The October (2012) issue of Interpretation is a special one, commemorating the 200th anniversary of Union Presbyterian Seminary. Some interesting essays that look at the history of the seminary and also the relationship between church and seminary in general.
I found particularly interesting Joel Green’s review of Christian Smith’s Bible Made Impossible. While Green supports Smith’s overall interest and shares his concern, he finds the book to lack the kind of research and care he had hoped for. It is worth a read.
Check it out. Includes a nice little piece on an ecological reading of John by Susan Miller.
A new book from Eerdmans (2012) caught my attention recently and I think it is an outstanding volume: A Companion to Biblical Interpretation in Early Judaism (ed. M Henze). You may recall that in 2004 Henze edited a book called Biblical Interpretation at Qumran (also Eerdmans). Now, he has collected essays from experts of early Judaism on a range of techniques applied by Jews and Jewish communities in antiquity. This is an extremely valuable collection of trenchant essays – up-to-date, balanced, incisive treatments of biblical interpretation in all its complexity, diversity, and fluidity.
Here is the TOC:
“The Beginnings of Biblical Interpretation,” (James Kugel)
Part II: The Hebrew Bible/OT
“Inner-Biblical Interpretation” (Yair Zakovitch)
“Translators as Interpreters: Scriptural Interpretation in the Septuagint” (Martin Roesel)
“The Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in the Targums” (Edward Cook)
Part III: Rewritten Bible
“Biblical Interpretation in the Book of Jubilees: The Case of the Early Abram” (J. van Ruiten)
“The Genesis Apocryphon: Compositional and Interpretive Perspectives,” (Moshe Bernstein)
“Biblical Interpretation in Pseudo-Philo’s LAB” (Howard Jacobson)
Part IV: The Qumran Literature
“The Use of Scripture in the Community Rule” (Shani Tzoref)
“Prophetic Interpretation in the Pesharim” (G. Brooke)
“Biblical Interpretation in the Hodayot” (S.J. Tanzer)
Part V: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments
“The Use of Scripture in the Book of Daniel” (Henze)
“How to Make Sense of Pseudonymous Attribution : The Cases of 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch” (Hindy Najman with Itamar Manoff and Eva Mroczek)
“The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs: A Not-So-Ambiguous Witness to Early Jewish Interpretive Practices” (Robert Kugler)
Part VI: Wisdom Literature
“Biblical Interpretation in the Book of Ben Sira” (Benjamin Wright III)
“Pseudo-Solomon and His Scripture: Biblical Interpretation in the Wisdom of Solomon” (Peter Enns)
Part VII: Hellenistic Judaism
“The Interpreter of Moses: Philo of Alexandria and the Biblical Text” (Gregory Sterling)
“Josephus’s Biblical Interpretation” (Zuleika Rodgers)
Part VIII: Biblical Interpretation in Antiquity
“Biblical Exegesis and Interpretations from Qumran to the Rabbis” (Aharon Shemesh)
In total, the book is more than 500 pages.
There were three essays that particularly caught my attention and I will highlight them below.
Zakovitch on Inner-Biblical Interpretation: He notes that one factor that undergirds Scriptural interpretation in the OT itself is the desire for God’s word to speak freshly in every era: “Interpretation is always relevant; it is an ever-current indicator of a generation’s contemporary concerns” (29). He also points out that giving attention to how extra-biblical texts “use” Scripture might help us see those same methods already at work in the OT, even if they are used only in a rudimentary or implicit fashion (39).
Roesel on the LXX: Roesel’s discussion of the LXX is fascinating. He explains that a certain interpretive philosophy supports the translation assumptions at work in the NETS collection that has recently been released. Editorial director of the project Albert Pietersma guided the translators to follow an assumption of interlinearity – that the original purpose and use of LXX was to be set alongside the Hebrew Scriptural text.
According to Pietersma, many of the translations of the LXX are not meant to be read independently. The Greek text was translated as a tool to understand the Hebrew, a “crib for the study of the Hebrew” [quoting Pietersma]. Only at a later stage in the history of reception were the Greek texts read independently. (p. 71)
If Pietersma is right, this has huge implications for the interpretration of the LXX, namely that the “connotations of the Greek words [should] stay in the semantic range of the Hebrew” (72). Roesel rejects this theory. First, Roesel argues that the “interlinear” trend cannot be traced back to the 3rd century BC. Also, the kinds of interlinear texts we do have knowledge of are “not coherent texts but lists of words and phrases that should be used as examples” (p. 73). Also, Pietersma’s theory does not account for the frequent appearance of neologisms in the LXX. I would be very interested in a response to this essay from Pietersma, because Roesel’s counter-arguments seem to me to be worthy of one.
