Monthly Archives: February 2014

Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (1997)

Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (1997)

This book is an introductory textbook on the New Testament, most suitable for a seminary-level introductory course. Since it is an introductory text, the book does not have any real thesis; its goal is to present the material that has already been produced, rather than to argue anything new. It is organized into four parts with two appendices. Part I deals with “Preliminaries for Understanding the New Testament”; Part II is an overview of the Gospels and NT books related to the Gospels (Acts and the Johannine Epistles); Part III covers the Pauline epistles (including the deutero-Paulines); Part IV deals with “the other New Testament writings” (Hebrews, the Petrine Epistles, Jude, and Revelation). Appendix 1 is an overview of historical Jesus research from 1780 to the present; Appendix 2 is a survey of “Jewish and Christian Writings Pertinent to the NT.”

Part I consists of five chapters. Chapter 1 contains a brief description of what the term “New Testament” implies (it implies that the NT literature is the sequel to, and fulfillment of, the literature in the Hebrew Bible), followed by an overview of early Christian book production and dissemination, and the history of the development of the canon.

Chapter 2 deals with “How to Read the New Testament.” The first part of the chapter is a sprint through eleven different ways that scholars have approached the text of the NT, from textual criticism (also the subject of the very brief chapter 3) to historical criticism, to narrative criticism, to advocacy criticism (e.g. Liberationist or Feminist hermeneutics); Brown concludes by emphasizing how the true meaning of the text cannot be derived through just one hermeneutic, but must come from the results of several kinds of hermeneutics operating together. The chapter also discusses issues of biblical inspiration, divine revelation, and deriving meaning from the NT (whether looking for authorial intent, the meaning to the original audience, and/or the meaning within the canon).

Chapters 4 and 5 are useful chapters on the political, social, and ideological environments in which the NT was composed. In terms of politics, Brown covers the period from Alexander the Great on through the Bar Kokhba revolt. For the social environment, he focuses on what life was like for Jews and Christians in pagan cities, Greco-Roman class structure and social hierarchy, and education in the Greco-Roman world. Regarding Jewish religious thought, Brown first discusses the importance of the Maccabean revolt; next, he introduces the Essenes, Sadducees, and—more in depth—the Pharisees, discussing how Jesus related to each of these groups; then, finally, giving brief mention to the Jewish literature composed after the 1st century (namely the Mishnah, Tosefta, Targumim, and Talmudim—sources that, he argues, are problematic when used in the study of the NT, because they were composed later—sometimes much later—than anything in the NT). Next, Brown surveys non-Jewish religious thought (namely, classical myth, emperor worship, mystery cults, and cults deriving from the religions of countries east of Rome), then non-Jewish philosophies (e.g., Cynicism, Epicureanism) and the interesting cases of Philo and of Gnostic thought, which combined Jewish and Hellenistic religio-philosophical categories.

Part II covers the Gospels and related literature, namely Acts and the Johannine Epistles. This part begins (chapter 6) with an overview of what “Gospels” are, including a discussion of the semantic range of euangelion (“good news,” “gospel”) and its usage among 1st– and 2nd-century Christian authors. Next, Brown chronicles the development of “Gospel” as a literary genre, showing that it has parallels to biographies in the Hebrew Bible and to Greco-Roman biographies, combined with a healthy amount of creativity on the parts of the Gospel authors. Here Brown distinguishes between the actual Jesus (the man Jesus, a religious figure who lived in Palestine in the 1st century CE, of whom we have no contemporary accounts), the historical Jesus (a scholarly construct based on critical analysis of the Gospels) and the Gospel Jesus (the literary figure[s] of Jesus, as portrayed by the authors of the Gospels). Brown cautions that, even though the presentation of a Gospel Jesus is shaped by the Gospel author’s rhetorical goals, the Gospels contain at least some eyewitness testimony of the actual Jesus, and so are more useful for talking about the actual Jesus than are reconstructions of the historical Jesus. Next, this chapter sets forth “three stages of Gospel formation” (107): 1) The ministry of the actual Jesus during the first third of the 1st century; 2) The apostles’ preaching about Jesus (the kerygma) during the second third of the 1st century; 3) The written Gospels, which were composed during the last third of the 1st century. Finally, a decent amount of the chapter is devoted to the Synoptic Problem and the existence of Q.

