Book Review: Craig A. Evans, and David Mishkin, eds. A Handbook on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith

Evans, Craig A. and David Mishkin, eds. A Handbook on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2019. 354 pp.; Pb; $24.95.  Link to Hendrickson

This book attempts to be “a comprehensive yet concise primer on the Jewish roots of the Christian faith.” The book therefore contains a series of short articles on aspects of Judaism written from the perspective of Jewish Christianity. Co-editor David Mishkin is a faculty member of Israel College of the Bible in Netanya, Israel and contributor Erez Soref serves as president of ICB. Many contributors to this collection are also associated with ICB, but there are several sections written by New Testament scholars who have done significant work on their assigned topic. In addition to Craig Evans as an editor and contributor of two articles, there are three essays from Andreas Köstenberger, two each from George Guthrie, Scot McKnight, Brian Rosner, and Jason Matson and a section on early devotion to Jesus by Larry Hurtado.

The book has thirteen chapters divided between four sections; each chapter has three to five subsections written by various contributors. Since this is a handbook, the subsections are brief and can be read individually. The book uses in-text citations and each section concludes with a Works Cited. These references can be used for further study of the individual topics.

The titles for the four sections use a metaphor of an olive tree, beginning with the Soil (exploring the Jewish ground from which the Christian faith developed), the Roots (tracing the Jewish world, life and teaching of Jesus), the Trunk (developing the Jewishness of the disciples of Jesus and the apostle Paul) and finally the Branches (the parting of the ways between Judaism and Christianity).

In the first part of the book surveys the Jewish soil from which Christianity developed. The first chapter examines God’s plan for Israel by tracing various covenants in the Hebrew Bible. After an introductory chapter on the kingdom and covenants, there are short descriptions of the Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic and New Covenants. Seth Postell discusses the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 15 and 17, concluding “the Abrahamic covenant provides God’s unconditional commitment to restore the blessing through the provision of the seed and the land” (16).

Chapter 2 reviews God’s plan for the nations in the Torah, Prophets and Writings. The essays in this chapter recognize the nations as Israel’s enemy and enticer, but also the salvation of the nations “in the last days.” Like the second chapter, chapter three reviews messianic prophecies in the Torah, Prophets and Writings. The section on the Torah focuses on the “prophet like Moses.” Brian Kinzel’s section on messianic psalms is an excellent overview, including both Jewish and Christian interpretations of these Psalms. Craig Evans contributes a frustratingly brief section on the New Testament use of the Old. After about a page on the Dead Sea Scrolls, Evans divides the section into Matthew and John (“the two most Jewish gospels”), Mark and Luke, and Paul and Hebrews. Evans has a second contribution on the Jews and Judaism in the Gospel if John in chapter 9. It is impossible to do justice to Paul’s use of the Old Testament in a half page. Although the handbook has a chapter on Paul, there is nothing more directly on his use of the Old Testament. Likewise, the complex exegesis of the book of Hebrews needs further explanation. Fortunately chapter 9 has a good section on Hebrews by George Guthrie.

The fourth and fifth chapters deal with a few details of Second Temple Judaism. Chapter four surveys the “appointed times” (Sabbath, Passover, Shavuot, Purim and Hanukkah). For each special day, the authors provide a synopsis of the day in the Hebrew Bible, some discussion of the special days in the New Testament, and a short note on the practice today. Chapter 5 is entitled Tabernacle and Temple, although the chapter comprises two sections on the atonement and salvation in the Old Testament. A third section by George Guthrie concerns Jesus and the tabernacle/temple. He connects Second Temple period expectations of an eschatological Temple with Jesus’s apocalyptic prophecies and the “cleansing” of the Temple. Further, he draws attention to Paul’s teaching of the church as a temple of God (Eph 2:19-22) and Jesus’s replacement of the Temple in the Gospel of John. This section could have including the superiority of Jesus to the tabernacle in Hebrews and the apocalyptic replacement of the Temple in Revelation.

The second section of the book is focused on the life and teaching of Jesus as a representative of the Jewish world. Chapter 6 covers the archaeology, literature, social groups and institutions of Second Temple Judaism, including a section on Jewish messianic expectations prior to the time of Jesus. Sheila Gyllenberg contributes an excellent article on the archaeology of Jesus, briefly summarizing place names and material remains which bear on Jesus research. She contributes a second section in the chapter on the Jewish literature of the period, Jim Sibley surveys Second Temple social groups and Andreas Stutz has sections on Jewish institutions (synagogue, temple, etc) and Messianic expectations in the Second Temple period. After a short comment on general messianic expectations, he divides the expectations into three sections, Hellenistic Judaism, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Rabbinic Judaism.

