Sunday, May 26, 2013

Deer in the Headlights: How James Got Dazzled by a Fast-Talking Lawyer

James thinks he's hit the jackpot.  He found a book dealing with Acts 15 written by a genuine lawyer!  That means the evidence is better (yeah, right):
"...when presented by an attorney...the nature and weight of the information changes," (from James' blog:  [Emphasis added]
The attorney in question is Mauck.  He says that the fourfold decree is meant to be a replacement for the law of Moses:
"Instead of the far more extensive law of Moses which the Jewish Christians were following, the Gentiles who are now going to be included in the people of God have been given [only] four laws to obey...Dan Gruber...has shown how the Jerusalem Council never changed the requirements of Torah but rather took portions of Torah which applied to Gentiles living among the Jews and informed the Gentiles of those requirements," (ibid, quotation from Mauck)
Well, Mauck must be correct since he's an attorney, right?  

There is another possibility.

Ancient Judaisms viewed conversion as a two-stage process:  (1) renounce idolatry; (2) learn the Torah of Moses.  
"In other words, for the later rabbis circumcision followed by immersion and the full acceptance of the commandments of the Torah was both the terminus a quo and the termus ad quem for conversion.  Conversion for them was an event.  During the Biblical period, on the other hand, according to Tchernowitz, the terminus a quo of the process of absorption into Judaism was the renunciation of idolatry followed, sometimes several generations later, by circumcision, the terminus ad quem." [The Image of the Non-Jew in Judaism by David Novak] 
"Hence we learn that those who follow idolatry deny as it were their adhesion to the whole Law, and those who reject idolatry follow as it were the whole Law,' (B.T. Kidd, 40a). 
"...[G-d] gave the [mitzvot] as a means of securing His chief object, viz., to spread a knowledge of Him [among the people], and to cause them to reject idolatry," (Rambam) 
"It is the object and centre of the whole Law to abolish idolatry and utterly uproot it..." (Rambam)

Here's Josef Stern on this two-stage process:

The first stage of conversion is teshuvah gemurah:
"Now, the distinguishing feature of repentance for a sin, and the symbolic content of a sin offering, is 'one's being divested of it' (III:36:540); that is, the person entirely ceases to perform the sin. 'Complete' (or perhaps, 'completed') repentance [teshuvah gemurah], Maimonides explains in the Mishneh Torah, obtains when the individual finds himself in the identical circumstances in which he had sinned with the ability to sin, but he separates [peirash] himself and does not sin 'because of his repentance.'" pg. 126 of Problems and Parables of Law by Josef Stern
The second stage is when this attitude of complete teshuvah yields performance of the commandments:

"...How, by immersing oneself, does one affect the 'intentions of his heart'?--Maimonides answers that there is in fact no direct connection between the two.  It is not through immersion that one achieves purity.  Rather, a first intention of the Law is to inculcate within people humility and obedient fear of God; for only these attitudes lead to performance of the commandments--the primary sense of 'sanctification' [qedushah] and 'purity' [taharah] (III:33:533)--and to avoidance of transgression of the commandments--the primary sense of 'uncleanness [tum'ah]' (III:47:595)." pg. 62 of Problems and Parables of Law by Josef Stern
Teaching the Law of Moses is the only way to fully uproot idolatry.  And that's why James writes v. 21.  Read it in context:
20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”
So we see that v. 21 introduces the reason why the Gentiles would renounce idolatrous practices.  Notice that v. 21 begins with "For" ("Gar" in Greek):
"V. 21 begins with the clause Mouses gar...and as LS points out, the conjunction 'regularly placed after the first word of a sentence: to introduce the reason," (McKee, Acts 15 For the Practical Messianic).
But wait!  How do you we even know that the fourfold decree was about idolatry?  Because the fourfold list begins with the context (ton aligematon ton eidolon, pollutions of idols) and then lists associated practices.  For example, here's Philo on "things strangled" (tou pniktou):

"The Jewish philosopher Philo described the revolting practice of how pagans would often strangle or choke their sacrifices, not letting the blood out, in opposition to God's law:
'But some men, with open mouths, carry even the excessive luxury and boundless intemperance of Sardanapalus to such an indefinite and unlimited extent, being wholly absorbed in the invention of senseless pleasures, that they prepare sacrifices which ought never be offered, strangling their victims, and stifling the essence of life [Leviticus 17:11], which they ought to let depart free and unrestrained, burying the blood, as it were, in the body.  For it ought to have been sufficient for them to enjoy the flesh by itself, without touching any of those parts which have a connection with the soul or life' (Special Laws 4.122)," (from McKee's Acts 15 For the Practical Messianic).

Witherington notes this as well:

"Also relevant to our discussion is the evidence that the choking of the sacrifice, strangling it, and drinking or tasting of blood transpired in pagan temples.  In regard to the former, we have evidence form the magical papyri of the attempt to choke the sacrifice and in essence transfer its life breath or spiritual vitality into the idol, and in regard to the latter R.M. Oglivie points to the practice, mentioned occasionally in the literature, of the priest tasting the blood of the sacrifice...each item in the decree should be taken separately and all be seen as referring to four different activities that were known or believed to transpire in pagan temples,"( pg. 464 of Witherington's The Acts of the Apostles)
He concludes:
"All [provisions of the fourfold decree] refer or allude to activities that take place in temples...Furthermore, the issue is not just where one might find one or another of the four elements of the decree in isolation, but in what social setting one might find them together.  Here the answer is again likely to be in a temple, not in a home, and in particular at a temple feast." [The Acts of the Apostles:  A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary by Witherington]

As does Proctor:

" 'Idol sacrifice' (eidolothuton -- 15:29; 21:25) means meat eaten in a pagan temple in connection with a religious ceremony, 'or at least in temple precincts where the god's power and presence were thought to abide.'  The other word used for this first term is 'pollutions of idols' (alisgemata ton eidolon -- 15:20), and the root alisgein consistently refers to food or drink in usage of the period (for example in the LXX of Dan. 1:8)." [Proselytes and Pressure Cookers:  The Meaning and Application of Acts 15:20 by John Proctor]

Sorry, James.  A fancy lawyer might've said that Acts 15 invalidated Sinaitic Torah for Gentiles.  But the text and context tells us a completely different story.  

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