After about three years of waiting, I received today the newly-published Vol. 1 in The New Cambridge History of the Bible (eds. James Carleton Paget & Joachim Schaper) in which appears the discussion of “Writing and Book Production in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods,” that I co-wrote with Chris Keith (a former PhD student). This volume covers the period, “From the Beginnings to 600,” with 37 contributions and amounts to slightly over 1000 pp. The projected five volumes will replace the classic reference work produced back in the 60s. I’m very pleased to see the work out, and certainly pleased with the customary high quality in production qualities that we expect from CUP.
This volume alone covers an impressive spectrum of topics and time. Part 1, “Languages, Writing Systems and Book Production,” includes contributions on “The Languages of the Old Testament” (Geoffrey Khan), “Varieties of Greek in the Septuagint and the New Testament” (Jan Joosten), “Writing and book production in the ancient Near east” (William M. Schniedewind), and “Writing and book production in the Hellenistic and Roman periods” (by me and Keith).
Part 2, “The Hebrew Bible and Old Testaments,” comprises treatments of “The Old Testament Text and its Transmission” (Eugene Ulrich), “The Literary History of the Hebrew Bible” (Joachim Schaper), “The Old Testament Canons” (John Barton), “The ‘Apocryphal’ Old Testament” (John J. Collins), “From Inner-Biblical Interpretation to Rabbinic Exegesis” (Günter Stemberger), “The Aramaic Targums” (C.T.R. Hayward), “Scriptural Interpretation at Qumran” (Johnathan G. Campbell), “The Septuagint” (Kristin De Troyer), “Biblical Interpretation in Greek Jewish Writings” (WIlliam Horbury), “Scripture in the Jerusalem Temple” (C.T.R. Hayward), “The Political and Legal Uses of Scripture” (James W. Watts), and “Modern Editions of the Hebrew Bible” (Emanuel Tov).
In Part 3, “The New Testament,” we have discussions of “The New Testament Canon” (Joseph Verheyden), “The New Testament Text and Versions” (David C. Parker), “The ‘apocryphal’ New Testament” (J. K. Elliott), and “The Old Testament in the New Testament” (Dale C. Allison).
Part 4 is given over to ”Biblical Versions other than the Hebrew and the Greek,” with contributions on “The Latin Bible” (Pierre-Maurice Bogaert), “The Syriac Versions of the Bible” (Peter J. Williams), and “The Translation of the Bible into Coptic” (Wolf-Peter Funk).
Finally, Part 5, on “The Reception of the Bible in the Post-New Testament Period,” includes “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Second Century” (James Carleton Paget), “Gnostic and Manichaean Interpretation” (Winrich Löhr), “Origen” (Gilles Dorival), “Eusebius” (Michael J. Hollerich), “Jerome” (Adam Kamesar), “Augustine” (Carol Harrison), “Syriac Exegesis” (J. F. Coakley), “Figurative readings: Their Scope and Justification” (Mark Edwards), “Traditions of Exegesis” (Frances M. Young), “Pagans and the Bible” (Wolfram Kinzig), “Exegetical Genres in the Patristic Era” (Mark W. Elliott), “The Bible in Doctrinal Development and Christian Councils” (Thomas Graumann), “the Bible in Liturgy” (Gerard Rouwhorst), and “The Bible in Popular and non-Literary culture” (Lucy Grig).
In our bit, Keith and I discuss ancient “Books as physical objects” (writing materials, the literary roll, the codex, Christians and the codex), “Book Production, Dissemination and Collection” (producing and copying texts, dissemination & exchange of texts, early libraries), “Using Books: Social Functions of Books” (social settings of readings, public and private reading), “Books and Religion” (books as scripture, copying texts as religious practice, Christians and the new book forms). I invited Keith to co-write the piece during a very busy time as Head of the School of Divinity, but the result wasn’t simply a helping hand. To my mind, the piece is stronger for his involvement. It’s a daunting prospect to be asked to write what is effectively the replacement for the discussion of the material by Colin Roberts in the earlier Cambridge History of the Bible, and I hope that readers will find our contribution useful, perhaps making observations not readily available elsewhere.
