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[Synoptic-L] Godfearers, Josephus, and Augustine on Seneca

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  • Jeffrey B. Gibson
    List members will now have seen how Yuri has admitted that what most of us would take as evidence contrary to his claim that the EC did not open itself up to
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 27, 2000
      List members will now have seen how Yuri has admitted that what most of us would take as evidence contrary to his claim that the EC did not open itself up to the presence  within its fold of Gentiles qua Gentiles until CE 100 -- , namely, that there were large numbers of Gentiles within the fold quite early -- is NOT counterfactual evidence because these Gentiles were Gentiles who had attached themselves to the synagogue in such a way (e.g. by giving up Gentile practices abhorrent to the Jews and by being willing eventually to be circumcised) so as to seem for all practical purposes no longer to be Gentiles.

      It will be recalled that to show that there not only **were** such beasties (as Luke claims--though in my view without historical basis) but LOTS of these beasties, Yuri pointed us to a text in Josephus from Contra Apion

      The text **as he gave it to us**, and which he thinks supports his claim,  was:

      "...the masses have long since shown much zeal to adopt our religious
      observances; and there is not one city, Greek or barbarian, ...to which our
      customs have not spread." (Contra Apion 2.282).

      In response to this, I asked Yuri

      Given what is known about his notorious propensity to
      exaggerate AND the fact that the text you appeal to not only has no independent
      attestation, but is part of an apologia, do you -- competent historian that you
      are, and one who always is reminding us of how we need to be mindful of the
      TENDENZ of ancient authors -- really think that what Josephus says is to be
      trusted?
      And much to my surprise, his answer was yes.

      Furthermore, in response to my note stating in effect that

      **even if** what Jospehus reports as true **is** true, the "evidence" within the text did not support Yuri's reading of it, let alone the use to which Yuri wanted to put it (since Josephus doesn't call these Gentiles "god fearers" and, more importantly, there's no indication that Josephus thought the practices adopted by the Gentiles he mentions were those which, according to Yuri's definition of God Fearers,  were those which God fearers engaged in),
      Yuri's chose not to deal with these issues directly by trying to read Josephus from within Jospehus. Rather he chose to switch to citing the "evidence" in  a quotation of Augustine of Seneca  which he claimed was a sufficient parallel to the Jospehan text as to be illuminative of it.

      So what do we make of all this?

      Well, the first thing to note is that, just as he did with material from from Acts when he was trying to show that the EC went only to Jews and not Gentiles qua Gentiles, Yuri has quoted selectively --  leaving out material which might damage his case..

      The full text of the passage from Josephus is this:

      40. We have already demonstrated that our laws have been such as have always
      inspired admiration and imitation into all other men; nay, the earliest Grecian
      philosophers, though in appearance they observed the laws of their own countries, yet
      did they, in their actions, and their philosophic doctrines, follow our legislator, and
      instructed men to live sparingly, and to have friendly communication one with another.
      Nay, further, the multitude of mankind itself have had a great inclination of a long time to
      follow our religious observances; for there is not any city of the Grecians, nor any of the
      barbarians, nor any nation whatsoever, whither our custom of resting on the seventh day
      hath not come, and by which our fasts and lighting up lamps, and many of our
      prohibitions as to our food, are not observed; they also endeavor to imitate our mutual
      concord with one another, and the charitable distribution of our goods, and our diligence
      in our trades, and our fortitude in undergoing the distresses we are in, on account of our
      laws; and, what is here matter of the greatest admiration, our law hath no bait of
      pleasure to allure men to it, but it prevails by its own force; and as God himself pervades
      all the world, so hath our law passed through all the world also. So that if any one will but
      reflect on his own country, and his own family, he will have reason to give credit to what I
      say. It is therefore but just, either to condemn all mankind of indulging a wicked
      disposition, when they have been so desirous of imitating laws that are to them foreign
      and evil in themselves, rather than following laws of their own that are of a better
      character, or else our accusers must leave off their spite against us. Nor are we guilty of
      any envious behavior towards them, when we honor our own legislator, and believe what
      he, by his prophetic authority, hath taught us concerning God. For though we should not
      be able ourselves to understand the excellency of our own laws, yet would the great
      multitude of those that desire to imitate them, justify us, in greatly valuing ourselves upon
      them.

      Secondly, contrary to Yuri's claim, the text demonstrates just how **un**trustworthy Josephus is here. Note that the remarks about Gentiles are prefaced by remarks about how all ancient Greek philosophers knew and cribbed their best material from Moses. Now when a text leads off with something that is as patently untrue as this claim is, it would seem irresponsible and extremely to even begin to think, let alone claim, that that which follows it can be regarded as trustworthy.

      Third, the text itself shows that Josephus here regards as  the "religious observances" that the "multitude of mankind",  the cities of the Greeks and the barbarians,   and indeed **whole nations**(!!!),  have adopted are only those of a specified weekly rest day and of treating fellow Greeks etc. with the same degree of cordiality with which Jews treat each other. Nothing is said here about the Greeks acknowledging the God of the Jews, attaching themselves to synagogues, or being willing to be come circumcised which, according to Luke (and Yuri) are the marks of God fearers .

