Wednesday, September 26, 2007

First Century Judaism and Paul's Assemblies

At the end of August and beginning of September I was busy writing a scholarly paper about first-century life in Israel. It is a history paper, not a theology paper. Those who are interested can download it here.

The paper's abstract reads:
This paper is an introduction to the social contexts in which Paul traveled and established assemblies of followers of Yeshua. Specifically, it investigates the degree to which Paul deliberately invented the concept of a local "church" for followers of Yeshua.

To begin, Jewish synagogues and Paul's assemblies are described within their mutual context of first-century Roman voluntary associations. Then an overview of the Nazarene movement in which Paul operated and a discussion of Paul's use of Stoic philosophy will complete the picture of Paul's contexts and innovations. Overall, this paper will present a large number of facts and then beginning weaving them together into a coherent whole.

The main references used in this paper (the books repeatedly used and listed in the bibliography as well as the footnotes) are mostly "summary of current research" texts. Using this kind of book as a reference will allow readers wanting to learn more about an issue to jump directly into a well-informed discussion about the agreement and disagreement among scholars on that issue.

The communities that Paul established and/or wrote to called themselves an "assembly" (ekklesia), a word with no inherently religious meaning also used to refer to general assemblies of people . These assemblies were clearly not Jewish synagogues, pagan temples, nor typical Roman voluntary associations, for they were never called such or described as such by outsiders or their own members.

The word "church" is very anachronistic but still used by many scholars of first-century religion simply because Paul purposefully established the identity of these assemblies in a dramatically novel and effective blending of the roles of Jewish synagogue, pagan temple, and voluntary association. One scholar writes,

In a remarkable statement, Elias Bickerman declares that the Roman general Titus, by destroying the Temple and, in effect, putting an end to the sacrificial system, was the greatest religious reformer in history.

Paul, by carefully trying to create the institution we know today as the local church, also deserves consideration for being the "greatest religious reformer in history".

It is unfortunate that of all the apostles, Paul alone made an attempt to bring Nazarene practices into Gentile communities. By the end of the second century much of what Paul established had become increasingly neglected in Gentile communities. Since then few local churches have recovered all the roles Paul intended for that assembly.

1 comment:

Shamus said...

This is facinating stuff. I've only just started, but it fits beautifully with thinking I've been doing recently about how modern (gentile) churches operate.