Review of Biblical Literature Newsletter (9 March 2015)

The 9 March 2015 newsletter for the Review of Biblical Literature noted reviews of:

Review of Biblical Literature Newsletter (February 27, 2015)

The latest reviews from the Review of Biblical Literature include:

Review of Biblical Literature Newsletter (February 6, 2015)

The latest reviews from the Review of Biblical Literature include:

Was the Teacher of Righteousness Considered to Be a Messiah?

John Collins rightly argues that the possibility of a positive answer to this question depends heavily on what one means by משיח (messiah) (“A Messiah before Jesus?” 15–35). Most notably, messianic language at Qumran refers to the so-called “Davidic” and “priestly” messiahs (1QS 9:11; 4Q161 3:22–29; 4Q174 3:7–13; 4Q252 5:1–7; 4Q266 f2i:11; f10i:12; 4Q285 f7:1–6; 4Q479 f1:4; 11Q14 f1i:5–15; CD 12:23–13:1; 14:19; 19:10–11; 20:1; cf. 4Q504 f1-2Riv:6–8),1 but some Qumran texts also use messianic language about prophets (28). For example, one may cite the following texts (cf. 28):

  • ויודיעם ביד משיחי רוח קדשו וחוזי אמת (and he taught them by the hand of the ones anointed by his holy spirit and the seers of truth; CD 2:12–13)
  • דברו סרה על מצות אל ביד משה וגם במשיחי הקודש (they spoke rebellion against the commands of God by the hand of Moses and also by the holy anointed ones; CD 5:21–6:1; cf. 4Q266 f3ii:9–10; 4Q267 f2:6; 6Q15 f3:4)
  • וביד משיחיכה חוזי תעודות הגדתה לנו קצי מלחמות ידיכה (and by the hand of your anointed ones, seers of decrees, you told to us the times of the wars of your hands; 1QM 11:7–8)

4Q521; 11Q13 2:18 may also arguably fall under this category (28–29), and if the Teacher is to be assigned to the category of ‘messiah’, he should be so assigned under the rubric of this third, prophetic type of messiah (32–33). Yet, nowhere do the “Teacher Hymns” claim any anointing for their author (30, 33), even though there is ample reason to affirm that the Teacher saw himself as a prophet (32). Thus, in a loose sense by which anointing and prophetic vocation were held together, the Teacher might be termed a messiah, but Collins thinks that “it is misleading to speak of him as the eschatological prophet or as a messiah, in the definitive eschatological sense” (33).

This point is well taken, and the desire that Collins consistently expresses throughout his essay to describe the Teacher, messiahship, and Jesus on their own individual terms is both appropriate and commendable. Still, texts like CD 1–2; 1QpHab 2:1–10 may well set up for the Teacher a “definitive eschatological” role that also differs distinctly at certain points from the “definitive eschatological” role that the early Christian community assigned to Jesus (cf. 29). Perhaps most obviously given Qumran’s likely witness to Davidic and Aaronic messiahs as well, the Teacher does not constitute the sole person in whom יהוה’s purposes for his people ultimately come to fruition. Rather, taken as a whole, the sectarian manuscripts may be understood as divvying out to several parties what the New Testament assigns collectively to Jesus (e.g., 2 Cor 1:20; Gal 1–2; Heb 6:19–7:28; Rev 5). Thus, the exclusivity of influence for the Teacher’s “definitive eschatological” role may be comparatively smaller and otherwise expressed for the Qumran community than it was for the role that Jesus exercised on the early Christian community, but because the Teacher was יהוה’s appointed guide (e.g., CD 1:1–11), there seems to be good reason to suppose that the Teacher’s eschatological definitiveness would have been quite strong within its own designated sphere.

Despite this qualification, “A Messiah before Jesus?” offers concise summary of and engagement with the theses that André Dupont-Sommer advanced early in the history of Qumran scholarship and that others (e.g., Michael Wise, Israel Knohl) have more recently revisited. Particularly, Collins’ conclusion helpfully draws attention to some key points of difference between Jesus and the Teacher that those who have taken the Dupont-Sommer line may have insufficiently appreciated (33–35). This essay and its sister (Collins, “An Essene Messiah?” 37–44) are generally both judicious and informative, and the rest of the volume promises to be quite engaging also.


