The Epistle of Jude, Midrash, and the Pesharim

Midrash, Pesher, and the Dead Sea Scrolls

It is essential to differentiate between midrash as a literary genre and as an exegetical method, for viewing it as a literary genre is too narrow of a categorization and restricts one to compilations such as the Rabbinic midrashim. Midrash can also be used in the broader sense of an exegetical method and the resultant exegesis; it is a certain approach to scripture, a creative scriptural hermeneutic. J. D. Charles explains midrash as follows:

“Midrash” may be viewed as a kind of activity, a process of interpretation. The central issue behind this interpretive “activity” is the need to deal with present realities of cultural and religious tension. New problems and situations must be addressed. Midrash comes into play to address, resolve, and affirm the religious community by utilizing traditions from the past.[1]

Charles then goes on to describe how midrash was utilized in attempts at explaining theological conundrums and narrative voids in the biblical text, thus effectively being used to create an imaginative historiography on the biblical text. An example of this is found in Genesis 6:1–4 where a brief reference to the “sons of God” taking women unto themselves gave rise to elaborate stories extrapolating on this (see, e.g., 1 Enoch 6–11). While the epistle of Jude does not use midrash to fill in the gaps of Jewish Scripture, it does use a midrashic exegesis to “address, resolve, and affirm the religious community by utilizing traditions from the past.”

The Dead Sea Scrolls, dated to ca. 100 BCE–70 CE, refer collectively to the number of manuscripts unearthed over the ten year period in the eleven caves situated by the north-western edge of the Dead Sea. The scrolls are related to the archaeological site of Khirbet (“ruin of”) Qumran, a site thought to have been inhabited by the Jewish sect known as the Essenes.[2] Amongst the texts discovered at Qumran, there is a group of documents known collectively as the pesharim. The pesharim are commentaries on Old Testament texts so named due to the Hebrew פשר, of which ‘pesher’ is a transliteration (pl. פשרים, pesharim). This word characteristically appears throughout the texts, occurring between the citation of a Scripture and its interpretation (i.e. “the interpretation [pesher] of the matter is…”). The pesharim can be generally divided into two categories: continuous and thematic; the former indicating a continuous verse-by-verse interpretation on a biblical book (e.g. 1QpHab is a pesher on Habakkuk), and the latter type instead bringing together scriptural citations from a variety of biblical books but which are united by a common theme or word usage (e.g. 11QMelch assembles together a number of Scriptural passages in order to bring illumination on the mysterious figure of Melchizedek).[3]

A defining characteristic of the Qumran pesharim is their (idiosyncratic) interpretations which contemporize the Scriptural text. The pesher method employed at Qumran saw the Scriptural text being commentated upon as prophetic and eschatological, proving that the Qumran community was indeed living in the final days and that Scripture was being fulfilled in their lifetime and in their community. Ultimately, pesher is an eschatological exegesis and this characteristic is the key feature of the epistle of Jude as well. Though, of course, this is not to say that Jude was authored by a member of the Qumran community, or even that it displays all the defining characteristics of the Qumran pesharim. The pesher exegetical method should be considered sui generis—it is an interpretive method unique to the Qumran community. Yet Jude does share in common some characteristics of the pesharim (e.g. the contemporizing of passages from the Old Testament), though it is void of other features critical to the pesharim (e.g. the role of the Teacher of Righteousness).

The Epistle of Jude and its Pesher-esque Exegesis

There are many parallels between the theology and exegetical practices of the Qumran community and that of the New Testament authors. As VanderKam states, although the literature of the Qumran community and New Testament authors have significant differences, “they were also remarkably similar in theological vocabulary, some major doctrinal tenets, and several origination and ritual practices.”[4] For instance, both groups had a specific focus on a charismatic figure who taught them to find mysteries hidden in the Jewish Scriptures (Teacher of Righteousness; Jesus). Both groups of texts also have a penchant for the biblical books of Psalms, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, and Genesis.[5] And the groups responsible for the texts of Qumran and the New Testament—the Essenes and Christians—both considered themselves part of a new covenant community with Yahweh (Dam. Doc. 20.12; 2 Cor 3:6) and that they were living in an eschatologically significant period.[6]

Nevertheless, despite the many similarities, Dead Sea Scrolls expert John Collins says that the exact “style of commentary” found in the Qumran pesharim was “not continued in either Judaism or Christianity”, thus “it is best to avoid loose references” to pesher exegesis in the NT, though he admits that “there have been many proposals concerning ‘pesher-like exegesis’ in the NT.[7] Not all agree with this assessment and Ellis, Charles, and Bauckham were the first to give serious consideration to the pesher style used in Jude.[8] Bauckham states that Jude’s “hermeneutical presuppositions and exegetical methods were widely accepted in contemporary Judaism and can be paralleled especially from the Qumran pesharim.”[9] Furthermore, he states that Jude “contains probably the most elaborate passage of formal exegesis in the manner of the Qumran pesharim to be found in the New Testament.”[10] This exegetical section is found in vv. 5–19, which is not a “mere undisciplined denunciation, but a very carefully composed piece of scriptural commentary.”[11] It is here that scriptural citations and allusions become the “pesher text” which is then interpreted in such a manner that it contemporizes it for the recipients of the epistle.

The first two such “pesher texts” of Jude (vv. 5–7, 11) are comprised of a triad of allusions to biblical stories and figures which are then “interpreted” (vv. 8–10, 12–13) as applying to Jude’s antagonists, the ασεβεις (“ungodly”, found in vv. 4, 15, 18). This first such “text” (vv. 5–7) is a summary of texts from the Old Testament rather than direct citations. This pericope presents three examples drawn from the Torah: the Israelites in the wilderness (Numbers 14), the fallen angels (Genesis 6; 1 Enoch 6–11), and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19).[12] The unifying characteristic of this triad is that each of the three groups had a disenfranchisement which left them open to judgment. The second text (v. 11) is a woe-cry which draws upon the stories of the three Old Testament figures of Cain (Genesis 4), Balaam (Numbers 22–24), and Korah (Numbers 16). This trio of infamous figures is used by Jude to foreshadow the fate of the ἀσεβεῖς: being blasphemers who deny the Lordship of Christ, they are under the curse of divine judgment like Cain, Balaam, and Korah.

The next set of two texts (vv. 14–15, 17–18) are taken from authoritative (though not canonical) sources, being interpreted (vv. 16, 19) in the same contemporizing manner. The first of these sources is the quote of 1 Enoch 1.9 in vv. 14–15 and the second is the exhortation to recall the prophecy of the apostles in vv. 17–18. Both of these authoritative sources are used to warn the reader not only of the inevitability of the outbreak of the ἀσεβεῖς, but also of their final destruction.

Considering the way in which Jude adduces a series of allusions to Jewish traditions centering around a specific subject (i.e. the activities and judgment of the ασεβεις), Jude’s exegesis can beneficially be compared to that of the Qumran pesharim, specifically the thematic pesharim such as 11QMelch and 4QFlor, as opposed to the continuous pesharim. Bauckham provides a series of similarities between the exegetical techniques of Jude and the pesharim. One such parallel is the use of catchwords in the pesher text and commentary (ασεβεια, κρισις, πλανη, βλασφημεω, τηρεω).[13] Another parallel is how Jude introduces each of his commentary sections with the introductory phrase of οὗτοί, found in vv. 8 (Ὁμοιως), 10, 12, 16, 19. This is akin to the thematic pesharim of Qumran which frequently introduce each commentary section with איה (these). Though this may just be due to a standard formula used in the interpretation of the Old Testament (e.g. Zech 1:10) and the wider ancient Near East.

