Book Review – “A Man Attested by God” by Daniel Kirk (part 4 – Priests as Idealized Human Figures)

This is my fourth post containing my review and thoughts on Daniel Kirk’s newest volume, A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels. Today we will look at the significantly important section on Priests as “idealized human beings” in Judaism, data upon which the Synoptic evangelists drew in order to articulate their christological conceptions of Jesus of Nazareth. Kirk covers a lot of complicated ground, so as usual I will use bullet points and put my own thoughts in italics.

  • Melchizedek in Scripture– This enigmatic figure developed in tradition by combining priest.JPGthe priestly image in Genesis 14 and the kingly role in Psalm 110. Since King David and his sons, on rare occasions, functioned as both kings and priests (2 Sam 8:18) this allows Psalm 110 to promote a human lord as the idealized priestly king. Furthermore, Psa 110:1 envisages this human lord as exalted to God’s right hand, followed by an appointment of priesthood forever (110:4). Yet this figure is distinct from YHWH in both Genesis 14 and Psalm 110.
  • Melchizedek in Qumran – The Temple scroll (11Q13) identifies Melchizedek as “god” of Psalm 82, which is generally understood to be referring to human judges. Kirk rightly notes that this is in line with previous attributions of elohim to the human king (Psa 45:6; Isa 9:6). As priest, this figure represents both sides, human and divine. Therefore, Melchizedek becomes an intense figure crossing the boundaries between God and humans without compromising strict monotheism.
  • Priest in Sirach – Written in a period when Israel only possessed priest and no kings, Sirach highlights Simon ben Onias as an idealized human figure echoing divine images drawn from the vision in Ezek 1:28. He may even be intended to be understood as one reflecting the “glory of Adam” (which appears in both Qumran and Paul). Of no small significance is that Sirach 24 describes Lady Wisdom as the personification of God’s wise ordering in creation, only to take those traits and give them to the high priest Simon in Sirach 50 (thus making Simon the poetic incarnation of Wisdom nearly three hundred years before the Gospel of John was completed). The same chapter takes images of the idealized Davidic ruler from Psalm 89 and reinterprets them for Simon the priest.
  • Testament of Levi – An eschatological priest evokes God’s glory reminiscent of Moses’ face in Exodus. Furthermore, he is gifted with the heavenly spirit of understanding and sanctification, allowing him to bound Belial and the ability to grant authority to others over wicked spirits. There is a lot of food for thought regarding depictions of Jesus along these very lines of thinking.
  • Jubilees – More priests are depicted as possessors of the divine glory. These priest perform functions on earth likened unto angelic functions taking place in heaven.
  • Priests in Qumran – 1Q28b ushers in a blessing for the community’s priest so that they may shine with heavenly angelic light, thus illuminating the congregation. This draws upon Moses’ face and the Aaronic benediction of Numbers 6, but goes further than the picture of Moses and states that these priests will indeed allow their glorious faces to shine upon their people. These priests are nevertheless still human figures, albeit while possessing luminous glory of their God. 4Q400 depicts the priests who serve in the holy temple as ascending into the heavenly throne room. They also are agents through whom God’s sanctification is carried to the holy people. 4Q418 notes how the addressee (either a king, priest, or ruler) is described as a “holy of holies over all the earth.” This make the inner room of the Jerusalem temple into a person, one who bears in himself the very presence of Israel’s God (or as I call it, “poetic incarnation”). The Self-Glorification Hymn (4Q471b, 4Q491c) depicts a singer, who is a “friend of the king” who is exalted to heaven, seated, and sharing in the lot of the angels. Yet this person is a human member of the Qumran community, albeit a highly exalted human figure. My favorite citation made by Kirk is 4QApocryphon of Levi wherein the human eschatological high priest is described as sharing in the creative word of God which made the Genesis creation. Kirk summarizes the scroll’s contribution by noting that the “priest is identified with God through the recapitulation of God’s role in creation…without any indication that the priest is being identified as God or as some other divine being.”

 

Kirk also has an interesting section noting that at least habpeshertwo times in the DSS the authors replaced the divine name (YHWH) with the name of a human priest (just as the NT does with Jesus in Rom 10:13 and Acts 2:21). In particular, the moreh hatzadik (“Teacher of Righteousness”) in the Habakkuk Pesher puts the reference to the teacher in for the divine name. This also occurs in 4Q167 where the “last priest” replaces the first person reference to Yahweh’s “I” in Hosea 5:14. This observation is hugely significant, noting that the NT authors were not going rogue in their high claims made of Jesus. They were only doing what other Jews were practicing before them.

Although one might not think that a study on priests bears any significant relevance on the development of Christology, this section of Kirk’s book argues persuasively to the contrary. I feel a growing excitement reading this book, attempting to process all of the small changes this makes for some of the more popular arguments regarding the divinity of Jesus which now are shown to have a broken foundation. It might be a little premature for me to state this, but Daniel Kirk’s contribution here might be as noteworthy as James Dunn’s Christology in the Making published some thirty years ago.

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Free 25 Hour Course on the Synoptic Gospels

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Here is the link to an older class (Fall of 2014) I taught on the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. I introduce to the students the Synoptic Problem and the Q document on the first day and use the Two-Source Hypothesis as the basis of my examination of these three New Testament documents. Furthermore, I am influenced by the scholarship of James Dunn in regard to the oral Jesus traditions and how they took their form and shape within a predominantly oral culture.

I hope you enjoy these lectures!

 

PS: the final lecture was lost in production, so I apologize in advance for that.

 

Book Review (part 20 of 20: Conclusions of Research) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

coverneitherHaving finished the book and given myself a few hours to let the data ‘sink in’ I am now ready to offer my final recap/response. What is likely the final publication of James Dunn’s career of ground-breaking scholarship and scriptural insights shows that he is at the top of his game, both mentally and theologically. Chapter fifty of Nether Jew nor Greek: A Contested Identity gives Dunn the opportunity to synthesize his historical findings and offer up some concluding thoughts.

The inquiry which he set out to examine regards tracing the trajectories of Jesus traditions from the year 70 CE on into the middle of the second century. He highlights the striking find (which needs serious pondering among modern theologians and preachers alike) that the gospel message “came to include the story of Jesus’ mission and teachings, and not just the account of his death and resurrection and their corollaries.” He also notes the observation that the Jesus traditions as exhibited within the Synoptic Gospels tell the same story with different details and emphases. Even John’s Gospel, which followed Mark’s structure of a written Gospel without actually possessing literary dependence, confirms the transmission of the Jesus material. Thomas chose instead to divorce Jesus’ teachings from his death/resurrection in addition to setting them forth in a non-narrative format (thus calling into question its label as a ‘Gospel’). Dunn also reminds his readers that the second-century sources continued to demonstrate that the Jesus traditions were spreading orally, despite many Apologists acknowledging the four written Gospels. As the second century progressed so did the shift from using the oral teachings of Jesus toward relying upon the four written Gospels. Although other ‘Gospels’ were in circulation there is little evidence that they were revered at the level of the four canonical Gospels.

Dunn has reopened the question regarding how interpreters assess James the Just, arguing that he was the most direct line to the Jewish Jesus. Although the apostle Paul is largely responsible for the massive expansion of the Jewish sect of Jesus-followers into the Gentile world he is perhaps to blame for many awkward and embarrassing questions regarding the incorporation of these two social and religious spheres. Peter too is to be further appreciated as the leader of Jesus’ disciples, as a witness of the resurrection, and Matthew’s insistence that Jesus would build his church upon this ‘rock.’ John’s influence upon early Christianity hardly needs to be argued for, but his Logos theology provided a way for Christians to insist on a line of continuity between the creator and the created order in the face of Gnostic voices which sought to distance the two.

Dunn observes that the contest over Christianity’s identity proved to be much more complex then Eusebius was willing to admit. While Eusebius focused on the pillars of the ecclesiastical system, a New Testament defined by apostles, and a definitive rule of faith Dunn challenges these three in light of his research. Instead, he argues that ‘Jesus as the Christ risen from the dead’ was clearly the defining center of the movement and the one from whom the traditions sprung. Furthermore, he stresses that the ecclesiology is not uniform throughout the NT, pointing to Paul as one who never appointed elders or leaders, the Pastorals which came in with a qualified list for overseers, and the teaching of the ‘priesthood of believers’ in 1 Peter and Revelation. This gives Dunn the opportunity to stress a point which he has already published on previously: the unity in diversity within early Christianity. In fact, the fact that these diverse forms (and others) were canonized should have disturbed the catholic Christianity which itself stressed the religion’s uniformity.

In regard to a rule of faith Dunn rightly observes that christology became a much strong and more emphasized driving force than Jesus’ death and resurrection  for salvation and forgiveness of sins. These led to the seemingly unavoidable path of the developed creeds defined in Nicaea and Chalcedon. On this point, Dunn boldly suggests that,

the NT canon invites those who find the developed creeds as confusing as definitive (that is, not at all clear as to what the definition affirms), to return to the basic insights of the first century: that God is invisible, but Jesus has made visible the invisible God.

The rule of faith which was intended by many early Christians to hold together both Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus was never achieved with any long-term success. Dunn chalks this up to the overall loss of regard for Christianity’s Jewishness, and this absence “remains a feature of Christianity to this day.” His closing words urge readers, theologians, and historians alike to take seriously the undeniable feat that Jesus was a Jew and that the God he revealed was the God of Israel, and that the one God whom Jesus affirmed was also the Creator of all things.

dunnMy overall impressions of this book is that it presents a lot of persuasive data in a very organized manner. Dunn’s overarching inquiry is clearly examined with every source available without sounding like you are reading a dry dictionary. He is regularly succinct in his writing while balancing his thorough approach. Readers may quibble with a detail here and there, but it is hard to not be moved and impressed with the conclusions drawn from such a grand scope of study, especially if you have read the previous two volumes (Jesus Remembered and Beginning from Jerusalem). This current volume will easily become a classic staple for those interested in the development of Christianity on into the second century and for historians of the oral Jesus traditions alike. I personally am currently considering how I can incorporate parts of this volume into required readings for college undergraduates in biblical studies. James D.G. Dunn is one of the world’s finest NT scholars alive and should be emulated in his thorough approach to the text, historical data, and methodology.

 

Book Review (part 19: The Christology of the Gospel of John) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

John-AugustIt cannot go without saying that the apostle John’s lasting influence for the development of Christianity was utterly significant, despite his seemingly minor role depicted within the Gospel narratives. In this nineteenth post of my recap/review of James Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek I will sketch out the argument which depicts what many feel is the most controversial christology in the New Testament Gospels and how it affected the developing Jesus traditions within the second century CE (sections 49.1-3). Indeed, Dunn admits that the role of ‘John’ proved to be one of the most powerful influences in the making of Christianity, particularly when compared to James, Paul, and Peter.

The discussion begins by noting that the Gospel of John can surely be traced back to Jesus’ mission, notably to eyewitness and ear-witness testimony. John was able to draw upon personal knowledge of such features as the initial mission of John the Baptist, the early recruitment of the Baptist’s disciples, and the Judaean mission. These are traditions which possess a high degree of historicity which the Synoptics evangelists, who understandably wanted to mark the distinction between the Baptist and Jesus rather than the overlap, chose not to employ. For Dunn, the Gospel of John utilizes traditions which were authentic rather than legendary in character.

Mislabeling-the-Word-of-GodThe ‘Jewishness’ of John is subsequently argued at length. Dunn notes that the claim in John 20:31, “that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God,” is central to the claim of John’s Gospel. Jesus’ messiahship was rooted in the Jewish expectation of the messiah and built upon distinctive Jewish themes. The title ‘Son of God’ culminated from the typical commissioning of a prophet and the ‘Son of Man’ was reminiscent of Jewish reflections of the human figure in Dan. 7:13-14. Furthermore, the portrayal of Jesus in terms of Wisdom and Word was used with language which would resonate meaningfully and favorably in Jewish ears. On this point Dunn cites John Ashton who observes that Jesus’ claims “are made from within the Jewish tradition and cannot be explained in any other way.” All of these points indicate that there exists within the Gospel of John a sustained strategy to present Jesus as the one who fulfilled Israel’s hopes which surpassed the alternatives like Moses, the Torah, and the prophet.

