Revelation as Subversive Literature

In his book Apocalypse Recalled (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002), Harry Maier advocates taking Revelation as a “subversive piece of memory work” in order to avoid falling into the trap of extremism. The apocalyptic genre, Maier argues, looks at the present by looking back at what has already happened rather than forward to an escapist future.

revelation-bibleHe says western, post-modern culture has become, like Nietzsche’s cows, blissfully ignorant.  We no longer need to remember anything because information is so freely available.  The post-modern world, according to Maier, is a post-God world of fragmentation (24-25).  American culture tries to be “real” but it is in fact Hollywood simulation.  Maier cites Jean Baudrillard’s criticism of modern culture as well as Umberto Eco critique in Travels in Hyper-Reality. Christianity has bought into this fake culture and most Christians are comfortable in the secular culture of the West.

For Maier, several reactions are possible with respect to reading Revelation.  We could hunker down and await the rescue of the Coming Jesus who will judge this world and reward the faithful few.  On the other extreme is the Social-gospel model of working with culture to create a more Christ-like culture.  The problem with the old-style Social-Gospel is that few if any government agencies care what Christian organizations advise these days. The days of a “transformational” relationship between Christ and Culture are gone, according to Maier, all which is left for the church is to “trouble culture,” which is what John does in the book of Revelation.

In order to “trouble the world” with Revelation, Maier says we ought to read the book “as a Laodicean” By this he means we ought to read Revelation as if we were members of the church at Laodicea, rather than one of the other churches.  He argues the seventh of the letters to the churches is climactic, and therefore the most important. In order to make his point he must make the brief line in the letter to Sardis about a few without soiled clothes a “praise” (although Mounce considers Sardis under the strongest condemnation, Revelation, 109). Perhaps Maier’s point concerning Laodicea as most like the modern church should stand, despite his structure of the seven churches. The church at Laodicea thought it was rich, but it was in fact poor (spiritually thinking),

I find it somewhat ironic Maier agrees with many on the “radical edge” in describing the present church as Laodicea, since many early dispensationalists thought the seven churches told the “history of Christianity” climaxing in the apostasy of Laodicea.  Many of the writers Maier scolded for reading Revelation as a roadmap to the future also read the book through the lens of Laodicea!

Perhaps this is my criticism of the “reading as a Laodicean” image Maier invokes: all seven of the churches struggle with integration of faith and culture, with Laodicea being the most spectacular of the failures.  To me to limit the “lens” to this last church is to ignore the positive value of some of the churches, as well as the warnings given to them.  All seven of the churches ought to be the grid through which we read the rest of the book, not simply Laodicea.  But then again, when it comes down to the application of this image, Maier does invoke all seven of the churches, so he himself does not read the book solely “as a Laodicean!”

Book Review: C. Marvin Pate, Interpreting Revelation and Other Apocalyptic Literature

Pate, C. Marvin. Interpreting Revelation and Other Apocalyptic Literature. An Exegetical Handbook. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2016. Pb. 239 pp. $23.99.   Link to Kregel

Marvin Pate’s contribution to Kregel’s Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis series joins John D. Harvey on the Pauline literature and Herbert W. Bateman on the General Letters (David Turner’s contribution on the Gospels and Acts is still in preparation). In many ways this exegetical guide is a companion to Richard Taylor’s Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature (Kregel 2016), although the two books often cover the same material. Pate has written and edited several books on eschatology and Revelation including Four Views of Revelation (Zondervan, 1998), Deliverance Now and Not Yet: The New Testament and the Great Tribulation (with Douglas Kennard; Peter Lang, 2004). Reading Revelation: Four Interpretive Approaches to the Apocalypse (Kregel, 2009), and The Writings of John (Zondervan, 2010). Occasionally Pate refers the reader to these works for detailed arguments when the format of the Exegetical Handbook series limits his discussion of a topic.

In the Four Views of Revelation he edited in 1998, Pate identified as a “modified futurist” and progressive dispensationalist. In his section of the four views book, Pate embraced the already/not yet approach to eschatology made popular by George Ladd. In short, this is the idea some elements of prophecy concerning the kingdom are already fulfilled in the work of Jesus, such as the initiation of the new covenant and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Yet others aspects of prophecies are not yet fulfilled, primarily establishment of a kingdom after the coming of the Messiah.

In this book some 20 years later, Pate still uses the already/not yet rubric for understanding Jesus’s eschatology in the Olivet Discourse (see his 40 Questions about the History Jesus) and his interpretation of Revelation, but he does not identify with any form of dispensationalism in this book. He is fair to “classic dispensationalism” in the Scofield tradition, but prefers an eclectic approach (p. 147). In general he expresses solidly conservative views and certainly expects a real return of Christ in the future, but he does not engage in any of the strange applications of Revelation associated with older forms of dispensationalism.

The first three chapters of this handbook defines apocalyptic and offers an overview of the development of the genre from the Old Testament through the Second Temple Period. He begins with the 1979 SBL definition of apocalyptic. This is more or less the standard definition in scholarship today, but John Collins revisited this definition in 2009 and offered additional nuances of the statement (the essay appears as the first chapter of his Apocalypse, Prophecy, and Pseudepigraphy, Eerdmans, 2015). As most scholars who study apocalyptic observe, this literature often blends several genres in a given book. Pate correctly observes the particular apocalyptic found in Daniel and Revelation are mixed genres: Daniel has court-tales (Dan 1-6) and apocalyptic visions (Dan 7-12); Revelation has letters, throne room visions, and apocalyptic.

Pate surveys the development of apocalyptic beginning in the Old Testament (Isaiah 24-27; 55-56, Joel 2-3, Ezekiel 38-39, Daniel and Zechariah). Since he considers Isaiah a unified book from the eighth century prophet, the “little apocalypse” in Isaiah 24-27 is indeed an early development. Most scholars of Isaiah today consider those chapters to be one of the later additions to the book. Other than Revelation, the main New Testament example of apocalyptic is Jesus’s Olivet Discourse. Pate does a remarkable job illustrating the parallels between the Olivet Discourse and the opening of the seven seals in Revelation 6. Although this is often suggested, few have worked out the detailed parallelism quite like Pate does.

The third chapter of this handbook sketches what Pate calls the “function of apocalyptic.” The general themes of Israel’s history are based on the blessing and cursing found in the Law (especially Deuteronomy).  Because Israel failed to keep the covenant, they fell under the curse of the Law and were eventually exiled from their land. But the covenant also promised a restoration to the land in the future. Pate then demonstrates how this “sin, exile, restoration” pattern resonates throughout both biblical and non-biblical apocalyptic literature. This include the messianic woes, a time of great tribulation prior to the arrival of the kingdom. In fact, this hope of future restoration often drives the apocalyptic reimagining of history in 1 Enoch, 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra.

