I am around a lot of mainline Protestants and one of the things that bugs me is the frequent attempt to pit Jesus and Christianity against a supposed Jewish exclusionary purity policy. Jewish rules about purity get construed as misogynistic, homophobic and xenophobic. Jesus was for love and compassion, which gets contrasted with purity rules that excluded people.
Even scholars who should know better flirt with this.
A great value in Paula Fredriksen’s work is that she demolishes this idea.
In Paul, the Pagan’s Apostle, she reiterates her claim that purity laws were not the problem for Paul and his “redemptive gentiles”. Gentiles were not impure and contagious because they didn’t keep Jewish purity laws. Those laws did not even apply to non-Jews.
She uses the lay out of Herod’s temple to make her point. Purity laws were about who could approach the inner sanctuary.
To get close to the inner sanctuary, you had to pass through the other courts. You had to go through the court of the gentiles. This did not contaminate you. Physical contact with non-Jews did not render you ritually unclean.
Things that would cause you to need to get ritually cleansed, like sex or contact with the dead, were not immoral. They were acts of ordinary life. You did not need to be concerned about them unless you actually intended to approach the altar. The application of purity to synagogue attendance or prayer were things that came after New Testament times.
Purity was one thing, and idol worship–and the immorality associated with it–was something else. Idol worship and the atrocious life-style that went with it could not be fixed, like ritual impurity, by a washing ceremony.
This is why Paul required his “ex-pagan pagans” to turn from their ancestral forms of worship and to allow God’s spirit to “righteous” them by keeping the commandments about justice. This made them holy, not in a merely ritual way, but in a way that separated them from immoral pagan society and made them presentable for the return of Jesus.
What kept Gentiles away from the altar was that, lacking the Torah, they were prone to idolatry, incest, adultery., and murder. At least that was Paul’s perspective.
Now the former idol worshipers anticipate Christ’s return by worshiping at a eucharistic meal that Paul compared to Jewish worship at the altar in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 10:14-18).
Indeed Paul pictures his Gentiles metaphorically presenting the collection for Jerusalem as an acceptable offering to God (Philippians 4:18).
Fredriksen just points these things out. She does not give a long exposition of Paul’s (mystical?) view of the community of recovering pagans—at least not yet. She has a fuller exposition of Romans at the end of the book. Romans, she thinks, was not written in the heat of controversy as much as his other letters. Therefore, it gives us a more reflective view.
What I see here is a way around Christian self-righteousness and the Marcionite and anti-semitic implications of opposing Judaism to the peace and love of Christianity. Also I see a new way of looking at sanctification or holiness.