      So to say, as Yuri seems to want to do, that Josephus recognizes that their were lots of God fearers and that this text is evidence of this recognition seems to be eisegesis pure and simple.

      But what about the Seneca text? Is Yuri justified in pointing to it as evidence in his claim? To determine this, let us look at three things

      (a) how Yuri has reproduced the text

      (b) what Yuri claims it says, and

      (c) the full context of the text he cites

      Yuri gives us this:

      When he (Seneca) was speaking concerning those Jews, he said, "When,
      meanwhile, the customs of that most accursed nation have gained such
      strength that they have been now received in all lands, the conquered have
      given laws to the conquerors." .. "For," he says, "those, however, know
      the cause of their rites, whilst the greater part of the people [implying
      clearly the Gentile Godfearers -- YK] know not why they perform theirs."
      Based on what he gives us, Yuri claims this:
      The above quotation indicates almost the same as what Josephus says, i.e.
      that lots of Gentiles are associating themselves with synagogues [my emphasis] while being perhaps quite naive and ill-educated. And yet Judaism presents a strong appeal even to these kinds of people, who -- on the standard, and
      misguided, view -- are seen as attracted especially to Christianity. Well,
      now it seems like they were just as attracted to Judaism! So the
      attraction of Judaism then was similar to that of Christianity. Or so it
      seems to me.
      And here's the full context of Yuri's "evidence":

      Seneca, among the other superstitions of civil theology, also found fault with the sacred
      things of the Jews, and especially the sabbaths, affirming that they act uselessly in
      keeping those seventh days, whereby they lose through idleness about the seventh part
      of their life, and also many things which demand immediate attention are damaged. The
      Christians, however, who were already most hostile to the Jews, he did not dare to
      mention, either for praise or blame, lest, if he praised them, he should do so against the
      ancient custom of his country, or, perhaps, if he should blame them, he should do so
      against his own will.

      When he was speaking concerning those Jews, he said, "When, meanwhile, the
      customs of that most accursed nation have gained such strength that they have been
      now received in all lands, the conquered have given laws to the conquerors." By these
      words he expresses his astonishment; and, not knowing what the providence of God
      was leading him to say, subjoins in plain words an opinion by which he showed what he
      thought about the meaning of those sacred institutions: "For," he says, "those, however,
      know the cause of their rites, whilst the greater part of the people know not why they
      perform theirs." But concerning the solemnities of the Jews, either why or how far they
      were instituted by divine authority, and afterwards, in due time, by the same authority
      taken away from the people of God, to whom the mystery of eternal life was revealed,
      we have both spoken elsewhere, especially when we were treating against the
      Manichaeans, and also intend to speak in this work in a more suitable place.

      So what is apparent when all of this is noted?

      First, even in Yuri's version of Augustine's quote of Seneca there is **no** mention of any Gentile attaching himself to a Synagogue, let alone of Gentiles acknowledging the God of Israel, as we would expect there to be if, as Yuri claims, Senaca  was acknowledging that Gentiles were becoming or had been becoming  what Luke and Yuri have defined as "God fearers".

      Second,  the only Jewish custom that Seneca **does** acknowledge as having gained strength and as now "received" among Gentiles is the adoption, contrary to the Gentile work ethic, of a weekly rest day -- which, by the way, is NOT said to be  the **Jewish Sabbath** OR to be used by those who have adopted the practice in order to participate in a synagogue service..

      Third,  Yuri has once again quoted selectively. And not only that, he has rearranged  what he does quote in such a way so as to make it read what it he wants it to say, not what it says.

      Even a cursory reading of the text shows that Seneca does NOT say that Gentiles are ignorant about the meaning of any **Jewish** religious rites, let alone any Jewish rites that they have reputedly adopted.  On the contrary, Seneca decries fact that Gentiles are less informed about **their own GENTILE** rites than Jews are about **their own** rites. He is expressing his shame and disappointment that those of his own religion are as ignorant as they are about the religion he holds dear.

      So any reading of this text which claims otherwise not only misses, but wholly distorts, Augustine's purpose in recounting what, in the providence of God Seneca felt compelled to say on the matter of Gentiles and religious rites, which is that Seneca has, by his own words,  condemned **his own** religion, while quite contrary to his intention approved the very thing he was trying to condemn.

      And in the light of this, to actually conclude that

      The above quotation indicates ...   
      that lots of Gentiles are associating themselves with synagogues 
      while being perhaps quite naive and ill-educated. And yet Judaism 
      presents a strong appeal even to these kinds of people, who -- on the standard, and
        misguided, view -- are seen as attracted especially to Christianity.
      is, I think,  pretty much off the mark -- as is any reconstruction of the history of the EC that is based upon it.

      Yours,

      Jeffrey Gibson
      --
      Jeffrey B. Gibson
      7423 N. Sheridan Road #2A
      Chicago, Illinois 60626
      e-mail jgibson000@...
       

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