Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Parallels between the Gospels and Avos?

In an earlier post[1a], I noted a possible parallel between the language of the New Testament and that of Chazal. I believe that these parallels might attest to the veracity of the story in the Talmud according to which Jesus, in his earlier years, was in fact a member of the Pharisees, as a student of R' Yehoshua ben Perachya.

Although one must take care in drawing parallels [1], the appearance of parallels in Avot which contains the oldest Rabbinic traditions [2] would seem to be important.

In Avot 4:20:

רבי אומר, אל תסתכל בקנקן, אלא במה שיש בו: יש קנקן חדש, מלא ישן; וישן, אפילו חדש אין בו.

In Luke: 5:33-39:

33They said to him, "John's disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking."

And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins[4], the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, 'The old is better.'

It would seem that the use of this particular parable, in the context of a polemic against the Pharisees, using a phrase that we know was adopted by the Pharisees, is particularly significant. But I am not certain how to interpret this? Ideas, anyone.

[I thought of one possibility. Luke was the companion to Paul who is most famous for propagating the the abrogation of Jewish law (satirized in BT Shabbos - Ch. 16) [Since as Kevin notes, it also appears in Mathhew - this is nonesense]. Following the explanation mentioned in Note 3 that wine = the law\content and vessel = the form of the transmission of the law. In this polemic, the Pharisees are protesting Jesus's disregard of the law (of fasting). To which Jesus (acc. to Luke) responds that new Wine - i.e. the new doctrine that Jesus (acc. to Paul/Luke) was propounding cannot be stored in old vessels - i.e. the laws of the old testament. This is then an argument in support of the abrogation of the law[5].

This interpretation depends on the (admittedly questionable) assumption that the Wine parable was current in the circles of the Pharisees before Rebbi. An alternative explanation would have Rebbi differentiating between himself and the Christians by stressing that he is merely changing the form of the law, not the law itself. But the expression isn't formulated correctly for such a polemic.
Incorrect - as in comments, still think basic parallel interesting.]

[Note that the parable of wine and its vessel is also used in the argument between R' Yehoshua ben Chananya and the princess - Taanis 7a]

[1a] The credit for the idea behind that post goes to my friend, SL Rubinstein.

[1] For instance one cannot deduce anything from the "eye of a needle" parallel as this is likely a popular expression that was in wide use.

[2] See R' Dovid Tzvi Hoffmann "HaMishna Rishonah". I will discuss this sefer when I continue my series on him at some future time.

[3]According to some commentaries, the connection between this phrase and Rebbi is that Rebbi as redactor of the Mishna was pointing out that despite the "new" form of his creation it is still full of "old"er traditions. This perhaps has important implications regarding the question of Rebbis actions as redactor of the Mishna. Perhaps this is proof that the original form of the traditions were as a Midrash and Mishna is a new form originated by Rebbi. [I erred in ignoring the context in which Rebbi is clearly responding to R' Yosi B'R' Yehuda who says there is no point in learning from a young person (as it is used by Baal HaMeor in his intro). (I am reminded of the Gemara in Bava Metzia (Ch. 4) where Rebbi says - "ילדות היתה בי והעזתי את פני ר' נתן הבבלי" - i.e. he is admitting the deficiencies of youth.]

It is clear that Rebbi didn't originate this phrase since it appears aleady in Luke, before Rebbi was born.

[4] Now we need to understand Rebbi's - אפילו - even - new wine, if new wine would damage the vessel why should new wine be placed there at all? Is anything besides wine stored in a Kankan? See comments

[Update: Potentially interesting book (Google books will only let me see so much), some of his claims in the page linked are invalid. Jesus's anti-divorce sentiment may reflect the opinion of Beis Shammai (see Rosen-Tzvi's article in JSIJ), the fasting is the subject of my discussion here but is not simple (if he believed himself Messiah then, like the later Shabsai Tzvi, he would naturally believe fasts need be abolished - "Can you make the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them " - note the parallel to Mishna Sukkah where guests at a wedding are also exempt from Sukkah).]

