Pseudepigrapha Saturday: The Epistle to Diognetus

 

Diognetus

Introduction:

 

The Epistle to Diognetus was written in the mid to late 2nd-century church by an unknown author [1]. Although there are not extant manuscripts, we do have transcriptions by scholars in the earlier centuries. Like many written sources in literature of antiquity, the epistle began in an oral form and over time was written into a literary composition. Its current form is best regarded as an apology [2]. Even these conclusion, though, are not certain because we have so little information regarding the text.

The epistle is divided into 12 chapters [3]. Jefford divides it into 7 sections:

  1. Prologue (1.1-2)
  2. On Greeks (2.1-10)
  3. On Jews (3.1-4.6)
  4. On Christians (5.1-6.10)
  5. About God’s Power (7.1-9.6)
  6. About God’s Plan (10.1-8)
  7. The Witness of the Word (11.1-12.9) [4]

Essentials chapters 1-4 attempt to dissuade the listener from Greek and Jewish religion options. Chapters 5-6 focuses on why Christian worship is superior to the alternatives and good for the societal cohesion. Chapter 7-10 transition into more theological issues, such as the role of God, his power, divine revelation, etc. Chapters 11-12, later editorial additions, clearly stand apart as later theological developments; however, the editor demonstrably attempted to smoothly add them into the greater framework of the epistle.

The Epistle to Diognetus, Theurgy, and Rabbinic Judaism

In his discourse on Jews, the author writes that Jews “should rather consider it folly {i.e., Temple sacrifices}, not worship, when they imagine that they offer these things to God as though he needed them” (3.4) Although the authors ties the sacrifices back to the folly of Greeks worshiping “deaf images”, each group, Jews and Greeks, are still autonomous to a certain extent and we need not necessarily analyze the presentation of Jews solely in context of Greek descriptors. So, chapter 6 transitions into a critique of Jewish practices like food laws, Sabbath, and circumcision, and fasting and new moons. For each of these descriptions of Jewish practices, the author offers an alternative in chapters 7-10. What, though, is the underlying historical theology behind the Jews whom the author references?

Yair Lorberbaum’s groundbreaking work on conceptions of zelem Elohim (in the image of God) in Rabbinic Judaism sheds important light on the historical theology of Jews during the period of the epistle. Essentially, Lorberbaum argues that zelem Elohim underlies all commandments in Talmudic literature and Rabbinic Judaism. As he summarizes towards the end of his work, “in the tannaitic [5] understanding, the commandments are a form of Imatio Dei, a view based on the conception of man (including Israel) as Imago Dei” [6]. Such an understanding suggests that all actions of mankind are, therefore, theurgical. That is, human actions have potential to grow or diminish God because humans are eikons, or physical extensions, of God.

If we apply this framework to the epistle’s description of Jewish practices, they don’t seem as irrelevant. Unlike Christian praxis in the community behind the epistle which focused on ethical and spiritual issues t0 bring God’s rule, Jewish tannaitic praxis focused on obeying the traditional commandments and understanding how to do so in order to bring God’s rule and augment his presence. Where this splinter in ideology occurs historically is beyond the scope of this post; however, it is evident that at some point Judaism and Christianity went different directions in this regard of what constitutes praxis [7].

What we see here allows us to read the epistle more critically and avoid reading our own theological biases into early Christian literature. Additionally, this helps to historically contextualize the epistle within its own period. Consequently we see a fuller image of what theological currents existed during the 1st and 2nd centuries CE and how various traditions interacted.

 

[1] Clayton N. Jefford, The Epistle to Diognetus (With the Fragment of Quadratus), Oxford Apostolic Fathers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 28.

[2] Ibid., 56, calls the earlier form of chapters 1-10 protreptic discourse. When chapters 11-12 were added, the editor refashioned the entire text into apologetic discourse.

[3] Although scholars often separate the text into different periods from editorial emendations, for the most part we will read it as a unified text, aside from chapters 11 and 12 which are late additions.

[4] Jefford, The Epistle to Diognetus, 31. See footnote 2 for alternative divisions by scholars.

[5] The tannaitic period was c. 10-220 CE; therefore, it was concurrent with the epistle.

[6] Yair Lorberbaum, In God’s Image (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 284.

[7] So Jefford, The Epistle to Diognetus, 97-98.

Bibliography

Jefford, Clayton N. The Epistle to Diognetus (With the Fragment of Quadratus). Oxford Apostolic Fathers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Lorberbaum, Yair. In God’s Image. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

 

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“Jesus and Purity Halakhah” by Thomas Kazen

Thomas Kazen’s Jesus and Purity Halakhah explores the historical Jesus and how he related to the purity halakhah of his day. He thoroughly considers multiple approaches to the issues and utilizes a wide variety of primary sources. Divided into four parts, Jesus and Purity Halakhah begins with a demonstration of the necessity of his study and explanation of his historical approach. His brief, but detailed, summary of the history of the quest for the historical Jesus, especially as it relates to purity, provides a solid framework by which his arguments are shaped. By the end of part I, it is evident that his goal is to present a “conscious reconstruction of how Jesus related to concepts of impurity” (41), not necessarily how Markan or Lukan tradition understood Jesus.

Part II identifies Jesus’ adversaries, a basic introduction to that conflict, and the legal texts which assist in the study. After demonstrating his framework through a Sabbath case study, he repeats his approach through a case study of Mark 7 and Jesus’ hand-washing. Such case studies permit him to present the basic nature of the Second Temple Period: purity was a serious issue and debate within the period. Following, he identifies the major elements of defilement through contact: skin disease, bodily discharges, and the corpse. His discussion of each of these elements strengthen his argument with their thorough nature. Based on these categories, Kazen concludes that Jesus was indifferent to impurity halakhah of his day.

He then proceeds to explore, in Part III, three explanatory models for why Jesus was so indifferent to purity: morality, diversity, and demonic threat. For each model he clearly demonstrates how each contributes to a more holistic picture of Jesus’ character. Finally, in Part IV, he concludes and synthesizes his results into a succinct explanation of Jesus’ seemingly indifferent attitude to purity halakah, even briefly discussing practical applications for the Church.

Above all else, Kazen’s use of multiple sources was admirable. While he does utilize any and every possible source, he clearly explains how each fits into his explanatory model or discussion. In doing so, he is clear as to how certain texts, such as the Qumran scrolls, may or may not be significant. Such a clear approach permits the reader to more easily approach the text and yield new observations about the 2nd Temple Period and Jesus’ purity halakhah. Additionally, his writing style is quite story like. Although he is  not necessarily telling a story, his style often feels like a story due to the nature of it. Kazen even notes that the book builds based on previously explicated information. And he expects the reader to grasp a point explained from 100 pages earlier. Though it may, for some, be difficult, I found it to increase the readability as I knew what sort of writing to expect.

In conclusion, Kazen presents a fantastic and convincing argument for a proper view of Jesus’ historical nature and how he regarded purity halakhah. His work avoids strong bias towards theological endeavors and effectively focuses into the historical issues surrounding Jesus. Any desire for discussion, research, or general information regarding Jesus as he relates to purity halakhah of the first century must consider Jesus and Purity Halakhah to be their first secondary source.

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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.