It’s an expensive book (£125 Sterling), and so likely to be purchased mainly by libraries and those both particular interested as financially endowed. But it stands along, to my mind, in the breadth and quality of coverage of topics concerning the Bible in the early period addressed.
I’ve been out of blogdom for a couple of weeks, on holidays with my wife, in Andalucia this year, a few days each in Malaga, Sevilla, Cordoba and Granada. I recommend all these cites, but probably during April/May and/or September, when you’ll likely experience temperatures no higher than the 30s (celsius). Mid-summer, it’s the 40s for sure. But I turn now to something a bit more relevant to this site.
On our last day in Malaga, we took in the excavated Roman theatre and the linked “interpretative centre” located at the foot of the Alcazaba. I always look out for Roman remains in our holidays in various European countries, and Spain is particularly richly provided with such (both sites and museum collections). Roman theatres were one of the most common ways that Rome stamped its cultural presence and dominance in the various parts of the empire. Theatres might be the benefaction of some wealthy local person, and they typically also referred to the emperor (and his religious significance). The plays were often about the Roman (or Greek) gods, giving the theatre an additional religious air. So, it’s understandable that among early Christians there was often a reluctance to take part in theatre or even to attend.
This wasn’t my first Roman theatre, however, and what struck us about this one was the story of how it came to be excavated and restored. On the site some decades ago during the Franco regime, a “Casa de Cultura” (a large museum) was built on the site, burying the remains of the Roman theatre for good, or so it seemed. But after the end of the Franco regime, with some prompting from archaeologists, there arose a popular cry for the Casa de Cultura to be demolished, so that the Roman remains could be excavated properly and the site restored. This in itself was a remarkable decision, demolishing an expensive newer building to allow archaeological work.
But the more remarkable thing to me was how this was “spun”. Per the interpretative centre, the Casa de Cultura was seen as a monument to the Franco regime, which obviously didn’t have a great deal of popular support. So demolishing the Casa was away of effacing that regime. OK. And the excavation and emphasis on the Roman theatre was presented as reflective of the post-Franco, democratic aspirations of the Spanish people. Interesting: A monument that originally signified the imperial rule of Rome over the area of Spain, a symbol of the dictatorial power of the Roman Emperor, now functioning as a symbol of the democratic leanings of post-Franco Spain!
It shows how we use history to define ourselves, and so we have to choose what history by which to do so. It shows also how historical things that once bore one meaning can acquire (or be given) a very different meaning, when people need to do so. In this case, it also shows a striking instance of how archaeology played a role in profound political developments of the recent past.
Not strictly about Christian origins, I agree. But I found the whole thing so interesting that I couldn’t resist a posting about it.
I’ve just finshed reviewing a new book much worthy of attention for any of us interested in earliest Christianity and the religious environment in which it sprang forth: Darina Staudt, Der eine und einzige Gott: Monotheistische Formeln im Urchristentum und ihre Vorgeschichte bei Griechen und Juden, NTOA/SUNT 80 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012).
This is a survey-analysis of the use of several “forms” (fixed expressions) used in ancient texts that figure in discourse about gods: εἷς θεός (“one god”), μόνος θεός (“only god”), and οὐκ ἔστιν ἔτι πλήν (“there is no other”). The main purpose of her study is to trace the background and possible influences upon the way in which “monotheistic” language is used in early Christian sources, and also how the risen/exalted Jesus is so readily incorporated into what we may call “God-discourse”. She doesn’t really address the latter question about Jesus-devotion until the final four pages of her conclusion, and I’m not sure that this is adequate. But she has contributed a valuable study of the history and usage of these expressions, showing how in various texts they were used to signify different things.
The evidence surveyed is impressively wide, commencing with the “pre-Socratics”, Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics and Roman-era writers, and then into OT, Jewish texts of the Hellenistic-Roman period, Philo of Alexandria, Josephus, the NT, the Apostolic Fathers, and subsequent Christian usage. Throughout, she draws upon previous scholarly studies and contributes her own observations, guided by her concern to trace development and identify particularities of usage.
