Judaism at the time of Paul
Yesterday I bought Paul by Bornkamm at the library book sale.
I got 5 books and the funniest part was that 3 of them were about the apostle Paul. I guess they have served their time at the public library! Here is an interesting quote from the opening pages:
“Temples were still erected for the old gods, priest continued to serve and sacrifice to be offered, but these were obsolete; and the myths about the gods were a spent force, no longer capable of satisfying the individual’s longing fr protection and blessing, salvation and redemption, in this world and the next. Everywhere a process was afoot of syncretizing the old religions with new ones streaming in especially from the east, and the odder and vaguer these were, the greater their attraction. A whole host of mystery cults and doctrines of salvation poised eternal salvation and deliverance from the powers of fate and death. But this was also te time when there was a radical rationalistic criticism of the various religions, which, in the shape of diverse philosophies reaching even the man in the street, strove fora spiritualization of religion and therefore looked down on the rival miracle-workers and alleged purveyors of salvations bustling about in the market place.
“This is the background against which we have to view Judaism with all its differences and strangeness, its belief in the one, invisible God, Lord of heaven and earth, the rigor of its law, its ethical and ritual commandments (observance of the Sabbath, the dietary laws, etc.), its uniform way of life throughout the whole world, the venerable antiquity of its history, its call to turn away from all idolatry and moral confusion, and its proclamation of the judgment about to overtake the impenitent and of the peace and righteousness which the Messiah, soon to come, would bring in his train.” – p.7
It kind of boggles my mind to realize that people were attracted to the rule of law and the moral standards of Judaism. On the other hand, when I think of the spiritual anarchy that would come from being MUCH more diverse and multi-cultural, I can see the draw of moral standards. We are pretty mono-cultural in the United States, as much as we like to think we are a melting pot. Imagine if every state were a sovereign nation with its own language, laws, customs, and religions? That is more like the world around 20 A.D. Traders would pass through from all different nations because they could all travel by land from one nation to another. You put a 10,000 mile-wide moat around a nation and you really close it off. Considering that the god of the Jews is the one true god who wrote His name on the heart & soul of all mankind, it makes sense that people would be drawn to Him wherever the message went.
The other part that surprised me is that Judaism had been made portable. I didn’t realize this either, but I can’t help but have a little conservative/fundamentalist sadness that Judaism had made this turn:
“To all intents and purposes, the temple had been superseded by the synagogue, sacrifice by the exposition of the Torah, and the priests by the scribes and lawyers.” – p.8