Najman on Pseudonymous Apocalyptic Literature: Hindy Najman is interested in why writers of apocalyptic texts attribution authorship to a different, usually well-known, figure. She wishes to set aside modern notions of authorship that paint the true author as a forger.
An alternative is to consider the notion of a discourse tied to a founder: a practice of ascribing texts to an ideal figure, in order not only to authorize the texts in question but also to restore the figure’s authentic teachings” (326).
Pseudepigraphy, then, is an author’s attempt to reactivate the teachings of a holy man from the past, whether Moses, or Ezra, or Baruch. This is not just an act of deception, whether pious or deviant. It is a pedagogical choice, not (merely?) an ideological one.
By assuming and emulating such figures as Baruch and Ezra in pseudepigraphal attribution, the writers of these texts become these characters, insofar as they — like the heroes they invoke — struggle to recover a perfect, holy, and idealized past in the face of destruction. (327)
I think Najman is on to something, though I wonder if Revelation is a special case…
While a number of the chapters are illuminating, the most rewarding discussion appears in the introduction (“The Beginnings of Biblical Interpretation”) by James Kugel. Looking at the big picture of how Jews of the second temple period thought about Scripture (based on their own “uses” of it), he isolates four “basic assumptions” that appear to be pervasive.
1. “The Bible is fundamentally a cryptic document;” that is, “Often, when it seems to be saying X, what it really means is Y.” Thus, many interpreters are on the look out for hidden meaning.
2, “The Bible is a great book of lessons” – “Although most of its various parts talk about the distant past, its words are actually aimed at people today.”
3. “The Bible is perfectly consistent and free of error or internal contradiction” – if an error is perceived, it must be an interpretive mistake, not a problem that exists in the text itself.
4. “Every word of Scripture comes from God…Even the psalms, whose words seemed to be directed to God, were nonetheless held to have come from God, indeed, to be a form of prophecy” (see pp. 14-15).
Kugel clarifies that we do not read these assumptions written out anywhere. They were unconscious.
Nevertheless, a careful reading will reveal that they underlie virtually everything that was written about Scripture during this crucial period and thus had a great deal to do with the ‘spin’ that accompanied the Bible from antiquity through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and — to a great extent — even into our own day (15)
If you did not read the first post on this book, I am referring to David deSilva’s The Jewish Teachers of Jesus, James, and Jude: What Earliest Christianity Learned from the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (Oxford, 2012).
In the first couple of chapters in the book, deSilva makes the case that we do hear the voice of Jesus and his half-brothers (James and Jude) in the NT and there is good reason to believe that the Messiah and the earliest Christian leaders benefited from the wisdom of their own Jewish teachers which include people like Ben Sira. That does not mean that Jesus (and the NT writers) drew everything from or only exclusively from second Temple Jewish texts and traditions, but it does mean that such texts did impact them in some fundamental ways.
He takes seven chapters to survey seven different Jewish texts to see lines of convergence and also where Jesus goes against or beyond these teachers. His key concern is not to point out how “unique” Jesus was, nor is it to argue for any kind of literary dependence on any of these texts per se. He wishes, first and foremost, to show how Jesus was influenced by the Jewish teachers of the second temple period that came before him and, in many ways, are the “fathers” that passed on teaching to him.
I will not survey all the chapters. Rather, I highlight insights and points from a few chapters.
The first chapter in this section (ch 3), is about Ben Sira and the wisdom text called “Sirach.” deSilva identifies Ben Sira as a “scribe living in Jerusalem, where he kept a ‘house of instruction’ (15:23), a school for training the sons of the more affluent Jews” (59). Sirach could confidently be dated to the second century BC, most likely 196-175BC – thus it would be a text written early enough to have some influence on Jesus’ own thought.
As far as the context and content of Sirach, deSilva situates Ben Sira in a time of political turmoil for Israel:
He witnessed the effects of Jewish elites rubbing shoulders too freely and too closely with their Gentile overlord. (59)
Some scholars refer to “Hellenism” as the problem, but deSilva issues caution in this regard. People like Philo were thoroughly acquainted with Greek philosophy, oratory, and literature, but tenaciously held to the observance of Torah: “Fidelity to Judaism does not equate with resistance to Hellenism. Fidelity to the Torah in all its particulars, however, was an obstacle to integration into Hellenistic society (60).
