Book Review: Sean Freyne, The Jesus Movement

Freyne, Sean. The Jesus Movement and Its Expansion: Meaning and Mission. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2014. 495 pp. Pb; $35.00.  Link to Eerdmans

Sean Freyne was the Emeritus Professor of Theology in Trinity College (Dublin) until his death in August of 2013. This book is a conclusion to his other studies on Galilee in the Second Temple Period. His other contributions to the topic include Galilee, Jesus and the Gospels: Literary Approaches and Historical Investigations (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988); Galilee and Gospel:  Collected Essays (WUNT 125; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000) and Jesus, a Jewish Galilean (London: T&T Clark, 2004).

Freyne Jesus MovementFreyne begins The Jesus Movement and Its Expansion with three chapters on the history and culture of Galilee in the first century. First, he challenges the common assumption that Galilee was a Gentile region in comparison to Judea. While the region was encircled by Gentile cities, a strong Judean presence was in Galilee with “a long-standing and deep attachment to the symbols of Jerusalem and its Temple” (48). From the Hasmonean period on there was a “steady growth” in the number of settlements with a distinctive Judean ethos (18). Evidence for this comes from the presence of miqva’oth throughout the region and a few traces of pre-70 C.E. synagogues (Khirbet Qana and Magdala, for example).

Second, Freyne examines the influence of Rome on Galilee and Judea. In order to accomplish this, Freyne examines the how the Roman world view was the developed by Herod and his sons. Freyne argues Herod “fully participated in the Roman exploitation of the idea of one world” (55). He demonstrates this with a brief overview of the building projects the Herodians initiated as well as the coinage issued during this period. The first revolt was an inevitable clash between the Hellenistic aristocracy and radical anti-Roman elements such as the “fourth philosophy” (59). For Freyne, the fall of Jerusalem functions catalyst for the writing of early Christian gospels. He makes reference to the apocalyptic claims of Mark 12:13-18 which seem to anticipate the events of 70 C.E.

The last introductory chapter surveys the economic and social conditions of Galilee in the mind first century. This is ground Freyne has covered elsewhere in more detail. He begins with the economy of the Hasmonean state, suggesting that Galilee experience some growth as Judeans moved into the region for economic reasons. While Herod is sometimes characterized as an oppressive ruler for the “ordinary people,” Freyne insists the Herodian period not necessarily characterized by oppression and extreme poverty. He cites several examples of Herod providing for the people in times of drought or famine (118). Even under Antipas, the ruler functioned as a Roman benefactor. Here Freyne is reacting to the work of Crossan and others who tend to overplay poverty as a factor for describing the culture of Galilee during the ministry of Jesus. He lists a number of items drawn from Mark’s gospel and Josephus indicating a more robust economy than usually granted. For example, In Mark 6:56, people could be expected to have money to provide food for themselves; in Mark 1:20 fishermen hired servants; in Mark 5:26 (cf., Life, 403) people who provided medical services expected to be paid (132).

Chapter 4 makes use this social and cultural background in order to read the presentation of Jesus as found in the Gospels. The Jesus Movement was one of several protest movements challenging the religious of the nation (183). This challenge comes from two perspectives often considered to be mutually exclusive in contemporary scholarship. First, Jesus is in many ways a wisdom teacher. Following Gerd Theissen, Freyne describes Jesus as “inaugurating a ‘values revolution,’ calling into question prevailing attitudes toward wealth and power,” either from Rome or the Temple aristocracy (162). To declare the poor “blessed,” for example, contradicted the usual Deuteronomic thinking that the Lord blesses the righteous with material wealth. With respect to apocalyptic, Freyne thinks the Jesus Movement came to identify themselves with the “wise” from Daniel 12, using Daniel and his companions as models of living a righteous life in the Gentile world (174).

Chapters 5-8 trace the Jesus movement beyond the early first century. He discusses the Hebrews and the Hellenists, Samaritan followers of Jesus, and the traditions associated with James the Just. He suggests that in Acts the relationship of James and the Hebraioi are “another story, running just below the surface and then springing to life occasionally and at key moments” (241). As I have often observed, there is far more variety in the early Christian movement than is usually recognized. Freyne sees diversity in Acts 6, the Hellenists (such as Stephen) and the Hebrews (the Twelve, perhaps James), but he points out the rift is not theological (206), although he goes on to indicate a major difference is the resurrection. Freyne follows Ben Meyer’s lead and suggests the Hebraioi are the link back to the earliest community of the Jesus Movement, consisting of the nucleus of Jesus’ Galilean followers (213). Hellenists were a link to a future Pauline / Gentile movement that went beyond Israel to a purified humanity.

