Book Review: Jesus, Gospel Tradition, and Paul in the Context of Greco-Roman Antiquity

jesusgospeltraditionsTitle: Jesus, Gospel Tradition and Paul in the Context of Jewish and Greco-Roman Antiquity: Collected Essays III

Series: WUNT 303

Author: David E. Aune

Bibliographic info: xii, 549 pp., 63 pp.

Publisher: Mohr Siebeck, 2013.

Buy the book at Amazon.

With thanks to Mohr Siebeck for the review copy.

David Aune has been a Professor at the University of Notre Dame since 1999 to the present (and held a few other teaching positions prior to that). This is the second collection of Bovon’s studies, with the first volume being Apocalypticism, Prophecy and Magic in Early Christianity: Collected Essays (2006). While this earlier collection of Aune’s work consisted on twenty studies originally published between 1981-2006, this current volume contains twenty-two studies focused on the Gospels, Jesus traditions, Acts, Paul, and the Pauline epistles (originally published between 1981-2006). This review will provide a brief summary of each chapter.

The first study was one of the most interesting ones of the volume. It is on the meaning of Εὐαγγέλιου in the inscriptions of the canonical Gospels. Aune begins by providing a lexical overview, the use of euangelion in Paul, Mark, and second century Christianity (the Didache, Ignatius’ epistles, the Martyrdom of Polycarp, and 2 Clement). Then the study delves into into the Gospel subscriptions and inscriptions, and the development of the fourfold Gospel canon.

The second study looks at genre theory and the genre-function of Mark and Matthew. Aune examines the paratextual features of the Gospels (e.g. subscriptions, superscriptions, and incipit) as these provide important clues for determining how the authors and recipients of the texts understood them. Aune concludes that Mark is a parody of ancient biography and Matthew is a transformation of Mark. He says that “Mark is an episodic text based on linking earlier oral and written gospel tradition into a relatively large-scale narrative that functions as a complex genre with an ideological function”, and that, “The genre of Mark was transformed by Matthew (unaware of its parodic character) by the addition of features more typical of Graeco-Roman biography that had been avoided by Mark.” (55).

The third study discusses the forgiveness petition in the Lord’s prayer in Matt. 6:12, Luke 11:4a, and Did. 8:2, with each of these extent versions of the Lord’s prayer being said to have “emerged from the practice of private prayer in particular Christian circles where they were shaped over a number of years” (59). The fourth study then tackles the Lord’s prayer in relation to the concept of apocalyptic.

The fifth study looks at the logion of “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38b/Matt. 26:41b), with the question hoping to be answered being whether this dominical proverb reflect the ipsissima vox jesu? Aune explores the relation between the Markan version and the hortatory saying which precedes it (“keep awake and pray, that you do not enter into temptation”). He concludes that, “It is like that the paraenetic character of the dominical proverb in Mark 14:38 and Matt 26:41 did not belong to the earliest stratum of the pre-Markan passion narrative, but was added when the passion narrative was formulated for use in a liturgical context in the early church.” This study also includes an examination of pneuma and sarx in Pauline thought, with the question being raised of where the religio-cultural context for this anthropological duality comes from. Is it found in Hebrew Bible or is it more of a Greek thing? Or a syncretistic combination of both?

The sixth and seventh studies both examine the Gospel of Luke. The former looks at Luke 1:1-14 and whether it is a historical or scientific Prooimion; the latter looks at Luke 20:34-36 and asks the question of whether it is a  “gnosticized” logion of Jesus. Aune’s hypothesis is that Luke 20:34b-36 is derived from another source rather than extensive redaction of Mark.

The eighth study looks at dualism in the Gospel of John and in the Dead Sea Scrolls. This is followed in the ninth study with a look at Christian beginnings and cognitive dissonance theory. This chapter includes an interesting discussion on the failed prophecy in the Chabad-Lubavitcher movement, a widespread messianic movement of Orthodox Hasidic Jews, where even after the death of Rebbe, many still thought he was the messiah. Here Aune demonstrates how cognitive dissonance theory “is capable of explaining the sequence of events associated with the beginnings of Christianity, particularly with regard to the fact that Christianity ‘went public’ so soon after the crucifixion of Jesus” (179).

The tenth study assesses the historical value of the apocryphal Jesus traditions. And the eleventh study is on Jesus and Cynics in first century Palestine, with the question being asked: did Jesus “consciously pattern his behaviour and his teaching under the influence of cynics?” (288). Aune interacts with Gerald Downing, a scholar who has presented perhaps the most focused case for the affirmative to this question. Aune, however, finds several issues “which make such a comparison extremely difficult”, but nevertheless notes that “the formal similarities between the anecdotes or chreiai attributed to Jesus and the Cynics are striking and deserve detailed study” (218).

The twelfth and thirteenth studies are both on oral tradition, with the former being a (long) prolegomena to the study of oral tradition in the Hellenistic world, and the latter looking at oral tradition in relation to the aphorisms of Jesus. Here the function, morphology, types, and forms of the aphorisms are identified, and the chapter concludes with an eighteen page appendix that catalogs the aphorisms of Jesus.

So far all the essays have directly related to the study of Jesus traditions. The fourteenth study, which discusses Jesus traditions and the Pauline letters, provides a bridge to the second part of the book that contains eight studies on Pauline studies.

The fifteenth and sixteenth studies both examine Pauline anthropology. The first looks at two Pauline models of persons: (1) an irrational behavior model (drawn from popular Hellenistic thought); and (2) an apocalyptic macrocosm-microcosm model (that has analogies in early Judaism). The second of these two studies looks at the anthropological duality in the eschatology of 2 Cor. 4:16-5:10.

The seventeenth study is on the human nature and ethics of Hellenistic philosophical traditions and Paul. The eighteenth study tackles the judgment seat of Christ in 2 Cor. 5:10 (also discussing Rom. 14:10, 2:1-3:8, and 1 Cor 6:1-11 along the way). This is followed in the nineteenth study by a look at Paul, ritual purity, and the ritual baths south of the temple mount (see e.g. Acts 21:15-27). The twentieth study is on Romans as a logos protripikos, followed by the twenty-first study which is on recent readings of Paul relating to justification by faith. And, finally, the twenty-second study provides us with a study on Gal. 3:28 and the problem of equality in church and society. Aune says: “In the long history of Pauline interpretation in the church, it is remarkable how frequently in the last century and a half that the ideology of gender hierarchy has obscured and downplayed the role of Phoebe the deacon and patron of Paul (Rom 16:1-2), or turned Junia, the apostle, into a male figure (Rom 16:7).”

All in all, this volume is an impressive series of studies on Jesus and Pauline traditions that ably shows how the author has furthered the study of the New Testament and early Christianity.

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