Chapter 7 examines the “Jewish life and identity of Jesus” beginning with Craig Evans’s overview of the ministry of Jesus, Andreas Stutz gives a short piece on the Son of man in Daniel 7.  Stutz points out Daniel 7:13-14 was “unequivocally related to the messiah” and that Jesus applied the title Son of Man to “exclusively and unambiguously to his return (see Matt 24:30; 26:64, Luke 21:26-27)” (158). Andreas Köstenberger contributes two sections to this chapter, one on the I Am statements in John and another on the trials and crucifixion. Finally in this section, Larry Hurtado gives a brief summary of his view on early Christian devotion to Jesus. For Hurtado, although Jesus was revered during his ministry, devotion to Jesus as God “seems to have been a major escalation in which the risen Jesus was given the kinds of reverence that are otherwise restricted to God” (175).

After a short section by Köstenberger on Jesus as a rabbi, chapter 8 discusses two examples of Jesus’ teaching, the Lord’s Prayer and the Sermon on the Mount (both sections by Scot McKnight). McKnight points out Jesus was not a moral philosopher in the Greek (or modern) traditions, but a Jew, and Jewish ethics derive ultimately from God. Jesus’s teaching is therefore based on the law, prophets and wisdom (189). Russell Morton has a short section on one of Jesus’s most Jewish forms of teaching, the parables.

The third section of the book (“the trunk”) is devoted to the development of Christianity first by the Jewish disciples of Jesus (ch. 9) and then by Paul (ch. 10). The goal of both these chapters is to highlight the Jewishness of the earliest followers of Jesus. As Jim Sibley points out, the early church “did not need to conduct a careful search for its Jewish roots. It was entirely Jewish!” (206). For many Christians, Paul is an example of a Gentile Christianity which rejected the Law. But as Brian Rosner says in his section on Paul in modern scholarship, Paul was a Jew “who believed Jesus of Nazareth, Israel’s long-awaited Messiah, had called him to the servant, prophetic, and priestly task of heralding the gospel to the nations” (235). Although Paul is clear the Gentile followers of Jesus are not “under the Law,” he often has a positive view of the Law (242). Chapter 11 is devoted resurrection as key to the Jewish message of Christianity. Resurrection was anticipated in the Old Testament, developed in the Second Temple period and was the central to Paul’s theology.

The final section of the book concern the parting of the ways in early Judaism (David Mishkin), early Christianity (Jason Matson), and the Middle Ages (Ray Pritz). Although neither Mishkin nor Matson point to a specific event which forced Judaism and Christianity to develop in separate directions, Christianity’s developing Christology and devotion to Jesus as God forced Jews to consider Christians as blasphemous (286, following Larry Hurtado and Michael Bird).

The final chapter of the book offers some suggestions for the “mending of the ways.” Erez Soref traces the roots of the Messianic movement in modern Israel. This movement includes both Jews and Arabs (302), an alliance which is not without its problems. Messianic Jews and evangelical Arabs often view one another with suspicion, but hope to have a “weighty missiological effect on a war-torn land” (306).

Conclusion. A Handbook on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith is just that, a handbook. As such, the articles are tantalizingly brief, but the authors provide sufficient bibliographical material to point interested readers in the right direction. Since many of the writers are associated with Israel College of the Bible or other Messianic Jewish organizations, some readers will find the perspective of the book too narrow. Given the purpose of the book to draw attention to the Jewish roots of Christianity, this should not be a reason to avoid the book. For readers interested in exploring the Jewish Christianity from the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, this Handbook will be a valuable guide.

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

Acts 21 – Did (Christian) Paul Keep the Law?

paul66Based on Paul’s behavior in Acts, it may well be he would have told the Jews to continue keeping the Law.  He required Timothy be circumcised (16:3) and he had made a vow while in Corinth (18:18). When he is before the Sanhedrin, Paul claims he has continued to keep the law (23:1). This is curious considering the reputation Paul has for preaching a “Law-Free” gospel among the Gentiles. To what extent he kept the boundary markers of the Law these conservatives Jews would have expected from him.

