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Paul's Reversal of Jews Calling Gentiles 'Dogs' (Philippians 3:2): 1600 Years of an Ideological Tale Wagging an Exegetical Dog?

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The commentary tradition on Philippians 3:2 (and on Matt. 15 and Mark 7 too) has been claiming at least since Chrysostom that Jews commonly called Gentiles dogs, thereby legitimating a pattern of calling Jews dogs. Contemporary commentaries indicate no awareness of the harmful legacy or the continued implications of the polemic to which it contributes when perpetuating this invective. Moreover, evidence of this supposed common prejudice is often not provided, and when it is, usually consists of sayings attributed to Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician or Canaanite woman—thus available to us only in documents that post-date Paul, representing early "Christian" polemic. In addition to being anachronistic and not likely known to Paul's audience in Philippi, upon examination, it is also not clear that these Gospel sayings provide the proof supposed. Sometimes an appeal is made to Psalm 22 and other Jewish texts, but under examination, none of these substantiate the claim. Likewise, the many supposed cases in rabbinic literature—which could only provide anachronistic evidence at best—do not in fact substantiate that Jews ever called Gentiles dogs, much less that Jews commonly did so, even long after Christians habitually called Jews dogs. This essay examines the texts and challenges the interpretive tradition's claims, as well as its failure to exhibit hermeneutical distance when repeating this supposed invective against Jews and Judaism. Having exposed this ideological tale, several exegetical options worth exploring are noted.

Affiliations: 1: Rockhurst University


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