Book Review: New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity Volume 10 (Part 2)

S. R. Llewelyn and J. R. Harrison, with E. J. Bridge, ed. New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity Volume 10. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2013, 269 pp., paperback, $40.00.  Link

This is the second part of my review of New Documents Volume 10. Here is the first part, which includes an overview of the book up to the first two sections.

J. R. Harrison has four articles under the heading “Cult and Oracle,” including a papyri describing how Artemis overcame an evil sorcerer. The inscription is from a white marble slab from Ephesus, dated to A.D. 165. The article interacts with Clint Arnold’s Magic in Ephesus, which tends to describe Artemis as a demonic goddess, and R. Strelan’s Paul, Artemis, and the Jews of Ephesus, which argues Artemis is associated with salvation from evil spirits.  On the whole, this long article favors Strelan (summarizing his arguments concisely).  The inscription says that the temple of Artemis was a place of much gladness and that the goddess rescued the city from an evil magician who brought down a plague on the city.

NewDocs 10There are two sections on Public life in the Greco-Roman world.  Entry 11 describes a marble inscription in Latin and Greek honoring Augustus for sponsoring the paving of a street in Ephesus 22/21 B.C. While the inscription itself was discovered in 1958, an article appeared in 1991 which used this inscription to illustrate benefaction in the Roman world. Twice in this brief inscription the gift which Augustus made to the city of Ephesus is described as χάρις, a “gift.” The source of the gift is the Empire and the “sacred revenue” of the Temple.  As Harrison points out, Augustus became “an iconic example of beneficence” and a model for other benefactors to follow.  Later, Tiberius would be called “the benefactor of the world.” Since the Emperor and Empire was a source for huge sums of money, provincial elites in Ephesus found ways to exploit their patronage and line their own pockets.  Harrison cites an edict dated A.D. 44 which indicates that selling the office of priest of Artemis was a lucrative trade.  Harrison suggests that this benefaction (and corruption of the system) illustrates Paul’s use of grace-language in Ephesians as well as his frequent used of wealth metaphors in the book. “Paul’s language of ‘wealth’ in Ephesians could also be profitably looked at against the background of the wealth of the Artemis cult” (61).

Four articles comprise the section entitled “Household.”  D. C. Barker describes an Egyptian divorce agreement dated A. D. 177, on papyri. Among the fascinating details is the fact that the wife Aphrodisia is 21 years younger than her husband, Ptolemaios. From census records Barker points out that 83% of men were older than their wives, from one to thirty years older.  One of the more fascinating articles in this section is entitled “Every Dog Has Its Day.”  The text is from a limestone sarcophagus from Termessos (Psidia). This is a eulogy for pet dog, Stephanos, written by the owner Aurelia Rodope. She “wept for the dog and buried him as a man.” Harrison discusses the popularity of pet dogs in the Roman world, stating that some “Mediterranean peoples were besotted by the small white long-coated Melitaen” (127). There are many examples from Gerco-Roman literature as well as inscriptional evidence that dogs were often fed from the table.  This devotion to dogs as pets seems to stand in contrast to Jesus’ attitude toward the Syro-Phoenician in Mark 7:26.  It is customary to emphasize more negative the Jewish attitude toward Gentiles; they are “dogs.” But Harrison points out that the image of a dog could be taken as positive, indicating that after the children are fed (the Jews) it is appropriate for the dogs (the Gentiles) to receive food.

Five articles are collected under the heading “Judaica,” including a pay slip for a Roman soldier at Masada and comments on two well-known items, the Temple Warning and the Babatha Archive. The Babatha archive is a collection of documents found at Nahal Hever (near En-Gedi).  The documents are her important legal papers” and date to about A.D. 125.  The documents were stored before the Bar Kokhba revolt, perhaps hinting that she participated in the revolt.  The burden of this article is to compare the documents to Roman Law, especially with respect to marriage, divorce, polygamy, and guardianship. Babatha was a “second wife” to her husband Judah, leading G. Rowling to suggest that polygamy was not only practiced by the upper echelons of society, but may have been practiced in traditional rural areas as well (151).

Finally, three articles comprise the section on Christianity. Two of these are fourth century papyri letters from Oxyrynchus and illustrate early Christianity. Item 28 is a “Difficult Request (?) to ‘Beloved Father’ Diogenes.” It is clearly Christian because the words for Lord and God are abbreviated as Nomina sacra.  The letter was written by Barys to Diogenes. Barys describes himself as a “brother” and Diogenes as “father.” Such language for social or religious relationships is common in the Greco-Roman and Jewish world, as it is in the New Testament. In addition, Barys refers to Diogenes as “lord” (κύριε), perhaps indicating that Diogenes has a higher status than Barys.  Bridge points out the use of κύριε for a religious leader in Matt 9:28, 17:15, etc.) The letter would perhaps shed light on Paul’s letter to Philemon, especially since Barys uses the word λιτουργία (spelled λειτουργία in the NT). While the word can refer to public service, Paul used it in Phil 2:17, 25, 30 for service within the church, and in 2 Cor 9:12 for Christian giving. In the end, Bridge concludes that this letter is “two Christians in communication, one of whom has authority over the other, on the ‘secular matter’ of public service.”

Conclusion. Virtually every section of New Documents Volume 10 is worthy of attention.  The entries make for fascinating reading and they all contribute to our understanding of the world of the New Testament and early Christianity. I highly recommend this volume to students and scholars. Every serious library should own all ten volumes of this important series.  I look forward to additional volumes in the series, although my preference is that the next volume arrives sooner than ten years from now.

Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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