.
98 Wassen

people are assumed not have been in contact with such a person.41 Josephus,
however, provides some information: “anyone who touches or lives under
the same roof with them he [= Moses] considers unclean” (Against Apion
1.281–282). The expression “he shall live alone” in Lev 13:46 also indicates that
“lepers” transmitted impurity “by overhang” like a corpse (Num 12:12), i.e., they
defiled the indoor space simply by entering a house whereby anyone else in
the house would become impure.42 Milgrom argues that in this regard the per-
son with skin disease transmits impurity like a corpse, which is why biblical
legislation imposes isolation. But, impurity transmitted by touch may be less
severe. The Mishnah, Zabim 5:6 equates touching a leper with that of touching
a zab or zabah which would involve a one day purification rather than seven
days for corpse impurity.43 A one day impurity would make sense given that
priests would be in contact with potential lepers fairly regularly when examin-
ing them. Either way, Jesus would have been able to purify himself afterwards.
Although Leviticus 13 uses the verb ‫ראה‬, “to see,” it is hard to imagine that
such a close inspection by the priest could be done without physical contact.
The Damascus Document (4Q272 1 i) attests to this practice by providing fur-
ther detailed prescriptions concerning such a thorough examination by the
priest. Since priests were expected to at least come in close contact with lep-
ers, whether or not touching was actually involved, it is not impossible that
another category of people similarly were assumed to do so, namely healers. As
we will see below, healers were expected to touch people. We will return to this
issue after an analysis of Jesus’ encounter with the impurity carriers in Mark 5.
Mark’s wording in 5:25 γυνὴ οὖσα ἐν ῥύσει αἵματος (“a woman suffering from
hemorrhages”) is similar to the description of the condition of the zabah in
Lev 15:25 (LXX: γυνή ἐὰν ῥέῃ ῥύσει αἵματος) and suggests that the female char-
acter in Mark 5 was indeed experiencing abnormal vaginal bleeding. The note

41  See Milgrom, Leviticus, p. 805. Nevertheless, Meier (Law, pp. 412–413) argues that since
priests were forced to examine lepers, lepers did not convey impurity. Kazen rightly dis-
misses this hypothesis. Indeed, the isolation of “lepers” would be entirely redundant if
they were not considered contagious. See Kazen, Issues of Impurity, p. 165.
42  Milgrom, Leviticus, p. 819. Kazen also points to the regulations for a “leprous” house in
Lev 14:33–53, which indicates that everything in a house becomes unclean unless removed
to the outside. Mishnah, Negaim 13:7 takes for granted that the “leper” transmits impurity
by overhang; see Kazen, Jesus and Purity, pp. 113–114. The association between “leprosy”
and corpse-impurity is evident in Numbers and also later; see H. Harrington, “Keeping
Outsiders Out: Impurity at Qumran,” in Defining Identities: We, You, and the Other in the
Dead Sea Scrolls: Proceedings of the Fifth Meeting of the IOQS in Gröningen (Studies on the
Texts of the Desert of Judah 70; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2008), pp. 187–203 esp. 202.
43  Milgrom, Leviticus, p. 805.
Jesus ’ Work as a Healer in Light of Jewish Purity Laws 99

that she had been suffering from that disease for twelve years clearly also
implies the sort of abnormal flow of blood described in Lev 15:25. Mark does
not mention her impurity explicitly, likely because it was less of an issue for
his Gentile audience than amongst the earlier Jesus-followers who had pre-
served the tradition in the Land of Israel. Clearly, Jesus’ healing powers and the
woman’s faith are the key points in the story. The miraculous healing, whereby
supernatural power or energy is transferred to the women, is accomplished
through a simple touch. Nothing in the story indicates that Jesus either rejected
the purity laws, or that he was anxious about becoming ritually impure through
the woman’s touch.44
What would Jesus have had to do to purify himself after contact with the
zabah?45 Leviticus is not explicit on this point, but anyone who touches the
body (‫ )בשר‬of a zab (a man with a discharge who is presented as a male equiva-
lent of a zabah) has to undergo ablutions as well as to wash his or her clothes
and wait until the evening (Lev 15:7). By inference, the latter rule would apply
to touching the zabah as well. If the story in Mark 5 reflects a historical event,
Jesus would have known that any impurity he might have contracted through
contact could be removed by purification (Lev 15:7). Charlotte Fonrobert criti-
cizes the common view that Jesus’ healing of the zabah implies that he would
have rejected purity laws. She states that, “what is disregarded in all these spec-
ulations is the fact that the woman does not commit a transgression by touch-
ing Jesus, neither according to the priestly writings, nor according to mishnaic
law.”46 This is true, but we may conclude that some who held an expansionist
view on purity would have been critical of the zabah for mingling with the
people. Others of the more minimalist approach may not have cared at all. At
the same time, it is hard to believe that anyone would have been offended by
Jesus’ contracting impurity through attempting to heal her.

44  For a similar point concerning Matthew’s version, see Levine, “Discharging Responsibility,”
pp. 379–397. My interpretation of this passage differs from that of Kazen, who under-
stands this story as an early tradition exemplifying Jesus’ relative indifference to purity
laws; see Kazen, Jesus and Purity, p. 164.
45  On the story level is not clear that the woman transmitted impurity through touch-
ing his clothes; see C. Wassen, “Jesus and the Hemorrhaging Woman in Mark 5:24–34:
Insights from Purity Laws from Qumran,” in A. Voitila and J. Jokiranta (eds), Scripture in
Transition: Essays on Septuagint, Hebrew Bible, and Dead Sea Scrolls in Honour of Raija
Sollamo (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism 126; Leiden: Brill, 2008),
pp. 641–660. But see Kazen ( Jesus and Purity, pp. 161–164) for the view that impurity was
transmitted though clothes.
46  Ch. Fonrobert, Menstrual Purity (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000),
pp. 194–195.
100 Wassen

The healing story of the hemorrhaging woman appears in the middle of the
story of the dying girl, who is later pronounced dead (Mark 5:21–24, 35–43).
Although Jesus obviously never raised a dead person he is remembered to have
entered a house in which there laid a dead person, which is historically pos-
sible. Since Jesus worked as a healer it is reasonable to conjecture that he met
dying people who would also die as is assumed in the story. Here we may note
that physical contact between Jesus and the person he is healing again is high-
lighted. In this case Jesus is holding the girl’s hand when he raises her from the
dead (Mark 5:41). But he would have contracted impurity by simply entering
the house of the dead girl (Num 19:14). Corpse impurity was a more severe
form of impurity than that stemming from contact with a zabah. According to
Numbers 19, a person with corpse contamination remained impure for seven
days. Such a person should be sprinkled on the third and the seventh day, then
wash his clothes, immerse in water and wait for the evening of the seventh
day when he would become pure. The water of sprinkling refers to the spe-
cial water containing ashes of the red heifer which was burnt outside of the
Temple (Num 19:3, “outside of the camp”). Such sprinkling water was avail-
able in Jerusalem but was likely also administered by priests throughout the
country in accordance with an early Rabbinic tradition (Tosefta, Parah 3:14).47
So if Jesus contracted corpse impurity, he may have been sprinkled by a priest
in Galilee, or he would have gone a few days early to do the proper purifica-
tions before entering the Temple next time he went to Jerusalem. The lat-
ter is also plausible since Josephus describes how many people arrived in
Jerusalem a week before Passover ( Jewish War 6.290).48 Nevertheless, a first-
day ablution was a widespread praxis, whereby a primary layer of impurity
would be removed.49 Jesus could have immersed himself shortly after con-
tracting corpse impurity which would have lessened the impurity level and
mitigated transmission of impurity.50 This state of mild impurity would be

47  Noted by S. Haber, “They Shall Purify Themselves”: Essays on Purity in Early Judaism
(A. Reinhartz [ed]; Early Judaism and Its Literature 24; Atlanta: Society of Biblical
Literature, 2008), 200. Since also houses had to be purified by this kind of special water
(Num 19:15–18), we must assume that priests carried ashes with them to purify houses far
away from the temple.
48  Haber, They Shall Purify, p. 200.
49  For evidence from various sources, including Tobit, Josephus, Qumran texts, Samaritan
texts, and Philo see Kazen, Scripture, p. 147.
50  The presence of miqvaot (= ritual baths) in close vicinity to graveyards indicates that
people would immerse immediately after attracting corpse impurity. See Kazen, Scripture,
p. 147 note 121.
Jesus ’ Work as a Healer in Light of Jewish Purity Laws 101

common among people who frequently dealt with death in their families
and among friends.
How would people then have reacted to Jesus’ contracting corpse impurity?
We may note in the Marcan story that the house is full of people—who con-
sequently would have attracted corpse impurity (Num 19:14)51—and that the
house belongs to the ruler of the synagogue. In other words for Mark, who
seems fairly knowledgeable about Jewish customs, it was natural for the peo-
ple in a village to gather around the diseased and offer their support to the
family and express their grief, with no apparent concern about impurity. We
can compare this with John’s presentation of Jesus raising of Lazarus, where
the presence of many villagers in the house of Mary and Martha is similarly
highlighted (John 11:31). This corresponds well with Josephus’ information that
all people were obliged to join a funeral procession if one came by (Against
Apion 2.205). Although this statement may well be an exaggeration, it would
likely have been natural for not only family, but also friends, to join the family
of the deceased in the funeral. Here we may also recall that according to bibli-
cal law, only priests were to avoid burials of others than close relatives (Lev
21:1–4). It is hard to see how Jesus would have challenged any purity concerns,
even by those who held a more stringent view, by offering to help the family
of the leader of the synagogue and entering into his house to see the dead or
dying girl and touching her.

5 The Art of Healing

The fact that Jesus functions as a healer is largely forgotten in this debate.
Healers were expected to touch people. Jesus often touches the people he is
healing, according to different independent traditions, which indicates that
touching was a natural part of his healing actions; in Mark 5:23 a leader of
the synagogue begs Jesus to lay his hands on his daughter. Mark introduces the
story about the blind man of Bethsaida with the words “some people brought
a blind man to him and begged him to touch him” (Mark 8:22). Jesus proceeds
not only to touch him but to put saliva on his eyes; a similar action is described
in John 9 where Jesus uses a mix of mud and saliva (John 9:6) to cure a blind
man’s eyes. In Matt 9:29 Jesus touches the eyes of the two blind men. When
Jesus is healing a deaf-mute in Mark 7:31–37 the touching becomes very explicit:
“[he] put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue.” Jesus

51  “Tent” in Num 19:14 was generally understood as applicable also to houses, see e.g., 11QT
45:5–19; Mishnah, Ohalot 3:7; see Kazen, Jesus, p. 166.
102 Wassen

touched Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:31) as well as the “leper” (Mark 1:41).
Jesus’ touching the sick is only natural, as Edwin Yamuchi states in connection
to Jesus’ healing activities, “The use of hand and of touch has played a variety of
roles from time immemorial in not only magical and religious rites but also in
acts of healing in many different cultures.”52 For example, Roman healers
such as Apollonius of Tyana who raised a dead girl, according to Philostratus,
touched her and whispered spells in her ears (Life of Apollonius of Tyana 4.45);
when curing a lame man Apollonius massaged the leg. Emperor Vespasian is
said to have healed a blind man by rubbing saliva on his cheeks and eyes, and
healing a hand by stomping on it (Tacitus, Histories 4.81). According to Genesis
Apocryphon (20:28–29) Abraham exorcised a demon from Pharaoh by lying his
hands on his head. In short, healing often involved physical contact. Of course,
the same is true in today’s medicine whereby doctors naturally touch their
patients. When Jesus was healing impure people, I suspect that no one was
surprised; contracting impurity would have been considered a natural conse-
quence. In comparison, as noted above, even priests ran the risk of contracting
ritual impurity when they examined potential “lepers” and those who claimed
to be cured of the disease.
The association between Jesus’ miracles and those of Elijah and Elisha have
been widely recognised, since they are the only ancient prophets remem-
bered particularly for their miracle-working activities. Meier, for one, argues
that in his role as an eschatological prophet, “Jesus distinguished himself
from many other prophet figures of the period (e.g., John the Baptist and the
‘sign prophets’) by claiming to perform numerous miracles of healing, some
of which would almost inevitably remind pious Jews of the miracles of Elijah
and Elisha.”53 Moreover, “Jesus saw himself as an eschatological prophet and
miracle worker along the lines of Elijah.”54 This association is particularly
evident in connection to the stories about Jesus healing a “leper” and raising a
dead child. Elisha is known to have healed the leper Naaman from a distance
(2 Kgs 5:1–14). For our purposes, the two stories about them each raising a boy
from death are particularly interesting. Elijah, like Jesus, raises the child inside
the house, in other words, contracting impurity by overhang and by touch

52  E. Yamuchi, “Magic or Miracle? Diseases, Demons and Exorcisms,” The Miracles of Jesus
(Gospel Perspectives 6; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1986), pp. 89–183 esp. 135. For example, he
points to Egyptian magical texts (Berlin Papyrus 3027) which reads “My hands rest on this
child and the hands of Isis rest on him, as she rests her hands on her son Horus.”
53  Meier, Mentor, Message, and Miracles, vol. 2 of A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical
Jesus (New York: Doubleday 1994), p. 699.
54  Meier, Law, p. 415.
Jesus ’ Work as a Healer in Light of Jewish Purity Laws 103

(1 Kgs 17:17–24). He not only touches the child, but carries him upstairs and
lies upon him three times. Similarly, when Elisha raises a Shunammite wom-
an’s son (2 Kgs 4:34) he is indoors; he lies on him and puts his mouth on the
boy’s mouth. By carrying the child and lying on him, in both cases, the physi-
cal contact is quite extensive. Josephus, who regularly takes much liberty with
the biblical stories, shows no hesitance in describing how Elijah carried the
dead boy inside the house (which would make Elijah impure).55 Nevertheless,
Josephus omits the reference to Elijah’s stretching himself on the boy three
times ( Jewish Antiquities 8.325–327; 1 Kgs 17:21), probably out of issues of sen-
sitivity. Although he omits the similar story about Elisha’s resuscitation of the
boy, he includes the story about a man who had been killed who was revived
when his body touched the bones of Elisha in the grave (2 Kgs 13:20–21; Jewish
Antiquities 9.183).56 The retelling of this story again demonstrates that for
Josephus the physical contact in connection to reviving the dead does not
appear to be a problem. If Jesus’ healing activities were seen in line with the
great deeds of Elijah and Elisha, then it is even more unlikely that contract-
ing corpse impurity would be an issue at all. It was simply part of working
as a healer.

6 Conclusion

Impurity was a common part of life for all Jews in the Land of Israel at the
end of the Second Temple period. Since menstruation, childbirth, sex, and
nearness to a corpse rendered people impure, most people would be impure
regularly and in general did not seek to avoid impurity. Even priests, who
like everyone else were married, would be ritually impure quite frequently.
At the same time, for some groups of Jews purity would be more important

55  Josephus’ version emphasizes the divine origin of the miracle which is a typical trait in
his writings; see E. Eve, The Jewish Context of Jesus’ Miracles, (Journal for the Study of the
New Testament Supplement Series 231; London: T. & T. Clark, 2002), p. 28. Although at
the beginning of the story he is vague concerning whether the boy was really dead (τὴν
ψυχὴν ἀφεῖναι καὶ δόξαι νεκρόν; “his soul left him and he seemed dead”), the subsequent ref-
erence to the boy’s death combined with the assurance by Elijah to revive him, ἀναβιόω,
removes any doubts about the boy’s death. In his retelling of Elisha’s deeds in Jewish
Antiquities 9.33–183 Josephus omits many of the biblical stories, including the story of
the raising of the Shunammite woman’s son as well as the healing Naaman from leprosy.
56  For reasons why Josephus omitted many of the stories about Elisha’s deeds, see Eve
(Jewish Context, pp. 36–37), who relates the retold stories to themes of military victory
and to God’s righteousness.
104 Wassen

than for others and they would actively avoid impurity when possible; such
attitudes would typically be found, for example, among the Pharisees, the
Qumran sectarians, and priests. Still, also these men had sex with their wives
(most of the Essenes were married);57 they lived together with women who
menstruated at times;58 and they took part in burials of family members. In
short, impurity was a common part of everyday life for everyone and not per-
ceived as something strange that necessarily should be avoided. Importantly,
for everyday types of impurities, there were always ways of purifying. The many
miqvaot around the country indicate that people were aware of purity issues
and testify to the common practice of purifying, also far from the Temple. In
addition, as Klawans, Fredriksen, and others have demonstrated, ritual impu-
rity was normally not associated with sin. The key concern in connection to
ritual impurity was to preserve the sancta, that is, the Temple and priestly gifts,
free from impurity.
Jesus’ healing activities should be understood in this context. Clearly, Jesus
did not actively avoid impurity in his job as a healer. But he did not challenge
any purity laws by touching the impure, including people with skin disease,
or entering into houses in which there were dying people or a corpse. Even
priests frequently became impure when they examined cases of skin disease
and people in a village would visit a family who had lost a loved one and hence
become impure. Since people in general did not try to avoid common impuri-
ties there is no reason to believe that Jesus’ contemporaries would have associ-
ated his healings with a disregard for purity rules. Given Jesus’ profession as a
healer, contracting impurity was simply a part of his job.

57  See C. Wassen, Women in the Damascus Document (Atlanta: SBL / Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2005).
58  In pre-modern societies and without effective birth control, healthy married women
would quite rarely be menstruating. Instead during their fertile years women would
most of the time be either pregnant or nursing a baby, during which time they would not

The Ἰουδαῖοι in the Gospel of John

Robert L. Brawley

1 Introduction

That the Fourth Gospel portrays Ἰουδαῖοι in harsh terms is a familiar picture in
Johannine research, which though not rehearsed here can be deduced in large
contours in what follows. But who paints the canvas? Does the author of John
sit alone, or do interpreters hover over him and cover his portrait with their
own touches?1
This essay employs the Greek Ἰουδαῖοι in order to circumvent debates regard-
ing its translation. Should it be rendered “Judeans”? Or does this neglect cul-
tural / religious dimensions and the heritage of Jewish people reflected in the
traditional translation?2 The debates assume that a “correct” translation is pos-
sible, whereas translations virtually always short-change or inflate meaning.3
Further, resorting to the Greek dodges equating the Ἰουδαῖοι with modern Jews,
which cuts two ways. On the one hand, in a travesty of history the translation
“Jews” has facilitated identifying Jewish people of any era with the Ἰουδαῖοι of
the text with the consequence of irrationally vilifying them, a travesty that
John T. Townsend, the honoree of this volume, has long protested. Conversely,
modern Jews who read John can hardly escape associating themselves with

1  J. Zumstein deduces from the Johannine epistles that the interpretation of John was ambigu-
ous and controversial by the second century (Kreative Erinnerung: Relecture und Auslegung
im Johannesevangelium [Abhandlungen zur Theologie des Altem und Neuen Testaments
84; Zürich: Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 2004], pp. 1–14, “Zur Geschichte des johannischen
2  J. Ashton distinguishes between racial and religious nuances (“The Identity and Function
of the Ἰουδαῖοι in the Fourth Gospel,” NovT 27 [1985], pp. 40–75). Antiquity could scarcely
separate these. See P. Esler’s critique, “From Ioudaioi to Children of God: The Development
of a Non-Ethnic Group Identity in the Gospel of John,” in A. C. Hagedorn, Z. A. Crook, and
E. C. Stewart [eds.], In Other Words: Essays on Social Science Methods and the New Testament
in Honor of Jerome H. Neyrey (The Social World of Biblical Antiquity II.1; Sheffield: Sheffield
Phoenix, 2007), pp. 106–137 esp. 114–15.
3  See R. Sheridan, “Issues in the Translation of οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι in the Fourth Gospel,” JBL 132 (2013),
pp. 671–695 esp. 675–676, 693. Leaving οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι untranslated emphasizes thinking in the
world of the Greek text.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���6 | doi ��.��63/9789004324541_009

106 Brawley

the translation “Jews,” albeit with different consequences. Retaining Ἰουδαῖοι,

therefore, avoids inevitable distortions of translation and aids in averting
overly hasty identification from both perspectives.4

2 The Case Against the Fourth Gospel

Kaufmann Kohler calls John “a gospel of Christian love and Jewish hatred,” and
many interpreters take the Fourth Gospel as planting seeds of anti-Judaism.5
Chief among the charges is that John characterizes Ἰουδαῖοι as “of the devil”
and saddles them with guilt in Jesus’ crucifixion. How much water do the
charges hold?
Since J. Louis Martyn’s History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel,6 it is com-
monplace to interpret the Ἰουδαῖοι on a secondary level as John’s response to
conflict with and separation from early Judaism. Take for example Werner

4  P. Counet, “No Anti-Judaism in the Fourth Gospel: A Deconstruction of Readings of John 8,”
in P. Counet and U. Berges (eds.), One Text, a Thousand Methods: Studies in Memory of Sjef van
Tilborg (Biblical Interpretation Series 71; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2005), pp. 197–225 esp. 217. Modern
Christians should likewise avoid hasty identifications with Johannine Christ-followers (Esler,
“From Ioudaioi,” p. 107).
5  K. Kohler, “New Testament,” Jewish Enclycopedia 9 (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1905), p. 251.
G. Vermes attributes to John 8:44 the origin of Christian tendencies to demonize “the Jews”
(The Religion of Jesus the Jew [Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1993], p. 213).
6  J. L. Martyn’s History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel (New York: Harper & Row, 1968). So
also Ashton, “Identity and Function,” pp. 40–75. C. Lingad follows Martyn (The Problems
of Jewish Christians in the Johannine Community [Rome: Gregorian University Press, 2001],
and relies on the alleged expulsion of the Johannine community from the synagogue by the
birkat ha-minim (esp. pp. 101–108). He barely discusses objections raised since Martyn’s 1968
thesis. For a critique of Martyn’s two-level approach see R. Hakola, Identity Matters: John,
the Jews and Jewishness (Novum Testamentum Supplements 118; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2005), esp.
pp. 16–86; Mary Spaulding summarizes critiques of Martyn’s thesis (Commenorative Identities:
Jewish Social Memory and the Johannine Feast of Booths [Library of New Testament Studies
396; London: T & T Clark, 2009], pp. 29–30 notes 39–45). L. Schiffman dismisses expulsion
by means of the birkat ha-minim; in the Tannaitic period expulsion could only occur due
to violating Jewish identity in terms of rejecting rabbinic halachah. Even then, forfeiting
a share in the world to come did not negate Jewish identity. What was at stake with the
birkat ha-minim was discomfort at serving as precentors in synagogues (“At the Crossroads:
Tannaitic Perspectives on the Jewish-Christian Schism,” in E. P. Sanders et al. [eds.], Jewish
and Christian Self-Definition. Volume 2: Aspects of Judaism in the Greco-Roman Period
[Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981], pp. 115–156, 139–149).
The Ἰουδαῖοι in the Gospel of John 107

Kelber’s thesis that John’s emphasis on the spirit is tragically intertwined with
hatred and demonization of “the Jews.”7
While suggesting that conflicts in John are not beyond verisimilitude,
Martinus de Boer notes that approaches such as Kelber’s violate a basic prem-
ise of exegesis—they ignore the literary context.8 Although many interpret-
ers assume a polemic against the Ἰουδαῖοι, nowhere does John mention hate
toward them. Hate is attributed only on the part of the world against Jesus
and his followers. Granted, John’s alleged hatred derives from the perspective
that the author attributes an exaggerated bitterness from Ἰουδαῖοι because of
his own bitterness toward them. Given, however, that in the narrative world
the only attitudes expressed toward unbelievers are love and warning without
any “revenge factor,”9 how does John come to be the source of hate for Jesus’
own people?
Nevertheless, repeated pejorative characterizations of Ἰουδαῖοι can hardly
be overlooked. True, as Hartig Thyen points out, John’s viewpoint is not a tri-
umphant perspective over subordinate Ἰουδαῖοι. Rather, it is the perspective of
a minority rooted in its own kind of early Judaism, whose portrayal of Ἰουδαῖοι
cannot be equated with views from the dominant position of later church
history.10 Further, aside from a very few characters, everything in John occurs
among Ἰουδαῖοι, and characters have viewpoints as Ἰουδαῖοι.11 Repetitive nega-
tive characterizations of some Ἰουδαῖοι stereotype them as opponents, but this

7  W. Kelber, “Metaphysics and Marginality in John,” in Francisco Segovia (ed.), “What Is
John?”: Readers and Readings of the Fourth Gospel, vol. 1 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1996),
pp. 129–154 esp. 130–131, 147.
8  M. de Boer, “The Depiction of ‘the Jews’ in John’s Gospel: Matters of Behavior and
Identity,” in R. Bieringer et al. (eds.), Anti-Judaism and the Fourth Gospel (Assen: van
Gorcum, 2001), pp. 260–280 esp. 261.
9  T. Thatcher, Greater than Caesar: Christology and Empire in the Fourth Gospel (Minneapolis,
MN: Fortress, 2009), p. 134.
10  H. Thyen, “Das Heil kommt aus den Juden,” in D. Lührmann and G. Strecker (eds.), Kirche:
Festschrift für Günther Bornkamm zum 75. Geburtstag; Tübingen: Mohr, 1980), pp. 175–183.
Similarly J. Lieu, “Anti-Judaism in the Fourth Gospel: Explanation and Hermeneutics,”
in Bieringer, Anti-Judaism, pp. 126–143 esp. 132; Counet, “No Anti-Judaism,” p. 199;
U. von Wahlde, “ ‘You Are of Your Father the Devil’ in Its Context: Stereotyped Apocalyptic
Polemics in John 8:38–47,” in Bieringer, Anti-Judaism, pp. 418–444, esp. 442–443. Tannaitic
Rabbis considered early Christians Ἰουδαῖοι who believed that Jesus was messiah
(Schiffman, “At the Crossroads,” pp. 147–149).
11  So also Counet, “No Anti-Judaism,” p. 205.
108 Brawley

hardly warrants Alan Culpepper’s judgment that in John all Ἰουδαῖοι “belong to
the darkness, their deeds are evil, and they are children of the devil.”12
Even though Adele Reinhartz rejects Martyn’s “second-level” expulsion
of the Johannine community from the synagogue and speaks of a “group
among the Jews” who threaten synagogue expulsion (9:22), she confesses that
in her initial encounters with John every mention of “the term ‘Jew’ felt like
a slap in the face.”13 She also writes of John’s “negative portrayal of Jews and
Judaism” and charges that John aligns the Ἰουδαῖοι as a historical people with
the negative pole of its dualistic rhetoric.14 She further claims that when John
“others” the Ἰουδαῖοι, they are victims of the narrator’s violent voice.15
John uses Ἰουδαῖος as a singular substantive only three times, always without
the article, but 67 times in the plural, always with the article with one excep-
tion. When the narrator explains that Samaritans and Ἰουδαῖοι eschew mutual
exchange (4:9), the anarthrous plural appears. Grammarians give only two pos-
sibilities for the presence or absence of the article—particular and generic,16
and the only aid in distinguishing the particular from the generic is context.
The three singular cases can be dispensed with quickly. One is a passing
reference to an Ἰουδαῖος who debates purification with John’s disciples (3:25).
A second is Pilate’s rhetorical question “Am I an Ἰουδαῖος?” which disquali-
fies him from being one (18:35). Third, in 4:9 the Samaritan woman identifies
Jesus as an Ἰουδαῖος. These three cases are generic classifications of a people.
Further, the narrator’s anarthrous plural in 4:9 is generic, as is the case when
Jesus declares in 4:22 that salvation is ἐκ τῶν Ἰουδαίων, and when the term qual-
ifies festivals and customs (e.g., 2:13; 5:1; 6:4; 7:2; 11:55).
What does the context indicate elsewhere when the article is used with the
plural? As in the first occurrence in John 1:19, where the Ἰουδαῖοι who question

12  R. A. Culpepper, “Anti-Judaism in the Fourth Gospel as a Theological Problem for Christian
Interpreters,” in Bieringer, Anti-Judaism, pp. 68–91 esp. 88.
13  A. Reinhartz, “ ‘Jews’ and Jews in the Fourth Gospel,” in Bieringer, Anti-Judaism, pp. 341–
356 esp. 341, 342.
14  A. Reinhartz, “The Johannine Community and Its Jewish Neighbors: A Reappraisal,” in
F. Segovia, “What Is John?” Readers and Readings of the Fourth Gospel (Atlanta: Scholars
Press, 1998), vol.2, pp. 111–138 esp. 114, 119, 137 (emphasis added).
15  A. Reinhartz, “John 8:31–59 from a Jewish Perspective,” in J. Roth and Elisabeth Maxwell
(eds.), Remembering for the Future: The Holocaust in an Age of Genocide, vol. 2, Ethics and
Religion (New York: Palgrave, 2001), pp. 787–797, 790. To label the narrator violent makes
anyone who makes the charge complicit in “othering” the narrator in the same way, and
my note of this pushes me into an infinite regression of such complicity.
16  H. Smyth, Greek Grammar (revised by G. Messing; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1984), pp. 286–88; §§ 1119–33.
The Ἰουδαῖοι in the Gospel of John 109

John the Baptist are a specific group from Jerusalem, in virtually every case the
context provides enough information to indicate that a particular group is in
view. For example, an analepsis in 5:32 reinforces the particularity in 1:19. Some
cases are more specific than others, such as the Ἰουδαῖοι who come to Martha
and Mary in 11:19. But even in 7:13 where some from a crowd dare not speak
openly because of fear of the Ἰουδαῖοι, the text specifies Ἰουδαῖοι in Jerusalem.
Thus, it is appropriate to speak of certain Ἰουδαῖοι in Jerusalem rather than
“the” Ἰουδαῖοι.
Nevertheless when Ἰουδαῖοι repeatedly challenge Jesus, it is apparent that
the narrative’s evaluative point of view is negative toward such groups. Thus,
interpretations of these texts have abetted nothing less than anti-Judaism in
the history of interpretation of John.17 These are causes for calling into ques-
tion both the Gospel and its interpreters. But once the question is raised, is it
possible to shed light on it?
The discussion that follows pursues six approaches to the literary charac-
terization of Ἰουδαῖοι in the Johannine narrative world: The first section argues
on the basis of the ethics of interpretation for specifying the identity of the
Ἰουδαῖοι to the extent that the text allows. This includes refusing to vilify char-
acters or the narrator beyond what the text warrants.18 Therefore, in spite of
pejorative characterizations of certain Ἰουδαῖοι, the notion that John vilifies
Jesus’s people is possible only when John is read apart from specifications of
time, place, and personages.19 Closely related, the second section discusses the
adjective ἀποσυνάγωγος as a part of specifying the time, place, and personages
that John has in view. The third section turns to John 8:30–59 to demonstrate
the delimitation of the image of paternity from the devil to a specific group
under a particular condition. In connection with the image of paternity, sec-
tion four documents the cultural commonplace of parentage as a metaphor
for the origin of behavior. The fifth section correlates the high priests and
Pharisees of a gathering in John 11:45–52, who are collaborators in imperial
systems, with the group of Ἰουδαῖοι involved in Jesus’ destiny in John 18–19.

17  E.g. Sheridan, “Translation,” p. 687.

18  This applies to characters like Caiaphas, who does not merit Thatcher’s reference to his
“venom” (Greater than Caesar, p. 55).
19  Precise distinction needs to be made between features of John and its history of inter-
pretation. See F. Hahn, “Theologie nach Ausschwitz: Ihre Bedeutung für die neutes-
tamentliche Exegese: Eine Thesenreihe,” in C. Breytenbach (ed.), Die Verwurzelung
des Christentums im Judentum: Exegetische Beiträge zum christlich-jüdischen Gespräch
(Neukirchen: Neukirchener, 1996), pp. 49–54 esp. 49. Interpreters are ethically respon-
sible for their contributions to the history of interpretation. See Lieu’s remarks about
responsible and historically specific interpretations (“Anti-Judaism,” pp. 141–143).
110 Brawley

The last section deals with positive evaluations of Ἰουδαῖοι in John. With this
procedure, I demonstrate that in John’s literary world, the Ἰουδαῖοι never repre-
sent an entire people in negative light.

3 Literary Specifications of the Ἰουδαῖοι

3.1 The Ἰουδαῖοι and the Ethics of Interpretation

When Christianity and Judaism are juxtaposed as two entities, stereotyping
enters the discussion. Such stereotyping is deeply engrained in Johannine
studies so that caution should abound for any attempt to distinguish among
references to Ἰουδαῖοι. In fact, in spite of the sixty-four appearances of the plu-
ral Ἰουδαῖοι in different contexts, interpreters who make distinctions among
references to Ἰουδαῖοι face allegations of ideological attempts to conceal a
problem that goes back close to the origins of the followers of Jesus. So is it
possible and fair to differentiate among Jews in John? The following discussion
shows that not only is it possible from a literary point of view, but also from the
perspective of an ethics of interpretation it is unfair not to do so.
Prominent approaches that reject stipulating places and personages not-
withstanding, the Fourth Gospel repeatedly specifies its particular references
to Ἰουδαῖοι.20 John 9:16 is a case in point. A division occurs between certain
Pharisees, inhabitants of Jerusalem, who claim that Jesus is not from God, and
others who contend that a sinner cannot do the signs that Jesus does. In 9:18, 22
they are also called οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι21—clearly some local Pharisees.

20  Lieu notes delimitation of certain groups (“Anti-Judaism,” 136); D. M. Smith also calls for
differentiation, but still sees “the Jews” as symbols of the rejection of Jesus (The Theology
of the Gospel of John [New Testament Theology; Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1995], p. 56). Following Bultmann, Ashton argues against specific identities of the
Ἰουδαῖοι and advocates for a symbolic role (“Identity and Function,” p. 57); also Kelber,
“Metaphysics,” pp. 130–31, 147. Making a heuristic distinction between “primary sense”
and “reference” S. Motyer considers specific identities for Ἰουδαῖοι inadequate and settles
on a religious group within Judaism, “fervent representatives of orthopraxy,” which he
facilely makes representative of all Israel (Your Father the Devil? A New Approach to John
and the Jews [Paternoster Biblical and Theological Studies; Carlisle UK: Paternoster, 1997],
pp. 52–57, 130, 174–182). But a primary sense never exists apart from context. Counet dis-
tinguishes five groups of Ἰουδαῖοι on the story level, including some who believe in Jesus
and never give up their belief (“No Anti-Judaism”). But contexts make even more distinc-
tions among Ἰουδαῖοι, such as those who come to Martha and Mary in 11:19, 31 and those
who go to some Pharisees in 11:46.
21  Division among them is reiterated in 10:19–21.
The Ἰουδαῖοι in the Gospel of John 111

Not only does one stereotype of the Ἰουδαῖοι run roughshod over John’s
specifications, but the correlation of these literary characters with the histori-
cal people of Jesus is also fraught with problems, not the least of which is how
an external referent after the War with Rome can be asserted for this fictive
narrative.22 Indeed following Paul Ricoeur, Tobias Nicklas correctly maintains
that narrative always projects a revised view of reality; thus, John’s vision can-
not be equated with external history.23 Further, to forsake John’s narrative in
order to construct a history of the parting of the ways between early Judaism
and early Christianity “creates an extra-textual conflict” that “destroys . . . the
story of Jesus and his people.”24 In the narrative world there are particular
conflicts in specific places which may involve local synagogue discipline, but
Christ followers are not “separated from the synagogue” and separation from
“Judaism” is not viewed “as a past event.”25
The claim that history cannot be reified from fictive narratives like John
merits a brief remark about the philosophy of history. This is not to remove
historical studies from interpretation, because John draws on a cultural
repertoire from a historical environment with which readers must be

22  Against reifying history from John, Zumstein emphasizes the narrative world and inter-
prets John as “poetic history” (Kreative Erinnerung, pp. 2–3). Reinhartz also sees Ἰουδαῖοι
as literary characters in a fictionalized narrative who cannot be equated with historical
people (“John 8:31–59,” p. 788). See the critique of mirror reading over against the nar-
rative world in T. Nicklas, Ablösung und Verstrickung: “Juden” und Jüngergestalten als
Charaktere der erzählten Welt des Johannesevangeliums und ihre Wirkung auf den empli-
zierten Leser (Regensburger Studien zur Theologie 60; Frankfurt a. M.: P. Lang, 2001),
pp. 30–69. Hakola presents a promising methodology from Kari Syreeni’s three-world
model, which distinguishes the narrative world, the symbolic world, and the real world,
with none of the three existing autonomously. He proposes defining Ἰουδαῖοι from each
use (Identity Matters, pp. 15, 33–35), but fails to deliver. Rather he identifies John’s Ἰουδαῖοι
as a generalized term for the Jewish people in the “real” world (e.g., pp. 182, 185, 225–31).
Ashton proposes a historical solution: Hostile Ἰουδαῖοι belong to a late redaction reflecting
conflict between the Johannine community and Judaism (“Identity and Function,” p. 49).
Since there is no actual reference to the War with Rome in John, the determination of this
kind of referent is what Ashton calls allegory; so also Nicklas, Ablösung und Verstrickung,
p. 69. Ashton, however, considers this allegory a proper interpretive move for John.
23  Nicklas, Ablösung und Verstrickung, pp. 68–72; see Zumstein, Kreative Erinnerung,
pp. 2–3. U. von Wahlde’s attempt to differentiate a ruling class from the common people
still focuses on a collective group in the historical world outside John’s narrative world
(“The Johannine ‘Jews’: A Critical Survey,” NTS 28 [1981–82], pp. 33–60). See Hahn’s warn-
ing against this (“Theologie,” pp. 52–53).
24  Counet, “No Anti-Judaism,” pp. 197–199 esp. 197.
25  Against Culpepper, “Anti-Judaism,” p. 70 (emphasis added).
112 Brawley

acquainted in order to understand the story.26 But if narrative presents an

author’s vision of the way things are in the narrative world, reifying a histori-
cal world from the narrative inevitably misrepresents both history and the
author’s vision.
Moreover, the identification of the Ἰουδαῖοι with an ethnic group of John’s
time dissolves the enigmatic language of the narrative and ignores ways in
which John plays certain Ἰουδαῖοι off against others. For all John’s stereotyping,
the Ἰουδαῖοι are inconsistent among themselves,27 and John portrays divisions
among them.28 Take Nathanael, who, though not called an Ἰουδαῖος, is a true
Israelite (1:47, cf. 1:31, 49). A first matter to settle is that there is no warrant
for driving a wedge between the terms Ἰουδαῖος and Ἰσραηλίτης.29 The latter
is preferred among insiders and the former among outsiders. As in literature
outside John, the narrator uses Ἰουδαῖος for the sake of implied readers who
include outsiders (e.g., 3:1) whereas in direct speech Jesus uses Ἰσραηλίτης
among insiders (e.g., 3:10).30 Nathanael’s question about whether any good can
come from Nazareth characterizes him as a skeptic. Nevertheless, before he
believes, Jesus calls him as an Israelite who will not be “suckered” (δόλος). The
location of this incident early among Jesus’ challenges from the Ἰουδαῖοι is of
special importance in that Jesus receives this skeptic with open arms.
An even more significant misinterpretation of John’s use of the Ἰουδαῖοι
as a reference to “the Jews” outside the literary world of the text involves
understanding the efforts of the high priestly party against Jesus (John 18–19)
as a plot of the entire people.31 An extreme of such misinterpretation is the

26  W. Iser called this cultural repertoire the unformulated text, The Act of Reading: A Theory
of Aesthetic Response (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978), pp. 69, 225–229.
See also J. Culler, Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics, and the Study of Literature
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1975), p. 15. Thatcher argues that the narrative world
leads to the historical world (Greater than Caesar, xiii, xx). Similarly, Sheridan argues that
οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι are both rhetorical and actual characters (“Translation,” p. 691). But this puts
the cart before the horse. Narrative draws from a cultural context that is necessary for
construing the story. But its fictive vision of reality resists reifying historical references.
27  Nicklas, Ablösung und Verstrickung, p. 396.
28  Hahn, “Die Juden,” p. 126.
29  E.g. Sheridan, “Translation,” p. 688.
30  Counet, “No Anti-Judaism,” pp. 199–200. Also P. Tomson, “‘Jews’ in the Gospel of John,”
in Bieringer, Anti-Judaism, pp. 301–340 esp. 305–308, 339. Two exceptions are 13:33 (Jesus
speaks of Ἰουδαῖοι to his disciples) and 18:20 (Jesus mentions Ἰουδαῖοι while addressing the
high priest).
31  “The evangelist has in no way forgotten that it was a specific group of Jews . . .” (Hahn, “Die
Juden,” p. 124).
The Ἰουδαῖοι in the Gospel of John 113

conclusion that “the Jews ‘have no king but Caesar.’”32 As will become clear,
the Ἰουδαῖοι who say “we have no king but Caesar” are a particular group.33

3.2 Synagogue-Expelled
Conventionally, the adjective ἀποσυνάγωγος is taken as indicating that
the Johannine community had separated from the synagogue. So Culpepper
declares that the “church [sic] is composed of those who are now
ἀποσυνάγωγος [sic].”34
In John’s literary world, warrants for generalizing ἀποσυνάγωγος as implying
the entire relationship between the synagogue and the Johannine community
are woefully lacking. The adjective can hardly implicate all synagogues. For
one thing, it is a neologism, not formal terminology as might be expected for
an official expulsion from “the Synagogue.”35 For another, English translations
regularly render the Greek by a paraphrase in which “the synagogue” appears
as a noun with the article and obscures that the term is an adjective never used
with the article. The more literal “synagogue-expelled” demonstrates dramati-
cally that the reference is indefinite—thus, use of the article is indefensible.
Moreover, ἀποσυνάγωγος appears only three times. In two cases, the setting
is local in Jerusalem, and in both, the Ἰουδαῖοι who agree that someone who
confesses Jesus should be excluded from a synagogue are a specific group.36
John 9:13 introduces certain Pharisees, who have divided opinions about Jesus
(hardly ciphers for Sages at Yavneh) (9:16, 22). Some are Ἰουδαῖοι who agree that
those who confess Jesus should be excluded from a synagogue—a local case of

32  Citation from Culpepper, “Anti-Judaism,” p. 77 (emphasis added).

33  Hahn shows that generalizations of Ἰουδαῖοι in John lead to serious misinterpretations
(“ ‘Die Juden’ im Johannesevangelium,” p. 119).
34  Culpepper, “Anti-Judaism,” p. 87, following the proposal of Martyn, History and Theology,
pp. 37–62. That members of John’s community would be cursing themselves assumes irra-
tionally that they would consider themselves heretics.
35  See Nicklas, Ablösung und Verstrickung, pp. 369–70 note 1469. In the narrative world
ἀποσυνάγωγος can hardly be “anachronistic” (Sheridan, “Translation,” p. 680) with refer-
ence to a historical world deduced from the text. In the narrative world, synagogue disci-
pline involves expulsion.
36  In von Wahlde’s admirable attempt to differentiate Johannine usage, once he determines
that the Ἰουδαῖοι in John 9 refer to the Pharisees, he identifies them as “authorities” apart
from a specific location, and takes this as part of a pool of texts that refer to authorities
(“Johannine ‘Jews,’” p. 42). He does specify segments of society sometimes based on geo-
graphical location (e.g. p. 47), but still deduces a general identity. Smith mentions that
synagogue expulsion might be local (“Judaism and the Gospel of John,” p. 97).
114 Brawley

synagogue discipline.37 Matters are quite similar in 12:42. Again the setting is
Jerusalem and opinions are divided. In fact, many leaders believe in Jesus, but
covertly because some Pharisees threaten to exclude them from a synagogue.
John 16:2 is substantially different. Jesus predicts a general move on the
part of an indefinite third person “they” to make his disciples “synagogue-
expelled.” Here the adjective modifies the disciples, and it is reasonable to
assume that it implies synagogue discipline in multiple locations. But here
“synagogue-expelled” also means specific cases among general opposition. As
Jean Zumstein has shown, the general term “world” takes over almost com-
pletely as opponents to believers in the farewell discourses; and the function of
ἀποσυνάγωγος here is paraenetic and pastoral, not polemical.38 Further, in the
literary world Jesus anticipates this future destiny only for the disciples whom
he chose (15:16). Granted, the pronoun “you” in 16:2, which refers to the dis-
ciples, can be a cipher for readers to hear the text as if addressed to them. But
this implies a hermeneutical move in which readers identify with characters in
the story. Warrants for interpreters to generalize ἀποσυνάγωγος into a universal
reference to “the synagogue” are conspicuously absent.

3.3 John 8:44

Martinus de Boer shows that disapproving portrayals of some Ἰουδαῖοι are
directed at their behavior, not at their national or religious identity.39 The fol-
lowing discussion demonstrates how de Boer’s observation is borne out by
John 8:44: “You are of your father the devil.” First, the context in chapters 6–8
takes positive and negative evaluations of Jesus as a theme, including evalu-
ations by his disciples (6:60–71). Second, as will become clear, John’s Jesus
does not call the Ἰουδαῖοι the devil’s offspring. In spite of recognizing that
these Ἰουδαῖοι are a “group among the Jews,” Reinhartz still reads the inci-
dent as a complete delegitimization of “the Jews” as a covenantal community
in a relationship with God.40 Moreover, both she and Culpepper allege that

37  Similarly Reinhartz, “‘Jews’ and Jews,” p. 351 note 24.

38  J. Zumstein, “The Farewell Discourses (John 13:31–16:33) and the Problem of Anti-
Judaism,” in Bieringer, Anti-Judaism, pp. 460–478 esp. 469–470.
39  De Boer, “Depiction,” pp. 265–266. How Motyer calls 8:31–47 an attack on the cult (Your
Father the Devil? p. 148) is beyond me.
40  Reinhartz, “John 8:31–59,” p. 790. Motyer labels this an “assault on Israel’s whole covenant
status” (Your Father the Devil? p. 148).
The Ἰουδαῖοι in the Gospel of John 115

Jesus denies that these Ἰουδαῖοι are σπέρμα Ἀβραάμ.41 Jesus actually affirms
Abrahamic descent, but revalues it.
When Jesus says, “You are of your father the devil,” determining the refer-
ent of the pronoun “you” is requisite. But this presents an apparent difficulty.
Because the narrator identifies certain Ἰουδαῖοι as people who have believed in
Jesus in 8:31, readers are puzzled when Jesus admonishes them severely. Thus,
a popular approach is to suggest a change in identity at 8:31. So Debbie Hunn
proposes that the identity of the people who answer in 8:33 is determined not
by an antecedent but by information that follows. The subject of ἀπεκρίσθησαν
(“they answered”), then, is an indefinite third person plural that is defined later
by “we are Abraham’s seed.” Such a solution breaks continuity between those
who believed in Jesus in 8:31 and those who respond in 8:33.42
But it speaks against a change in identity that the response in 8:33 follows
the point where Jesus makes the discourse conditional: “If you remain in
my word, truly you are my disciples” (8:31). Obviously ἐάν with the subjunc-
tive here expresses the possibility of remaining Jesus’ disciples or not.43 If the
identity changes from 8:31 to 8:33, then ἐάν with the subjunctive no longer
controls the condition of remaining. But remaining in Jesus’ word is still the
topic through 8:59, and is reiterated in 8:51 as “keeping” Jesus’ word. Clearly,
the issue in 8:31–59 is remaining in Jesus’ word, and continuity in the discourse
means that when Jesus uses the second person plural, or the narrator mentions
the Ἰουδαῖοι, or the interlocutors refer to themselves in the first person, the

41  Reinhartz (“John 8:31–59”); Culpepper, “Anti-Judaism,” p. 81. On revaluation see D. M.

Smith, “John,” in J. Barclay and J. Sweet, eds., Early Christian Thought in Its Jewish Context
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 96–111 esp. 103.
42  D. Hunn, “Who Are ‘They’ in John 8:33,” CBQ 66 (2004), pp. 387–399 esp. 396–397. Counet
(“No Anti-Judaism,” pp. 199–200) differentiates levels of the narrative: The narrator names
the Ἰουδαῖοι who believed in Jesus from an indirect third person perspective. At an embed-
ded level of indirect discourse Jesus calls them “disciples.” Jesus’s shift from the narrator’s
Ἰουδαῖοι indicates insider language. Ἰουδαῖοι and Israelite are semantic equivalents but
social differentiations. “Seed of Abraham,” is also insider language, cf. P. Tomson, “‘Jews’
in the Gospel of John,” pp. 305–308, 339.
43  J. Swetnam proposes that the perfect participle in 8:31 be understood as a pluperfect:
“the Jews who had believed in Jesus, but no longer do” (“The Meaning of πεπιστευκότας
in John 8:31,” Bib 61 [1980], pp. 106–109). He cautions that context is necessary for such an
interpretation, but ignores the conditional construction with ἐάν in the second half of
the verse. The condition of whether believers remain in Jesus’s word dictates reading the
participle as a perfect.
116 Brawley

identity is always the Ἰουδαῖοι who have believed in Jesus and whose status as
disciples is determined by whether they remain in his word or not.44
John intertwines an image of the fictive kinship of parent and child with the
determination of the status of these Ἰουδαῖοι by their relationship with Jesus.
In keeping with his axiom in 8:34 that sinning makes one a slave to sin, fictive
kinship arises from his declaration that the truth will make these Ἰουδαῖοι free
(ὑμᾶς, 8:32). In Johannine fashion, “free” generates distinct levels of thought.
One is freeborn status. Another is a relationship with God which liberates from
the power of evil.
Jesus’ interlocutors pursue the first, claim to be descendants of Abraham,
and assert that they have never been enslaved. Interpreters regularly jump
to Israel’s story where it is manifestly false that Abraham’s descendants were
never enslaved.45 But the narrative world does not warrant universalizing “we
have never been enslaved,” because the specific Ἰουδαῖοι who had believed in
Jesus claim that they themselves have never been enslaved.46
Jesus, however, speaks on the level of the origin of behavior. The relation-
ship with the truth that frees is represented by the verb γνώσεσθε (8:32), and
this overcomes enslavement to sin (8:34). Further, with respect to freedom,
Jesus proposes the fictive kinship of a child of God. In John υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ (e.g.,
1:34) is reserved for Jesus as the one who makes freedom from sin possible. But
the fictive kinship of children of God is not confined to the use of υἱός, because
Jesus makes it possible for believers to become God’s τέκνα (1:12; cf. the condi-
tional unreal argument in 8:42).47 Ἰουδαῖοι may become free from enslavement
to sin in a relationship with God mediated through Jesus as God’s son (8:36).
In one case, however, the υἱός is the disciple who is lost, ὁ υἱὸς τῆς ἀπωλείας
(17:12). Judas’s fictive kinship as a son is antithetical to Jesus’, and readers are

44  Barrett also argues for specific Ἰουδαῖοι (“John and Judaism,” p. 406). It is fundamen-
tally inadequate to say that “the Jews have the ‘devil’ as their ‘father’” as does Sheridan
(“Translation,” p. 672). Some Ἰουδαῖοι who have believed in Jesus have the devil as their
father, if they do not remain in Jesus’s word.
45  E.g. R. Brown refers to enslavement to Egypt, Babylon, Rome (The Gospel According to John
I–XII [Anchor Bible 29; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966], p. 355).
46  Reinhartz astutely observes ambiguity on the level of the Ἰουδαῖοι. From their perspective
“seed of Abraham” can mean not merely physical descent but an affirmation of monothe-
ism because of their Abrahamic origin. Likewise δουλεύω can affirm their monotheism:
“We have never served (worshiped) anyone other than God.” From their perspective Jesus
may be a sinner and heretic (“John 8:31–59,” p. 791).
47  Reinhartz views Jesus’s exclusive relationship as υἱός as a rejection of the Ἰουδαῖοι as chil-
dren (“John 8:31–59,” p. 790). In addition to 1:12, in 12:36 it is possible for the crowds to be
υἱοί of light.
The Ἰουδαῖοι in the Gospel of John 117

virtually compelled to take the genitive in his case as a genitive of origin. His
behavior is determined by his parentage, namely, “destruction.”
This same imagery appears in 8:44 when Jesus says to his interlocutors:
“You are of your father the devil.” The text presupposes two types of fathers.
The devil as father is the antithesis of God as father. The interlocutors appeal
to Abrahamic descent on a genealogical level, Jesus responds on the level of
determination of behavior by fictive parentage. Here parentage and offspring
have to do not with ethnicity, but with behavior. As with Jesus and Abraham,
it is possible for behavior to derive from God. As with the betrayer and these
Ἰουδαῖοι of chapter 8, if they do not remain in Jesus’ word, it is also possible for
behavior to derive from τῆς ἀπωλείας or from τοῦ διαβόλου.48

3.4 Paternity and Behavior

The purpose of this section is to document the prominence of the motif of
deriving behavior from parentage in the cultural encyclopedia of antiquity,49
under the presumption that the better readers know this cultural repertoire
the better they can understand the text. C. K. Barrett explains the metaphor of
fatherhood as “moral resemblance” or “imitation.”50 But in the ancient milieu
it connotes more the origin of behavior. Thus, attributed honor for women
depends on descent from reputable fathers (e.g., Plutarch, Caius Gracchus 4;
Demetrius 14; Numa 3). Granted there are exceptions, as when someone born in
low estate achieves prominence (e.g. Plutarch Lysander 2; Cato, the Younger 1),
or when descendants unexpectedly do not behave like their father, as with
Solomon in Josephus ( Jewish Antiquities 8.187). Indeed exceptions are accom-
panied by surprise or dismay.
Plutarch’s attribution of Alexander the Great’s exploits to his birth from a
divine father is well known (e.g., Alexander 27). Likewise Pausanius ascribes
the exploits of Erichthonius, who banished Amphictyon from Attica, to
descent from Hephaestius and Earth (Description of Greece 1.2.6), and
records that the Phoenicians and Greeks attribute the healing powers of
Aesclepius to his descent from Apollo (7.23.7–8). Obviously, these cases share
similarities with John’s attribution of Jesus’ works to his divine father.