One of the most fascinating sections of his book is Pate’s use of the Arch of Titus as a model for the book of Revelation. He suggests much of the structure of Revelation can be explained as an ekphrasis. Ekphrasis is a literary description of a piece of art, drawing the picture in the mind of a reader using words. The image of the Great Whore of Babylon in Revelation 17 is a clear example of this literary style. Pate has an extended discussion of the art on the Arch of Titus which he then relates to Revelation 4-19. As far as I know, this has not been suggested before and it is quite intriguing. Since Revelation has at least one other example of this style, it is at least possible John modeled at least some of his imagery on a Roman Triumph and certainly the images of Titus as the conqueror of Judea would resonate with the themes of the book. One possible problem with the suggestion (and it is only a suggestion in this book) is whether the specific images Pate refers to were known well enough to people living in Ephesus about twenty years later. With the Great Whore, the image of Dea Roma was known in imperial cult sites and on coinage. Were there replicas of the Arch of Titus placed in imperial cult centers? Could images from the Arch be distributed elsewhere in the Empire so that readers would catch on to the allusion?

As with all of the volumes in this series, Pate devotes two chapters to preaching apocalyptic literature (ch. 7-8). With respect to application, Pate discusses four issues of “twenty-first century appropriation” of Revelation, the first three are responses to misuse of apocalyptic at the theological level. First, he discusses the long delay of the return of Christ, which he answers by appealing to the already/not yet method explained elsewhere in the book. The Revelation does ague for an imminent return, but that means “any time, not ‘immediate’” (p. 179.

Second, Pate addresses the formation of Israel as a nation in 1948. This date has long fascinated prophecy teachers who have made the unfortunate claim the new political entity Israel is the fulfillment of prophecy. Since Jesus says “this generation will not pass away” in the Olivet discourse (Matt 24:34), some claimed 1948 started the prophetic clock and a literal generation would pass before the Rapture or Second Coming (1981, 1988, etc.). Pate offers five alternatives for understanding “this generation.” He leans towards the view this “generation” refers to the last generation before Christ returns, whenever that is.

Third, Pate deals with the theological question of the status of Israel in the present age. Does the church “replace Israel” as God’s chosen people in God’s plan? Using the 144,000 in Revelation 7, Pate argues Israel has not been replaced as God’s people. This group represents the “Jewish remnant that already accepted Jesus as their Messiah in the first century” and the larger multitude are the Gentiles who have not yet accepted Jesus as Messiah (the already/not yet hermeneutic).

Finally, Pate discusses the commendations to the seven churches and their application to contemporary church issues. This section is little more than a paragraph, which I find surprising since the letters to the seven churches are by far the most applicable and preachable section of the book of Revelation.

The section on preaching apocalyptic is missing two items I would have appreciated. First, I would like to hear Pate’s advice on what NOT to preach in this literature. Preaching through Revelation 1-3 works well, and the throne visions in 4-5 lend themselves to a sermon. But is it possible to preach through Revelation 8-9 in a series of expositional sermons in a way that is faithful to the text and applicable to a modern congregation? Can a pastor preach the Great Whore of Babylon (Rev 17) in a way that “bridges the gap” between the Roman world of the late first century and modern American Christianity? My second criticism of this section of the book is the two texts Pate chose to model an expositional method for preaching apocalyptic: Romans 11:25-27 and 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7. At least one example sermon should have been drawn from Revelation (the topic of this book). In fact, one sermon from the Seven Churches and one from a later chapter would have been a more appropriate model given the title and themes of the book. At the end of the book I am left wondering, “How do I preach Revelation?”

The final chapter of the book is a list of exegetical tools for biblical interpretation and resources for apocalyptic literature. The first three pages are general tools (including a full page on textual criticism!). With the exception of his own work, there are few items on this list from the last 15 years. This list would benefit by reducing space devoted to general studies, expanding the apocalyptic section with recent important work, and annotating the entries.

Conclusion. Like the other volumes in this series, Pate’s book is a useful overview of a very difficult genre to interpret. I find many of the charts difficult to navigate, perhaps the information would have been better communicated without forcing it into a rigid box format. 1-2 Thessalonians are on the front cover of the book, but really only appear as one of the two examples of preaching apocalyptic. Aside from these criticisms, the first three chapters of this book are worthy reading for an introduction to apocalyptic literature. Pate’s discussion of Revelation 6 and the Olivet Discourse and the Arch of Titus are excellent and worthy of attention.

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


Reviews of previous volumes in this series:

Gary V. Smith, Interpreting the Prophets 

Richard A. Taylor, Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature

Edward M. Curtis, Interpreting the Wisdom Books

John D. Harvey, Interpreting the Pauline Letters

Herbert W. Bateman IV, Interpreting the General Letters 


Defining Apocalyptic Literature

The problem western pop-Christianity has re-defined apocalyptic to refer only to “the end of the world as we know it.” Some students want to read Revelation as if it was in the same genre as The Book of Eli or The Road. Those two films are excellent examples of the modern genre of post-apocalyptic. Some disaster has happened which has nearly wiped out most of the world forcing a tiny community of surviving humans to struggles against

But that is not at all what the genre of apocalyptic was in the Second Temple Period. From about 250 B.C. to about A.D. 250, the genre of apocalyptic flourished. Both Jews and Christians wrote apocalypses in order to deal with the rapidly changing world. These books look at the recent past and current events using spectacular imagery in order to
provide hope for the future. In this sense, a story like The Book of Eli functions the same way since despite the almost universal evil in the world, there is some hope a the end of the story that humans will survive and create an ideal community.

David Noel Freedman once said apocalyptic is “born of crisis – from the start it was underground literature, the consolation of the persecuted” (Journal for Theology and Church 6 [1979]: 173). Christian and Jewish apocalyptic reflects a crisis of faith. The world is evil and most people are living ignorantly in the darkness. Evil is oppressing the small minority of righteous. Yet this literature always ends with the hope of God’s justice. The righteous will be rewarded and the evil oppressors will be condemned.

In the introduction to his recent collection of essays on apocalyptic literature, John Collins sketches recent attempts to define apocalyptic, settling on “a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another supernatural world” (Apocalypse, Prophecy and Pseudepigraphy, 4). This definition preserves both the revelatory aspect of apocalyptic, but also some eschatology which many think is the whole purpose of apocalyptic.

But can apocalyptic be a kind of protest literature? Do the visions of Daniel, the quintessential apocalyptic book in the Hebrew Bible, offer protest against the empire (whether Babylon, Persia, the Greeks or later the Romans)? If apocalyptic was popular during the Hasmonean dynasty and the advent of the Romans, how did books like 1 Enoch offer both comfort and protest against “the evil powers of this world”?


