Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Apocalypse of Sedrach

Introduction to the Text:

The  Apocalypse of Sedrach begins with a sermon about the importance of love for Christians. The second portion of the text, the apocalypse itself, is about Sedrach’s questioning of God’s ways. Near the end of the text, Sedrach even convinces God to decrease the required amount of time for repentance from 3 years to 20 days. Because of God’s mercy, Sedrach allows God to take his spirit to heaven.

The Apocalypse of Sedrach was written between the 2nd and 5th centuries CE, ultimately receiving its final form in the 10th or 11th century CE. In terms of the content, though, the text is derived and pieced together from two different circles: the sermon developed as a product of Byzantine Christianity and the apocalypse developed as a product of Judaism.

Historical Roots and Parallel Growth: 

As I’ve demonstrated many times previously, Pseudepigrapha provide insights into the worldviews of various Jewish and Christian groups. In other words, they provide individual voices to history. This is an important point in reading the Apocalypse of Sedrach. The compiled text includes products of both both Byzantine Christianity and Judaism. Being from different traditions, each portion of text was composed at a different period of time and eventually merged into one document. This inconspicuous and essential detail, though, is important to understanding the historical relationship between Jews and Christians between the 5th and 10th/11th centuries.

In order for divergent traditions to come together in a single text, people or materials from each tradition must have been in each others presence at one time or other. While the Apocalypse of Sedrach does not clearly illuminate any specific moments of history, it more generally reflects the nature of the relationship between some Jews and Christians. The Apocalypse of Sedrach would have required conscious synchronization of Jewish and Christian ideas, indicating that religious cross-pollination was an active and important thing in some regions where both traditions were practiced. Methodologically speaking, it highlights the importance of focusing on more flexible categories of what constitutes religion and avoiding the tendency of developing rigid categories for what constitutes religion.

Although there are many primary source documents to explore the relationship between Jews and Christians during the period at hand, I intentionally did not refer to or even consider them. For my goal was to demonstrate that this particular Pseudepigraphon (singular of Pseudepigrapha) is an independent and autonomous attestation of the nature of Jewish-Christian relations during the Middle-Ages.

Bibliography: 

S. Agourides. “Apocalypse of Sedrach”. J. H. Charlesworth, editor. Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, volume I. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1983.

 

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Joshua and Genocide: Major Issues for Contemporary Interpretation and Application

I find it ironic that the recent events in France and Kenya coincide, too a certain extent with my reading. Currently I am reviewing Joshua 1-12 by Thomas Dozeman (Yale University Press, 2015) and will being reviewing Ritual Violence in the Hebrew Bible edited by Saul Olyan (Oxford University Press, 2015). Both of these works relates the issues of violence and genocide.

In Dozeman’s commentary, he cites John Calvin’s commentary on the book of Joshua and notes the following:

“Despite Calvin’s quest for revelation through the literal interpretation of the book, he struggles with the ethics of the ban (God’s permission to completely annihilate all life in the urban center of Canaan). He repeatedly reflects on the inhumanity of the “indiscriminate and promiscuous slaughter, making no distinction of age or sex, but including alike women and children, the aged and decrepit”” (2015, 87, parenthesis added for context).

Calvin’s conclusion is that Joshua had no other approach to claiming the land because God had commanded it. Other traditions, of course, approach the issue in different ways. Calvin, though, was the first to wrestle with the book of Joshua as history. Regardless of the historical nature of Joshua’s historiography, Calvin was a trendsetter. The question(s) he raises must be answered in this generation as well.

Christians must examine how they understand the Bible and why they understand it how they do. What does the Bible justify to them? How does the book of Joshua fit into a peaceful, loving God?

Rather than resorting back to the solutions presented by Origen and other leaders in early Christianity, the current generation must wrestle with God’s command for genocide. And even beyond Joshua, they must wrestle with the violent aspects of the roots of Christians and Jewish history, ranging from the Maccabean revolt, in which non-circumcised people faced circumcision or death, to the justification of war for personal advancement through Biblical literature.

 

As for everything that happened in France and Kenya, I still feel like I am in shock. I am not sure how to respond. What do I say? I need to let the people of Paris mourn. They must have a voice. This isn’t my oppurtunity to say, “I support Paris and Kenya. Now I will change my Facebook picture”. It’s my chance to say, “I support Paris and Kenya. I hear and support them in their times of lament.”

Pseudepigrapha Saturday: A Brief Introduction

Fragment of 1 Enoch

This is the first post for the new “Pseudepigrapha Saturday”. But rather than begin exploring the Pseudepigrapha, I’ll begin by actually making note of what the Pseudepigrapha actually are.

