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Introducing the Gospel of Matthew

The Gospel of Matthew

Authorship: External Evidence

“Now this is reported by Papias about Mark, but about Matthew this was said, Now Matthew compiled the reports [or “oracles”] in a Hebrew manner of speech, but each interpreted them as he could” (Papias, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.16)

“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Compare me to something and tell me what I am like.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘You are like a just messenger.’ Matthew said to him, ‘You are like a wise philosopher.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Teacher, my mouth is utterly unable to say what you are like.'” (the Gospel of Thomas 13)

“So Matthew, among the Hebrews in their own dialect, brought forth a writing of the gospel when Peter and Paul in Rome were evan­geli­zing and founding the church…” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1)

“Those who are called Ebionites [a Jewish Christian sect] agree that the world was made by God; but their opinions with respect to the Lord are similar to those of Cerinthus and Carpocrates. They use the Gospel according to Matthew only, and repudiate the Apostle Paul, maintaining that he was an apostate from the law.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.26.2)

“The Gospels containing the genealogies, he [Clement] says, were written first” [or] “He [Clement] said that those gospels with genealogies were openly published.” (Clement of Alexandria, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.14.6)

“… first, written was Matthew, once publican but later apostle of Jesus Christ, who published it for the believers from Judaism, composed in Hebrew letters…” (Origen of Alexandria, in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 6.25.4)

“Now in what they [the Ebionites] call a Gospel according to Matthew, though it is not the entire Gospel but is corrupt and mutilated—and they call this thing ‘Hebrew’!” (Epiphanius, Panarion 30.13.2)

Authorship: Internal Evidence

  • The Gospel is formally anonymous and opens up with a genealogy tracing Jesus’s descent back to Abraham and David (Matt 1:1-17).
  • The Greek text of the Gospel does not appear to be a translation from Aramaic or Hebrew. Its main narrative source, Mark’s Gospel, was a Greek text; it may have been indebted to a second Greek document in the Q sayings source or inherited the sayings that it shared in common with Luke from a mixture of oral and written sources. It seems to largely depend on written sources rather than on an eyewitness informant.
  • The name of the tax collector “Levi” in Mark 2:14 is changed to “Matthew” in Matthew 9:9 and “the tax collector” is appended to Matthew’s name in the list of twelve apostles in Matthew 10:2-4.


  • Matthew’s Gospel has to postdate Mark’s Gospel since it was literarily dependent on the latter.
  • Matthew may have been aware of the fire that burned down the temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 22:7).
  • Scholars debate whether Papias of Hierapolis (ca. 110 CE) referred to Matthew’s Gospel, a sayings source underlying Matthew’s Gospel, another lost source, or the so-called “Gospel according to the Hebrews” cited by various Patristic authorities.
  • There seems to be references to the text of Matthew in the Didache (8:2; 11:3; 15:3, 4) and the epistles of Ignatius of Antioch (Smyrn. 1.1; 6.1; Phil. 2.2; Eph. 5.2; 6.1; Rom. 9.3; Trall. 11.1; Poly. 1.2-3; 2.2).


The external church tradition has Matthew’s Gospel originally written to the Jews in a Semitic language. It could have been written in Syria-Palestine, possibly in the city of Antioch because this was a popular center for Jewish/non-Jewish Christ followers and fits with the early reception of the Gospel there. The provenance is ultimately a mystery.

Key Themes

  • Jesus is a new Moses who escapes the slaughter of the infants ordered by a tyrant, lived in Egypt (Matt 2:13-20), performed sea and feeding miracles (Matt 14:14-33), delivered his law on a mountain (Matt 5-7), and had his teaching organized in five thematic discourses that ended with a statement about “when Jesus had finished these words/parables/teachings” (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1).
  • Discipleship to Jesus is completely compatible with observance of the Torah and the righteousness of Jesus’s followers ought to exceed that of the Pharisees (Matt 5:17-20; 23:2-3). Matthew’s audience may have been Torah-observant Jewish Christ followers involved in a fierce debate with other Jewish groups such as the Pharisees (Matt 23:1-39) and engaged in a mission to the nations (27:18-20).
  • Matthew may combine Mark’s emphasis on Jesus’s vicarious death with the emphasis on Jesus as an authoritative teacher in other sources.
  • Matthew’s Gospel seems to have a higher Christology than its sources. Matthew cites the Septuagint on how a virgin will give birth to a child called Emmanuel or “God with us” (1:23), is present with the fellowship of believers who gather in his name (18:19), and has all authority in heaven and earth invested in him as well as advises his disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (28:8-10). Matthew seems to explicitly identify the sage Jesus with Lady Wisdom (compare Matthew 11:28-30 with Sirach 51:25-26 and Matthew 24:34-35 with Luke 11:49).
  • Matthew seems to rehabilitate Peter and the disciples. Peter asks to walk on the water after seeing Jesus perform this feat, and although Jesus has to catch him when he begins to sink, the disciples respond by worshipping Jesus as the Son of God rather than being perplexed with hard hearts (Matt 14:26-32; cf. Mark 6:49-52). After Peter’s confession of Jesus’s messianic identity at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus gives him the keys of the kingdom and praises him (or his confession) as the foundational “rock” of the church (Matt 16:13-20; cf. Mark 8:27-31).


