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Book Review: The Jewish Teachers of Jesus, James, and Jude

Who were Jesus, James, and Jude? David deSilva's most recent monograph,The Jewish Teachers of Jesus, James, and Jude: What Earliest Christianity Learned from the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, tackles part of that question. For much of the history of the church, Jesus, his brothers, and the rest of the early church were distanced from their second temple Jewish background. We see this as early as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. deSilva tackles this notion head on seeking to show how Jewish Jesus, James, and Jude were by comparing their sayings and writings with writings from the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha.

After this initial explanation of his rationale for the book, deSilva discusses his methodology. He is seeking toshow that Jesus, James, and Jude not only were at home within a second temple environment, but also dependence on works from the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. It kicks off with a discussion of intertextuality; specifically with Hays' criteria for determining intertextual echos. deSilva's approach majors on the following:
  • Determining the authenticity of the tradition attributed to Jesus/James/Jude
  • Looking at possible relevant Jewish works for clear verbal or thematic echos
  • Determining if Jewish work is old enough, actually Jewish, and prominent enough to have influenced
  • Looking to see how Jesus/James/Jude agreed, disagreed, or moved beyond the text of origin
In the first two chapters deSilva defends what would be considered a fairly conservative approach to historical questions surrounding the gospels and the authenticity of the epistles of James and Jude. This includes a very nice, concise, common sense discussion of the various criteria used to determine the authenticity of the sayings of Jesus that I would strongly commend. The chapter on the authenticity of James and Jude criticizes the typical arguments against their authenticity but certainly doesn't break any new ground.

What follows in the remaining chapters is a careful and nuanced discussion around the four bullets above, though of course not in that order. deSilva begins with the Apocrypha or Pseudepigrapha of his choice and summarizes it. Next he discusses matters of dating and provenance and determines if the text could indeed have influenced Jesus, James, and Jude. Then he gets into the resonances with the teachings of Jesus, James, and Jude. No surprise, most of the space is devoted to influence on Jesus, since the gospels are much longer than James and Jude combined. The focus is almost solely on the synoptic Jesus and the authenticity of each saying discussed is examined. deSilva remains in conversation throughout with the Jesus Seminar (of whom he is consistently critical - and rightly so!) and a few key scholars like Davies and Allison. Wisely, most of this discussion is relegated to the end notes, so that the interested can read if so interested, while keeping the overall work accessible.

deSilva selects Sirach, Tobit, 1 Enoch, Psalms of Solomon, 2 Maccabees, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and the Testament of Job for examination. Perhaps these chapters are arranged by degree of influence. Certainly Sirach is a strong source of influence for Jesus and James, and likewise 1 Enoch for Jude. The case gets dicier with the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs and the Testament of Job (though I think the argument is stronger than deSilva will commit to with the Testament of Job). Some of these chapters are a little long. Particularly, I thought the chapter on 1 Enoch could have been shortened by only focusing on the relevant books, skipping, for example, the Astronomical Book altogether. I also would not have minded if the very very lengthy discussion on whether or not the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs was Christian or Jewish had been shortened and/or partially relegated to an appendix.

Overall, deSilva's work is fantastic. The nature of the book makes it repetitive and a bit difficult to slog through consecutively. However I learned a lot through the process and appreciated his careful scholarship. deSilva is not a maximalist who commits parallelomania, however he does not deny direct influence when it is clear. Usually he's somewhere in the middle showing how Jesus, James, and Jude moved in the same world of thought as their contemporaries who knew these works and pointing out where they innovated. I'd wholeheartedly recommend The Jewish Teachers of Jesus, James, and Jude: What Earliest Christianity Learned from the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha for anyone who wants to understand the Jewish background of the early Christian movement better. It is detailed and scholarly but still accessible and will make an indispensable reference for exegesis for years to come.

Comments

  1. Thanks, Marcus, for this generous review. You're right about the section on the origin of T12P -- but it's the sort of thing that, had I not included it, I would be slammed by scholars who have come to the point of view that these are Christian texts (I'll no doubt be slammed anyway, but not for ignorance of the arguments, at least :) ). An appendix actually would have been a good place to relegate it. Never occurred to me....

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