48  Interpreters often assert that Jesus calls these Ἰουδαῖοι “murderers” and “liars.” Jesus says
that these Ἰουδαῖοι wish to kill him, but the murderer and liar is the devil.
49  Von Wahlde highlights five topoi in John 8:38–47, the first of which is the source of action
(“You Are of Your Father,” pp. 418–444). This agrees with the notion that behavior derives
from a source.
50  Barrett, “John and Judaism,” p. 404.
118 Brawley

It was also possible in antiquity to attribute negative behavior to paternity.

Nicias was criticized for being stingy and greedy, which Plutarch calls “an infir-
mity inherited” from his father, who was convicted of taking bribes (Nicias 28).
Plutarch also records different opinions regarding Brutus’s parentage—those
who objected to his part in Caesar’s murder denied that he had illustrious
ancestors (Brutus 4; see Caesar 52). With respect to Domitian, Suetonius inverts
the notion of ‘like father, like son’ by saying that only an evil ruler is called to
share in succession by a good father (Agricola 43).
In speaking of the generation of the gods, Plato uses the metaphor of “father”
to speak of the one who originates the works of the god or gods (Timaeus 41a;
cf. Homeric Hymn 5 to Aphrodite 25–30; see Philo who calls God the father
of the father of time [Unchangeable 6.31]). Aristotle also uses the metaphor of
paternity in describing how a person derives behavior from the rational prin-
ciple in the soul (Nicomachean Ethics 1.13.18, 20).
Philo frequently uses “father” as a metaphor for the origin of behavior.
For him a prudent mind is a father who guides like a master (Allegorical
Interpretation 3.28.84) or the mind is the father of the body (On the Posterity of
Cain 19.68; On Giants 14.62; On the Migration of Abraham 1.3) or reason is the
father to be obeyed (On Drunkenness 9.34; 16.68 and passim). The mind, rather
than external senses, is the father of virtue (On the Migration of Abraham 6.28),
and as long as the mind is free from treacherous passions, God is its father
(On the Special Laws 2.7.30).
Not only does Philo name God the father of virtue (Allegorical Interpretation
1.19.64; On Drunkenness 11.42), immoral behavior is also the result of the human
mind leaving God as its father and becoming enslaved to external desires
(Allegorical Interpretation 2.14.49). In this sense desires become one’s father
and mother (2.14.51). Indeed, reminiscent of Jesus’ reference to slavery to sin
in John 8:34, Philo declares that every wicked person is a slave whereas anyone
who is virtuous is free (That Every Good Person Is Free 1.1).
Biblical traditions run along similar tracks. From 2 Samuel–2 Chronicles
a reiterated pattern is seen, in which kings are judged by the blueprint of
like father, like son. Good kings walk in the ways of the ancestor David. But
if an evil son succeeds a good king, the exception is noted just as when a
good son succeeds an evil king. The image of kings in David’s line who act
as sons of God as father, including submitting to God’s discipline, is promi-
nent in the Davidic covenant of 2 Sam 7:14 and is reinforced in Ps 89:20–28
[ET, 89:19–27]. According to this pattern, Jehoshaphat walked positively
in the ways of his father Asa (1 Kgs 22:43); negatively, Abijam’s reign reiterates
the sins of his father Rehoboam in contrast to father David (15:3). Ahaziah’s
case is compounded in that he not only walked in the evil ways of his father
Ahab but also of his mother Jezebel (22:52–54 [ET, 51–53]).
The Ἰουδαῖοι in the Gospel of John 119

3.5 Imperial Collaborators

Urban von Wahlde suggests that the Ἰουδαῖοι who are Jesus’ antagonists were
ruling class elites.51 But distinguishing between common people and rulers
fails to account for situations where Ἰουδαῖοι from the former group interact
with Jesus. In fact, as Thatcher perceptively shows, one imperial collaborator is
none other than Judas,52 an Ἰουδαῖος who does not remain Jesus’ disciple. But
to von Wahlde’s credit, particular Ἰουδαῖοι are elite players in imperial systems.
On the one hand, some ruling elites are not antagonists. Jesus is exasper-
ated with the βασιλικός in 4:46, 49, but nevertheless heals his son. Nicodemus
is an ἄρχων τῶν Ἰουδαίων (3:1) who is among the chief priests and Pharisees
(7:45–52), and teams up with Joseph to bury Jesus (19:38–39). Although
he is never called a believer, he is not an opponent. Joseph of Arimathea’s
status is unclear, but his association with Nicodemus, his secret discipleship,
and his access to Pilate indicate that he may be a ruling elite. Further, in 12:42
many of the ἄρχοντες believe in Jesus. On the other hand, others are imperial
collaborators. In John the way the populace experiences the empire is indi-
rectly through a Roman governor, local elites who collaborate with Rome, and
other Romans who at times are indefinite but at other times include soldiers.
Pilate’s sudden appearance without explanation presumes that readers will
recognize him as a Roman prefect. He is also associated with a governor’s head-
quarters, and he plays a prefect’s role in interrogating and judging Jesus.
The portrayal of imperial collaborators is especially clear in John 11:47–50.
The high priest Caiaphas counsels a συνέδριον that it is expedient that one per-
son die for the people so that the whole nation might not perish. This mani-
fests a typical dilemma of imperial collaborators. Collaboration involves both
resistance and cooperation. Resistance appears in Caiaphas’s concern for the
survival of “this” τόπος, the nation, and the people.53 For the nation to maintain
identity and some autonomy, local ruling elites must preserve order. Otherwise,
the Romans will restore the pax Romana by violent force.
But collaborators also guard their own status. Caiaphas’s advice reflects this.
He does not say the death of one person is expedient for the sake of the people.
Virtually all interpreters understand Caiaphas’s advice to be addressed to the

51  Von Wahlde concludes that with the exception of 6:41, 52 (which he attributes to sec-
ondary redaction) the Johannine Jews are not the common people but authorities
(“Johannine ‘Jews,’” pp. 45–46).
52  Thatcher, Greater than Caesar, p. xix.
53  Thatcher’s portrayal of “Jewish religious authorities” (priests and Pharisees) as “auxilia-
ries” misses the dimension of resistance against Rome (Greater than Caesar, p. 46, see
51–52 and passim). Thus Jesus’s encounters with Pharisees and priests cannot be equated
with Roman rule. Rather, they may be collaborators.
120 Brawley

people as such. But Caiaphas explicitly addresses a συνέδριον with an emphatic

second person plural (11:49–50). It is expedient for “you” (this συνέδριον) that
one person die rather than risk the disarray of people following Jesus. True, the
recall of Caiaphas’s counsel in 18:14 reads: “Caiaphas was the one who advised
the Ἰουδαῖοι that it was better to have one person die for the people.” But which
way does the literary specification work? Does the introduction of Ἰουδαῖοι in
18:14 erase the specificity in 11:49–50? In terms of literary characterization, is it
not the other way around? Does not specificity in 11:49–50 delimit the Ἰουδαῖοι
in 18:14? Peter Tomson argues that a final redactor forgot the specificity of an
earlier stratum of tradition and generalized Pharisaic-rabbinic opponents as
the Ἰουδαῖοι.54 But this overlooks the “redactor’s” clear signal that this is an
analepsis. Moreover, characterization is cumulative and holistic,55 and is not to
be restricted to an alleged change that supposedly supplants earlier specifica-
tions. Rather, the two texts are to be read together. The variation that intro-
duces the Ἰουδαῖοι in 18:14 is yet another case where the specificity of 11:50
qualifies the identity of the Ἰουδαῖοι in 18:14. In sum, 18:14 recalls that Caiaphas
addressed ruling elites in a συνέδριον in 11:47.
Rome’s reliance on local elites to police their own people is widely attested.
Josephus demonstrates this when he says that the “high priests” are those
entrusted with internal order ( Jewish Antiquities 20.251). In one case near
Beth-horon, when a slave of the emperor was attacked and his freight stolen,
the Roman Prefect Cumanus sent soldiers to bring local elites to him in chains
to punish them for not arresting the perpetrators.56 If local ruling elites did
not maintain order, they would lose their status in imperial systems. Thus,
Caiaphas counsels that those gathered in a συνέδριον in 11:47 will lose their
status in the imperial system if they do not keep the peace.
Collaboration in imperial systems reappears in Jesus’ arrest and trial. For
the arrest itself, a Roman tribune and a cohort arrive with Judas and police
from the chief priests and Pharisees (18:3, 12). Similarly, as indicated above, the
recollection in 18:14 of Caiaphas’ advice to a συνέδριον in 11:49–50 underscores
that the collaborative pattern in 11:47–50 recurs in Jesus’ trial.
The transition from elliptic interrogations of Jesus before Annas and
Caiaphas to his thorough interrogation before Pilate is marked with uncer-
tainty. John 18:28 begins with an indefinite third person plural so that readers

54  Tomson, “ ‘Jews’ in John,” pp. 324–326.

55  On the cumulative nature of characterization see R. Barthes, S/Z (Hill & Wang, 1974), p. 67;
Culler, Structuralist Poetics, p. 203; R. Brawley, Centering on God: Meaning and Message in
Luke-Acts (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1990), p. 107.
56  Jewish War 2.228–229; Jewish Antiquities 20.113–114. See Jewish War 2.236–240.
The Ἰουδαῖοι in the Gospel of John 121

cannot determine precisely who takes Jesus to Pilate. But even though this
group is suddenly designated the Ἰουδαῖοι in 18:31, the context is specific
enough to demonstrate that these cannot be the people as such.57 In fact, the
group that hands Jesus over to Pilate includes the high priestly party (18:35).
They charge that Jesus is a malefactor, and their allusion to having no power to
put anyone to death accentuates their imperial collaboration. In the abstract,
Pilate can be read as widening Jesus’ accusers to the entire nation when he tells
him: “Your ἔθνος and the high priests handed you over to me” (18:35). But again,
the context qualifies Pilate’s reference, and ἔθνος here should be rendered as
“people.” “Your people and the high priests” are collaborators who handed
Jesus over, and in fact this statement also excludes Pilate from the in-group.
In contrast to “your people and the high priests,” Pilate is not an Ἰουδαῖος. But
unquestionably Jesus is.
Apparently it has escaped notice that Jesus’ immediate response in 18:36
stands over against both Pilate and the group who handed him over.58 When
Jesus says, “My kingdom is not ἐκ τοῦ κοσμοῦ τούτου,” interpreters jump out
of the narrative world and generalize the reference to mean something like a
distinction between a heavenly and an earthly world. But in its literary con-
text the demonstrative τούτου has an antecedent. At this point Barrett suggests
that talk of a kingdom seems to leave the Ἰουδαῖοι behind.59 On the contrary,
this world is the collaborators made up of “your people” and the chief priests
together with Pilate to whom they bring an accusation against Jesus. Jesus’
kingdom is an alternative to this world of imperial systems. Jesus then explains
his rejection of armed resistance against the specific Ἰουδαῖοι who arrested him
(18:36, recalling his rebuke of Peter’s swordplay in 18:11). Even if initial resis-
tance were to be successful, Rome’s response would be violent, triumphant

57  When H. de Jonge cites 18:31, 36; 19:7 as treating the Ἰουδαῖοι as “a large, monolithic, indis-
tinguishable mass,” he fails to differentiate to the extent that the text does (“The ‘Jews’ in
the Gospel of John,” in Bieringer, Anti-Judaism, pp. 239–259 esp. 239). Ashton claims that
Ἰουδαῖοι in the passion narrative “can only be those natives of Judea to whose compassion
and sense of nationhood Pilate appeals unavailingly” (“Identity and Function,” p. 48). This
neglects the qualifiers in the context. In the passion narrative, Ἰουδαῖοι function as a refer-
ence not to the Jewish populace but to Jerusalem ruling elites. See 19:6–7. Bultmann, John,
p. 124; Brown, John, vol. 1, p. lxxi; vol. 2, pp. 849, 851, 876.
58  But see the brief bracketed either/or note by K. C. Hanson and D. Oakman, Palestine in
the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflict (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1998),
p. 94, and Thatcher’s comment that Jesus’s kingdom is not from the world that Caesar
rules (Greater than Caesar, p. 74).
59  Barrett, “John and Judaism,” p. 407.
122 Brawley

repression. But Jesus claims again that his kingdom is not ἐντεῦθεν—not from
this world of violent coercion.
Stephen Moore contends initially that John portrays Jesus as politically
innocuous by having Pilate repeatedly declare him innocent.60 But what
became of Johannine irony? Pilate’s interchanges with Jesus are as capable
of multiple layers of meaning as are those with Nicodemus, and like the lat-
ter, Pilate reveals his ironic lack of awareness. But Moore has second thoughts
inspired by Pilate’s scourging of Jesus and concludes that John portrays
a “scathing indictment” of the imperial system that forces all its vassals into
subjection.61 Not only does Jesus declare here that his is an alternative
kingdom to the world of collaborative violence, John 12:31 also refers literally,
as Thatcher astutely observes, to the casting out of “the ruler of this world”—
none other than the emperor.62 Jesus’ kingdom is an alternative to imperial
systems. With this Moore has no quarrel inasmuch as he envisions God’s
βασιλεία annexing the world without military conquest.63 Jesus’ refusal to
answer Pilate’s interrogation develops this line further (19:9–10). Not merely
does he decline the role of a defendant in the judicial procedure, he even inter-
rogates Pilate and instructs him (18:34, 37). All of this implies that the interro-
gation is illegitimate—the perversion of justice is manifested in the prefect of
the Roman judicial system.
Jesus allows Pilate’s statement, “Therefore, you are a king,” to remain ironi-
cally ambiguous. But Jesus also defines his “kingship.” If he is a king, it is in
the sense of utilizing the power of persuasion by means of the truth (18:37).
Unquestionably this reiterates the nature of discipleship as living in truth
(8:32, 40, 45–46; 14:6). This time heeding truth means listening to Jesus’ voice.
This too should not be universalized, in spite of the translation in the New
Revised Standard Version: “everyone who belongs to the truth” (18:37, πᾶς ὁ ὢν
ἐκ τῆς ἀληθείας). The πᾶς is singular and followed by the article. Although it
is impossible to rule out an implicitly universalized “everyone,” πᾶς followed
by the article normally means “each one.”64 Pilate then becomes a victim of

60  S. Moore, Empire and Apocalypse: Postcolonialism and the New Testament (Bible in the
Modern World 12; Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2006), pp. 50–51.
61  Moore, Empire and Apocalypse, pp. 56–63 esp. 62–63.
62  Thatcher, Greater than Caesar, pp. 120–122.
63  Moore, Empire and Apocalypse, p. 70.
64  F. Blass and A Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early
Christian Literature (trans. Robert Funk; Chicago and London: University of Chicago
Press, 1961), § 413 (2).
The Ἰουδαῖοι in the Gospel of John 123

Johannine irony by asking, “What is truth?” (18:38)—Jesus has just told him
that the truth is heeding his voice.
When Pilate goes out to the Ἰουδαῖοι in 18:38, their continuing identity as
Jesus’ accusers is underscored by “again”—it is the same group. Although
Pilate’s reference to the “custom” to release a prisoner (18:39) finds little sup-
port in the cultural repertoire, in the narrative world it is a custom. But only a
group of local elites requests the release of Barabbas.
The identity of the Ἰουδαῖοι in Jesus’ trial is specified once more in the cry for
crucifixion. When Pilate comes out again in 19:6, those who shout “crucify him”
are the chief priests and their helpers. The Ἰουδαῖοι, who claim that according
to their law65 Jesus ought to die, because he claimed to be God’s son, is the
same group (19:7).
At this point Pilate responds with fear that at first glance seems unmoti-
vated. Why should he be afraid? On the one hand, since Roman emperors
claimed to be divi filius (“divine son”), for Jesus to make an equivalent claim
could raise the specter of subversion whereas up to this point Pilate has treated
Jesus as a bit player who does not threaten the empire.66 But is Pilate’s fear
aroused merely because Jesus claims to be God’s son or is it also because of the
reference by the Ἰουδαῖοι to their law? As Warren Carter demonstrates, collabo-
ration means that Rome’s representatives must also make concessions to and
support local elites.67 Pilate’s dilemma is how to negotiate local practice—in
this case “we have a law” (19:7)—and it may be on this part of his fear that the
Ἰουδαῖοι play.
Local ruling elites also threaten Pilate with potentially violating imperial
friendship. Rome used friendship to put a positive spin on its colonization
of other nations.68 But obligations of friendship put burdens not only on the
colonized but also on the colonizer. So these ruling elites use Rome’s claims
to friendship to awaken Pilate’s obligations. Granted, the question of friend-
ship with Caesar is also tied to the need to quell uprisings. To give a messianic

65  Interpreters tend to generalize the reference to “law” as indicating the whole of “the law”
as in opposition to Jesus. So Barrett, “John and Judaism,” p. 407; Tomson, “‘Jews’ in John,”
p. 328. Without the article, νόμος means “we have a law.”
66  Kavin Rowe suggested the parallel of son of God to claims of Roman emperors to me
(private communication).
67  W. Carter, Pontius Pilate: Portraits of a Roman Governor (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical
Press, 2001), p. 37.
68  J. Marchal, Hierarchy, Unity, and Imitation: A Feminist Rhetorical Analysis of Power
Dynamics in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (Academia Biblica 24; Atlanta: Scholars Press,
2006), p. 48.
124 Brawley

royal pretender free reign is to undermine Caesar’s imperial claims. But not to
be a friend of Caesar would mean that Pilate does not befriend the collabora-
tors who expected that their efforts to maintain order deserved the prefect’s
support. This dimension of friendship is attested in 1 Macc 14:38–43 where in
order to compete with Roman political influence, the Syrian King Demetrius
deemed the Hasmonean Simon a “friend” in a relationship that obligated him
to make concessions in return for obligations on Simon’s part.
From the time of Augustus emperors were also surrounded by an influential
group known as the “friends of Caesar.” All senators were candidates for this
circle, other patricians only if they were so designated. Although it is impossi-
ble to know whether Pilate’s post as prefect of Judea would make him a candi-
date to be so designated, such use of friendship in motivating politics appears
in a case of accusations among Roman senators who desist from their indict-
ments because the senators involved either were already Vespasian’s friends or
desired to be. At the end of his account of this incident Tacitus declares, “There
can be no more effectual instrument of good government than good friends”
(History 4.7).69 But most assuredly, the claim, “We have no king but Caesar”
(John 19:15), is not a confession of the populace but only of collaborators, as
would be expected.
In the interrogation and crucifixion, John shows little interest in assign-
ing blame, though Judas and the genesis of his behavior from ἀπωλεία
get the blame in 17:12. An exception is Jesus’ comparison of Pilate’s power
with the greater sin of the one who handed him over (19:11). But who
handed Jesus over? Judas? The devil? The high priestly group claims that
they handed Jesus over to Pilate (18:30). Pilate uses similar terminology to refer
to those who handed Jesus over to him (18:35). These all participate in handing
Jesus over for crucifixion. Without any one of these, Jesus may not have been
crucified. But also without the devil, it would not have happened (6:70; 13:2,
27; 14:30). Not only does the act interest John but also its source—the devil.
Finally, this brings us back to 8:44. For John, those who wish to kill Jesus derive
their behavior from the devil.

3.6 Positive Evaluations of Ἰουδαῖοι

Post-holocaust sensitivities are necessary for contemporary biblical interpre-
tation. Closely related, the ethics of interpretation makes it incumbent upon
interpreters not to make specific characters generic, and not to vilify them
beyond their literary characterization. By these criteria, Rudolf Bultmann

69  See E. Bammel, “φίλος τοῦ καίσαρος,” TLZ 77 (1952), pp. 205–210.
The Ἰουδαῖοι in the Gospel of John 125

precipitated a colossal abuse in equating “the Ἰουδαῖοι” with the “the world”70
as Jesus’ opponents. Cumulative characterization makes stereotyping Ἰουδαῖοι
unavoidable. But they are stereotyped primarily as misguided or unbelieving
rather than as enemies.71
Moody Smith has identified some features of John that cohere with positive
evaluations of aspects of early Judaism, including the biblical story of God’s
work with and in Israel and some perspectives on circumcision, law, scrip-
ture, and messianism itself. Further, John shares with Qumran a critique of
the Temple and cult without opposing them. Rather, Jesus makes a fundamen-
tal claim on the Temple as God’s house by saying what it is not (2:16).72 At
least four additional aspects of John imply positive characterizations of some

(1) The characterization of Nicodemus, who though never identified as a

believer, is at least positive, and he is a leader of the Ἰουδαῖοι (3:1; see 7:50;
(2) In solidarity with his people Jesus asserts to the Samaritan woman that
salvation is ἐκ τῶν Ἰουδαίων (4:22).74

70  Bultmann, John, pp. 86–87; R. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament (New York:
Scribner’s, 1955), vol. 2, pp. 26–27. Ashton follows Bultmann’s use of 1:10–11 to identify the
Ἰουδαῖοι with the world, even though Ἰουδαῖοι do not appear in these verses (“Identity,”
p. 49). Also E. Gräßer, “Die antijüdische Polemik im Joahnnesevangelium,” NTS 11 (1964–
65), pp. 74–90. See Kelber, “Metaphysics,” pp. 131–132; Reinhartz, “Johannine Community,”
pp. 137–138. Nicklas correctly notes that some Ἰουδαῖοι are comparable to but not identical
with the world (Ablösung und Verstrickung, p. 392).
71  See Nicklas, Ablösung und Verstrickung, pp. 156, 391, 393; F. Mussner, Tractate on the
Jews: The Significance of Judaism for the Christian Faith (trans. L. Swidler; Philadelphia:
Fortress), pp. 206–207, cf. 204–206; Hahn, “Die Juden,” p. 124.
72  Smith, “John,” esp. pp. 102–109. See Thomas Söding, “‘Was kann aus Nazareth schon
Gutes kommen?’ (Joh 1.46): Die Bedeutung des Judeseins Jesu im Johannesevangelium,”
NTS 46 (2000), pp. 21–41, 29–30. Spaulding, Commemorative Identities, pp. 33–36, 82, 104
and passim, emphasizes presumptions of the Temple’s significance as the place of God’s
presence in John and memnoic associations with established Temple traditions; see
K. Brown, “Temple Christology in the Gospel of John: Replacement Theology and Jesus as
the Self-Revelation of God” (MA Thesis; Trinity Western University; Langley, BC, Canada,
2010; https://www.academia.edu/8870006/ [accessed January 24, 2016]).
73  Against J.-M. Sevrin, “The Nicodemus Enigma: The Characterization and Function of an
Ambiguous Actor of the Fourth Gospel,” in Bieringer, Anti-Judaism, pp. 357–359 esp. 369.
74  Here Jesus’ Jewishness is thematic and programmatic (Söding, “‘Was kann aus Nazareth,”
pp. 24, 27). Thyen notes that this verse is constitutive for the entire relationship of John to
the Ἰουδαῖοι (“Heil kommt von den Juden,” p. 169).
126 Brawley

(3) Many Ἰουδαῖοι become believers. Two scholarly contributions call for

evaluation at this point. First, Reinhartz asserts that the term Ἰουδαῖος is never
used of a figure who is a believer.75 Apparently she means the singular is
never used for an individual believer, but as indicated above the singular
appears only three times. However, the plural identifies a number of believers
among the Ἰουδαῖοι. Second, Philip Esler claims that John develops a new
non-ethnic identity in which believers become children of God. But as Esler
knows well, nested identity allows for people to function with a salient facet of
identity under certain circumstances whereas in other situations other facets
attain prominence. Esler illustrates this with Jesus himself, who has an iden-
tity as a Galilean nested in his identity as an Ἰουδαῖος.76 Further, Esler’s claims
that this new identity is unlike identity as Ἰουδαῖοι77 and that the Johannine
community is “transethnic” mix categories that are not in tension. The issue
is rather which among various aspects of identity is salient in a given context,
and belonging to a group that remains in Jesus’ word in John 8 can be salient in
a particular context over the identity “σπέρμα Ἀβραάμ” without negating it. In
1:12 those who believe in Jesus become God’s children, and so in John many are
identified as children of God precisely as Ἰουδαῖοι. This identity remains even
as they belong to the children of God, which John takes to be a most important
group to which to belong. But as the belief of many Ἰουδαῖοι shows, the two
facets of identity are not mutually exclusive.
(4) The identification of Jesus as king of the Ἰουδαῖοι also represents them
positively (18:33, 37, 39; 19:3, 14, 15, 19–21). On the one hand, this terminology
rings mostly with sardonic overtones. On the other, the sardonicism is ironic in
unwittingly expressing truth.78 Thus, the irony confirms the thematic develop-
ment from the identification of Jesus as the king of Israel by Nathaniel, who is
“truly an Israelite” (1:47, 49), and by the crowd at Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem
(12:13–15). These references also participate in the thematic development of
the misunderstanding of Jesus’ kingship in 6:15; 18:36; 19:21. Nevertheless,
a crucial element in John’s characterization of Jesus is his depiction as king
of the Ἰουδαῖοι.

75  Reinhartz, “‘Jews’ and Jews,” p. 349.

76  Esler, “From Ioudaioi,” p. 130.
77  Esler, “From Ioudaioi,” p. 133.
78  Nicklas notes that the Ἰουδαῖοι are characterized from the beginning as ironic figures
(Absösung und Verstrickung, p. 156).
The Ἰουδαῖοι in the Gospel of John 127

What can never escape readers’ attention is that Jesus himself is an Ἰουδαῖος
from Galilee.79 John consistently subsumes Jesus’ Galilean identity as a part
of his being ἐκ τῶν Ἰουδαῖων. When the Baptizer speaks of “one who stands
among you” in 1:26, Jesus’ identity among other Ἰουδαῖοι is taken for granted.
Friend and foe agree about his identity as Jesus of Nazareth. On the one hand,
some say that Jesus of Nazareth is the one about whom Moses wrote in the
law and the prophets (1:41, 45). Some in a crowd and later some Pharisees use
Jesus’ Galilean identity to dismiss Jesus’ messianic identity but not his iden-
tity as part of his people (7:31, 40–41, 52). At Jesus’ arrest foes identify him as
Jesus of Nazareth, and Jesus’ confirmation of this with an “I am” saying is his
last identification of himself (18:5–8). Moreover, this is part of the inscription
on the cross. In short, the λόγος that becomes σάρξ is an Ἰουδαῖος.80 Surely
these positive identifications of some Ἰουδαῖοι and of Jesus as an Ἰουδαῖος
cannot be overlooked in assessing the evaluative perspective of the narrative
toward them.

4 Conclusion

Inasmuch as Ἰουδαῖοι often appear in John as antagonists over against the pri-
mary protagonist, their characterization resonates with negative overtones. But
this does not mean that they are devoid of particularities. The major conten-
tion of this essay is that specifications in John with respect to time, place, and
personages restrict them from being equated with the Ἰουδαῖοι in a historical
narrative outside the literary world of the Fourth Gospel. On the one hand, this
speaks against the irrational and disastrous transfer of guilt to the Jewish peo-
ple of later centuries, who had nothing to do with events in the Gospel of John.
On the other hand, it also speaks against transferring John’s characterization of
some Ἰουδαῖοι in John to the entire populace or, as it is often expressed, to the
historical relationship between “the church and the synagogue.” Interpreters
inevitably add their own touches to the Johannine portrait of the Ἰουδαῖοι. But
the ethics of interpretation makes it incumbent upon commentators to specify
only to the degree that the text does. The implications are considerable for any
interpreter, including the writer of this essay.

79  John emphasizes Jesus’ Jewish identity more strongly than any other document in the
New Testament (Söding, “Was kann,” pp. 21–22).
80  Söding, “Was kann,” p. 24.

Acts, the “Parting of the Ways” and the Use of the

Term ‘Christians’

Joseph B. Tyson

1 Introduction

It is a pleasure and an honor to be invited to contribute to a Festschrift for

John T. Townsend. In this essay I intend to bring together two matters that
have concerned both Professor Townsend and me for a number of years: the
book of Acts and Jewish-Christian relations.
Aspects of Jewish-Christian relations may be addressed at any number of
points in a history running from the first century to the present. Clearly, how-
ever, in order to assess the later history it is essential to consider the earlier
phases of these relationships. I intend here to focus attention on an early phase
of this history, one that has come to be referred to as the “parting of the ways.”
To raise questions about this “parting” is to inquire about how it was that the
Jesus movement, which began as a Jewish sect, became a religion separate from
and frequently hostile to Judaism. After a brief discussion of the present state
of scholarship on this topic, I will turn to an examination of the use of the term
“Christians” in Acts and to the problem of Acts’ date of composition. I intend
to show that the use of the term “Christians,” puzzling and even inexplicable in
a first-century document, is appropriate in one written in the second century.

2 The “Parting of the Ways”

Scholars have recently paid a great deal of attention to the question of the “part-
ing,” and some have become convinced that even this image is misleading.1

1  See, for example, A. H. Becker and A. Y. Reed (eds.), The Ways that Never Parted: Jews and
Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007);
D. Boyarin, Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity (Divinations: Rereading Late
Ancient Religion; Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004); J. D. G. Dunn (ed.),
Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways AD 70 to 135 (Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans,
1999); idem, The Partings of the Ways: Between Christianity and Judaism and Their Significance

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���6 | doi ��.��63/9789004324541_010

Acts, the “ Parting of the Ways ” 129

To speak of a “parting” is to suggest that groups that are amicable but experi-
encing stress have mutually agreed to go their separate ways. But the image
is too simple, because it assumes a degree of unity that probably did not
exist in the first several centuries. That is, it assumes that some people who
hitherto had seen themselves as part of a movement within a phenomenon
called “Judaism” gradually drifted away from it. What we know about the first
two centuries suggests that, not only is there no one thing that can be called
“Judaism,” neither was there a single phenomenon that could be identified as
“Christianity.” The image of “parting” would seem to ignore the diversity and
geographical distribution within both “Judaism” and “Christianity” during the
early centuries. Things must have happened at different times, for different
reasons, in different ways, and in different communities.
The complexity of the situation has increasingly been recognized by schol-
ars. James D. G. Dunn, for example, called attention to the change in his own
thinking about the issue of “parting.” In an essay first published in 1991 he sug-
gested that a final parting between Jews and Christians must have occurred
at the time of the Bar Kokhba war, 132–135 CE, or not later than the end of the
second century.2 In the preface to the second edition of this volume (published
in 2006), however, Dunn announced that further study had convinced him
that things were more complex than he had previously recognized. He wrote,
“What I began to see more clearly, however, is that if the beginning of the pro-
cess of the partings of the ways was much less clear-cut, then the outcome of
the process was even less clear-cut and the final parting a lot longer delayed
than I had allowed.”3 Dunn noted further that, as late as the fourth century,
Christian leaders were warning their followers about synagogue attendance,
and he concluded:

for the Character of Christianity (1st ed.; London: SCM Press, 1991; 2nd ed.; London: SCM Press,
2006); idem, Beginning from Jerusalem (Christianity in the Making 2; Grand Rapids, MI: W. B.
Eerdmans, 2009); J. Lieu, “ ‘The Parting of the Ways’: Theological Construct or Historical
Reality?” JSNT 56 (1994), pp. 101–119; eadem, Christian Identity in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman
World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); T. Nicklas, Jews and Christians? Second Century
‘Christian’ Perspectives on the ‘Parting of the Ways’ (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014); H. Shanks
(ed.), Partings: How Judaism and Christianity Became Two (Washington: Biblical Archaeology
Society, 2013); E. W. Stegemann and W. Stegemann, The Jesus Movement: A Social History of its
First Century, (trans. by O. C. Dean, Jr.; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1999); R. L. Wilken,
John Chrysostom and the Jews: Rhetoric and Reality in the Late 4th Century (Eugene, OR: Wipf
& Stock, 2004); M. Zetterholm, The Formation of Christianity in Antioch: A Social-Scientific
Approach to the Separation between Judaism and Christianity (London: Routledge, 2003).
2  Dunn, Partings, (1st ed.), p. 243.
3  Dunn, Partings, (2nd ed.), p. xix.
130 Tyson

The fact that such rebukes and warnings are to be found so frequently
through this period tells us two things. One is that such a perception
of the continuing overlap of Judaism and Christianity was widespread
among Christians of the period. The other is that it was the Christian
leadership which considered it necessary to press for a much clearer and
sharper divide between the ways of Christianity and Judaism. An appro-
priate question, however, is whether it was the Christian leadership or
the ‘ordinary Christians’ who were being truer to the heritage of first-
century Christianity.4

Thus Dunn is convinced that we must describe the “parting” in a more quali-
fied way: “So, early for some, or demanded by a leadership seeking clarity or
self-definition, but for many ordinary believers and practitioners there was a
long lingering embrace which was broken finally only after the Constantinian
settlement.”5 It is in this sense that Dunn uses the plural, “Partings,” for his title.
For Dunn it is important to insist that there were many such “partings” and
that one cannot speak of the situation in the singular. He therefore can speak
of separations between Jesus believers and Jews in the time of Paul as well as
in the time of Bar Kokhba.
Although the qualifications that Dunn acknowledges are significant, some
scholars have even doubted that it is useful to think of “partings” at all. Such
doubts are signaled in the volume edited by Adam H. Becker and Annette
Yoshiko Reed, The Ways That Never Parted, published in 2007.6 In explaining
the title, the editors write: “We wish to call attention to the ample evidence
that speaks against the notion of a single and simple ‘Parting of the Ways’
in the first or second century CE and, most importantly, against the assump-
tion that no meaningful convergence ever occurred thereafter.”7 The editors
call attention to differences between the ideology of the leaders and facts on
the ground, an issue that Dunn also acknowledges. Leaders seem to be far more
intent to make distinctions than do the followers, as we see most clearly at the
time of John Chrysostom (ca. 349–407 CE). John Gager, in the Becker-Reed vol-
ume, makes the point in reference to the leadership forcefully: “To be blunt, it
was very much in the interest of triumphant Christian elites—theological as

4  Dunn, Partings, (2nd ed.), p. xx.

5  Ibid., p. xxiv.
6  See Becker and Reed, The Ways that Never Parted.
7  Becker and Reed, The Ways that Never Parted, p. 22.
Acts, the “ Parting of the Ways ” 131

well as ecclesiastical—to stress separation and to create the image of a defini-

tive ‘Parting of the Ways.’”8
More recently, Tobias Nicklas has questioned the utility of the concept of
“parting.” He suggests rather the use of an image of a bush. He writes:

Perhaps we could better use the image of a very robust bush without just
one long trunk, but with a lot of bigger and smaller, stronger and weaker
branches, who not only influence each others’ growing in many ways, but
partly blocking [sic] each other in their mutual way to catch as much as
possible from the sun. . . . Even, however, if some branches seem stronger
than the others and even if some of them try to block the others in their
way to the sun, all of them drink from the same source, and all of them
want to reach the same light.9

Nicklas’ analogy may press too many points, but it at least speaks to the
complexity of the situation. Judith Lieu’s explorations of the emergence of
Christian identity shed light on the issue of “parting” without specifying a
moment of irreparable separation. In her Christian Identity in the Jewish and
Graeco-Roman World, Lieu begins by questioning the meaning of Polycarp’s
self-identification as “Christian.” She recognizes that the document in which
the term appears post-dates the time of Polycarp himself, but she nevertheless
finds it appropriate to ask what the identification meant at the time the letter
from Smyrna to Philomelium was composed. Her study is a helpful attempt
to engage our texts to determine the ways in which early believers thought
of themselves as distinguished from others. The use of “Christian” as a term
of self-identity is a part of this endeavor. She cautions that most texts lack an
identification and that we should not find this surprising. She writes, “As we
have seen, ‘Jewish’ texts do not necessarily identify themselves as such. More
broadly within the Graeco-Roman world, most cults, if it is with such that
we are to align ‘the Christ-cult’, did not have a distinct name for their devo-
tees: there is no word for a worshipper of Mithras, and ‘Isiac’ is rare.”10 The
term “Christian” has its uses but does not appear to be a primary form of self-
identification until the third century.11

8  J. G. Gager, “Did Jewish Christians See the Rise of Islam?” in Becker and Reed (eds.), The
Ways that Never Parted, pp. 368–369.
9  Nicklas, Jews and Christians? pp. 223–224.
10  Lieu, Christian Identity, p. 250.
11  See Lieu, Christian Identity, p. 259.
132 Tyson

3 “Christians” in Acts

It is not my purpose in this brief article to try to solve problems relating to the
“parting of the ways” between early Jews and early Christians. Such a complex
phenomenon requires much more consideration than can be given here. My
interest, rather, is in the role that the New Testament book of Acts may or may
not play in considerations about the phenomenon of “parting.” Indeed, it is
important to note that Acts has received relatively little attention among those
scholars who have dealt with issues relating to the “parting.” This is not to say
that Acts has been totally neglected. The focus of interest, however, has chiefly
been the examination of various episodes in Acts as potentially valuable his-
torical resources. Most scholars who have made use of Acts in their discussions
of the “parting” have assumed that it contains at least some reliable history.
In these discussions, the conflict between Hebrews and Hellenists, followed
by the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 6–7), is often judged to be the first sign
of a break between Christians and Jews, and Paul’s mission to Gentiles (from
Acts 14 on) is understood to have stretched the bounds of Jewish tolerance.
James Dunn included a significant treatment of Acts in the volume he
edited, Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways A.D. 70 to 135.12 His essay
was an exploration of anti-Judaism in the New Testament, and in it he treated
Acts, Matthew, and John. In respect to Acts, Dunn was mainly concerned to
address the work of Jack Sanders, who had forcefully emphasized the anti-
Judaism of Luke-Acts.13 Dunn concludes that Sanders overstated the case, and
that Acts was much more positive toward the Jewish heritage than Sanders had
Dunn was able to devote more attention to Acts in The Partings of the Ways.15
His interest here is in determining what light Acts may shed on the history
of the early Jesus movement. He thus understands the episode involving the
Hebrews, the Hellenists, and Stephen as a way of informing readers about the
first of several “partings.” He writes:

12  See Dunn, “The Question of Anti-semitism in the New Testament Writings of the Period,”
in Dunn (ed.), Jews and Christians, pp. 177–211.
13  See J. T. Sanders, The Jews in Luke-Acts (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987).
14  See Dunn, “The Question of Anti-semitism,” p. 195. At the beginning of the essay, Dunn
cautions that any exploration of anti-Judaism in this early period is hampered by the
fact that Judaism itself is under construction. This point finds support in a contention
that Dunn makes elsewhere, namely that the growing influence of Rabbinic Judaism is a
major factor in the breakup between Judaism and Christianity.
15  See Dunn, Partings, 2nd ed., pp. 76–99.
Acts, the “ Parting of the Ways ” 133

So far as the Temple is concerned, this major pillar of second Temple

Judaism, the Stephen episode marks the beginning of a clear parting of
the ways, between Christian and Jew, as also probably to some extent
between “Hebrew” Christian and “Hellenist” Christian—at all events
the first rending of a major seam in a Judaism still best designated “second
Temple Judaism.” 16

Dunn then examines possible departures from the other roots of “common
Judaism,” namely, monotheism, the law, and the people of Israel.
This reconstruction depends in part on the date at which we suppose Acts
to have been composed. Clearly, Dunn and many others assume this date to
have been in the late first century, c. 80 CE, when traditions about events in the
early days might still be alive. This date for the composition of Acts, or some-
thing approximating it, has long been held by leading New Testament scholars.
In fact, however, most recent scholars have given little significant attention to
the dating of Acts. A first-century date for the composition of Acts continues
to serve as the consensus date for critical scholars, even if there is little enthu-
siasm for it.17

16  Dunn, Partings, 2nd ed., pp. 94–95; emphasis in original.

17  Joseph Fitzmyer, in his Anchor Bible commentary on Acts, provides reasons for an early
and a late date for Acts, but then he opts for an intermediate date of c. 80–85 CE. He
comments: “Many NT interpreters use the date AD 80–85 for the composition of Luke-
Acts, and there is no good reason to oppose that date, even if there is no real proof for it”
(J. A. Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles [Anchor Bible 31; New York: Doubleday, 1998],
p. 54). He concludes the section on date and place of composition with the surprising
comment: “In the long run, it is a matter of little concern when or where Luke-Acts was
composed, since the interpretation of it, especially of Acts, depends little on its date or
place of composition” (Fitzmyer, Acts, p. 55). Scott Spencer, in one paragraph, expresses
his agreement with most scholars in dating Acts between 70–100 CE (F. S. Spencer, Acts
[Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997], p. 16). Ben Witherington acknowledges most
of the pertinent issues for the date of Acts and comments on each one, concluding,
“All in all, the late 70s or early 80s seems most likely for the date when Acts was composed”
(B. Witherington, III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary [Grand
Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 1998], p. 62). Jacob Jervell notes that Acts would have been
written after Luke, which he dates about 70 CE. On the terminus ad quem, he says that
“the ecclesiastical relations assumed by Luke, with a very strong Jewish Christianity, are
no longer conceivable in the second century” (J. Jervell, Die Apostelgeschichte [Kritisch-
exegeticher Kommentar über das Neue Testament; Gőttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht,
1998], p. 86). So Jervell goes for a time between 80–90 CE for Acts. In his commentary
on Acts in the Sacra Pagina series, Luke Timothy Johnson has no information about the
date of Acts but refers readers to the volume on Luke, where he notes the traditional
134 Tyson

Recently Richard I. Pervo extensively examined the issue of Acts’ date of

composition and concluded that the probable date was the first quarter of the
second century, approximately 115–120 CE.18 His argument draws on a number
of studies showing that the author of Acts knew and used some of the works of
Josephus, that he was knowledgeable about a number of events that occurred
in the early second century, and that his thought appropriately coheres with
that expressed in other Christian writings of the period. In my own study,
Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle, I attempted to build upon Pervo’s
scholarship and, following John Knox, proposed a possible context for the writ-
ing of the work. I concluded that Acts was written, in part, as a counterweight
to the challenge of Marcion.19 In my judgment, the arguments for a second-
century date for the composition of Acts are convincing.20
Reading Acts as a second-century document may shed light on issues relat-
ing to the “partings” between “Jews” and “Christians.” To be sure, the narra-
tive of Acts is complex in portraying these relationships. On the one hand, the
apostles and Paul are shown to be loyal Jews. Paul is a Pharisee who observes
Torah and believes the Holy Scriptures (see Acts 21:24; 22:3; 23:6; 24:14; 25:8;

assignments and the critical challenges, with little detail. But Johnson intends to retain
the consensus critical view of the date of Acts along with the traditional attribution to
Luke, a contemporary of Paul. He says that, “nothing in the writing prohibits composition
by a companion of Paul who was eyewitness to some events he narrates.” (L. T. Johnson,
The Gospel of Luke [Sacra Pagina 3; Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991], p. 2; see also
idem, The Acts of the Apostles [Sacra Pagina 5; Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press,
1992] and idem, “Luke-Acts, Book of,” in D. N. Freedman [ed.], Anchor Bible Dictionary
[New York: Doubleday, 1992], vol. 4, pp. 403–420). So Johnson falls in line with most mod-
ern critics in dating Acts 80–85 CE. In his commentary, C. K. Barrett has a great deal of
information that bears on the date of Acts, but he has surprisingly few explicit comments
about it. He understands Acts as “the history of the church in a time of conflict written
in a time of consensus.” (C. K. Barrett, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts
of the Apostles [International Critical Commentary; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1998], vol. 2,
p. lxiii). But when was this? Barrett says, “So far it may seem probable (though anything
but certain) that Acts was written in the late 80s or early 90s” (Barrett, Acts, vol. 2, p. xlii).
18  See R. I. Pervo, Dating Acts: Between the Evangelists and the Apologists (Santa Rosa, CA:
Polebridge Press, 2006).
19  See J. B. Tyson, Marcion and Luke Acts: A Defining Struggle (Columbia, SC: University of
South Carolina Press, 2006); see also J. Knox, Marcion and the New Testament: An Essay in
the Early History of the Canon (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942).
20  It is notable that, over thirty years ago, John T. Townsend, the honoree of this Festschrift,
argued for a second-century date for Acts. See his article, “The Date of Luke-Acts,” in
C. H. Talbert (ed.), Luke-Acts: New Perspectives from the Society of Biblical Literature
Seminar (New York: Crossroad, 1984), pp. 47–62.
Acts, the “ Parting of the Ways ” 135

26:5, 22). On the other hand, wherever he goes in Acts Paul meets with fierce
opposition from Jews (see especially Acts 13:13–52; 14:1–7; 17:1–9, 10–15; 18:1–17).
What this may reveal about the social situation of the author of Acts requires
extensive investigation, which cannot be engaged here.
In addition to the broader treatment of “Jews” and “Christians” in Acts, it is
of interest to look at the names that the author uses to designate the believing
community. Names may be used to define and identify groups and to distin-
guish them from other groups and so give us a clue as to the author’s aware-
ness of the contemporary situation. Perhaps the most helpful study of these
names in Acts is that of Henry J. Cadbury, published over eighty years ago.21
Cadbury began his article with the observation, “New religions or sects often
arise without any intention of separateness. The members find themselves iso-
lated or set apart by unpremeditated circumstances. Their opponents often
become aware of their difference before they do themselves, or find reason
to name them. Thus nicknames sometimes precede names.”22 Cadbury then
proceeded to deal with some nineteen terms used in Acts for this purpose. The
most frequently used term is “disciples,” but other terms, such as “believers,”
“saved,” “righteous,” also appear. He noted that the most unusual term is “the
way,” (the unmodified ὁδός). Cadbury added, “The expression with dependent
genitives κυρίου or θεοῦ occurs at xviii. 25, 26, and is quite in accordance with
Jewish idiom.”23
Of all the terms that Cadbury examines, the most interesting for our pur-
poses is “Christian(s)” (Acts 11:26; 26:28). Here is a distinctive term that differ-
entiates Jesus believers in a way that the other terms do not. Followers of “the
way” may designate those who adhere to certain halachic principles, and “dis-
ciples” suggests students who are devoted to a master. But the term, “Christian,”
with its allusion to ὁ Χριστός, points to a group of messianic believers who are
in some ways related to other Jewish groups but are nevertheless distinct.
The term Χριστιανός appears in Acts only twice, so that it cannot be regarded
as Luke’s favorite designation for Jesus believers. The first appearance is in Acts
11:26, in a context in which the author is probably narrating “an Antioch ver-
sion of Christian origins.”24 In this version Barnabas brings Saul from Tarsus

21  H. J. Cadbury, “Names for Christians and Christianity in Acts,” in F. J. Foakes Jackson and
K. Lake (eds.), The Acts of the Apostles (London: Macmillan, 1920–33; reprint, Grand
Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1979), vol. 5, pp. 375–392.
22  Ibid., p. 376.
23  Ibid., p. 391.
24  D. E. Smith and J. B. Tyson (eds.), Acts and Christian Beginnings: The Acts Seminar Report
(Salem, OR: Polebridge Press, 2013), p. 136.
136 Tyson

to Antioch, and the two missionaries teach huge crowds. Then Luke adds:
χρηματίσαι τε πρώτως ἐν Ἀντιοχείᾳ τοὺς μαθητὰς Χριστιανούς (“and it was in
Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians’”). The form of the Greek
word, Χριστιανοί, is from the Latin Christiani, suggesting that the designation
came originally from Romans. Dunn concludes that it was probably “coined by
the Roman authorities in Antioch on the analogy of Herodians (Hērōdianoi)
or Caesarians, the party of Caesar, or possibly members of Caesar’s household
(Kaisarianoi).”25 Cadbury had long before questioned this conclusion:

It is sometimes inferred from the form that it was made by Gentiles rather
than by Jews or Christians. Acts does not say so; it does not even say that
Christians was first used of Gentile converts, though in a single context
it refers to two innovations at Antioch—preaching to Gentiles, and this

Further, Dunn’s suggestion implausibly assumes the reliability of Luke’s state-

ment. Given the number, diversity, and geographic spread of Christian com-
munities (either in the late first or the early second century), how could the
author of Acts (or members of the Antioch community) have determined
where and under what circumstances a term was first used? This is a noto-
riously difficult undertaking even in modern times and for relatively recent
events. It may be that Antioch laid claim to this precedence and that Luke was
aware of the claim, but this is probably the most we could say.
The statement in Acts 11:26 implies that the author is attempting to provide
his readers with some historical background. The verse assumes that the read-
ers are aware that the term is characteristically applied to Jesus believers and
that such readers are interested in the history of the designation. Cadbury is
probably right to observe that “Luke’s statement implies not merely that the
first occurrence of the name was at Antioch, but that there were subsequent
occurrences known to him.”27 It is also worthwhile to note that the claim that
the term “Christian” was first applied to believers in Antioch, if conceded,
would magnify the significance of this community.
Despite the problems, many scholars have been primarily interested in the
possible historical reliability of Acts 11:26. C. K. Barrett, for example, opines that
if Luke meant to say that the term, “Christian,” was actually used as early as the

25  Dunn, Beginning from Jerusalem, pp. 303–304.

26  Cadbury, “Names,” p. 385.
27  Ibid., p. 386.
Acts, the “ Parting of the Ways ” 137

40s CE, he probably was mistaken.28 Luke Johnson seems to accept Acts 11:26 as
historical but notes that the term, “Christian,” probably arose as a disparaging
designation among the movement’s opponents.29 More often the reference in
Acts is dismissed without explanation but with the observation that the name
“Christian” probably arose late in the first century or early in the second.30
Luke uses the term, “Christian,” again in Acts 26:28. The verse is part of the
pericope in Acts 25:23–26:32 that tells of Paul’s defense before Agrippa. This
is a climactic scene, toward which Acts has been built by narrating hearings
in Jerusalem before the Roman tribune (21:37–22:29) and the Jewish council
(22:30–23:11), and in Caesarea before Felix (24:1–27) and Festus (25:1–12). At the
conclusion of this last hearing, Agrippa tells Festus that Paul could have been
released if he had not appealed to Caesar (26:32).
After Paul’s impressive defense before Agrippa, the King responds, ἐν
ὀλίγῳ με πείθεις Χριστιανὸν ποιῆσαι (“Are you trying to make me a Christian in
such short order?” Acts 26:28). This translation is by Pervo, who nevertheless
observes, “The meaning and translation of this verse are uncertain. Textual
variants indicate that the questions have a long history.”31 Much attention has
been paid to the phrase, ἐν ὀλίγῳ, which may refer either to a short amount of
time or to little effort. Pervo apparently comes down on the side of time, but
Barrett, who makes use of the following verse to interpret the phrase, thinks it
must refer to effort.32 Further, the meaning of ποιῆσαι in this verse is unclear.
Ernst Haenchen said that it was a technical term used in the theater, where
it referred to playing a part, and he translated the verse, “Soon you will con-
vince me to play the Christian.”33 But Barrett, again drawing on the verse that

28  See Barrett, Acts, vol. 1, p. 556.

29  Johnson, Acts, p. 205.
30  But see E. J. Bickerman, “The Name of Christians,” HTR 42 (1949), pp. 109–124. Bickerman
argues that the believers themselves coined the term, “Christian,” but that they contin-
ued to think of themselves as constituting a Jewish movement. He concluded, “The name
shows that at this date, in the first decade after the end and glory of Jesus, his follow-
ers continued to think of him according to Jewish patterns of thought. They were still
a Jewish movement, who believed themselves to be the ‘third order’ called to enter the
Kingdom of Heaven, and who, as such, declared to the pagan world that they were officers
of the Anointed King in his kingdom, which was a present reality” (p. 124).
31  R. I. Pervo, Acts: A Commentary (Hermeneia: Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2009), p. 637.
32  See Barrett, Acts, vol. 2, pp. 1170–1171.
33  E. Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary (trans. B. Noble, G. Shinn,
H. Anderson, and R. M. Wilson; Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1971), p. 689.
138 Tyson

follows, rejects this translation: “He is not speaking of ‘playing the Christian’
but of being made a Christian; this is confirmed by Paul’s answer.”34
As with Acts 11:26, so here, for our purposes the main thing to note is sim-
ply that the author used the designation, “Christian.” What Luke evidently
intends to convey to the reader is the power of Paul’s persuasive abilities. One
so mighty as a king can entertain the possibility of being persuaded by Paul
to convert. It is reasonable to doubt that Agrippa uttered these or any similar
sentiments, but this would miss the point that the author of Acts here displays
acquaintance with the term, “Christian.”
It is difficult to digest the significance of Luke’s use of the term, “Christian,”
if we accept the traditional critical date for Acts in the first century. No other
first-century writer uses the term.35 The references appear to be anomalies,
ahead of their time. If, however, we accept Pervo’s contentions and find it rea-
sonable to date the composition of Acts to the first quarter of the second cen-
tury and if we focus on the possible context of its writing rather than on its
historical reliability, the use of the term “Christian” in Acts may be seen to be
Although it is not frequent, the term is used by both Christian and non-
Christian writers. In addition to the two references in Acts, 1 Peter 4:16 con-
stitutes the only other New Testament usage.36 Here the author cautions his
readers not to undergo suffering on account of murder, theft, or the like. But if
they suffer as “Christians” they should not be ashamed, but should glorify God
in this name (εἰ δὲ ὡς Χριστιανός, μὴ αἰσχυνέσθω, δοξαζέτω δὲ τὸν θεὸν ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι
τούτῳ). The situation behind these words is evidently one in which Christians
were being vilified by the dominant culture. The letters of Ignatius, presum-
ably written in the first quarter of the second century, reveal that by then the
term had become customary. Ignatius uses both “Christian” and “Christianity”
a number of times in his letters. In Ephesians 11:2 the bishop claims to share
in the suffering of Jesus and hopes for the resurrection. In so doing he “will be
found to share the lot of the Ephesian Christians [ἵνα ἐν κλήρω Ἐφεσίων εὐρεθῶ
τῶν Χριστιαμῶν], who have always agreed with the apostles by the power of
Jesus Christ.”37 He can speak equally of Christianity and Judaism, as oppos-
ing systems. Judaism, he says, deceives with “false opinions” and “old fables”

34  Barrett, Acts, vol. 2, p. 1171.

35  Except possibly 1 Peter, the date of which is uncertain (see below).
36  The date of 1 Peter is uncertain and, in the scholarly literature, ranges from the 60s to the
early second century. For a discussion of the dating of 1 Peter, see P. J. Achtemeier, 1 Peter
(Hermeneia; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996), pp. 43–50.
37  Ignatius, To the Ephesians, 11:2 (Ehrman, LCL).
Acts, the “ Parting of the Ways ” 139

and does not enable us to receive “God’s gracious gift.”38 He admonishes his
readers to “learn to live according to Christianity [κατὰ Χριστιανισμὸν],”39 and
he adds the well-known but troublesome passage about the relationship
of the two religious systems: “It is outlandish to proclaim Jesus Christ and
practice Judaism [ἄτοπόν ἐστιν, Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν λαλεῖν καὶ ἰουδαιζειν]. For
Christianity did not believe in Judaism, but Judaism in Christianity [ὁ γάρ
Χριστιανισμὸς οὐκ εἰς Ἰουδαισμὸν ἐπίστευσεν, ἀλλ’Ιουδαισμὸς εἰς Χριστιανισμόν] in
which every tongue that believes in God has been gathered together.”40 It is
true that Ignatius does not use the terms with great frequency, but the refer-
ences are sufficient to show that they are familiar to him and need no explana-
tion among those who would receive the letters.
Roman writers of the early second century are aware of the name “Christian”
even if they have little understanding of its origin or meaning. In the Annals
15:44, Tacitus notes that Christians were blamed for the fire that consumed
much of Rome in Nero’s time. Christians, he says, formed “a class hated for
their abominations,” and he describes their religion as “a most mischievous
superstition.” Suetonius does not use the term “Christian,” but in the Life of
Claudius 25:4 he states that Jews were expelled from Rome due to disturbances
caused by one “Chrestus,” almost certainly a misunderstanding of the title
“Christus.” The letters exchanged between Pliny the Younger and the emperor
Trajan likewise reveal that by the second decade of the second century the
terms in question had become commonplace.41 Pliny and Trajan take it for
granted that the trouble-makers in Bithynia are called “Christians,” and they
are aware of some of their practices.
If Acts was composed in the first quarter of the second century, as I think
likely, the use of the term “Christian” constitutes no problem. It is simply
appropriate, since by then it is a familiar term used by both believers and
non-believers to specify the Jesus movement and its members. We need not
think that the references are historically reliable, that it was in Antioch that
disciples were first called Christians or that Herod Agrippa admitted that Paul

38  Ignatius, To the Magnesians, 8:1 (Ehrman, LCL).

39  Ibid., 10:1 (Ehrman, LCL).
40  Ibid., 10:3 (Ehrman, LCL). Ignatius’s explanation of the relationship of Judaism and
Christianity has received a number of diverse interpretations. It is sufficient here to
observe simply that he is aware that the two are different but related entities. See also
Ignatius, To the Romans, 3:2–3; To the Philadelphians, 6:1; To Polycarp, 7:3. The term is also
found in the Didache 12:4, but the reference is problematic because of the document’s
uncertain date.
41  Pliny the Younger, Letters 10.96–97.
140 Tyson

almost persuaded him to be a Christian. It is enough simply to recognize that

the author of Acts was aware of the term and used it appropriately. Even if it is
not his favorite term for the believers, his use of it in 11:26 and 26:28 reveals his
acquaintance with it.