Introducing the Gospel of Luke

The Gospel of Luke

Authorship: External Evidence

“Luke, the follower of Paul, set forth in a book the gospel that was preached by him.” (Irenaeus of Lyon, Against Heresies 3.1.1)

“But that this Luke was inseparable from Paul, and his fellow-labourer in the Gospel, he himself clearly evinces, not as a matter of boasting, but as bound to do so by the truth itself. For he says that when Barnabas, and John was called Mark, had parted company from Paul, and sailed to Cyprus, we came to Troas [Acts 16:8]… As Luke was present at all these occurrences, he carefully noted them down in writing, so that he cannot be convicted of falsehood or boastfulness, because all these [particulars] proved both that he was senior to all those who now teach otherwise, and that he was not ignorant of the truth. That he was not merely a follower, but also a fellow-labourer of the apostles, but especially of Paul, Paul has himself declared also in the Epistles, saying: ‘Demas has forsaken me, and is departed unto Thessalonica, Crescens to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me’ [2 Timothy 4:10-11]” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.14.1)

“The Gospels containing the genealogies, he [Clement] says, were written first” [or] “He [Clement] said that those gospels with genealogies were openly published.” (Clement of Alexandria, in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 6.14.6)

“… and third, Luke, who has composed for those from the Gentiles the gospel praised by Paul.” (Origen of Alexandria, in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 6.25.6)

“The third book of the Gospel is that according to Luke. Luke, the well-known physician, after the ascension of Christ, when Paul had taken with him as one zealous for the law, composed it in his own name, according to [the general] belief. Yet he himself had not seen the Lord in the flesh; and therefore, as he was able to ascertain events, so indeed he begins to tell the story from the birth of John.” (The Muratorian Canon, lines 2-8)

“The holy Luke is an Antiochene, Syrian by race, physician by trade. As his writings indicate, of the Greek speech he was not ignorant. He was a disciple of the apostles, and afterward followed Paul until his confession, serving the Lord undistractedly, for he neither had any wife nor procreated sons. [A man] of eighty–four years, he slept in Thebes, the metropolis of Boeotia, full of the holy spirit…” (the Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Luke’s Gospel)

Authorship: Internal Evidence

The book of Acts is the sequel of the Gospel of Luke: “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. (Acts 1:1-2 NRSV)

Explanations for the “we” in Acts 16:10-17, 20:5-15, 21:1-18, 27:1-37, and 28:1-16:

  • The author was a firsthand participant in the narrated events.
  • This was some sort of dramatic literary device that placed the reader in the middle of the action. For instance, see Vernon Robbins’s “By Land and By Sea: the We-Passages and Ancient Sea Voyages.”
  • This was a residue on an earlier source or a travel diary. For instance, see Stanley Porter’s chapter “The We Passages in Acts as a Source regarding Paul” in The Paul of Acts.
  • The “we” was a “pseudonymous” or a fictional claim to be by a firsthand participant of Paul’s missionary activities. For instance, see Bart Ehrman’s Forgery and Counter-Forgery.

Audience: Theophilus and other readers

  • The Gospel may have been dedicated to a wealthy patron who sponsored the writer’s literary project.
  • The name “Theophilus” may be symbolic for the church as it means “lover of God.”
  • There is debate over the provenance of the author and the readers, with some major suggestions including Antioch, Ephesus, or Rome.


