Review: Paul and the Early Jewish Encounter with Deuteronomy

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In Lincicum’s revised Oxford dissertation, we have what the author calls a ‘study of the study of Deuteronomy (p12) which is meant to place the Apostle Paul well with in interpretative methods commonly employed by various groups of Second Temple Judaism, and even some afterwards. Lincicum introduces his audience to the fact that many commentators throughout the centuries have sought to contextualize Deuteronomy for their own present need, which testifies to the greatness of the document.

The work is divided into two parts, with nine chapters. The first chapter serves as the introduction which is neatly wrapped up, especially with the discussion of icons which present Paul as the anti-Jew, in the concluding chapter of the book. This first chapter sets out the perimeters of study, which ranges from the third century BCE to the third century CE and is replete with many Jewish documents and sources, such as various scrolls from the Dead Sea, Josephus and even Philo. Here, he is concerned with Deuteronomy’s effective history (p10) which he postulates as when completed, will redress various issues with Paul’s use of Deuteronomy. Part of this effective history are the authors, some of them just noted, which Lincicum notes sees themselves as part of Israel (p11), as even the Apostle Paul does. It might have been more stressed by our author this point, especially in the beginning, although throughout the book, this motif of the interpreter(s) of Deuteronomy receiving the text for themselves is easily made. This introduction ends with Lincicum’s reminder that this work will enable us to ‘see Paul as one member in this chain of tradition’ and ‘thus enables us to view Paul as a Jewish reader of Deuteronomy’ which ‘casts light on the Jewish reception of Deuteronomy. (p16). He suggests (in chapter 2) that Paul, with his background and education’ would have patterned his engagement with the Book of Deuteronomy alongside the Jewish liturgical praxis. (p21). As the work moves alone, it is important to remember the deep connection between Paul and the Jewish communities of his day.

Chapter 2 places the audience in the ancient synagogue as Deuteronomy was developed into a liturgical text. This is important to understand as it was from this daily practice which Lincicum suggests Paul gains his interpretative understanding of the book. The author brings out several important, cross-study, facts, namely that Deuteronomy survives almost unchanged in the Septuagint, and that it was received widely in the liturgical formula from which Paul was able to memorize it (p49). This is noteworthy, and easily supported, as early manuscripts include ‘various markers for sense-division.’ (p27). Why is this important? Just as today, with verses and chapters, interpreters sometimes fall into the trap of interpreting only groups of statements assigned a passage status by another, either in printing or in liturgical drama. Further, as Lincicum points out, Deuteronomy was widely distributed in written forms, in various sects, which highlights the importance of the document in Second Temple Judaism. Lincicum notes that Deuteronomy, as opposed to Exodus (regarding the Decalogue), presents a majority of textual evidence for the use of the book, even at Qumran (p46-46). This evidence shows that Deuteronomy was well studied, memorized, and used as a liturgical text during Paul’s day, something he would have been a party too (p51, cf. p57)

Chapters three through five deal with the reception of Deuteronomy at Qumran, in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, and finally in the words of Philo of Alexandria. This is, with the exclusion of his work on Paul, among the most versatile and interesting. He covers a wide swatch of literary and socio-religious ground with the works he has selected. His strong points here surround his rather weak assessment of Deuteronomy in the Apocrypha. Further, he leaves out the Psalms of Solomon which as a work in close proximity to Paul should have been examined, even above that of Philo.

Lincicum has several positive statements which must be highlighted and remembered, especially as the reader approaches Paul, such as the use of Deuteronomy as a means to or from the Covenant (p68) at Qumran along with the writers of the Temple Scroll which places Deuteronomy into the first person (p70, cf p72-73; on page 74, Lincicum calls this process of the ‘representation of Deuteronomy’ as a ‘presentification of it.’ This allows the interpreter, such as Paul, to actualize the work to the demands of the present day.). As he often does throughout his work, he makes his grounding support well known and shows his familiarity with the source material, often times offering his own interpretations along the way. This portion of the work, sometimes hinted at by Lincicum is of a very real importance, namely that the (then-)current interpreter is allowed to take the Book of Deuteronomy and make the conditions of it present to them, and to respond to their needs, something which many have singled Paul (and other New Testament writers) out for doing, calling it an error; Lincicum shows that Paul was not alone in his interpretative style, and the reverse of the critics’ charges are instead true – that Paul was well within the Jewish tradition when he interpreted Deuteronomy through the lens of Christ. Lincicum points out that for those at Qumran (and Paul), Deuteronomy was able to be contextualized so easily because it was seen functioning as a ‘sort of historiographical eschatology’(p77). Those at Qumran, and Paul, were simply applying Deuteronomy as they saw fit, because that was how it was supposed to be based on the suggestiveness of the text (p83).

