Date: Sat, 7 Feb 1998 13:07:01 -0500 From: firstname.lastname@example.org To: "Mahlon H. Smith"Click here to go one level up in the directory.
Cc: email@example.com Subject: Hebrews and the Hellenists Dear Mahlon, I have not forgotten about our recent very interesting discussion about the Hellenistic deacons. In fact, I've asked about this subject on the Acts-L, and Mikeal Parsons, a member of that list, recommended to me the following book by Hill. This book I, in turn, can recommend to anyone, since it seems like a solid piece of scholarship. So here's a sort of a review I've written about it. I hope you enjoy it. I'll be grateful for any corrections or criticism from you or other listmembers. Hill seems to accept that the ordination of the 7 deacons was historical. Best wishes, Yuri. THE 12 APOSTLES AND THE 7 DEACONS: Ferdinand Baur, and the tangled tales of the Book of Acts --------------------------------------- by Yuri Kuchinsky Craig C. Hill, HELLENISTS AND HEBREWS: REAPPRAISING DIVISIONS WITHIN THE EARLIEST CHURCH, 1992, Fortress. Hill's book, based on his Oxford dissertation under E. P. Sanders, deals with what is and is not historical in the Book of Acts. While it is a general trend in NT scholarship to see the Acts as containing much unhistorical material that is pretty obviously a creation of Luke, and to privilege the Epistles of Paul in preference to Acts as the historical source, still many scholars believe that _there are_ some valid historical materials in Acts. Thus, it is believed that Luke, in composing the Acts, used certain quite reliable earlier historical sources. In particular, this applies to how the Acts describe the developments in the early Jerusalem Jesus movement, and to certain tensions that occurred there between the original Aramaic speaking followers of Jesus, and the Greek speaking Jewish believers, known also as the Hellenists. Also, these reliable sources of Acts seem to provide some highly valuable details about one important historical question, namely, How exactly did the early Christian faith first spread outside of Israel to Syria, and to other Greek-speaking areas of the Roman Empire. In this area, the Acts seems to provide an important correction to the picture we may derive from the Epistles of Paul, especially in regard to Paul's own role in all this. Hill's book on the whole is a very credible effort, and a valuable contribution to the debate in this area. The thesis that there was a clear division within the early church between the Hebrews and the Hellenists was first formulated by the Tubingen scholar Ferdinand Baur back in 1831. As Hill notes, Baur's thesis became very influential, and it still seems to be generally accepted by the scholars working in this area today. In his book, Hill provides an impressive overview of all the scholarship in this area. In his time, Baur suggested that the earliest split within the Church was the one that separated the Hellenistic (Greek speaking) followers of Jesus, of whom Stephen was the most prominent, from the more "conservative" Aramaic-speaking group of the earliest followers in Jerusalem. Thus, the ordination of the 7 deacons in Jerusalem, as described all too fragmentarily in the Book of Acts (Acts 6:1-7), was an expression of those tensions. Stephen's martyrdom soon followed, and then came the expulsion of the Hellenists from Jerusalem (these developments are also discernable in certain passages in the Acts). Thus the message of Jesus was spread for the first time to the Jewish diaspora, especially to Antioch, and also, thereby, this message was then preached for the first time to the Gentiles. And so, the Jewish/Gentile barrier was crossed for the first time. Hill's stated purpose is to provide, in his book, a corrective to these very influential and widely accepted views of Baur, and he is conscious that the opinion he is proposing is pretty well a minority one. Baur's reconstruction of the early church ... elicited an extraordinary response; indeed, it may be said that through it Baur succeeded in setting the agenda for much of subsequent New Testament scholarship. (p. 8) Hill provides a long list of modern scholars strongly influenced by Baur. And in particular, Hill argues extensively against Hengel, Baur's one quite prominent modern follower. Without question, the most influential contemporary advocate of a view of the Hellenists consistent with that of F. C. Baur is Martin Hengel. (p. 15) Hill makes many good points against Hengel, who clearly needs some correction. (Hengel now has a new book that came out after Hill's book was published, AUTHOR: Hengel, Martin. TITLE: Paul between Damascus and Antioch : the unknown years / Martin Hengel and Anna Maria Schwemer. PUBLISHED: London : SCM Press, 1997. But the views of Hengel did not change substantially, I believe, from