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Julius Africanus: One Interesting Fellow!

In working on my current book project (working title:  “What Made Early Christianity Distinctive in the Roman World?”), I again came across references to Julius Africanus, a figure I’d seen referenced before but to whom I confess I’d not previously given much attention.  In part, this is probably because his major works are now extant only in fragments and quotations in other writers.  But in the last several years, a two-volume publication on him provides us with a thorough introduction to the man and his two major works, together with a critical text and English translation of what we can reconstruct of them:

Martin Wallraff, et al. (eds.), Iulius Africanus Chronographiae: The Extant Fragments, translated by William Adler (Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2007); Martin Wallfraf, et alia (eds.), Iulius Africanus Cesti: The Extant Fragments, translated by William Adler (Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2012).

Julius Africanus (born ca. 160-170 CE, apparently in Roman Palestine) is a particularly curious figure.  Evidently a Christian, he appears initially in the court of King Abgar of Edessa, then visits various places (including Alexandria), winding up (as did so many) in Rome.  There he seems to have been admitted to the imperial court of Alexander Severus, and even claims that he was commissioned to oversee the construction of the library of the Pantheon.  The editors of the volume on the Cesti describe this as a time of temporary “thaw in relations” between Rome and Christians (xii).

The two works for which he is remembered are each noteworthy, and as a combination most curious.  His Chronographiae was a universal history, framed by the biblical narrative of creation and redemption.  He fitted the great civilizations (such as Greece, Rome, Egypt, etc.) into this framework, thereby implicitly relativizing those civilizations under the grand-narrative that he derived from the Bible.  Possible motives were apologetical, e.g., the desire “to attest the truth of Christianity against accusations about its newness” (Wallraff, Chronographiae, xxi).  Working on a view shared by others of the time, a world chronology of 6,000 years (corresponding to the six days of creation), Africanus pegged Jesus’ incarnation at 5,500 (which meant that the world-as-we-know-it was scheduled for eschatological overhaul/replacement in roughly 500 CE!).

His other work, however, is so different in contents and tone that in the past people wondered if it was written by some other figure.  The Cesti (from the Greek term, κεστοι) is a sprawling work (24 books, ca. 32,000 characters), an eclectic mixture of advice and tidbits of information on medicine, agriculture, weights & measures, literary problems, botany, zoology, cosmetics, dyes, love-magic, et alia.  It has no obvious Christian or any kind of religious element, and received a much cooler reception among Christians than his other work.

I should also mention that Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 1.7) gives what he takes as the text of a letter from Africanus to an Aristides focused on explaining the differences between the two genealogies of Jesus given in Matthew and Luke.  He also refers to desposynoi (δεσποσυνοι:  “those belonging/related to the master”), individuals who claimed a family relationship with Jesus.

There is an earlier translation of then-available extracts of Aricanus’ extant writings in the old (but still valuable) series:  Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson (eds.), Ante-Nicene Fathers (original publication 1886 and reprinted subsequently often), vol. 6,123-40.

Africanus is likely an exceptional figure among Christians of his time, especially in his access to places of political power.  But he also likely reflects at least a couple of things about Christians/Christianity of the time:  He illustrates how Christianity had begun to attract the interests of some people of very cosmopolitan and cultured tastes and status, and at the same time he illustrates the varied nature of Christians/Christianity of that time.

Peter Volume: Table of Contents

In a previous posting here, I gave notice of the forthcoming multi-author volume arising from our conference on the Apostle Peter held here last year.  One or two commenters asked about the contents, and so I give them below.

Helen K. Bond and Larry Hurtado

The Apostle Peter in Protestant Scholarship, Cullmann, Hengel and Bockmuehl
Larry Hurtado (University of Edinburgh)

The “Historical Peter”

The Fisherman from Bethsaida
Sean Freyne (Trinity College Dublin)

From Shimon to Petros – Petrine Nomenclature in the Light of Contemporary Onomastic Practices
Margaret H. Williams (University of Edinburgh)

Was Peter behind Mark’s Gospel?
Helen K. Bond (University of Edinburgh)

Did Peter Really Say That? Revisiting the Petrine Speeches in Acts
Jonathan Lo (Hong Kong Baptist Theological Seminary)

“Another shall gird thee.” Probative Evidence for the Death of Peter
Timothy D. Barnes (University of Edinburgh)