4 Conclusion

This study suggests that the evidence from Acts should not be ignored in discus-
sions of the “parting of the ways,” as it is by proponents of a first-century date
for the composition of Acts. The references in Acts to “Christians” are not just
puzzling anomalies. Rather, together with other such references from the early
second century, they support the probability that at least some Jesus believers
were by then becoming recognized as forming a distinct movement and that
they so recognized themselves.42 As a second-century text, Acts should be
read as providing meaningful evidence for the emergence of Christianity as a
movement related to but distinct from Judaism. Although the author of Acts
frequently stresses the opposition of Jews to the Christian movement, his nar-
rative does not provide sufficient evidence to indicate the degree of distinction
that the “Christians” may have achieved or sought. Nevertheless, Acts displays
a sense of identity for the Jesus movement that seems to fit better in the second
century than in the first.

42  For a different approach see M. Kotrosits, Rethinking Early Christian Identity: Affect,
Violence, and Belonging (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2015). Kotrosits approaches the
study of early Christian identity as part of a “social-affective landscape,” shaped largely
by the experience of living in the Diaspora. She eloquently maintains that the sense of
“Christianity” as a movement in the first two centuries was slippery. About the use of the
term in Acts she writes: “‘Christian’ in this exchange [in Acts 26:28] is therefore a flip-
pant smear, a momentary designation that worriedly puts a kind of upper limit on the
contingencies of affiliation. Again, alongside of Ignatius and 1 Peter, this scene seems to
confirm ‘Christian’ as an imperial slander: Acts is archaizing and particularizing the scene
by placing it in the story of Paul. Acts’ earlier use of the term in 11:26, then, amounts to
a similarly archaizing use of the term. I would emphasize that this use, particularly as
a passive construction, is still conflicted, and not indicative of any program for Acts or
of any comprehensive understanding of identity. ‘Christian’ in Acts’ historical place and
moment, is both marginal and necessary to account for; both wounding and beside the
point.” (Kotrosits, Rethinking, pp. 104–105). There is much to admire in Kotrosits’ book. I
think she would not disagree with my modest claim here, namely that the author of Acts,
writing in the second century, was aware of the term “Christian” and used it appropriately.
Chapter 10

Early Christian Attitudes toward ‘Things Jewish’

as Narrated by Textual Variants in Acts:
A Case Study of the D-Textual Cluster*
Eldon J. Epp

1 Introduction: The Dual Textual Streams in Acts

This essay will pursue two goals. The first and immediate purpose is descrip-
tive: How do several variation units in the New Testament Acts of the Apostles
reveal differing attitudes toward ‘things Jewish’ in the earliest period of
developing Christianity? The second more complex and far-reaching goal is
methodological: How does this group of variation units cast light on the group-
ing of textual witnesses found in the text of Acts? Both matters require careful
attention to detail, and the second lies at the center of a major contemporary
issue in New Testament textual criticism, namely the nature and, indeed, the
very existence of ‘text-types’ in Acts—now commonly called textual clusters.
Over the past three centuries or more, but especially since the late nine-
teenth century, the text of the Acts of the Apostles has been recognized to
have been transmitted in two early, but considerably different textual
streams. One is now designated the B-Textual Cluster (commonly called the
Alexandrian text), and the other the D-Textual Cluster (long but incorrectly
named the ‘Western’ text).1 Each cluster is so-named after its leading manu-
script: The former is Codex Vaticanus or Codex B (symbol = B-03, mid-fourth
century) and the latter is Codex Bezae or Codex D (symbol = D-05, ca. 400 CE).
Codex B is a ‘purer’ representative of its cluster than Codex D is representative
of the D-Textual Cluster. That is, Codex D cannot, by any means, be assumed at
every point to represent its cluster. Actually, there are extant only four or five

*  After fifty years, this essay, in part, revisits portions of the author’s The Theological Tendency of
Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis in Acts (Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 3;
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966), now with frequent text-critical updates,
reformulations and refinements in statements and argumentation, and new methodological
evidence and conclusions.
1  ‘Textual cluster’ is a term rapidly replacing ‘text-type,’ which is felt to be too rigid a concept
when assessing the actual nature of the traditional early text-types. ‘Cluster’ appears to be
preferable to ‘group’ or textual ‘stream.’

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���6 | doi ��.��63/9789004324541_011

142 Epp

Greek manuscripts of Acts that can be identified as primary witnesses to this

textual group; all other primary witnesses occur in the languages of several
early New Testament versions. It is important, then, to introduce these primary
witnesses (and later on, the secondary witnesses):

Primary Witnesses to the D-Textual Cluster in Acts

Note: Primary witnesses will appear in bold face when listed below
in support of textual variations.
Name/symbol, date, contents of Acts are provided below.

Greek manuscripts (the four papyri are highly fragmentary):

Codex Bezae (D-05, ca. 400), Acts (lacking 8:29–10:14; 21:2–10, 16–18; 22:10–20, 29–end).
P29 (third century), Acts 26:7–8, 20.
P38 (third century), Acts 18:27–19:6, 12–16.
P48 (third century), Acts 23:11–17, 25–29.
P127  (fifth century), Acts 10:32–35, 40–45; 11:2–5; 11:30–12:3, 5, 7–9; 15:29–30, 34–41; 16:1–4,
13–40; 17:1–10. (Status as a primary witness may require further study.)
Old Latin manuscripts (Beuron numbers provided):
d (5, Codex Bezae [Latin side], ca. 400), Acts.
h (55, Fleury Palimpsest, fifth century), Acts 3:2–4:18; 5:23–7:2; 7:42–8:2; 9:4–24; 14:5–23;
17:34–18:19; 23:8–24; 26:20–27:13.
l (67, León palimpsest, seventh century), Acts, Old Latin portions: 8:27–11:13; 15:6–12, 26–38
(Other preserved portions are Vulgate).
Coptic manuscript G67 (middle Egyptian, fourth century),2 Acts 1:1–15:3. Cited here as copG67,
but as copmae (in Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece) and copmeg (in United Bible
Societies’ Greek New Testament).
Syriac witnesses:3
syhmg  (Syriac Harklean marginal readings), Acts, though the marginal read-
ings originated from Greek manuscripts consulted by Thomas of Harkel
(616 CE).

2  Manuscript copG67 usually is dated to the late fourth or fifth century, though D. C. Parker,
An Introduction to the New Testament Manuscripts and Their Texts (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2008), p. 292, asserts fourth century. For discussion, see H.-M. Schenke (ed.),
Apostelgeschichte 1,1–15,3 im mittelägyptischen Dialekt des Koptischen (Codex Glazier) (Texte
und Untersuchungen 137; Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1991), pp. 5–6, who opts for the fifth cen-
tury. In either case, its date approximates that of Codex Bezae.
3  Witnesses such as syhmg and syh* and at times patristic quotations may pose statistical
problems, because they consist of added notes, marks in the text, or selected comments or
usage of passages—unlike continuous text manuscripts. Hence, if no such notes, marks, or
comments exist, it cannot be assumed that the annotator / commentator knew or chose the
Early Christian Attitudes toward ‘ Things Jewish ’ 143

syh*  (Syriac Harklean readings enclosed between an asterisk and a metobe-

los), Acts, though the marginal readings originated from Greek manu-
scripts consulted by Thomas of Harkel (616 CE).
symsK or sypal msK (Palestinian Syriac manuscript K [Khirbet Mird], sixth century), Acts
10:28–29, 32–41.
Patristic writings:
Irenaeus (second century), Greek, but preserved largely in Latin; Tertullian (ca. 160–†after
220), Latin; Cyprian (200/210–†258), Latin; Augustine (354–†430), Latin; Ephrem of Syria
(306–†373), Syriac.

The patristic sources are highly significant for locating the textual readings
they support in time and often in place, particularly those writings from the
second and third centuries, for they represent and confirm the early existence
of the frequent D-Text readings that they preserve. Similarly, the early Latin,
Syriac, and Coptic versions take us back, though only indirectly and in theory,
to the second and/or third centuries, though all their manuscripts are later. An
‘Old Latin’ version, for example, certainly originated in the second century, but,
except for a few manuscripts dating in the fourth century, all others date in the
fifth century or later.
The support of two, but especially three or more of these primary witnesses
offers considerable assurance that a reading was part of the early D-Textual
Cluster. A major reason for this conclusion is that both the B-Text and the third
clear transmission stream of the New Testament text, the later Byzantine or
Ecclesiastical Text (or textus receptus, ‘Received Text’), increasingly dominated
the transmission process. The result was that scribes and readers, when copy-
ing or using D-Text witnesses—consciously or not—frequently conformed
the D-Text to one or the other of these two well-known textual traditions,
thereby obscuring or diminishing many distinctive features of the early D-Text
In view of this widespread conformity phenomenon, it is important
methodologically to note, when a variant is identified below as a ‘D-Textual
Cluster reading’ or a ‘D-Text variant,’ that all witnesses supporting that read-
ing are listed in the apparatus provided—whether or not they are primary
or secondary witnesses to the D-Text cluster—or neither. In other words,

alternate reading or that a D-Text variant was not present. That would assume too much and
is an argument from silence. Rather, we must treat what is present. Precise sources of patris-
tic citations are provided by W. A. Strange, The Problem of the Text of Acts (Society for New
Testament Studies 71; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 198–204, for Acts
4:31; 11:1; 15:1–2, 20,29; and 21:25.
144 Epp

supportive witnesses of a given variant are not limited to those commonly

identified as D-Text allies, but occasionally, and sometimes often, include
members of the competing textual groups. If, however, supporting witnesses
are largely or entirely of the D-Textual Cluster (a frequent phenomenon), the
certainty that an early D-Text reading is in view is greatly enhanced. On the
other hand, when two, three, or more primary D-Text witnesses support a read-
ing, but that reading also has substantial support from witnesses commonly
affiliated with the B-Text Cluster or the Byzantine text, that may reduce the
conviction of a distinctive D-Text reading, but does not nullify it. For exam-
ple, an early D-Text reading may have been adopted later by various scribes or
readers and preserved in manuscripts not often granting authority to D-Text
Though this may not be the place to reopen the issue of dual textual streams
in Acts, it is an essential factor in the discussions that follow. We should note,
therefore, that David Parker, already in 2008, suggested that New Testament
textual critics should refrain from thinking that the text of Acts consisted of
two textual streams. Rather, he urged that henceforth we should treat the texts
found in all witnesses of Acts as a single line of transmission. Little elaboration
was offered, but Parker’s evidence for this departure from a view held by virtu-
ally all textual critics for some centuries is stated as follows: The text of Codex
Bezae can “be shown to be the product of a process rather than a text produced
at a single point in time”—that is “a product of stages of growth.” He adds:

. . . [T]he textual criticism of Acts is in essence not very different from

any other kind of textual criticism, in that it involves the study of indi-
vidual witnesses to remove error, followed by the comparison of different
forms of text in order to recover the oldest possible form, for which all
witnesses potentially provide evidence.4

The latter procedure, of course, is universally followed, though the result of that
process is what matters: Are certain witnesses or groups of witnesses shown to
stand out and stand apart from other witnesses or groups? Do those groups
support variations to the text that are distinctive in meaning or emphasis? Do
they support sets of variants that fall into patterns? Do the agreeing witnesses
tend to reappear time and again in aggregate? That is, do certain witnesses
turn up repeatedly as a coterie of supporters—supporting one another—and,
if so, as a group do they frequently stand in isolation from other witnesses that

4  Parker, Introduction, p. 298; see his §9.2 on “The Acts of the Apostles,” pp. 286–301 esp. 297–
98, but cf. p. 174, where he states that in Acts “we seem to have two competing forms of text.”
Early Christian Attitudes toward ‘ Things Jewish ’ 145

support a rival reading, thereby revealing alternative groups? If such phenom-

ena can be observed regardless of whether or not the text of Codex Bezae arose
through a process—and they can!—and if witnesses to such a text demon-
strate or imply a recognizable entity, then that entity can and should be treated
as such. Therefore, let extensive study of the variation units—in the normal
fashion that we all advocate, or by fresh methods—reveal the nature of the
text / texts of Acts. That is the stance taken in the present essay.
It is relevant to note that the different extant Greek manuscripts of the New
Testament currently number over 5,550, but that the different manuscripts up
to about 900 CE total only about 580 (counting all 125 different papyri, some
260 majuscules, about 50 minuscules, and about 145 lectionaries). These fig-
ures include all extant papyri, but only, of course, majuscules, lectionaries, and
minuscules up to around 900 CE. Additional minuscules will increase dramati-
cally to nearly 2,800 over the centuries prior to the wide use of the printing
press, and different lectionaries will grow to some 2,350. Naturally, Greek man-
uscripts containing Acts or parts thereof will constitute a far smaller number,
but the point here is to demonstrate how the texts of the early members of the
D-Textual Cluster will be swamped both by the large number of manuscripts
containing differing texts, and especially by the texts in the minuscules and the
lectionaries, which to a very high degree represent the Byzantine Text. More
significant than the increasing quantity of competing texts, however, was the
accelerating conformity of the D-Text to the progressively prominent B-Textual
Cluster, and to the Byzantine Text as the latter’s dominance increased. Barbara
Aland, for example, stated as “a principle of New Testament textual transmis-
sion that has long been familiar,” namely that:

In medieval Byzantium [the Byzantine text] had become so dominant

(so subtly pervasive and firmly lodged in the scribes’ minds) that to vary-
ing degrees it found its way into copies of non-Byzantine origin as well,
with or without the copyists’ awareness. . . . There is always the possibility
that later copyists would inadvertently introduce Byzantine readings
when copying from a manuscript of a different text type.5

By way of summary, then, throughout this process scribes and readers sup-
pressed the D-Text as they frequently adapted D-Text readings to their own
textual forms.

5  K. Aland and B. Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions
and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: W. B.
Eerdmans, 1989), p. 325.
146 Epp

This phenomenon of suppressing and conforming the D-Text cluster to the

dominant forms in use not only accounts for the sparsity of primary witnesses
to the D-Text of Acts, but also resulted in a relatively small number of secondary
witnesses, whose texts presumably lost even more of their distinctive D-Text
features. Again, Greek manuscripts are few in the list, but witnesses in Latin
are numerous, accompanied by several in Syriac, Coptic, and other languages:

Secondary Witnesses to the D-Textual Cluster in Acts

Greek manuscripts:
Codex Laudianus (Greek Codex Ea-08, sixth century), Acts (lacking 26:29–28:26).
Codices 383 and 614 (both thirteenth century), Acts.
Old Latin manuscripts (Beuron numbers follow):
ar (61, Codex Ardmachanus or Book of Armagh, ninth century), Acts, many Old Latin
c (6, Codex Colbertinus, twelfth/thirteenth century), Acts, Old Latin.
dem  (59, Codex Demidovianus, thirteenth century), Acts, Old Latin readings.
e  (50, Codex Laudianus [Latin side], sixth century), Acts [lacking 1:1–2;
g2  (52, Fragmenta Mediolanensia, lectionary, tenth/eleventh century), Acts 6:8–
7:2; 7:51–8:4: Old Latin readings.
gig  (51, Codex Gigas, thirteenth century), Acts (complete), Old Latin.
Mich.146  (63, University of Michigan Ms. 146, twelfth-thirteenth century), numerous Old
Latin readings.
p  (54, Codex Perpinianensis, twelfth century), Acts 1:1–13:6; 28:16–31 are Old Latin.
ph  (Twelfth century) Acts
r  (57, Codex Schlettstadtensis, lectionary, seventh/eighth century), Acts 2:1–3:13;
4:31–5:11; 7:2–10; 8:9–9:22, 36–42; 12:1–17; 19:4–17, Old Latin readings from Acts.
ro  (62, Codex Rodensis, tenth century), Acts, Old Latin readings.
s  (53, Codex Bobbiensis, palimpsest, sixth century), Acts 23:15–23; 24:4–31.
sin  (74, Sinai, Arab. MS 455, liturgical fragment, Mount Sinai, St. Catherine’s
Monastery, tenth century) Acts 10:36–40; 13:14–16, 26–30, Old Latin readings
from Acts.
t  (56, Liber comicus, lectionary, seventh to eleventh century), Acts 1:1–26; 2:1–47;
4:1–3, 19–20; 4:32–5:16, 19–32; 6:1–7:2; 7:51–8:4, 14–40; 9:1–22, 32–42;10:25–43;
13:26–39, Old Latin readings from lessons in Acts; some Old Latin readings also
appear in the Vulgate portions (e.g., Acts 3:17).
w  (58, Codex Wernigerodensis, fourteenth/fifteenth century), Acts, Old Latin
Latin Vulgate: vg (Latin Vulgate, fourth and fifth centuries), Acts.
Coptic version: copsa (Coptic Sahidic, third century on), Acts.
Early Christian Attitudes toward ‘ Things Jewish ’ 147

Syriac versions:
syp (Peshitta, first half of fifth century), Acts.
syh (Harclean, 616 CE) Acts.
Other versions:
Ethiopic (eth, ca. 500); Armenian (arm, fifth century on); Old Georgian (geo, fifth century
on); Provençal (prov); Teplensis (tepl [German]); and Bohemian (boh).
Latin patristic writings:
Pseudo-Cyprianic tract: de rebaptismate (fourth century); Ambrosiaster (366–384);
Cassiodorus (ca.485–†after 580); Hilary (315–†367); Lucifer of Cagliari († ca. 371); and
Pseudo-Vigilius of Thapsus tract: Contra Varimadum (fourth/fifth century).

As will be apparent in the following pages, all D-Textual Cluster witnesses are
‘mixed’—possessing numerous variants supported by other D-witnesses, but
also containing many readings characteristic of the B-Textual Cluster or the
Byzantine Text. Obviously, what distinguishes the D-primary witnesses from
the D-secondary ones is the quantity of D-Text supportive variants. The meth-
odological aspect of this essay, then, is to present and to test our concept and
arrangement of a cohort of D-Text primary witnesses and their cohesiveness.
The B-Textual Cluster (or B-Text) of witnesses is considered by most tex-
tual critics to be the ‘mainline’ or ‘best’ text of Acts, namely the text exem-
plified in Codex Vaticanus (B-03) and its allies, whether Greek manuscripts,
versional manuscripts and editions, or citations by patristic writers. In more
technical language, the text in the B-Textual Cluster would be considered by
most textual critics as, in general, the earliest attainable text of Acts, though
controversy during the past century and a half has raged over whether the
rival text of Acts, the D-Textual Cluster, actually may have preceded the B-Text
chronologically and, for that reason or others, should be preferred. This issue
cannot be discussed here, for our immediate concern is to extract the varying
stories contained in each set of relevant textual variants in Acts so as to docu-
ment any differing views on Jewish-Christian relations at this early stage in the
developing Christianities. Hence, no judgments as to historicity are offered or
implied. Instead, our procedure is based on the current emphasis in textual
criticism that meaningful, but rejected variants no longer should be discarded
like chaff in the wind, but should be permitted to disclose the narratives that
they embody—just as the variants chosen for the mainline (earliest attain-
able) text have their own stories to tell.6 How different this approach is from

6  This approach was named “Narrative Textual Criticism” by D. C. Parker (Journal of Theological
Studies 45 [1994] 704) in a review of B. D. Ehrman’s The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The
Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (Updated with a
148 Epp

that common in the preceding generation of textual critics can be illustrated

from the now classic manual by Kurt and Barbara Aland (in the 1980s), who
refer to the numerous footnotes in the English Revised Standard Version and
the then forthcoming New Revised Standard Version that point out passages
where “Other ancient authorities read,” followed by variant textual readings.
The Alands’ assessment is that:

. . . such an egalitarian representation of the manuscript tradition . . .

must give the impression to readers of the version who are not specialists
in textual criticism that the variant readings in the notes are of equal
value with those in the text—and nothing could be more false and

Actually and contrarily, as now widely recognized, every meaningful variant

gives voice to a differing story—whether smaller or greater in significance—
and such narratives, of course, are legion throughout the New Testament.
The present essay, however, will focus on portrayals of Jewish-Christian
relations, especially early Christian attitudes toward ‘things Jewish,’ in the
D-Text of Acts—to the extent that they can be shown to differ from their
B-Text alternatives.

2 Procedures for Discussion of Alternate Textual Variants

The context of each variation unit in the following discussions will be described
in accordance with the text printed in the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum
Graece 28th ed. (2012) and the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament 5th
ed. (2014), which, by design, print identical texts. Inevitably, when variants to

New Afterword; Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2011; 1st ed., 1993). Parker pointed
to the present author’s older work, Theological Tendency, and to Ehrman’s now classic vol-
ume, though Parker’s own Living Text of the Gospels, soon became an additional pioneer-
ing contribution to this new emphasis, which focuses on rehabilitating rejected variants:
see, e.g., E. J. Epp, “It’s All about Variants: A Variant-Conscious Approach to New Testament
Textual Criticism,” Harvard Theological Review 100 (2007), especially pp. 287–93; 307–8; and
in his two recent popular articles: “Why Does New Testament Textual Criticism Matter?
Refined Definitions and Fresh Directions,” Expository Times 125 (2014) pp. 417–31; and idem.,
“How New Testament Textual Variants Embody and Exhibit Prior Textual Traditions,” in
C. G. Frechette, C. R. Matthews, and T. D. Stegeman, SJ (eds.), Biblical Essays in Honor of
Daniel J. Harrington, SJ, and Richard J. Clifford, SJ: Opportunity for No Little Instruction (New
York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2014), pp. 271–88.
7  Aland and Aland, Text of the New Testament, p. 311.
Early Christian Attitudes toward ‘ Things Jewish ’ 149

the B-Textual Cluster have alternative readings in the D-Textual Cluster, these
two hand-editions follow the former (the B-Text), with the D-Text readings
placed in the critical apparatus. As a result, the events we select for discussion
below nearly always will be described first from the B-Text’s viewpoint, and
the D-Text’s formulations will appear as the alternatives. This is of no conse-
quence, since—as stated earlier—the purpose of this exploration is to display
the story each variant has to tell, and not to determine the earliest attainable
text. Actually, this situation is advantageous, for the reader need not be told
repeatedly that here is the B-Text reading, and there is the D-Text reading,
which will be clear, of course, in the accompanying apparatus. Two further
aids are provided: (1) Primary witnesses available for each variation unit or
set of related units appear in advance of each critical apparatus. In the appa-
ratus, minor variations are not identified. (2) The number of primary D-Text
witnesses supporting a reading will be reported in the apparatus for each sig-
nificant D-Text variant. Multiple standard sources are utilized to list relevant
witnesses as completely as possible for each variation unit.8

3 Variants Indicative of Differing Early Christian Views of

‘Things Jewish’

The discussions that follow appear in accordance with their order in the book
of Acts, unless other relevant passages bear upon those under consideration.
There is no intention of being exhaustive in this essay; rather, the several

8  Resources utilized in constructing the apparatuses include the following: the Nestle-Aland
Novum Testamentum Graece (28th rev. ed., 2012) and the United Bible Societies’ Greek New
Testament (5th rev. ed., 2014); F. H. Scrivener, Bezae Codex Cantabrigiensis (Cambridge:
Deighton, Bell, 1864); J. Wordsworth and H. J. White, Nouun Testamentum Domini Nostri
Iesu Christi Latine: Actus Apostolorum (Part 3, Fascicle 1; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905;
republished, 1954); T. Zahn, Die Ausgabe der Apostelgeschichte des Lucas (Forschungen zur
Geschichte des neutestamentlichen Kanons und der altkirchlichen Literatur 9; Leipzig:
A. Deichertsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1916); J. H. Ropes, The Text of Acts (Beginnings of
Christianity, Part I: The Acts of the Apostles, vol. 3; F. J. Foakes Jackson and K. Lake, eds.;
London: Macmillan, 1926); A. C. Clark, The Acts of the Apostles: A Critical Edition with
Introduction (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1933); M.-É. Boismard and A. Lamouille, Les texte
occidental des Actes des Apôtres: Reconstitution et réhabilitation (Synthèse 17; Paris: Éditions
Recherche sur les Civilisations, 1984); Strange, Problem of the Text; R. Gryson, Altlateinische
Handschriften: Manuscrits vieux latins, Répertoire descriptif, Première partie, Mss 1–275 (Vetus
Latina 1/2A; Freiberg im Breisgau: Herder, 1999); M.-É. Boismard, Le texte occidental des Actes
des Apôtres (new ed.; Étude Bibliques n.s. 40; Paris: Gabalda, 2000). See also the editions of
various manuscripts, e.g., Schenke, Apostelgeschichte 1,1–15,3.
150 Epp

examples offered are illustrative of an identifiable tendency in the D-Textual

Cluster of witnesses—and, as explained later, significant methodological
issues also are involved.

3.1 Acts 3:17: Differing Assessments of Alleged Jewish Actions

against Jesus9
In this narrative, Peter and John are in Jerusalem, where a crowd has gathered,
and Peter addresses them as “You Israelites” (3:12), followed by a rehearsal of
the trial, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Then, with reference to these events,
the B-Text and D-Text read, respectively:

Acts 3:17
B-Text D-Text
And now, brothers, I know [οἶδα] that And now, men brothers, we know
you acted out of ignorance, as did also [ἐπιστάμεθα] that you, on the one hand
your rulers. [ὑμεῖς μὲν], out of ignorance, enacted
an evil deed [πονηρόν], as did also your

Primary D-witnesses available: D (d) h syhmg syh* copG67 Ir Ephr (Aug)

(1) ἐπιστάμεθα D (d lacks a verb; d2 scimus) h copG67 geo armcodd Ephr(p398)] οἶδα ‫ א‬B rell.
syh* Iriii.12,3 {Four primary D-witnesses support; two do not.}
(2) ὑμεῖς μὲν D d | μὲν h] om ‫ א‬B rell. Iriii.12.3 {Three primary D-witnesses support; one does
(3) πονηρόν D* (+ τό D1) d ar gig h p w vgmss syhmg copG67 prov Iriii.12,,3 Augq66 Ambst86 et
118] om ‫ א‬B rell. Ephr(p398) {Seven primary D-witnesses support; one does not.}
(iniquitatem: d; nequam: h Ir; hoc malum: gig p w vgcodd prov Aug Ambst; scelus hoc: ar;
“this evil”: copG67)

Though the Christian Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles generally depict
Jewish leaders as instigators for the death of Jesus, it was the Romans, of
course, who actually carried out his crucifixion. Hence, in both textual streams
of Acts 3:13–15 (see also 2:23) Peter is portrayed as addressing “Men of Israel”

The following discussion draws heavily on the author’s first published article, “The
‘Ignorance Motif’ in Acts and Anti-Judaic Tendencies in Codex Bezae,” HTR 55 (1962)
pp. 51–62 esp. 53–57, reprinted in E. J. Epp, Perspectives on New Testament Textual
Criticism: Collected Essays, 1962–2004 (Supplements to Novum Testamentum 116; Leiden:
E. J. Brill, 2005) pp. 1–13 esp. 3–6. Refinements and revisions appear in the present essay.
Early Christian Attitudes toward ‘ Things Jewish ’ 151

and saddling them with responsibility for delivering Jesus, denying him before
Pilate (who had decided to release him), and putting him to death. These were
strong allegations, but then Peter is reported to have said (Acts 3:17), “And now,
brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.” In this
B-Text account, Peter invokes an extenuating circumstance—the Jews and
their leaders, for their actions, are granted the excuse of ignorance—that is,
ignorance about who (from a Christian perspective) Jesus was—as is clear
from the ensuing narrative. The result is that Peter is a spokesperson for the
newly-minted faith that affirms (as stated in this immediate context) that
Jesus is the “Holy and Righteous One,” the “Author of life, whom God raised
from the Dead” (Acts 3:14–15). Though, of course, not called ‘Christians’ at this
time, Peter speaks from within the new “Way” (Acts 9:2) that now increasingly
appeared to stand over against Judaism. So, at the risk of anachronism, one
might say that ‘Jewish-Christian’ relations at this early point were off to a rocky
start—as portrayed in Acts—and an offer of excuse for ignorance is not likely
to have alleviated the situation to any significant degree.
A textual variant in the D-Textual cluster, however, consisting of a single
word (along with some minor but significant adjustments) moves the already
anti-Jewish sentiment to a clearly higher level. While this reading retains the
ignorance excuse, it nonetheless effectively nullifies it. The attestation for
πονηρόν is remarkably strong from D-Text witnesses, including seven primary
witnesses (D, d, h, copG67, syhmg, Irenaeus, and Augustine) out of eight that
contain this passage, plus several secondary witnesses.
Two further variants in the D-Text confirm the contrast being drawn in this
context between believers in Jesus as Messiah and the Jews (“Israelites,” 3:12)
whom Peter accused of putting to death “the author of Life, whom God raised
from the dead” (3:15). First, the D-Text, in place of “I [Peter] know [οἶδα],” has
“we know [ἐπιστάμεθα] that you [the unbelieving Jews] enacted an evil deed,”
thereby heightening the “we / they” opposition. It no longer is Peter stand-
ing alone, but the entire Jerusalem community of believers that is leveling the
charge regarding the death of Jesus, for the larger context refers not only to
Peter and John (Acts 3:1, 11; 4:1) but to the other apostles and to Mary and Jesus’
brothers (1:13–14, 26), and also—one might add—the alleged three thousand
and five thousand converts! (2:41; 4:4).
The Greek sentence, in the D-Text, also contains the conjunction, μέν, which,
with its coordinate δέ, indicates “on the one hand . . . but, on the other hand. . . .”
This would link vv. 17–18 along these lines: “We know that you [the Jews], on
the one hand, enacted an evil deed, albeit in ignorance, but, on the other hand,
in this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that
152 Epp

his Messiah would suffer.” Now, through Peter, the new community is assert-
ing that the contrast is between the act of the Jews (“Israelites”) and God’s
purpose. That is to say, ironically, that their pressure on the Romans for Jesus’
crucifixion actually was “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge
of God” (Acts 2:23), yet it was an evil deed, and no plea of ignorance would
provide exoneration. Indeed, Peter’s requirement, twice offered, was “Repent
and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins
may be forgiven” (Acts 2:37–41; 3:19). Hence, the D-Text drives a bit deeper the
wedge not only between the Jews and the Christ-believing community but also
between the Jews and “the God of Abraham, . . . Isaac, and . . . Jacob” (Acts 3:13),
who (according to Peter) vindicated the believing community by raising Jesus
from the dead” (Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15).
Could the diminution of the ignorance excuse and the use of πονηρόν be
random, accidental events affecting the text of Acts? That is unlikely for two
reasons. First, “ignorance” again appears in Acts 13:27, where the B-Text (in a
speech similar to Peter’s, though now by Paul) asserts that “the residents of
Jerusalem and their leaders, being ignorant of this one [Jesus] and of the
utterances of the prophets . . . fulfilled [them] by condemning [Jesus].” As in
Peter’s B-Text speech, the Jews are afforded the excuse of ignorance, all the
while carrying through God’s purpose by pushing Pilate to crucify Jesus, whom
God raised from the dead (Acts 13:28–30). In the latter case, Paul in the D-Text
(though represented only by Codex D*vid d) drops the ignorance factor com-
pletely: Instead of being ignorant of Jesus, the D-Text speaks only of the Jews as
“not knowing / understanding the scriptures of the prophets”—hardly a com-
pliment. It is thus likely that the indictments in these two similar contexts are
both intentional. This is an instance, by the way, where Codex Bezae (Greek
and Latin) appears to stand alone, yet with a variant entirely consistent with a
major D-Text bias. Hence, one can argue that this Acts 13:27 reading undoubt-
edly was part of the early D-Textual Cluster, but virtually disappeared in the
on-going process of conformation to predominant competing texts.
Second, πονηρόν appears in the D-Text of the Gospel of Luke in an inter-
esting fashion and relevant to our preceding discussion (assuming the long-
standing view of “Lucan” joint authorship of the Gospel of Luke and Acts).
The B-Text, in the crucifixion account, has one of the two criminals, who also
were being executed, say to the other, “. . . we are getting what we deserve for
our deeds, but this man [Jesus] has done nothing wrong” (ἄτοπος, Luke 23:41),
but the D-Text (though only in D d DiatessaronPersian sypal eth Chrcruc(403))
reads, “. . . but this man has done nothing evil” (πονηρόν), a stronger term. Now,
if we place this D-Text reading alongside that in Acts 3:17, the result is not likely
Early Christian Attitudes toward ‘ Things Jewish ’ 153

Luke 23:41: οὗτος [Jesus] δὲ ουδὲν πονηρὸν ἔπραξεν: “This one [Jesus] has
enacted no evil deed.”
Acts 3:17: ὑμεῖς [the Jews] μὲν . . . ἐπράξατε πονηρόν: “But you [the Jews]
enacted an evil deed.”

A vivid contrast results: The Jews are portrayed as performing an evil deed
against Jesus, who himself had enacted no evil. Incidentally, in the preced-
ing portion of the crucifixion narrative (Luke 23:34a), Codex D d omits Jesus’
prayer, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” This
unwillingness to forgive, and the concomitant omission of an excuse by reason
of ignorance, are clearly in keeping with the anti-Jewish sentiments in the pre-
ceding variants. Codex D is joined by an array of witnesses in the omissions,
including P75 B [two primary B-Text manuscripts] W Θ, etc., so the lack of this
verse cannot be called a distinctive D-Text reading. Our overall argument, of
course, is not that the D-Text alone has a strong anti-Judaic bias, but that it
has significantly more stringent views in that vein. Since P75 (third century)
is earlier than Codex Bezae (ca. 400), Jesus’ failure to ask forgiveness for the
Jews clearly was present very early in the tradition, originating either in the
pristine D-Textual Cluster or in the B-Text tradition. In either case, its omis-
sion was welcomed by the D-Text as consistent with its harsher treatment of
“things Jewish.”

3.2 Acts 11:1–2: Peter Diminishes Judaic Practices

The larger context of Acts 11:1–2 places Peter in Joppa (9:36–42) and a Roman
Centurion, Cornelius, in Caesarea (10:1–8). The latter is told in a vision to send
for Peter. Meanwhile, Peter also fell into a trance, in which he was told to eat
from any and all four-footed creatures, reptiles, and birds, all of which God
had declared clean (10:9–16), a clear and blunt reversal of Jewish food laws.
At that point, the Centurion’s men arrive, Peter welcomes them, and they set
out for Caesarea, where Cornelius asks to hear Peter’s message of Jesus’ death
and resurrection, which, upon belief, issues in forgiveness of sins (10:17–43).
Instantly, “the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word” (i.e., Gentiles),
and they were baptized, which astounded “the circumcised believers who had
come with Peter” (10:44–48). The latter, of course, are observant Jews who were
already Christ-believers. Naturally, their description as “circumcised” high-
lights another basic Judaic ritual practice. In the course of his ensuing sermon,
Peter confesses as follows: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality . . .”
(10:34), a clear statement of Gentile-Jewish parity, but one that concomitantly
nullifies the validity of Jewish food regulations. The narrative closes by saying
that the new Gentile believers invited Peter to stay with them for several days.
154 Epp

Then chapter 11 opens by reporting that the (Jewish, now Jewish-Christian)

apostles and believers in Judea had heard “that the Gentiles also had accepted
the word of God,” without specifying their reaction and implying that Peter
promptly went up to Jerusalem—perhaps anxious about how the report had
been received by the “circumcised” believers there. He learned soon enough,
for once in Jerusalem, “the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, ‘Why
did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’ ” (11:1–2), followed by
Peter’s rehearsal of the entire Cornelius event (11:4–18). So much for the B-Text
The D-Text offers a slightly different, but nonetheless significant story in
11:1–2, and the two portrayals can be displayed as follows:

Acts 11:1–2
B-Text D-Text
(11:1) Now the apostles and the believers (11:1) Now it was heard by the apostles
who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles and believers in Judea that the Gentiles
also had accepted the word of God. also had accepted the word of God, so
they glorified God [καὶ ἐδόξαζον τὸν θεόν].
(11:2) Peter, therefore, for a considerable
time wished to journey to Jerusalem; and
having called to him the believers and
having strengthened them, speaking much
throughout the country, teaching them, he
(11:2) So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, also went to meet them [the Jerusalem
representatives] and reported to them the
grace of God. [See Greek text, below.] But
the circumcised believers criticized him, the brethren of the circumcision dis-
saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised puted with him, saying, “Why did you go
men and eat with them?” to uncircumcised men and eat with

Primary D-witnesses available: P127 [11:2] D d l syh* copG67

Add to 11:1: καὶ ἐδόξαζον τὸν θεόν] gig l p2 w dem Mich.146 vgcodd copG67 syh* prov tepl nedl1.2.] om
‫ א‬B rell. D d {Three primary D-witnesses support; two do not.}
11:2: ὁ μὲν οὖν Πέτρος διὰ ἱκανοῦ χρόνου ἠθέλησε πορευθῆναι εἰς`Ιεροσόλυμα· καὶ προσφωνήσας
τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς καὶ ἐπιστηρίξας αὐτούς, πολὺν λόγον ποιούμενος, διὰ τῶν χωρῶν διδάσκων
αὐτούς· ὃς καὶ κατήντησεν αὐτοῖς καὶ ἀπήγγιλεν αὐτοῖς τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ] supported wholly or
substantially by P127vid D d p ro w vgcodd syh* copG67 prov1 tepl] om ‫ א‬B rell. l {Five primary
D-witnesses support; one does not.}

The D-Text’s additional “and they [apostles and believers in Judea] glori-
fied God,” at the conclusion of 11:1, may be the clue to what follows, albeit
Early Christian Attitudes toward ‘ Things Jewish ’ 155

counterintuitively. On the one hand, the B-Text narrative, lacking these words,
showed Peter in an apparent rush to get back to Jerusalem, perhaps to learn the
Judeans’ response to his actions or to explain and to defend them. The D-Text
account, on the other hand, suggests that Peter, who wished for some time to
go to Jerusalem, now appears in no hurry to do so—after all, his Jewish-by-birth
peers in Jerusalem are said to have approved the recent Gentile acceptance of
the new faith—“they glorified God.” Hence, Peter pursues an extensive teach-
ing mission, and only later he “also” (καί), as if it were a casual secondary event,
went to meet the Jerusalem representatives and “reported to them the grace
of God”—obviously expecting a second round of glory to God. The response,
however, was hardly that, for instantly a heavy charge is leveled against Peter:
“Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”—a strong affir-
mation that Peter had crossed the line in his diminution and virtual nullifica-
tion of two quintessential Judaic rituals: circumcision and acceptable food and
eating companions, or more precisely that “Peter had eaten non-kosher food
and/or food prepared by (unclean) gentiles.”10
So, what is the result of the D-Text narrative? Peter is represented as noncha-
lant if not dismissive about the centrality of these foundational Judaic tenants
and practices, thereby driving a wedge between his fellow Jewish Christ-
believers, some of whom wished to adhere to the long-standing customs and
others who were welcoming believing Gentiles without requiring their obser-
vance of basic Jewish practices. In doing so Peter, as portrayed, also enlarged
and deepened the latent and growing rift between Judaism and the new faith.
It is of more than passing interest methodologically (see below) that 11:2 is
one of 1,000 test passages from the New Testament selected by the Münster
Institute for New Testament Textual Research for its massive project on the
transmission of the Greek text of the New Testament. Their result was that of
473 Greek manuscripts extant at 11:2, only Codex D contains this longer descrip-
tion of Peter’s activity—yet this variant has the support of five out of six of the
primary D-Text witnesses, as well as several secondary versional witnesses.11

10  R. I. Pervo, Acts: A Commentary (Hermeneia; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2009), p. 284.
See J. Rius-Camps and J. Read-Heimerdinger, The Message of Acts in Codex Bezae: A
Comparison with the Alexandrian Tradition (4 volumes; Library of New Testament Studies
257, 302, 365, 415; London: T&T Clark, 2004–2009), vol. 2, pp. 286; 291–294, who attribute a
“game-changing” effect to the D-Text account.
11  See K. Aland (ed.), Text und Textwert der griechischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments:
Die Apostelgeschichte, Band 1 (Arbeiten zur neutestamentlichen Textforschung 20; Berlin:
W. de Gruyter, 1993), pp. 508–11. P127 was not available for the Münster study.
156 Epp

3.3 Acts 13:38–39: Torah Insufficient for Forgiveness—Justification

Extends to All
A word or two can change sentence structures and their respective portrayals.
The larger context of Acts 13:38–39 is a speech by Paul in Antioch of Pisidia.
After addressing “Israelites and others who fear God,” he reviews basic aspects
of the history of Israel and conjoins the narrative of the death and resurrec-
tion of Jesus (13:16–37). His conclusion runs as follows (vv. 38–39), although
the D-Text reading, by employing two more words, divides the single sentence
into two and transforms Paul’s message from one applicable only to Jews into
a proclamation that is universal.
The difference between the B-Text and D-Text admittedly is subtle and
may elicit differing interpretations, but the former assertion remains entirely
within a Jewish / Torah context: “By this one [= Jesus] everyone who believes
is justified from all the things from which you could not be justified by the law
of Moses.” This setting is confirmed by the lengthy preceding context (13:16–22:
“Men of Israel. . . .”) and the immediate context (13:33b–43).
Up to this point, the D-Text version of 13:38 is the same as in the B-Text (except
that “repentance” is mentioned), but then a new sentence begins (13:39b), fol-
lowed by the universalist pronouncement that “By this person [= Jesus], there-
fore [οὖν], everyone who believes is justified before God.” As Richard Pervo
states strongly, “The addition of οὖν (‘therefore’) makes v. 39 a clearly indepen-
dent statement.”12 Noteworthy is the similar statement by Peter in Acts 10:43,
while speaking in the house of Cornelius, the Gentile. Peter’s speech opens
with “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any-
one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (10:34–35), and
concludes with “. . . everyone who believes in him [= Jesus Christ] receives for-
giveness of sins” (v. 43, both B and D). This, of course, is a broadly universal-
ist claim, not limited to a Jewish context, and the independent sentence in
v. 39b—detached from a Jewish context by the D-Text—should be understood
as a similarly bold affirmation.

Acts 13:38–39
B-Text D-Text
(13:38) Let it be known to you, there- (13:38) Let it be known to you, there-
fore, men brothers, that through this fore, men brothers, that through this
person forgiveness of sins is pro- person forgiveness of sins is pro-
claimed to you; (39) by this one every- claimed to you, (39) and repentance

12  Pervo, Acts, p. 340. See also Rius-Camps and Read-Heimerdinger, Message of Acts in Codex
Bezae, vol. 3, pp. 67, 78–80; 101–3; Epp, Theological Tendency, pp. 81–84.
Early Christian Attitudes toward ‘ Things Jewish ’ 157

one who believes is justified from all [μετάνοια] from all things from which
things from which you could not be you could not be justified by the law
justified by the law of Moses. of Moses. By this person, therefore
[οὖν], everyone who believes is justi-
fied before God [παρὰ θεῷ].

Primary witnesses available: D d syhmg syh* copG67, variously, as below

13:38 μετάνοια D d ar vgD syh* copG67] om ‫ א‬B rell. {Four primary D-witnesses support.}
13:39 (1) οὖν D d 614 1611 2412 dem syhmg] om ‫ א‬B rell. {Three primary D-witnesses support.}
[Schenke shows a separate sentence in copG67.]
(2) παρὰ θεῷ D d (ad [deum])383 614 1611 2147 2412 dem t (in domino) syhmg copG67] om
‫ א‬B rell. {Four primary D-witnesses support.}

Frequent questions about consistency in a tendency evidenced by the

D-Textual Cluster (or any textual group) are natural and expected when vari-
ants are supported by primary witnesses but also by those of the B-Text or
the Byzantine. Little of that has appeared so far in the present essay, where in
almost every case primary and secondary D-Text witnesses have dominated
the apparatus. Acts 13:39 illustrates a modest mixture of evidence, but two
other D-Text variations and their restricted support may enhance consistency
of viewpoint, namely:

3.4 Acts 4:31 and Acts 13:41: Reinforced Universalism

Well before the universalism found in Acts 10–11(Gentiles admitted to the new
faith) and then in the D-Text of Acts 13:39, a D-Textual variant may have intro-
duced it already at Acts 4:31. Following the affirmation that Peter and John
“spoke the word of God with boldness,” a variant, supported almost entirely
by primary and secondary D-Text witnesses, expands the point: “. . . to every-
one who was willing to believe”: παντὶ τῷ θέλοντι πιστεύειν D E d e ar r ro w
vgmss copG67 prov1 ndlms Iriii.12.5(6)et cat. Augserm 356(5,1384f) Bederetrc431/Gr.mss
Ephr(p400)] om ‫ א‬B rell. {Six primary D-Text witnesses}. To be sure, the scene
here is set in Jerusalem, but Gentiles are mentioned in 4:25 and 27, and the
statement resonates with others in the D-Text.13 What is striking, however, is
that this universalistic pronouncement is supported by all available primary
D-Text witnesses.

13  Rius-Camps and Read-Heimerdinger, Message of Acts in Codex Bezae, vol. 1, pp. 278–281,
elaborate on the context of 4:31, attributing to it far-reaching implications, including the
demise of the Temple system, a new openness of access to God, etc., as the apostles boldly
proclaim “the word of God” to those who desire to believe: “It excludes no-one but neither
is it indiscriminate” (p. 281).
158 Epp

Acts 13:41 reports that Paul, immediately following Acts 13:39, offers his
partly Jewish audience (“You Israelites and others,” 13:16) a prophetic warn-
ing against unbelief: “Beware, therefore, that what the prophets said does not
happen to you,” followed by Hab 1:5 (LXX): “Look you scoffers! Be amazed and
perish, for in your days I am doing a work [ἔργον], a work that you will never
believe, even if someone tells you.” This “work” has been understood (from
Luke’s standpoint) to refer either to the Christ-event, or to the acceptance of
Gentiles into God’s family should the Jews reject the gospel message. A case for
the latter can be supported as follows: Hab 1:6–11 foresees a fierce invasion by
the Chaldeans—Note that the Hebrew text of Hab 1:5 reads, “Look among the
nations and see. Be astonished!” which could have clarified the matter if it had
been known by the D-Text interpreters. Then, in Acts 13:41, all four available
D-Text primary witnesses read either “And they [= Paul’s hearers] were silent”
(καὶ ἐσίγησαν D d copG67) or “And he [= Paul] was silent” (καὶ ἐσίγησεν 614 2412
syh*). {Four primary D-Text witnesses, though divided between plural and singu-
lar; the reading does not appear in ‫ א‬B rell}. Does the clause refer to Paul, indi-
cating merely that he had finished speaking, or does it indicate that Paul had
made his point and the hearers were in awe and had no response? Probably
the latter, for Paul’s quotation of Habakkuk appears to have functioned as a
warning to those in the synagogues who would not believe the message about
Jesus, and its reference to God performing “a deed in your days . . .”, is an appar-
ent reference to inclusion of the Gentiles. The larger context (Acts 13:44–14:7)
confirms this, with Paul and Barnabas’s assertion that the message was to the
Jews first, but upon its rejection, they would turn to the Gentiles.
Relevant is a similar statement, this time following a speech by Peter that
emphasized the inclusion of Gentiles: “The whole assembly kept silence” (Acts
15:12, both B and D), but the D-Text prefaces this with “Since the presbyters
agreed with what had been said by Peter, . . .” (D d l syh* Ephr {All five available
primary D-Text witnesses}), which explains the thrust of the “keeping silent”

3.5 Acts 15:1–5, 19–21, 28–29: Torah-Observance and / or Ethical Rules for
Gentiles Who Become Christ-Believers
Acts 15 portrays what has been called the “Jerusalem Council,” that is, a meeting
of Paul and Barnabas with fellow Christ-believers in Jerusalem, led by James,
to discuss and to decide what aspects of Torah-observance should be required
of Gentile converts. The issue, as most interpreters view it, boiled down to

14  Pervo, Acts, p. 374 n. 59, mentions that Irenaeus and Tertullian (primary D-Text witnesses)
may have omitted vs. 15:12, but likely that information is lacking (see Ropes, Text of Acts, p. 143).
Early Christian Attitudes toward ‘ Things Jewish ’ 159

whether Gentiles who adopted the new faith would have to observe ceremo-
nial practices required by Torah or not. Acts 15:1–5 report that while in Antioch
Paul and Barnabas were accosted by Judaean Christ-believers who were teach-
ing that “unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you
cannot be saved” (15:1). After “no small dissension and debate,” Paul and his
companion were sent to Jerusalem to discuss the issue of Torah requirements
for Gentile converts, but, after being welcomed by the church, they again were
confronted by “believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees,” who pro-
nounced, “It is necessary for them [Gentile converts] to be circumcised and
ordered to keep the law of Moses” (15:5). The close parallel with Peter’s arrival
in Jerusalem from Caesarea (11:1–2, above) is obvious.
The D-Textual Cluster heightens certain aspects of the events. First, the fur-
ther requirement in 15:1 that Judaean believers wished to place upon Gentile
believers was that they not only be “circumcised according to the custom of
Moses,” but that they be “circumcised and walk [i.e., live] according to the cus-
tom of Moses”: καὶ . . . περιπατῆτε, supported by D d syhmg sa copG67 Ir3.12.14
Didasc.vi.12,3 Const.ap.vi.12,2] om ‫ א‬B rell. {Five primary D-Text witnesses}. This
explicitly invoked a broader commitment. Second, in 15:2, Paul’s position like-
wise is enhanced explicitly, for when describing the “dissension and debate”
with those who would mandate circumcision for Gentile converts, the D-Text,
in words additional to those in the B-Text, reports that “Paul spoke insisting
firmly that they [believers, especially Gentile converts] should stay as they
were when they believed”: ἔλεγεν γὰρ ὁ Παῦλος μένειν οὕτως καθὼς ἐπίστευσαν
διϊσχυριζόμενος: D d gig ph w Mich.146 vgθ syhmg copG67 prov tepl Ephr(p420)]
om ‫ א‬B rell. {Five primary D-Text witnesses}. The result, on the one hand, was
stricter Torah observance for Gentile believers as advocated by some Jewish
Christ-believers, which, on the other hand, stood in opposition to a firm asser-
tion by Paul that no distinctively Judaic practices should be required.
In these narratives, the only Jews involved were already Christ-believers, and
the two sides of the debate are clear enough in both textual streams in Acts.
Yet the variants distinctive to the D-Text cluster display a sharper difference
between the two opposing views, thereby increasing the severity and perhaps
the gravity of the debate. The outcome of the “Jerusalem Council” is yet to be
learned in the text following, but already a growing group of Christ-believers
has taken a strong position over against strict Torah observance—a stance that
threatens to drive a wedge between the Jewish roots of emergent Christianity
and the latter’s rapidly evolving form as an independent entity. Clearly, this
depicts a separation between parent and child.
The decision of the Jerusalem “assembly” was articulated by its presumed
leader, James, as follows:
160 Epp

Acts 15:19–20, 28–29; 21:25

B-Text D-Text
(15:19) Therefore I have reached the (15:19) Therefore I have reached the
decision that we should not trouble decision that we should not trouble
those Gentiles who are turning to those Gentiles who are turning to
God, (20) but we should write to them God, (20) but we should write to
to abstain only from things polluted them to abstain from things polluted
by idols and from fornication and by idols, fornication, and blood, and
from whatever has been strangled [καὶ whatever they do not wish to be done
πνικτοῦ] and from blood. . . . to them, they should not do to others
[καὶ ὅσα μὴ θέλουσιν ἑαυτοῖς γίνεσθαι
(15:28) For it has seemed good to the ἑτέροις μὴ ποιεῖτε]. . . . (15:28) For it has
Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to
no further burden than these essen- us to impose on you no further bur-
tials: (29) that you abstain from what den than these essentials: (29) that
has been sacrificed to idols and from you abstain from what has been sac-
blood and from what is strangled [καὶ rificed to idols and from blood and
πνικτῶν] and from fornication. from fornication, and whatever you
do not wish to be done to you, do not
do to others [καὶ ὅσα μὴ θέλετε ἑαυτοῖς
If you keep yourselves from these, you γίνεσθαι ἑτέροις μὴ ποιεῖτε] If you keep
will do well. yourselves from these, you will do
well, being borne along by the holy
spirit. [φερόμενοι ἐν τῷ ἁγίῳ πνεύματι].
Farewell. . . . Farewell. . . .
(21:25) But as for the Gentiles who (21:25) But as for the Gentiles who
have become believers, have become believers, they do not
we have sent a letter with our judg- have anything to say to you [οὐδὲν
ment that they should abstain from ἔχουσιν λέγειν πρόσ σε], for we have
what has been sacrificed to idols and sent a letter with our judgment that
from what is strangled [καὶ πνικτοῦ] they should observe nothing of the
and from fornication. kind [μηδὲν τοιοῦτον τηρεῖν αὐτους εἰ
μὴ], except to abstain from what has
been sacrificed to idols and from
blood and from fornication.

