Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Waitng on tables, Part 4

The theory of the rationale of Luke in presenting information as he did in Luke 16 and Acts 6-7 is already recognized but to my knowledge the theory has not been applied to the writings of Luke. According to Yairah Amit, “A polemic is said to be hidden when its subject is not stated explicitly or when it is not stated in the usual or expected manner or wording.” The phenomenon of polemics is found throughout the whole corpus of biblical literature. Amit includes the “Northern Population” which would later be known as the Samaritans, one of the subject matters of hidden polemics. It may be that the hidden polemic of Waiting on Tables is intermarriage with Samaritans.

Yairah Amit argues that several biblical texts displaying “hidden polemics” can be read as a reflection of inner-Judean conflicts. In her view, the authors chose this genre because they may not have been in a position to address these polemics in the open. It is also possible that one or more of the authors may have been practicing irenical theology.

Just as there is a risk of finding allusions where none are intended, there is a risk of finding hidden polemics where none are intended. Therefore the more clues the stronger the choice. Likewise, if the subject matter of the hidden polemics is a controversial subject in other parts of the biblical literature, the identification is more likely. The subjects of intermarriage and Samaritans were controversial in the first century and earlier and a controversial subject in other parts of the biblical literature

There are numerous Samaritan clues in Stephen’s sermon giving the sermon a decidedly Samaritan viewpoint. The significance of these clues has not been understood. Luke by accurately reporting the contents of Stephen’s Sermon wants us to understand that the ministry to the Samaritans has been successful. These clues suggest the existence of hidden polemics. The following clues lend credence to a Samaritan background for the Sermon:

1) The MT says Terah lived 205 years but Stephen said 145 years in harmony with the Samaritan text. In Acts 7:4 Stephen states Abraham went to Canaan after the death of Terah. This agrees with the Samaritan Pentateuch's statement that Terah died at the age of 145 years. In contrast, the Masoretic text states that Terah died at the age of 205 (Gen 11:32) - sixty years after Abraham had left Haran.

2) Stephen says that God told Moses I am the God of your fathers; the MT reading is "father" while the Samaritan reading is "fathers".

3) Stephen in Acts 7:37 mentions a future prophet like Moses based on the Samaritan Book of Exodus as the history recited of Abraham through Moses depends on Genesis and Exodus; the MT lacks this statement in Exodus (but does have it in Deut 18:15).

4) Stephen mentions the city of Shechem which is the Samaritan counterpart of Jerusalem.

5) Stephens says that Abraham's seed shall "worship me in this place". The word "place" is standard Samaritan terminology; see John 4:20 and Acts 6:14. The Jewish cultic term is “house”.

6) Solomon's temple was not only in the wrong “place”, it was of human hands. According to the Samaritans, the tabernacle of Gerizim was not made by human hands.

7) Stephen says that the Law was given by an angel on Sinai.

Stephen included the Samaritan points in his Sermon as part of his response to anti-Samaritan polemics directed to him and the Samaritan members of the Jerusalem community.

You would think that two marginal oppressed Jewish groups excluded from the resources of the Temple “soup-kitchen” would willingly share the resources provided to them by the followers of Jesus. Even in prison, there are divisions and classes among the inmates. Apparently the Samaritans despised the Hellenists. They judged them unworthy of receiving food from the community resources just as they had been judged unworthy to receive food from the Temple resources.

Why would two groups not accepted by Judaism be unable to work together and share the resources of the kitchen ministry? Prior identification of these two groups of Hebrews and Hellenists as Jews and Greek speaking Jews has not solved the puzzle.

The ministry of meals on wheels served two separate communities, neither of which were accepted by Judaism. The seeds of these advances had been planted earlier by the Lucan Jesus and the ministry of the seventy. Josephus provides an additional clue:

8) The Samaritans called themselves Hebrews from the third century BCE as confirmed by Josephus [Ant. XI viii 6] but in the first century Jews did not call themselves Hebrews.

These two groups were the Samaritans and the Jews who had adopted Greeks ways.

The Samaritans are an ancient Jewish sect, surviving to the present, which accepts the Torah as its only canonical scripture. The relationship between the Jew and the Samaritans in the first century was one of hostility. Ecclesiasticus 50:25-26 speaks of them as “no nation” and as “the foolish people that dwell in Shechem.” The Testament of Levi also calls Shechem “a city of fools.” Ben Sira referred to the Samaritans as “the degenerate folk who dwell in Shechem.”

Although the origin of the Samaritans is strongly disputed by both sides, it may date to Ezra and Nehemiah and the return of the exiles and the rebuilding of the temple. Ezra-Nehemiah considered only the Jews who returned from Babylon to be pure and fully acceptable. Consequently they rejected the assistance of the local people in the rebuilding of the temple. These local people later became identified as the Samaritans.

In Part I, circumcision and intermarriage were mentioned as two possible reasons why the Hellenized Jews were not accepted in the Temple. These reasons would also explain why the Hellenized Jews were despised by the Samaritans who considered themselves to be Jews who lived by the Torah.