  • Dates range from the early 60s to 130 CE. Most scholars date it between 75-100 CE, though a minority date it on the earlier (cf. Colin J. Hemer) or later (cf. Richard Pervo, Joseph B. Tyson) end of the spectrum.
  • Luke 19:41-44 and 21:20 may reflect knowledge of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE.
  • Acts ends before narrating the deaths of Peter, Paul, and James, perhaps to conclude on the note that the Gospel has spread from Jerusalem to Rome (Acts 1:8; 28:30-31).
  • There are similarities and differences between the portrayal of Paul’s biography, travels, and theology in Acts with Paul’s own letters. There is debate over whether or not the author had access to a collection of Pauline Epistles.
  • There are similarities and differences between the book of Acts and Josephus’s Jewish Antiquities published around 93-94 CE. Compare Acts 5:36-37 with Antiquities 20.97-102, Luke 2:1-3 with Antiquities 18.1-5 (cf. War 2.117-18), or Acts 12:20-23 with Antiquities 19.343-50. There is debate over whether Acts is literarily dependent or independent of Josephus’s Antiquities.
  • Acts seems to portray the church as primarily drawn from the ranks of Jewish members of the synagogue and Gentile “God-fearers.” However, it may be aware that the “Christians” (cf. Acts 11:26; 26:28) have come to be recognized as a distinct community governed by “elders” (presbyteroi) and “overseers” (episkopoi) (cf. Acts 20:17-38).

Key Themes

  • Unique sayings, parables, and stories focus on economic and social inequality (e.g. the shepherds in the infancy narrative, Mary’s Magnificat, the Lukan form of the beatitudes and woes, the wealthy female patrons of Jesus, the sisters Mary and Martha, the good Samaritan, the rich fool, the woman with the lost coin, the unjust steward, the rich man and Lazarus).
  • Jesus’s ministry extended to the non-Jews outside the boundaries of Israel. Compare the incident in the Nazarene synagogue in Mark 6:1-6 and Matthew 13:54-58 where the local residents could not believe that the boy they saw growing up was now a prophet with the parallel account in Luke 4:16-30 where the crowd takes offense at Jesus’s remarks about how the prophets Elijah and Elisha healed foreigners.
  • The martyrdom of Jesus is modeled on the themes of the noble death and the Deuteronomistic theme of the rejection of the prophets culminating in the death of Jesus. Although Luke seems to have removed Mark’s ransom saying (compare Luke 22:25-27 with Mark 10:45), he has Paul articulate Jesus’ vicarious death in Acts 20:28.
  • The impending eschatological return of Jesus has been delayed (Luke 21:24; Acts 1:6-8). Hans Conzelmann famously argued that Luke-Acts divided history into the epochs of Israel, Jesus, and the church.
  • The character of Peter has been rehabilitated (see Luke 22:31-34) and he emerges as the chief spokesperson of the Twelve (sometimes alongside John) in the first twelve chapters of Acts. The church is to be governed by twelve apostles (cf. see the replacement of Judas by Matthias to restore the number “twelve” in Acts 1:15-26) and the other missionaries like Paul and Barnabas are generally subservient to rather than identified as “apostles” or “sent ones” (exception: Acts 14:4).
  • The church is completely united, glossing over occasional cracks that appear beneath the surface such as the division between the Hebrews and the Hellenists (Acts 6:1-15), the debate at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15; cf. 21:17-25), and the split of Paul from Barnabas (15:36-41).
  • The Christians are in continuity with the scriptural heritage of Israel. The Jerusalem church wins over thousands of their Jewish compatriots and the apostles as well as Paul exemplify their Jewish piety. Paul’s primary audience is found within the Jewish and Gentile members of the synagogue (compare Paul’s target audience in Thessalonica in Acts 17:1-9 and 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). However, Acts hints that the Christian missionaries were having much more success in convincing non-Jews of their gospel about Jesus the Messiah (Acts 13:46-47; 18:6; 28:25-28), though the book concludes on an open-ended not (28:30-31).




Introducing the Gospel of John

The Gospel of John

Authorship: Internal Evidence

The passages on the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 1:35-40 [?], 13:23-25; 18:15-16 [?], 19:25-27, 19:35 [?], 20:2-10, 21:1-7, 20-24). The most popular suggestions for the beloved disciple are the Apostle John, the Elder John, Lazarus, John Mark, an anonymous Judaean disciple, or a literary fiction (the most extensive list is in James Charlesworth’s The Beloved Disciple: Whose Witness Validates the Gospel of John?). Here are the Pros and Cons of identifying the beloved disciple as the Apostle John:

