I want to back up one from last week, #15 The New Testament Canon,
to #14. Between the Testaments.
The first in the series is #1 Faith, Evidence, and Biblical Scholarship.
The Old Testament certainly provided the texts in which the New Testament heard God's voice and and the foundational stories by which the early Christians understood their identity. But in many respects, it was the Jewish background in the two hundred years before Christ that provided the lenses, the interpretive keys, through which they read those Old Testament texts. In this respect, one might almost say that the "intertestamental period," or perhaps more accurately, early Judaism is more directly the background to Christianity than the Old Testament itself.
We have titled this section "Between the Testaments" because it would seem a fairly Christian, especially Protestant way of referring to the period from the late 400s when books like Ezra and perhaps Malachi were written and the arrival of Jesus around 4BC. At the same time, we have mentioned that many scholars think parts of the Old Testament were written much later than this time (e.g., those who date Daniel to the 100s BC). Similarly, the Roman Catholic Old Testament has books like Wisdom that may actually have been written in Paul's lifetime. These considerations make a term like "intertestamental" less than clear in what it refers to.
Two more accurate terms are early Judaism and Second Temple Period. Second Temple Period refers to the time between when Zerubbabel rebuilt the temple in 516BC and its destruction by the Romans again in AD70. Early Judaism generally refers to this same period and refers to the formative period of Judaism before it became somewhat standarized in rabbinic Judaism. We generally speak of Israelites rather than Jews in the Old Testament. The word Jew is related to Judah, the primary tribe to survive the first destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity. We thus start to speak of the "Jews" after the return from captivity in 538BC.
The Persian period of Jewish history stretches from 539BC, when Cyrus defeated Babylon, to 332, when Alexander the Great took over Palestine. The Jewish literature from this period we have is arguably in the Writings of the Old Testament, books like Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, Esther, and the post-exilic prophets. One of the most important aspects of this period is the development of Diaspora Judaism, Jews who lived outside of Palestine and were "scattered" in the world.
By the time of Christ, more Jews were living outside Palestine than in it. At the time of the New Testament, more Jewish lived in just one section of the Egyptian city of Alexandria than lived in all of Jerusalem. The Babylonian captivity (586-538BC) resulted in major Jewish presences in Babylon and Egypt, then later in Ecbatana in Persia. At Elephantine in Egypt, there was actually an alternative Jewish temple with priests and sacrifices. Some of the oldest surviving Jewish documents are the Elephantine papyri from this Jewish mercenary community in Egypt.
In 332BC, Alexander the Great took over Palestine and it passed into Greek hands. Perhaps the chief contribution of Martin Hengel (1926-2009) to biblical scholarship was his Judaism and Hellenism (1973). In this classic work, Hengel demonstrated that it was anachronistic to draw sharp distinctions between Greek and Hebrew thought at the time of Christ. Judaism had been hellenized for over three hundred years before Jesus was born and Greek influence had affected even the most sectarian of Jewish communities. Stanley Porter is another scholar of recent times who has perhaps argued more for the prevalence of Greek in Galilee at the time of Jesus than anyone else.
Hellenistic Judaism thus refers to Greek-speaking Judaism, whether in Palestine or throughout the Mediterranean world. One of the classic treatments of such Judaism at the time of Christ was Victor Tcherikover's (1894-1958), Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews (1931). Also destined to be a classic is John Collins' Between Athens and Jerusalem: Jewish Identity in the Hellenistic Diaspora (2000), which specifically discusses Hellenistic Jewish literature of this time period.
Much of the Greek Jewish literature we have seems to come from Egypt, Alexandria in particular. We have excerpts from individuals like Ezekiel the Tragedian, Demetrius the Chronographer, and Artapanus that date from around 200BC. Ezekiel is notable for its apparent ease with Moses sitting on God's heavenly throne, while Artapanus is striking in its comfort with the idea that Moses made up the Egyptian gods for them because of their lack of understanding. The Letter of Aristeas dates from the 100s and tells the legend of how the Pentateuch was translated into Greek, the Septuagint. Although this account is not likely quite the way it happened, it does reflect the likelihood that the Pentateuch was first translated into Greek in Egypt around 250BC. Aristeas is notable for the way it considers Zeus the same as the Jewish God.