Paul claims to have a “good conscience” in 23:1. The verb Luke uses refers to living as a good citizen (πολιτεύομαι) and is the same work Paul uses in Phil 1:27 for having a “manner of life” worthy of the Gospel. In the Maccabean literature the verb refers to living one’s life in accordance with Jewish traditions (2 Macc 6:1, 11:25; 3 Macc 3:4, 4 Macc 2:8).

4 Macc 2:23“To the mind he gave the law; and one who lives subject to this will rule a kingdom that is temperate, just, good, and courageous.”

Paul therefore claims loyalty to the Law while at the same time evangelizing the Gentiles and teaching them they are not under the Law. It is clear from Paul’s letters he does not advocate freedom from Law as a license to sin, but when people heard Paul teaches a law-free Gospel, they appear to have thought the very worst.

In order to prove to Paul’s detractors that he is stull loyal to the Law, James proposes Paul prove sponsor a Nazarite vow for a few you men (21:22-25).   Dunn rightly observes that James does not deny the rumor: “the advice of James and the elders is carefully calibrated.  They do not disown the rumors.  Instead they suggest that Paul disprove the rumors by his own action, by showing that he himself still lived in observance of the Law” (Dunn, Acts, 287).  The fact that James drops out of the story after Paul’s arrest is a mystery – why does James not come to the aid of Paul?  No Christians are willing to defend Paul when he goes before the Sanhedrin.  Why is this?  It seems as though Paul has less support in Jerusalem in A.D. 58 than we might have expected.

Does Paul make a mistake in sponsoring the vow in the Temple?  Some people think it would have been unlike Paul to “keep Law” at this point in his career.  What is his ultimate motivation for doing this?  Does he really need to “prove himself” to be faithful at this late date?

 

 

Acts 21 – “Nine Years Before the War”

Clint Arnold has a nice sidebar in his commentary on Acts entitled “Jerusalem: Nine Years Before the War.”  I have long thought that the political situation in Jerusalem is the key to understanding James and his chilly reception of Paul.  James was faced pressure from Jews who were Christians to be spiritual prepared for the coming Messiah and Jews who rejected Jesus as messiah but were every bit as much zealous for the Law.  Likely there were many who were unhappy with James’ decision to side with Paul and not require Gentile conversion to Judaism as a requirement of salvation.  If the political climate of Jerusalem made James’ position dangerous, it made Paul’s position on Gentiles lethal.

Fall of JersualemNews of Paul’s activities would have been well known in Jerusalem.  Paul has been creating islands of Gentile Christianity in the Roman world for years now, and it is undoubtedly true that the Gentiles outnumber the Jews in many of his congregations.  Paul has confronted Peter over table fellowship with Gentiles (Gal 2) and made it clear that Gentiles are saved apart from the Law.  Perhaps the theology of Romans 9-11 was known in Jerusalem – the Jews have “stumbled” and the Gentiles have been grafted in.

To what extent is James part of the problems which face Paul in Jerusalem?   On the one hand, Luke does not explicitly state that James believed these rumors, although he also does not show James as rejecting them either.  When Paul arrived, Jerusalem itself was a hotbed of nationalistic fever is a fact, and the Jewish church was very much a part the messianic nationalism which caused the revolt of A.D. 66.  Arriving in Jerusalem with an entourage of Gentiles who were not at all converts to Judaism was dangerous at the very least (Dunn, Beginning from Jerusalem, 961-2).

Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem probably was in spring of A.D. 56 or 57 during the procuratorship of Felix. Josephus described this period of the mid-50s as a time of intense Jewish nationalism and political unrest. One insurrection after another rose to challenge the Roman overlords, and Felix brutally suppressed them all. This only increased the Jewish hatred for Rome and inflamed anti-Gentile sentiments. It was a time when pro-Jewish sentiment was at its height, and friendliness with outsiders was viewed askance. Considering public relations, Paul’s mission to the Gentiles would not have been well received. (Polhill, Acts, 447).

For fifteen years prior to the war, Judea was ruled by mediocre Roman governors who managed Jewish affairs poorly, exacerbating the problems which eventually led to the revolt.  Judea was not a particularly important to Rome, and as a result they sent some particularly poor officials to govern the region.  Felix, for example, is described by Tacitucs as “wielding royal power with the instincts of a slave” (Hist 5.9).  Felix was recalled by Nero in A.D. 60, and while Festus was an improvement, he died in office .  Schürer described the Roman government as having “deliberately set out to drive the people to revolt” (Schürer, History of the Jewish People, 1.455).  Josephus covers the chaos of this period in Antiq. 20.16–172 and  JW 2.254-265.

