Divine Law and the Gentile Enigma: Law and Identity in Early Judaism
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Slutsky, Rachel Sarah
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CitationSlutsky, Rachel Sarah. 2022. Divine Law and the Gentile Enigma: Law and Identity in Early Judaism. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractThe subject of this dissertation is the phenomenon of ancient Jewish laws that seek to regulate Gentile behavior. While scholars of biblical, Second Temple, or rabbinic literature will be familiar with Jewish laws concerning Gentiles, scholarship usually chooses one of two paths: Either, it focuses on the vast majority of these laws, which are intended for Jews; or, less frequently, it focuses on the question of historicity, namely whether Jews could have ever enforced law upon Gentiles. The present study assumes a theological and philosophical posture and does not consider laws as they might have been practiced. I build on the work of scholars like David Novak, Shaye J.D. Cohen, and Ishay Rosen-Zvi and Adi Ophir, and I address one lacuna that emerges, namely the role of law in early Jewish conceptions of “Gentility,” which I define as the Jewish theological idea of non-Jewishness. Abundant laws for Jews—initially Israelites—in certain early Jewish texts bespeak a conviction that Jews can be in right relationship with God by being the recipients, and adherents, of divine law. How do these specific sources understand the relationship between divine law and Gentiles? Can Gentiles be right with God without being Jews, and if so, how? I argue that three different positions emerge, congruent with three canonical periods. Ch.1 demonstrates that Pentateuchal law makes Gentiles subject to a short list of divine commands—the “resident alien” subjected to many more—and affords Gentiles the ability to be in right relationship with God fully while remaining Gentile—without the possibility of conversion. Ch. 2 argues that in the Second Temple period, Jubilees, Acts, and the Sibylline Oracles challenge this, claiming Gentiles are never in right relationship with God; some propose conversion as a solution, while others leave Gentiles without means to divine approval. Ch. 3 shows how, in the tannaitic and amoraic periods, t.’Avodah Zarah, Genesis Rabbah, and b.Sanhedrin all reflect a profound concretization of the notion of “Noahide law,” in which Gentiles can become right with God either by choosing to become Jews or by adhering to a list of these seven central laws.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37372139
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