  • John is never named in the Fourth Gospel, but none of the scenes that feature him in the Synoptic Gospels occur in the Fourth Gospel (see Mark 1:19-20, 29-32; 5:37-42; 9:2-10; 10:35-40; 13:3; 14:33-34). The one exception is the parallel between John 21:1-14 and Luke 5:1-11.
  • John could be the anonymous disciple who was called alongside Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, in John 1:35-42. However, the scene in John where Jesus recruits two of his followers from the movement of John the Baptizer completely differs from the calling of the two sets of brothers (Peter and Andrew, James and John) from their fishing occupations in Mark 1:16-20.
  • The Twelve were at the Last Supper in the Synoptic Gospels, but the Fourth Gospel never restricts this event to the Twelve who are rarely mentioned in the text (cf. John 6:67, 70; 20:24) and a local Judaean follower could have hosted the meal.
  • In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus is especially close to three disciples (Peter, James, John) and James is executed by Herod Agrippa I around 40 CE. John is also paired with Peter in the book of Acts. But the fourth Gospel never mentions this trio as an inner circle of disciples.
  • The beloved disciple almost exclusively shows up in Jerusalem with the exception of John 21:7, 20-24 (and possibly 1:35-40) and John 19:25-27 may imply that he had a residence in or near the environs of Jerusalem.
  • If the “other disciple” in John 18:15-16 is the beloved disciple, he seems to have been a prominent individual closely connected to the high priest.
  • The beloved disciple has to be among the group of seven disciples in John 21:2, but it may be more likely that the beloved disciple is among the two anonymous disciples than the named “sons of Zebedee.”

 Authorship: External Evidence

  • “But I will not hesitate to supplement at any time for you too the interpretations with whatever I learned thoroughly and remembered thoroughly from the presbyters [or “elders”], since I am confident in the truth on their account. For unlike many I was not delighted with those who say many things but with those who teach the truth, or with those who remember not the commandments of others but those given by the Lord to the faith and derived from truth itself. But whenever someone who had followed the presbyters came along, I would carefully ask about the words of the presbyters, what Andrew or what Peter had said or what Philip or what Thomas or James or what John or Matthew or any other of the disciples of the Lord, and which Aristion and the presbyter John, disciples of the Lord say too. For I did not assume that whatever comes from books is as helpful to me as what comes from a living and lasting voice.” (Papias, in Ecclesiastical History 3.39.3-4).
  • “Then John, the disciple of the Lord and also the one who leaned against his chest, also pub­lished the gospel when re­siding in Ephesus of Asia” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1).
  • “…but John, last, aware that the physical facts were disclosed in the gospels, urged by friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual gospel” (Clement of Alexandria, in Ecclesiastical History 6.14.7).
  • “The fourth of the Gospels is that of John, [one] of the disciples. To his fellow disciples and bishops, who had been urging him [to write], he said, ‘Fast with me from today to three days, and what will be revealed to each one let us tell it to one another.’ In the same night it was revealed to Andrew, [one] of the apostles, that John should write down all things in his own name while all of them should review it” (Muratorian Canon, Lines 9-16).


  • The Rylands Library Papyrus 52 is a fragment of a few verses from John 18:31-33, 37-38 and is commonly dated in the first half of the second century.
  • Early Patristic references or allusions to the Gospel of John or 1 John (e.g. Papias of Hierapolis, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyna, Justin Martyr).
  • The Johannine epistles may be an orthodox commentary on the Gospel, especially against schismatic secessionists who denied the incarnation or at least saving significance of Jesus “in the flesh.”
  • There is debate about whether the Gospel of John exhibits literary dependence on one or more of the Synoptic Gospels. There is also debate about what sources were utilized by the Gospel of John (e.g. a hymn to the Logos or “Word,” a signs source, a discourse source, a passion narrative).
  • There is debate about how long it would have taken for the evangelist to develop the high Christology in the Fourth Gospel (1:1-3; 5:17-18; 8:58; 20:28).
  • There is debate about whether the generalized polemic against hoi Ioudaioi (“the Jews” or “the Judaeans”), along with the references to the expulsions of Jesus’s followers from the synagogue (9:22; 12:42; 16:2), reflects a contemporary schism between the Johannine community with their local synagogue. Older scholarship correlated this with the alleged formulation of a liturgical malediction against “heretics” at the council of Yavneh in the late first century called the birkat ha-minim (cf. B. Berakhot 28b-29a).
  • There is debate about how many editorial revisions went into the composition of John’s Gospel. The final form of the book with the epilogue in chapter 21 was clearly written after Peter died as a martyr (by crucifixion?) and probably after the beloved disciple died (cf. John 21:20-25).


