"The object of all good literature is to purge the soul of its petty troubles." ~ P.G. Wodehouse

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Oliver on Peter at the home of Simon the Tanner

Isaac Oliver has a great piece in the recent New Testament Studies on the ritual purity question concerning Peter staying in the home of Simon the Tanner in Acts 9:43. "Simon Peter Meets Simon the Tanner: The Ritual Insignificance of Tanning in Ancient Jerusalem," NTS 59 (2013): 50-60. Oliver shows the overwhelming way in which New Testament scholars have explained Peter's staying with Simon the Tanner as a nascent disregard for ritual purity even before Peter's vision in Acts 10 of the sheet with unclean animals. This is a comment I admit to having made in my courses on a number of occasions, but as Oliver points out, this is what the guild has taught us.

The strength of the article is the way in which Oliver delves into the rabbinic sources on tanning and how the rabbis dislike of the occupation has been interpreted as a dislike based on ritual impurity. Oliver shows that their dislike is often due to the messiness and smelliness of the business and not due to ritual impurity. He argues that the average Jewish tanner would have been able to complete their work regularly without contracting ritual impurity. In addition, those tanners located near water sources were likely to be even more ritually pure due to their ability to easily purify themselves if need be. Note Simon's location in Joppa on the sea.

In conclusion, Oliver states that the author of Acts is not concerned with ritual impurity in the mention of Simon the Tanner, but this inclusion may have been intended to highlight the "socio-economic status of some members of the Jesus movement."

This is an article worth reading and an important corrective on generations of NT scholarship and teaching.

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