The basic conclusions are these: (1) The “one god” expression derives from two “roots”, OT usage (esp. Deut 6:4) in the 7th century BCE and early Greek philosophical usage (esp. Xenophanes), although this early Greek usage seems to have had little take-up or effect subsequently until the Hellenistic period, (2) especially as used in “pagan” Greek circles, “one god” isn’t a declaration of “monotheism” but instead essentially a way of praising a particular deity, an “elative” sense; (3) the “only god” expression seems to derive from OT/Jewish usage (traced back to the 5th-3rd centuries BCE) and expresses an “exclusive” claim that the biblical deity is the only rightful recipient of worship; (4) the “there is no other (god)” phrasing derives specifically from Deutero-Isaiah and is a more explicit and polemical expression of the uniqueness of the biblical deity.
One of the interesting features of her study is the variation among authors/texts. For example, Philo (a Diaspora Jew in Alexandria) used both the “one God” and “only God” expressions, whereas Josephus (another Jew writing in a Diaspora setting) uses these expressions less frequently and more selectively, appearing to distance himself somewhat from the “only God” expression (which he tends to place on the lips of Jewish rebels in his account of the Jewish war against Rome).
NT writers used the “only God” expressions only seldom, preferring the “one God” expression. She proposes that the reasons for this are that the latter more readily allowed for the inclusion of Jesus with God (“the Father”) in earliest Christian worship and belief. Nevertheless, we see the influence of the exclusivity of ancient Jewish tradition in that earliest Christian belief and devotional practice admitted Jesus uniquely and no other, producing a distinctively “binitarian” version of “monotheistic” belief/practice.
In previous postings I gave concise summaries of the thrust of my recent guest lecture in Rice University and one of the two lectures in Houston Baptist University. In this posting I want to summarize the other HBU lecture: “The Place of Jesus in Earliest Christian Prayer and its Import for Early Christian Identity.”
In a number of NT texts, Jesus is pictured as the heavenly intercessor or advocate on behalf of believers. This is a well-known emphasis in the epistle to the Hebrews, of course (e.g., 2:14-18; 4:14–5:10; 7:15–8:7; 9:11-22; 10:11-14). But this idea is also reflected as early as the passage in Paul’s epistle to the Romans (8:34), where Jesus is “he who also intercedes for us.” Here, Jesus intercession seems to function primarily in establishing believers as acceptable to God. Paul’s brief and compressed reference to the idea suggests that he regarded it as already familiar among his intended readers, suggesting that it was “common property” among various types of early Christian circles. This appears confirmed in the reference to Jesus as “advocate with the Father” of/for believers in 1 John 2:1. Likewise, the reference in John 14:16 to “another advocate” (there identified as the Holy Spirit) seems to allude to the notion that the risen Jesus is advocate. Jesus’s advocacy to God on behalf of believers, and the Spirit’s advocacy of Jesus to believers.
In some other NT texts, Jesus is portrayed as teacher and role model of prayer for believers. The Gospel of Matthew has distinctive references to Jesus teaching his disciples how to pray (Matt. 6:5-8), followed by the Matthean version of “the Lord’s Prayer” (6:9-13), which clearly functions as a model for prayer. But, among a number of other NT references, in the Gospel of Luke there is a particular emphasis on Jesus as pray-er/praying, a number of the references distinctive to Luke (e.g., 3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28-29). As well, Luke has a number of prayers ascribed to Jesus (10:21-23; 22:32; 23:46). In the Gospel of John also, Jesus both prays and teaches his disciples to pray, and in other NT texts as well we have references to Jesus as praying.
Jesus is also pictured as recipient of prayers in some NT texts. Mainly, of course, the NT depicts prayers as addressed to God. But in several cases Jesus is recipient or co-recipient. The most common instance seems to have been the corporate acclamation/invocation by which the corporate worship event was constituted, which involved a “calling upon” Jesus. Likewise, in early Christian baptism, one called upon Jesus, invoking him over the baptized person. Indeed, in 1 Cor. 1:2 Paul refers to fellow believers simply as those who everywhere “call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Perhaps our earliest reference, however, is 1 Thess. 3:11-13, where God and Jesus are jointly called upon to enable Paul to re-visit the Thessalonian church. Other instances can be cited (e.g., 2 Thess. 2:16-17), and in 2 Cor. 12:6-10 Paul refers to his repeated appeals to Jesus to relieve him of the “thorn in the flesh.” The oft-cited “maranatha” in 1 Cor. 16:22 indicates that the liturgical invocation of Jesus was praticed in Aramaic-speaking circles of believers as well as in Greek-speaking circles.