Book Review: Ralph Forsythe, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John: A Parallel Comparison of the Four Gospels.

forsythe-parallelsForsythe, Ralph. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John: A Parallel Comparison of the Four Gospels. Passageway Press, 2016. 464 pp; Pb; $30.   Link to Passageway Press

Reading the four gospels horizontally is an important interpretive strategy. There are so many parallel passages in Matthew, Mark and Luke that these three Gospels are described the “synoptic Gospels.” By reading the parallels scholars make observations about which Gospel was written first and how each synoptic Gospel treats its sources. For some of these details, see my previous posts, Is There a Synoptic Problem? and Why Study The Synoptic Problem? One of the advantages of reading the parallels horizontally is that the differences between the writers becomes more apparent, as do the similarities.

The best way to study the Synoptic Problem is with a Greek synopsis. Kurt Aland’s Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum is the standard scholarly synopsis of the Gospels in Greek, although Huck’s Synopsis of the First Three Gospels is also very useful (and less expensive). Most editions of the Greek New Testament list the Synoptic parallels for each section (or pericope). For many Bible students, these Greek resources are not useful, but English translations sometimes obscure the Gospel parallels. For this reason, an English parallel Gospel is usually called a “harmony of the Gospels” since the parallel columns harmonize the differences between the Gospels and attempt to give a chronologically accurate life of Jesus.

The earliest attempt to harmonize the four gospels was by Tatian. His Diatessaron (through the four) Augustine wrote a harmony of the Gospels (De consensu evangeliorum). A. T. Roberson’s harmony (Harper & Row, 1922) revised the earlier work of John Broadus (1893) using the Revised Version. More recently, Robert Thomas and Stan Gundry edited harmonies using the NASB (1986) and NIV (1987). Thomas and Gundry included brief essays introducing source and redaction criticism. Orville E. Daniel also produced a harmony using the NIV (Baker 1987, second edition 1996).

Since there are a number of English Gospel harmonies already available, Ralph Forsythe must explain why his arrangement of the Gospels is different. In the introduction, Forsythe indicates a major distinctive of his book is the inclusion of John as a fourth column. This is not unique, since Robertson (for example) includes John as well. In Forsythe’s arrangement, all four columns are always present, so that a story appearing in only two gospels appear in parallel, while the other two columns are blank. If a story is unique to a Gospel, such as the Parable of the Good Samaritan or the most of John’s gospel, three columns are blank. Other harmonies print unique stores without columns, which may be a better use of space.

Forsythe begins by dividing the Gospels into 175 sections. By way of comparison, Robertson had 184 sections, Daniel had 188, and Thomas and Gundry had 258. Although he provides a list of his sections with an index of page numbers in the book, he does not number the sections as most harmonies do. One of the reasons for Forythe’s shorter list is his lumping of the Sermon on the Mount into a single unit; the other harmonies break the Sermon up into many sub-sections.

Where Matthew deviates from the order of events in Mark, Forsythe copies the text of Matthew so that it is in parallel with Mark. For example, Mark 2:23-27 and Luke 6:1-5 are chronologically parallel, so Forsythe copies Matthew 12:1-13 to the same set of columns (pg. 111-2). Yet Matthew 12:1-13 also appears on page 139 without any parallels at all. The same is the case for Luke 7:1-10, which is included as parallels to Matt 8:5-13 and John 4:46-54, but then turns up again on page 128. These copied texts are in italics and usually there is a brief note explaining the move. Forsythe’s primary motivation is chronological order rather than placing clear parallels together.

Any attempt to create a parallel Gospel will encounter stories may or may not be parallel. Like most harmonies, Forsythe places the rejection at Nazareth in Matthew 13:53 in parallel with Mark 6:1. But should Luke 4:16-30 be included as a parallel story? The fifth edition of the UBS Greek New Testament lists all three as parallels, Forsythe does not include Luke. The very next pericope is the Sending of the Twelve (Matthew 10:1, 5-15; Mark 6:6b-12; Luke 9:1-16). Forsythe includes Mark and Luke in his parallel columns, but omits the parallels in Matthew. In fact, Matthew 10:1, 5-15 is shown in parallel to the selection of the Twelve in Mark 3:13-19 and Luke 6:12-16. The only real parallel is Matthew 10:2-4, the rest ought to be moved to Mark 6:6b. Since he often deviates from Aland’s list of pericopae, wit would have been useful for Forsythe to include more commentary on his method for placing some texts as parallels, and others not.

Most troublesome is the assumption the Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain (beginning in Luke 6:17) are not true synoptic parallels. It is one of the foundational assumptions of source and redaction criticism that Matthew and Luke share a common source, whether this is Q (from Quelle, the German word for source) or a less structured sayings tradition. Forsythe has separated Matthew from Luke for chronology reasons, even when there are clear parallels (for example, Matthew 7:1-6 and Luke 6:37-42). In this book Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount appears alone over the four columns as does the Sermon on the Plain. It is impossible to trace parallels in this arrangement of the text. Since one of the main reasons for using a synopsis or harmony is to trace the variations between these two sermons, Forsythe’s arrangement renders this book less useful.

There are a few other problems with this book. First, there are a few misspelled words (Tation for Tatian, page II). Second, Forsythe claims the “older copy of Mark’s Gospel” was found at “St. Katherine’s monastery” and is now housed at the British Museum. This refers to Codex Sinaiticus, dated to the mid fourth century. The Chester Beatty papyri date to about A.D. 250, P.45 contains Mark 4-9 and 11-12. Perhaps he meant “oldest complete Gospel of Mark.” Less important are the illustrations, inserted to fill pages when there are no parallels. These are all old, public domain illustrations and maps which do not add much to the usefulness of the book. Since he insists on having all four columns on the page at once, there are some pages will only a single column with text. Perhaps following the model of Robertson would have made this a small, handier volume. Finally, Forsythe uses the Berean Study Bible, available from Bible Hub. This translation is not under copyright so it could be used without paying a fee (as would be the case with the NIV or ESV).

Given the method used in arranging the Gospel parallels, it is difficult to recommend this volume over any of the competing harmonies of the Gospels already available.

