Book Reviews

The Jewish World around the New Testament

Richard Bauckham Grand Rapids 2010-07-01

This volume is a collection of twenty-three previously published articles by an important New Testament scholar. It was originally published in 2008 by Mohr-Siebeck, and Baker is to be commended for making this material accessible at a reasonable price.

With the exception of one article (chap. 3), the articles appear in the order of publication, ranging from 1976 through 2008. They all concern topics related to the Jewish world of the New Testament. The topics discussed are diverse. Articles discuss specific texts (e.g., 1 Enoch 1:9; Josephus, Contra Apionem 2.102–9, James 4:5; etc.), issues of genre (e.g., apocalyptic); biblical people (e.g., Enoch, Elijah), and theological issues (e.g., delay of the parousia, the afterlife, etc.). A number of the articles focus on and/or contribute to the interpretation of specific New Testament passages (Luke 3:34–38; James 4:5; Rev. 7; etc.). All articles are essentially in their original form. However, in some cases additional material is added to update the article (e.g., in the first article pages 15–25 are added to the original). Eight articles discuss the Enochian tradition and/or apocalyptic literature (chaps. 1–6, 8, 11). Some articles are responses to scholarly works, with Bauckham contributing further to the topic (chaps. 7, 8, 10, 11; see also the addition to chap. 3).

These are all excellent articles; however, their usefulness will vary for individual readers. Even some with a seminary degree may find the discussions of pseudepigrapha and other nonbiblical ancient Jewish material challenging. This should not discourage the reader. Many articles will be of great benefit immediately, whereas others will demand some effort. Bauckham’s use of ancient material in biblical interpretation is a model for research students and others. In “The Relevance of Extra-Canonical Jewish Texts to New Testament Study,” he gives guidelines on how to use ancient texts. His focus is on Jewish material, but he does not discount Greco-Roman works. In fact the article’s original publication is followed by Loveday Alexander’s article, “The Relevance of Greco-Roman Literature to New Testament Study” (in Hearing the New Testament: Strategies for Interpretation [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995], pp. 109–26). Bauckham’s article is helpful and can serve as an introductory work for the volume. It is unfortunate that it is chapter 14.

An article of interest to students of the New Testament is “The Delay in the Parousia” (pp. 65–88; originally published in 1980). Here Bauckham places the tension between imminency and delay found in the New Testament in its Jewish context. He demonstrates that this tension was present in the late first century to early second century Jewish material (Apocalypse of Baruch and a rabbinic discussion [although the date of the later is not so easily assumed]). He then demonstrates this is very similar to what is seen in 2 Peter 3 and the book of Revelation.

A significant problem passage is discussed in “The Spirit of God in Us Loathes Envy (James 4:5)” (originally published in 2004). Bauckham examines exegetical difficulties in the passage and proposed solutions. Finding none of these satisfactory, he suggests that this verse may be based on a quotation from a lost apocryphal book of Eldad and Medad. Numbers 11:25–30 mentions that the Spirit rested on these men and as a result they prophesied in the Israelite camp. When Joshua heard of this, he wanted to stop it. Moses then accused Joshua of jealousy (on behalf of Moses). The apocryphal book was probably written in Hebrew. James was either working from an extant Greek translation or translated the quotation himself. Bauckham notes that this solution demands an imprecise translation of the proposed Hebrew bat/b[t with ejpipoqei' prov". Thus James 4:5 can be translated: “The Spirit [or spirit] God made to dwell in us abhors envy” (p. 429).

There are certainly parallels to the Numbers story, and Bauckham includes a discussion of the Shepherd of Hermas which may also be influenced by the same work. However, Bauckham’s solution is unsatisfactory for three reasons. First, the lack of any textual evidence for this quotation makes this suggestion weak. Of course further discoveries could change this. Second, the Greek translation does not clearly represent the Hebrew. How then did James get it wrong? Or why did he not change the quotation to more clearly represent the Hebrew? Third, it is risky to base the meaning of a New Testament verse on a hypothetical original.

Some readers will not accept Bauckham’s views concerning the date and unity of Isaiah, Daniel, and Zechariah. For these readers this may impact the value of the article “The Rise of Apocalyptic.” Also some may not appreciate the article “Pseudo-Apostolic Letters” (pp. 123–49), in which a study of nonbiblical pseudepigraphic letters leads Bauckham to propose criteria for determining whether a letter is pseudepigraphic. He believes 2 Peter and the pastoral epistles are pseudepigraphic (the later, he says, were written by Timothy). Nevertheless the article is illuminating and worth reading. Although the proposal is interesting, there is much more to consider in this area than the article includes.

In summary this volume is both a helpful and convenient collection of important articles on various topics of interest on the Jewish background of the New Testament.

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Joseph D. Fantin
Dr. Fantin believes an accurate understanding of God's Word will enable the believer to grow in his or her relationship with Christ, to love God and others, to bring Christ's love to a lost world, to build up the church, and most importantly, to glorify God. He is committed to teaching exegetical method in order to help students understand, apply, and teach the Bible in order to achieve these goals. His research interests include the prison epistles, the first-century world, Greek, linguistics, and relevance theory. He and his wife, Robin, have two children: Jillian and David.
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