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Review of Craig A. Evans, Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005). 539 + xxxvi pp. [review first published on Timothy Michael Law's blog, with some hyperlinks stripped out]
Many thanks to Baker (who acquired this through their purchase of Hendrickson's backlist) for the review copy. I requested the volume because I noticed there was a 2012 revision of the book, but for some reason was sent the original 2005 version. Since I hadn't read the 2005 version anyway, I thought I'd simply review this and do so by way of a thought experiment: if it fell to me to suggest revisions for a second edition, what would I change or include? If anyone has seen the 2012 version, perhaps they can comment on whether any of these changes have been made.
First though, it is worth stressing emphatically: this is a massively useful volume that puts an astonishingly broad range of literature (both primary and secondary) at the fingertips of its users. It is a book I will put into the hands of my postgraduate students to help them orient themselves to the dizzying array of texts one is expected to know in order to study the New Testament. As Martin Hengel once famously opined, the one who knows only the New Testament doesn't know even that. So this book is a rich guide to all the byways that will provide renewed vistas of the New Testament and its subject matter, when approached cautiously and intelligently.
After a brief methodological introduction, the bulk of the book considers major corpora of ancient writings (chapters 1-11), offers some brief examples of this material in action in sample NT exegeses (chapter 12) and concludes with no less than six appendices, covering the canons of Scripture that include the Apocrypha, a list of quotations, allusions, and parallels to the NT (something worth consulting for those writing on particular NT texts), parallels between NT and non-canonical Gospels (here somewhat awkwardly called `pseudepigraphal'), a list of Jesus' parables and those of the Rabbis, a discussion of Jesus and Jewish miracle stories, and finally a brief treatment of messianic claimants in the first two centuries CE. The major chapters offer brief summaries of the relevant writings, bibliographies (which are pretty thin on non-English scholarship - a pity since advanced students are those most likely to use the volume, though perhaps a necessary concession to space constraints) and discussion of themes and connections to the NT. Clearly this is a lot of material packed into relatively small space.
As I mentioned, my overwhelming reaction to this book is one of appreciation. But since critical suggestions for improvement are a form of the highest compliment to scholarly efforts, in what follows I'd like to briefly make some suggestions in the order of the chapters as they appear in the volume. Many of these are simply suggestions about what has appeared since 2005, though others are more substantial.
1. OT Apocrypha. A very useful chapter, with tables of Ezra and Esdras nomenclature that are worth bookmarking. While the differing canons are noted, 3 & 4 Macc and Ps 151 are treated in the next chapter (as are Jubilees and 1 Enoch, though it is not here noted that they function in some Eastern canons as apocrypha). In general there are very full bibliographies, and one finds (in contrast to some other places in the book) some good non-English language references.
2. OT Pseudepigrapha. This is a very good discussion of these texts, with much useful bibliography and helpful (if necessarily brief) orientating remarks. While naturally there are many works that could be added to update the bibliographies, I'll simply focus on one major methodological question here. Robert Kraft's important discussion [esp. chapters 1-2] (review here) of the difficulties in identifying these works as Jewish or Christian (extended by Jim Davila in his book, The Provenance of the Pseudepigrapha) could be taken more fully into account: should we assume that a work is Jewish unless proven Christian? Or does the process of transmission through Christian scribal hands suggest that some of these works might in fact be Christian? And isn't it all much more complicated than is often assumed? We can look forward later this year to the publication by Eerdmans of more OT pseudepigrapha, under the revised title Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, vol. 1.
3. Dead Sea Scrolls. This is one of the longest and most useful chapters in the book, supplying orientation to the contents of the DSS as a whole and also many comments on individual texts. One might simply note that the DJD series is now complete, save the revision of Allegro's idiosyncratic volume V, and that much of the Hebrew & Aramaic texts in the editio princeps is available in a six-volume reader's edition. There is also underway a new French edition and translation of the DSS, La Bibliothèque de Qumrân.
4. Versions of the OT. This is a concise and useful discussion of the versions of the OT and their potential relevance to the NT. A few minor updates: the first ET of the SamPent is about to be published. The New English Translation of the Septuagint has been published as well, and one might here also note the appearance of the Septuaginta Deutsch and the flood of German publications on the LXX. Also missing is any reference to the important French series, La Bible d'Alexandrie. One might have expected some discussion of the difference between Rahlfs edition and the larger Göttingen project for which Rahlfs is a stop gap measure. To keep up to date on the project of improving our knowledge of the Hexapla, note this important site (and note that one T. Michael Law is a contributor!). On the Vetus Latina, one could note the interesting work being done in Birmingham on the Gospel of John.
