On: Paul and Paul
Wind up an academic, and you will get an hour of talk. Wind up sixteen
academics, and you will get six months of talk, as witness . . .
Dunn (ed), Paul and The Mosaic Law (1996, tr Eerdmans 2001).
The editor, in summing up, gets within two inches of the end of the
book, and is still uttering things like:
"Third, the primary theological issue in the continuity/discontinuity
between OT and NT is thus not so much the law, but Christ. Or is even
that quite accurate? . . .
Buddy, if you don't know at least what your group thinks is accurate,
at the end of 12 + 364 = 376 pages, you need to be in a different line
The other way to string out discussion is to mix in bad data. When
soot falls in the soup, you don't stir it in, you spoon it out.
Unfortunately, if this book is witness, NT people stir it in.
Commendably, Pseudopauline material is only thinly cited. But as to
warmed-over Luke, it is obsessively present. To take one paper at
random (Wright, The Law in Romans 2, p141), "Paul did not need to
reason backwards, after the Damascus Road experience, that there must
have been a problem somewhere within Judaism . . ."
It is presumably well known, and thus one must suppose it here to be
willfully ignored, that Paul's own account of this experience vitally
contradicts the Acts "Road to Damascus" reports, individually and
collectively. But it seems to be Acts which is here still running,
nonstop, on the home movie projector.
At the bottom of that page, we have this rather interesting note,
recorded as a speculation and without anything cited in support: "I
incline strongly to the view that the pre-conversion Paul was a
Shammaite, despite his Hillelite teacher Gamaliel." I leave that aside
for a moment, and pick up another book, one fifty years older than
One virtue of the credulous (two Roman imprisonments) Harmony of the
Life of St Paul (Frank Goodwin, Baker 1951) is that it lines up ALL
the canonical testimony for EACH supposed fact about Paul. It then
proceeds to take all the wrong evidential turnings, but the evidence
is still there to be considered de novo by the patient reader. For
Gamaliel, the evidence is exclusively Acts. So much for Gamaliel.
Luke, in pursuance of his own devious rhetorical purposes, has bumped
Paul up to first class.
OK, how about the second class passenger roster. Is there any evidence
that Paul even spent time in Jerusalem, in his young days? Yes, though
Goodwin does not flag it as such. It is the Rom 16:13 remark about
Rufus's mother in effect his own mother. That family and Paul (as I
pointed out a couple of years ago) would have attended the same
synagogue in Jerusalem. If Paul needed a mother figure, he was
presumably far from his own mother while still of modest years. The
implication is that (1) Paul spent some of his early years in
Jerusalem, quite plausibly as a student, but (2) that he attended this
Septuagintal synagogue in Jerusalem (on which see Jackson and Lake v4
ad loc), and thus was not fluent in Hebrew, as would have been rapidly
necessary had he been studying with anybody important. He was probably
instead exposed to some teacher from the unfashionable and thus
cheaper out-party of that time, which would have been precisely the
party of Shammai.
Thus it seems that Wright's conjecture may actually have something
besides his own hunch going for it, or it would have if he had known
Instead of which, he is apparently bemused with Acts, and goes
waltzing around with Gamaliel, and his better inspirations issue forth
on paper without the support and credibility they needed to get them
anywhere. The result is that nothing gets anywhere, and this is not
only deplorable, it is culpable. These people are being paid enough
that the general public can fairly expect them to discriminate between
stuff and other stuff.
And if they did, where might that conjecture have led, by now, many
years later? One additional datum worth keeping on the table is that
Jesus was also in all probability a Shammai-influenced person; their
views on divorce are notably similar (and seemingly not those of
Hillel). Here, to file for future meditation, is an underlying
similarity between Paul and Jesus: two young men, neither of them able
to afford the trendiest (liberal) education of the time, and instead
getting exposed to what turned out to be a more rigorous view of the
law, then diverging as to their attitude toward the law, and still
later coming back again to what Paul at least felt was after all the
same wavelength: to a sort of rigorous freedom that Paul never defined
satisfactorily (though he gives it his best shot in Romans), but that
he felt, lived, and taught, with all the passion of an evidently
One looks, in these dramatic psychological turnarounds, for ways to
construe them as at least in part a coming home rather than
exclusively a wending forth. The ethical rigor of Jesus might have
been one of those ways. Two students of the same violin teacher (say,
Auer or Suk) may differ in personality (as did Milstein and Heifetz),
but in a certain sense, and a sense very manifest to the ear, they are
going to sound a lot alike when they play.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst