Saturday, November 3, 2012

Celsus and the Redefining of Judaism and Christianity [Part Three]

It is amazing how attached we get to books.  It is even odder when these books are scholarly works.  Some people probably remember periods of their lives by what friends they had.  I do the same with books it seems.  I can remember buying a volume edited by Jacob Neusner entitled Judaisms and their Messiahs.  The point of the title of course was to say that there wasn't one 'Jewish religion' but many in the Common Era.  But let's stop for a moment and do the un-scholarly thing and refrain from moving on to deeper complexities.

Neusner's use of the term 'Judaisms' is meant only to negate the original term 'Judaism' which as we have now witnessed first hand was undoubtedly invented in the second century in foreign circles.  Indeed we have been intimating for some time now that the evidence suggests the terminology was imposed from without.

If we acknowledge that at some point during the half millennium between Ezra and the rise of Christianity the specific concept of a 'Jewish people' emerged, we still have to distinguish this ethnic designation from the religious concept of 'Judaism' (ιουδαισμος).  This terminology seems to have appeared along side the twin conception of 'Christianity' (χριστιανισμός) in the lost anti-Christian polemic the True Account written by a certain Celsus.

As noted in our previous post in this series, there is an entirely artificial linkage between ιουδαισμος and χριστιανισμός.  Celsus on more than one occasion argues on behalf of what the proper constitution should be based on the 'beliefs' of ιουδαισμος.  Nevertheless as we noted ιουδαισμος is a wholly artificial conception.  It is not 'in the Bible.'  Indeed the Pentateuch doesn't even so much as mention Jerusalem by name on a single occasion.

Once again 'Judaism' is a wholly artificial conception.  It is the aspartame of antiquity.  I can't blame people for their ignorance as I think I was guilty of the same stupidity up until I started to dissect Celsus's work the True Word in the context of second century Christianity.  It all comes down to this - the Pentateuch isn't about 'Judaism.'  An example of the manner in which being 'Jewish' doesn't figure into the proper observance of its principles is demonstrated to this day by the Samaritans - the northern neighbors of the Jewish people.

Of course if I had a dollar for every stupid reference to the Samaritans as a 'Jewish sect' I would be a very rich person.  The Samaritans are not a sectarian group of 'Judaism.  The specific terminology ιουδαισμος was invented in the second century either by Celsus himself or someone he was intimate with.  There is nothing in the Pentateuch which requires the use of temple, let alone a 'Jewish temple.'  The concept of Israel was not limited to a specific race or a people.

What about the Abrahamic narrative where all the other Patriarchs are his descendants?  The gospel has its fables, the Pentateuch has others.  In other words - yes of course Abraham is presented as the common ancestor of the people who escaped from Egypt.  Yet it is equally clear that other people beside the Jews claimed Abraham for themselves.  It is plain from the Acts of Archelaus that the people of Harran venerated Abraham without considering him or themselves as specifically 'Jewish.'  Moreover scholarship underestimates the significance of proselytism in the religion of Israel before the reforms of Antoninus Pius.

Philo of Alexandria makes absolutely clear that his religious tradition was centrally concerned with an 'outreach' program to Gentiles.  The same is evident from the stories about Helena of Adiabene and Monobazus during the first revolt against Rome.  Indeed going beyond the myth of Abraham, Isaac and Joseph for a moment it has to be acknowledged that the man who wrote the Pentateuch was careful to frame his narrative in such a manner to (a) argue for the existence of a Hebrew ethnos but also to (b) argue for the converting Gentiles to the cause of the religion.

One has to suspect that Ezra or whomever else we want to pin the authorship of the five books of Moses on, developed its narrative in this particular way because there were benefits to being a 'particular people.'  But then again even here we are not talking about 'the Jews' or 'Judaism.'  Far from it.  The Pentateuch only recognizes the existence of the concept of 'Israel.'

The Samaritans did not traditionally regard themselves as a race separated from their southern brothers.  The Jerusalem altar was an abomination, one which the Samaritans were only too happy to see demolished.  Yet at the same time, it is was traditional to assume that if the various sectarians just abandoned their heretical practices and came to the holy mountain of Gerizim as commanded by God himself in the Ten Commandments they would be restored to members in good standing.  Indeed it would seem that half of the violence that boiled over in ancient Palestine was precisely attributable to the notion that Jews and Samaritans belonged to the same religion.

It was only in the second century that the complete divorce between the two communities took place and it was likely encouraged by the Roman authorities.  The editors of the gospel had to correct the original narrative of Jesus speaking with a Samaritan woman. The existing manuscripts of the Gospel of John struggle to explain the original idea of Jews and Samaritans openly engaging one another - and a man and a woman more specifically - "The Samaritan woman said to him, 'You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?' For Jews do not associate with Samaritans"

Indeed given the recent endorsement of the authenticity of the sanctity of Gerizim in the ancient Israelite religion by James Charlesworth and other scholars, it is hard not to think that the Samaritan indifference to ethnicity was the original position of the tradition as a whole.  The writings of the Samaritan sage Marqe references contemporary proselytism efforts.  But most significantly Origen makes reference to the fact that Samaritans were to his day still punished for their observance of circumcision and identified by the Roman authorities as 'Sicarii' the term used to describe the rebels of the first revolt against Rome.

Origen writes "but some one will say that the Samaritans suffer persecution because of their religion. In answer to whom we shall state that the Sicarians, on account of the practice of circumcision, as mutilating themselves contrary to the established laws and the customs permitted to the Jews alone, are put to death. And you never hear a judge inquiring whether a Sicarian who strives to live according to this established religion of his will be released from punishment if he apostatizes, but will be led away to death if he continues firm; for the evidence of the circumcision is sufficient to ensure the death of him who has undergone it. But Christians alone, according to the prediction of their Saviour, You shall be brought before governors and kings for My sake, are urged up to their last breath by their judges to deny Christianity, and to sacrifice according to the public customs." [Against Celsus 2.13]

Of course Louis Feldman makes a further point explaining why the Samaritans were identified as Sicarii - there is evidence to suggest that these first century revolutionaries presumed to be Jewish were actually inspired by the universal altar of Mount Gerizim.  Feldman writes:

Most recently further evidence has come to light indicating a Samaritan presence at Masada. This suggests that the Samaritans joined the Sicarii in the defense of Masada. Talmon has now published a papyrus fragment in Samaritan handwriting which was found in a room near the synagogue at Masada and which refers to Mount Gerizirn in a single word, as the Samaritans write it.

Feldman's conclusions that Samaritans were specifically included among the rebels were dismissed by Samaritan scholars.  It might be better to conclude that the sanctity of Mount Gerizim was clearly recognized by Jews from that age, emphasizing again that the ethnic divide was imposed by Roman authorities in the second century with their invention of the term ιουδαισμος.

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