2014 NT & Second Temple Judaism

Session 1

Matthew Novenson (University of Edinburgh)

The Misguided Quest for the First Messiah

There is one noteworthy strand in modern research on ancient Jewish messianism whose practitioners set for themselves the task of identifying the first messiah, the one historical figure to  whose remarkable career certain puzzles in the development of messianism (above all, the rise of Christianity) can be traced back and thereby explained. In recent research, the key figures in this school are Israel Knohl and Michael Wise, and the key texts are the Hodayot and Self-Glorification Hymn from Qumran, as well as the recently published Hazon Gabriel stone. Knohl's and Wise's hypotheses can be and have been criticised on exegetical grounds, as unsatisfactory interpretations of the pertinent primary texts (as, e.g., by John Collins and Jörg Frey). In this paper, I comment on several of the most important exegetical cruces, and I proceed to raise a further, more fundamental criticism: It is not just that Knohl's or Wise's argument happens to be a weak one. Rather, it is the case that the very notion of a quest for the first messiah is misguided. The quest presupposes an Idealist model of messianism that is demonstrably inadequate and that, ironically, reinscribes the very paradigm of Christian uniqueness that the questers ostensibly want to escape.


Session 2

Stephen Young (Brown University)

Judean Sacred Books in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean

Much research among NT scholars about “Jewish scripture” in the Greco-Roman world focuses on supposed scripture reading at synagogues and associated possibilities for attendees to acquire knowledge of scripture’s content. This work often serves arguments about whether NT audiences would have been able to follow some of the highly allusive reinterpretations of Jewish scripture in the NT. Though such research is not inherently problematic, it often takes for granted the basic practices and categories in question and, furthermore, diverts attention from a wealth of evidence for a range of significances that people in the Greco-Roman world would have plausibly attached to Jewish scripture.


My paper identifies several clusters of evidence relevant for mapping the variegated landscape of ideas about and practices involving sacred books in the ancient Mediterranean, and illustrates these recognizable ideas and practices with specific examples. The ideas and practices include the recognized role of sacred books in the establishment of new cults; the practice of (making a show of) using notionally foreign, ancient, or sacred books to authorize a ritual; the related and broadly attested notional authority of writing in the ancient Mediterranean; the expected recourse to foreign books for knowledge and lore about a foreign deity and his/her powers; and the idea of foreign, sacred, and ancient books as repositories of true wisdom that experts can excavate through a variety of specialized interpretive techniques. I will argue that references to and discussions of Jewish scripture in a variety of ancient (Judean and non-Judean) sources suggestively overlap and innovate within these culturally available significances of sacred books. The paper thus redescribes the potential recognizability and attractiveness of Jewish scripture to a variety of people in the ancient Mediterranean in terms of “Judean sacred books” and expected claims about and practices involving sacred books. 


Session 3

David Armitage (University of Nottingham)

Humiliation, eloquence and the pursuit of the good in Philo and Paul

The nature of the life to which one should aspire is developed in distinctive directions by Paul and Philo, yet both advocate some measure of detachment from external goods such as wealth. In Quod deterius potiori insidiari soleat 32-34 Philo contrasts love of God (represented by Abel) with love of self (represented by Cain).  He describes how the self-loving individual may, through sophistic questioning, drive into retreat the individual motivated by love of God.  The lovers of self, in the course of their tirade as imagined by Philo, mock as weak, poor, and obscure those who pursue virtue – the φιλάρετοι (a designation for which Philo has an unusual fondness).  This paper will explore how Philo responds to the hypothetical claim that the φιλάρετοι are unimpressive, comparing this with Paul’s exposition of the weakness, unimpressiveness, and poverty of the authentic apostle in the Corinthian correspondence. Philo, despite denying that physical self-abasement is a necessary corollary of pursuing virtue, does not directly challenge the allegation that the self-loving may be outwardly more impressive. However he denies the success of their rhetorical strategy, attributing its apparent triumph to the neglect by many of the φιλάρετοι of argumentative skill. He distinguishes those who are simply virtuous (and should refrain from futile engagement with sophistry) from those who have learned to combine virtue with eloquence and can easily defeat their critics. In contrast Paul disavows the pursuit of eloquence and embraces the reality of humiliation as intrinsic to the true apostolic calling.  The distinctive approaches to the interplay of humiliation and the good taken by Philo and Paul have implications for locating them in relation to broader conceptions of the human telos in their Jewish-Hellenistic milieux.