Unfortunately, John’s evangelistic strategy was not very successful in winning his fellow Jews. Many of the Jewish authorities in his region had put believers in Jesus out of the synagogues. John had hoped that there would be persons similar to Nicodemus (John 3) and the blind man (John 9) who believed secretly and needed to step out in faith and confess their belief. Dunn rightly points out that the dispute between John’s use of Logos theology and Judaism is a dispute, in effect, is still not finally resolved. However, since John was firmly rooted in the Judaism of his time, he “would have denied that he was ignoring or breaching the boundaries which defined Israel’s heritage” (p. 762).

John is to be viewed, in a sense, as a distinctive contributor. The methodological reminder to ‘Let John be John’ is stated from the beginning as a reminder to approach John on his own terms (despite the evidence that it intends to be in continuity with Jewish theology). Four particular subheadings are given: The Incarnate Word, The Son Sent and the Son of Man Descended, The Revealer, and John’s Christology in Gnostic Perspective.

 

1. The Incarnate Word

Dunn begins this section by declaring that it is not enough to point out the Wisdom and Logos language upon which John drew. What needs to be insisted upon is that the Logos/Wisdom had ‘become flesh.’ In order to drive home his point, Dunn contrasts this assertion from what he regards are less-qualified answers to the significance of John 1:14. For the Logos/Wisdom was not:

  • simply manifest in poetic metaphor to describe divine action;
  • as symbolized in the character of Israel’s heroes and heroines (as in Philo);
  • just as a casual visitor like an angelic character in human appearance.

Rather, the Logos/Wisdom became flesh, i.e., a human being who had lived a full life from birth to death. Although John regards the Logos as having been with God from the beginning and which was God (John 1:1) he did not attempt to downplay what the Logos had become: “that which is born of flesh is flesh” (John 3:6). The ‘Logos becoming flesh’ is not predicated upon the  extrabiblical Prayer of Joseph, a work which Dunn notes is describing a way of glorifying Israel in the person of its eponymous patriarch (p. 765 n.29). While the later Gnostics attempted to explain the gap between the creator and the creation with a lengthy series of aeons John instead chose to bridge the gap with the single step of the ‘Word becoming flesh.’

 

2. The Son Sent and the Son of Man Descended

The incarnate Logos had become the Son of God, a son who is the Father’s only begotten son (1:14). John 1:18 furthermore indicates that this only-begotten one, who is in the Father’s close embrace, has made him known. This, for Dunn, indicates that the incarnate Word is a revelatory figure of the Father. In other words, ‘Son of God’ in John is not simply a person who is favored by God, but is the one who acted as the Father’s plenipotentiary in the fullest sense. For Dunn, the repeated assertion that the Son has descended from heaven is an indicator of a commissioning (cf. John the Baptist being sent from God – John 1:6). Therefore, the verses describing ‘descending’ and ‘ascending’ (3:13; 6:62) seems to be directed against the characterization of the patriarch and prophets as those who in effect ascended into heaven to hear what God said. The opening of heavenly reality gives an opportunity for Jesus to communicate to those on earth who are ready to receive it.

 

3. The Revealer

Dunn notes that which had already been observed by Bultman that in John’s Gospel Jesus is the revealer, “but all that he reveals is that he is the revealer!” For John Jesus has revealed God, the Son has revealed the Father, and the uttered Word has revealed the one who uttered the word. In all of this, Dunn rightly reminds us that,

Jesus as the incarnate Word and Wisdom fulfills that role previously filled in Second Temple reflection on Word and Wisdom — not least their role as revealers (p. 768).

The Fourth Gospel presents the theme that Jesus is the closely-related revealer of the Father (in the fullest sense of the words):

  • No one has seen God, but Jesus has made God known (1:18);
  • “Whoever sees me seed him who sent me” (12:45)
  • “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9)
  • Jesus and the Father are one (10:30)

Dunn note the corollaries with the statuses of such figures as Moses and Mohammed, but insists that Jesus as the one who fully reveals God is at the heart of John’s Gospel. Along the same lines, Dunn makes sure that his readers are still ‘Letting John be John’ by remarking that,

it should not be assumed that in his talk of the Son’s dependence of the Father (as in 5.19), John was already caught up in the later debates about the relationships of the two persons of the Trinity, the Father and the Son (p. 768).

This insistence was a needed stress in light of many readers of John reading post-biblical ideas back into the Fourth Gospel’s distinctively Jewish presentation of Jesus as the revelatory expression of God’s Logos/Wisdom.

 

4. John’s Christology in Gnostic Perspective

In a stroke of bad luck, the presentation of Jesus as the Son sent from the Father had striking parallels with the later Gnostic Redeemer myth. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls helped scholars in the twentieth century to observe that the dualism of light and darkness in the Gospel of John possessed contemporary Jewish parallels rather than owing its origin to a so-called pre-Christian Gnostic Redeemer myth. Nevertheless, John was well on its way to being portrayed in Gnostic terms, as confirmed by its popularity with the Valentinians. Many of the Nag Hammadi documents were strongly influenced by John’s Gospel (and its distinctive prologue).

However, Dunn rightly points out that the Valentinian exegesis of John, expressed by Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Hippolytus, recoils from taking seriously the Logos ‘becoming flesh.’ “Rather they bring to their reading of the prologue the assumption that the divine realm is much more complex than Jewish monotheism allowed…” After citing many of the specific examples of Gnostic interpretations, Dunn concludes that Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria were right to claim that the Gnostics abused John’s Gospel.

 

cross_mosaicIn his concluding thoughts Dunn traces the trajectory of the Johannine writings on into the second century, noting that its christology provided “the basis for the Logos christology which the Apologists took up in their own philosophical way” (p. 799). Two of the big take-aways from Dunn’s sustained argument are that: (1) John needs to be properly situated in its Jewish context (with all the attached messianic expectations), and (2) the christology of John began to be abused and confused from an early period in the second century. It is not altogether surprising how these two points are related to each other.

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Book Review (part 18: The Development of Paul’s Christology by Ignatius) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

Good news, everyone. I am almost finished with the book (less than 100 pages to go). I will probably have about five more posts before I pursue something else (a new book on Christology perhaps). Anyways, this is the eighteenth post on my recap/review of James Dunn’s volume Neither Jew nor Greek.

I wanted in this post to draw upon an interesting section in Dunn’s chapter about the lasting impact of Paul within the NT and the second century believers (Apologists, Church Fathers, Marcion, and Gnostics). Being such a pivotal figure in the expansion of the Gentile mission Paul certainly made an impact, attracting both friends and critics alike. Very often students of church history look upon how Paul was interpreted by his earliest readers in order to find clues as to what Paul might have meant in his letters, especially in some of the more cryptic and difficult-to-understand passages (even 2 Peter 3:16 states that Paul is difficult). Perhaps Paul’s earliest interpreters possess some insight which has been lost over the last 2,000 years.

iconHowever, it is also plausible that some of the earliest interpreters either misrepresent, misunderstand, or develop Paul beyond what was originally intended. No one doubts that the Gnostics misunderstood (and very likely abused) Paul’s teachings to further their own docetic doctrines and agendas. After examining how the apostle Paul was taught by Ignatius, the Bishop of Syria who was martyred during the reign of the emperor Trajan (98-117), Dunn concludes that a considerable shift has taken place which makes Ignatius uniquely stand out among this contemporaries (Clement of Rome, Epistle of Barnabas, Aristides, Odes of Solomon). Dunn argues in particular that:

it can quite readily be argued that Ignatius’s emphases represent understandable developments from Paul’s theology…particularly in regard to christology (p. 691)

Dunn notes that Ignatius polemizes an emerging docetic teaching and suggests that this best explains the shift from Paul’s own teachings. Note how Ignatius responds to his theological opponents in his letter to the church in Tralles:

But if, as some that are without God, that is, the unbelieving, say, that He only seemed to suffer… then why am I in bonds?…But if, as some that are without God, that is, the unbelieving, say, He became man in appearance [only], that He did not in reality take unto Him a body, that He died in appearance [merely], and did not in very deed suffer…I do not place my hopes in one who died for me in appearance, but in reality…God the Word was truly born of the Virgin, having clothed Himself with a body of like passions with our own. He who forms all men in the womb, was Himself really in the womb (Trall. 10, trans. Roberts-Donaldson)

This allows Ignatius the personal justification to describe Jesus as the one “who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first possible and then impossible” (Eph. 7.2, trans. Roberts-Donaldson).

What is especially interesting is that Ignatius’s stress on the ‘flesh’ of Jesus brings him to actually argue that Jesus rose from the dead in the flesh. The particular quote comes from Smyrn. 3.1,

For I know that after His resurrection also He was still possessed of flesh, and I believe that He is so now.

This goes against the lengthy argument of Paul in 1 Cor. 15:35-50 where the apostle differentiates the mortal body of flesh from the resurrection body of spirit. Dunn notes that Ignatius is well aware of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, noting thirteen places where it is cited or echoed within the Ignatian corpus. Therefore, it seems that Ignatius has taken Paul’s arguments regarding the body of Jesus beyond what was originally intended. Dunn even notes a development in Paul’s ecclesiology in the writings of Ignatius, further contributing to the above conclusion.

In sum, Dunn observes that Ignatius has taken the arguments of Paul’s views of Christ and significantly developed them within polemical discussions with docetic Christians in the early decades of the second century CE.

 

Book Review (part 17: How the Gospel of John Contributed to the Parting of the Ways) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

In the seventeenth post regarding my recap/review of James Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek  I will draw out a particularly fascinating discussion on how the Fourth Gospel contributed (and in what sense) to the ‘Parting of the Ways’ between Judaism and Christianity (section 46).

The-Breakup_0Dunn outlines this chapter by first discussing how the terms ‘Judaism’ and ‘Christianity are unhelpful terms because they are not defined and distinguished entities during this period of inquiry. He moves on to note some of the early strains between the followers of Jesus and their Jewish counterparts, such as the death of the Messiah, the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus, and the lynching of Stephen in Acts 7. Furthermore, Rome’s involvement certainly caused ripples between the two groups with the destruction of the temple (70 CE), the fiscus Judaicus, and the revolts in 115-117 and 132-135 CE. During this time Judaism was being refined with the slow emergence of Rabbinic Judaism and the fading away of other sects (Essenes, Sadducees, etc.).  Four NT documents (Matthew, Acts, John, and Hebrews) are likewise examined to see in what sense do they depict the conflicts between Jews and early Christians. Finally, Dunn notes the writings of the second century Apologists, Church Fathers, and others to observe how the tone has changed during their time periods. This entire chapter is a gold mine of excellent historical data and should be required reading for Church History students (who rarely get exposed to the developments between the first and second centuries CE).

I will now move to interacting with Dunn’s section on how the Gospel of John contributed to the ‘Parting of the Ways’ between what eventually came to be known as Judaism and Christianity. The section (46.5c) notes how the GJohn apparently goes out of its way to argue how traditional Jewish icons are now passé in light of the coming of Christ (temple to body, purification water into wine, Jacob’s well into living water, manna from heaven to bread of life, etc.). These themes seem to indicate that GJohn invites its readers (especially the Jews of its time) to see Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel’s hopes and visions.

It is in GJohn that ‘the Jews’ are the designated antagonists, regularly hostile to Jesus. In John 8:39-44 Jesus defines them as “children of the devil” rather than children of Abraham. This sharply distinguishes ‘the Jews’ from Jesus and his followers (who are also Jewish). It seems, after a closer examination, that ‘the Jews’ most likely refers to the Jewish authorities, in contrast to even the neutral crowds and common folk observing the dialogues of Jesus and his opponents.

IMG_1352Of particular interest is the phrase coined by GJohn aposynagogos, “expelled from the synagogue.” In John 9:22 the parents of the blind man refuse to stand up for their own son in fear of ‘the Jews’ who threatened to put out of the synagogue anyone who confessed Jesus as Messiah. The next reference is in 12:42 where many of the rulers believed in Jesus, but did not publicly confess him for fear of the Pharisees, lest they be put out of the synagogue. The third and final reference is in 16:2 where Jesus warns that his disciples should expect to be kicked out of the synagogue. It has been common in Gospel of John scholarship to suggest that the blessing against the heretics (known as the birat ha-minim) had already been pronounced by the post-70 rabbinical authorities and that this pronouncement in synagogues explains the social situation exhibited in John 9:22; 12:42; and 16:2. Dunn argues that this suggestion is problematic and unable to be sustained historically principally because the reference to the Christians within this blessing  was likely a later addition. Dunn concludes, nevertheless, that the three references to synagogue-expulsion indicate that the pressures towards the parting of the ways was instigated on the side of Judaism rather than Christians.

