The “Old Paul”
Before World War II, and in certain circles until this day, Paul's oeuvre has been interpreted as a sustained attack on the Jewish religion. This is particularly the case in what has been (with some exaggeration) termed the “Lutheran” reading of Paul. The best summary and critique of this view is found in E. P. Sanders's monumental Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Sanders 1977, and see Fredriksen 1988, 102–06). According to this interpretation, Paul became violently disillusioned with “Judaism” because of its commitment to “works-righteousness.” These accounts of Paul (which also presented themselves as true statements about Judaism!), presented the Law as leading both to a sense of inadequacy, because of its alleged requirement that it be kept in its entirety for salvation, and also to self-righteousness and boasting before Man and God. Furthermore, such a religion was arid and devoid of spiritual feeling. In its commitment to outer ritual (and ethical) action and not inner spiritual feeling, it produced a dry, spiritually deadly legalistic mentality. It was against this decadent and empty religion that Paul revolted. From the very beginning of any kind of scholarly dialogue, Jewish scholars had protested that this view of Judaism simply was not a fair representation of the religion. Jews had always had a notion and powerful sense of God's grace, דסח and םימחר and of the necessity for grace in life and for salvation. Judaism, moreover, had always been inhabited by a profound spirituality experienced both through performance of the commandments and also in such experiences as prayer. The dramatic story of George Foote Moore's initially unsuccessful challenge to the reigning Christian accounts of Judaism, of the frustration of Jewish scholars like Samuel Sandmel who felt that nothing would ever change, and of the eventual triumph of a truer, fairer account of Judaism at the hands of Krister Stendahl, W. D. Davies, and especially Davies's student E. P. Sanders has been well told already (Watson 1986, 1–22). By now, in all but certain diehard Lutheran circles in Germany, it is well recognized that Luther's description of Judaism had more to do with his battles with Catholicism and his own personal spiritual conflicts than with either Paul or Palestinian Judaism. The question that remains, then, is: What about Paul? Did Paul simply misdescribe or misrepresent Judaism for one reason or another, or is it rather the Lutheran tradition which has misread Paul?