Re: [XTalk] James & 1st c. politics [was Digest Number 101 -]
- RSBrenchley wrote:
> But what does it mean to be 'totally innocent ofAgreed. Practically all of us think that others who deviate from our own
> any violation of Torah'? Surely this would depend on the position of the
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 difficultAnd that is precisely why people with strong moral convictions in any
> to find absolutes; what one can say is that 'normativeness' depend on power.
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 TorahThis is an extremely important observation & one that I think needs to
> 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.
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
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
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.
> ThisAbsolutely. And as is evident from many passages in the NT the partisans
> says nothing about guilt or innocence in any absolute sense; the Christian
> community was marginalised, and therefore vulnerable.
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.
Mahlon H. Smith, http://religion.rutgers.edu/mh_smith.html
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
A Synoptic Gospels Primer
Jesus Seminar Forum
- Mahlon Smith wrote:
>[.....] But modernHoly mackerel--thanks for the invitation not to be deluded! : -)
>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.
(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.