The Historical Jesus in Context

The Historical Jesus in Context

Amy-Jill Levine
Dale C. Allison
John Dominic Crossan
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 424
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Historical Jesus in Context
    Book Description:

    The Historical Jesus in Contextis a landmark collection that places the gospel narratives in their full literary, social, and archaeological context. More than twenty-five internationally recognized experts offer new translations and descriptions of a broad range of texts that shed new light on the Jesus of history, including pagan prayers and private inscriptions, miracle tales and martyrdoms, parables and fables, divorce decrees and imperial propaganda.

    The translated materials--from Christian, Coptic, and Jewish as well as Greek, Roman, and Egyptian texts--extend beyond single phrases to encompass the full context, thus allowing readers to locate Jesus in a broader cultural setting than is usually made available. This book demonstrates that only by knowing the world in which Jesus lived and taught can we fully understand him, his message, and the spread of the Gospel.

    Gathering in one place material that was previously available only in disparate sources, this formidable book provides innovative insight into matters no less grand than first-century Jewish and Gentile life, the composition of the Gospels, and Jesus himself.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2737-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-39)
    Amy-Jill Levine

    Interest in the “historical Jesus” has continued unabated since the Enlightenment. Each year new books and magazine articles appear, the media offer new programs, and since the 1970s, college courses on the topic have been overflowing in enrollment. No single picture of Jesus has convinced all, or even most, scholars; all methods and their combinations find their critics as well as their advocates.

    This volume does not offer yet another portrait of the historical Jesus—indeed, we editors each have our own view of Jesus’ agenda, of what can be considered authentic material, of how he perceived himself and how...

  7. 1 Archaeological Contributions to the Study of Jesus and the Gospels
    (pp. 40-54)
    Jonathan L. Reed

    Archaeology’s contributions to the study of the Gospels and the historical Jesus cannot be overestimated. At the same time, it is difficult to overcome the caricature of biblical archaeologists seeking relics or sinking their spades in the ground to find sites listed in the Bible or artifacts mentioned in the New Testament. They have been caricatured at worst as Indiana Jones–like relic hunters chasing down objects like the Holy Grail or scanning the (illegal and immoral) antiquities markets and turning up forgeries like the bone box inscribed with “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” Or, at best, they...

  8. 2 Josephus on John the Baptist and Other Jewish Prophets of Deliverance
    (pp. 55-63)
    Craig A. Evans

    The writings of Josephus (ca. 37–100? ce) are probably the most important writings outside of the Bible itself for understanding the world of early Christianity. Four of his works survive:Jewish War(seven volumes),Antiquities of the Jews(twenty volumes),Against Apion(two volumes), andLife(one volume). In these works we hear of Pharisees and Sadducees, of scribes and priests (including Annas and Caiaphas), of familiar rulers and political figures, such as Herod, Pontius Pilate, and Agrippa. Many of the very places mentioned in the New Testament are found in the narratives of Josephus, including Galilee, Caesarea, Jericho,...

  9. 3 Abba and Father: Imperial Theology in the Contexts of Jesus and the Gospels
    (pp. 64-78)
    Mary Rose D’Angelo

    One of the most widely held but problematic ideas about the historical Jesus is the claim that Jesus had an absolutely new and unique relationship with the Deity that he expressed by addressing God with the Aramaic wordabba. This argument was laid out in an article in theTheological Dictionary of the New Testament(TDNT) by Gerhard Kittel, who interpreted the wordabbaas a form of baby talk and concluded that “Jewish usage shows how this Father-child relationship to God far surpasses any possibilities of intimacy assumed in Judaism, introducing indeed something which is wholly new.” Kittel was...