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

Book Review: Sonya Shetty Cronin, Raymond Brown, ‘The Jews’ and the Gospel of John: From Apologia to Apology; LNTS 504

Cronin, Sonya Shetty. Raymond Brown, ‘The Jews’ and the Gospel of John: From Apologia to Apology. LNTS 504; London: T&T Clark, 2015. 232pp. Hb; $112.00; Pb. $39.95 (2013); PDF eBook $27.95.   Link to Bloomsbury  

Sonya Cronin’s monograph tracks a development in the thinking of one of the greatest Johannine scholars of the twentieth century, Raymond Brown. Her interest is focused on the development of Brown’s thought on John’s characterization of the Jews as responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. Cronin’s thesis is that Brown changed his views over his career. Perhaps it is more accurate that Brown’s views on the issue were enlightened over his long cronon-raymond-browncareer. Brown himself was never anti-Semitic, but his sensitivity to the way John’s Gospel had been misused to justify anti-Semitic belief and actions developed considerably over time. In his earliest writings he offers an apologetic to deflect a charge of anti-Semitism directed at the fourth Gospel to an apology for how the church has used the Gospel of John to blame the Jews for the death of Jesus and the resulting persecution of Jews.

The Gospel of John has often been described as anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic based on the way the author of the Gospel uses the word Ἰουδαῖος, the Jews. For example, John 8:44 states the “Jews are of your father the devil” and John 19 lays the blame for the crucifixion on the Jews rather than Pilate and the Romans. Cronin does not devote any space to showing how an anti-Jewish reading of John developed in the early Church nor how blaming the Jews for the crucifixion became an invitation to abuse the Jews at various times in Church history. There are other books which trace the history and it is a well-known problem in Johannine Studies.

Cronin divides Brown’s work on John into four stages: from 1960-1970, including a short book on John and the Epistles and the Anchor Bible commentary on the Gospel of John; from 1971-1988, including the Community of the Beloved and The Gospel and the Epistles; from 1988-1998, including The Death of the Messiah and a short Retreat with John the Evangelist; and Brown’s posthumous works, including An Introduction to the Gospel of John (with Maloney). In each chapter she examines references to the Jews in works in each stage and describes Brown’s shift in thinking. Initially this was as simple as using quite marks for “the Jews” in order to indicate the Gospel writer does not have all Jews in mind when he declares the Jews “sons of the devil.”

In each chapter she provides some biographical information which may have influence Brown’s development on this issue. For example, when he moved to Union Theological Seminary in 1970, he came into contact with Louis Martyn. That relationship had an impact on Brown’s development of a Johannine Community hypothesis. During his time at Union Brown also had regular fellowship with Rabbi Dr. Burton Visotzky from Jewish Theological Seminary. According to Cronin, after this time Brown “did not publish anything on the Jews without allowing a Jewish scholar to screen it first” (76). An additional factor in each period of Brown’s work on John is developments in the Catholic Church and his participation in statements from the Church on the Jews. The 1965 document Nostra Aetate (In Our Time, Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council).

Of particular interest is Cronin’s account in Brown’s Death of the Messiah. Since this particular monograph was devoted to the death of Jesus, Brown includes a section on the responsibility and/or guilt for Jesus’ death. Both Rome and the Hews are to blame, but since Rome no longer exists, anti-Roman sentiment is meaningless. Brown did not “vindicate nor vilify” the passion narratives for blaming the Jews for the crucifixion (99). It is not the place of the exegete to judge historical attitudes and accurate historical research requires the recognition of hostility in the Gospels. But he also is quick to point out that Christians are also guilty of acting in the same manner as those who killed Jesus (104). Modern anti-Judaism is, therefore, morally wrong and historically misplaced (107).

For John Dominic Crossan, this was a failure to deal with the anti-Judaism of the Fourth Gospel. Crossan’s Who Killed Jesus? was written as a kind of response to Brown and argued Brown did not go far enough in condemning the what he considered anti-Semitism in the passion narratives. Crossan thought a fair historical assessment of the passion narratives necessarily led to anti-Judaism, which can is closely linked to the kind of anti-Semitism which led to the Holocaust (113). Brown is content to acknowledge anti-Judaism in the passion narratives as a historical reality and observe that “not everything in Scripture is to be emulated” (146). Crossan considers the passion narratives to be “defensive fiction” which perpetuate hatred and blames Brown for giving aid and comfort to that fiction.

Cronin concludes her argument with a short survey of commentaries and articles which interact with anti-Judaism in John. Her interest is to compare this data to Brown’s developing sensitivity to the issue. For some scholars, the “Jews” are the Jewish authorities who attack Jesus (not all Jews), for others the “Jews” are a stereotype who function as the theological representatives of unbelief in John’s Gospel. Many scholars have been influence by Brown to argue the Jews serve as a kind of “intra-Jewish debate” with a Jewish Christian community. Brown developed this view in his Johannine Community view, and along with Louis Martyn, suggested some Jews were ejected from the Synagogue because of their faith in Jesus.

In the end, Cronin shows how Brown was able to move from only the most cursory interest in anti-Judaism in the Gospel of John to a defense of John’s gospel against the charge of anti-Judaism, and ultimately to an apology for the way John’s gospel has been used against the Jewish people in both scholarship and society. Brown did this, Cronin argues, first as a Catholic and secondly as a biblical scholar. Brown was, she suggests, a leader in the Church against anti-Judaism and a “significant voice in leadership” forming official Catholic documents and statements on the Jewish people.

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

Book Review: David A. Lamb, Text, Context, and the Johannine Community. LNTS 477; London: T&T Clark, 2014

Lamb, David A. Text, Context, and the Johannine Community. LNTS 477; London: T&T Clark, 2014. 232pp. Hb; $110.00; Pb. $39.95 (2013), PDF eBook $27.95.   Link to Bloomsbury  

In this revision of his 2012 doctoral thesis at the University of Manchester, David Lamb evaluates Raymond Brown’s Johannine Community using recent insights from sociolinguistics, primarily genre and register. Few scholars have had an impact on a field within biblical studies like Raymond Brown, and although many of the details of his Johannine Community model have been challenged and abandoned, it is impossible to study the Gospel of John without taking into consideration his ideas.

lamb-johannine-communityThe first two chapters of Lamb’s book are a necessary overview of the “rise and fall” of the Johannine Community in scholarship. He begins his literature with Martyn, Culpepper and Cullman as precursors to Brown as well several scholars who developed the theory after Brown’s initial work. Wayne Meeks developed thesis that the Community was sectarian in nature, so that the Gospel is a “book for insiders” rather than a universal Gospel for all Christians. This is the direction of the work of Bruce Malina and Jerome Neyrey. Lamb gives significant attention to Edward Klink’s Sheep of the Fold (Cambridge 2007), calling it “the most sustained attack on the Johannine Community to date” (21). In this dissertation written under the supervision of Richard Bauckham, Klink argues there was no local audience for the Gospel of John. In fact, it is largely impossible to move from text to social location with any degree of certainty.