Primary D-witnesses available:

15:20 (1): D d Ir Aug Ephr; 15:20 (2): D d Ir Ephr; 15:29 (1): D d l Ir Tert Cypr Aug Ephr [P127
begins after the relevant variants]; 15:29 (2): D d l syh* Ir Tert Cypr Ephr; 15:29 (3): D d l
Ir Tert Ephr; 21:25 (1): D d; 21:25 (2): D d Aug; 21:25 (3): D d Aug
Early Christian Attitudes toward ‘ Things Jewish ’ 161

15:20 (1) καὶ πνικτοῦ ‫ א‬B rell.] om D d gig ndl1 Iriii.12,14(17) Ir1739mg Ambstgal 2,2 Hiergal 5,2
Ephr(p426) {Four primary D-witnesses support}.
(2) καὶ ὅσα μὴ θέλουσιν ἑαυτοῖς γίνεσθαι ἑτέροις μὴ ποιεῖτε D d 242 440 323 522 536 945 1522
1739 1891 2298 l1178 ar sa eth slavms Arist Iriii.12,14(17) Ir1739mg.lat Eus1739mg (Ephrcomm)*
DidascfgVer lat*] om ‫ א‬B rell. {Four primary D-witnesses support}. *(Ephraem does not
have this in his text, but mentions it later.)
15:29 (1) καὶ πνικτῶν ‫ א‬B rell.] om D d gig l ethmss Iriii.12,14(17) Ir1739mg Tertpud 12 Cyprtest
iii.119 Ambr Ambstgal 2,2 Aug Ful Hiergal5,2=1/2 Pac Ephr(p426) {Eight primary D-witnesses
(2) καὶ ὅσα μὴ θέλουσιν ἑαυτοῖς γίνεσθαι ἑτέροις μὴ ποιεῖν D d 42 51 234 242 323 429 464
522 536 614 945 1522 1739 1799 1891 2298 2412 l1187 ar l p ph Mich.146 w vgmss syh* sa
ethmss prov tepl Iriii.12,14(17) Ir1739mg Cyprtest iii.119 Eusadv.porph (1739mg) Ephr] om ‫ א‬B
c dem e gig p ph ro w rell. Tert pud 12 {Seven primary D-witnesses support; one does not}.
(3) φερόμενοι ἐν τῷ ἁγίῳ πνεύματι D d 1739mg l Ir1739mg.lat Tertpud 12 Cas Ephr(p426)] om
‫ א‬B rell. {Six primary D-witnesses support}.
21:25 (1) οὐδὲν ἔχουσιν λέγειν πρὸς σε D d gig sa] om ‫ א‬B rell. {Two primary D-witnesses
(2) μηδὲν τοιοῦτον τηρεῖν αὐτους εἰ μὴ D d C Ea H L P S Ψ 049 056 36 282 307 323 383 453
614 945 1241 1505 1678 1739 1891 2464 l1187 e gig syh eth geo arm slav Augii.192 Bedagk.mss
Chr9,387 [+ 453 more minuscules!15] om ‫ א‬B rell. and eight other Greek manuscripts
(see below). {Three primary D-witnesses support}.
(3) καὶ πνικτόν ‫ א‬B rell.] om D d gig m geo Augii.192 {Three primary D-witnesses

Perhaps more has been written on these passages, and on their variant read-
ings, than on any other variation units in Acts. The main reason appears to be
the difficulty in explaining the exact difference between the B-Text account
and that in the D-Text. To oversimplify the matter, scholarship has attempted
predominantly to show that the B-Text account required of Gentile-believers
adherence to certain Judaic ritual procedures, along with the moral require-
ment to avoid fornication / sexual irregularity, while the D-text moved away
from the ritual and retained only the moral / ethical requirements (lacking
the prohibition against “things strangled”). This view of the D-Text depends, of
course, upon interpreting “[food] sacrificed to / contaminated by idols” as idol-
atry and “blood” as murder / bloodshed. It is natural to ask, however, whether

15  This variant is one of 1,000 test passages selected by the Münster Institute, hence given
full attestation, but Codex D is the only Greek primary D-Text witness with this variant,
for P29, P38, P48, P127 are not extant at Acts 21:25: see K. Aland, Text und Textwert, vol. 3:1,
pp. 612–615.
162 Epp

new Christians would need to be told to abstain from murder. Yet, “things
strangled”—lacking consistently in the D-Text—is the only element that clearly
is ritual, and the D-Text follows its list with a negative form of the ‘golden rule,’
a general, but strong moral / ethical injunction (and negative perhaps because
it is part of a list of prohibitions, though well-attested in Jewish sources).
Overall, then, if this interpretation were to be accepted, the D-Text version,
with its moral emphasis over against the largely ceremonial B-Text, distances
itself from the Torah-observing version, which had occasioned the “Jerusalem
Council” in the first place. Though there is nothing in the D-Text version that,
in itself, is non-Jewish or offensive to Judaism, there is present, nevertheless, a
distinctive diminution of Judaism, especially with respect to its ritual aspects,
such as circumcision and the normal Jewish food laws that have been dropped.
However, it could be said that the thrust of the differing textual formulation
in the D-version (not withstanding some interpretative uncertainties) entirely
relieved Gentile-believers of Jewish ceremonial practices. At the same time,
it signaled a rejection of Torah observance for Gentile church members that
soon would become a broad rejection of Torah practices by Christians. Peter
Head asserted that the D-Textual readings in these several variation units have
an even more immediate—as well as far-reaching implications, noting espe-
cially the clause in 21:25, “they should observe nothing of the kind,” for:

The focus is not on table fellowship and food laws, but quite specifically
upon the place of Torah in the life of believing Gentiles, and the answer
given is negative. The Western form of the decree emerges as a Christian,
ethical document, plainly stating total freedom from Torah.16

Certainly this is the direction that the early churches took.

In terms of method and our earlier discussion of conformation to later texts
being read or copied, it is noteworthy that “they should observe nothing of the
kind” is supported overwhelmingly by all available Greek manuscripts except
P74 ‫ א‬A B 33 88 915 1175 1409 and 2344—that is, the clause is supported by 465
manuscripts against ten that lack this reading—and those ten include the two
leading witnesses to the B-Textual Cluster, namely B and ‫( א‬Codex Sinaiticus,
01, fourth century), suggesting convincingly that “observe nothing of the kind”
was an early D-Text reading. The massive adoption of the clause is a clear

16  P. Head, “Acts and the Problem of Its Texts,” in B. W. Winter and A. D. Clarke (eds.), The
Book of Acts in Its Ancient Literary Setting (Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 1993) p. 442.
Early Christian Attitudes toward ‘ Things Jewish ’ 163

reversal of the usual situation where a small number of D-Text witnesses stand
against a host of B-Text and Byzantine witnesses, indicating that this “Gentiles
free from Torah” principle obviously appealed to the on-going churches.
Many scholars, however, will judge that this highly complex “Jerusalem
Council” matter cannot be resolved simply by affirming a ritual-versus-moral
distinction between the two formulations (though actually there are six con-
flicting forms in the texts!). Why?—because attempts to do so involve various
questionable interpretations of terms in diverse, often unlikely ways, and the
textual evidence does not permit an easy solution along those lines.17 So, what
can the textual critic offer in view of the complex, unyielding data? First, it is
clear that the D-Text variants here are supported in all cases but one by 100%
of the available primary witnesses, as well as by many designated as second-
ary, suggesting strongly that we are dealing here with material from a separate
textual stream—the D-Textual Cluster. Yet, quite in contrast to most other vari-
ants treated in this essay, witnesses outside the D-circle are more numerous
in joining with them, suggesting that these variation units likely have been
subjected to considerable textual disruption. That is, such readings still can
be called readings of the D-Textual cluster because of strong support from wit-
nesses characteristic of that textual group, but it is clear also that other textual
streams have interacted significantly with the D-Text witnesses over time.
Second, this situation points to a methodological observation that may rule
out any possible agreement as to the early textual form(s) of the “Jerusalem
Council” pronouncements, namely, a principle that I asserted several years
ago in view of variation units with multiple variants. The data prompting
this view stemmed from the insightful work of David Parker, in his disarm-
ingly straightforward, but quite revolutionary The Living Text of the Gospels.
His now classic example was in a chapter on “The Sayings on Marriage and
Divorce,”18 where, among the twenty-some differing sayings, he justly asserted

17  For analyses of this complex issue, with full consideration of text-critical aspects, see,
e.g., Strange, Problem of the Text of Acts, pp. 87–105; B. M. Metzger [for the Editorial
Committee], A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament: A Companion Volume to
the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (Fourth Revised Edition) (2nd ed.; Stuttgart:
Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft/United Bible Societies, 1994), pp. 379–84; Pervo, Acts,
pp. 376–78; J. A. Fitzmyer, SJ, The Acts of the Apostles: A New Translation with Introduction
and Commentary (Anchor Bible 31; New York: Doubleday, 1998), pp. 551–61, 566, esp. 556–
58; Rius-Camps and Read-Heimerdinger, Message of Acts in Codex Bezae, vol. 3, pp. 212–15;
18  D. C. Parker, The Living Text of the Gospels (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997)
pp. 75–94.
164 Epp

that “the recovery of a single original saying of Jesus is impossible” because

these variants represent “a collection of interpretive rewritings of a tradition.”19
His close analysis showed that many of these variants disclose sayings of Jesus
“being adapted to new circumstances” in the early churches.20 My subsequent
paradoxical and perhaps counterintuitive principle was this: The greater the
ambiguity in the variant readings of a given variation unit, the more clearly we
are able to grasp the concerns of the early church.21 To state it slightly differently,
The greater the textual disruption in a variation unit, the more obvious it becomes
that a controversial issue in early Christianities has been exposed. Passages with
multiple variants involve obvious complexities in textual transmission and
leave numerous and significant issues unresolved, as exemplified in Parker’s
marriage and divorce sayings. His conclusion was that Jesus’ utterances on the
subject cannot be recovered and, for us, as in the early churches, “the tradition
is manifold”—“the people of God have to make up their own minds. There is
no authoritative text to provide a short-cut.”22
The same is true of the “Jerusalem Council,” for we likely will be forced
to conclude that the D-Text variants over against those in the B-Text reveal
an intense debate over what should be required of Gentiles who adopt
Christianity—a debate that continued for some time without clear resolution,
placing the decision, so to speak, on the readers of Acts, then and even now.
Alternative requirements jump out of the debate, but a clear answer does not.
One can imagine, for example, that during the first few centuries—with the
ready adoption of the Jewish Bible as “sacred Scripture”—the vast majority of
Gentiles in the churches well might have wondered how to treat the legal mate-
rial in Leviticus, etc. Traces of such discussions could have been embedded and
preserved in various manuscripts by scribes and readers. Hence, it never may
be known precisely what the text of Acts contained (let alone any actual deci-
sions made in Jerusalem). Perhaps all that can be said is that the heavy and
consistent support by D-Text witnesses for the various readings—over against
the equally consistent B-Text readings—suggests not only the intensity of the

19  Parker, Living Text of the Gospels, pp. 92–93.

20  Ibid., p. 79; see also 80; 85; 90.
21  Stated first in E. J. Epp, “Issues in New Testament Textual Criticism: Moving from the
Nineteenth Century to the Twenty-First Century,” in D. A. Black (ed.), Rethinking New
Testament Textual Criticism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), p. 60; reprinted
in Epp, Perspectives, p. 682; also in idem, Junia: The First Woman Apostle (Minneapolis,
MN: Fortress, 2005), p. 12.
22  Parker, Living Text of the Gospels, p. 212.
Early Christian Attitudes toward ‘ Things Jewish ’ 165

controversy, but the reality of two main competing textual streams in Acts,
with a high degree of consistency in the major variations.

4 Methodological Contributions Applicable to the D-Textual Cluster

Displaying and interpreting selected textual variants in the Acts of the

Apostles and identifying their anti-Judaic bias is an obvious purpose of this
essay, yet these passages were identified and discussed along these lines by
the present author long ago. Now, to be sure, new text-critical data have been
utilized, refined interpretations and argumentation have been provided, with
fresh nuances and, I trust, better clarity in presentation—and perhaps new
insights. The larger purpose of the essay, however, is methodological in nature,
which will explain the emphasis on primary witnesses and the attention to
their relative quantity in each major textual variation unit. The result may be
a small step, but, I think, a significant one in face of the recent challenge to
create, in twenty-first century New Testament textual criticism, a ‘text-type
free environment.’ As noted above, D. C. Parker, one of only a handful of lead-
ing scholars in this field worldwide, has joined other leading scholars from
the Münster Institute for New Testament Textual Research in backing away
from three of the conventional text-types (Alexandrian or B-Text, the so-called
Western or D-Text, and the Caesarean Text, the latter already generally aban-
doned by most). Only the Byzantine text-type is marked for retention, since it
appears to all to be a certified ‘type’ of text.
The main rationale for this anti-text-type move arises from the Münster
Institute’s development of the Coherence Based Genealogical Method (CBGM),
a vast and sophisticated computer-based program for use in creating a new
critical edition of the Greek New Testament: the Editio Critica Maior. The over-
all task of the CBGM is to build a global stemma of New Testament texts by
determining the “textual flow” of all relevant Greek manuscripts by linking the
most closely-related manuscripts—that is, their texts—to one another in an
ancestor-descendent arrangement or progression. Fruitful results have been
forthcoming and will continue to aid text-critical work, particularly because
the analysis of texts is based on full collations of all manuscripts in each New
Testament writing, or in each small group, such as the Catholic Letters.
Space does not permit further discussion of the Münster method here, but
it should be noted that, at least at present, the CBGM treats only Greek manu-
scripts (though not those highly fragmentary), nor does it cover the versions
or patristic quotations. Hence, I have asserted elsewhere that the D-Textual
Cluster will not appear on the CBGM’s ‘radar screen’ because (as the present
166 Epp

essay makes crystal clear) its Greek primary witnesses include only Codex
Bezae, three fragmentary papyri (P29, P38, P48), and possibly one more exten-
sive papyrus text (P127). All the other primary witnesses are in Syriac, Latin, and
Coptic. The D-Text’s secondary witnesses add only three Greek manuscripts
(Codex Ea and minuscules 383 and 614). Due to the early and on-going con-
formation process, all the Greek witnesses (and all the others) have become
mixed witnesses, though the core of primary witnesses is impressive as an
often cohesive group—a significant cluster, worthy of status as a separate, gen-
uine entity. Yet, use of only Greek search engines most likely will be unable to
locate this D-Text Cluster among the myriad Greek manuscripts of Acts—the
vast majority of which date from the ninth century up to the widespread use
of the printing press.23
Another important methodological aspect arises from this situation, where
the primary witnesses of a plausible textual cluster consist of more than
twice as many non-Greek members (12) than those in Greek (5), and where
the three Greek secondary witnesses are overwhelmed by nearly thirty non-
Greek. Very fine points of agreement or difference can be isolated when Greek
texts are compared with Greek texts, but many such details are ruled out when
Greek texts are compared with non-Greek texts. Obviously, a one-for-one,
word-for-word comparison cannot be made in such cases due to the varying
nature and structure of languages. A few examples follow: Syriac has no case
endings, no comparative or superlative, a stricter word order, a deficiency of
prepositions, etc. Coptic, likewise, has no case endings, has strict word order,
only two genders, only the active voice, and certainty as to which Greek prepo-
sitions are represented is evasive. Finally, Latin cannot distinguish between the
Greek aorist and perfect tenses, has no definite article, etc.24 It goes without
saying that back-translating relevant non-Greek manuscripts into Greek is

23  See E. J. Epp, “Textual Clusters: Their Past and Future in New Testament Textual Criticism,”
in B. D. Ehrman and M. W. Holmes (eds.), The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary
Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis (New Testament Tools, Studies and Documents
42; Leiden: Brill, 2013), pp. 519–77: for a history and critique of Text-Types, pp. 519–53;
on abandoning Text-Types and the CBGM, pp. 556–67; on this author’s “Triangulation of
Witnesses” method” for assessing the D-Text cluster, pp. 567–72.
24  For discussion of limitations in these languages when translating into Greek, see
B. M. Metzger, The Early Versions of the New Testament: Their Origin, Transmission, and
Limitations (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), pp. 83–98 (Syriac) by S. P. Brock; pp. 141–52
(Coptic) by J. M. Plumley; pp. 362–74 (Latin) by B. Fischer.
Early Christian Attitudes toward ‘ Things Jewish ’ 167

not a viable solution, though one such experiment with seven New Testament
writings was carried through at Münster.25
Fortunately, in “Narrative Textual Criticism,” where meaningful variant read-
ings are granted a voice of their own, comparison in meticulous detail is not
mandatory while searching for similar readings in several languages. Consider
some of our examples: Can the presence or absence of “evil deed” be detected
in any of the languages of the various witnesses to Acts 3:17? In Acts 11:1–2,
can the inclusion or exclusion of the extended narrative about Peter delaying
his journey to Jerusalem be identified in any language? Can the existence of
“whatever is strangled” or of the negative form of the Golden Rule be deter-
mined easily in Acts 15:20 and 29 in any language? These cases, and hundreds
of others, generally do not depend on whether, for example, there is similarity
in word order, tense, case, orthography, or, in most cases, whether or not a defi-
nite article was present or which preposition was employed. Usually, then, it is
a matter of whether a word, phrase, clause, or paragraph occurs in the Syriac,
Coptic, Latin texts, or is preserved in patristic sources. Moreover, exact identity
and close formulation of a narrative’s content is not essential to answer the
question, “Did the reader or scribe of the Syriac / Coptic / Latin text know and
include this story? As the saying goes, “This is not rocket science,” but simple
observation on the basis of common sense.
The main methodological point, therefore, is to show that a group of mean-
ingful textual variants in the D-Textual Cluster that differ from their counter-
parts in the B-Textual Cluster are supported by two, three, four, or up to seven
or eight of the D-Text’s primary witnesses. For such a test, almost any group
of variation units would do, but selecting a group with a similar bent—here,
Jewish-Christian interactions—tends to strengthen the point, because a mea-
sure of consistency in thought thereby is demonstrated in the cluster’s textual
The final, obvious task is to demonstrate that a genuine entity—the
D-Textual Cluster—existed in the early churches, East and West, in spite of the
paucity of Greek manuscript and patristic witnesses. Concomitantly, caution
is called for when such a cluster does not emerge by comparing only Greek
manuscripts with Greek manuscripts. A cluster remains a reality even if its
presence in Greek witnesses has largely disappeared over time, and through

25  B. Aland and A. Juckel (eds.), Das Neue Testament in syrischer Übersetzung. II. Die
paulinischen Briefe, Teil 3: 1./2. Thessalonischerbrief, 1./2. Timotheusbrief, Titusbrief,
Philemonbrief und Hebräerbrief (Arbeiten zur neutestamentlichen Textforschung 32;
Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 2002), pp. 451–94 (“Rückübersetzung der Harklensis”).
168 Epp

conformation to other increasingly popular textual clusters. Moreover, strong

cohesive testimony from the cohort of Syriac, Coptic, Latin, and other versions,
and particularly from early patristic sources is a virtual guarantee that a dis-
tinctive textual stream—the D-Textual Cluster—existed in the early period of
A summary of the evidence from the variation units treated in this essay will
illustrate the methodology sketched above. The illustrative passages selected
for discussion offer twenty variation units. The primary D-Text witnesses total
seventeen; the secondary witnesses thirty-four. The following chart, after
reporting the location and Greek contents of each variation unit, indicates
in Column 3: The number of available primary D-Text witnesses for that unit;
Column 4: The number of primary D-Text witnesses supporting the D-Text
reading; Column 5: The number not supportive, and Column 6: The percent of
the available primary D-Text witnesses supporting the D-Text reading.

Summary of Agreements among Primary D-Text Witnesses in the Following Variation Units

Primary Witnesses: D P29 P38 P48 P127 d h l copG67 syhmg syh*sypal msK Ir Tert Cypr Aug Ephr

Key to Columns Below:

Column 1: Passage reference in Acts, and variation unit number if more than one is treated.
Column 2: Content of the Greek variation unit assessed and its attestation.
Column 3: Number of available Primary D-Text witnesses for each unit.
Column 4: Number of Primary D-Text witnesses supporting the D-Text reading.
Column 5: Number of Primary D-Text witnesses not supporting the D-Text reading.
Column 6: Percentage of available Primary D-Text witnesses supporting the D-Text reading.

Reference Variants & Attestation Col.3 Col.4 Col.5 Col.6

Acts 3:17–1 ἐπιστάμεθα D (d lacks a verb; d2 scimus) h copG67 6 4 2 67%
geo armcodd Ephr(p398)] οἶδα syh* Iriii.12,3
Acts 3:17–2 ὑμεῖς μὲν D d | μὲν h (quidem)] om Iriii.12.3 4 3 1 75%
Acts 3:17–3 πονηρόν D* (+ τό D1) d ar gig h p t w vgmss syhmg 8 7 1 88%
copG67 prov Iriii.12,3 Augq66 Ambst86 et 118] om
Acts 4:31 παντὶ τῷ θέλοντι πιστεύειν D E d e ar r ro w vgmss 6 6 0 100%
copG67 prov1 ndlms Iriii.12.5(6)et cat Augserm356.1
Bederetrc431/GrMSS Ephr(p400)
Acts 11:1 καὶ ἐδόξαζον τὸν θεόν] gig l p2 w dem Mich.146 5 3 2 60%
vgcodd copG67 syh* prov tepl ndl1.2.] om D d
Early Christian Attitudes toward ‘ Things Jewish ’ 169

Summary of Agreements among Primary D-Text Witnesses in the Following Variation Units

Acts 11:2 ὁ μὲν οὖν Πέτρος διὰ ἱκανοῦ χρόνου ἠθέλησε 5 4 1 80%
πορευθῆναι εἰς Ìεροσόλυμα· καὶ προσφωνήσας τοὺς
ἀδελφοὺς καὶ ἐπιστηρίξας αὐτούς, πολὺν λόγον
ποιούμενος, διὰ τῶν χωρῶν διδάσκων αὐτούς· ὃς καὶ
κατήντησεν αὐτοῖς καὶ ἀπήγγιλεν αὐτοῖς τὴν χάριν
τοῦ θεοῦ] P127vid D d p ro w vgcodd syh* copG67
prov1 tepl] om l.
Acts 13:38 μετάνοια D d ar vgD syh* copG67 4 4 0 80%
Acts 13:39–1 οὖν D d 614 1611 2412 dem syhmg 3 3 0 100%
Acts 13:39–2 παρὰ θεῷ D d (ad [deum]) 383 614 1611 2147 2412 4 4 0 100%
dem t (in domino) syhmg copG67
Acts 13:41 καὶ ἐσίγησαν D d copG67 | καὶ ἐσίγησεν 614 2412 4 4 0 100%
Acts 15:1 καὶ . . . περιπατῆτε D d syhmg sa copG67 Irlat vid 5 5 0 100%
Didasc6.12.3. Const.ap.6.12.2
Acts 15:2 ἔλεγεν γὰρ ὁ Παῦλος μένειν οὕτως καθὼς ἐπίστευσαν 5 5 0 100%
διϊσχυριζόμενος D d gig ph w Mich.146 vgθ syhmg
copG67 prov tepl Ephr(pp420f.)
Acts15:20–1 καὶ πνικτοῦ] om D d gig ndl1. Iriii.12,14(17) Ir1739mg 4 4 0 100%
Ambr Ambstgal 2,2 Arist Gaud Hiergal 5,2 Ephr(p426)
Acts 15:20–2 καὶ ὅσα μὴ θέλουσιν ἑαυτοῖς γίνεσθαι ἑτέροις 4 4 0 100%
μὴ ποιεῖτε D d 242 323 440 522 536 945 1522
1739 1891 2298 l1178 ar sa eth slavms Arist
Iriii.12,14(17) Ir1739mg.lat Eus1739mg (Ephrcomm)
DidascfgVer lat*
Acts 15:29–1 καὶ πνικτῶν] om D d gig l ethmss Iriii.12,14(17) 8 8 0 100%
Ir1739mg Tertpud 12 Cyprtest iii.119 Ambr Ambstgal 2,2
Aug Ful Hiergal5,2=1/2 Pac Ephr(p426)
Acts 15:29–2 καὶ ὅσα μὴ θέλουσιν ἑαυτοῖς γίνεσθαι ἑτέροις μὴ 8 7 1 88%
ποιεῖν D d 42 51 234 242 323 429 464 522 536 614
945 1739 1799 1891 2298 2412 l1178 ar l p ph Mich.146
w vgmss syh* sa ethmss prov tepl Iriii.12,14(17)
Ir1739mg Cyprtest iii.119 Eusadv.porph (1739mg) Ephr]
om Tertpud 12
Acts 15:29–3 φερόμενοι ἐν τῷ ἁγίῳ πνεύματι D d l 1739c 6 6 0 100%
Ir1739mg.lat Tert Cass Ephr
Acts 21:25–1 οὐδὲν ἔχουσιν λέγειν πρός σε D d gig sa 2 2 0 100%
170 Epp


Summary of Agreements among Primary D-Text Witnesses in the Following Variation Units

Acts 21:25–2 μηδὲν τοιοῦτον τηρεῖν αὐτους εἰ μὴ D d C Ea H L P Ψ 3 3 0 100%

049 056 36 282 307 323 383 453 614 945 1241 1505
1678 1739 1891 2464 l1178 e gig syh eth geo arm slav
Augii.192 Bedagk.mss Chr [+ 453 more minuscules]
Acts 21:25–3 καὶ πνικτοῦ] om D d gig m geo Augii.192 3 3 0 100%
TOTALS 20 variation units 97 89 8 Average 92%

Generally it may be assumed that the remainder of the textual tradition sup-
ports the non-D-Text variants, which normally would be an opposing reading
in the B-Textual Cluster, as well as Byzantine witnesses, etc. Indeed, it is impor-
tant methodologically to note that in every case of the D-Text readings in the
table above, an opposing reading stands in both B and ‫( א‬see the apparatus for
each variation unit in the body of the essay).

5 Conclusion: Analysis of Collected Data

This essay has two purposes. First, to highlight a set of passages that portray
varying views in early Christian communities of ‘things Jewish,’ as described
in opposing textual variants in Acts. Space permitted treatment of only a tiny
percentage of such passages, but enough to identify distinctly different nar-
ratives of these reported events. The outcome was a clear bias in D-Textual
witnesses in several respects. For example, Judeans, especially some of their
leaders, are accorded heightened responsibility for the death of Jesus. Jewish
Torah-observance is diminished, such as circumcision and their food laws,
including not eating with Gentiles. Concomitantly, broader ethical principles
are emphasized that are more appealing to Gentiles when moral ideals are
separated from ritual practices. In addition, early Christian leaders sought uni-
versalism, which, again, inevitably pushed against Jewish ceremonial practice.
Finally, this study shows a considerable degree of consistency in the D-Textual
group’s expressions of their views.
A second purpose was to disclose, from those variations, methodological
insights about the group of cohesive witnesses that regularly support one
stream of those textual variants. Indeed, the results that emerge from our
Early Christian Attitudes toward ‘ Things Jewish ’ 171

text-critical survey of twenty variation units exceeded our expectations, for on

average, 92% of the primary D-Text witnesses available for a given variation
unit supported the D-Text variant. More precisely, in the twenty units, with
ninety-seven opportunities where primary D-Text witnesses contained the
given text, only eight times (8%) did a primary D-Text witness fail to support
the D-Text reading. This reveals a tightly cohesive group, and if these figures
continue at this level as further variation units in Acts are examined, it will
be difficult to dismiss the notion that such a cohesive group of witnesses
constitutes a certifiable textual cluster.
Were the passages treated above selected because they appeared to have
this unified stance? Absolutely not. They were chosen simply and only on the
basis of their relevance to the subject being examined—differing attitudes
on ‘things Jewish’ as revealed by textual variants in Acts—and for which they
appeared to be prominent candidates. Is not the presentation of text-critical
evidence in this essay somewhat inadequate since not all the details of varia-
tion are spelled out? This was a matter of practicality, adopted not only for lack
of space, but primarily because of a principle stated earlier—that meaningful
textual variants and the stories they tell can be recognized as present or absent
in a manuscript, version, or patristic writing irrespective of the language in
which they occur. Is not this a tiny sample that well may not be typical of Acts?
It is a small sample, but previous studies, for instance, by the present writer
on primary D-Text witnesses, such as Codex Bezae and copG67, bode well for
similar results elsewhere and on a broader scale. It is regrettable, of course,
that copG67 contains only half the book of Acts (ending at 15:3), leading to the
logical conclusion that there must have been a second volume. Yet, even with-
out that key witness, perusal of almost any relatively recent critical appara-
tus of the text of Acts is encouraging for future analysis along the lines of the
present essay.
Part 4
Talmudic and Midrashic Studies

Chapter 11

Some Aspects of Interreligious Polemic in the

Babylonian Talmud*

Yaakov Elman

John and Mary have been dear friends for thirty years; for me they represent
a harmonious blend of warmth, probity and humanity. And in his scholarship
John has repeatedly demonstrated that the Jewish-Christian divide is not as
unbridgeable as one might sometimes think. As he has often put it: “Theology
is Christianity’s Halachah.”
However that may be, though, that view of matters could hardly emerge
during the early centuries of Christianity’s growth, when it sought to make a
place for itself in the world independent of its Jewish roots, whatever the state
of the “ways that never parted.” And it is to some of the religious polemic found
in the Babylonian Talmud that I devote the following remarks, sincerely dedi-
cated to John’s Festschrift, ad me’ah ve-esrim!
If there were ever any doubt, scholarship of the last decade and a half has
decisively demonstrated that the Jews of late antique Mesopotamia were an
integral part of the Sasanian Empire (224–651 CE), politically, economically,
linguistically, culturally, intellectually and religiously, and that we must always
bear that in mind even when reading passages that seem at first glance totally
involved with purely internal matters. Moreover, since Sasanian Mesopotamia
was home to as many as a dozen or more religious groups, including several
new ones who were seeking their place in the Sasanian sun and mounting
major conversion efforts, it was thus the scene of ceaseless religious polemic.
In the third quarter of the third century, the Zoroastrian high priest Kerdir,
in his mountainside inscriptions, lists no fewer than seven religious groups—
“Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and Nazarenes and Christians and Baptists and
Manichaeans”1—and we know there were more; aside from various sects of

*  My thanks to Oktor Skjaervo and Mahnaz Moazami for their help and encouragement
through the years.
1  See D. N. MacKenzie, “Kerdir’s inscription,” in G. Herrmann, D. N. MacKenzie and R. Howell
(eds.), The Sasanian Reliefs at Naqsh-i Rustam: Naqsh-i Rustam 6, The Triumph of Shapur I
(Berlin: Iranische Denkmäler, 1989), Lief. 13. Reihe II: (Berlin: Iranische Felsreliefs 1, 1989),
pp. 35–72 (repr. in 1999, I, pp. [MP 217–73]), p. 58 par. 11.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���6 | doi ��.��63/9789004324541_012

176 Elman

Christians (such as Marcionites, Elchasites) that are not mentioned explic-

itly, there was his own religion, Zoroastrianism, the Mandeans, and, indeed,
the remaining pagan Babylonians. And in the course of the Sasanian period,
Zoroastrianism itself produced a number of warring sects.
In this essay I will concentrate on rabbinic anti-Manichean and anti-
Zoroastrian polemic; Rabbinic Judaism’s engagement with Christianity has been
thoroughly canvassed in the last decade or so,2 though one of the passages that
will stand at the center of our attention may contain a hitherto unrecognized
reference to Jesus. We shall briefly review passages in the Babylonian Talmud
in which the sages lay claim to preferred status over against or equal to others,
even over the Torah’s plain meaning, an issue that seems to have been a live
one in at least two communities, as I have shown in earlier papers: Mahoza on
the Tigris, a suburb of the Sasanian winter capital of Ctesiphon, which housed
a wealthy and cosmopolitan Jewish community that shared its urban space
with a large Christian community, and, presumably, other religious groups as
well—including Buddhists and Hindus. Most relevant for us, it was a com-
munity that contained some members who were skeptical of rabbinic claims
to authority,3 as well as many proselytes (Babylonian Talmud, Qiddushin 73a;
unless otherwise noted, all talmudic references are to the Babylonian Talmud).
Likewise, we find that the Jewish community of Pumbedita on the Euphrates,
while much more insular, had a major “town versus gown” problem, and was
thus also a candidate for rabbinic polemic, which we shall also examine.
Moreover, two of its major authorities, Rab Yosef and Abaye, and especially the
former, demonstrate knowledge of Zoroastrian theology.4 Thus, while it would
be entirely natural to interpret such passages against an internal Jewish debate

2  See P. Schäfer, Jesus in the Talmud (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007), p. 145 and the
literature cited in notes 4–5. It is noteworthy that the only named Babylonian Rabbi men-
tioned in any of the passages examined by Schäfer is Rab Hisda (early fourth century); all the
rest are either Eretz-Israelis, or the arguments are presented anonymously. In contrast, all the
sources we shall examine in this paper are attributed to one or another Babylonian Rabbi,
a fact which indicates that these sources may be dated to the fourth or early fifth centuries,
no matter what one’s view of the reliability of attributions. Could it be that Christianity was
recognized as a threat only in the latter part of the Sasanian era?
3  See Y. Elman, “Acculturation to Elite Persian Norms in the Babylonian Jewish Community
of Late Antiquity,” in E. Halivni, Z. A. Steinfeld, and Y. Elman (eds.), Neti’ot David (Jerusalem:
Orhot, 2004), pp. 31–56 esp. 38–43 (Hebrew).
4  For Rab Yosef, see below; for Abaye, see Sanhedrin 97a on his reorientation of Rabbi Qetina’s
eschatological calculation, by emending one millennium to two he makes Rabbi Qetina’s
scheme cohere with the Zoroastrian view of three eras before the coming of the “Rectifier,” a
messiah-like figure who will finally destroy evil, death, etc.
Some Aspects of Interreligious Polemic in the Babylonian Talmud 177

on the status of Rabbis and the extent of their authority, the existence of other
religious groups suggests that that debate had a wider resonance.
In Mahoza the prominent fourth-century authority, Raba, would claim
that the Rabbis deserved at least as much respect as a Torah scroll, since they
controlled its interpretation (Makkot 22b), and he would stigmatize the house-
hold of “Dr. Minyamin” as heretical because they denigrated rabbinic author-
ity which, according to them, could not allow what the Torah forbad or forbid
what the Torah allowed (Sanhedrin 99b); one wonders whether this proto-
Karaite view (which is stigmatized as heretical) found its encouragement in
the anti-rabbinic views of other groups.5 And in Pumbedita, Raba’s older con-
temporary Abaye suggested that a young scholar who is beloved by his com-
munity is clearly not doing his job of reproving them on their shortcomings
(Ketubbot 105b); he clearly expected that a Rabbi who fulfilled his duties would
be disliked, or even hated, as was his uncle Rabbah (Shabbat 153a). I have dealt
with these sources in earlier papers;6 here I would like to examine another
passage, which has been taken to relate to internal debates, but may be suscep-
tible to another interpretation.
I refer to a well-known rabbinic claim to near-prophetic status, ‫חכם עדיף‬
‫מנביא‬, “a sage [/wise man] is superior to a prophet” (Baba Batra 12a). Here is the
passage, with my comments interspersed:

Rabbi Abdimi of Haifa7 said: Since the day when the Temple was
destroyed, prophecy has been taken from the prophets and given to the
wise. [The redactors ask:] Is then a wise man not also a prophet?—[The
redactors respond:] What he meant was this: Although it has been taken
from the prophets it was given to the wise. [Again the redactors:] Is then
a wise man not also a prophet [that is, were the prophets not also sages,
so that the sages were prophets]?—What he meant was this: Although it
has been taken from the prophets, it has not been taken from the wise.

See Y. Elman, “Middle Persian Culture and Babylonian Sages: Accommodation and
Resistance in the Shaping of Rabbinic Legal Tradition,” in C. E. Fonrobert and M. S. Jaffe (eds.),
Cambridge Companion to Rabbinic Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007),
pp. 165–197 esp. 176–177; idem., “A Tale of Two Cities: Mahoza and Pumbedita as Representing
Two Halakhic Cultures,” in D. Golinkin, et al. (eds.), Torah for Its Own Sake: Studies in
Jewish Studies in Honor of Prof. Shamma Yehudah Friedman (Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan University
Press, , 2007), pp. 3–38 (Hebrew).
6  See Y. Elman, “The Socioeconomics of Babylonian Heresy,” Jewish Law Association Studies 17
(2007), pp. 80–126.
7  A late third- or early fourth-century Eretz-Israel sage.
178 Elman

Amemar8 said: A wise man is superior to a prophet, as it says, “And a

prophet has a heart of wisdom” [Ps 90:12, interpreting the word nabi’ in
the phrase ‘we may get (lit., “come”)’ as related to nabi’, ‘prophet’].” Who
is compared with whom? Is not the lesser compared with the greater
[that is, the prophet with the sage]?
Abaye said: The proof [that prophecy has not been taken from the
wise] is that a great man makes a statement, and the same is then reported
in the name of another great man [who had hit upon the same idea
Said Raba: What is there strange in this? Perhaps both were born under
one star [and this was why they hit on the same idea].
No, said Raba; the proof is this, that a great man makes a statement
and then the same is reported [12b] in the name of Rabbi Akiva ben Yosef
[who certainly was a much greater man, so that the explanation that they
were born under one star will not hold].
Said Rab Ashi:9 What is there strange in this? Perhaps in this matter he
was born under the same star. No, said Rab Ashi; the proof is that a great
man makes a statement and then it is found that the same rule was a
Halachah communicated to Moses at Mount Sinai.
But perhaps the wise man was no better than a blind man groping his
way through a window [and hit on the idea by chance]?
—And does he not give reasons [for his opinions] [Hence we must say
that his agreement with Moses was due not to chance but to the spirit of

This multi-generational debate is of course a redactional construct, though it

should not be adjudged as anachronistic and as projecting later attitudes onto
earlier authorities without further analysis. Note that the discussion revolves
around the rabbinic claim of prophetic powers: How may the Rabbis be con-
sidered prophets? How did they prophesy? The original starting point of the
passage, the statement of Rabbi Abdimi of Haifa, refers to the end of proph-
ecy but provides consolation: Prophetic insight/inspiration is still available
through the sage. In contrast, the claim of Amemar that sages are superior to
prophets is more than consolation; we are actually better off with the sages
than we were with the prophets.
This however raises a more puzzling question: Why compare the sages to
the prophets, when prophecy had ended six centuries before? The prophets

8  A late fourth- or early fifth-century Babylonian sage.

9  In the generation after Amemar.
Some Aspects of Interreligious Polemic in the Babylonian Talmud 179

were hardly the competitors of the sages! As Seder Olam Rabbah puts it (see
below), when prophecy ended one should hearken to the sages.
Moreover, the range of prophetic powers claimed here is vastly limited; the
sages do not claim to predict the future, or lay down far-reaching theological
principles, but “merely” to inadvertently find that their halachic ideas are sup-
ported by precedent. This would seem to relate to a fundamental principle
that reached Babylonia from the Land of Israel at roughly the same time, and
was known to Abaye, who comments on it in Berachot 8a: “From the day the
Temple was destroyed, the Holy One, blessed be He, has only the four cubits
of Halachah [in which to dwell, rather than the Temple in Jerusalem; YE].” It is
in this realm that the Holy One may be found, and so prophecy too relates to
rabbinic concerns.
In light of this, it would seem that Rabbi Abdimi of Haifa was referring not
to the ancient prophets, but to contemporaries who claimed prophetic powers.
And the second century had at least two claimants, if not more: Zoroaster and
Jesus. Since Rabbi Abdimi apparently lived in Roman Eretz-Israel, we assume
that he was denying prophetic powers to Jesus and any number of Christians.10
But Amemar was a Babylonian: he could have been referring to Zoroaster or
perhaps Mani, the founder of Manichaeism. As we shall see, he was certainly
involved with anti-Zoroastrian polemic.
What are we to make of the a-chronological placement of Amemar’s claim
before the debate begun by Abaye and Raba at least half a century before?
Abaye, conventionally considered a fourth-generation authority, died in 338
CE; Amemar is placed in the fifth-sixth generation, a bit before Rab Ashi in the
sixth generation, an authority who died in 417 or 427.
Because a literal interpretation of this claim (that a sage is superior to a
prophet) appears only here in the Babylonian Talmud, and because of the
a-chronological placement of Amemar’s statement before those of Abaye and
Raba, who only claim inadvertent prophetic powers for the sage but not supe-
riority, Alon Goshen-Gottstein, who has surveyed the literature on Amemar’s
statement through the centuries, concludes that “it seems to me that Amemar
attempts only to strengthen the Talmud’s claim [regarding the sage’s pro-
phetic powers, but not his superiority].” But that conclusion assumes that
(1) our passage is a unified composition in itself, and (2) the redactors’ presumed
interpretation reflects Amemar’s true intention. However, neither assumption
is inevitable. Though Abaye and Raba often appear together, Richard Kalmin
has suggested that even this juxtaposition does not reflect the true nature of

10  See D. E. Aune, Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World (Grand
Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 1983).
180 Elman

their relationship, since, after all, Mahoza and Pumbedita were 100 km apart;11
and though Rab Ashi often comments on Raba’s statements, he was separated
from him by a generation and even more than 100 km. Finally, Amemar is sel-
dom connected with his fourth-generation predecessors, and recent work by
Barak Cohen has demonstrated his rather independent stance on halachic
Thus, this passage seems to have been the product of the juxtaposition of
two traditions or more, one relating to the relationship between prophets and
sages and comprised of the statements of Rabbis Abdimi and Amemar, and the
rest of the passage, which is made up of the discussion regarding the nature
of rabbinic prophetic powers. The question then arises as to the historical
context in which we should view Amemar’s claim that sages are superior to
prophets. What is its thrust, against what view does it polemicize? One pos-
sibility is to juxtapose it not to Raba’s view here but rather with his view in
Makkot that the sages, as true interpreters of the biblical word, are superior to
prophets—even to Moses. For, as Raba goes on to say, while Deut 25:3 lays
down the rule that stripes should not exceed 40 in number, the sages limited
them to 39 (Makkot 22b).12 But even though the redactors brought Amemar’s
claim together with that of Raba and Abaye, we should rather interpret it
within the context of Amemar’s own views, and, as we shall see, in that context
his claim seems more far-reaching than that of all his predecessors.
All in all, however, there is an even more fundamental problem with the
entire passage, for it assumes that though the era of the prophets is over—
indeed, that era had ended more than six centuries before—prophecy was still
available. As Alon Goshen-Gottstein himself noted in his survey of the inter-
pretations of the slogan “a sage is superior to a prophet,” Seder Olam Rabbah 30,
which dates back to the Second Temple period, perhaps three centuries before
Rabbi Abdimi, already states: “Until here the prophets would prophesy with
the holy spirit; from here onward incline your ear and harken to the words of
the sages.”13
Goshen-Gottstein observes that rabbinic sources mitigate the tension
between these two sources of authority and propose various relationships

11  See R. L. Kalmin, “Friends and Colleagues, or Barely Acquainted? Relationships between
Fourth-Generation Teachers in the Babylonian Talmud,” in his Sages, Stories, Authors, and
Editors in Rabbinic Babylonia (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1994), pp. 75–192.
12  See also Makkot 24a, which refers to the four “decrees” that Moses decreed but which were
reversed later on.
13  See A. Goshen-Gottstein, “ ‘Hakham Adif mi-Navi’: Tefisat ha-Torah bi-Re’I Parshanut
ha-Pitgam le-Doroteha,” in H. Kreissel, ed., Study and Knowledge in Jewish Thought, Be’er
Sheva: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, vol. II, pp. 37–77; see pp. 37–38.
Some Aspects of Interreligious Polemic in the Babylonian Talmud 181

between prophecy and human wisdom—from views that concede that

prophecy is superior to those that put them on a par; the latter are divided
into those who feel that the equivalence is obvious, while others require proof.14
But it should be noted that the solution proposed by Seder Olam mitigates the
tension by assigning it to a different era. Why then do the Talmudic sages seem
to revive the tension?
I suggest that we may recover that context by examining other statements
transmitted in the name of Amemar, and considering their historical and cul-
tural context. Space constraints preclude detailed consideration of the follow-
ing passages in which Amemar figures, but the survey itself will be sufficiently
enlightening, in my opinion.
The most detailed study of Amemar’s legal decisions, and the principles
behind them, has recently been published by Barak Cohen, who devotes an
entire chapter of his recent book to Amemar, and, inter alia, locates him in
Neharde’a, which, given the geography of Jewish Babylonia, is significant.15
In Zebachim 92a, Samuel must use an early form of mass communication—
teaching something to a group of Jews who would then spread the word—that
in Jewish tradition fire is a purifying agent, as opposed to Zoroastrian teach-
ing, where it is a holy entity which must not be brought into contact with
pollution.16 Thus we learn that in Samuel’s time—the first half of the third
century—there were a substantial number of people who were acculturated
enough to have adopted Zoroastrian attitudes to fire, a matter regarding which
the two religions differ radically. Amemar’s interest in interreligious polemics
may thus stem from a deeply-felt need of the Nehardean Rabbis to educate at
least some of the Jews of their community.
Still, though our interest in Amemar relates less to his legal stances than his
theological ones, our portrait must take Cohen’s exhaustive study of Amemar’s
legal rulings into account. In brief, Cohen accounts him a “legal realist” not
bound by precedent, that is, “judges respond primarily to the stimulus of the

14  See Pesahim 66b, where a series of parallels between the treatment meted out to over-
bearing prophets and sages are separately derived from different biblical verses; see
Goshen-Gottstein, “ ‘Hakham Adif mi-Navi’,” p. 37, notes 2–4.
15  B. S. Cohen, The Legal Methodology of Late Nehardean Sages in Sasanian Babylonia
(Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2011), pp. 44–45. This is merely a snippet of his long chapter on Amemar,
pp. 37–98. See also I. Gafni, “Expressions and Types of ‘Local Patriotism’ Among the Jews
of Sasanian Babylonia,” Irano-Judaica II (1990), pp. 63–71, and R. Hidary, Dispute for the
Sake of Heaven: Legal Pluralism in the Talmud (Brown Judaic Studies 353; Providence, RI:
Brown University Press, 2010), pp. 62–77.
16  He does so by stressing that “drink offerings which have become polluted must be burnt,”
a teaching that had absolutely no relevance to non-scholars some 140 years after the
destruction of the Temple!
182 Elman

facts of the case, rather than to legal rules and reasons.”17 As we shall see, this
insight supplements our survey.
Thus, in Sanhedrin 39a Amemar is depicted as debating a Zoroastrian priest
on the effects of a dualistic view on the human body,18 while in Pesachim
110a–b he quotes an incantation of “the chief of the sorceresses”—an incan-
tation, it should be stressed, that parallels one found on a magic bowl now
located in the British Museum.19 In Abodah Zarah 71a he argues that meshichah,
the rabbinic equivalent of the Roman traditio, “handing over,” is available as a
means of transferring possession in dealings with Iranians, since they do not
retract on sending gifts to one another. As contrasted with the view of Rab
Ashi, who explains their behavior in terms of their pride rather than probity;
Amamar thus maintains that traditio it is not valid in dealings between Jews
and non-Jews.20 In any case, it is clear from these passages that Amemar was
quite knowledgeable about Iranian religion and mores, and even the technol-
ogy of warding off demons by means of spells, magic bowls and spices, a tech-
nology shared by Jews and non-Jews alike.
In light of all this, I suggest that we view this suddenly renewed concern
of the sages on the status of prophecy within the context of challenges to
Judaism, and, in particular, to rabbinic Judaism. For among the religions com-
peting for adherents in Mesopotamia there were no fewer than three that
claimed prophetic founders: Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Manichaeism.
The fact that, technically speaking, Jesus was not a prophet but a divine being
need not detain us, since early Christians differed on the matter, and, in any
case, Amemar is not likely to have wanted to refer to that (blasphemous to
him) divine status in any case. And this brings us to a crucial point: except in
missionary religions such as Christianity and Manichaeism, religious polemic
is likely to be defensive and oriented to the task of defending the faith to its
adherents. Our concern, then, is with Babylonian Jewish views of Christianity
rather than Christian claims.

17  Cohen, Legal Methodology, p. 53, note 96.

18  For a recent examination of this passage, see S. Secunda, The Iranian Talmud: Reading
the Bavli in Its Sasanian Context (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014),
pp. 129–131.
19  See my examination of this passage in Y. Elman, “Saffron, Spices, and Sorceresses: Magic
Bowls and the Bavli,” in K. Stratton and D. Kalleres (eds.), Daughters of Hecate: Women and
Magic in Antiquity (Oxford University Press, 2014), pp. 365–385 esp. 370–373.
20  See Y. Elman, “Shopping in Ctesiphon: A Lesson in Sasanian Commercial Practice,”
in M. Geller (ed.), Archaeology and Material Culture of the Babylonian Talmud (Studies in
Judaica 16; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2015), pp. 225–244.
Some Aspects of Interreligious Polemic in the Babylonian Talmud 183

As to Manichaeism, the claim to prophecy, and the claim to have been sent
to the world to found a new religion that will supersede all others, originates
with Mani himself, as Manichaean accounts confirm.21 Mani proclaimed him-
self the “seal of the prophets”; Islam’s view of Jesus as a prophet may come
from Manichaeism, as its requirement for prayer five times a day may have
Zoroastrian sources. Indeed, the claim of prophecy is even broader, for Mani
was born into a Baptist sect, the Elchasites, who were founded by another
prophetic figure, Elchasai.22 Amemar’s claim for rabbinic superiority over the
prophets would then have served admirably as a catch-all defense against most
of the religions with which Judaism competed in Sasanian Mesopotamia.
And that Judaism needed defending is not in question: as Shaul Shaked has

[Along with Christianity and Manichaeism], in the seething corners of

the Sasanian empire several other religious movements came into being
and held sway for some time. We hardly know their names, apart from
one or two: [For example,] Mazdakism, which had at least one preceding
movement to herald its coming, associated with the name of a certain
Zaradusht, towards the end of the Sasanian period. . . . [Shaked goes on
to enumerate the existence of the Mandeans and several other Baptist
Gnostic-type movements and Indian influences].23

Indeed, the Babylonian Talmud itself contains evidence of this lively religious
milieu, as I have pointed out in earlier articles. Megillah 7a reports Rab Yosef’s
riposte against Zoroastrianism, the Talmud’s anti-Christian polemic is well-
known, and, aside from Amemar’s claim examined here, Raba, in the second
quarter of the fourth century in Mahoza, defended Rabbinic Judaism against
the Manichaean claim to superiority on the ground that Mani had provided
his followers with a written scripture, something that both Zoroastrianism and
Rabbinic Judaism did not do.24 Thus, Erubin 21b affirms:

21  See M. Tardieu, Manichaeism (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008),
based on the second French edition of 1997, for a convenient account of Mani and his
religion; see esp. pp. 1–30 on Mani himself.
22  See Tardieu, Manichaeism, pp. 4–8.
23  S. Shaked, Dualism in Transformation: Varieties of Religion in Sasanian Iran (Jordan
Lectures 1991; London: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London,
1994), p. 11.
24  See Y. Elman, “Acculturation to Elite Persian Norms,” esp. pp. 38–43. See also
G. G. Stroumsa, The End of Sacrifice: Religious Transformations in Late Antiquity (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 2009), pp. 34–42.
184 Elman

Raba expounded:25 What is the purport of the Scriptural text: And, fur-
thermore, my son, be admonished: Of making many books [there is no
end,] [Eccl 12:12]? My son, be more careful in [the observance of] the
words of the Scribes than in the words of the Torah, for in the laws of
the Torah there are positive and negative precepts; but, as to the laws
of the Scribes, whoever transgresses any of the enactments of the Scribes
incurs the penalty of death. In case you should say: If they are of real
value why were they not written down? Scripture stated: “Of making
many books there is no end.”