  10. 4 Miraculous Conceptions and Births in Mediterranean Antiquity
    (pp. 79-86)
    Charles H. Talbert

    Two canonical gospels, Matthew and Luke, contain infancy narratives. Matthew’s narrative compares Jesus with the traditions about Moses’ early life (e.g., Magi speak of the birth of a Jewish king; the current ruler attempts to kill all the Jewish male babies; the key baby is saved so he can be the future savior of the people; there is a flight from or to Egypt; after the ruler’s death there is a message to return from whence the child had fled). This typology (i.e., viewing the earlier material as the prototype or foreshadowing of the latter) functions as part of Matthew’s...

  11. 5 First and Second Enoch: A Cry against Oppression and the Promise of Deliverance
    (pp. 87-109)
    George W. E. Nickelsburg

    TheBook of Enoch, or1 Enoch, is a collection of apocalyptic (revelatory) texts that were composed between roughly 350 bce and 50 ce in the name of the patriarch mentioned in Genesis 5:18–24. The collection as a whole is extant only in an Ethiopic translation of a Greek translation of Aramaic origins, eleven fragmentary manuscripts of which were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (Nickelsburg,1 Enoch1, 9–20). The literary form of apocalyptic revelations is usually a first-person account of a vision or audition that one has received in a dream or in an ascent to...

  12. 6 Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls
    (pp. 110-131)
    Peter Flint

    The “Dead Sea Scrolls” denotes ancient manuscripts that were discovered at various sites along the western shore of the Dead Sea between 1947 (or perhaps 1946) and 1965. The most important site is at Wadi Qumran, where eleven caves containing some 870 Scrolls were found between 1946/47 and 1956. A nearby settlement also was discovered and was excavated in the 1950s. Almost all scholars now agree that the community that wrote and stored the Scrolls were Essenes, and pottery analysis conducted in the late 1990s confirms that those living at the site deposited jars containing Scrolls in at least some...

  13. 7 The Chreia
    (pp. 132-148)
    David B. Gowler

    Because Hellenistic culture influenced both Diaspora and Palestinian Judaism to varying extents, the New Testament Gospels cannot be understood in some pristine “Jewish” manner divorced from the wider culture. A careful reading of the Gospels, in fact, makes clear that they are multicultural; they merge biblical patterns with Hellenistic patterns and conventions.

    This multicultural context is essential for understanding the words and actions of Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels and, therefore, for the study of the historical Jesus himself. The recognition of thechreiaform, for example, has significant implications for the study of the New Testament in general...

  14. 8 The Galilean Charismatic and Rabbinic Piety: The Holy Man in the Talmudic Literature
    (pp. 149-165)
    Alan J. Avery-Peck

    Israelite religion from its beginnings recognized the existence and power of charismatic miracle workers and faith healers. In scripture, the power to heal and to affect natural phenomena primarily was associated with the priesthood and prophets who magically restored life (e.g., the story of Elisha and the son of the Shunammite women [2 Kings 4:19–37]) or prescribed other effective means of healing (e.g., bathing in the Jordan, proposed by Elisha to cure Naaman from leprosy [2 Kings 5], or the fig plaster used by Isaiah to restore health to Hezekiah [Isaiah 38:21]).

    By late antiquity, Jewish sources reveal a...

  15. 9 Miracle Stories: The God Asclepius, the Pythagorean Philosophers, and the Roman Rulers
    (pp. 166-178)
    Cotter, C.S.J. Wendy

    The Jesus miracles, like all first-century material, require a full cultural contextualization within the Greco-Roman world, the only world available to the author and the audience for whom the stories were written. Assiduous and constant reference to that culture, its values, presuppositions, and favorite icons must establish the controls for the responsible evaluation and elucidation of each story’s most probable messages. Two elements combine in the Jesus miracles—the work of power and the particular circumstances of encounter between Jesus and the petitioner/s—which help communicate the significance of his power and the revelation of his character.

    Most studies focus...