Peter in the New Testament

Reassessing Peter’s Imperception in Synoptic Tradition
John R. Markley (Liberty University)

The Centrality of Discipleship in the Johannine Portrayal of Peter
Jason Sturdevant (North Carolina State University)

Moving the People to Repentance: Peter in Luke-Acts
Finn Damgaard (University of Copenhagen)

The Tradition of Peter’s Literacy: Acts, 1 Peter, and Petrine Literature
Sean A. Adams (University of Glasgow)

Why Are There Some Petrine Epistles Rather Than None?
Matthew V. Novenson (University of Edinburgh)

Peter in Later Christian Traditions

Images of Peter in the Apostolic Fathers
Todd D. Still (Baylor University, Truett Seminary)

“Peter in Paul’s Churches: The Early Reception of Peter in 1 Clement and in Polycarp’s Philippians
Paul Hartog (Faith Baptist Seminary)

On the Trail of the Scribal Peter: Petrine Memory, Hellenist Mission, and the Parting of the Ways in Peter’s Preaching
William Rutherford (University of Texas at Austin)

When did Peter become Bishop of Antioch?
Paul Parvis (University of Edinburgh)

Peter in Non-Canonical Traditions
Paul Foster (University of Edinburgh)

“Gnostic” Perspectives on Peter
Tobias Nicklas (University of Regensburg)

Traces of Peter in Roman Archaeology
Peter Lampe (University of Heidelberg)

Concluding Reflection

Scripture’s Pope Meets von Balthasar’s Peter
Markus Bockmuehl (University of Oxford)

Professor Helen Bond: Congratulations!

I’ve just had news that my Edinburgh NT colleague, Helen Bond, has been awarded a personal chair, and I take this opportunity to offer public congratulations.  Her award takes effect in July, but it’s officially announced.  (Here staff page is here.)

In the UK, the title “Professor” is a big deal, reserved for those who have been given a professorial chair by their university.  Another Edinburgh NT colleague, Paul Foster (his staff page here), was given a chair last year (and is currently serving impressively as Head of the School of Divinity).  So, two professorial-level colleagues in NT now.  And it’s sometimes judged that the standards for being awarded a “personal” chair are more demanding that being appointed to an “established” chair, so both colleagues can take justifiable satisfaction in being given theirs.

As an Emeritus member of staff, I can take justifiable pride in my colleagues (including now Dr. Matthew Novenson, and Dr. Philippa Townsend) all of whom are productive in scholarship, conscientious teachers and supervisors, and reliable in fulfilling the many “administrative” tasks now expected of UK academics.  My personal pride is in having participated in hiring both Professor Bond and Professor Foster, and, as a former colleague in another university often said, “intelligence, like water, seeks its own level; appoint excellent people and they will do so too.”  That is the story now of the appointments of those brought on since my retirement, excellent people appointing excellent people.

A “Thomas Movement”?

In my previous posting (here) about Simon Gathercole’s new and valuable introduction + commentary on the Gospel of Thomas, I mentioned one or two reservations, in that posting his omission of any reference to the possible technical meaning of “the tree” in Logion 30 (of the Greek text).  The other matter I now mention is Gathercole’s repeated references to a Thomas “movement.”

The term “movement” suggests to me a body of people committed to a joint cause, and even self-identifying as such a group.  In the hope that I haven’t misunderstood Gathercole’s intended connotation, I want to query the notion that there was in second-century Christianity a Thomas “movement.”   There were, to be sure, Christians who composed and read the Gospel of Thomas.  But did they comprise a “movement” as I take the term?  I don’t share Gathercole’s apparent confidence in this. The text certainly does reflect Christians who thought of themselves as superior in knowledge to ordinary believers, holding what I have described as an elitist stance (see my discussion of the Gospel of Thomas in my book, Lord Jesus Christ, 452-79).  But I wonder if they comprised a fixed circle, or were instead something more like a loose network of like-minded individuals, among whom this text circulated.