The other relevant feature in GJohn is the objection on the side of Judaism that claims being made of Jesus by his followers were a threat to God’s unity. Dunn cites John 5:18 (‘the Jews’ seek to kill Jesus because he was calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God) and 10:30-31 (‘the Jews’ pick up stones to stone Jesus in response to the statement, “I and the Father are one”). In the Synoptic Gospels there appears to be no fierce reaction from the Jewish authorities quite like John 5:18 and 10:31. Dunn notes that the question of why these claims about Jesus were not made prior to the year 70 CE has not been sufficiently asked. The solution seems to be that John’s understanding of Jesus is best explained through the lens of God sending an authorized agent who bears the name and privileges of God himself.  Or, in the words of Dunn,

…much of John’s christology can be best seen in the context of late Second Temple Jewish reflection on divine epiphanies and divine agency.

Dunn goes on to note some of the particular christological points in GJohn. Of interest are these bullet points:

  • The Wisdom/Logos christology of John 1:1-18 is essentially a part of the Wisdom theology of Lady Wisdom traditions exhibited in Prov. 8; Sirach 24; and Baruch 3-4. Philo’s Logos theology is also influential;
  • John 3:13 seems to be a direct rebuttal of other Jewish claims to heavenly journeys and apocalyptic visions (only Jesus is the designated revealer of God);
  • The Son of Man ascending/descending in 3:13 and 6:62 is an extension of reflection on Dan. 7:13-14, a reflection in which 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra also were taking part;
  • The motif of Jesus as the one whom God “sent” sounds like the theme of God sending a prophet, but transcends both the prophet and the kingly figures;
  • The “I am” statements and other claims like John 8:58 “would not ring oddly to anyone familiar with the ‘I’ claims of Wisdom.”

John’s christology was not foreign to the Judaism of the period, argues Dunn. It seems that it was the claim that Jesus was God’s authorized agent, likened to God’s Wisdom, which was the factor provoking the post-70 CE rabbis to regard these Christ-followers as heretics (the minim). Dunn notes that the Gospel of John did not finalize this split, pointing to the second-century christological controversies which continued to bring definition to Christianity and Judaism which were both attempting to define each other over and against the other.

In sum, the Gospel of John indicates that the rabbis expelling Christians from the synagogue in a disagreement as to whether Jesus really was God’s authorized and empowered Messiah, and that the Johannine community indicates that this schism was well under way at the end of the first century CE.

What do you think of Dunn’s reconstruction? Be sure to ‘like,’ share, and subscribe for further updates!

 

Book Review (part 16: How Jewish were the Writings of the New Testament?) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

Christians-vs-jewsAs we continue through my recap/review of James Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek we turn to the chapter entitled ‘Jewish Christianity.’ This section attempts to survey the manner in which early expressions of Christ-devotion were either characterized as Jewish or self-identified as a continuation of the Judaic heritage. Although this chapter has a lot of weighty arguments regarding how more emphasis needs to be placed upon the influence of James the Just in the Jerusalem Church and the various Jewish-Christian ‘sects’ existing in the second century CE, I wanted to highlight in particular Dunn’s inquiry into determining in what sense the NT documents themselves stressed their ‘Jewishness’ (section 45.4). Since the following chapter in the book deals with the ‘Parting of the Ways,’ it is significant to lay the groundwork regarding in what sense Judaism and Christianity were intertwined prior to their unfortunate divorce. Furthermore, it is common stock in some of the more popular discussions about the Christian faith to regard Judaism and its scriptures (the Hebrew Bible/OT) as passe or old hat. It is therefore prudent to examine in what sense did the NT documents regard themselves as Jewish.

 

The New Testament Gospels

Mark Dunn regards the Gospel as Mark as the least Jewish of the four canonical Gospels. However, it opens up with pivotal quotations from Exod. 23:20 and Isa. 40:3. It focuses on the Judaean region and Galilee in particular. The climax of Jesus’ ministry is depicted as Peter’s confession regarding the Messiah of Israel’s hopes. Furthermore, Jesus is regarded as the Son of David and the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Jesus honors the Shema of Deut. 6:4-5 as the greatest commandment and selects Lev. 19:18 as the next most important priority. Overall, Mark does not attempt to exonerate Jesus from his context or deny the Jewish character of his mission.

Luke –  The Gentile orientation of Luke-Acts is readily visible. Nevertheless, Luke makes a considerable effort to ensure that the Jewishness of Jesus’ mission and purpose is evident. The opening songs in Luke chs. 1-2 depict the Jewish hope now fulfilled in the respective births of John and Jesus. Luke alone mentions how the young Jesus was circumcised and how the offering for purification was given in accordance with the Law. Jesus himself regards his ministry as a fulfillment of Isa. 61:1-2. He promises his disciples that they will rule over the twelve tribes of Israel. Even after his resurrection Jesus claims that everything written about him in the Law and the Prophets was to be fulfilled in him. In sum, Luke takes for granted the Jewish character of Jesus’ ministry.

Matthew – It should go without saying that Matthew’s Gospel is thoroughly Jewish. It commences with its argument that Jesus is born as the climax of the promises to David and Abraham, tracing his genealogy with some forty Israelite/Jewish persons. Jesus himself insists that he came to preach to the lost sheep of Israel. In the famous Sermon on the Mount Jesus regards the nature of his teachings to be raised higher than those of the Pharisees. It is almost certain that Matthew depicts Jesus as the ‘new Moses’ and the one who reorganizes Israel around himself. Principally, Matthew is deeply-rooted and interested in depicting Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.

John – Although it is common to regard John as something theologically less-Jewish that its Synoptic counterparts, even it expresses a commitment to Israel’s heritage. John’s Gospel is, in fact, the only of the four to call Jesus “Messiah” (1:41; 4:25-26). Along the same lines, it is also the only Gospel to regard Jesus as the [Passover] lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world. It makes reference to Jewish imagery, such as Moses’ bronze serpent and the water from Jacob’s well, and interprets Jesus through the lens of these Jewish symbols. Jesus states that Moses wrote about him, thus arguing for continuity between the Torah and the climactic ministry of Jesus. Although John expresses a deep schism between the local Ephesian synagogue and the Johannine community, it nevertheless regards the Jesus-movement to be the proper fulfillment of Israel’s hopes and dreams.

 

The ‘Paulines’

The Undisputed Seven Letters – Dunn chose to not deal with these documents in this section, presumably because the scope of his book is limited to the period between 70 and the middle of the second century CE.

Ephesians – Some might be surprised that Ephesians is steeped in Jewish characteristics. It highlights the need to take the Jewish gospel to non-Jews. Its recipients, whomever they were, are regarded twice as “saints” in the opening few verses. In fact, Ephesians regards its audience with the title “saints” more times than any other Pauline epistle. Regular Jewish phrases like, “Blessed are you,” “chosen,” “the beloved,” “the mystery of his will,” and “God’s possession” appear within Ephesians. Although the citations are from the LXX there exist over twenty quotes from the Torah, Prophets, and the Writings. Its audience is comforted by regarding them, not as aliens and strangers, but as fellow-citizens and heirs of the kingdom of God and Christ.

The Pastoral Epistles – In contrast to Ephesians the Pastoral epistles exhibit a lesser degree of Jewish material. The focus seems to be primarily on Paul’s apostleship to the Gentiles. The Jewish Law is still regarded as “good,” “the Law for the lawless,” etc. 1 Timothy speaks of Adam and Eve as common characters familiar with the audience in Ephesus, alludes to Genesis (1:31 and 9:3), and cites explicitly from Deuteronomy (19:15 and 25:4). 2 Timothy in particular regards the Jewish scriptures as inspired/God-breathed and authoritative for life and practice. Titus shows some conflict with Jewish themes (“Jewish myths,” “quarrels relating to the Law,” “those of the circumcision”). However, Dunn suggests that a conflict between Titus’ community and the local synagogue might be the best explanation for these markers.

 

The Rest of the New Testament

Hebrews – It is hardly necessary to argue for the Jewish character in Hebrew, as it is plainly obvious with its nearly forty references and quotations from the OT/LXX. It arguably regards Jesus as the expression of Lady Wisdom in its opening verses. It depicts Jesus as one who is superior to the angels with an argument built on Jewish references. It possessed an clear interest in the priesthood, sacrifices, the Sabbath rest, the holy of holies, the sanctuary, and the elusive Melchizedek. Chapter 11 of Hebrews paints many of the famous figures from the Old Testament (and come from the intertestimental period) as heroes of faith. Hebrews, overall, is arguably one of the most Jewish text in the NT.

James – Dunn summarizes his arguments from Beginning from Jerusalem where James is depicted as an anthology of Jewish wisdom tradition. Particularly, the Book of Proverbs serves as the foundation for the thought and theme of James. A positive attitude towards the Jewish Law is maintained throughout James. Those who cherished the Book of James certainly valued its Jewish heritage.

1 Peter – Although 1 Peter is written to Gentile believers in the eastern part of the Roman empire, it nevertheless regards the identity of its recipients as ‘Jewish identity.’ It makes a strong claim that Christ is the fulfillment of Israel’s prophecies (1:10-11) and scatters  a variety of allusions to the Torah, Prophets, and Writings in all five of its chapters.

Jude – All of Jude’s warnings are based upon the foundation of particular Jewish warnings, with over a dozen examples cited by Dunn. Furthermore, Jude was certainly influenced by 1 Enoch (seven references noted by Dunn). Jude also makes the claim that he is the brother of James, the former head of the Jerusalem Church.

2 Peter – Dunn follows the majority of scholars in seeing 2 Peter as dependent upon Jude. This means that it carries with it Jude’s Jewish character. Furthermore, 2 Peter chapter three exhibits a thoroughly-Jewish farewell speech, drawing upon Isa. 65. It is also, apart from the Synoptics, the only reference to Jesus’ transfiguration vision.

Johannine Writings – The stress on Jewish themes is quieter in these three documents. There is an insistence on confessing Jesus as ‘the Christ.’ Christ, as a title, is still expressed in these late documents. Jesus is also remembered as “the righteous one.”

Revelation – Like Matthew and Hebrews, the Book of Revelation hardly needs to be argued for its Jewish character. It draws heavily on Ezekiel and Daniel, particularly for its christological expressions of the risen and exalted Jesus.  Jesus is further described as the Lion from the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, and the Lamb. Dunn interestingly regards Revelation as “a new Ezekiel” in light of its indebtedness to its visions and symbols.

 

After reading Dunn’s summary I was surprised at the measure of continuity between the Jewish/Hebrew Bible and the NT writings. I always had a strong feeling of connection between the testaments, but Dunn demonstrates that it is stronger than I had originally appreciated. Dunn offers the following summary of his inquiry into the Jewishness of the NT documents:

The core founding documents of what became catholic Christianity were also Jewish through and through, deeply rooted in Jewish scriptures, faith and ethics, so much so that it is not inaccurate to describe mainstream Christianity as directly continuous with Second Temple Judaism, and catholic Christianity itself as Jewish Christianity, since the Jewish character of Christianity in integral to its identity.

What do you think of Dunn’s assessment regarding how Jewish the NT documents were? Be sure to ‘Like,’ share, and subscribe for further updates. Have a safe and happy New Years.

Book Review (part 15: The Oral Jesus Traditions within the Second Century CE) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

In this fifteenth post regarding my recap/review of James Dunn’s volume Neither Jew nor Greek I will attempt to summarize his 100+ page (!) research regarding how the second century Christians sources handled the oral traditions about Jesus. Needless to say, many of the finer details will have to pass in favor of a more general overview of what each writer had at their disposal, whether it be written documents, sayings committed to memory, or shorthand summaries of memorized verses. If you want the summary, scroll down to the TL;DR section.

churchfathersOne thing which I found interesting in this chapter was Dunn’s insistence that readers not immediately assume that just because a second century CE Christians uses Scripture (as we understand ‘Scripture’ today) that we too quickly assume that they had a document at their disposal. As we witnessed with the second century document Gospel of Thomas, the traditions of Jesus continued to be passed on orally even after the writing of the four NT Gospels. Could it be that even second century Christians continued to value oral transmissions of Jesus traditions? At what point did the written documents (Gospels) take priority over orally transmitted data regarding Jesus? Dunn seeks to answer these questions with a massive study which includes the Apostolic Fathers, early Apologists, and Gnostic writings.

