“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.

 

 

 

 

 

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Pseudepigrapha Saturday: The Testament of Job

Introduction to the Text:

The Testament of Job (henceforth TJob) is a tale about the life of Job. Unlike the book of Job in the LXX or MT, TJob recasts the story as Job telling his children about his life while he is on his deathbed. This stylistic choice influenced scholars to consider it to be a “testament” on four premises: a deathbed scene; celebration of virtues; moral exhortations; death, burial, and lamentation. TJob, though, modifies this testament genre by treating a character from wisdom literature rather than one from the Torah. According to R. P. Spittler, this indicates that TJob is more haggadic in nature than hortatory. Or, to put in simpler words, TJob is more interested presenting a narrative story than exhorting the audience. In this respect, TJob is more akin to 21st century novels than many other Pseudepigraphal testaments.

Having been written between the 1st century B.C.E. and C.E. in Egypt, it is “a valuable monument to the rich variety of hellenistic Jewish piety” (836). Of course, another large value of TJob is how it reflects cultural standards and societal expectations, and how it uses other biblical literature. Today I will primarily focus on an example of how TJob presents Satan, disguised as a bread seller, using biblical traditions and cultural traditions of mourning.

Reflections of Cultural Expectations in the Testament of Job

TJob reflects cultural expectation quite clearly, along with making implicit references to the Hebrew Bible. Take, for example, chapter 23. In chapter 23, Sitis, Job’s wife, sells her hair to Satan in order to buy bread for herself and her husband. Beyond the fact that Sitis is deceived, for she only receives three loaves of bread in exchange for her hair and the ability “to live for three more days” (23.7bβ), the text further mentions her shame. When recounting her experience, Sitis says that “[Satan disguised as a bread seller] arose and cut [her] hair disgracefully in the market, while the crowd stood by and marveled” (24.10, brackets added for context and italics added for emphasis). The cost for bread is shame; yet, this doesn’t take into account the full context of TJob. In 4.4, God tells Job that Satan will rise up with wrath for battle against Job in response to Job’s destruction of an idolatrous shrine. Because the actions of Satan must be read in context of battle, the cutting of Sitis’ hair becomes an implicit reference to Deuteronomy 21:10-14.

In Deuteronomy 21:10-14, part of the stipulations for those who take captive foreign woman in war and desire to marry them must “have her shave her head, trim her nails and put aside the clothes she was wearing when capture” (Deuteronomy 21:12b-13a). This was considered a sign of mourning. Likewise, in the 1st centuries woman cutting off their hair in mourning is accounted for. [1] In the case of TJob, there is one major difference: Satan cuts the hair of Sitis in battle, not Sitis herself as mourning calls for. This sort of act not only explicitly shames Sitis but seemingly mocks the situation of Sitis.

I am reminded of Richard of York who, in Shakespeare’s  history plays and in a recent production I saw, is crowned with a rag soaked in the blood of his son Edmund. In essence, the Queen and Clifford command Richard of York to mourn; however, just like in TJob, it is not true mourning, but a bastardized symbol of “mourning” appropriated as a tactic and rhetoric for shaming.

Sitis’ account is intriguing because it presents a unique view of “mourning”. It demonstrates how good practices like mourning are utilized by opposition, or the Other, as tools for shaming. This appropriation of mourning for darker purposes, if you will, is not restricted solely to TJob. In fact, it is an approach to battle used through time and space, whether in biblical literature or Shakespeare.

 

[1] In his analysis on the discourse of First Corinthians, Ralph Bruce Terry writes the following: “It is also worthy of note that Greek women seem to have cut off their hair in times of mourning. Plutarch, in the context of discussing mourning at funerals, says, “So in Greece, whenever any misfortune comes, the women cut off their hair and the men let it grow . . .” (Moralia, The Roman Questions 14). This would be similar to the Jewish custom of shaving the head as a symbol of grief or mourning (cf. Deut. 21:12-13; Is. 7:20; 15:2; 22:12; Jer. 16:6; Mic. 1:16; and Josephus Antiquities iv.8.23 [§257]).” Available online: http://web.ovu.edu/terry/dissertation/2_4-aspects.htm.

 

Bibliography:

R. P. Spittler.”Testament of Job”. J. H. Charlesworth, editor. Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, volume I. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1983.

Ralph Bruce Terry. “An Analysis of Certain Features of Discourse in the New Testament Book of 1 Corinthians”. Available online: http://web.ovu.edu/terry/dissertation/index.htm

Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Treatise of Shem (Belated Edition)

Generally I post Pseudepigrapha Saturday on Saturdays. Unfortunately, due to the business of #AARSBL15 and thanksgiving time, I have been unable to post it. Well, now I present you with the exclusive “Belated Edition” of Pseudepigrapha Saturday. The only difference is that I am posting on Sunday instead of Saturday.