James was a leader in the Hebraioi, but based in Jerusalem rather than Galilee. Freyne detects hints of the importance of James in a number of non-canonical texts expanding his role beyond the description in Acts. James appears two sometimes opposing traditions. Some traditions connect James to the Ebionites, the orthodox Jewish Christians, but James also appears in several Gnostic texts as well. Gospel of Thomas Logion 12 seems to pass leadership of the disciples to James the Just, preserving a title found elsewhere. Jerome knew a tradition that placed James at the Last Supper (De Vir. 2.3). The recently published Tchacos Codex includes a Greek translation of the Apocalypse of James which helps fill in gaps in the Nag Hammadi version of this Gnostic text. In this story, Jesus appears to James after the resurrection and instructs him on what is necessary for the soul to ascend (239). For Freyne, the late acceptance of the Letter of James into the canon of the New Testament is an indication of James’ increasing status in the early church.

In chapters 6-7 Freyne examines how Jesus was remembered, first among Galilean Christianity (Gospel of Thomas and Q) then in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, which he suggests originated in Syria. He examines the Saying collections as early evidence for how the Galilean followers of Jesus understood their relationship with Judaism as well as the terms on which a Gentile might be admitted to the Messianic community (258). In the Sayings sources, Jesus is the “coming one” (Luke 3:7-9) who invites his listeners to participate in a banquet (GThomas 28, Prov 9:1-6). This is a combination of apocalyptic and wisdom at the earliest levels of the tradition. Freyne argues the sayings material is dismissive of Jewish practices and is not as dismissive of Gentiles as other contemporary examples of Second Temple Judaism, “the main focus is clearly on Israel” (265).

Freyne associates the Gospel of Mark with Syria (as opposed to Rome) argues the Gospel deals with the aftermath of the Jewish Revolt and loss of the Temple. The Gospel is “apocalyptically structured” (311), looking back at Jesus as a way to encourage Jesus-followers to cross the political and cultural boundaries necessary in a post-Jewish Christianity. Matthew, on the other hand, deals with a different set of circumstances. For Freyne, Matthew wrote fifteen to twenty years later, using Mark and Q to argue for an inclusive Israel that could “bring new things out of the old” (Matt 13:52).

Finally, Freyne follows these trajectories into the Second Century. He begins by examining the state of the Jesus movement in Rome in the second century, after the time of Domitian. The attitude of Rome was generally positive, despite occasional threats of persecution at the local level (323). Freyne wonders why Celsus went to such great lengths in the late second century to refute toe claims of Christianity. It is likely Celsus realized the threat Christianity posed to Roman order, especially as it moved from an obscure religion to “third nation” within Rome (325). Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians continued to separate during this period. Despite some attempts to maintain a connection to their Jewish roots, the growing orthodoxy rejected Judaism entirely. Ignatius wrote “it is monstrous to talk of Jesus Christ and practice Judaism” (Ign. Magn. 10.2). But the early Christians also rejected attempts to bring Christianity in line with Greek philosophy, as Tertullian famously said, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem”? Christian orthodoxy finally took shape as a reaction to Christian heresies. As challenges arose, orthodox teaching attempted to clarify and separate from forms of Gnosticism and Marcionism.

Conclusion. This book is an excellent contribution to the study of the Gospels and the growth of early Christianity. Sean Freyne argues clearly for an influential Galilean Christianity that is responsible for preserving a collection of Jesus’ sayings (Q). He concludes Christianity was much closer to its Jewish roots than is normally thought. I would have liked a chapter on Luke/Acts, tracing the expansion of the Jesus movement to the Roman world (assuming Freyne accepted some sort of western provenance for the Gospel). Based on his comments throughout the book, he might have taken Acts more seriously as history than recent commentators have (especially Luke’s hints of deeper divisions between the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem and Paul’s Gentile mission).

In addition, there is not much in the book on the Pauline mission to the Gentiles. Granted, this would greatly lengthen an already good-sized book, but the topic is not necessarily excluded by the sub-title of the book. Freyne argues well his point on how the Jesus movement spread form Galilee to Syria, but in his final chapter he leaps to the second century without any attention at all to Paul’s Gentile mission or the problems it caused for more conservative forms of Jewish Christianity.

Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book to students of the Gospels and the early church.

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: The Logos “Second Temple Judaism Studies” Collection

Logos Bible Software has been publishing a number of important books as a part of the digital library. The Second Temple Judaism Studies Collection collects seven books published by Sheffield Academic Press between 1983 and 2009 covers a wide range of topics of interest in the Second Temple Period. These are all part of the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement series and are all either revised dissertations or collections of essays drawn from SBL study groups. The original hardback editions of these books are now out of print although a few have been re-printed in paperback and are available as eBooks on Google Books. Some, however, no longer available and often sell for inflated prices (a hardcover copy of Schams or Davies’s The Damascus Covenant, for example, are offered on Amazon for more than $150).

second-temple-judaism-studies-collectionWilliam M. Schniedewind, Word of God in Transition: From Prophet to Exegete in the Second Temple Period (JSOTSup 197; 1995, 275 pages). This book is a revision of Schniedewind’s Brandeis doctoral dissertation (1992). The topic certainly is influenced by Schniedewind mentor, Michael Fishbane, who has contributed several monographs on the interpretation of scripture within the canon. This study examines the transition from the traditional prophet to a “new kind of prophet” in the post-exilic period who is an inspired interpreter rather than a “classic prophet” (p. 11). The Chronicler, for example, receives traditions and interprets them in a new context. This shift on what the “word of God” meant in the Second Temple Period is reflected in the title of the book. The book of Chronicles is more like an exegete than a prophet, paving the way for the scribes and other experts in the law. [NB: that the Logos website incorrectly identifies this as a 2009 publication. That refers to the paperback reprint from Bloomsbury T&T Clark not the original publication of the book.]

Christine Schams, Jewish Scribes in the Second Temple Period (JSOTSup 291; 1998, 288 pages). Like Schniedewind, this revision of Schams’s D.Phil thesis is concerned with the development of the scribe in the Second Temple Period. She surveys literary evidence from the Persian period (including bullae), the Hellenistic period, and the Roman Period on the role of the scribes in society. What is remarkable is the silence of these texts; there are far fewer references to scribes than we might have expected. Neither Josephus or Philo refer to scribes as an important role in Jewish society. Scribes are not mentioned in The Letter of Aristeas or in pagan descriptions of Jewish society, and there is little in the Dead Sea Scrolls concerning the scribe. Yet in the New Testament scribes appear to be prominent members of society. She offers a bewildering number of possible explanations for the lace of reference to scribes outside of the New Testament (ch. 3).  Her fourth chapter provides a comprehensive definition of the role of scribe in each of the periods.

qumran-between-the-old-and-new-testamentsFrederick H. Cryer, Thomas L. Thompson, editors. Qumran between the Old and New Testaments (JSOTSup 290; 1998, 2009, 398 pages).  This book collects papers from the 1995 International Scandinavian Conference on the Dead Sea Scrolls and Qumran, sponsored by the University of Copenhagen. Originally published in hardback in 1998, T&T Clark issued a less expensive paperback in 2009. The collection includes several excellent essays from noted Scrolls scholars Florentiono Garcia Martinez, Emmanuel Tov, Harmut Stegmann and Ben Zion Wacholder as well as scholars specializing in the Hebrew Bible, Niels Peter Lemche, Thomas Thompson and Fred Cryer. I was particularly interested in Sarianna Metso’s article on “The Use of Old Testament Quotations in the Qumran Community Rule” since I did some work on that text for my dissertation. Metso is interested in the redactions of 1QS more than the hermenutical strategies of citations and allusions.

Raymond Jacques Tournay, Seeing and Hearing God with the Psalms: The Prophetic Liturgy of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (JSOTSup 118; 1991, 311 pages). Tournay’s monograph concerns the origin and structure of the Psalms as a collection. He proposes to study the Psalms collection by studying the psalms as the product of levitical singers in the Second Temple Period, but also giving full weight to the prophetic dimension usually ignored by commentators on the Psalms (p. 30). This is similar to David Mitchell’s thesis in his The Message of the Psalter: An Eschatological Programme in the Book of Psalms (JSOTSup 252. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1997). Tournay does not want to diminish the worship aspect of the Psalms, but he cannot ignore the prophetic aspects. He first argues that the Levitical singers gradually replaced the classic prophet as the “authentic cultic prophets” who encountered God and delivered his word (ch. 1-3). He then surveys theophany narratives in the Psalms (ch. 4-8) before moving to oracles in the Psalms (ch. 9-13). Most would expect this to be heavily weighted toward messianic expectations, but Tournay only includes a single chapter on messianic Psalms. This makes sense, if the levitical singers were functioning like prophets, since prophets did not always prophecy only concerning the messianic age. In his short conclusion, Tournay teases the reader by pointing out that the prophetic dimension in the psalms was recognized by two Second Temple messianic movements, Qumran and Christianity.