what he published before.) In particular, one serious problem with Hengel's theories is that he defends the accounts in Acts portraying Paul as active in Jerusalem early on in persecuting the Church. While Hengel tends to accept these as historically reliable (pp. 34-5 in Hill), Hill, to his credit, doesn't. As Hill says, this picture contradicts rather strongly with what Paul himself wrote in his Epistle to the Galatians. I am inclined to agree with those who see in Gal 1:22 an insurmountable obstacle to the belief that Paul persecuted the church in Jerusalem. (p. 29, n. 41) But when all is said and done, the larger thesis of Hill, in so far as it is negative and anti-Baur, may seem somewhat problematic. This is what Hill seems to argue against in his book, The prevailing interpretation of Acts 6:1-8:4 holds that the Hellenists and Hebrews were separate, ideologically based parties within the earliest Jerusalem church. (p. 3) Hill disagrees rather strongly with the above. He thinks the two parties in Jerusalem were not so different ideologically after all. Well, he may be right here up to a point. But the danger in rejecting Baur's thesis too strongly is that, if we do so, we may be left without any means to solve certain tantalizing mysteries in regard to historical and doctrinal development within the early movement. (I will come back to these questions later on.) This danger is the proverbial danger in possibly throwing out the theoretical baby together with the bathwater in which it was bathed. Indeed, the fact, continuously pointed at by Hill, that there was much diversity in the early Church should not be taken to mean that there were no conflicts within the early Church! Sometimes Hill may seem to be neglecting this rather obvious consideration... In any case, the positive argument of Hill's book is this, The primary thesis of this book is that the complex or pluralistic perspective is as true to early Jewish Christianity as it is to first-century Judaism generally. This is the positive counterpoint to the negative argument made concerning the inadequacy of the Hellenist-Hebrew dichotomy. ... Put simply, the situation was complicated -- much more so than previous scholarly constructions would lead us to believe. (p. 4) Well, this makes sense to me on the whole. True, recently there's been a lot more awareness about the complexity of the religious situation in Israel in the first century CE. I agree that, especially since the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the scholars should no longer be talking about "the early conflicts between Judaism and Christianity", but rather they should really be considering various Judaisms that existed at that time over against a variety of Christianities existing then. Baur's thesis indeed was somewhat simplistic in this regard. It needs to be said that, to his credit as an objective scholar that he appears to be, Hill seems to accept broadly a number of important points Baur was making in his time. In particular, Hill accepts that the Hellenists _were_ important in the first opening up of the Church towards the Gentiles, That the mission to the Gentiles should have begun and found its focus in Antioch does not contradict the thesis of this book. After all, whom else would we expect to evangelize the Gentiles if not those who lived as their neighbours and spoke their language? That the mission to the Gentiles was a bold step cannot be denied. (p. 106) So, in trying to provide a corrective to Baur, Hill does accept quite a lot of what Baur, Hengel, and others have to offer. Hill's critique focuses mostly on the finer details of these ideas, trying to emend them rather than to reject them. Thus, Hill accepts that the 7 deacons were probably ordained, The event it [the text of Acts 6:1-7] records is (as I shall argue below) historically probable. Moreover, the account supplies us with sufficient independent information to be considered credible -- or, at least, to deserve the benefit of the doubt. (p. 26) So Hill accepts that Luke, the author of Acts, may have been working with some valid historical sources in composing his narrative of these events. In general, I tend to agree with a lot of what Hill is saying in his book. Yes, there was a lot of pluralism in first century Israel, and, yes, the ideological opposition between the Hebrews and the Hellenists may have been rather overdrawn by many scholars, especially in the past. Yet I also believe we should be able to accept much of what is valid in Baur, as Hill actually does, without also having to accept his perhaps too black-and-white dichotomy that he perceived in the earliest movement. In other words, to argue for what is valid in Baur does not at all mean, contra Hill, that one should also be arguing for the sharp ideological distinctiveness between