Introduction to the Text:

The Treatise of Shem follows the zodiac counterclockwise and reverses the order the Aquarius and Pisces. The first zodiac sign, Aries, begins with gloomy imagery, while the final zodiac sign in regular the regular order, Pisces, reflects a far more positive outlook. Written in the late twenties B.C.E. in Egypt, Charlesworth suggests that it demonstrates Jewish astrological concerns during the first century B.C.E. and symbolically reflects Octavian’s defeat of Mark Antony and Cleopatra at Actium (31 B.C.E.), a likely candidate for the battle which birthed the Roman Empire (See The Battle of Actium by Joshua J. Mark).

synagogue-zodiacs-11-260x213

“The synagogue at Zippori (Sepphoris) provided the most recent of the zodiac mosaic discoveries, although unfortunately it is not very well preserved. In the center of the zodiac wheel, Helios once again drives his four-horse chariot, but rather than the figure of a man, the god is depicted as the sun itself.” – Source: Biblical Archaeology Society

 

 

The Treatise of Shem and the “Variegated Nature of Intertestamental Judaism”

In his introduction to the Treatise of Shem, Charlesworth notes that “Diasporic Judaism, and even Palestinian Judaism, was not guided by an established orthodoxy. The Treatise of Shem significantly improves our perception of the variegated nature of intertestamental Judaism” (OTP, vol. 1, 477). Dovetailing from this point, the Treatise of Shem also illustrates the breadth of theological convictions throughout history. Take, for example, Genesis 1:14 which notes that the sun and moon as things which give signs and seasons. This Priestly text, of course, assumes a culture with an agricultural locus; thus, to follow the signs of the sky would not seem odd. After all, the seasons, signs, times, and astrology all go hand-in-hand.

Two later texts oppose astrology. Deuteronomy 18:10-14 bans divination, something which encompasses astrology. And the book of Jubilees rejects astrology all together (OTP, vol. 1, 477). Clearly, the various traditions from biblical literature indicate that Jewish literature (however anachronistic those terms may seem) was multifaceted and inherited traditions, ideas, and religious practices from their own contexts.

Shifting to more contemporary significance, perhaps the multifaceted approach to communal religion and personal, lived religion should be embraced by religious communities of the 21st centuries. In a world of globalization, multi-religious dialogue is an absolute must. Note, though, that I am not calling for pluralism. Pluralism demands that multiple sources are all correct. I simply call for multi-religious dialogue, in which multiple sources can engage with each other to seek commonalities for moving forward and also agree to disagree about differences.

This is the sort of diversity which seems to be present in the Treatise of Shem, one of many examples of variegation in Second Temple Period Judaism. Maybe we should learn from our human predecessors and move forward with those convictions: difference within tradition is not detrimental, but good.

Note: I am aware that this post went off the main focus of my blog, but I think it is important. So I said it. I am also aware that I am not necessarily taking into account the historical relationship between the variegated forms of Second Temple Period Judaism. Even so, I believe that multi-faith dialogue is a necessity for constructing a more palatable and lively world.

Bibliography:

Joshua J. Mark. “The Battle of Actium”. Ancient History Encyclopedia. http://www.ancient.eu/article/187/  (accessed 11/29/2015).

J. H. Charlesworth. “Treatise of Shem”. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume I. Hendrickson Publishers, 1983: 473-486.

Walter Zanger. “Jewish Worship, Pagan Symbols”. Bible History Daily. http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/ancient-israel/jewish-worship-pagan-symbols/ (accessed 11/29/2015).

From Death to Life

Of the multiple papers presented at the Society of Biblical Literature Conference, one of the most outstanding to me was by a lady, whose name I cannot recall, that drew out the concept of resurrection within Job. Upon referencing Job 19:26, a passage commonly used within the 1st four centuries as a prophetic text for Jesus’ resurrection, she explored how it was the root of the concept of resurrection which developed rapidly within the 2nd Temple Period. One nuance of Job, which I do wish she’d spent more time explicating, was that the concept of moving from death to life within the book takes place within life. Why does this matter?

In essence, reading the concept of resurrection within one’s life permits for a more practical hope to be held. Rather than simply pushing hope to be the resurrection after one has died, the hope for resurrection from death is permitted to take place in this life, not another. Essentially, it allows people to participate more practically in the Job narrative and join Job in his journey to understanding the nuances of life: how does one move from a living death to a living life?

Of course, while these concepts are utilized within the New Testament beyond this life, that does not nullify an understanding of resurrection within this life. Expansion of how we define resurrection, especially for Christians, beyond a postmortem occurrence may very well open up doors to encourage, build, and change the world in even greater ways. It offers hope to people who live now rather than forcing them to take upon themselves the pessimistic weight of Ecclesiastes as their life.

And, most importantly, an expanded understanding of resurrection, from death to life, permits more successful Jewish-Christian dialogue, which may well lead to a unity of the two traditions to move together towards the healing of the world.