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This chapter outlines antislavery readings of the Bible during the 1830s and 1840s, highlighting their implications for historical awareness. It shows how words such as context, circumstance, and accommodation seeped into the readings of figures who demonstrated little interest in or awareness of biblical criticism and suggests that even interpretations that did not privilege historical explication sometimes challenged the assumption of a close correspondence between biblical and modern times. The historicizing process began with the most distant periods in question, the Old Testament eras, before encroaching on the period of the New Testament. As debate rested on the New Testament, a number of antislavery readers argued that Christ and his apostles had planted the seeds of slavery’s abolition, a reading that further highlighted historical distance. The argument that the universal principles would find fulfillment in the future drew attention to the distance between the biblical past and the American present. This contention, which retained faith in sacred texts, held great potential to spread awareness of that distance.
The concept of Israel is central to the development of Judaism and Christianity, but the boundaries of Israel and Israelite identity were the source of significant conflict throughout the Second Temple period. This chapter argues that mapping the concept of Israel in the Second Temple period requires a recursive process that first examines the biblical constructions of Israel and then evaluates how later participants appropriated, performed, and developed thaose traditions. This introduction then outlines how this work aims to accomplish these tasks and concludes with a discussion of the equally difficult term Ioudaios (Jew/Judaean) and its relation to the concept of Israel.
This Companion volume offers a concise and engaging introduction to the New Testament. Including twenty-two especially-commissioned essays, written by an international team of scholars, it examines a range of topics related to the historical and religious contexts in which the contents of the Christian canon emerged. Providing an overview of the critical approaches and methods currently applied to the study of biblical texts, it also includes chapters on each of the writings in the New Testament. The volume serves as an excellent resource for students who have some familiarity with the New Testament and who wish to gain a deeper understanding of the state of academic discussion and debate. Readers will also gain a sense of the new research questions that are emerging from current scholarship.
Having demonstrated a more plausible social context for the gospel writers in the previous chapter, Chapter 4 establishes how many of the features of the gospels traditionally associated with their exceptionalism – for example, anonymity or consulting eyewitnesses – can be understood as evidence of rhetorical strategy and literary influence. By comparing the Synoptic gospels to the Satyrica, in particular, we see how these writings were in dialogue with the literary interests of the age in subjects like funerary meals, crucifixion, resurrection, and so forth.
Chapter 5 argues that the Synoptic gospels can be read as a “subversive biography” in the tradition of similar treatments of notable underdogs like Alexander the Great in the Alexander Romance or the notorious Aesop. Situating the gospels securely within a new genre classification demonstrates their engagement with the literary culture of the imperial period. Thus, specific characteristics of Jesus’ portrayal in the Synoptics need not be a function of oral tradition, but a reflection of the rational interests of elite, imperial writers.
Conventional approaches to the Synoptic gospels argue that the gospel authors acted as literate spokespersons for their religious communities. Whether described as documenting intra-group 'oral traditions' or preserving the collective perspectives of their fellow Christ-followers, these writers are treated as something akin to the Romantic poet speaking for their Volk - a questionable framework inherited from nineteenth-century German Romanticism. In this book, Robyn Faith Walsh argues that the Synoptic gospels were written by elite cultural producers working within a dynamic cadre of literate specialists, including persons who may or may not have been professed Christians. Comparing a range of ancient literature, her ground-breaking study demonstrates that the gospels are creative works produced by educated elites interested in Judean teachings, practices, and paradoxographical subjects in the aftermath of the Jewish War and in dialogue with the literature of their age. Walsh's study thus bridges the artificial divide between research on the Synoptic gospels and Classics.
Scholars have often explained discrepancies in evidence for women's participation in the early church by reference to the gendering of public and private spaces. Public spaces were coded male, and when churches moved into these spaces, women's leadership was disavowed. This article rejects the usefulness of the public/private dichotomy as an explanatory tool, arguing that the modern sense in which these terms are used was anachronistic to the New Testament period. The overlap between public functions and space that the modern concept of the ‘public sphere’ takes for granted did not exist in the ancient world. Public functions often occurred in household spaces, and functions considered private also took place outside homes. For these reasons, scholars should look for new language that better describes the ancient patterns.
In this commentary, Michael Bird and Nijay Gupta situate Paul's letter to the Philippians within the context of his imprisonment as well as the Philippians' situation of suffering and persecution. Paul draws the Philippians' attention to the power and progress of the gospel in spite of difficult circumstances. He also warns them about the dangers of rival Christian groups who preach out of poor motives or have a truncated gospel. Bird and Gupta unpack the rich wisdom and theology of the Christ Hymn (2:6-11). Throughout the commentary, they apply a broad range of exegetical tools to interpret this letter including historical, sociological, rhetorical, and literary analysis, and they give attention to the reception of this important Pauline text throughout history. Bird and Gupta also includes short reflections on the meaning of Philippians for today.