STP Vol 2Tamara C. Eskenazi and Kent H. Richards, editors. Second Temple Studies, Volume 2: Temple and Community in the Persian Period (JSOTSup 175; 1994, 2009, 175 pages). Many of the essays in this collection were a part of the 1991 International SBL symposium on “The Temple in the Persian Period.”  Since the collection limits itself to the Persian period all of the articles focus on the later books of the Hebrew Bible. The section on the temple is almost entirely drawn from the prophets (Carroll on the Prophets, Baltzer on Second Isaiah, Clines on Haggai, and Marinkovic on Zech 1-8).  The second section focuses on the community of the Persian period, with essays on Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah. Two articles (Smith–Carpenter; Eskenazi and Judd) deal with the issue of mixed marriage in Ezra and Nehemiah. Lester Grabbe’s contribution on the Mission of Ezra summarizes some of his views developed elsewhere.

Philip R. Davies, John M. Halligan, editors. Second Temple Studies, Volume 3: Studies in Politics, Class and Material Culture (JSOTSup 340; 2002, 2009, 340 pages). As sequel to Eskenazi and Richards, this collection of essays comes out of the SBL Sociology of the Second Temple study group. Rather than the Person period, the essays in this collection focus on the Achaemenid era (two essays), the Hellenistic period(s) (five essays) and the Hasmonean dynasty (three essays). Richard Horsely contributes an article on Ben Sira and the Sociology of the Second Temple (co-written by Patrick Tiller) and a second article on applying “historical sociology” to the expansion of Hasmonean rule in Galilee. Lester Grabbe aslo has two articles, the first on Hellenization, interacting with Martin Hengel, and a second contribution concerning the Samaritans in the Hasmonean period. One of the more interesting articles is by Robert Doran, on “Jewish Education in the Seleucid Period.” That anything can be known about education in this period is something of an open question, but Doran uses the text of Ben Sira and Ezekiel the Tragedian to draw some conclusions about what might have passed for education in the Jerusalem Gymnasium in the pre-Hasmonean period.

the-damascus-covenantPhilip R. Davies. The Damascus Covenant: An Interpretation of the “Damascus Document” (JSOTSup 25; 1983, 348 pages). The oldest book in this collection is focused on the Damascus Document (CD), a foundational text for the Essenes and is among the more important texts in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Document was discovered in the early twentieth century in the Cairo Geniza and was not immediately recognized as an Essene text (it was often referred to as a “Zadokite” document). Even though much has happened in the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Davies book on the Damascus Document is still helpful, especially his detailed literature survey of scholarship on the CD up to the early 1980s.

Conclusion. The books in this collection are a somewhat odd assortment, but they are all valuable contributions to the study of the Second Temple Period. A serious college, university, or seminary ought to own copies of these books.  They may not be the types of books the “average reader” will buy since a dissertation tends to be a challenging read. But anyone working in the Second Temple period ought to consider adding one or all of these books to their library.

My initial thought when I saw the price of these books is that they were too expensive. I pointed out to the marketing people at Logos that there were two books that were over-priced because they were out of print and available far less expensively at Google books, they responded but getting lowering the package price considerably. The collection is now available for 249.95, averaging about $35 per book.  This is in line with the cost of the books via Google Books.

Logos has a number of promotions available to professors and students to reduce the cost of the collection. In addition, these books are formatted to the Logos library, so that all of the tools of Logos can be used with them, including robust note-taking, highlighting, and copy and paste functions that simply do not exist in the Google Books format. I have purchased a few dissertations from Google Books, they have little more functionality than reading a PDF.

Logos is simply a superior reading platform to Google or Kindle. For me, the fact that Logos places footnotes at the bottom of the page for downloaded books makes Logos a superior reading tool. On the desktop version of Logos, footnotes are clickable links, but the note floats in a window above the text and can be copied like any other text. At this time, the Logos App does not permit copying footnotes.

Thanks to Logos for kindly providing me with a review copy of these books. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.