Most recent introductions to John’s Gospel will trace a similar history and then state the Johannine Community theory is less popular than it once was. Lamb surveys a series of scholars who have contributed to this erosion. This includes evangelicals like Morris, Carson, and Köstenberger who are more interested in traditional authorship of the Gospel of John as well as Richard Bauckham’s suggestion John is a gospel “for all Christians” rather than a narrow sectarian document.

The second chapter of this monograph presents Brown’s Johannine Community. It is not necessary to summarize the well-known development of Brown’s work here, but it is significant that Brown himself understood his reconstruction of a Johannine Community was only a “probability” (29), but one based on what he considered a scientific, critical foundation. Lamb is right to describe Brown as a faithful Catholic scholar who did his work in the spirit of modernism. Brown used the historical-critical method, including source and redaction criticism and was deeply suspicious of newer hermeneutical methods (43). Lamb suggests his use of these methods was tempered by his allegiance to the Catholic Church (54). His method did, however, employ a “two level” reading of the Gospel of John, so that the blind man in John 9 is “acting out the history of the Johannine Community” (42).

In order to critique Brown’s Johannine Community theory, Lamb employs a sociolinguistic method to better understand the relationship between text and context. The third chapter of this monograph therefore introduces the reader to sociolinguistics and defines key terms (genre, register, style and dialect). Genre refers to relatively stable forms of discourse. By “register” Lamb means the way language varies according to its social situation. For example, a scientific text has a different register than a religious text. By style Lamb refers to an author’s idiolect, the particular choice of words or grammatical features. By dialect Lamb choices of vocabulary according to the culture of the writer. It is the variety of language which may say something about the “context of culture” behind a text. After surveying several examples Lamb concludes that register analysis may help to define the “context of situation” of the Gospel of John as the well as the relationship between the implied readers of the text and the actual readers. That relationship will be “realized in terms of its tenor” (101).

Although Raymond Brown was reluctant to describe the community as secretary in, this is not been the case for other New Testament scholars. In his fourth chapter Lamb explores the idea of antilanguage, by which he means the way that he community defines or redefines terminology along sectarian lines. Wayne Meeks thought the Johannine community was sectarian, other scholars described as a “countercultural group.” If this is the case, then we ought to expect relexicalization of common vocabulary in order to create insiders and outsiders. For example, prisoners create new words or redefine old words in order to create an insider language that sets them apart from prison staff. Another example might be teenagers who regularly redefine words or use them in ways radically different than their parents’ generation. If this kind of antilanguage appears in the Gospel of John, then it is evidence the community was sectarian. But after examining some examples in the Gospel, Lamb finds this thesis to be unacceptable Although there are a number of words in John’s Gospel which contrast to spheres of existence (spirit above in contrast to flesh below), none of these are redefine nor are there examples of new vocabulary unique to the community. Lamb offers several suggestions to explain this. First, there is simply not enough data to a sociolinguistic method to achieve results in the Gospel of John. Second, even if there was antilanguage in the Gospel, it does not necessarily imply the readers were members of an “antisociety.” Even a dominant group uses “coded language” (141).

For Lamb, previous attempts to use sociolinguistics to the Gospel of John have been rigorous enough because these attempts are dominated by the assumption of a Johannine Community which is sectarian (145).  He therefore devotes his fifth chapter to the register of John’s Gospel. Lamb surveys the narrative asides in the Gospel since these are from the author, paying close attention to the possibility of new words created by the writer, speech functions and modulations of clauses, use of personal pronouns and vocative adjuncts. By assessing the use of these features, Lamb draws conclusions with respect to power, contact and affective involvement. Who holds the “power” in the relationship, the author or the reader? What is the level of contact between the two? The higher the affective involvement, the more likely the “context of situation” is a close-knit community.

In each of these three categories, neither the Gospel nor the Epistles imply a close-knit community. The author hold all the power and there is no evidence of contact in the narrative asides in the Gospel. There is some contact in 2 and 3 John, but this contact is slight in comparison to the rest of the Johannine literature. It is possible Ἀγαπητοί in 1 John implies some affective involvement, but Lamb considers this language was used for rhetorical value rather than implying a community. Lamb does not consider Τεκνία μου in 1 John, presumably this would also be considered a rhetorical device.

Does Lamb’s register analysis signal the death of the Johannine Community? As Lamb states in his concluding chapter, he has attempted to chart a course between historical criticism and literary methods, Brown himself was only interested in the former and was suspicious of the latter. He concludes Bauckham and Klink are correct, the audience of John’s Gospel is “broad and hard to define” and certainly not an introverted, sectarian community (203). For scholars who want to continue to use the Johannine Community hypothesis, they need to bear in mind the language of the Gospel is sociolect rather than idiolect and is targeted at a loose network of communities which may have formed around the Gospel.

Conclusion. David Lamb has employed what is for many a new method for understanding the “context of situation” behind the Gospel of John. Such literary methods are often arcane and create terminology which unnecessarily obfuscates. To his credit, Lamb develops his register analysis in a way which brings clarity to the ongoing discussion of the Johannine Community.


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

Book Review: John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination. Third Edition

Collins, John J. The Apocalyptic Imagination. Third Edition. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 456 pp. Pb; $38.   Link to Eerdmans

Along with Collin’s Between Athens and Jerusalem, The Apocalyptic Imagination is a popular introduction to the literature of the Second Temple period. This third edition is more than 100 pages longer than the second, although Collins indicates in the preface most of the changes are in the bibliography (from 33 pages in the second edition to 54 collins-apocalyptic-imaginationin the third). Most of the changes between the second and third editions appear in the notes. For example, chapter two included 119 notes in the second edition, this is expanded to 166 in the third edition. The general contents are the same and there are no additional chapters in the third edition.

The book begins with an essay defining Apocalyptic similar to the essay in Apocalypse, Prophecy, and Pseudepigraphy (Eerdmans, 2015). Collins surveys the “matrix of the genre,” beginning with the “dawn of apocalyptic” in postexilic prophecy, interacting with Paul Hanson’s classic text on apocalyptic. Collins considers postexilic prophecy a source for the “codes and raw materials” of the earliest apocalypses, but Babylonian and Persian apocalyptic needs to be taken into consideration as well. These influences are of course mediated through the Hellenistic world, especially the heavenly (or hellish) journeys found in the earliest apocalypses.

Collins treats briefly the social setting of apocalyptic, especially the generally accepted view that apocalypses were born out of crisis. Writers attempted to deal with radical changes by using an ancient wise authority to comment on a crisis such as the Maccabean Revolt (The Animal Apocalypse in 1 Enoch) or the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70 (4 Ezra, 2 Baruch).

