Saul the Sadducee?
A Rabbinical Thought Experiment


Charles David Isbell

Isbell is the Jewish Studies professor at Louisiana State University. He holds a Ph.D. in Hebrew and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University and is an original member of the translation committee for The New American Standard Bible. For additional biographic and bibliographic information about Dr. Isbell, see his website: www.cdisbell.online.

 


 

Internet Archive

*Data sourced from Dimensions, an inter-linked research information system provided by Digital Science.

Article Information:

Author: Charles David Isbell

Title: "Saul the Sadducee? A Rabbinical Thought Experiment"

Journal: Socio-Historical Examination of Religion and Ministry

Journal Issue: Volume 1, Number 2

Date: Fall 2019

Pages: 85-119

DOI: https://doi.org/10.33929/sherm.2019.vol1.no2.01

Abstract

In keeping with talmudic tradition, this article presents a rabbinical thought experiment that questions the authenticity—indeed the very historicity—of the Apostle Paul’s Pharisaic Jewish background. By examining current interpretations of Saul’s Damascus road conversion, as well as Lukan and Pauline accounts in the New Testament, it becomes evident that there exists a striking disparity between Paul and other first century Pharisees, particularly since he took far too many liberties with his beliefs and behaviors (pre- and post-conversion) that would have set him apart from his Pharisaic contemporaries. Moreover, Luke (a non-Jew writing in a post-Sadducean world) was both an unreliable biographer and yet the primary source for claiming Paul was a Pharisee. Thus, from a Jewish perspective, it is thought-provoking to ask whether the idea of Paul as originally a Sadducee best explains these disparities. Ultimately, the thesis of this article is that interpreters should not view Paul as having followed the standard path to becoming an authentic Pharisee. In fact, Paul’s radical revision of prevailing Pharisaic exegesis suggests he was likely never a Pharisee or, at the very least, not a consistent Pharisee in the tradition of Gamaliel. The purpose of this article is to trace just how modern scholarship would change if Pauline scholars presumed that Paul was, in fact, a Sadducee instead of a Pharisee. Undoubtedly, the consequence would suggest that both Paul and Luke were world-class (albeit opportunistic) rhetoricians who used Pharisaic imagery solely to add credibility to Paul’s image and his emerging influence on the primitive church.


 

Keywords: Saul, Apostle Paul, Luke, Sadducee, Pharisee, Luke-Acts

Share This Article
  • 5
    Shares
More From the Author:

If you see a problem with this webpage, find some of the links are not working, or are unable to properly view the article, please contact SHERM immediately.


Citation Examples:

Turabian/Chicago:

(footnote) Charles David Isbell, “Saul the Sadducee? A Rabbinical Thought Experiment,” Socio-Historical Examination of Religion and Ministry 1, no. 2 (Fall 2019): 85-119, https://doi.org/10.33929/sherm.2019.vol1.no2.01.

(bibliography) Isbell, Charles David. “Saul the Sadducee? A Rabbinical Thought Experiment,” Socio-Historical Examination of Religion and Ministry 1, no. 2 (Fall 2019): 85-119. https://doi.org/10.33929/sherm.2019.vol1.no2.01.

MLA:

Isbell, Charles David. “Saul the Sadducee? A Rabbinical Thought Experiment.” Socio-Historical Examination of Religion and Ministry, vol. 1, no. 2, Fall 2019, doi.org/10.33929/sherm.2019.vol1.no2.01, pp. 85-119.

APA:

Isbell, C. D. (2019). Saul the Sadducee? A Rabbinical Thought Experiment. Socio-Historical Examination of Religion and Ministry, 1(2), 85-119. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.33929/sherm.2019.vol1.no2.01.

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 2.0 License. Information on obtaining permissions beyond the scope of this license is available at SHERM Journal Permissions.

References:

Barrett, C. K. “The Allegory of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar in the Argument of Galatians.” In Rechfertigung, edited by J. Friedrich, W. Pöhlmann, and P. Stuhlmacher, 1‒16. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1976.

Baum, Armin Daniel. “Paulinismen in den Missionsreden des lukanischen Paulus: zur inhaltlichen Authentizität der oratio recta in der Apostelgeschichte.” Ephemerides theologicae Lovanienses 82, no. 4 (2006): 405‒36. https://doi.org/10.2143/etl.82.4.2018920.

Beker, J. Christiaan. Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1980.

Betz, Hans Dieter. “Paul.” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by David Noel Freedman. Vol. 5, OSh, 186‒201. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Bondi, Richard A. “Become Such as I Am: St. Paul in the Acts of the Apostles.” Biblical Theology Bulletin 27, no. 4 (1997): 164‒76. https://doi.org/10.1177/014610799702700405.

Boyarin, Daniel. A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1994.

Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament. Abridged ed. Edited by Marion L. Soards. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvggx32v.

Bruce, F. F. The Book of the Acts. Rev. ed. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988.

Chilton, Bruce. Rabbi Paul: An Intellectual Biography. New York: Image Books, 2004.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts. From Darkness to Light: Aspects of Conversion in the New Testament. Vol. 20, Overtures to Biblical Theology. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1986.

Goldman, Hetty, ed. Excavations at Gözlü Kule, Tarsus. 3 vols. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1950‒1963.

Grindheim, Sigurd. “Apostate Turned Prophet: Paul’s Prophetic Self-Understanding and Prophetic Hermeneutic with Special Reference to Galatians 3.10‒12.” New Testament Studies 53, no. 4 (2007): 545‒65. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0028688507000276.

Gundry, Robert H. “The Moral Frustration of Paul before His Conversion: Sexual Lust in Romans 7:7‒25.” In Pauline Studies: Essays Presented to Professor F. F. Bruce on His 70th Birthday, edited by D. A. Hagner and M. J. Harris, 228‒45. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980.

Gutbrod, Walter. “νόμος.” In Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich. Translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Vol. 4, 1022‒91. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964.

Hvalvik, Reidar. “Paul as a Jewish Believer—According to the Book of Acts.” In Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries, edited by Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik, 121‒53. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007.

Isbell, Charles David. “Emic or Etic? Interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures.” The Bible and Interpretation: Second Temple Judaism (2015). http://www.bibleinterp.com/PDFs/Isbell.pdf.

Isbell, Charles David. How Jews and Christians Interpret Their Sacred Texts: A Study in Transvaluation. Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2014.

Isbell, Charles David. “Paul and Judaism.” The Bible and Interpretation: New Testament (2017). http://www.bibleinterp.com/PDFs/isbellPaul.pdf.

Jervell, Jacob. “Paulus: der Lehrer Israels: zu den apologetischen Paulusreden in der Apostelgeschichte.” Novum testamentum 10, no. 2/3 (1968): 164‒90. https://doi.org/10.2307/1560367.

Jeske, Richard L. “Luke and Paul on the Apostle Paul.” Currents in Theology and Mission 4, no. 1 (1977): 28‒38.

Kent, Jack A. “The Psychological Origins of the Resurrection Myth.” Faith and Freedom 49 (1996): 5‒22.

Martin, Troy W. “Paul: From Persecutor to Apostle.” A Pastoral Ministry Institute Presentation in Recognition of the Year of St. Paul, Chicago, IL, October 16, 2008.

Mattill, Andrew Jacob. “Jesus-Paul Parallels and the Purpose of Luke-Acts: H. H. Evans Reconsidered.” Novum testamentum 17, no. 1 (1975): 15‒46. https://doi.org/10.2307/1560195.

Meeks, Wayne A. “‘And Rose Up to Play’: Midrash and Paraenesis in 1 Corinthians 10:1‒22.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 5, no. 16 (1982): 64‒78. https://doi.org/10.1177/0142064x8200501605.

Miller, James C. “The Jewish Context of Paul’s Gentile Mission.” Tyndale Bulletin 58, no. 1 (2007): 101‒15.

Mindling, Joseph A. “‘Are they Hebrews? So am I’: The Jewish Side of the Apostle to the Gentiles.” New Theology Review 7 (1994): 6‒17.

Porton, Gary G. “Sadducees.” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by David Noel Freedman. Vol. 5, OSh, 282‒95. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Rambo, Lewis R. “Current Research on Religious Conversion.” Religious Studies Review 8, no. 2 (April 1982): 146‒59. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-0922.1982.tb00221.x.

Saldarini, Anthony J. “Pharisees.” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by David Noel Freedman. Vol. 5, OSh, 289‒303. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Sanders, E. P. Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1983.

Sandnes, Karl Olav. Paul, One of the Prophets? A Contribution to the Apostle’s Self-Understanding. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 43. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1991.

Segal, Alan F. Paul the Convert: The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990.

Stendahl, Krister. “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West.” Harvard Theological Review 56, no. 3 (1963): 199‒215.  https://doi.org/10.1017/s0017816000024779.

van Unnik, W. C. Tarsus or Jerusalem? The City of Paul’s Youth. Translated by George Ogg. London: Epworth Press, 1962.

Wilk, Florian. “Ruhm coram Deo bei Paulus?” Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche 101, no. 1 (2010): 55‒77. https://doi.org/10.1515/zntw.2010.003.

Witherington, Ben III. The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998.

Wright, N. T. “Paul, Arabia, and Elijah (Galatians 1: 17).” Journal of Biblical Literature 115, no. 4 (1996): 683‒92. https://doi.org/10.2307/3266349.

Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Christian Origins and the Question of God 3. London: SPCK, 2003.

Share This Page