Book Review : Paul the Jew: Rereading the Apostle as a Figure of Second Temple Judaism


Book Review : Paul the Jew: Rereading the Apostle as a Figure of Second Temple Judaism, (Hardcover) Fortress Press (May 1, 2016)  by Gabriele Boccaccini (Author, Editor), Carlos A. Segovia (Editor)


Pauline studies have passed through a dramatic paradigm shift in the past decades. N T Wright’s major arguments in his acclaimed work Paul and the Faithfulness of God has been received scholar’s critics including methodology, first-century contextual factors, exegetical findings, and theological implications, even though his fresh suggestions has bought many contributions in a variety of sub-fields of New Testament studies. The traditional reading of Paul that shared by many Jews and Christians alike over the past nineteen centuries which contended that he was a theologian who departed from Judaism. In the 1980s, the so-called New Perspective on Paul went on to present him as a theologian who was not an apostate of Judaism but a reformer of the old Jewish faith of his ancestors. Carlos A. Segovia said on the preface of this book: “None of these models seem to work anymore.” Alain Badiou suggests that Paul did not mean to say that he converted from one religion (Judaism) to a different on (Christianity). Paul simply became a different kind of man, ready to live a different kind of life within Judaism. It seems that, initially, for some reason unknown to us, Paul felt uneasy about the Jesus movement. And that suddenly, for some likewise unknown reason, he felt “called” to follow Jesus and to preach. Paul clearly states that God’s election of Israel is irrevocable (Rom. 11:1, 29) . He has been commissioned to bring the gentiles through Christ into God’s allegiance (15:16, 18). Paul believes gentile inclusiveness working through Christ.


The Three Paths to Salvation of Paul the Jew

Gabriele Boccaccini contends a new understanding of Paul the Jew, not as an apostle of intolerance but as a messenger of mercy and forgiveness. The advocate of a new supersessionist model of relations between God and humankind is God’s grace “in Christ” superseded the Jewish covenant for both Jews and gentiles by creating a third separate “race”. The Radical New Perspective aims to fully rediscover the Jewishness of Paul. Paul was not a Christian but a Second Temple Jew. Nothing in his work supports the idea that he became an apostate, he was proudly claimed his Jewishness and background, and declaring that God also did not reject God’s covenant with the chosen people (Rom 11:1; cf. Phil. 3:5). There were many diverse varieties of Judaism. Paul’s mission was aimed only at the inclusion of gentiles. Even when he expresses radical self-criticism toward his own religious tradition or against other competitive forms of Judaism, Paul is a Jew and remains a Jew. Christianity at his time was a Jewish messianic movement, not a separate religion. Paul did not abandon Judaism, but “converted” from one variety of Judaism to another. Alan Segal says “Paul was a Pharisaic Jew who converted to a new apocalyptic, Jewish sect. He was a Pharisee who joined the early Jesus movement that is one of the diversity of Second Temple Judaism. Paul became a member and a leader of the early Jesus movement.


Boccaccini explains more that Paul could not see any distinction between a Jewish sinner and a gentile sinner: they had both been forgiven “by faith only”. In the case of gender and social distinctions, he accepted it as an inevitable reality until the end of times, when these distinctions would eventually disappear. “Justification by faith” was a gift offered through Jesus the Messiah to all “sinners” (not only to gentiles). Exactly the same gospel was announced to Jews and gentiles—the good news of the gift of forgiveness: “I have been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised”(Gal. 2:7). Paul shared the apocalyptic idea that the judgment will be according to deeds and that humankind divided between the “righteous” and the “unrighteous”. But now that the time of the end has come, the unrighteous have been offered the possibility to repent and receive justification through forgiveness. The righteous (Jews and gentiles) will be saved if they have done good deeds. Paul was not Lutheran: he never taught “salvation by faith only” to humankind, but announced to sinners, “justification (that is, forgiveness of past sins) by faith.” Paul did not preach only two ways of salvation, but rather three: righteous Jews have the Torah, righteous gentiles have their won conscience, and sinners—Jews and gentiles alike, who have fallen without hope under the power of evil—have Christ the forgiver.


Albert I Baumgarten responses to Gabriele Boccaccini—Paul in an Enochian Context


The world of Second Temple Jews was far from uniform. There were many varieties and alternatives in those days. Paul’s life, as Boccaccini concludes was in the context of the diversity of Second Temple Judaism. Paul was a Pharisee who came from the Diaspora and zealously persecuted those who believed in the faith he later proclaimed. Yet, what did it mean for him to be a Diaspora Pharisee and received a “typical Diaspora Pharisee education”? If Paul is a Second Temple Jew with one of the other forms of Judaism (Jesus movement), why he had been charged and received 99 lashes five times (from Jews) and was beaten with rods (by Romans) three times (2 Cor. 11:24-25)? If he is still advocating circumcision for Jews, why is he still being persecuted (Gal. 5:11)?

Jesus is identified as the “the Son of man” who has the authority to forgive sins. Boccaccini then amplifies this idea, which goes back to Dan. 7:13-14, with the help of the Enochic traditions. Albert I Baumgarten questions Boccaccini’s case is his weaving together of Enochic explanations of cosmic evil with Paul’s explicit appeal to the responsibility of Adam and Eve for the dismal condition of humanity, making all humans, Jew and gentile alike, victims of a supernatural evil. Michael Stone has argued the Enochic and the Adamic explanations of evil contrast with one another. Albert I Baumgarten contends that we should never make Paul such a “good” Second Temple Jew (even in Enochian terms) but as a “bad” Jew, in trouble with other Jews and/or Romans, and worthy of being punished. As Flusser has suggested the separatist, which later became the controversial and disputed curse of the heretics, that it could be a better explanation of Paul as a Jew in his times.


Daniel Boyarin responses to Gabriele Boccaccini

About the “radical new Perspective”, Daniel Boyarin is afraid of Boccaccini’s “radical Paul” is not radical enough. Paul’s “conversion” is because of his full embrace of the Christian apocalyptic worldview and the claim that Jesus the Messiah had already come. And Jesus came as the Son of Man who had “authority on earth to forgive sins.” (Mark 2 and parallels) Boyarin also argues that there no early Christians, and thus, no “Christian apocalyptic worldview” either; it’s a contradiction in logic.




Gabriele Boccaccini begins his discussion of “Re-Reading Paul as a Second-Temple Jewish Author” by clearing away of the rubble left by approaches to Paul that have now been successfully challenged and opening the field to a more appropriate of Paul the Jew. Especially brilliant is the recognition that “justification” is not salvation, but acquittal for repentants, the “others” of Enochian tradition. Boccaccini, building on concepts developed by such scholars as Mark D. Nanos and Paula Fredriksen, as well as others, has put together a new and compelling synthesis. There are also leading international scholars putting their endeavors to investigate within the scope of Second Temple Judaism. There are different subjects of these essays in the book of Paul the Jew that deserve more attention of our further studies in the coming days.





About pastor Kenny Cheung

我是一位牧師,牧養一間小型的堂會,閒時, 會回到香港浸信會神學院進修,到這個年頭可以再讀書,是一件快樂的事。我有一個美滿的家庭,妻子和兒子是我幸福的根源。我喜歡音樂、電影、閱讀和旅遊等。你若問我:餘生有什麼真正想做的事?我想,我會渴望成為神的話語的學生、作基督的門徒!
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