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Hengel, Judaism and Hellenism (1974)

Martin Hengel’s Judaism and Hellenism: Studies in Their Encounter in Palestine during the Early Hellenistic Period (trans. John Bowden; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974) argues, against the prevailing wisdom, that Palestinian Judaism was as Hellenized as Diaspora Judaism, and that, if a distinction must be drawn, it should be based on linguistic difference, namely that Diaspora Jews spoke Greek while Palestinian Jews spoke Hebrew or Aramaic.

The book has received a good deal of attention from JBL. Kevin G. O’Connell’s 1971 review of the German original and J. K. Aitken’s 2004 retrospective are available together here, and Louis J. Feldman’s review article (“Hengel’s Judaism and Hellenism in Retrospect,” JBL 96 (1977): 371-382) can be found here.

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Horsley and Hanson, Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs (1985)

In Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs: Popular Movements in the Time of Jesus (Minneapolis: Winston, 1985), Richard A. Horsley and John S. Hanson read Josephus to examine the peasant-level revolutionary movements of first-century Palestine. They argue against the idea that a single unified anti-Roman resistance group operated in Palestine at that time, instead showing that Rome, the Jewish elites, and several peasant-level groups were all in conflict.

Marcus Borg has a good synopsis and review of the book in JBL 107 (1988): 135-137.

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Collins (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Apocalyptic Literature (2014)

The Oxford Handbook of Apocalyptic Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014) is John J. Collins’ most recent edited volume dealing with apocalyptic. After Collins’ introductory essay–which more or less summarizes his argument in The Apocalyptic Imagination, with an additional section on modern apocalypticism–the book is divided into five parts:

  1. “The Literary and Phenomenological Context” of apocalyptic
  2. The Social Function of Apocalyptic Literature”
  3. “Literary Features of Apocalyptic Literature”
  4. “Apocalyptic Theology”
  5. “Apocalypse Now”

Paul Foster has a brief review article that focuses mostly on the first and third parts of the book. See Foster, “Unveiling Apocalyptic Literature,” Expository Times 126 (2014): 78-80.

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Gruen, Heritage and Hellenism (1998)

Erich S. Gruen’s Heritage and Hellenism: The Reinvention of Jewish Tradition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998) makes a bold argument, namely that Hellenistic Jewish literature was not written as a pro-Jewish polemic (whether directed at Gentiles or Jews), but rather were written for as entertainment for an audience of Jews who felt totally at home in a Hellenistic environment.

For a favorable synopsis, see Allen Kerkeslager’s review (Shofar 19 (2000): 172-174).

For an extensive, critical review, see Daniel R. Schwartz, “Review Article: How at Home Were the Jews of the Hellenistic Diaspora?,” Classical Philology 95 (2000): 349-357.

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Collins and Harlow, eds., Early Judaism: A Comprehensive Overview (2012)

Charlotte Hempel has a thorough synopsis and review of the introductory chapters from John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow’s Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism in Dead Sea Discoveries 21 (2014). The chapters reviewed are also published in Collins and Harlow’s Early Judaism: A Comprehensive Overview (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012).

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Topic model: Josephus, War



Top 5 distinctive words (with occurrences): shall (15), affairs (13), truth (8), war (11), country (10)


Book 1:


Top 5 distinctive words: herod (243), antipater (143), king (156), alexander (91), hyrcanus (74)


Book 2:


Top 5 distinctive words: jews (150), multitude (96), florus (49), sent (91), agrippa (49)


Book 3:


Top 5 distinctive words: romans (123), vespasian (65), josephus (59), city (127), fight (46)


Book 4:


Top 5 distinctive words: city (174), people (95), zealots (49), idumeans (46), vespasian (51)


Book 5:


Top 5 distinctive words: wall (123), cubits (71), city (169), romans (136), titus (74)


Book 6:


Top 5 distinctive words: house (53), romans (105), holy (48), temple (67), jews (88)


Book 7:


Top 5 distinctive words: place (52), manner (38), antiochus (20), antioch (17), sicarii (15)

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Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination (2nd ed., 1998)