1 The reference system adopted here follows the conventions of Martin Abegg, Qumran Sectarian Manuscripts.

In this post:

Qumran Sectarian Manuscripts
Martin Abegg Jr.

Christian Beginnings and the Dead Sea Scrolls
John Collins and Craig Evans

“How to Write a Lot”

Paul Silvia
Paul Silvia
Paul J. Silvia teaches psychology at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. In
How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing, Silvia chiefly pleads with his readers to set aside specific, regular blocks of time for writing and to adhere steadfastly to this schedule (16–17). “The secret,” he says, “is the regularity, not the number of days or the number of hours [allotted for writing]” (13). Silvia argues that observing such a regular writing schedule will allow an author to produce better material more efficiently (1). “More efficiently” does not, of course, necessarily indicate that all academics should publish a large quantity of material; those whose interests lie elsewhere can still use a regular writing schedule to produce the quantity of literature that they wish. Thus, Silvia suggests that a more accurate title for the volume would be How to Write More Productively During the Normal Work Week with Less Anxiety and Guilt, but he humorously recognizes that such a title may well have inhibited book sales (130).

To motivate his readers to take his advice about writing schedules, Silvia addresses four common barriers to productive writing and regular writing times (11–27). First, Silvia addresses the difficulty of finding large blocks of time to write by asking his audience to consider writing to be part of the set of required tasks that academics have. “Do you need to ‘find time to teach’?” he queries, “Of course not—you have a teaching schedule, and you never miss it. . . . Instead of finding time to write, allot time to write” (12). Second, Silvia cautions against the literary paralysis that can result from a constant feeling of needing to read more about a topic before writing about it. Doing this reading during one’s scheduled writing time can eliminate the roadblock it presents to the writing process (18–19). Third, perceived workspace or equipment inadequacies cannot be allowed to be deterrents from writing (19–23). Fourth, waiting for inspiration or “feeling like writing,” at least for those who do not intend to produce novels or poetry, should not dissuade someone from a regular schedule because keeping that schedule will itself generally prompt more ideas for writing and more occasions when an author feels like writing (23–27).

After attempting to dispatch these common roadblocks to productive writing, Silvia suggests some “motivational tools,” including: setting reasonable goals to achieve within one’s regular writing times, prioritizing different projects appropriately, and monitoring one’s progress (30–45). He also comments at length on starting and running a writing accountability group (49–57).

Silvia briefly discusses some characteristics of good writing style (59–76) before giving specific counsel for writing journal articles (77–107) and books (109–25). For journal articles, Silvia provides numerous specific tips (78–98)—some of which specifically relate to his own field of psychology but may still apply to articles submitted in New Testament studies—and a general counsel: Assume that any article submitted will be rejected (98). Silvia intends this counsel to calm fears about “what if. . . ,” and he encourages his readers to think of article rejections as a “publication tax,” or a cost that must be payed to have other things published (100–101). For books, Silvia suggests finding a co-author if necessary (112–13), and he provides some tips for authors when they want to “sell” their books to publishers (118–23).

While Silvia’s book contains numerous, practical hints for various issues that arise during the writing process, the book has a unified message: “Make a writing schedule, keep it, and you will write more than you do.” The “plan and persist” mantra is, perhaps, somewhat oversimplified at times, but this simplicity too serves Silvia’s purpose. How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing, in the end, does “guide,” but this guidance is designed also to motivate.

Looking at beginning the dissertation phase here at Southeastern later this year, I found Silvia’s book encouraging, but perhaps more encouraging is a very simple writing schedule. If someone were only to average one page each week day, that person would write about 261 pages each year. At about 350 words per page, our hypothetical student would write in one year 91,350 words on a project where something around 100,000 words seems to be a fairly standard finishing length. Others who have already walked this road will certainly have a more nuanced perspective, but at the beginning of the road at least, such things are encouraging.


