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Re: [XTalk] James & 1st c. politics [was Digest Number 101 -]

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  • Mahlon H. Smith
    ... Agreed. Practically all of us think that others who deviate from our own views of what is proper & true violate some important norm. Trials are conducted
    Message 1 of 2 , Jul 29, 2000
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      RSBrenchley wrote:
      > But what does it mean to be 'totally innocent of
      > any violation of Torah'? Surely this would depend on the position of the
      > observer.

      Agreed. Practically all of us think that others who deviate from our own
      views of what is proper & true violate some important norm. Trials are
      conducted in serious cases to determine whether an accused offender
      should be punished for an intolerable breach of communal norms. In
      traditional theocratic cultures, when those norms are thought to be
      immutable expressions of the absolute will of the highest authority in
      the universe [= "God"], even violations we moderns might consider
      trivial, are often regarded as requiring *someone's* death. Systems of
      animal sacrifice were instituted precisely to satisfy this conviction
      without having to execute every offender of what the community was
      convinced was a divine "law."

      Israelite tradition developed a particularly elaborate system of
      substitutionary & propitiatory sacrifice in place of executions for most
      offences against the Torah that had been traditionally accepted as
      commands of God himself. And in that system there were on record
      standards that both limited the application of the execution of human
      offenders ("eye for an eye...life for a life") & specified particular
      cases where capital punishment was normative (e.g., false prophets,
      blasphemy, adultery). Since these too were considered commandments of
      God they had to be taken most seriously by anyone who accepted the Torah
      code as normative. But there was a lot of gray area between the explicit
      commandments, which provided the basis of serious differences between
      equally devoted adherents of Torah on just how & when capital punishment
      was to be applied.

      > In something so diverse as Second Temple Judaism, it is difficult
      > to find absolutes; what one can say is that 'normativeness' depend on power.

      And that is precisely why people with strong moral convictions in any
      era become involved in political maneuvering to wrest authority & power
      from those whose standards they sincerely believe to be morally wrong.
      The partisan strife between Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, & other
      factions in the latter half of the 2nd temple era was to a large degree
      a power struggle over whose interpretation of Torah was to become
      normative. Roman hegemony enforced an uneasy truce & political
      accomodation between these parties' drive for power. But modern
      interpreters of that era should not let themselves be deluded into
      thinking that the socio-political situation in 1st c. Judea was in any
      way comparable to the religious tolerance of rival denominations &
      respect for the values of others that we have come to take for granted
      because of the hard won legacy of the Enlightenment & modern democracy.

      > James and the others were apparently executed for violations of Torah
      > according to the Sadducean interpretation; others, presumably Pharisees, the
      > other powerful sect in Jerusalem, used the violation of Roman law for
      > political advantage, but do not seem to have defended James' innocence.

      This is an extremely important observation & one that I think needs to
      be stressed in the debate over Josephus' report of the fall-out from
      these executions. Josephus characterizes Hanan as particularly "rash" &
      "daring." But he also characterizes him as a "follower" [i.e., an active
      practitioner] of Sadducean principles, whose party in general he
      describes as "in fact more harsh than all the (other) Jews in judicial
      matters."

      In other words, Josephus does *not* claim that Hanan acted totally on
      his own on the basis of some personal vendetta against James & Co.
      Rather he accuses him of acting precipitously & wrecklessly (without
      regard for political consequences) in strictly enforcing his own party's
      principles of Torah justice. From Josephus' own viewpoint & presumably
      from that of those who were moved to protest this action, the standards
      of justice under which James & Co. were executed were unduly harsh. But
      he never suggests that they were illegal (i.e., contrary to Torah) or
      that there was a "miscarriage of justice" in the conduct of this case.

      Some Jews, like Josephus, who were *not* in a position of official
      authority at that moment obviously regarded something about the
      executions (& convictions?) of those convicted of Torah offenses as
      wreckless & inhumane. But as you correctly point out, there is not the
      slightest hint in Josephus' report that any of the Pharisees -- the
      Sadducees' political arch-enemies, who were in principle dedicated to
      getting the high priest to act according to their own interpretations of
      the Torah -- protested either during their trial or afterward that any
      of these victims was innocent of the charges of Torah violations brought
      against them.

      Josephus' silence here is telling. For if *he* thought Hanan had
      executed innocent Jews he most certainly would have said so. And *if*
      any of those involved in this trial & or the ensuing protest were
      convinced that James & Co. had not broken any Torah commandment where
      stoning was prescribed, then they could have charged the high priest &
      the council he convoked with murder (killing a fellow Israelite who had
      not violated any law of YHWH), which under any interpretation of Jewish
      law -- Sadducean, Pharisaic, Essene or whatever -- was itself a crime
      carrying a mandatory death penalty. That is not the situation that
      Josephus reports. So allegations of the victims' innocence of any
      violation for which the Torah prescribed capital punishment were clearly
      not made public at the time of the incident & therefore should be
      recognized as a later interpretation of Josephus' report.

      > This
      > says nothing about guilt or innocence in any absolute sense; the Christian
      > community was marginalised, and therefore vulnerable.
      >

      Absolutely. And as is evident from many passages in the NT the partisans
      of Jesus had their own interpretation(s) of Torah that became serious
      bones of contention with Pharisees & other Jews. This fundamental
      difference of opinion between the Jesus party & rival parties over what
      was & was not required by God is the most plausible background the the
      campaign of Jewish Xns to exaggerate the reputation of James as a
      faultless observer of Torah. But fault or innocence, like beauty, always
      lies in the eye of the beholder.

      Shalom!

      Mahlon
      --

      *********************

      Mahlon H. Smith, http://religion.rutgers.edu/mh_smith.html
      Associate Professor
      Department of Religion Virtual Religion Index
      Rutgers University http://religion.rutgers.edu/vri/
      New Brunswick NJ

      Into His Own: Perspective on the World of Jesus
      http://religion.rutgers.edu/iho/

      A Synoptic Gospels Primer
      http://religion.rutgers.edu/nt/primer/

      Jesus Seminar Forum
      http://religion.rutgers.edu/jseminar/
    • Stephen Goranson
      ... Holy mackerel--thanks for the invitation not to be deluded! : -) (BTW, not comparable...including regarding executions?) When asked for an example of
      Message 2 of 2 , Jul 29, 2000
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        Mahlon Smith wrote:

        >[.....] But modern
        >interpreters of that era should not let themselves be deluded into
        >thinking that the socio-political situation in 1st c. Judea was in any
        >way comparable to the religious tolerance of rival denominations &
        >respect for the values of others that we have come to take for granted
        >because of the hard won legacy of the Enlightenment & modern democracy.
        > [....]

        Holy mackerel--thanks for the invitation not to be deluded! : -)
        (BTW, not comparable...including regarding executions?)

        When asked for an example of momentary partial detente, I gave one:
        Alexander Jannaeus and his Sadducee supporters killed Pharisees, and
        Essenes (non-participants in varying Sadducee and/or Pharisee synedria)
        disapproved. The long responses neglected to use that historical example.

        More often, I have written on sectarian non-cooperation, e.g.:

        "Others and Intra-Jewish Polemic as Reflected in Qumran Texts," DSS After
        Fifty Years (Flint/VanderKam ed. 1999) volume 2, pp.534-51.

        best,

        Stephen Goranson
        goranson@...
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