Going to Teach a Course on Early Judaism and NT

I am preparing a course for next year on Early Judaism and the New Testament for undergraduate Scripture majors. As of yet, I have taught mostly intro courses and exegesis courses, so this will be a welcome addition.

In terms of textbooks, there is a great wealth of resources. Do you have favorite introductory books on early Judaism?? Do share!

I will share some of my own thoughts and preferences.

When I was in seminary, I did an independent study with Sean McDonough on the Jewish World of the New Testament. He had me read James VanderKam’s An Introduction to Early Judaism. This book has the advantage of being concise (~250 pp.) and accurate. When I was working for Hendrickson Publishers (before my PhD), we published Frederick Murphy’s excellent Early Judaism: The Exile to the Time of Jesus. What I like about Murphy is that he includes a discussion of Jesus (ch. 9) and Jewish foundations for NT Christology (ch. 11). Still, at 400+ pages, it is a bit too long and also it focuses on history and culture, perhaps to the exclusion of talking about literature (like Josephus, Philo, DSS, etc…)

Shaye Cohen’s From the Maccabees to the Mishnah is a classic and very good on cultural issues, but I want something that helps make the connection between understanding early Judaism and interpreting the NT. I also considered George Nickelsburg’s Jewish Literature Between the Bible and the Mishnah. It is obviously more textually focused, but I want something that does history and literature both.

So, I have tentatively decided to go with The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism (eds. J.J. Collins and D.C. Harlow). It has the advantage of having articles on both texts (OT Pseudepigrapha, Philo, OT Apocrypha, etc…) and historical and cultural issues (Essenes, Pharisees, etc…). Additionally, it contains NT related articles (e.g., on the New Testament books individually, as well as particular articles on Jesus and Paul). I like having short(ish) articles from the dictionary to assign which make for easily digestible readings from one class session to the next. Sometimes book chapters can be unbearably long and tedious. Dictionary articles tend to be more succinct.

In addition, I am tempted to use Craig Evan’s masterful resource, Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies (again, published by Hendrickson while I was there, but I was working in sales and marketing, not editorial). This is not really a “read this cover-to-cover” kind of book, but as a go-to reference, it is unparalleled. Also, the introduction has a great little section on why background and contextual Jewish and Greco-Roman literary works are important, and also the methods for and pitfalls of doing this kind of research (see pp. 1-7). Towards the end of the book he has a helpful series of case studies called “Examples of NT Exegesis” where he briefly examines things like The Parable of the Talents, the comment “I Said, “You Are Gods,”” and Paul and the first Adam. Many would say you really get your money’s worth with the appendixes (when did we stop calling them appendices?). He offers a massive list of parallels he has discovered between ancient texts and the NT. I always take a quick peek at this list when I am doing research.

I also wanted to spend a few weeks in the class looking at particular aspects of the NT from this Jewish context. So, I think I will also assign Scot McKnight’s A New Vision for Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context. Scot is such a great, great, great example of a competent exegete and I wanted to pick something that is well-written and represents a perspective within the “Third Quest.” Wright and Meier’s works are too dense for a two-week study. McKnight’s book comes in just over 200 pages and treats subjects like the God of Jesus, the Kingdom of God, and the Ethic of Jesus.

On the Paul side, I plan on using some short articles by E.P. Sanders, part of N.T. Wright’s Paul: Fresh Perspectives book, and part of Ben Witherington’s The Paul Quest. In addition, here are some other articles/book chapters I plan on using.

-Sandmel’s classic “Parallelomania,” JBL (1962) 2-13.

-In Mark Reasoner’s Documents and Images for the Study of Paul (Fortress), the introduction has a nice caveat on making too much or too little of parallels.

-I plan on drawing a bit from Silva/Jobes’ phenomenal Invitation to the Septuagint.

-In terms of the DSS, George Brooke has  a nice chapter on “The Qumran Scrolls and the Study of the NT” in his The Dead Scrolls and the New Tetament.

-Oskar Skarsaune’s book, In the Shadow of the Temple is very well-written and has a helpful chapter I might use on the city of Jerusalem and the operations of the temple.