Chapters 2-4 treat the early Enoch literature, Daniel and various Oracles and Testaments. It may surprise some readers that 1 Enoch predates Daniel, since Daniel appears in the Hebrew Bible. As Collins states, the second century date for Daniel 7-12 is “accepted as beyond reasonable doubt by critical scholarship” (110). The earliest part of the Enoch literature pre-dates the Maccabean period and was presupposed by the book of Jubilees. Collins argues Daniel conforms to the pattern of apocalyptic seen in 1 Enoch (142).

In the section on oracles and testaments, Collins covers the Third Sibylline Oracle, which he describes as a “highly propagandistic document” presenting Judaism to the Hellenistic world (155). Collins argued a closer connection between the Sibyls and apocalyptic in an article reprinted in Apocalypse, Prophecy, and Pseudepigraphy: On Jewish Apocalyptic Literature. The Testament literature is also included in the chapter, although not all of the testaments can be described as apocalyptic. Since the often allude to the Enoch literature and have some messianic expectations, they are included in this volume.

The fifth chapter covers apocalyptic in the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the second edition this chapter was entitled “Qumran,” perhaps a nod to the persistent question of the relationship of the Scrolls to the site at Qumran. In fact, this chapter has been re-written to take into account recent publications by Gabriele Boccaccini (beginning with Beyond the Essene Hypothesis: The Parting of the Ways between Qumran and Enochic Judaism, Eerdmans, 1998).  Chapter 6 covers the latest layer in on 1 Enoch, the Similitudes (1 Enoch 37-71). This section has not been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and may be dated only as early as 40 BC based on a reference to the Parthians in 56:5-7. On the date of the Similitudes, see this post. Three texts written after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 are covered in chapter 6. Fourth Ezra, 2 Baruch and the Apocalypse of Abraham each use a great voice from the past to comment on the spiritual crisis of the destruction of the Temple. Chapter 8 Apocalyptic literature from the Diaspora, primarily the Sibylline Oracles (which are not entirely apocalyptic), 2 Enoch, 3 Baruch, and the Testament of Abraham.

The final chapter in the book is a short reflection on Apocalypticism in Early Christianity. He begins with Jesus as an “apocalyptic prophet,” a view Collins ways is “not without basis” (324). Certainly the crucifixion implies Jesus was considered by the Romans to be a “messianic pretender.” But as E. P. Sanders warned, to say Jesus and his followers had an eschatological orientation does not necessarily mean the movement should be considered “apocalyptic” (326). For Sanders and Horsley, apocalyptic is resistance literature and anti-imperial, so that a restoration of Israel is simply the fall of Rome. Collins is less certain, since there is ‘no necessary opposition” between eschatological hopes for the restoration of Israel and a belief in “imminent cosmic catastrophe” (327).

Collins has a section on apocalyptic in Paul, only adding a short note on anti-imperial studies. He does not interact at all with Douglas Campbell’s The Deliverance of God, which is subtitled “An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul.” The only modification to the section on Revelation in this chapter is a paragraph on anti-imperial readings of Revelation.

The epilogue has been re-written after the first two pages to include comments on “modern apocalypticism.” Here Collins briefly mentions several failed calculations of the end (William Miller, and Harold Camping) before commenting on premillennial dispensationalism. Sadly, he only mentions Hal Lindsey’s almost fifty year old Late Great Planet Earth and the Left Behind series, works of fiction based on Lindsey’s dispensationalism. He seems unaware dispensationalism is not always an apocalyptic movement and often has more to say about the nature of the church and how to read Scripture than wild-eyed apocalyptic predictions or overly literal readings of the biblical apocalyptic. He has perhaps confused an apocalyptic worldview of Left Behind or The Road with serious scholarship of Darrell Bock, Craig Blaising or Dale DeWitt.

Conclusion. Even if you have the second edition of The Apocalyptic Imagination, this new volume is worth the price for the expanded bibliographic material. Although I am thankful for the extended bibliography and occasional updates and clarifications in the chapters, I am disappointed the book was not expanded to cover other apocalyptic literature. Nevertheless, The Apocalyptic Imagination will remain a reliable textbook for the study of this genre for years to come.

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

Book Review: John J. Collins, Scriptures and Sectarianism: Essays on the Dead Sea Scrolls (Part 2)

Collins, John J. Scriptures and Sectarianism: Essays on the Dead Sea Scrolls. WUNT 2/332; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014. 329 pp. HB; 119,00 €.  Link to Mohr Siebeck

Due to the length of this review, part one appears here.

Part two of Scriptures and Sectarianism collects four essays on history and sectarianism in the Scrolls. First, Collins examines historiography in the Dead Sea Scrolls (chapter 8). This seems like an impossible task since there are no historical narratives in the DSS comparable to the books of Maccabees or Josephus. There are, however, several apocalyptic texts which are quasi-historiographical (CD 1:3-11, 4Q390, two pseudo-Daniel texts). The pesherim interpret the prophets in terms of recent history. For example, the pesher on Nahum 2:13 interprets the “lion who tears enough for her cubs” as a reference to Alexander Jannaeus crucifying 800 Pharisees, the “seekers of soft things” in the Scrolls. The second chapter in this section makes a similar point, that historical information in the Scrolls can be inferred from the pesherim and that the “Man of the Lie” and the “Wicked Priest” cannot be dismissed as fictional (148).

Collins-Scripture-And-SectarianismChapter Ten interacts with Gabriele Boccaccini’s recent suggestions the Qumran Community can be described as “Enochic Judaism.” This article was written for the 2007 collection The Early Enoch Literature (JSJSup 121; Leiden: Brill, 2007), and is in many ways similar to Collins’s essay “Enochic Judaism: An Assessment,” in Adolfo D. Roitman, Lawrence H. Schiffman, and Shani Tzoref, eds., The Dead Sea Scrolls and Contemporary Culture: Proceedings of the International Conference Held at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem (July 6-8, 2008) (STDJ 93; Leiden: Brill, 2011), 219-34), reprinted in Collins, Apocalypse, Prophecy, and Pseudepigraphy: On Jewish Apocalyptic Literature (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015).

The final essay in this section could have served as an introduction to the collection (“Sectarian Consciousness in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” chapter 11). The essay attempts to define what “sectarian” means when applied to the DSS. Following Carol Newsom, the adjective could simply mean a text was written by a member of the Qumran community, or that a particular scroll was used as by the community regardless of where it was produced. The third possibility is a scroll is “sectarian” when it has a specific bearing on the origins and unique structures of the community. As Newsom puts it, a text which is “sectually explicit” (165). Newsom’s categories are helpful for 4QMMT (clearly sectarian) or for some texts which are clearly not sectarian (copies of Scripture, for example). But Collins points out there is a huge grey area of texts which are compatible with the Qumran community, but lack “unambiguous indicators” (166). After a short survey of the self-consciousness of the yahad, Collins examines 4QInstruction as a test case and concludes it was produced at an early stage in the community’s development, before the “spiritual separatism” had manifest itself social action (176).