James H. Charlesworth best defines Pseudepigrapha , as his two edited volumes of the Pseudepigrapha are the most authoritative:

Those writings 1) that… are Jewish or Christian; 2) that are often attributed to ideal figures in Israel’s past; 3) that customarily claim to contain God’s word or message; 4) that frequently build upon ideas and narratives present in the Old Testament; 5) and that almost always were composed either during the period 200 B.C. to A.D. 200 or, though late, apparently preserve… Jewish traditions that date from that period (Charlesworth 2013, xxv).

Historically speaking, the Pseudepigrapha were used in many contexts. The Pseudepigrapha, from a 21st century perspective, can be said to represent the voices of traditions which were not recognized as “canonical” by the Rabbis or the Council of Nicaea, and also represent a significant portion of literature and ideas that shaped the cognitive environment in which the canons took form during the turn of the millennium. After all, contrary to popular belief, the Hebrew Bible was not necessarily an authoritative text in canonized form; rather, it was a series of normative texts were loosely connected as a single document (See Michael Satlow’s How the Bible Became Holy). The Pseudepigrapha writings were integral to the development of ideas in the turn of the millennium and influenced culture in tandem with the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. Succinctly put, the Pseudepigrapha are the various traditions that speak to how Jews and Christians thought in antiquity.

One problem with the Pseudepigrapha, though, is that “no universally accepted listing of Pseudepigrapha exists. Some scholars would includes writing found among the DSS (Dead Sea Scrolls) as well as certain books sometimes numbered among the Apocrypha” (Soulen 147, 2001). Some scholars even include the works of Josephus and Philo under the broad umbrella of Pseudepigrapha (Vanderkam 58, 2001). Regardless of this, it is best to return to Charlesworth’s five criterion for what should be considered Pseudepigrapha (see previous quotation).

This is a very brief introduction but will become more clear in following weeks as I actually engage with the Pseudepigrapha.

Bibliography:

Charlesworth, James (ed.). The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Volume One and Volume Two. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2013.

Satlow, Michael. How the Bible Became Holy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014.

Soulen, Richard and R. Kendall. Handbook of Biblical Criticism, Third Edition. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.

Vanderkam, James. An Introduction to Early Judaism. Grand Rapids, MI: Eermans Publishing, 2001.

The Christian “Oral Torah”

Recently, Orthodox Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein visited Northwest University. I had the honor of speaking with him for an hour or so about a variety of topics including, but not limited to, Oral Torah, Jewish-Christian dialogue, and creation theology. Amongst the many things which caught my attention, there was one thought he expressed which I thoroughly appreciated. In essence, he said that Jews are unique in that they’ve thought through their theology and recognize the source of their traditions. For Jews, that is the Oral Torah, which is the framework of traditions by which they interpret the Written Torah.

Attending a protestant Christian University, I have often witnessed people who operate from a stance of sola scriptura. Many people I know often understand their traditions as something which originated in the Pentecostal movement of the early 1900’s or in the reformations of the 16th century. Unfortunately, though, people aren’t always able to, or willing to, recognize that they to, just as Jews, have a sort of “Oral Torah”. By “Oral Torah”, I really mean the foundations and environment in which the Church traditions were formulated, which vary significantly and are not completely linear. Foundations of Christian tradition are present in theologians like Irenaeus, Augustine, John Chrysostom, and, really, any other theologian from the past 1900 years who has dialogued with the Church and made any impact, positive or negative. This lack of recognition is often realized in people not being aware of why they think or how they think. In their minds, their framework is simply the Holy Spirit and some biblical interpretation of the 1st century context of the New Testament, or the 4th century BCE context of the Hebrew Bible.

In reality, if Christians truly do hope to dialogue with others and better understand their own beliefs within a contemporary society, it is absolutely necessary to recognize the “Oral Torah” of Christianity, those elements which shaped Christianity into what it is today.

The Essence of Exegesis: A Review and Response To Gordon Fee’s Hermeneutic

In his articles To What End Exegesis (1988) and Exegesis and Spirituality (2000), Gordon Fee explores how spirituality is an important aspect of exegesis. His article To What End Exegesis sets the framework for Exegesis and Spirituality. The 1988 article is essentially arguing for a hermeneutic that embraces the spiritual aim of Scripture, while the 2000 article explore the intermingling between spirituality and exegesis amidst the interpretative process.

