Sunday, February 08, 2009

Paula Fredriksen Lectures: "Sin: The Early History of an Idea”

The Church Triumphant Over Synagogue, Strasbourg Cathedral (c. 1230)

As the controversy continues to roil over the Vatican-SSPX train wreck, a public relations & communications fiasco if you want to put the most benign and best possible face on it **, we've been humiliated (once again) by the fact that the whole world has been exposed to a persistent and malignant tumor that remains on the fringes of Catholicism - Jew hatred.

** Side note: Here's me trying to be as charitable as I can in explaining the whole thing. Benedict has a grand vision of uniting Catholicism, The Eastern Orthodox Churches, and the Traditional Anglican Communion into one grand Church characterized by "Tradition" that will revitalize Christendom in Europe. The Russian Orthodox say to him, "Get your own house in order with your own schisms first." As for the SSPX schism, he doesn't want these bishops to age and consecrate a whole new generation of bishops, which will make the breach permanent. It would be better to absorb the group and try to control what is being said from out of it than to have a permanent parallel church as a rival.

Everyone recalls that when Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ came out a few years ago, there was a nasty spat beforehand between Gibson and a combined group of Christian and Jewish scholars operating under the auspices of the USCCB's Advisory Committee on Catholic-Jewish Relations and the ADL. They had offered to evaluate the script's biblical accuracy in conformity with the Catholic Bishops' Guidelines on Passion Plays. Their ensuing advice didn't go down too well with Gibson.

As I related in the post In Vino Veritas (after Gibson was arrested for DUI and went off on an anti-semtitic rant), BU Professor Paula Fredriksen came out of the Passion flap feeling very much burned, chastened, and stunned by the reaction she'd received for her efforts:

Finally, Gibson and his minions, I must note with gratitude, have certainly educated me. The hateful emails that I and my colleagues have received, the websites that this movie has spawned, and the angry displays of muscular piety prompted by this phase in the American culture wars have left me humbled and remorseful. With what conviction can I remain amazed by the literalism, the anger, and the defining power of hate in Islamic fundamentalism? With much less excuse, we have plenty of our own home-grown varieties right here.

I can't help but feel the same way about some of the things I've seen written in the Catholic blogosphere surrounding SSPX controversies over the past several years as well. In light of this latest blow-up, and the fact that the Pope has approached this group with an extraordinary amount of solicitude, a group that has a notorious holocaust denier within its leadership, a lot of people might be inclined to look at the incident with Gibson in a more serious light than they had previously.

As for Paula Fredriksen, the Aurelio Professor of Scripture at Boston University, I think she's an important scholar to study. Her work serves as a good counterweight to the outmoded supersessionist view that Christianity is both the fulfilment of Judaism and its destruction, an anti-Old Testament view that verges close to marcionite heresy, if you ask me.

I often hear that Vatican II was merely a pastoral council that didn't change any doctrine. That isn't really true. An ecumenical council teaches infallibly, and the teaching of the Church in relation to the Jewish people changed. I agree with the SSPX in at least that much. The teaching changed.

So, speaking of schisms and all.... You don't have to agree with everything she says of course, but it may be more accurate to think of Christianity as a form of Judaism, not a replacement of it. In the grand eschatalogical scheme, we will be united.

Re-evaluating the “Old Perspective on Paul.” St. Paul in his Jewish Context. Understanding Christianity as an Extreme Form of Judaism

Click on the image...

One of the most important aspects of Fredriksen's work, in my opinion, is that she increases our knowledge of Second Temple Judaism (and therefore, the historical Jesus and his disciples), by pointing out that ritual impurity had no moral aspect to it. Ritual impurity (as opposed to moral impurity), was not considered the same thing as sin. It makes you see the Gospels a bit differently when you become aware of that.

Here is a series of lectures she conducted at Princeton in October 2007, "Sin: The Early History of an Idea”

Professor at Boston University, Wellesley College grad, mother of a teenager and Red Sox fan, I find her engaging to listen to. She has a new book out, 'Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism.

Here are the video lectures in Realplayer format. Go here and look in October 2007 to find them in Windows Media format.

"God, Blood, and the Temple"

"Flesh and the Devil"

"A Rivalry of Genius"

From one of her books:

We know much more about ancient Jewish laws regulating purity than we do pagan ones, because the Jewish laws are still published: Their establishment, together with the correct protocol for offerings, constitutes much of the matter between God and Moses in the opening books of the Bible. The biblical narrative specifies purity as a condition for a person's approaching the Divine Presence - in the language of the story, appearing before the tent of meeting; in Jesus' period, going to the Temple. Impurity in this context is an actual, objective, usually temporary state. It might be incurred through certain natural (and often involuntary) bodily processes, such as ejaculation, menstruation, childbirth or miscarriage, or various genital discharges. Certain defiling substances or objects-human corpses especially; also scale disease (the biblical "leprosy," which could afflict clothing, houses, and furniture as well as persons); the bodies of some animals-could convey their impurity through contact or even proximity.

Scripture assumes that everybody at some point would be in such a condition some of the time-it was virtually unavoidable-and most people were in such a condition most of the time. But Scripture also prescribed the means to remove impurity. A system of "wash-and-wait"- immersion and observing a liminal time period (until sunset; seven days; forty days: it varied, depending on the case)-cleansed most impurities…

The evangelists' position as regards the Temple, then, is closer to ours, despite the nineteen centuries that intervene between us, than to that of those generations who immediately precede them. They, like us, know something that none of the historical figures about whom they wrote could have known: that is, that Jerusalem's Temple was no more…

Whatever the traditions they inherited about Jesus and Jerusalem, they received them in a period with a much-altered religious reality: the cult mandated by God to the Jewish people, whose details stretched through four of the first five books of Scripture, whose performance had been the particular responsibility of the Jerusalem priesthood, and whose manner of execution had fueled the wars of interpretation and the vigorous sectarianism of the late Second Temple period, had ceased to exist. Inherited sayings and stories about Jesus and the Temple, or about Jesus and the laws of purity concerning the Temple, or about Jesus and those groups whose piety focused especially on the Temple, accordingly acquired a dimension added by the evangelists' own, post-70 perspective: Jesus spoke about and interacted with an institution and its religious authorities that had vanished. How could he not have known what would so shortly happen? What could God have meant by permitting such a massive destruction? The evangelists' efforts to respond to these questions intimately affected their retelling of tradition.

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