(Larry Hurtado): After Psalms and the Gospels of Matthew and John, the most frequently represented text in Christian manuscripts dated prior to 300 CE is The Shepherd of Hermas. Though little known or read today outside of some circles of scholars in Christian Origins, it was obviously popular and much appreciated in the early centuries. It seems to most modern readers a complex, sometimes confusing text, and some have thought it of dubious orthodoxy. But by all indications, in the early centuries it was read appreciatively by “mainline” Christians who also read the canonical texts and likely subscribed to familiar Christian beliefs.
It is, thus, a desideratum in Christian Origins to familiarize ourselves with this fascinating and demanding writing. So I am pleased to pass on notice of a new publication: Franciszek Szulc, Le Fils de Dieu pour les judeo-Chretiens dans <<Le Pasteur>> d’Hermas (trans. A. Latka; Paris: Editons du Cerf, 2011). Translated from the Polish original (2006), the book presents Szulc’s argument that Hermas reflects an early effort to articulate faith in Jesus within a strongly “monotheistic” stance to maintain unity between the emerging “catholic/orthodox” Christianity and Jewish Christians.
This isn’t the place for a detailed engagement with the study. But, given the comparative dearth of scholarly publications on this important text, I do want to ensure that this work is not overlooked.
(Larry Hurtado): The latest issue of The Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists arrived late last week, containing several articles especially noteworthy for students of early Christianity and interested in material evidence.
Perhaps the most significant is by Theodore S. de Bruyn and Jitse H. F. Diijkstra, “Greek Amulets and Formularies from Egypt Containing Christian Elements” (pp. 163-216). The unassuming title masks a very important trove of data: an up-to-date list of Greek and Latin amulets and formularies from Egypt that have “Christian elements.” Their checklist includes “all texts that were written to convey in and of themselves–as well as in association with incantations and other actions–supernatural power for protective, beneficial, or antagonistic effect, and that appear to have been or were meant to have been worn on one’s body or fixed, displayed, or deposited at some place” (168).
After laying out the criteria by which items were identified as having “Christian elements”, the authors turn to “patterns in the evidence,” theological/religious, geographical, and chronological. One interesting observation by way of illustration is that “on the whole amatory charms and maleficent spells are rarer in texts with Christian elements than in texts without Christian elements” (which suggests a certain effect of Christian faith upon the pattern of “magic” practiced).
The main cargo of the article, however, is the checklist itself, which includes 186 items with descriptions of their features. We’ve known for some long time that “magic” was a major practice in the Roman world (especially, it seems in “late” antiquity), and that Christians engaged in these practices as well. This checklist will be an essential reference for those who wish to study these matters.
(Larry Hurtado): For the study of Christian origins, familiarity with the ancient Jewish context (or matrix) is crucial. So, all of us will be grateful for a recently published major reference work: The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism, ed. John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010).
It’s massive in size (xxxviii + 1360 pp., 19 x 25 cm), featuring a combination of 13 themed essays and several hundred entries (alphabetically arranged) by a galaxy of scholars of international provenances. Each of the major essays and the entries has a select bibliography. There is an impressively broad range of topics addressed in the entries. I wrote the entries on “mediator figures” (pp. 926-29) and “monotheism (961-64).
Considering the breadth of coverage, the quality of contributors, and overall quality of the editing and publication format, I’d say this is now probably the essential reference work on ancient Judaism.