On Hiatus: What I’m Reading

I’m taking a bit of a vacation from blogging until late September when I will be reporting on the New Insights Into The New Testament Conference. Don’t worry, there are other bloggers here, lol.

In the meantime I will be doing some casual reading on Greek and Hebrew influence on the New Testament. The first major compilation on this topic, which is online for free, was New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash by Robert M Price in the Encyclopedia of Midrash. The next was The Jewish Annotated New Testament. I have read both these sources and commented on them for many years. The new ones I will hopefully be reading are on Greco-Roman influence on the New Testament in Dennis R MacDonald’s Synopses of Epic, Tragedy, and the Gospels Paperback – December 6, 2022 :

And Jewish influence on the New Testament in the anthology Israel’s Scriptures in Early Christian Writings: The Use of the Old Testament in the New (2023):

I have 2 reading goals in mind, one hermeneutic and the other deconstructive. Of course learning about Greco-Roman and Jewish influence on the New Testament will help me to understand the NT texts better. On the other hand, it helps to put up a veil of fog/opacity between the reader and the text so claims of the historicity of certain pieces of textual material need to be bracketed or put out of play. I’ll show you what I mean. Dr. Bart Ehrman points out:

  • [A]uthors like Robert Price have claimed that all the stories about Jesus in the Gospels are midrashes on stories found in the OT. By that he means, roughly, that the story of Jesus is shaped in such a way as to reflect a kind of retelling or exposition of stories about persons and events in the Old Testament. For example, the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel shapes the stories about Jesus to make Jesus appear to be a kind of “second Moses.” Like Moses, Jesus is supernaturally protected at his birth when the ruler (Pharaoh/Herod) seeks to destroy him; like Moses he goes down to Egypt as an infant; like Moses he comes up out of Egypt to the promised land; like Moses he passes through the waters (the parting of the Red Sea; the baptism); after which he spends time in the wilderness being “tested” (40 years; 40 days); after which he goes up on the mountain to receive/deliver the Law (Mount Sinai; Sermon on the Mount). The story of Jesus has evidently been “shaped” in light of the author’s knowledge of the story of Moses in order to say something: Jesus is the new Moses.

Why should we skeptical readers care? Consider this: Imagine an interpretive spectrum whereby at one pole we suppose Matthew started with stories from the old testament about Moses and then rewrote them using Jesus as the main character with no historical information about Jesus in them. On the other pole of the spectrum, suppose Matthew started with stories about the historical Jesus and then simply shaped them to give them a Moses flavor. And there is a huge amount of room between the two poles of the spectrum. The question of reading then becomes the hugely sophisticated problem of how do we come up with criteria to identify historical golden nuggets among the literary silt? This is enormously important because unless a solid methodology is proposed for determining real history much of the text needs to simply be shelved in the circular file of “who knows?” There may be historical material there, but how do you tell?

Anyway, I’ll try and get these books soon (they’re pricey here in Canada, but I’ll try), and I’ll be back at the end of September!