How does the Bible represent violence? How does its literary nature shape these representations? How is violence central within biblical theologies? This chapter provides an analytical overview of biblical representations of violence and theorises ‘sanctification’ of violence. Biblical stories feature the range of violence common throughout ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean societies: war, ritual violence and violence between individuals, both ‘criminal’ and normalised. Socio-narrative context determines the legitimacy or illegitimacy of violence attributed to patriarchs, prophets, priests, Israelites, Judeans, ‘foreigners’ and royals. Some violence follows purported divine directive, but much is mundane. Yhwh’s (or divine subordinates’) violence is typically rendered legitimate. The ‘justness’ of divine violence rhetorically impacts explanations of misfortune: suffering of direct and symbolic violence indicates godly punishment. Within the Hebrew Bible and New Testament the notion that divinely decreed violence accomplishes theistic plans enables misrecognition of ritualised violence. Since antiquity, people have employed biblical themes to claim divine approval of violence. Theorisation of ‘religious violence’ facilitates distinguishing between assertions of biblically ‘justified’ violence versus how the biblical anthology represents violence. Investigating portrayals of violence, especially who benefits and who suffers from each portrayal, is key for examining social impacts of ancient ‘biblical violence’ and modern ‘Bible-based violence’.
Chapter 15 considers the reception and development of continental theologies of justification in England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I. Early English reforming theologies of justification tended to be Augustinian, interpreting justification as a process of making people righteous by grace. An increasing familiarity with the works of Luther does not appear to have led to a widespread adoption of Lutheran ideas on the forensic character of justification. Many of the Church of England’s formularies of faith speak of justification as consisting of the ‘remission of our sins’ and our ‘perfect renovation in Christ’. The essential feature of Luther’s doctrine of justification appears to have been understood to be its emphasis on faith alone. Luther’s influence over the English Reformation declined after the death of Henry VIII, and was replaced by various forms of Reformed theology, particularly that of Bucer. By the middle of the reign of Elizabeth I, the English Reformation appears to have developed its own approach to understanding the nature of justification, while affirming the basic Protestant notion of justification ‘by faith alone’.
Empire-critical and postcolonial readings of Revelation are now commonplace, but scholars have not yet put these views into conversation with Jewish trauma and cultural survival strategies. In this book, Sarah Emanuel positions Revelation within its ancient Jewish context. Proposing a new reading of Revelation, she demonstrates how the text's author, a first century CE Jewish Christ-follower, used humor as a means of resisting Roman power. Emanuel uses multiple critical lenses, including humor, trauma, and postcolonial theory, together with historical-critical methods. These approaches enable a deeper understanding of the Jewishness of the early Christ-centered movement, and how Jews in antiquity related to their cultural and religious identity. Emanuel's volume offers new insights and fills a gap in contemporary scholarship on Revelation and biblical scholarship more broadly.
It is impossible to understand the rabbis and the works they produced without a grasp of the Jewish world they inherited. In this chapter, we will review that world and the documents that reflect its qualities. The evidence for the Jewish world in Palestine before the rabbis begins with the Hebrew Bible. What were the worldviews, theologies, literary styles, and systems of practice supported by the canonical books? The pre-rabbinic Jewish library also includes other literary compositions, including the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and Dead Sea Scrolls. We may also learn a great deal from the writings of early Christians. There were also received oral traditions that ultimately influenced the teachings of the rabbis. To what extent was the rabbis’ “Oral Torah” grounded in the oral traditions of the pre-Christian centuries? The difficulties in answering these questions will be addressed so that we may later consider the traditional or innovative quality of rabbinic productions. Lastly, it is impossible to understand the world of Jews in Palestine without gaining some sense of the broader Greco-Roman environment. In this chapter, we examine all this evidence and more.
The introduction offers a brief history of free speech in Antiquity, which serves as a background for the chapters of this book. It starts with the emergence of free speech (parrhesia) as a civic and political virtue in the Greek world, in connection with the rise of democracy. It then continues with the Roman world, where free speech became embedded in Roman oratory and was included among the rhetorical figures in handbooks of rhetoric. It addresses the close connection between free speech and citizenship in Roman thought. In the second century AD, a Christian rhetoric of free speech came into being. The introduction shows how, over the course of the centuries, free speech spread from the political and the judicial to the moral and the religious sphere. In spite of these shifts, free speech retained its importance as a tool of political criticism.
