claim to an unbroken continuity with the Abrahamic heritage and scriptural tradition continues: for example, 1 Clement, with a probably Gentile readership, not only appeals to Abraham as 'our father' but also upholds as descended from Jacob, 'all the priests and levites who serve at God's altar' (1 Clem. 3i-2);:6 however, here, as in i Peter, it is scriptural tradition that we should emphasise. The extent to which the Jewish scriptures shape the world-view of the early Christians, and provide them with a language for self-understanding within the Graeco-Roman world, appears so 'natural' in their texts that it may be too readily taken for granted by their modern interpreters.i7 It is hard to envisage how quickly or easily Gentile converts could have acquired the immersion in the Jewish scriptures necessary for them to appreciate fully some of the exegetical arguments spun from the latter (e.g. i Cor io:i-5). This has led to suggestions that many such converts must have come from circles already actively interested in Judaism, a group often labelled 'God-fearers', although this may be only to push the problem of integration back a stage further.i8 On the contrary, however, much of our evidence points to Gentile converts as predominantly from a thoroughly 'pagan' background (i Thess i:9-io; Justin, Dial. i30-5).

Equally striking are those cases where there is a conscious rejection of alternative, we might say of'Jewish', understandings of those scriptures. The Epistle ofBarnabas, whose date is uncertain but which may belong in circumstances where political events enhanced the attraction of'Judaism', offers an extreme example.i9 Crucial here is the anonymous author's explicit identification of the destruction of the temple not simply as divine punishment - a common theme in later writers - but as evidence that God's original intention was not a structural but a spiritual temple, now embodied in the conversion and obedience of the Gentile converts to whom he writes (Ep. Barn. i6). Whether or not the status of the temple is the primary motivating issue, the letter applies the same model to the scriptural provisions of sacrifice, fasting, purity, circumcision and diet: the true meaning of each is to be found in their 'spiritual' reference. The food laws inspire an allegorical exegesis of the habits of various forbidden animals as representing the vices to be avoided; Moses intended these

16 Cf. 1 Clem. 9-i2; 1 Clem. may be dated to the last decade of the first century ce or the beginning ofthe second.

17 But see Young, Biblical exegesis.

18 In addition, the evidence for a clear profile of such circles is inadequate: see Lieu, Neither Jewnor Greek, 3i-47. Hopkins, 'Christian number', 2i4-i6 does conclude that the majority of Christians in this period must have been ofJewish origin.

19 For example, if it was hoped that Nerva, emperor 96-8 ce, might sanction the rebuilding of the temple; so Carleton Paget, Epistle of Barnabas.

0 0

Post a comment