The discussion of the books of the NT begins with chapter 7, which covers the Gospel of Mark. The chapters that discuss the NT books directly (as opposed to informational chapters, like the above) more or less follow the same outline: an introductory paragraph, followed by a “General Analysis of the Message” (ranging from a few pages in the shorter Epistles to a miniature commentary for the Gospels); then discussions of authorship, composition, the community in which the book was composed/to which it was addressed, and the date of writing; then “Issues and Problems for Reflection” (dealing mostly with interpretive problems and ways to apply the text to the modern world—a section that would be useful as part of a seminary-level introductory course on the NT); and finally a brief bibliography for the book.

Chapters 7, 8, 9, and 11 cover the four canonical Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, respectively). The majority of each chapter is devoted to the “General Analysis of the Message”—which, Brown notes, “almost constitute a minicommentary” (126) on each book. Brown’s conclusions are thoroughly centrist; he places Mark between 68-73 CE, possibly at Rome; Matthew he places around 80-90 CE, probably around Antioch; Luke-Acts at around 85 CE, either in Greece or in Syria; and John to churches in Asia Minor between 80-110 CE. The chapter on John is somewhat expanded compared to the chapters on the other Gospels, owing to Brown’s extensive work on that Gospel; not surprisingly, it is in this chapter that his conclusions differ most from the scholarly norm, though they are still strongly centrist (he argues that the bulk of John was composed somewhere around 80-90 CE by the same person/group that wrote 1 John, with an epilogue added around 100-110 CE by the person/group that wrote 2-3 John).

Chapters 10 and 12-14 deal with Acts and the Johannine Epistles, respectively, showing how they fit with their related books (Luke and John). For Acts, Brown explores whether the book qualifies as “history,” whether by ancient or modern definitions, concluding that it fits suitably within the ancient genre of history. For the Johannine Epistles, Brown reconstructs the community and theological situations in which they were written; 1 John was written after the Gospel of John, when “a division among Johannine Christians had occurred, sparked by different views of Jesus” (383), with one group saying that only belief in Jesus mattered, while another group (the group behind 1 John) said that good deeds were required, in addition to right belief. Second and Third John were also written in the context of schism, though a decade or so after 1 John.

Part III deals with the Pauline corpus, including the deutero-Pauline Epistles. The part begins with three prefatory chapters, covering ancient letter-writing practices (chapter 15; including the typical formal elements of Greco-Roman letters), a brief overview of Paul’s biography and theology (chapter 16), and “An Appreciation of Paul” (chapter 17; designed to help students retain an appreciation of Paul’s life and work even while they study the minutiae of each letter). Next, Brown examines the authentic Pauline Epistles in the order they were written (1 Thess, Gal, Phil, Philmn, 1 Cor, 2 Cor, Rom; chapters 18-24), examining the contexts in which they were written, the situations they address, how they were composed, and where they stand in the development of Paul’s theology. Along the way, he addresses various important topics when they are relevant to the letter at hand (e.g., a discussion of early Christian hymnody in relation to Phil 2:5-11).

