Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"John the Jew" (Camaldoli): final comments

REGARDING THE SIXTH NANGERONI MEETING OF THE ENOCH SEMINAR ("JOHN THE JEW") AT CAMALDOLI LAST WEEK, I promised earlier that I would post some additional thoughts. There was a final session on Friday in which conference delegates were given the opportunity to speak briefly about what they had learned from the conference. The following is roughly what I said, based on memory and some notes I scrawled at the time.

I was pleasantly surprised, but surprised, to be invited to this particular Enoch Seminar, since I have never worked on the Gospel of John and my work on Christology and Jewish messianism was from quite a while ago. But I was happy to come to be involved in the conversation, not least to see what new things I would learn about Second Temple Judaism.

And I did learn quite a bit, including gaining a better understanding of, or at least thinking of some new questions about, one or two passages in the Gospel of John, and also some new details and minor questions about Second Temple Judaism. But there were two broader areas about which I now have some significant new thoughts and questions.

First, I am thinking now about worship and ritual cult of the Temple of the God of Israel in Jerusalem as something even more foundational in Second Temple Judaism than I had realized — more foundational than the ideologies, mythologies, and theologies that Second Temple-era Jews advanced to explain and interpret Temple worship.

The Mosaic Torah (notably the Priestly source or "P") presents the Temple cult as something revealed in the time of Moses, originally applying to the Tabernacle, with Aaron as the founder of the priesthood that was staffed only by his descendants. The rest of the Tribe of Levi is given the chiefly janitorial role as "Levites." Again, all this was supposed to have been revealed and institutionalized in the time of Moses.

But even in the Hebrew Bible the picture is more complex than this. The Book of Ezekiel gives us a prospective Temple cult in chapters 40-48, one that was never implemented but which is not entirely compatible with the Priestly cult in the P source of the Mosaic Torah. And according to Ezekiel 44, the priestly tribe of Levi was demoted to the role of "Levites" for their unfaithfulness during the monarchical period, with the Zadokite (i.e., Aaronid) priests retaining the priesthood because they were faithful. That is not the story in P.

Then when we come to the Second Temple-era apocalyptic books collected in 1 Enoch, the patriarch Enoch is the great receiver of divine revelations and Moses' role is quite downplayed. The Book of the Watchers opens with a reference to Mount Sinai (1 Enoch 1:4), but one describing a theophany of God coming from there in the style of the archaic biblical hymns (cf. Deuteronomy 33:2, Judges 5:5). No hint of a foreshadowing of a revelation of Torah to Moses appears. In the review of sacred history in the Animal Apocalypse, Moses ascends to Mount Sinai and comes back, but no specific reason is given for the trip (1 Enoch 89:28-35). The revelation of the Torah is not directly mentioned. And later the Animal Apocalypse, while accepting the Jerusalem Temple as legitimate, denounces the priesthood currently running it and the ritual cult being practiced in it (1 Enoch 89:73).

On a somewhat similar note, the work known as Aramaic Levi presents a version of the sacrificial cult, one whose compatibility with the rules of P has been debated, but this sacrificial system is presented as lore revealed to Levi by his father Isaac, long before the time of Moses. Perhaps it presents an Enochic perspective on the origins of Temple worship, or conceivably even a third perspective different from both the Mosaic and Enochic ones. The Book of Jubilees, which is closely related to Aramaic Levi, tries to reconcile the Mosaic and Enochic versions of the story behind the Temple cult and priesthood, but it seems pretty clear that there were originally competing versions of the story and it is possible that some of these gave substantially different accounts.

So, were Temple worship, priesthood, and ritual cult (probably along with circumcision, Sabbath observance, and celebration of the major annual festivals) more primary than either the Mosaic or the Enochic (etc?) accounts of the origins of these forms of worship of the God of Israel? This seems to me to be a question worth exploring. (And to be clear — no, I am not volunteering to organize an Enoch Seminar on the subject. But I am interested in the question.)

Second, a question about the Gospel of John. The characters in John's narrative are early first-century Jews who observe the Mosaic ethical and ritual law. They do so as a matter of course and the matter is generally not commented on, except when the details of how to observe some aspect of this law, notably the Sabbath, are debated. But did John expect his readers to practice the ritual law? I used to assume yes, but this has become less clear to me. What did his readers know and not know? He does not need to explain what the festivals were, but he does need to explain that Jews and Samaritans do not use dishes in common. Was John a Jew seeking to convince Torah-observant Diaspora Jews to follow his particular form of messianic Judaism or was he more like Paul, trying to convert Gentile readers to his new Jesus religion without necessarily making them Torah observant as well? Or both? Not that this question has not occurred to Johannine specialists, but perhaps specialists in Second Temple Judaism could help contribute more to the discussion than they have up to the present.

Those were my comments in the final session of the conference. Let me now add one other thought, which I hinted at in my response to Catrin Williams's excellent paper, but which is worth underlining. Septuagint research in the last generation or two has learned to read the Septuagint not just as a translation of the books of the Hebrew Bible, but also as a Second Temple-era Jewish text in its own right, one that makes interpretive decisions that amount to exegesis of the Hebrew Bible. But such interpretive exegesis goes back even further, to the scribal practices of the copyists of the books of the Hebrew Bible in the Second Temple period. We know this from looking at the textual variants in the biblical manuscripts among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some work on the scribal exegesis of the Hebrew text in the Qumran manuscripts has certainly been done, but the subject is far from exhausted and there are still doctoral dissertations to write on it. My student David Larsen dealt with such matters in his 2013 PhD thesis, “Royal Psalms in the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

Those are my thoughts about the conference. None of them have anything directly to do with the Christology of John or messianism in Second Temple Judaism, but some of them may be of interest nevertheless.

I want to take this opportunity also to thank the organizers. Gabriele Boccaccini is the founder of and mastermind behind the Enoch Seminar and his contribution was, as always, vast. He also very kindly looked after me in Florence on the first night of this trip. Benjamin Reynolds and Deborah Forger organized this particular meeting of the Enoch Seminar and did so with scholarly creativity, flawless efficiency, and constant good humor. I am grateful to them all for an excellent conference.

Earlier posts on the "John the Jew" Enoch Seminar are collected here. For some past posts on other Enoch Seminars, see the links collected here. I have not posted any photos of Camaldoli this time around, but it still looks like the pictures in this post.

UPDATE: James McGrath has another post on the "John the Jew" conference here, with URLs (meant to be links?) for a podcast interview with Crispin Fletcher-Louis and for an online version of Crispin's Camaldoli paper. James promises more posts on the conference in due course.