It is of course impossible to know the mind of James, but it appears he is trying very hard to keep the more conservative elements of his church in fellowship with the less conservative elements – but from Paul’s perspective, the Jerusalem church was entirely conservative.  By coming to Jerusalem Paul was stepping into a situation which can only end badly for him.

Acts 21 – James and the Law

I am still thinking about James, especially as he appears in Acts 21.  While this might seem a bit afield from Acts and Pauline theology, I think that James is a bit of a window into why Paul’s gospel was so radical in the first century, especially his declaration that Gentiles are saved apart from the Law.

James the JustJames seems to represent a Jewish Christianity which continues to keep the Law in a way that fulfills Matthew 5:20.  If one was to be a part of the kingdom of God, then one kept the whole Law.  The idea that the people of God need to be absolutely Holy when the messiah comes is found at Qumran.  The people who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls seemed to have lived in a state of Temple Purity all of the time, a state which the priest who was serving in the Temple had to maintain.  Even the Pharisees maintained a higher level of purity than was required by the Law, although this may not have been in anticipation of the kingdom.

It is possible that the emphasis on circumcision and food laws which were so troublesome in the Galatian churches is a result of the Second Temple period emphasis on Works of the Law, boundary markers which defined who was a Jew and who was not.

Using the book of Acts and the letter James wrote, we can see that James was associated with the most Jewish form of Christianity which remained based in Jerusalem.  In Acts 15 James leads a church which includes Pharisees and priests (probably the same people, many priests were also Pharisees).  Like Paul, these men came to understand that Jesus was the Messiah and that he would return soon to judge the world and Israel and establish the Kingdom of God in Jerusalem.

There was a broad range of views on the status of the Gentiles in the coming kingdom in the Second Temple period.  For the most part, the gentiles would either be converted and included in that kingdom, or judged and excluded from that kingdom.  Some Jews thought there would be more or less mass conversions, but on the other end of the extreme, few if any gentiles would be converted (and probably most Jews would be excluded!)

When Paul arrives in Jerusalem in Acts 21, the issue James raises has to do with Paul’s keeping of the Law.  Some in Jerusalem think that Paul has left Judaism and no longer keeps the Law.  So even at this late date, James represents a group in Jerusalem who are Christians, but are keeping the Law.

Was Law a requirement for salvation for the Jewish believers in Jesus?  Probably not, although it is inconceivable to this group that there would be Jews who did not want to keep the Law.  Keeping the Law is the only possible response to the grace which God has given – how could you not demonstrate your justification by doing the things which God requires?  By way of analogy, there are many Baptist churches which would agree that baptism is not a requirement for salvation, but it is inconceivable that anyone who was truly a Christian would not get baptized. It is simply the natural thing to do, if you have become a Christian.  So too the Law, if you were a Jewish believer, you simply did the Law because it was the proper response to God’s grace.

Back to Paul.  I think that Paul would agree with James on Jewish use of the Law.  Where he differed (radically) was that Gentiles did not convert to Judaism in order to be “right with God,” and therefore were not required to do the Law.  James, on the other hand, likely though that Gentiles were in fact converting to Judaism, or at the very least ought to be under the sojourner laws while living in The Land (the point of Acts 15).

Book Review: Early Jewish Literature: An Anthology

Wright, Archie T., Brad Embry and Ronald Herms. Early Jewish Literature: An Anthology. 2 Volumes. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. 728, 256 pp. $125.00, Hb. Link to Eerdmans

This massive anthology collects examples of literature from the Second Temple Period. It goes beyond the standard collection in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (ed. By James Charlesworth, 1983) or the more recent Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, Volume 1 (ed. Alexander Panayotov, James R. Davila, and Richard Bauckham). By including Josephus, Philo and a wide range of Dead Sea Scrolls, Early Jewish Literature provides students with a broad overview of the massive literature of the late Second Temple Period.