In this post:

Paul Silvia
Paul Silvia

Book Review: The Office of Assertion

Scott Crider
Scott Crider

Scott Crider teaches in the English Department at the University of Dallas. His book, The Office of Assertion: An Art of Rhetoric for the Academic Essay, is intended to provide an introduction to “the classical art of rhetoric and composition” (xi). While providing this introduction, Crider specifically seeks to argue that rhetoric is, as a liberal art, a noble pursuit and to improve the readers ability to write academic prose (2).

The introduction defends a distinction between rhetoric and sophistry, between “persuasion aimed at the truth . . . and persuasion aimed only at the appearance of truth” (4; cf. 119). Following Aristotle, Crider affirms that rhetoric is not primarily formulaic, although it does involve certain formulas; instead, rhetoric is primarily a mental faculty (5–7). Having truth as its goal, fully formed rhetoric “in its finest and fullest manifestation is a form of love” (12). In addition to discovering means for persuading an audience toward truth, the rhetorical faculty carefully attends to what arguments will function best in a given situation (7–9; cf. 59).

Rhetoric begins with invention, some conception of an argument, and invention commonly has five topics: definition, comparison, relationship, circumstance, and testimony (29). Once the rhetor has refined an argument well enough to have a coherent thesis, the rhetor can use these topics to chart a course toward demonstrating the thesis (30). The additional, subsidiary arguments and the manner in which they are drawn together toward the thesis are best organized according to an “immanent design,” or an arrangement that arises from the arguments themselves rather than one that is simply imposed from without (e.g., the five-paragraph essay form; 43–47).

Even if written to people who have similar interests, an argument’s introduction should convince its audience that the argument is worth reading (49). This introduction calls for a certain degree of creativity to find some way of painting the argument’s substance in a way that will please and intrigue the audience; if a rhetor succeeds in this task, the audience will be more willing to spend the time and effort to ponder the argument proper (53). The introduction should also briefly outline the essential contours of the argument that the rhetor intends to prosecute; doing so aids the argument’s rhetoric by providing the audience a concrete set of expectations, which the rhetor can attempt to meet (55–56). Along the way to meeting these expectations, the rhetor should consider and account for possible counter-arguments (59): What weaknesses in the argument do these potential contraventions suggest? How can these weaknesses best be remedied? After prosecuting the argument, the rhetor should briefly conclude (61–62). Conclusions frequently summarize; they may also suggest additional implications that the central argument has, emotionally move the audience, or return to a theme or idea included in the introduction (62–63).

Throughout the introduction, argument, and conclusion, the rhetor is also constrained to use an appropriate style of language because an inappropriate style will hamper the audience’s reception of the argument (73–74, 77–78, 84). Particularly apt for academic writing is a kind of “middle style” that steers a middle course between the colloquialism of conversational language and the elevation of highly stylized discourse (74–77). This middle style includes conventions about word choice, sentence construction, figures of speech, and formatting (79–104). Together, a rhetor’s use of these elements suggest certain things about that rhetor and give the audience a certain picture of who the rhetor is—a picture that may aid or inhibit the rhetor’s persuasive task.

Once constructed, an academic writing needs a second look that does more than seek opportunities to make editorial changes (109). The writing needs to be evaluated in terms of the degree to which it fulfills its required objectives, the sharpness of its focus, the clarity of its thesis, the development of its logic, and the completeness of its explanations, and the piece should be revised accordingly (110). Such revision allows a rhetor to enhance the craftsmanship that the argument exhibits and the argument’s ability to move its audience toward truth (118).

Given Crider’s stated purpose to provide an introduction to rhetoric for the academic essay, The Office of Assertion is a helpful, concise, and in its own way, pleasant book. At various points, some readers might wish for more specifics or more direct instruction, but on Crider’s conception of rhetoric as primarily a faculty of the mind rather than a set of independent techniques, the book strikes a nice balance between generality and specificity. Crider seeks not so much to show his readers directly how to write good, academic essays as to show them how to think—how to have the kind of mind that produces good, academic essays. Style is a component of this larger package, but mere mechanical observation of grammatical or stylistic “rules” can, quite possibly, fail to induce other elements of good essays, like invention and organization. By contrast, a rhetorically-trained mind naturally seeks out effective style. Thus, Crider’s book and the relationship that he advocates between rhetoric, academic writing, and style have much to commend them as aids toward delightfully introducing oneself and one’s audience to truth.