John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998)

Chapter 1, “The Apocalyptic Genre”: Collins begins by setting forth his definition of “apocalyptic”; he adopts the Semeia definition without much revision (unsurprisingly, since he edited Semeia 14), then briefly surveys other scholars’ views on the subject.1 Ne notes that, while apocalyptic has affinities with some Babylonian prophetic material, and it developed after contact with Persian thought, it flourished and became a cohesive genre during the Hellenistic period, after contact with otherworldly journeys and eschatological prophecies in Greek literature. Apocalypses were written by élite scribes, but were meant to be disseminated; many (though not all) were meant to console a group facing a crisis.

Chapter 2, “The Early Enoch Literature”: Collins argues that the Enochic apocalypses mythologize their message, making it applicable outside their own contexts. They also represent “the ideology of a movement” (70), rather than that of an individual. The group behind 1 Enoch identified themselves as “the righteous,” who were struggling against “the wicked.” The movement had its roots in the third century and was fully formed by the Maccabean revolt in the second. The Qumran community was an offshoot of the Enoch group. Collins also notes that Jubilees inherited 1 Enoch and reworked it within the Mosaic tradition—Moses, for example, receives the revelations in Jubilees, not Enoch—portraying history as a series of Jubilees, leading up to the eschatological vindication of the righteous, which it predicts rather than portrays.

Ch. 3, “Daniel”: Collins begins by reminding the reader that the apocalypses in Daniel (chs. 7–12) were written during the persecutions of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, continuing the traditions of the tales (chs. 1–6). He then discusses the different revelations in Daniel. The four kingdoms (Dan 2) is a Persian image that the author adapted to express his own point that God would set up an eschatological kingdom and rule the whole world. The visions in Daniel 7 adapt the traditions from Daniel 2 and the Canaanite myths of El, Ba’al, and Yamm to the situation under Antiochus IV. Daniel 9 is concerned with offering “an assurance that the predetermined period of Gentile sovereignty is coming to an end” (109). Daniel 10–12 is an apocalyptic review of the history of Hellenistic Palestine up through Antiochus IV, predicting Antiochus’ defeat—though it disparages the Maccabees—and the resurrection of the people who died fighting Antiochus.

Ch. 4, “Related Genres: Oracles and Testaments”: This chapter consists of two parts: oracles and testaments, as the title suggests. In the first part, Collins only treats Sibylline Oracle 3, which was a Jewish compilation of two centuries’ worth of oracles; it went on to “[inaugurate] a tradition of sibylline prophecy in Egyptian Judaism” (126). In the second part, he covers the Testament of Moses, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and, briefly, the Psalms of Solomon. The Testament of Moses was composed in two parts; it was first written in the second century BCE, in response to the crisis of Antiochus IV, and it was redacted in the early first century CE. As an apocalypse, it is most closely related to Daniel. It is not certain whether the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs were written by Jews or Christians, but they make extensive use of Jewish traditions nonetheless. They are not apocalypses per se, but they do contain eschatological sections; they also expect two messiahs: one kingly and one priestly. The Psalms of Solomon also expect two messiahs.

Ch. 5, “Qumran”: This chapter does not examine texts from Qumran directly; instead, it synthesizes them to give an overview of the apocalyptic strains of the Qumran community’s thought. They believed that nothing happened outside of God’s mandate, that there was a cosmic war between the forces of good and evil in which they were participants, that two messiahs (one priestly and one kingly) would come to restore Israel at the “end of days.” and that the community enjoyed the fellowship of angels on earth.

Ch. 6, “The Similitudes of Enoch”: The Similitudes were composed for a (perhaps persecuted) community that called themselves the “community of the righteous,” to assure them “that their destiny is secure in the hands of ‘that Son of Man’” (191), their heavenly representative, and that God will rescue them from the wicked.