A fundamental concern of Ben Sira with respect to wisdom is the concern for honor. However, true honor can only be found through fidelity to Torah. Too many people have selfishly turned their back on true obedience to the Lord in view of gaining wealth, Ben Sira argues.
When it comes to the teaching of Jesus, there are parallels with Ben Sira’s discussion of concern for the poor and needy, which is particularly reflected in the Sermon on the Mount (see pp. 68-69). Ben Sira also took the problem of lust very seriously: “Don’t look too long at a virgin, or you may stumble and pay damage for her…Avert your eye from a beautiful woman, and don’t look too long at the beauty of one who belongs to another. Many have been led astray by a woman’s beauty, which kindles desire like a fire” (Sir 9:5, 8; cf. Matt 5:27-28). Here is another interesting similarity:
Do not talk idly in an assembly of elders, and do not repeat yourself when you pray (Sir 7:14)
When you pray, do not babble like the Gentiles, for they suppose that they will be heeded because of their long prayers (Matt 6:7)
The list could on and on, but deSilva does not overlook some serious differences in their views. For example, there is the matter of Ben Sira’s perspective on women. He argues that “a man’s wickedness is better than a woman who does good” (42:14). deSilva notes that Ben Sira’s misogynistic statements like this are shocking to modern readers, but there were many writers of his own time who held very similar positions. In that sense, Ben Sira was reinforcing conventional wisdom of the day.
To contrast Jesus’ words and ways with Ben Sira is not to critique one man, but a whole culture of inequity. Here is what deSilva says about Jesus and women.
Where Ben Sira would adamantly consign women to the inner spaces of the house and restrict their access to males as much as humanly possible, Jesus invites women into the male spaces where disciples gather to learn from Jesus and values women as disciples and witnesses…[S]uch stories [of Jesus and the samaritan woman, and Mary the sister of Martha] preserve at the very least a historical memory of Jesus’ revolutionary attitude toward women, engaging them in public as persons worthy of dialogue and instruction, welcoming them into male spaces, and not reducing their moral worth to the sphere of sexuality (80)
Another key feature of Jesus’ wisdom teaching is his bold criticism of the temple leadership – something Ben Sira would protest (81).
In chapter 4, deSilva addresses the teachings of the book of Tobit. While it is a narrative tale, it also promotes wisdom and Torah obedience in a way that Ben Sira would appreciate. Jesus, too, found much inspiration from texts like Tobit that encourage almsgiving and generosity among the destitute. However, if there is one key area where Jesus parts company with the author of Tobit, it is on “the value and definition of kinship” (98). Tobit promotes kindness and a sense of duty with respect to “kindred,” but Jesus extends this call for hospitality to anyone, including “non-Jews” (98). Also, Jesus did not share with Tobit a vision for exclusive “national restoration” – Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple and an eschatological in-gathering of “many” who will come from “east and west” (see Matt 8:11-12) – presumably according to Jesus people from all nations, Gentiles included.
It is not just wisdom and moral teachings from earlier Jewish teachers that had an impact on Jesus’ own thought and teachings. The fifth chapter of deSilva’s book is about 1 Enoch. I will highlight one section of deSilva’s wider discussion which I found particularly illuminating regarding Messianism and eschatological expectations.
Both the author of the Parables [of Enoch] and Jesus clearly understand the Son of Man as a messianic figure. Both even use the expression in contexts that show the “Son of Man” to be synonymous with “Messiah” (see 1 Enoch 48:2, 19; Mark 14:61-62 and parallels). Nevertheless, both show a strong preference for the title “Son of Man” over the title “Messiah.” Both develop the Son of Man figure from Daniel 7 in a direction that gives the Son of Man a judicial role in the final judgment. Jesus’ use of the term, therefore, is reflective not merely of Daniel 7:13-14 but of the interpretation of Dan 7:13-14 already evidenced in the Parables of Enoch. (138-39)
deSilva makes two further key points in this regard. First, Enoch says nothing of a suffering or dying Son of Man. This is a distinctive contribution of Jesus himself. Secondly, there is no clear way to show that Jesus depended on 1 Enoch or any of its parts for traditions about the Son of Man. Rather, “Jesus seems to know and draw upon the traditions about the Son of Man known from the Parables of Enoch but not necessary upon those particular texts directly” (139).