In this post:

Scott Crider
Scott Crider

Judaism in Justification and Variegated Nomism

D. A. Carson, Peter O'Brien, and Mark Seifrid
D. A. Carson, Peter O'Brien, and Mark Seifrid
In contrast to Sanders’ emphasis on the essential consistency of Palestinian Judaism’s pattern of religion, the essays in Second Temple Judaism emphasize the nomistic diversity, or variegation, that ancient Judaism exhibited.

Consequently, a concise summary of the whole volume that appreciates the variegated findings of each author would be difficult to produce. Therefore, below are brief, individual summaries for each of the essays. For more detailed summaries of the arguments in chapters 2–15, see Carson’s concluding essay (505–48). The bracketed numbers below refer to the chapter numbers in Second Temple Judaism; all parenthetical references also refer to this work unless otherwise noted.

To jump to the summary for a specific essay, choose one of the following: psalms and prayers, scripture-based stories in the pseudepigrapha, expansions of scripture, didactic stories, apocalypses, testaments, wisdom, Josephus, the Tannaim, the targums, Philo, Qumran, righteousness language, the Pharisees, and summaries and conclusions.

[2] Psalms and Payers (Falk) “If [his] aim was to give a sort of ‘lowest common denominator’ soteriology that would be recognized by most of the divergent expressions of Judaisms [sic], Sanders’s covenantal nomism would serve fairly well, given his generous allowances of flexibility. To do so, however, would be akin to grouping apples, oranges, and bananas together as ‘fruit.’ For comparative purposes, such a harmonizing approach is of limited value. It masks very different conceptions of the problem of sin, the balance of focus on nationalism and individualism, and most significantly the boundaries of the covenant” (56).

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[3] Scripture-Based Stories in the Pseudepigrapha (Evans) This literature promotes the role of obedience to the law in determining one’s membership in the people of God. “This is not to say that the authors of these writings did not view God as gracious and forgiving; they did. There is no indication, however, that they believed that people could gain God’s acceptance apart from obedience to the Law” (72).

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[4] Expansions of Scripture (Enns) First Esdras “generally” supports Sanders’ thesis, “albeit indirectly” (75). The additions to Daniel affirm the necessity for true Jews to “worship the true God whatever the circumstances,” and these additions would have functioned to affirm to their readers God’s faithfulness by describing how he had delivered his people in the past (83). The additions to Esther communicate a similar message (87). Pseudo-Philo “never ceases to remind his readers of the obligations God makes on them, but these obligations are nothing less than the special privilege of those who already enjoy covenant status. Covenant precedes law” (92). Jannes and Jambres, however, is too problematic to use in developing an affirmation or critique of Sanders’ thesis (87–88), but Sanders’ general assessment of Jubilees “seems to be sound” (97).

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[5] Didactic Stories (Davies) “With the exception of Aristeas, none of these stories . . . gives a very clear hint as to what it is about Judaism and the Jewish people that makes it important for them to be preserved. Such a question, perhaps, was not worth asking and the answer taken as self-evident” (131). What is clear from these stories, however, is that “no Jew is an island, and in the fate of every Jew lies, potentially, the fate of the Jewish people” (131).

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[6] Apocalypses (Bauckham) First Enoch substantially supports Sanders (148). Yet, 2 Enoch, even more than 4 Ezra (172), advocates a legalistic form of works-righteousness (156). The section of the Apocalypse of Zephaniah that probably would discuss the consequences of Zephaniah’s righteous deeds is missing, but on hearing his sins rehearsed, Zephaniah does plead for forgiveness because of the greatness of God’s mercy (158). Consequently, in the absence of a manuscript that contains the missing text, one may tentatively assume that Apoc. Zeph. supports Sanders’ argument. Third Baruch has a similar perspective (185); by contrast, Second Baruch emphasizes the need that the righteous have for God’s mercy, while also viewing the possibility of faithful obedience to the law rather more positively than does 4 Ezra (181). The Sibylline Oracles have a complex, literary history that includes the intermingling of (Diasporic) Jewish material with material that is substantially Christian or, at least, material that underwent a substantial, Christian redaction (Eissfeldt 616). The material most relevant vis-à-vis Sanders’ thesis comes from books 4 and 5 and seems to indicate that: (1) the whole law was given to Jews and Gentiles alike and (2) one’s fate depends on how one comports with the law (186–87).

