Biblical Exegesis In The Apostolic Period

Biblical Exegesis In The Apostolic Period

by Richard N. Longenecker


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802843012
Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
Publication date: 03/01/1999
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 284
Product dimensions: 0.64(w) x 6.00(h) x 9.00(d)

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Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period

By Richard N. Longenecker

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 1999 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8028-4301-2

Chapter One

Jewish Hermeneutics in the First Century

Jewish interpreters, no matter how different their exegetical methods, agreed on four basic points. In the first place, they held in common a belief in the divine inspiration of the Scriptures. This meant for them that the words of the Bible had their origin in God and were, in fact, the very words of God — a doctrine qualitatively different from all Greek notions about a divine possession or an inspirational factor seizing the poets and seers, whose words, while lofty, remained purely human. Secondly, they were convinced that the Torah (whether the Written Torah alone, or both Written and Oral) contained the entire truth of God for the guidance of humans. The transmitted texts for the Jew of the first century, therefore, were extremely rich in content and pregnant with many meanings. Thirdly, because of the many possibilities of meaning in the texts, Jewish interpreters viewed their task as one of dealing with both the plain or obvious meanings and the implied or derived meanings. And finally, they considered the purpose of all biblical interpretation to be the translation into life of God's instruction — that is, making the words of God meaningful and relevant to the lives and thought of the people in their present situations. These are matters that were axiomatic to all Jewish exegetes no matter what other allegiances they may have espoused or whatever interpretive procedures they may have used, and they will be repeatedly illustrated in the discussion that follows.


The work of interpreting the Bible within Judaism proceeded on many fronts and in various ways. The translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek (the Septuagint, LXX) during the two centuries or so before Christ was an enterprise in interpretation, for every translation inevitably involves interpretation and reflects the particular translators' understanding of the text. The doctrines of resurrection and angelology, for example, were rising to prominence during this time and find explicit expression in the translation. The addition to Job 42:17 in the LXX is an instance of this: "And it is written, he [Job] will rise again with those whom the Lord raises up"; likewise, also the clarifications felt necessary in the cases of Isa 26:19, reading in the LXX "they shall live," and Dan 12:2, reading "they shall awake." An emphasis on angels is evident in the LXX's wording of "the angels of the nations" for the MT's "the children of Israel" in Deut 32:8, and "at his right hand were his angels with him" for "at his right hand was a fiery law for them" in Deut 33:2; as well as in the transposition of "angels" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) for the possibly enigmatic "God/gods"([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) of Ps 8:6.

Anthropomorphisms, as might be expected, are also recast in the LXX translation, and alterations are made to avoid difficulties. Likewise, the titles of the books of the Pentateuch in the LXX, the grouping of Samuel-Kings into the four books of the Kingdoms, the retitling of Chronicles ("Things Omitted") and Lamentations, and the reclassification of the books of the Old Testament into a chronological sequence "show at least an incipient attempt at interpretation which seems to have originated with the translators of the Pentateuch, and to have been carried on by their successors." But that the LXX should be looked on as a theological commentary, as has sometimes been suggested, and thereby used as a primary source for a knowledge of the hermeneutical procedures of the day, is an overstatement of the facts. As Jellicoe points out in speaking of the various "translational units" in the LXX and their respective philosophies of translation:

Style and method vary considerably, but this is no more than would be expected in a production which extended over some decades and which was the work of different hands. Liberties are taken at times, more so with the later Books, but here literary rather than theological interests seem to be the governing principle.

For our purposes, therefore, the LXX will not be considered of major significance in determining the exegetical practices of first-century Judaism. Nor, for similar reasons, will the Greek translation of the Old Testament by Aquila, produced at the close of our period of interest. While the distinctive tendencies of each of these translations can be established, the translators did not provide us with prefaces setting forth their principles of interpretation. Nor are their productions so free as to allow deductions regarding the exegetical methods of their day.

The Targums, however, are important in the determination of early Jewish exegetical practice, for their purpose in rendering the Hebrew into Aramaic was not just to give a vernacular translation of the Bible, but "to give the sense and make the people understand the meaning" — as did the Levites in Neh 8:8. In giving "the sense," the Targumists attempted to remain as faithful as possible to the original text and yet to bring out the meaning of what the text had to say for their hearers. The Targums, therefore, "lie halfway between straightforward translation and free retelling of the biblical narrative: they were clearly attached to the Hebrew text, and at times translated it in a reasonably straightforward way, but they were also prepared to introduce into the translation as much interpretation as seemed necessary to clarify the sense." As interpretive paraphrases or explanatory translations, they frequently incorporated later theological concepts and their own haggadoth for purposes of clarification and edification.