  • Ephesus: supported by the external church tradition about Saint John in Ephesus (cf. Irenaeus, Polycrates, the Acts of John), the positive reception of Johannine literature in Asia Minor (cf. Papias, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Polycrates), the affinities with the book of Revelation (e.g. Christological titles such as Word of God or Lamb), and the cultural milieu where Jews, Christians, and other socio-religious formations interacted.
  • Alexandria: supported by the manuscript evidence from Egypt, the positive reception of John’s Gospel among proto-Orthodox and Valentinian Christians in Alexandria, the affinities with the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (e.g. the Logos), and the interest in a spiritualizing or allegorizing hermeneutic.
  • Syria: supported by the affinities with the Syriac Odes of Solomon and with Ignatius of Antioch (e.g. high Christology, opposition to “Docetism”). The close proximity to Palestine may also explain John’s accurate topographical and cultural knowledge of the region.

Key Themes

  • High Christology:
    • Jesus is the pre-existent “Word” (logos) who was both God and was God, who created all things, and who became incarnate in the flesh (sarx) (1:1-18)
    • The “I Am” speeches: the Bread of Life (6:35, 48); the Light of the World (8:12; 9:15); the “I Am” (8:58; cf. Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 41:4; 43:10); the Door of the Gate (10:7); the Good Shepherd (10:11); the Resurrection and the Life (11:25); the Way, the Truth, and the Life (14:6); the Vine (15:1).
    • Balancing the theme of Jesus’s oneness with the Father (5:17-18; 10:27-28; 17:11, 21-23) with the theme of his subordination (14:28)
    • There was a schism in the first epistle of John over whether Jesus had come in the flesh (1 John 2:22-23; 4:1-3; 2 John 1:7).
  • There is a sharp dualism between light and darkness, between the followers of Jesus who have been called out of the “world” (kosmos) and the world that is hostile towards them. Although Jesus and his disciples were Jewish (cf. John 4:9, 22), the Gospel represents hoi Ioudaioi (“the Jews”, “the Jewish leaders”, “the Judeans”) of persecuting the followers of Jesus to the point that they were “expelled” (aposynagōgos) from the synagogues (John 9:22; 12:42; 16:2).
  • The fellowship of believers is to be completely united and “one,” just as Jesus was one with the Father, and are to follow the great commandment to love one another as Jesus had loved them (John 13:34-35; 17:20-23).
  • Jesus’ death is represented as his exaltation or the “lifting up” of the Son of Man (John 3:14-15; 8:28; 12:32).
  • The preferred expression is “eternal life” rather than “kingdom of God” and this was available in the present through trusting that Jesus was sent by God, though there would be a future judgment and resurrection (e.g. 5:25-29; 6:39-58).


The Genre of the Gospels

This is a handout for an undergraduate Gospels course

What is a “Gospel”?

  • εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion): “good” (eu) and “message, tidings, proclamation” (angelia)
  • The singular neuter noun is extremely rare in both Greco-Roman and Jewish writings before the Christian era. For instance, there is only a single instance of the plural form of the neuter noun in 2 Samuel 4:10. For further statistics, see Steve Mason, “Methods and Categories: Judaism and Gospel.”
  • The verb euangelizomai or “to bring good tidings” is present in the Greek translation of Isaiah in the Septuagint: “…as a season of beauty upon the mountains, as the feet of one preaching glad tidings of peace, as one preaching good news for I will publish thy salvation, saying, O Sion, thy God shall reign” (Isaiah 52:7 LXX).
  • The plural form euangelia is inscribed on the Priene Calendar Inscription: “It seemed good to the Greeks of Asia, in the opinion of the high priest Apollonius of Menophilus Azanitus: ‘Since Providence, which has ordered all things and is deeply interested in our life, has set in most perfect order by giving us Augustus, whom she filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a savior, both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance (excelled even our anticipations), surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and since the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the good tidings for the world that came by reason of him,’ which Asia resolved in Smyrna.” (See Craig Evans, “Mark’s Incipit and the Priene Calendar Inscription: From Jewish Gospel to Greco-Roman Gospel“).
  • The good news of the kingdom of God (Mark 1:15) or the royal proclamation of the crucified and risen Lord (Romans 1:3-4; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

What Does the Term “Genre” Mean?