In the sixth chapter, deSilva looks at the Psalms of Solomon and specifically the vision of the messiah. He argues that the Psalms of Solomon are impacted by the “military revolutionary efforts of Judas and his brothers” which “became a model and an ideal for how God would bring about Israel’s restoration whenever threatened again” (143). Psalms that refer to a coming messiah (like 17:21-24) demonstrate dissatisfaction with Israel’s life, a situation that would be remedied when God would punish “sinful Judeans and the Gentile occupation force” (150). Jesus fits the model of a messiah who is a good “son of David” and who “participated in prophetic critique of the authorities who held power over Judea” (p 154). Here is how deSilva articulates, though, how Jesus broke the mold, so to speak.
Like the authors of the Psalms of Solomon, Jesus was revolutionary; unlike many of his contemporaries who shared in the hope of the restoration of the kingdom to a messiah from Israel, Jesus did not endorse violence as the means by which to pursue revolution. The reestablishment of the throne of David was in God’s hands and God’s time, not be hastened by improvised acts of terrorism and armed revolution, as in the days of Judas Maccabaeus and his brothers (154)
I was struck by how deSilva refers to Jesus as a “revolutionary” messiah, a figure trying to lead a revolt. This deflates assumptions that Jesus just frolicked the hills of Galilee trying to start some kind of hippie community. No, he had a “destabilizing message: by speaking of the kingdom of God’s ordering, it called into question the legitimacy of the current regime and its exercise of power” (154). He had dangerous words indeed, words and actions that got him killed.
Well, that is chapters 3-6.There are 3 more substantive chapters on 2 Maccabees/Lives of the Prophets (ch 7), Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (ch. 8), and Testament of Job (ch. 9), all equally rewarding, but I will not survey them here.
What can I say about this book overall? Read it! Here is the bottom line: right now I am teaching a course called Early Judaism and the New Testament. Had this book been released six months ago, I definitely would have assigned it as a textbook. DeSilva admirably is able to (1) introduce basic background and context issues related to early Judaism, (2) survey the contents of key texts of Hellenistic Judaism, (3) relate these texts to the NT in meaningful ways (through both pointing out influence and divergence), and (4) give critical insight on the shaping of early Christianity in ways that will impress scholars who have studied these texts for years. David deSilva is one of the clearest and most reliable NT scholars at the forefront of Biblical scholarship today.
Let me also say that OUP priced this volume very reasonable – $35, and Amazon is offering it for $27.00. I highly recommend this text.
I happened to come across an advertisement at CBD stating that they are selling the New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible on CD for $99, which is 75% off. Let me say, I own the first three volumes (of 5) and I regularly lament not having the other volumes. They are outstanding resources – they are up-to-date, written by the finest scholars, and very easy on the eyes.
While I don’t have $99 on hand, I am tempted to by a Christmas present for myself now – FYI, CBD deals don’t last forever, mostly because their overstock (or whatever) gets sold out quickly with these kinds of price cuts.
The Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity conference is anon, so now would be a good time to sign up! It is in Dayton, OH from Oct 4-5 and features the “who’s who” of Jesus scholars. Sadly, I cannot make it, but especially if you live in Ohio or Kentucky, this is sure to be a great event.
The “Jesus” dastardly duo Anthony LeDonne and Chris Keith have posted the speaking schedule (drool, drool, drool!) on their blog. See here.
This past weekend, Mumford & Sons were on SNL singing their debut song from their new album Babel: “I Will Wait.” It was an awesome performance and if you want to watch a video of them singing the song live this is incredible.
I want to think about the eschatology of Colossians with Mumford & Sons in a minute, but it would help if we were all on the same page about the song, so read the lyrics below.
And I came home
Like a stone
And I fell heavy into your arms
These days of dust
Which we’ve known
Will blow away with this new sun
And I’ll kneel down
Wait for now
And I’ll kneel down
Know my ground
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
So break my step
You forgave and I won’t forget
Know what we’ve seen
And him with less
Now in some way
Shake the excess
But I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
So I’ll be bold
As well as strong
And use my head alongside my heart
So take my flesh
And fix my eyes
That tethered mind free from the lies
But I’ll kneel down
Wait for now
I’ll kneel down
Know my ground
Raise my hands
Paint my spirit gold
And bow my head
Keep my heart slow
There has been some discussion online about whether the “you” is a girlfriend or is their Lord. I have heard that Mumford draws often from Christian imagery and there is much of that here: kneeling, relenting, forgiveness, flesh, revelation, etc…
Let’s just say that it is a song about the Lord (my own hat-tip to reader-response reading???) – two themes strike me as prominent: humility/penitence and vigilance. The first stanza focuses on the “days of dust” which probably is reminiscent of the frailty and evanescence of humanity and life. Even kneeling itself could be shown as a sign of lowliness – I kneel to better “know my ground.”
