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Barnstone’s “Saint Paul’s” Yom Kippur

October 7, 2011

Willis Barnstone’s The Restored New Testament is both an eloquent, fresh translation … and also a superb act of restoration…”
–Harold Bloom

“Barnstone’s new English version of the core texts of Christian scripture is almost startling in its freshness. Scraping away many centuries of stylistic fussiness and supersessionist distortion…”
–Robert Alter

Given Harold Bloom’s and Robert Alter’s comments about Willis Barnstone’s translation, what if anything might the New Testament say about Yom Kippur?  Well, the Barnstone rendering only makes two mentions.

The first is explicit, at Acts 27.9, which deserves a footnote:

Since Barnstone, in the footnote, brings up how “Paul, a Christian Jew” is remembering “the holiest of Jewish holidays,” then Barnstone gives the Greek translation, and the English translation of that (i.e., “The Fast or Day of Atonement”).

That mention of “Atonement” brings us to the second mention in the New Testament, as Barnstone recognizes it.  It’s the second mention of “Atonement,” not this time an explicit mention if possibly a Pauline, and Christian, suggestion of Yom Kippur.  It’s at I Corinthians 6.20, now just imbedded in the footnote:

Now, “the prior reference to Eve and Adam” deserve some further discussion, just not in this particular post.  The point Barnstone is making is that Christian Atonement through the death of Jesus was somewhere and somehow very distantly connected, by Paul, the Christian Jew, in the Greek and perhaps by some “inflated metaphor” of the New Testament.

(The only other thing I want to say in this post is that blogger Brian LePort is asking today, “What does Yom Kippur mean for Christians?”  And some time ago, was it more than a year ago now, Theophrastus and I got into a discussion over the answer to Brian’s question, which you can still find here.  At the time, I wasn’t even considering Barnstone’s answer.)

8 Comments leave one →
  1. October 9, 2011 8:14 pm

    Thanks for reviving that old discussion.

    But I am still not convinced that Yom Kippur plays a large role in the New Testament, or that the Jewish notion of teshuvah (at least in the way that contemporary Jewish thought understands it) has a corresponding notion in mainstream Christian thought.

  2. October 10, 2011 3:51 pm

    Through the discussion, you taught me very much! Thanks!

    Why Barnstone’s New Testament is fascinating that it bravely deals with a Paul who must observe (and perhaps must re-mediate through Jesus) Yom Kippur. Alter, who praises Barnstone’s NT translation for straightening out “many centuries of stylistic fussiness and supersessionist distortion,” has said in his own Torah translation: “Again, evidence abounds of annual rites for cleansing the temple in Mesopotamian culture that may well have served as precedent for what we have here. Later Jewish tradition would transform this ritual for the purgation of a physical miasma of pollution into a process of spiritual repentance and atonement.” How many “Yom Kippurs” has Jewish history seen? Did Christianity abandon its Jewish Yom Kippur? Did a “Christian Jew” like Paul, as Barnstone describes him, re-make Yom Kippur into some singular, reductive “expiation/ propitiation”? Or would Barnstone’s “Saint Paul” more agree with the richly-dimensioned and highly-nuanced and substantially-personal Yom Kippur taught by Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik? Who is this Paul? And whose is the “New Testament” if it can be restored?

  3. October 10, 2011 6:23 pm

    I don’t know how to answer these questions, because the role of Yom Kippur itself has substantially evolved through Jewish history (particularly since it was a Temple-based ritual.) Since Paul lived during the time of the Second Temple, it would have been a Temple-based ritual for him as well. Further, Paul would have been obligated to immediately commence to the Temple to observe the Sukkos pilgrimage. I don’t see how Barnstone engages with these aspects of Jewish ritual in his translation; and I don’t see how the New Testament engages them at all. (At least in the Gospels we have Jesus on the Temple grounds — Jesus’ Judaism is certainly beyond dispute and recognizable — at least in the Synoptic Gospels.)

    If you look at Avos de Rebbi Nosson (which you may know as Avot de Rabbi Natan), you’ll find the following amazing story:

    R. Yohanan ben Zakkai and R. Joshua saw the ruins of the Second Temple during a walk.

    R. Joshua: “Woe to us, that the place which granted atonement lies in ruins!”

    R. Yohanan: “Do not be distressed, there is another kind of atonement which is like it–and what is that? It is the doing of good deeds.”

    This reflects the change from ritual-based atonement to a deed-based atonement.

  4. October 10, 2011 6:53 pm

    This reflects the change from ritual-based atonement to a deed-based atonement.

    Thanks! I’ll study more and appreciate your considering Barnstone and his “restored” NT with respect to Yom Kippur; maybe Barnstone’s missed it substantially. And then maybe he’s imagining a Paul that skirts much (see Barnstone’s note about the inflated financial metaphor); Aristotle’s influence on Paul is something Barnstone isn’t interested in and, to me, that’s a disappointment.


  1. Who’s your daddy? Aristotle or Moses? And why not ask who your mother is? « BLT
  2. Festival of Booths « BLT
  3. WWYD on Yom Kippur? « BLT
  4. Hal Taussig’s “A New New Testament” (and the Open English Bible) | BLT

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