Jesus is also depicted as the basis for Christian prayer. As noted, prayer is dominantly addressed to God in NT texts. But it is also true that prayers are typically offered with reference to Jesus, e.g., “in his name” and/or “through” him (e.g., Rom. 1:8; 7:25; Col. 3:17; Eph. 5:20). These texts likely reflect actual prayer-practices, in which Jesus’ status with God was invoked as a distinctive basis for prayer.
In all these ways, earliest Christian prayer reflects distinctive features, giving to early Christians a distinctive religious identity. The programmatic and singular place of Jesus was without parallel or precedent in the Jewish matrix in which earliest Jesus-followers emerged. So in that Roman religious environment, early Christian prayer-practice reflected sense of having a particular and distinguishing identity.
(A version of this lecture will be published in a multi-author volume arising from a research project on “Prayer and Early Christian Identity” based in Oslo.)
In a previous posting I described the thrust of my recent Burkitt Lecture in Rice University, and promised a report on my lectures in Houston Baptist University. I’ll comment here on the first of these: “Early Christian Monotheism”.
I began by discussing “the Terminology Question”, specifically debates about whether in fact it is misleading to refer to ancient Jewish or Christian “monotheism”. The problem is that (1) the term is of relatively recent vintage (18th century), and, more seriously, (2) that the standard dictionary definition is belief in the existence of only one God (or, correspondingly, denial of the existence of any other gods). All our evidence of ancient Jewish tradition is either inconclusive about whether the existence of other deities was denied, or else is pretty clear that their existence wasn’t denied. Ancient Jews (and Christians) seem to have been more concerned to refuse the worship of other deities, and not so much their existence.
I respond by noting, however, that scholars seem quite ready to refer to “pagan monotheism,” by which they refer to the notion (reflected in some elite writers of the ancient period) that there is one superior deity over all the others, or that all the various deities are manifestations/expressions of one common deity behind them. This, please note, isn’t “monotheism” (per dictionary definitions), but “pagan monotheism.” I.e., multiple deities are granted, and (very importantly) all are to be given worship. But this diversity is presented as cohering somehow in a common divine essence.
So, I continue, if “pagan monotheism” is a valid category (NB, not “monotheism,” but “pagan monotheism”), then I propose that we can also refer to “ancient Jewish monotheism,” by which I mean the notion that there is one deity alone who is properly to be worshipped. I.e., it’s not the existence of other deities that is particularly denied, but instead the propriety of giving them worship. Worship-practice is the key expression of this “ancient Jewish monotheism.” Here, also, this isn’t dictionary “monotheism,” but instead “ancient Jewish monotheism.”
I then describe the remarkable innovation in earliest Christian circles in which Jesus is linked uniquely with God as rightful co-recipient of cultic devotion, proposing that we can call this “early Christian monotheism.” Once again, not the dictionary-version of “monotheism,” i.e., not focused on denying the existence of other divine beings, but instead comprising a strong, exclusive worship-practice: In this case, only one God and one Lord (designated by the one God) as rightful recipients of worship. This produces the distinctive “dyadic devotional pattern” that I have underscored a number of times.
I note also that the “discourse” about God reflected in the NT has a “triadic shape,” with ample references to “God”, “Jesus (the Lord),” and “the Holy Spirit”. But the worship-practice has a clear “dyadic shape,” focused on God and Jesus.
I concluded the lecture with a couple of illustrations of how this “early Christian monotheism” had corollaries in other matters. For example, Paul can use his commitment to “one God” as a basis for his view of salvation as being “one-size-for-all,” both Jews and gentiles saved by the one God through the one provision, Jesus.
In Revelation, we have another type of corollary. Here, the strong, exclusivist stance on worship means that the author treats the divine claims of the Roman imperial regime as unwarranted and even blasphemous. Although the author condemns the economic and political typranny of the Roman regime, his reason for this is actually his “early Christian monotheism,” i.e., a profoundly theological/religious basis for his stance.