  • If a a text opened with the address “Dear Mary” and closed with “Sincerely, Tim”, what is the likely genre of this piece of writing? If a text began with the words “once upon a time in a far way land” and had fantastic characters or themes in the story-line, what is the likely genre of this piece of writing?
  • Richard Burridge explains that speaking or writing happen in a system of conventions (i.e. traits, rules, customs, necessities, properties that constitute verbal meaning) and, therefore, a genre is like a contract between the author and the reader based on their shared expectations about what traits make up an utterance (What are the Gospels: A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography, 34-36, 43-44).
  • The differences between “prescriptivism” (i.e. a genre must be characterized by x, y, and z), “nominalism” (i.e. a generic classification has no effect on the properties of a text or “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”), and “family resemblance” (i.e. there are a number of overlapping traits that generally characterize the texts in a given category while each individual text may not have every single expected trait). For further discussion, see Burridge, Graeco-Roman Biography,” 39, 42-44.

What is the Genre of the New Testament Gospels?

  • Did the Gospels evolve out of the missionary “proclamation” (kērygma) of the crucified and risen Christ, eventually incorporating other materials (sayings collections, miracle stories, ritual texts about baptism and the Lord’s Supper), and were thus a uniquely Christian genre?
  • The Gospel as an aretalogy of a miracle worker?
  • The Gospel as an apocalyptic text (e.g. the book of Daniel) envisioning the eschatological consummation of history?
  • The Gospel as equivalent to an ancient Graeco-Roman or Jewish novel (e.g. Tobit, Joseph and Aseneth) or a literary epic (e.g. the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid) intended for popular consumption?
  • The Gospel as an ancient “biography” (bios or life) of a principal subject?
  • The Gospel as a shorter historical monograph about the climax of the history of Israel in the advent of Jesus the Messiah? Does the two-volume work of Luke-Acts belong to the genre of historiography?

The Gospels are not like Modern Biographies

  • Graeco-Roman historiographers and biographers preferred to name themselves and their sources, but the Gospels are more like the history books of the Hebrew Bible and other Ancient Near Eastern historians in remaining anonymous and keeping the spotlight on the subject (but cf. Luke 1:1-4; John 21:24). See Armin D. Baum, “The Anonymity of the New Testament History Books: A Stylistic Device in the Context of Greco-Roman and Ancient Near Eastern Literature,” NTS 50 (2008): 120-142.
  • They are not interested in Jesus’ upbringing, education, or motivations. Only the Gospels of Matthew and Luke have infancy narratives (Matt 1-2; Luke 1:5-2:41) and Luke has one story about Jesus when he was 12 years old (Luke 2:42-52).
  • There are round or flat characters, but the characterization remains static.
  • The basic unit in the Synoptic Gospel is the chreia or “anecdote” that has sayings or deeds of Jesus in a condensed form and has an edificatory purpose. These anecdotes may be arranged topically or in a loose chronological order (e.g. “on the Sabbath day”), while the Passion Narrative about the events in Jerusalem leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection is a more interconnected narrative. The Gospel of John is made up of longer discourses, “signs” that Jesus performed, and a Passion Narrative. It has a more structured literary outline organized around the Jewish feast days.
  • The purposes of a Gospel was to proclaim the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus, to encourage readers to the path of discipleship based on Jesus’ teachings or self-sacrificial example, and correct what the evangelists saw as deficient Christologies.

The “Apocryphal” (“Hidden”) Gospels

  • The Gospel according to the Hebrews, the Gospels according to the Ebionites, the Gospel according to the Nazoraeans, the Gospel of the Egyptians, Papyrus Egerton 2 Unknown Gospel, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Truth, the Gospel of the Saviour, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Infancy Gospel of James, the Epistle of the Apostles, the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter, the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, the Secret Gospel of Mark (see Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make it into the New Testament [Oxford University Press, 2003], v).
  • These diverse writings include sayings collections (e.g. the Gospel of Thomas), discourses of the Risen Jesus (e.g. the Gospel of Philip or the Gospel of Mary), infancy Gospels (e.g. the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the Protoevangelium of James), narrative Gospels in the same genre as the canonical Gospels (e.g. the Gospel of Peter), and Gospel harmonies (e.g. the Gospel of the Ebionites, the Diatessaron).

Introducing the Epistle to the Romans

Manuscripts: Papyrus 46 (published 1935-37) was the oldest textual evidence for the Pauline Epistles in a codex and included the last eight chapters of Romans. It is dated around 200 C.E. Apparently an earlier fragment of Romans 9-10 has been discovered in the Green collection. There is some evidence that a shortened version of the text circulated: some manuscripts put the doxology in 16:25-27 after 14:23 or 15:33 (including P46). Although no extant manuscript lacks chapters 15-16, some Patristic authorities do not cite these chapters (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian).