However, the writer’s desire to “wait” gives a sense of urgency and expectation -wait for what? Why “for now”? In the last stanza we see the language of courage (boldness, strength, concentration, freedom). Could the waiting be about the great “reversal” that will take place in the future – but for now vigilance is necessary? This would make good sense of “for now” in the chorus. Now is a time for two things: humility and alertness (“use my head alongside my heart” and “fix my eyes”).
Now let’s turn to Colossians. There is a long history of argumentation that sees Colossians as reflecting “realized eschatology” – the privileges and gifts of the coming age are all here now.
- the “rescue” is in the past (1:13)
-raised with Christ (3:1)
-died with Christ, hidden (3:3)
-clothed with new self (3:10)
However, and this is where Mumford comes in, when we look for the evidence, we see that Colossians is very much focused on the future. It is the mystics who are not a waiting people- they want to “have it all now.” Colossians encourages a “continuing on” (2:6) – much like the one that Mumford endorses. Believers look ahead to “what is to come” (2:17).
Believers also need humility (3:12) – working together and relying on each other. We remember forgiveness (particularly as freedom) and we are thankful (1:14).
One of the understudied parts of Colossians is the final words in 4:2-6. Far from being perfunctory “end of letter” advice, these are the last statements that the author wants the auditors to keep in mind: get busy praying and “be alert” (4:2). Be vigilant. There is no time to mess around. We live in days of dust (remember the purported author was in chains awaiting an uncertain fate). I think the author was using “alertness” language that is meant to remind one of Jesus logion regarding the return of the Son of Man (Mark 13:32-37). In Mark 13:37, at the conclusion of this “Parousia of the Son of Man” discourse, Jesus’ final words are: “And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake!”
Be strong. Be courageous. Don’t let laziness, or anger, or distraction get the best of you. Wait. But wait on your heels. Wait at the ready. Wait…but only “for now.”
Scholars already detected the themes of humility and eschatological vigilance in Colossians long before Mumford & Sons came along, but what I found profound is the way these themes are brought together into one place in “I Will Wait.” There is a dialectic tension between power and weakness in this song that one could associate with Colossians. Waiting can sometimes be a sign of weakness (as in hesitancy), but when one knows the exact time to strike, waiting is a sign of shrewdness. Knowing when to kneel and be still is also a testament to recognizing personal weakness -I don’t act now, by myself, because I am but dust – I cannot accomplish it all on my own. And yet the kneeling could be a position of readiness and leverage for when the “time is right.”
Colossians is trying to counter-act a kind of self-centeredness that stems both from fear (obsession over safety) and also vanity (look at me, look at me, I have the coveted secret). Humility is required to deconstruct the all-important “self.” However, humility should not degrade into a kind of “woe in me” meekness that prevents the self from seeing God’s empowerment and call to action. Colossians’ final words on vigilance already presumes that the vigilante (!) is important and effective! So, Colossians does contain an element of that same eschatological anticipation that we see in “I Will Wait” – a willingness to live in a state of humility and alertness.
Thank you Mumford & Sons. I just ordered your new album…
When I think of New Testament scholars who really know what they are doing and who write and teach and present papers with wisdom and wit, few people come to my mind as quickly as David deSilva. I grew up in Ashland, OH where he is Prof of NT at Ashland Theological Seminary. After I finished my PhD, David was kind enough to work towards extending to me a one-year visiting lectureship at Ashland Seminary. Over the years I have gotten to know him and he continues to impress me.
Three areas come to mind when I think of deSilva’s contributions to NT scholarship: #1, honor and shame (and social-rhetorical criticism) in the NT, #2, scholarship on Hebrews, and #3, scholarship on the OT Apocrypha. Also, David has also written an outstanding introduction to the whole New Testament! How does he do it??
Well, recently he published a nice little monograph with Oxford University Press called The Jewish Teachers of Jesus, James and Jude: What Earliest Christianity Learned from the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (OUP, 2012). Essentially, his concern is that Christians tend to think that Jesus (especially) sort of just “came up with” his teachings – because he is the Son of God, he did not need to be taught anything about God, faith, ethics, or otherwise. That also means that Jesus is all too often stripped of his “Jewish” identity and tradition. He is a man without a cultural and religious history.Whenever Christians do eventually take an interest in influences upon Jesus, they default to the OT (which was certainly of interest to Jesus). However, little interest is paid to the Judaism of his time.
