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Re: [Synoptic-L] godfearers

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  • Jeffrey B. Gibson
    In response to a series of message to the List -- messages which have demonstrated the variety of ways in which Yuri s appeal to the Aphroidisias
    Message 1 of 4 , Mar 28, 2000
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      In response to a series of message to the List   -- messages which have demonstrated the variety of ways in which Yuri's appeal to the Aphroidisias inscription, at text from Josephus' _Contra Apion_,  and to certain of Augustine's quotations of bits of a lost book of Seneca entitled _De Superstitione_  as "evidence" which supports his claim about the existence in centers of the RE where the EC was establishing itself in the first century of lots of Gentiles who had attached themselves to Synagogues and who were thought of by themselves and by the Jews of the synagogues to which they had attached themselves as all but Jews , involves cooking the evidence to get it to say what it does not say --  Yuri written:
      Dear friends,

      Well, it seems like we have now found a fail-proof way to building a
      successful argument. So now all the texts we find disagreeable either will
      turn out to be mistranslations, or they are all taken completely out of
      context, or both. Also, ancient inscriptions do not really say what they
      seem to say. And so as a result, there were no Godfearers! I'm afraid I'm
      left no choice but to bow my head before such brilliance.

      So it was all a complete misunderstanding... And when we find, for example,
      that the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus issued an edict in 198/199 C.E.
      banning the Gentiles from converting to Judaism, it was also a complete
      misunderstanding. Poor Severus somehow, no doubt because of some sort of a
      mistranslation, got the wrong idea that his Gentile subjects were strongly
      attracted to Judaism, and so he issued his silly and useless edict. Or
      maybe someone quoted to him something out of context.

      The first thing that should be noted about this response is that it dodges addressing directly, let alone making any attempt to answer, a single one of the substantial and wholly legitimate questions I raised about whether -- in the light of the demonstrable and demonstrated fact that Yuri had not given us the full text of the "evidence" he was appealing to (see again below) --  Yuri's claims regarding what his "evidence" says was indeed what his "evidence"  actually says. For instance, I noted that there didn't seem to be anything in the text of Seneca that Yuri "quoted" as
      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."
      but which actually reads
       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."
      that would justify his claim (contained in the way Yuri represents the quote -- see his note marked YK)  that it was to be read as if it were talking about Gentiles who had gone over to Judaism but were ignorant of what the Judaism they had gone over to was all about, rather than, as I claimed, and what to my eyes the full context of the quotation (and the purpose of Augustine in quoting Seneca) seems to indicate, namely, about Gentiles who are not as knowledgeable about their **own** religion and **its** rites as those (in Seneca's opinion) ignorant, superstitious, and backward Jews were about theirs.

      The second thing to note is how much it misrepresentation what I said or noted. Nowhere did I ever claim anything about the texts Yuri was adducing as "evidence" being "disagreeable" (what ever that means).  All I have ever done in this exchange was to raise the question about whether the texts that Yuri adduced as "evidence" for his thesis could bear the weight or the interpretation he was placing upon them. And is this an illegitimate way to argue a case? If it is, then Yuri is guilty of the same "brilliance" he attributes to me, since questioning whether any of us are correct to appeal to a text from Paul when we are presenting "evidence" FOR  an early EC mission to Gentiles as Gentiles, is exactly the tactic that Yuri himself employs.

      The third thing is (assuming I've understood the import of his remark about dealing with   "disagreeable" texts by charging that the one using as them "evidence" has been taking them out of context) Yuri's amazing temerity in **denying** against strong evidence to the contrary that he **has** been taking the texts he's been using out of context, or at least not giving us the material in the context of a quote that shows that his interpretation of what he quotes is forced. I point again  to the Seneca quote above, and I remind List Members (and Yuri) of how, when using Acts 11:19 to support his thesis, he (conveniently?) neglected to cite or to take account of Acts 11:20 which plainly contradicted the use to which he was putting his Acts text.

      The fourth thing is that he has completely misunderstood what I said about the Aphrodisias inscription. I did not conclude that there were no Gentiles known as God fearers in Aphrodisias. But what I did deny, as well as noted that what the evidence of the inscription denies, what with its application of the title Godfearers to Gentiles who were still willing functionaries and leaders in the civic cult of Zeus) was that the title means, and that the inscription can legitimately be taken as giving evidence that it means,  what Yuri thinks it means, namely, that the term QEOSEBOI is the here being used with the meaning of Gentiles who had attached themselves to the Synagogue, renounced their Pagan deities, accepted Yahweh as the one true God, and who were on the verge of getting circumcised.  If anyone has taken the position that the inscription really does not say what it says, it is Yuri, not me.

      By the way, anyone who would like to have a look at what historians and archaeologists (who, I have the sneaking suspicion, are a just bit better trained historiagraphicall speaking and more knowledgeable in the languages requisite for interpreting the Aphrodisias inscription than Yuri is) have had to say about what the Aphrodisias inscription does and does not say, and what it's bearing on whether there were indeed lots of Godfearers as Yuri defines the term, might want to have a look (as I also suspect Yuri has not), the articles gathered under the title "God-fearers: Did They Exist?" in Biblical Archaeologist Review, Sept.-Oct. 1986, 44-63.  These include "The God-Fearers: A Literary and Theological Invention" by Robert S. MacLennan and A. Thomas Kraabel; "Jews and God-Fearers in the Holy City of Aprhodite" by Robert F. Tannenbaum [on an inscripition of 210 found in Aphrodisias]; "The Omnipresence of the God-Fearers" by Louis H. Feldman."  Further, you may wish to note that they all conclude that Yuri's claim cannot be substantiated. .

