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The World of Jesus and the Early Church: Identity and Interpretation in Early Communities of Faith. Hendrickson: Peabody, MA, 211pp. +, 2011. Craig Evans has assembled a valuable collection of highly relevant, highly readable essays centered on the topic of early Christianity. Hendrickson, recently risen from the near-ashes of extermination, is to be thanked for offering this useful volume to the scholarly public. The book is comprised of two main parts. The first, ‘Identity in Jewish and Christian Communities of Faith’ and the second, ‘Interpreting the Scriptures in Jewish and Christian Communities’. Seven essays make up part one and six part two. As Evans tells us, these essays originated in academic conferences held at Acadia University and Midwestern Baptist Seminary. Contributors include Stephen Andrews, Keith Bodner, George Brooke, Mark Chancey, John Collins, Torleif Elgvin, Craig Evans, Paul Foster, Shimon Gibson, Larry Hurtado, Margaret MacDonald, Dorothy Peters, and James Sanders. Readers will learn a great deal if they take the time to work through these materials. For instance, from Collins that Qumran was just one settlement of the yahad and that it was never the ‘motherhouse’ of the sect (p. 22). From Elgvin’s utterly fascinating essay readers will learn that the author of Revelation was probably a priest or a Levite who had lived in Judea (p. 35); from MacDonald that a … focus on children and house churches and the use of families as a major category of analysis for early Christian texts can cause us to rethink much about early Christian communities (p. 84). Evans’ own contribution on burial practices is utterly fascinating and shouldn’t be skipped for any reason, and Gibson’s on the trial of Jesus is must reading as well. The latter insists that The discovery of a well-defended gateway - probably the gate of the Essenes - that had an inner courtyard paved with flagstones and a rocky outcrop on one side corresponds perfectly with the situation of the place of the Roman tribunal as suggested by Josephus and in the Fourth Gospel. … It is where I think Jesus was brought to trial (p. 118). Gibson also includes numerous drawings illustrative of his points. Brooke’s essay on the DSS and the interpretation of Scripture kicks off part two and in said essay Brooke gives readers plenty to think about when he maintains that Qumran’s readers of the bible were selective and that they insisted that the readings of others were wrong, or downright evil. They are made to sound very much like modern fundamentalists.
Stephen Andrews thinks that the Qeiyafa inscription is important but not quite as important, it turns out, as sensational and exaggerated claims have made it appear to the public. Tremendously interesting is James Sanders’ reworked review (it first appeared in the Review of Biblical Literature back in 2006) of Biblia Hebraica Quinta. He nicely sets BHQ in its text-critical environment and rightly insists that the edition is, and will be, immensely important. Indeed, he writes With … BHQ in process, the field of textual criticism of the HB is in the process of being redeemed, rectified, and made fully available to fledgling students as well as the most advanced scholars of the text of the HB (p. 178). Redemption and rectification of an apparently nearly deceased field! That’s what BHQ is accomplishing! And the odd thing is, Sanders isn’t wrong. Finally, a word about Paul Foster’s brilliant essay titled ‘Bold Claims, Wishful Thinking, and Lessons about Dating Manuscripts from Papyrus Egerton 2’. Actually, two words: READ IT! Foster manages to convincingly and irrefutably demonstrate that paleography is an extremely limited tool and that The case of P. Egerton 2 demonstrates how spectacularly incorrect even the most eminent paleographers can be in their estimates. … [T]he reality is that bad history never makes for good faith (p. 209). Too many these days in biblical studies treat epigraphy and paleography as if they were the equivalent of DNA in a murder trial. That, no matter how well they are practiced, they are not! This piece by Foster is an invaluable reminder of that simple truth. Again, the entire collection adds a great deal to what we can know about the milieu of early Christianity. I consider it an excellent contribution to the field of biblical studies and I heartily commend it to your attention and recommend it for your library.
Jim West Quartz Hill School of Theology