Notes

[1] J. D. Charles, Literary Strategy in the Epistle of Jude (Scranton, PA: University of Scranton Press, 1993), 33.

[2] For a survey of differing views regarding the relationship between the Qumran community, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Essenes, see Timothy H. Lim, Pesharim (New York: Sheffield Academic, 2002), 7–11. James C. VanderKam, The Dead Sea Scrolls Today (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010) contains a more thorough examination of the case for and against identifying the Essenes as the inhabitants of Qumran and author of the scrolls (see pp. 97–126), as well as a sketch of the history of the Essenes at Qumran (pp. 127–36). In this regard also see Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls (London: Penguin, 2004), 49–66.

[3] For an overview on the continuous and thematic pesharim found at Qumran see VanderKam, The Dead Sea Scrolls Today, 62–74.

[4] Ibid., 200.

[5] VanderKam (ibid., 50) provides a list containing the representation of the Old Testament books in the Dead Sea Scrolls. He also states that “the three books that appear on the largest number of copies at Qumran are also the three that are quoted most frequently in the NT” (ibid., 48).

[6] See VanderKam, The Dead Sea Scrolls Today, 201–25 for similarities and differences between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament writings. For some more extensive information on this relationship, see George J. Brooke The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1980); and idem, “Shared Exegetical Traditions between the Scrolls and the New Testament”, in The Oxford Handbook of the Dead Sea Scrolls (eds Timothy H. Lim and John J. Collins; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 565–91.

[7] John J. Collins, ‘Prophecy and Fulfillment in the Dead Sea Scrolls’, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 30.3 (1987): 267–78 (quotes from 277–78). E. Earle Ellis considers the midrash in the New Testament to have “affinities” with the pesher midrash of Qumran, see Prophecy and Hermeneutic in Early Christianity: New Testament Essays (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1978), 154.

[8] Ellis, Prophecy and Hermeneutic, 221–36; Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter (Word Biblical Commentary, 50; Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), 4–5; idem, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1990), 179–234; and J. D. Charles, Literary Strategy in the Epistle of Jude (Scranton, PA: University of Scranton Press, 1993), 71–81. Although, Carroll Osburn had mentioned earlier that Jude’s “exegetical methodology is more akin to Qumran exegesis than to Philonic, rabbinic or later Alexandrian exegesis” (‘The Christological Use of 1 Enoch i.9 in Jude 14, 15’, New Testament Studies 23 [1977: 334–41]; quote from 430).

[9] Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church, 181.

[10] Ibid., 233.

[11] Ibid.

[12] See J. D. Charles, ‘“Those” and “These”: The Use of the Old Testament in the Epistle of Jude’, Journal for the Study of the New Testament 38 (1990): 109–24 for a look at the exegesis in Jude vv. 5–7 (esp. pp. 113–18).

[13] See Douglas J Rowston. ‘The Most Neglected Book in the New Testament’, New Testament Studies 21 (1975): 554–63 (esp. pp. 558–59); Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus, 201–11. Also see Ellis, Prophecy and Hermeneutic, 160; and J. D. Charles, ‘Jude’s Use of Pseudepigraphical Source-Material as Part of a Literary Strategy,’ New Testament Studies 37 (1991): 130–45 (esp. pp. 140–42); idem, Literary Strategy, 31–33.

A Survey on the Provenance of the Epistle of Jude

While most scholars accept that the intended author of the epistle of Jude is meant to be the brother of James (and thus brother of Jesus as well), not many are convinced that it is authentically authored by such a person. The epistle is instead routinely dismissed as being the product of an “early Catholic” or “post-apostolic” environment, attempting to gain the gravitas it needs to be considered authoritative by claiming to be authored by “Jude, the brother of James” (v. 1).[1] For instance, Roman Heiligenthal considers the question of authorship to be decisively resolved: “Der pseudepigraphe Charakter de Jud wird nicht mehr bestritten.”[2] One could argue, however, that if the epistle is indeed written under the guise of a brother of Jesus in order to come off as authoritative to the reader, it is strange that the author refers to Jude as the “brother of James” instead of the more direct “brother of the Lord”, the latter title carrying more explicit authority while also being a known descriptor of Jesus’ brothers (see Gal 1.19; 1 Cor 9.5; Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., 1.7.11,13–14, 3.20).[3] Unfortunately, as evidenced by the extensive bibliography Heiligenthal provides on Judan scholarship, he was unaware of Richard Bauckham’s 1983 commentary and its arguments against an early Catholic reading of Jude.[4]

John Gunther provides a thorough case for an Alexandrian background to the epistle of Jude.[5] This is due, in part, to its fine Hellenistic literary style and Jude’s proclivity for intertestamental literature suggests such a provenance due to Alexandria being a veritable hub of book production.[6] Gunther also considers various references in the epistle (“Egypt” in v. 5; the “hidden reefs” and “waterless clouds” in v. 12), coupled together with the early acceptance of the epistle in Egypt, as not only being in harmony with an Alexandrian setting but possibly even implying that it was written there. None of Gunther’s arguments, however, provide a compelling reason to locate the epistle in Egypt. Ultimately, I think one has to agree with Charles Bigg who states that there is “no reason whatsoever” for choosing Alexandria as the place of origination, as “any specially Egyptian or Alexandrine ideas it exhibits not the faintest trace.”[7]

Jerome Neyrey, a pioneer in the social-scientific commentary on the biblical text, judges that there is “scant data” to work with to ascertain “a firm decision” regarding the setting and author.[8] He also sees conflicting data in the epistle: there is the fine Greek literary style, but on the other hand there is the author’s usage of Jewish apocryphal literature, the Hebrew Bible instead of the Septuagint, and the presence of Semitisms.[9] Nonetheless, this uncertainty or rejection towards authentic authorship and Palestinian provenance is not without its critics, some of whom judge the epistle to indeed be a product of a Palestinian Jewish-Christian apocalyptic milieu, with the possibility of authentic authorship being a natural corollary.

Michael Green reckons the author to legitimately be Jude, the brother of Jesus, thus naturally entailing that its provenance is “from the heart of Jewish Christianity.[10] Various other commentators, such as William Brosend, likewise have no difficulty accepting authentic authorship.[11] Not all that accept a Palestinian provenance, however, necessarily conclude the ascribed authorship is authentic. In his somewhat dated commentary, J. N. D. Kelly, while not taking a decisive stance on authorship authenticity noting that “the possibility cannot be ruled out,” nevertheless considers the author is “probably, but not necessarily, a Jewish Christian” even if a highly “Hellenized one with a cultivated Greek style.” Moreover, he argues that regardless of whether one considers the epistle to be authentic or pseudonymous it “must have originated in Palestine.”[12]

The most notable proponent of a Palestinian Jewish-Christian provenance is found in the works of Richard Bauckham, most notably in his commentary in the WBC series, Jude, 2 Peter, as well as the later monograph, Jude and the Brothers of Jesus in the Early Church. Despite their age, the former is still the best technical commentary on the epistle to date and the latter volume is a superb and in-depth supplement to it. Bauckham contends that Jude has a firm “debt to Palestinian Jewish literature and haggadic traditions” and that along with “its apocalyptic perspective and exegetical methods, its concern for ethical practice more than doctrinal belief, are all entirely consistent with authorship by Jude the brother of Jesus.”[13] He also takes extensive note of Jude’s usage of a midrashic hermeneutic in the style of the Qumran pesher exegesis.[14]