In short, in the ancient world it is difficult to find clear expressions of “monotheism” as defined in the modern dictionaries; but we do have noteworthy religious stances, each of which uses “one god” language, but each of which is incommensurate with the others. There is “pagan monotheism” (as described above, essentially a philosophical outlook on the pluraity of Roman-era deities), “ancient Jewish monotheism” (essentially, an exclusivist worship-stance), and “early Christian monotheism” (a distinctively “dyadic” worship-practice expressing both an exclusivity inherited from the ancient Jewish religious matrix, and also the remarkable enfranchement of Jesus as rightful co-recipient of worship).
I pass on below the announcement of the opening-event for the new Centre for Social-Scientific Study of the Bible in St. Mary’s University College (London). One of our former PhD students, Professor Chris Keith, is Director.
St Mary’s University College announces the launch of the Centre for the Social-Scientific Study of the Bible with a special lecture from Prof. John Barclay (Durham University) on ‘Paul and the Gift: Gift-Theory, Grace, and Critical Issues in Pauline Interpretation.’ The event will occur on May 3 in the Waldegrave Drawing Room on the campus of St Mary’s University College, with the lecture commencing promptly at 5:30 pm. This event is open to the public and free. For reservations, please contact Sam Chant (firstname.lastname@example.org) and for information please contact Chris Keith (email@example.com).
I returned Saturday from a trip to the USA, made primarily for invited lectures in Houston,Texas. Hence, the lack of recent postings here. My first lecture was the Burkitt Lecture for 2013, sponsored by the Department of Religion, Rice University. My subsequent two lectures were the A. O. Collins lectures in Houston Baptist University. I’ll say something about them in a subsequent posting. In this posting, I highlight the basic thrust of my Rice University lecture: “Revelatory Expriences and Religious Innovation in Earliest Christianity.”
In the lecture I underscored and developed an emphasis that I first set out in my 1988 book, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism, that one of the key factors involved in the striking innovation represented by the inclusion of Jesus as recipient of devotion along with God was powerful religious experiences that struck recipients as “revelations”. In my 1998 T. W. Manson lecture (Manchester University), I developed that emphasis further, drawing on social-scientific studies showing the frequent connection between significant religious innovations and “revelatory” experiences: “Religious Experience and Religious Innovation in the New Testament,” later published in Journal of Religion 80 (2000): 183-205, and re-published in my book, How on Earth did Jesus Become a God? (Eerdmans, 2005), 179-206.
I had been asked to focus on religious experience in my Rice lecture, and so took the opportunity to re-visit matters and treat in more detail some direct evidence in early Christian texts. I began by clarifying what I mean by “revelatory” experiences, distinguishing these from other types of religious experiences. In experiences of “revelation”, the recipient senses some significant new cognitive content, and/or some major re-configuring of previous beliefs, often with an accompanying sense of mission to proclaim the new insight/belief. I emphasize that we don’t have to grant the religious/theological validity of the claimed revelation; we simply have to recognize the genuineness of the claim to having such experiences and the efficacy of such experiences in generating religious innovations.
I also reviewed several indications that there is a small growth in scholarly interest in religious experiences among scholars concerned with biblical texts and early Christianity. Note, for example, the programme-unit in the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, “Religious Experience in Early Judaism and Early Christianity,” which began only a few years ago.
The key religious innovation that I’ve focused on over a couple of decades now is the remarkable inclusion of Jesus as co-recipient of devotion along with God, which is evident and taken for granted in our earliest Christian texts (the earliest of which take us back to ca. 20 years from Jesus’ execution). This produced what I term a “dyadic devotional pattern” that seems to be novel in the ancient context in which it first emerged. So, the historical question is how to account for it. More specifically, how did observant Jews who shared the traditional concern for the uniquenss of the biblical God feel so ready to embrace this dyadic devotional stance?
