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Review: Paul and Rabbinic Judaism

by W. D. Davies

Published by SPCK, copyright 1948, 1955, and 1962

Back in my early days of exploring Messianic Judaism, I would often test my developing theology by debating with Christians on various web forums.  Quite often, instead of getting answers back from the Scriptures, I would get a comeback along the lines of, "Well, no real theologian agrees with you, so you can't possibly be right."  I wish I'd had this book back then.

W.D. Davies was the Professor of New Testament studies for Princeton University in the middle of the 20th Century.  This book is long since out of print (which is a great loss), but I found a copy quite by accident at the used book store less than 24 hours after Rabbi Gavri'el mentioned having seen it cited elsewhere to me.  Needless to say, I don't believe in coincidences and immediately purchased it.  I'm glad I did.

Davies is definitely writing for his fellow scholars rather than for the layman, and as such, some may find his book hard to read with its untranslated phrases in Greek, Latin, and even German and the long build-up of his arguments.  Many will doubtless find it dry.  I didn't.  Though he never lapses into the informal style that characterizes so much literature today, he nevertheless maintains the readers fascination as he presents material from a variety of Rabbinic sources.  His central thesis, like that of authors like Stern, Nanos, and Hegg, is that while Paul, like Philo before him, did not hesitate to speak to the Greek world in its own language and idioms, he was influenced far less by Hellnistic sources than modern scholars typically believe, and far more by his rabbinic upbringing at the feet of Gamaliel.  He very systematically presents the prevailing views of his day, explains why he finds them inadequate, and then presents alternatives.

Those who have been following my Romans notes will already see the profound impact Davies is having on my own theology.  This is not to say that he was perfect--he holds to the Documentary Hypothesis, for example--but he was most certainly ahead of his time, and would be a wonderful addition to any scholar's library.  If you can find a copy.

Rating:  5/5




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