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The Christian Appropriation of the Jewish Scriptures: Allegory, Pauline Exegesis, and the Negotiation of Religious Identities

Final Report Summary - CAJS (The Christian Appropriation of the Jewish Scriptures: Allegory, Pauline Exegesis, and the Negotiation of Religious Identities)

The project has shown the intricate means by which different Christians groups in Late Antiquity negotiated their respective religious and communal identities. Polemicizing about and around the Jewish Scriptures was for these groups much more than an abstract academic activity. How the Jewish Scriptures should be incorporated into the Christian corpus and what this appropriation activity entailed for the personal identity of the early Christians are important questions which deserve serious and full answers. The fact of the matter is that Christian “Orthodoxy” became synonymous with acknowledging and acceptance of the Jewish Scriptures and the God they represented. Historically, this statement is not self-evident. Major influential groups operated to achieve just the opposite, namely to remove any obvious “Jewish” traces from the Christian corpus. Eventually, these “heretic” groups gained the lower hand, but their polemical legacy regarding the nature of God, the existence of good and evil, and the role of mankind in the world, still influence theological and philosophical discourses today.

The project has demonstrated the difference between the interpretative techniques and approaches which were employed by the members of the Alexandrian and Antiochene Schools respectively. Despite the fact that explicit treatises about the “correct” manner of interpreting and approaching the Jewish Scriptures were written by major Christian thinkers of the time, modern scholars much doubted the validity of the distinction between the schools. Ignoring these ancient treatises and under the influence of post-modernist tendencies, some modern scholars suggested that the distinction was a “mere construct” invented by nineteenth- and early twentieth-century historians. Our research showed that the distinction was indeed a construct, but one dating back to the fourth century.

This project, to a large extent, is therefore a correction of the arguments of major modern scholars in the field. Furthermore, the project helped to create a new map of Christian intellectual life and the rich layer of influences which played a role in it. We now know that biblical interpretation was an enormously important literary and rhetorical activity practiced by all major Christian thinkers (and their less known disciples at the community level). We know that biblical interpretation reflected a number of important activities and interests shared in common by Christian intellectuals and their peers, the pagan philosophers. The points of intersection were many: Platonic philosophy for the Alexandrians and Aristotelian teaching for the Antiochenes; astronomy and astrology, magic and the occult. All these spheres of interests were shared by Christians and their non-Christian environment alike. It would be misleading to state that the moral aspect was the prevalence of the Judeo-Christian world alone. Far from it: pagan philosophers, for example, the Stoics, advocated a strong moral message. What was it, that made Christianity a success? This project’s answer is as follows: an effective appropriation of an established corpus, i.e. the Jewish Scriptures, and its clever submission to the relatively-young Christian corpus, i.e. the New Testament, while demonstrating to the believer or potential believers time and again that the universal message of Christianity regarding the salvation of mankind had a lot to do with the day-to-day conduct of the individual.