The best known Hellenistic Jew is of course Philo of Alexandria, who lived from about 20BC to AD50. His life thus coincides significantly with the life of Jesus and the formative decades of Christianity. He is perhaps best known for his allegorical, non-literal interpretations of the Pentateuch. He accepted the literal interpretations, but considered the allegorical superior.
His interpretations demonstrate significant philosophical influence, particularly that of Middle Platonism, a form of Platonism that emerged in the first century BC. He followed in what was apparently a longstanding practice of using Greek philosophy to interpret Scripture, most notably Aristobulus from around 200BC. In later life he became embroiled in the politics of Alexandria.
Around AD38, riots broke out against the Jews of the city in the aftermath of a visit by Herod Agrippa I (cf. Acts 12). After things calmed down, Philo led a delegation to the emperor Caligula to settle the question of whether the Jews were truly citizens of the city of Alexandria or not, a visit he tells of in his treatise, Embassy to Gaius. Caligula was assassinated before making a decision, but the emperor Claudius who followed him judged that the Jews were not citizens and should be content with their place in Roman society.
The Philo of Alexandria group of the Society of Biblical Literature has invested a great deal of effort both in its yearly Studia Philonica Annual, which not only includes articles on Philo, but an exhaustive bibliography on all publications on Philo. A new commentary series on the works of Philo has also ensued.
Josephus is the best known Jewish historian. Although he was from Jerusalem and an Aramaic speaker, his historical writings have all survived in Greek. He was of priestly descent and upper class. He was actually a Jewish general in the Jewish War against Rome in AD66-73, although he surrendered and later took the position that the Romans were in the right (Jewish War). He went on to live in Rome and eventually wrote his Antiquities of the Jews, a key source of information on much Jewish history. It contains, for example, some of the key background information we have on groups like the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes (Antiquities 18; cf. also War 2). Steven Mason, more than any other scholar, has distinguished himself as the chief expert on Josephus in our time.
The real watershed in the Jewish history of this period is the Maccabean crisis. It is perhaps safe to say that the New Testament as we know it would not have existed if this crisis had not taken place. The Maccabean crisis brought to a head the most hellenizing forces in Israel in relation to more traditional forces. The result was the solidification of Jewish identity in distinction from the surrounding culture and a political empowerment it had not known for hundreds of years.
We do not have a large amount of non-biblical Jewish literature prior to the crisis of 167BC. The book of Tobit is in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Old Testament, and probably dates to the 200s BC. It involves the popular piety of burial of the dead and shows the beginnings of an interest in demons and the naming of angels, topics absent from the older books of the Old Testament.
The earliest version of Sirach dated to around 200BC and is a Proverbs-like collection of wisdom, also in the Catholic and Orthodox Bible. It was then translated into Greek in Egypt later in the 100s. It is perhaps most striking to us in its very biased view of women and the absence of any meaningful sense of afterlife. In this way it remains still similar to the Old Testament's general lack of awareness of any meaningful life after death and perhaps was created by a segment of Jewish society that became the Sadducees less than fifty years later. Matthew 11's imagery of taking on Jesus' yoke and learning of him may be an allusion to this book (e.g., ***). Sirach 24 also is a very important personification of wisdom that sees wisdom incarnated in the Jewish Law.
Tobit and Sirach, along with Wisdom, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Judith, and Baruch, are the chief writings that are in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Old Testaments, but not in most Protestant Old Testaments (the Episcopalians are an exception). Also including in the Roman Catholic canon are expansions to the book of Esther in Greek that smooth out some of the theological problems it raises and three short additions to Daniel (Susanna, Prayer of Azariah, and Bel and the Dragon). We mentioned in the section the Old Testament Canon that these books seemed to have had a kind of second or deuterocanonical status up until 1545, when the Roman Catholic Church promoted them in response to Luther's demotion of them.
Various other Eastern churches add other books to their canons. The Orthodox Church, for example, includes 1 Esdras in its canon, a mixture of Ezra, Nehemiah, and a very little else. Also added to the Orthodox canon are the very hellenistic book of 4 Maccabees as well as the brief Prayer of Manasseh. 1 Enoch, Jubilees, and a few other books are even further added to the Ethiopian canon of the Old Testament.