I’m not alone in this hesitation.  I can cite two distinguished scholars who expressed a similar caution about positing a “community” or movement behind such texts.  In an important (and insufficiently noted) essay, Frederik Wisse warned that “we need clear internal or supportive external evidence to conclude that the position defended or attacked [in a given text] is shared by a larger group or community,” and he continued, “The historian who ignores this runs the danger of creating parties or religious communities which never existed or which did not yet exist when the book was written.”[1] Further, “…the beliefs and practices advocated in these writings, insofar as they vary from those reflected in other Christian texts, cannot be attributed to a distinct community or sect. Rather, these writings were more likely idiosyncratic in terms of their environment. The ‘teaching’ they contain was not meant to replace other teaching but to supplement. They did not defend the beliefs of a community but rather tried to develop and explore Christian truth in different directions.”[2]

In a somewhat similar vein, the Coptic Christianity specialist Stephen Emmel opined about the Nag Hammadi texts, “. . . I think we have to do with the products of a kind of Egypt-wide network (more or less informal) of educated, primarily Greek-speaking (that is, having Greek as their mother tongue), philosophically and esoteric-mystically like-minded people, for whom Egypt represented (even if only somewhat vaguely) a tradition of wisdom and knowledge to be revered and perpetuated.”[3]

The Greek fragments of the Gospel of Thomas were, after all, found lying in the same rubbish heaps in which the many copies of biblical texts were also found. That suggests to me that the people who copied and read the Gospel of Thomas were not a separate and distinguishable “movement” or “community,” but instead perhaps self-regarding individuals who found the esoteric nature of the text intriguing for one reason or another, the text passed hand to hand among them.  There is certainly no evidence that the Gospel of Thomas functioned as the “scripture” of some group (i.e., read out in corporate gatherings as part of their distinctive group-ethos).  We should also note that among the various “heresies” noted by writers such as Irenaeus, there is no reference to a “Thomas community” or “movement.”

There were no doubt particular circles of Christians who held to certain distinguishable beliefs and/or practices.  The Marcionites are perhaps our best example, with churches of their own.  But, I would urge us not to assume too much, not to create “communities” and “movements” too simply on the basis of texts that reflect some distinctive point of view. Sure, there is a small corpus of texts in which Thomas features, but was this anything more than a kind of religio-literary trope for some people?

[1] Frederik Wisse, “The Use of Early Christian Literature As Evidence for Inner Diversity and Conflict,” in Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism, and Early Christianity, eds. Charles W. Hedrick and Robert Hodgson (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1986), 179 (177-90).

[2] Ibid., 188. See also his similar cautionary statements in “Prolegomena to the Study of the New Testament and Gnosis,” in The New Testament and Gnosis: Essays in Honour of Robert McL. Wilson, eds. A. H. B. Logan and A. J. M. Wedderburn (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1983), 138-45.

[3] Stephen Emmel, “The Coptic Gnostic Texts as Witnesses to the Production and Transmission of Gnostic (and Other) Traditions,” in Das Thomasevangelium: Entstehung – Rezeption – Theologie, eds. Jörg Frey, Enno Edzard Popkes and Jens Schröter (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008), 48 (33-49).

“Peter in Early Christianity”: Forthcoming Book

In the Eerdmans catalogue of forthcoming books (Autumn 2015), I’m pleased to see the multi-author volume that arose from the conference on Peter held in by our Centre for the Study of Christian Origins:  Peter in Early Christianity, eds. Helen K. Bond & Larry W. Hurtado (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans 2015), the publisher’s online catalogue entry here.

The book has contributions from a small galaxy of scholars, both senior and well-known figures (e.g., Timothy Barnes, Markus Bockmuehl, Helen Bond, Paul Foster, Sean Freyne, Peter Lampe, Tobias Nicklas, Paul Parvis, Todd Still, Margaret Williams), and also several younger scholars (e.g., Matthew Novenson), including several of our own recent PhD graduates (Jonathan Lo, John Markley, William Rutherford, Jason Sturdevant).

The collection of studies addresses literary evidence (from the NT and subsequent early texts), as well as archaeological data.

“The Tree”: An Early Christian Technical Term

Along with my praise of Gathercole’s recent introduction + commentary on the Gospel of Thomas in a previous posting here, there were a (very) few places that raised a question.  One of these is in his treatment of the statement in (the admittedly esoteric) saying 30 of the Greek fragment (P.Oxy. 1).

Gathercole’s translation reads:  “Lift the stone and you will find me.  Split the wood and I am there.”  The Greek (restored letters in brackets) = εγει[ρ]ον τον λιθον κακει [ε]υρησεις με. σχισον το ξυλον καγω εκει ειμι.  In his comments on the statement, Gathercole mentions several prior suggestions:  perhaps a “pantheistic worldview,” or an emphasis on “Jesus’ omnipresence,” or “a commendation of quotidian labour,” or “a metaphorical reference to (Christian) sacrifice” (the stone as the metaphoricial altar and the wood representing the sacrificial fire).