Note Raba’s explicit response to an argument that was evidently being made
in the streets of Mahoza: “In case you should say: If they are of real value, why
were they not written down?” This suggests that the context of this remark was
a public address rather than an internal rabbinic discussion. And this is exactly
the Manichaean claim, as we have it from Mani himself in a missionary letter
which has survived in multiple languages.

Then the apostle says to them: The church that I have chosen is superior
in ten aspects over the first churches. . . .
(The second): My church surpasses in the wisdom and . . . which I have
unveiled for you in it. This (immeasurable) wisdom I have written in the
holy books, in the great Gospel and the other writings; so that it will not
be changed after me. Also, the way I have written it in the books: (This) is
how I have commanded it to be depicted. Indeed, all the (apostles), my
brethren who came prior to me: (They did not write) the wisdom in books
the way that I, I have written it. (Nor) did they depict their wisdom in the
Picture(-Book) the way (that I, I have) depicted it. My church surpasses (in
the other matter also), for its primacy to the first churches.26

And in another version, in a Persian fragment from Central Asia:

The religion (dēn) which I have chosen is greater and better than the other
religions in ten ways: First, the religions of the ancients were (spread) in
one land and one language. But my religion is such that it will be mani-
fest in all lands and in all languages and will be taught in distant lands.

25  Hebrew / Aramaic darash / derash, which may also (as I assume it does in this case) refer
to giving a sermon. See below.
26  The translation is by Iain Gardner, in I. Gardner and S. N. C. Lieu (eds.), Manichaean Texts
from the Roman Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 265–266.
Some Aspects of Interreligious Polemic in the Babylonian Talmud 185

Second, the older religions were (in order) as long as there were holy
teachers within them . . ., but when the leaders were raised up (died),
their religions became confused, and they (the adherents) became slack
in (observing the precepts) and in works. . . . But my religion, by virtue of
its living scriptures, (its) teachers, bishops, elect and auditors, and by its
wisdom and deeds will endure to the end.27

This claim was part of a broader movement, one that Guy G. Stroumsa has
dubbed “the Scriptural Movement.”28 He describes the rabbinic dilemma as

The rise of Judaism as a religion of the Book precedes the birth of

Christianity. What is still more remarkable, though, is the total disap-
pearance (or almost so) of books in the culture of rabbinic Judaism, a
disappearance that has not been enough taken into account29 and that
remains largely unexplained. The rise of Christianity may have something
to do with this astonishing phenomenon: it seems in effect . . . that Jews
and Christians, in their efforts to distinguish themselves from each other,
were forced to develop different practices of writing. For the Christians,
as for the Manichaeans, writing preserved the truth, which otherwise
would be mixed with falsehood. By contrast, the Jews composed a whole
oral literature that they carefully avoided putting into writing. . . . And
this is not a unique case. The example of the Avesta’s Gathas, the most
ancient texts of the Zoroastrian tradition, shows that a sacred literature
may be conserved with very great precision in solely oral fashion for even
a millennium.30

Indeed, the challenge to Zoroastrianism was so great that the magi devised
a new alphabet (including Armenian letters) and proceeded to write down
these ancient texts, a task that was apparently completed by the middle of the

27  H.-J. Klimkeit, Gnosis on the Silk Road: Gnostic Texts from Central Asia (San Francisco:
Harper San Francisco, 1993), p. 216. See also I. Gardner, The Kephalaia of the Teacher: The
Edited Coptic Manichaean Texts in Translation with Commentary (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995),
pp. 12–14.
28  See G. G. Stroumsa, “The Scriptural Movement of Late Antiquity and Christian
Monasticism,” JECS 16 (2008), pp. 61–77. For a broader description, see his The End of
Sacrifice, and see immediately below.
29  Actually, I pointed this out at length more than 15 years ago; see Y. Elman, “Orality and the
Redaction of the Babylonian Talmud,” Oral Tradition 14 (1999), pp. 52–99.
30  Stroumsa, End of Sacrifice, p. 32.
186 Elman

sixth century.31 And, as we have seen, Raba responded to this challenge in a

sermon delivered in Mahoza, most likely sometime in the 340s.
Nor is this the Babylonian Talmud’s only response to Manichaeism. In
Sanhedrin 90a-92b the Babylonian Talmud presents no fewer than 18 argu-
ments to prove that the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is prefigured
in the Torah, while the parallel Jerusalem Talmud presents only one. I suggest
that this is because Mani’s assertion that resurrection will only apply to the
soul and not the body,32 had struck roots in the Jewish community and had to
be combatted.
Thus, anyone shopping for a new religion in fourth-century Sasanian
Mesopotamia would have found a plethora of choices; but while certain ele-
ments were common to all of them, they differed on the character of those
elements. That is, nearly all could boast of a prophetic founder—Moses,
Zoroaster, Jesus, Mani, Elchasai, and all offered salvation in a future world.
However, the first two had ancient prophets, and the latter two had much more
recent ones, one, Manichaeism, offered an all-but contemporary prophet. They
also differed on an issue that was apparently of burning importance at the
time: the presence or absence of a written scripture. Rabbinic Judaism, like
Zoroastrianism, had an oral scripture that was determinative; Manichaeism and
Christianity had a written Scripture.
We should pause for a moment to explain why Judaism’s written Scripture
was ignored by Mani in his claim for his religion: It was not simply his over-
whelming anti-Semitism, which he had inherited from his Gnostic upbringing;
as Stroumsa points out:

. . . This is not only due to his deep theological anti-Semitism, which

allows him to integrate in his Heilsgeschichte all the religions of humanity
except that of the Jews. It is also, and perhaps especially, because his argu-
ment on the degradation on the prophecy of the founders of religions as
being due to orality does not work in the case of Moses, who remained
for everybody, until Spinoza, the undisputed author of the Pentateuch.33

31  H. W. Bailey, Zoroastrian Problems in the Ninth-Century Books (reprint; Ratanbai Katrak
Lectures, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), p. 169.
32  See W. Sundermann, “A Manichaean View on the Resurrection of the Body,” Bulletin of the
Asia Institute 10 (1996), pp. 187–194.
33  Stroumsa, The End of Sacrifice, p. 38.
Some Aspects of Interreligious Polemic in the Babylonian Talmud 187

It is thus remarkable that Mani’s view of resurrection was influential enough

among Jews for the Rabbis to feel the need to counter it, as Raba in Mahoza /
Ctesiphon felt impelled to respond to his point regarding Scripture.
Not that Manichaeism was all that attractive to Jews and Zoroastrians, since
Manichaeism, like Christianity, valorized a monastic style of life; Judaism
and Zoroastrianism valued “ordinary life” as it was perceived by most people,
though both honored their erudite elites.34 The Babylonian Talmud defends
Rabbinic Judaism in regard to the two elements to which it was vulnerable
to Manichaean and Christian attacks: Raba defends its oral tradition, and
Amemar defends its current absence of a prophetic voice: “a sage takes pre-
cedence over a prophet.” Amemar’s intervention is not surprising; as noted
above, he is reported to have debated a magus on his own ground, and shows
an interest in Iranian customs. That is not to say that Sanhedrin 39a reflects an
actual debate, as Secunda has noted, but as he suggests, it reflects “a kind of
late antique and early medieval ‘text-scape’ across Iranian lands that included
Aramaic-speaking rabbis and Persian-speaking Zoroastrians.”35 In this case,
Secunda has located a Zoroastrian text that mirrors Amemar’s argument.

A magus once said to Amemar: From the middle of your [body] upwards
you belong to Ormazd [the benevolent creator]; from the middle down-
wards, to Ahriman [the evil spirit]. The latter asked: Why then does
Ahriman permit Ormazd to send water [= urine] through his territory?

This exchange has a striking parallel in a post-Sasanian Middle Persian text

which, though later than the Babylonian Talmud, may well go back to a Sasanian
oral predecessor, Gizistag Abāliš. The debate relates to the Zoroastrian custom
of wearing a belt to divide the lower half of the body from the upper, a kustīg.

The seventh question was this: “Why do you tie the kustīg? For, if there is
merit in tying the kustīg, then asses, camels and horses, who night and
day have a belt tied seven times tightly around [their bellies], will go to
heaven before you.”

34  For the need to defend celibacy within a late antique Mesopotamian context, see
Aphrat, Demonstration 18 (Against the Jews, Concerning Virginity and Holiness). For
a recent translation, see A. Lehto, “Divine Law, Asceticism, and Gender in Aphrahat’s
Demonstrations, with a Complete Annotated Translation of the Text and Comprehensive
Syriac Glossary” (dissertation, University of Toronto, 2003), pp. 365–372.
35  Secunda, The Iranian Talmud, p. 131.
188 Elman

The Mowbed said: “It is not something we do for no reason. It only

seems unreasonable to the unaware who know the wrong things, to those
who are unaware and do not know the reason for anything, and to whom
the reason for nothing is clear. We say, as we believe in two origins, that
this is made visible on our bodies. Ohrmazd’s share is the light and para-
dise. In the same way, everything that is in the upper half of the body,
such as hearing and smell—the place of wisdom, the soul, the mind,
thought, intelligence, perception, the inborn wisdom and that acquired
through hearing—is the place of the gods and the Amahraspands. . . . The
lower half is like a place of stench and pollution, the bladder and excre-
ment. And the stench is like the lair and place of Ahreman and the
demons. If one regards this as obvious, one makes it a foundation and
builds it up as one would a house. The kustīg makes a boundary in the
bodies, which is why it is called kustīg. For by it, it is shown that
the body clearly has two sides (kust). In the same way, if you (plural)
squat somewhere, from the urine it is shown. So this [kustīg] is, in fact, a
dividing wall.

This parallel was pointed out by my student, Samuel (Shai) Secunda in his
recent book, and I can do no better than quote from his analysis.

First and foremost, this passage illustrates that the conversation depicted
in the Talmudic anecdote should not be dismissed as wholly removed
from reality. Late antique Zoroastrians really did maintain that the
upper half of the body was the domain of one spiritual force while the
lower half is associated with another. What is more, attention to the con-
tours of the arguments in both sources, and even their language, reveals
a set of striking correspondences. Notice how in both texts urine and uri-
nation play crucial functions in the argument. In Ādurfarnbag’s response,
the presence of the bladder and the role urination prove Ahreman’s
dominion over the body’s lower half. Amemar seems to reverse this rather
Zoroastrian conception of urination by upturning it. His response to the
magus is that micturition requires the cooperation of both halves of
the body, thus denying fundamental anatomical division. Further, in
both texts, the body is not simply divided between two powers, rather
each force controls a particular world or district—ar’a in Aramaic, and
crucially kust (the main element in kustīg—the ritual belt) in Middle
Persian. . . . Yet the parallels between the two texts in content and lan-
guage are quite clear, and they seem to testify to a textual relationship
between the Amemar-Magus anecdote and Gizistag Abāliš. Any direct
Some Aspects of Interreligious Polemic in the Babylonian Talmud 189

relationship of transmission between this post-Sasanian Pahlavi work is

clearly out of the question. And unlike the previous example, here is no
reason to assume that the Middle Persian text in question enjoyed impe-
rial backing or was especially defused across the Empire. Nevertheless,
since Pahlavi literature—even as it has come down to us in a written form
first put down on parchment in the ninth century—generally reflects
protracted processes of oral production and transmission in which older
phrases are recycled and reapplied to new contexts, it is likely that some
elements found in Gizistag Abāliš recall earlier formulations.36

While that does not by itself prove that Amemar knew the text, it does show
that he was familiar with the theological terrain, and, in conjunction with the
other statements reviewed above, indicates that he did involve himself in such
“borderline” issues such as sorcery and interreligious polemic and relations.
Thus, it is altogether feasible to assert that his claim that “a sage is superior to
a prophet” was directed against the claims of competing religions. Its advan-
tage was that it was an all-purpose argument that defended Rabbinic Judaism
from claims of prophetic primacy that would have come from several direc-
tions, in particular, the new religions of Christianity and Manichaeism, as well
as less prominent ones like the Elchasites and whatever other small groups
had coalesced around a charismatic founder claiming prophetic powers. Note
though that in this respect Zoroastrian magi were, as in other respects, in the
same position as the Rabbis. They did not claim prophecy; instead, as surviving
Pahlavi literature attests, they were scholars studying their ancient prophetic
works and applying them to the challenges of late antique life. They too were
vulnerable to Mani’s polemic.
This does not mean that the Rabbis refrained from anti-Zoroastrian polemic.
For example, Rab Yosef, two generations before Amemar, made the following
anti-Persian remark.

And Rab Yosef taught: These [represented in Dan 7:5] by a bear (‫ )דוב‬are
the Persians, who eat and drink like bears, are fat like bears, grow their
hair like bears, and have no rest like bears.

The Persians are represented by a bear in Daniel 7, and Rab Yosef explains the
symbolism as representing their bear-like characteristics. However, all three
are problematic: Zoroastrianism enjoins abstemiousness, though of course
that does not mean that all Iranians were. Still, why are they characterized as

36  Secunda, The Iranian Talmud, pp. 130–131.

190 Elman

hairy and restless? Though intergroup stereotypes need not be realistic, they
should have some grounding in reality.
The key is linguistic: The entire statement is based on a play on words:
dov (bear in Hebrew) and dēv (demon in Middle Persian and later borrowed
into the Aramaic of the magic bowls). Moreover, in order to understand the
force of the pun, one must understand—as Rab Yosef clearly did—the role of
demons in Zoroastrian theology. The demons are the armies of the Evil Spirit,
Ahriman, and Zoroastrianism is defined in its essence as an anti-demon reli-
gion, and, moreover, the very identity of a Zoroastrian is bound up with oppos-
ing demons; as part of the fravarane, the Zoroastrian confession of faith, which
accompanies prayer worship, has it:

I forswear the company of the wicked Daevas . . . and the followers of

Daevas, of demons and the followers of demons. . . .37

The Daevas are the old Iranian gods of war and strife, and the demons con-
stitute the armies of Ahriman, the evil spirit, who have disheveled hair, as a
Middle Persian apocalyptic text has it: The White Huns and Turks, enemies of
the Sasanians, are “demons with disheveled hair,” dēwan wizard wars.38 Again,
in Zoroastrian anti-Jewish polemic, Judaism was founded by a demon, Dahāg;39
Rab Yosef is merely turning the tables and proclaiming that the Zoroastrians
are themselves demons, and, as such, have disheveled hair and, as Chagigah
16a has it, are always flitting about, “flying from one end of the earth to the
The other two, however, regarding hair and restlessness, are difficult to
explain unless one is familiar with Middle Persian for the one and rabbinic
literature for the other. The reference to hair requires a knowledge of Middle
Persian literature, as Rab Yosef evidently had, as he had of Zoroastrian theology
and practice. First, it should be noted that “growing one’s hair like bears” does
not refer to hairiness, but to disheveled hair, a characteristic of demons, as we
see from the stick-figure depictions of demons on the magic bowls. Moreover,
most Sasanian coins have profiles of monarchs on them, and the monarch’s

37  M. Boyce, Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press), 1978, p. 56.
38  See C. G. Cereti, The Zand ī Wahmān Yasn: A Zoroastrian Apocalypse (Serie Orientale
Roma 75; Rome: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, 1995), for text, see pars.
1.11 (p. 133), 4.2 (p. 136), and see commentary on pp. 174, 185.
39  See S. Shaked, “Zoroastrian Polemics against Jews in the Sasanian and Early Islamic
Period,” Irano-Judaica II (1990), pp. 85–104, esp. p. 99.
Some Aspects of Interreligious Polemic in the Babylonian Talmud 191

hair is neatly gathered at the nape in a neat globe, since Zoroastrians believed
that hair that was not treated properly, when detached from the body, can be
used as weapons by the demons, who are the armies of the Evil Spirit. Thus,
chapter 17 of the Pahlavi Videvdad, the Avestan book dealing the pollution
and purification, opens with a warning by Ohrmazd to Zoroaster that “those
who arrange their hair . . ., cut their hair and cut their nails. . . . Then by that act
contrary to the religion [do not dispose of the hair or nail clippings properly,
YE] . . . the demons will come together in the earth.”40 The rest of the chapter
is devoted to detailed instructions on disposing of hair- and nail-cuttings so to
avoid aiding the forces of evil.
Finally, the following passage gives us an inkling of what was at stake for the
Rabbis in these polemics:

For Rabbi Judah said: Who are the ‘hard-hearted’? The stupid Gubaeans.41
Rab Yosef said: The proof is that they have never produced a proselyte.
Rab Ashi said: The people of Mata Mehasia [a suburb of Sura, where
Rab and his students gathered, and where, five generations later, Rab
Ashi and his students gathered; the two are identified in Iggeret Rab
Sherira Gaon] are ‘hard-hearted’, for they see the glory of the Torah twice
a year [in the yarhei kallah, so Rashi], and never has one of them been

The passage divides naturally into two parts, the first regarding the town of
Pumbedita in the early third century (as represented by Rabbi Judah and Rab
Yosef42), and the second, centered in Mata Mehasia, a suburb of Sura, as rep-
resented by Rab Ashi in the late fourth or early fifth century. Both were on
or near the Euphrates, and thus somewhat distant from the Sasanian winter
capital of Ctesiphon, and consequently less acculturated. In Muslim times
Sura was considered an all-Jewish town, though, as is clear from the source
just quoted, there were non-Jews in the neighborhood. As to Pumbedita, I have

40  M. Moazami, Wrestling With the Demons of the Pahlavi Widēwdād; Transcription,
Translation and Commentary (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2014), p. 393.
41  See M. Sokoloff, A Dictionary of Babylonian Jewish Aramaic of the Talmudic and Geonic
Periods (Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan University Press, 2002), col. 265a, s.v. ‫גובאה‬, which Sokoloff
designates as an “adj., n. of GN (unknown GN).”
42  MS Munich 95 preserves an emendation to “Abaye,” Rab Yosef’s nephew, but since they
were both Pumbeditans, it does not affect our argument. See Diqduqei Soferim, Berakhot,
p. 82, n. tzadi.
192 Elman

already called attention to the insular character of its Jewish community;43 the
lack of proselytes can be attributed to that factor, especially when we contrast
it with the cosmopolitan Jewish community of Mahoza, where, according to
Qiddushin 73a, there were many proselytes:

Rab Zera lectured in Mahoza: A proselyte may marry a mamzeret.

Thereupon everyone pelted him with stones. Said Raba: Is there anyone
who lectures thus in a place where proselytes abound! [Now] Raba lec-
tured in Mahoza: A proselyte may marry a priest’s daughter, [whereupon]
they loaded him with silks. Then he lectured to them again: A proselyte
is permitted [to marry] a mamzeret. Said they to him: You have destroyed
your first [teaching]. He replied: I have done what is best for you: if one
wishes [a proselyte], he can marry here; if he wishes, he can marry there
[= a priest’s daughter].

The Berachot reports are significant in pointing up the defensive posture

of these Rabbis in explaining the paucity or lack of non-Jews converting to
Rabbinic Judaism. As we might expect from what we know of the period, there
was much religious ferment, discussion and polemicizing, and consequently,
conversion from one religion to another. Apparently, all things being equal,
one might have expected a certain number of conversions; the fact that there
were not, or not enough, required explanation! And Rab Ashi, basing himself
on Isa 46:12, attributed this lack to the hard-heartedness of Mata Mehasia’s
non-Jewish inhabitants, who see the “glory of the Torah” twice a year and yet
are not drawn to Judaism.
The phrase yeqara de-Oraita, “the glory of the Torah,” appears only here, and
not in all manuscripts;44 Rashi emends to shebaha de-metibta, “the glory of the
yeshiva,” and interprets it as referring to the two times a year in which laymen
gather to hear scholars discourse on halakhic matters regarding the festivals
to come. The Tosafists report that Sefer haIttim interpreted it as referring to a
pillar of fire which descended from heaven during the two months of the year
in which laymen attended the yeshiva, in Elul and Adar.
However, according to Rashi’s interpretation, it is not at all clear why atten-
dance at these lectures should have impressed Christians or Zoroastrians,
or even Manichaeans, since each had a learned class which was given even
more respect than perhaps the Rabbis themselves. However, the “pillar of fire”

43  Elman, “Socioeconomics of Babylonian Heresy,” pp. 80–126.

44  It definitely appears in MS Paris 671, and perhaps alongside shebaha’ de-metibta in MS
Munich 95. MS Oxford Opp. Add. Fol. 23 reads bi-shebaha’ de-metibta.
Some Aspects of Interreligious Polemic in the Babylonian Talmud 193

interpretation may be a reflex of the Middle Persian xwaranah, “glory, spiri-

tual, creative force.” The Encyclopedia Iranica entry on farr(ah)/xᵛarənah
defines it as “a magic force or power of luminous and fiery nature . . . identified
with a blazing fire that precedes Mithra in his chariot. . . . [It is said] to have
been purely spiritual, acquired through “knowledge” (dānāgīh) and “study”
(frahang).”45 Moreover, in a Zoroastrian collection of responsa, Dādestān
ī Dēnīg (“Religious Decisions”), dating from the tenth century but reflecting
older teachings, xwarrah is taken as evidence of the truth of Zoroastrianism:
“There is as much power in the great glory of the pure and right religion of
the yazdān [the gods] as [there is falseness] in the druz [the Lie](who is) full
of deceit, lawlessness and the great hostility.”46 Indeed, medieval rabbinic
authorities, as noted above present a tradition that “the glory of the Torah” is
“a pillar of fire that descended from heaven during the public study periods
during the months of Elul and Adar.”47
Still, one may wonder why Rab Ashi emphasizes that the “glory of the Torah”
is manifested twice a year; why not all the time? Here, as so often,48 it may be
that we have a concatenation of Zoroastrian and rabbinic values. The Torah’s
glory is manifest when Prov 14:28 is fulfilled: “The glory of God (is manifest)
with a great number of people.” In this case, such an appearance of the “glory
of Torah” might well be expected to serve as a convincing sign of the truth of
Rabbinic Judaism to the Rabbis’ Zoroastrian neighbors, and, since evidently it
did not, they must be extraordinarily hard-hearted, as Rab Ashi insists.

1 Conclusion

We have thus seen that the Babylonian Rabbis were aware of three issues that
divided them from their Mesopotamian neighbors: the existence and author-
ity of prophecy in their own time; the question of written scripture, and the
question of heavenly testimony of their religion’s truth.

45  Encyclopedia Iranica, s.v. farr(ah), http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/farrah.

46  Dādestān ī Dēnīg, Part I, transcription, translation and commentary by Mahmoud Jaafari-
Dehaghi (Paris: Association pour L’Avancement des Etudes Iraniennes, 1998), 36.73, p. 139.
47  Tosafot, Berachot 17b, s.v. trei zimnei be-shatta’. The origin of this report seems to be the
Sefer haIttim, no. 168.
48  See my discussion of this point in “The Torah of Temporary Marriage—A Study in Cultural
History,” in Festschrift for Maria Macuch (Otto Harrosowitz, 2015, forthcoming).
194 Elman

There is one major interreligious issue that we have not examined: theodicy,
in part because of space constraints, and in part because I have dealt with this
issue in a series of papers published more than a decade ago, though with-
out reference to the interreligious aspects of the debate, a deficiency that I
hope to remedy in the near future.49 It is now clear, however, that the rab-
binic response was motivated by both internal and external concerns. At least
three religions—Zoroastrianism, Christianity (and especially its gnostic vari-
ants), and Manichaeism—all presented severe challenges to a monotheistic

49  See Y. Elman, “When Permission is Given: Aspects of Divine Providence,” Tradition 24/4
(1989), pp. 24–45, idem, “The Destroying Angel in a Time of Redemption,” Rinat Yitzchak
(1988–1989), pp. 109–113 (Hebrew), idem, “The Suffering of the Righteous in Babylonian
and Palestinian Sources,” JQR 80 (1990), pp. 315–339, idem, “Righteousness as Its Own
Reward: An Inquiry into the Theologies of the Stam,” PAAJR 57 (1991), pp. 35–67, and idem,
“The Contribution of Rabbinic Thought Towards a Theology of Suffering,” in S. Carmy
(ed.), Jewish Perspectives on the Experience of Suffering (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aaronson,
1999), pp. 155–212.

Egyptian Motifs in Late Antique Mosaics and

Rabbinic Texts*

Rivka Ulmer

1 Introduction

The memory of the Exodus from Egypt has been a major theological
topic that has shaped the expression of Jewish thought from antiquity to
modernity.1 Egypt became more of an ideological position rather than a real
place and a real time period. The negative descriptions in the Bible of the
Pharaohs as representatives of Egypt set clear boundaries between Egypt and
Israel that have endured for millennia. This ideological position served as a
trope for rhetorical effect in the rabbinic struggle against religious and cultural
threats posed by life under Roman occupation in the Land of Israel and in the
Diaspora. The midrashic authors2 might have found the theological framework
of the relationship between Egypt and Israel in the Bible, but they might have
also found other information in the collective cultural memory and from out-
side the texts.

* This chapter is dedicated to John T. Townsend, preeminent Midrash scholar and amicus
optimus. Some of the content found in this chapter was presented at an International
Colloquium entitled Rabbis and Synagogues in the Mediterranean Context (University of
Granada, Spain, 2015), and with the title “A God with Breasts: Egyptian Motifs in Late Antique
Mosaics and Rabbinic Texts,” at the AJS-Conference (Boston, 2015). I am grateful to Steven
Fine, Judith Hauptman, Reuven Kimelman, and John Townsend for their comments.
See R. Ulmer, Egyptian Cultural Icons in Midrash (Studia Judaica, Forschungen zur
Wissenschaft des Judentums 52; Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 2009). Rabbinic texts continued to
engage with Egypt long after the sojourn of West-Semites (“Hebrews”) in Egypt and their
subsequent Exodus from Egypt.
2  The methodology of Midrash often involves “lemmatization” of Scripture, i.e., to cite a string
of biblical text for hermeneutical purposes. This midrashic approach to the Bible is also
applicable to the retrieval of the memories of Egypt. Egypt becomes “lemmatized,” reduced
to fragments of information, which are the basis for the hermeneutical objective.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���6 | doi ��.��63/9789004324541_013

196 Ulmer

Memories of Egypt were expressed by multiple icons in midrashic literature;

these icons include Egyptian gods,3 Pharaohs, festivals, cultural preferences,
languages, Queen Cleopatra, the Nile, the landscape, the fauna and flora, as
well as the city of Alexandria. In addition to the textual fragments concerning
Egypt in rabbinic literature, the Land of Israel contained many archaeological
artifacts that may have served as reminders of the Egyptian past.4 Moreover,
depictions of the Nile are found in the iconography of buildings; among
these depictions we find the (assumed) Egyptian “Nile god” in mosaics.
Depictions of Nilotic scenes were popular in Roman art,5 and they had a sig-
nificant influence on the artwork in Roman and early Byzantine Eretz-Israel.
One of many so-called “campana reliefs” (1st half of the first century CE; for
example, Rome, Museo Nazionale Romano, Terme de Diocleziano, No. 62662)
depicts the river fauna and flora and a circular hut on one panel—perhaps
indicating the Ethiopian sources of the Nile. On the riverbank a semi-nude
female reclines on a couch and lifts a drinking vessel, to her left the viewer sees

3  Egyptian gods mentioned in rabbinic literature include Isis and Serapis in Greco-Roman garb
and many others; e.g., Tosefta, Abodah Zarah 5:1; see R. Ulmer, “Cleopatra as a Cultural Icon
in Rabbinic Literature,” Hen 29 (2007), pp. 327–353; eadem, “The Egyptian Gods in Midrashic
Texts,” HTR 103 (2010), pp. 181–204. I am excluding the numerous depictions of other “pagan
gods” and rabbinic / Jewish reactions to these.
4  J. B. Pritchard, The Ancient Near East in Pictures Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton,
NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), lists the stela of Sety I found at Bet-She’an (Israel),
No. 320. J. B. Pritchard (ed.), Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament
(3rd ed.; Princeton; Princeton University Press, 1969), p. 255, provides the text of the stelae
of Sety I and Ramses II. A list of artifacts that may be dated to the New Kingdom—presum-
ably the time of the Exodus—is found in A. E. Killebrew, “New Kingdom Egyptian-style and
Egyptian Pottery in Canaan: Implications for Egyptian Rule in Canaan during the 19th and
Early 20th Dynasty,” in G. N. Knoppers and A. Hirsch (eds.), Egypt, Israel, and the Ancient
Mediterranean World: Studies in Honor of Donald B. Redford (Probleme der Ägyptologie 20;
Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2004), pp. 309–343. In respect to Egyptian-style architecture, see C. R.
Higginbotham, Egyptianization and Elite Emulation in Ramessaide Palestine: Governance and
Accommodation on the Imperial Periphery (Culture and History of the Ancient Near East 2;
Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2000).
5  W. A. Daszewski, Corpus of Mosaics from Egypt I. Hellenistic and Early Roman Period
(Aegyptiaca Treverensia 3; Mainz: Philipp von Zabern, 1985), p. 18, discusses the motifs of
these mosaics and Alexandrian influence: “First of all it shows that neither the Egyptian pan-
els nor the ones in Ostia (if some of them are from Alexandria) betray any typically Egyptian
motifs. An exception is the Nile scene in Cairo (Catalogue No. 44 pl 37a). Otherwise all the
emblata belong to the Graeco-Roman koine repertoire. . . .” He also attempts to identify new
components in the mosaics and to differentiate them from those of other lands, because
local features do not necessarily mean that a motif was derived from Pharaonic Egypt (p. 2).
Egyptian Motifs in Late Antique Mosaics and Rabbinic Texts 197

an ithyphallic statue of Priapus. The second panel shows a square hut, the river
fauna and flora (typically storks, a crocodile, a hippopotamus, and papyrus)
and two pygmies in a boat, one with an extended belly.6 Generally, based on
Roman and other settings, Nilotic scenes may be identified by a repertoire of
elements, which may include crocodiles, hippopotami, birds, papyrus plants,
reed boats, temples, the city of Alexandria, nilometers, and the personification
of the Nile god as a male with breasts and a protruding belly. I agree with the
assessment of Rachel Hachlili that the themes and patterns in Nilotic scenes
may have been taken from pattern books; this was supported by Michael
Donderer.7 These pattern books may have shaped the works of the artists in
the Land of Israel.

2 Crocodiles and Hippopotami

The Nile dominated the Egyptian cultural landscape, because the Nile was a
major contributor to the development of Egyptian religion, culture and civi-
lization. The midrashic texts display knowledge of the Nile inundation (Sifre
Deuteronomy 38; Midrash Tannaim 11:10; Genesis Rabbah 13:9), as well as of
the flora and fauna of the Nile delta. In the Bible the crocodile personifies the
land of the Nile. Normally, the Nile is under the tutelage of gods in the form
of crocodiles, and the crocodile was regarded as sacred and was worshiped.8
The Egyptian goddess Tawret (Θουέρις) was represented as a hippopotamus
with human breasts standing on its back legs. She was both a protective deity

6  This type of decorative relief was very popular in Roman villas; there are many examples
in different collections, for example, Princeton University Art Museum (y1962–143);
Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main; Websites (Viewed May 1, 2015): Hood Museum,
Dartmouth College http://www.dartmouth.edu/~yaleart/objects/relief-with-a-nilotic-scene/.
For descriptions and analyses from the perspective of Roman classical art, see R. Perry,
Die Campanareliefs (Mainz: Philipp von Zabern, 1997); M. Rauch, Bacchische Themen und
Nilbilder auf Campanareliefs (Rahden/Westphalia: Marie Leidorf, 1999); and M. J. Versluys,
Aegyptiaca Romana: Nilotic Scenes and the Roman Views of Egypt (Leiden and Boston: E. J.
Brill, 2002).
7  See R. Hachlili, “Iconographic Elements of Nilotic Scenes on Byzantine Mosaic Pavements
in Israel,” PEQ 130 (1998), pp. 106–120; M. Donderer, “Nilszenen,” Antike Welt 36 (2005),
pp. 59–68.
8  E. Brunner-Traut, “Krokodil,” in W. Helck, E. Otto and W. Westendorf (eds.), Lexikon der
Ägyptologie (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1972), vol. 3, pp. 791–801. Eusebius, referring to the
writings of Philo of Alexandria, uses the following language: “the crocodile is born and nour-
ished by the very sacred Nile” (Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel, 7.1.3).
198 Ulmer

and a symbol for female fertility. As a fertility goddess she was also associ-
ated with the Nile inundation, particularly at Gebel el-Silsila (a mountainous
location adjacent to the Nile, approximately 39 miles north of Assuan in Upper
Egypt). According to The Book of the Dead,9 Tawret guarded the paths to the
mountains of the west, which led to the underworld, and she used magic to
help the deceased pass safely through it. Midrashic texts frequently focus on
frogs, which play significant roles in the plague story in Exodus. Surprisingly
absent is the other stereotypically Egyptian water creature, the hippopotamus.10
This absence may be due to its relative irrelevance in the biblical Exodus
narrative—it was not affected by the Ten Plagues.11
The Nile crocodile and the hippopotamus are stereotypical in Roman rep-
resentations of the Nilotic fauna; for example, a Roman coin from the time of
Octavian has the inscription Aegvpto capta and depicts a crocodile.12 Eusebius
in the 4th century characterizes the Roman emperor as a crocodile.13 A Roman
fresco from the third quarter of the first century CE from Pompey (Pompey, VII
5.24 g, Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale no. 113195)14 depicts a Nile scene;
the viewer is shown an unspecified temple on an island—is this the Isis temple
at Philae?—where pygmies are fighting off crocodiles or sitting on them and
a hippopotamus is devouring one of pygmies. In the background the viewer
sees another temple and a city, probably Alexandria. A Nile god is not present.
A mosaic wall panel in Sepphoris (after 363 CE) also depicts a crocodile,

9  See, for example, Papyrus Ani, §37.

10  Herodotus described it as follows: “The river-horse is sacred in the district of Papremis,
but for the Egyptians he is not sacred; and this is the appearance which he presents: he
is four-footed, cloven-hoofed like an ox, flat-nosed, with a mane like a horse and show-
ing teeth like tusks, with a tail and voice like a horse and in size as large as the largest ox;
and his hide is so exceedingly thick that when it has been dried shafts of javelins are made
of it.” (Herodotus, Histories II.71)
11  In 19th century Halachic literature and dictionaries we find sus ha-ye’or for hippopota-
mus, e.g., Shevile David: ʻal Shulḥan ʻarukh Oraḥ Ḥayim (Przemyśl, 1899; repr. Brooklyn:
Mekhon Shevile David, 1999), section pesaḥ, s.v. ‫יאור‬.
12  The verso of a coin, a Denar of Octavian, Munich, Staatliche Mȕnzsammlung, 28 BCE,
No. 51.356. Octavian is known as “Augustus” Gaius Julius Octavius (63 BCE–14 CE). See
M. Görg, “Neilos und Domitian, Ein Beitrag zur spätantiken Nilgott-Ikonographie,” in
Religion im Erbe Ägyptens (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1988), pp. 65–82.
13  D. Bonneau, “La divinité du Nil sous le principat en Egypte,” in H. Temporini, G. Vitzthum
and W. Haase (eds.), Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt (Berlin: W. de Gruyter,
1972–1998), Part II. vol. 18, Subpart 5, pp. 3195–3215, 3202.
14  http://www.theoi.com/Gallery/F48.1.html (viewed May 1, 2015).
Egyptian Motifs in Late Antique Mosaics and Rabbinic Texts 199

pygmies, lotus and papyrus;15 this mosaic is not the Nile festival mosaic
detailed below.16

3 The Nile

The term “Neilos” (Νει̃λος) refers to the river Nile in Greco-Roman Egypt; it also
refers to the god Neilos during this time period.17 In rabbinic literature the term
Neilos occurs frequently. Neilos is used to identify the location of Joseph’s coffin
that Moses had to retrieve during the time of the Exodus.18 Neilos also appears
in Midrash in regard to a Nile festival19 and in reference to the Nile as a source
of water.20 It is possible that rabbinic texts from the 3rd to the 6th century CE,
utilized the term Neilos more frequently than the other terms for the Nile (ye’or,
and River of Egypt). In late midrashic texts from the medieval period the texts
revert to the biblical term ye’or in order to antiquitize their texts.
The Palestrina mosaic in Italy,21 dating to ca. 100 BCE, portrays the river Nile
from its sources to its mouth; the upper part shows hunters and wild animals

15  http://www.lessingimages.com/viewimage.asp?cr=19&i=08040524+&d=3&p=1&a=d
&hr=0# (viewed May 29, 2015).
16  http://www.atmos.ucla.edu/tcd/Nile/zipori_mosaic.jpg (viewed May 1, 2015) [Illustration
No. 4]. See also R. Talgam, Mosaics of Faith: Floors of Pagans, Jews, Samaritans, Christians,
and Muslims in the Holy Land (State College, PA: Penn State University Press, 2014), p. 42.
17  The Vulgate also contains the term “Nilus” (Isa 23:3).
18  An early reference to the retrieval of Joseph’s coffin from the Nile is found in the Tosefta,
Sotah 4:7, Lieberman ed.); see also Mechilta, Beshallah; H. S. Horovitz and I. A. Rabin
(eds.), Mechilta d’Rabbi Ismael (Jerusalem: Wahrmann, 1970; Hebrew); Exodus Rabbah
20:19; Pesiqta de Rab Kahana 11; Tanhuma, Beshallah 2; Yalqut 1, 247 Beshallah; Mishnat
Rabbi Eliezer 19.
19  Pesiqta Rabbati 6:2, see R. Ulmer, A Synoptic Edition of Pesiqta Rabbati Based upon All
Extant Hebrew Manuscripts and the Editio Princeps (3 vols.; Studies in Judaism Series;
Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2009); Genesis Rabbah 13:7; 87; Exodus Rabbah
11:11, see A. Shinan, Midrash Shemot Rabbah Chapters I–XIV (Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem:
Dvir, 1984; Hebrew); Rashi on Gen. 39:10 refers to the Nile festival, based upon midrashic
20  Sifre Deuteronomy 38; Midrash Tannaim 11:10; Genesis Rabbah 13:9; Targum Yerushalmi,
Genesis 47:7.
21  C. H. Ericsson, “The great Nilotic mosaic in Palestrina,” in Sundries in Honour of Torgny
Säve-Söderbergh (Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet, 1984), pp. 55–65. http://www.corbisim
(viewed Jan 26, 2016).
200 Ulmer

[Figure 12.1],22 while the lower part depicts the delta of the river during the
annual flood. Pieter Meyboom maintains that this mosaic depicts rituals con-
nected with Isis and Osiris and the Nile inundation; the mosaic represents the
assimilation of Isis and Fortuna, and Meyboom views the mosaic as a symbol
of divine providence.23 However, his interpretation is disputed; suggestions
range from an exotic decoration to a topographical picture or a religious alle-
gory. Moffit suspects that there was a statue of the Nile god facing this mosaic.24

4 The Nile as a God

The Egyptian god of the Nile inundation and its Roman derivatives represent
the feminization of a god. The feminized body of a male god is seen in the
depictions of the Nile fertility god, whose nudity is revealed in the reclining
pose. The nude Nile god is depicted in the 5th century House of Leontis at
Bet Shean (Israel), which included a synagogue, and in a Sepphoris mosaic in
the so-called Nile festival building.25
The primary Egyptian term denoting the Nile inundation is Hapy (ḥ‘pj),
which was a divine fecundity figure.26 Hapy carries gifts [Figure 12.2],27 mainly
consisting of water jugs and plants. The depictions of fecundity figures relat-
ing to the Nile inundation,28 which are often found in temple reliefs and the
Hieroglyphic texts, show male figures with characteristically long divine wigs,
long pendulous breasts, and big bellies.29 During the Greco-Roman period,
Hapy was also frequently shown as a pair of figures uniting the two symbolic
plants (lotus and papyrus) of “the two countries,” i.e., the Nile of Upper Egypt

22  http://www.corbisimages.com/images/Corbis-CS001357.jpg?size=67&uid=9b505397-
d9f6-4b4c-bb82-56bf5f319f39 (viewed May 1, 2015).
23  P. G. P. Meyboom, The Nile Mosaic of Palestrina: Early Evidence of Egyptian Religion in Italy
(Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1994).
24  J. F. Moffitt, “The Palestrina Mosaic with a ‘Nile Scene’: Philostratus and Ekphrasis;
Ptolemy and Chorographia,” ZKunstG 60 (1997), pp. 227–247.
25  http://www.atmos.ucla.edu/tcd/Nile/zipori_mosaic.jpg (Viewed May 1, 2015).
26  J. Baines, Fecundity Figures: Egyptian Personification and the Iconology of a Genre
(Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 1985; repr. 2001), p. 120.
27  Ḥapy, Abydos, Temple of Ramses II, 19th dyn, c. 1250 BCE (Photo: Ulmer).
28  See the hymns to the Nile (pChester Beatty V, pAn VII) that praise the Nile and mention
that offerings are made to it when it overflows.
29  Hapy’s cult reached a climax in the 19th and 20th dynasties. B. Porter and R. Moss,
Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Reliefs and Paintings
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1937), vol. 5, p. 227.
Egyptian Motifs in Late Antique Mosaics and Rabbinic Texts 201

figure 12.1 Palestrina, detail: Hippopotami and crocodiles.

Credit: © Alfredo Dagli Orti / The Art Archive/Corbis.

Figure 12.2 Fecundity figures of the Nile Inundation. Ḥapy, Abydos, Temple of Ramses II,
19th dynasty c. 1250 BCE.
photo: R. ulmer
202 Ulmer

H’pj sm’w (sma) and the Nile of Lower Egypt, H’pj mhm. The construction of
Egyptian-style temples under the Romans utilized Hapy as a fecundity figure;
usually, there is a procession of numerous androgynous figures who serve as
carriers of offering tables.30
Starting in the Ptolemaic period (305–30 BCE) the Nile was referred to
as “theos” (θεός), a god. In an inscription from Elephantine the Egyptian
king Ptolemy IX Soter II (116–107 BCE) referred to the Nile as “the great god”
(μέγας θεός).31 The Nile continued to be revered as a god until the end of the
3rd century CE, in particular, at the time when the level of the Nile flood was
announced, as the Egyptologist Danielle Bonneau noted.32 Furthermore, in
the Ptolemaic period the entire Nile was venerated as a divine body of water,
potamos (ποταμός).33 The name of the Greco-Roman river divinity Νει̃ λος
(Neilos) is of Egyptian origin based upon the term “the great river” (n’itrw ‘3w);
after the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great, the name Neilos became
semantically equivalent to Hapy, the Nile inundation.34 The transformation of
the Nile into a divinity with a major cult transpired during the Greco-Roman
period.35 This is supported by a statistical analysis of the frequency of the name
Neilos in official documents, which indicates that this term was mostly utilized

30  Alternatively, Hapy is depicted by a series of divine figures representing the nomes of
Egypt. Examples of such depictions of Hapy include the Elephantine Temple of Augustus
(Porter and Moss, Topographical Bibliography, vol. 6, p. 247), the Isis Temple at Philae
(Porter and Moss, Topographical Bibliography, vol. 6, p. 47), the Kalabsha Temple, the
Mandulis Temple, and the Hathor Temple at Dendera (D. Kurth, “Nilgott,” Lexikon der
Ägyptologie, vol. 4, pp. 485–498, p. 485).
31  Bonneau, “La divinité du Nil,” p. 3200.
32  Ibid., pp. 3196–3197, states that “. . . les adjectives qualifant le Nil dans un contexte reli-
gieux presentment une variété qui révéle l’absence de régle en la matière.”
33  For example, the Egyptian name of the divine inundation was part of a Greek oath
formula, in which one swore by the Nile flood in the 3rd century BCE. This indi-
cates that the river Nile was revered as a god. In the 1st century CE an offering table
was dedicated to “the river;” see K. W. Butzer, “Nil,” Lexikon der Ägyptologie, vol. 4,
pp. 480–483.
34  D. Bonneau, “Le dieu-Nil hors d’Égypte (aux époques grecque, romaine et byzantine),” in
Hommage à Jean Leclant (Cairo: Institut français d’archéologie orientale du Caire, 1994),
vol. 3, pp. 51–62.
35  Prior to this era fecundity figures were related to the Nile inundation, but these fecundity
figures were not gods; their identification as Nile gods is not warranted; see Bonneau, “La
divinité du Nil,” p. 3199.
Egyptian Motifs in Late Antique Mosaics and Rabbinic Texts 203

in the 2nd and early 3rd century CE.36 The religious significance attached to
the Nile in the Roman period evoked an Egyptian concept relating to the origin
of the river.37 According to Bonneau, this religious conception of the Nile was
then incorporated into the Greco-Roman cycles of myths.38
The Nile during the Roman period was indubitably revered as a god;39
this conclusion is supported by the murals of the Isis Temple at Philae. Every
year the Nile preserved the fecundity of the land of Egypt in support of the
well-being and good fortune of the Roman emperor. Under Roman rule (after
29 BCE) the Nile god is one of the gods, dei patrii, in the Roman pantheon. The
Romanized Nile god is similar to other riverine gods; he is often depicted in
sculptures in different sizes that were produced starting in the late 2nd century
BCE. A colossal Vatican sculpture [Figure 12.3]40 from the early 2nd century CE
shows the Nile god as a father-figure41 with a beard, full hair, breasts, a belly,
holding a cornucopia with fruit, flowers, and offering cakes; there are sixteen
pygmies representing sixteen cubits of Nile water, a sphinx, and a crocodile.42
These latter iconic items firmly ground the scene in Egypt. A similar reclin-
ing pose and similar paraphernalia are found in the chronologically later
Sepphoris Mosaic in the Nile Festival Building in Israel [Figure 12.4];43 the Nile
god with breasts is in the upper left hand corner of this mosaic.
In my interpretation, the Nile god in Sepphoris is a combination of the
Roman concept of a river god and the Egyptian depiction of inundation fig-
ures, including breasts, a belly, and fruit. The reclining male Nile god with

36  This designation is found in the Egyptian nomes of Fayoum, Oxyrhynchos, and
Hermopolis Magna. D. Bonneau, La crue du Nil, divinité Égyptienne à travers mille ans
d’histoire (332 av.–641 a. J.–C.) (Paris: C. Klicksieck, 1964), pp. 398–399.
37  The Nile god in the Roman period was not a Greek god that was Romanized; rather, it had
some Egyptian background (Bonneau, “La divinité du Nil,” p. 3210).
38  Bonneau, La crue du Nil, pp. 398–399.
39  Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel, 7.1.3.
40  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b7/VaticanMuseums_Statue_of_
River_Nile.jpg (viewed May 1, 2015).
41  C. Maderna, “52 Ägypten- phantastische ‘römische’ Welt (Kat. 358–363),” in H. Beck (ed.),
Ägypten, Griechenland und Rom: Abwehr und Berührung. Städelsches Kunstinstitut und
Städtische Galerie, 26. November 2005–26. Februar 2006 (Frankfurt am Main: Liebighaus
alter Plastik / Tübingen: Wasmuth, 2005), p. 440.
42  There are smaller versions of reclining Nile gods (e.g., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston,
no. 2002.21).
43  Talgam, Mosaics of Faith, pp. 113, 355–361 discusses numerous Nilotic mosaics, including
204 Ulmer

Figure 12.3 Nile God (18th century copy of the Nile God sculpture in the Vatican).
“Personification of the River Nile” Artist: Giovanni Volpato (Italian, Bassano
1732–1803 Rome) Date: ca. 1785–95; Italian, Rome; Medium: Hard-paste biscuit
porcelain; Credit Line: Purchase, The Isak and Rose Weinman Foundation Inc.
Gift, 200; Accession Number: 2001.456 metropolitan museum.
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum OF Art, New York.

female breasts represents Egypt, the land of abundance. To the right of this
Nile god there is another figure with female features representing the Nile
inundation, reclining on a hippopotamus, which is shown with Nile water
pouring from its mouth. Talgam cautiously suggested that this figure may be
Euthenia, “the female consort of Nilus.”44 Although one of the Greek Graces,
Ευθηνια (Euthenia), was viewed as the spirit (daimona) of abundance, prosper-
ity, and plenty, in my view this depiction could represent a second Nile god
with female features. Thus, there are two Nile gods, as seen in Greco-Roman
inundation figures in Egypt, who are portrayed as tying together the repre-
sentative plants of Upper and Lower Egypt. On the lower left corner, there is
the Pharos of Alexandria and a woman on a horse, Semasia. On the right side,
below a column—in all likelihood “Pompey’s Column” in Alexandria—there is
a female figure on a beast, which could be a nereid (a sea nymph, Νηρεις) riding

44  Talgam, Mosaics of Faith, p. 355. The male god on the left is referred to as “Aegyptus” by
her. A black and white depiction of the entire mosaic is found at https://www.flickr.com/
photos/29813787@N00/17615538794 (Viewed October 12, 2015).
Egyptian Motifs in Late Antique Mosaics and Rabbinic Texts 205

Figure 12.4 Sepphoris, detail. Top: Nile God, Nilometer, Pygmies. Bottom: Alexandria, Semasia
on a horse, a messenger on a horse. “Nile Mosaic, Sepphoris (Zippori, Israel),”
Courtesy of Yigal Feliks, photographer.

on a sea-bull.45 In contrast to Sepphoris, 5th century churches, for example, the

churches in Israel, Capernaum, Tabgha [Figure 12.5],46 and St John in Gerasa,

45  See a nereid on a sea-bull at the Glypthotek, Munich http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

Nereid#/media/File:Sea_thiasos_Nereis_Glyptothek_Munich_239_front_n1.jpg (viewed
on May 28, 2015). A nereid, a Nile god with breasts, a nilometer, and additional para-
phernalia are sometimes depicted on Coptic fabrics that show the Nile inundation in
the 4th/5th century. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/513269688751931832/ (viewed on
October 13, 2015).
46  The church at Tabgha had a mosaic floor depicting a Nilotic scene with a Nilometer, Nile flora
and fauna: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-V8BeWKJscAM/Ui_XHO36T3I/AAAAAAAAVNg/
rXJqKKW4NBk/s1600/Tabgha+mosaic+nile+meter.jpg (viewed May 1, 2015). [Illustration
no. 5].
206 Ulmer

figure 12.5 Church at Tabgha, Nilotic scene with Nilometer.