 

The Apostolic Fathers

1 Clement – Two passages in particular (13.2 and 46.8) contain quotes of Jesus’ words, both with introductions, “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, for he said…”. After comparing the seven saying of Jesus in 13.2 Dunn notes that there is hardly any hard evidence which indicates literary dependence upon Matthew, Mark, or Luke. Rather, these sayings were collected and adapted for a particular teaching emphasis/theme. The same can be said of 46.8, where the variations of 1 Clement’s words when compared to the Greek text of the Synoptics indicates that no direct literary dependence is taking place. Rather, Clement is drawing from a range of teachings available to him to serve his paraenetic purposes (Clement never refers to a written Gospel and likely does not possess a copy of any of the four NT versions).

Ignatius – Within the seven letters of Ignatius we can observe a few allusions to Jesus material (Dunn examines six examples). Each of the examples sampled from among Ignatius’s letters are attributed to quotations from memory rather than to copying from a written text. It could be that the various quotes were from certain Jesus sayings which were circulating orally. We should, however, remember that these documents were written on the road to Ignatius’s martyrdom, and it is hardly likely that he would have had in his possession the actual copies of the four Gospels during his Roman custody.

Polycarp – Dunn focuses on Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians which introduces Jesus tradition with the formulaic “the Lord said when he taught.” Polycarp seems to have had access to the Lord’s Prayer, although the nature of this saying indicates that it would have likely been transmitted orally in liturgical settings. So when Polycarp seems to cite this prayer or parts of it) in Phil. 6.2 it seems that there is no literary dependence, per se. Chapter 7.1-2 seems to demonstrate an awareness of the Johannine corpus, but in the end it does not seem like Polycarp drew these references upon his own reading of John’s Gospel. In sum, Dunn suggests that the strong influence of Matthaean and Johannine traditions within the letters of Polycarp are most likely to be attributed to the influence of these Evangelists within Asia Minor, but not necessarily indicating that the actual literary documents were being cited.

Didache – The author of this document owes a great deal of its material to Matthew’s Gospel, as it easily observed with simply a casual reading. More specifically, Dunn notes that the Q material is particularly parallel (both in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain). The sequence of the citations, which do not follow Matthew’s own ordering, suggests a lack of close literary dependence. Some of the Jesus traditions seem to have undergone an expansion (Did. 1.4-6; cf. 1 Pet. 2:11). It is often noted that the longer baptismal formula, which includes the reference to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is included in the Didache. Nevertheless, the nature of this saying, being one certainly used in some circle of liturgical practice, strongly suggests that it was communicated to the Didachist received it orally rather than from his reading of Matthew’s Gospel. In the end, Dunn argues that the oral Jesus traditions contained within Matthew’s Gospel were an extremely strong influence upon the author of the Didache, particularly based upon the Gospel’s overall popularity with the churches of the eastern Mediterranean.

Barnabas – Sadly, the Epistle of Barnabas cites very few traditions of Jesus. In Barn. 5.9 there is a reference to Jesus not coming “to call the righteous but the sinners,” but Dunn notes that this saying can be observed within a wider spectrum (cf. Gal. 2:14-17 and 1 Tim. 1:15). Chapter 5.12 cites the “When they smite their own shepherd, then the sheep of the flock will perish,” which sounds like Matt. 26:31 and Mark 14:27. However, both of these Evangelists are themselves citing Zech. 13:7, and Dunn suggests that this is most likely what the author of Barnabas is doing. Similarly, Psa. 110:1 is alluded to, but the frequency in which early Christians utilized this passage (being the most cited OT passage in the NT) indicates the likelihood that it was known orally in wider Christian circles. Overall, Dunn summarizes his findings by stating that the story of Jesus’ passion were widely told and retold, and these best explain the Jesus traditions encountered within Barnabas (rather than his dependence upon literary documents).

The Shepherd of Hermas – Somewhat disappointing, The Shepherd makes no explicit reference to any of the NT Gospels (or any of Paul’s letters for that matter). Within the Similitudes and the Mandates are some allusions to Jesus traditions, but Dunn suggests that these are best explained as examples of how language and themes have become a part of the regular vocabulary and motifs used by early Christian teachers.

2 Clement – This document, written by a pseudonymous author, regularly begins citations of Jesus traditions with introductory phrases like, “The scripture says,” or, “The Lord says.” Dunn analyzes nine references to Jesus material found within the Synoptic Gospels and notes that there are significant variances which warrant an assessment of the author utilizing orally transmitted sayings and teachings. 2 Clement 12.2 even cites the Gospel of Thomas 22.1-5, although this too is attributed to an oral allusion rather than to literary dependence. Dunn wonders if the pseudonymous author is attempting to rescue (what he felt were) the saying in Thomas from its Gnostic context and interpretation. Dunn notes that 2 Clement 9:5, which argues that Jesus was first spirit and then became flesh, is hardly a citation from John 1:14 in literary form. Rather, it seems that it was the author’s own reflection on what that passage said to him.

Papias  – Papias is an interesting subject. His writings only survive in fragments recorded by Eusebius. However, Dunn was able to draw out of the Papias material a lot of interesting observations which helped his initial inquiry. First of all, Papias mentions oral traditions of Jesus which continued to circulate, calling them “unwritten tradition.” Secondly, Papias himself mentions that “he received the words of the apostles from those who had associated with them,” indicating a three-stage link of apostles, companions, and then Papias. Thirdly, Dunn notes the subtle but important difference between how Papias mentions that the apostles “said” (aorist active) and how Ariston and the elder John “were saying” (present active). This indicates that Papias never met or heard the apostles. Fourthly, Papias names seven of the twelve apostles as those from whom authentic Jesus material had been transmitted (including the lesser-known Andrew, Philip, and Thomas). Fifthly, Papias distinguishes between “what came from the books” and “what came from a living and abiding voice.” Dunn also notes that Papias was surely aware of other teachings, i.e., competitors to what he felt were authentic teachings of Jesus. After surveying all of the data, Dunn suggests that Papias was aware of all four of the NT Gospels and regarded them as providing authentic records of Jesus’ teachings.

 

The Apologists

Aristides – Aristides’s apology to the emperor Hadrian alludes to the “writings of the Christians” (16.1), but sadly says very little of value for Dunn’s inquiry. Echoes of Matt. 13:44 and John 19:37 can be discerned from the document, but these are likely due to the influence of Matthew and John rather than to literary dependence.

Justin Martyr –  Justin clearly is aware of the Gospel in written form. All three of the Synoptic Gospels are clearly alluded to, with strong ties with Matthew and Luke in particular. Of interesting note, Dunn observes that Justin nowhere quotes explicitly from the Gospel of John. One of the most interesting allusions appears in 1 Apol. 61.4 which draws upon John 3:3, 5. Here Justin writes, “Unless you have been born again you shall by no means enter the kingdom of heaven,” while John’s Gospel uses “kingdom of God” instead. This seems to indicate a loose level of quoting significant Jesus material, rather than positing that John 3:3 possesses a significant textual variant upon which Justin is citing.

Tatian – In his Address to the Greeks Tatian alludes to a few of the Jesus traditions. He seems to be aware of passages from John’s Gospel and perhaps a small allusion to Matt. 13:44. More helpful is Tatian’s Diatessaron which weaves together all four of the NT Gospels accounts (including material from John chapter 21). This document indicates that by the middle of the second century (in Rome at least) the four Gospels were well-known and understood as authoritative documents for faith and practice. Obviously, Tatian demonstrates literary dependence upon all four documents.

Athenagoras – Dunn cites four examples within the Plea to demonstrate that Athenagoras drew upon the Synoptic Gospels in a manner which indicates direct literary influence. Furthermore, the treatise On the Resurrection bears resemblance of much of the christological teachings contained within the Gospel of John. These, however, are not quotations but rather strongly influential allusions from oral teachings. Dunn makes a comment noting how this apologist was regarded as a mainstream teacher of second-century Christianity (despite not possessing an actual copy of John’s Gospel).

Theophilus of Antioch – Theophilus clearly demonstrates literary dependence upon Matthew and John. In particular, he introduces teachings of Jesus about ‘chastity’ and ‘responses to persecution’ with introductions such as, “the voice of the Gospel,” and, “the Gospel says…” etc. Of further interest is Jerome’s report that Theophilus composed his own version of a harmony of the Gospels, described as “one work…the words of the four Evangelists” (Ep. 121.6.15). This indicates that he possessed all four Gospels and regarded only those four as authoritative.

Melito of Sardis – Unfortunately, Melito does not say much in regard to the teachings of Jesus. His few faint allusions to Matthew, Mark, and John are best described as shared teachings rather than evidence of any sort of literary dependence. Melito is, however, aware of the passion narrative of Jesus and a few of Jesus’ miracles.

Irenaeus – By the end of the second century CE there seems to be a significant shift with the works of Irenaeus. He committed himself to the four NT Gospels and no other Gospel. His exegesis indicates his awareness and careful study of the documents, strongly suggesting that he possessed them personally. He not only quotes them but expounds upon them (particularly Matthew’s Gospel). He furthermore indicates how the Valentinians “gather their views from other sources than the scriptures” (Adv. Haer. 1.8.1).

In his summary of the Apologists, Dunn notes the trend from oral teachings of Jesus to written sources possessed by the writers. He also notes that the Gospel of Thomas plays little to no role in their theologies. There seemed to be a stress upon four numerical Gospels as both the correct number of documents for Jesus tradition and as authoritative ‘scripture’ for the Church’s use.

 

Gnostic Gospels

The Dialogue of the Savior – This Gnostic work shows no familiarity with the Synoptic Gospels. It does, however, draw heavily upon the Gospel and John and the Gospel of Thomas. The influence from Thomas, which is considerable, shift the line of thought into a Gnostic-like narrative. Interestingly, Dial. Sav. 57 regards 1 Cor. 2:9 as a saying of Jesus (just as Gospel of Thomas 17 does). This document represents a shift away from the earlier traditions of Jesus (or at least a lack of awareness of them).

Apocryphon of James – This document is interesting. It shows influence from all four Gospels and even the Epistle to the Galatians. None of these allusions can be demonstrated to prove that there was any literary dependence however. They are too remote and are not even cited with any sense of authoritativeness. It does regard itself as a “secret book” which claims to remember what Jesus taught during the 550 days (!) of his resurrection appearances (Apoc. Ja. 1.8-10; 2.8-21). In effect, the unknown writer is admitting openly that his presentation was remote, arguing that its teaching was given secretly to James and Peter (1.10-12).

Gospel of Philip – This document is best characterized as an anthology of miscellaneous sayings, similar to Thomas. It presents an awareness of all four Gospels, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, and 1 Peter. However, these documents are used to further Philip’s own theological agenda, which is Gnostic in character. In fact, Dunn observes a Valentinian form of Gnosticism taught by the Gospel of Philip. This document fails to value the teachings of Jesus as important and does not climax in the death/resurrection of Jesus. Both Dunn and I regard these qualities as means to dismiss this document as a correct representative of the ‘Gospel’ label of genre.

Gospel of Truth – This document echoes the Christian gospel message and even draws upon earlier Jesus traditions of Matthew, Luke, and John. However, the repeated emphasis on knowledge, its talk about enlightening those within a fog, the intended recipients as described as lost in ignorance, and the desire to bring them to a resting-place with the Father all point to a Gnostic theology foreign to the earliest Gospels. In other words, the ‘good news’ presented in the Gospel of Truth is provided as an answer to a “very different analysis of the human condition…”

Gospel of Mary – The embarrassment that a female was the first to witness the resurrected Jesus in John’s Gospel (20:1-18) seems to be the driving force in this document. It attributes the salvation process to this Mary rather than to Andrew and Peter (representatives of early Jerusalem leadership). Gospel of Mary shows knowledge of Jesus traditions within all four Gospels, but its aim is to draw attention away from the ‘good news’ as described by patriarchal mainstream Christian teachings.

Gospel of the Savior – This document demonstrates awareness of Matthew, John, and even the Book of Revelation. In regard to the inquiry regarding the transmission of Jesus traditions this document is quite unhelpful. Its primary aim seems to be the personification of the cross, to which Jesus speaks (“O cross”) with similarities to the Gospel of Peter.

