Langton, D. Some comments on Michah Berdichevsky’s Saul and Paul. Melilah: Manchester Journal of Jewish Studies(2008) : 1-10

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  Langton, D. Some comments on Michah Berdichevsky’s Saul and Paul. Melilah: Manchester Journal of Jewish Studies(2008) : 1-10
  Daniel R. Langton, ÔSome Comments on Micah BerdichevskyÕs  Saul and Paul  ,  Melilah  2008/3 35 [1]   SOME COMMENTS ON MICAH BERDICHEVSKYÕS  SAUL AND PAUL  Daniel R. Langton *    Abstract: Although Micah Berdichevsky (1865-1921), a giant of Hebrew literature, never completed his book-length study of the apostle Paul, his literary executors ensured that Saul and Paul  was published in 1971. Like the better known study by  Joseph Klausner, From Jesus to Paul  (1939), Berdichevsky's work was a Zionist  perspective on the founder of Gentile Christianity, written in Hebrew. Central to Saul and Paul  is a mysterious document that Berdichevsky believed to be an ancient Jewish account of the conversion and missionary success of Paul, namely, the tale of the  pagan priest, Abba Gulish. He went on to argue that Saul and Paul had been two different individuals, the one Jewish, the other pagan, and that Christian tradition had amalgamated them. Attributing historicity to a Hebrew legend rather than a Greek Christian one, Berdichevsky argued that Paulinism was an essentially pagan  philosophical system. While many before and after him would find the seeds of Christianity in the Jewish Paul's adoption of non-Jewish, Hellenistic ideas,  Berdichevsky went one step further and denied Paul even a Jewish birth. In addition to a comparison of Klausner and Berdichevsky's views of Paul, this short article includes the Hebrew text and translation of the story of Abba Gulish. In a recent article entitled ÔBerdichevskyÕs Saul and Paul  : A Jewish Political TheologyÕ (2007), 1  Yotam Hotam argues that the apostle Paul had been portrayed by the Hebrew literary scholar as the villainous creator of Christianity. According to BerdichevskyÕs fiercely Zionist critique, Christian religion was to be explained as a Hellenistically derived form of ÔspiritualismÕ whose srcins had had little or nothing to do with the ÔnaturalÕ religion of Judaism. In his concern to properly contextualize BerdichevskyÕs complex study, Hotam devotes only two pages to an overview of the work in question, and it seemed to the present author that the creativity and ingenuity of Berdichevsky deserved a slightly fuller treatment. A closer reading of the text of Shaul ve-Paul    is also warranted since it is only available in Hebrew; it is largely incomplete and a more critical analysis of its coherence (or lack of) is called for; and the medieval source upon which BerdichevskyÕs theoretical edifice is founded is little known. Finally, while Hotam briefly mentions Joseph KlausnerÕs better-known New *  Lecturer in Modern Jewish-Christian relations, Centre for Jewish Studies, University of Manchester. Email: 1  Yotam Hotam, ÔBerdichevskyÕs Saul and Paul: A Jewish Political TheologyÕ,  Journal of  Modern Jewish Studies  6/1 (2007), 51-68.  Daniel R. Langton, ÔSome Comments on Micah BerdichevskyÕs  Saul and Paul  ,  Melilah  2008/3 36 Testament scholarship (which was also srcinally written in Hebrew), the similarities and differences between the two Zionist readings of Paul demand a few further observations. This short essay, then, should be regarded as complementary to, and is offered in support of, HotamÕs interpretation of Saul and Paul   as a political theology. As such, it is part of a growing body of studies that have sought to elucidate the ideological motivations that lie behind the tradition of Jewish historical consideration of Christian srcins that goes back to the Wissenschaft des Judenthums  (the historical study of Judaism), of which the best known example is Susannah HeschelÕs  Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus  (1998). 2  In order to understand just how radical an interpretation of Paul is offered by Berdichevsky, let us begin with a short overview of the interpretation offered by Joseph Klausner (1874-1956), the Jewish historian and prominent Zionist whose approach to Paul was also profoundly shaped by his nationalist ideology. 3  Born near Vilna, Lithuania, Klausner studied in Germany and became a committed Zionist, attending the first Zionist Congress in Basle in 1897. Following the Bolshevik Revolution (October 1917) he emigrated from Odessa, Russia, to Palestine. From 1925 he taught Modern Hebrew Literature and the History of the Second Temple Period at the Hebrew University. He became increasingly nationalist in his views and was regarded as the ideologue of the Revisionist Party, which from the 1920s and 30s was the principal [2] opposition to WeizmannÕs leadership. Not Orthodox, Klausner 2  Susannah Heschel,  Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus  (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998). A useful introduction to the study of Jewish ideological approaches to the New Testament can be found in Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus, ÔA Jewish Ideological