Courtesy of Mark Chang.

limit their Nilotic mosaics to flora and fauna. These church mosaics show no
deification of the Nile; thus, there is no Nile god with breasts.
In the biblical Exodus story the Nile was the first casualty, because accord-
ing to a midrashic statement, “Pharaoh and the Egyptians worshiped the
Nile and God said that He would smite their god first” (Exodus Rabbah 9:9).
The underlying idea of this interpretation is partially based upon notions
of natural theology, in which certain cultures worshiped natural phenom-
ena. Rabbinic passages emphasize that the Nile was considered to be a god
by the Egyptians (Genesis Rabbah 69:3).47 The midrashic assumption that
there was a “Nile God”48 in pharaonic Egypt may derive from a common

47  Another example of this assumption is Exodus Rabbah 9:9: “[Thus said the Lord, In this
you shall know that I am the Lord; behold, I will strike with the rod that is in My hand]
upon the waters which are in the river, and they shall be turned to blood (Exod 7:17).
Why were the waters first smitten, and with blood? Because Pharaoh and the Egyptians
worshiped the Nile, and God said: I will smite their god first and then his people.”
48  The assumption that the Nile was an Egyptian god continued in later midrashic texts,
which specifically refer to the Nile as a god: “And He struck the Nile that was [Pharaoh’s]
god” (Bereshit Rabbati, Vayyishlah, p. 171) and “From where [can we prove] that the Nile
Egyptian Motifs in Late Antique Mosaics and Rabbinic Texts 207

misunderstanding of the meaning and function of the Egyptian figures

intended to personify aspects of fecundity.49 This flawed assumption is found
in midrashic texts that speak of a Nile god. We may place the origin of this
rabbinic assumption that there was a Nile god in the Greco-Roman period
when the Nile was indeed revered as a god. Apparently the Rabbis assumed
that the biblical Pharaoh of the Exodus narrative went to the Nile in order to
worship it. A lemma in Ezek 29:3 ‫אשר אמר לי יארי‬, “Because he [Pharaoh] has
said, the Nile is mine,” is interpreted in various ways to illuminate Pharaoh’s
relation to the Nile; the Egyptologist Manfred Görg comments that the style of
this biblical passage shows a greater dependency upon Egyptian sources than
previously thought.50 In Midrashim, the lemma was interpreted as “because
my Nile spoke to me” (Bereshit Rabbati, Miqqeṣ),51 which supports the conten-
tion that Pharaoh worshiped the Nile as a god. A different reading of Ezek 29:3
(Midrash Tanhuma, Va’era 5, see below) led to speculation that Pharaoh was
the Nile god, i.e. dominating the Nile. Another interpretation of a lemma from
Ezek 29:9: ‫ יאר לי ואני עשיתי‬establishes the reading: “I have created myself and
the Nile.” This is due to the indeterminacy of the lemma in the Biblical text,
which lacks an object: What did Pharaoh create? The rabbinic texts respond
by stating that Pharaoh claimed to have created both himself and the Nile
(Exodus Rabbah 8:2). Thus, Ezek 29:9 is read as emphasizing Pharaoh’s asser-
tion of self-creation by referring to another (written) biblical text in Ezek 29:3:
“‘asiti [I made] is not said but ‘asitini [I made myself]” (Otiyyot de Rabbi Aqiva,
BM 100).52 In ancient Egypt, the Nile was sometimes referred to as having
created itself,53 because the Nile was viewed as primordial. Moreover, the
Nile became the personal domain of the Egyptian king (Pharaoh), who was in
control of the river.

was [Pharaoh’s] god? Because it says: [Pharaoh] goes out to the water; and you [Moses]
shall stand on the bank of the Nile (Exod 7:15)” (Midrash Sechel Tov, Genesis 41).
49  From the 4th dynasty to the Roman period.
50  Görg, “Neilos and Domitian,” p. 65, refers to the Jerusalem priesthood before the
(Babylonian) exile that may have had knowledge of Egyptian sources.
51  Ch. Albeck (ed.), Bereshit Rabbati (Jerusalem: Mekitze Nirdamim, 1940), p. 198.
52  Exodus Rabbah 5:14: “[Pharaoh’s] reply to them was: From the very outset you have
spoken falsehood, for I am the lord of the universe, and I have created myself and the Nile;
as it says: My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself.” Compare Exodus Rabbah
5:5 (Shinan ed.).
53  K. Butzer, “Nil,” Lexikon der Ägyptologie, vol. 4, pp. 480–483 esp. 481.
208 Ulmer

In Genesis Rabbah 89:3 Pharaoh is presented as saying: “I stand over my

god [the Nile] or my god stands over me.” In Exodus Rabbah 10:2,54 the divine
response to such claims is: “I will show you whether it is mine or yours. My
plague shall come upon it and I will decree that it bring forth frogs, just as in
the beginning of creation when I decreed, Let the waters swarm” (Gen 1:20).
Moreover, in Tanhuma Va’era 5 Pharaoh proclaims that he is the lord of the
universe.55 The Rabbis add a new religious aspect to the biblical sojourn
in Egypt by deeming Pharaoh as a heretical figure. According to another
Midrash,56 in which Pharaoh presented himself as a god, the Rabbis were
mocking the divinity of the Pharaoh who, according to the rabbinic percep-
tion, had to enter the Nile in the morning in order to relieve himself,57 thus,
concealing his bodily functions and the nonexistence of his divinity.
The Egyptian king whose titulary includes divine epithets was rarely referred
to as nṯr (“god”) in Pharaonic Egypt. Additionally, the Hieroglyphic term nṯr is
not congruent with the religious understanding of God in Jewish texts, accord-
ing to the Egyptologist Erik Hornung.58 The so-called “divinity” of Pharaoh,
thought to be related to his attribute “Son of [the god] Ra‘,” is an erroneous
conclusion.59 Occasionally, there was confusion between the divinity of the
Roman emperor and the divinity of the Nile. Emperor Domitian (81–96 CE) is
depicted together with the Nile god Neilos in Roman artwork.60 At the time of

54  The text presents the midrashic reading of the lemma from Ezek 29:9; cf. Tanhuma
[Buber], Va’era 8; Yalqut Shimeoni 1:441 Beshallah.
55  “[Pharaoh] said to them: From the beginning you have been lying, because I am the lord
of the universe and I created myself and the Nile, as it is said: [And the land of Egypt shall
be desolate and waste; and they shall know that I am the Lord; because he has said,] the Nile
is mine, and I myself made it [Ezek 29:9].”
56  “This wicked one [Pharaoh] used to boast that he was a god and did not require to relieve
himself; therefore he used to go early in the morning to the water” (Exodus Rabbah 9:8).
57  Morning rituals of the Egyptians are alluded to in the Jerusalem Targum (Pseudo-
Jonathan) on Exodus 7:15.
58  E. Hornung, Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many (translated by
J. Baines, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1982), p. 141, concludes that the Egyptian
king was not a deity, despite the numerous references that call him “god” and despite the
idea that the reigning king is the “son of god.” See also G. Posener, De la divinité du pharaon
(Paris: Impr. Nationale, 1960), and Görg, “Neilos and Domitian,” p. 65.
59  N. M. Sarna, Exploring Exodus: The Heritage of Biblical Israel (New York: Schocken, 1987),
p. 80, was mistaken when he wrote, “The pharaoh was a self-proclaimed god. . . .”
60  Bonneau, “La divinité du Nil,” p. 3202.
Egyptian Motifs in Late Antique Mosaics and Rabbinic Texts 209

Hadrian (117–138 CE) the water of the Nile was considered to be sacred and the
emperor was referred to as “the beloved of the Nile.”61
An intimate relationship between Pharaoh and the Nile is found in sev-
eral Egyptian hymns to the Nile,62 which imply that Egyptian kings were the
“Nile;” this is also expressed in Egyptian iconography.63 In Egyptian texts, the
king is linked to the Nile inundation, because he is responsible for the annual
flood, which relates to his duties in respect to maintaining the Ma’at, the cos-
mic order.64 The basis for the king’s actions is Ma’at, the fundamental con-
cept of the Egyptian world view that combines social solidarity and justice, as
expressed by the Egyptologist Jan Assmann. Pharaoh is responsible for govern-
ing the land, leading to the idea of “vertical solidarity,” a solidarity emanating
from the top of society.65 The king’s actions in respect to the Nile inundation
are prerequisites for his ability to rule effectively. Subsequent to Ptolemaic
Egypt,66 this responsibility of the king continued in truncated form into the

61  J. H. Parker, The Twelve Egyptian Obelisks in Rome: Their History Explained by Translations
of the Inscriptions Upon Them (Oxford: Parker, 1879), p. 59.
62  Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, pp. 372–373; see also
D. van der Plas, L’hymne á la crue du Nil (Leiden: Nederlands Institut voor het Nabije
Oosten, 1986), p. 33.
63  Amenemhat III is represented as god of the Nile (12th dynasty, Tanis, ca. 1820 BCE, statue,
Cairo Museum). However, it should be noted that Pharaoh did not always play such a
crucial role concerning the Nile. According to some Egyptian theological perspectives,
the god Amon-Ra‘ was the creator and master over the Nile, whereas other Egyptian the-
ologies claim that Khnum created the Nile.
64  The idyllic description of the state of Egypt at Pharaoh’s accession to the throne reflects
the way things should be—the Nile inundation is just one key-element in this ordered
world (Pyr. T., Unas, I, p. 388a). The so-called “Presentation of the Ma’at” scenes are
numerous in certain periods of Egyptian history; they depict the king (Pharaoh) present-
ing the Ma’at. This is an important cult ritual; the king presents the figurine of Ma’at as
an offering. The king is the guarantor of the world order; he performs continuous, sacred
tasks that include providing water to the thirsty. E. Teeter, The Presentation of Maat, Ritual
and Legitimacy in Ancient Egypt (Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 57; Chicago:
The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 1997) analyzes the increase in scenes
representing the Ma’at during the Ramesside period. This increase emphasizes the long-
term nature of the ritual. We may also note that Ptolemy I (305–282 BCE) is shown as
presenting the Ma’at (Leiden, Rijksmuseum, Van Oudheden, F1961/12.3, from the area
of Oxyrhynchos). See also A. El-Sawy, “The Nile-God; an unusual representation in the
Temple of Sety I at Abydos,” Egitto e Vicino Oriente 6 (1983), pp. 7–13.
65  J. Assmann, Ma’at: Gerechtigkeit und Unsterblichkeit im Alten Ägypten (Munich: Beck,
1990), pp. 206–207.
66  D. J. Thompson, “The High Priests of Memphis under Ptolemaic Rule,” in Pagan Priests:
Religion and Power in the Ancient World (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), pp. 95–116
210 Ulmer

Roman period, when Isis, a goddess who was revered throughout the Roman
Empire, was connected to the principle of Ma’at.67 The control of the Ma’at
by the ruler of Egypt is also depicted in Roman Egypt; the Roman emperor is
shown to present the Ma’at.68
Rabbinic texts utilized the argument that Pharaoh or the Roman emperor
presented himself as a god of the Nile or a god in control of the Nile—
replacing the “god with breasts”—in order to construct a contrast between the
impotent Egyptian gods and the powerful God of Israel. Pharaoh is considered
as a threat to the survival of the Jewish people; not only was he an oppressor of
the Hebrews, but he also symbolizes the foreign cult of the “Other.” A further
aspect of rabbinic references to Pharaoh is that he served not only as a link to
the past, but as a catalyst for current obligations: the continuous performance
of the divine commandments. Thus Midrash served as a sacred means of tex-
tual engagement. The rabbinic texts utilized portrayals of Pharaoh in order to
make statements concerning their own values and ideologies. Rabbinic texts
referred to Egyptian cultural icons, which served to demarcate rabbinic Judaism
from Egyptian and other foreign cultures. Rabbinic Judaism—in opposition to
the creators of the mosaics depicting an Egyptian god with breasts and numer-
ous other depictions of foreign (Greco-Roman) gods—did not approve of
these icons of foreign cults. The rabbis who created Midrash developed and
strengthened Jewish identity by using and interpreting Egypt and Egyptian
cultural icons to present this civilization as incompatible with their expres-
sion of Judaism and thus distanced themselves from “non-rabbinic” Jews and
multiple other “Judaisms.” Moreover, it is obvious that rabbinic Judaism disap-
proved of worshiping multiple gods, and of “Pharaohs” (i.e., emperors) control-
ling social solidarity and justice, as well as the water supply. Setting boundaries
between rabbinic Judaism and ostensible Greco-Roman influences served as
a trope for rhetorical effect in the rabbinic struggle against religious and cul-
tural threats posed by life under Roman or Byzantine occupation in the Land
of Israel and in the Diaspora. Reengaging with Egypt and its gods in order to
shape and define Judaism was a way of conducting one’s life within the moral

esp. 107, cites an inscription in Memphis “. . . this covenant of the king with his people, a
covenant mediated through priests, in which the calendar and control of both the flood
and of agricultural land are guaranteed by the king’s prowess and by his oath, dates from
Egypt long before the Greeks arrived.”
67  See, e. g., G. J. Griffiths, “Isis as Maat, Dikaiosunê, and Iustitia,” in Hommage á Jean Leclant,
vol. 3, pp. 255–264.
68  A scene in Alexandria, Kom el Shuqafa, main tomb, depicts the Roman emperor crowned
with a solar disc holding the Ma‘at (feather of truth) to Ptah; see F. W. Freiherr von Bissing,
La catacombe nouvellement découverte de Kom Chougafa (Munich: Obernetter, 1901),
plate IV.
Egyptian Motifs in Late Antique Mosaics and Rabbinic Texts 211

framework of one’s community, aspiring to an ethical ideal of differentiating

oneself from the majority culture that was viewed as the “Other.”

5 Nilometers

The Sepphoris mosaic, as well as Hellenistic and Roman artwork, depict

nilometers, which emphasizes that Egypt was dependent upon the level
of the inundation in any given year and the extent to which the Nile flood
reached the arable land. A nilometer (νειλομέτριον) measured the level of
the Nile at a certain point.69 In the Greco-Roman period the function of the
nilometer at Oxyrhynchos is attested in a papyrus (P. Oxy 2341). The height of
the Nile flood was a factor in the assessment of taxes. Occasionally, a nilom-
eter has been found as part of a sacred water basin within a temple precinct.
Consequently, on occasion, we are looking at religious motifs in addition to
economic motifs—the sacred economy of Egypt. For example, beginning with
Caesar Trajan (98–117 CE) agricultural production in Egypt became a signifi-
cant aspect in Roman politics and the Nile cult was further developed.70
The monitoring of the water level of the Nile involved its height measure-
ment; the measuring unit, an Egyptian cubit (mḥ), was a divine measurement.
The ideal height of the Nile was thought to be sixteen cubits;71 this is often
represented by sixteen pygmies in varying sizes. The depiction of a nilometer
in Sepphoris [Figure 12.4] has depictions of numbered units,72 however, the

69  D. Bonneau, Le régime administratif de l’eau du Nil dans L’Égypte Grecque, Romaine et
Byzantine (Probleme der Ägyptologie 8; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1993), p. 179; eadem, Le fisc
et le Nil, Incidences des irrégularités de la crue du Nil sur la fiscalité foncière dans l’Égypte
Grecque et Romaine (Paris: Cujas, 1985) lists nilometers in the Egyptian locations of Syene,
Gebel Silsileh, Edfu, Latopolis (Esna), Karnak, Luxor, Memphis, and Elephantine, p. 29.
70  J.-C. Grenier, “Traditions pharaoniques et réalités imperials: le nom de couronnement du
Pharaon à l’époque romaine,” Egitto e Storia Antica dall’Ellenismo all’Età Araba (Bologna:
Clueb, 1989), pp. 403–420 esp. 416.
71  H. Jaritz, “Nilmesser,” Lexikon der Ägyptologie, vol. 4, pp. 496–498; Görg, “Neilos und
Domitian,” p. 67, refers to the goddess Hathor, “the mistress of sixteen,” and to coins
from the reign of Domitian (ca. 86/87 CE), which show the sixteen children of the Nile
and Nilus; see also A. M. El Rashab, “Représentations du Nil sur les monnaies romaines,”
Annales du Service des antiquités de l’Égypte 48 (1948), pp. 611–617. The measuring units of
a nilometer are mentioned by Diodorus Siculus (Library of History 1.36.10), referred to as
“Niloscope.” See also Strabo, Geography 17.1.48.
72  See fig. 63 in Z. Weiss and E. Netzer, “The Mosaics of the Nile Festival Building,” in R. Martin
Nagy, C. L. Meyers, E. M. Meyers, and Z. Weiss (eds.), Sepphoris in Galilee. Crosscurrents
of Culture (North Carolina Museum of Arts, 1966; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1996),
pp. 127–131 esp. 129.
212 Ulmer

Greek numbers do not add up to sixteen, but to seventeen. A Midrash (Pesiqta

Zutarta, Exodus 8:16) asserts that it was the custom of the Egyptian king to go
to the Nile and to check how many cubits the Nile had risen.73 This midrashic
passage again contends that Egypt was ultimately dependent upon a river and
not upon God.74

6 The Nile Festivals

The term Neilos is mentioned in rabbinic texts in conjunction with a Nile

festival. It is questionable whether the Rabbis had direct knowledge of the
depictions of the Nile festivals. Also uncertain is whether the Nile festival that
facilitated worship of the Greco-Roman Nile god, Neilos, was widely celebrated
in the Land of Israel during the Roman and Byzantine period.
The festival that is mentioned in Midrash retains a strong Egyptian iden-
tity, since it is very similar to the Egyptian Opet festival. Centered in Egyptian
Thebes, this popular festival was held at the time of the inundation of the Nile,
in the second month of the inundation season. Theban citizens and visitors
from other Egyptian provinces celebrated the fertile link between the king
(Pharaoh) and the god Amon, his father. The Opet festival came at the time
of the year when the god Amon was dying, and the world was threatened with
chaos. In the context of the Opet festival the future king traveled to his father,
Amon, in order to receive the powers of kingship. The people joined in a dra-
matic procession honoring Amon that commenced at the Karnak Temple75

73  See also Midrash Sechel Tov, Exodus 8.

74  In Aggadat Bereshit 42 the effect of Jacob’s blessing for Pharaoh is illustrated by referring
to Egyptian messengers who announce the height of the inundation: “When he was in his
palace a messenger came to Pharaoh and said: Today the Nile has risen so and so much.
The famine disappeared immediately, as it is written: You visit the earth, and water it
(Ps 65:10 [ET, 65:9]).”
75  C. de Wit, Les inscriptions du temple d’Opet, à Karnak, vols. I–III (Bibliotheca aegyptiaca
11–13; Brussels: Édition de la Fondation égyptologique rein Élisabeth, 1958–1968), vol. 1,
contains the festival procession of Opet in the colonnade hall of Karnak. At Karnak, the
Pharaoh led the rituals and ceremonies of renewal, which simultaneously renewed his
own ka and reestablished his legitimacy as ruler and mediator. The people watched the
high priests enter the temple. Inside, the priests bathed the statue of the god Amun and
dressed and adorned it. The priests then enclosed the statue in a ceremonial box and
placed it on top of a ceremonial barque, often supported by poles which enabled the
priests to carry the barque. When the priests emerged from the temple, they carried
Egyptian Motifs in Late Antique Mosaics and Rabbinic Texts 213

Figure 12.6 Coptic Nilos.

Courtesy of R.Ulmer.

and ended at the Luxor Temple.76 A continuation of such a festival transpired

in Coptic Egypt, and the god Neilos was depicted in Coptic art [Figure 12.6].77

the barque on their shoulders through the pillared halls and courtyards of the Temple
at Karnak. The priests entered the crowded streets where people attempted to catch a
glimpse of the sacred vessel. A depiction of the Opet festival, the boat of Amun, Ostracon,
Der el-Medineh, is found in Knaurs Lexikon der ägyptischen Kultur (Munich: Knaur, 1978),
p. 87.
76  Under the reign of Queen Hatchepsut (1498–1483 BCE) the complete journey was accom-
plished on foot, with stops at different resting stations. Subsequently, the barque was
carried to the Nile and then towed by high government officials up the river to Luxor.
The Pharaoh himself was in Thebes to greet the god Amun and escort him to the Luxor
77  Photo: R. Ulmer.
214 Ulmer

Chronologically closer to the early midrashic texts, a Roman sarcopha-

gus (third century CE, Rome, Museo Nazionale Romano) illustrates the
inundation;78 a boat is pushed by an angelic being, and pygmies are in the
boat. The voyage ends at an Isis temple. A midrashic passage (Genesis Rabbah
87:7–11) also includes the Nile inundation, sacrificial offerings and spectacles.
These midrashic descriptions could be understood as a reference to the Egyptian
Opet festival79 and its modifications in Roman Egypt.80 The Nile festival (‫יום‬
‫ )נילוס‬is mentioned in the text concerning Joseph and Potiphar’s wife.81 This
Nile festival is the reason that the Egyptians had left Potiphar’s house, except
for his wife, and that Joseph was left alone with her.82 A specifically Hellenistic
festival, Semasia, occurred when the water of the Nile reached its expected
height; Alexandria was locally personified as Semasia, who was a woman on a
horse signifying the sacred, high mark of the Nile on the Nilometer, according
to Bonneau.83 This festival is referenced in the Sepphoris mosaic, which was
created by Alexandrian artists.

78  Beck, Ägypten, Griechenland und Rom, p. 443.

79  S. T. Lachs, “An Egyptian Festival in Canticles Rabba,” JQR 51 (1960), pp. 47–54, explicitly
mentions that the Rabbis were well acquainted with Egyptian rites. Other Nile festivals
are mentioned in A. Hermann, “Der Nil und die Christen,” JAC 1 (1958), pp. 30–69.
80  Bonneau, “La divinité du Nil,” p. 3199.
81  Josephus mentions a festival as the reason for the absence of the inhabitants of Potiphar’s
house in the context of the Joseph story as well. Josephus knew that the Nile festi-
val was also attended by women (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 2.45); see L. H. Feldman,
“Joseph,” Josephus’s Interpretation of the Bible (Berkeley: University of California Press,
1998), pp. 335–373, p. 370.
82  R. Ulmer, “Zwischen ägyptischer Vorlage und talmudischer Rezeption: Josef und die
Ägypterin,” Kairos 24/25 (1992/93), pp. 75–90. See also Genesis Rabbah 87:7 (Y. Theodor
and H. Albeck [eds.], Midrash Bereshit Rabba mit Kritischem Apparat und Kommentar
[2nd ed. Jerusalem, 1962; based upon the Frankfurt am Main edition of 1932]). pp. 1071–
1072): “And it came to pass on a certain day, when he went into the house to do his work
(Gen 39:11). Rabbi Judah said: [On that day] there was a day of idolatrous sacrifice to the
Nile; everyone went to see it, but he [Joseph] did not go. Rabbi Nehemiah said: It was a
day of a theatrical performance, which all went to see, but he went into the house to work
on his master’s accounts.” See I. Kalimi, “Joseph between Potiphar and His Wife,” Early
Jewish Exegesis and Theological Controversy: Studies in Scriptures in the Shadow of Internal
and External Controversies (Jewish and Christian Heritage 2; Assen: Royal Van Gorcum
[now under: E. J. Brill, Leiden], 2002), pp. 88–103.
83  Bonneau, La crue du Nil, in her analysis of the Nile festivals; this figure is a local herald,
p. 375. E. Dvorjetski and A. Segal, “The Nile festival mosaic of Sepphoris and its relation-
ship to Roman-Byzantine leisure culture in the Land of Israel,” Bamah (1995), pp. 97–105
Egyptian Motifs in Late Antique Mosaics and Rabbinic Texts 215

Nevertheless, the nature of yom nilos, the Nile festival, was ambiguous to the
Rabbis, explanations were given that idolatrous sacrifices were offered on this
day or that it was a day of theatrical and circus performances. Sacrifices and
gifts to the Nile84 were still practiced in Roman Egypt.85 The citation of the
Roman institutions of theaters and circuses86 in Midrash amounts to an act of
contemporizing the Nile festival by the Rabbis.

7 Conclusion

The Nile mosaics in Israel closely follow Greco-Roman Nilotic scenes

and the views of the Nile are cultural interpretations of an imagined
landscape. The mosaics generally seek to portray the flora and fauna of the Nile
during the inundation. The mosaic in the Nile festival building in Sepphoris
refers to a specifically Alexandrian Nile festival, but also depicts a god with
breasts that resembles previous representations of an Egyptian fecundity fig-
ure that was transformed into a Nile god. This type of Nile god also appears
in the House of Leontis at Bet She’an in Israel. The conception of the Nile god
was probably borrowed from the general cultural context, and it documents
a preference for Greco-Roman art in the Land of Israel. In the alternative,
Nilotic scenes may reflect an engagement with the memory of Egypt, whereas

esp. 99 (Hebrew), mention the Latin name Semasia for the festival, which occurred when
the water of the Nile reached its expected height; see also D. Frankfurter, Religion in
Roman Egypt (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998), p. 44.
84  Frankfurter, Religion in Roman, p. 58.
85  See R. A. Caminos, “Nilopfer,” Lexikon der Ägyptologie, vol. 4, pp. 498–500; J. Whitehorne,
“The Pagan Cults of Roman Oxyrhynchus,” in H. Temporini, G. Vitzthum and W. Haase
(eds.), Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt (Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1972–1998), Part
II, vol. 18. Subpart 5, pp. 3040–3091 esp. 3076; Bonneau, “La divinité du Nil,” p. 3199.
86  In respect to the circus in Jerusalem, see J. Patrich, “On the lost circus of Aelia Capitolina,”
Scripta Classica Israelica 21 (2002), pp. 173–188 esp. 182. In respect to theaters, see, e.g.,
Z. Weiss, “Games and spectacles in ancient Gaza: Performances for the masses held in
buildings now lost,” in B. Bitton-Ashkelony and A. Kofsky (eds.), Christian Gaza in Late
Antiquity (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2004), pp. 23–39; and D. Sperber, The City in Roman Palestine
(Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 79–80. The gentile institutions
of the circus and the theater are juxtaposed to the House of God and the synagogue
(Genesis Rabbah 67:3). The parallel midrashic texts vary as to the inclusion of Roman
spectacles, such as theatrical performances and circuses. Theaters in Alexandria are
mentioned in classical sources, e.g., by Philo, On Drunkenness 43.177; On the Preliminary
Studies 13.64–66.
216 Ulmer

rabbinic texts demonstrate a broader homiletical engagement with the Nile.

Through the ongoing efforts of the Jewish people to maintain their cultural
memory, essential elements of the conceptual world of Egypt continued their
presence in Jewish sources, in buildings, midrashic texts, and liturgy. Egypt was
a dominating factor in the shaping of Judaism, and it continued to influence
Judaism long after the Exodus.

The Binding Fragments of Midrash Tanhuma

(Buber) from the Municipal Library of Trier

Andreas Lehnardt

1 Introduction

Midrash Tanhuma, a rabbinic commentary to the Torah, is regarded as a rather

late composition in comparison to the classical works of Midrash, such as
the Halachic Midrashim and the Rabbot Midrashim. The manuscript used by
Solomon Buber for his edition is no longer assumed to represent the earliest
version of Midrash Tanhuma (“Tanhuma ha-qadum we-ha-yashan”). Although
this recension seems to preserve early traditions—even from the era of the
Second Temple—it is most likely that the main body of this recension has
been compiled by Ashkenazic Jews (in Byzantine Italy?) in the Middle Ages.1
As has correctly been summarized by John T. Townsend, whose translations of
Midrash Tanhuma are a cornerstone for every scholar interested in this particu-
lar field of Jewish literature, the exact place of compilation of the work remains
obscure.2 In recent years, however, more and more new textual witnesses have
come to light, mainly fragments from the Tanhuma Buber recension that were
persevered in book bindings of Christian books and manuscripts from Western
and Southern Europe, that have later been opened. All these discoveries sup-
port the suggestion that the manuscripts that were used by Buber represent a
later Ashkenazic version of that commentary to the Torah and can no longer
be treated as early witnesses of a Midrash Tanhuma-Yelamdenu.3

1  For an overview of recent research see, e. g., M. Bregman, “Tanhuma Yelamdenu,” in

Encyclopaedia Judaica (2nd ed.: Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2007), vol. 19, pp. 503–504; A. Reizel,
Introduction to the Midrashic Literature (Alon Shvut: Tevunot—Mikhlelet Herzog, 2011),
pp. 234–243; G. Stemberger, Einleitung in Talmud und Midrasch (9th ed., Munich: C. H. Beck,
2011), pp. 335–339.
2  J. T. Townsend, Midrash Tanhuma. Translated into English with Introduction, Indices, and Brief
Notes (S. Buber Recension), Vol. 1: Genesis (Hoboken NJ: Ketav, 1989), p. XII.
3  See G. Stemberger and M. Perani‘, “A New Early Tanhuma Manuscript from the Italian
Genizah: The Fragments of Ravenna and their Textual Tradition,” Materia Giudaica 10 (2005),
pp. 241–266.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���6 | doi ��.��63/9789004324541_014

218 Lehnardt

In two previous articles I have published fragments of Midrash Tanchma

(Buber) preserved in other German libraries as binding fragments in Christian
books.4 These manuscript fragments have been written in an Ashkenazic hand-
writing, and they all transmit a recension very similar to the complete manu-
scripts used by Buber. In light of the fact that they have been reused for book
binding in the Middle Ages in Germany, it is most likely that they all reflect
Ashkenazic recensions of this widespread rabbinic commentary to the Torah.
Fragments from different manuscripts of this Midrash are known since the
19th century. Jacob Bassfreund (1850–1919) was perhaps the first to describe
a fragment of this Midrash identified in a book binding from the Municipal
Library (Stadtbibliothek) Trier.5 This fragment however was not studied
in light of the more recent evidence. Another piece from a different manu-
script in Wolfenbüttel was published by Kurt Wilhelm.6 In addition, a leaf
of a different Yelamdenu Midrash discovered in the Heidelberg University
library has been published by Ephraim E. Urbach.7 Another fragment of
Midrash Tanhuma came to light quite recently in the Russian State Library
in Moscow.8 Additional fragments with Tanhuma or Yelamdenu Midrashim,
mainly fragments from the Cairo Genizah, were gathered in photocopies
and described by Marc Bregman in his doctoral dissertation.9 Only recently
a new and complete edition of the so-called ‘Tanhuma Mann’ has been pub-
lished and completes the picture of the wide range of Tanhuma materials
from the Cairo Genizah.10 The oldest European manuscript fragment of this

4  A. Lehnardt, “Ein neues Einbandfragment des Midrasch Tanchuma in der Stadtbibliothek
Mainz,” Judaica 63 (2007), pp. 344–356; idem, “A New Fragment of Midrash Tanhuma from
Cologne University Library,” Zutot 7 (2011), pp. 1–16.
5  Cf. J. Bassfreund, “Über ein Midrasch-Fragment in der Stadt-Bibliothek zu Trier,” MGWJ
38 (1894), pp. 167–176, 214–219. Siehe auch M. Steinschneider, Vorlesungen über die Kunde
hebräischer Handschriften: deren Sammlungen und Verzeichnisse (Leipzig: Harrassowitz,
1897), p. 8 note 27.
6  K. Wilhelm, “Ein Jelamdenu-Fragment,” MGWJ 75 (1931), pp. 135–143.
7  E. E. Urbach, “Seride Tanhuma-Yelamdenu,” Qovetz al Yad NS 8 (1976), pp. 3–54; idem,
Studies in Judaica II (ed. M. D. Herr and J. Fraenkel; Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1998),
pp. 574–625.
8  Cf. A. Lisitsina, “A Newly Discovered Fragment from Midrash Tanhuma in the Collection
of Western European Manuscripts in the Russian State Library (Moscow),” in A. Lehnardt
and J. Olszowy-Schlanger (eds.), Books within Books. New Discoveries in Old Book Bindings
(Boston and Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2014), pp. 69–82.
9  M. Bregman, The Tanhuma-Yelammedenu Literature. Studies in the Evolution of the Versions
(Piscataway NJ: Gorgias Press, 2003).
10  Cf. G. Vachman (ed.), Midrash Ḥadash al Hatorah also known as Tanḥuma Mann Based on
JTS Rab. 1671 with an Introduction, References, and Notes (Jerusalem: Schechter Institute,
The Binding Fragments of Midrash Tanhuma 219

Midrash discovered to date, however, had been identified in a church archive

in Ravenna in Italy.11 It can be dated to the beginning of the 12th century.

2 History of Research

In the following contribution I want to make available one of the earliest dis-
coveries of a binding fragment with text from Tanhuma (Buber), the fragment
already described by Bassfreund. I rediscovered this fragment within the frame
of my research project “Genizat Germania”—which aims to collect and cata-
logue all known Hebrew and Aramaic binding fragments in German archives
and libraries.12 Like in Italy and other European countries, several hundred
Hebrew binding fragments have been found in Germany.13 The research
project, at Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, has so far brought to light
several unknown texts hidden in Hebrew manuscripts throughout Germany.
Some of these findings from the bindings of books and files have already been
published in other articles and books.14 Most of the newly found Hebrew

11  Cf. Perani and Stemberger, quoted in note 3. See on this important discovery also
M. Perani, “Nuovi fragmenti ebraici medievali a Ravenna presso l’Archivio Archivescovile,”
Ravenna studi e richerche 5/2 (1998), pp. 35–40; idem, “Il riuso die manoscritti ebraici come
fenomeno interculturale: Nuovi frammenti scoperti a Ravenna presso l’archivo archi-
vescovile e la Bibliotheca classense,” in idem ed, L’interculturalità dell ebraismo (Ravenna
2004), pp. 147–159, esp. 149–150, 153. See also idem and E. Sagradini (eds.), Talmudic and
Midrashic Fragments from the “Italian Genizah”: Reunification of the Manuscripts and
Catalogue (Florence: Giuntina, 2004), pp. 147 and 331.
12  A. Lehnardt and E. Hollender, “Genizat Germania. A Projected Comprehensive Electronic
Catalogue of Hebrew Fragments Extracted from Bindings of Books or Archival Files
in German Libraries and Archives,” in G. Freudental and R. Leicht (eds), Studies in
Steinschneider. Mortitz Steinschneider and the Emergence of the Science of Judaism in
Nineteenth Century Germany (Leiden and Boston: E. J. Brill, 2012), pp. 531–548.
13  Cf. M. Perani, “Un convegno internazionale sui frammenti ebraici rinvenuti negli archivi
italiani (la ‘Ghenizàh italiana’) e sul loro contributo allo studio del giudaismo,” Rassegna
degli Archivi di Stato 56 (1996), pp. 104–118; S. Emanuel, “The European Genizah and its
Contribution to Jewish Studies,” Henoch 19 (1997), pp. 313–340. See also idem, Mi-Ginze
Europa (Jerusalem: Mekize Nirdamim, 2015), vol. 1, pp. 17–65.
14  See A. Lehnardt, “Hebräische und aramäische Einbandfragmente in Mainz und
Trier—Zwischenbericht eines Forschungsprojekts,ˮ in M. Embach and A. Rapp (eds.),
Historisch-kulturwissenschaftliches Forschungszentrum Mainz—Trier (Berlin: Akademie
Verlag, 2007), pp. 41–58; idem, “Eine deutsche Geniza—Hebräische und aramäische
Einbandfragmente in Mainz und Trier,ˮ in Natur und Geist. Forschungsmagazin
der Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz 23,2 (2007), pp. 25–28; idem, Hebräische
Einbandfragmente in Frankfurt am Main. Mittelalterliche jüdische Handschriftenreste
220 Lehnardt

fragments contain previously known texts or versions of texts with only slight
differences in comparison with other manuscripts and printed editions. Apart
from fragments with biblical, liturgical, and talmudic texts, the project has
revealed several fragments from Midrashim, though very rarely. In light of the
few discoveries of Midrash fragments it seems though that the study of this
genre was not as wide-spread among Ashkenazic Jews of the Middle Ages as,
for example, the study of prayers and piyyutim and the Babylonian Talmud.

3 The Fragments from Trier

The fragments of the Midrash Tanhuma in Trier Municipal Library, which

houses a huge collection of manuscripts and incunabula,15 have been known
for some time. Since their publication by Bassfreund, however, no further
investigation had been undertaken. The fragment in question was discovered
by Max Keuffer, a librarian in Trier at the end of the 19th century, who informed
Bassfreund of this remarkable find. Bassfreund, a Rabbi and teacher at the
local Jewish community at that time, published the fragment together with

in ihrem geschichtlichen Kontext (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 2011); idem, “Neue

Funde hebräischer Einbandfragmente im Staatsarchiv Wertheim am Main (Bronnbach),ˮ
Wertheimer Jahrbuch (2010/2011), pp. 137–160; idem, “Ein mittelalterliches hebräisches
Bibelfragment im Stadtarchiv Esslingen,ˮ Esslinger Studien 47 (2013), pp. 25–36; idem,
“Ein neues Fragment eines mittelalterlichen Kommentars zu den Chronikbüchern aus
der Alten Bibliothek des Theologischen Seminars auf Schloss Herborn,ˮ Judaica 69 (2013),
pp. 60–69; idem and A. Ottermann, Fragmente jüdischer Kultur in der Stadtbibliothek
Mainz. Entdeckungen und Deutungen (Mainz: Stadtbibliothek 2015). On fragments
from Germany found earlier, see E. Róth, Hebräische Handschriften (ed. Hans Striedl;
Verzeichnis der orientalischen Handschriften in Deutschland 6/2; Wiesbaden: Steiner,
1965). For a history of research, see the introduction in Andreas Lehnardt (ed.), Genizat
Germania—Hebrew and Aramaic Binding Fragments from Germany in Context (Leiden:
E. J. Brill, 2010), pp. 1–28.
15  On the history of this collection see R. Nolden, Die Inkunabeln der Wissenschaftlichen
Stadtbibliothek Trier (Vol. 1, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2015), pp. IX–XXV. See also
M. Embach, Hundert Highlights. Kostbare Handschriften und Drucke der Stadtbibliothek
Trier (Regensburg: Schneel und Steiner, 2013). On the Latin manuscripts see, K. Heydeck
and G. Staccioli, Die lateinischen Handschriften aus dem Augustiner-Chorherrenstift
Eberhardsklausen in der Stadtbibliothek Trier (vol. 1; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2007).
The Binding Fragments of Midrash Tanhuma 221

short commentaries, notes and analyses.16 During my search for further frag-
ments of this manuscript, I was unable to identify any.17
The Midrash fragments in the Municipal Library Trier have been pasted
inside the wooden front and back cover of a Latin incunable. This early printed
book contains the Legenda Aurea from Jacobus de Voraigne and bears the shelf
mark Inc. 1116 4°. It was printed in Cologne 1476 by Konrad Winters, and at
some point it was in the possession of Frater Petrus Riolanus.18 Later it became
part of the library of the monastery of St. Matthias in Trier.19 The fragments
are bifolio (28 × 23 cm) with two columns of 29 and 30 lines of text. They come
from a codex that must have been slightly larger than this, as some lines at the
lower part of the parchment have been cut to fit the cover. The two parchment
fragments were lifted later, but not entirely detached from the wooden cover.20
The fragments’ backsides are now legible, though they are still in situ. On the
wooden cover some ink remnants are to be found in mirror writing, and this is
why many destroyed words from the clear side can be read with the help of a

16  On his life see K. Nelen, “Bassfreund, Jacob Dr.,ˮ in M. Brocke and J. Carlebach (eds.),
Biographisches Handbuch der Rabbiner (Munich: Saur, 2009), vol. 2.1, p. 62.
17  On the other manuscript fragments found in Trier, see A. Lehnardt, “Die Einbandfragmente
des Sefer Teruma des Baruch bar Isaak in der Bibliothek des ehemaligen Augustiner-
Chorherren-Klosters in Eberhardsklausen,ˮ in A. Rapp and M. Embach (eds.), Zur
Erforschung mittelalterlicher Bibliotheken. Chancen—Entwicklungen—Perspektiven
(Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 2009), pp. 245–273; idem, “Die Trierer Talmud-
Fragmente. Rekonstruktion der Kodizes und ihre Bedeutung für die Forschung,ˮ in
M. Embach, C. Moulin and A. Rapp (eds.), Die Bibliothek des Mittelalters als dynamischer
Prozess (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2012), pp. 191–204; E. Hollender, “Reconstructing
Manuscripts: The Liturgical Fragments from Trier,ˮ in Lehnardt (ed.), Genizat Germania,
pp. 61–90.
18  Bassfreund, Midrasch-Fragment, p. 168, assumed (with the aid of Keuffer) that the book
had been printed in 1470. See, however, the information provided in the online-database
Gesamtverzeichnis der Wiegendrucke, GW M11193 (http://www.gesamtkatalogderwiegend
19  Bassfreund, Midrasch-Fragment, p. 167; Nolden, Inkunabeln, p. 132. On the reconstruction
of the lost and scattered volumes from this monastery cf. M. Embach and C. Moulin (ed.),
Die Bibliothek der Abtei St. Matthias in Trier—von der mitteralterlichen Schreibstube zum
virtuellen Skriptorium. Mit einem Verzeichnis der Mattheiser Urkunden im Stadtarchiv Trier
(Trier: Michael Weyand, 2013).
20  The note in Nolden, Inkunabeln, 132 is misleading, since he notes that both fragments
have been detached and are now in the collection of Hebrew fragments. They are in fact
still in situ.
222 Lehnardt

mirror, or nowadays on the computer.21 A short note in Latin has been written
on the outer empty margin of the fragment. An old shelf mark from the monas-
tery’s library was added even later. In the middle of the Hebrew column of the
fragment in the back side cover a half round cut has been made, probably dur-
ing or even before the binding process. Between the columns of the Hebrew
texts some Latin notes have been added. The Hebrew text of the fragments,
however, is still in good condition and clearly legible.
The text preserved in the two fragments is known from Midrash Tanhuma
(Buber), Shemot §§10–11; §§12–16 and Ve’era §4 and §§6–9.22 The fragments
do not transmit a continuous text, yet the gap between the preserved portions
is not too great, so that one might conclude that they come from the same
codex. On the margin of folio 1 (inner front cover), recto, column 2, a hardly
readable gloss has been added by another scribe. This might indicate that the
manuscript was copied from a longer manuscript of the same text.23 Only in
one line a dittography has been identified (Folio 1, verso, column 2, line 21).
This is a further indication that the fragments were part of a quite careful copy
of an older Vorlage.
The Ashkenazic handwriting resembles scripts from the 14th–15th
centuries.24 Yet, the paleographical features are not clear enough to support
a more exact dating. Remains of the pricking, but not the ruling, have been
preserved on the parchment glued to the inner front cover. Traces of the rul-
ing must have been erased during the binding process, when the parchment
was pasted down and moistly glued to the wooden cover. A more important

21  Also Bassfreund mentions that he used a mirror while reading the ink-mirror writing to
verify his readings of unreadable passages of the fragment.
22  Compare the original second title page in German: S. Buber, Midrasch Tanchuma. Ein
aggadischer Commentar zum Pentateuch von Rabbi Tanchuma ben Rabbi Abba, zum
ersten Mal nach Handschriften aus den Bibliotheken zu Oxford, Rom, Parma und München
herausgegeben, kritisch bearbeitet, commentiert und mit einer ausführlichen Einleitung
(2 vols; Wilna: Romm, 1885) (Hebrew).
23  According to Bassfreund, Midrasch-Fragment, p. 171 note 1, this marginal note refers to
the Piska in the Yelamdenu Midrash. However, the abbreviated word used in this gloss
(‫ )בפסיק׳‬clearly hints to Midrash Pesiqta (Rabbati). And the text that follows has been
edited several times since Bassfreund’s article has been published. For the references, see
below note 33.
24  Since no authoritative handbook on Ashkenazic script yet exists, I rely here on A. Yardeni,
The Book of the Hebrew Script: History, Paleography, Script Styles, Calligraphy, and Design
(London: British Library, 2002), pp. 234–237.
The Binding Fragments of Midrash Tanhuma 223

indicator for the dating is the observation that the left-hand edge of the col-
umns does form a straight line, though with a few exceptions.25
Since most of the fragments in the Municipal Library of Trier are to
be found in manuscripts and incunabula from the Augustine convent
of Eberhardsklausen, the discovery of a witness for a single manuscript
of Midrash Tanhuma raises some questions.26 Where did it come from? Was
it copied in Trier or in a different place? It seems that this fragment was not
part of the large number of Hebrew manuscripts which were confiscated or
robbed in Trier in the 15th century during or after the expulsion of the Jews.
Most of the fragments reused at the book binding shop at the
Eberhardsklausen convent seem to have been part of a lost Jewish library or
private Jewish collection. The Tanhuma fragments in this early printing from
the library of St. Matthias, however, must have found their way into the book
binding of this particular volume differently. Some of the incunabula have
been added to the library later, or they were brought into the library as pres-
ents. The names of the previous owners are not known or identified. The prov-
enance of this host volume therefore remains uncertain.

4 Analyses of the Fragments

The Tanhuma fragment from Trier transmits a text which is almost identical
with the complete or almost complete Tanhuma manuscripts which were used
by Buber. However, in some cases additions of whole sentences and quota-
tions from the Hebrew Bible can be identified. Folio 1 (inner front cover), recto,
column 2, lines 20–21, for instance, a Midrash on Song of Songs has been
added. Sometimes additional names of Rabbis are supplemented, like in the
same column, line 17, where Rabbi Yohanan is supplemented. On Folio 1, recto,

25  This might be interpreted as an indicator for a dating to the late 14th century. See on the
question of column edges: C. Sirat, Hebrew Manuscripts of the Middle Ages (edited and
translated by N. de Lange; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 131.
26  On the history of this monastery, founded in 1456, cf. P. Dohms, Die Geschichte des
Klosters und Wallfahrtsortes Eberhardsklausen an der Mosel von den Anfängen bis zur
Auflösung des Klosters im Jahre 1802 (Bonn: Röhrscheid, 1968). Some of the host volumes
from this monastery are to be found today also in the Priestly Seminary of the Bishop
(Bischöfliches Priesterseminar) in Trier. Cf. M. Embach, “Unbekannte Frühdrucke aus
der Bibliothek der Augustiner-Chorherren-Klosters Eberhardsklausen,” in M. Persch,
M. Embach and P. Dohms (eds.), 500 Jahre Wallfahrtskirche Klausen (Mainz: Gesellschaft
für Mittelrheinische Kirchengeschichte, 2003), pp. 351–381.
224 Lehnardt

column 2, line 8, the name of Rabbi Levi is transmitted, whereas the Buber edi-
tion has “Rabbanin” and the Tanhuma printed edition has “R"Y”.
Folio 1 (inner front cover), verso, column 1, lines 13–18, has an additional part
pondering Exod 3:2, which is known from the Tanhuma printed edition27 and
other Midrashim, like Numbers Rabbah 1 and Exodus Rabbah 2. Further mate-
rial and additional slight variations are not known from other Midrashim or
rabbinic writings (cf. Folio 1, verso, column 1, line 22, on Exod 3:2). Remarkably,
the fragments’ text has omitted a Messianic passage (folio 2, recto, column 2,
lines 18–20) perhaps due to the Christian environment in which it has been
copied and studied. Folio 2 (back cover), verso, column 2, line 21, has preserved
a Greek loan word, that has been erased or rendered differently in the other
In sum, the Trier fragments provide a recension of Tanhuma Buber
that might have been reworked on the basis of different manuscripts, not
identical with the complete manuscripts used by Buber for his edition.
In comparison with other fragments of this part of the Midrash, the Trier frag-
ments reflect a greater fluidity of the text. They seem to have preserved parts
of an older version of this Ashkenazi Midrash Tanhuma, and this text was not
necessarily a version closer to Buber’s lost Yelamdenu, which is known mainly
through citations in the ‛Arukh and in later writings from the Rishonim. The
search for this fictional Vorlage of our fragments—by some scholars addressed
with the collective name Yelamdenu28—should be declared over. More impor-
tant seems to be the insight into the development of the different recensions of
these parts of the Midrash which were developed in different cultural settings
and under different historical and socio-economic conditions. In the case of
Midrash Tanhuma Buber, in Ashkenazic communities.

27  Tanhuma, Shemot 15 (86a). See also Exodus Rabbah 2.5 (Midrash Shemot Rabbah Chapters
I–XIV. A Critical Edition Based on a Jerusalem Manuscript with Variants Commentary and
Introduction, ed. A. Shinan [Jerusalem: Dvir, 1984], p. 115); Midrash Aggadah, Shemot 3.2
(Midrash Aggada ‛al ḥamisha ḥumshe Tora [Vienna: A. Panto, 1894], p. 129a).
28  See, e.g., Bassfreund, Midrasch-Fragment, p. 219. He identified the fragments with Buber’s
second Yelamdenu. On the history of research see also F. Böhl, Aufbau und literarischer
Formen des aggadischen Teils im Jelamdenu-Midrasch (Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1977), p. 5;
Stemberger, Einleitung, pp. 338–339.
The Binding Fragments of Midrash Tanhuma 225

5 Transcription of the Fragments

The presentation of the two fragments is based on a comparison with the

printed edition of Tanhuma Buber and the main textual witnesses according
to copies in the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts in Jerusalem.
Most important are Ms Oxford, Bodleian Library, Opp. 20 (Ol. 157) (154)29 and
Ms Vatican ebr. 34.30
In the notes I have listed only important variants. Several quotations of bib-
lical texts are shortened in the fragment, mostly due to the space of a column.
Orthographical corrections and differences in plene and defective spelling are
not noted. As known from other Ashkenazi manuscripts, plene spellings are
often used to make the text more readable. Abbreviated words are not entered
as variants unless their expansions are not obvious; line fillers are transcribed.
References to biblical quotations—not in the original text—are inserted in
round brackets. To make the Hebrew more readable, punctuation has been
added. The short commentary in the footnotes does not comprise all parallels
noted in the Tanhuma Buber edition. References to the printed Tanhuma and
other works from rabbinic literature are included here only if necessary—for
example when a sentence or a part of an exegesis is missing in Tanhuma Buber.
For a translation with references to parallels, variants and important Greek
and Latin loanwords, see John T. Townsend, Midrash Tanhuma: Translated into
English with Introduction, Indices, and Brief Notes (S. Buber Recension), Vol. 2:
Exodus and Leviticus (Hoboken NJ: Ktav, 1997), pp. 9–12; 33–38. For additional
notes compare Bassfreund’s German edition.

