The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha

Too often people limit their idea of what constitute the Bible, whether in Jewish, Christian, or secular circles. Not many actually endeavor to understand the theological and literary developments found within the Pseudepigrapha. Unfortunately the unawareness of such literature within certain circles results in a narrow minded approach to biblical interpretation, not realizing that they are joining in over two millennia of discussion. More use and discussion of the Pseudepigrapha within temple, church, and other communal setting will promote biblical literacy and recognition of the rich tapestry of theological traditions.

Bible Odyssey, a creation of Society of Biblical Literature designed to promote people literacy especially as it relates to the academy, is one place that attempts to bridge “the gap between the academy and the “street.”” While I would never expect full fledged discussion of something like the Prayer of Joseph, Ahiqar, or the Prayer of Manasseh, some sort of reference would be beneficial to promoting biblical literacy and the richness found surrounding it. None of the previous three Pseudepigrapha showed up from the brief search on Bible Odyssey. For this, I can think of two basic possibilities:

1) Perhaps the involvement in the promotion of biblical literacy through websites like Bible Odyssey is lacking. That isn’t to say that the academy is not attempting to share the information; rather, the academy is, generally speaking, too busy to move in the direction of promoting popular biblical literacy. In response universities and the academy should push for more involvement in websites like Bible Odyssey, bringing the academy to the “street”.

2) Perhaps certain things are too far outside of the aims of Bible Odyssey. Although  I certainly understand this, I believe that it doesn’t mean the total exclusion of certain biblical books and topics. Even a nod to the Pseudepigrapha, brief reference, or discussion would provide students and the “street” with direction in which they might pursue biblical themes and ideas as discussed outside of the traditional biblical canons. Having recently graduated, I recognize how much “signs” help students, something to inform them of the direction they should look beyond the biblical canon.

The academy should consider these two possibilities, and how they may respond to them in action. Yet I also recognize that the issue is also whether or not people care to become biblically literate, to learn of the rich historical and theological traditions of the biblical canon and literature surrounding it. Creating genuine interest is, of course, a whole other issue. So for now, people within the academy should do what can be done to generate interest.

 

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The Role of Ruth

Note: Ruth in italics represents the title of the Book of Ruth, while Ruth is regular caps is for the character.

Within the Hebrew Bible and biblical studies, one of the most overlooked portions is the Megilloth (Ruth, Lamentations, Song of Solomon, Esther, and Ecclesiastes). Although people like Dr. Brad Embry (Regent University) have started a Program Unit at SBL for the Megilloth, it remains overlooked. This is unfortunate because the Megilloth act in a unique manner. One major factor so unique about the Megilloth is their sense of being in the genre of “indie films”, or independent films. In essence, an independent film escapes the typical boundary markers set by the film industry. They need not appeal to the mass audience by creating a simple story with everything cut and dry (Note: Don’t think I am saying the whole Bible is cut and dry. I am speaking very broadly). Indie films, rather, demonstrate real life while still raising issues and making points. They don’t attempt to make everything neat and tidy. Within them, certain tensions exist as part of the drive and soul of the film.

In my view, Ruth is quite similar to an indie film. Contrary to the belief that Ruth was solely written as a polemic to Hezekiah and Josiah’s reforms, Ruth seems to be more of a down to earth view of Israelite society which recognizes that society is not nearly as black and white as is oft-portrayed. Ruth see’s no need to cover up the nature of Ruth as a Moabite. It even portrays her as the ideal Israelite and part of the assembly of God. Such actions directly contradict Deuteronomy 23:3-6, God’s command not to allow Moabites into the assembly or provide them with support. Clearly this independent “film” escapes the typical boundary markers set by ancient Israel. By escaping the boundary markers, Ruth occurs in tension with the rest of the Hebrew Canon, tensions utilized to progress the didactic goal of Ruth.

By approaching Ruth as an indie film, there no longer needs to be an attempt to synchronize everything theologically. As is often recognized, the Hebrew Bible displays many theologies, and these should be embraced equally. So, rather than “passing over” (It is Passover right now…) Ruth because it seems insignificant, it should be approached directly with respect for the indie like nature of the narrative. After all, if one fails to recognize that a film is indie and views it through the same lens as a mainstream Hollywood film, the life is suffocated from the film. In the same way, to place such stringent restrictions on how to read Ruth will result in the suffocation of a literary masterpiece.

“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.

Click here to purchase Jesus and Purity Halakhah by Thomas Kazen