[5] But if the thesis in this book is correct my whole argument has no basis. I don't know waht to do with the preceding parable about clothes and with the concluding statement that "old wine is better".

Perhaps: "The old is good: this saying is meant to be ironic and offers an explanation for the rejection by some of the new wine that Jesus offers: satisfaction with old forms will prevent one from sampling the new." (here) but this is difficult since it is well-know that old is better (and this can be seen in both the Bible (Esther), and Rabbinic documents). This is clearly a Paulian apologetic


Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

It seems to me that the two usages are quite distinct, although the new-old parallelism is there. Also, I've got it at Abot 4:20 not 2:26, in the context of a discussion of age in teaching and learning, where this is Rabbi's punchline, so to speak. Young students can have learned good teachings, and elders might not have even bad teachings, but be empty. Isn't a qanqan the storage vessel, what archaeologists call a pithos, a big jar set in the floor (so Jastrow)? That would present a bit different image, too: an old one that's dried up and has nothing in it, versus a new one into which the old wine has been poured.

On the Luke passage, I think the original version (quite similar) is found in Matthew 9:10/14-17. There, the wineskins imagery it appears to be either 1.) a discussion of the appropriate tactics to use in bringing sinners to God, or 2.) referring to appropriate behavior in the presence of "the bridegroom", aka the Messiah. It depends on whether the pericope is understood to begin at verse 10 or verse 14. I lean toward the former, that the whole setting (the banquet) is one topical unit. A traditional commentary (Theophylact) that I have relates it to the concept of synkatabasis, or condescension: lowering oneself to the understanding and ability of another so as to mercifully lead them to God from where they are; the difficult things can come later with more understanding.

I'm sorry I don't recall anyone who's mentioned the Abot/Gospels new/old wine connection in any detail. I recall hearing it mentioned before, but not where.

Wolf2191 said...

Thanks! That was VERY helpful. I will have to look up Matthew and think about the whole thing a bit more. There should be another version of the quote in Avot I need to find as well.

Wolf2191 said...

You are right, an old KANKAN\Barrel can take new wine even if an old SKIN cannot. My not e4 is nonesense.

Anonymous said...

My favorite parallel between Talmudic literature and the New Testament is between Matthew 7:5 / Luke 6:42 and Bava Basra 15b / Arachin 16b:

וא"ר יוחנן מאי דכתיב (רות א) ויהי בימי שפוט השופטים דור ששופט את שופטיו אומר לו טול קיסם מבין (עיניך) [שיניך] אומר לו טול קורה מבין עיניך אמר לו (ישעיהו א) כספך היה לסיגים אמר לו סבאך מהול במים

תניא א"ר טרפון (תמיהני) [תמה] אני אם יש בדור הזה שמקבל תוכחה אם אמר לו טול קיסם מבין עיניך אמר לו טול קורה מבין עיניך

Anonymous said...

May i enquire as to the heter of quoting and disscusing (never mind the actual reading) from the gospels hence them happening to be ספרי מינות of the highst calibre

Anonymous said...

The Talmud does (Shabbos Ch. 16), R' Yaakov Emden does, do you need more?

Anonymous said...

There are so many more. The condamnation of shvuos and nedarim in the Beatitudes vs. the Sages that say that this is why a nazir must bring a korban chatas, the notion that ואהבת את ה and ואהבת לרעך are the two cardinal principles of Torah, etc, etc.
The thing is that oso ha-ish was just bringing up classical stuff most of the time, and that he was dead wrong on the few things he was mechadesh. It is an illusion of Christian apologetics to think that he was the only one having an ethical outlook on avodas haShem, while all the others were just a group of cold-hearted casuists.

Anonymous said...

Do u honestly consider urself to be on the same level as R' Yaakov Emden who knew what he was doing and had a reason for doing so ? (and was obviously extermely nizhar in whatever he did or read ?)

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