Book Reviews

Earliest Christian History

History, Literature, and Theology. Essays from the Tyndale Fellowship in Honor of Martin Hengel

Michael F. Bird and Jason Maston Tubingen, Germany 2012-12-01

Few scholars have impacted a field of study the way Martin Hengel has impacted New Testament studies. Even after his death in 2009, his significance is still being felt as his work is translated into English. In 2010, the Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical and Theological research decided to engage critically, yet appreciatively, with the scope of Hengel’s work. Michael Bird and Jason Maston collected the resulting essays for the present volume. It begins with two biographical essays by Ronald Deines and Jörg Frey that frame Hengel’s work, characterize his work ethic, and describe the relationships he developed throughout his lifetime. The main part of the book is arranged around three areas of Hengel’s work: Christology, the Gospels, and the relationship between Judaism and early Christianity. The volume ends with the translation of six essays written by Hengel.

Deines and Seyoon Kim wrote the essays that address Christology. Deines overviews Hengel’s work in Christology, involving how the early Christian community based their Christological claim on history. This fact calls theologians to the task of historical enquiry. Following this dictum, Kim’s article analyzes the Christology found in Paul’s gospel, showing Paul’s consistent stance throughout his corpus.

The essays on Gospel composition put forward Hengel’s challenge to Form Criticism’s theory that the Gospels were composed over time by anonymous communities. Richard Bauckham and Rainer Riesner argue that the Gospel tradition rests on Peter’s preaching and eyewitness testimony. Bauckham looks at evidence that suggests eyewitness testimony within the Gospel tradition. Riesner confirms Hengel’s solution to the Synoptic problem, which finds only minor disagreements and tradition that is trustworthy. In a helpful essay, Andreas Köstenberger analyzes the relationship between John and the Synoptics. Assuming that John knew the Synoptics, he shows where John creatively drew from Mark and developed his theological categories by rearranging the material. Finally, Armin Baum defends Hengel’s position that John 21 was added by a later disciple.

The interaction between Judaism and early Christianity formed a significant part of Hengel’s research. The essays in this section focus on how early Christianity began to conceive of itself and separate from Judaism. Jason Maston looks at Hengel’s analysis of Ben Sira as a Jewish critique of Hellenism. Steve Walton takes on Hengel’s thesis of a sharp division between Palestinian- and Hellenistic-Jewish Christians in Acts. Both Maston and Walton argue that the division is not as clear as Hengel initially maintained. Michael Bird confirms Hengel’s idea that the conflict in Antioch (Gal. 2:11–14) created a divide between Paul and a segment of the Jerusalem church. Grant Macaskill reviews Hengel’s theory that the early Christians understood Christ’s death as an atonement; however, he critiques Hengel for ignoring the participatory elements of Christ’s death, which seem to be just as old. Donald Hagner and Anna Marie Schwemer give a wider perspective of the early Christian movement, looking at how Jews and Christians parted ways and arguing that early persecution initiated the parting, which took decades to complete. Schwemer explores the history of early Christianity in Syria, which was likely brought there by Hellenist Jews.

The six essays by Hengel in the final section each would fit within the earlier parts of the book. His essay on New Testament studies as a discipline provides powerful insight into Hengel’s own approach to studying the New Testament. This essay critiques the changing fads of modern interpretive strategies and shows the true power of reading the New Testament and background material in their original languages. The other articles look at Luke’s composition, Paul’s relationship to the Law, early Christian confession, a comparison between Christianity and Qumran, and the relationship between Christianity and early Gnosticism.

Unlike other festschrifts, which simply tip their hats to the honoree, the essayists in this volume actively engage a number of Hengel’s ideas. They accept them and take them further or criticize where he went wrong. Regardless, this volume shows the debt of gratitude that New Testament studies owes to Hengel’s research on early Christian history. The death of Hengel is a grave loss, but this book shows that his work will shape research questions for New Testament studies for years to come.

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