Gospel of Judas – This highly Gnostic work offers little value for the development and transmission of oral Jesus traditions. The Synoptic account of Peter’s confession is alluded to, but is mocked with a parody (making the disciples make the confession instead). The document shows evidence of an elaborate cosmology exhibited from a later stage of Gnostic theology which reveal the true nature to the recipients of Jesus’ teachings (as observed in Gospel of Thomas and Dialogue of the Savior).

Secret Mark –  Although the debate continues in regard to the date and authenticity of this document, it does demonstrate an awareness of the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John. However, it is of little value for Dunn’s inquiry because it provides little information about the Jesus traditions.

 

TL;DR

  1. The Jesus traditions continued to be transmitted orally during the second century, despite the fact that all four Gospels were written in the first century. The written Gospels did not bring the oral Jesus traditions to an end.
  2. The traditions of Matthew’s and John’s Gospels were particularly valued in catechetical, liturgical, and apologetic settings (even without the actual literary documents present).
  3. By the end of the second century CE the oral traditions of Jesus became used less often and were replaced by the testimony of the four written Gospels.
  4. The Gnostic documents relied less on the earliest Jesus traditions and instead valued other sources for their teachings (i.e. Thomas).
  5. Irenaeus regarded the four Gospels as both authoritative and the standards against which other perversions of authentic Jesus traditions were to be measured. Any and all other teachings were deemed as threats (or odd curiosities) to the majority of Christians.

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Book Review (part 14: Gospel of Thomas) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

Fourteen posts on Neither Jew nor Greek? Great googly moogly. Actually, I have been receiving a lot of positive feedback from readers and critics alike. In this post I will summarize/recap the arguments of James Dunn regarding the  so-called Gospel of Thomas found within section 43.2, which followed his lengthy treatment on the Jesus traditions in the Gospel of John.

thomasgospelJust to bring everyone up to speed, Thomas was a document uncovered with the Nag Hammadi cache of Gnostic works in 1945. Thomas in particular contains 114 saying of Jesus, gathered in a seemingly random order. Within the document there is no overarching story like the four NT Gospels, no discussion of miracles/healings, no passion narrative, and no reference to Jesus’ resurrection. Some of the most extreme scholars have posited that Thomas is to be dated earlier than the Synoptics, but this theory has not won over many within the guild.

Dunn begins by noting that some of the sayings (logia) within Thomas sound a lot like the sayings located within Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In fact, it is fascinating that John, which sounds so different from the Synoptics, made it into the NT canon while Thomas, which parallels some of the Synoptic traditions of Jesus, was not included. Dunn turns to answer the question as to whether or not Thomas possesses literary dependence upon one of the previous documents (even the Q document is included into the inquiry). Here is some of the data collected from the book:

thom1

thom2

thom3

Based upon these three examples (Dunn provides seventeen total) it seems that Thomas sounds an awful lot like the Synoptic sayings of Jesus. It even appears that the closeness rivals the approximate similarities between the three different Synoptic Gospels, where Matthew and Luke drew upon Mark and redacted the sayings for their own literary and theological purposes. However, Dunn argues (against S. Gathercole and M. Goodacre) that the variations between Thomas and the Synoptics is best explained as variations of “diverse oral performances of what is basically the same tradition.” He counts 56.2% of the Thomas material as actually paralleling Synoptic traditions. Most of these parallels come from material in Matthew and Luke, suggesting that it was the Q material which strongly influenced the writer of Thomas. 

On the flip side, if 56.2 % of the words in Thomas parallel the Synoptic material then 43.8% of the material sounds nothing like that Jesus exhibited in our earliest accounts. Dunn does observe a handful (eleven) of parallels with John’s Gospel, but in the end he notes that there is no evidence of literary dependence in these examples. Many of the ‘other’ sayings in Thomas deal with Jewish concerns (particularly logia 27.2; 43.2; 52.1-2; 53; 60). There is even a striking reference to James the Just in logia 12, where it notes that “heaven and earth came into existence” for his sake!

thomas-nag-hammadiIn regard to christology in Thomas it seems that Jesus secretly tells Thomas (rather than Peter the leader) that he shares the divine name (logia 13). This statement seems to be marginalizing the leadership and influence of the Petrine traditions (and documents) in favor of those within the ‘Thomas’ collection. Further statements indicate that Jesus is revered in this document not because of his death and resurrection but because he represents the Father completely. On the issue of salvation Thomas regards the realization of one’s true nature as the true redeeming act rather than a change of status involving repentance or accepting Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom of God.  In fact, the overall message one gets from reading Thomas is that the good news is that Jesus descended from the Father’s kingdom to bring secret wisdom which reveals one’s true inner being, and upon acknowledging that ‘truth’ one can ensure a return to that kingdom. This may or may not be understood as a Gnostic teaching, but since it is difficult to summarize Gnosticism based on the many (sometimes conflicting) tenets exhibited in their writings this has caused some scholars to abandon the ‘Thomas = Gnostic’ label. Dunn, however, states that,

if ‘Gnostic’ can properly be used for a widespread spirituality which assumed a basic dualism between spirit and matter, which felt itself to be not at home in and at odds with the world, and which looked for an answer which resolved the paradox of human existence…then Thomas can be described as ‘Gnostic’.

What do you think of Dunn’s analysis of Thomas? Let me know in the comments below. And be sure to subscribe for further updates!

 

Book Review (part 13: The Christology of John’s Prologue) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

the-born-of-jesus-christ-art-2We have finally arrived to what many readers have been eagerly expecting. In this post I will summarize Dunn’s reading of John’s Prologue in regard to its christological contribution (as argued in his newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek). I figured today is as good a day as any to discuss logos theology. Much of what Dunn articulates in this section (ch. 43.1) is an expansion of his explanation in his Christology in the MakingI was pleased that he was able to gather further evidence to clarify and expand upon his initial argument.

Dunn begins by noting that ‘the word of God’ within the minds of religious Jews would have called to mind a variety of nuances. It would have drawn attention to the creative word used in the Genesis creation (Gen. 1:3, 6-7, etc.). The Psalmist picks this up and expressed it in Ps. 33:6. This very word also accomplishes all that God purposes according to Isa. 55:11. In the mind of Greeks the logos denotes the divine reasons permeating the created order. It also was an achievable measure of ‘reason’ to which each person could assent. With this in mind, Dunn correctly notes how both Jews and Greeks would have initially understood the first few verses of John 1:

when John continued, ‘The logos was with God and was God, both sets of listeners would find this unexceptional. For the logos was God’s own thought and utterance. And John’s further claim that ‘All things came into being through (the logos)’ would similarly accord with the presuppositions of most of his audiences.

For Dunn, the logos is not a preexistent Son of God, but rather the very utterance of God with all of its creative and reasonable echoes.

When it comes to John 1:18 Dunn argues that the theme that ‘Jesus reveals the God whom no one has seen’ is further observed in the Father-Son statements like, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9; cf. 8:19 and 12:45). In other words,

Jesus is the self-expression of God.

Additionally, the disputed textual part of John 1:18 regarding the “unique God/Son” is given a lengthy footnote where C.K. Barrett stated in his commentary on John that although monogenes means ‘only of its kind’ when paired with the relationship of the Father then it can hardly mean anything other than only begotten son (and one who is begotten is one who has come into existence).

Dunn’s argument continues by insisting that the Johannine prologue could be more accurately described as Wisdom christology. He cites these parallels and echoes upon which the prologue drew:

  • 1:1 – Wisd. 9:9; Prov. 8:23, 27, 30
  • 1:3 – Prov. 3:19
  • 1:4 – Prov. 8:35; Bar. 4:2
  • 1:5 –  Wisd. 7:29-30
  • 1:11 – Wisd. 9:10; Bar. 3:37; 1 Enoch 42:2
  • 1:14 – Sir. 24:8

To further demonstrate the link between the poetic word and wisdom, Dunn cites Wisd. 9:1-2, “O God…who made all things by your word and by your wisdom you founded humankind.” Furthermore, it is noted that in Jesus,

the creative, revelatory, redemptive Word had come to humankind, that the divine Wisdom had made God known…

The depiction of Jesus as the embodiment of wisdom is not limited to the prologue, as Dunn notes the links between poetic passages describing lady Wisdom (in Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch, Proverbs, and Job) and many other passages in John’s Gospel. In particular, he sees Jesus as the fulfillment of a variety of wisdom sayings in John 1:38-39; 2:6-10; 3:13; 3:16-17; 4:10, 14; 6:30-58; 7:25-36; 8:12-30; 8:58; 10:1-18; 11:17-44; 12:44-50.

Finally, Dunn takes a swipe at those who read the christology of John through the lens of Nicea. This quote deserves to be cited in full,

It is only when the early church’s Logos christology is supplanted by the Son christology of Nicaea, and the Son christology becomes detached from the Logos christology that the issue of personal relationships within the Godhead arises and talk of ‘subordination’ becomes necessary to maintain balance within the by then much-refined monotheism of the Fathers.

Let me know what you think of Dunn’s view of the christology exhibited in John’s Gospel. Subscribe for further updates.

 

 

Book Review (part 12: Matthew’s Five Sources?) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

Festivus greetings to you all. In today’s post I will continue my ongoing recap/review of James Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek by offering what I felt were the highlights of chapter forty-two (entitled “Retelling the Story of Jesus: Mark, Matthew and Luke). This chapter, which is nearly 100 pages in and of itself, contains Dunn’s analysis on how the three Synoptic evangelists used and interpreted the Jesus traditions available to them. What I am going to suggest is that this chapter offers a significant contribution to scholarship pertaining to the (so-called) ‘Synoptic Problem’, which deals with the questions regarding the literary relationships between Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

RS57MiwDuring the twentieth and twenty-first centuries the dominant answer to the Synoptic Problem has been to suggest that Matthew and Luke used Q and Mark as their sources (along with their own source material often labeled ‘M’ and ‘L’ respectively). This is generally called the Two-Source hypothesis (sometimes called the Four-Source hypothesis, which admittedly could be confusing). Dunn offers what I feel is a more nuanced answer to this hypothesis based upon careful observation and almost scrupulous research of even the most minuscule pieces of data.  In this post, I want to point out and comment on Dunn’s proposal regarding the fives sources/collections of Jesus tradition available to Matthew.

In regard to Matthew, Dunn suggests these five categories:

  1. Mark’s Gospel – This is an obvious place to start, as Matthew clearly demonstrates literary dependence upon Mark, often polishing up and redacting Mark for his own literary and theological purposes.
  2. Tradition which Mark had transcribed but which Matthew seems to have known in an independent and somewhat different oral form – This means that Matthew had Mark in front of him for various stories, but Matthew was also aware of the same story in another oral form, and it was this alternative which Matthew chose to put into his Gospel instead of copying Mark (cf. Mark 9:43 and Matt. 5:30).
  3. Written Q tradition – Q is the Greek document containing stories and saying of Jesus which both Matt. and Luke utilized (and this can be observed through literary analysis [cf. the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness in Matt. 4/Luke 4]).
  4. Q material which circulated in oral form – Dunn suggests this option as the most plausible explanation for the divergences between Matthean and Lukan versions (best explained through understandable differences occurred through oral transmissions [cf. both collections of Beatitudes]). 
  5. Tradition unique to Matthew aka ‘M’ – The birth narratives (chs. 1-2) belonging to Matthew come from his own source.

When Dunn comes to describing Luke’s sources, he offers the same five categories of Jesus traditions (replacing ‘Matthew/M’ with Luke/L’, obviously).

I find this argument to be convincing and very exciting for one interested in the composition of the Synoptic traditions. It also is fascinating because it demonstrates that there was a plethora of Jesus traditions being circulated upon which the Evangelists drew upon to bring about their literary documents exhibited in the pages of the New Testament.

What do you all think? Do you find Dunn’s assessment convincing or a load of rubbish? Leave your comments and subscribe for further updates!

 

 

Book Review (part 11: From gospel to Gospel) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

This is the eleventh segment of my recap/review of Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor GreekHaving been distracted with responding to some of the early reviews of my own new book in addition to having to grade final exams/submit grades has placed myblogging on the back burner for awhile, so I apologize about the delays in regard to this ongoing series.

