Paul, Monotheism and the People of God: The Significance of Abraham Traditions for Early Judaism and Christianity
Howard, James M., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Paul, Monotheism and the People of God: The Significance of Abraham Traditions for Early Judaism and Christianity. By Nancy Calvert-Koyzis. JSNTSup 273. London: T & T Clark International, 2004, xiv + 173 pp., $115.00.
This book is an in-depth investigation into the OT character Abraham in early Judaism and the Pauline texts of Romans and Galatians. It is a revised 1993 doctoral dissertation originally submitted to the University of Sheffield, supervised by Philip R. Davies and Andrew T. Lincoln. Here, Calvert-Koyzis is particularly interested in how Paul "reworked traditions about Abraham in order to forge a new identity for the people of God in Christ" (p. 1). Her primary thesis is that Abraham's monotheistic view is foundationally significant for understanding Paul's arguments in Galatians and Romans and the corresponding debates faced by both of those communities.
After a brief, but helpful introduction, the remainder of the book is an investigation in how Jewish writers in general developed and employed Abraham as a model for Israel (chaps. 2 through 6) and how Paul specifically redefined monotheism and the example of Abraham to address the communities to whom he was writing (chaps. 7 and 8). Calvert-Koyzis finds in the Jewish literature that Abraham is consistently portrayed as the prototypical example of one who forsakes idolatry for belief in the one true God and who expresses this faith by obedience to the Mosaic Law.
The Jewish literature investigated includes writings from Jubilees, Philo, PseudoPhilo's Biblical Antiquities, Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews, and the Apocalypse of Abraham. These works (spanning approximately 168 BC to AD 100) were chosen because they provide the best examples of the portrayal of Abraham in Jewish literature contemporary with Paul. As such, the rabbinic literature has been excluded from the study.
In Jubilees, Abraham rejects idolatry for faith in the one God and adheres to the Law, including separation from the Gentiles. He thus serves as a prototype for Israel to adhere to a monotheistic faith and covenant obedience. In this way, Jubilees identifies the necessary boundaries for Israel's continued existence.
Philo similarly presents Abraham as one who rejects idolatry for monotheism and obedience to the Mosaic Law. In Philo, however, Abraham is viewed as a philosopher whose reasoning is expressed in the philosophical language of the day. Since Philo equates astrology with idolatry, Abraham's ability to discern God from nature and consequent embracing of monotheism make him a prototypical Gentile proselyte.
Biblical Antiquities presents Abraham as the first good leader. Drawing from the cycle of sin motif found in Judges, Biblical Antiquities assures the people of God that God will be faithful to provide a leader to deliver them. In this context, Abraham serves as one who stands against idolatry and continues to demonstrate steadfastness in his monotheistic faith. The implication is that the people should emulate Abraham and resist assimilation with the surrounding Gentile nations and their idolatrous practices, specifically with regard to the Romans who rule over them.
Josephus portrays Abraham as a monotheist in order to present Judaism well to the Hellenistic culture. As such, Abraham exemplifies a Hellenistic philosopher who proclaims monotheism by using astrology and popular philosophical proofs. His virtuous life is in keeping with the Jewish Law, which Josephus aligns with Hellenistic virtues, thus leading to a happy life. For Josephus, Abraham is the primary character that best exemplifies the most attractive features of Judaism.
Consistent with Jewish apocalypses, the Apocalypse of Abraham explores God's historic promises to the Jewish people and how they will be vindicated in the midst of current trouble, specifically in light of the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Within this context, Abraham is chosen to represent the faithful and becomes the true person of God. …