Another Judan specialist, J. D. Charles, states that Jude is a specimen of “Palestinian Jewish-Christian literature,” with the text demonstrating “a rich debt to the Jewish matrix,” while simultaneously being wrapped “in the garb of current Hellenistic literary-rhetorical conventions.”[15] The decision for a Palestinian provenance for Jude by Bauckham and Charles, as well as authentic authorship, has been followed by more recent commentators such as Peter Davids and Gene Green,[16] with the latter stating that Jude’s midrashic exegesis of the Old Testament places the epistle “squarely within the sphere of Palestinian Judaism” and that it “brings us into contact with early Palestinian Christianity that was in the process of opening up to the gentile mission.”[17]

Summary

Since Rowston’s influential article on Jude in 1975 there has been a large amount of literature published on the brief epistle, the above being a small sampling. Yet there is no definite consensus concerning the provenance of the epistle and the genuineness of its authorship. A case has been marshalled for authentic authorship and a Palestinian provenance by Bauckham and Charles, though not all are convinced, with many still opting for the early Catholic setting and pseudonymous authorship.

Notes

[1] For an extensive survey of scholarship on the authorship of Jude from the nineteenth century through to the late twentieth century, see Richard Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1990), 171–78.

[2] “The pseudepigraphal character of Jude is no longer in dispute” (Roman Heiligenthal, ‘Der Judasbrief: Aspekte der Forschung in den letzten Jahrzehnten’, Theologische Rundschau 51 [1986]: 117–29; quote from p. 120).

[3] Consider Early J. Richard, a commentator who actually considers the author to be pseudonymous, yet nevertheless notes that this self-designation of being a brother of “James” instead of the “Lord” is indeed “an unusual statement under any circumstance (Reading 1 Peter, Jude, and 2 Peter: A Literary and Theological Commentary [Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2000]; quote from p. 236).

[4] Heiligenthal, Der Judasbrief, 117–20.

[5] John J. Gunther, ‘The Alexandrian Epistle of Jude’, New Testament Studies 30 (1984): 549–62.

[6] Jerome H. Neyrey blunts this argument a bit when he notes that both 1 Enoch (quoted in Jude vv. 14–15) and the Assumption of Moses (alluded to in Jude v. 9) were “esoteric books which were not exactly household items” (2 Peter, Jude. A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary [Anchor Bible 37C; New York: Doubleday, 1993]; quote from p. 35).

[7] Charles Bigg, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude (International Critical Commentary; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1901), 320.

[8] Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude, 10. Regardless of one’s position on the authorship and provenance of Jude, one must keep in mind Bigg’s remark regarding the dearth of information to be found in the epistle: “what conclusion can be built upon this slender basis?” (321).

[9] Ibid., 35–36.

[10] Michael Green, 2 Peter & Jude: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), esp. pp. 54–56.

[11] William Brosend, James and Jude (New Cambridge Bible Commentary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 5.

[12] John N. D. Kelly, A Commentary on the Epistles of Peter and of Jude (Black’s New Testament Commentary; New York: Harper and Row, 1969; Reprinted: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1982), pp. 231–35.

[13] Richard Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter (Word Biblical Commentary, 50; Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), 16.

[14] Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus, 201–34.

[15] J. D. Charles, Literary Strategy in the Epistle of Jude (Scranton, PA: University of Scranton Press, 1993), 80–81.

[16] See Peter H. Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude (Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), esp. pp. 9–16; and Gene L. Green, Jude & 2 Peter (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 13.

[17] Ibid., 13, 16.

The Epistle of Jude and Early Catholicism

The charge brought against the epistle of Jude that it is an artifact of Frühkatholizismus, “early Catholicism,” is frequently found in literature on the epistle. This period of time is alternatively known as the “post-apostolic” period, but beginning with Albrecht Ritschl it has more frequently been labeled as the “early Catholic” period, with the term being more popular amongst Protestant scholars. The early Catholic era encompasses ca. 70–150, a time period that is distinct for various reasons. The death of the apostles and the publication of the Gospels occurred during the first few decades of this period, as well as other critical events impacting the Christian faith: Marcion raised the question of canon, Gnosticism arose and departed from “mainstream” Christianity, the Jewish and Gentile streams of Christianity slowly but steadily grew further apart, and various epochal events occurred during the period, such as the war and fall of Jerusalem (66–70), the Diaspora revolt (116), and the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–135).

In the late nineteenth century, F. C. Baur provided a reconstruction of earliest Christianity that utilized the Hegelian dialectic of history. In a nutshell, Baur posited that in early Christianity an original (Petrine) Jewish Christianity and secondary (Pauline) Hellenistic Christianity were at variance with one another and that, through a dialectical movement, synchronized into early Catholicism. The early Catholic model, briefly stated, asserts that the kind of aforementioned developments (such as the death of the Apostles) led to an increasing institutionalization of the Christian faith in an attempt to preserve the apostolic traditions. This institutionalization is supposedly found in the emergence of three key notions: 1) ecclesiastical developments such as the distinction of believers into the clergy and laity and the elevation of a monarchical office of bishop; 2) the defining of the Christian faith into proto-creedal forms; and 3) the fading hope in the imminent parousia of Christ. The early Catholic setting of Jude was cemented into place in Protestant scholarship by Ernst Käsemann.

Michael Green defines early Catholicism as denoting “a hardening of the arteries, a fossilization of the faith into set forms, an emphasis on church leaders, a fading of the parousia hope and a distancing from the apostolic age.”[1] Concerning this last point, some argue that such a distancing is found in Jude v. 17 where the recipients are told to “remember” the apostles’ words, seemingly placing the era of the apostles in a time long since past. This interpretation is flawed, however, as the text does not state the apostles are in the past, only their prior action and the time in which the recipients heard them. Furthermore, v. 17 is followed by in v. 18 with a call for the recipients to recall what the apostles had “said,” possibly implying that they had indeed heard the apostles themselves speak, whereas one may rightfully expect the author to tell them to remember what the apostles had “written” if it indeed came from a later period.

It is hardly a disputed issue as to whether the New Testament contains late (and pseudepigraphal) Christian writings. James Dunn holds that “it can hardly be disputed that early Catholicism is to be found already in the New Testament,” and that the Pastoral Epistles are the “clearest examples” of this.[2] Despite its brevity, the epistle of Jude can be mined for data in order to determine how well it actually fits with the early Catholic model. This is what I intend to do in this blog post, but before I go further I should note that the early Catholic model has been undergoing revision in scholarship, due to its somewhat unsophisticated, perhaps even naïve, view concerning the evolution of nascent Christianity.

As far back as the early 80s, Bauckham said that the early Catholic model is “ripe for radical examination,”[3] and Hengel stated that the label is “inappropriate,” “misused,” “does not add anything to our understanding of earliest Christian history,” and judiciously observes that, “if we want to, we can find ‘early Catholic traits’ even in Jesus and Paul.”[4] Yet, despite the fact that in some recent literature there has been a tendency to avoid the term “early Catholic(ism)” with other terms like “post-apostolic” usually replacing it, due to negative connotations associated with the former term and its ineffectiveness for conveying the forces behind the post-apostolic age, it nevertheless continues to be employed by some as an important concept and piece of vernacular in New Testament scholarship (and is still used in some literature on Jude). So for here I will stick with the label “early Catholicism” (and the model it represents), rather than one of its substitutes.