Ch. 7, “After the Fall: 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, and the Apocalypse of Abraham”: These apocalypses date after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Fourth Ezra is a cathartic book; the Ezra here is “a reluctant apocalyptist” (211) and questions God’s justice, “bring[ing] to expression the fears and frustrations of a sensitive and perceptive Jew in the wake of the catastrophe of 70 CE” (210). Second Baruch, written between the two Jewish revolts, argues that Jerusalem fell because the Jews did not study the Torah; not surprisingly, the book is linked to the nascent rabbinic Judaism of its day. The Apocalypse of Abraham deals with the origin of evil and the role of God’s people in the world; like 4 Ezra, it does not provide any definite answers to its questions

Ch. 8, “Apocalyptic Literature from the Diaspora in the Roman Period”: This chapter surveys the Sibyllines (except for Sib. Or. 3, which was covered in ch. 4), 2 Enoch, 3 Baruch, and the Testament of Abraham. Sibylline Oracle 5 was composed in Egypt and is anti-Rome. Sibylline Oracles 1–2 and 4 were originally Jewish compositions, possibly from Phrygia; both divide history into 10 periods. 2 Enoch is hortatory literature, but it is also concerned with eschatology; the righteous become angels after death, and the cosmos is sharply divided “between the present world of normal human experience and the ‘other’ transcendent world revealed to Enoch” (247). 3 Baruch was written in Egypt after 70 CE; it describes a realized eschatology with individual judgment. The Testament of Abraham is intended to console people in the face of death.

Ch. 9, “Apocalypticism in Early Christianity”: Jesus’ message was (at least partially) apocalyptic, and the earliest Christians “had an eschatological orientation” (260), though they were not an apocalyptic group. Paul expected an imminent eschaton, because he believed that the Messiah had already come. Revelation is different from other contemporaneous apocalypses in that it takes the form of a circular letter, it is not pseudonymous, and it does not review the history of the world up through the eschaton, but it does employ traditional apocalyptic images, like the Son of Man and Ancient of Days from Daniel 7.

1 The Semeia definition: apocalyptic is “a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world.” See John J. Collins, ed., Apocalypse: The Morphology of a Genre (Semeia 14; Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1979).

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Anderson, “Constructing Nabataea: Identity, Ideology, and Connectivity” (2005)

Björn Anderson, “Constructing Nabataea: Identity, Ideology, and Connectivity” (Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 2005)

Thesis: Anderson argues that the Nabataeans existed in several contexts (which he calls “matrices”) at once, and that there was “considerable flux and negotiation in what it meant to be ‘Nabataean’ in different contexts” (197).

Ch. 1, “Framework”: Anderson argues that “a strict historical approach” to studying Nabataean prehistory “is meaningless, as the Nabataeans cannot be identified as the clear ‘descendants’ of any single group or culture’” (18), and that, even in the Nabataean period (end of the fourth century BCE through the end of the first century CE), no unified Nabataean identity existed. Instead, he proposes that we study the Nabataeans in light of the different geographical, environmental, and cultural contexts (“matrices”) in the regions they inhabited: the Negev, greater Edom, the Hauran and Northeast Arabia, and Northwest Arabia.

Ch. 2, “Geography, Environment, and Identity”: In this chapter, Anderson presents the results of his analysis of the JADIS GIS database. In Jordan, he finds that settlement activity increased dramatically during the period when the Nabataean kingdom flourished (c. 100 BCE to 106 CE) and that the settlements concentrated in “a 150 km strip along the King’s Highway” (65), near Petra and Madaba. In the Negev, the major Nabataean settlements were located beside wadis, and “each was positioned at the junction of at least two roads through the region,” operating “as an elaborate toll-collection system covering all the accessible routes through this portion of the Negev” (71). In the Hejaz, settlements are spaced far apart along caravan routes, but were still close enough together “to afford convenient breaks in the journey” (71). The Negev likely received more attention from the Nabataean kings, due to its proximity to Judaea, while the Hejaz was probably only nominally under Nabataean control (even though the settlements in the Hejaz show a closer cultural affinity to Petra than the settlements in the Negev do). Few Nabataean ceramics are found in the Hauran (in Syria), suggesting a cultural difference between the Jordanian Nabataeans and those of the Hauran; however, the Nabataeans held Baalshamin—originally a Syrian deity—as one of their chief deities., indicating that religious ideas flowed from Syria to Nabataea (and possible vice versa). Anderson concludes that “ethnicity, while surely significant in some cases, was by no means the only criterion for the assumption of allegiance to the ideology of being Nabataean” (89).

