This landmark work, which has shaped a generation of scholarship, compares the apostle Paul with contemporary Judaism, both understood on their own terms. E.P. Sanders proposes a methodology for comparing similar but distinct religious patterns, demolishes a flawed view of rabbinic Judaism still prevalent in much New Testament scholarship, and argues for a distinct understanding of the apostle and of the consequences of his conversion. A new foreword by Mark A. Chancey outlines Sanders’s achievement, reviews the principal criticisms raised against it, and describes the legacy he leaves future interpreters.
“A pattern of religion, defined positively, is the description of how a religion is perceived by its adherents to function.8 ‘Perceived to function’ has the sense not of what an adherent does on a day-to-day basis, but of how getting in and staying in are understood: the way in which a religion is understood to admit and retain members is considered to be the way it ‘functions’.” (Page 17)
“Thus one can see already in Paul how it is that Christianity is going to become a new form of covenantal nomism, a covenantal religion which one enters by baptism, membership in which provides salvation, which has a specific set of commandments, obedience to which (or repentance for the transgression of which) keeps one in the covenantal relationship, while repeated or heinous transgression removes one from membership.” (Page 513)
“The warning is against boasting of the relationship to God which is evidenced by possession of the law and against being smug about the knowledge of God’s will while in fact transgressing.” (Page 550)
“As we shall eventually see, knowing God and cleaving to his way does entail a reward (since God is just), but the reward is not the goal of religion.” (Page 83)
“In short, this is what Paul finds wrong in Judaism: it is not Christianity.” (Page 552)
Paul and Palestinian Judaism revolutionized New Testament Studies. This great book began the serious academic retrieval of Second Temple Judaism as the defining context, in positive ways, of Paul’s life and work. Brilliantly analyzing a broad range of early Jewish texts, Sanders likewise exposed the deep and abiding anti-Judaism afflicting – and disfiguring – centuries of Christian scholarship. Both intellectually and morally, his writing sounded a summons that has reshaped an entire field of study. If, in the forty years since its first publication, things have begun to change, it is thanks to Sanders, and to the enduring achievement of Paul and Palestinian Judaism.
—Paula Fredriksen, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem
E.P. Sanders’s Paul and Palestinian Judaism is a modern classic. It changed the way we look at Paul and the way we look at ancient Judaism. Forty years later, it is still worth reading and worth arguing about.
—Shaye J.D. Cohen, Harvard University
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