  16. 10 The Mithras Liturgy
    (pp. 179-192)
    Marvin Meyer

    The Mithras Liturgy, as the present text usually is entitled, is one of the most significant and fascinating of the texts of the ancient mystery religions. For students of Mediterranean religions, including Judaism and Christianity, the Mithras Liturgy sheds important light on Mithraism, magic, and religion in Greco-Roman antiquity and late antiquity, and its syncretistic liturgy for the ecstatic ascent of the soul may be compared with descriptions of spiritual ascent in apocalyptic, gnostic, and mystical texts. The Mithras Liturgy promises that an encounter with the divine will result in divine revelation, and it offers the initiate the opportunity to...

  17. 11 Apuleius of Madauros
    (pp. 193-205)
    Ian H. Henderson

    Apuleius of Madauros was born in North Africa around 125 ce. His importance for understanding Jesus and his world is twofold. Generally, the writings of Apuleius are among the most powerful tools available to help modern readers to imagine historically what Greco-Roman polytheist religion might have been like, from the viewpoint of a deeply engaged and articulate participant. Writing to his converts in Corinth, Paul of Tarsus took for granted that while they were “still Gentiles,” they experienced powerful attraction “toward mute idols” (1 Corinthians 12:2). Apuleius’s most important books are invaluable to understanding how such an attraction might work...

  18. 12 The Parable in the Hebrew Bible and Rabbinic Literature
    (pp. 206-221)
    Gary G. Porton

    The Greek wordparablemeans comparison, juxtaposition, or analogy, and the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible completed in Alexandria, Egypt, in the third to the first centuries bce—chose this word to translate the Hebrew wordmashal(meshalimin the plural). The Hebrew texts do not distinguish among a fable, allegory, simile, metaphor, or parable. They all appear in the Rabbinic documents in similar literary formulations, and the Hebrew wordmashalcan refer to any one of them. Many who have studied the parables in the Synoptic Gospels have drawn distinctions among these categories; however, those who...

  19. 13 The Aesop Tradition
    (pp. 222-237)
    Lawrence M. Wills

    It is not clear that there ever was a historical Aesop, but he was a revered figure in the Greek and Roman tradition from early times. Considered one of the “seven sages” of the Greek world, unlike the others he was an outsider. He was a misshapen slave who advanced through cleverness and a sharp tongue. His memory is preserved in three ways. References to him as a purveyor of fables can be found in several classical authors (Herodotus 2.134; Plato,Phaedo60d). Later, fables attributed to him were collected into example books for use in rhetoric (according to Diogenes...

  20. 14 Targum, Jesus, and the Gospels
    (pp. 238-255)
    Bruce Chilton

    The Aramaic wordtargumby itself denotes “translation” in Aramaic, yet the type and purpose of the rendering involved in Judaism means the term also refers to a type of literature. We need to appreciate the general phenomenon of targum, and the specific documents called Targumim, before we can take up the question of Targumic influence on Jesus and the Gospels.

    Aramaic survived the demise of the Persian Empire as a lingua franca in the Near East. It had been embraced enthusiastically by Jews (as by other peoples, such as Nabateans and Palmyrenes); the Aramaic portions of the Hebrew Bible...

  21. 15 The Psalms of Solomon
    (pp. 256-265)
    Joseph L. Trafton

    A few years before the birth of Jesus, a group of Jews struggled to reconcile a debacle at the hands of a foreign conqueror with the belief that Israel was God’s chosen people. The result was a collection of eighteen psalms that eventually—and for reasons that are not altogether clear—was given the titlePsalms of Solomon(here abbreviated asPssSol). These psalms provide insight into both intra-Jewish quarrels of this period and the hope of at least one Jewish group for the coming of a Messiah.

    The author (or authors) of thePssSolwrite with two distinct opponents...

  22. 16 Moral and Ritual Purity
    (pp. 266-284)
    Jonathan Klawans

    Like many religious traditions past and present, early Judaism categorized persons, places, and other things as “pure” or “impure.” Indeed, early Jews used these terms in a variety of ways. One notion of impurity (ritual impurity) concerned contact with various natural substances relating to birth, death, and genital discharge. Direct or even indirect contact with the sources of ritual defilement rendered one temporarily unfit to enter the Temple or to encounter sacred objects. Another notion of defilement (moral impurity) concerned the dangers of defilement associated with grave sins such as idolatry, incest, and murder. While this sort of defilement was...