  1. Was an originally circular letter appended with ch. 15-16 for an edition for Rome? However, this solution has no textual support and Paul continues his discussion from 14:1-15:6 or 13.
  2. Was a letter sent to Rome (ch. 1-15) and the personal greetings from another letter sent to Ephesus appended on it (ch. 16)? Paul spent three years in Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila are noted elsewhere in Ephesus (1 Cor 16:9; 2 Tim 4:19), and Epaenetus was a first convert in Asia.
  3. Chapters 15-16 may have been removed accidentally in scribal transmission or intentionally to reach a more general audience or for liturgical or theological reasons (e.g. Origen blames the excision of these chapters on Marcion in his Commentary on Romans 10.43 on 16:25)? This is the most plausible explanation.

Genre: epistle (the Greek ἐπιστολή means “letter”). The epistolary format includes a salutation, thanksgiving/prayer report, body (scriptural interpretation, moral exhortations), and benediction.

Authorship: Romans is considered one of Paul’s “undisputed epistles.”

  1. Read Romans 1:1. How does Paul describe himself and his ministry?
  2. Most ancient people were illiterate and even the few educated individuals able to read or write often relied on a professional amanuensis or secretary to record what they dictated to them. What is the role of Tertius (see Romans 16:22)?

Date: Paul traveled on three major missionary journeys throughout the Mediterranean according to the book of Acts and seems to have written this letter while staying in Corinth around 57 C.E.

  1. What clues are given about the date of the letter in Romans 15:23-32?
  2. What places had Paul not yet visited and where did he hope to travel? Why was he raising a collection for the poor saints of Jerusalem (see Galatians 2:10, 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, and 2 Corinthians 9:1-15)?
  3. Why do you think Paul was anxious about returning to Jerusalem (see Acts 21:10-36)? Paul’s wish to visit Rome was fulfilled, but he was transferred to Rome as a prisoner where he was eventually beheaded at the order of Nero according to Christian tradition.

Audience: Paul is writing to a network of house churches that he had not personally founded in the capital city of the Empire (see Romans 1:11-15; 15:22).


  1. To introduce himself and to systematically outline the apostolic foundation for his gospel for a network of churches that only knew Paul by reputation. Paul may have perhaps even intended the letter to be his last will and testament.
  2. (Some?) Jews were expelled from Rome by the Emperor Claudius in 49 C.E., but they were later permitted to return to Rome. This may have created tensions between Jewish and non-Jewish members of the church in Rome, leading to Paul’s wider reflections on God’s plan for Israel and the nations and practical advice for church unity. Paul is also raising a collection for the impoverished Christ followers in Jerusalem as a demonstration of unity (15:25-28).
    1. “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus [a misspelling of “Christ” or just the name of a local person in Rome?], he expelled them from Rome” (Seutonius, Claudius 25).
    2. “There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome.” (Acts 18:2; cf. Romans 16:3-4).
    3. Paul uses the term “Jew” 11 times in Romans and 15 times elsewhere and the term “Israel” 11 times in Romans and 6 times elsewhere.

3. To raise support for a mission to Spain (see Romans 15:28).

  1. It is unclear whether Paul ever reached Spain. According to Acts 28:23-31, Paul was left for two years under house imprisonment in Rome. Historians debate whether Paul was executed shortly thereafter or was initially released to go on further travels, only to then be re-arrested and executed. In a letter attributed to the bishop Clement of Rome in the late first century C.E., Paul is described as reaching the farthest limits of the West which may have been taken to be Spain (see 1 Clement 5:7).

The Epistle of Barnabas

The text of the Epistle of Barnabas online

Authorship: technically anonymous rather than pseudonymous.

  • Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-210) seems to be the earliest known writer to cite the epistle and was familiar with its ascription to Barnabas (Strom. 2.10; Eccl. Hist. 6.14.1).
  • However, the epistle never claims to be by Paul’s co-worker Barnabas (cf. Acts 4:36; 9:27; 11:22-15:39; 1 Cor 9:6; Gal 2:1, 9, 13; Col 4:10).
  • The author appears to have a non-Jewish background. 3:6 warns against proselytizing to their law and 16:7 speaks of a time before “we” believed in God as idolaters.

Date: a general consensus dates the text after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE (Barn. 16:3-4) and before the end of the Bar Kochba revolt between 132-135 CE.