As I’ve argued for a number of years now, it seems that they felt compelled to do so, and felt that refusing Jesus this sort of reverence would be disobedience to the one God. In the lecture, I examined several NT passages that reflect the connection between this conviction and the powerful religious experiences that generated it. These likely included visions of the exalted Jesus, including perhaps visions of heavenly worship, such as we have reflected in Revelation 4–5, in which the exalted Jesus receives worship. On the ancient logic that heavenly worship was the model for earthly worship, these early believers felt compelled to follow suit
Another type of revelatory experience was what I call “charismatic exegesis” (borrowing the term from David Aune). This likely involved experiences in which bursts of new insight about certain biblical (OT) texts suddenly emerged, probably in circles of early believers as they prayed and expected such revelations and pondered their scriptures. The novel understanding and repeated use of Psalm 110 is a prime instance, the passage taken as reflecting God’s exaltation of Jesus to heavenly status. The creative use of Isaiah 45:23 in Philippians 2:9-11 is another striking instance where a biblical text was read in a novel way, two figures seen as reverenced in this Isaiah text, both “God” and the “Lord”.
Of course, the experiences of early Jesus-followers were colored or shaped somewhat by their religious background. So, e.g., their visions of the exalted Jesus likely reflected biblical references to “theophanies”, visual manifestations of God and/or angels. But the crucial new cognitive factor was the conviction that God had exalted Jesus to heavenly glory and now required him to be reverenced in the setting of gathered worship. This remarkable conviction in turn both identified earliest circles of what became Christianity, and distinguished their devotional pattern.
One of my emphases in a number of publications over the last 15 years or so has been the value of taking account of the physical and visual features of early NT manuscripts. This value extends far beyond the traditional text-critical concerns, e.g., to establish the earliest form of the text of NT writings and/or to trace their transmission histories. The physical/visual features, comprising “para-textual” data, offer value for various other historical questions as well.
In our Research Seminar today, we had an excellent example of this provided by one of our current PhD students, Josaphat Tam, who was concerned with how to understand the role of John 2:23-25. Most commentators take it as introductory to the conversation in 3:1ff. between Jesus and Nicodemus. But is this how best to take 2:23-25, or might it instead be seen as tying off in some way the preceding material?
In an innovative step, Tam consulted our earliest manuscripts of John that contain these verses, P66, P75, Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Washingtonianus, to see how their copyists arrange the text of John. This involved noting the various devices used by ancient readers and copyists to signify sense-units: elementary punctuation, use of significant blank spaces, “ekthesis” (the placing of the initial letter of a line of text so that it extends out into the left margin), et al.
It is interesting that, except for P66, the others all appear to make a more significant break between 2:25 and 3:1, with a less significant sense-unit break between 2:22 and 2:23, which means that they took 2:23-25 as more connected with the preceding text than with what follows.
I don’t want to steal Tam’s thunder further here, so I won’t give more of his details. But I do want to commend him and urge that students and scholars of the NT should become accustomed to consulting ancient NT manuscripts. To take this one specific matter, I would urge that the text-division judgements of ancient readers deserve to be taken just as seriously as those of modern readers/scholars. Certainly, in the case of these ancient readers, we’re dealing with people for whom Koine Greek was much more familiar than to moderns, and for whom the task of judging the flow and sense-unit demarcations of texts was much more a part of reading (whereas for us it’s all done by editors of our printed editions).
In any case, the sorts of reader/copyist devices that Tam considered in his paper are the direct artefacts of ancient reading/readers, and in examinging their “mark-up” of NT writings we’re directly looking at the traces of their efforts to read and understand these texts. It’s a bit like archaeology, where we come directly across the artefacts of ancients.
For more on early Christian manuscripts see my book: The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006).
I don’t intend to run job adverts as a regular thing, but, given that senior-level posts in New Testament are so few, I thought I’d post about the Professorial position just advertised in the University of Gloucestershire, information on which is available here.
Andrew Lincoln, a distinuguished scholar in New Testament, has held the chair since 1999. In the UK, the title “Professor” is reserved for the highest level of academic position, and applicants for any such post should have an international recognition and a substantial body of academic publications in the field.
As typical in the UK, the closing date comes quickly, in this case 25 April.
I’m happy to refer interested readers to the web site set up by Brice Jones (currently a PhD student in NT in Concordia University, Canada), which includes a tab giving a list of papyrological resources available online. Brice’s web site can be consulted here. His list of papyrological resources can be perused here.