New Book on Jews in the Graeco-Roman Period

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Perusing the current Mohr Siebeck catalogue, I’ve just noticed that our own Dr. Margaret Williams has a new book out (she’s too modest to have mentioned it):  Jews in a Graeco-Roman Environment (Tuebingen:  Mohr Siebeck, 2013; ISBN 978-3-16-151901-7).

This is mainly a collection of essay-length studies previously published in a variety of journals and multi-author works, most of them based on epigraphical evidence and dealing with the Jewish Diaspora in the Graeco-Roman period.  The essays include discussions of the Jewish community in Rome (history, burial practices, organisation), other Jewish settlements in the Roman world (including Aphrodisias, Corycus and Venusia), Jewish naming practices (including use of alternate names, the formation of fesetal names, and the increasing preference in Late Antiquity for Hebrew names).

In a framing introductory essay, Dr. Williams engages the reception of these studies among scholars, and she notes any changes in the evidence arising from re-editing of inscriptions.

We’re pleased to have Dr. Williams as a member of CSCO, and I congratulate her on this new publication of a body of her scholarly work.

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“New Documents” Vol 10

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I’ve just received my copy of Volume 10 of the valuable series, New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity, eds. S. R. Llewelyn and J. R. Harrison (Eerdmans, 2012).  For those who don’t know the series, each volume reviews publications of texts and inscriptions from a preceding period of years.  This latest volume covers 1988-1992.

The original publications (typically journal articles) are cited, but the editors/contributors in fact make their own analysis and offer their own comments on the items addressed.  The work represented in these volumes is also invested toward the larger/long-term project of a massive database (with extensive annotations) on all ancient papyri from Egypt pertaining to early Christianity.

The latter project has been the dream of Prof. Edwin Judge, whose energy and vision early on guided the emergence of the Ancient History Documentary Research Centre in Macquarie University (Australia), and the “New Documents” series is based in that Centre (which now forms part of the Ancient Cultures Research Centre in Macquarie).

As with previous volumes in the series, this one covers a wide spectrum of genres and topics, citing recent publications of texts on philosophy, magic, “cult and oracle”, public life, household, “Judaica” and “Christianity,” some 29 component-articles in all, plus indexes of subjects, words (Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic), ancient authors & works cited, inscriptions, papyri, and texts cited from the Bible, Qumran and Rabbinic works.

For those of us who are not professional epigraphers or palaeographers, but who would like to harvest relevant information on new publications in these fields, this series is a valuable (even unique) tool.    Thanks to all involved!

Christianity and Roman Society: A Good Read

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(Larry Hurtado):  Over the last couple of weeks one of the books I’ve worked through is Gillian Clark’s Christianity and Roman Society (CUP, 2004), and I commend it heartily.  At only 121 pp., plus bibliography & index, it packs in an impressive amount of cogent and sage discussion in a small package.

Clark focuses on the right, key questions:  “How on earth did this tiny religious splinter-group survive to become the dominant religion of the Roman world?” (p. 13).  And, after noting the views of some scholars that Christianity was essentially a savvy amalgam of Greek philosophical ideals, Jewish scripture, and emphases promoted in the Roman environment, she asks, “So, if Christianity was one among many religious options in Roman society, proclaiming one among many saviours, why would anybody choose it?  This was the one option that was neither compatible with tradition religion, nor respected as Judaism was for its ancient monotheist tradition” (p. 15).

Time after time, as Clark engages thorny issues, she seems to me to display commendable good sense in her judgments.  For example, she writes, “But the more we understand about religious options in the early centuries CE, the more difficult it is to answer the great historical question.  Why did Christianity survive and succeed in Roman society?” and “Why would they [pagans] choose the one religious option that could get them executed for subversion?” (p. 37). Noting that “it takes only one terrorist attack to make people afraid,” she observes that the early Christian fear of persecution was real, regardless of how many Christians were actually executed (p. 47).

She also rightly cautions against the simplistic tendency of some to write off early Christian asceticism as “madness ” (so, e.g., E. R. Dodds), or as prompted by and expressive of various forms of neurosis.

In discussing the question, “What difference did Christianity make?,”  she strikes me as offering a balanced appraisal, offering specific ways in which Christianity was like its cultural environment and specific ways in which it did differ.

Heartily recommended!

Timothy Lim on the Canon

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My book on the formation of the Jewish canon is about to be published by Yale University Press on the 22nd of October. Several years ago, while co-editing a volume on the scrolls, John Collins invited me to send in a proposal for the Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library series.  I had written a chapter in the Oxford volume on ‘Authoritative Scriptures and the Dead Sea Scrolls’, and as General Editor of the YUP series John thought that it would be good to have a full length study, reviewing the whole issue of canon in the light of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

My interest in the formation of the canon goes back a long way, ever since I investigated the textual characteristics of the scriptural citations in the letters of Paul and the sectarian commentaries of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Over the years I have continued to research and write on various topics, such as ‘praise of the fathers’ in Ben Sira, the canonical notice in 4QMMT and the meaning of ‘the defilement of the hands’ in the Mishnah.  This long period of reflection was necessary given the scope of the subject and the burgeoning scholarly literature.  There were numerous terminological and conceptual issues at stake and they were, in turn, dependent on how key primary sources were interpreted.  To compound the challenges, these sources were found within the fields of several sub-disciplines that have as their research goal the study of the Pentateuch, Septuagint, Dead Sea Scrolls, writings of Philo, books of Josephus, Pauline letters, and Rabbinic literature.

I felt, however, that there was advantage in discussing the subject as a whole rather than piecemeal.  Ever since the three stage theory was demolished in the past generation, scholarly opinion has been divided and no consensus has emerged.  Part of the reason may be found in the specialization of studies that tend to focus on narrower concerns and not address the big picture.  The emergence of the canon is a general issue that crosses disciplinary boundaries.

In this book, I advance the theory of the majority canon.  This theory suggests that while the 22/24 book Pharisaic canon eventually became the canon of Rabbinic Judaism between the second and third centuries CE there were diverse concepts of canon before this time.  There was no centralization of a Jewish ‘council’, at the Temple or Javneh, that prescribed which books are to be considered authoritative.  Rather the Jewish canon emerged from the bottom-up as  various Jewish communities came to regard the same books as canonical.

Peter Conference

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(Helen Bond) Thanks to all the CSCO team for a hugely successful conference on Peter in Earliest Christianity. We had over 70 registrations in the end and 22 great  papers. Our main speakers were all excellent – Peter Lampe, Markus Bockmuehl, Tobias Niklas, Timothy Barnes, Margaret Williams, and Larry Hurtado. We also appreciated their input throughout the conference (despite the enticing Edinburgh sunshine). Most of us headed off to ISBL in St Andrews afterwards (where poor Markus Bockmuehl had to endure another panel discussion of his Peter book!).

Everyone is asking what the next conference will be on – there will be another, but not for a couple of years! Meanwhile, we are editing the papers and hope to have a volume out in a year to eighteen months. No doubt we’ll be blogging about it here . . .