The next section (chapters 25-31) deal with the pseudonymous Pauline Epistles. Chapter 25 is a very brief overview of pseudonymity in the ancient world, showing that pseudonymous authorship was fairly common in the ancient world, but acknowledging that it presents problems for interpretation in the NT. In fact, Brown analyzes each of the pseudonymous letters in the NT, including the deutero-Paulines, as if the author named actually wrote the work, since “even if that person did not write the respective work, the claim to his authorization suggests that the emphasis in the writing is related to his image” (706). Chapters 26-28 cover 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, and Ephesians, examining evidence for and against Pauline authorship—and being honest when the evidence is more or less inconclusive, as with Colossians—and providing interpretations both as if Paul wrote the letter and as if it was pseudonymous. Chapters 29-31 cover the Pastorals in the order they were written (Titus, 1 Tim, 2 Tim), discussing the church structure present in the letters, the authorship of the Pastorals, and the implications of pseudonymity on interpreting the letters.

Part IV deals with “The Other New Testament Writings” that have not been covered thus far in the book. He examines the remaining epistles in the order that they were written (Heb, 1 Pet, Jas, Jude, 2 Pet; chapters 32-36), and saves Revelation for last (chapter 37). For Hebrews, Brown discusses the genre and “Thought Milieu” (691) of the book, finding that clear answers are not available for either question. In discussing 1 Peter, Brown gives an overview of the life of the historical Peter—since it is relevant to the author’s perception of the letter—and places the letter in the context of unsystematic but imperially sanctioned persecution of Christians. In treating James, as with 1 Peter, Brown discusses the life of the historical James, then discusses the oft-debated relationship between James and the Pauline Epistles (specifically, because of the relationship between “faith” and “works” in each writer’s thought); Brown also covers the relationship between the books of James and Matthew, and places James between genres, as a combination of Hebrew wisdom literature, Stoic diatribe, and epistle. With Jude, Brown gives the life of the historical Jude and discusses the implications of Jude’s use of non-canonical Scriptures. Interestingly, and slightly problematically, the chapter on Jude is the only chapter on an NT book that does not conclude with discussion topics—Brown remarks, “Jude, however, is a very short work; and today most would not appreciate or find germane its argumentation from Israelite tradition about angels who sinned with women, [etc.] We owe Jude reverence as a book of Sacred Scripture, but its applicability to ordinary life remains a formidable difficulty” (760). Be that as it may, there is much fodder in Jude for reflection on everyday life (such as being modest, not arrogant, in disputes; Jude 9-10). Next, Brown analyzes 2 Peter in terms of the “early Catholic” features that Käsemann saw in the book (769), finding that Käsemann’s analysis is too simplistic. Finally, in discussing Revelation, Brown gives an overview of the genre of apocalyptic, examines the structure and theology of the book, and situates it within Domitian’s persecution of 96 CE.

The book concludes with two appendices. Appendix 1 is a history of the quests for the historical Jesus—a task towards which Brown is highly critical. Appendix 2 is a short catalogue of Jewish and Christian books that are useful for studying the NT; it is functionally a very short version of Craig A. Evans, Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies.


Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII (Anchor Bible 29; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).

Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI (Anchor Bible 29a; New York: Doubleday, 1970).

Craig A. Evans, Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005).

Howard Clark Kee, review of Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, JBL 118 (1999): 144-147.

Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration (4th ed.;  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

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Brown, “The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity” (1971)

Peter Brown, “The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity,” Journal of Roman Studies 61 (1971), pp. 80-101.

This article is social functionalist examination of the role of the “holy man” (i.e., male ascetics; female ascetics were apparently excluded from the dominance of the ascetic) in Late Antiquity, arguing that the late antique holy man played the same social role as the patrons of classical antiquity—that is, the late antique holy man stood up for the rights of the oppressed, acted as mediator for village disputes, and interacted in the larger world on behalf of the village. It is worth noting, also, that Brown explicitly rejects the notion that the dominance of the holy man represents a decline from the ideals of Greek civilization (as argued by, e.g., Gibbon). Instead, he seeks to paint an empathetic portrait of holy man in his social environment.