I was surprised that he doesn’t note that the Greek word το ξυλον (especially with the definite article) early became used to refer to Jesus’ cross/crucifixion, as in Galatians 3:13; Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; 1 Peter 2:24; et al.  This use of the term likely arose through a distinctive Christological reading of Deuteronomy 21:23 (first alluded to in Galatians 3:13): “cursed by God [or a god] is anyone hanging upon a tree.”  Indeed, I’d think that almost any Greek-speaking Christian of the earliest centuries would have taken “the tree/wood” to be a reference to Jesus’ cross.

It’s perhaps noteworthy that in the Greek saying 30 of Gospel of Thomas, the definite article appears both with “stone” and with “tree/wood.”  That makes me wonder if something more specific than any old stone or any piece of wood was in view.  I repeat that it is a (deliberately) esoteric saying (along with much/most of Gospel of Thomas), and so any meaning is cloaked.  I can’t readily say, thus, what “raise the stone” or “split the tree/wood” may have signified for the compiler of the Greek Gospel of Thomas, but I just wonder if there is some obscure reference to Jesus’ crucifixion, perhaps with some revisionist stance taken toward it.

In any case, it does seem to me to have been an oversight not even to mention that the term το ξυλον (“the tree/wood”) had been a technical term among Christians for Jesus’ cross for perhaps ca. 70-100 years prior to Gathercole’s proposed date of composition of the Gospel of Thomas.  But I repeat that his commentary is an excellent work, and this posting is simply intended to footnote a small curiosity in it, and an interesting point about the term in question.

Gathercole’s Commentary on the Gospel of Thomas

I’ve just finished a review of Simon Gathercole’s commentary on the Gospel of Thomas (for Journal of Ecclesiastical History), and it’s an impressive piece of work:  The Gospel of Thomas.  Introduction and Commentary.  Texts and Editions for New Testament Study, 11. Leiden/Boston:  Brill, 2015.  At well over 700 pages, it’s weighty, but in contents as well as bulk.  Indeed, I’d say that it is now the major commentary on this much-written-about and fascinating early Christian text.  (I noted the book’s publication in an earlier posting here.)

In his 183-page Introduction (comprising twelve chapters), Gathercole addresses all the major questions with admirable clarity and cogency:  comparison of the Greek fragments and Coptic text; early references to the text; original language (Greek); provenance (difficult to judge); date of composition (second century CE); structure and genre (“mixed,” a “sayings Gospel” the best descriptor); religious outlook (elitist, ascetic, harsh toward Judaism and “non-Thomasine” Christians); and relation to the NT Gospels and historical Jesus (dependence on the Synoptics, possibility of also preserving “agrapha” of Jesus).

Thereafter, Gathercole gives detailed discussion of each of the 114 “Logia” of the text.  He interacts with previous scholarly proposals about what the (often esoteric) sayings might have meant in the second-century setting of the text, giving cogent reasons for his own judgments and candidly admitting that some sayings simply elude any confident judgment about meaning.

A 55-page bibliography (indicative of the huge amount of scholarly publication on the text), and indexes complete this work, which will be an essential (though eye-wateringly expensive) acquisition for libraries supporting research on early Christianity.

“The Chosen One” of 1 Enoch: On Facts and Inferences

Of the various “chief agent” figures in various second-temple Jewish texts, the mysterious figure designated variously “the chosen one,” “the messiah,” and, by various Ethiopic expressions typically translated “the/that son of man,” is particularly noteworthy, and frequently invoked.  A recent commenter on my previous posting about the two phrases referring to Jesus in the NT as “at/on God’s right hand” is an example of this.  So, I thought a posting on the subject appropriate, using it as an example also of the two categories of facts and interpretation of them.

Let’s note some relevant facts first.[1]  The figure in question appears only in “The Parables/Similitudes of Enoch,” a part of the writing known as 1 Enoch, which is extant in this complete form only in Ethiopic (Ge`ez).  We have portions of parts of 1 Enoch in Aramaic (fragments from Qumran, with bits of chaps 1-36, 72-82, 85-90, and 91-107, and parts of the Book of Giants (the relationship of this text to the rest of the corpus of writings that now make up 1 Enoch uncertain). In one recent calculation, the Qumran Aramaic fragments amount to about 196 of the 1,062 verses of the Ethiopic text (and the 196 verses aren’t actually fully extant in the Aramaic fragments). We also have 4th-6th century CE fragments of a Greek translation, these preserving about 28% of Ethiopic 1 Enoch.

