Saturday, October 28, 2006

Review: Craig A. Evans, Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies

Craig A. Evans
Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature
Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005
$35 USD // £ 20 // $49 AusD
ISBN: 1565634098.

I. Howard Marshall has told a generation of doctoral students at Aberdeen University to "make the primary sources your mistress". However, one would have to be an Academic Solomon to be able to know and master the many mistresses that are out there: the Pseudepigrapha, the Apocrypha, versions of the OT, Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, Philo, Papyri, Targumim, Apostlic Fathers, Graeco-Roman literature, and so forth. But one volume that allows students to gain a basic familarity with the primary sources including their translations and scholarly apparatus is this book by Craig A. Evans.

Evans gives an overview of the writings of the Old Testament Apocrypha, the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, versions of the OT (Hebrew, Greek, Latin and Syriac), Targums, Philo and Josephus, Rabbinic literature, New Testament Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, Early Church Fathers, Gnostic Writings, and other material such as Graeco-Roman authors, inscriptions, and papyri. Each chapter gives an overview of the texts that are dealt with, summaries of the various documents themselves, helpful bibliographies, and examples of their relevance for New Testament study.

On the one hand the book is quite thorough in that it surveys material that often gets overlooked in standard introductions such as the Masada and Murabba documents and Ostraca. On the other hand the sections on the Nag Hammadi library and Graeco-Roman literature were notoriously light. Given the Hellenization of all Judaism in the second-temple period (to some degree or another), one would have expected a lot more on Greek and Latin authors and perhaps even a section on rhetoric and ancient letter writing. However, this is a minor deficiency in an otherwise superb work and the lacuna can be easily overcome by reading David Aune's, Westminster Dictionary of New Testament and Early Christian Literature and Rhetoric (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2003).

One of the problems that I encounter in teaching a NT 101 survey course is trying to convince my students of the value of reading the primary source documents to illuminate the history and context of early Christianity. To this end, Evans gives a good rationale for the value of reading these texts in his introduction. He also dedicates an entire chapter to examples of New Testament exegesis and how an awareness of these primary source documents illuminates our understanding of the New Testament.

Evans is aware of the latest research in most areas (he refers to Nicholas Perrin's study of the Gospel of Thomas and Tatian's Diatessaron) and he is cautious as to how he interprets the evidence (such as the relationship of Jesus and John the Baptist to the Qumran community). There are also some good explanations of certain things such as the differences the between the Amoraic and Tannaic rabbis, messianic interpretation in the Targums, and he frequently identifies the major themes of the various corpra.

The volume also has several very useful appendices including: (1) canons of Scripture that include the Apocrypha; (2) Quotations, allusions, and parallels to the New Testament; (3) Parallels between New Testament Gospels and Pseudepigraphal Gospels; (4) Jesus' parables and the parables of the rabbis; (5) Jesus and Jewish miracle stories; and (6) Messianic claimants of the first and second centuries.

This is an immensely helpful volume for anyone, student or scholar, who is trying to grapple with the vast array of primary source literature and have on hand a reliable summary of their contents and significance. Highly recommended!

The book can be purchased from either Hendrickson publishers in the USA, or for those in the UK/Europe, it is available through Alban Books. The book is also advertized on my sidebar.

Blurb: One of the daunting challenges facing the New Testament interpreter is achieving familiarity with the immense corpus of Greco-Roman, Jewish, and pagan primary source materials. From the Paraphrase of Shem to Pesiqta Rabbati, scholars and students alike must have a fundamental understanding of these documents’ content, provenance, and place in NT interpretation. But achieving even an elementary facility with this literature often requires years of experience or a photographic memory. Evans’s dexterous survey—a thoroughly revised and significantly expanded edition of his Noncanonical Writings and New Testament Interpretation—amasses the requisite details of date, language, text, translation, and general bibliography. Evans also evaluates the materials’ relevance for interpreting the NT. The vast range of literature examined includes the Old Testament apocrypha, the Old Testament pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, assorted ancient translations of the Old Testament and the Targum paraphrases, Philo and Josephus, Rabbinic texts, the New Testament pseudepigrapha, the early church fathers, various gnostic writings, and more. Six appendixes, including a list of quotations, allusions, and parallels to the NT, and a comparison of Jesus’ parables with those of the rabbis will further save the interpreter precious time.


J. B. Hood said...

Mike, beyond some use of more recent lit (like Perrin) for those of us with the older volume, is there any good/great reasons to buy this one? Besides the quite worthy cause of funding Evans's grandkids' education.

Does anyone know both texts--is it worth the cost to upgrade?

danielbradley said...

Thanks for the helpful review, Michael. By the way, the intro and first chapter of this book is available over at Apollos. Here's the link:


Brandon Wason said...

I picked it up last year at SBL. It's a pretty good book, but like you, I found it a bit weak regarding Greco-Roman authors. Here are some of my thoughts. So, Michael, now that you've read the book, is it better than Yarbrough and Elwell?