In part three of the book, five essays are collected under the heading of “the sectarian worldview.” Collins begins his essay “Covenant and Dualism in the Dead Sea Scrolls” with the observation that the sectarian community known from the DSS was “first of all a movement of covenant renewal” (179). Since the covenant God made in scripture was made with all of Israel, the sectarian movement needed to modify it, either as a “new covenant” (1QpHab 2:3) or a secret covenant made with Moses and only known by the community (CD 3:12-15) (180). But a third way the sectarian community could distinguish itself was by thinking of the world in dualistic terms. The community were the ones who walked in the way of light, their opponents walked in the darkness. This kind of dualism has no precedent in the Hebrew Bible, and Collins cautiously suggests some interaction with Zoroastrian dualism (188).

Chapters 13 and 14 concern the related topics of the “angelic life” and the afterlife in the DSS. Collins begins with 1 Enoch 104:2-6 and Daniel 12:1-2 to show that the idea of an afterlife for some (or all) Israelites was developing in the second century BCE, but there was little description of that transformed state (196). The Qumran community expanded on these traditions to describe the afterlife as being clothed with majestic clothing of light and the “glory of Adam, and in 1QS 11:7-8, the transformed will have fellowship with the angels. The main evidence for this angelic fellowship The Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice. While the description of angelic worship in these thirteen Sabbath songs are not particularly sectarian, they do indicate the yahad saw itself as participating in the heavenly worship (203). Life in the community was structured to around this heavenly worship; 1QS2:3-9 limits participation to only the upright of the community “for angels of holiness are among their congregation.” Did the yahad believe they would participate in an afterlife? Collins surveys evidence concerning the Essenes in Josephus and Hippolytus since these descriptions of the Essenes are often taken as referring to the Qumran community (an open question). He concludes that if these Greek sources do indeed describe the Qumran community, they are “not very well informed” about their beliefs and practices.

In chapter 15 Collins discusses “Prayer and the Meaning of Ritual in the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Prayer played an important part of life in the yahad, whether at Qumran or elsewhere. Since the yahad was a substitute for the Temple cult, prayer became a substitute sacrifice (1QS 9:3-5, 232). 1QS 1:16-3:12 describes a covenant ceremony modeled on Deuteronomy 27, although modified to include confession of sin. The frequent washings known from literary sources and evidences by stepped pools at Qumran indicate ritual washing was important to the community, although Collins offers important cautions against seeing a precedent for either John’s baptism or later Christian baptism.

In chapter 16 Collins revisits Von Rad’s suggestion that apocalyptic was “eschatologizing of Wisdom.” He examines 4QInstrustion as a “bona fide wisdom text of the traditional type in which eschatological expectations play a significant part” (242). The text is not an eschatological discourse, but there are allusions to eschatological themes such as judgment scenes, God as divine warrior, flesh/spirit dualism, and a hint of periodization of history. In one fragment (4Q417 1 i), the writer refers to the “book of memorial,” a common motif in apocalyptic literature. Collins sees 4QInstrustion as addressed only to the “people of the spirit,” the elect and enlightened, rather than to all of humanity (Proverbs) or Judaism (Sirach) (245). This narrow focus is more like apocalyptic than classic wisdom literature. Although the presence of both wisdom and apocalyptic motifs could be explained as a redaction (as suggested by Torleif Elgvin, for example), Collins suggests the text reflects a development in which wisdom and apocalyptic themes were combined. He cites both Daniel and the Epistle of Enoch as examples (251).

As an epilogue to the book, Collins discussions one of the more controversial topics in Dead Sea Scrolls studies and the New Testament, the “Case of the Suffering Servant.” Although Collins agrees comparisons between the Qumran community and early Christianity are often exaggerated (citing Robert Eisenman, for example), the Scrolls can shed light on the New Testament in matters of detail (257). After he surveys early attempts to connect the Essenes with early Christianity by Ernest Renan and discusses briefly some of the more sensational claims for the Scrolls in the 1990s, Collins examines possible allusions to Isaiah’s servant songs in Hodayot (1QH) and the fragmentary 4Q541. For Collins, there are no clear allusions to a suffering servant in these texts, despite the popularity of the claim. Yet the study concludes with the observation that the Scrolls and the writers of the New Testament shared a reliance on a common body of authoritative scriptures “that could be used to contextualize and explain a new experience” (271).

Conclusion. It is always welcome for a published to collect essays published in a wide range of difficult to obtain journals and festschrifts. There are some repetitions in the book; several times Collins introduces Jubilees or warns against anachronistic talk of canon in the Second Temple period. Collins repeats his description of the raison d’être for the yahad on several occasions, citing the same texts each time. Given the narrow, overlapping themes of many of these essays, perhaps this is unavoidable. Nevertheless, this volume of important essays is a welcome contribution to the continued study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and their relevance for New Testament studies.

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

Book Review: John J. Collins, Scriptures and Sectarianism: Essays on the Dead Sea Scrolls (Part 1)

Collins, John J. Scriptures and Sectarianism: Essays on the Dead Sea Scrolls. WUNT 2/332; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014. 329 pp. HB; 119,00 €.  Link to Mohr Siebeck

Due to the length of this review, part two appears here.

Collins-Scripture-And-SectarianismIn this collection of previously published essays, Collins focuses on how the Dead Sea Scrolls interpret Scripture to support that particular form of Second Temple Judaism. Collins accepts a more or less standard view of the relationship of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Qumran. The reason the yahad existed was to study the Torah (54) and this study included sectarian interpretations of the authoritative text. He considers attempts to find a prototype for Jesus in the scrolls as a theologically and ideologically driven “mirage” (13). There are similarities, Collins says, but the differences are significant (15). “Essenism and Christianity were different movements, with different values, even though they arose in essentially the same environment” (16). Nevertheless, the documents used by the sectarian community at Qumran shed light on early Christianity as well as Second Temple Judaism. Although many of the scrolls were written elsewhere, Collins suggests the collection itself has a sectarian character since there is nothing that could be considered Pharisaic or pro-Hasmonean (54). Throughout most of the book Collins avoids equating the community at Qumran with the Essenes (chapter 14 comes close), and the yahad (community) cannot be equate with Qumran (231). Late in the book, Collins observes that the “community of the new covenant drew its ideas, and probably also its membership, from various sources” (253). This ought to warn against using any particular text from the Scrolls to argue a close relationship between the Qumran community and early Christianity.