But in a recent list, the earliest manuscripts of 1 Enoch containing the “Parables/Similitudes” (in which the mysterious figure in question appears) are from the 15th/16th century CE (and these only six of the 49 manuscripts listed). Moreover, all of these Ethiopic manuscripts (the majority of which are from the 18th-20th centuries) reflect recensions of the text made in the Ethiopic Church, which treats 1 Enoch as (Christian) scripture. We scholars commonly now posit a composition of the Parables/Similitudes sometime in the first century CE, and probably in Aramaic. But it bears noting seriously that we don’t have that. What we have are Ethiopic manuscripts of the 15th century CE and later, which reflect an Ethiopic translation, likely from a Greek translation of a posited Aramaic composition. In short, we have a text that has a long and complex transmission-history, with recensions and oodles of accidental and deliberate changes.

But we scholars work with what we’ve got, and make as much of it as we can. Facts are what we have to work with; and scholarship consists in finding facts/data and then trying to interpret them and make reasonable inferences.[2] But it’s important to distinguish interpretations and the facts/data to which they relate. If all we had were manuscripts of, let’s say for example, the Gospel of Matthew from the 15th century CE and later, we’d be suitably modest about what we claimed (hopefully).

So, let’s also note what we don’t know. We don’t know that the Parables were composed in the first century CE, although, all things considered, that’s a perfectly reasonable claim (indeed, perhaps the most plausible date of composition for the material). We don’t know that the Parables were composed in Aramaic, but again that’s a perfectly reasonable assumption. We also don’t know that the Ethiopic text of the Parables accurately preserves the putative Aramaic original faithfully, free of any significant accidental or deliberate changes, but we work on the hope that it does.

Now let’s turn to the figure in question. This “Chosen One” is clearly a messianic figure, a human figure (as indicated in the several Ethiopic expressions commonly, and perhaps somewhat misleadingly all translated “the son of man,” as if there were some fixed title behind these several Ethiopic expressions). He is presented in a remarkable light. He’s named and designated for his eschatological role before/at creation of the world, to be revealed in the eschatological time. When revealed he will act as the chief agent of God in gathering the elect to him, judging the (pagan) nations and their rulers, and establishing God’s rule upon the earth. In this role he is to receive obeisance from these rulers and praise and acclamation from the elect. In his chief-agent role, he sits on “a/his glorious throne,” acting as God’s vizier.

There are obvious similarities to be drawn with the exalted role of resurrected Jesus in NT texts (e.g., Philippians 2:6-11; 1 Corinthians 15; Hebrews 1; Revelation 5, etc.). Indeed, in the Ethiopic Church, the figure is seen as Christ. But, assuming that the Parables don’t derive from Christian circles, there are also some interesting differences.

The figure in question is a literary one, not an actual and historical one. The Parables present themselves as visions, projections of eschatological events that (at the time of composition) are yet to be. They assert that in the eschatological time God will triumph over the pagan nations and that this figure will be the earthly agent of God’s triumph. The NT texts make their astonishing claims, however, for a then-recent figure of history, Jesus of Nazareth, whom they present as already exalted by God to heavenly glory, reigning in/from heaven and sharing God’s throne, “at God’s right hand.” Moreover, these astonishing claims likely erupted before the likely date of the composition of the Parables, although the notion of such an exalted chief-agent figure may well have been “in the air” of Jewish expectations/hopes for some time previous to that.

Still more important historically, the NT reflects the adaptation of Jewish devotional practices, initially in early circles of Jewish Jesus-followers, involving the incorporation of the exalted Jesus along with God as recipients of devotion. I’ve itemized the devotional actions in question in a number of publications over the last 25 years, so I won’t elaborate here.[3] I’ll simply make the point that, so far as history-of-religion questions are concerned, this eruption of a “dyadic” devotional pattern has no real precedent or analogy in any known second-temple Jewish circles or texts. That includes the Parables of Enoch. There is no indication that the projected (and still hidden) figure of this material was ever the object of cultic devotional practices. Nor is it really clear that the Parables project such a cultic devotion to be given to this figure when he appears as eschatological agent of God.