Brown begins his article by tracing the rise of the ideal late antique holy man, who lived in and acted at the margins of society. He notes that, even though wilderness asceticism developed in Egypt, the environment shaped the Egyptian ascetics’ practices—because the Egyptian desert is so harsh and inhospitable, desert monks had to adopt civilized practices (like earning a living by manual labor in order to be able to afford food, or living together in order to share water); therefore, even though Egyptian wilderness ascetics lived on the margin of society, they could not afford—literally—to act at the margin of society.

Syrian holy men, on the other hand, had sources of food, water, and shelter readily available in the wilderness, so they did not need to cling to civilized practices in order to survive; therefore, they were completely marginal figures, living and acting outside the bounds of society—a status that gave them great authority within the social structure. Moreover, the social conditions in late antique Syria enabled the Syrian holy men to gain fame quickly—a large portion of the Syrian population were unemployed itinerant agricultural workers, so large numbers of them were able to flock to the holy man and live with him. For these unemployed workers, the holy man was a patron figure—he possessed δύναμις (on account of his special relationship with God), and he used that δύναμις “to smooth over the thorny issues of village life” (85), like distributing water among the villagers, cancelling debts, and settling disputes between villagers. Moreover, the miracle stories told about holy men often reflect the holy man using his δύναμις in order to keep a village society running smoothly.

In the second part of the paper, Brown examines the roles that the holy man played in the wider Byzantine world, outside the confines of the Syrian village. In Byzantine society, the holy man was an outsider—a stranger—largely because of his ascetic practices, through which he resisted being classified in the society’s terms. These ascetic practices resulted in παρρησία (intimacy [with God]), which gave them an intrinsic authority, not deriving from anywhere in the social structure. The late antique holy man was thus a liminal figure, who, because he operated outside the social structure, was able to enact change; for instance, by resolving disputes between the society’s insiders, be they villagers or patricians. Even into the Middle Ages, the holy men retained their liminal power, which was encapsulated in their relics and icons, and which had the power, for instance, to heal and kill people.

Therefore, holy men filled four specific roles in Byzantine society. First, they mediated between the people and God, who, like the emperor, “was at one and the same time remote and unflinching, and yet, ideally, the ever-loving Father of his people” (97). Second, they made a full-time profession of contrition for sin, whereas a normal Byzantine person only occasionally expected to feel contrite for their sins. Third, therefore, they allayed people’s anxieties, allowing people to manage their guilt through acts of penance. And thus, fourth, they were important decision-makers within society, settling questions of ethics, morals, medicine, and science.


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Gaines, “Poetic Features in Priestly Narrative Texts” (2013)

I just ran across a Ph.D. dissertation that finds two redactions, one poetic and one prosaic, in the P source. I’m blogging it here mostly so I don’t forget about it, since it’s directly relevant to a couple of projects I’m working on.

Jason M. H. Gaines, “Poetic Features in Priestly Narrative Texts,” Ph.D. diss, Brandeis University, 2013.

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Metzger and Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament (2005)

Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, 4th ed. (2005)

This book is a textbook on “both the science and the art of textual criticism as applied to the New Testament” (xv). It is organized in three parts. Part I, “The Materials for the Textual Criticism of the New Testament,” presents an overview of ancient bookmaking practices and gives a narrative catalogue of the chief witnesses to the text of the New Testament. Part II, “The History of New Testament Textual Criticism as Reflected in Printed Editions of the Greek Testament,” surveys the textual character of printed Greek New Testaments from the Textus Receptus to the NA27 and UBS4. Part III, “The Application of Textual Criticism to the Text of the New Testament,” describes the development of scientific text criticism from Hellenistic Alexandria to the digital age, lists the types of textual errors found in the witnesses to the NT, describes some scholarly uses of textual variants outside the realm of text criticism, and closes with worked examples of the text criticism of several NT passages.