4gospels_writersI have chosen to recap much larger sections of the book (otherwise this will be a two year endeavor).  In this segment I will cover chapter forty-one, which is entitled ‘From gospel to Gospel.’ Dunn begins by reviewing the conclusions established in the first volume of these three-part series, Jesus Remembered. In particular, Dunn notes how it was the impact that Jesus left upon his earliest followers which is the oft-neglected piece of data in explaining the origins of early Christianity. He notes that gospel message preached by the apostles eventually transitioned into the creation and composition of Gospels, i.e., the literary documents recounting the life, teachings, deed, and passion of Jesus Christ.

Dunn observes that the origin of the noun euangelion was derived from the LXX of Isa. 52:7 and 61:1. Paul himself draws upon Isa. 52:7 in Rom. 10.15, and additionally uses the noun to refer to Jesus’ Davidic descent (Rom. 1:1-3; cf. 2 Tim. 2:8), his glory (2 Cor. 4:4), and his death and resurrection. Other evidence, such as Luke’s insistence that Isaiah 61 was used by Jesus to describe his own mission and the natural question which would be posed by those baptized into Christ strongly suggests that the life, teachings, and deeds of Jesus would have been discussed in early Christian circles from an very early stage. Dunn argues that even Paul would have regarded certain aspects of Jesus’ life and mission as integral to the gospel message itself.

The Gospel of Mark seems to be structured around what many scholars have described as a ‘passion narrative with an extended introduction,’ as there are many pointers throughout the story which point forward to Jesus’ death and resurrection. However, Mark 1:1 indicates that the entire message contained within his document is gospel. One note by Dunn is worth citing at this point,

[t]he gospel of Jesus’ passion was the central but not only part of the Gospel of the mission of the Galilean who proclaimed and lived out his message of the kingdom of God.

Matthew and Luke both draw upon Mark for not only his content but also the structure of a passion narrative with an extended introduction. Within the communities associated with Matthew and Luke it seems that Jesus’ teachings was valued as itself ‘gospel’ (and part of their Gospel). Furthermore, the incorporation of Q demonstrates that these teachings of Jesus were valued to the point of assimilating them into the structure already established by Mark (and his depiction of the gospel).

John, which shows no dependence upon any of its Synoptic counterparts, nevertheless appears as a similar passion narrative with an extended introduction. Furthermore, John uses pointers within his narrative to look forward and anticipate Jesus’ passion. Dunn notes that John could have placed the emphasis on aspects such as Jesus’ ability to reveal God and the mysteries of heaven or Jesus bringing the secret meaning of human existence. Others took that approach to John, but he himself chose to stress primarily the execution and resurrection of Jesus (and regularly uses the term “glory” to denotes these two emphases.

By the second century, Justin Martyr and others had already begun to regard the term ‘Gospel’ with the four canonical documents. With this understanding, Justin would be strongly suspicious of any other claims to the title ‘Gospel’ which did not line up with what Mark and co. had established. How this played out in the early church’s rejection of other documents is a question with Dunn plans on returning to address later in the book.

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Book Review (part 10: Noncanonical Gospels) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

scroll-tagsIn this tenth post regarding my summary/recap on James Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek I will attempt to convey his argument regarding the plethora of noncanonical Gospels (section 40.4). These sources could potentially serve as valuable pieces of data for the nature of trajectories within second century Christianity. Before beginning, I want to offer a few reflections on this section and the materials within it.

First of all, it is somewhat anachronistic to group each and every one of the following documents under the label ‘Gospels.’ For one, a ‘Gospel’ is a literary document which modern scholars have identified as resembling ancient Greco-Roman biographies (albeit the Christian biographies attest to the resurrection of Jesus as a distinctive feature not observed in other ancient biographies for obvious reasons). Therefore, documents which do not fit the mold of the established literary genre of Greco-Roman biographies should not be labeled as ‘Gospels,’ strictly speaking. However, since they are already labeled as such by scholars, I will continue to use that terminology, having raised my concerns with the nomenclature. I only raise this concern because there is often an assumption floating around assuming that certain Gospels should have made it into the NT canon, when in fact those documents are not even technically ‘Gospels’ themselves.

Secondly, it is almost impossible to say anything certain regarding issues of authorship, date, and place of origin for most of these documents, other than the fact that we almost certainly do not know the answers to these issues!

Thirdly, it should be recognized that groups of Christians (as they considered themselves) did produce, copy, and use many of these documents within their religious settings. This should be ample evidence to demonstrate that there was never a single line of unaltered theology and praxis passed down unscathed from the apostles to someone like Eusebius or Constantine. As with most history, life was messy and unorganized. An interesting conversation can be had regarding in what ways have modern forms of Christianity reflect Gnostic tendencies, but that is for another time and another post.

With those points on the table, I will begin to recap the various noncanonical Gospels presented within section 40.4:

 

Three (?) Jewish-Christian Gospels (Gospel According to the Hebrews, Nazareans, and Ebionites

-Dunn asks whether these documents were actually three separate works or perhaps different ways of indicating one or two Gospels

-We only know about these works due to judgmental labels and a few quotations from the Church Fathers, all of whom disregarded these works

-Likely appeared in the first half or middle of the second century

-Likely one or more of these works drew upon Matthew’s Gospel

 

Gospel of Thomas

-Discovered with the rest of the Gnostic Nag Hammadi collection in 1945-46

-This document is a collection of 114 saying, having no narrative like the four canonical Gospels

-The copy extracted from the Nag Hammadi library was written in Coptic, but shows signs of being translated from Greek

-Likely written in eastern Syria, perhaps in Edessa

-Dunn argues that Thomas might have originally been penned in Syriac before moving to a Greek form

-Dunn also does not discount the likelihood that many of these sayings were transmitted orally in a variety of wordings

 

Gospel of Truth

-The title is taken from its opening line (“the gospel of truth is joy”)

-GoT was also found among the Nag Hammadi cache

-Its contents reflect Valentinian theology, with some arguing that Valentinius himself was the author

-If this is the same GoT spoken of by Irenaeus then it can be dated between 150-180 CE, having originated from Rome

 

Gospel of Philip

-Another Gnostic work from the Nag Hammadi collection

-Also reflection Valentinian influence

-Was named after Philip because his name is the only named apostle within the document

-Perhaps dated to the third century, but likely drawing upon earlier sources

 

Gospel of the Egyptians

-Cited twice by Clement of Alexandria

-Clement’s knowledge suggests that GoE was circulating in Egypt in the late second century CE

-Likely of limited historical value

 

Gospel of Mary

-This Mary is Mary Magdalene

-A Coptic version was discovered in 1896 with two further fragments discovered later

-These later two versions can be dated to the early third century CE, suggesting that the GoM was penned in Greek sometime in the second century

-No distinct Gnostic tendencies

 

Gospel of Judas

-Not included among the Nag Hammadi library

-Mentioned by Irenaeus and Epiphanius

-The text was not discovered until the 1970s and ultimately published in 2006 (with more hype that Michael Jordan’s return to basketball)

No Captions Received

I’ll offer a continuation of my recap on Dunn’s section regarding noncanonical Gospels in the following blog post. Stay tuned or subscribe for more updates!

 

 

Book Review (part 9: From Christian Apologists to Heresiologists) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

heresiologistThis is the ninth installment of my continuing recap/summary over James Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek. In this section I will cover his section entitled ‘Eusebius and the Heresiologists’ (40.3). Dunn offers this section in part due to the fact that the Christian movement begins to see a change from a plethora of apologists to a group of heresiologists (‘heresy scribes/hunters’). This particular time period is “a decisive tipping point in Christianity’s history and the point at which this study concludes.” Dunn also carefully notes that the relaibility of historical information on these six figures is shaky and often uncertain at points, but they do shed some light on what was taking place during the second century CE. In this post I will follow Dunn’s order of the six figured covered, which also follow a chronological ordering.

 

Hegesippus

-Eusebius notes that Hegesippus belongs in the generation after the apostles (HE 2.23.3)

-A Jewish convert

-Wrote five treatises

-Discusses a variety of heresies, some of which he attributes to arguments over the successors in the Jerusalem church after the death of James (HE 4.22.3-6)

 

Irenaeus

-Dunn indicates that Irenaeus could be categorized as the last of the apologists, but his most significant literary contribution was the five books Against Heresies

-Lived fully within the second century CE (c. 130-200)

-Bridged the gap between the east and the west, having grown up in Smyrna but eventually serving as bishop of Lyons in 178 CE

-Argued against a variety of forms of Gnosticism, particularly belonging to Valentinius

-Argued that there should only be four Gospels

 

Tertullian

-Born around 160 and raised in Carthage

-Converted to Christianity some time before 197 CE

-Polemizes all heresy

-Regards the true church as evidently the result of successions of episcopal leaders who alone possess the authority to interpret Scripture

-Penned five books against Marcion

-Leaned toward Montanism, resulting in a hit to his reputation

 

Hippolytus

-Lived from around 170-236 CE

-Was an active teacher in Rome in the early third century CE

-His primary writing was Refutatio Omnium Haeresium (‘Refutation of All Heresies’)

 

Eusebius

-Served as bishop of Caesarea from c. 260-340 CE

-Was a supporter of Arius (the primary opponent of Nicene christology)

-Likely gave an “unwilling assent” to the Nicene Creed

-His ten volume Ecclesiastical History is significantly faulted by its perspective of the ‘winners’ in the Constantinian settlement

 

Epiphanius

-Served as bishop of Salamis (c. 315-403)

-Noted as an uncritical upholder of the Nicene Creed

-His principle writing Adversus Haereses describes and attempts to refute some eighty religious sects, beginning from Adam on down into his own time

-Argues that Judaism itself is a heresy

-Makes note of the Gospel of the Ebionites and the Gospel according to the Hebrews

 

 

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Book Review (part 8: The Apologists as Sources) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

earlychurchThis post is a continuation of my recap/summary of James Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek. In chapter 40 Dunn is outlining the sources regarding the second century data, an important period for the development of early Christianity. In this section (40.2) the Apologists are identified, many of whom I was not introduced to in my undergraduate and graduate history courses. An ‘apologist’ was someone attempting to give a reasoned defense of their faith (although Dunn is correct to note that Christians were not the first apologists, pointing correctly to the works of Philo). I will attempt to summarize Dunn’s outline of these various sources.

 

Quadratus

-Quadratus is regarded as the first Christian to write an apology

-Eusebius writes that Quadratus addressed a treatise to the emperor Hadrian around 125 CE

-Only part of this document was cited by Eusebius (HE 4.3.2)

-The quote notes how some of the beneficiaries of Jesus’ miracles, particularly his healings and resurrections, have survived to Quadratus’ time

 

Aristides

-Aristides likewise penned an apology to the emperor Hadrian (according to Eusebius HE 4.3.3)

-However, a Syriac translation of Aristides was uncovered in 1889, noting that the apology was written to Caesar Titus Hadrianus Antonius (the adopted son of the former Hadrian)

-Some scholars think that the Syrian translation possibly revised the apology to Antonius from the former recipient, Hadrian

-The document notes how Christians are regarding themselves as a distinct species or genus within the Mediterranean world

 

The Kerygma Petrou

-Preserved in a few fragments by Clement of Alexandria

-Promotes the oneness of God

-Dated to the first three decades of the second century CE

-Clement thought it was an authentic writing of Peter, but it was questioned (rightly) by Origen

 

The Epistle to Diognetus

-No one is really sure who the author is, but this did not stop the early Christians from guessing

-A very polished piece of literature, written with a high standard of rhetoric

-The dating is unsure, but somewhere in the second century is as far as as Dunn is willing to venture a guess

 

Justin Martyr (someone should start a blog with a pun of this guy here)

-The most significant of the second-century apologists

-Justin is from Samaria

-Enjoyed the writings of Plato

-Justin functioned as a philosopher first and as a Christian second

-There are conflicting reports of Justin’s death

-Wrote two apologies, the first around the year 155 and the second around 161

-Wrote a mock dialogue with a fictional Jew names Trypho, although the material for the document certainly represents some of the attitudes between Jews and Christians during that time

-Parts of Justin’s writings include what scholars now identify as spurious letters reportedly written by Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius

 

Tatian

-A disciple of Justin (converted in Rome)

-Irenaeus, however, calls Tatian a false teacher (adv. Haer. 1.28.1)

-Wrote his Address to the Greeks  between 155-165

-Tatian further develops the ‘Logos theology’ which he inherited from Justin

-His Diatessaron was a harmony of the four Gospels into one document

-This document was the standard Gospel text in Syriac-speaking churches till the fifth century

 

Apollinarius

-Bishop of Hierapolis

-Wrote his apology around 176, addressed to the emperor Marcus Aurelius

-Eusebius remarks that Apollinarius battled against the Montanists

-None of Apollinarius’ writings have survived, unfortunately

 

Athenagoras

-Wrote his Plea for the Christians to Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus around 176-177maxresdefault

-His writings demonstrate the nature of persecution suffered by Christians in his time

-Also wrote an extensive treatise On the Resurrection, arguing against the perspectives of Greek thoughts on immortality

-Eusebius, interestingly, does not mention Athenagoras

 

Theophilus of Antioch

-Bishop of Antioch

-Served from 170 to the early 180s

-Eusebius notes that Theophilus wrote against Marcion, but it is his apology to Autolycus which survives to this day

-The first Christian to use the word ‘trinity’ in his writings, but he defines is as God, his Word, and his Wisdom (something modern Trinitarians would dispute)

 

Melito of Sardis

-Bishop of Sardis

-Wrote his Peri Pascha around the third quarter of the second century

-Wrote that Christ ‘is by nature both God and man’

-Regards Christ as the one who cared for Israel in the wilderness

-Possessed no discernible ‘Logos’ theology

-Some scholars regard Melito as a naive docetic.