These too are facts/data. What scholars do with them is another matter, and a perfectly legitimate one. We can speculate and debate, and we can cherish our interpretations and hypotheses. But they are that.

What we have in the Parables is remarkable. But it’s not really of the same momentous nature historically as what we have rather clearly reflected and taken for granted as already conventional devotional claims and practices about Jesus in the NT, as I’ve noted in previous postings here and here .  Of course, the historical significance of Jesus-devotion says nothing automatically about its religious validity.  That’s a theological issue.  My work has focused on the historical issues, and that’s the main point of this posting.

[1] I draw here on the review of data in George W. Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch 1 (Hermeneia Commentaries; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), 9-26.

[2] In lectures I’ve sometimes referred to this using what I’m told originated as a US military term applied to war-games: SWAG = scientific wild-assed guesswork. But, I emphasize, it’s scientific guesswork, which means that it’s open to critique, refutation, and has to take best account of the facts.

[3] E.g., Larry W. Hurtado, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism (2nd ed. T&T Clark, 1998), esp.93-124; At the Origins of Christian Worship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), esp. 63-97; Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), esp. 134-53.

“At/on the/my right hand”

Further to my posting yesterday in which I noted the curious variation-pattern in NT usage of two Greek expressions for “at the right hand,” a few additional observations and data.  In the midst of other commitments (with pressing deadlines), I can’t take the time to do the larger task of attempting to determine wider Koine preferences.  So I’ll offer results of a quick survey of the Greek expressions used in the LXX, and the Hebrew expressions translated.  (Apologies to those who don’t read Greek and/or Hebrew, but it’s a question about Greek usage in rendering Hebrew from the OT.)

First, Psalm 110:1 (LXX 109:1), which is central to the NT expressions.  The Greek here is εκ δεξιων μου, rendering לימיני .  A similar Hebrew form (לימין) used also in Psa 45:9 (LXX 44:10) and 109(LXX 108):31, rendered in each case as εκ δεξιων.  (But compare Isaiah 63:12, where לימין is translated τῃ δεξιᾳ.)  As well, εκ δεξιων renders other Hebrew forms:  Psa 91(LXX 90):7 (מימינך); Psa 110(LXX 109):5 (על ימינך); Zech 3:1 (על ימינו). So, εκ δεξιων seems to have been seen as a perfectly fine way to position someone/something on the right of someone/something else.

Occasionally, a different Greek expression is used, but in context seems roughly equivalent:  e.g., in Job 30:12 על ימין is translated επι δεξιαν, and similarly in Psa 121(LXX120):5 על־יד ימינך is rendered επι χειρᾳ δεξιαν σου.

By contrast, the LXX translators tended to use εν δεξιᾳ to render Hebrew expressions indicating something/someone in the right hand of someone else.  Compare the interesting variations in Psalm 16 (LXX 15).  In v. 8 (“he is at my right hand”)  εκ δεξιων σου = מימיני ; in v. 11, however, “in your right hand” is εν τῃ δεξιᾳ σου = בימינך .  Note also Proverbs 3:16 (“in her right hand”), where εν τῃ δεξιᾳ αυτης = בימינה ; and Isaiah 44:20 (“in my right hand”), where εν τῃ δεξιᾳ μου = בימיני .  As noted earlier, a similar Greek form, τῃ δεξιᾳ, renders לימין in Isaiah 63:12, which refers to God leading Moses “with his right hand.”

In sum, it seems to me that εν δεξιᾳ expressions in the LXX tend to be used to connote someone/something held in another’s right hand, not simply to depict someone/something positioned to/on the right of someone.  In the two instances that I discuss briefly in my essay for the Perth conference (mentioned in my previous posting), the use of εν δεξιᾳ is with reference to a person who has a close relationship with the other person.  In 1 Chronicles 6:39 (Hebrew 6:24), Asaph stands εν δεξιᾳ to his brother, and in 1 Esdras Apame (the king’s favourite concubine) sits εν δεξιᾳ to the king (and demonstrates her place in his affections!).  Contrast these with Psalm 45:9 (LXX 44:10), where the queen is pictured standing next to the king, εκ δεξιων.

So, to come back to the focus of all this, why the pattern of using εκ δεξιων consistently in quotations and direct allusions to the highly influential Psalm 110:1,but using/preferring εν δεξιᾳ in NT confessional references to Jesus as “at the right hand” of God?  If the latter arose from some early and alternate Greek translation of Psalm 110:1, why was this preserved, when it didn’t accord with the wording of Psalm 110:1 as familiarly known?  And why was εν δεξιᾳ continued as the preferred expression in Greek creeds for centuries?

