“The Origin of Heresy” by Robert M. Royalty Jr.

Robert M. Royalty Jr. The Origin of Heresy: A History of Discourse in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity. Routledge Studies in Religion 18. New York, NY: Routledge, 2014, 233 pp., $48.95  (paperback).

*I’d like to express my gratitude to Routledge for providing a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

The Origin of Heresy by Robert M. Royalty Jr. explores the discursive rhetoric of difference in the Second Temple Judaism and early orthodox Christianity in order to draw out the heresiological patterns which became the norm in later “orthodox” Christianity. Importantly he approaches the emergence of Christianity not from the classic tenet of Christian historiography, namely “that unity and doctrinal purity preceded divisions, that truth precedes error” (10); rather, he presupposes many early Christianities in agreement with the Bauer thesis. Christian variety resulted in a project of political hegemony and unity. Along this hope for political hegemony and unity, Royalty draws out how the rhetoric of heresy, discourse which negotiates religious difference, functioned in early communities and eventually developed into Christian identity.

Part I draws out the discursive foundations and developments of heresy through rhetoric of difference from the Hebrew Bible to the most fully formed rhetoric in the Gospel from Matthew’s community. Various sources attest to differing approaches to the rhetoric of difference. Ancient Israelite literature often presents prophetic conflict. More often than not, the response is a push for ideological unity, reconciliation, and restoration, rhetoric responses to difference which early Christianity lacked. Developments in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Daniel, and the Hasmonean conflict represent, for Royalty, a shift into key rhetorical features for early Christianity: doxography of error, dualistic eschatology, excommunication based on doctrine, apocalyptic condemnation of opponents, rejection of alternative view points, and the “True Israel”.

With theses rhetorical features, he examines how rhetoric of difference for John the Baptizer and Jesus functioned politically, illustrating that heresy “was an intrinsic part of the origins of what eventually came to be Christianity” (63). Problematic, though, is his clean distinction between political and religious. Royalty even mentions the discussion of whether or not John’s message was political or religious. Such statement occur consistently throughout the work, assuming a clean division between political and religious. His methodology, though, does not thoroughly explore that distinction by which he analyzes the rhetoric of difference. Brent Nongbri in Before Religion (Yale University Press, 2015) provides a valuable statement on how politics and religion were one in antiquity, in contrast to modern conceptions of religion: “episodes that modern authors have identified as ancint “religion” have turned out to involve discourses that ancient authors themselves seem to have understood primarily in ethnic or civic terms” (63). That said, to label Jesus and John’s rhetoric as “political”, and even later texts by the same token, he does a disservice the cognitive world of the text, a world in which clear distinction between religion and politics was not evident.

Following discussion of Jesus and John, he proceeds to Paul and his rhetoric of difference. Through this analysis, Royalty draws out four significant ways in which Paul contributed to Christian heresiology: homonoai, a Roman political ideology for unity; apocalyptic dualism that negated opponents; value of apostolic tradition and “correct” interpretation; and demonization of opponents. These became fundamentals to Christian heresiology and later discursive moves expand the foundations to appeals to Roman imperialism.

Having explored historical Jesus, Chapter Five examines the Gospels as narratives of exlcusion, drawing also on the Gospel of Thomsas, Q, and the Didaches to trace the rhetoric of conflict. He notes four major rhetorical features: ideology of apocalyptic judgement, dualistic worldview, polemics against opponents with doxography of their beliefs, and contested issues about the identity of Israel. These four elements along with the Gopsel of Thomas demonstrate the wide ideological spectrum in early Christianity.

Part II examines the internal and external political functions of the notion of heresy in Orthodox tradition. First, through traditions in Colossians, the Pastoral Epistles, Revelate, the Johannnine, Ignatius, Polycarp, the Gospel of Mary and the Gopsel of Judas, Royalty explores how early Christianity policed Orthodoxy through political rhetoric of difference. Each of these documents testify “to ideological differences within early Christian communities. These different approaches to difference, however, identity orthodox heresiology as a unique strategy” (146). This ideology is explicitly imperialistic discourse, utilized as orthodox Christianity sought hegemony in the church and people.

As a result of the delay of the parousia, an apologia to Rome, and the ideology of church unity effacing difference, Chapter eight notes the discursive development of heresiology into a form of Christian imperialism, especially notable through Luke-Act’s silence about the diversity of early Christianities. All in all, Royalty’s work demonstrates how early Christianity utilized the rhetoric of heresy as a strategy to dealing with difference and internal and external boundaries. So, rather than approaching early Christianity through the typical lens of orthodoxy, Royalty’s reading offers a new and unique approach to the New Testament, namely one that evaluates “the discursive origins of Christianity and orthodoxy in the political context of competing Christianities in the first and second century” (176).