The Contents

Each volume has four major units covering a specific genre. One of the editors introduces the unit with a brief overview. Volume 1 begins with Scriptural Texts and Traditions. The editors in include excerpts from Daniel, the additions to Daniel and other Danielic literature found at Qumran, the Prayer of Nabonidus (4Q242) and Pseudo-Daniel (extremely fragmentary, 4Q243-245). Although it is common to read Daniel along with the Apocryphal additions, it is unusual to see the fragmentary material from Qumran in the same context. Peter Flint provides the translation for the Dead Sea Scrolls material. This section also has a few extracts from the Great Isaiah Scroll ad three Psalms from Qumran as well as LXX Psalm 151.

The Books of Maccabees and Josephus appear under the heading of “Interpretive History” in the second section of the anthology. The complete text of 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees are included, but only samples from the four main works of Josephus are included. Steve Mason, one of the foremost Josephus scholars in recent years, wrote introductions for each of Josephus’s works.

The third section covers Romanticized Narrative. This includes a book normally appearing in the Apocrypha, Tobit, as well as the Letter of Aristeas, extracts from Joseph and Aseneth, and the Life of Adam and Eve.

The fourth unit of the anthology collects a number of Dead Sea Scrolls under the heading of Biblical Interpretation and Rewritten Scripture. This includes the Habakkuk pesher (1QpHab), the Melchizedek Scroll (11Q13), the Temple Scroll (11Q19-20) and several others. The section also includes samples from Jubilees and four samples from the writings of Philo.

Volume 2 opens with Wisdom Literature and Legal Texts. It is no surprise to see extracts from Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon, but the editors have selected a number of examples of wisdom literature from Qumran as well as 1 Enoch. Since the editors have put wisdom and legal texts in the same unit, a sample from the Rule of the Community (1QS) with an introduction by Jörg Frey, the Damascus Document (CD) with an introduction by Cecilia Wassen, and “Some Works of the Law” (4QMMT) with an introduction and translation by James Dunn. Since this particular legal document has been used by Dunn and N. T. Wright as background to the Pauline phrase “works of the Law,” Dunn’s introduction to this somewhat controversial document will attract a attention. I think the decision to put wisdom and legal material together was a mistake; the genre are different enough to separate into two sections, allowing for additional legal texts from Qumran.

Under Apocalyptic Literature the editors have lengthy selections from the various sections of 1 Enoch, including the Book of Giants from 4Q23 (and other fragments). Only three of the Sibylline Oracles appear (books 3-5, all complete), along with extracts from Fourth Ezra and the whole of 2 Baruch.  From Qumran, the editors have a portion of the War Scroll and three fragmentary apocalypses (4Q246, 4Q521, 4Q285/11Q14), all introduced and translated by Martin Abegg.

Along with Psalms of Solomon and Odes of Solomon, the unit entitled “Psalms, Hymns, and Prayers” includes several prayers from Qumran, Hodayot (1QHa), Songs of Sabbath Sacrifice (4QShirShab), Songs of the Sage (4Q510, 4Q511), and an example of an incantation (4Q444) and exorcism (4Q560).

The final unit of the anthology covers Testamentary Literature. From the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, this anthology only includes the Testament of Levi; the Testament of Abraham and the Testament of Moses are also included. The final text in this section is The Aramaic Levi Document, often identified as the Aramaic Testament of Levi. The translation provided is based on 4QLevia and the Athos Greek manuscript.

The Introductions

There are introductions for every piece of literature in the anthology. This includes a narrative description of the text summarizing the contents of the whole document even if the word is on printed in full. Following this, the introduction deals with questions of authorship, provenance, date, occasion and a short summary of the textual history, original language, sources and transmission history. These are often extremely tentative due to the nature of most of the literature in the anthology. The author of the introduction then provides a short theology of the book. Each introduction also includes a short reception history of the book. Finally, each introduction concludes with a bibliography divided into two sections: For Further Study and Advanced. These reading lists are not exhaustive and would have been more useful if the texts and translations were moved to their own category.

Following the introduction is a translation of the text. Often these are fresh translations by the author of the unit, although occasionally the editors use a recently published translation. By way of example, I compared Brad Embry’s translation of the Psalms of Solomon (based on the Greek text rather than the Syriac) with R. B. Wright’s translation in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. As can be seen from this sample, the translation is not radically different, perhaps slightly more contemporary.