Collins wrote the introductory chapter for this volume, offering an overview of the current state of Dead Sea Scrolls studies. Since the publication of 4QMMT it has become clear the sect described in the scrolls did not originate out of a particular view of the messiah or their belief in a final battle between the sons of light and the sons of darkness, but rather out of disagreements over exact interpretation of the Law, including the cultic calendar and the state of the Temple (12). The literature created by the community at Qumran includes examples of re-written scripture such as Jubilees and the Temple Scroll. The authoritative books for the DSS overlap with the Hebrew Bible, but also seem to have considered some of these other books as authoritative since they supported the their struggle within Judaism.

The first part of this book collects six essays on the topic of Scripture and interpretation in the Dead Sea Scrolls. First, Collins traces “The Transformation of the Torah in Second Temple Judaism.” Like most ancient Near Eastern legal documents, the Torah was not considered the basis for the practice of law, but rather an object of adoration (Psalm 119) or a source of wisdom (Sirach 24:23). It was during the Hasmonean period that books like Jubilees or the Temple Scroll began to engage with halakhic issues (31), probably in response to Antiochus Epiphanes attempt to displace the Torah as the ancestral law of Judea (34). Judaism could tolerate a range of opinion on the nature of the messiah, but some matters of interpretation of the Torah inevitably led to sectarianism reflected in 4QMMT.

The third essay in this collection examines the scribal activity on the Torah that developed into the sectarianism found in the DSS (“Changing Scripture”). Starting with Michael Fishbane’s “inner-biblical exegesis,” Collins suggests that even within Deuteronomy there is interpretation of the authoritative covenant. By the second century BCE, the Torah was “clarified and solidified” so that the practice of rewriting developed as a way to interpret and adapt the classic texts to new situations. For the legal texts, Jubilees and the Temple Scroll are prototypical examples of scripture rewritten. Jubilees is “an exegetical attempt to resolve problems in the traditional text of the Torah” (46), while the Temple Scroll “claims the status as Torah” (48). The author of Jubilees did not change the traditional text, but the writer of the Temple Scroll seems to have been free to change and adapt the text.

This freedom to innovate is the subject of the fourth essay in the collection (“Tradition and Innovation in the Dead Sea Scrolls”). For Collins, an innovation of the sectarian literature found amongst the DSS is that it is so focused on the Torah (59). Some tradition is known by all Israel, but there were hidden laws only obtained by sectarian exegesis of the Teacher of Righteousness. The community produced pesherim, biblical commentary which “established and reinforced the identity of the community” (66) and interpret prophecy as referring to the community’s own history (67). Although there was no authoritative canon, 4QMMT implies the Qumran community shared a pool of texts with the Jerusalem community, but what counts, Collins points out, is not the Scripture cited, but the way it was interpreted (69).

The final three essays in this section focus on the interpretation of three sections of the Hebrew Bible in the DSS, Genesis (chapter 5), Psalm 2 (chapter 6) and the book of Daniel (chapter 7). With respect to Genesis, the DSS engage in the ongoing debate within Second Temple Judaism on the meaning of Genesis 1-3 and the origin of evil. Although not directly in dialogue with Sirach or 1 Enoch, Collins observes that the several scrolls discussing Genesis 1-3 are remarkably free in their interpretation, even ignoring the command of God not to eat from the tree of good and evil (85). Interpretation is not atomistic, rarely dealing with the details of a text. With respect to Psalm 2, Collins examines 4Q174, the so-called Florilegium. This scroll is a catena of texts which is not a messianic collection. However, as Collins shows, Psalm 2 was regularly understood as messianic in the Second Temple period and the juxtaposition of Psalm 2 and 2 Samuel 7:14 appears in both the book of Hebrews and this scroll. Fragments of eight manuscripts of the book of Daniel have been identified at Qumran, along with quotations of the book in other scrolls, including a few allusions in sectarian documents. Collins points out the influence of the book goes beyond citations and allusions, since the book of Daniel is the forerunner of pesher-style exegesis and the concept of a mystery and the periodization of history is important in both Daniel and the Scrolls (108). In addition, there are a number of scrolls related to Daniel (The Prayer of Nabonidus, several pseudo-Daniel fragments, an Aramaic apocalypse and a “four kingdoms” text). As Collins cautions, the “para-Danielic” literature is in Aramaic and not sectarian.

Continue to part two of this review.

The Symbolism of Apocalyptic

Apocalyptic is best known for its symbolic use of language. The genre is full of strange dreams and visions, usually symbolic of something that the writer is trying to tell his readers, but hide from those that are not familiar with the “code.” This makes interpreting the books very difficult indeed, since many of the cultural references are lost.

Craig Blomberg uses the analogy of a political cartoon from the cold war. Any person who lived through those years would understand the symbol of a bear and an eagle (Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 372). A political cartoon from 50 or 100 years ago might be virtually impossible to understand without immersing oneself in the politics of that day. I showed a series of political cartoons to my class, beginning 911-eaglewith one from shortly after 9/11. Everyone understood the meaning of an eagle sharpening its talons in that context. But cartoons from 15 years ago were a bit more difficult for a college student to understand because of the historic distance from the events. I had cartoons from World War II (most people understood the reference to Hitler). The World War I cartoon was more obscure, and the Civil War cartoons were very hard to understand. Finally, a political cartoon from the Revolutionary War made no sense to any of us since we had no clue who the people were or to what events inspired the imagery.

This is how the “code” of apocalyptic works. It is not really a secret “Bible code” which needs a key to decipher the meaning; the symbols are only obscure to use because we live so long after first century and know so little of the culture. Some scholars have toyed with the idea certain circles of Christians produced a set of typical or stock images. civil-war-political-cartoonAn example might be “Babylon is Rome,” in an effort to hide the tact the book is talking about the Empire. While this is possible, it is a very difficult task to describe these stock symbols and their meanings.

In order to understand apocalyptic, we need to cross two different boundaries. We need to study the imagery in the proper time and the proper culture. In order to understand a political cartoon, I have to put in the right era, but I also have to know the cultural cues implied by the art. If I showed a French political cartoon from fifty years ago, I might have no idea what it was talking about until I researched the time period and culture in which the cartoon was produced. So too with apocalyptic: readers must immerse themselves in the culture of the first century. This includes both Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures, since Revelation has a foot in both worlds.  This has the advantage of coming closer to the author’s original intent (literal interpretation) and avoids some of the silly excess of popular interpretations.

One objection to this method is that it is hard work to immerse oneself in an ancient culture.  This is a fair point, but if the alternative is to read Revelation as a general comment on “Good versus Evil,” or as weird symbols only made clear by a recent prophet with the “secret key” to the book, then I am all for the hard work.

It is better to read Daniel and Revelation with an Oxford Introduction to the Roman Empire in hand than Jane’s Defense Weekly.