the Hebrews and the Hellenists. Where Hill may be weak is in his not being attentive to the fact that _there were_ some differences there. And here, some general background will be useful. Generally it is believed that Jesus, himself, preached his message only to the Jews. The earliest movement was entirely a Jewish movement. At some point, the Gentiles were included in the movement. When, and in what circumstances did this happen? This is one important question where Baur's work is very helpful in being able to provide some answers. Our NT narratives, Mk the earliest among them, create the impression that the opening to the Gentiles was accomplished by Jesus himself. This should hardly be accepted as historical. It is more reasonable to suppose that this opening took place some time post-Easter (and as we have seen above, Hill accepts that this may have happened in Antioch). And another background matter also needs to be clarified. Namely, was the message of Jesus spread privately or publicly? This is not really such a simple question. Certainly, that Jesus himself was preaching in public, at least from time to time, is likely. How else should he have been crucified? But it also seems very likely that, post-Easter, his followers did not preach his message publicly at first, at least not in Jerusalem. For one thing, quite naturally, they would have been rather afraid to do this. Their proselytizing could have only been private at the early stage, or so it seems. (This happens to be the view of the French biblical scholar Alfred Loisy who worked early in this century.) But, also, at some point, the message _was_ proclaimed publicly. And Stephen was likely to have been the first to do it. Loisy thinks it was Stephen and his followers who were bold and enthusiastic enough to go beyond private proselytizing, and to tell the world openly the Good News that they felt the need to spread about. Hill neglects to deal with this important distinction between public and private proselytizing in his book. To summarize, two important questions need to be asked by any scholar interested in finding the historical truth in this area. 1. Whose idea was it originally to include the Gentiles into the movement, i.e. to open up the Church to the Gentiles? The Hellenists must have played a very big role here, and Hill actually accepts this. Certain relaxations around the Torah observance accompanied this development, most likely. 2. Who was the first to preach the message of Jesus openly rather than privately post-Easter, especially in Jerusalem? It was most likely Stephen and his Jewish Hellenistic followers, the seven deacons. That Stephen is named in the Acts at the head of the list of these deacons is significant. That Stephen was martyred primarily as a result of these developments seems to be pretty clear. And so, contra Hill, the tension between the Hebrews and the Hellenists must have been quite important in any case, and should not be overlooked. Hill also devotes a considerable portion of his book to the analysis of what happened after the Hellenists were expelled from Jerusalem. The beginning of the Jesus movement in Antioch must have followed soon after, and Hill accepts such a sequence of events. But in this regard, the role of Paul must be considered anew. Paul, of course, seems to declare himself quite unambiguously in his Epistles as the "Apostle to the Gentiles". But how did he get to be the Apostle to the Gentiles? And what did this term mean at the time, in any case? In this area, Hill's analysis is also pretty solid. His reconstruction of the Pauline chronology seems well based. The general conclusion that one may reach from all these considerations is that Paul was not really the Apostle to the Gentiles, at least not early in his career, certainly. In the beginning of his career he was clearly a junior member of the church in Antioch. And this church was almost certainly under the leadership of Barnabas for many years. (Hill seems to think that Barnabas was on the whole on good terms with Jerusalem.) So it is clear that Barnabas was the earliest Apostle to the Gentiles, if there indeed was any such one Apostle. How exactly had Paul managed to claim this exalted title for himself would be very interesting to look into. But this, naturally, will raise a related question, Whether or not he really did so in his life-time? Or was this title perhaps attributed to him posthumously by his later followers, who also may have added a few key passages here and there to his Epistles? Nevertheless, all this is already beyond the scope of the present essay. Best wishes to all, Yuri. Yuri Kuchinsky | "Where there is the Tree of Knowledge, there -=- | is always Paradise: so say the most ancient in Toronto | and the most modern serpents." F. Nietzsche -=-=- http://www.io.org/~yuku -=-=-