Psalms of Solomon 1 I shouted to the Lord in my utter oppression, to God during the attack of the sinners. 2 Suddenly a clamor of war was heard in my presence. I said, “He will listen to me because I was full of righteousness.” 3 I considered in my heart that I was full of righteousness, because of my prosperity and the existence of many offspring.4 Their wealth was spread in all the land and their glory unto the ends of the earth. 5 They were exalted unto the stars. They said, “We will never fall.” 6 They became prideful in their good things and they did not hold to their responsibilities. 7 Their sins were in secret and I did not see. 8 Their lawlessness was greater than those nations before them; they completely desecrated the holy things of the Lord. (Translation, Brad Embry, EJL 2:572)

Psalm of Solomon 1 I cried out to the Lord when I was severely troubled, to God when sinners set upon (me). 2 Suddenly, the clamor of war was heard before me; “He will hear me, for I am full of righteousness.” 3 I considered in my heart that I was full of righteousness, for I had prospered and had many children. 4 Their wealth was extended to the whole earth, and their glory to the end of the earth. 5 They exalted themselves to the stars, they said they would never fall. 6 They were arrogant in their possessions, and they did not acknowledge (God). 7 Their sins were in secret, and even I did not know. 8 Their lawless actions surpassed the gentiles before them; they completely profaned the sanctuary of the Lord. (Translation by R. B. Wright, OTP 2: 651).

In other cases translations are drawn from recent major translations. For Jubilees, the translation is from James Vanderkam (Leuven, 1989). Portions of the section on Josephus are from the Brill Josephus Translation and Commentary series, translated by Steve Mason, Louis Feldman, and Christopher Begg. The books of 1-2 Maccabees are extracted from the New American Bible translation, although Tobit is a fresh translation by Stuart Weeks. Most of the samples from the Dead Sea Scrolls are new translations from the author of the chapter. Fourth Ezra is taken from Bruce Metzger’s translation in Charlesworth. Strangely, the Letter of Aristides and 2 Baruch are reprints of R. H. Charles published in 1931, albeit edited by Joshua Williams. The translation of 2 Baruch is supplemented with papyri fragments from Oxyrhynchus in parallel columns.

Evaluation

I have several comments about this anthology of Early Jewish Literature. First, it is just that, an anthology. Certainly there are other examples in virtually every category which could have been chosen. For example, the Prayer of Manasseh is not included among the Psalms, Hymns and Prayers, but an example an incantation (4Q444) and an exorcisms (4Q560) are included. OTP also included several Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers and the Prayer of Jacob and the Prayer of Joseph. For Interpretive History, EJL has only the first two books of Maccabees and Josephus. While this alone is nearly 200 pages, there is no attempt to collect the various fragmentary historians such as Aristeas the Exegete or Eupolemus. In other ways the EJL covers more than expected. EJL includes a few of the more interesting sections of 1 Enoch in the Apocalyptic section, but has nothing from 2 Enoch or 3 Enoch (as in OTP). It is quite clear this is not an attempt to re-make James Charlesworth’s two volume Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (1983).

Second, although the introductions to each book are brief, they provide the necessary information for students to read the sampled literature with some context. The bibliographies point to more detailed studies on textual or theological issues. For some works (4QMMT, Psalms of Solomon) there is an extended theology section, but compared to the introductions in OTP, even these are brief. This is simply the nature of an anthology; it is impossible to explore any given text with the kind of depth found in a monograph.

Third, by including samples from the Dead Sea Scrolls as a part of a genre is extremely valuable. It is easy enough to find collections of this material in translation, to have various apocalyptic fragments printed along with some of the usual examples of the literature is very valuable. The same can be said for separating out wisdom literature embedded in 1 Enoch and placing alongside other Second Temple wisdom.

Conclusion

Early Jewish Literature is a major contribution to the ongoing study of the literature of the Second Temple period. Students and scholars alike will benefit from this collection of a wide range of material. The literature collected in these two volumes are sufficiently different from the now venerable Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the inclusion of Dead Sea Scroll material makes these useful volumes indeed.

 

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

How did Joseph Get His Wife? – Joseph and Aseneth 1-22

In the opening paragraph of the book we are introduced to Joseph and Pharaoh and the well-known situation of the famine. Pentaphres a priest in Hierapolis has a beautiful daughter named Asenath. She is described as tall like Sarah, handsome like Rebecca and beautiful like Rachel. The son of Pharaoh desires to marry her, but the king pushes him toward a royal marriage. We are told Asenath has scorned the attention of men and is “scornful and arrogant to everyone.