As I said earlier, the weakest point of his work is chapter 4, regarding Deuteronomy in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. While there is no doubt an influence of Deuteronomy in some of these works and letters (p86), Lincicum has a rather difficult time pointing them out. Be briefly skims Jubilees, II Maccabees, Pseudo-Philo (who’s inclusion, in my opinion, only serves to show Lincicum’s weakness in assembling texts for this portion of his work), Tobit, Baruch, and the Testament of Moses. Only the last work can the presence of Deuteronomy, unquestionably, be ascertained, but as these works are not truly interpretative, I find it rather difficult to accept some of the statements made in chapter four as pertaining to the whole of the work, especially Paul’s influence. While such works from Paul’s community, such as the Maccabees and the Psalms of Solomon may have yielded further clues and/or evidences to support Lincicum’s thesis, much of these text can simply be left out, of if the author is to inclined, strengthened considerably. I say this based on the fast that those at Qumran, Philo and the author(s) of the Psalms of Solomon were interpreting their present situation through the lens of Deuteronomy or at least offering modern interpretations of Dueteronomy, instead of, as many of these other books, merely offering clue of intertextuality by uninspired authors.

While not as strong as chapter three, chapter five offers a contemporary view (contemporary of Paul) of the way Deuteronomy was interpreted. He begins the chapter by restoring Philo into Israel’s interpretative history and showing that the ancient philosopher cannot so easily be termed ‘disinterested’ (p100). He easily explores Philo’s use of Deuteronomy, but more than that, how he perhaps saw Deuteronomy (p103). This is extremely important as the examination of Paul as a Jewish exegete nears. Lincicum notes that Deuteronomy was sometimes read in a literal sense (uncharacteristic of the philosopher) and was something that Philo admired (p109). In closing this chapter, Lincicum notes that ‘Philo has an overwhelming conviction that the biblical text speaks to his present concerns, and so he performs sometimes elaborate acts of correlation in order to bring that relevance to bear in specific situations’ (p116).

Chapter 6 is the core unit of Lincicum’s work, the one which deals exclusively with Paul’s reception of Deuteronomy. It revolves around three issues with Deuteronomy – Deuteronomy as Ethical Authority (6.3); Deuteronomy as Theological Authority (6.4); and Deuteronomy as the Lens of Israel’s History (6.5). Lincicum writes, “After long years of reciting, praying, memorizing, debating, teaching, and ordering his life in conformity with its precepts, Paul the Pharisee had an unexpected hermeneutical irruption in his understanding of Deuteronomy” (p117). Through these three sections, Lincicum is able to, what we hope, is once and for all secure Paul’s place well within traditional Jewish interpretation. The causes of Paul’s ‘hermeneutical irruption’ is not of scholarly concern at the moment, as Paul’s change in course is beyond the realms of the scientific method; however, Lincicum notes that Paul’s change of course is due to a visionary encounter with the resurrected Jesus, ‘whom he then recognized as Lord and Christ.’ At this moment, Paul’s Judiasm didn’t cease nor his use of all of his litgurical learning, meditations and daily study of the Holy Writings. Paul, instead, was a Jew who read the Book of Deuteronomy like others Jews and became a Jew who, like other Jews, read the Book of Deuteronomy but after this moment would read it through the prism of Christ. This ‘emphatically public book’ (p56) was about to be used to secure a new community which served one master (p117).

Lincicum states that Paul saw Deuteronomy as a ‘written authority with a voice whose relevance to the present situation is granted’ (p118). Very true. Paul was not one to cast Scripture as something long forgotten but used Scripture to show that what was currently happening (albeit usually in Christ) was exactly what Scripture was talking about it. (We note, of course, Matthew’s use of Scripture as well as 1st Peter 1, where both authors noted that while the ancient writers wrote, they wrote, in reality, for the here and now.) In this, as Lincicum notes, Richard Hayes has played a large role in helping to bring to light Paul’s masterful use of Scripture (echo, allusion and quote, of course). It wasn’t just a use of Scripture for Paul, but equally a respect of it. It was this use and respect of Scripture which Paul was able to carry over to his use of Deuteronomy. Throughout this chapter, as one should hope with a (revised) doctoral thesis the preceding explorations of literature are used to show that Paul was not doing anything new with Deuteronomy but was following along with his contemporaries in contextualing the book for the present demands of Paul’s Israel.

