Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Knowing the Currents 1

posted by xscot mcknight

If you were to attend the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and either wander through the bookstalls or spend an hour or so with the book that lists sessions, times, and locations, one thing would surely strike you. As Tony LaRussa once told famed baseball writer George Will, “There’s a lot goes on.” So I want to start an approximate ten part series on knowing the currents that flow in the river called Biblical Studies.
There is no rhyme nor reason to the order of these currents. If I mention one book on the whole scene, it is Joel Green, Hearing the New Testament. The book is pitched at students but anyone who wants to figure a particular current out can make sense of each chapter.
Today we look at the Jewish context of earliest Christianity. (This is a biased way of looking at it that applies to most of my readers — Christians wanting to know the historical context of Jesus and earliest Christianity. One can study this just as Jewish history, or as religion in the ancient Mediterranean.)
The publication and availability of these sources has created an explosion of Jewish studies both by Jewish scholars — like Geza Vermes, Jacob Neusner, Daniel Boyarin, Shaye Cohen, Ross Kraemer, Louis Feldman, Alan Segal … it is unfair to stop but I have to — and Christian scholars, like Martin Hengel, EP Sanders, Bruce Chilton, Craig Evans, Michael Wise … it is unfair to stop but I have to again. I start with the sources themselves and then give some basic books.
First, here are the basic original sources. It all begins with the Hebrew Bible, often called Tanakh and also called the Old Testament by Christians. The Hebrew Bible has a different order of books than the Christian Old Testament, ending as it does with Chronicles. Second, there is what we now call the Old Testament Apocrypha – found in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles. In addition, there is the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, a massive 2-volume collection (ed. by James Charlesworth) of documents on a variety of topics, but perhaps most especially for many a collection of Jewish apocalyptic texts.
Then we proceed to Aramaic Targums of Hebrew Bible books. These attempted to translate the Hebrew Bible, in more or less an paraphrastic way — the way a slow-down pastor might do when he or she is clarifying everything in the text — into Aramaic, the language of the people. Then we have the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of books most likely derived from the Essene sect that lived at Qumran though possibly simply a deposit of the books of a variety of Jewish sects.
After the New Testament, and beginning some two centuries later and continuing for about four centuries, we have the classic sources of the rabbis: the Mishnah, the Tosefta, the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud.
Third, [added in light of a comment below] we have two major writers whose writings have influenced NT study dramatically: Philo of Alexandria and Josephus.
Alongside literary deposits, there are archaeological studies and inscriptions of the time and letters that have been found.
Hebrew Bible: Jewish Publication Society
OT Apocrypha: New English Bible or New Revised Standard Version
OT Pseudepigrapha: James Charlesworth’s 2 volume edition
Targums: Michael Glazier Books
Dead Sea Scrolls: trans. by Geza Vermes or M. Wise/M. Abegg/E. Cook.
Dead Sea Scrolls Bible: M. Abegg and others — what the Bible looked like at Qumran
Mishnah: J. Neusner
Tosefta: J. Neusner
Jerusalem Talmud: J. Neusner
Babylonian Talmud: J. Neuser or I. Epstein.
Philo: Loeb Classical Library
Josephus: Loeb Classical Library
Second, on books that put lots of this together, I recommend:
E. Schuerer, G. Vermes, M. Goodman, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ. (4 vols.)
E.P. Sanders, Judaism: Practice and Belief.
Shaye Cohen, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah.



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Preston Sprinkle

posted August 21, 2007 at 7:19 am


I’m looking forward to this series, Scot! Good stuff. Another book that is a fine survey of everything you have said is Craig Evans, ANCIENT TEXTS FOR NEW TESTAMENT STUDIES (Hendrickson, I think).
preston



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Frank Bellizzi

posted August 21, 2007 at 7:59 am


I’m also looking forward to this. That’s mainly because I expect that your overview and recommendations will be colored by an interest in ministry and mission, teaching and preaching.
You use the word “currents.” The few times I have attended an annual meeting of the SBL/AAR, I’ve had a hard time finding sessions that we’re more like a dry river bed.



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John W Frye

posted August 21, 2007 at 8:35 am


Scot,
One item was news to me–the Eastern Orthodox Church Bible includes the Aprocrypha. Do they view these books as canonical? Just wondering.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 21, 2007 at 8:53 am


John,
Deuterocanonical — useful for history but not for doctrine. (I think this is the view. Anyone help us here?)



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Mike H

posted August 21, 2007 at 8:57 am


Seems like a great series (so many books to read!). By the way, I was just informed your new book will not be available for a couple months.



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John W Frye

posted August 21, 2007 at 10:14 am


Scot (#4),
Thanks. For many years the Church, including the Reformers and resulting Protestants, held the same deuterocanonical view of the Apocrypha–useful material, but not for doctrine.
Didn’t the Roman Catholic Church decree the Apocrypha *as Scripture* at one of the sessions of the Council of Trent?



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Julie Clawson

posted August 21, 2007 at 10:16 am


Out of curiosity since this is the focus of my personal reading at the moment, in this series will you be looking at the influences of the cultural and religious mores of other ancient near-eastern cultures on the scriptures?



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Dave

posted August 21, 2007 at 10:23 am


the “not until the council of trent” argument against the apocrypha as being viewed as scripture is an old one. those books had been used long before the council of trent and many of the early church fathers quoted them. many of the eastern orthodox and catholic (both eastern and latin rite) doctrines that protestants “protest” come from these scriptures (i.e. praying for the dead, intercession of saints, etc.) (or at atleast implied), so to say that they are not used for doctrine purposes is not exactly true.