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[7] Testaments (Kugler) An investigation of the testament literature “is not entirely favorable for Sanders’s thesis. Although the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs do evince Sanders’s covenantal nomism, the Testament of Moses embraces the concept of election but rejects the idea that ‘obedience [to the laws] . . . or atonement and repentance for transgression’ are ultimately necessary ‘for remaining in the covenant community.’ And while the Testament of Job admits a God-fearer into the community of the elect, it only requires of him trust in God to maintain that relationship” (189–90; insertion and italics original).

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[8] Wisdom (Gowan) “With reference to Sanders’s terms, ‘getting in’ is clearly attributed entirely to the divine initiative in [Sirach, Baruch, Wisdom of Solomon, and 4 Maccabees]. The[se documents] affirm the existence of a special relationship between God and Israel; and Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon, and 4 Maccabees base their teachings on the certainty that the sovereign and merciful God is faithful to that relationship. . . . [For Baruch, s]taying in does not depend entirely on human obedience, but depends on mercy that transcends merit. Confession of sin and appeal for forgiveness play a larger role than in other books. The need for repentance and forgiveness is also dealt with in Sirach, and this shows that the author does not operate with a strictly merit-based theology. The background of persecution in Wisdom of Solomon and 4 Maccabees leads to more interest in divine support for those suffering for their faithfulness than concern about what they may have done wrong” (238).

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[9] Josephus (Spilsbury) Instead of covenantal nomism, one may characterize Josephus’s nomism more accurately by the phrase “patronal nomism.” “‘Patronal nomism’ is more than just ‘covenantal nomism’ by another name. It is, in fact, a thoroughly Romanized translation of a biblical concept into a new idiom” (252). This idiom designates “an exchange relationship in which people enjoy the blessings of God’s patronage to the extent that they display gratitude in the practice of their lives for the divine benefaction which is God’s law” (259).

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[10] Torah and Salvation in Tannaitic Literature (Alexander) “Tannaitic Judaism can be seen as fundamentally a religion of works-righteousness, and it is none the worse for that. The superiority of grace over law is not self-evident and should not simply be assumed” (300).

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[11] Some Targum Themes (McNamara) “It is clear that according to the [Palestinian] Targum Israel’s election was not due to her own merits” (331). Moreover, “[s]ince both the covenant and the law are as central to the Targums as they are to the biblical text which [the Targums] translate, it may be permissible to describe the religious approach of the Targums, in so far as this can be reconstructed, as ‘covenantal nomism’” (355). It may, however, be “questionable whether ‘covenantal nomism’ is an apt description of any form of Jewish religion. The term ‘nomism’ tends to denote a static position, conformity to a set of rules. . . . [Yet, t]he covenant is not a term that describes a static religion” (355).

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[12] Philo of Alexandria (Hay) While affirming Philo’s basic agreement with his own view, Sanders admits that Philo: (1) does not clearly articulate a view of the law, Israel’s redemption, or life after death and (2) is especially concerned with individuals seeking God (see 370). “To these qualifications two others should be added: (1) Philo says very little about God’s covenant(s) with Israel, and (2) his framework of religious thought is not soteriological (despite his frequent references to God as ‘savior’). Adding together all these qualifications, it would seem, after all, not very useful to speak of Philo as a representative of ‘covenantal nomism’” (370). Still, Philo “does not think of human free will as absolute and his concept of grace is not synergistic. Fundamentally Philo considers that human responsibility centers in thankfulness to the Creator, who is the source of all that is good within each soul. Everything finally hinges on divine grace” (378).