As a whole there is no doubt that Royalty approaches early Christianity from a unique angle. His analysis is beneficial in that it better illustrates the breadth of early Christianity and later Christianities discursive origins through the rhetoric of difference. Yet the work seems to be too narrow in its use of Second Temple Period literature and the Hebrew Bible. His rhetoric of difference in Israel (Chapter Two) is limited to Jeremiah, a test case in 1 Kings, and Deuteronomy. Discourse about Second Temple Period literature is limited to 4 Ezra, Daniel, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Maccabees. In order to truly establish the origins of orthodox Christian heresiological traditions, it is necessary to explore more of the breadth of literary resources available, from both the Pseudepigrapha and Hebrew Bible.

Another contention I hold has to do with my critique about the distinction between political and religious. In his discussion about Pharisees and scribes in the Gospel of Matthew, Royalty never touches on the political relationship between the temple leadership and Roman rule. Because the Temple was the center of Jewish worship, it was key to maintaining peace and unity through the Judean province. Royalty only focuses on the religious disagreements between the Pharisees and Jesus. By ignoring the political nature of the Temple leadership and its relationship to Roman leadership, the text, namely the Gospel of Matthew, is misrepresented as being solely about religious disagreement.

In conclusion, while Royalty’s approach and work is valuable to studies of early Christianity, it is more of a launchpad for further studies than a work that will establish important precedents in the study of early Christianity. I do recommend it for studies on heresy and early Christianity, but only with the qualifier that its arguments need to be clarified and expanded.

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September 2015 Biblical Studies Carnival

Welcome to the September Biblical Studies Carnival! To be honest, with the recent tensions between Missy and the Doctor, it seems that such a blog post is trivial. An eternal, bloody, yet friendly, conflict between the last two Time Lords, or a joyful carnival? Regardless, this carnival is in a parallel universe so as to prevent too much wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff.

EDIT: Though in all seriousness, please send your thoughts/prayers/whatever to the Roseburg community. My wife grew up near Roseburg and her family lives near there, meaning this shooting is particularly close to home. Her family is okay but we are waiting to hear about the causalities. And please don’t politicize the shooting. Care about the families, but don’t go off about how we need more guns or need to get rid of guns. At the moment, that does not matter. Focus on the fact that people were shot, injured, and killed. A very small community was shaken to the core and people are hurt, not just physically but emotionally. On that note, I restate what I noted originally, albeit in a different context: “it seems that such a blog post is trivial.” (10/1/2015, 1PM PST)

I’ve enjoyed the opportunity sift through the many posts pertinent to Biblical Studies. Aside from the specific links I’ve run across, I worked my way through many blogs from James McGrath’s Blogroll and the Complete List of Biblioblogs. Like any other carnival, I categorized the posts.

An image from Twilight Zone's episode

An image from Twilight Zone’s episode “Perchance to Dream”.

Also, I wish the best to Daniel Gullotta who has temporarily closed his blog as he begins an MA program at Yale University.

HEBREW BIBLE

Professor Emerson Powery (Mercy College) discusses “The Origins of Whiteness” in slave narratives and the “Curse of Ham”.

Paul Davidson remarks on the problem of Psalm 22:16 and comments on the Canaanites, Amorites, and Hittites in history and the Bible.

James Pate raises questions about the theological dimensions of the Testament of Abraham.

William Ross a summary of his soon-to-be published article, entitled “Text-Critical Question Begging in Nahum 1,2-8: Re-evaluating the Evidence and Arguments”, in Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft (ZAW).

Adam C. McCollum remarks on 4 Ezra in Old Gregorian.

PsalterMark uses literary criticism of T.S. Elliot to demonstrate an approach to the Psalms.

Carpe Scriptura continues a series of reading in 1-2 Chronicles.

Michael Satlow challenges Judaism to consider the question of how Jewish is the Wisdom of Ben Sira.

Research Fellow at the School of Mission and Theology, in Stavanger, Norway, Tina Dykesteen Nilsen, will be defending her thesis on Deuteronomy 32.

Bob MacDonald presents the music of Joel 1 and Joel 2.

NEW TESTAMENT

Phil Long explores Paul’s roles as the persecutor, a suffering servant of Jesus, an apostle, non-philosopher, and a Pharisee.

James Pate reflects on Mark 10:46-52 and the social position of the blind in 1st century Judaism.

Micahel J. Kok shares a handout about New Testament Textual Criticism for his undergraduate class.

David B. Gowler looks at the reception history of the parables in the Gospels.