Image result for joseph and asenethIn chapter 3-6 Joseph visits the priest’s home to collect corn because of the famine. He stays until the afternoon and Asenath prepares herself to meet him. Before he arrives, her father proposes a marriage between Asenath and Joseph. She arrogantly refuses and becomes enraged at the suggestion. When Joseph arrives, however, she sees him dressed in this royal outfit she falls in love with him (she trembles and her knees are paralyzed). The description of Joseph is angelic, prompting David Aune to see a parallel to this passage in the description of Christ in Revelation 1 (See Aune, Revelation 1-5, 72), although the description in both Joseph and Asenath and Revelation is likely a development from Daniel 7 (as Aune himself notes). Expecting a shepherd from Canaan, she was not prepared for “such beauty.” She describes him as a “son of a god.”

Joseph, however, is not a hurry to meet Asenath (chapter 7-9). Only after he is convinced she will not “molest him” does he consent to meet her. Asenath expects him to kiss her, but he refuses since he worships God and she worships idols and eats the food offered to idols. This section is the main crux of interpretation for the study of the book since Joseph describes his worship as eating blessed bread of life and drinking the cup of immortality. This passage has been the subject of lengthy discussions concerning the possibility of finding the Lord’s Supper here as well as potential parallels to John 6 and 1 Cor. 10 (OTP 2:211 note i).

There are at least two possibilities. The most obvious (and easiest to handle) is that this is a Christian interpolation added at a much later date to make it appear as though the Communion was anticipated in the book of Genesis. The second possibility is that the reference to “true worship” as the eating of the bread of life and drinking the cup of immortality is a Jewish concept which may have had an influence on the book of John. This creates all sorts of issues when dealing with the book of John and the sources of imagery chosen in Chapter 6. This is a possibility because the text clearly contrasts the food of Joseph with the “bread of strangulation and the cup of insidiousness.” The reference in the book may be simply “true worship” versus “false worship.” How this influences John 6 (or is influenced by John 6) is a separate issue. Asenath is insulted and “distressed exceedingly” at Joseph’s rather final refusal of her. She resolves to repent, to pray to the God of Israel, and to ask him to “make her alive again” (8:11). Spurned, Asenath returns to her room and bitterly weeps in repentance. Joseph promises to return in a week’s time.

Chapters 10-13 describe Asenath as a model of repentance. She only eats bread and drinks water, she wears sackcloth put ashes on her head. She refuses to be comforted by her attendant virgins and she destroys her idols. Chapters 11-13 are “soliloquies” on repentance.

Asenath’s repentance is genuine and she is reward with a visit from an angelic figure (chapter 14-17). This sequence is the most mysterious in the book and may not be very well understood for as much has been written in it.  This angel calls to her (Asenath, Asenath) to which she responds “here I am,” just as Abraham did at critical points in Genesis (Gen 22, for example). She sees a man very much like Joseph except that he is shining like sunshine. He tells her to have courage and to dress. Her prayers have been heard and she has been accepted by God. He tells her she will be the bride of Joseph and that her name will be “city of refuge.” The heavenly man, who refuses to give his name, gives Asenath a honeycomb “which is the bread of life.” Asenath invites him to sit on her bed (which no one has been in other than herself), and she prepares a table for him.

Image result for joseph and aseneth honeycombHe asks for honeycomb, but Asenath tells him there is none in the store room. He tells her to go and check, and returns with a wonderful honeycomb. She knows the man “spoke, and it came into being,” a spiritual insight. The man blesses her (“happy are you” is the form a beatitude) and he tells her this honeycomb is the bread of life. He breaks off a piece and gives it to her, telling her that now she has eaten the bread of life and drank the cup of immortality. The man then touches the honeycomb, drawing his finger in the shape of a cross (or an X), and his finger became like blood. Innumerable bees began to rise from the comb and surround her mouth. They eat the honeycomb out of her mouth then ascend into heaven. He then blesses the seven virgins who attend Asenath – they will be the seven pillars in the “City of Refugee” (i.e., Asenath). The man disappears while she is putting the table away. She sees a chariot of fire with four horses traveling to the east, and then she realizes either a god or the God has been in her chamber.

Joseph arrives for his second visit in chapters 18-20. Asenath is instructed to prepare herself for his arrival, so she dresses beautifully. She is so striking her foster-father says “At last the Lord God of Heaven has chosen you as a bride for his firstborn son, Joseph.” When Joseph arrives he too is amazed at her beauty and asks her name. She explains to him her decision to no longer worship idols and of her vision of the man from heaven. They embrace for a long time and hold hands.

