Judaism Volumes 1 and 2

Written by George Foot Moore Reviewed By Peter Oakes

These books by Moore and Young lie at either end of a scholarly chain. The Moore volumes are reprints of his 1927 magnum opus on the nature of early Rabbinic Judaism. Moore’s work was a decisive influence on E.R Sanders’ 1977 book, Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Sanders’ revised view of the nature of Judaism has, in turn, led to the production of a range of books which attempt to re-think Paul’s relationship to Judaism in the light of his work. This is what Young’s book does.

George Foot Moore portrays Judaism as a religion of grace and forgiveness. He draws attention to the opportunity for atonement in Judaism. Even after the ending of the Temple sacrifices in ad 70, forgiveness is possible. The sole condition is now repentance. Moore then argues that repentance means the same thing for the rabbis as it does for Christians. He even quotes the definition of repentance from the Westminster Shorter Catechism and then writes, ‘With the omission of the words in Christ, this definition completely embodies the rabbinical teaching’ (515).

Moore’s book remains very valuable. He quotes his sources at length (usually in translation but occasionally in Latin), and they are often sources that are difficult to get hold of. It must be borne in mind that Moore is trying to describe standard Rabbinic Judaism at the time of the Mishnah (about ad 200). This means that he does not give much weight to many sources, such as apocalyptic texts, which NT scholars see as being important for understanding Judaism of the first century ad. Of course, Moore also gives no weight to the Dead Sea Scrolls. The jars in the caves of Qumran had not yet been discovered. Moore’s task is itself complex. He does show sensitivity to the dates of the texts he is using, but the texts are from a wide range of periods and discerning which ideas reflect the period under study is often difficult. The further task of unifying those ideas in a coherent scheme of standard Rabbinic Judaism is also problematic. Caution needs to be exercised about any large synthesis such as Moore’s. Moore’s sharp edge is the contrast between his Judaism of grace and the typical Christian presentation of Judaism as a ‘religion of works’. His work contrasts particularly clearly with parts of the collection of Rabbinic texts gathered by Strack and Billerbeck. Much of Moore’s case is convincing but there are limits on how far this line of argument can go. The Jewish scholar, Jacob Neusner, famously attacked E.P Sanders for what Neusner saw as Sanders’ remaking of Judaism in the image of liberal protestantism. When all is said and done, the Rabbinic religion of grace results in authoritative texts that include thousands of detailed rules. The contrast with, say, Paul’s Christianity is very marked.

Brad H. Young tries to minimize the distance between Paul and Rabbinic theology. As well as being influenced by Sanders, and hence indirectly by Moore, Young is also strongly influenced by Krister Stendahl’s Paul among Jews and Gentiles. Young follows Stendahl’s view that Paul sees Gentiles as being saved through becoming Christians while Jews are saved through traditional Judaism. The question that we are left with if we embrace Stendahl is: What, then, did Paul think was wrong with Judaism? Various scholars have offered answers, most notably Lloyd Gaston. In Gaston’s view, Paul sees Israel’s ‘misstep’ as essentially being the rejection of the mission to the Gentiles. Young’s view seems to be that Paul does not criticise Judaism at all. This is a strange reading of the text. The strangeness reaches its peak with Young’s assertion that ‘Paul recognized that when some of the Jewish people rejected his preaching of Jesus, they were really only reaffirming their own strong faith in God’ (30). Young cannot be correct. For Paul, the gospel is the power of salvation for Jew and for Greek (Rom. 1:18). In Romans 1–3, Paul goes to great lengths to show that Jew and Gentile are equally under sin and that Christ’s sacrifice is the means of justification for all. Young offers a number of parallels between Jewish texts and the NT. He discusses Pentecost, the possible application to the Gentiles of the covenant with Noah, and the phrase ‘in a glass darkly’ in 1 Corinthians 13:12. This last one, a comparison with Numbers 12:8, is particularly interesting. However, the overall package in the book is unconvincing.


Peter Oakes

Northern College and University of Manchester