Ecclesiastical Developments

Dunn considers ecclesiastical developments to be “the clearest mark of early Catholicism.”[5] While the rationale behind this criterion is understandable, its utility must nevertheless be called into question due to the fact that Paul already reveals some proto-ecclesiastical offices in Philippians 1:1 (which is dated to ca. 60), so even if this feature is found in Jude its mere presence does not necessitate an early Catholic setting.

Regardless as to how much weight one wants to lend to this criterion, ecclesiastical developments are noticeably absent in Jude. For if the epistle indeed stems from a period in which the Church was undergoing significant institutionalization, the ways in which it would be exhibited, e.g., by the author placing an emphasis on the necessity for the recipients to obey their bishop, are noticeably absent in Jude.[6] As Bauckham notes, the epistle is not addressed to a specific ecclesiastical official, but rather to “the whole community, who all enjoy the inspiration of the Spirit in charismatic prayer (v. 20).”[7]

A few commentators have suggested that the δόξας of Jude v. 8 refers to an ecclesiastical official,[8] though there is no convincing support for this interpretation, which is why almost all commentators and exegetes view the δόξας as angelic beings, a use which is found in the Qumran writings (e.g. 1QH 10.8) as well as other Jewish literature (e.g. Testament of Levi 18.5).[9]

Creedal Faith

Concerning the second characteristic of early Catholicism, the defining of the Christian faith into more concrete and crystallized forms, one can determine whether Jude displays this by examining how the epistle uses the term πιστις. For while this term was originally used as a simple reference to the Christian gospel message in the earliest extant Christian writings (e.g. Gal 1:23; 1 Cor 16:13), it also came to be used in reference to the more defined belief systems that came about due to the rise of “heretics” and the imposition of more centralized ecclesiastical authorities.

Kelly says that Jude’s usage of πιστις in v. 3 suggests “a formalized view of the church’s message as a clearly defined and authoritatively transmitted deposit.”[10] Yet, as with the previous criterion, this one is likewise open to criticism, for the mere adherence to a set content of faith cannot be taken as decisive evidence of a late setting due to the fact that Paul, writing in the 50s, curses anyone who would alter “the gospel” (Gal 1:18), which for him did consist of a set, albeit embryonic, form (1 Cor 15:1–4). Additionally, the occurrence of παραδοθείσῃ (from παραδίδωμι) in Jude 3 would be entirely congruent with an early Jewish-Christian setting considering Paul likewise uses the term in 1 Cor 15:1. Thus, if the “faith” in Jude 3 that was “once and for all delivered” to the recipients simply denotes the unadorned nucleus of the Christian gospel message—the death, resurrection, and lordship of Christ—then its unalterable nature is indeed to be expected. And this is not indicative of a late early-Catholic setting.

So while Jude speaks of πιστις as something that was already delivered to the saints, the overall thrust towards ethics and orthopraxis in the epistle makes it right to see Jude’s understanding of πίστις as a metonymy to the basic Gospel message of the lordship of Christ. Bauckham agrees, saying that πίστις in v. 3 “refers simply to the gospel itself, not to any formalized and unalterable ‘rule of faith’.”[11]

A Fading Hope of the Parousia

The fading hope of the parousia—Parusieverzögerungis an aspect of the early Catholic model which is said to have arisen as a psychological coping mechanism in order to compensate for the disillusionment produced by the failure of the imminent return of Christ (see Mark 13:30). Unlike the author of 2 Peter, who explicitly answers those who ridicule the expected return of the Lord in great glory (2 Peter 3:1–13), the author of Jude makes no attempt to justify or rationalize a delay in his arrival. In fact, the epistle displays quite the opposite attitude to a fading hope of the parousia. In Jude, Christ’s parousia is instead depicted as a lively imminent expectation where Jesus will return to judge the ungodly and provide salvation for his own (vv. 1, 14–15, 21, 24), providing the impetus for the ethical exhortation in the epistle (vv. 20–23).

Furthermore, even if Jude did exhibit a fading hope in the parousia, this wouldn’t necessarily mean that it comes from a post-apostolic period because the notion of a delay in the “Day of the Lord” (now the parousia of Christ—2 Cor 1:14), and the subsequent reasoning as to why the Lord tarries, is also a feature found in Second Temple literature (e.g. Bar. 21.19–21, 25; 4 Ezra 4.26–39; 5.38).

The Greek Proficiency of First-Century Galilean Jews

Another argument brought to bear in the issue of the authorship and provenance of the epistle, and which helps determine whether a late early-Catholic setting is appropriate or not, is the author’s deftness with the Greek language (see, e.g., vv. 5–7 which contain a litany of clauses, sub-clauses, participial and infinitive constructions). The extent to which first-century Palestinian Jews were proficient with the Greek language is a matter of debate. In a manner similar to the cynicism of Nathaniel’s question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth” (John 1:46), it has been a widely held belief that Jesus, his followers, and any potential siblings, would have only known Aramaic and been relatively unfamiliar with Greek, certainly unable to pen such a polished Greek text as the epistle of Jude. This contention is aptly summarized by J. D. Charles who notes that due to “the elegant and fluent higher Koine” in the epistle, the question is raised as to “whether Galilean Jews could have indeed written such works.” [12]

Firstly, not everyone is entirely convinced by the quality of Jude’s Greek. For instance, Bauckham agrees with the assessment that the author exhibits a good command of the Greek language, yet he offsets this with the argument that “a wide vocabulary, which Jude has, is easier to acquire than a skill of literary style, where Jude’s competence is less remarkable.”[13]

Secondly, the depiction of the early Jewish-Christians as illiterate Galilean villagers has been challenged over the years, with several scholars questioning this portrayal of the Galilean followers of Jesus.[14] Despite the fact that there does not seem to be a hard consensus concerning the exact makeup of the four key languages—Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic—in first-century Palestine, one can confidently state that while Greek was the most commonly used language in the land surrounding the Mediterranean, Aramaic was most likely the lingua franca of Palestinian Jews.[15] However, as Hengel and others after him have shown, first-century Palestine was influenced with the Greek language and culture to a degree more pervasive than previously thought, though the extent of Hellenization has been disputed by Feldman, Grabbe, and others. Nevertheless, even a limited degree of Hellenization in first-century Palestine means one should not outright reject a Palestinian provenance of Jude. So while the polished level of Greek to be found in Jude is the only argument of any weight against a first-century Palestinian provenance, it is still possibly what one could realistically expect from a bilingual native of Galilee.

Summary

Since the ushering in of the dialectical reconstruction of earliest Christianity by Baur and the Tübingen School, the early Catholic paradigm has been used as an important heuristic tool, wielding sizeable influence when it comes to the question of classifying and dating texts. The aim of this post was not so much to protest the utility of early Catholicism as it was to assess the degree to which the epistle of Jude possesses the three key characteristics of early Catholicism. Jude lacks any of the classic signs of late, pseudonymous authorship such as evidence of an elaborate ecclesiastical structure, the ossification of the faith into elaborate set forms, and a rationalization for the delay of the parousia. And while the presence of the fine Greek literary style present within the epistle is the strongest argument against a first-century Palestinian-Jewish setting (and authentic authorship), I do not think it is a decisive argument that necessarily precludes such an origin.

Notes

[1] Michael Green, 2 Peter & Jude: An Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 53.

