Friday, March 16, 2007

Monotheism and Mediators

The course has been exploring whether given texts are (as is often assumed) Jewish and how key figures within them function as "divine mediators."

To help appreciate the relevance of this to New Testament studies, I would like to suggest that students read pages 1-22 of Richard Bauckham's book God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998). The book explores the nature of Jewish monotheism and the character of debates within New Testament studies that concern how Jesus is to be viewed as "divine." Did the portrayal of Jesus as a divine figure evolve from Jewish ideas of divine mediators, exalted patriarchs, etc? Similar issues are explored in Dr Davila's article on divine mediators, as well as in book length treatments such as Larry Hurtado's One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism (London: SCM, 1988), but the treatment by Bauckham has the advantage of being pitched at a much more accessible level.

At this stage in the course, students will be better able to understand the debates touched upon in Bauckham's book and I hope this will help them to appreciate the importance of what we are doing for New Testament research. I want to encourage them, though, to pay attention to the works cited in the footnotes, throughout the chapter, as "Second Temple Jewish" texts. Often these are the works we have placed in the "questionable" category (as far as authorship and date of composition are concerned). Professor Bauckham is actually a very careful scholar, with great expertise in the Pseudepigrapha: the fact that he glosses over the critical issues surrounding these texts reflects the semi-popular nature of this book rather than any carelessness in his scholarship. It is interesting, though, to see how often texts about which we have serious questions occur here. This reflects the extent to which these texts play a role in New Testament scholarship, especially in discussions concerning Christology.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Elijah Materials Online

In advance of Friday's session on the Coptic Apocalypse of Elijah, readers may be interested in the coverage of Elijah in my 1998 Divine Mediator Figures in the Biblical World course. Here is the abstract of an essay by Christopher Maxwell on Elijah as a divine mediator. And here is a bibliography that collects many primary source references to Elijah as well as a now slightly-dated list of secondary references. The bibliography on the Apocalypse of Elijah for our current OT Pseudepigrapha course is here.

There is little else online on the Apocalypse of Elijah, but do have a look at Peter Kirby's page at his useful Early Jewish Writings site.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Pseudepigraphers and Their Pets

The following passages from the Apocalypse of Abraham have always stood out to me:
I am called Jaoel by Him who moveth that which existeth with me on the seventh expanse upon the firmament, a power in virtue of the ineffable Name that is dwelling in me. I am the one who hath been given to restrain, according to His commandment, the threatening attack of the living creatures of the Cherubim against one another ... (10:8-9a)
This last odd comment is expanded upon when Abraham describes his vision of the heavenly throne room:
And as the fire raised itself up, ascending into the height, I saw under the fire a throne of fire, and, round about it all-seeing ones, reciting the song, and under the throne four fiery living creatures singing, and their appearance was one, each one of them with four faces. And such was the appearance of their countenances, of a lion, of a man, of an ox, of an eagle: four heads [were upon their bodies] [so that the four creatures had sixteen faces]; and each had six wings; from their shoulders, [and their sides] and their loins. And with the (two) wings from their shoulders they covered their faces, and with the (two) wings which (sprang) from their loins they covered their feet, while the (two) middle wings they spread out for flying straightforward. And when they had ended the singing, they looked at one another and threatened one another. And it came to pass when the angel who was with me saw that they were threatening each other, he left me and went running to them and turned the countenance of each living creature from the countenance immediately confronting him, in order that they might not see their countenances threatening each other. And he taught them the song of peace which hath its origin [in the Eternal One]. (18:3-11)
Is it just me, or was this passage not written by someone who had watched interactions between house cats, especially when they first meet? Cats can barely tolerate the existence of other cats, and the hissfull reaction of the living creatures (Hayyot) to one another seems entirely true to cat nature. I doubt that I'll ever write this observation up for a journal article, but I still think it's likely that the author of the Apocalypse of Abraham had pet cats.

For more on the living creatures see here.

Another interesting point about the living creatures/Hayyot is that they are (as far as I can find) the only female angels in Jewish tradition.

UPDATE (14 March): For more on cats and the OT Pseudepigrapha (sort of), see here.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Summary of Friday 9th March Class (The Apocalypse of Abraham)

Our session on Friday involved a presentation by one of our students on The Apocalypse of Abraham, followed by a discussion of the paper and of the issues it raised.

The paper explored several interwoven themes relating to this problematic text:

1) How does the text relate to the national fortunes of the Jewish people, specifically the destruction of the Second Temple?
2) How are the themes of monotheism and the appropriate worship of God developed within the text and how might this relate to the choice of Abraham as the central figure in the apocalypse?
3) How do the above issues relate to the question of authorship and date of composition? Do they require a Jewish authorship and a date soon after the fall of the Second Temple?

The discussion afterward raised a number of interesting issues. We explored some of the connections between the apocalypse and Muslim traditions found in the Qu’ran. We also discussed at some length the question of whether the alleged Hebraisms in the text carry any probative value for establishing whether the text was originally composed in Hebrew. Dr. Davila and I are rather sceptical about this: most, if not all, can be explained on the basis of the influence of Greek translations of biblical narrative. Leading on from this, much of our conversation concerned whether the evidence really requires a Jewish authorship. If we start with the manuscript evidence—and we only have late Slavonic mss.—we can only argue for dates of composition that precede this historical context if elements of the text cannot be accounted for therein. So, only if elements of the text are inexplicable in a Slavic context can we push back towards a putative Jewish original. We discussed at some length what might constitute such evidence. I suggested that the presence of Azazel as the villain of the piece may be one fruitful line of enquiry: Christian texts tend to use Satan as the main figure of evil and in the Slavonic context, especially among the Bogomils, Satan (or Satanael) tends to displace other figures.

We also discussed the difficult passage found in chapter 29, a section of the text with numerous internal contradictions. The student paper provided a helpful examination of this passage, which tends to be read as a Christian interpolation, raising the possibility that it belonged to the original layer of the apocalypse and that a Christian author altered it in a more "Christological" direction. This theory would be most compatible with a Jewish authorship, of course, and scholars who have advocated it have tended to assume that the apocalypse was originally Jewish.

The discussion, then, highlighted that the question of whether the text is Jewish may not be quite as well-settled as many scholars claim. All in all, it was a very good session and the student paper opened up the questions admirably.