Dissertation Write-Ups: Circumcised Gentile Christians, Sabbath as Sanctuary, John’s High Christology

This is a Write-Up on things that I have read.  Some of them I finished a while back.  I am writing about them here to preserve a record of my reading.


For a while, I was reading dissertations, as a way to guide me in my own dissertation (i.e., on how to organize and articulate an argument).  Here are the ones that I read, along with my (hopefully accurate) summary:

A. “A Seal of Faith: Rereading Paul on Circumcision, Torah, and the Gentiles,” by Asha Moorthy (Columbia University, 2014).

Moorthy argues that Paul believed that Gentile Christians should be circumcised.  As Moorthy notes, this is an unconventional thesis, as many scholars debate about whether Paul thought that Jewish Christians should be circumcised, while assuming that he regarded Gentiles as exempt from circumcision.  According to Moorthy, Paul in Romans 4:11-12 depicts circumcision as a seal of Abraham’s faith and as a means by which Abraham became a spiritual father: of Jews, who were circumcised on the eighth day, and of Gentile Christians, who were circumcised later in life, as Abraham was.  Moorthy states that this may accord with what some Jews may have believed in Paul’s day, as they read Isaiah 52:1, Ezekiel 44:9, and the universalist passages near the end of Isaiah together to suggest that Gentiles would become circumcised in worshiping at God’s Temple.  Why, then, does Paul appear to be anti-circumcision?  Moorthy argues that Paul did not believe that people were justified and entered the people of God through circumcision, but rather through faith.  Faith and the life of faith were what Paul prioritized.  Paul contended against Jews who maintained that Gentiles needed to be circumcised to enter the people of God and become saved.  Some of these Jews promoted a more extreme version of circumcision than Paul recommended, periah, which removed all of the foreskin.  By contrast, Paul thought that Gentiles entered the people of God by faith and could become circumcised at a later point; this accorded with one of the Jewish perspectives on conversion that was out there.  Moorthy also speculates that Paul in Galatians was not criticizing Jewish festivals but rather those who mixed circumcision with astrology in an attempt to control the divine.  Moorthy offers her interpretations of New Testament passages that have been suggested to go against her thesis.  She also refers to interesting interpretations, such as one that states that Romans 1 is not about the sins of Gentiles but of all people, Jews and Gentiles, and another that holds that Paul regarded the Gentiles as descendants of the lost ten tribes of Israel.  That latter one may be one way to attempt to make sense of Paul’s interpretation of Hosea 1:9 in Romans 9:26, as Paul applies to Gentiles a passage that was originally about the Northern Israelites becoming God’s people.

B.  “Heavenly Sabbath, Heavenly Sanctuary: The Transformation of Priestly Sacred Space and Sacred Time in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice and the Epistle to the Hebrews,” by Jared C. Calaway (Columbia University, 2010).  See here to purchase the book that is based on the dissertation.

According to Calaway, scholars have recognized some relationship between sacred space and sacred time in parts of the Hebrew Bible, but they have fallen short of explaining what that relationship is.  For example, many scholars note parallels between P’s creation account and P’s story about the construction and completion of the Tabernacle.  In certain passages in H and the Book of Ezekiel, revering God’s Sabbath and sanctuary are conjoined.  Calaway argues that the Sabbath became a sort of sanctuary in time for the Jews in exile, since they were away from the physical sanctuary.  P, H, and Ezekiel reflect this.  They also reflect a theme in the Babylonian epic Enuma Elish of a god creating the cosmos and resting in a temple afterwards.  The association of sacred time with sacred space continues into the Second Temple period.  The “Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice,” a document that was at Qumran, encourages Jews to worship God on the Sabbath along with the angels in heaven; this continues a theme that is found in Jubilees, where angels celebrate the Sabbath.  Such a theme would have resonated with people in the Qumran community, who were away from the Temple of Jerusalem because they thought that it was corrupt.  While they were away from the Jerusalem Temple, they could worship with the angels every Sabbath.  The New Testament Epistle to the Hebrews depicts Christians as having access to the heavenly sanctuary and uses Sabbath imagery to describe their spiritual and eschatological rest.  Calaway agrees with the scholarly view that Hebrews was written after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., one reason being that Hebrews implies that its audience has become fatigued in waiting for Jesus’ return.  Consequently, Calaway argues that its perspective on sacred space and sacred time spoke to the time after the Jews had lost their Temple.  There were a couple of interesting interpretations that stood out to me in this dissertation.  First, Calaway said that Gentiles in Isaiah 56 can become part of God’s elect through Sabbath observance.  Second, Hebrews 1:2 has been interpreted to mean that God created the cosmos through the Son, but Calaway questions that interpretation.  Literally, the passage states that God made the ages (aionas) through the Son.  According to Calaway, that refers to Jesus inaugurating ages—-an age of access to the heavenly sanctuary, the age to come, and the end of the age.  This stood out to me on account of a discussion I had a while back with a Unitarian who denied Jesus’ pre-existence as a being.

C.  “John’s Apologetic Christology: Legitimation and Development in Johannine Christology,” by James Frank McGrath (Dunham University, 1998).  See here for the book that is based on the dissertation.

I did not go through this dissertation a second time before writing this summary, as I did with the others, so please pardon any mistakes on my part!  McGrath seeks to account for the high Christology in the Gospel of John, and he believes that it may have been a response to, or emphasized in response to, post-70 Judaism’s conflict with Christians.  The Gospel of John goes beyond treating Jesus as an embodiment or possessor of wisdom, which is in the synoptics, treating him instead as the incarnation of the Logos, a pre-existent being.  Jesus is the only one who has descended from heaven with revelation, as the Gospel of John repudiates any notion that Moses or Elijah ascended to heaven (John 3:13), as did some Jews.  At the same time, McGrath does not seem to interpret Jesus’ “I AM” statements in John’s Gospel as Jesus’ proclamation to be God, but rather as Jesus taking on himself the name of God and representing God, as an angel does in the Apocalypse of Abraham (see 10:8; 17:13).  What the Johannine Christians were saying about Jesus had some precedents within first century Judaism, but the controversy concerned whether such concepts should specifically be applied to Jesus; Jewish opponents of Christianity said “no.”  An interpretation that stood out to me in this dissertation concerns John 1:51, which echoes Genesis 28.  Jacob (later named Israel) in Genesis 28 saw a ladder where angels ascended and descended.  In John 1:51, Jesus tells Nathaniel, whom he calls a true Israelite, that he will see angels ascending and descending on (or, according to McGrath, by) the Son of Man.  According to McGrath, the point there is that Jesus is one who reveals.

I have a few other books to summarize, but I will save that for later this week, probably Thursday.  Tomorrow, I will write about a totally different book.


About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.