The Book of Watchers criticized the fallen angels cohabiting with the daughters of men, and labeled their gigantic offspring "mamzers" (bastards), in language which David Suter ("Fallen Angels, Fallen Priests") has shown the contained hidden polemics against improper priestly marriages. The Testament of Levi contained similar language in condemning improper priestly marriages of Levi's descendants. MMT appeared to criticize the same sort of improper priestly marriages. The historical context of these polemics is unclear but is definitely anti-Samaritan. The polemics in each instance may be against Samaritan-Jewish priest intermarriage.

According to David Suter, “The maintenance of family purity has as its primary goal the protection of the purity of the priesthood, ....” Suter states that “In order to preserve the purity of the sanctuary from pollution occasioned by inappropriate marriage, the Testament of Levi admonishes the priest to ‘Take, therefore, to thyself a wife without blemish or pollution, while yet thou art young, and not of the race of strange nations’ (T. Levi 9:10).” The Ezra Nehemiah material contained this same concern as evidenced by the list of priests and Levites with mixed marriages including members of the high priestly family and by the account of the grandson of the High Priest who was the son-in-law of the governor of Samaria. In Nehemiah 13:27-32, we read:

“Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?" And one of the sons of Jehoi'ada, the son of Eli'ashib the high priest, was the son-in-law of Sanbal'lat the Hor'onite; therefore I chased him from me. Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites. Thus I cleansed them from everything foreign, and I established the duties of the priests and Levites, each in his work; and I provided for the wood offering, at appointed times, and for the first fruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.”

The major concern of the Damascus Document is the pollution of the temple by priests violating the marriage laws and the use of the priestly office to illegitimately obtain wealth. The author of the Psalm of Solomon 8 listed two major crimes that had been committed by the temple priests: adultery and theft from the sanctuary (Pss. Sol. 8:10-12). This is interesting because as previously noted the Lucan Jesus addressed both of these matters in the controversy sayings of Chapter 16.

Recall the following words included in Waiting on Tables, Part 2: Jesus has recognized that as a result of the corruption, including impurity caused by divorce and remarriage, the Temple no longer existed as a House of God. Jesus in effect adopted the viewpoint of the Books of Joel, Ruth, Jonah and Malachi which were a reaction to the reforms and visions of Ezra and Nehemiah of separateness of the people of Judah from the other people of the world.

Is there any evidence that the polemics in Acts 6-7 is directed against Jewish priests marrying Samaritan women?

Typically, the author of hidden polemics directed his criticism against a group for engaging in a practice prohibited by Torah. In this instance, the Luke is criticizing those who do not accept intermarriage. Stephen was stoned for waiting on tables of Jewish people who had married persons not acceptable to Judaism.

There are a number of clues. The leaders of the Hellenistic movement were members of the priestly class. Many priests joined the followers of Jesus. The Lucan Jesus told example stories wherein the Samaritan is the person seen most favorably. The ministry attracted numerous Samaritans to the movement.

The Sermon delivered by Stephen is a historical demonstration that the great events of the history of Israel occurred outside the Promised Land. This Sermon effectively undermined the rationale of a belief structure accepting as members only those Jews born in the Promised Land. The new movement promoted an inclusive view taking seriously the call to gather the “lost sheep” led astray by their shepherds. Jewish Christians recovered the Samaritans, representing ten northern tribes, as the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Acts does not report any overt hostility from Jews over this mission to the Samaritans.

Yet Stephen, who was appointed to wait on the tables of the Hebrews (Samaritans) and the Hellenists (Jews who had adopted Greeks ways), was stoned. The author of Acts has directed his hidden polemics at those who stoned Stephen because they were anti-Samaritan. Those who stoned Stephen were affiliated with the high priest. Priests marrying Samaritans would be a “hot-button” issue that would elicits strong emotional reactions from them.

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2007


Blogger Stephen C. Carlson said...

Has there been any scholarly literature published on the Samaritan background to Stephen's speech in Acts?

11:55 AM

Blogger Richard H. Anderson said...

Wilcox, 1965; Kahle, 1947; Munck, 1973; Scobie, 1973

8:05 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

See Principles of Samaritan Bible Exegesis, by S. Lowy (Brill, 1977) 49-57 for argument that Stephen's speech does not reflect Samaritanism, but variant versions of the Pentateuch in existence at the time. He points out (56) "No Samaritan would or could say, "which of the prophets have not your ancestors persecuted?" [Acts 7:52] All the later prophets are regarded by the Samaritans as imposters; for this very reason alone it would be ridiculous to put extra-Pentateuchal quotations into the mouth of a Samaritan." That does not rule out the possibility that Stephen was of Samaritan background but had been Jewish in belief and practice before conversion to Christianity, but such a person would have been only equivocally a Samaritan.

9:23 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry to post twice -- for something more recent, see Ingrid Helm, The Samaritans and Early Judaism: A Literary Analysis 118-19 (JSOT supp. 303, Sheffield, 2000). She is of the same opinion as Lowy, saying that "The quotations from Amos and Isaiah, the most hated prophets in Samaritan tradition, seems unthinkable in this context."

9:32 PM

Blogger Richard H. Anderson said...


thank you for your comments. I plan to provide a response next week.

9:55 AM


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