Wednesday, November 02, 2016

The Epistle to Diognetus 4.1-5 and De-Judaization

Here are more comments from the Epistle to Diognetus. I will intersperse some remarks between the quotes from the work.

"But as to their [i.e., the Jews'] scrupulosity
concerning meats, and their superstition as respects
the Sabbaths, and their boasting about circumcision,
and their fancies about fasting and the new moons,
which are utterly ridiculous and unworthy of notice, I
do not think that you require to learn anything from

It is not surprising to find the nameless writer
of the Epistle to Diognetus negatively contrasting
Christianity with Judaism. After all, the
apostle Paul also critiqued Jewish scrupulosity
regarding meats, Sabbaths, and other special days as
well as reliance on circumcision for divine
justification (Gal. 4:8-11; 5:1-6). Of course, the epistle's
writer could not have been speaking ill of the Sabbath day
simpliciter since God mandated the Sabbath
observance for Israel. The Epistle to Diognetus 4.3 certainly
seems to indicate that the writer is particularly
condemning abuses of the Sabbath day. At any rate,
what does strike me as an attempt to expunge
Jewishness from the Christian religion is the
author's condescending and unnecessarily harsh
words toward the end of the paragraph above.

"And to glory in the circumcision of the flesh as a
proof of election, and as if, on account of it, they
were specially beloved by God, how is it not a subject
of ridicule?"

Do blog readers here believe that the writer has a
scripturally valid argument? Is it biblical to say
that circumcision was never a "proof of election"
or that it never functioned as a sign of
God's dealings with Abraham? Then again, maybe the
writer is only focusing on the Judaism of his day
without denying the important role that Judaism had in
what some theologians have called "salvation history"
(Heilsgeschichte). The writer concludes Epistle to
4 in this way:

"And as to their observing months and days, as if
waiting upon the stars and the moon, and their
distributing, according to their own tendencies, the
appointments of God, and the vicissitudes of the
seasons, some for festivities, and others for
mourning, who would deem this a part of divine
worship, and not much rather a manifestation of folly?
I suppose, then, you are sufficiently convinced that
the Christians properly abstain from the vanity and
error common [to both Jews and Gentiles], and from the
busy-body spirit and vain boasting of the Jews; but
you must not hope to learn the mystery of their
peculiar mode of worshipping God from any mortal."


Duncan said...

This does nothing to prove that a separation of understanding existed between the written law and the oral law. What exactly is the writer calling "scrupulosity" - the foods eaten or the rituals surrounding them? How is he using the term underlying "superstition" & which term?

"But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners."

For the christian, no mention of food preparation as to blood either which was common in the roman empire.

There is much ambiguity.

Edgar Foster said...

Sorry, but I find the first paragraph confusing since that's not why I made this blog entry, but placing that issue aside, there's reams of evidence that ancients made a distinction between written and oral law. However, I don't feel that's the main point here.

I think the writer refers to the scrupulous manner of observing rituals. See Gal. 4:8-11, especially in the old NWT.

I'm not sure which term he's using for superstition, because I have not consulted the Greek of this passage yet. However, it is available online. On the last point, early writers of the church did mention the blood prohibition; there was even a church council that mentions the restriction.

Duncan said...

I am referring to the attention to detail or lack thereof of this particular author. That other authors make such statements is not my point or do other authors make equivalent statements as to the one you have quoted here?

"there's reams of evidence that ancients made a distinction between written and oral law."? as I already referenced - DSS scholarship does not indicate a division. The divisions of law, prophets & writings do not cover this issue as the Halakha treated as one Torah is at issue.

Edgar Foster said...

So-called De-Judaization is common in the church fathers, as Jaroslav Pelikan documented in the 1st volume of his work "The Christian Tradition." I think the writer of Epistle to Diognetus was primarily basing his critiques on what Scripture reports about the Mosaic Law and possibly what he observed. His comments appear to deal more with ritual, not with fine distinctions of defining torah.

I should have typed "written and oral law, or oral tradition." The NT certainly indicates that at least some first century Jews recognized a written and oral component of torah. Otherwise, the controversies between Christ and the Pharisees are not fully intelligible.

The primary reason I posted the words of the Epistle was to illustrate how the early church tended to view Judaism and its rituals.

Edgar Foster said...

Links on oral torah. Maybe you've read some of these:

Duncan said...

From the first link:-

"In the 3rd century CE, Rabbenu Hakadosh realized that because of growing hardships and persecutions the Jews might not be able to retain by memory all these traditional laws, so he decided to record them."

This has blatant disregard of the evidences of the DSS - he may have compiled but he certainly was no the first to write down.

Duncan said...

Perhaps the author here when referring to Sabbaths and new moons would know of the petty arguments as found in the DSS as to the kosher calendar and what constituted it.

When the harvest festival should be? - Exodus 34:22.

Galatians 4 is qualified:-

You are observing religious days and months and seasons and years.

Duncan said...

But isn't this the filter through which Paul speak as a pharisee who lays down his tradition? Isn't his key the tradition and sayings of Jesus who demolishes the oral tradition and demonstrates the true application of Torah.

Isn't the law of the christ his complete breakdown of the meaning and relevance of torah?

Edgar Foster said...

I'm not endorsing the first link, but the writer believes oral law preceded the Mishnah. In fact, he thinks God gave the oral law to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

He might have known about the DSS or similar utterances: we don't know much about this writer. The old NWT used to add "scrupulously." The days, months, seasons, and years are normally understood to be Jewish religious days.

"You scrupulously observe days and months, special seasons, and years" (Weymouth NT).

From Ellicott: As to the bearing of this passage [Gal. 4:10] on the general question of the observance of seasons, it is to be noticed that the reference is here to the adoption by the Galatians of the Jewish seasons as a mark of the extent to which they were prepared to take on themselves the burden of the Mosaic law. It does not necessarily follow that the observance of Christian seasons is condemned. At the same time, it is quite clear that St. Paul places all such matters under the head of “elements” or “rudiments.”

Duncan said...

ABP of 4:10 [days You closely watch], and months, and times, and years.

Days you closely watch - in relation to the days themselves or the dates upon which they are remembered?

"In the Land" the times would be significant in its original agricultural setting not forgetting that such cycles are relevant to all agricultural setting (see baal cycle).

Edgar Foster said...

I don't necessarily disagree with your observation about Paul's filter, but I just don't limit his critique to the oral tradition. I've stated this point before, but there's evidence that special days were observed in other places besides the land.