      Then there's also Scot McKnight (A Light Among the
      Gentiles, 1991), Georges Will et Claude Orrieux (Proselytisme Juif? 1992),
      Martin Goodman (Mission and Conversion 1994), Shaye Cohen (articles in
      HTR), Miriam Taylor (Anti-Judaism and Early Christian Identity, 1994), each of whom have, after examining a far wider set of evidence, have concluded against the idea of any widespread interest in Judaism from outsiders. And curiously what evidence of interest and or conversion they **have** found indicates that its motivation was NOT religious but  marriage, buisness contacts,  or other mundane reasons)

      .Now what about this previously unmentioned "evidence" of the edict of Septimius Servius against the Jews? Is this the nail in my coffin? Alas, I fear the answer is no, and for several reasons.

      One thing to note, is that true to form, Yuri has one again not given us the full text of the "evidence" he cites:, Yuri claims that it was an edict against Gentiles becoming Jews. We'll, yes. But not exactly. Here's the full text (with a little context): 

      Post hoc dato stipendio cumulatiore militibus Alexandriam petiit. In
      itinere Palaestinis plurima iura fundavit. Iudaeos fieri sub gravi poena
      vetuit. idem etiam de Christianis sanxit. Deinde Alexandrinis ius
      buleutarum dedit ...
      Hmm. An edict issued reputedly (see below) by Roman empereor against Roman citizens becoming **Christians** as well as Jews. Whatever could be the reason for this? Could it be, as Yuri claims, that lots of people were flocking to Judaism. Is this the only interpretation that the text will bear?  Don't think so.

      It should be remembered both (a) that the reputed issuer of the edict was a Roman Emperor who insisted through a variety of means that all Roman citizens worship him as God and would not tolerate a lack of devotion to the emperor cult (see Friend, The Early Church), and (b) that of all the sects in the Roman empire it was only Christainity and Judaism which stood against this. So the edict may be more a way of indicating how politically suspect SS viewed Christianity and Judaism than an indication of a mass exodus of Roman citizens to these sects. To cite a parrlel example: the laws against flag burning. They are passed not because there is a lot of flag burning, or even that there's a worry that there might be, but because of how horrendous the act of flag burning is to Legislators (or their constituency). Moreover, as some classicists note, the language of the Edict -- specifically the transition from the negative to the dedit ius bouleutarum (with the Deinde) indicates that the edict is assuming that that the principle motivation of anyone who might wish to convert to Judaism was not to fulfill a religious quest,  but to take advantage of exemptions from fiduciary and legal duties to which Jews were not subject.

      Second, without any argumentation, Yuri takes the edict to be historical. This is particularly troublesome in the light of the fact, noted by Classicist after Classicist and Roman historian after Roman historian, that this idea is (to put it **mildlly**) "rather suspect". In the first place,  as Amnon Linder (The Jews in Roman Imperial Legislation [Detroit: Wayne State, 1983]) has noted,  unlike real edicts, let alone almost all other edicts against Jews and Christians, it left no trace in the legal sources. In the second place,  and again unlike other edicts whose historicity is above suspicion, it lacks it lacks context or specific motive. (on this, see  Feldman, Jew and
      Gentile in the Ancient World [Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993], 186-87). And in the third place, there is the little matter of our source for the edict. This is  the life of SS by the probably pseudonymous Aelius Spartianus in the _Historia Augusta, ch. 17.1. Now, as the translator of the Penguin edition of this life, A. Birley, has noted,  not only is the HA is full of inaccuracies, but there is grave reason to believe that here AS is simply making things up. Other historians, following the work on the HA by Sir Ronald Symes, have opined that the fact that a factoid is mentioned solely in the Histora Augusta is ipso facto evidence **against** assuming its historicity.

      So why does Yuri do so? Surely, master historian that he is, he is aware of how spurious other practitionars of his craft have judged the edict to be, and how virtually everyone in his guild has judged as irresponsible and incompetent any historian who relies solely on the evidence of a life in the Historia Augusta not only for reconstructing the deeds of the emperors it mentions, but for reconstructing what was going on in the period about which it was purporting to report.   Could it be that Yuri's good sense has taken a back seat to a need to see what he wants to see?

      Then finally, there's the issue of whether (even assuming the historicity of the edict, not to mention that that AS has reported it correctly) it is historically legitimate, let alone historiographically responsible, to view something that attests to what might have been going on in the Roman Empire in CE 200 as evidence for what was going on there in CE 30-70.  I doubt that he would be willing to grant that I was warranted to claim that  a current mass movement of Catholics (if such there were)  to, say, Islam is good evidence for what was going on in Catholic and Islamic circles back at the end of the 18th century. But this is exactly the sort of thing that he is asking me -- and all of you to grant as warranted in his use of the edict of Septimuis Servius.

      So if anyone is as poor and misguided ... Nah, no need to say who.

      In any case, in the light of Yuri's remarks above, the way he has (not) been dealing with  my questions about the legitimacy of the evidence that he has been presenting for his thesis, and all the indications that he will continue not only to handle the evidence that he does present in questionable ways,  but to not recognize how that he is doing so,  it has become apparent that further exchanges with him on these matters is frutless.  As you all know, I'm quite willing to play the game well into extra innings if that is called for. But  it seems a waste of time to be out here in the field with someone who does  not know how the game is played and/or has no intention of playing by its rules.


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

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