Ch. 3, “Women and Family in Nabataea”: Nabataean commoner women, at least at Meda’in Saleh, “were able to purchase property in their own names, and to designate their own beneficiaries” (94), and possibly had control of their own finances, but did not hold civic office. Royal women, however, frequently “occup[ied] a prominent position in publicly visible inscriptions” (99), and queens were portrayed on coins starting during the reign of Obodas III (30 BCE–9 BCE)—an uncommon practice in the Hellenistic and Roman Near East. Royal women were also honored with ‘l ḥyy (‘for the life of”) inscriptions and ‘bd-names (e.g., ‘bdḥldw—“servant of [Queen] Ḥuldu”). Another Nabataean practice—that took place at least among the royals—was sibling marriage. wherein kings married their sisters.

Ch. 4, “Kingship Ideology”: “Royal propaganda [like names, epithets, and coinage] was carefully chosen and manipulated. Traditions of rule established under the Hellenistic kingdoms and Roman empire were certainly influential, but were not simply imitated. Rather, they were recast into a context more in keeping with the priorities of the kings. While some variability in this regard is observed from one ruler to the next, the primary objective seems to have been to stabilize and maintain the dynasty. At times, this was necessitated by internal events, at others it seems to have been directed toward the other regional powers” (166).

Ch. 5, “Elite Tombs and their Significance”: Anderson argues here that “the crenelated design [of Nabataean elites’ tombs] was not employed solely on account of its simplicity, or its general appeal to local taste” (168), but represented a conscious rejection of Roman ideology in favor of “generally, Near Eastern traditions of empire, and specifically, the legacy of Achaemenid Persia [Rome’s arch-enemy to the East] as a powerful state that exercised widespread and enduring hegemony” (192).

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Bowersock, “The Nabataeans in Historical Context” (2003)

Glen W. Bowersock, “The Nabataeans in Historical Context,” in Petra Rediscovered: Lost City of the Nabataeans (ed. Glenn Markoe; New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2003), 19-26.

This brief chapter gives an overview of Nabataean history. The origin of the Nabataeans is unknown, though they are attested in Syria and the Negev in the third century BCE. They had probably already come to prominence by the end of the fourth century, controlling the trade routes between the Arabian Peninsula and the Mediterranean. Their early administrative language was Nabataean Aramaic (later eclipsed, but not totally replaced, by Greek), and some evidence exists that they also spoke an Arabic dialect.

The Nabataean kingdom flourished under Aretas (Ḥāritat) IV, who reigned from 6 BCE until 40 CE. He was highly regarded at home (coins and inscriptions record that he “loved his people” [rḥm ‘mh]), built several monuments, and sent envoys to Rome.

The last Nabataean king was Rabbel II. He moved the capital from Petra to Bostra. After Rabbel’s death, Trajan annexed the Nabataean kingdom in 106 CE. He stationed a legion (III Cyrenaica) in the new province and built a Roman road from Bostra to Aqaba. Though it is a matter of debate, Bowersock thinks it is likely that Bostra was the provincial capital during the Roman period.

The Nabataeans maintained their cultural heritage under the Romans. In the fourth century, coins at Bostra show the Nabataean god Dusares, and the cult of Obodas (a deified Nabataean king) was revived at ‘Avdat in the Negev. Even in the sixth century, the residents of Petra still had Nabataean names (like Obodianus and Dusarios).

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Wright, Paul: In Fresh Perspective (2005)

N. T. Wright, Paul: In Fresh Perspective (2005)

Ch. 1, “Paul’s World, Paul’s Legacy”: Paul lived in four adjoining worlds of thought: he was a Second-Temple Jew, he partook of the Hellenistic philosophical tradition, he was a Roman citizen, and he belonged to the nascent Christian ekklesia. Paul’s controlling narratives were mostly drawn from the Bible and contemporaneous biblical exegesis, especially Second-Temple Jewish (as opposed to pagan philosophical) monotheism.