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[13] 1QS and Salvation at Qumran (Bockmuehl) Sanders’ description of the Qumran community’s pattern of religion was able to stand because of the relatively narrow text base with which he was able to work. This text base included primarily the Damascus Document, the Community Rule, the War Scroll, and the Hodayot (382). He also cites the Habakkuk and Psalms commentaries and the Midrash on Eschatology (4QFlor), but he does so very sparsely (382). Working in the mid-1970s, Sanders’ work on Qumran’s pattern of religion was rather ahead of the publication of the data that it properly required, the last volumes of Discoveries in the Judean Desert only being published in the mid-1990s. Consequently, if anywhere, Sanders can certainly be forgiven here for some imprecision in his treatment (383).

Nevertheless, given the perspectives of the additional manuscripts to which Sanders did not have access, “an explanation of Qumran’s religion purely or even predominantly in classic soteriological terms today seems to be unacceptably narrow” (384). In fact, Qumran’s pattern of religion “may be at once less coherent and more peculiar than Sanders thought. First, the texts themselves manifest a number of fundamentally unresolved tensions. . . . Secondly . . . while the fact of diversity in the Scrolls in some ways invites more ready comparison with other elements in Palestinian Judaism, it also makes it more questionable to distill ‘the Qumran pattern of religion’ and then find, as Sanders does, that it is fundamentally the same as that of rabbinic literature” (412–13). Moreover, “we may have in Qumran a developing example of the sort of exclusivistic preoccupation with ‘works of the law’ against which Paul of Tarsus subsequently reacts in his letters to Gentile Christians” (414).

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[14] Righteousness Language in the Hebrew Scriptures and Early Judaism (Seifrid) “We may freely grant that the Qumran writings frequently associate ברית [covenant] with righteousness terminology [contrary to biblical practice]. Moreover, in the Qumran writings the covenant of the Community is regarded as salvific. It is not clear, however, that Sanders’s framework of interpretation holds even here. The Community regarded the covenant into which they had entered as the true will of God, which one was obligated to perform. . . . Salvation, although it comes from God alone, is found in obedience to God’s requirements” (434; cf. 438). Moreover, biblical and early Jewish literature make it quite clear that “Sanders’s description of ‘righteousness’ as ‘(Israel’s) covenant status’ is inadequate. . . . ‘Righteousness’ obviously can [also] be used with reference to conformity to divine demands” (440).

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[15] The Pharisees Between “Judaisms” and “Common Judaism” (Deines) Sanders views the Pharisees as one of several, Palestinian “Judaisms” (i.e., more or less, self-contained versions of Judaism), but he does not take the additional, normal step of constructing his view of “Common Judaism” based on Pharisaism (444). In his work, however, Sanders’ discussions of Common Judaism and its distinctions from Pharisaism typically occur in summary sections that “only qualifiedly correspond to the statements which appear in the historical overviews” (444). Yet, Pharisaism was actually “the fundamental and most influential religious movement within Palestinian Judaism between 150 B.C. and A.D. 70. . . . Pharisaism can be called normative [for this period] because whatever was integrated and thus legitimized by its recognized representatives (generally probably its scribes and priests) over time became the possession of all of Israel” (503).

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[16] Summaries and Conclusions (Carson) “One conclusion to be drawn, then, is not that Sanders is wrong everywhere, but he is wrong when he tries to establish that his category [of covenantal nomism] is right everywhere” (543). Additionally, Sanders’ thesis about covenantal nomism is misleading because: (1) it does not communicate the significant variation evidenced in the literature and (2) covenantal nomism constitutes an avatar of merit theology (544). “Sanders, as we have seen, is right to warn against a simple arithmetical tit-for-tat notion of payback. . . . Nevertheless, covenantal nomism as a category is not really an alternative to merit theology, and therefore is no real response to it. Over against merit theology stands grace (whether the word itself is used or not). By putting over against merit theology not grace but covenant theology, Sanders has managed to have a structure that preserves grace in ‘getting in’ while preserving works (and frequently some form or other of merit theology) in the ‘staying in.’ In other words, it is as if Sanders is saying, ‘See, we don’t have merit theology here; we have covenantal nomism’ – but the covenantal nomism he constructs is so flexible that it includes and baptizes a great deal of merit theology” (544–45; italics added). Therefore, “it appears that the category of covenantal nomism cannot itself accomplish what Sanders wants it to accomplish, viz. serve as an explanatory bulwark against all suggestions that some of this literature embraces works-righteousness and merit theology, precisely because covenantal nomism embraces the same phenomena. Sanders has to some extent constructed a ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ argument: it is rhetorically effective, but not a fair reflection on the diverse literature” (545; italics added).