-When it comes to setting Paul within Judaism, John Barclay has a useful JSNT article “Paul Among Diaspora Jews: Anomaly or Apostate?”. James Dunn has an article called “Paul: Apostate or Apostle of Israel?”

-What about the history of the Dead Sea Scrolls? I just finished reading Timothy Lim’s The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Very Short Introduction. There is some good information, but I think Lim did not write at an evenly basic level (he slips into technical language too often). On my shelf (yet to read) is VanderKam’s The Dead Sea Scrolls Today.

-For Josephus, Steve Mason’s Josephus and the New Testament has some excellent advice for how NT researchers can use Josephus effectively and responsibly.

I know all this sounds like a lot, but I plan on having students read mostly short articles (perhaps 3-4 between meetings). they will also read healthy portions of primary texts. Fun, fun, fun!

Again, if you have article/essay/book suggestions, I am all ears…

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8 thoughts on “Going to Teach a Course on Early Judaism and NT

  1. Nijay,

    I am using Grabbe this term for my NT Backgrounds class.

    Grabbe, Lester L. An Introduction to Second Temple Judaism: History and Religion of the
    Jews in the Time of Nehemiah, The Maccabees, Hillel and Jesus (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2010). ISBN: 0567552489 (Also available as an E-Book).

  2. How very exciting! There’s a small problem, though. Most “early Judaism” intro books (including Vanderkam and Murphy, and even Cohen to an extent) give very, very poor treatment to Diaspora Judaism, its literature, and its contexts. You get the sense that the only context that is important for early Christianity is Judaism rooted in Jerusalem, Galilee, associated with the Pharisees, Qumran, and so on. Somehow this needs to be remedied.

    I would suggest using Collins’ “Between Athens and Jerusalem” or even Barclay’s “Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora.” These books, however, might be too much for many undergrads. The problem is that there really is no simple “Introduction to Diaspora Judaism” or “Diaspora Judaism and the New Testament” book. (That is my project as soon as dissertation is done.)

    Either way, my suggestion is that if you are going to teach on “early Judaism” and its importance for the New Testament, you must address Diaspora Judaism (I would think that this probably is also your director Barclay’s opinion. In fact, I know it is, as I had this conversation with him in Atlanta two years ago at SBL). Diaspora Judaism is not necessarily of singular importance, of course; but consideration of it on its own terms can not and should not be neglected, either. It has been for too long (at least among ‘mainstream’ treatments of the Jewish context of the New Testament and Early Christianity). I have a large list of articles concerning Diaspora Judaism and Diaspora Jewish literature and its importance for the New Testament/Early Christianity which might be of help. Let me know and I’ll send it your way!

    Sorry for such a long response here. I guess this is one of the main issues that I really get energized about when it comes to the Jewish context of the New Testament….

    • One good book that is focused on source passages is “Early Judaism”, edited by Nickelsburg and Stone (be sure to get the 2009 revised edition). Nickelsburg and Stone integrate specific NT passages into the mix of passages from various Second Temple Jewish texts. It is all focused around various topics (Sects and parties, temple and cult, piety, agents of divine deliverance, wisdom). It is very informative to read the passages “in conversation” with one another under these headings. The book is very accessible and would, I think, be very helpful for such a class as yours. But, again, my complaint noted above still applies…Nevertheless, I highly recommend it.

    • I’ve found the last chapter of Barclay’s Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora gives a good overview of the book and summarizes key issues. I have my Paul students read it.

  3. I’ll second the Eerdmans Dictionary. I’ve been using it to prepare for a sermon I’m preaching this Sunday, and it’s really very good (the dictionary, not my sermon!).

  4. Ben – thanks. Whoever this Barclay guy is, he sounds smart! :) Seriously though, thanks for the tip. I had in mind that he wrote an article once on Paul which came from his book. I thought of using that. Are they the same (last chapter and independent article?)

    Terry – I really do like EDEJ, but in the end I decided to go with the Dictionary of NT Background for 2 reasons. (1) Its much cheaper! and (2) the DNTB articles tend to discuss the issue (e.g., LXX, Josephus, synagogues, priests) and also show how learning about that subject informs NT study. I found this really handy, but it was a tough choice. I may still copy out an article for my students to read.

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