Festschrift for EP Sanders (Book Notice and Review)

Redefining First-Century Jewish and Christian Identities: Essays in Honor of Ed Parish Sanders (eds. F.E. Udoh et al., Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2009).

I really enjoy the idea of Festschriften and often essays devoted to a particular topic can be very useful for scholarship (as it often brings together world-class scholars who want to honor a retiring mentor or colleague).  It is hardly debatable that Ed Sanders has influenced biblical scholarship in many ways.  Thus, when I saw this FS, I was very eager to get my hands on it.

The format of the Fs follows three areas in which Sanders has had influence: Judaism, Jesus, and Paul (after some introductory chapters).  The list of contributors is very impressive: (including but not limited to) D. Moody Smith, Jouette Bassler, Shaye Cohen,  Martin Goodman, Eric Meyers, Sean Freyne, Peter Richardson, Adele Reinhartz, Paula Fredriksen, Stephen Hultgren, John P. Meier, Craig Hill, Heikki Räisänen, Richard Hays, Stanley Stowers, and John Barclay!  What is striking is not just the caliber of the scholars here, but the also diversity.

In an article I had written on Paul’s ethics for Currents in Biblical Research, I drew heavily from an early copy of Richard Hays’ essay that ended up in this volume – highly recommended!

A special treat in this book is the chapter written by Sanders himself, reflecting on his scholarly career and how his various influences developed (chapter 2: ‘Comparing Judaism and Christianity: An Academic Autobiography’).  This is the first essay I read (and so far the only one!), and it is very insightful and interesting.  Something Sanders says is worth reproducing:

[A comment about his convinctions going into his phd]

‘I had three views about the field that I was entering and what I would like to do: (1) Religion is not just theology, and in fact is often not very theological at all.  NT scholarship then (and now) paid too much attention to theology and not enough attention to religion…(2) To know one religion is to know none.  The human brain comprehends by comparing and contrasting, and consequently comparison in the study of religion is essential, not optional.  (3) New Testament scholars ought to study Judaism’ (14)

Later on, Sanders emphatically states ‘…the most important lesson of my life: you really know what you learn for yourself by studying original sources’ (p. 22).

As I work through this very interesting Fs, I hope to focus on a selection of chapters:

‘The Problem of Self-Definition: What Self and Whose Definition?’ (J. Bassler)

‘Jesus in Jewish Galilee’ (Freyne)

‘On the Source of Paul’s Problem with Judaism’ (Craig Hill)

‘A Controversal Jew and His Conflicting Convictions: Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People Twenty Years After’ (Räisänen)

‘What is “Pauline Participation in Christ”?’ (Stowers)

‘Grace and the Transformation of Agency in Christ’ (Barclay)

On a more personal note, it is a very attractive volume visually and there are lots of little graphic flourishes that demonstrate that a lot of work has gone into the design.

More to come…