Paul, Monotheism and the People of God: The Significance of Abraham Traditions for Early Judaism and Christianity

By Nanos, Mark D. | Journal of Biblical Literature, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

Paul, Monotheism and the People of God: The Significance of Abraham Traditions for Early Judaism and Christianity


Nanos, Mark D., Journal of Biblical Literature


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, 2005. Pp. riv + 173. $115.00 (hardcover). ISBN 0567083780.

This investigation of the figure of Abraham in early Jewish and Pauline texts represents a revised version of the author's 1993 dissertation at the University of Sheffield, supervised by Philip R. Davies and Andrew T. Lincoln. In traditional form, the first 60 percent of the research surveys Jewish texts, and the balance applies the conclusions to the interpretation of texts from Paul. The investigation of Jewish texts includes chapters devoted to Jubilees, several writings by Philo, Pseudo-Philo's Biblical Antiquities, Josephus's Antiquities of the Jews, and the Apocalypse of Abraham. The Pauline texts studied are Galatians and Romans, and the book closes with a brief conclusion. The price per page for this volume is remarkable.

Nancy Calvert-Koyzis uses "monotheism" to denote "the doctrine or belief that there is only one God." She cites Larry Hurtado for this language decision and otherwise eschews discussion of the current debates about the appropriateness of the terminology and concepts associated with this language. One of the results of this decision is that she begins from Paul's "redefinition of monotheism and thereby Abraham" (pp. 3-5, italics added), instead of considering a redefinition of the contemporary scholar's taxonomy and conceptualization of belief in the one God for Paul and other Jews of his period.

Calvert-Koyzis sets out to show that Jewish traditions built around Abraham's rejection of idolatry and turning to faith in the one God provide the basis for understanding Paul's arguments as well as the matters at issue in the communities to which he writes. Rabbinic texts are not discussed, because Calvert-Koyzis wants to work with traditions she can be reasonably certain were active for Paul. Moreover, she undertakes to understand these texts "from the standpoint of Jewish concerns rather than from the standpoint of Pauline categories" (p. 4).

The endeavor to listen to Jewish texts "in their own right" is to be applauded, of course, although one notes here that this introductory language is set already in contrast to "Pauline categories." Does this language not reveal a working assumption that adumbrates a traditional portrait of the "Christian" Paul of later "Paulinism" with which she will work? From the start can one know that Paul's categories are not shaped by Jewish concerns, in contrast to the other (Jewish) writings she explores? After all, are not the "Pauline" categories to which Calvert-Koyzis refers the product of later (non-Jewish) Christian traditions, which themselves should be subject to criticism, rather than fixed in the traditional ways they have been approached by interpreters? Should not the texts of Paul also be listened to "in their own right," and not first (and only) in later Christian, bifurcated categories? Should one not at least hypothesize that the Jewish arguments about Abraham and the one God upon which Paul depends might arise because of Jewish concerns that still guide him and his communities? Could they be his and their own, and not simply arise in order to address the categories and concerns he is (supposedly) forced to deal with-and thus to seek to subvert-because they are essential to his supposed Jewish opponents' arguments?

What Calvert-Koyzis finds in the Jewish texts is that Abraham is the ideal example of a person who forsakes idolatry for faith in the one God, exemplified by obedience to the Mosaic legislation. She discusses the way the figure of Abraham is shaped and used by the various authors to express each one's rhetorical concerns. In Jubilees, Abraham is the ideal Jew, worshiping the Creator God, willing to destroy idols at the risk of losing his life. He is the one who remains faithful to God in the midst of the surrounding Gen tile idolaters, even in the midst of other Jews who compromise faith and Torah observance. …

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