In sometimes startling language Lincicum is able to show the proper place of Deuteronomy in Paul’s interpretative life, such as a biblical corrector to Leviticus, “…the fact that Paul twice appears to use Deuteronomy to correct Leviticus in its view of the Law (Gal 3.10; Rom. 10.5-8)” (p126). (cf Lincicum’s statements on the Pauline contrast between Leviticus and Deuteronomy in Romans, p154-155) The reader is forced to examine the differences (which were not fully explored in this work, and indeed, this work is not the place for such examinations) between Deuteronomy and Leviticus or Exodus. It is not merely the codified rise of monotheism (p138-140 for the Pauline response to the Shema) which we receive from Deuteronomy but so too a different genesis of the Decalogue (p127). Of course, where Deuteronomy can be seen to correct Leviticus or Exodus, it may be said that Paul corrects Deuteronomy in usurping its literal context for the new understanding in Christ (cf 129-136 for discussions on execution, vengeance and muzzling the ox. For seeing Christ as the word of Deuteronomy, cf p157)

In dealing with a subject sensitive to theological leanings, Lincicum offers up a short section on Paul’s use of the Law in Deuteronomy 27.26, another moment in which Paul, following along with other Jewish interpreters, offers his own new context. Here, Paul alters the quote to extend the original meaning to the book of the law which allows the curse of the law not to be the Law itself but against those who disobey it (p144). This is seen, according to Lincicum, through the lens of Israel’s history, something he notes Paul would have found lacking. The curse was applied to Israel because the people had forsaken the Law and goes from there to tackle the Judaizers in Galatians, ending with the author’s own axiom that ‘Scripture and gospel are mutually interpretive’ (p145). Further, and in a note, Lincicum calls attention to Paul’s allowance of contradiction in Scripture by quoting Martyn who wrote that for Paul, “The voice of God and the vice of the Law are by no means the same. It was the voice of the Law, not God that pronounced a curse upon the crucified one.” (cf147)

He closes the chapter on Paul with these words, admonishing us to understand that Paul is reading Deuteronomy backwards, through the lens of Christ. “First, and perhaps most clearly, Paul reads Deuteronomy retrospectively from the standpoint of an apostle of Christ to the nations” (p167). He moves on to suggest that the second sense is to read Deuteronomy as the community expressed in the final chapters of Deuteronomy and from there, to engage the ethical requirements of the book (p168). Without understanding these lens, and while we may even get it right that Paul was another Jewish interpreter, we would fail miserably at understanding Paul’s intention of understanding Deuteronomy though the eyes of the Apostle. Paul, as Lincicum reminds us, is set well within the Jewish chain of interpreting Deuteronomy. The author’s work is a powerful reminder of that, and one which should help to end the examination of Paul aside from Second Temple Judaism.

Chapters seven and eight deal with Josephus and later interpretations offered by the Sifre and the Targums and ending with the conclusion. Examining Josephus for a relationship to the New Testament has become a (much needed) stable for New Testament scholarship, critical and lay alike. Lincicum’s brief examination here shows that Josephus treats Deuteronomy to the same propagandist flair as he does with much of history (p176, 178). Equally, it shows that Deuteronomy was of a great value even after the cataclysm of Paul and the beginning of the Christian Church.  Less of a staple is the Sifre and Targums, but Lincicum does the exploration well enough, although after the examination of Paul, much of this chapter seems to be a simple case of needed inclusionary material. What Lincicum does reveal, however, is the Deuteronomy continued to be important and contextualized in Judaism as both religions found their separation from one another to be widening and ever more permanent. In the conclusion, Lincicum draws together his material, calling attention again to just how important Deuteronomy was throughout the interpretative traditions, include Paul. This ‘catholic text’ (p193)  indeed spans time and interpretative space, and allows for itself to be contextualized to fit the demands of the present, perhaps a testimony to the genius of rhetorical skill (Deuteronomy is primarily a spoken word, liturgical text, missing the stories of Exodus and the rest of the Torah) behind the book (cf 197-198 for the message which the book mediates).

This is an exceptional work. It combines the necessity of studying Deuteronomy, Jewish interpretation, and redressing the error of placing Paul outside the mainstream of Second Temple Judaism which has done a great disservice to the Apostle and hurt the relationship between Jews and Christians. Lincicum scholarship will be the starting point for continuous study, as well as it should be, on how Deuteronomy was used by the early Christians, which should draw together a better picture of when and where the ‘Christian Church’ started. What Lincicum does well is to maintain his trajectory, give credible evidence for his thesis, and to write in such a way that is neither boring nor mundane. His weaknesses aren’t exaggerated, but there are a few, such as the previously noted poor showing of examining the Apocrypha, but this is more than made up with his attention to detail and his steady building to the core unit. No one is surprised by Lincicum’s facts or conclusions, but overall, this must be a welcomed inclusion in further studies of Paul and his use of Scripture. While he has his weak points, notably the examination of the Apocrypha/Pseudepigrapha and the inclusion of the Sifre and the Targums, overall, the work is a solid piece of scholarly examination without biasness into the theological mind of Paul who was himself a Jew, who sought to interpret Deuteronomy and the eschatological hope which it gifted him, through the lens of Christ.

You can find Jim’s more noble, and better, review here.

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