Critical symbols
Underlined words or letters = dubious reading
[ ] = lacuna
? = Doubtful or not readable letter
‘ = Abbreviations

29  This manuscript was utilized in a transcription by Buber as the basic text of his edition.
Cf. J. Theodor, “Buber’s Tanchuma,” MGWJ 34 (1885), pp. 422–431. See also Bregman, The
Tanhuma-Yelamdenu Literature, p. 40.
30  Cf. B. Richler (ed.), Hebrew Manuscripts in the Vatican Library: Catalogue, Palaeographical
and Codicological Descriptions by Malachi Beit-Arié (Rome: Città del Vaticano, 2008), p. 23.
‫‪226‬‬ ‫‪Lehnardt‬‬

‫‪Folio 1 (inner front cover), recto, column 1‬‬

‫)‪Tanhuma (Buber), Shemot §§10–11 (ed. Buber 3b‬‬

‫‪   1‬קדשו אע״פ שהוא בשמי׳ עיני׳ יחזו עפעפי׳ יב׳‪31‬‬

‫‪  2‬יבחנו בני אדם (תה׳ יא ד) לה״ד למלך שהיה לו פרדס הכניס‬
‫‪  3‬את הפועלי׳ לתוכו והיה על פתח הפרדס אוצר‬
‫‪  4‬אחד מלא כל טוב וא׳ המלך לפועלי׳ כל מי שהו‬
‫‪  5‬עושה מלאכתו בכל נפשו יטול שכרו מיכן וכל‬
‫‪  6‬מי שאינו עושה מלאכתו בכל נפשו בתוך פלטי׳‬
‫‪  7‬אני אשב ודן אותו‪ .‬מי הוא זה מלך מלכי המלכי׳‬
‫‪  8‬הק׳ מי הוא הפרדס זה העול שנתן הק׳ את בני‬
‫‪  9‬האדם לתוכו שיהו משמרין את התור׳ באמת‬
‫‪  10‬הרי גן עדן לפניו‪ .‬וכל מי שאינו משמר את‬
‫‪  11‬התורה הרי גיהנם לפניו‪ .‬אמ׳ הק׳ אע״פ שבראתיו‬
‫‪  12‬מסלק שכינתי מבית המק׳ אלא עיניו יחזו‬
‫‪  13‬למי שהוא בוחן צדיק יבחן (תה׳ יא ה)‪ .‬ולמה אינו בוחן‬
‫‪  14‬את הרשעי׳ א״ר ינאי הפשתני הזה כשהוא‬
‫‪  15‬רואה את הפשתן שהוא יפה הוא כותש עליו‬
‫‪  16‬הרבה אבל כשהוא רע אינו כותש אותו לפיכ׳‬
‫‪  17‬עיני יחזו עפע׳ יבחנו‪ .‬ולמי הוא בוחן י׳י צדיק‬
‫‪  18‬יבחן‪ .‬ד״א י׳י צדיק יבחן א״ר יצחק ובמה הוא‬
‫‪  19‬בוחנן במרעה דוד נבחן במרעה שנ׳ מאחר‬
‫‪  20‬עלות הביאו לרעות ביעק׳ עמו (תה׳ עח עא)‪ .‬עמוס נבחן‬
‫‪  21‬במר׳ שנ׳ ויקחני י׳י מאחרי הצאן (עמוס ז טו)‪ .‬אף משה‬
‫‪  22‬נבחן במרעה שנ׳ ומשה היה רעה (שמות ג א)‪ .‬מה כת׳‬
‫‪  23‬למעלה מן העני׳ ולכהן מדין שבע בנו׳ (שמות ב טז)‪ .‬מה‬
‫‪  24‬כת׳ שם ויבאו הרועי׳ ויגרשו׳ (שמות ב יז)‪ .‬ואין ויושיען‬
‫‪  25‬אלא לשון ??? ???? הושיעני אלהי׳ כי באו‬
‫‪  26‬מים עד נפש (תה׳ לים סט ב) ??? לו ?? גו׳ ֿלֿה של ???‬
‫‪  27‬למים‪ .‬וישק את צאנם (תה׳ ב ז) ??ונ[ח] ??? ???‬
‫‪  28‬שבעה שמות נקראו לו יתר יתרו רעואל חוב׳‬

‫‪31  The first words of these lines of this part of the fragment are not clearly legible. The ink is‬‬
‫‪badly damaged, partly erased and also the mirror writing provides only a few more read-‬‬
‫‪able letters. See also the reconstruction of Bassfreund, Midrasch-Fragment, p. 169.‬‬
The Binding Fragments of Midrash Tanhuma 227

Folio 1 (inner front cover), recto, column 2

Tanhuma (Buber), Shemot §11 (ed. Buber 4a)

?‫   קיבל עליו לדור עמו ואין ויואל אלא לשון שבוע‬1
‫  שנ׳ הואל נא ולין (שופטים יט ו) וית? ?בך ויקח את צפרה בתו ל‬2
‫ אמ׳ רכו׳ יש אדם שבא ללון אצלו ויש‬32.)‫   למשה (שמות ב כא‬3
?? ‫  אדם שהלך ליטול זיוגו ??צח׳ בא ללון אצלו‬4
‫ משה הלך‬.‫ יעקב הלך ונטל זיוגו‬.‫  ויצא יצח׳ לשוח‬5
‫  ונטל זוגו שנ׳ ??? ??? את צאן ??? בתו ??שב‬6
‫  אצלו קיבל עליו לרעות את צאנו שנ׳ ומשה הי׳‬7
‫ אמ׳ כל מי שנ׳ בו היה יהיה‬33 ‫ מהו היה ר׳ לוי‬.)‫  רעה (שמות ג א‬8
)‫  זן ומפרנס אמרו לו והרי כת׳ והנחש היה ערום (בראשית ג א‬9
‫  אמ׳ להן הוא היה מתוקן לפורענות אמרו לו והרי‬10
‫ אמ׳ להן אף הוא מתוקן‬.)‫  כת׳ וקין היה עבד אדמה (בראשית ד ב‬11
)‫  לגלות אמרו לו והרי כת׳ והיה כאשר נלכד׳ ירוש׳ (ירמיה לח כח‬12
‫  אמ׳ להן סימן יפה היה להן שנלכדה ירושלי׳ שא׳‬13
‫  שאילולי נלכד׳ נתכלו שנאיהן של ישר׳ ולא עוד‬14
]‫ אמ׳ ר׳ [לוי‬34.)‫  אלא שמנטלו אפופסין שנ׳ תם עונך בת (איכה ד כב‬15
‫  כל מי שנ׳ בו היה רואה עולם חדש לפיכך ומשה‬16
‫ א״ר יוחנ׳ למה היה רודף למדבר שהיה‬.)‫  היה רוע׳ (שמות ג א‬17
‫  בורח מן הגזל ד״א למה למדב שראה שהוא נוטל‬18
‫  שררה מן המדבר ד״א למה למדבר שראה שי׳‬19
‫  שישר׳ נתעלין מן המדבר שנ׳ מי זאת עולה מן‬20
‫ התורה מן המדבר‬.‫ עילויה מן המדבר‬.)‫  המדבר (שיר השירים ג ו‬21
‫ משכן מן המדבר השכינ׳‬.‫  המצות מן המדבר‬22

32  From here on the fragment has a different text.

33  In Tanhuma (Buber) 4a: ‫רבנין‬, which is less clear. In Tanhuma Shemot 13 (85b): ‫ר״י‬.
34  Cf. Tanhuma Shemot 13 (85b). This sentence is missing in Tanhuma (Buber). On the mar-
gin a gloss explains: ‫וכן בפסיק׳ וידבר ד׳ אל משה במדבר סיני שבו שנאו האומות העולם את‬
‫הק׳ ונתן להם אפופסן פי׳ גזר דין‬. This clearly refers to Pesiqta Rabbati 46 (Pesikta Rabbati.
Midrasch für den Fest-Cyclus und die ausgezeichneten Sabbathe, kritisch bearbeitet, com-
mentiert, durch neue handschriftliche Haggadas vermehrt, mit Bibel- und Personen-Indices
versehen von M. Friedman nebst einem Lexikon der vorkommenden griechischen und latein-
ischen Fremdwörter von M. Güdemann [Vienna: J. Kayser, 1880], p. 187b [Hebrew]; Pesiqta
Rabbati. A Synoptic Edition of Pesiqta Rabbati Based upon All Extant Manuscripts and
Editio Princeps, Vol. 1, ed. R. Ulmer [Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1999], p. 1022). On the Greek
loan word see M. Jastrow, Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi,
and the Midrashic Literature (New York: Judaica Press, 1985), p. 101; D. Sperber, Greek and
Latin Legal Terms in Rabbinic Literature (Ramat-Gan: Bar Ilan University Press, 1984),
pp. 52–54 esp. 53.
‫‪228‬‬ ‫‪Lehnardt‬‬

‫‪  23‬מן המדבר ענני כבוד מן המדבר המן מן המדבר‬

‫הבאר מן המדבר ל?? מן המ׳ היה רודף במדבר‬ ‫‪  24‬‬
‫‪  25‬ויבא אל הר האלהים (שמות ג א)‪ .‬א״ר שמעו׳ בן יוסה בן לקוניה‪35‬‬
‫הלכה צאנו ??? ??? ??? ??? לילה‬ ‫‪  26‬‬
‫‪  27‬שלא ??? ??? ??? ???‬
‫‪  28‬שנ׳ וילך‬

‫‪Folio 1 (inner front cover), verso, column 1‬‬

‫)‪Tanhuma (Buber), Shemot §§12–14 (ed. Buber 4b‬‬

‫‪   1‬אמ׳ לו משה הגידה לי את שאהבה נפשי (שיר השירים א ז)‪ .‬כמה‬

‫‪  2‬חיות בהן מעוברות בהן מה אגוזי׳ התקנת לה?‬
‫‪  3‬מה ריקוחין התקנת להן‪ .‬הגיד׳ לי שאהבה נפשי‬
‫‪  4‬השיבן הק׳ ואמ׳ לו אם לא תדעי לך היפה בנשים (שיר השירים א ח)‪.‬‬
‫‪  5‬לפיכך וינהג את הצאן‪ .‬כיון שהגיע לחורב מיד‬
‫‪  6‬מה כת׳ וירא מלאך י׳י בלבת אש‪ .‬בשביל לבבן‪.‬‬
‫‪  7‬כשיבא לסיני ויראה אותן האשות שלא יתירא‬
‫‪  8‬מהן‪ .‬לפיכך בלבת אש (שמות ג ב)‪ .‬ד״א למה בלבת אש משני‬
‫‪  9‬חלקין ולמעלה שהלב נתון משני חלקין של אדם‬
‫‪  10‬ולמעלן‪ .‬מתוך הסנה ולמה לא מתוך אילן אחר‬
‫‪  11‬אמ׳ הק׳ קראתי על עצמי עמו אנכי בצרה (תה׳ צא טו)‪ .‬והן‬
‫‪  12‬נתונין בצרה‪ 36‬ואני נגלה עליהן מתוך אילן אחר‬
‫‪  13‬לפיכך נגלה עליו מתוך הסנה שכולו קוצי׳‪ .‬וירא‬
‫‪  14‬והנה הסנה בוער באש (שמות ג ב)‪ .‬מכאן אמרו חכמים‬
‫‪  15‬האש מלמעלן מעלה לובלובין וצורפת ואינה‬
‫‪  16‬אוכלת ושחורה‪ .‬והאש שלמטה אינה מעלה‬
‫‪  17‬לובלבין ואדומה ואוכלת ואינה צורפת‪ .‬לפיכך‬
‫‪  18‬וירא והנה הסנה‪ 37.‬ויאמר משה אסור׳ נא וארא׳ (שמות ג ג)‪.‬‬
‫‪  19‬ר׳ יוחנ׳ א׳ שלש פסיעות פסע משה ריש לקי׳ א׳ לא‬
‫‪  20‬פסע אלא צוארו עקם אמ׳ לו הק׳ מצטערת לראו׳‬
‫‪  21‬חייך כדיי׳ לך את שאגלה עליך מיד ויקרא אליו (שמות ג ד)‬
‫‪  22‬מלאך י׳י מתוך הסנה‪ 38.‬אמ׳ לו הק׳ את אמרת הנני (שמות ג ד)‪.‬‬
‫‪  23‬חייך שתבא שעה להתפלל על ישר׳ מיד אני עונ׳‬

‫‪.‬לקוניה ‪35  In Tanhuma (Buber) 4a:‬‬

‫‪.‬בשעבוד ‪36  In Ms Vatican Tanhuma (Buber):‬‬
‫‪37  This section is missing in Tanhuma (Buber). It is known from Tanhuma, Shemot 15 (86a).‬‬
‫;)‪See also Exodus Rabbah 2.5 (ed. Shinan, p. 115, who mentions our fragment in the notes‬‬
‫‪Midrash Aggadah, Shemot 3.2 (ed. Buber, p. 129a).‬‬
‫‪38  This sentence is absent in Tanhuma (Buber), too.‬‬
‫‪The Binding Fragments of Midrash Tanhuma‬‬ ‫‪229‬‬

‫‪  24‬ואו׳ הנני שנ׳ אז תקרא וי׳י יענ׳ תשוה ויאמ׳ הנני‪.‬‬

‫‪  25‬זש״ה והוא באחד מי ישיבנו (איוב כג יג)‪ .‬ונפ׳ אות׳ לו ות׳‪ 39.‬דרש‬
‫‪  26‬ר׳ פפיס לפי שהוא יחידי ואין מי שימחה בידו‬
‫‪  27‬כל מה שהוא מבקש לעשות הוא עושה‪ .‬ונפשו‬
‫‪  28‬או׳ ויעש (איוב כג יג)‪ .‬אמ׳ לו ר׳ עקי׳ דייך פפייס אין דורשי׳ כך‬

‫‪Folio 1 (inner front cover), verso, column 2‬‬

‫)‪Tanhuma (Buber), Shemot §§14–16 (ed. Buber 5a‬‬

‫‪   1‬ומשמ׳ או׳ מימי׳ (מלאכים א כב יט)‪ 40.‬מאלו וכי יש שמאל למעלן שהוא או׳ מימי׳‬
‫‪  2‬ומש׳ והרי כת׳ ימינך י׳י (שמות טו ו)‪ .‬אלא אילו מימיני׳ ואלו‬
‫‪  3‬משמאילי׳ אילו מטין לכף זכות ואילו מטי׳ לכף‬
‫‪  4‬חובה‪ .‬והכל במשפט‪ .‬ומהו והוא בא׳ ומי ישיבנו‬
‫‪  5‬על שהוא יחידי בעולמו אין משיבין על דבריו‪ .‬תדע‬
‫‪  6‬לך כמה נתקשה יונה שלא לילך בשליחותו שלהק׳‬
‫‪  7‬אמ׳ לו הק׳ נראה שלמי עומדת שלי או שלך ולא‬
‫‪  8‬זז עד שהלך שנ׳ ויקם יונה וילך אל נינוה כדבר‬
‫‪  9‬י׳י‪ .‬ירמ׳ אמ׳ לפני הק׳ נער אנכי ולא זז עד שהלך‬
‫‪  10‬בשליחותו הוי ונפשו איותה ויעש‪ .‬ואף משה‬
‫‪  11‬אמ׳ לו הק׳ ועתה לך ואשל׳ אל פרע׳ אמ׳ לו משה‬
‫‪  12‬שלח נא ביד תשלח (שמות ד יג)‪ .‬אמ׳ לו נראה משלמי עומדת‬
‫‪  13‬ולא זז עד שהלך בשליחותו שנ׳ וילך משה (שמות ד יח)‪ .‬מה‬
‫‪  14‬כת׳ למעל׳ מן העני׳ וירא י׳י כי סר לראות (שמות ג ד)‪ .‬ר׳ אבא ב׳‪41‬‬
‫‪  15‬כל מי שנכפל שמו בעול׳ הזה יש לו חלק בשני עול׳‬
‫‪  16‬נח נח‪ .‬אברה׳ אברהם‪ .‬יעקב יעק׳‪ .‬משה משה‪ .‬שמואל‬
‫‪  17‬שמואל‪ .‬אמרו לו והרי כת׳ תרח תרח‪ .‬אמ׳ להן אף הו׳‬
‫‪  18‬בשני עולמו שלא מת אבי׳ אברהם עד שנתבשר‬
‫‪  19‬שעשה תרח אביו תשוב׳ לפיכך נכפל שמו תרח‬
‫‪  20‬תרח ויאמ׳ מש׳ מש׳ ויאמר הנני (שמות ג ד) א״ר יהושו׳ בן‬
‫‪  21‬קרח׳ מהו הנני‪ .‬הנני לכהונ׳ הנני לכהונ׳‪ 42‬הנני למלכות‬
‫‪  22‬הנני לנבוא׳ אמ׳ לו הק׳ במקו׳ שעמד עמודו של עו׳‬
‫‪  23‬את עומד אברה׳ אמ׳ הנני ואת או׳ הנני‪ .‬ויאמר אל‬
‫תקרב הלו׳ (שמות ג ה)‪ .‬ואין הלום אלא מלכות‪ .‬שנ׳ כי הבאתני‬ ‫‪  24‬‬
‫‪  25‬עד הלום (שמואל ב ז יח‪ ,‬דב״ה א יז טו)‪ .‬וכן הוא או׳ הבא עד הלום של נעלי׳ מעל‬

‫‪39  The half sentence is absent in Tanhuma (Buber).‬‬

‫‪40  The Masoretic text is in reverse order. Since the fragment has not preserved the entire‬‬
‫‪verse, it remains unclear if this is a quotation or part of the Midrash. See the continuation.‬‬
‫‪ in Tanhuma (Buber) 5a.‬אבא בר כהנא  ‪41‬‬
‫‪42  Dittography. Compare Tanhuma (Buber) 5a.‬‬
‫‪230‬‬ ‫‪Lehnardt‬‬

‫רגליך‪ .‬ביהוש׳ כת׳ של נעלך (יהושע ה טו)‪ .‬ובמשה כת׳ של נעלך (שמות ג ה)‪.‬‬‫‪  26‬‬
‫‪  27‬ויאמ׳ אנכי אלהי אבר׳ אביך (שמות ג ו)‪ .‬אלהי אבר׳ נראה׳ לו בקולו‬
‫‪  28‬שלעמרם אביו כדי שלא יתירא‪ .‬באותה שעה‬

‫‪Folio 2 (back cover), recto, column 1‬‬

‫)‪Tanhuma (Buber), Va’era 4 (ed. Buber 10b–11a‬‬

‫‪   1‬אתם באי׳ ואו׳ נלכה ונזביה לי׳י אמ׳ להן פרע׳ למה‬
‫‪  2‬משה ואה׳ תפרי׳ את העם (שמות ה ד)‪ .‬מהו למה א׳ להן אתם למה‬
‫‪  3‬ודבריכ׳ למה‪ .‬לכו לסבלתיכם (שם)‪ .‬תכבד העבד׳‪ .‬מהו ואל‬
‫‪  4‬ישעו בדברי שקר (שמות ה ט)‪ .‬שהיה בידו מגילות והיו מש׳‬
‫‪  5‬משתעשעין בהן משבת לשבת לומ׳ שהק׳ גואלנו‬
‫‪  6‬א׳ להו פרעה אל ישעו בדברי שקר אל יהיו נשענין‬
‫‪  7‬ואל יהו משתעשעין ואל יהו נפוצין שנ׳ ויפץ העם‬
‫‪  8‬בכל ארץ מצרי׳ (שמות ה יב)‪ 43.‬למה בכל ארץ מצ׳ מפני שהבי׳ עלי׳‬
‫‪  9‬מכות‪ .‬אמ׳ הק׳ מחר אני מביא עליהן מכות והן אומ׳‬
‫‪  10‬פרעה חטא ואנו משלימין כיון שישר׳ יוצא׳ להבי׳‬
‫‪  11‬קש לעשותו תבן מצרי׳ רואה אותן בתוך שדהו ומ‬
‫‪  12‬ומכהו לפיכך ויפץ העם‪ .‬ויבאו שוטרי פרע׳‪ .‬מה ה׳‬
‫‪  13‬השיבן נרפי׳ אם נרפי׳‪ .‬ויפגעו את משה ואת אהר׳‬
‫‪  14‬אילו היו דתן ואביר׳ שכת׳ בהן ודתן ואבי׳ יצאו נצ׳ (במדבר טז כז)‪.‬‬
‫‪44  15‬אמרו להן ראו היאך אנו עשוין מן המכות‪ .‬רוח‬
‫‪  16‬היה לנו מן המצרי׳ שאנו נגאלין ועכשיו באתם‬
‫‪  17‬ועכרתם את הריח שנ׳ אשר הבאשתם את ריחנו (שמות ה כא)‪.‬‬
‫‪  18‬א״ר יודה הלוי בר׳ שלום אמרו ישר׳ למשה נאמר‬
‫‪  19‬לך למה אנו דומין לשה אחת שבא הזאב ונטלה‬
‫מן העדר רץ הרועה אחריה מה עשה הזאב ביקש‬ ‫‪  20‬‬
‫‪  21‬לבקוע את השה בין הרועה לבין הזאב הגיע השה‬
‫‪  22‬לסכנה‪ .‬כך אמרו ישר׳ למש׳ בינך לבין פרעה אנו‬
‫‪  23‬מתים אשר הבאשתם את ריחנו (שם)‪ .‬וישב משה אל‬
‫י׳י ויאמר למה הרעות? (במדבר יא יא)‪ .‬מ׳ לו למה הרעות לעם הזה‬ ‫‪  24‬‬
‫‪  25‬אם תאמ׳ ולמה אכפת לך אתה‪ .‬ולמה זה שלחתני (שמות ה כב)‪.‬‬
‫ומאז באתי אל פר׳ (שמות ה כג)‪ .‬ר׳ יודה הלוי בר׳ שלו׳ א׳ שמך נו׳‬ ‫‪  26‬‬
‫נותן ח[י]ים לכל באי עולם ובשמך הרע לעם הזה‪.‬‬ ‫‪  27‬‬
‫‪  28‬והצל לא הצלת (שם)‪ .‬והאחר או׳ מה יעשו אותן שהן‬
‫נתונין בתוך דימוס‪ .‬אמ׳ ו הק׳ עת׳ תרא׳ מה אעש׳‬ ‫‪  29‬‬

‫‪43  In Tanhuma (Buber) 10b there is an additional sentence with a quote from Exod 5:7.‬‬
‫‪44  The following sentence is missing in Tanhuma (Buber) 11a.‬‬
‫‪The Binding Fragments of Midrash Tanhuma‬‬ ‫‪231‬‬

‫‪Folio 2 (back cover), recto, column 2‬‬

‫)‪Tanhuma (Buber), Va’era §§6–7 (ed. Buber 11a–11b‬‬

‫‪45   1‬אמות והכניס את הארון לתוכו ונשאו אותו להכניסו‬

‫‪  2‬לבית קדשי הקדשי׳‪ .‬וכיון שהגיע לפתח בית המק׳‬
‫‪  3‬היה הפתח של עשר אמות‪ ,‬והארון של עשר אמות‬
‫‪  4‬ואין עשר יכולות ליכנס בתוך עשר‪ .‬ועוד שהיו‬
‫‪  5‬טוענין בו‪ .‬כיון שבא להכניסו לא היה יכול להכניסו‪.‬‬
‫‪  6‬מיד עמד ונתבייש ולא היה יודע מה לעשת התחי׳‬
‫‪  7‬להתפלל לפני הק׳‪ .‬מה עשה שלמה אמרו רבו׳ הלך‬
‫‪  8‬והביא את ארונו של דוד אביו ואמ׳ כ״ד רננות‪ 46‬ולא‬
‫‪  9‬ולא נענה עד שא׳ י׳י אלהי׳ אל תשב פני משיחך‪ .‬זכרה‬
‫לדוד עבדך‪( .‬דה״ב ו מב‪ )47‬מיד נענה‪ .‬א״ר ברכי׳ בשם ר׳ חלבו באות‬ ‫’‪  10‬‬
‫‪  11‬שעה היה דוד והכל לדרוש וכן הוא או׳ שלמ׳ רבונו‬
‫‪  12‬של עו׳ עשה בזכותו של דוד אבי מיד נענה שנ׳ י׳י‬
‫‪  13‬אלהים אל תשב פני משיחך‪ .‬מה כת׳ אחריו וככלות‬
‫‪  14‬שלמה להתפלל והאש ירדה מן השמי׳ ותאכל העולה‬
‫‪  15‬והשלמי׳‪ .‬ורוח הקוד׳ צווחת‪ .‬משבח אני את המתים‬
‫‪  16‬שכבר מתו מן החיים (קהלת ד ב)‪ .‬התחיל שלמה או׳ שאו שערי׳‬
‫‪  17‬בקשו השערי׳ לירד לרוץ את ראשו של שלמה שהיו‬
‫‪  18‬סבורין שמא על עצמו הוא או׳ מלך הכבוד אמרו לו‬
‫‪  19‬מי הוא זה מלך הכבוד (תה׳ כד ח)? י׳י צבאו׳ הוא מלך הכבו׳ סלה‪.‬‬
‫‪  20‬כיון שאמ׳ להן כך מיד נחו ושככו אילולי כן בקשו‬
‫‪  21‬לרוץ ראשו ולהמיתו‪ 48.‬ד״א מי הוא זה מלך הכבוד (שם)?‬
‫‪  22‬זה מלך מלכי המלכי׳ הק׳ שהוא חולק כבוד ליריאיו י׳י‬
‫‪  23‬צבאות‪ .‬כיצד מלך בשר ודם אין יושבין על כסאו‬
‫‪  24‬שנ׳ וישב שלמה על כסא י׳י למלך (דב״ה א כט כג)‪ .‬מלך בשר וד׳ אין‬
‫‪  25‬רוכבין על סוסו‪ .‬והק׳ הרכיב לאליהו על רכבו‪ .49‬ומי הוא‬
‫‪  26‬סוסו של הק׳ סופה וסערה שנ׳ י׳י בסופה ובסערה‬
‫‪  27‬דרכו (נחום א ג)‪50 .‬והרכיב לאליהו בסערה שנ׳ ויעל אליהו בסער׳‬

‫‪45  The wording in the fragment is slightly different. Cf. Tanhuma (Buber) 11a.‬‬
‫‪46  This is missing in both Tanhuma editions. Cf. Babylonian Talmud, Mo‛ed Qatan 9a.‬‬
‫‪47  Compared with the Masoretic text, the verse is shortened. The passage is not found in‬‬
‫‪Tanhuma (Buber) 11b.‬‬
‫‪48  The last part of the sentence is missing in Tanhuma (Buber) 11b.‬‬
‫‪ in Tanhuma (Buber) 11b.‬סוסו  ‪49‬‬
‫‪50  The following part is missing in Tanhuma (Buber) 11b. Instead a messianic passage is‬‬
‫מלך בשר ודם אין לובשין עטרה שלו‪ .‬והקב״ה נתן עטרת למלך המשיח‪inserted there: .‬‬
‫‪. See Tanhuma Va’era 8 (97a); Midrash Tehillim‬שנאמר תשית לראשו עטרת פז (תה׳ כא ד)‬
‫‪on Ps 21 (ed. Buber 89a-b); Townsend, Midrash Tanhuma, p. 34.‬‬
‫‪232‬‬ ‫‪Lehnardt‬‬

‫‪  28‬‬
‫השמי׳ (מלכים ב ב יא)‪ .‬מלך בשר וד[ם] אין משתמשין בשרביטו‬
‫‪  29‬ומשה נשתמש בשרביטו של הק׳ שנ׳ ויקח משה‬
‫‪  30‬את מטה האלהים (שמות ד כ)‪ .‬מלך בשר ודם אין לובשין עטרה שלו‬

‫‪Folio 2 (back cover), verso, column 1‬‬

‫)‪Tanhuma (Buber), Va’era §§7–8 (ed. Buber 12a–12b‬‬

‫‪   1‬ברא אלהים והרי עשיתי אותך כמותי אני נקראתי‬

‫‪  2‬אלהים ובו בשם קראתיך אלהים שנ׳ ראה נתתיך אלהי׳‬
‫‪   3‬לפרעה (שמות ז א)‪ .‬הוי מי הוא זה מלך הכבוד שהוא חולק כבו׳‬
‫‪  4‬ליריאיו‪ .‬ד״א ראה נתתיך אלהים לפ׳ לפי שעש׳ עצמו‬
‫‪  5‬אלה הודיעו שאינו כלום בעול׳ הריני עוש׳ אותך‬
‫‪  6‬אלהים שנ׳ ראה נת׳ אלהי׳ ומניי׳ שעשה עצמו אלהים שנ׳‬
‫‪  7‬יען אמר יאור לי‪ 51‬ואני עשיתיני (יחזקאל כט ג)‪ .‬אני הוא שבראתי‬
‫‪  8‬עצמי‪ .‬וזה אחד מארבע׳ שעשו עצמן אלהות ונ׳‬
‫‪  9‬ונבעלו כנשים‪ .‬שלשה מאומות העול׳ ואחד‬
‫‪  10‬מישר׳‪ .‬ואילו הן חירם ונבוכדנצר ופרעה ויואש‬
‫‪  11‬חירם מניין שעשה עצמו אלוה שנ׳ בן אדם אמר‬
‫‪  12‬לנגי׳ צר כה י׳י אלהים יען גבה לבך ותאמר אל אני (יחזקאל כח ב)‪ .‬ולפי‬
‫‪  13‬שעשה עצמו אלה נבעל כנשים ֿשנא׳ שכן כת׳ יען‬
‫‪  14‬גבה לבך (שם)‪ .‬באפיך שחת חכמתך על יפעתיך על ארץ‬
‫‪  15‬השלכתיך לפני מלכי׳ נתתיך (יחזקאל כח יז)‪ .‬מהו לראות בך יעבדו‬
‫‪  16‬רעותהון בך‪ .‬נבוכדנצר מניין שעשה עצמו אלה‬
‫‪  17‬שכן הוא או׳ אעלה על במותי עב אדמה לעליון (ישעיה יד יד)‪ .‬אך‬
‫‪  18‬אל שאול תורד (ישעיה יד טו)‪ 52.‬מה עשה לו הק׳ הגלהו למדבר‪ 53‬עד‬
‫‪  19‬שהוא במלכותו והאכיל אותו עשב כבהמה שנ׳‬
‫‪  20‬ועשבא כתורין לך יטעמון (דניאל ד כב)‪ .‬והיו הבהמה והחיה‬
‫‪  21‬רואין אותו בדמות בהמה ובועלין אותו שנ׳ ושוד‬
‫‪  22‬בהמות יחיתון (חבקוק ב יז)‪ .‬מהו יחיתון כעני׳ שנ׳ לא תתחתן בם (דברים ז ג)‪.‬‬
‫‪  23‬שנעשה חתן לכל בהמה וחיה‪ .‬ויואש מני׳ שעש(ה)‬
‫‪  24‬עצמו אלה שנ׳ ואחרי מות יהוד׳ באו שרי יהוד׳ ויש‬
‫‪  25‬וישתחוו למלך (דב״ה ב כד יז)‪ .‬שעשו אותו אלה וקיבל עליו שנ׳ אז‬
‫‪  26‬שמע המלך אלהם (שם)‪ .‬ונבעל כנשי׳ שנ׳ ואת יואש עשו‬

‫‪51  The fragment has a different order of words than the Masoretic text. See also the edition‬‬
‫‪Tanhuma (Buber), 12a.‬‬
‫‪52  Cf. Tanhuma (Buber) 12a has here a longer text.‬‬
‫‪53  Missing in Tanhuma (Buber) 12a.‬‬
‫‪The Binding Fragments of Midrash Tanhuma‬‬ ‫‪233‬‬

‫‪  27‬שפטי׳ (דב״ה ב כד כד)‪ 54.‬ופרע׳ עשה עצמו אלה ונבעל כנשים שנ׳ הנני‬
‫‪  28‬נותן את הפרע (ירמיה מד ל)‪ .‬מהו הופרע סירסו לאחוריו היה‬
‫‪  29‬זכר ונהפך לנקיבה‪ .‬הוא פרעה הופרע כעניי׳ שנ׳‬
‫‪  30‬ופרע את ראש האשה (במדבר ה יח)‪ .‬ואיזה הוא זה בית אב שלו‬
‫‪  31‬שנ׳ ביום ההוא יהיה מצרי׳ (ישעיהו יט טז) ???‬

‫‪Folio 2 (back cover), verso, column 2‬‬

‫)‪Tanhuma (Buber), Ve’era 8–9 (ed. Buber 12b–13a‬‬

‫‪   1‬ומגביהין ועושין עצמן אלהות ומה הק׳ עושה להן‬

‫‪   2‬מראה אותן שחץ שנ׳ הוא מלך על כל בני שחץ (איוב מא כו)‪.‬‬
‫‪  3‬כגון נבוכדנצר שעש׳ עצמו שחץ שנ׳ ומן אינשא‬
‫‪  4‬טריד ולבבך עם חותא ועם עשבא כתורא יטעמוני׳ (דניאל ה כא)‪.‬‬
‫‪   5‬וכן סנחריב נעשה שחץ שנ׳ ויהי בלילה ההוא‬
‫‪  6‬ויצא מלאך י׳י ויכה (מלכים ב יט לה)‪ .‬הוי את כל גבוה יראה (איוב כא ו)‪.‬שהק׳‬
‫‪   7‬מראה שחצן של גאתנין לכל הבריות אמ׳ הק׳ אם‬
‫‪  8‬יסתר איש במסתרי׳ ואני לא אראנו וגו׳ (ירמיה כג כד)? א״ר בנימן‬
‫‪  9‬ב״ר לוי אם ילך אדם וישב לו באות אחד ויגע בתור׳‬
‫‪  10‬אני מראהו לבריות שנ׳ ואני לא אראנו הלא את‬
‫‪  11‬השמים ואת הארץ אני מלא (ירמיהו כג כד)‪ 55.‬א״ר חמא ב״ר חני׳ אני‬
‫‪  12‬ממלא את העליוני׳ ואת התחתוני׳ ומראה שחצן‬
‫‪  13‬לבריות למה שהן מתגאין ועושין עצמן אלה מ׳‬
‫‪  14‬מהו והוא מלך על כל בני שחץ שהוא מלך על כל‬
‫‪  15‬אותן שמתגאין ועושה אותן שחץ‪ .‬לפיכך אמ׳‬
‫‪  16‬הק׳ למשה ראה נתתיך אלהי׳ (שמות ז א)‪ .‬לפ׳ לך והפרע ממנו‬
‫‪  17‬והבא עליו עשר מכות אמ׳ לו היאך נבי אמ׳ לו הק׳‬
‫‪  18‬ואת המטה (שמות ד יז)‪ .‬א״ר יודה‪ 56‬המטה של משה משקל‬
‫‪  19‬ארבעי׳ סאה היה בו ושל סנפירינון היה ועשר‬
‫‪  20‬מכות חקוקות עליו נוטריקון דצ״ך עד״ש באח״ב‪.‬‬

‫)‪54  Here a ‘davar aher’ and a passage built on the same verse are missing; cf. Tanhuma (Buber‬‬
‫‪55  Here a short passage from Tanhuma (Buber) 13a is missing.‬‬
‫‪.‬ר׳ יהודה בר אמי ‪56  In Tanhuma (Buber) 13a:‬‬
‫‪234‬‬ ‫‪Lehnardt‬‬

‫‪  21‬אמ׳ לו הק׳ בטקסיס‪ 57‬הא הבא עליו‪ 58.‬ראה נתתיך אלהי׳ (שמות ז א)‬
‫‪  22‬לפר׳ מהו לפר׳ אלא שאמ׳ הק׳ לא בשביל שעשי׳‬
‫‪  23‬אותך אלה תהא רוחך גסה אין את אלה אלא על‬
‫‪  24‬זה וכן הוא או׳ וידבר אלהים אל משה מהו אני י׳י (שמות ו ב)‬
‫‪  25‬אלא אמ׳ לו אע״פ שעשיתי עצמך אלה אלא אמ׳ לו‬
‫‪  26‬אין אתה אלה אלא לפרעה‪ .‬רא׳ נתתי אותך אלהי׳ לפר׳ (שמות ז א)‪.‬‬
‫‪  27‬כיוצ׳ בדבר שמעה עמי ואדבר׳ (תה׳ לים נ ז)‪ .‬כשעמדו ישר׳‬
‫‪  28‬בסיני ואמרו כל אש׳ דב׳ י׳י נעש׳ ונש׳ (שמות כד ז)‪ .‬א״ר יוחנן‬
‫‪  29‬ירדו ששי׳ ריבוא של מלאכי השרת ונתנו ע׳‬
‫‪  30‬עטרו׳ בראשיהן ר׳ סמא׳ פורפירין הלבישן‬

‫‪57  Probably a loan word from the Greek τάξις, troops. Cf. S. Krauss, Griechische und‬‬
‫‪Lateinische Lehnwörter im Talmud, Midrasch und Targum (Berlin: S. Calvary, 1899), vol. 2,‬‬
‫‪p. 267.‬‬
‫‪.‬המטה הזה יביא עליו את המכות ‪58  In Tanhuma (Buber) 13a:‬‬
The Binding Fragments of Midrash Tanhuma 235

figure 13.1 Folio 1 Recto.

236 Lehnardt

figure 13.2 Folio 1 Verso.

The Binding Fragments of Midrash Tanhuma 237

figure 13.3 Folio 2 Recto.

238 Lehnardt

figure 13.4 Folio 2 Verso.

Part 5
Jewish–Christian Relationship


“We Love the God Who Loved Us First”:

The Second Blessing of the Shema Liturgy

Reuven Kimelman

1 Introduction

The second blessing of the Jewish Shema Liturgy emphasizes Israel’s love for
God as a response to God’s love for Israel. This notion finds a partial paral-
lel in the contemporaneous I John, especially 4:19 (“We love Him [= God],
for He loved us first,”) and 5:3 (“For the love of God is this, that we obey His
commandments”). The confluence of both has surely sustained our honoree
John T. Townsend. In fact, in a conversation of around 1980, either when John
joined my family for a Passover Seder, or during a class we team-taught on
classical Judaism and Christianity at Brandeis University, he said, “Reuven,
I bet you are wondering why I do not convert to Judaism?” Answering his own
question, John said, “Because I found the God of Israel through Jesus.”
This study of the second blessing of the Shema Liturgy focuses on how Israel
finds the God of Israel through the Torah. The blessing paves the way to the
first biblical section (Deut 6:4–9) of the “Recitation of the Shema” and its open-
ing demand: “You shall love Adonai Your God with all your heart/mind, with all
your body/soul, and with all you have/with even more” (Deut 6:5). The analysis
deals with how this morning blessing makes the case that Israel’s love of God
reciprocates God’s love of Israel. The blessing thus argues for the election of
Israel as an expression of God’s love. The thesis is encapsulated in the bless-
ing’s peroration, “who chooses His people Israel out of love” (below, line 13).
Discussion begins with an annotated English translation of the blessing
with a line by line commentary.1 It includes the italicized middle part, lines

1  The text follows the version of Seder Rab Amram Gaon, ed. E. D. Goldschmidt (Jerusalem:
Mossad Harav Kook, 1971) 1:20, p. 14; and the Esslingen Maḥzor, Ashkenazic Rite (JTS MS
9344, JTSA library website: http://esslingenmahzor.org/manuscripts/) save for one strophe.
For a chart of the differences among Seder Rab Amram Gaon, Siddur Rab Saadia Gaon, and
the Sefardic version, see M. Kasher, Sefer Shema Yisrael, (Jerusalem: Beth Torah Sheleimah,
1980), pp. 305–306. Significant variants are noted below. For the multiple ways of expressing
the love theme of this blessing, see M. Benovitz, BT Berachot Chapter 1 With Comprehensive

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���6 | doi ��.��63/9789004324541_015

242 Kimelman

a–d, which is an interpolation dealing with redemption.2 It is then contrasted

with the comparable evening version followed by a discussion of the nature of
the love and its metaphors.

2 The Morning Blessing

1. With everlasting love have You loved us, Adonai our God
2. With great and3 extraordinary tenderness4 have You attended to us.
3. Our Father our King,5 as our ancestors placed their trust in You6

Commentary (Jerusalem: The Society for the Interpretation of the Talmud, 2006), pp. 526, 562
(Hebrew). This chapter is part of a fuller study of the Shema Liturgy that is slated to appear
in my book, The Rhetoric of the Jewish Liturgy: a Historical and Literary Commentary to the
2  Hence it is missing in a Genizah version; see S. Schechter, “Genizah Specimens,” JQR (O.S.) 10
(1898), pp. 654–659. For what is involved theologically, see below, note 16.
3  The conjunctive ‫ ו‬of ‫ וחמלה‬is missing from the Babylonian-based versions of Siddur Rab
Saadia Gaon (eds. I. Davidson, S. Asaf, and B. Joel; Jerusalem: Mekize Nirdamim 1970), p. 13,
l. 22 (Hebrew); Siddur Rabbenu Shelomoh b. R. Natan (Hasigilmasa; ed. S. Ḥaggai; Jerusalem,
1995), p. 12 (Hebrew); and Maimonides, Liturgy, according to E. D. Goldschmidt, On Jewish
Liturgy (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1980), p. 196, l. 1 (Hebrew).
4  This follows the use of ‫ חמלה‬in Mal 3:17. Isa 63:9 juxtaposes the two in the same order
‫באהבתו ובחמלתו‬, as apparently does Psalms of Solomon 9:8. The two are also paralleled in a
contemporaneous prayer:
‫ומאהבתך  ה׳ א־להינו  שׁאהבת את ישׂראל עמך‬
‫ומחמלתך   מלכנו       שׁחמלת על בני בריתך‬
See Tosefta, Berachot 3:7, p. 14; Seder Rab Amram Gaon 2:5, p. 63, l. 2; and Schechter, “Genizah
Specimens,” p. 655.
5  Both epithets are missing in a different Genizah text (see Schechter, “Genizah Specimens,”
p. 655) and in Siddur Rab Saadia Gaon, p. 13, and Maimonides, Liturgy, p. 196, l. 2, has both.
Siddur Rabbenu Shelomoh b. R. Natan, p. 12, has just ‫מלכנו‬, but it appears as a dangler, as
charted below:
‫אהבת עולם     אהבתנו‬
‫דברי חיים     למדתנו‬
‫חמלה גדולה יתירה חמלת עלינו‬
This, apparently, led to it becoming disjointed from its parallel, as charted in the previous
note, which in turn led to the addition of ‫ אבינו‬in the text of Maimonides, ibid., due to the
familiarity of the epithet ‫“( אבינו מלכנו‬our Father our King”) in the liturgy (see R. Kimelman,
“Blessing Formulae and Divine Sovereignty in Rabbinic Liturgy,” eds. Ruth Langer and Steven
Fine, Liturgy in the Life of the Synagogue: Studies in the History of Jewish Prayer [Winona Lake,
“ We Love the God Who Loved Us First ” 243

4. And You taught them7 the statutes of life.8

5. so grace us by teaching us.9
6. Our Father, merciful Father, have mercy upon us:
7. Endow our hearts with the capacity to understand and to discern,
in order to hear, to study, to teach, to keep, to do, and to fulfill10 all
the words of Your Torah11 out of love.

IN: Eisenbrauns, 2005], pp. 1–39 esp. 22–23, note 102) and its presence in line 6. In line
6, its presence is appropriate as it is succeeded by a request; in line 3, it is gratuitous.
6  See Ps [ET, 22:4].
7  ‫( ותלמדם‬Seder Rab Amram Gaon 1:20, p. 14, l. 22). MS ‫ ז‬of Seder Rab Amram Gaon, ibid.;
Siddur Rab Saadia Gaon, p. 14; and a Genizah version (E. Fleischer, Statutory Jewish
Prayers: Their Emergence and Development, 2 vols. (ed. S. Elizur and T. Beeri, Jerusalem:
The Magnes Press, 2012), vol. 1, p. 658; Schechter, “Genizah Specimens,” p. 655) read
‫ותלמדנו‬. The difference may be due to the final ‫ ם‬having been mistakenly split into a
‫ ו‬and a ‫ נ‬just as elsewhere the ‫ נ‬and ‫ ו‬were run together producing a ‫ ;ם‬see Josh 5:1 the
‫ קרי‬and ‫ ;כתיב‬and R. Weiss, Meḥqerei Miqra (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1981), pp. 4–13).
8  The expression “statutes of life” (‫ )חוקי חיים‬is based on Lev 18:5; Deut 4:1, 5; Ezek 18:9; 20:11;
33:15; Neh 9:29; and Psalms of Solomon 14:2. The “statutes of life” are also alluded to in the
evening version’s reference to the Torah as “our life and the length of our days” (based on
Deut 6:2 and 30:20). Grasping the Torah as parallel to “ways of life,” one Genizah text states:
‫“( והודיענו דרכי חיים ונתן לנו תורתו‬And who made known to us the ways of life and gave us
His Torah”; see N. Wieder, The Formation of Jewish Liturgy in the East and the West: A
Collection of Essays [2 vols.; Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute, 1998], vol. 1, p. 89 [Hebrew]);
another states: ‫“( ותדריכנו באורחות חיים‬And guide us in the paths of life”; see Fleischer,
Statutory Jewish Prayers, vol. 1, p. 283), while still another states ‫“( ויורישנו דברי חיים‬and
He bequeathed to us words of life”); see Siddur Rab Saadia Gaon, p. 142, l. 9. The Torah is
also referred to as “the words of the living God” (‫[ דברי אלהים חיים‬Abot de-Rabbi Natan
18, ed. S. Schechter, A, p. 1]).
9  ‫ ותלמדנו‬may be an innovation of the French rite; see A. Goldschmidt, Maḥzor Vitry
(3 vols.; Jerusalem: Oṣar Ha-Posqim, 5764–5769 [2004–2009]), vol. 1, p. 109, note 24; and
Fleischer, Statutory Jewish Prayers, vol. 2, p. 1136, with note 269. In any case, teaching is
implied by the previous term ‫תחננו‬, as Ps 119:29 says: ‫ותורתך חנני‬, which is paralleled by
Ps 119:64 ‫ חקיך למדני‬and expressed liturgically as: ‫ ולמדינו בינה מתורתך‬/ ‫חנינו דיעה מאתך‬
(“Grant us knowledge from You / and teach us understanding from Your Torah,” cited from
U. Ehrlich, The Weekday Amidah in Cairo Genizah Prayerbooks: Roots and Transmission
(Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi Press, 2013), p. 86 (Hebrew).
10  See below, note 30.
11  The Hebrew is ‫תלמוד תורתך‬. For the distinctiveness of the expression, see J. Goldin,
Studies in Midrash and Related Literature (ed. B. Eichler and J. Tigay; Philadelphia: Jewish
Publication Society, 1988), p. 32 note 29.
244 Kimelman

8. Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah and make our hearts cleave to Your
9. Unite our heart to love and to revere Your name.13
a. We shall never be disappointed.
b. Since we have placed our trust in Your holy name, “the Great,
the Powerful, the Awesome,” 14 we shall revel and rejoice in Your
c. Bring us blessing and peace from the four corners of the earth15
d. And lead us upright to our land, for You are a God who brings about

12  This current version follows MS ‫ נ‬of Maḥzor Vitry, vol. 1, p. 109) which reads: ‫והאר עינינו‬
‫בתורתך ודבק ליבנו במצותיך‬.
13  See below, note 70. As is common in rabbinic literature, “Name” here is a buffer term for
God; see S. Sharvit, Studies in Mishnaic Hebrew (Jerusalem: The Bialik Institute, 2008),
p. 59 (Hebrew).
14  The translation of these terms as vocatives is based on their use in the first blessing of
the Amidah; see R. Kimelman, “The Literary Structure of the Amidah and the Rhetoric
of Redemption,” in W. G. Dever and E. J. Wright (eds.), Echoes of Many Texts: Essays
Honoring Lou H. Silberman on His Eightieth Birthday (Brown Judaic Studies 313; Atlanta:
Scholars Press, 1997), p. 200, n. 31., blessing 1. It is possible that ‫“( הגבור והנורא‬the
Powerful,” “the Awesome”) was added precisely for that effect; see Fleischer, Statutory
Jewish Prayers, vol. 2, p. 1137, with note 270.
15  Based on Isa 11:12; see Jer 31:8; Rev 7:1; and the epitome of blessing 10 of the Amidah in
Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 29a. The relatively recent practice of gathering up the four
fringes here (see Ḥ. Vital, Prie Eṣ Ḥayyim [Jerusalem: Or Bahir, 5780)], Sha‘ar Qeri’at Shema 3,
p. 162; and S. Ganzfried, Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh [Ungvar, Hungary, 1864] 17.7) is sup-
ported by the corresponding biblical expression ‫( ארבע כנפות כסותך‬Deut 22:12) and the
Rabbinic expression ‫( ארבע כנפות טלית‬Sifre Deuteronomy, ed. E. Finkelstein, 36, p. 68, l. 1,
variants) referring to the four fringes. On the practice itself, see Y. Gartner, The Evolvement
of Customs in the World of Halacha (Jerusalem: Shalem, 1995), p. 252 (Hebrew).
16  The indented interpolated part follows Maḥzor Vitry, vol. 1, p. 109a, since it is the early ver-
sion closest to the contemporary ashkenazic version. Almost every phrase is a nuancing
or recontextualizing of a biblical expression. For example, line b is a restatement of three
biblical sources where the only difference is the change of the biblical “His” to the liturgi-
cally apt “Your”:
1. “Since we have placed our trust in Your holy name” alters Ps 33:21: “Since we have placed
our trust in His holy name.”
2. “the Great, the Powerful, the Awesome” is identical to Deut 10:17 and Neh 9:32.
3. “we shall revel and rejoice in Your deliverance” alters Isa 25:9 “we shall revel and rejoice
in His deliverance.” The interpolated part revolves around two related themes. The first
is that God’s love for Israel is salvific and leads to Israel’s redemption (see, e.g., Pesiqta
deRab Kahana 22, 5 [2 vols., ed. B. Mandelbaum], vol. 1, pp. 329–330). The second is the
“ We Love the God Who Loved Us First ” 245

10. You have chosen us from among all peoples and tongues
11. You have granted us access17 to Your great name.18
12. [In order to acknowledge You19 and declare Your oneness20] out of
13. Blessed are You, Adonai, who chooses His People21 Israel out of

Line 1 states the case that God loves us. It opens with the declaration of the
beloved, “With everlasting love have You loved us, Adonai our God.” By invert-
ing God’s profession of love in Jer 31:3—“With everlasting love have I loved
you”—line 1 serves as Israel’s acknowledgement of divine love.23 The liturgy

predication of the acceptance of God’s kingship on the redemption of Israel, as the Midrash
says: “When Israel is redeemed God’s sovereignty is fully realized” (Midrash Psalms 99:1; ed.
S. Buber, p. 423). Theologically, the issue is whether God’s love can be adequately medi-
ated through Torah and commandments alone as in Psalm 119, or does God’s love also
entail the promise of redemption.
17  For this translation, see J. Milgrom, Studies in Levitical Terminology: The Encroacher and
the Levite, The Term ‘Aboda (Berkley: University of California Press, 1970), pp. 37, 87.
18  Namely, “You;” see above, note 13.
19  The related expression, ‫“( וקרבתנו להודות לשׁמך‬And You brought us close to acknowledge
Your name”), is found in a version of the Modim blessing of the Amidah; see Jerusalem
Talmud, Berachot 1:5 (9d).
20  See Siddur Rab Saadia Gaon, p. 14, l. 11; Seder Rab Amram Gaon 1:21, p. 14, l. 29, MS ‫א‬,
p. 14; Maḥzor Vitry, vol. 1, p. 109; and in expanded form in Maimonides, Liturgy, p. 196,
along with the analysis of I. Elbogen, Jewish Liturgy: A Comprehensive History (translated
by R. Scheindlin; Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1993), p. 20.
21  This accretion (see S. Lieberman, Tosefta Ki-fshutah [10 vols.; New York: The Jewish
Theological Seminary of America, 1955–1988], vol. 4, p. 802, paragraph two) makes the
strophe parallel to the later formulation of the priestly benediction based on the Zohar
3:147b; see A. Gombiner, Magein Avraham, Shulkhan Arukh, Oraḥ Hayyim 128.18:
‫הבוחר את עמו ישׂראל באהבה‬
‫לברך את עמו ישׁראל באהבה‬
22  There are variants that instead of “choose [His people] out of love” read: “who loves
[Your people] Israel”; see Lieberman, Tosefta Ki-fshutah, vol. 4, p. 802, note 61; Fleischer,
Statutory Jewish Prayers, vol. 1, pp. 623, 787; and Siddur Rab Saadia Gaon, p. 14, note 12.
23  The ahavat ‘olam (“everlasting love”) version, as opposed to the ahavah rabbah (“abound-
ing love”) version, conforms to the biblical context and to the strophe of the new month
Musaf service: ‫“( אהבת עולם תביא להם וברית אבות לבנים תזכור‬everlasting love You bring
to them, and the covenant of the fathers to the sons You recall”; Seder Rab Amram Gaon
2:46, p. 89, l. 2–3); see also Seder Eliahu Rabbah, ed. M. Friedman, 7, p. 31. For the argument
over the terminology, see I. Ta-Shma, The Early Ashkenazic Prayer: Literary and Historical
Aspects (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2003), pp. 73–83 (Hebrew).
246 Kimelman

understood Jer 31:3a-b as referring to Sinai, as did Rabbi David Kimchi, ad loc.,
and the New Jewish Publication Society version, which translates “the LORD
revealed Himself to me of old.” Its reformulation of Jeremiah presents revela-
tion as God falling in love forever with Israel.24
Lines 2–5 spell out the implication of God’s love of Israel. Line 2 draws a
parallel between God’s love and His extraordinary tenderness to make the
point that loving entails caring. Being loved, says line 3, our ancestors placed
their trust in God. In return, God taught them the Torah, pointedly called,
in line 4, “the statutes of life.” In line 5, God is entreated to grace Israel by
teaching them as He taught their forefathers. Love is here expressed through
instructing the beloved in “the statutes of life.” The Torah is epitomized as
rules for living, the teaching of which is evidence of God’s love. Apparently, the
greater the love, the greater the desire to impart counsel on how to live.
The other indicator of God’s love is being informed of it. The significance
of Israel being informed of God’s love is explained by Rabbi Akiba, saying:
“Beloved are Israel in that He gave them the instrument with which the world
was created. Extraordinary is the love in that Israel was informed that He gave
them the instrument with which the world was created.”25 Being loved is good,
being told of that love is better. Rabbi Akiba and the blessing share the idea of
the Torah as a gift of love. For Rabbi Akiba, Israel was so loved that God gave
them the instrument of creation, namely the Torah, with which He created the
world. For the blessing, Israel was so loved that God gave them the statutes of
life, namely the Torah.