5. Philo and Josephus. In discussion of Philo, my biggest complaint is that Evans restricts himself to the material published in the Loeb series, and so misses some of Philo's works: De animalibus: A. Terian, ed., Philo Alexandrinus, De animalibus (Chico, CA, 1981); De Deo: F. Siegert, "The Philonian Fragment De Deo: First English Translation," SPhil 10 (1998), 1-33; Fragments of the Quaestiones et Solutiones (many of which are in LCL, but not all, and not all translated): F. Petit, ed., Philon d'Alexandrie, Quaestiones in Genesim et in Exodum: Fragmenta Graeca (PAPM 33; Paris, 1978); J. R. Royse, "Further Greek Fragments of Philo's Quaestiones," in F. E. Greenspahn et al., eds., Nourished with Peace: Studies in Hellenistic Judaism in Memory of Samuel Sandmel (Chico, CA, 1984), 143-53; J. Paramelle with E. Lucchesi, Philon d'Alexandrie, Questions sur la Genèse II 1-7 (Geneva 1984); D. T. Runia, "A Neglected Text of Philo of Alexandria: First Translation into a Modern Language," in E. G. Chazon et al., eds., Things Revealed: Studies in Early Jewish and Christian Literature in Honor of Michael E. Stone (Leiden, 2004), 199-207. A few other minor Philonic quibbles: one might have expected some discussion of the various commentary projects that Philo is engaged in; Philo is surely Middle Platonic rather than Neoplatonic; and though the importance of Philo for the interpretation of Hebrews is noted on p. 169, only two references to Philo appear in the appendix devoted to quotations, allusions, and parallels to the NT - an unfortunate oversight (and in general, Philo appears to have been under-utilized in the index). One might also have expected some mention of the helpful Philo bibliographies by D. Runia, et al. and the Brill commentary series, and now one could add the very useful Cambridge Companion to Philo. For Josephus, one might note that three more volumes in Brill's commentary series have now appeared, and an ET of Yosippon is apparently in press by HUP (see here).
6. The Targums. This is one of the places the volume shines, given Evans's own extensive work in targumic studies. I'd simply note that the Aramaic Bible series has now been completed, and point to two other important volumes on the targums: Paul V. M. Flesher and Bruce Chilton, The Targums: A Critical Introduction (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2011) and Martin McNamara, Targum and New Testament: Collected Essays (WUNT 279; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011). I am perhaps slightly less optimistic about the relevance of the targums for NT study than Evans, but he provides some examples that are well worth consideration. But when we have 30 pages devoted to the targumim and only 9 pages devoted to Philo, this strikes me as a bit disproportional. And a major desideratum here arises: what we need is a one or two-volume Handausgabe distilled from the Aramaic Bible series. Couldn't we simply strip the translations of all their notes and compile them so that one could know what Onqelos says without trudging off to a library? It would sell, wouldn't it? I've written to the Liturgical Press to say so, but I'm not sure my email got anywhere. If anyone knows McNamara personally (the editor of the series), perhaps they could suggest it?
7. Rabbinic Literature. This is extremely useful as a guide to this complex literature. I suppose my major question is about non-Rabbinic Jewish literature that might have been discussed. Why nothing on the Hekhalot literature and merkavah mysticism, especially given its possible importance for mysticism in the NT (see, e.g., Rowland & Morray-Jones)? One would want, I think, to refer to the works of P. Schäfer on the Hekhalot literature, and to note also the classic work by Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. And while much of this work hasn't yet been translated into English (though apparently Jim Davila is working on it), one could see, e.g., Martin Samuel Cohen, The Shi'ur Qomah: Liturgy and Theurgy in Pre-Kabbalistic Jewish Mysticism (Lanham: University Press of America, 1983) or the ET of the Sefer ha-Razim.
8. NT Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. In this brief chapter, the focus is mainly on the apocryphal gospels - perhaps understandable given their high visibility, but I wonder if some attention to the apocryphal acts of the apostles (at least the five major ones that may have a claim to be 2nd or early 3rd c.) would be worthwhile? A number of primary source editions could be added: F. Bovon and P. Geoltrain, eds., Écrits apocryphes chrétiens (2 vols.; Bibliothèque de la Pléiade; Paris: Gallimard, 1997-2005) - this edition is too often overlooked, though it includes much of the excellent work by members of the French AELAC, including the fullest edition of the Acta Pauli to date. One might also note the editions of the apocryphal gospels by A. Bernhard and Ehrman & Plese, not to mention the new edition of the first volume of Schneemelcher expected out at any time from Mohr Siebeck, and the Oxford Early Christian Gospel Texts series by OUP. As for secondary texts, one might now add H.-J. Klauck, Apocryphal Gospels (London: T&T Clark, 2003); The Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2008), several works on the much disputed Secret Mark (S. Carlson, P. Jeffrey, S. Brown, F. Watson, etc.), and Paul Foster's massive commentary on the Gospel of Peter. Incidentally, in the case study on pseudepigraphy, there is a bit of tension between the leading statement that `the early church was aware of pseudepigraphy and did not approve of it' and the concluding recommendation of D. Meade's work (which stands in stark opposition to the leading thesis [which is to my mind defensible, though this does not imply that pseudepigraphy did not occur]).
