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.

 

Reflections on the Book of Judges

I recently read through the book of Judges for fun. While it is one of the most uncomfortable books with regard to its blood, gore, and violence, it is a fascinating composition. And although many have already noted what I am about to write about, I will write anyway because discovery is new with every man.

Within Judges, there were three things that stood out to me which may help in the broad scope of biblical studies.

  1. The role of women has been noted by many. Unlike many biblical narratives and theological-histories, women play significant roles which affect the direction of the various legends, for better or for worse. It would be interesting to examine how their roles relate to roles of other women and men across the Hebrew Bible. Furthermore, after establishing a date of composition for Judges, it would be interesting to explore how roles of women are used in later composed books of the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Period literature. To expand horizons, such a study should also explore how women are represented in the ancient Near East.
  2. The dynamics between the tribes of Jacob stand out. Any quick reading of Judges can be confusing because the conflict is so rooted in a time of geographical and political upheaval. Thus the complex dynamics and interactions between the various tribes is fascinating in how it relates tribes.
  3. Although Samson is an important character and is included in the longest narrative, it would interesting to analyze reception of the Samson narrative. As I read Judges, something was wrong with Samson and his actions. I am not sure if it is my own morality creating a layer of film over the text, or if the text is actually indicating the sense I am receiving. Regardless, an in depth study of, first, the Samson narrative and, second, reception of the Samson narrative through Church history and Jewish tradition would be fascinating.

Observations Relevant to Interpretation of Leviticus 10

In a previous post, I discussed the nature of the “strange fire” offered by Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, in Leviticus 10 (click here to read). My purpose of doing so was to offer an alternative explanation to the event of the fire consuming Aaron’s sons. My observations within this post are also intended to shed greater light on the issues of the consuming fire and, even more so, overall nature of the entire drama surrounding Aaron and his sons.

Primarily the presence of Aaron’s sons must be observed. As far as I am aware, and please correct me if I am wrong, the placement of Aaron’s sons has not been observed within scholarship. The phrase “Sons of Aaron” occurs 20 times within Leviticus. Sixteen occurrences reference all of Aaron’s sons (1:5, 7, 8, and 11, 2:2, 3:2, 5, 8, and 13, 6:7, 7:10, 8:13, 24, 9:9, 12, and 18). At the turning point of chapter 10, two occurrences solely reference Nadab and Abihu (10:1, 16:1). Eleazer and Ithamar as a pair of Aaron’s sons are referenced twice, once in the same narrative as Nadab and Abihu and once in the Holiness Code (Lev 17-26).

While these observation may carry implications for the overall structure and composition of Leviticus, they also carry implications as to what exactly Nadab and Abihu did incorrectly to be consumed by God’s fire. The text itself explains that “He had not commanded them”, a strong statement especially because the term for “command” is directly negated rather than the phrase as a whole. And when the actions of Aaron’s four sons are noted throughout the 1st part of Leviticus, a pattern becomes evidence: they are only to do as the cultic structure permits them.

Prior to the consuming fire, Aaron’s sons are commanded within the cultic system to act in three roles: to purify the altar by pouring the blood, to receive offerings as their livelihood, and to be consecrated. At the turn of events in chapter 10, the fire consumed the offerings and “the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people”. Based on roles of Aaron’s sons, the error of Nadab and Abihu becomes more clear with respect to each role.

First, they were responsible for handling the blood at the altar. Unclear to most readers from the 21st century, blood with ancient near eastern ritual systems played an essential role for the purification and expiatory natures of rituals. Yitzhaq Feder explores this extensively in his monograph “Blood Expiation in Hittite and Biblical Ritual” (2011). For Nadab and Abihu to step outside of their roles as priests who handled the blood at the altar, they potentially polluted themselves or simply disobeyed the order which God had established within the cultic system.

Second, they were responsible for receiving offerings as their livelihood. This command is clearly spoken towards Aaron and his sons. Because Aaron and his sons received the leftover grain offerings (Lev 2:3), it is possible that Nadab and Abihu were “recycling” the holy bread. Thus the offering was insincere and “strange”. This is supported by Leviticus 10:12, within the same narrative, in which Moses commands Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar, to “eat [the grain offering] unleavened beside the altar, for it is most holy”. Clearly there is an dimension of Leviticus 10:1 in which the issue with Nadab and Abihu was the selected food which they offered.

Third, Aaron’s sons, just as Aaron were responsible for becoming consecrated. Loosely connected to the first point, Nadab and Abihu’s actions following the presence of God in Leviticus 9:23-24 reflects that Nadab and Abihu may have approached God in a manner contrary to their previous consecration rituals. Though this point is quite shaky, it is a possibility that should be seriously considered.

As one observes the role of Aaron’s sons within the Leviticus narrative, the error of Nadab and Abihu may become more apparent. Exploration of the roles of Aaron’s sons may also contribute to a fuller understanding of the historical composition, theology or theologies, and “strange fire” occurrence of Leviticus.

Church History: From Christ to Pre-Reformation by Everett Ferguson

Everett Ferguson’s textbook of Church history, covering the first 14 centuries of the Church, thoroughly and clearly introduces the reader to characters, issues, and events within Church history. Although there remain questions by the end of the book, he continuously focuses on the historical-theological issues as it regards various characters and major events. For questions to remain, though, is reasonable because it is a textbook designed for university students.

One of the most beneficial aspects of the book is its effectiveness as a textbook. This previous semester, Church History: From Christ to Pre-Reformation was my textbook for an independent study class. Through it, I was able to familiarize myself with various theological issues and political power struggles through the evolution of the Church. Although it was a challenging read, often requiring the reader to connect ideas from one chapter to a previous explanation/basis found in another chapter, it was nonetheless beneficial and informative.

Although he successfully provides a historical framework, as is his stated goal (25), Ferguson could have done one thing to improve the reading experience: more clearly mark why certain things were significant within the historical context. Although he does do this, explanation is generally included within a flowing historical presentation. As one not well read in Church history, this made in challenging is attempting to understand what the primary points were.

In conclusion, Everett Ferguson’s Church History is a fantastic introduction to the historical community called “the Church”. His discussion and openness about the multitude of elements within Church history shape a solid historical framework by which readers may operate from in the future, in whatever direction he/she chooses.

Click here to purchase Church History: From Christ to Pre-Reformation, vol. 1, by Everett Ferguson.