Jewish and Pauline Studies

Written by W. D. Davies Reviewed By F. F. Bruce

On Professor Davies’s sixty-fifth birthday, some five years ago, he was presented with a Festschrift of the usual kind—a work of distinction, as befitted the scholar whom the editors and contributors desired to honour. To mark his seventieth birthday, some of his friends have arranged for the publication in one volume of sixteen of his opera minora, which originally appeared in various journals, dictionaries and Festschriften. Their decision to celebrate the occasion in this way must be highly applauded.

Students of a younger generation can scarcely appreciate the impact which W. D. Davies made in 1948 with his first edition of Paul and Rabbinic Judaism. Pauline studies have never been the same since then. After decades of endeavour to find the sources of Paul’s distinctive thought in mystery religions or other areas of Hellenistic culture, it was refreshing to have so thorough a demonstration of Paul’s fundamental Jewishness. True, Paul underwent a complete reorientation on the Damascus road, but the man who underwent this reorientation had been well and truly founded in rabbinical Judaism.

W.D.’s work from then on may fairly be viewed as a development of one aspect or another of Paul and Rabbinic Judaism. This is so even with The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount and The Gospel and the Land; it is self-evidently true of most of the articles collected in the present volume. (It is gratifying, by the way, to find evidence that the author has been given an opportunity of bringing these up to date, especially in bibliographical data.) The articles are classified under three headings: Judaica, Pauline studies, New Testament miscellanea.

Of the five studies coming under the first heading, that entitled ‘Reflections on Tradition: The ’Abot Revisited’ is of special interest. W.D. tells how, on first looking into Pirqê ’Abot, he felt ‘like some watcher of the skies / When a new planet swims into his ken’; and the reviewer well remembers the new world that opened up to him when he for his part read that tractate for the first time. The tractate is indispensable for the serious New Testament student, but W.D. underlines its importance for the understanding of Judaism—its power to explode some of the most confidently cherished fallacies about Jewish faith and life (the antithesis between prophet and priest, for example). In some of the sayings W.D. tentatively detects a reply to Christian positions. For example, the sayings of Halafta ben Dosa, ‘If ten men sit together and occupy themselves in the law, the Shekinah rests among them’, is often quoted as a parallel to Matthew 18:20. But what if it is a reaction against Matthew 18:20? And when Joshua ben Levi asserted, ‘you find no free man except the one who occupies himself in the study of the Law’, is this a rebuttal of Paul’s argument that subjection to the law is a form of slavery from which Christ has set his people free (Gal. 5:1)?

Similarly, the essay ‘Reflections on the Spirit in the Mekilta’ (second-century midrash on Exodus) considers the possibility that Mekilta tries to meet the challenge which Christianity presented to the close relation of the Spirit of God to the land of Israel.

Under the heading ‘Pauline studies’ there are two essays—‘Paul and the People of Israel’ (delivered as the presidential address in 1976 to the Society for New Testament Studies) and ‘Paul and the Gentiles’—which must be regarded as required reading for commentators on Romans 9–11. The discussion in these three chapters is found to lead to the paradox that ‘in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek and yet a continued place for the Jewish people as such’. But this paradox ‘has its basis in the stubborn stuff of history itself’. Paul’s admonition to Gentile Christians in Romans 11:13–24 was conspicuously ignored by them in the course of history. (There is a suggestion on pp. 160f. that an allusion to sacred olive of Athens may be implicit in the parable of the olive tree—that the wild olive may stand for the whole world of pagan culture which, for all its glory, was spiritually fruitless. Even if Paul’s readers would be aware of the Athenian association, it is doubtful if it would have occurred to Paul himself.)

Other important essays in this collection deal with law in first-century Judaism, Paul and the law, law in the New Testament; with the territorial dimension of Judaism, conscience and its use in the New Testament, the moral teaching of the early church. There is a full-length review of Hans Dieter Betz’s Hermeneia commentary on Galatians; W.D. is highly appreciative of Betz’s work (and very properly so), but makes some acute criticisms of omissions in his treatment of the letter. What these amount to is simply that Betz has expounded Paul against the background of his own tradition: that perspective is undoubtedly valid, but could be enriched by being associated with other perspectives. In this review, as in much of his other writing, W.D. is very sensitive to Israel’s abiding role in the divine purpose.

The reviewer has read most of these essays in their original settings, but their collection within the covers of one volume makes him rejoice a fresh as one who finds great spoil.

F. F. Bruce