Perspective on the Study of Christian ScriptureÕ,  Jewish Social Studies  4/1 (1997), 121-152, albeit that this is a little dated now. In the specific case of the apostle Paul, one might point to: Daniel R. Langton, ÔModern Jewish Identity and the Apostle Paul: Pauline Studies as an Intra-Jewish Ideological BattlegroundÕ,  Journal for the Study of the New Testament   28/2 (2005), 217-258; Daniel R. Langton, ÔThe Myth of the ÒTraditional Jewish View of PaulÓ and the Role of the Apostle in Modern JewishÐChristian PolemicsÕ,  Journal for the Study of the New Testament   28/1 (2005), 69-104; Pamela Eisenbaum, ÔFollowing in the Footnotes of the Apostle PaulÕ, in Jose Ignacio Cabez—n & Sheila Greeve Davaney, eds.,  Identity and the Politics of Scholarship in the Study of  Religion  (London: Routledge, 2004), 77-97; Stefan Meissner,  Die Heimholung des Ketzers: Studien zur jŸdischen Auseinandersetzung mit Paulus  (Mohr: TŸbingen, 1996); Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, ÔThe Essential Heresy: PaulÕs View of the Law According to Jewish Writers, 1886-1986Õ, PhD thesis, Temple University (May 1990); Donald A. Hagner, ÔPaul in Modern Jewish ThoughtÕ, in Donald A. Hagner and Murray J. Harris, eds,  Pauline Studies: Essays Presented to  F.F. Bruce  (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1980), 143-165; Halvor Ronning, ÔSome Jewish Views of Paul as Basis of a Consideration of Jewish-Christian RelationsÕ,  Judaica  24 (1968), 82-97. 3  This short overview of Klausner was first published in Daniel R. Langton, ÔModern Jewish Identity and the Apostle Paul: Pauline Studies as an Intra-Jewish Ideological BattlegroundÕ,  Journal for the Study of the New Testament   28/2 (2005), 223-226.  Daniel R. Langton, ÔSome Comments on Micah BerdichevskyÕs  Saul and Paul  ,  Melilah  2008/3 37 would probably have identified with the Conservative movement if it had existed in Eretz Yisrael at that time. 4  His historical writings on Jesus and Christian beginnings were amongst the earliest comprehensive treatments in Hebrew; in addition to  Jesus of Nazareth  (1922) he wrote  From Jesus to Paul   (1939). 5  KlausnerÕs interest in both Jesus and Paul stemmed from a concern to reclaim influential Jews for Jewish history or, more precisely, to utilize them in the Zionist  project to construct a strong nationalist identity. This involved contrasting Jewish and Christian worldviews, as Klausner made clear in his conclusion. My deepest conviction is this: Judaism will never become reconciled with Christianity (in the sense of spiritual [religious and intellectual] compromise), nor will it be assimilated by Christianity; for Judaism and Christianity are not only two different religions, but they were also two different world-views . Judaism will never allow itself to reach even in theory the ethical extremeness characteristic of Christianity; this extremeness has no place in the world of reality, and therefore is likely in actual fact to be converted into its direct opposite Ð into brutality such as has been seen in the Middle Ages and in our own time in any number of ÔChristianÕ countries. 6  The Zionist concern with the differences between Jewish and non-Jewish worldviews  provides the key to KlausnerÕs understanding of Paul. The apostleÕs background had  been one of Hellenistic Judaism and paganism. Far from  Eretz Yisrael  , Paul had been Ôdetached from authentic, living Judaism, which was rooted in its own soilÕ. 7  This accounted for his message, Ôa whole new doctrine which was not Judaism, [but] which was in fact anti-Judaism, the complete antithesis of JudaismÕ. 8  Specifically, it accounted for his teachings regarding dying and rising gods. 9  But Klausner was drawn to Paul for more than simply the opportunity to hold him up as a representative of a hostile Christian religion or non-Jewish worldview. At the same time, there was a 4  Kling argued that, in matters of religion, Klausner was not an Orthodox Jew, and many of his friends were secular Zionists, although he himself was observant of tradition. Simcha Kling,  Joseph Klausner   (Cranbury, NJ: Thomas Yoseloff, 1970). 5  Joseph Klausner,  Jesus of Nazareth: His Life, Times, and Teaching  , trans. by Herbert Danby (London: Allen & Unwin, 1925). Hebrew srcinal Yeshu ha-Notsri  (Jerusalem: Shtibel, 1922); Joseph Klausner,  From Jesus to Paul  , trans. by William F. Stinespring (London: Allen & Unwin, 1943). Hebrew srcinal  Mi-Yeshu ad Paulus  (Tel Aviv: Mada, 1939). 6  Klausner,  From Jesus to Paul  , 609. 7  Klausner,  From Jesus to Paul  , 465. 8  Klausner,  From Jesus to Paul  , 443. 9  Klausner,  From Jesus to Paul  , 344-45.  Daniel R. Langton, ÔSome Comments on Micah BerdichevskyÕs  Saul and Paul  ,  Melilah  2008/3 38 desire to reclaim Paul the Jew as a significant player in world history, to recognize even in the apostle to the Gentiles the genius and power of authentic Judaism. Klausner was appreciative of certain of PaulÕs Ôlofty and beautifulÕ teachings, 10  and he acknowledged that the influential Christian thinkerÕs dependence upon Torah (and even the oral law) had helped protect Judaism down through the centuries. 