[2] James D.G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity (London: SCM Press, 1990), 362–63. This is a part of Dunn’s fuller look at early Catholicism (ibid., 341–66).

[3] Richard Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), 8.

[4] Martin Hengel, Between Jesus and Paul: Studies in the Earliest History of Christianity (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2003), 122.

[5] Dunn, Unity and Diversity, 351.

[6] For an example of this see e.g. “Be subject to the bishop and to one another, as Jesus Christ in the flesh was to the Father” (Ignatius, Magnesians 13.2; written ca. 98–117).

[7] Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church (Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark, 1990), 260.

[8] See Charles Bigg, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude (ICC; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1901), 279; and Michel Desjardins, ‘The Portrayal of the Dissidents in 2 Peter and Jude: Does It Tell Us More About the “Godly” Than the “Ungodly”?’, Journal for the Study of the New Testament 30 (1987): 89–102; esp. pp. 91–93.

[9] For supporters of this interpretation of δόξας see J.N.D. Kelly, A Commentary on the Epistles of Peter and of Jude (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1982), 263; Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 37; M. Green, 2 Peter and Jude, 182; Jerome Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude (AB 37c; NY: Doubleday, 1993), 69; Peter Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude (PNTC; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), 56; and Gene Green, Jude & 2 Peter (BECNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 76.

[10] Kelly, Commentary, 248.

[11] Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 3.

[12] J. D. Charles, Literary Strategy in the Epistle of Jude (Scranton, PA: University of Scranton Press, 1993), 75.

[13] Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 6, 15. For an in-depth look at the literary style of the Greek in Jude (and 2 Peter), see Anders Gerdmar, Rethinking the Judaism-Hellenism Dichotomy: A Historiographical Case Study of Second Peter and Jude (Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell, 2001) especially pp. 30–91.

[14] See e.g. J.N. Sevenster, Do You Know Greek? How Much Greek Could the First Jewish Christians Have Known? (Novum Testamentum Supplement 19. Leiden: Brill, 1968); Jonathan M. Watt, “The Current State of Diglossia Studies: The Diglossic Continuum in First-Century Palestine”, in Diglossia and Other Topics in New Testament Linguistics (Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement 193; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 18–36; Stanley E. Porter, “The Functional Distribution of Koine Greek in First-Century Palestine”, in Diglossia and Other Topics in New Testament Linguistics, 53–78.

[15] See Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “The Languages of Palestine in the First Century A.D.”, in The Language of the New Testament. Classic Essays (ed. Stanley Porter; Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement 60; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991), 126–38; also see Fitzmyer’s “Aramaic” and “Languages” entries in Volume 1 of the Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls (ed. Lawrence H. Schiffman and James C. VanderKam; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 48–50 and 473–74.

The Epistle of Jude in Early Christianity

It is difficult—nigh impossible—to find any article, commentary, or monograph on the epistle of Jude in the last thirty years which does not make reference to the title of Douglas Rowston’s seminal article, “The Most Neglected Book in the New Testament.”[1] Prior to its publication one would be hard-pressed to find a monograph or even a journal article focusing solely on the epistle,[2] but there has been a subsequent proliferation of literature published on it, with this increase being attributable to a growing understanding of the contribution that the epistle can provide to early Christian studies, especially if the epistle does have an origin in the Palestinian-Jewish matrix of earliest Christianity.[3]

Attestation in the Early Church Writings

The epistle of Jude, like most of the other Catholic Epistles (e.g. James, 2 Peter, 2–3 John), suffers from a severe lack of attestation in the writings of the apostolic fathers, consisting of only a couple of possible allusions to Jude’s salutation.

Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians (ca. 110–140) begins with ελεος υμιν και ειρηνη παρα θεου παντοκρατορος και Ιησου Χριστου του σωτηρος ημων πληθυνθειη (“May mercy and peace from God Almighty and Jesus Christ our Savior be multiplied to you”). Likewise, the Martyrdom of Polycarp (ca. 155) begins with the similar sentence of, ελεος και ειρηνη και αγαπη θεου πατρος και του κυριου ημων Ιησου Χριστου πληθυνθειη (“May mercy, peace, and love from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ be multiplied”). Both are clearly akin to Jude’s salutation of ελεος υμιν και ειρηνη και αγαπη πληθυνθειη (“May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you”). Nevertheless, this does not necessarily betray a dependence between the texts, but is likely the result of a prevalent form of greeting.

Apart from the salutation there are no other possible links to Jude among the apostolic fathers. While this is the standard opinion in the relevant literature,[4] there are some who see other references elsewhere. For example, Lee Martin McDonald[5] sees the following allusions to Jude:

  • Jude vv. 3 and 20 in Pol. Phil. 3.2
  • Jude vv. 20 and 23 in Pol. Phil. 11.4
  • Jude vv. 3-4 in Barn. 2.10.

The relevant portions read:

And when [Paul] was absent he wrote you letters; which if you study them carefully, you will be able to build yourselves up in the faith that has been given you. (Pol. Phil. 3.2)

Do not regard such people as enemies, but, as sick and straying members, restore them, in order that you may save your body in its entirety. For by doing this you build up one another. (Pol. Phil. 11.4)

We ought to give very careful attention to our salvation, lest the evil one should cause some error to slip into our midst and thereby hurl us away from our life. (Barn. 2.10)

None of these allusions are persuasive and are probably just the result of trying to find parallels where they simply do not exist. Also, in later writings of the second century, McDonald finds Jude in Athengoras’ Supplication for Christ 24–25, which discusses the fallen angels and the origin of giants. This does not at all demonstrate dependence on Jude, but only that they were both using a well-known Jewish tradition. McDonald also finds dependence on Jude in Theophilus of Antioch’s Treatise to Autolycus 2.15, which mentions that planets (or “wandering stars”) are a type of men who have wandered from God. Despite the fact that the Enochic literature only portrays fallen angels as wandering stars (not men), it still quite a stretch to use this as proof that demonstrates Theophilus’ knowledge of Jude.

The prominent Alexandrian church fathers Clement (ca. 150–215) and Origen (ca. 185–255) are the earliest Eastern writers to make use of Jude. Clement has a brief commentary on the entire epistle and elsewhere quotes a few verses from it (Fragments 1.2; The Instructor, 3.8.44.3–45.1; and Stromata 3.2.11.2; all of which are ca. 200). The no-longer extant treatise of Clement, Hypotyposeis, is mentioned by Eusebius (ca. 270–340) who observes that Jude is a part of the canonical list included therein. The writings of Origen have been pointed towards as containing about fourteen references to Jude, one of which displays his glowing opinion of Jude, describing it as “a short epistle, yet filled with healthful words of heavenly grace”; εγραψεν επιστολην, ολιγοστιχον μεν, πεπληρωμενην δε των της ουρανιου χαριτος ερρωμενων λογων (Comm. on Matt. 10.17.40; ca. 245). Nevertheless, later in the same work, while quoting Jude 6, he notes that it is not universally received in the church with the words, “if indeed one were to accept the epistle of Jude”; ει δε και την Ιουδα προσοιτο τις επιστολην (ibid., 17.30.9–10). Elsewhere, Origen twice places Jude in a list of canonical writings accepted by the church (Homilies on Joshua 7.1; Homilies on Genesis 13.2).