See my essay (pre-publication form here) for my own tentative thoughts on the question.  (But that TLG project is what we need now.)

New Book on Use of OT in the NT

In today’s post came a contributor’s copy of a new multi-author volume:  All that the Prophets Have Declared:  The Appropriation of Scripture in the Emergence of Christianity, ed. Matthew R. Malcolm (Milton Keynes:  Paternoster Press, 2015).  The publisher’s online catalogue entry is here.

The volume arose from a special conference held in Trinity Theological College, Perth (Australia) in August 2013, and comprises a brief Introduction by Malcolm plus twelve essays by various scholars.  Here is the list of contributions:

L. W. Hurtado, “Two Case Studies in Earliest Christological Readings of Biblical Texts.”

I. G. Malcom and M. R. Malcolm, “‘He Interpreted to Them the Things about Himself in All the Scriptures':  Linguistic Perspectives on the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament.”

Roland Deines, “Jesus and Scripture:  Scripture and the Self-Understanding of Jesus.”

D. S. West, “Acts 4:23-31 and a biblical Theology of Prayer.2

B. L. Sutton, “Becoming Prophets:  Acts 10:34-43 and Peter’s Appropriation of Prophecies about Jesus.”

M. A. Seifrid, “Scripture and Identity in Galatians.”

Lionel Windsor, “The ‘Seed’, the ‘Many’ and the ‘One’ in Galatians 3:16:  Paul’s Reading of Genesis 17 and its Significance for Gentiles.”

Martin foord, “Taking with One Hand, and Giving with the Other?  The Use of Psalm 68:18 in Ephesians 4:8.”

M. J. Keown, “The Use of the Old Testament in Philippians.”

Allan Chapple, “The Appropriation of Scripture in 1 Peter.”

M. R. Malcolm, “God has Spoken:  The Renegotiation of Scripture in Hebrews.”

Rory Shiner, “Reading the New Testament from the Outside.”

In an earlier posting after the conference I summarized major points addressed in my own essay (here).  One thing I didn’t mention in that post, and would invite some others with expertise in Koine Greek literature to engage, is the curious variation-pattern that we see in NT references to Jesus “at the right hand” of God.  The expression fairly obviously derives from Psalm 110:1 (LXX 109:1).  But there is an interesting pattern of variation in the Greek phrasing used.  In all the NT instances where the Psalm is cited or clearly alluded to in describing Jesus “at the right hand” of God, the form of the Greek phrase in the LXX is consistently preserved:  εκ δεξιων (e.g., Matt.22:24/Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42; Matt. 26:64/Mark 14:62/Luke 22:69; Acts 2:34; 7:55-56; Heb 1:13 (and also Mark 16:19).  (Likewise, in Acts 2:25 the citation of Psalm 16 [LXX 15]: 8-11 uses the LXX wording εκ δεξιων.)  But in the many other places where we seem to have confessional statements declaring Jesus to be seated at God’s right hand/side, the preferred phrasing is εν δεξιᾳ (e.g., Rom 8:34; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3; 8:1;10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22).

Scholarly survey of the LXX, Jewish Greek pseudepigraphal writings, the Apostolic Fathers (and some Greek papyri) indicates that εκ δεξιων appears to have been the overwhelmingly preferred construction for describing someone/something on the right side of another.  To cite LXX usage as illustrative, I find only two instances of εν δεξιᾳ (1 Esdras 4:29; Paralipomenon 1 [= 1 Chronicles] 6:24) and many more uses of εκ δεξιων.

So, why the NT dual pattern?  And it is a dual pattern, with the LXX text followed in citations and direct allusions, but εν δεξιᾳ preferred in those “confessional” statements.  My hunch at this point is that the latter expression may have connoted a more intimate or close linkage of someone to another, and so NT writers (across the board) preferred it in making a confessional statement of Jesus’ relationship to God.

But it would take a thorough analysis of data produced through the sort of search of Koine Greek texts possible using the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae to test my hunch adequately.  So, I’ve stuck my neck out with a hunch, maybe somebody can either confirm or falsify it.

P.S.  The pre-publication version of my essay is available on this blog site under “Selected Published Essays” here.


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