 

 

What do you guys think? Anything interesting about the various apologists of the second century CE? I know I learned a thing or two about the various expressions of Christianity during this period, and have even become acquainted with some new faces.

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Book Review (part 7: Apostolic Fathers of the Second Century CE) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

4797-church_fathers_kievan_11thcentury_LANDSCAPE.630w.tnIn my seventh review/recap of James Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek I will summarize his second covering the second centuries sources available for historians to observe the trajectories of the development of the early Christian movement. I will be covering chapter 40.1 in this post.

Dunn begins with the Apostolic Fathers of the second century CE. He notes that the list of sources has actually grown since over the last 150 years with the discovery of such documents as the Didache in 1873. I will strive to summarize his comments on each of the works that he covers in this section.

 

1 Clement

-Predates some of the latest NT documents, having been written around 95-95 CE.

-Written from Rome to Corinth

-Addresses the need for the younger believers in Corinth to listen to and obey their leaders, further opening the window of history to the factional nature of the Corinthian congregation

 

Ignatius

-Bishop of Syria, thus allowing us to observe the form of Christianity in that region (particularly Antioch) during the reign of Trajan (98-117)

-We possess seven authentic letters of Ignatius, but five more were written in his name and circulated in the medieval period (demonstrating that pseudonymous writing was active even among the Church Fathers)

-His letters were collected by Polycarp and circulated as a collection in the second century

-Died as a martyr

-Regularly calls Jesus “our God” and “God in the flesh”

-Dunn wonders if Ignatius might be the most effective spokesman for a particular faction within developing Christianity

 

Polycarp

-Bishop of Smyrna

-Died as a martyr, whose account is filled with some legendary material involving the nature of his suffering and death

-Died in the year 155 CE when he was 86 year old

-According to Irenaeus, Polycarp provided a first-hand link back to the apostle John

-His epistle to the Philippians is likely to be dated in the 110s

 

The Martyrdom of Polycap

-Written by a follower/disciple of Polycarp

-Indicates how Polycarp refused to make a sacrifice to Caesar and swear by his name, leading to his execution

-Dated to probably a year after Polycap’s martyrdom (156 CE)

 

The Didache 

-Discovered in 1873

-The text itself may not be complete

-Shows dependence upon Matthew’s Gospel

-Appears to be a manual of church tradition and order, of sorts

-In its present form it was composed in either Egypt and Syria, with Dunn leaning towards Syria

-Dated to between 100-120

 

The Epistle of Barnabas

-An anonymous text, later attributed to Barnabas because Acts calls him a Levite (and the epistle shows interest in Levitical regulations)

-Probably to be dated right before the second Jewish revolt (130-131)

-Likely originated in Alexandria due to its close literary ties with Philo and the Letter to Aristeas

 

The Shepherd of Hermas

-A lengthy document, containing five visions, twelve mandates, and ten parables

-Communicated to Hermas by an angel

-Dealing with the problem of postbaptismal sins, to which Hermas concludes that forgiveness was possible, but only once

-Based on the manuscript remains, this document was copied and read more widely in the second and third centuries than any other noncanonical book, even more than some of the actual NT documents themselves (!)

-Likely written over the course of some time (130-150 CE)

 

2 Clement

-A homily intended to be read in Christian worship settings

-Not really written by the Clement of 1 Clement

-Likely preserved along with 1 Clement in Corinth

-Eusebius notes that 2 Clement was neither widely recognized nor widely used

-Dated to around 140 CE

 

Papias

-Bishop of Hirapolis in Asia Minor

-Irenaeus knows Papias as the hearer of John and companion of Polycarp

-Wrote his Expositions of the Sayingd of the Lord in 130 CE

-His work survives through quotations in Eusebius

 

The Odes of Solomon

-The first Christian Hymnbook, of sorts

-Note written by Solomon, obviously

-All forty-two Odes were discovered in 1909, written in Syriac

-Written in the first quarter of the second century

 

 

 

 

Book Review (part 6: Late NT Documents) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

codex-sinaiticusIn this sixth post regarding my recap and thoughts on Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek I will attempt to summarize the discussion pertaining to the last of the NT documents (§39.3b-h). In this section Dunn offers his take on the introductory issues regarding the Pastorals, Hebrews, Jude, 2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Revelation. One of the refreshing feelings I walked away with after reading his comments on these document is the openness Dunn willingly admits in that some questions we just do not have enough evidence to answer with certainty (and that is OK). Too often teachers and interpreters of the Bible offer hard-pressed answers when there is not enough data to facilitate such a response. Anyway, here is where Dunn comes down on these various documents:

The Pastoral Letters

Authorship: pseudonymous, based upon language, style, historical circumstances, the share opposition to the communities, the increasing institutionalization, and the crystallization of the faith into set forms.

Purpose: to ensure that the enduring structure of Paul’s churches were cherished and passed down to the next generation of believers. Dunn notes that it is not impossible that the Pastorals were written to the historical Timothy and Titus.

Date: 80-100 CE.

 

Hebrews 

Authorship: unknown, but someone strongly influenced by the Hellenistic Jewish world.

Purpose: also unknown. The reference to greetings sent from those from Italy (Heb 13:24) could indicate that it was written in Rome. Furthermore, the note that “Timothy had been set free from prison” could equally indicate that it was penned in Ephesus.  Dunn notes how the repeated emphasis on the believer’s ‘conscience’ indicates a function of strengthening the resolves of a community with the temptation of giving up/falling away.

Date: in the 80s. The fact that Hebrews speaks of the ongoing actions of the temple and its rituals is not a strong indicator of a pre-70 CE date, as even Josephus continued to speak in this manner clearly after the temple’s destruction.

 

Jude

Authorship: probably pseudonymous, perhaps representing the teachings which were known to have come from Jude. The author clearly has a knowledge of the Hebrew text rather than the LXX, suggesting a Palestinian author.

Purpose: to distribute this sermon of sorts within Palestine, with the possibility that the author is grappling with the Pauline heritage.

Date: late in the first century in light of the following: its apocalyptic character, the reference to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints,” the reference to the apostles in retrospect (Jude 1:17), the possibility of libertine Gnostics as the opponents, and the lack of teaching within the document. Jude must have been written prior to 2 Peter for reasons which Dunn will soon discuss.

 

2 Peter 

Authorship: Dunn thinks this document is pseudonymous as well, noting how 2 Peter seems to have used Jude as a source (similarly to Matthew’s use of Mark and Ephesians’ use of Colossians). For support of his conclusions, he uses this chart:

jude2pet jude2peter2Since 2 Peter draws upon Jude (which itself is later than Peter’s supposed date of martyrdom) then 2 Peter must have been penned by a pseudonymous author.

Purpose: unknown, and the nature of the opponents’ identity is difficult to perceive with any measure of certainty.

Date: early second century, due in part to: the concern over the delay of the parousia and the acknowledgement that Paul’s letters are recognized Scripture.

 

1-3 John

Authorship: within the Johannine school/community. 1 John makes no claim in regard to its author, while 2 and 3 John  claim to be written by “the Elder” (perhaps another John within the Apostle John’s community).

Purpose: to address schisms within the community (likely in Ephesus), which is different from the Fourth Gospel’s issue regarding how the community is to deal with the local synagogue down the street.

Date: end of first century or even beginning of the second century CE.

 

Revelation

Authorship: a Jewish prophet named John (who never claims to be the Apostle).

Purpose: to encourages believers within the seven named churches in Asia Minor to endure the social and political pressure to participate in the imperial cult. Dunn also identifies the beast with seven heads and ten horns with Roman imperial power (along with the reference to Babylon in ch. 18).

Date: in the 90s CE, although he does footnote a discussion that some scholars are now suggesting that the book could possibly be later than that.

 

In sum, Dunn seems to follow the consensus of modern critical NT scholars, carefully noting when there is not enough information to give a strong answer. He does not suggest anything too radical at this point, thus allowing his readers who are familiar with modern scholarly conclusions on these issues regarding the NT writings to follow his train of thought with relative ease.

What do you all think? Any comments in regard to Dunn’s reconstructions?

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Book Review (part 5: Pseudepigraphy) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

Pseudepigraph-hpThis is the fifth installment of my recap/review of Dunn’s newest volume, Neither Jew nor GreekAfter finishing up his discussion on introductory issues regarding the four Canonical Gospels, Dunn turns to the remaining NT writings. Prior to an examination of those works, he offers a healthy and balanced discussion regarding the issue of pseudepigraphy in the NT [as a reminder, the following discussion deals with Dunn’s thoughts on the issue]. Dunn openly admits that the presence of pseudepigraphy within the NT poses a moral and a theological problem for the notion of an authoritative canon. However, he points to the large consensus within NT scholarship which currently (as of 2015) maintains that Ephesians, the Pastorals, and 2 Peter are pseudepigraphic. What follows is a summary of the various ways in which scholarship has attempted to understand the conflicting ideas of these writings within the NT:

Option one: ‘Writers in antiquity did not share our modern understanding of copyright.’ Earlier scholars used to trot this argument out, attempting to demonstrate that the understanding of intellectual ownership was different back then when compared to how we view it today. Unfortunately, the work of W. Speyer has pointed out that a manner of ownership was indeed recognized before the 1st century CE with the development of Greek culture. Passages like 2 Thes. 2:2 and Rev. 22:18 are suggested as evidence of this awareness within the pages of the NT itself.

Option two: ‘Pseudepigraphay was widely recognized as an acceptable literary device in the ancient world.’ Dunn notes that there is indeed evidence of this practice having merit with some readers, both pagan and Christian. However, he draws a distinction between not intending to deceive and the intent to deceive (and it seems that some ancients were well aware of the latter). This option seems to be the least helpful.

Option three: ‘Pseudepigraphy was acceptable when it embodied the writer’s claim to some link with the original author.’ This is an intriguing nuance to the first two options. Dunn notes that it was possible that ‘inspired’ persons could speak as the “I” of the one who inspired/possessed them in a manner which was acceptable. If this was the case, could not the authors have claimed that the Holy Spirit was influencing them in their act of pseudonymity, thus claiming authority? Dunn answers in the negative, noting that early Christianity would then be open to the charge of false prophecy. He also considers it highly questionable that this practice would actually work with the letter genre.

Option four: ‘The content of the writing was deemed as more important than its authorship.’ This argument ignores the early Church’s concern for apostolic authority and downplays the value placed upon eyewitness testimony. It would be strange to suggest that early Christians did not value authorship, as the attempts over the centuries to correctly identify the author of Hebrews prove the point.

Option five: ‘Tradition has accrued to a prominent historical figure, expanding the original oral/literary deposit by attributing further material to the original author.’ This was the primary argument by D.G.Meade in 1986. Dunn notes how Meade argued for this process within the biblical Pentateuch, Isaiah, the Solomonic corpus, Daniel, and in the Enoch traditions. He outlines this model with three shared characteristics: (1) a revered figure of the past; (2) the elaboration of that figure’s material with an acknowledged continuity; and (3) the new connection was not too distant, tenuous, or wooden. In other words, the overall motivation was to make present, contemporize, or renewedly actualize the already authoritative Petrine and Pauline traditions for the following generations.