1 and 2 Maccabees tell various aspects of the Maccabean crisis, which took place between 167 and 164BC. In 198BC, the (Greek) Syrians to the north, the Seleucid dynasty, had finally defeated the (Greek) Egyptians to the south, the Ptolemy dynasty, and had taken power in Palestine for the first time since Alexander the Great had taken over the region. Antiochus IV Epiphanes was particularly hostile and did significant damage to the city in 175BC.
In the days that followed, he derailed the traditional line of high priests, in effect giving power to the highest bidder. The result was an extreme hellenization of Jerusalem, with even the building of a Greek gymnasium and eventually laws against circumcision and forced sacrifice to other gods. 1 Maccabees is the primary source for this crisis. In 167BC the temple was defiled and a period of guerrilla warfare ensued, with the family of Judas the "hammer," or macchabeus, emerging the victor. His prother Jonathan would take the title high priest and then later, a great nephew, Aristobulus, would take the title king.
2 Maccabees is much less focused on history and more on God's vindication of the righteous. It was possibly, though not definitely, written by a Pharisee in the first half of the first century BC, prior to the Romans taking power over Palestine in 63BC. 2 Maccabees is most notable for its strongly physical understanding of resurrection, involving intestines and all. It also seems to have a sense of vicarious suffering of the righteous for others, as seven righteous Jewish brothers hope that their suffering might bring an end to God's wrath on the Jewish people. Some, although perhaps not most, think that it gives us the first instance of Jewish belief in creation out of nothing. Hebrews 11:35 may allude to the core story of the book.
The books of Judith and Baruch may also date to the period after the Maccabean crisis. Judith is a tale about a woman who kills a foreign general by cleverness. Judith, like Esther and Susanna, is part of a striking group of Jewish writings whose heros are women. Baruch is a lament over the suffering of God's people.
The Maccabean crisis probably more than anything else gave rise to the Jewish groups we know of from the time of Christ. Although we cannot say for certain, the Sadducees were very possibly priestly "sons of Zadok" who were displaced from the priesthood first by the Syrians and then by the Maccabean or Hasmonean priests (family name). They were upper class and "conservative" in theology and practice--like most of the Old Testament they had no sense of an afterlife. Although it is often said they did not believe in angels and only used the Law as Scripture, these depictions both come from problematic interpretations of single comments in the background literature.
The Pharisees and Essenes may have both in their own ways have been the heirs of the hasidim or faithful ones from the Maccabean crisis. These are individuals whose zeal for the Jewish law during the crisis led them to choose to die rather than to fight on the Sabbath. The Pharisees would become the most influential Jewish group in the first century BC, although they only numbered about 6000. Most Jews were simply common folk, the people of the land, and did not belong to any group.
The Pharisees are known both for their strict law keeping and their belief in a future resurrection of the dead. The Maccabean crisis empowered a kind of conservatism and traditionalism that groups like the Pharisees and Essenes embodied. The image of Judas Maccabeus, who ironically himself was more of a pragmatist, would become the consummate example of Jewish zeal of "Judaismos." The various revolutionary groups around the time of the Jewish War (Zealots, Sicarii) no doubt looked to him as a model.
The most conservative group we know of within the Judaism of the period are the Essenes. They seem to have roots in an apocalyptic form of Judaism that reached back into the 200s BC but really seems to have solidified sociologically in the early 100s. The book of 1 Enoch is a compilation of five different writings that grew and expanded over some three hundred years. It seems to have become sacred literature for those who eventually found their way to become the Dead Sea community on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, a group most scholars consider to have been one kind of Essene.
The earliest books in 1 Enoch are the Book of the Watchers (chaps. 1-36) and the Astronomical Book (chaps. 72-82). The later does not clearly endorse a solar or lunar calendar over the other, but its solar version (364 days) became the calendar of the Essenes and the Dead Sea Sect. This was one significant later bone of contention between the Dead Sea sect and the Jerusalem temple, which operated on a lunar calendar (354 days).
The Book of the Watchers is intriguing for a number of reasons, not east because Jude 14-15 quote from 1 Enoch 1:9 and seems to assume Enoch was in fact the speaker of these words. It is, however, the virtually unanimous conclusion of scholarship that The Book of the Watchers dates in its current form to the beginning of the 100s BC. 1 Peter 3:20 seems to allude to the fallen angels of this story as well. While Paul locates the primary origins of earthly evil in the sin of Adam, the Book of the Watchers seems to locate it with the sin of certain angels during the time of Noah and the Flood.
