Reading Romans, Constructing Paul(s) : A Conversation between Messianic Jews in Jerusalem and Paul within Judaism Scholars

Sammanfattning: “Something is going on in Pauline studies,” Paula Fredriksen said of the recent emergence of the “Paul within Judaism” (PWJ) perspective. Almost in parallel, Messianic Judaism has entered the religious scene. One a scholarly and the other a religious community, they both make the same claim: Paul was—and remained—a Jewish believer in Jesus. Hence, both communities propose reading the New Testament from within Judaism, making this study part of the intense, scholarly discussion of reading within-Judaism. Voices from religious, cultural, and scholarly perspectives have raised the general idea that these two communities understand Paul in the same way without being based on textual studies of Paul. By focusing on the locus classicus for both reading communities, Romans 11, this study addresses this idea. It aims at exploring Messianic Jewish understandings of Rom 11 in conversation with scholarly interpretations of the same text from the PWJ perspective. By centering discussion around the concepts of similar and dissimilar, it explores the extent to which Messianic Jews construct Paul and read Rom 11 similarly and dissimilarly to PWJ scholars. Alongside PWJ, older scholarly perspectives on Paul—“Paul outside Judaism” (POJ) and “Paul and Judaism” (PAJ)—are also briefly contrasted with the Messianic Jewish readings, drawing attention to major disparities and occasional parallels.Interdisciplinary in nature, the study merges the fields of New Testament studies with anthropology of Christianity. Its theoretical frameworks are inspired by both: (empirical) reception studies and the so-called “social life of Scripture” approach, the latter offering the analytical categories of biblical/textual ideologies and biblical/textual practices. Among the practices, three hermeneutics (strategies) are identified: “Yeshualogy,” post-supersessionism, and relevance. The Messianic Jewish readings figuring in this study stem from Bible-reading interviews conducted in Jerusalem with eighteen male leaders within the religious community (August 2015, November 2015, February-March 2016, and during the winter of 2019-2020). The participants represent a spectrum of the Israeli movement today, from traditional-Jewish (minority) to evangelical-Jewish (majority) congregations in terms of characteristics, expressions, and relations to Judaism. The interviews are accompanied by participant observation in Messianic Jewish congregations in Jerusalem.The empirical part of this study analyzes the Bible-reading interviews. Following the structure of Rom 11, discussions are divided into three parts: “Identity and Torah” (vv. 1–12), “Relations and Yeshua” (vv. 11–24), and “Time and Land” (vv. 25–36). Throughout, nurtured by Paul’s words, the topic of post-supersessionism is discussed from different angles—important for proposing a Paul within Judaism understanding. As most space is given to the Messianic Jewish readings, the thesis makes a contribution to the field of Messianic Judaism in Israel and its engagement with the Bible. Throughout the study a conversation is maintained with the PWJ perspective: both communities emphasize Paul’s Jewish identity and a humanity consisting of Jews and non-Jews; of a remained ethnic distinctiveness within the unity of Christ. The Messianic Jewish readings differ, however, from PWJ given their strong focus on Yeshualogy and faith, which is more reminiscent of a PAJ perspective. Hence, Messianic Jews are caught between PAJ and PWJ, nonetheless showing more similarities with PWJ. In the empirical readings, the hermeneutics of Yeshualogy and post-supersessionism are constantly negotiated against each other; the latter being the most important ideologically and rhetorically, whereas the first is displayed as most important practically and theologically. This study claims throughout that what is most important for Jesus-believing Jews in Jerusalem, who consider the Bible to be the highest authority in life, is to make the “living Word of God” relevant for them today, ultimately expressed in their having an eschatological identity and hermeneutic of awaiting the return of “Yeshua” to the land of Israel soon, and very soon.

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