Ch. 2, “Creation and Covenant”: Wright begins the chapter by outlining the themes of creation and covenant in a few passages from the Hebrew Bible that were central to Paul’s thought, then briefly exegetes Col 1:15–20, 1 Cor 15, and Rom 1-11, showing how the same themes are present in Paul’s thought. For Paul, Wright argues, sin is transgression against the covenant, and Jesus is the person who established the new covenant.

Ch. 3, “Messiah and Apocalyptic”: This chapter unpacks six facets of Paul’s messianism:

  • The Messiah will be a king, not a priest.
  • The Messiah will fight off the forces of paganism.
  • The Messiah will rebuild the Temple.
  • The Messiah will fulfill messianic prophecies.
  • The Messiah will act as God’s representative to Israel and the world.
  • The Messiah will act as Israel’s representative to God.

In addition, Wright argues, Paul sees Jesus’ death and resurrection as the revelation of God’s plan for the world; the Christ-event is thus the key to Paul’s (idiosyncratic) apocalypticism.

Ch. 4, “Gospel and Empire”: Here Wright summarizes the intersections between Roman ideology and Paul’s thought and where Paul, as a Second-Temple Jew, critiqued the Roman imperial ideology. For instance, the Romans deified Iustitia (Latin for “justice”), and Paul emphasizes dikaiosyne (Greek for “justice” and “righteousness”) in his letters. Augustus was called “Savior” for ending the Roman civil war, and the announcement of the end of the strife was a euangelion (“good news,” “gospel”); for Paul, Jesus is the true ruler of the world, and his gospel is that Jesus has rescued the world from strife with God.

Ch. 5, “Rethinking God”: This chapter, along with the next two, “offer an outline sketch of the shape of Paul’s theology” (83), following the traditional Jewish emphases on monotheism, election, and eschatology. Paul is firmly rooted in Second-Temple Jewish monotheism; however, his monotheism also includes Jesus, whom he equates with God. His monotheism is thus a Christological monotheism. Paul also expands his monotheism to include God’s Spirit, who guides God’s people. This redefined monotheism brought him into conflict with other Jews, but, as a polemic, its main target was pagan practice.

Ch. 6, “Reworking God’s People”: Despite the variety of beliefs among the different Second-Temple Jewish groups, all of them believed that the Jews were God’s chosen people. Paul both reaffirmed and redefined the concept of election—affirming that Israel still has primacy, but arguing that election is on the basis of faith and Jesus’ righteousness, not the possession of the Torah, and thus expanding election’s scope to include Gentile Christians. He maintains that God’s spirit guides the elect. He bases his concept of election on the story he perceives in the Hebrew Bible, namely that God has irrevocably elected Israel, but has expanded Israel’s election to the whole world through Jesus’ death.

Ch. 7, “Reimagining God’s Future”: As with his monotheism and idea of election, Paul reworked standard Second-Temple Jewish eschatology around Jesus, so that Jesus’ death and resurrection were the culmination of God’s plan for the world. They were also Paul’s lens for viewing Israel’s story; by his death and resurrection, Jesus led his people through a new Exodus and a new return from exile. Paul expected the climactic Day of the Lord—at which Jew and Gentile would be judged alike—to come within his lifetime, but did not expect it to mark the end of the world. The outpouring of the gifts of the spirit Spirit was another sign that God had apocalyptically broken into the world.

Ch. 8, “Jesus, Paul and the Task of the Church”: In this chapter, Wright argues that it is a mistake to set Jesus’ and Paul’s messages in opposition to each other, claiming that such a reading is a post-Enlightenment distortion of what Jesus and Paul were trying to do in their own contexts (Jesus preaching in a revolutionary Palestinian environment and Paul preaching in a philosophical Gentile environment). Wright also sketches out Paul’s self-image as an apostle, as recorded in the opening to Romans, namely that he understood his task to be unifying the church in their theology, understanding of election, and eschatology.

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