For example, one part of the Book of the Watchers sees the origins of demons in the spirits of the fallen giants who were the offspring of sexual unions between angels and human women. This story is sometimes (though not always) suggested as the background of the curious statement in 1 Corinthians 11:10 that a woman should veil her head "because of the angels," remembering that Paul believed in bad angels as well as good ones. Also, if we set Daniel 12 out of consideration, 1 Enoch 22 becomes the oldest clear sense of varying rewards for the dead, probably also including a resurrection of some sort.
Two other sections of 1 Enoch date to just before and just after the Maccabean crisis. Again, if we leave Daniel out of consideration, the Apocalypse of Weeks (1 Enoch 93, 91--the chapters are strangely out of order) is the oldest known historical apocalypse, which is a revelation of soon coming events by a breakdown of history into ages leading up to the present. The prophet is usually a dead figure from the distant past, in this case Enoch. Such apocalypses are usually easy to date based on when the predictions go awry. As we saw in our discussion of critical issues in Daniel, this is why most non-evangelical scholars date the later chapters of Daniel to around 165 BC during the Maccabean crisis. The Dream Visions (chaps. 83-90) also give two historical apocalypses that are dated to the decades just after the Maccabean crisis for this reason.
It would seem that the group that went on to form the Dead Sea community was related in some way to the apocalyptic Judaism that produced the books of 1 Enoch. Around the year 150, a book called Jubilees presented an interpretive version of Genesis, sometimes placed in a category called rewritten history. Also about this time, an unknown high priest of the Jerusalem temple, which the Dead Sea Scrolls call the Teacher of Righteousness, may have been replaced by Jonathan Maccabeus when he assumed the high priesthood (the proposal of James VanderKam). This event may have marked the beginning of the group we call the Essenes.
Although the Dead Sea community probably did not settle at the Dead Sea until about 100BC, the origins of its parent groups probably goes back to the mid-100s when the Teacher of Righteousness was replaced by Jonathan. The dominant view is currently that the group that settled at Qumran on the northwest side of the Dead Sea were in fact those who stored the Dead Sea Scrolls in the nearby caves and they they were a subset of broader Essenism. Thus there were many other Essenes (Josephus says 4000) and the Dead Sea community was only a small group of them, perhaps an even stricter sect than most.
Other hypotheses have not won much support, including Norman Golb's suggestion that the scrolls were unrelated to the nearby Qumran community and were deposited by individuals fleeing Jerusalem in the Jewish War. Another suggestion is that of Lawrence Schiffman, who argued the scrolls are Sadducean in some broad sense. It is true that the scrolls show some affinities to Sadducean perspectives on some issues, but these can probably be accounted for in light of priestly influence by way of the Teacher of Righteousness.
Some broader Essene documents were actually known before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947. The Covenant of Damascus (CD) had been known since before the turn of the century and was suspected to be Essene. Certainly 1 Enoch and other writings that the Dead Sea community seemed to have considered Scripture were known.
But the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) potentially presented a much deeper look into the history of this movement. A writing called Some of the Works of the Law (4QMMT) may very well reflect the advice of the Teacher of Righteousness to Jonathan Maccabeus as Jonathan (the first "Wicked Priest") was about to assume the high priesthood. After the Teacher lost this battle, a wealth of Essene literature arguably arose, ranging from a collection of hymns, the Hodayot (1QH) to plans for an end times temple in the Temple Scroll (1QT) to a description of the final end times battle in the War Scroll (1QM). These Essenes produced a number of commentaries, most notably the Habakkuk Commentary (1QHab).
These writings potentially illuminate the New Testament in a number of ways. For example, the Hymns have a sense of human sinfulness and divine predestination that are not unlike themes we find in Romans. The very phrase "works of Law" that appears so centrally in Romans and Galatians may be illuminated by the intra-Jewish argument of 4QMMT. The Habakkuk commentary interprets Habakkuk by a method now known as pesher, where words in Scripture are directly applied to contemporary situations. Although it is debated, this highly non-contexual, contemporary method of interpretation is not unlike Matthew's highly non-contextual method of interpretation.