The exclusion of the Apocrypha (or Deuterocanonical Books) leaves the reader of the Protestant Bible with the impression that God fell silent, and ethical reflection ceased to progress, between the postexilic period and the preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus. It does not give the reader enough background material to assess fairly the shape of Judaism in the time of Jesus, excluding the best evidence for the ongoing, creative development and refinement of the Jewish heritage and thus the extent of Jesus’ embeddedness in contemporary Judaism. (5)
I think part of what deSilva is communicating is that to treat Jesus’ teaching as if he was “listening only to Scripture and the voice of God,” would be to miss out on one key aspect of the “humaness” of Jesus -he learned from other Jewish teachers of his time! Here is how he states a key goal of his book: “Jesus’ teaching was certainly innovative, but much more of his teaching has a ‘pedigree’ than is often supposed” (9). As for deSilva’s vision for how the book as a whole will change how we read the NT: “It is my hope that readers who discover the extent to which Jesus and his brothers found value in the materials contained in these writings will be more inclined to read these writings for themselves, to reflect upon their broader contributions to the ongoing life and thought of both church and synagogue, and to explore their value as spiritual and ethical literature in their own right” (p. 11).
As the book title suggests, deSilva is not only interested in Jesus (and the evidence of the Gospels), but also Jesus’ brothers – James and Jude. Now, many scholars will protest this approach by saying that we do not have the “real” Jesus, James, and Jude in the NT, but only distortions (through the Gospels) or fiction (James and Jude). To this matter deSilva turns in his first and second chapter: “Recovering the Voice of Jesus” and “Recovering the Voices of James and Jude.”
When deSilva engages in analysis of the canonical Gospels for the “real voice of Jesus,” so to speak, he endeavors to approach this task using the traditional authenticity criteria supported by Jesus scholars. However, he points out that “No single criterion is adequate for the entire task, nor are the criteria meant to be used independently of one another” (25). Rather, they offer an “ensemble of tests” that help us zero in on the “ipsissima vox and ipsissima intentio, if not the ipsissima verba” (25-26). You might not be surprised to find that deSilva treats much that is written in the Gospels as reliable for the study of Jesus and his teachings. deSilva accepts that “the availability of the original disciples and other living witnesses to Jesus’ teachings and the authority accorded to Jesus’ personal followers throughout the early church provided a check against the wholesale invention of material…” (27).
However, that does not mean the Gospels are some kind of pure historical report. Appealing to study of oral cultures, deSilva argues that within such environments where tradition is passed, “there is a certain level of flexibility allowed in the recitation of traditional material,” but “there are also limits in that flexilibilty where the reciter is perceived to have crossed the line between fair re-presentation of the tradition and undue alteration of the tradition” (27). Perhaps to play it safe, though, deSilva relies mostly on the Synoptic Gospels.
Here is his conclusion about Jesus:
My presumption is that the early church was more likely to preserve and pass along authentic sayings than invent them out of whole cloth or mistakenly attribute to Jesus Jesus wisdom that Jesus did not, during his lifetime, personally affirm (30)
So much for Jesus. deSilva takes a rather “moderate” approach to Jesus and the reliability of the Gospels, accepting we get close enough to the historical Jesus to find the Synoptics very useful and more illuminating than any other text or set of texts. What about James and Jude (ch 2)? While skepticism over genuine authorship of the letters of James and Jude is the scholarly default, deSilva wishes to revisit the arguments again. The key issue he tackles regarding James is the level of Greek knowledge. Can a Galilean really master Greek the way we see in James? Relying on the scholarship of J. Daryl Charles, he notes that we have exemplars like Josephus, Theodorus, Meleager, and Philodemus. Historically speaking, deSilva reminds us: “The author of the Epistle of James is no longer the simple Galilean craftsperson of 29 CE but the head of an international Jewish sect in the cosmopolitan city of Jerusalem as late as 62 CE” (47). He also entertains the possibility that James (the half-brother of Jesus) may have enlisted the aid of a well-trained secretary, which could account for style and proficiency of Greek in the letter (48).
He argues for much of the same kind of openness for connecting Jude to the letter attributed to his name. While writing pseudonymously was rather common in early Jewish literature, Jude does not necessarily fall easily or obviously into that category. deSilva argues that one of the marks of pseudonymity is an obvious effort on the part of the writer to “look like” the purported author – “that is, their authors tend to try too hard to establish the ancient persona as the actual author” (53). Is that the case with Jude? deSilva thinks not.