  23. 17 Gospel and Talmud
    (pp. 285-295)
    Herbert W. Basser

    There are stories in Rabbinic literature of Jesus’ arguing certain legal points, the exegesis of which was so good the Rabbis feared they could attract too much appreciation (Basser, 75–77). The Gospels also present material suggesting that Jesus bests his various Jewish opponents in legal argumentation. And while some might have been surprised at his control of the material, we should not be. For had it been otherwise, why would anyone have bothered to pay close attention? Undoubtedly, Jesus spoke the same language and used the same methods current with the other synagogue preachers of his day. We can...

  24. 18 Philo of Alexandria
    (pp. 296-308)
    Gregory E. Sterling

    The treatises of Philo of Alexandria are one of the most important sources for our understanding of the exegetical traditions and religious practices of Diaspora Jews in the first century ce. Unfortunately, we know little about Philo’s life, although we know more about his family. Eusebius of Caesarea thought that Philo “was inferior to none of the illustrious people in office in Alexandria” (Hist. Eccl.2.4.2). This may be a hyperbolic claim, yet we should not dismiss it too quickly. Philo’s brother, Julius Gaius Alexander, moved in elite circles in the empire. He not only held a civic post in...

  25. 19 The Law of Roman Divorce in the Time of Christ
    (pp. 309-322)
    Thomas A. J. McGinn

    Getting divorced was, from a legal perspective, easy for a Roman citizen, even by twenty-first-century U.S. standards. It was even easier than getting married in the first place, since divorce could be unilateral. There were no forms, no procedures, no lawyers—all that was really required was the wish of at least one spouse no longer to be married. There was no intervention by the state to regulate or even to make a record of divorce. In large measure, this was because there was relatively little to settle. The law kept spouses’ property separate during marriage, at least in theory....

  26. 20 Associations in the Ancient World
    (pp. 323-338)
    John S. Kloppenborg

    Life in Greek and Roman cities and towns was organized around two centers, the family and the Polis (city). Each had its own structure, each had cultic aspects and religious observances, and each provided its members with senses of identity, honor, and self-determination. But there were restrictions: even during the period of Greek democracy, participation in the civic assembly was restricted to the adult male population. Women, noncitizens, slaves, and former slaves could not participate.

    Between the family and Polis there existed a large number of more or less permanent associations or clubs, organized around an extended family, a specific...

  27. 21 Anointing Traditions
    (pp. 339-342)
    Teresa J. Hornsby

    The account of Jesus’ anointing is one of the few events recorded by all four Evangelists (Matthew 26:6–13; Mark 14:3–9; Luke 7:36–50; John 12:1–8). Although the Gospels agree in basic details, such as Jesus’ being anointed by a woman in the presence of others, they are inconsistent about where, with whom, how, and why the anointing happens. Matthew’s, Mark’s, and John’s anointings take place in Bethany, whereas the Lucan scene appears set somewhere in Galilee. Matthew, Mark, and Luke place the event in the home of Simon, and John tells us it is in the home...

  28. 22 The Passover Haggadah
    (pp. 343-356)
    Calum Carmichael

    The PassoverHaggadahis a composition inspired by the biblical story of the Exodus. Some of it is written in Aramaic, the language of Jesus, and the rest in Hebrew. At the Last Supper, which is portrayed as a Passover meal in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus and his disciples would have used some version of it. The wordHaggadah, like the word “gospel,” means proclamation, story, and interpretation. As with so many ancient documents, it is not possible to provide much information about the dating of the various parts of theHaggadahor the oral traditions that may have contributed...