9. Early Church Fathers. This chapter covers essentially the apostolic fathers (with some surprising gaps in bibliography, it must be said) and extremely briefly, other church fathers. Given the importance of reception history and global reconstructions of early church history for the interpretation of the NT, I wonder if it wouldn't be worth including a bit more on the heresiologists in particular (esp. Irenaeus, Hippolytus and Epiphanius), as well perhaps as more on Marcion given the way he has functioned recently in debates about the Gospel of Luke in particular. I'm not entirely sure that it would be fair to say that it is customary to cite Migne, when his editions are often so poor. Wouldn't it be better to urge using the Corpus Christianorum volumes where available (some of which are now happily being translated)? Or the Sources chrétiennes or Die Griechischen Christliche Schriftsteller volumes. Anything but Migne, really! It is also worth noting that the Biblia Patristica has now been superseded by the online version.
10. Gnostic Writings. Here one would now of course want to include the Gospel of Judas, but also perhaps some other important primary and secondary sources: e.g., Foerster's two volume collection of texts; M. Williams, Rethinking "Gnosticism"; K. King, What is Gnosticism, and D. Brakke, The Gnostics.
11. Other Writings. This is a grab bag chapter that covers some very important ground: Greco-Roman authors, the Corpus Hermeticum, Samaritan writings, papyri, inscriptions, coins and ostraca. In some ways, this is the least satisfying chapter, due largely to the extremely brief treatment allotted to Greco-Roman writings. There is a sort of turf war in NT studies between those who envisage the Jewish background or milieu as more essential than the Greco-Roman, and this unfortunate dichotomy is something of a task for the current generation of NT scholarship to overcome. What might have been helpful is to devote a separate chapter to Greco-Roman authors entirely, and perhaps prefix it with a discussion of guides to this literature, instead of simply listing some of the more important authors with little information to go on. Then, why not have a breakdown by rough genre, and so discuss 1) Philosophy: Platonism, Aristotle and the Peripatetics, Cynicism, Skepticism, Stoicism, Middle Platonism, Epicureanism, all of which have been seen to be important at one time or another for the study of the NT. One need only think of the way in which Stoicism has been brought to bear as the background of Paul or the Fourth Gospel in some recent work by, e.g., Troels Engberg-Pedersen (Paul and the Stoics; Cosmology and Self in the Apostle Paul) or Gitte Buch-Hansen (It is the Spirit that Gives Life: A Stoic Understanding of Pneuma in John's Gospel) to sense the importance of such philosophical sources. 2). Narrative, ranging from ancient history on the one side (and note the wide range of studies that have sought to place Acts in the range of ancient historiographical thought) to the novelistic tradition. 3). Ethical writings; while this may be implicit in philosophy, there have been notable attempts to place the NT in discussion with the moralists (e.g., Plutarch) and more guidance here would be useful (though mentioned briefly on p. 300). 4). Technical works on, e.g., physiognomy or medicine (e.g., the work done by M. Parsons on Body and Character in Luke and Acts). 5). Mystery religions, important for the NT since at least Reitzenstein (one could begin with M. Meyer's collection of texts, The Ancient Mysteries). 6) Something on Greco-Roman associations, noting the new series by de Gruyter. In general, why not have a bit more discussion of the writings included in SBL's series Writings from the Greco-Roman World?
The discussion of papyri, inscriptions, coins and ostraca is very welcome and useful. In general, one can simply note here how online interfaces have changed the access to many papyri in particular. Tcherikover and Fuks's Corpus papyrorum judaicarum (which is three volumes rather than two as stated on p. 310) is somehow (legally?) available on scribd.com (see volume 1, 2, and 3). And one should especially note the Leuven Database of Ancient Books (and their partner sites) and the Duke Database of Documentary Papyri. And of course many institutions are now placing images, if not always transcriptions, of their papyri online (e.g., Oxford). For inscriptions, it is also worth noting that J.-B. Frey's old collection of Jewish inscriptions, long seen to be badly in need of revision, has been superseded in many places by newer editions in series by W. Horbury and D. Noy (CUP) and D. Noy, A. Panayotov, H. Bloedhorn, and W. Ameling (Mohr Siebeck) - for the details of these two series w/r/t Frey see this index in PDF - and the new Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae. Some illustrations for the coins in particular (perhaps on a companion website?) would be useful.
So on the whole, this is an excellent volume. I'm sure the 2nd edition is even better than the first (which itself is a substantial reworking of a 1992 volume). These suggestions for improvement are offered in the hope that any of them that might be worthwhile could perhaps be taken up in a 3rd edition, or simply used ad hoc by those involved in the field. When beginning one's research on one of these ancient texts, this will be among the first volumes to grab.