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Jason

posted August 21, 2007 at 10:40 am


Let me concur that the Vermes et al revision of Schurer is indispensable (though terribly expensive).
One question Scot – Did you intentionally leave out Philo and Josephus?



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Scot McKnight

posted August 21, 2007 at 10:54 am


Jason,
An accident now added to the post above. Thanks.



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Scott Watson

posted August 21, 2007 at 10:54 am


John,
Deuterocanonical — useful for history but not for doctrine. (I think this is the view. Anyone help us here?)
This is the traditional doctrine for Anglicanism, not Eastern Orthodoxy.Readings from the Apochrypha are in the lectionary of the B.C.P. Per the Eastern Churches,their Bible is basically the LXX (Septuagint). In this sense there is no deuterocanonical status to these books,which also include 1 Esdras, 3 Maccabees and for some churches Odes of Solomon or 4 Maccabees.



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Erika Haub

posted August 21, 2007 at 12:20 pm


Concerning Jewish studies: have you ever read any of Alfred Edersheim’s work? I love some of his stuff, but after reading some critiques a while back of how Rob Bell uses Jewish authors/sources, I have felt more hesitant.
On a practical note, my sister is in the midst of preparing some bible studies on the life of Jacob, and she and I were talking about how Goldingay, Brueggeman and Edersheim were all saying really different things about certain cultural components that impact our reading of the text, so for those of us doing preaching and teaching work, it is helpful to hear how to deal with such historical discrepancies among scholars…



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Scot McKnight

posted August 21, 2007 at 12:31 pm


Erika,
Great questions. Let me try.
Edersheim’s Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah was a favorite for a century because so few knew their rabbinic sources or could read German well enough to use Strack and Billerbeck.
But, Edersheim is “promiscuous” or “indiscriminate” in his use of rabbinic sources. He’ll use 3d century and 12th century stuff without even assessing whether or not the stuff he’s using is credible for the 1st Century. Use him with extreme caution and see what his sources are … Avoid using anything that is not from the Mishnah or Tosefta.
Neither Goldingay or Brueggemann use the rabbis that much. They try to work themselves into the minds of those ancient texts. I like both of them.



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RJS

posted August 21, 2007 at 12:40 pm


For Philo and Josephus – Loeb Classics are bulky (many volumes) and expensive to buy all volumes. There are cheaper translations out – or are none any good?



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Scot McKnight

posted August 21, 2007 at 12:49 pm


RJS,
What? Not read a Loeb when I get the chance! I love those handsome, perfectly-crafted books.
Whiston’s translation is too old; I’ve not used any other translation of Philo.



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RJS

posted August 21, 2007 at 12:51 pm


I have a few Loeb (Ehrman’s Apostolic Fathers 1,2, Josephus Against Apion/Life and the first volume of Jewish Antiquities). But they get expensive fast, and my Greek is no where near good enough to make them worth the price in general.



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Dave

posted August 21, 2007 at 2:21 pm

Jason

posted August 21, 2007 at 2:34 pm


C.D. Yonge’s translation of Philo is easily found, both on the web and in print, but is a bit dated as well.
Steve Mason (a leading Josephus scholar) has a website that includes (among other things) the works of Josephus in Greek, and either Whiston’s english or, as it becomes available, the newest Brill translation and commentary (e.g. Feldman’s translation and commentary on Ant. 1-4). Here’s the link to Antiquities: http://pace.cns.yorku.ca:8080/York/york/showText?text=anti



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Ken Schenck

posted August 21, 2007 at 3:25 pm


Bless you, my friend :-)



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RJS

posted August 21, 2007 at 4:01 pm


Dave,
Thanks – I think that I’ll pick up Ken Schenck’s book (especially since I’ve appreciated his comments here).
And, I’ll probably break down and get Yonge’s (old) translations. I usually read old translations – as I am reluctant to put out too much money for the newer ones.
On the other hand I can get much of this from our University library; good for reading, not so good for marking or later reference.
Jason,
Thanks for the web site info on Antiquities – I’ve bookmarked the link. I have, and have read, The Jewish War in some translation or other, and as I noted above, have Against Apion/Life – so Antiquities is really what I’m looking for. Maybe I can find it in Dave’s or Dawn Treader used bookstores.



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Scott M

posted August 21, 2007 at 6:40 pm


The Old Testament for the Orthodox is the LXX and it is all considered canon. They do have a pretty compelling case since it is older than the Masoretic text, was used by the Christian Church fairly exclusively until Jerome’s Latin translation (which did also use some pre-Masoretic Hebrew texts), though Jerome’s translation did not catch on even in the West immediately, and in more than 90% of the instances where the NT quotes the OT and there is a difference between the Masoretic text and the LXX, the NT quotes the LXX. I’ve been studying this topic recently.



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Ted Gossard

posted August 21, 2007 at 7:23 pm


Yes, Scott M.
So Scot (and John), Isn’t the group you’re referring to (#4) the Anglican church which holds that view. The Eastern Orthodox include these books as having full canonical status, I thought.
I’m not sure deuterocanonical refers to being useful for history but not for doctrine. Doesn’t it have to do more with its canonical status coming at a different time, and perhaps with some difficulty (yes, Jerome at first and Augustine coming in, etc.)? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deuterocanonical



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