The Synagogue was the home of the Targums, for there a reader read from the Hebrew Scriptures and an interpreter paraphrased the text into Aramaic to bring out its meaning and explicate its significance for the congregation. The process is described in Mish Meg 4:4:

He who reads in the Law may not read less than three verses. He may not read to the interpreter more than one verse at a time [from the Law], or, in the Prophets, not more than three verses. But if these three are three separate paragraphs, he must read them out one by one. They may leave out verses in the Prophets, but not in the Law.

Evidently Targums originally existed among the Jews for all the biblical books, except those that already contained sizable Aramaic portions (Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel). They are extant today in five collections (Neofiti, Targum Jonathan Fragments, the Cairo Geniza Targum Fragments, Onkelos, and Pseudo-Jonathan), none of which in their existing forms can be dated to pre-Christian or Christian times and all of which evidence varying textual traditions both among them and within them. In addition, Targums have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (4QtgLev, 4QtgJob, and 11QtgJob). A great deal of work remains to be done in dating, collating, and interpreting targumic materials. Nonetheless, informed opinion believes that the targumic traditions that have been codified into our existing Targums represent both Palestinian (i.e., Neofiti, Targum Jonathan, the Cairo Geniza Targum Fragments, and Pseudo-Jonathan) and Babylonian (i.e., Onkelos) Jewish hermeneutics of a very early time, possibly originally coming from various pre-Christian synagogues. As such, they are of great significance to the discussion of early Jewish exegesis. Perhaps, in fact, as Miss Bloch suggested, it was the synagogue targumim that provided the basis for the later rabbinic haggadah.

Rabbinic or talmudic literature is an extensive and varied body of traditional Pharisaic material that was codified, in the main, during the period from the end of the second century through the sixth century C.E. It is divided by subject matter into either halakah, having to do with behavior and the regulation of conduct, or haggadah, which concerns discussions about theological and ethical matters, including everything that is not strictly halakic in nature — though distinctions are not always clearly in evidence, for halakic pronouncements colored the expressions of haggadah and haggadic exegesis often embodies considerations pertinent for halakah. The literature exists in a few main collections, with a number of peripheral codifications in addition.

The Mishnah is the basic halakic document, containing sixty-three tractates (Massektoth) of material not necessarily attached to a text of Scripture and organized under six major headings (Sedarim). It was codified by Rabbi Judah "the Prince" (ha Nasi), who, according to tradition, was born the year Rabbi Akiba died at the hands of the Romans in 135 C.E. All of the later halakic developments in Judaism were built on or related to the Mishnah. The Tosephta closely resembles the Mishnah in its organization and content and, as its name implies ("addition"), has traditionally been regarded as a supplement to the Mishnah. Its authorship is ascribed to Rabbi Hiyya, a pupil of Judah the Prince, though various features in its manner of treatment have left the question of provenance unresolved in many minds.

The Gemaras, Palestinian and Babylonian, are built directly on the Mishnah, and seek, verse by verse, to relate its halakic statements to Scripture, to support them by Scripture, and to illustrate them by both Scripture and the teachings of the rabbis. The name Gemara denotes "teaching," and thus the Gemaras contain, in addition to legal discussions on every aspect of Jewish life, "homiletical exegesis of Scripture; moral maxims, popular proverbs, prayers, parables, fables, tales; accounts of manners and customs, Jewish and non-Jewish; facts and fancies of science by the learned; Jewish and heathen folklore, and all the wisdom and unwisdom of the unlearned." The Palestinian Gemaras are the earlier, the shorter (though treating more tractates), and generally the simpler; the Babylonian Gemaras were codified during the fourth through the sixth centuries, are longer (though omitting discussion on a number of tractates), and generally more ingenious in their exegesis of Scripture.

The Midrashim are writings dealing principally with the exegesis of Scripture, as distinct from the Mishnah, where the material is recorded independently of Scripture for the most part. The Tannaitic Midrashim are largely halakic in nature, though not entirely; the Homiletic Midrashim are made up of a number of synagogue sermons; and Midrash Rabbah, meaning the "Great Midrash," is a complete commentary on the Pentateuch and the five Megilloth (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther).

In addition to these larger collections of traditional halakic and haggadic materials, rabbinic literature includes a number of more individual and somewhat peripheral writings. Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, a narrative midrashic treatment, and Aboth de Rabbi Nathan, a haggadic tractate similar to the famous Pirke Aboth ("Sayings of the Fathers"), are two of the most illustrious.

