“Evil and Death” edited by Beate Ego and Ulrike Mittman

EvilandDeathEvil and Death: Conceptions of the Human in Biblical, Early Jewish, Greco-Roman and Egyptian Literature. Edited by Beate Ego and Ulrike Mittmann. Deuterocanonical and Cognate Literature Studies 18. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2015, pp. 421, $168 (de Gruyter).

*I’d like to express my gratitude to de Gruyter for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion. Additionally, I should note that I did not realize half of the contributions were written in German until I received this book. That said, I will only review the English contributions for the time being. After mastering reading in German next summer, I will complete the review.

Evil and Death contains a variety of articles approaching the title subject, sin and death, from an anthropological perspective. Consequently the volume is demonstrative of the diversity of anthropological worldviews within antiquity. Although the website describes the volume as “an exemplary foundation for further research on ancient Jewish anthropology”, it is more of an exemplary foundation for further research on ancient anthropology more generally.

Patricia Kirkpatrick (McGill University) examines how Mrs. Job expresses the narrator’s judgement by challenging Job’s rigid covenant framework of retributive justice. While this article does well at proposing an alternative understanding of Job’s wife, greater interaction with the rhetorical discourse of the text itself and how it is reflected in later reception would have strengthened her argument.

Christoph Berner examines dynamics between death, evil, humans, and God in Qohelet and how it provides a foundation for the reworked book of Qohelet. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this contribution. More specifically, the manner in which compares Qohelet’s anthropology to the Priestly creation account does well in illuminating what is unique about its anthropology.

Gerbern S. Oegema (McGill University) explores the variety of ethics in early Judaism, illuminating the divergent ideas and consistent ideas, in order to demonstrate the ethic foundation sof early Judaism. While this contribution is intriguing for contributing to the anthropological diversity in early Judaism, there is nothing particularly programmatic or innovative.

David A. deSilva (Ashland Theological Seminary) investigates the author’s interaction with theodicy in 4 Maccabees, drawing out how human nature (menschenbild), Torah, evil, death, and eschatology intersect to form a cogent image of how the author of 4 Macc. deals with evil in the human experience.

In my favorite contribution, Ekaterina Matusova examines the Greek influence on 1 Enoch 22:1-13 and connects the river topos and post-mortem traditions to a Mesopotamian prototype and biblical tradition. Matusova does well in clearly demonstrating how Mesopotamian prototype is present in 1 Enoch, and even in Greek literature; however, her argument would be stronger if it moved beyond a mere literary connection. I would have liked if she had attempted to briefly traces how the Mesopotamian prototype influenced 1 Enoch, and other Greek literature, through historical evidence.

Ian H. Henderson (McGill University) considers how children in Mark reflect the author’s anthropology about humanity: “objective powerlessness, desperate vulnerability to death and the demonic, profound dependence on God” (216). This complexity partnered with the role of parents in Mark bolsters and prepares Jesus’ audience for the coming of the Son of Man.

Rouven Genz (Theologisches Studienhaus) illuminating the account of Lazarus and the poor man through a contextualized reading, in which he draws out the particularities of the Lukan use of the motif, and a theological reading of Lazarus as fate without Jesus. His argument is intriuging because, through contextualization of the Lukan motif, he is able to draw out what is unique in Lukan reception and connect it to the anthropology of Luke via theology.

Ellen Bradshaw Aitken attempts to answer what constitutes humanity in Hebrews. Unfortunately, the article is quite unclear and difficult to follow.

Finally, Marlis Arnhold (Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn) examines representation as evil and death in the myth of Meleager through textual (Homer, Bachylides, and Ovid) and visual (Sarcophagi) sources. She does well in drawing out how different receptions of the myth interacted with the extent to which the human, or the deity, was responsible evil and death within the tale. Consequenly, she presents a cogent image of anthropological views throught he reception of a single myth.

At least from the English contributions, this volume is important. With the exception of Aitken’s article, it provides several unique and innovative approaches to various areas of antiquity through an anthropologically focused approach. The volume isn’t necessarily the sort of thing perfect for an individuals bookshelf; however, it is an excellent addition to any library or reference shelf.






Re-Understanding the Leviticus Sacrificial System

Popular Christian tradition often defines and interprets ancient Israel’s cultic rituals and offerings in Leviticus through the narrow lens with which the New Testament discusses the issue of the sacrificial system. Passages like Matt 5:17-19, Rom 7:6, and Heb 10:1 leave an impression that the Levitical offering system was solely intended to prepare for Jesus and him alone. While this is undeniable in a sense, it is important to note the theological thrusts of these texts. Matthew, Romans, and Hebrews each work to demonstrate how Jesus fits into the grand scope of the Torah, not to provide a comprehensive discussion about the sacrificial system of Leviticus. Thus, in order to properly understand a book such as Leviticus, especially for a Christian, people must begin by recognizing that the New Testament is not definitive for Leviticus. If anything, Leviticus defines the New Testament and the New Testament operates within those parameters. Although it adjusts various understandings and interpretations (cf. Thomas Kazen 2002), it does not ever comprehensively discuss how the entirety of the system was abolished by Jesus.

In light of this brief discussion, what is required of biblical readers? Two basic ideas sum up how readers should approach Leviticus:

1) Recognize the layers of tradition within the offering system. Leviticus was not written over one year and left as the original copy 3,000 years later. Rather, it has been redacted through various editors who lived in their own time with distinct influences than others may not have had (cf. Yitzhaq Feder 2011). What readers read now is the results of centuries of redaction. As a final comment, that is not to imply that Leviticus in unreliable. On the contrary, it is reliable, except one must recognize the variation within it.

2) Leviticus should be read with recognition that the cultic ritual was central to lives in the ancient world. To ignore or place a glaze over Leviticus is to ignore the centrality of ancient Israel’s culture and life.

Although these are only two of many essential hermeneutic approaches to Leviticus, they are a good starting place. By observing these two ideas, it may actually be possible to read Leviticus. This begins with expanding beyond the narrow view of the New Testament’s understandings of sacrifice and atonement and moving towards a more comprehensive understanding of Leviticus that takes into account the textual redaction and centrality of sacrifice to the ancient world.