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In this post:

D. A. Carson, Peter O'Brien, and Mark Seifrid
D. A. Carson, Peter O'Brien, and Mark Seifrid
Otto Eissfeldt
Otto Eissfeldt

Justification and Variegated Nomism

D. A. Carson, Peter O'Brien, and Mark Seifrid
D. A. Carson, Peter O'Brien, and Mark Seifrid

If first-century Judaism had a different shape than much New Testament scholarship has traditionally assumed, then an understanding of the New Testament’s—and especially Paul’s—negative critique of Judaism, as well as the positive, doctrinal affirmations predicated to some degree upon this traditional view of Judaism, may need to be revised. The direction this revision has taken based on the trajectory Sanders set in the last portion of Paul and Palestinian Judaism (431–556),1 provides the impetus for the Justification and Variegated Nomism set (Carson, O’Brien, and Seifrid 5). This set attempts to determine “whether ‘covenantal nomism’ serves us well as a label for an overarching pattern of religion” in Palestinian Judaism (Carson, O’Brien, and Seifrid 5).

Sanders himself recognized some degree of diversity within the Second Temple literature (e.g., 4 Ezra; see Carson, O’Brien, and Seifrid 427–28). Rather than affirming the essential content of Sanders’ thesis, however, the essays in Justification and Variegated Nomism’s first volume (The Complexities of Second Temple Judaism) advocate that

[T]he literature of Second Temple Judaism reflects patterns of belief and religion too diverse to subsume under one label. . . . [At the same time, i]t is not that the new perspective has not taught us anything helpful or enduring. Rather, the straitjacket imposed on the apostle Paul by appealing to a highly unified vision of what the first-century ‘pattern of religion’ was like will begin to find itself unbuckled” (Carson, O’Brien, and Seifrid 5).2


1 To be sure, others have articulated similar positions, but Sanders’ work has provided the flashpoint for recent development in this area of Pauline scholarship. As an illustration of this prominence, Second Temple Judaism addresses Sanders most directly, by comparison, scarcely mentioning other scholars who, like W. D. Davies, have articulated similar readings of Judaism, or who, like James Dunn and N. T. Wright, have articulated their own (slightly different) versions of the implications that Sander’s reconstruction has for Pauline interpretation (cf. Carson, O’Brien, and Seifrid 4–5).

2 Similarly, Sanders says, “If we ask what the doctrine of why Israel was elect was [in the Tannaitic literature], we get no clear answer. It is clear throughout that there is a universal conviction that Israel was elect and that election entailed commandments” (Sanders 99).

In this post:

D. A. Carson, Peter O'Brien, and Mark Seifrid
D. A. Carson, Peter O'Brien, and Mark Seifrid
E. P. Sanders
E. P. Sanders

Judaism in Paul and Palestinian Judaism

E. P. Sanders
E. P. Sanders

The New Perspective on Paul has its beginnings in “the Sanders revolution” (Wright 18). Indeed, without Sanders’ considerable historical work, the movement would almost certainly not be the significant force it is today. Paul and Palestinian Judaism is Sanders’ most systematic presentation of the fruits of his extended historical survey of Judaism, and one can scarcely work long in Pauline studies without reckoning thoroughly with this work (cf. Carson, O’Brien, and Seifrid 4).1 The first two-thirds of the work surveys ancient Judaism and attempts to draw some conclusions about it, especially as these conclusions relate to the frequently-leveled charge that the Judaism of the period was systemically legalistic. That is, Sanders is interested to discern whether Palestinian Judaism, by its very nature, encouraged or even demanded legalism.

