How does one compare two religions? E. P. Sanders used the analogy of a building. We want to compare two buildings, without “leaving out of account their individual bricks.” (Paul and Palestinian Judaism, p. 16) The problem, then, is “how to discover two wholes, both of which are considered and defined on their own merits and in their own terms, to be compared with each other.” And he introduced the concept of “pattern of religion” to make this possible.
What is “pattern of religion”? A pattern of religion “is the description of how a religion is perceived by its adherents to function“, that is, “of how getting in and staying in are understood: the way in which a religion is understood to admit and retain members.” It is then “has largely to do with the items which a systematic theology classifies under ‘soteriology.'” (p. 17)
What is the soteriological concern of Rabbinic Judaism? It is “a concern to be properly rather than improperly religious, to serve God rather than to desert his way, to be ‘in’ rather than ‘out.'” And it can be summarized in the phrase of “covenantal nomism.” (nomos ~ law)
What is covenantal nomism? “Covenantal nomism is the view that one’s place in God’s plan is established on the basis of the covenant and that the covenant requires as the proper response of man his obedience to its commandments, while providing means of atonement for transgression.” (p. 75)