The Sons of Noah and the Sons of Abraham: The Origins of Noahide Law

in Journal for the Study of Judaism
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This article addresses the early formation of the rabbinic Noahide laws in light of Paul’s “sons of Abraham” motif and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Close examination reveals that Paul’s epistles, Acts of the Apostles, and rabbinic Noahide law represent one side of a debate among Jews about the eschatological fate of the nations. This development was in contrast to the homogenizing paradigms of Hellenistic Judaism and the anti-gentile apocalypticism of the Qumran community. The similarities between Paul’s “sons of Abraham” and the rabbinic “sons of Noah” suggest that both traditions originated from the same school of thought and may indicate a proto-rabbinic source from which Paul and the rabbis derived these requirements.

Journal for the Study of Judaism

In the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman Period




Judith Hauptman, Rereading the Mishnah: A New Approach to Ancient Jewish Texts (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005) and “Does the Tosefta Precede the Mishnah: Halakha, Aggada, & Narrative Coherence,” Judaism 50 (2001): 224-40, at 228. See also Hanokh Albeck, Mehqarim biveraita uvetosefta veyahasan latalmud (Jerusalem: Rab Kook, 1944), 150, 184. Jacob N. Epstein, Mevo’ot lesifrut hatannaim (Tel Aviv: Magnes, 1957), 21-23; Peter Schäfer, “Research into Rabbinic Literature: An Attempt to Define the Status Quaestionis,” jjs 37 (1986): 139-52.


Shamma Friedman, “The Primacy of Tosefta to Mishnah in Synoptic Parallels,” in Introducing Tosefta: Textual, Intratextual and Intertextual Studies, ed. Harry Fox and Tirzah Meacham (Hoboken, nj: Ktav, 1999), 106.


David Novak, The Image of the Non-Jew in Judaism: The Idea of Noahide Law (Oxford: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2011), 216-17.


Gidon Rothstein, “Involuntary Particularism: What the Noahide Laws tell us about Citizenship and Alienage,” Georgetown Immigration Law Journal 18 (2004): 543-66, at 547.


Hayes, What’s Divine about Divine Law, 359.


Hayes, What’s Divine about Divine Law, 365.


Bockmuehl, Jewish Law in Gentile Churches, 78, 87, 152-53, 172. Cf. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism, 114-15. Davies points out the discrepancy between Torah commandments for gerim, nokrim and the Noahide requirements.


Lavee, “The Noahide Laws,” 73-114.


Lavee, “The Noahide Laws,” 100.


Cf. Alan F. Segal, “One Covenant or Two: Paul and Early Christianity on Universalism and Cultural Pluralism,” in Reinterpreting Revelation and Tradition: Jews and Christians in Conversation, ed. John T. Pawlikowski and Hayim Goren Perelmuter (Franklin, wi: Sheed & Ward, 2000), 113-40. Segal suggests the Sibylline Oracles provide a contemporary source to the four prohibitions in Acts. However, I view this document as a later composition which bears little resemblance to the position taken in the New Testament. Acts of the Apostles clearly does not marginalize the temple or its rituals but actually reaffirms them (Acts 21:23-26). Whereas, the oracles declare that the blessed will reject all temples and altars of sacrifice. Segal, “One Covenant or Two,” 123.


See, e.g., James C. VanderKam, “1 Enoch, Enochic Motifs, and Enoch in Early Christian Literature,” in The Jewish Apocalyptic Heritage in Early Christianity, ed. VanderKam and William R. Adler, crint 3.4 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 33-101; James A. Waddell, The Messiah: A Comparative Study of the Enochic Son of Man and the Pauline Kyrios (New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013); Loren T. Stuckenbruck, The Myth of Rebellious Angels: Studies in Second Temple Judaism and New Testament Texts (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014).


James M. Scott, Geography in Early Judaism and Christianity: The Book of Jubilees (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 93 suggests that the “eating and drinking” to which Luke refers was something beyond the mundane. He points to these actions as the more malevolent activities of which the watchers were accused in Jubilees.


Stanley K. Stowers, A Rereading of Romans: Justice, Jews and Gentiles (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), 88-91. Davies was the first to suggest that Rom 1-2 was derived from the Noahide tradition. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism, 115-17, 325-28. Morna Hooker also argued that the fallen angels mentioned in rabbinic and pseudepigraphic works were responsible for the “degrading passions” listed in Rom 1:18-32; cf. Hooker, From Adam to Christ: Essays on Paul (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 78-79.


Rom 1:32. See also Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism, 115; and Hooker, From Adam to Christ, 76. It is here where Paul refers to a specific revelation or instruction transmitted by those who experienced God’s judgment firsthand, i.e., Noah and his descendants.


Lavee, “The Noahide Laws,” 104-5.


Stuckenbruck, Myth of Rebellious Angels, 216-29. Jub. 16:26 actually identifies the eternal “plant of righteous” with the “seed” of Abraham. This holy seed is then destined to become like the creator of all things.


Thiessen, Paul and the Gentile Problem, 154-60. Thiessen’s argument for the cosmic seed of Abraham corresponds with how Jub. 16:26 describes the holy seed achieving a godlike state at the end-of-days.


Segal, Paul the Convert, 189.


Mark D. Nanos, The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul’s Letter (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 118.


Daniel Boyarin, A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 13-15; For a slightly different reading, see Karin B. Neutel, “Neither Jew nor Greek: Abraham as a Universal Ancestor,” in Goodman et al., Abraham, the Nations, and the Hagarites, 291-306.


Boyarin, A Radical Jew, 106.


John G. Gager, Reinventing Paul (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 117. For the purposes of this article, I define Hellenistic Judaism by that which circulated throughout the Alexandrian community in Egypt.


Cf. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism, 115-17. Davies argues that Paul’s use of the phrase “a law unto themselves” (Rom 2:14-15) refers to Hellenistic and Stoic philosophies. However, Paul continues with the phrase “written upon their hearts” leading one to believe Paul was alluding to Jer 31:33 as in Heb 8:10, 10:16. Moreover, Paul clearly references Deut 10:16 and 30:6 in Rom 2:29 when discussing circumcision of the heart. Davies even admits that the “dress is . . . Hellenistic but the body rabbinic.” For arguments on Greek philosophy, see Troels Engberg-Pedersen, Paul and the Stoics (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000); Abraham J. Malherbe, Paul and the Popular Philosophers (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989); See also J. Paul Sampley, ed., Paul in the Greco-Roman World: A Handbook, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (London: Bloomsbury, 2016).


Hayes, What’s Divine about Divine Law, 162. See also Caroline Johnson Hodge, If Sons, Then Heirs: A Study of Kinship and Ethnicity in the Letters of Paul (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 48-51.


Pamela Eisenbaum, Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle (New York: HarperCollins, 2009), 179-89; and Fredriksen, “Judaizing the Nations,” 240. See, for example, Gal 3:20; 1 Cor 8:6; Rom 3:30; 1 Tim 2:5.


Jutta Leonhardt-Balzer, “Israel and the Community in Paul (Rom 9-11) and the Rule Texts from Qumran,” in The Dead Sea Scrolls and Pauline Literature, ed. Jean-Sébastien Rey (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 277-94, at 282.


Leonhardt-Balzer, “Israel and the Community,” 293.


Boyarin, A Radical Jew, 181-85.


Gen. Rab. 53:9; See also Lavee, “Converting the Missionary Image of Abraham,” 211-12. Gen. Rab. 39:14 also mentions that Abraham converted men and Sarah converted women.


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