To build a case for his answer to this question, Paul and Palestinian Judaism provides Sanders’ examination of vast quantities of Jewish literature. Overall, Sanders thinks that this literature represents the covenant as preceding and necessitating the commandments, rather than portraying the covenant as being preceded by the commandments and merited by obedience to them. As such,

“[t]he all-pervasive view [of what constitutes the essence of Jewish religion and of how that religion ‘works’] can best be summarized as ‘covenantal nomism.’ Briefly put, covenantal nomism is the view that one’s place in God’s plan is established on the basis of the covenant and that the covenant requires as the proper response of man his obedience to its commandments, while providing means of atonement for transgression” (Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism 75; italics added).

Consequently, according to Sanders, covenant preceded commandment in ancient Judaism, and the commandments were obeyed so those already in the covenant might remain in the covenant (Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism 420). Thus, Sanders avers:

The frequent Christian charge against Judaism, it must be recalled, is not that some individual Jews misunderstood, misapplied and abused their religion, but that Judaism necessarily tends towards petty legalism, self-serving and self-deceiving casuistry, and a mixture of arrogance and lack of confidence in God. But the surviving Jewish literature is as free of these characteristics as any I have ever read. By consistently maintaining the basic framework of covenantal nomism, the gift and demand of God were kept in a healthy relationship with each other, the minutiae of the law were observed on the basis of the large principles of religion and because of commitment to God, and humility before God who chose and would ultimately redeem Israel was encouraged (Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism 427; italics added).

For Sanders, then, Palestinian Judaism was not the legalistic religion that has frequently appeared in Protestant, New Testament scholarship.2 Instead, during the New Testament period, Judaism itself was grounded on the gracious act of God in choosing Israel to be his people.


1 Some of Sander’s other, significant works in this area include: Jesus and Judaism; Jewish and Christian Self-Definition; Judaism: Practice and Belief; and Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People.

2 For a brief overview of the effect Sanders thinks this understanding of Judaism should have on one’s interpretation of Paul, see his Paul: A Very Short Introduction.

In this post:

D. A. Carson, Peter O'Brien, and Mark Seifrid
D. A. Carson, Peter O’Brien, and Mark Seifrid
E. P. Sanders
E. P. Sanders
E. P. Sanders
E. P. Sanders

E. P. Sanders
E. P. Sanders
E. P. Sanders
E. P. Sanders
E. P. Sanders
E. P. Sanders
E. P. Sanders
E. P. Sanders

N. T. Wright
N. T. Wright

The Interpretation of the New Testament, 1861–1986: Interaction

Stephen Neill and N. T. Wright
Stephen Neill and N. T. Wright
Neill’s stated purpose for his book was “to provide a narrative [about the interpretation of the New Testament] that can be read without too much trouble by the non-theologian who is anxious to know and is prepared to devote some time to the subject” (ix). This task he seems to have done masterfully well, with a comparatively frugal use of footnotes to set forth “the necessary apparatus of scholarship” (ix). While this history might have proved tedious, Neill has managed to produce a cogent narrative that, at times, may well carry the interested student into the situation or the time being described.

One of the work’s great strengths is the detail with which Neill and Wright investigate each character and movement included in the narrative. While the level of detail could prove cumbersome, it does provide a valuable opportunity to ‘meet’ some of the giants in the field. As a result, after this perusing this introduction, readers will probably find themselves much better prepared to read, critique, and make use of the positions investigated. Likewise valuable is the even-handed portrayal Neill and Wright give of the various theologians they cover, irrespective of whether they would personally support or object to these theologians’ assertions. For instance, although Neill and Wright are considerably more enthusiastic when writing about the Cambridge trio than when they write figures like Baur, even in this latter case, they do not villanize characters like Baur.

Finally, the book’s summary section tries to encourage continued study of the New Testament. As it says, “The New Testament is concerned with proclamation. It is a Kerygma, the loud cry of a herald authorized by a king to proclaim his will and purpose to his subjects. It is Euangelion, good news, sent to those who are in distress with the promise of deliverance. It is the Word of the Lord—and in the East a word is no mere vibration in the atmosphere, it is a living power sent forth to accomplish that for which it is sent” (448–49; italics original). Thus, the chronicle that Neill and Wright provide in this work moves, in their minds, toward establishing a better understanding of the New Testament’s message, which must be proclaimed and heard in all of creation.


In this post:

Stephen Neill and N. T. Wright
Stephen Neill and N. T. Wright