In To What End Exegesis, Fee begins by pointing out that the academy psyche of a neutral approach is not viable because it is not how the texts themselves were written; thus, Scripture should be read as Spiritual from beginning to end, as that is the intention of the text . He demonstrates this through brief exegesis of Philippians 4:10-20, drawing out the importance of the doxology and response expected by the Philippians. The audience was the Church, and therefore the ones who interpret Scripture should be the Church. Published in 2000, Fee continues this exegetical tradition by examining the subject more closely: what “is the interface between exegesis and spirituality, between the historical exercise of digging out the original intent of the text and the experience of hearing the text in the present in terms of both its presupposed and intentional spirituality” (4, Exegesis and Spirituality). As in the 1988 article, spirituality is the ultimate goal of Scripture. So, he begins by reviewing the concepts from his 1988 article; however, his review is more geared towards explaining the worldview of Christianity in order to validate the interface between spirituality and exegesis. His interface takes place in that the exegetical goal is to understand the authorial intent, spirituality. Yet, as a traditional believing scholar, he holds Scripture in high regard, reflected in his statement that exegesis of Scripture is for believers and should be read as a means to spirituality. Through a brief case study, he exemplifies how Paul’s intention for the Philippians was that his spirituality would result in producing greater spirituality in Philippi. Thus, spirituality and history is one discipline that requires us to be good students of the Word and pray-ers (15, Exegesis and Spirituality).

Between the 1988 and 2000, there are 2 major developments: audience and spirituality. Both of these developments are connected because the audience changes how spirituality is represented. In To What End Exegesis, Fee does not explain the a priori of Scripture as God’s word. It is assumed. Additionally, the 1988 article is more focused on the spiritual aspects of exegesis than the interface between exegesis and spirituality, an interface which ultimately unites the two. Thus, rather than simply explaining how the aim of exegesis is spirituality, Fee more aggressively ties the two together inseparably in order to explain it to a broader audience. The development of the united spirituality and exegesis is also clear through how he even uses the term “spirituality”. In To What End Exegesis, “spirituality” is capitalized, giving it a sense of holiness. This is made clear by his statement that “Spirituality is defined altogether in terms of the Spirit of God” (80, To What End Exegesis). In Exegesis and Spirituality, Fee reviews his view of spirituality in more historical terms. That is not to say they are not theological; rather, they communicate the theological through historical scholarly language, not the theological through theological language. Through both 1988 and 2000, Fee maintains a relatively consistent view of spirituality and exegesis. However, his purpose and audience force him to adjust his language in order to present more effectively.

While it is respectable that he observes the goal of the text and the role of the Church, it is unfortunate that he does not address the issue of worldviews. From a Christian worldview, one with much diversity, his explanation is profound and effective for interpreting within the Church context. Yet, criticism from the secular world often stems from criticism of the spirituality, or hopes to understand a more universal spirituality not limited to the Church. By missing this goal of some scholars, Fee is too narrow in his hermeneutic and fails to acknowledge the vastness of worldviews from scholars and lay people. While his regard for the relationship between spirituality and exegesis is respectable, and often times agreeable, a Christian worldview should be willing and able to face the secular approach to Scripture. Christian scholars should know how to dialogue with secular scholars, meaning that they speak the language and traditions of the secular rather than the sacred. In arguing for biblical studies as a secular discipline, protestant scholar Ron Simkins notes that “faith may shape the kind of questions the scholar brings to his subject matter; it may even shape the manner in which the subject matter is treated, but it should not determine the results of the scholarship” (11, Biblical Studies as a Secular Discipline). While a completely inclusive biblical hermeneutic is out of question, the exclusive hermeneutic of Fee, which limits interpretation to the Church, creates a system in which there is no question or critique of Scripture. To begin and end with spirituality as the primary goal comes dangerously close to what Simkins opposes. “Faith that demands certain results or is expressed through inviolable propositions is both a distortion of faith and contrary to scholarship” (11, Biblical Studies as a Secular Discipline).

As a method, Fee’s approach is viable. But it is viable as one amidst a plethora of hermeneutics, which should be recognized. Biblical interpretation should critique the text, not solely seek spirituality. After all, if God’s word is truly inspired, it should stand up to secular criticism and approach. While faith demands an a priori of trust, there should be a willingness to address the faults of the text. Christian faith is not in the Bible, but God. Because Christianity is, in some sense, a human movement encompassing Christian traditions over 2000 years, that movement should not have absolute and unquestioning loyalty, as it easily pre-determines the exegetical results.

Works Cited

Simkins, Ron. “Biblical Studies as a Secular Discipline: The Role of Faith and Theology.” Journal of Religion & Society 13 (2011): pg. 1-17. Journal of Religions and Society. Creighton University, 2011. Web. 6 Oct. 2014.