Book Review: Craig A. Evans and H. Daniel Zacharias, eds., “What Does the Scripture Say?” (LNTS 469) – Part 1.2

Evans Craig A. and H. Daniel Zacharias, eds., “What Does the Scripture Say?”: Studies in the Function of Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity: Volume 1, The Synoptic Gospels. LNTS 469; Studies in Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013. Hb; Pb; Logos $31.99  Link to Bloomsbury T&T Clark    Link to Logos

[Due to the length of this review, I will break each volume into two posts:  Volume 1, part 1, volume 1, part 2, volume 2 part 1, volume 2, part 2].

Evans LNTS 469Jens Herzer suggests a solution to the “The Riddle of the Holy Ones in Matthew 27:51b–53: A New Proposal for a Crux Interpretum.” In this difficult passage many holy ones are raised to life at the time of Jesus resurrection and go into the Holy City. Herzer suggests Matthew has expanded on the well-known story of Jesus; death with “signs that seem to underline the apocalyptic character of Jesus’ death.” (143). For Herzer, the significance of Matt 27:51b–53 cannot be understood “an eschatological-apocalyptic interpretation based on traditional motifs or parallels, but only by an interpretation from the context of Matthew’s Gospel and its Christological and martyrological concept” (144). He surveys suggestions for parallel sources for this event (Ezek 37:12; Zech 14:4-5; Dan 12:2), but none are convincing. Nor are any parallels to Greco-Roman or Jewish literature. Following Joachim Gnilka, Herzer suggests the Holy ones in Matthew 27 should be understood in the light of the prophets and righteous ones Jesus refers to in Matt 23:29. These holy ones suffered and were killed, but now have been released from death by the death of Jesus and bear witness to the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (152). The resurrection of the saints is therefore not a foreshadowing of the eschatological resurrection but an allusion to the actual tombs of the prophets, their resurrection underscores the mission of Jesus to Israel and the meaning of his death and resurrection.

Jocelyn McWhirter discusses “Messianic Exegesis in Mark 1:2–3,” Following the lead of Donald Juel, McWhirter suggests the three texts cited in Mark 1 (Exod 23:20; Mal 3:1; Isa 40:3) are applied to John and Jesus because Mark “interprets them as messianic prophecies on the basis of shared vocabulary with acknowledged messianic texts” (159). The rest of Mark’s Gospel makes it clear these three texts are to be understood as messianic prophecies (161). She describes the “messianic exegesis” suggests all of Mark’s messianic interpretation are based on Psalms 89, 110 and 118. He is using messianic exegesis to argue Jesus is the one expected in the Psalm. Messianic exegesis is using any verse to shed light on another if there is shared vocabulary (166). “Mark seems to have inherited the rabbis’ method, but not their conclusion (170).” She challenges a near consensus that the New Exodus is sufficient to explain this combination of biblical allusions in Mark 1. Mark’s quotation of Isa 40:3 and other allusions to Second Isaiah would likely not be enough to evoke the “new Exodus” for the original audience. There is no direct evidence that anyone really used phrases like “new exodus” or “suffering servant” in the wan modern New Testament scholars do.

Jamal-Dominique Hopkins studies the “Levitical Purification in the New Testament Gospels” especially as the related to Jesus’ activity among marginalized people. The fact that Jesus appears to relax purity regulations for marginalized people is demonstrated in the “especially curious in the way impure persons are declared clean by Jesus” (180).  Judaism in the late Second Temple period frequently associated outward bodily state with consecrated status (181). Hopkins examines several purity issues, such as hand washing, corpse contamination, leprous contamination and  concludes there are “specific individuals who, prior to Jesus’ liberating pronouncements, were socially and religiously regarded as unclean under Jewish Levitical law.” These liberating acts suggest the “force and nature of Levitical purity was understood variantly during the late Second Temple period” (190). Hopkins concludes the followers of had less rigid attitudes with regard to Jewish legal stipulations and these attitudes compare to Pauline, Gentile congregations. For Hopkins, the Jesus movement is “moving from the observance of common ritual procedures to a more spiritualized ideology” (190).