11  In attempting to have his cake and eat it, Klausner explained: Intensive research over many years has brought the writer of the present book to a deep conviction that there is nothing in the teaching of Paul Ð not even the most mystical elements in it Ð that did not come to him from authentic Judaism. For all theories and hypotheses that Paul drew his opinions directly  from the Greek philosophical literature or the mystery religions of his time have no sufficient foundation. But it is a fact that most of the elements in his teaching which came from Judaism received unconsciously at his hands a non- Jewish coloring   from influence of the Hellenistic-Jewish and pagan atmosphere with which Paul of Tarsus was surrounded during nearly all of his life, except for the few years which he spent in JerusalemÉ 12  Klausner was prepared to accept that Paul had probably studied for a while under Gamaliel in Jerusalem, his Pharisaic training evidenced by his use of scripture. 13  While there, he had possibly met Jesus and had [3] come to vigorously oppose him. 14  A combination of JesusÕ crucifixion and StephenÕs martyrdom had provoked an epileptic fit or vision that had put Paul on a very different path, his guilt in opposing Jesus only being relieved by his devotion to the risen Christ. 15  Thereafter, Paul had devoted himself to the Gentiles, adopting a  Realpolitik   approach which Klausner recognized as making possible the success of Christianity, the contradictions he had introduced being both inevitable and necessary for that success. 16  The apostleÕs talent for adaptability (Ôa thorough-going opportunist É a clever politicianÕ) had allowed Paul to appeal to the Gentiles by teaching of the Jewish messiah without reference to 10  Klausner,  From Jesus to Paul  , 603. 11  Klausner,  From Jesus to Paul  , 606-609. The early Church Father Augustine portrayed the Jews as guardians of scripture, and argued that they should be protected so that their Law, which they did not accept testified to the truth of Christianity, should not be forgotten: City of God   5 (414-25). Ironically, Klausner sees Paul in a similar role on behalf of the Jews, unwittingly acting as their protector as a result of his dependence upon the Law. 12  Klausner,  From Jesus to Paul  , 466. 13  Klausner,  From Jesus to Paul  , 309-12, 606-609. 14  Klausner,  From Jesus to Paul  , 314-15. 15  Klausner,  From Jesus to Paul  , 325-30. 16  Klausner,  From Jesus to Paul  , 429-30.  Daniel R. Langton, ÔSome Comments on Micah BerdichevskyÕs  Saul and Paul  ,  Melilah  2008/3 39 Jewish nationality. 17  In that he believed that JesusÕ teaching would not have won over the non-Jewish world, Klausner regarded Christianity as the creation of Paul, Ôwho was much more denationalized and divided in soul than was Jesus Ð the latter being a Jew of Palestine only, and hence not affected by foreign or conflicting influencesÕ. 18  At the same time, he accepted that, as far as Paul was concerned, his negation of the importance of IsraelÕs Torah that he had taught and preached had not cut him off from the people of Israel. 19  KlausnerÕs use of Paul as an object lesson, illustrating the opposing worldviews of Judaism and Christianity, was fundamentally a Zionist critique. PaulÕs inauthenticity was, he claimed, rooted in his lack of intimacy with the Land. His creation of a world religion was made possible only by de-nationalizing Judaism, something that neither the prophets nor Jesus had sought to do. All the same, one is left in no doubt that any  positive assessment of his significance should be understood in terms of the influence of authentic Judaism. After all was said and done, Paul was a Jew and a significant figure in the national history of the Jews. The unresolved tension accounts in part for KlausnerÕs somewhat confusing claim that PaulÕs new religion was ÔJudaism and non-Judaism at the same timeÕ. 20  KlausnerÕs historical study is undoubtedly the best known Jewish nationalist critique of the co-founder of Christianity. Far fewer will have heard of the study of Paul by Micah Joseph Berdichevsky (1865-1921) or Mikha Yosef Bin-Gorion as he preferred to call himself. 21  While both men clearly expressed a political agenda through their readings of Paul, seeking to create a myth of Christianity for a Jewish audience, they did so in very different ways. In contrast to the studies by Klausner, who engaged with the wider historical scholarship of the day, BerdichevskyÕs work was very much the product of an individual novelist, journalist and folklorist, rather than an historian  per se , with little interest paid to the researches of others, and with a much freer reign granted to his imagination. 17  Klausner,  From Jesus to Paul  , 312, 431, 446. 18  Klausner,  From Jesus to Paul  , 309-12, 590. 19  Klausner,  From Jesus to Paul  , 415-16. 20  Klausner,  From Jesus to Paul  , 465. 21  For both names there are many alternative spellings. Note that while ÔBerdichevskyÕ is used in the text above, the relevant alternative will be given when citing works published under a different name.
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