Friday, December 21, 2007

Richard Bauckham's Jude and the Relatives of Jesus

I remember one afternoon while in Cambridge making my regular pilgrimage to Gallaway and Porter's book store in the city centre to hunt up second hand and over stock books. This particular day I came across the book Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in Early Christianity by Richard Bauckham. At that point I had not considered either the book of Jude or the Relatives of Jesus as of any consequence to my own work. But given my great admiration for Bauckham I picked it up and found a gem. The book is rather poorly titled if you ask me as he states his focus in the first sentence of the book:

"This book is a contribution to the history of Palestinian Jewish Christianity in the New Testament Period."[1]

At least a subtitle such as "A Contribution to the History of Jewish Christianity in the New Testament" would have revealed the central importance of this work.

Only recently have I had occasion to read parts of the book and I am again, as I have so many times by Bauckham's work, struck by the clarity of his conclusions based on detailed research of primary source material.

In the book he studies Jewish Christianity in the NT by considering three topics: (1) the significance of Jesus' family (excluding James) in the early church, (2) the book of Jude and (3) Luke's genealogy. While it is not apparent at least at first how the third point relates to the first two, Bauckham sees Luke's genealogy as offering evidence--along with the letter of Jude--of the theological character of the Christianity of the relatives of Jesus and their circle in the first generation of the church. He has reason to connect the genealogy and the family of Jesus because of the statement by Justin Africanus found in Eusebius' EH 1.7.14 about Jesus relatives referred to as the desposynoi ("those who belong to the master"):
"From the Jewish villages of Nazareth and Kokhaba they travelled around the rest of the land [most likely a reference to Eretz Israel] and interpreted the genealogy they had [from the family tradition] and from the Book of Days [i.e. Chronicles] as far as they could trace it [or: as far as they went on their travels]."[2]
Bauckham's conclusion is that the relatives of Jesus were the theological heart of the Jesus movement and set its theological course. Their work reveals that they developed a Christology based on three legs: (1) Davidic messianism, (2) "Enochic" apocalypticism, and (3) pesher exegesis.

Most interesting to me at least was his discussion of both the early Jewish Christian mission in Galilee lead by Jesus' relatives from Nazareth/Kokhaba during the first generation of the Jesus movement and the Davidic messianism contained in the Lukan genealogy. Luke's family tree reveals that Jesus' Davidic line runs not through Solomon (as Matthew's does), but through the lesser known son of David, Nathan, who is linked then to Zerubbabel. The genealogy is not Luke's creation and reveals a pre-Lukan traditional genealogy that traced the line from David to Nathan to Zerubbabel.

The striking assertion by Bauckham is that Luke’s genealogy derived from Jesus' family. Thus, as Bauckham avers:

"We must now see the family of Jesus as Davidides, conscious, through family tradition, of the hopes of Davidic restoration which had been cherished in their line since Zerubabbel . . . the tradition may not have been important to Jesus himself, but it was there to be activated and developed when Jesus’ relatives became some of his most convinced and dedicated followers". [3]

[1] Bauckham 1990:1, emphasis added.
[2] Bauckham 1990:61, with my addition.
[3] Bauckham 1990:376.

Bauckham, Richard. 1990. Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church. Edinburgh: T & T Clark.


Vesa said...

Two speculative (?) questions that came to my mind due to your presentation of Bauckham's book. Is it possible that the awareness of Davidic messianism would have pre-Christ roots among Jesus' relatives? To be more specific, could we here have a reason for why Jesus' parents travelled to Bethlehem the town of David (Luke 2:4), that is, in order to fulfill OT prophecies?

Joel Willitts said...


Thanks for your comment. To be sure I did not provide an adequate presentation of the evidence that supports Bauckham's thesis; however, he does base his conclusions on evidence. Now his thesis could be questions at several points in his interpretation of the evidence. For example it is possible that Justin Africanus was speaking of activities during his own time (the first half of the thrid century) and not of the earliest Christianity. But he usually deals with criticisms in the text as they likely would arise.

Mark said...

The travel to Bethlehem certainly reflects a self-acknowledged Davidic heritage. If you take seriously the announcement by Gabriel that Mary's child would sit on the throne of David, then surely it was with much anticipation that they approached Bethlehem, the prophesied birthplace of the Messiah. Is it impossible that the genealogy in Luke represents family traditions passed down and jealously guarded over the generations from the time of Nathan himself or that the family of Jesus would have been thoroughly immersed in the meaning of those traditions and passed them to their son and his brothers?