Mark Goodacre writes about the end of a wonderful era: “The End of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Forgery Debate.”

A brief list of upcoming articles on Hebrew.

James Snapp comments on Codex Sinaiticus and the ending of Mark.

Bill Mounce considers the question raised by δέ in Matthew 28:16.

Simon J. Joseph argues Jesus’ historical theology must be considered.

REVIEWS

Daniel McClellan offers his thoughts on Mark Smith’s article entitled “The Three Bodies of God“.

William Brown reviews Michael Satlow’s How the Bible Became Holy.

James Pate reviews Understanding Prophecy by Alan S. Bandy and Benjamin L. Merkle.

Kevin Brown reviews The Text of Galatians and Its History by Stephen C. Carlson.

Matthew Malcom gives a snippet of his review from RBL on Paul J. Brown’s Bodily Resurrection and Ethics in 1 Cor 15.

Richard Fellows reviews Ryan Schellenberg’s The First Pauline Chronoligist? Paul’s Itinerary in the Letters and in Acts, with a response from Schellenberg and Fellows’ reply to Schellenberg’s rebuttal.

Phil Long reviews A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament by Philip Comfort.

Lindsay Kennedy reviews Studies in the Pauline Epistles by Matthew Harmon and Jay Smith.

Abram K-J discusses the value of the Outside the Bible in Outside the Bible (JPS): 3,000+ Pages in Accordance.

JOURNALS AND EVENTS

The Irish Biblical Studies journal ceases publication and is hoping to make available all articles.

Eric Vanden Eykel recaps the York Christian Apocrypha Symposium.

In response to a paper at the British New Testament Conference, Larry Hurtado comments on linguistic and textual complexity in first-century Christianity.

Tony Burke provides reflection on the 2015 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium.

Call for Papers: Digital Editions: Academia, Society, Cultural Heritage.

St. Andrews “Son of God” Conference, June 6-8, 2016, calls for papers.

There is now a new and free society titled “The North American Society for the Study of Christian Apocryphal Literature“, or NASSCAL for short.

Robert Myles highlights various papers from the colloquium on Radicalism, Violence and Religious Texts.

An interview with the editor of Currents in Biblical Research (CBR)

MISC.

Jacob Prahlow provides a select bibliography from his series on “The Marcion Problem”.

Joshua Ziefle comments on the value and history and tradition.

Stephen Bedard answers whether or not Dionysus was born of a virgin.

Ronald Huggins provides a brief history in “Indra as a Virgin Born, Crucified Savior? You’re Kidding Right?”

Jim West congratulates David Clines on being awarded the Burkitt Medal.

FUTURE CARNIVALS

The next two Carnivals will be hosted by:

October 2015 Biblical Studies Carnival (Post date: November 1, 2015)
Phil Long, plong42@gmail.com

November 2015 Biblical Studies Carnival (Post date: December 1, 2015)
Jim West, @drjewest

We need volunteers to host the Biblical Studies Carnival for 2016. Producing the Biblical Studies Carnival each month is a service bibliobloggers offer to their readers. I hope you will offer yourself to host the next Biblical Studies Carnival. Contact Phil Long at plong42@gmail.com and let him know that you want to host the Biblical Study Carnival.

FINAL NOTE: Please feel free to follow my blog. I like followers so that I know my words and thoughts are being directed to a human being and are not lost on the internet. 🙂 Cheers!

“The Lost World of Adam and Eve” by John H. Walton

Many thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing me with a review copy of The Lost World of Adam and Eve.

John Walton’s The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate immerses the reader into the ancient context of Genesis 2-3 in order to demonstrate the necessity of Genesis’ autonomy from the modern cognitive environment. In effect, he is able to explore Genesis 2-3’s implications for humanity without conflicting modern science. His research is honest to Genesis’ ancient cognitive environment. Even after illustrating the ancient context of Genesis 2-3’s message, he explores the New Testament’s use of Adam and demonstrates how it is compatible with Genesis’ ancient context. By his conclusion, he reasons that Genesis 2-3 is, in fact, not about human origins; rather, it is an explanation of how the priests of humanity, Adam with Eve, designated themselves as the ones who determine and create order in the cosmos.

Although Walton aims his work towards a primarily evangelical audience, it remains an essential analysis of human origins and Genesis 2-3. For any reader, he convincingly communicates the non-scientific nature of Genesis 2-3. In doing so, Walton allows for Scripture and science to maintain distinct and autonomous authoritative voices. And with the increasing secularism (not intended to be pejorative), he provides his audience the well-reasoned and thought out information to respect Scripture and the science of human origins.

