Intertestamental


This summer my family and I were glued to our television for nearly a month, as we are every four years, during the FIFA World Cup. Even though the USA didn’t qualify, we were pulling for one particular team—England, where my wife and I lived during my doctoral studies. Sadly, the Three Lions were eliminated in the semi-final round, bringing an all-too-early end to our World Cup dreams. But it was an exciting tournament nonetheless and we were sorely disappointed when the final whistle blew.

Despite our World Cup thrills, most viewers probably appreciated the tournament far more than we did. While my family and I are avid fans of football, the truth is we normally follow the other kind—American football, which is, as they say, a completely different ballgame. In fact, our familiarity with the players, rules, strategies, and team histories of international soccer are embarrassingly limited. We know enough of the basics to follow along, even enough to get caught up in some of the drama, but there is no question we would have understood and appreciated more of what we were watching had we possessed a deeper well of knowledge about the sport, even about international politics and pop culture.

Believe it or not, reading the Gospel of Mark is not unlike watching the World Cup. Many readers can easily pick up their New Testament, read the Second Gospel, and walk away better informed about the life, ministry, and passion of Jesus Christ. They can even, as a result, grow in their love for our Lord and live more faithful lives as his disciples. But what Jesus said and did resonates at an altogether deeper level when one brings to the Bible greater awareness of the “game” Jesus was playing—that is, the game of Second Temple Judaism.

Mark’s Gospel was written for readers with at least some familiarity with intertestamental Jewish history, politics, culture, and religion. In fact, there are numerous pericopae that are in implicit dialogue with the Jewish theological traditions extant in the first century. Sometimes the evangelist himself tells us exactly what those traditions and beliefs consisted of. For example, when introducing the Sadducees for the first and only time in the narrative, Mark tells us they were a sect of Judaism that denied the resurrection of the dead (12:18). But at other times, Mark assumes his readers themselves possess the requisite knowledge to fill in the blanks about the who, what, and where of the narrative.

Reading Mark in Context

Our recently released collection of essays, Reading Mark in Context: Jesus and Second Temple Judaism (Zondervan Academic), seeks to show how familiarizing oneself with Second Temple Jewish literature can help fill those blanks. With a foreword by N. T. Wright and 30 essays by some of today’s most respected Markan scholars (Michael Bird, Darrell Bock, Helen Bond, Elizabeth Shively, Mark Strauss, Rikk Watts, and more), this book will help the reader study the text in new and enriching ways. The volume was designed to cover the entire Second Gospel, but not to be exhaustive. Much more could be said both about Judaism as well as about Jesus. But hopefully this book will whet one’s appetite for reading Mark’s Gospel in context and for digging deeply into the world of the New Testament. If this book interests you, I encourage you to check it out!

Advertisements

This spring I (Jason) wrote two short pieces on resurrection. The first is on the Sadducees’ question about marriage and resurrection in Mark 12.18-27 (par. Matt 22.23-33; Luke 20.27-38). The second surveys Jewish views during the second temple period. The issue that stood out to me while working on these projects is the lack of clear evidence for a widespread belief in resurrection during this time. I think most people work with the impression that the vast majority of Jews believed in resurrection, and the Sadducees were the odd ones. Reading a work like N.T. Wright’s Resurrection of the Son of God certainly gives the impression that most Jews believed in resurrection. The literature, however, does not clearly support this view.

Sirach has no notion of a continued bodily existence after death. One lives on only in the memories of others. This work was hugely popular in the second temple period and even into the Rabbinic era. Of course, later scribes added resurrection statements, which indicates that they were bothered by the lack of a resurrection belief. These edits, however, come at later stages and cannot be dated clearly to the second temple period.

Jubilees 23.31 describes the death of the physical body and the continuing existence of one’s spirit. Wisdom of Solomon appears to describe a similar view. In order to get either text to refer to resurrection, one must assume that eschatological texts that speak of a continued existence after death assume resurrection even if not clearly stated.

Perhaps the most surprising evidence is the Dead Sea Scrolls. Experts in this literature have, for some time, been challenging the reading that finds here a strong belief in resurrection. George Nickelsburg made the case in his early study Resurrection, Immortality, and Eternal Life (1972), which was updated in 2006. Important texts like 1QS, CD and 1QM have no clear evidence for a belief in resurrection. The strongest evidence comes in the Hodayot, but this is far from clear. I suspect that the author(s) did have leanings toward a bodily afterlife, something like resurrection, but this is far from obvious. Even then, the evidence from the scrolls is strikingly thin.

To be sure, there were Jews who believed in bodily resurrection. Josephus indicates that he believes in resurrection (Ap. 2.217-18), and he attributes the same to the Pharisees, despite describing their position in Greek philosophical language (J.W. 2.163; Ant.18.14). Texts like 2 Macc 7 also give the impression that resurrection was a popular position. 2 Baruch also advocates for resurrection, although it is not clear exactly what the author envisions the afterlife to be like (chapters 49-52). And, of course, the New Testament texts testify to the belief in resurrection among the early Christians.

In the end, though, the Jewish literature does not provide strong evidence for the view that many Jews believed in a bodily resurrection after death.

Matt O’Reilly has written a review of Reading Romans in Context edited by Ben, John and myself at his blog Orthodoxy for Everyone. He writes toward the end:

Reading Romans in Context is distinct in that it introduces elements of context by focusing on particular texts. We might say that books on biblical backgrounds often take a wide-angle approach; Reading Romans in Context is a zoom lens that takes the reader up close to the particularities of the ideas in question. I find that students are sometimes intimidated by the large amounts of information that come with a lecture or reading assignment on New Testament backgrounds. There is a lot to learn, and it takes a lot of work. The precision focus of the chapters in this book strikes me as offering a complimentary approach that has potential to mitigate that problem. Students should be able to handle this book, and I am happy to recommend its use in a course introducing the New Testament, Paul and his letters, or on the exegesis of Romans. As a pastor, I would also feel comfortable recommending this book to an interested layperson in a local church setting.

