Review of Dunn, James D. G. “Jesus and Purity: An Ongoing Debate.”

Dunn, James D. G.  “Jesus and Purity: An Ongoing Debate.”  New Testament Studies 48, no. 4 (October 2002): 449-67. [Christian/Ritual/Liturgy/Worship]

This article reviews some of the major passages and Gospel stories that concern Jewish law regarding purity as they figure in the life and teachings of Jesus.  An understanding of the diversity of the religious environment of the period is helpful in understanding Jesus’ actions and teachings.  Purity was a major issue for the factions in his time including especially the Qumran Community.  The Temple was the focal point and reason for purity.  “Strictly speaking, purification was only necessary for those who wished to attend the Temple.” (p. 452.)  This raises the question about the relevance of the purity laws for those living away from the Temple.  Archaeological evidence yields four strong indicators that confirm that purity laws were important and observed in Galilee.  Raised as a Jew, Jesus would have been taught the laws of purity.

When dealing with specifics, some interesting insights and questions emerge in this study.  John’s baptism, for example, was unique or different from purification rites in three ways.  (1) It was only done once; (2) John baptized others, in ritual washings they immersed themselves; (3) it was for repentance from sin.  John acted as a priest and baptism appeared to replace the sin offering in sacrifices.  As for Jesus and his teachings the article examines the: cleansing of the leper, (Mk. 1:40-41), p. 461; washing of hands (Mk. 7:1-23), pp. 461-2; table-fellowship, p. 465; cleansing the Temple (Mk. 11:15-17), pp. 466-467.  It is possible that in Mk. 7:15, 19, Jesus revoked the purity laws, however, scholars find as many problems with this interpretation as not. Dunn concludes that the evidence is ambiguous about purity and Jesus, and so are his conclusions about Jesus’ view of ritual purity.  In many cases it is because of the limited data.  Nevertheless, it is evident that  Jesus regarded internal purity of heart of higher importance than external ritual purity.

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