Dunn eventually is persuaded with option five, remarking that “the developed tradition would have been recognized as sharing in the authority of the tradition’s originator and would have been accepted as also authoritative under his name.”

 

Whether readers of the Bible come to accept the notion of pseudonymity within the NT or not, it is important to honestly wrestle with the text on its own terms, as a collection of writings composed in the late first-early second centuries CE (when pseudonymous writings were aplenty).

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Book Review (part 4) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

In this fourth installment of my review/recap of James Dunn’s Neither Jew nor Greek we will continue his outline of the primary sources from which early Christianity sprung. In the last post, I focused on Dunn’s discussion which he began regarding the four Canonical Gospels. In this post, I will recap the remaining three Gospels: Luke, Matthew, and John (§39.2b-d).

2-apostlesDunn turns to Luke’s Gospel, hypothesizing that Luke might indeed have been written before Matthew (which was the ‘golden child’ Gospel among the 2nd century Christians). Luke is the first of an intended two-volume series; Luke-Acts. Despite some dissenters, the most persuasive opinion regarding the “us/we” texts in Acts suggests that Luke personally was a travelling companion of the Apostle Paul. None of the alternative proposals for these texts have provided a better answer than identifying Luke as the narrator himself. The same use of the first person is also observed in Acts 1:3 (“I too decided…”). Dunn cites p75, Irenaeus, the Muratonian fragment, and the anti-Marcionite prologue of Luke as early evidence regarding the attachment of Luke’s name to the third Gospel. The recipient of Luke-Acts, Theophilus, seems to be a Greek-speaking patron for the two documents who likely intended to distribute them wider than simply for his own use. Regarding the dating of Luke, Dunn points again to the Olivet Discourse (Luke 21:24) as a perspective of retrospect upon the Jerusalem temple’s destruction. Since Luke is the first of two volumes and Acts has been dated between 80-90 CE, the Gospel was written slightly before that time range. Dunn suggests that Luke would have gathered a significant amount of Jesus material/oral teachings during his travels with Paul and during his two year period involving the Apostle’s Roman imprisonment. We can be confident that Luke writes as an individual with wider cosmopolitan interests and experiences (cf. esp. the purpose statement in Acts 1:8). Regarding introductory issues of Luke’s Gospel, Dunn basically tows the modern critical party line.

Matthew’s Gospel, like Mark’s, is anonymous. After a lengthy discussion about the statement from Papias, Dunn concludes that he either was mistaken or that he attributed the Gospel of Matthew unfairly. The author of this Gospel is certainly Jewish, either Jewish Christian or a Hellenistic Jewish Christian. Dunn observes that Matthew 9:9 redacts Mark 2:14 to change “Levi” into “Matthew.” A similar shift occurs in Matt. 10:3 where the author adds to the list of names of the Twelve that Matthew was “the tax-collector.” The Gospel came to be linked with the title ‘Gospel According to Matthew’ from a very early stage, thus making it the first Gospel to attribute its authorship to an authoritative apostle. However, if this was simply a forged attempt to assign apostolic authenticity, why not choose Peter, the most qualified and highest-ranking apostle? The best explanation of all of this data, according to Dunn, is the suggestion that Matthew indeed was the author (or a close disciple of Matthew desiring to honor his/her teacher, Matthew). The dating of this Gospel is similar to the situation surrounding Luke in that both of these Gospels used Mark as a source, and thus is to be dated later than Mark. Similarly, internal evidence seems to point to an awareness of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple (Matt. 22:7), Dunn suggests. Furthermore, it is possible to read Matthew’s version of the Olivet Discourse, which seems to equate the destruction of the temple with the end of the age, as an indicator that the document was not written too far after 70 CE. Dunn ends up concluding that Matthew 24 actually offers little help when it comes to dating. After considering the dissolution of the Essene and Sadducean sects from the temple’s destruction, Dunn rests on a date in the mid-to late 80s CE. Regarding location, he favors a situation in Syria, where the eventual successors of Judaism would have the most influence over and opposition against the followers of Jesus immediately following the destruction of the temple.

The discussion regarding the Fourth Gospel was quite interesting. Dunn finds a way to argue for the conservative authorial position (in principle) with what I think is a persuasive collection of data. This does not take away from what Raymond Brown and others have demonstrated regarding the Johannine Community exhibited in the “we/us/you all” texts. For example, John 21:24 notes how the Johannine Community (henceforth ‘JC’) points to the authority of the disciple who testifies to the events of Jesus’ life. This same disciple is described in 21:20 as the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” The logical implication of 21:23 is that this very disciple had indeed died already, as the editorial remark corrects the misconception that he wouldn’t die. This same beloved disciple is identified as an eyewitness to the death of Jesus in 19:35, a passage worded very similarly to 21:24. Dunn notes that within the Gospel in its final form there is explicit testimony regarding its authorship as an eyewitness and its authority (“his testimony is true”). Since again the title ‘Gospel According to John’ came to be attached to the document quickly, the identity of this ‘John’ most likely falls to John, son of Zebedee, apostle of Jesus. Dunn is very clear to agree with the modern scholarly consensus that “the Gospel as it has come down to us was the final product of a lengthy process of developing tradition and possibly earlier drafts of versions.” Since most scholars regard both Matthew and Luke as similar products of multiple sources, this conclusion of John shouldn’t come as a surprise. The location of its authorship (in its final edition by the JC?) rests in Asia Minor, and Ephesus being the more precise city. Dunn argues that the unanimous and uncontested tradition attested by Eusebius, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Polycrates (bishop of Ephesus) suggests that the most probable conclusion regarding the location is the city of Ephesus. I would also add that Acts independently attests the location of disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus (Acts 18-19), and John’s Gospel shows a considerable amount of interest and dialogue between John the Baptist and Jesus. The dating of John possibly is indicative of such internal evidence as John 11:48 (“the Romans will take away our place and nation”). Dunn regards the three incidents where ‘synagogue-expulsion’ is mentioned as not as weighty in his decision, as they could have been local events. The famous manuscript p52, which contains a small section of John chapter 18, has recently been dated slightly later than formerly suggested, from 125 to around 150 CE. In the end, Dunn concludes that the most popular date for the Fourth Gospel is in the last decade of the first century CE, although he admits that this is tentative with regard to further theses of development.

So far, Dunn has been solid and hasn’t shown any signs of falling off the top of his game. Stay tuned or subscribe for further installments.

Book Review (part 3) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

Mark-LionIn this third installment of my ongoing series of reviews and recaps of Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek: A Contested Identity I will examine the beginning of chapter thirty-nine. This chapter focuses on the first century sources within the NT itself. This post will cover §39.1-2a.

Dunn begins this chapter by citing Helmut Koester‘s remark that in order to reconstruct the historical developments of early Christianity, the student “must learn from the outset to understand the writings of the earliest period within their proper historical context.” This task requires the reader to do his/her homework with a critical and objective perspective. In regard to the number of sources available to a historian of early Christianity, there are many and most of these can be dated to the first century CE. Dunn notes that there are a variety of approaches when it comes to drawing upon these sources for his inquiry. One could easily place them in chronological order or organize them from a geographical standpoint. Dunn, however, chooses to look for broader trends and developments without trying to tie the sources down to particular places or dates. This seems like a wise choice, seeing that it is often difficult to determine precisely the date and location from which these sources were written. We will have to wait until the conclusions to see if this method brings about worthwhile historical fruit.

The first sources which Dunn examines are the Canonical Gospels. He notes that the textual data available to study pertaining to these Gospels is enormous; the fourth century uncials Sinaiaticus (א) and Vaticanus (B), manuscript fragments (some as early as the second century CE), the translations of the Gospels into Latin and Syriac (some as early as the fourth century CE), and quotations by the early Church Fathers (some as early as the second century). Each of these sets of data could be footnoted easily with qualifications to how they should be properly used, such as the need to distinguish an actual direct citation from the early Church Fathers and a mere loose quotation (as a shorthand allusion).

Dunn then begins to examine our earliest Gospel according to the majority of NT specialists: Mark. It is widely acknowledged that Mark was the primary source material for Matthew and Luke’s Gospel. The fact that Mark was used in this manner suggests the possibility that his Gospel was written for an audience in wider circulation rather than for one particular community. The only significant text-critical question regards the ending of Mark, about which most are comfortable concluding that the original Gospel ended with 16.8. Dunn suggests that Mark’s Gospel came to have some form of “Gospel According to Mark” attached to it during the early stages if its circulation (late first century CE). I find it interesting that the earliest written Gospel, which itself is a ‘Christianized’ Greco-Roman biography, was written by someone who was not himself one of the Twelve. Dunn notes that 1 Peter 5:13 links the Apostle Peter to John Mark, and suggests that this might be the key to linking an Apostle to Mark (whose identity is probably the same as the John Mark exhibited in the Book of Acts; Phlm 24; and Col. 4:10). When it comes to questions regarding Mark’s knowledge of Palestinian geography (such as the problem of Mark 7:31), Dunn cites Guelich, Marcus, and Collins as scholars who regard these concerns as exaggerated. When it is all said and done, Dunn  concludes that Mark’s Gospel probably bore the author’s own name from a very early period of circulation in addition to it being regarded as linked with the Apostle Peter.

The chapter then turns to discussing the date of Mark. When one reads typical critical introductions to the NT regarding Mark’s dating, one might wonder what else could be added by such a discussion. I was happy to find that Dunn offers a few interesting perspectives and asks some questions which might allow for some other data to contribute to the discussion. He correctly notes that it is difficult to date Mark in relation to Matthew and Luke (in fact, Matthew and Luke owe their dating to a plausible guess as to when Mark is dated). Dunn moves to the key passage which is most often cited as the most reasonable internal data regarding dating the Gospel: Marks ‘little apocalypse’ in chapter thirteen. This passage records Jesus predicting the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. Dunn carefully notes how Jesus’ prediction as recorded in Mark that “not one stone will be left upon another” could hardly have found fulfillment in 70 CE since the western wall still exists in modern Jerusalem. This could suggest that the prophecy had not found its fullest fulfillment. Either way, more data needs to be examined to ascertain a plausible date. Dunn then notes the Markan editorial comment in Mark 13:14 (“let the reader understand”), a comment certainly not spoken by Jesus. This is Mark’s way to direct the attention of the reader upon this passage and insisting that it requires a critical measure of thinking. Dunn offers a few possibilities as to what Mark 13:14 originally meant. First, he suggests that the earlier crisis involving Caligula (in the 30s CE) in which a statue of the Emperor was placed within the temple. But this does not make sense of Mark’s editorial note, written decades after Caligula’s episode involving the temple. Another option suggested by Dunn is that the bloodthirsty tactics of the Jewish revolutionaries during the Jewish War (66-70) were what desecrated the temple. I personally do not find this persuasive, as Mark offers a masculine perfect participle (“standing”) as the identifier of the neuter Abomination of Desolation in the Greek text. Dunn then suggests that it is not implausible to consider the Gospel as having been written during the wake of the Jewish Revolt, noting how Mark stresses the need for the followers (readers?) of Jesus to endure stress and suffering (Mark 8:34-35; 10:29-30; and esp. 13:9-20). These comments could very well be reflections upon which the dating of the Gospel might rest. In the end, Dunn offers a range between 65-75 CE as a sufficient guess.

Regarding the place of writing, both from where and to whom, Dunn trots out the usual suspects of Rome and Syria. Rome is highlighted as particularly noteworthy due in fact to the various Latinisms in Mark, such as exhibited in Mark 12:42 and 15:16 where the author clarifies the Greek term for coin (lepta) with the appropriate Roman coin (quadrans) and the courtyard of the palace is clarified with the Latin praetorium. However, this may simply reflect knowledge of Latin customs and thus not actually pointing to Rome as the place of authorship. Syria as a possibility is also discussed, pointing to the ‘brigands’ (Greek: lystes) common in the Syrian region, which are also exhibited in Mark’s text (11:17). Josephus too talks about the brigands, using the same Greek word. However, historians possess little to no hard evidence as to what Christian communities in Syria during and slightly after the Jewish Revolt were like, making it difficult to say much with any measure of certainly. Dunn ends up concluding that we cannot say anything with any confidence regarding the location of Mark’s Gospel’s creation. He therefore admits that any theories regarding the location cannot be valued too heavily when considering further questions regarding Mark’s purpose.

Stay tuned and subscribe for further updates on my thoughts of Dunn’s newest volume. Have a blessed day.