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Philo Or The Pseudepigrapha?

Eric Sowell, the Coding Humanist writes: I was thinking the other day that the OT Pseudepigrapha would be more significant to study as a backdrop to the NT times. I asked Hall Harris about it and he said Philo would be. Anybody else have an opinion on this? Like Torrey Seland (second commenter), I don't see why it has to be an either-or choice. There are good reasons to study both. (Incidentally, I am not the Jim who posted the first comment.) I have a good bit to say about this in The Book, especially with regard to the Old Testament pseudepigrapha. But while you wait for that, here are some thoughts. First, another critically important Jewish corpus for the New Testament background is, of course, the Dead Sea Scrolls. I would say that they are more important for that purpose than either Philo or the pseudepigrapha. We have them in their original Hebrew and Aramaic in a physical context datable to the first century C.E. and located in Palestine, and they cover a huge range of Jewish themes and ideas. They are a treasure-trove of cultural, historical, and linguistic information. If you have to limit your study to one corpus (but don't!), pick them. Second, Josephus is perhaps more important than Philo (I'm not as sure about some of the pseudepigrapha) for NT background. Again, he's a first-century, Greek-speaking Jew (but he also knew Aramaic and, presumably, Hebrew) and he comes from Palestine and knew of John the Baptist and the Jesus movement and probably Jesus himself. He gives us an enormous amount of information about the people, the place, and the period, but always from his perspective as a survivor of the Great Revolt who owed his position to the Roman conquerers of Judea and who wanted to make the Jews (and himself) look as good as possible to the Romans. See Steve Mason's Josephus web page for lots of goodies on Josephus. Third, most (perhaps not all) of the Old Testament Apocrypha (Deuterocanonical books) are relevant as NT background material too. As for Philo, he is useful for NT background because his works are certainly Jewish, they appear to have been transmitted with reasonable accuracy, and they are almost exactly contemporary with Jesus. Philo's disadvantages are that he is a Greek-speaking, Diaspora Jew who writes with a Hellenized philosophical agenda in Alexadria, a big city. Presumably he had relatively little in common with an Aramaic-speaking, uneducated Galilean carpenter and his followers, although perhaps more with Paul and the writer of Hebrews. The OT pseudepigrapha are a messier problem, mainly because nearly all of them were copied and transmitted by Christians, often in a translation with the original being lost. (For the issue of translation, see here). The big questions are which texts were composed by Christians but sound Jewish because they are on Old Testament subjects, which are genuinely Jewish compositions, and of the latter, which have been transmitted without substantial Christian alteration? The most common approach among NT scholars - I dare say even today - has been to assume that any work that doesn't have obvious Christian bits, or that doesn't have obvious Christian bits that can be argued to be secondary additions, is a Jewish composition. But this doesn't work for two reasons. First, as Robert Kraft has pointed out (see especially here and here), the most reasonable approach is not to assume that a work is Jewish until proven otherwise, but to reverse the burden of proof. We should start with the earliest manuscripts of the work and their social context and then work backwards from there as the evidence requires. Sometimes this lead us to argue for a Jewish origin, and if so, well and good, but often there isn't persuasive evidence and in those cases the default working hypothesis is that the document is a (sometimes late antique) Christian composition, since our manuscripts were produced and transmitted by Christians. The point is that we know that these documents had a

Christian context and that Christians liked them and must have made some sort of sense of them. Earlier contexts are by no means excluded, they just have to be argued for with positive evidence, not assumed. For arguments that Christians may well have written OT pseudepigrapha without any Christian references see here. For an evaluation of how some of the Dead Sea Scrolls would have been received by scholars if they had been passed down to us the same way the OT pseudepigrapha were, see here and here. The second reason is that there is rather a wide range of possible authors of Old Testament pseudepigrapha. Many people in antiquity had the means, motive, and opportunity to compose such texts (as Ross Kraemer said to me in San Antonio). They could be Jews or Christians (of varying levels of commitment to what I call "boundary maintenance" - distingishing themselves from other groups), but there were also "God-fearers" (i.e. gentiles who had a strong interest in Judaism and some commitment to Jewish praxis, but didn't convert), "sympathizers" (gentiles who were interested in Judaism but who may not have been involved at all with a Jewish community), Jewish-Christians of various flavors, Samaritans, and quite likely other groups we know nothing about. Often it is reasonable to keep some or all of these possible authorships in mind for a text without preferring any one of them, and sometimes there are hints within a text that point to one or another of these - hints that have been ignored because scholars have been so keen to claim pseudepigrapha as first-century Jewish texts in order to use them as NT background. More on all this here. In my own research I have concluded that the following pseudepigrapha are Jewish beyond reasonable doubt and were written either within a century of the crucifixion of Jesus or earlier and may be reasonably used for background to the New Testament writings. Texts shown to be Jewish on external grounds (mostly fragmentary preservation among the Dead Sea Scrolls): the Book of the Watchers, the Astronomical Book, the Book of Dreams, the Epistle of Enoch (all in 1 Enoch), and the book of Jubilees. Texts shown to be Jewish on internal grounds: Aristeas to Philocrates, 2 Baruch, 4 Ezra, the Assumption or Testament of Moses, Psalms of Solomon, and Pseudo-Philo's Biblical Antiquities. These are certainly very important for understanding both first-century Judaism and earliest Christianity. Texts that are Jewish beyond resonable doubt and that were composed in the early centuries C.E., but not necessarily within a century of the crucifixion, include: the Similitudes of Enoch and 3-4 Maccabees. It is dicier to use these for New Testament background, since they may be considerably later than the New Testament writings. Some other pseudepigrapha are likely to be Jewish but cannot be shown to be so beyond reasonable doubt, such as various bits of the Sibylline Oracles. Other texts may be Jewish but then again may not be, such as the Testament of Job and Joseph and Aseneth. Still others are often used as Jewish texts but in my opinion are probably Christian compositions; for example, the Testament of Abraham. For all of these works, apart from the Dead Sea Scrolls, the texts are reasonably well established, but they have been passed in down long and sometimes pretty dodgy manuscript traditions, in some cases including multiple layers of translation with only the most recent translation-layer surviving. It would be prudent to concentrate on general themes and repeated ideas in them rather than on individual proof-texts. Incidentally, the reason I'm making so much of this methodology for isolating genuine Jewish documents is that I think it serves our understanding of ancient Judaism far better if we limit our reconstruction to works that can be shown beyond reasonable doubt to be Jewish. In other words, granting that in many cased we just can't tell if a pseudepigraphon is of Jewish origin, it is better to exclude doubtful cases and base our reconstruction on what we know that we know. A false positive

does more harm than a false negative: if we think we are studying ancient Judaism (or NT background) with a first-century-C.E. Jewish text and in reality it's a third-century-C.E. Christian composition, we pollute our corpus with erroneous information that distorts our understanding. Better to leave it out until such a time as we can be sure what its origin actually is, even if the price is potentially leaving out genuine Jewish works if we can't be sure beyond reasonable doubt that that's what they are. For my detailed evaluations of each of the OT pseudepigrapha listed above - as well as of Philo, Josephus, and the Old Testament Apocrypha, you will have to wait for The Book (provisional title: Christian Transmission of Jewish Pseudepigrapha: What Can We Know and How Do We Know It?). The five papers of mine that I linked to in this post are conference papers that give summaries of early drafts of some of the chapters. Speaking of The Book, I'd better get back to it. UPDATE (9 December): More here. posted by Jim Davila | 9:54 AM links to this post