Pentephres proposes marriage and Joseph suggests the Pharaoh give the wedding banquet. We are told Joseph did not sleep with Asenath until after they were married, “It does not befit a man who worships God to sleep with his wife before the wedding” (20:1). This line is important for what it says about sexual morality in Judaism at the time of Christ, but also because Joseph refers to Asenath as wife before the wedding. This is helpful in sorting out the descriptions of Mary in Matthew and Luke. There Joseph can refer to his “wife Mary” and perhaps seek a divorce despite the fact they have not yet been married.

Pharaoh presides over the wedding of Joseph and Asenath (ch. 21) and holds a seven-day banquet for them. Asenath confesses her sin before the Lord in eleven stages (idol worship, trust in arrogance of beauty, etc.). Jacob and the rest of the family move from Canaan to Goshen (ch. 22. Asenath is astounded at his beauty even though he is an old man. She especially likes Levi because he has devoted himself to the service of the Lord.

Joseph and Aseneth

Joseph and Aseneth book is a “romance,” telling the story of Joseph’s marriage to Aseneth, the daughter of Potiphera (called Pentepheres in this book.)  Like the book of Jubilees, the book attempts to answer a question which many people have about the story of Joseph.  If Joseph was such a godly Jew, how could he marry an Egyptian, especially one whose father is a pagan priest?  The book was written in Greek and seems to have been a Jewish book, although there are Christian interpolations (possibly the honeycomb sequence, for example, which mentions the “bread of life.”) The book may have been known in the fourth century A.D. since it is mentioned in the Pilgrimage of Etheria. This book is a list of “holy sites” written about A.D. 382.  The reference to Asenath’s house is found in a fragment of the work in Peter the Deacon of Monte Cassino’s On the Holy Places, which is dated to about A.D. 1137.

Image result for Joseph and AsenethIt is probable that the book uses the LXX, making for a date of no earlier than 100 B.C. If the work is from Alexandria (again, the scholarly consensus), then it is unlikely to have been written much after the Jewish revolt under Trajan, A.D. 115-117. A major argument in favor of Egypt is that Asenath is the heroine, the only convert to Judaism from Egypt.  If it was from Palestine, then Ruth or Rahab might have been better examples of pagan conversions, see OTP 2:187-188.  This argument weakens if the book is an apologetic explaining why Joseph married an Egyptian, or an explanation of how Joseph married a gentile without punishment, aimed at Diaspora Jews tempted to marry gentiles.  Like Reuben or Judah in Jubilees, the story may be intended to explain that just because Joseph “got away with it” does not mean you can!

The book falls into two parts.  The first is the “romance” between Joseph and Asenath (chapters 1-21).  This romance is more about repentance and gentile conversion than romantic love.  From the perspective of the book, it is entirely possible for a gentile to truly convert to Judaism.  Asenath is so thorough a convert she receives a heavenly visit which confirms her resolve.  In order to convert she must completely reject her former idolatrous ways, a point made several times in the book, including the eating of food associated with these idols.  This may play into the background of the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols which turns up at several points in the New Testament, especially in Pauline letters.

As Christianity spread into Gentile regions, the meal became a potential problem on two levels.  Some Jews appear to have been more than uncomfortable eating with Gentiles, especially those that were not of the “God-Fearers.” A second and related reason was the potential for non-kosher foods to be eaten, included meats that had been sacrificed to idols.  To the Gentile, this was not a problem, since they never cared about it before Christ, and it isn’t really a problem after becoming a Christian for them.  But to the Jew, this is a sin!  Such food is unclean so they could not eat it in good conscious.  The issue of table fellowship appears in Galatians 2:11-18.  Peter had shared the table with Gentiles, but after a visit from “certain people from James” he withdrew from eating with Gentiles.  Asenath indicates that, at least for some Jews, the food laws were of critical importance for true conversion. Circumcision may be the primary “boundary marker” but it is obviously not an issue for Asenath.

The second part of the book concerns a plot by the son of the Pharaoh to kill his father to revenge his losing Asenath to Joseph.  This plot goes wrong when Asenath is caught in the trap.  The son of the Pharaoh is injured in the attack and dies soon after.  This section has less to do with New Testament issues than the first, although there is a continuation of the theme that Asenath is more righteous than the (Jewish) sons of Bilah and Zilpah.