Part I begins in chapter 1 with a brief overview of ancient bookmaking practices, highlighting various parts of the process that produced variants among the textual witnesses to the NT, namely:

  • types of handwriting
  • reusing the parchment a text is written on (palimpsests)
  • abbreviations and nomina sacra
  • the διορθωτής correcting manuscripts after they were produced
  • fatigue brought on by the typical scribe’s working conditions

This chapter also catalogues the various “helps for readers” (33) found in manuscripts of the NT, like chapter divisions (κεφάλαια), titles of chapters (τίτλοι), and introductory material appended to the beginnings of texts.

Chapter 2 describes the various witnesses to the NT’s text. For each of the Greek manuscripts (arranged from oldest type to youngest—papyri first, then majuscules, then minuscules), Metzger and Ehrman give the date it was copied, its current contents (and, sometimes, its original contents and pagination), its text-type (Western, Alexandrian, Byzantine, Caesarean, or an mixture of the above), and any special features of the manuscript worth noting. Next, they list and briefly describe the ancient versions (i.e., translations) of the NT, giving the dates of composition, text-type affinities, and significant manuscripts for each. Finally, they very briefly mention how patristic quotations of the NT are useful for text criticism.

Part II narrates the history of the rise of the Textus Receptus (TR), its reign as the most commonly used Greek NT (chapter 3), and its demise at the hands of the Greek New Testaments produced through scientific text criticism (chapter 4).

The first printed Greek NT was produced in Spain in 1514 as part of a multivolume Hebrew-Aramaic-Greek-Latin polyglot bible (the Complutensian Polyglot) that was completed in 1520 and began circulating in 1522. However, even though this was the first printed edition of the Greek NT, it was not the first edition to circulate publicly; Erasmus’ edition claimed this honor in 1516, though because Erasmus rushed his edition to press so that it would be published before the Complutensian Polyglot, he did not have time to consult good textual witnesses, so his text is faulty in a great many places.

Erasmus’ edition quickly became the most popular edition of the Greek NT, and it was widely accepted as the only authoritative edition of the Greek NT. Over the subsequent few centuries, many scholars produced editions of the Greek NT that differed from the TR in various readings; however, they all faced severe opposition, including excommunication or being forced from ecclesiastical positions.

In the late 1700s, Johann Jakob Griesbach, a German scholar, laid the groundwork for modern text criticism; he set forth 15 canons of text criticism, which he used to produce a Greek NT that differed quite substantially from the TR. Over the next half-century, many new manuscripts came to light, and several scholars produced critical editions of the Greek NT, culminating, roughly 60 years after Griesbach’s edition, with Karl Lachmann’s critical edition of the Greek NT. Lachmann’s edition broke totally with the TR; instead, it depended solely on the results of text criticism, and, although his edition itself is not very good—since it depends on a very small number of manuscripts—it is important for inaugurating the age of scientific text criticism of the Greek NT.

In addition to Griesbach and Lachmann, Westcott and Hort are two very important figures in the history of NT text criticism. In the second volume of their New Testament in the Original Greek, Hort details the methodology that he and Westcott followed in producing their edition of the text, and he discusses the different text-types into which he and Westcott categorized the various manuscript witnesses (Syrian [the latest and least reliable], Western, Alexandrian, and Neutral [the most reliable].

Finally, the fruits of modern text criticism may be found in the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament, 4th rev. ed. (UBS4) and in the 26th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament (NA26; now actually in a 27th and 28th edition [NA27 and NA28, respectively]). These texts were produced by committees of scholars working with all the available textual witnesses, from papyri on through the patristic citations.

Part III outlines the process of modern text criticism of the Greek NT. It begins with chapter 5, a brief overview of how the practice of text criticism developed, tracing it from Hellenistic Alexandria through Renaissance Europe—material that seems more at home at the beginning of Part II than Part III.

