Types of Authority in Formative Christianity and Judaism

By Bruce Chilton; Jacob Neusner | Go to book overview

3

WHAT ENDED WITH PROPHECY, AND WHAT HAPPENED THEN IN RABBINIC JUDAISM

Charismatic authority—authority by reason of the gifts of the spirit —takes many forms. But for any Judaism, charisma attests to one basis for demanding conformity: God’s will expressed in the word of a holy person, and holiness would be validated by supernatural attestation. Hence, for a Judaism, the model of charismatic authority coincided with the model of political authority, namely, the person of Moses, ruler and prophet at once. And what made Moses charismatic was his supernatural gifts, on the one side, and the repeated allegation that the laws that he set forth in the Torah were dictated to him at Mount Sinai by God: “The Lord spoke to Moses saying, speak to the children of Israel and say to them…” forming the definitive statement of matters. Not only so, but a long line of prophets from Moses forward likewise spoke in God’s name and on that basis demanded that people obey their instructions.

Rabbinic Judaism, however, explicitly rejected charismatic authority in the prophetic mode, and some have therefore supposed that Rabbinic Judaism also denied the possibility of an authority based not upon politics, such as we noted in Chapter 1, or upon persuasion and the coercion of strong argument, such as we shall consider in Chapter 5. Charisma, it has been held, disrupts what is routine and orderly, and a religion based on norms of behavior as much as of belief, such as Rabbinic Judaism, cannot find a place for something so irregular as the workings of the spirit, or, in concrete terms, charismatic authority. But rather than surmise, we do better to examine the facts of the matter: exactly how does Rabbinic Judaism define the place for spiritual, as distinct from institutional or intellectual, authority?

For Rabbinic Judaism—the Judaic system portrayed for us in the

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