  29. 23 Joseph and Aseneth: Food as an Identity Marker
    (pp. 357-365)
    Randall D. Chesnutt

    Joseph and Aseneth, an apocryphal romance now often included in the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, recounts the conversion of the Gentile Aseneth to the God of Israel, her marriage to the patriarch Joseph, and the social and religious conflicts surrounding that conversion and marriage. Genesis 41:45, 50–52, and 46:20 provide the biblical point of departure for this tale by referring in passing to Joseph’s marriage to Asenath (LXX Aseneth), daughter of the Pagan priest Potiphera (LXX Pentephres). The work was composed in Greek and is extant in sixteen Greek manuscripts and several versions.

    The evidence remains compelling thatJoseph and...

  30. 24 The Pliny and Trajan Correspondence
    (pp. 366-371)
    Bradley M. Peper and Mark DelCogliano

    The tenth book of Pliny’s letters (EpistulaeX.1–121) is a collection of his official correspondence with Emperor Trajan. Pliny wrote the majority of these letters (EpistulaeX.15–121) while he was governor of Bithynia-Pontus, a Roman maritime province bordering the southern coast of the Black Sea. Because Bithynia-Pontus experienced frequent problems after its annexation (66 bce), Trajan convinced the Senate in 110 to remove the province’s longtime public status and allow him to appoint alegatus Augusti pro praetore, a position in which the emperor decided both the individual to represent him and his length of term. For this...

  31. 25 Imitations of Greek Epic in the Gospels
    (pp. 372-384)
    Dennis R. MacDonald

    Narrative poetry, the oxygen of Greco-Roman culture, is undetectable to most readers of the New Testament. Despite centuries of erudite attention to early Christian literature, the works of Homer (eighth century bce), Euripides (ca. 485–407 bce), and other poets are nearly absent from comparative consideration. The prestigious six-volumeAnchor Bible Dictionarydoes have an entry on Homer: see “Weights and Measures.” A dry measure gets an entry, but the most influential author of antiquity does not. There is no entry for Hesiod (date uncertain but before 675 bce), Aeschylus (ca. 525–455 bce), Euripides, or even Vergil (70–19...

  32. 26 Narratives of Noble Death
    (pp. 385-399)
    Robert Doran

    We all have to die, but few of us are given the express choice, as was Achilles, of either living a long but inglorious life or a short, glory-filled one. How one faces death, and for what causes one will die, powerfully mark one’s identity, one’s sense of who one is. The most precious thing one possesses is one’s life, and to give away one’s life is to give away one’s treasure. The noble death, then, is to spend what one owns, one’s life, for something other. In this chapter, I have chosen seven stories about such noble deaths. The...

  33. 27 Isaiah 53: 1–12 (Septuagint)
    (pp. 400-404)
    Ben Witherington III

    Isaiah 53, certainly one of the most challenging texts from the Hebrew Scriptures to be translated into Greek in several versions (LXX, Aquila, Symmachus, and possibly by one or more early Christians), was used rather heavily in early Christian circles; on the textual issues raised by the Hebrew text, which are not a few, see Oswalt (373–410). It seems likely that the Hebrew version was more influential for Jesus and his earliest Aramaic-speaking followers, but it seems clear enough that in Acts 8:32–33 Luke is following the LXX, and in general this seems to be the case in...

  34. 28 Thallus on the Crucifixion
    (pp. 405-406)
    Dale C. Allison Jr.

    Thallus was a Pagan or Samaritan historian who wrote a history of the eastern Mediterranean world from before the Trojan War to his own day, which was the middle or latter part of the first century ce. His work, written in Greek, has perished and is known only through mention in later writers. Among these is the ninth-century Byzantine historian George Syncellus, who, in a quotation from another lost history—that of the early third-century Julius Africanus—refers to Thallus’s words about the darkness that accompanied the death of Jesus (cf. Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44). According to Julius...

  35. Maps
    (pp. 407-408)
    (pp. 409-416)
    (pp. 417-434)
    (pp. 435-440)