The important second and third century Western fathers Irenaeus of Lyon (ca. 130–200), Hippolytus of Rome (ca. 170–235), and Cyprian of Carthage (ca. 200–258), all show no knowledge of Jude in their writings. This is particularly interesting in the case of Irenaeus given that he was the first orthodox church father involved in using a proto-New Testament canon. Outside of 2 Peter, which is typically thought to have Western provenance, it is in the writings of Tertullian of Carthage (ca. 160–223) that the first non-canonical text sheds light upon the status of Jude in the Western church. In using 1 Enoch as a reference for tracing the origins of feminine adornment, Tertullian proceeds to outline two possible objections to his use of it: 1) that it was not included in the Jewish canon, and 2) that if it was truly written by the ascribed antediluvian then it would have certainly been lost in the flood. Tertullian then responds to these reservations, finishing with the contention that “the fact that Enoch possesses a testimony in the apostle Jude” justifies his own citing of 1 Enoch (On the Apparel of Women 1.3.1; Latin text: Quod Enoch apud Iudam apostolum testimonium possidet). Tertullian evidently valued the epistle of Jude highly enough that it could be used to decisively adjudicate the use of disputed texts.

In addition to all this, mention should be made of the Muratorian fragment. This is a Latin text believed to have been translated from Greek, and due to internal evidence is generally accepted to have originated from the mid-late second-century Western church. The fragment consists of a list of canonical writings accepted as authoritative in the church, of which Jude is included.[6]

From the fourth century onwards, Jude enjoyed an almost universal acceptance among the church, no doubt largely in part due to it being acknowledged in the Third Council of Carthage in 397, as well as being in the canon lists of Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. 3.25; ca. 310–325), Athanasius (39th Festal Letter; ca. 367), Jerome (On Illustrious Men 4; ca. 392–393), and Augustine (On Christian Doctrine 2.12; ca. 397).

In spite of this widespread acceptance, there is scant data to confirm or deny whether the Syrian church accepted the epistle of Jude (if indeed they even knew of its existence). The Peshitta version of the New Testament, which was already in circulation by the fifth century, consisted of a twenty-two (not twenty-seven) book canon which did not contain Jude, but after a revision in the early sixth century (known as the Philoxenian version after its commissioner Philoxenus), Jude was included along with 2–3 John, 2 Peter, and Revelation, although it is debated as to whether this was actually when these Catholic Epistles were added (and if it wasn’t by Philoxenus then it was probably in the early seventh century by Thomas of Harkel in what is known as the Harclean version). Nevertheless, the East Syrian Church still possesses to this day a twenty-two book canon of the New Testament.[7]

Attestation in the Greek Papyri

The epistle of Jude is attested in two early papyri. The first, P72 (Bodmer Papyrus VII-VIII), is a papyrus manuscript collection containing 1–2 Peter and Jude in a codex together with other religious texts in the following order: Nativity of Mary, 3 Corinthians, the 11th Ode of Solomon, Jude, Melito’s Homily on the Passion, a liturgical hymn fragment, Apology of Phileas, Psalms 33:2–34:16 (LXX), and 1–2 Peter. These texts were produced by multiple scribes (significantly though, 1–2 Peter and Jude were likely by the same scribe), bound together during the third-fourth century and was probably for private use instead of liturgical. While P72 can be pointed to as verification that Jude circulated together with the Petrine writings (remembering that the same scribe is responsible for 1–2 Peter and Jude in that collection), it could still nevertheless be bound together with other non-canonical pseudepigraphal writings.[8]

The second papyrus, P78 (P.Oxy. 2684), is a small fragment of Jude discovered at Oxyrhynchus which contains the text of Jude 4–5 and 7–8 on the recto and verso. Dating from the third or fourth century, it was probably produced as an amulet, which naturally leads to the question as to why someone would possess an amulet containing the text of Jude. Considering that the majority of Jude consists of a polemic against “certain people” who have “crept in unnoticed” among the brethren, it is possible that the amulet was used as a means of protection directed against the users perceived enemies within the church and other possible supernatural malevolent forces.[9]

Notes

[1] Douglas J Rowston. ‘The Most Neglected Book in the New Testament’, New Testament Studies 21 (1975): 554–63.

[2] J. Daryl Charles correctly notes that “where it is studied, Jude is normally examined side-by-side with the other ‘catholic’ epistles or subsumed under the study of 2 Peter” (‘Literary Artifice in the Epistle of Jude’, Zeitschrift fur die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 82 [1991]: 106–24).

[3] Since Rowston’s article there have been other influential studies on Jude. See, for example, the works from Judan specialists Richard Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter (Word Biblical Commentary, 50; Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983); Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church (Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark, 1990); and J. D. Charles, ‘“Those” and “These”: The Use of the Old Testament in the Epistle of Jude’, Journal for the Study of the New Testament 38 (1990): 109–24; idem, ‘Literary Artifice in the Epistle of Jude’, Zeitschrift fur die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 82 (1991): 106–24; ‘Jude’s Use of Pseudepigraphical Source-Material as Part of a Literary Strategy,’ New Testament Studies 37 (1991): 130–45; idem, Literary Strategy in the Epistle of Jude (Scranton, PA: University of Scranton Press, 1993); idem, ‘The Use of Tradition-Material in the Epistle of Jude,’ Bulletin for Biblical Research 4 (1994): 1–14; idem, ‘The Angels Under Reserve in 2 Peter and Jude’, Bulletin for Biblical Research 15.1 (2005): 39–48.

[4] For example, The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers (OUP, 2005).

[5] The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority (Hendrickson, 2007), 397.

[6] There are some who consider the Muratorian fragment to be a fourth century document of Eastern provenance, as presented by Geoffrey Hahneman, The Muratorian Fragment and the Development of the Canon, (Clarendon, 1992). For a defense of the mid-second century Western view, see Everett Ferguson, “Canon Muratori: Date and Provenance,” Studia Patristica 18 (1982): 677–83. For a comprehensive and decisive argument against fourth-century Eastern provenance, see the essay by J. Verheyden, “The Canon Muratori: A Matter of Dispute” (pp. 487–556) in Jonge and Auwers (eds.), The Biblical Canons (Peeters Press, 2003).

[7] For a critical discussion of the history of the Syriac Bible see Sebastian Brock’s, The Bible in the Syriac Tradition (Gorgias Press, 2006).

[8] For a fuller discussion of P72 see James Royse, Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri (Brill, 2008; reprinted by SBL, 2010), 545–614; and Tommy Wasserman, The Epistle of Jude: Its Text and Transmission (Almqvist & Wiksell, 2006), 30–50.

[9] For a fuller discussion of P78 see Wasserman, The Epistle of Jude, 51–72.

Babylon and New Jerusalem: A Polemic against Hybridity (Part V)

Part II: A Polemic against Hybridity (continued)

The economic critique of Babylon begins not with Revelation 17, but with the critiques found in the letters to the seven ekklēsiai in Revelation 2 and 3. Here we see the wealth of Laodicea being labeled “poverty” (Rev. 3:14–22), while the lack of wealth at Smyrna is regarded as true wealth (Rev. 2:8–11). Why does John mock wealth here and reverse the status of the wealthy and the poor? The answer lies in how the economic, political, and religious systems in Roman times were inextricably tied up with one another.[1] While in modern Western culture religion operates separately from economics and politics, in the Roman Empire these concepts were tied together. In order to preserve the pax Romana, the pax deum had to be assured through the carrying out of religious rituals; economic strength depended upon adherence to religious observances. Additionally, religious piety directed towards the Roman imperial cult was how Roman cities supported the Empire and gained imperial favor for themselves. Throughout the Roman provinces, minus the notable exception of the province of Judaea, there was strong competition for imperial favor by competing for coveted titles of neokoros. Cities won these titles by showing their loyalty to the Emperor, demonstrated through the displays of loyalty and divine honor to Roman emperors known as the imperial cult.