Next, in chapter 6, Metzger and Ehrman give an overview of different approaches to text criticism: the “classical method,” which follows Lachmann’s methodology (i.e., eclecticism, with readings weighted by the manuscript’s text-type), and reactions against Lachmannian text criticism from Joseph Bédier (who argued for pure eclecticism rather than using manuscript genealogies) and Albert C. Clark (who argued that scribal omissions were far more common than scribal interpolations); Streeter’s theory of “local texts” as the source of manuscript variation; diplomatic text criticism, using the Majority Text (which is Byzantine) as a base text; thoroughgoing eclecticism, which judges variant readings based not on text-type but on the book’s content and the author’s style; and, finally, conjectural emendation, which “classical” text criticism regularly employed when all of the readings of a text were equally bad. Chapter 6 ends with an overview of modern (= computer-based, mostly) tools for NT text criticism, and several ongoing projects (as of 2005), which make/made use of those tools. As with chapter 5, chapter 6 seems much better suited to Part II, since it largely covers the history of NT text criticism.

Chapter 7 is a partial catalogue of “the causes of error in the transmission of the text of the New Testament” (250), which I have condensed here.

Chapter 8 recounts the how the text of the NT was transmitted, tracing the development of the Alexandrian, Western, and Byzantine text-types and placing that process in the context of how other early Christian literature was disseminated. (Strangely, though the book makes frequent reference to the Caesarean text-type, it does not discuss the Caesarean along with the others, but instead discusses it on three pages in the next chapter.) Next, this chapter gives six ways in which textual data is useful for historians of early Christianity: 1) It gives information about early Christian doctrinal debates; 2) It provides data about Jewish-Christian relations; 3) It gives us information about gender roles in early Christianity; 4) It provides evidence of Christian apologia; 5) It provides information about early Christian asceticism; and 6) It provides data about the place of magic and fortune-telling in early Christianity.

The last chapter, chapter 9, gives an overview and several worked examples of how to perform text criticism on a particular NT text, the principles of which I have condensed here.

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A Statistical Approach to the Composition of the Pentateuch

Yesterday, I came across a few articles by Israeli computer scientists Navot Akiva and Moshe Koppel, which take an empirical, statistical approach to examining the composition of multi-author works, like the Pentateuch. Their methodology is as follows:

They developed an algorithm to divide a multi-author text into the portions written by each individual. Then, they combined text from different, single-author, biblical works–Jeremiah and Ezekiel in one paper; Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah 1-33, Proverbs, and Job 3-41 in another–in order to test their algorithm (a process which sets their work apart from previous attempts at computer-based/statistical source analysis of the Pentateuch). Their algorithm performed quite well, correctly identifying the sources of each chunk of their artificial multi-author text.

Finally, they analyzed Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers with the same test process. They test for only two authors (that is, to test for a distinction between P and non-P), for which

We find that our split corresponds to the expert consensus regarding P and non-P for over 90% of the verses in the Pentateuch for which such consensus exists. We have thus been able to largely recapitulate several centuries of painstaking manual labor with our automated method. (Koppel at al. 2011: 1363).

Therefore, assuming that P and non-P are the two major sources of Genesis-Numbers–which they acknowledge as a limitation to their study–Akiva and Koppel have provided independent, empirical verification of the fruits of modern Pentateuchal source criticism.

Lastly, they note that “we offer those instances in which we disagree with the consensus for the consideration of scholars in the field” (Koppel at al. 2011: 1363), though I have not found a publication where these differences are given; I, for one, would be very interested to see their exact results.


Moshe Koppel, Navot Akiva, Idan Dershowitz, Nachum Dershowitz, “Unsupervised Decomposition of a Document into Authorial Components,” pages 1356-1364 in Proceedings of the 49th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies, vol. 1 (Stroudsburg, PA: Association for Computational Linguistics, 2011).

Navot Akiva and Moshe Koppel, “Identifying Distinct Components of a Multi-Author Document,” pages 205-209 in Proceedings of the Intelligence and Security Informatics Conference (EISIC) (Piscataway, NJ: IEEE, 2012).

Navot Akiva and Moshe Koppel, “A Generic Unsupervised Method for Decomposing Multi-Author Documents,” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 64 (2013): 2256-2264.

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