Again, it should be kept in mind that deSilva is not working with an “either-or” category of “completely and only James/Jude” or “absolutely not.” He only wants to establish that we find Jesus, James, and Jude in the NT even if it is only their “voices,” not specifically paragraphs and whole discourses.
I think that deSilva is rather bold in pushing for such associations (esp with James and Jude), but he has made enough of a case for the rest of his book to have a fair hearing.
Thus, after chapter 2, the remaining substantive chapters (3-9) address particular Jewish texts and how they may have impacted and inspired the brothers of Nazareth: Sirach (3), Tobit (4), Enochic Literature (5), Psalms of Solomon (6), 2 Maccabees/Lives of the Prophets (7), Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (8), Testament of Job (9).
In the next post, I will not survey all of the chapters, but the ones I am most interested in: Sirach, Tobit, Psalms of Solomon, and Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs.
To be continued…
This is a big year for David deSilva, as he has two books that have recently been published. The first is called The Jewish Teachers of Jesus, James, and Jude: What Earliest Christianity Learned from the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (OUP). On a later date, I will do a series of blog posts on that fantastic work.
His other 2012 book is called The Letter to the Hebrews in Social-Scientific Perspective (Cascade Books; Wipf & Stock). It is a short book of about 160 pages and aimed at examining closely Hebrews from a sociological perspective that will open up windows into the context and content of this New Testament text. You may recall that deSilva is the author of a socio-rhetorical commentary on Hebrews called Perseverance in Gratitude (Eerdmans, 2000). The Cascade volume is not a commentary, but a series of five essays on (1) the author of Hebrews, (2) the audience of Hebrews, (3) matters regarding social shame, (4) grace and reciprocity, and (5) group identity.
DeSilva’s introduction offers the rationale for encouraging a social-scientific perspective.
The author talks so much about the sacred past and invisible activity in the heavenly realm that we are tempted to forget that he is addressing flesh-and-blood people living somewhere around the Mediterranean basin wrestling with real-life concerns and seeking to come to terms with some very mundane realities in their changing social circumstances, and that he probably concerned very much with their responses to and within those circumstances. (xi)
Much of what deSilva is interested in is the socio-rhetorical purpose of a text: “The question of primary importance for interpreting any occasional text like a letter or a written sermon concerns what was going on in the community’s situation to occasion such a response” (p. xiv).
Authorship: clearly there is no way we can assign a person’s name to the authorship of Hebrews. That is lost to history. However, what we can do is establish a social profile: apparently the author is well-educated, and so acquainted with Jewish Scripture that he very well may be a “Jewish Christian.” However, there are numerous hints that the author was well-acquainted with Greco-Roman education, values, and culture.
Audience: while the letter is called “to the Hebrews,” you probably won’t be surprised that deSilva finds it likely that the intended audience being addressed was “a mixed congregation of Jewish and Gentile Christians” (36). In terms of the life-setting of this text, deSilva finds it reasonable that, in view of persecution, the church community that Hebrews was written to was struggling with an identity crisis.
The host society has exerted, over time, significant social pressure upon a sectarian group in its midst with a view to curtailing its growth and “rehabilitating” its members. The sect, in turn, has experienced the challenges of maintaining commitment to that group and to the beliefs and practices that have rise to the “mutual antagonism” between sect and society (p. 54).
The author’s agenda and strategy is similarly sociological (or, at least, readily amenable to a sociological analysis). His goal is to motivate the hearers to persevere in their commitment to one another, to the sacred ratio at the core of the sect’s formation, and to the ethos that the sect’s ratio nurtures. In other words, he wants to see the community maintain the identity, practices, and boundaries that led to its experience of high tension with the society, and thus to persist in maintaining that very tension (Rather than defect or compromise) (p. 55)
This is all brilliant stuff and I think deSilva is a fantistic writer and he is so respected in the guild of NT scholarship because he has such a sharp mind and level-headed methods and lines of argumentation. I am not going to survey the rest of the chapters because he basically applies to Hebrews the kinds of social reading strategies he outlines in his excellent book Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity. If you are going to teach a course on Hebrews, I would either use deSilva’s commentary or this shorter handbook on sociological method.
If I have one quibble with the book (a small one), it is in terminology. I am not sure why deSilva privileges the language of “social-scientific” in this work since earlier he promoted “socio-rhetorical.” They do overlap and both are obviously interested in communities and culture, but I think that what he is doing in the book is more focused on the true blending of sociological study and rhetorical criticism than it is pure or exclusive “social-scientific” study. Perhaps a little more clarity on how he differentiated these various terms (including “sociological”) would have been nice, but it barely detracts one from wanting to read an otherwise spectacular book.