John objects to the fact that some of his readers are eating food offered to idols (Rev. 2:14-15, 20) because, in doing so, they are effectively propping up the religious and economic orders of the imperial culture.[2] In Asia Minor, the church at Pergamum is criticized for the teachings of “Balaam” and “the Nicolaitans” (Rev. 2:15; cf. Num. 22–24), while the church at Thyatira “tolerate[s] that woman Jezebel” (Rev. 2:20; cf. 1 Kgs 18:1–19). The context suggests that the teaching of Balaam is the same as the teachings of the Nicolaitans, and that Jezebel is a name specific to an individual at Thyatira, with the teachings of this individual being described in identical terms to that of the Nicolaitans (Rev. 2:14–15).[3] The Nicolaitans are those who chose to assimilate themselves to the norms of polis, including consuming meat in socio-religious situations. In Revelation, the Nicolatians are the epitome of hybridity and John desires to excise them from the ekklēsiai, for it not only supports the corrupt economic system of Rome but it is also a symbol of integration and interdependence with Rome; it is this hybridity that John so loathes.

Yet, in calling on the members of the ekklēsiai to have no part with these expressions of Roman power and patronage, John is placing them in a precarious situation where they are living on the margins of standard Asian culture, thus they may very well face social and economic maltreatment, and in certain instances, even death. To endure the burden that this would create, John knows that the members of the ekklēsiai would require a solid bond with one another, and that despite the blemishes in the various ekklēsiai, they were the proper communal context that contained the opportunity for the alternative reality to the Roman order. Rather than relying on the economic system of Rome, which was entirely corrupt, the ekklēsiai were to think of themselves as a faithful alternative.

Summary

Though I did not go into a lot of detail, hopefully this has shown how the postcolonial concepts of mimicry and hybridity allow us to scrutinize the rhetorical dualism in Revelation. The resolve of John in regards to the purity of the ekklēsiai of Asia Minor and his determined efforts to dissociate himself from his proximate others—the Nicolaitans, Jezebel, Rome—are a reaction to the peril of hybridity that was confronting his subaltern. By participating in the cultic meals, the members of the ekklēsiai are symbolically endorsing the Roman imperial order. Therefore, John relates the visions of Babylon and New Jerusalem to show the stark contrast between the Roman order and that of faithful witness to Jesus Christ. Those inside New Jerusalem are overcoming empire; those outside the walls are colluding with and profiting from the imperial order, and also likely engaging in imperial vices (Rev. 22:14–15). Yet there is a porous boundary between the two cities in that the walls have large perpetually-open gates (Rev. 21:25), allowing “those who wash their robes” (Rev. 22:14) to enter the city through metanoia (Rev. 2:5, 16, 21; 3:3, 19). In a nutshell, the attitude of John in regards to participation in the standard civic life of a Roman polis is one of separatism and resolute rejection, going to great lengths to reveal how the Roman Empire is the utter antithesis of “the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah” (Rev. 11:5). In contrast to the death-dealing economic exploitation of Babylon, John presents the reader with New Jerusalem, a life-giving economy.

Footnotes

[1] A well-known example of the intermingling of the religious, economic, and political spheres is to be found in the “mark of the beast” pericope, where we are told that “no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark [of the beast]” (Rev. 13:16–17).

[2] Steven J. Friesen, “Satan’s Throne, Imperial Cults and the Social Settings of Revelation”, Journal for the Study of the New Testament 27.3 (2005), pp. 351–73 contends that John’s usage of imperial cult imagery is not due to persecution under the Emperor Domitian, but is instead utilized to make his audience consider the connections between religion, economy, and imperialism.

[3] G.B. Caird, The Revelation of St John (orig. pub. 1966; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), pp. 38–40; David Aune, Revelation 1–5 (Word Biblical Commentary, 52A; Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1997), p. 188. For an argument that Balaam and the Nicolaitans are different, see Steven J. Friesen, Imperial Cults and the Apocalypse of John: Reading Revelation in the Ruins (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 192–93.

Babylon and New Jerusalem: A Polemic against Hybridity (Part IV)

Part II: A Polemic against Hybridity

Introduction

Using the Babylon and New Jerusalem symbolism, John has presented the reader with a black-and-white critique of the Roman Empire, a key function of which is to describe the exploitative economics of the Roman Empire. This dualism reaches its pinnacle in the appearance of New Jerusalem. Outside of the walls of New Jerusalem is everything associated with imperialism and empire, but within the walls there is none of this (Rev. 21:27). There is no spectrum; immediately outside the walls of New Jerusalem, complete alterity commences.

In John’s perspective, the Roman culture of imperialism and the Christian culture must be kept absolutely separate. In order to maintain the rhetorical vigor of this picture that he paints, the distinction between the Roman Empire and the ekklēsiai must be stressed to the absolute. Thus, any appearance of assimilation to Rome needs to be decisively countered. Evidently the imperial system of Rome had made inroads in some of the ekklēsiai of Asia Minor and so John constructs a thorough condemnation aimed at the Rome through the cities of Babylon and New Jerusalem, showing that by associating with the Roman imperial system, one is unavoidably mired in the imperial endeavors of the empire: its violence, opulence, idolatry, and economy. So while Revelation is appropriately viewed as resistance literature, it is also offensive literature aimed at excising any hybridity.

Hybridity in the Ekklēsiai

Postcolonial theory provides several concepts that described how in a colonized society there is a contentious integration of cultures that the colonized must navigate. Homi Bhabha, one of the pioneering figures of postcolonial thought, says that the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized is best understood as one of mimicry, a concept closely connected with hybridity.[1] This idea behind mimicry is that when the colonizer’s culture is imposed upon the colonized, the latter will internalize and replicate it. Yet this replication is not a perfect carbon copy, but rather results in a hybrid mixture that, as Bhabha puts it, is “almost the same but not quite.”[2] This is known as hybridity. Essentially, Bhabha’s postcolonial theory cuts against the notion of a complete dichotomization between the colonizer and colonized. He contends that the attitude of the colonized vis-à-vis the colonizer is not one of unequivocal hostility, but one of ambivalence where resistance and collusion are both simultaneously apparent in the colonized subjects.

Mimicry is prevalent in Revelation.[3] In many ways, the Roman imperial order is parodied by John and parody is essentially mimicry with the intent of mockery. Robert Royalty has argued that John, by utilizing wealth imagery in his description of New Jerusalem, is simply reinscribing Rome’s ideology of wealth rather than being critical of it.[4] However, applying Bhabha’s insights on mimicry would suggest that Royalty misconstrues how John has altered the wealth imagery through his use of mockery and irony. Reading John’s narrative of Babylon and New Jerusalem with Bhabha’s concepts of mimicry and hybridity in mind shows that John indirectly represents the economic situation of his day, while mocking the entrenched assumptions about wealth, money, and power that underlie imperial economics.

Footnotes

[1] For Bhabha’s thoughts on mimicry and hybridity, see, e.g., Homi K. Bhabha, “Signs Taken for Wonders: Questions of Ambivalence and Authority Under a Tree Outside Delhi, May 1817”, in Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (2nd edn; London: Routledge 1994), pp. 102–22.