24  Accordingly, the next colon, Jer 31:3c, ‫על כן משׁכתיך חסד‬, refers to the Torah, as Midrash
Psalms states: “Moses gave them the Torah which is called ḥesed” (118:4, p. 481). Genizah
versions (J. Mann, “Genizah Fragments of the Palestinian Order of Service,” HUCA
2 [1925], pp. 269–338 esp. 308, 320) make this point by simply juxtaposing Jer 31:2b–c
and the blessing’s peroration. This forging of the link between covenant and love (see
M. Weinfeld, “ ‘Ha-Brit Ve-Ha-Ḥesed’—Ha-Munaḥim Ve-Gilgulei Hitpatḥutam Be-Yisrael
U-Be-‘Olam He-‘Atiq,” [ET: “Bond and Grace”] Leshonnenu 36 (1972), pp. 85–105 esp. 92–95)
triggered the rabbinic conception of the Sinaitic covenant as a marriage ceremony; see
Z. Rabinovitz, The Liturgical Poems of Rabbi Yannai according to the Triennial Cycle of
the Pentateuch and the Holidays (2 vols.; Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1985–1987), vol. 1,
pp. 318–20, vol. 2, p. 238; and possibly vol. 2, p. 201, vol. 1, p. 340 (Hebrew); and below,
note 62.
25  Mishnah, Abot 3:14; see above, note 4. In later piyyut, “Instead of God giving the Torah as a
sign of His love for Israel, God loves Israel for loving His Torah” (L. Lieber, A Vocabulary of
Desire: The Song of Songs in the Early Synagogue (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2014), p. 170; see below,
note 42.
“ We Love the God Who Loved Us First ” 247

Line 6 addresses God twice as father. The repetition emphasizes that we are
His beloved children. In contrast, the first blessing of the Shema Liturgy makes
no reference to God’s love or fatherhood, and His mercy has no specific object.
Here, God as father is beseeched to extend His mercy by teaching us, for as
affirmed in the first two biblical sections of the Shema lectionary (Deut 6:7,
11:19), loving fathers teach their children Torah, for “the words of Torah direct a
person to the ways of life.”26
Line 7 requests God’s help in fulfilling a series of eight infinitives.27 The first
two deal with an understanding and discerning heart. Along with lines 8–9,
they assume that God’s grace grants one the capacity to grasp the Torah as a
gift of love. God’s pedagogical love at work in the heart enables us to synthesize
data that might otherwise elude us. The point is made repeatedly in Psalm 119.
Verse 18 says: “Open my eyes, that I may perceive the wonders of Your Torah;”
verses 73b and 125b say: “Give me understanding that I may learn Your com-
mandments” and “Give me understanding that I may know Your testimonies.”
In the Community Hymns of the Qumran Hodayot God is thanked: “You have
enlightened me in the counsel of Your truth, and You have given me insight
into Your wonderful works.”28 In the same vein, Deuteronomy awaits the day
when “Adonai your God will open up your heart and the heart of your offspring
to love Adonai your God with all your heart and soul” (30:6).29
Some early texts exclude the second and the last of the eight infinitives
making for a less redundant text.30 The ones retained all relate directly to the

26  ‫( כך דברי תורה מכוונין את האדם לדרכי חיים‬Abot deRabbi Nathan 18, ed. S. Schechter,
A, p. 68); see above, note 8.
27  ‫ ולעשׂות ולקיים‬,‫ לשׁמור‬,‫ ללמד‬,‫ ללמוד‬,‫ לשׁמוע‬,‫ להשׂכיל‬,‫להבין‬.
28  ‫ הבינותי בסוד אמתכה תשׂכילני במעשׂי פלאכה‬IQHa 19:4 (Poetic and Liturgical Texts, in
D. Parry and E. Tov (eds.), The Dead Sea Scrolls Reader, Part 5 [Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2005],
p. 52). 1QHa 19:27–28 also contains a blessing that begins and ends with a baruch formula
that thanks God for granting ‫“( כל דעה להבין בנפלאותיכה‬the insight of knowledge to
understand Your wonders”); see 4Q428 Frg. 12, col. 1:5 (Poetic and Liturgical Texts, p. 96)
for parallels.
29  See also Deut 29:3, Jer 24:7, Isa 6:9–10, with J. Tigay, Deuteronomy, The JPS Torah
Commentary (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1996), pp. 275–276, note 3.
30  Siddur Rab Saadia Gaon (p. 14, l. 2), lacks the second ,‫להשׂכיל‬, and a manuscript lacks the
last, ‫לקיים‬. Both are absent from a Genizah text; see Fleischer, Statutory Jewish Prayers,
vol. 1, p. 658. Rashi (at Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 11b, s.v., ‫ )שׁכבר‬has a text with only
five of the infinitives: ‫ללמוד וללמד לשׁמור ולעשׂות ולקיים‬. The addition of ‫ להשׂכיל‬to ‫להבין‬
may be based on Deut 32:29 and Ps 94:8 where they appear as parallel terms, or Deut
29:8 where it is associated with ‫ ועשׂיתם‬. . . ‫שׁמרתם‬. The piling up of verbs of pedagogy
for the teachings of God is reminiscent of a prayer of the Constitutiones Apostolorum,
a fourth century Christian book thought to be based on a third century Jewish work.
248 Kimelman

Shema. The first, “to hear” indicates the Shema verse. The next four (“to study,
to teach, to keep, to do”), are the rabbinic terms for the whole Shema and the
covenant. According to one source, they derive from Deut 5:1, “Hear, O Israel,
the statutes and laws that I proclaim to you this day. Study them and keep
them to do them.”31 According to another source, they epitomize the content
and order of the three sections of the Shema.32 Taken together, they affirm the
commitment to fulfill the covenant by the recitation of the Shema.
Line 10 follows from the italicized section about redemption. In this con-
text, it explains the grounds for Israel’s redemption. The parallel structure of
lines 10–11 correlates “choosing” and “granting access” except that choosing
is from (others), whereas granting access is to (You). The procedure is epito-
mized in Ps 65:5: “Most fortunate is the man You choose and grant access.”33
Elsewhere, these verbs validate the claim of the holiness of priests.34 Following
Deuteronomy with its association of the chosenness of all Israel with the holi-
ness of all Israel,35 the blessing has all of Israel chosen and given access to God.
This plays on the meaning of “grant access” as “bring close.” By associating such
priestly terminology with the people, it confers the prerogatives of the priests
on all of Israel. Thus the same term is deployed for God bringing Israel close to
Mount Sinai where all were inducted into the “kingdom of priests.” This idea
is alluded to in the Babylonian version of the holiday Amidah (“You have cho-
sen us from all the peoples . . . and granted us access [or: brought us close] our
King to Your service”),36 and spelled out in the Eretz-Israeli version of the holi-
day Amidah, “You chose Israel and You got them to approach Horeb and You

The prayer correlates with the two versions of our blessing (see below) and the part of
U-Va Le-Ṣion on Torah study (see above, note 16). It reads: “Illumine them, and give them
understanding, educate them in the knowledge of God, teach them His ordinances and
judgments, implant in them His pure and saving fear, open the ears of their hearts to
engage in His Law day and night” (8.6.5); see D. Fiensy, Prayers Alleged to be Jewish: An
Examination of the Constitutiones Apostolorum (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1985), p. 93.
31  See Tosefta, Sotah 8:10, p. 208, l. 137–138, and parallels, with Lieberman, Tosefta Ki-fshutah
32  ‫“( על כך ניתנה התורה ללמוד וללמד ולשׁמור ולעשׂות‬Therefore, the Torah was given to
study to teach, to keep, and to do”—Sifre Numbers 115, ed. H. S. Horovitz, p. 126, l. 15).
In contrast, the blessing presents them asyndetically, without the conjunctive ‫ו‬, as if to
conflate them.
33  ‫אשׁרי תבחר ותקרב‬.
34  See Num 16:5 ‫ואת אשׁר יבחר בו יקריב אליו‬.
35  Deut 7:6; 14:2.
36  Seder Rab Amram Gaon 2:77, p. 110, l. 3–4; see Siddur Rab Saadia Gaon, p. 142, l. 8.
“ We Love the God Who Loved Us First ” 249

lovingly brought them close around Mount Sinai”37 or the Passover Dayyenu
song where God is praised “for having brought us close to Mount Sinai.” The
allusion to Sinai in “bring close” accounts for “You brought us close to Your great
name” of line 11.38 By viewing it through the formulation of the middle blessing of
the holiday Amidah (“You have chosen us from among all the peoples, You
have loved us . . . You have raised us above all language groups . . . and brought
us close our King to Your service and Your name, which is great and holy, You
applied to us”),39 we catch the allusion to Sinai.40 Our version abbreviates the
holiday version. It positions the word for love at the end to highlight its pres-
ence and to segue into the conclusion which ends on love.
Line 12 has been read two ways. Originally, based on the antecedent in the
holiday liturgy, it referred to God’s love of Israel. The interpolated version in
brackets, however, makes it refer to Israel’s love of God, thereby making it suit-
able as an introduction to the Shema section. According to the revision, Israel’s
special access to God obliges it to declare God’s oneness lovingly. Each of
its phrases introduces the corresponding phrase of the Shema. We acknowl-
edge God by saying “Adonai our God,” we declare His oneness by saying
“Adonai is one,” and we seek to do it out of love by saying “You shall love Adonai
your God. . . .”41 By presenting the Torah and teachings as gifts of love from

37  ‫ ותגישׁם לפני חורב ותקרבם באהבה סביבות הר סיני‬. . . ‫אתה בחרת בישׂראל‬. For these asso-
ciations, see M. Weinfeld, Early Jewish Liturgy: From Psalms to the Prayers in Qumran and
Rabbinic Literature (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2004), p. 182 (Hebrew).
38  According to Isaac Luria, when saying “You have chosen us from every people and lan-
guage and have brought us close to Your service” one should have in mind the revelation
at Sinai; see E. Vidas, Reishit Ḥ̣okhmah Ha-Shaleim (ed. H. Waldman; 3 vols., Jerusalem:
Or Mussar, 1984), Sha‘ar Ha-Ahavah 7.34 (vol. 1, p. 515); and Vital Prie Eṣ Ḥayyim, Sha‘ar
Qeri’at Shema, chap. 3, p. 163a–b.
39  The arrows bellows correlate the verbal correspondences between 1. the holiday Amidah
and 2. the second blessing:
‫ וקרבתנו מלכנו‬. . . ‫ ורוממתנו מכל הלשׁונות‬. . . ‫ אתה בחרתנו מכל העמים אהבת אותנו‬.1
↕ ↕ ↕
‫ כי בנו בחרת מכל עם             ולשׁון  קרבתנו‬.2

‫לעבודתך ושׁמך הגדול והקדושׁ עלינו קראת‬

‫לשׁמך הגדול    באהבה‬
40  For a paytanic version of the second blessing with an explicit mention of Sinai, see
Fleischer, The Yozer, p. 52, ‫“( מים מסיני השׁקה אותם ונוזלים מחורב‬He extended them
water from Sinai and flowing liquid from Horeb”).
41  Thus each term in the second column realizes its counterpart in the first column:
‫ברכה     שׁמע‬
‫להודות לך ← ה’ א־להינו‬
250 Kimelman

Sinai,42 the blessing advances the conclusion of its peroration that God
“chooses His people Israel out of love.”
The addition of the love motif to that of the Torah distinguishes this bless-
ing from the standard blessing on the Torah that makes no mention of love.
It opens with blessing God for having only “chosen us from among all the
nations and given us His Torah,” and closes with blessing God only for “giving
the Torah.”43 There is no mention of love. In contrast, concomitant with its

‫ליחדך   ← ה׳ אחד‬

‫באהבה  ← ואהבת‬
See Ḥ. Ḥ̣amiel, “Ahavah Rabbah,” in Ḥ. Ḥamiel (ed.), Tefillah, Ma`ayanot (Jerusalem:
Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora, 1964), vol. 8, pp. 113–148
esp. 145–146 (Hebrew); and L. Ginzberg, Genizah Studies (2 vols.; New York: Hermon Press,
1969), vol. 1 p. 119: ‫כנסת ישׂראל שׁהן אוהבין אותי ומייחדין את שׁמי פעמים בכל יום וממליכין‬
‫“( אותי‬The community of Israel who loves Me and declares My name “one” twice a day
and makes Me king”).
42  In the Sabbath Amidah, the Sabbath is presented also as God’s gift of love: ‫והנחי־‬
‫ באהבה וברצון שבת קדשך‬. . . ‫“( לנו‬And grants us . . . lovingly and willingly Your holy
Sabbath”); see Maḥzor Vitry, vol. 1, p. 263. For this in the Sabbath Qiddush; see Siddur
Rab Saadia Gaon, p. 115. Later on, another expression for the Sabbath as a gift of love to
Israel, ‫“( כי לישראל עמך נתתו באהבה‬For Israel, Your people, You gave it in love’) was
inserted; see Maḥzor Vitry, vol. 1, p. 280. The idea and expression go back to the beginnings
of Rabbinic prayer:
 R. Eleazar b. R. Ṣadoq said: My father used to recite a short prayer on the eve of the
Sabbath: “And on account of the love, Adonai our God, with which You have loved Your
people Israel, and on account of the compassion, our King, which You have bestowed on
the members of Your covenant, You have given us, Adonai our God, this great and holy
seventh day with love” (Tosefta, Berachot 3:7, p. 14).
 For the various versions, see Wieder, The Formation of Jewish Liturgy, vol. 1, pp. 316–318;
S. Abramson, “On the History of Siddur,” Sinai 81 (1977), pp. 182–227 esp. 217 (Hebrew);
and J. Heinemann, Studies in Jewish Liturgy (ed. A. Shinʼan; Jerusalem: Magnes, 1983),
pp. 38–40. Depending on which Rabbi Eleazar ben Rabbi Ṣadoq is meant, the prayer
derives from either the early second century or the mid-first century CE. The earlier dat-
ing is supported by the similarity with the Qumran liturgy Words of the Luminaries (see
D. K. Falk, Daily, Sabbath, and Festival Prayers in the Dead Sea Scrolls [Leiden: E. J. Brill,
1998], p. 153) and the fact that the first century 4 Ezra 4:27 presents the gift of the Torah
as a demonstration of God’s love. In fact, the motif of God’s love of Israel characterizes
4 Ezra (4:23; 5:27, 33, 40). Thus, the people could be accused of “not loving Your law”
(2 Baruch 54:14). The Bible provides many sources for attributing the laws in general and
the Sabbath in particular to Sinai (see, e.g., Exod 20:8, Lev 26:46, Deut 4:13; Ezek 20:11–12,
Neh 9:13–14), but without mention of love.
43  Rabbi Hamnuna (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 11b) ‫אשׁר בחר בנו מכל העמים ונתן לנו‬
‫ ;את תורתו‬see Siddur Rab Saadia Gaon, p. 358. Also the Qumran Sabbath blessing in 4Q503
Daily Prayers 24–25, 3–4 (Poetic and Liturgical Texts, p. 210) reads ‫אשׁר בחר בנו מכול‬
‫הגויים‬. The comparable blessing formula in U-Va Le-Ṣion (Seder Rab Amram Gaon 1:65,
“ We Love the God Who Loved Us First ” 251

emphasis on love, our blessing presents the Torah and its commandments as
expressions of God’s beneficence44 not as duties of the covenant.

3 The Evening Blessing

The parallel blessing of the evening service reflects the same link between love
and teaching. Adhering to the syntax of the Hebrew, it translates as follows:

1. With everlasting [‫ ]עולם‬love the house of Israel, Your people, have

You loved.
2. Torah and commandments, statutes and laws, us have You taught.
3. Therefore, Adonai our God, when we lie down and when we rise up,
4. we shall speak of Your statutes and rejoice in the words of Your
Torah and in Your commandments forever [‫]לעולם‬,
5. for they are our life and the length of our days,
6. and them we will recite day and night
7. Your love never [‫ ]לעולמים‬take away from us.45
8. Blessed are You, Adonai, who loves His people Israel.

Structurally, lines 1–2 present the thesis, lines 3–4 spell out the implications
(“therefore”), lines 5–6 provide the explanation (“for”), and line 7 echoes line 1
while segueing into the summary peroration of line 8. The parallel syntax
and Hebrew rhyme scheme of lines 1 and 2 converge to make the point that
God’s election-love is expressed through teaching Torah and commandments.
Having been taught them, we know we are loved. In addition to love, the
beginning, the middle, and the end are laced together by a form of ‫עולם‬. The
middle (lines 3 and 4) reinforces the idea that God’s everlasting (‫ )עולם‬love as
expressed through such teaching is reciprocated by committing ourselves to

p. 39, l. 54–55.) also lacks any mention of love. Nonetheless, our blessing comes under
the rubric of a blessing for Torah, ‫( ברכת התורה‬Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 1:8 [3c]).
This blessing and the Aleinu prayer are evidence that neither a blessing on the Torah nor
a prayer on election require the love motif. Not all who are chosen are loved; not all who
are loved are chosen.
44  For the idea that divine rule ensues from divine beneficence, see Mechilta, Massechta
de-Ba-Ḥodesh 5, ed. Horowitz-Rabin, p. 219.
45  For the various expansions of this line, see Y. Tabory, “The Influence of the Spanish exile
on the text of the Siddur,” in J. Roth, M. Schmelzer, Y. Francus (eds.), Tiferet Le-Ysrael:
Jubilee Volume in Honor of Israel Francus (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 2010),
pp. 289–307 esp. 294–295 (Hebrew).
252 Kimelman

rejoice and study the teaching and commandments forever (‫)לעולם‬.46 Having
committed ourselves to study them forever we go beyond the lying down and
rising up to reciting them day and night, for they are the length of our days.
Correspondingly, in line 7 we pray that God will never (‫ )לעולמים‬take away His
love, for, as line 8 states, God loves (continuously) His people who is Israel.
The blessing revolves around the idea of reciprocity. Lines 1–2 inform us of
both God’s love and teaching of Torah and commandments. Lines 3–4 spell out
what we are to perceive are the consequences, namely, that we are to respond
to God’s love and teaching by both speaking of, and rejoicing in, the Torah
and commandments. The phrase “speak of Your statutes” of line 4 refers to
both expression and reflection, and thus study. Its mention evokes its multiple
usage in Ps 119:15, 23, 48, 97, in the very psalm whose theme is epitomized in
our blessing. Specifically, Ps 119:48 speaks about the love of God’s command-
ments followed by “I speak of/reflect on/study Your statutes.” The point is that
love of something leads to the study of it, as Psalm 119:97 goes on to exclaim:
“O how I love Your Torah, all day long it is my discourse.” For the psalm, the love
of God’s Torah and commandments lead to their study; for the blessing, it is
God’s love for us that promotes their study. God’s ongoing love is divided into
past, future, and present. Line 1 says God has always loved us, line 7—God will
always love us, and line 8—God is now loving us. As God’s love is all the time so
we reciprocate all the time. Cognizant of God’s continual love, we are primed
for the recitation of the Shema and the requital of the love of God.
As the morning version, so the evening version presents the loving God as
a teaching God. It does so by integrating the everlasting love of Jer 31:2 with
God’s commandment in Deut 6:1 that we be instructed in the laws. Since God’s
love entails teaching Torah, line 2 consists of a fourfold curriculum: Torah,
commandments, statutes, and laws. These four appear as a unit four times in
Scripture. Their order here matches that of 2 Chr 19:10. The context of revela-
tion, however, matches that of the other three, namely, 2 Kgs 17:34, 37, and
Neh 9:13, all of which refer to the revelation of divine law. Indeed, Neh 9:13b
is preceded by the telling phrase, “You came down on Mount Sinai and spoke
to them from heaven” (9:13a), which is exactly the backdrop of the blessing.47

46  For the biblical basis of the idea of the service of God as requited love, see M. Greenberg,
“On the Refinement of the Conception of Prayer in Hebrew Scriptures,” AJSR 1 (1976),
pp. 57–92 esp. 67–68.
47  Eleazar ben Judah, Peirushei Siddur Ha-Tefillah La-Roqeaḥ (edited by M. and Y. Hershler;
Jerusalem: Machon Harav Hershler, 1992), vol. 1, p. 279, cites precisely this verse to account
for the multiple synonyms for Torah study in the morning version. Sefer Pitron Torah,
ed. E. Urbach, so assumes the reference is to Sinai that upon citing all four terms according
“ We Love the God Who Loved Us First ” 253

Similarly, a Genizah version of the festival liturgy, which could easily double
for the second blessing of the Shema, cites the same verse from Nehemiah after
stating, “You chose Israel . . . and brought them close in love around Mount
Sinai.”48 Nehemiah’s prophetic contemporary, Malachi, also alludes in order
to the four in the context of revelation, saying: “Be mindful of the Torah of
My servant Moses, whom I commanded at Horeb with statutes and laws for all
Israel” (3:22). Indeed, Malachi combines here two verses of Leviticus that both
mention Sinai. The first has three of the terms; the second has the fourth:

These are the statutes, laws, and Torah that Adonai established through
Moses on Mount Sinai, between Himself and the people Israel (Lev
These are the commandments that Adonai gave Moses for the people
Israel on Mount Sinai (Lev 27:34).

The order of the four—Torah, commandments, statutes, and laws—also

points to the practice of coupling Torah with commandments, and statutes
with laws as found in 2 Kgs 17:37. The inclusion of all four terms reinforces the
Sinaitic setting of the blessing wherein the giving of Torah was first grasped
as an expression of love as well as the position that other statutes and laws
were promulgated along with the Decalogue.49
Another innovation of the blessing consists in orientating line 5, “for they
are our life and the length of our days,” to the study of Torah as well as to the
commandments. In Deuteronomy chapters 6 and 30, this phrase refers to
observance of the commandments alone without any mention of the study of
Torah. Moreover, Deut 30:20, as 4:40, predicates residence on the land upon the
keeping of the commandments, saying: “By loving Adonai your God, heeding
His commands, and holding fast to Him, you shall have life and length of days
upon the land . . .” This of course lines up with section II of the Shema that
concludes with “So that your days and the days of your children may multiply

to the order of the blessing goes on to allude to the Sinaitic revelation, via Exod 19:6, by
saying that God gave them to Israel “and made them all holy” (p. 240).
48  Fleischer, Eretz-Israel Prayer, p. 95; see idem, Statutory Jewish Prayers, vol. 1, p. 805; and
E. D. Goldschmidt, Maḥzor Sukkot, Shemini Aṣeret, Ve-Simḥat Torah (Jerusalem: Koren
Publishers, 1981), Introduction, p. 9. The Ma‘aravot piyyut of Joseph bar Samuel Tov Elem,
“Toviah (= Moses) went up on high,” recited on the night of Shavuot, also links love with
Sinai: “He loved them more than any nation, and brought them close to Mount Sinai”
(l. 5) and refers to Neh 9:13b (l. 11); see Y. Frankel, Maḥzor Shavuot (Jerusalem: Koren,
2000), p. 13.
49  See e.g. Exod 24:12; 34:11–26; Deut 4:13–14; 5:28–6:17.
254 Kimelman

in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give them as long as there
is a heaven over the earth” (Deut 11:21).
In contrast, the blessing omits any reference to the land,50 underscoring
the significance of Torah study by affirming that “we will recite them day and
night.” The idea of reciting the Torah day and night alludes to the admonition
given to Joshua to keep the Torah constantly in mind: “Let not this book of
Torah be removed from your lips, recite it day and night” (Josh 1:8).51 The dif-
ference is that the demand for constant involvement in the Torah was directed
initially to Joshua, just as the king who was commanded to “read the Torah
all the days of his life” (Deut 17:19), whereas line 5 is directed to us. The tran-
sition from those verses, which were directed to the chief executive, to our
line 5, which is directed to all, is that of Ps 1:2 with its depiction of the man who
delights in the Torah reciting it day and night. In fact, ibn Ezra hears in the first
verse of this psalm echoes of the verbs of the first verse of the veAhavta section
of the Shema (Deut 6:7).
What began as a requirement of the leader became the ideal of the righ-
teous and finally the norm for all. Moreover, the term “recite” is in rabbinic
parlance the technical term for the articulation of the Shema.52 By associating
“they are our life and the length of our days” with the twice daily recitation
of the Shema, line 5 confirms the rabbinic position of fulfilling the biblical
mandate of constant involvement in Torah study through reciting the Shema
day and night,53 while parrying the Qumranic position that only around-the-
clock engagement will do.54 By excluding any reference to the land, and by

50  Compare the inclusion of the land referent of Deut 30:20 in the piyyut of Joseph ibn
Avitur to this blessing, cited by E. Fleischer, The Yozer: Its Emergence and Development
(Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1985), p. 73, l. 5 with note 5 (Hebrew), p. 279.
51  Accordingly, a version of line 7 reads: ‫“( ואהבתך לא תמושׁ ממנו יומם ולילה‬And Your
love, do not remove from us day and night”—Judah ben Yaqar. Peirush Ha-Tefillot Ve-Ha-
Berakhot, 1:80).
52  See Rabinovitz, The Liturgical Poems of Rabbi Yannai, vol. 2, p. 142, note 44.
53  See Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 1:8, 3c; Babylonian Talmud, Menachot 99b; Midrash
Psalms 1:17, p. 16. Cf. Letter of Aristeas 160.
54  See 1QS 6:6–7: ‫ואל ימשׁ במקום אשׁר יהיו שׁם העשׂרה אישׁ דורשׁ בתורה יומם ולילה תמיד‬
‫“( עליפות אישׁ לרעהו‬And where the ten are, there shall never lack a man among them
who shall study the Torah continually, day and night, each man relieving [?] his fel-
low”). For a full discussion of the text in terms of the ritualization of Torah study, see
S. Fraade, “Interpretive Authority in the Studying Community at Qumran,” JJS (1993),
pp. 46–69 esp. 56–58. For the difficulties of translating the text, see idem, “Looking for
Legal Midrash At Qumran,” in M. Stone and E. Chazon (eds.), Biblical Perspectives: Early
Uses and Interpretation of the Bible in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Studies on the Texts
“ We Love the God Who Loved Us First ” 255

introducing the study of Torah along with the love of God as expressed through
the teaching of Torah, the unit is formulated to sound fully biblical while
accommodating the Torah-centered agenda of Rabbinic Judaism.55
This rewriting of Scripture with Scripture typifies the midrashic technique
that, as we have seen repeatedly, pervades the liturgical reformulation of
scriptural themes. It consists of “the notion that Scripture provides the vocabu-
lary through which midrashic discourse constructs and explores its own world,
a lexicon within which Rabbinic writers articulate new worlds of scriptural
meaning [emphasis added].”56

4 The Pedagogy of Love

Why was a pedagogical relationship chosen as the metaphor for love? One
would have thought that the appropriation of Jeremiah’s use of “everlasting
love” would have triggered analogues of connubial or parental love to express
the relationship of God to Israel as does Jeremiah himself. The absence of
other expressions suggestive of the connubial relationship found also in
Isaiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, or the Song of Songs is clear evidence that their love
metaphors are not those of the blessing.57 Even those of Deuteronomy and
Jeremiah, which provide much of the language of the blessing, lack the

of the Desert of Judah 28; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1998), pp. 59–79 esp. 66, notes 24–25. On the
phenomena of rabbinic covert polemics against Qumranic positions, see M. Broshi, “Anti-
Qumranic Polemics in the Talmud,” in J. Trebolle Barrera and L. Vegas Montaner (eds.),
The Madrid Qumran Congress: Proceedings of the International Congress on the Dead Sea
Scrolls, Madrid 18–21 March, 1991 (2 vols.; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1992), vol. 2, pp. 589–600; and
A. Baumgarten, “Rabbinic Literature as a Source for the History of Jewish Sectarianism in
the Second Temple Period,” DSD 2 (1995), pp. 14–57 esp. 18–22.
55  The precedent is the Torah-centered Psalm 119 which makes no mention of the Exodus
or the promise of the land. E. D. Goldschmidt (The Passover Haggadah: It Sources and
History [Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1960], p. 39 [Hebrew]) claims the Haggadah also
underwent an accommodation to a less Land-centered ideology after the destruction of
the Temple, but whether there was a Haggadah in Temple times is open to question.
56  M. Jaffee, “The Hermeneutical Model of Midrashic Studies: What It Reveals and What
It Conceals” (a review of Daniel Boyarin, Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash),
Prooftexts (1991), pp. 67–77 esp. 74; see J. Kugel, In Potiphar’s House: The Interpretive Life of
Biblical Texts (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1990), pp. 247–270.
57  As opposed to their appearance in the Ahabah sections of Yoṣer piyyutim; see E. Fleischer,
Hebrew Liturgical Poetry in the Middle Ages (Jerusalem: Keter, 1975), p. 236; and idem, The
Yoẓer, pp. 57, 273, 537.
256 Kimelman

pedagogical image.58 Whether the metaphor of God as a loving teacher is

of liturgical coinage,59 it achieved its most prominent expression through
the liturgy.
Why did an educational metaphor gain pride of place over a nuptial one?
The deployment of a pedagogical image instead of a marital one for the lan-
guage of love is all the more perplexing in view of the significance of the
marriage metaphor for the biblical covenant. For our purposes, the love rela-
tionship between God and Israel undergoes three major developments. In
Deuteronomy and elsewhere, the relationship reflects the ardor of ancient loy-
alty pacts or straightforward statements of God’s love.60 In the prophets, the
marriage metaphor predominates.61 In the liturgy, the theme of reciprocal love
is presented through a pedagogic metaphor. Since God becomes Israel’s loving
husband long before becoming its loving teacher, it is surprising that the peda-
gogic metaphor prevailed notwithstanding the availability of both marital and
pedagogic metaphors for the Sinaitic revelation.62

58  See M. Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1972), pp. 82–83, 368–369; and Tigay, Deuteronomy, p. xv. Once the pedagogical image
for God emerged, it was read back into Deuteronomy as when Sefer Pitron Torah, p. 241,
mistakenly quotes Deut 4:5 as evidence of God teaching rather than Moses. See below,
note 68.
59  Philo (Who Is the Heir 21.102) describes God as a teacher who praises the desire for learn-
ing. He frequently refers to God as teacher directly or by homology; see ibid., 5.19; On the
Sacrifices of Abel and Cain 18.65; On the Preliminary Studies 21.114; On the Change of Names
48.270; Moses 1.14.80; et al. (references courtesy of Dr. Ellen Birnbaum). An antecedent of
our blessing is the concluding blessing of The Words of the Luminaries (4Q504): ‫ברוך אדוני‬
‫“( אשׁר הודיענו‬Blessed be Adonai who informed us” [frg. 4 14, Poetic and Liturgical Texts,
p. 244, l. 14]).
60  See Deut 7:12f., 4:37, 10:15, 23:6; Isa 41:8, 43:4, 63:9; Mal 1:2; 1 Kgs 10:9; 2 Chr 2:10, 20:7;
Neh 13:26.
61  See Isa 50:1; 54:1–10; Jer 2:2; 3:8; 31:2–3; Ezek 16:8; Hos 1–3 esp. 2:4, 21–22; Mal 2:14; Prov
2:17; and G. Cohen, “The Song of Songs and the Jewish Religious Mentality,” Studies in the
Variety of Rabbinic Cultures (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1991), pp. 3–17.
62  For the marriage metaphor in Rabbinic literature, see M. Satlow, Jewish Marriage in
Antiquity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), pp. 50–67; R. Kimelman, “Rabbi
Yohanan and Origen on the Song of Songs: A Third Century Jewish-Christian Disputation,”
HTR 73 (1980), pp. 567–595 esp. 574–577; E. Wolfson, “Female Imaging of the Torah:
From Literary Metaphor to Religious Symbol,” eds. J. Neusner et al., From Ancient Israel
to Modern Judaism: Intellect in Quest of Understanding, Essays in Honor of Marvin Fox
(4 vols.; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1991), vol. 2, pp. 271–307; and above, note 24. The peda-
gogic metaphor became prominent in amoraic literature (see Tanchuma, ed. S. Buber,
Yitro 16; Pesiqta Rabbati 21, ed. M. Friedman, p. 100b, and 33, p. 155b; Pesiqta deRab Kahana
“ We Love the God Who Loved Us First ” 257

The absence of the marriage metaphor may be attributed to its difficulty in

serving effectively as an analogy for both love and sovereignty.63 Teachers more
easily command fealty, exercise mastery, and elicit love. Moreover, the image
of the beloved as student may be proleptic as it anticipates the command that
the love of God be reflected in the instructing of children/students as found
in the first two biblical sections.64 If love is reciprocated by teaching, then,
goes the argument, it might well have been initiated by teaching. As William
Wordsworth puts it in his Prelude: “What we have loved, others will love,
and we will teach them how.”65 Finally, the idea of portraying revelation as
an act of teaching Torah confirms the rabbinic notion of teaching Torah as an
extension of revelation.
The image of God as a loving teacher undergoes development from
Deuteronomy to Isaiah and Psalms. In Deuteronomy, Moses is the teacher
and God is the commander;66 in Isaiah and Psalms, God becomes guide and
teacher.67 A midrashic treatment of the verse from Psalms, “You are good and
beneficent, teach me Your laws” (119:68), exemplifies the type of teaching that
led to the liturgical image.

David said before the Holy One, blessed be He: “Master of the world, You
are good to all humanity, but best with Israel, for You are good and benefi-
cent to them in every matter and You teach them Your Torah and Your
commandments and Your laws, as it says, ‘I am Adonai your God, and
teaching you for your own good, guiding you in the way you should go.

12, 1:223; Exodus Rabbah 28, 5; and Babylonian Talmud, Abodah Zarah 3b), but absent from
the tannaitic parallel in Mekilta, Massechta de-Ba-Ḥodesh 5, p. 219, l. 20.
63  It may have also been downplayed lest it provide grist for the Christian argument that
the Israel-Divine covenant based on a marriage model has been superseded; see Satlow,
“Jewish Marriage in Antiquity, p. 56; and Kimelman, “Rabbi Yochanan and Origen on the
Song of Songs,” pp. 588–593.
64  See L. Liebreich, “The Benediction Immediately Preceding and the One Following the
Recital of the Shema’,” REJ 125 (1966), pp. 151–165 esp. 154–155.
65  Prelude, Book Fourteen, “Conclusion.” For an inkling of this notion, see Wisdom of
Solomon 6:17–18.
66  The verb ‫“( למד‬teach”) first appears in Deuteronomy, clustering in chapter 4 (1, 5, 10
[twice] 14) and 31 (12, 13, 19, 22) Following Deuteronomy, Maimonides notes: “God does not
teach us it (the Torah), rather He commands us to study it and teach it” (M. Maimonides,
Responsa (Teshuvot haRambam), (ed. J. Blau; 3 vols.; Jerusalem: Mekize Nirdamim, 1958–
1961), #182, vol. 2, p. 333.
67  See Isa 48:17–18; Ps 25:5, 9; 71:17; 94:10, 12; 119, passim; 143:10.
258 Kimelman

If only you would heed My commands’ ” (Isa 48:17b–18a) [emphasis


The statement of David from Ps 119:68 (“You are good and beneficent, teach
me Your Torah”) along with the citation of Isa 48:17 (“teaching you for your
own good”) epitomize the ideology of our blessing. By rereading the revela-
tion as portrayed in Deuteronomy through the prisms of Psalms and Isaiah—
with their idea of a beneficent, teaching God—the blessing opens the way to
perceiving the teaching of Torah as an expression of divine love. After all, if
God’s beneficence entails teaching Torah, His love can do no less, as it says:
“Deal with Your servants as befits Your steadfast love; teach me Your statutes”
(Ps 119:124).
Both morning and evening versions of the blessing advocate the study of
Torah and the heeding of its commandments as the means of disclosing divine
love. The two requests for enlightenment in the Torah and for help in cleaving
to the commandments are adjoined to the request for the unification of the
heart in the love of God. By linking the two, the morning version presents both
study and observance of the Torah as paths leading to the love of God. The
Torah and the commandments serve the dual function of expressing divine
love and of providing the means for its reciprocation. It is through sensing
divine love that its human counterpart is sparked.
The morning blessing revolves around the term “love.” Its opening and clos-
ing word is love. The six-fold mentions of love69 are fairly evenly distributed
among beginning, middle, and end. They differ in the subject of the love. The
three mentions of love in the opening and closing strophes refer to God’s love
for us. The middle three refer to our love for God. Together they make clear that
the framework for our love of God is God’s love of us. Some versions further
promoted our love of God by adding love to Ps 86:11, “Unite our heart to revere
Your name,” to get “Unite our heart to love and to revere Your name” (line 9).70

68  Midrash Leqaḥ Tov, ed. S. Buber, the beginning of Ṣav, vol. 2, p. 35.
69  Maḥzor Vitry, vol. 1, pp. 108–109, according to the Sasson MS. Other manuscripts add a
70  ‫ ;ויחד לבבנו לאהבה וליראה את שׁמך‬see Maḥzor Vitry, vol. 1, p. 109; Jacob ben Yehuda
(Ḥazan of London), Eṣ̣ Ḥayiym, (ed. I. Brodie, Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1962),
p. 84; Eleazar ben Yehuda, Peirushei Siddur Ha-Tefillah La-Roqeaḥ 1:279; Abudraham,
Tehillah Le-Dovid (ed. M. Baron; Jerusalem: Or Ha-Sefer, 2001), p. 178; Maḥzor Romania,
and “The Liturgy of the Jews of Rome”; see Goldschmidt, On Jewish Liturgy, pp. 128, 157.
Sifre Deuteronomy 32, p. 54, deems the intermingling of love and fear to be unique to
the human-divine relationship. On the relationship between the two, see E. Urbach, The
Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1969), pp. 348–370 (Hebrew),
“ We Love the God Who Loved Us First ” 259

By adding love, line 9 serves as the climax of the two preceding expressions.71
This combination of reverence and love evokes the association of the two in
Deut 10:12, “And now, O Israel, what does Adonai your God demand of you?
Only this: to revere Adonai your God, to walk only in His paths, to love Him, and
to serve Adonai your God with all your heart and all your soul.”
The blessing holds that experiencing the grace of guidance provided by the
commandments leads to the conclusion that they were given out of love. In
contrast to the position that compliance with the commandments expresses
love for God, the blessing maintains that compliance with the commandments
engenders such love. The blessing transcends the standard considerations of
reciprocal or conditional love. An example of reciprocal love between God and
Israel is the statement: “Israel says: You shall love Adonai your God,’ and God
says to them: ‘With everlasting love have I loved you.’ ”72 Or, “God said to them:
‘You love Me and I love you,’ as it says ‘Because of God’s love of you’ (Deut 7:8).”73
An example of God’s conditional love is the statement: “Whoever loves God
and complies with His commandments and teachings, God also loves him.”74
In contrast, our blessing throws into relief the priority of God’s unconditional
love. By positioning a blessing about God’s love before the Shema’s demand
to love God, the point is made that we are to love God who loved us first.75

ET: The Sages: The World and Wisdom of the Rabbis of the Talmud (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1987), pp. 400–419. Apparently, the marriage of love and fear gives birth
to a unique type of caring.
71  1. mentions Torah, 2. mentions commandments, and 3. mentions love and fear
‫ והאר עיננו  בתורתך‬.1
‫ ודבק לבנו  במצותיך‬.2
‫ ויחד  לבבנו לאהבה וליראה את שׁמך‬.3
Compare the analysis of blessing 5 of the Amidah in R. Kimelman, “The Penitential Part of
the Amidah and Personal Redemption,” ed. M. Boda, D. Falk, and R. Werline, Seeking the
Favor of God—Volume 3: The Impact of Penitential Prayer beyond Second Temple Judaism
(Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature / /Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2008), pp. 71–84 esp. 79–80.
72  Cited by L. Ginzberg, Genizah Studies (New York: Hermon Press, 1969), vol. 1, p. 118
73  Midrash Psalms 116:1, p. 476. Cf. Exodus Rabbah 18:5 with its mention only of God’s love of
Israel (Rabbi Nehemiah).
74  Sefer Pitron Torah, p. 244. A millennium earlier, Jubilees states: “And their souls will cleave
to me and all My commandments. And they will do My commandments. And I shall be a
father to them, and they will be sons to Me. . . . And I shall love them” (1:24–25).
75  See J. Halevy, Kuzari (ed. Y. E. Shmuel Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1972), 3:17; Siddur of R. Solomon
ben Samson of Garmaise including the Siddur of the Haside Ashkenas (ed. M. Hershler;
Jerusalem: Hemed, 1971), p. 89 (Hebrew) = Siddur Ha-Meyuḥas La-RABaN (Rabbi Eliezer
ben Nathan), Genuzot 3 (ed. M. Hershler; Jerusalem: Shalem, 1991), p. 55; Baḥya ben Asher,
260 Kimelman

The reciprocal love relationship between God and Israel is one of the leitmotifs
of the Bible. Deuteronomy underscores both as does Jeremiah.76 Isaiah (41:8,
43:4) affirms God’s love for Abraham and Israel; 2 Chronicles (20:7) affirms
Abraham’s love for God.77
As love is best aroused by the awareness of being loved, the commandment
to love God becomes liturgically an act of reciprocity—“the love of the lover,”
to use Franz Rosenzweig’s felicitous expression. Only a loving God can demand
love. Nothing fans the fires of love like being loved. Indeed, since God’s love
of Israel is what produces a God-loving Israel, the blessing goes on to entreat
God to render one capable of returning the love. The experience of God’s love
nourishes the capacity to love, for “God’s love bestows the power to unify man’s
heart so that one can ‘cleave to the commandments’ and offer back to God the
love one has perceived.”78
The second section of the Shema and the second blessing attempt to bring
about compliance with the commandments, albeit in different ways. What the
former achieves through threats of punishment, the latter achieves through
assurances of love. The punishment motif is entirely absent from the blessing

Kad Ha-Qemaḥ, Kitvei Rabbenu Baḥ̣ya (ed. H. D. Chavel; Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook,
1970), s.v., ‫אהבה‬, pp. 32, 34. This placing of divine love prior to human love is paralleled by
the order of the Qedushah of the Sabbath Musaf service where God “turns in mercy and
has grace on His people who declare the oneness of His name, evening and morning every
day regularly, and say out of love, ‘Hear O Israel. . . .’” (Seder Rab Amram Gaon 2:33, p. 78,
ll. 3–5). Also the Testament of Abraham (circa 150 CE) has a voice calling out to Abraham,
saying: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God who calls to those who love Him” (3:3).
76  Jer 2:2, 31:3; see above, note 24.
77  In both cases, the Septuagint has Abraham as the object of love not as the subject (see
S. Japhet, The Ideology of the Book of Chronicles and its Place in Biblical Thought (Jerusalem:
Bialik Institute, 1977), p. 87 (Hebrew) just as it does in the Prayer of Azariah verse 12 where
Abraham is called “Your beloved.” The love of God can be an objective genitive or a
subjective genitive. The Hebrew tradition tends to understand it as the former and focus
more on Abraham’s love of God, whereas the Greek tends to understand it as the latter and
focuses more on God’s love of Abraham (philos); see M. Stone, Fourth Ezra (Minneapolis,
MN: Fortress, 1990), p. 71, note 62; P. Van der Horst and J. Newman, Early Jewish Prayers in
Greek (Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 2008), p. 207; and M. Goshen-Gottstein, “Abraham—Lover
or Beloved of God,” in J. Marks and R. Good (ed.), Love and Death in the Ancient Near East
(Guilford, CT: Four Quarters, 1987), pp. 101–104.
78  A. Mintz, “Prayer and the Prayerbook,” in B. Holtz (ed.), Back to the Sources: Reading the
Classic Jewish Texts (New York: Summit, 19840), pp. 403–429 esp. 411. For the formulation,
see Kasher, Sefer Shema‘ Yisrael, pp. 278a, 292b. Compare: “[As] you accepted my kingship
out of love, accept my decrees [out of love]” (Mekilta, Massechta de-Ba-Ḥodesh 6, p. 223, l.
2). This logic of love is spelled out by the contemporaneous Odes of Solomon 3:3.
“ We Love the God Who Loved Us First ” 261

framework.79 Positive reinforcement alone serves as its motivation. Through

such motif conversion, a pact of loyalty became a covenant of love.80 This
transforms a biblical affirmation of fealty into a liturgical expression of ardor.

79  See Liebreich, “The Benediction Immediately Preceding,” p. 159. Similarly, the second sec-
tion, which connects agricultural abundance with the heeding of the commandments,
says: “And you shall place these words of Mine on your lev and on your nefesh,” whereas
it is epitomized in the third blessing by the positive formulation: “Happy is a man who
heeds Your commandments, who places on his lev Your Torah and Your word” (Seder Rab
Amram Gaon 1:29, p. 20, l. 9–10); see Sefer Kolbo, ( ed. J. Videski; 4 vols., Jerusalem: Even
Yisroel, 1997) 9, vol. 1, p. 12b . This epitome of the second section differs from it in its
singular formulation (“a man”), in its addition of “Your Torah,” and in its deletion of
“your nefesh.”
80  Although Weinfeld (Deuteronomy 1–11, p. 353–354) shows the extent to which the termi-
nology of the blessing framework parallels that of ancient royal loyalty oaths, the type of
reciprocal love depicted in the second blessing of the Shema is unparalleled. E. Nicholson
notes that “To tell Israelites that Yahweh ‘loves’ them in the same way as a suzerain
(e.g. or Nebuchadnezzar) ‘loves’ his vassals, and that they are to ‘love’ Yahweh as vassals
‘love’ their suzerains, would surely have been a bizarre depiction of Yahweh’s love of,
and commitment to, his people, and of the love and commitment with which they were
called upon to respond” (God and His People: Covenant and Theology in the Old Testament
[Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986], p. 79). Although the demand for political loyalty may
account for the form of the biblical case, only reciprocal love can account for its content;
see Greenberg, “On the Refinement of the Conception of Prayer in Hebrew Scriptures,”
pp. 68, and 66 note 11.

Jewish Mysticism, Nostra Aetate and Renewal in

Judaism and Christianity

Bruce Chilton

1 Introduction

Nostra Aetate (“In Our Time”) represents a pivotal document of the Second
Vatican Council, promulgated by Pope Paul VI on October 28, 1965.
It was passed by a vote of 2,221 to 88 among the bishops assembled, as the
Council’s “Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian
Religions.” It stands as a triumph of a respect for other religions that goes
beyond bare tolerance, as well as a committed expression of human rights.
In choosing the opening words, “in our time,” the Declaration presses home
its concerns in view of the way technology, already during the nineteen six-
ties, was transforming the world and drawing people on the planet ever closer
together.1 Fifty years later, the sense of urgency experienced on a technological
and demographic basis should be all the greater.
Yet the path towards the Declaration during the Council was by no means
easy. In the shadow of the Shoah, many theologians, particularly Cardinal
Augustin Bea within the Second Vatican Council, wanted to address anti-
Semitism directly, as a deep fault of Catholic (and indeed, Christian) tradition
reaching back into the earliest centuries. But an anonymous author circulated
a pamphlet which asserted that the genocide of the Third Reich had been
plotted by Jews, so as to weaken legitimate resistance to Judaism.2 The prob-
lem was not merely recourse to an ethnically motivated conspiracy theory,
but a rejection of the possibility that Judaic culture or Jewish life could have
value. In contrast, the capacity to offer an alternative, to discover within other

1  The full text is available on the electronic site of the Vatican, http://www.vatican.va/archive/
accessed in September 2015.
2  Discussed by A. Melloni, “Nostra Aeate and the Discovery of the Sacrament of Otherness,” in
P. A. Cunningham, N. J. Jofman, J. Sievers (eds.), The Catholic Church and the Jewish People:
Recent Reflections from Rome (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007), pp. 129–151 esp. 134.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���6 | doi ��.��63/9789004324541_016

Jewish Mysticism, Nostra Aetate and Renewal in Judaism 263

cultures, if not a new truth, then at least truth in a fresh light, was nurtured
by curiosity about mysticism.
The roots of the achievements of Nostra Aetate reached down into the
investigation of mysticism since the beginning of the twentieth century. When
Evelyn Underhill (1875–1941) took up the topic, she was partially inspired by
the Kabbalah; her investigations contributed to the scholarship of Gershom
Scholem (1897–1982), Harry Wolfson (1887–1974), and Erwin R. Goodenough
(1893–1965). The last three scholars, in turn, have fed the revolution in the study
of the New Testament that is a part of the post-War inheritance of Christianity,
as well the redefinition of Judaism after the Shoah. Although often suspected
of heterodoxy, scholars of mysticism have contribution to the renewals of
Judaism and Christianity, and the current phase of research promises more
to come.

2 Formative Scholarship on Mysticism Prior to Nostra Aetate

Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism pioneered modern attention to the topic, and fed
the expanding interest during the twentieth century.3 First published in 1911,
her work is—as its subtitle indicates—devoted to the issue of the changes of
consciousness involved in meditation. Both in its survey of Christian materials
related to mystical practice and in its typology of the path of mystic inquiry,
Underhill’s book remains valuable, and is a stunning achievement of a single
mind working long hours in the British Museum.
Although Underhill famously worked on her own, she did not work in iso-
lation, nor was hers the only mind at work in the British Museum that was
consumed by the topic of mysticism. She freely acknowledges the influence
of A. E. Waite in The Doctrine and Influence of the Kabalah [sic], and directly
quotes his generalization, as applying to Christian mysticism as well as the
Kabbalah, that “God is considered as immanent in all that has been created or
emanated, and yet is transcendent to all.”4 She nonetheless becomes critical of
Waite’s association of mysticism with magic, and her perspective challenged
his view that ritual was designed to raise what Waite called “the energy of the

3  E. Underhill, Mysticism. A Study in the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Conscious­
ness (London: Methuen, 1930).
4  A. E. Waite, The Doctrine and Influence of the Kabalah (London: Theosophical Publishing
Society, 1902), p. 35; Underhill, Mysticism, p. 108.
264 Chilton

inner man.”5 For Underhill, mysticism needed to be seen as an approach to “the

Absolute, the germ of his [sc. Man’s] real life.”6
Waite and Underhill follow a rigorously historical approach, which makes
them both useful today and keeps their respective books in print. They also
share a conviction that mysticism is transformative, but Underhill went her
own way in explaining what the transformation involves. As she describes the
soul’s journey:7

It began by the awakening within the self of a new and embryonic con-
sciousness: a consciousness of divine reality, as opposed to the illusory
sense-world in which she was immersed. Humbled, awed by the august
possibilities then revealed to her, that self retreated into the “cell of self-
knowledge” and there laboured to adjust herself to the Eternal Order
which she had perceived, stripped herself of all that opposed it, disci-
plined her energies, purified the organs of sense. Remade in accordance
with her intuitions of reality, the “eternal hearing and seeing were
revealed in her.” She opened her eyes upon a world still natural, but no
longer illusory; since it was perceived to be illuminated by the Uncreated
Light. She knew then the beauty, the majesty, the divinity of the living
World of Becoming which holds in its meshes every living thing. . . . Thus,
by the surrender of her selfhood in its wholeness, the perfecting of her
love, she slid from Becoming to Being, and found her true life hidden
in God.

These are well developed, and beautifully annotated stages, moving from an
awakening to the reality of the transcendent, a purgative acknowledgement of
one’s inadequacy before that reality, an awakening to the light of truth, but also
a dark night of the soul just before surrender makes her the locus of “Being.”
The typology has proven durable, at least in the study of Christian sources,
even as it raises the question, whether its underlying evocation of the pattern

5  Underhill, Mysticism, pp. 157–158.

6  Ibid., p. 54. As she says more fully on p. 447: “To be a mystic is simply to participate here
and now in that real and eternal life; in the fullest, deepest sense which is possible to man.
It is to share, as a free and conscious agent—not a servant, but a son—in the joyous tra-
vail of the Universe: its mighty onward sweep through pain and glory towards its home in
God. This gift of ‘sonship,’ this power of free co-operation in the world-process, is man’s
greatest honour.”
7  Underhill, Mysticism, pp. 448–449.
Jewish Mysticism, Nostra Aetate and Renewal in Judaism 265

of life, death, and resurrection does not limit its applicability to Christianity
Despite that evident reservation, Gershom Scholem makes repeated and
positive reference to Evelyn Underhill in his classic, Major Trends in Jewish
Mysticism, which is based on lectures he gave at the Jewish Institute of Religion
in New York in 1938.8 In particular, Scholem admires Underhill’s historical
rigor, because that feeds into his conviction that “There is no mysticism as
such, there is only the mysticism of a particular system. . . .”9 His focus on the
Kabbalah, however, causes him implicitly to challenge Underhill’s typology
at its most profound level. For Scholem, “unio mystica,” which lies at the cen-
ter of Underhill’s concerns, “has no particular significance.”10 The experience
of union “lies at the root” of mysticism, according to Scholem, but attempts
at speculative definition need to be historical and systematic; abstract
statements in regard to experience do not fit the case.
Scholem argues that the very fact that union with God is felt as crucial
assumes the development of monotheism’s emphasis on transcendence,
which the mystic then bridges in his relation in respect of God with a force
akin to revelation.11 Key to Scholem’s formulation, which he consciously dis-
tances from definitions dependent upon Christian mysticism, is a passionate
commitment to the Torah:12

In the same way, all Jewish mystics, from the Therepeutae, whose doc-
trine was described by Philo of Alexandria, to the latest Hasid, are at one
in giving a mystical interpretation to the Torah; the Torah is to them a
living organism animated by a secret life which streams and pulsates
below the crust of its literal meaning; every one of the innumerable strata
of this hidden region corresponds to a new and profound meaning of the
Torah. The Torah, in other words, does not consist merely of chapters,
phrases and words; rather, it is to be regarded as the living incarnation
of the divine wisdom which eternally sends out rays of light. It is not
merely the historical law of the Chosen People, although it is that too;
it is rather the cosmic law of the Universe, as God’s wisdom conceived it.
Each configuration of letters in it, whether it makes sense in human

8  Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (New York: Schocken, 1946), pp. 3, 6, 252.
9  Ibid., p. 6.
10  Ibid., p. 5.
11  Ibid., pp. 7–9.
12  Ibid., pp. 13–14.
266 Chilton

speech or not, symbolizes some aspect of God’s creative power which is

active in the universe.

In this definition, which remains consistent throughout his rich oeuvre,

Scholem presents the Kabbalah as cosmological and theurgic, as well as mys-
tical. To his mind, denying those aspects would only result in an abstraction
of mysticism into undifferentiated feeling. No less than Underhill,13 Scholem
could only commend the approach of William James (1842–1910)14 in a quali-
fied manner.15 In their differing ways, Underhill and Scholem see their older
Harvard contemporary’s approach as overly general, and as leading to an
understanding of mysticism as too passive to account for the evidence to
hand, whether Jewish or Christian. In doing so, they implicitly reject Sigmund
Freud’s definition of religion as an undifferentiated “oceanic feeling” in favor of
an actively cognitive perspective.16 To be sure, Underhill and Scholem see the
aim of cognition in very different ways, but they set out in common opposition
to passive constructions of mysticism.
Together Underhill and Scholem also appreciated the importance of Philo
of Alexandria within the development of mysticism, whether Jewish or
Christian. Philo’s appropriation of Plato (leavened with Stoicism) provided
him, and those who followed him, with a way of conceiving how human
beings could perceive the divine. Two major scholars, Harry Wolfson and
E. R. Goodenough, made Philo the focus of their study, at a time when Philo
was not usually approached in his own terms. Although Wolfson’s book fol-
lowed Goodenough’s chronologically, his labors on the subject had been long
in the making, and his contribution is best approached first within the line of
development of the study of mysticism.
Wolfson considered Philo of Alexandria as the founder, or at least the expo-
nent, of a “new school of philosophy,” which lasted until the modern period:17

13  Underhill, Mysticism, p. 81.

14  W. James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (London and
New York: Longman, Green, 1902), p. 380.
15  Scholem, Major Trends, p. 19.
16  S. Freud, Civilization and its Discontents (ed. and tr. James Strachey; New York: Norton,
2010), pp. 23–37.
17  H. A. Wolfson, Philo. Foundations of Religious Philosophy in Judaism, Christianity, and
Islam (Structure and Growth of Philosophic Systems from Plato to Spinoza 2; Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1947), vol. 2, p. 457.
Jewish Mysticism, Nostra Aetate and Renewal in Judaism 267

Philo is the founder of this new school of philosophy, and from him it
directly passes on to the Gospel of St. John and the Church Fathers, from
whom it passes on to Moslem and hence also to mediaeval Jewish phi-
losophy. Philo is the direct or indirect source of this type of philosophy
which continues uninterruptedly in its main assertions for well-nigh sev-
enteen centuries, when at last it is openly challenged by Spinoza.

Wolfson is clear that the achievement of Philo was grounded in the consensus
of Hellenistic Judaism before him that true wisdom is the Law, which “having
a divine origin, is also superior to the wisdom which the philosophers have
attained to.”18
Wolfson’s mention of the link between Philo and John’s Gospel is a major
theme of his study. The bridge is made particularly by the conception of logos,
traditionally translated as “word.” But it is word, not as syllable or a set of syl-
lables, but word as the active intention of God. In the background of what
Philo says lies Plato and Aristotle, as Wolfson observes, but also the Aramaic
term memra, which refers to God’s deliberate command and human response.19
Wolfson cites several of Philo’s works to show that the logos stamps the whole
world at large with a divine image or idea, and is best represented by “the idea
of man, which was created by God prior to the creation of the perceptible man
and of which the latter is an image (similitudo), is itself ‘the form (forma) of the
principle character,’ which form he [t