Additionally, from an exegetical perspective, his sound approach to Genesis’ context explains many aspects of it which are generally missed by the common reader. For example, his pristine treatment of chaos in the ancient world clearly and concisely provides the reader with a proper frame by which to approach the text. Rather than leaving the discussion to the Hebrew bible, his clarity in connecting the information to the New Testament literature allows Christian readers to formulate more complete and thought out reasons for their faith. Even to those without a Christian faith, Walton’s book is a prime example of Christian scholarship which is honest with its materials, and yet also faithful to Christian tradition.

Overall, Walton is thorough covers many of the important aspects of Genesis 2-3. However, the one surprising bit which he excluded was any interaction with Jon Levenson’s Creation and the Persistence of Evil. Considering that Levenson exploration of the persistence of evil throughout the the Hebrew Bible agreed at many points with Walton’s conclusion, Walton should have utilized Levenon’s work more fully to paint a fuller picture of Genesis 2-3 and also support his conclusions.

In conclusion, John Walton’s exploration of the ancient context of Genesis 2-3 is an essential read to any person seeking to interpret Genesis 2-3 in its own context. For Christians, it provides an explanation of the New Testament’s use of Adam and allows them to better understand the underlying messages within the New Testament. Regardless of whether or not one agrees with what Walton considers to be authoritative texts, namely the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, his work opens up the ancient world to scholars and laypersons alike. With understandable language the reader is introduced to the ancient Near Eastern cognitive environment and invited to read Genesis 2-3 in the same framework as ancient Israel. In doing so, the debate of human origins is no longer an issue and the reader recognizes how s/he can respect the sciences and the Scriptures.

Click here to purchase The Lost World of Adam and Eve from my Amazon Associates Store

Belief in God and His Servant

Too often I’ve heard it expressed to me that our faith is to be in God alone. And because the New Testament consistently references people faith in Jesus, Jesus must divine. While this post isn’t intended to act as a polemical argument against Jesus’ divinity, it may be perceived as so. Either way, my point in this post is to draw out a possibility of “faith” and its implications for interpreting New Testament literature in light of the Hebrew Bible.

In exploring the “believing” of Abraham in Genesis 15:6, I realized that the same Hebrew root and Greek root in the LXX are used in Exodus 14:31: “When Israel saw the great power which the LORD had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in His servant Moses” (NASB Ex 14:31, italics added for emphasis). As far as I’m aware, no person would go as far to claim that Moses was a divine being. Moses was a human who humbly served God.

Yet because people are to have faith in Jesus, it is often argued that faith placed in Jesus to God designated him as divinity. By the same argument, faith in God and His servant Moses designates Moses divinity. Perhaps my thinking is off. After all, this is a brief post intended to provoke critical thought and encourage people to engage is dialogue regarding what, who, and why they believe. What are your thoughts?

Re-Understanding the Leviticus Sacrificial System

Popular Christian tradition often defines and interprets ancient Israel’s cultic rituals and offerings in Leviticus through the narrow lens with which the New Testament discusses the issue of the sacrificial system. Passages like Matt 5:17-19, Rom 7:6, and Heb 10:1 leave an impression that the Levitical offering system was solely intended to prepare for Jesus and him alone. While this is undeniable in a sense, it is important to note the theological thrusts of these texts. Matthew, Romans, and Hebrews each work to demonstrate how Jesus fits into the grand scope of the Torah, not to provide a comprehensive discussion about the sacrificial system of Leviticus. Thus, in order to properly understand a book such as Leviticus, especially for a Christian, people must begin by recognizing that the New Testament is not definitive for Leviticus. If anything, Leviticus defines the New Testament and the New Testament operates within those parameters. Although it adjusts various understandings and interpretations (cf. Thomas Kazen 2002), it does not ever comprehensively discuss how the entirety of the system was abolished by Jesus.

In light of this brief discussion, what is required of biblical readers? Two basic ideas sum up how readers should approach Leviticus:

1) Recognize the layers of tradition within the offering system. Leviticus was not written over one year and left as the original copy 3,000 years later. Rather, it has been redacted through various editors who lived in their own time with distinct influences than others may not have had (cf. Yitzhaq Feder 2011). What readers read now is the results of centuries of redaction. As a final comment, that is not to imply that Leviticus in unreliable. On the contrary, it is reliable, except one must recognize the variation within it.

2) Leviticus should be read with recognition that the cultic ritual was central to lives in the ancient world. To ignore or place a glaze over Leviticus is to ignore the centrality of ancient Israel’s culture and life.