Thanks Matt for the review. Although there are not formal plans (yet) for additional volumes on Paul’s letter, we are working on Reading Mark in Context.

Cambridge University Press has begun advertising the forthcoming release (January 2013) of Mark D. Mathews’s monograph, Riches, Poverty, and the Faithful: Perspectives on Wealth in the Second Temple Period and the Apocalypse of John (SNTSMS 154). This release is very exciting. Mark is a fellow Durham grad; we started together in 2007 and submitted our theses within days of each other in 2010. Mark and I were also neighbors in Durham for two years. His doctoral work was supervised by Loren Stuckenbruck, so when Loren moved to Princeton in 2009, Mark and his family followed him there. Mark is now in full-time church ministry at Bethany Presbyterian Church, near Philadelphia.

Here are the book summary and table of contents:

In the book of Revelation, John appeals to the faithful to avoid the temptations of wealth, which he connects with evil and disobedience within secular society. New Testament scholars have traditionally viewed his somewhat radical stance as a reaction to the social injustices and idolatry of the imperial Roman cults of the day. Mark D. Mathews argues that John’s rejection of affluence was instead shaped by ideas in the Jewish literature of the Second Temple period which associated the rich with the wicked and viewed the poor as the righteous. Mathews explores how traditions preserved in the Epistle of Enoch and later Enochic texts played a formative role in shaping John’s theological perspective. This book will be of interest to those researching poverty and wealth in early Christian communities and the relationship between the traditions preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls and New Testament.

Table of Contents

Part I. Introduction: 1. The question of wealth in the Apocalypse
Part II. The Language of Wealth and Poverty in the Second Temple Period: Introduction
2. Dead Sea Scrolls: non-sectarian Aramaic documents
3. Dead Sea Scrolls: non-sectarian Hebrew documents
4. Dead Sea Scrolls: sectarian Hebrew documents
5. Other Jewish literature
Preliminary conclusions
Part III. Wealth, Poverty, and the Faithful Community in the Apocalypse of John: Introduction
6. The language of wealth and poverty in the seven messages – Rev 2-3
7. The present eschatological age – Rev 4-6
8. Buying and selling in Satan’s world – Rev 12-13, 18
9. Final conclusions.

Busy weekend but I wanted to get in the habit of summarising the presentations of the people who present.

Last Monday (Oct 25), Shane Berg from Princeton Theological Seminary presented a paper entitled ‘Knowing and Obeying the Law in Ben Sira’.  This draws from his larger work on ‘religious epistemology’, which is a bit more neutral terminology for what has been termed ‘revelation’ in the past.

The main part of his paper was an exposition of two passages in Ben Sira: sections from chapters 15-17 (16.24-17.14 and 15.11-20) that speak about knowing and doing the Law.  One key aspect of Ben Sira’s argument was the juxtaposition of allusions to creation (Gen 1-3) and the giving of the Law.  The thrust thus runs that God gave this knowledge of what to do to everyone, so the Jews have no excuse not to follow it.   It was also noted later in discussion afterwards that Paul too juxtaposes creation and Law in Romans 7.

Berg then mentioned two Qumran documents [update: now that I’ve got back to the handout 4Q417 1 i 16-18 and 1 QHa VII, 12-14] who focused upon the limitation of true knowledge to those within the community based on a more deterministic view of God’s election.

It was an interesting paper, and it stirred up a lively discussion afterwards.  Berg also spoke very highly of Greg Schmidt Goering’s book on Ben Sira and the Election of Israel as it discusses the dialectic of universal and particular and the mix of Wisdom and Torah.

As one of the primary preparations for a NT (or Patristics) PhD, I recommended focusing on primary text background sources.  I got an email question about which specific sources I would recommend, in order of importance.  These are the lists that I drew up.   Am I missing anything?  Would you recommend a different order?  Other thoughts?

Jewish*

  1. OT Apocrypha
  2. DSS
  3. OT Pseudepigrapha (esp. 1 Enoch)
  4. Josephus: Jewish Antiquities, Jewish War
  5. Philo: ???  (Recommendations on 2-3 works on where to start?)

*Need it be said that you read the OT itself first (possibly even from the LXX): Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Daniel, etc.?

Greco-Roman

  1. Cicero: De Natura Deorum, De Finibis (both read like a 3 views on theology and ethics, respectively)
  2. Plato: Timaeus, Phaedo, Symposium (longer works like The Republic will also repay attention given)
  3. Epictetus and/or Seneca
  4. Histories: Herodotus, Suetonius, Tacitus
  5. Homer (which was the “Bible” of Hellenism)
  6. Rhetorical handbooks by Quintillian or Aristotle

Mike Bird has a list here which has a similar focus, but also points to key secondary sources.

Christian

  1. Apostolic Fathers
  2. NT Apocrypha
  3. Nag Hammadi
  4. Justin Martyr and Irenaeus

In honour of Prof Watson’s paper (‘Rethinking Gospel Origins’) at the NT seminar on Monday about the ‘canonical decision’ that occured some time in the second century to decide on just the 4 gospels, I’m passing along a link to a chart that shows the different canons for several traditions: What’s in Your Bible?

HT: Ben Byerly

Next Page »