Earlier in 2012, Fortress Press published a collection of essays entitled Studying Paul edited by Joseph Marchal (Ball State). This book is not what you might think from the title. It is neither an exegetical guide to studying Paul nor is it a survey of his life, thought, and theology. The subtitle is very helpful in getting a grasp on this book’s goal: “Contemporary Perspectives and Methods.”
The chapters fall into these basic categories
Historical Approaches – M. Johnson-DeBaufre
Rhetorical Approaches – Todd Penner and Davina Lopez
Spatial Perspectives – Laura Nasrallah
Economic Approaches – Peter Oakes
Visual Perspectives – Davina Lopez
Feminist Approaches – Cynthia Briggs Kittridge
Jewish Perspectives -Pamela Eisenbaum
African American Approaches – Demetrius Williams
Asian-American Perspectives – Sze-kar Wan
Postcolonial Approaches – Jeremy Punt
Queer Approaches – J. Marchal
Now, some of these chapters demonstrate that part of the purpose of this book is to help readers of Paul to make sense of his letters in their socio-historical context. But Marchal has in mind more. The context in which he teaches Paul is not a confessional one, so he is not very interested in theological interpretation of Scripture. His interest, it would seem, is in a kind of deconstruction of Paul.
Because biblical ideas have become central to the most populous religion, and because people from Christian-majority cultures have gone virtually everywhere else on the planet (with otherwise good or bad intentions), it would be inadvisable to ignore the impact of biblical, and especially Pauline, image and argument. Whether you or I see it as legitimate or not (or ourselves practice it or not), people continue to use Pauline arguments and images to found or reinforce a variety of practices and standards, including those that have destructive and dehumanizing effects. With the help of the critical approaches and perspectives to follow, studying Paul’s letters can make us savvier about such dynamics, certainly when biblical claims or worlds are being deployed but also more generally when appeals are made to any kind of authority or ‘foundation’ in culture.
When I was reading through the book (which did, of course, contain some helpful information), I couldn’t help but get the impression that this book had the purpose of either redeeming Paul for people uncomfortable with evangelical Christianity or deconstructing Paul for people who just don’t like him at all. In that sense, another title may have been: Savvy Tips for Shooting Down Fundamentalists. Certainly some parts of the book offer necessary corrective lenses, such as Pamela Eisenbaum’s reminder that Paul was very “Jewish,” so we should not see him trumpeting the triumph of “Christianity over Judaism.” Still, in a number of essays, it seemed as if these scholars (aside from Peter Oakes, I am sure) find Paul to be someone we can treat as “a man in history that happened to have great influence (and often to our chagrin),” rather than a theologian with something very serious about which to teach us.
I am not blind to the fact that by-and-large the contributors are “religion” scholars and this kind of “critical” reading is what they do for a living. Still, I am not sure how I feel about calling this “Studying Paul.” In one way it certainly is. And I understand that comparative-religion programs want to train their students in the history and philosophy of religion. Yet, it still appears that Paul is set at a great distance, lest he taint the interpreter with his religio-babble.
Let me give an example. I am reading Ben Sira, and though I don’t read him as an OT prophet or an inspired Christian, when I study him “critically,” I cannot help but admire and appreciate his love of wisdom and honor.
I do hope even in AAR and SBL, though we try our very best to be rigorously “critical,” we haven’t lost sight of the fact that almost all of us began studying religion because we are religious and because we felt, perhaps even just at one time in our past, people like Paul and Jesus have something good to offer to the world.
Okay, stepping off my soapbox, let me give credit where it is due in this book Studying Paul’s Letters. First of all, the authors in general have their heads on straight when it comes to why we study history. We don’t do it for collecting dates and figures. We do it because it tells us about our time now and it gives us access to other worlds that aid us in processing our own culture and sense of “reality.” The book also contains excellent visuals (Fortress always does a good job with this!). Finally, each chapter ends with endnotes (which I think is OK in a book like this) and a short annotated bibliography. Given how “new” many of these contemporary approaches are, I do appreciate the annotations.
Who should buy this book? It is meant to be a kind of textbook for religion programs, and I think it will flourish in that setting. If you are interested in any one of these critical perspectives, Marchal did bring together the very best scholars in their respective fields.
While I do not agree with endorser Tat-siong Benny Liew that this is “arguably the best and most accessible textbook for a course on reading Paul,” I do think that there are a number of topics that will open your eyes to thinking critically about Paul, his times, and his letters in ways you would have never thought of before.