Amanda C. Miller contributes an article on victory songs in the Second Temple period as background for reading the Magnificat (“A Different Kind of Victory: 4Q427 7 i–ii and the Magnificat as Later Developments of the Hebrew Victory Song”). Similarities between Hannah’s song (1 Sam 2) and Mary’s song indicate the poetic expressions is part of a larger tradition which celebrates God’s dramatic action on behalf of the “least of these” (193). Miller first introduces the hodayah in 4Q427 7 i–ii since it less familiar than the Magnificat and then proceed to examine the genre “victory hymn” in the Hebrew Bible (Song of Deborah and Hannah) and literature of the Second Temple period (Judith and The War Scroll).  She then offers a detailed comparison of the Magnificat and 4Q427 7 i–ii in four areas: theology, anthropology, status reversals, and eschatology. All of the songs she examines make use of military and divine warrior language, and she concludes the “Magnificat and the hodayah in 4Q427 7 i–ii are at home in the tradition of the victory hymn, but they are at the far end of the continuum” (204). If Miller is correct, then why would Luke use the genre of victory hymn for Mary’s prayer?  Miller suggests “early Judaism and early Christianity were both struggling with the problems of domination by Jerusalem elites, illegitimate client rulers, and ultimately the Roman Empire” (211). Luke’s gospel indicates Christianity was subtly opposing Rome and needed to hide subversive language in the voice of a marginalized character like Mary.

Adam Gregerman examines “Biblical Prophecy and the Fate of the Nations in Early Jewish and Christian Interpretations of Isaiah.” He investigates how a study of exegesis of Isaiah’s phrase “light for/to the nations/peoples” (42:6; 49:6; 51:4) and how this relates to early Christian mission to the Gentiles. As Gregerman observes, the idea Judaism was a “missionary religion” has been question by recent scholarship. Little evidence exists for missionary activity and much of the literature formally described as “missionary tracts” may not have been written for that purpose. In addition, it is not clear why Jews would attempt to convert Gentiles to a religion which was difficult and potentially dangerous for them. There is simply no evidence for intentional efforts at missionary outreach in the Second Temple period (218). Turning to the use of Isaiah 42:6, Late Second Temple period Jewish texts numerous interpretations of this phrase “light to the Gentiles” is never cited as support for missionary activity. Although the Septuagint “ratchets up hope for the Gentiles” by translating vague Hebrew phrases more explicitly, God’s blessings on the nature of the eschatological ingathering of the Gentiles remains unchanged. The same is true for Tobit 13:11, Testament of Levi 14:4, Wisdom of Solomon 18:4, and 1 Enoch 48:4. Allusions to Isaiah appear in several key texts on Luke/Acts (Like 2:32, Acts 1:8, 13:47, 26:18, 23). In each case, Gregerman sees the use of Isaiah as a justification for missionary activity among the Gentiles, on contrast to the use of the passage in contemporary Judaism. For Luke, “there is nothing accidental about the gentile mission, this was God’s will all along” (215).

Conclusion. This collection stands as a contribution to our understanding of how the writers of the New Testament used the Hebrew Bible in creative and sometimes unexpected ways as they sought to explain how Jesus related to earlier Scripture. It is clear from these essays that the Gospel writers used Scripture in ways which are consistent with the Second Temple Period even if they are only interested in Jesus and his ministry.


NB: Thanks to Logos Bible Software for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Craig A. Evans and H. Daniel Zacharias, eds., “What Does the Scripture Say?” (LNTS 469) – Part 1.2

  1. My understanding is that Craig Evans is often considered an important scholar by Evangelicals, in that he operates from that basic paradigm. And I realize he’s only an editor of this work. But wondering if, to you, his work on this volume seems to indicate any progression in him toward a more consistently “higher critical”, historical-critical or narrative-critical approach than in his earlier years?

    Re. the “holy ones” Matt. 27 passage, I’ve long wondered how strict historical literalists could understand it as being literal (along with much else of the passion/crucifixion/resurrection narratives). Not just because of being implausible but for a number of additional serious text-related and canon-related difficulties. Makes much more sense as part of myth-creation and theologizing than as literal history.

    • I think that he was the chair of the SBL Session which produced these papers. Evangelicals like Evans, although I do not think he is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society. I recall hearing him give a paper there only once, and I think he was a guest of the Historical Jesus workgroup.

      Strict literalists will always have a problem with Matt 27, the resurrection of the Holy Ones is a well known problem in Matthew studies, I am not sure there is any good solution! I guess I am not a “strict literalist: on that passage, and confess that I think Matthew is speaking apocalyptically, although to what point I am not at all sure! I file this one under “hermenutics of ignorance,” Matthew intended something, but I do not know what it is.

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