This article argues that the quests for the historical Jesus have largely operated with an understanding of history hindered by a severely constricted range of divine and human possibilities. By outlining human ‘self-understanding’ as a historiographical question, it emphasises the determinative role in historical judgement played by the historian's assumptions about the range of possibility available to the processes of human thought. Highlighting three particular concerns that historians tend to connect to ‘docetism’, it suggests a couple of ways that metaphysical and theological forms of reasoning could expand the horizon of possibilities available to historical Jesus scholarship in a way that will augment access to the historical figure of Jesus.
This article problematises the widespread assumption that the God of early Christianity is an invisible God. This assumption is found in both popular and academic discourse and often appeals to biblical critiques of divine images to make its case. Yet while Hebrew Bible scholars have recently questioned this axiomatic belief, New Testament scholars have yet to do the same. To address this oversight, this article first looks at divine images and idol polemic in the ancient world and then turns to Luke's depiction of divine images in the book of Acts as a test case. Here I demonstrate how Acts depicts God as a visible – and even embodied – being, while at the same time critiquing visual representations of the divine. With Acts, we find that not all Christians ‘imaged’ God as invisible.
Early Latin Christian documents translated from Greek (e.g., Latin translations of the Greek New Testament) contain a large number of Greek loan-words. This article attempts to collect and catalogue the Greek loan-words found in the Vulgate New Testament and the early Latin versions of the Apostolic Fathers. In this literature I have identified some 420 loan-words. The purpose of this article is to systematically categorize, analyze, and comment on these loan-words. In the main section of the article the loan-words are divided into discrete content groups based on their origin and/or meaning. These groups include: (1.) words that originated in Hebrew or Aramaic Vorlagen and that were then transliterated into Greek and then Latin; (2.) words with biblical or ecclesiological orientation that are found exclusively or predominantly in early Christian Latin writings; (3.) words that fall into distinct categories of items, persons or places (e.g., “animals,” “items of clothing,” “gems and minerals,” “human occupations”); and (4.) words of a general character that do not fit in any of the above categories. In this section of the article are listed, for each loan-word: first, the Latin word; second, the Greek Vorlage; third, the meaning(s) of the Latin word; and fourth, one example of a passage in the Vulgate New Testament or the Latin Apostolic Fathers in which the Latin word may be found. Loan-words with special characteristics (e.g., Latin hapax legomena) are commented on individually.
In Pilate and Jesus, Giorgio Agamben argues that Pontius Pilate never formally condemned Jesus of Nazareth. “The traditional interpretation of Jesus’ trial … must be revised,” he urges, because “there has not been any judgment in a technical sense.” In Agamben's telling, Pilate's non-judgment is the original truth of Jesus's death that has been covered over by tradition. This is an intriguing hypothesis, but Agamben's use of sources in arguing it is highly irregular. This article offers a critique of the legal and philological argumentation of Pilate and Jesus. In the process, it revisits an ancient—and still actual—controversy surrounding the Roman trial of Jesus and demonstrates that Pilate did sentence Jesus, pro tribunali, to death on a cross.
This essay uses T. E. Lawrence's characterization of doubt as ‘our modern crown of thorns’, as an entrée into thinking through the coincidence of doubt and faith in the four canonical gospels. However much each of the gospels may wish to induce faith, it leaves its readers with the distinct impression that doubt, understood differently in each, cannot be fully dispelled. The gospels thereby testify to a lively, ancient appreciation for the irrepressibility of doubt. This essay then turns to the problem of scepticism in modern philosophy. In his work on Ludwig Wittgenstein, the American philosopher Stanley Cavell suggests that scepticism is a ‘condition’ of knowledge, both in the sense of something from which we suffer as if from a chronic illness, and in the sense of that which makes knowledge possible at all. The reader is invited to think of the dialectics of doubt and faith in a similar way, of doubt as the very condition of faith.
This study surveys the numerous and diverse powers and authorities to which the gospel is addressed in Luke-Acts, including major Jewish institutions and officials, Herodian rulers, Roman military officers, Greco-Roman officials, diverse officials, and pagan cults and supernatural powers. Well over half the references to authorities in Luke-Acts occur nowhere else in the New Testament. The frequent and diverse references to powers defend Christianity in a preliminary and obvious way from charges of political sedition. In a broader and more important way, however, they redefine power itself according to the standard of the gospel.