Although these are only two of many essential hermeneutic approaches to Leviticus, they are a good starting place. By observing these two ideas, it may actually be possible to read Leviticus. This begins with expanding beyond the narrow view of the New Testament’s understandings of sacrifice and atonement and moving towards a more comprehensive understanding of Leviticus that takes into account the textual redaction and centrality of sacrifice to the ancient world.

Old and New Covenant: Reconsideration

This previous semester at Northwest University, I observed a consistency among fellow students and my professors. In discussion of the New Testament and issues relating to the Sinai covenant to Jesus’ covenant, the entirety of covenant in the Hebrew Bible was often simply described as the “Old Covenant”. Such a basic and non-fluid dichotomy, one which attempts to systematize a fluid and dynamic biblical theology, fails to recognize the complexities of covenant within the Hebrew Bible. Covenant is not restricted to the Sinai covenant; rather, it includes God’s covenant to David, Abraham, and the whole of creation. While professors likely grasp the complexity of a simplified term like “Old Covenant”, do the students understand those complexities?

I would guess not. Unfortunately this sort of simplicity is often presented in classes, without discussion of what “covenant” completely encompasses and the relational aspects of the term. Perhaps this should become something more students and scholars actively consider as they develop their understandings and interpretations of the Bible, Hebrew Bible and New Testament alike. Such a movement would hopefully inspire students to more thoughtfully consider how they understand Israel, creation, and various leaders within the Hebrew Bible. Additionally, it would provide for more dynamic and in-depth Jewish-Christian dialogue by encouraging Christians to broaden their understandings of what, throughout the Bible, defines covenant.

The Christian “Oral Torah”

Recently, Orthodox Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein visited Northwest University. I had the honor of speaking with him for an hour or so about a variety of topics including, but not limited to, Oral Torah, Jewish-Christian dialogue, and creation theology. Amongst the many things which caught my attention, there was one thought he expressed which I thoroughly appreciated. In essence, he said that Jews are unique in that they’ve thought through their theology and recognize the source of their traditions. For Jews, that is the Oral Torah, which is the framework of traditions by which they interpret the Written Torah.

Attending a protestant Christian University, I have often witnessed people who operate from a stance of sola scriptura. Many people I know often understand their traditions as something which originated in the Pentecostal movement of the early 1900’s or in the reformations of the 16th century. Unfortunately, though, people aren’t always able to, or willing to, recognize that they to, just as Jews, have a sort of “Oral Torah”. By “Oral Torah”, I really mean the foundations and environment in which the Church traditions were formulated, which vary significantly and are not completely linear. Foundations of Christian tradition are present in theologians like Irenaeus, Augustine, John Chrysostom, and, really, any other theologian from the past 1900 years who has dialogued with the Church and made any impact, positive or negative. This lack of recognition is often realized in people not being aware of why they think or how they think. In their minds, their framework is simply the Holy Spirit and some biblical interpretation of the 1st century context of the New Testament, or the 4th century BCE context of the Hebrew Bible.

In reality, if Christians truly do hope to dialogue with others and better understand their own beliefs within a contemporary society, it is absolutely necessary to recognize the “Oral Torah” of Christianity, those elements which shaped Christianity into what it is today.

Creation and Return

Lately, the majority of my research has been in Mesopotamian (Sumerian, Babylonian, and Akkadian), Egyptian, and Hebrew creation mythologies. In the research, I have learned an essential key to understanding the goal of the creation myths from these ancient civilizations. That is, the goal is a return to creation from the moment that it was brought from Chaos into Order.

In Genesis 1:2, the primeval condition of the world has often been connected to Tiamat, the Babylonian primeval Chaos. Thus, there is a striking similarity between the Hebrew creation and Babylonian creation. One common standard of ancient Near Eastern and Egyptian creation mythologies is that, after the god(s) take the heavens and earth from Chaos to Order, it is that Order which becomes the standard for the rest of mankind. How can this idea, found in the majority of the Hebrew bible’s contemporaries, help us understand the theological outlook of the bible?

In the bible, there is large focus on the idea of t’shuvah, a term used to denote return or repentance. An important aspect of t’shuvah is that a proper return goes back to creation, to how life was ordered by God. So, in light of the ancient near east, within Judaism, the idea of t’shuvah extends beyond repentance. In a manner like the New Testament suggests, t’shuvah is a return to the creator so that God may be king. More importantly, it is a sort of “new creation”. Perhaps this is why Paul writes that “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone and the new is here”.

This is more than a linear accomplishment of re-creation under the rule of God. It is a return of creation to the way that it was intended to be. It is a return to the rule of God in an unblemished world. For Paul, it is more than a new world. It can be understood as a return from Chaos to Order.