Tag Archives: Paul

Novenson’s New Book on Paul


(Larry Hurtado):  Our new colleague, Dr. Matt Novenson, has just shown me the author’s copy of his first book, which looks like a noteworthy contribution to our understanding of Paul:  Matthew V. Novenson, Christ among the Messiahs: Christ Language in Paul and Messiah Language in Ancient Judaism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).  Here’s the OUP link:


And here’s the book summary:

Recent scholarship on ancient Judaism, finding only scattered references to messiahs in Hellenistic- and Roman-period texts, has generally concluded that the word ”messiah” did not mean anything determinate in antiquity. Meanwhile, interpreters of Paul, faced with his several hundred uses of the Greek word for ”messiah,” have concluded that christos in Paul does not bear its conventional sense. Against this curious consensus, Matthew V. Novenson argues in Christ among the Messiahs that all contemporary uses of such language, Paul’s included, must be taken as evidence for its range of meaning. In other words, early Jewish messiah language is the kind of thing of which Paul’s Christ language is an example.

Looking at the modern problem of Christ and Paul, Novenson shows how the scholarly discussion of christos in Paul has often been a cipher for other, more urgent interpretive disputes. He then traces the rise and fall of ”the messianic idea” in Jewish studies and gives an alternative account of early Jewish messiah language: the convention worked because there existed both an accessible pool of linguistic resources and a community of competent language users. Whereas it is commonly objected that the normal rules for understanding christos do not apply in the case of Paul since he uses the word as a name rather than a title, Novenson shows that christos in Paul is neither a name nor a title but rather a Greek honorific, like Epiphanes or Augustus.

Focusing on several set phrases that have been taken as evidence that Paul either did or did not use christos in its conventional sense, Novenson concludes that the question cannot be settled at the level of formal grammar. Examining nine passages in which Paul comments on how he means the word christos, Novenson shows that they do all that we normally expect any text to do to count as a messiah text. Contrary to much recent research, he argues that Christ language in Paul is itself primary evidence for messiah language in ancient Judaism.


Paul: A “Hybrid” Jew?


(Larry Hurtado)  I found Dr. Ehrensperger’s presentation last Friday in the CSCO seminar very well researched, incisive and persuasive.  Essentially, she was approaching the question of how to place Paul in terms of his cultural identify, focusing on his use of languages.  Her main thesis was that the metaphor of “hybrid” is not the best, as it connotes some amalgam of things, e.g., a “third thing” out of two others.  Drawing upon recent studies of bi/multi-lingualism, and more careful studies of the engagement of dominated with dominant cultures, she proposed other images, e.g., “layered”/multiple identities. 

One striking quote she gave was from the 2nd-century CE writer, Aulius Gellius (Attic Nights, 17.17.1), who referred to a figure describing himself as having “three hearts”, each of which represented one of the linguistic/cultural forces that he owned (Greek, Oscan and Latin).  In Paul’s case too, she proposed, we appear to have a man who doggedly continued to affirm his Jewishness and Hebraic upbringing, who also obviously wrote passable Greek (but not in fact highly sophisticated or elegant Greek of the time), and who used a Latin name (“Paulus” = “small/little”, so would “shorty” do?). 

Contra some claims today, Paul does not show deep acquaintance with Greek philosophy or literature.  The only identifiable references or allusions he makes are to the Greek OT (although he seems to show an ability to make his own rendering of the Hebrew OT in some places).  He was well aware of his shortcomings as a speaker (e.g., 2 Cor 10:10) and rhetorician.  He remained convinced that he was the divinely appointed agent of the God of his (Jewish) ancestors, charged with enfranchising godless gentiles into obedience to this one true God. 

Ehrensperger’s presentation was an overture to a larger project on Paul that she is embarking on now.  I look forward to seeing the full harvest of her efforts.