[2] Homi K. Bhabha, “Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse”, in Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (2nd edn; London: Routledge 1994), pp. 85–92 (p. 86).

[3] The fact that Revelation co-opts Roman ideology and language is nothing new. For a thorough examination of the status quaestionis of the Roman imperial cult in Revelation, see Michael Naylor, “The Roman Imperial Cult and Revelation”, Currents in Biblical Research 8 (2010), pp. 207–39. See also Steven J. Friesen, Imperial Cults and the Apocalypse of John: Reading Revelation in the Ruins (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).

[4] Robert Royalty, The Streets of Heaven: The Ideology of Wealth in the Apocalypse of John (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1998).

Babylon and New Jerusalem: A Polemic against Hybridity (Part III)

Part I: A Tale of Two Cities (continued)

New Jerusalem 21:9–22:9

Just as the vision of Babylon is anchored in the critiques of cities found in the Hebrew Bible, so too the vision of New Jerusalem is drawn from Jewish scripture, primarily Trito–Isaiah. John uses various literary motifs to construct his New Jerusalem narrative, including those of a new creation, paradise, pilgrimage of the nations, and a restitution of Jerusalem and covenant (see e.g. Ezekiel 37; 47; Zechariah 8; Psalm 46; Sirach 15; and Tob. 13:16), weaving them all together to create a unifying literary unit and endowing it with a novel meaning: this New Jerusalem signifies the faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ, not a physical city like the historical Jerusalem.[1]

Not everyone, however, agrees with this interpretation of New Jerusalem, instead seeing it as an actual physical city.[2] Barbara Rossing has put forth a detailed study on the two cities, reading Revelation as an example of deliberative rhetoric that employs the two-women topos to present New Jerusalem as an alternative to Babylon, tracing the literary imagery of Revelation to the Hebrew Bible and Greco-Roman wisdom traditions. She views New Jerusalem as a physical city rather and that it is not restricted solely to the faithful witnesses of Christ.[3] This interpretation, however, would seem to go against the description of the nations bringing their glory into the city only after they have obtained their clean robes—which according to Rev. 19:8 represent “the righteous deeds of the saints”—and are from there on out separated from the unclean (Rev. 21:24–27; 22:14–15).

Contra to Rossing and others, New Jerusalem is symbolic of God’s people, not an actual residence for them, and the identification of New Jerusalem as the Christian community is made clear in how the promises to the ekklēsiai in Revelation 2–3 are realized in the literary unit on New Jerusalem in Revelation 21–22.[4]

Revelation 2-3

Revelation 21-22

“tree of life” (2:7) “tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit” (22:2, 14)
“will not be harmed by the second death” (2:11) “[for those who do not conquer receive] the second death” (21:8)
“a new name” (2:17) “[God’s] name will be on their foreheads” (22:4)
“authority over the nations” (2:26) “they will reign forever and ever” (22:5)
“clothed … in white robes … will not blot your name out of the book of life” (3:5) “nothing unclean will enter [New Jerusalem] … but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27)
“a pillar in the temple of my God … and the name of the city of my God, the New Jerusalem” (3:12) “the holy city, the New Jerusalem … the foundations of the wall of the city” (21:2, 19)
“give a place with me on my throne” (3:21) “they will reign forever and ever” (22:5)

What this means is that Christ connects New Jerusalem to whoever overcomes (Rev. 3:12), meaning that the readers should identify New Jerusalem as being “personal rather than topographical.”[5] This identification is made more unambiguous later when John sees “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2), followed soon thereafter with the angelus interpretus telling John, “I will show you the bride, the wide of the lamb” (Rev. 21:9), yet what John sees is a city, New Jerusalem, descending out of the heavens (Rev. 21:10).

Similar to Babylon, New Jerusalem is a city containing magnificent wealth. Yet the wealth of this city is not of the same nature as that of Babylon. Instead of the economic exploitation of Babylon, New Jerusalem is a place of economic justice, where the wealth is contained in the elements of city that are shared by all its citizens: the gates of pearl, the streets of gold, and the pillars and walls comprised of precious gems. New Jerusalem contains springs of living water flowing freely from the throne of God and has open inviting gates. One could perhaps go so far as to say that New Jerusalem is a free economy of grace, where wealth is freely obtained and voluntary given; it is a “gift economy” where “water, fruit, and medicine . . . are offered to everyone in New Jerusalem, even to those with no money.”[6]

A particularly conspicuous economic contrast between Babylon and New Jerusalem is the disappearance of the sea (Rev. 13:1; 21:1). There are several interpretations as to the significance of this detail, most of which refer back to another instance in which the “sea” is mentioned in Revelation. A common interpretation of the sea is in terms of mythological chaos traditions,[7] where the Hebrew creation myth has the ordering of chaos (represented by the sea), though this is not the sole or even necessarily the primary thought underlying John’s perception of the sea. A key function of the sea in Revelation is that it facilitates Babylon’s commerce,[8] a function that is specifically selected for destruction in Rev. 8:9 and 18:11–17, with Babylon’s destruction depicted in terms of a “great millstone” being thrown into the sea (Rev. 18:21). No more sea, no more maritime trade.

Summary

In this portrayal of the new heavens and earth without any seas—with the only water being the “river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb (Rev. 22:1) in New Jerusalem—John envisions an alternative economy to that of Babylon, one where exploitative trade in commodities is supplanted by one in which the water of life is given “as a gift” (Rev. 22:17). Thus, John issues an imperative to the reader to “come out” of Babylon and to “come” into the New Jerusalem (Rev. 18:4; 22:17). This is the “rhetorical key” to the vision of Babylon.[9] This exhortation to “come out” is not intended geographically as if the faithful should pack up and leave Rome, Ephesus, or one of the other cities in Asia Minor. Instead, the imperative concerns the discerning of the nature of one’s environment and to divorce oneself from any imperialistic spirit of that environment to be found in the economic, political, and religious spheres.[10] The reader is issued a command to enter through the open gates into the alternative city of New Jerusalem which provides an alternative social reality to that of Babylon.

Footnotes

[1] For a seminal article arguing this point, see Robert H. Gundry, “The New Jerusalem: People as Place, Not Place for People”, Novum Testamentum 29 (1987), pp. 254–64.

[2] For a survey of views on New Jerusalem, see Barbara R. Rossing, The Choice Between Two Cities: Whore, Bride, and Empire in the Apocalypse (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1999), pp. 1–16.

[3] Rossing, Choice Between Two Cities, p. 12 opts not to see the bride of Christ as the saints, and it is this breaking of the saints/bride link that leads to a physical interpretation of the New Jerusalem.

[4] Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, “The Eschatology and Composition of the Apocalypse”, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 30 (1968), pp. 537–69 has posited a chiastic structure to Revelation with the New Jerusalem being the corresponding item to the letters to the seven churches.

[5] Gundry, “The New Jerusalem”, p. 256.

[6] Rossing, Choice Between Two Cities, p. 152.

[7] David Aune, Revelation 17–22 (Word Biblical Commentary, 52C; Dallas, TX: Word Books, 2002), p. 1119.

[8] Jonathan Moo, “The Sea that is No More: Rev. 21:1 and the Function of Sea Imagery in the Apocalypse of John”, Novum Testamentum 51 (2009), pp. 148–67 (esp. pp. 159–60).

[9] Rossing, Choice Between Two Cities, p. 12.

[10] Cf. Aune, Revelation 17–22, p. 991.