A major problem in the use of rabbinic materials for the elucidation of first-century practice is, of course, the lateness of the codifications. Yet we are dealing with a religious mentality that took great pride in the preservation of the traditional. And while changes due to development or differing circumstances cannot be denied, this desire to preserve the traditional —barring other considerations — minimizes the severity of the problem. Four strands of rabbinic material, in fact, are particularly relevant for our consideration here:

1. Practices and rules deemed by Johanan ben Zakkai and his followers to be very ancient, or, as George F. Moore spoke of them, to be "customs the origin of which was lost in antiquity." Often these are introduced by such a phrase as "Our rabbis taught" or "It has been taught," though the context must be noted in each case as well. 2. Actions and teachings of certain named teachers who lived before the first destruction of Jerusalem, or who personally had their roots in that earlier period. The chief representative here is Pirke Aboth, with its haggadic statements attributed to teachers up to 70 C.E. in chapter one and to Johanan ben Zakkai and his disciples, whose roots were firmly planted in the pre-destruction period, in chapter two. Yet there are other passages of this type scattered throughout the rabbinic materials. 3. Passages and portions that have no reason to be a reaction to either religious opposition (particularly Christianity) or political oppression, and which do not seem to have been influenced by a particular local situation or passing fancy but have parallels elsewhere in the literature. It is at this point that the subjective factor in interpretation enters most. Yet here are portions that must not be overlooked. 4. Ancient liturgies, confessions and prayers: the Shema, the Shemoneh Esreh ("Eighteen Benedictions" or "Prayers"), and, perhaps, the broad outlines of Maimonides' codification of 613 Commandments. The apocalyptic writings of Judaism that were composed in the two centuries (or so) before Christ and the century immediately following also have some bearing on matters pertaining to early Jewish exegesis, for in their interpretive retelling of biblical stories and their extensions of biblical teachings they reflect some of the nonconformist exegetical principles of the day. I refer particularly to such works as Jubilees, 1 Enoch, Assumption of Moses, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch. Though a few of these works may have been composed by Pharisaic authors (probably 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch), most must now be seen to have been within an Essene cycle of influence — whether originally written by Essenes (or "proto-Essenes") or taken over by them.

A kindred body of literature, and one of great significance for the history of interpretation, are the Dead Sea Scrolls. Together with the vast majority of scholars in the field, I take the distinctive writings of Qumran to reflect one strand of Essene mentality in Palestine and to have been written during the first century B.C.E. and early first century C.E. About one-fourth of the approximately six or seven hundred identifiable manuscripts (a few relatively intact, though most are fragmentary) are biblical texts, with all of the Hebrew canon represented except Esther. This is important material for dealing with the transmission of the Hebrew text and tracing out variant readings during the first Christian century.

Of more importance for our purposes, however, are the pesher commentaries found at Qumran, which deal with portions of Habakkuk (1QpHab), Micah (1QpMic), Zephaniah (1QpZeph), Genesis (4QpGena), Isaiah (4QpIsaa-e), Hosea (4QpHosa, b), Nahum (4QpNah), and the Psalms (4QpPsa, b). Likewise of importance are such texts as the Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen), the Florilegium Fragment (4QFlor), the Testimonia Fragment (4QTes), Serek Sirot {Olat Hassabbat (4QSir), Miqjat Ma{ase Tõrah ("Works of the Law" — 4QMMT), the Melchizedek Scroll (11QMelch), and the Temple Scroll (11QTemple), as well as the targumic-like treatments of Leviticus (4QtgLev) and Job (4QtgJob). For in these materials we are given a glimpse into the exegetical mind-set and practices of a certain Jewish sectarian group that existed at a time roughly contemporary with the rise of Christianity.

In addition, the Manual of Discipline (1QS, 1QSa) and the Cairo Damascus Covenant (CD and the Zadokite Fragments 4QDa-g(h) and 6QD) take us into the structure and very heart of the community's raison d'être; the Psalms of Thanksgiving (1QH) reflect something of the piety and self-consciousness of (evidently) the community's founder; and the War Scroll (1QM) and various other apocalyptic portions deepen our understanding of the community's eschatological expectations. In all, we have material here that has given a fresh impetus to the study of both early Judaism and early Christianity, with particular relevance for the study of nonconformist Jewish exegesis in the first Christian century.


Excerpted from Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period by Richard N. Longenecker Copyright © 1999 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Excerpted by permission of William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Preface to the Second Edition....................xiii
1. Jewish Hermeneutics in the First Century....................6
2. Jesus and the Old Testament....................36
3. Early Christian Preaching and the Old Testament....................63
4. Paul and the Old Testament....................88
5. The Evangelists and the Old Testament....................117
6. Hebrews and the Old Testament....................140
7. Jewish Christian Tractates and the Old Testament....................166
8. The Nature of New Testament Exegesis....................185
Selected Bibliography....................199
Index of Authors....................223
Index of References....................227

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