Thursday, June 2, 2011

Seth Schwartz on Gospel Communities

But to conclude [along with Neusner] that we must assume the falsity of attributions [in rabbinic literature], that therefore (?) the documents are essentially pseudepigraphic and can be assumed to provide evidence only for the interests of their redactors, is in fact no longer a skeptical but a positivist position and is less plausible than the one it replaced.


Here Neusner, along with many other scholars of ancient Judaism, was influenced by an important tendency in New Testament scholarship, though he applied its methods in an uncompromising way. It is not uncommon among New Testament scholars to posit a discrete social context to serve as a hermeneutical framework in which to set each Gospel. This method has an element of circularity to it, since the hypothetical context is inferred mainly from the Gospel itself, but it is not unilluminating. However, scholars are frequently seduced by their own creations: the hermeneutical models are reified into real communities, which are supposed to have existed more or less in isolation from each other, so that each literary work is approached as if it here the hypostasis of a single monadic community. When the same technique is applied to Jewish literature of the Second Temple and rabbinic periods, the result is "Judaisms," a term introduced by Neusner and widely adopted. Once again, what started as interpretive restraint ended in implausible positivism: because it is advisable to read the literary works on their own, even though they obviously have close relatives (and because their social context is on the whole poorly known), each work begins to seem utterly different from its congeners and so must be the product of an impermeably discrete social organization.

Imperialism and Jewish Society, 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 8-9. Emphasis added.

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