A number of other documents, including other commentaries and worship documents were found among the eleven caves. 4QFlorilegium shows that the early Christians were not the only ones to use Psalm 2 in relation to the Messiah. 4QTestimonia confirms that other Jews collected Scriptures according to topics, giving some credance to the possibility that the early Christians might have collected Jesus' sayings, as we will see in a later section. Some (though not all) argue that 11QMelchizedek is important background to Hebrews 7's imagery of a heavenly priest from the order of Melchizedek. Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice (4QShirShab) indicates that some Jews saw their worship as a participation in heavenly, angelic worship. Although the majority may still see the "worship of angels" in Colossians 2:18 as worshipping angels, a number now suggest it is participation in angelic worship that is there in view.
The story of the discovery of the DSS is fairly well known. Allegedly, a Bedouin shepherd found the first cave after throwing a rock into a cave and hearing a jar break. The better known scrolls from Cave 1 then came out fairly quickly, including a new Community Rule (1QS) that was very much like the Covenant of Damascus, except perhaps more sectarian. One of its key features was its prediction of two messiahs, one of a kingly sort and the other a priest. One by-product of the DSS is a recognition that the word "messiah" was somewhat ambiguous in itself. That is to say, there may not have been any absolute sense of what a person meant at the time if they referred to "the messiah."
Some of the most central scholars of the early days were Eleazar Sukenik, who was one of the earliest Jewish scholars consulted, and Roland de Vaux, who did the first major excavations at Qumran after the cave discoveries. J. T. Milik was also a major interpretive player early on. Many of their initial suggestions have been significantly refined. The 1990s in particular saw a major movement forward in Qumran studies as all the remaining fragments were made available for study. Although many cried conspiracy, the slowness of academia effectively kept the scrolls from study until by some sly work photographs were finally made of all the fragments by Biblical Archaeology Review in 1991.
Gabriele Boccaccini (Beyond the Essene Hypothesis, Eerdmans, 1998) has recently made some very plausible suggestions about the history of Essenism in relation to the Dead Sea Scrolls and some of the associated literature that was not found there. He suggests, as we have described, that the community at Qumran was an off-shoot of broader Essenism. He then suggests that broader Essenism continued to write literature that has survived but was not a part of the Qumran library. For example, although the Epistle of Enoch (1 Enoch 91-108) is known at Qumran, it is only the first chapters. Boccaccini suggested that the later chapters date from after the Qumran founding.
One important aspect of the Dead Sea discoveries was the absense of the Parables of Enoch, chapters 38-71 of 1 Enoch. The implication is perhaps that this book did not exist at the time that the Qumran community split off from broader Essenism. This is very significant for study of the gospels, because the Parables have the closest background to the way some sayings use the phrase Son of Man. The final judgment scene of Matthew 25 is very similar to that of various scenes in the Parables. Jesus' usage of the phrase would not have been ambiguous if the Parables were widely known at the time, suggesting they date to the early or mid-first century AD.
Other apocalyptic writings of the first century before and after Christ include the form of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs we have. The Testament of Levi in this form depicts three heavens, with God in the highest heaven. The Ascension of Isaiah has similar layers of heaven, seven in all, with increasing degrees of holiness as one ascends. The Apocalypse of Abraham is significant for its sense of disembodied life after death, and the Testament of Job attests speaking in tongues among non-Christian Jews. Some of these writings are later than the New Testament.
Other writings from the century before and after Christ cannot be obviously located with a particular group. The Psalms of Solomon date to not long after the Romans took control of Palestine and chapter 17 is a principal background text to the idea of a human, political messiah whom God would eventually send to crush the Romans. The book of Wisdom is very difficult to date precisely, but it is a very important background text alluded to in Hebrews 1:3 (Wis. 7:26). It is part of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Old Testaments and actually shows up as a candidate for the New Testament canon in the first few centuries of Christianity. Although it is debated, it seems to affirm a resurrection. It demostrates some philosophical influence and was perhaps written in Alexandria.
Another writing that perhaps dates to the century before Christ is the Life of Adam and Eve, which is the first known Jewish writing to equate the serpent of the Garden of Eden with Satan. It thus serves as significant background to Paul's sense of the Genesis story as the point when the world went amuk. Satan is envious of the role God has given to Adam in the creation and refuses to bow down before the image of God.