  • 4:4-5 refers to a succession of ten kings followed by a small horn who subdues three kings. This may fit Vespasian who established the Flavian dynasty after the year of three emperors in 69 CE (Galba, Otho, Vitellius) or Nerva who succeeded the Flavian rulers Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian and had a short reign from 96-98 CE. Or it may allude to scripture (Dan 7:7-8, 24) to predict a future Nero redivivus or anti-Christ figure.
  • 16:3-4 marvels at how “they” (=certain Jews) say that the very servants of the enemy (=Rome) who tore down their temple will build it again. It is unlikely that the enemies’ servants build the spiritual temple. Either it refers to the emperor Hadrian’s plans to build a pagan temple to Jupiter Capitolinus in the lead-up or aftermath of the Bar Kochba revolt or to possible Jewish hopes that the emperor Nerva would rebuild the Jerusalem temple after he suppressed the tax forced upon them (i.e. fiscus Iudaicus).

Provenance: Alexandria, Syro-Palestine, and Asia Minor have all been suggested as the place of origin.

  • The epistle shares an allegorical approach popular in Alexandria, speaks with contempt towards the circumcised priests of the idols and non-Greek Egyptians  (9:6), and receives early attestation from the Alexandrian theologians Clement (Strom. 2.6.31; 2.7.35; 2.20.116; 5.10.63) and Origen (C. Celsus 1.63).
  • The familiarity with Jewish and rabbinic traditions and exegesis and the positive reference to Syrians and Arabs in contrast to Egyptians (9:6) may point to an author located in Syria-Palestine.
  • The Pauline parallels to the Epistle, its lack of ecclesiastical organization, and its fierce debate with a local Jewish community along with its dismissal of literal Jewish interpretations could fit the location of Asia Minor.


  • The epistle shows clear signs of local Jewish influence from its apocalyptic orientation (4:1-5, 9-14; 12:9), use of midrash (6:8-19), familiarity with Jewish traditions about the Day of Atonement not included in Leviticus 16 (7-8), practice of gematria or assigning numerical value to letters (9:8), and employment of the “Two Ways” tradition (18-20; cf. Deuteronomy 30; Didaache 1-6).
  • The author, nevertheless, wants to sharply differentiate the two peoples (laoi); there is an in-group (“us”) and a Jewish out-group (“them”).
  • There was only one covenant that the Jews lost when they worshiped the Golden Calf and Moses broke the stone tablets containing the Decalogue (contra 1 Cor 11:25; 2 Cor 3:7-18; Heb 8:1-13). There is some tension with the Deuteronomistic theology of the epistle in which the Jews are depicted as continuously rejecting the appeal of the prophets culminating with Jesus.
  • Christians have inherited the covenant, just as the Scriptures predicted that Abraham would be the father of the uncircumcised nations (13:7).
  • Literal Jewish practices are re-interpreted in a spiritual or typological manner.
    • The heart should be circumcised; an evil angel inspired fleshly circumcision (9:4). 9:7-9 uses gematria to show that Abraham’s circumcision of 318 men foreshadowed Christ (i.e. 10 = iota and 8 = eta to spell the name Iesous or Jesus, 300 = tau for the cross).
    • Acts of justice are preferred over fasting (3:1-6). The Jewish food laws signify the exclusion of certain types of people (10:3-8).
    • The Sabbath day foreshadows a future eschatological period of rest (15:4-5).
    • The promise of land is universalized in the new creation (9:9-19) and the church is to be the spiritual temple (16:1-10).

Significant Monographs or Books including Chapters on Barnabas

  • James Carleton Paget, The Epistle of Barnabas: Outlook and Background (WUNT 2.82; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1994).
  • Clayton N. Jefford, The Apostolic Fathers and the New Testament (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 2006).
  • William Horbury, Jews and Christians in Contact and Controversy (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998).
  • Michelle Murray, Playing a Jewish Game: Gentile Christian Judaizing in the First and Second Centuries CE (Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2004).
  • Reidar Hvalvik, The Struggle for Scripture and Covenant: The Purpose of the Epistle of Barnabas and Jewish-Christian Competition in the Second Century (WUNT 2.82; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1996).
  • Stephen G. Wilson, Related Strangers:  Jews and Christians 70-170 CE [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995).

The Epistle to the Hebrews and Subsequent Christian Supersessionism

 The Epistle to the Hebrews: Introduction
  • Reception: although it was popularly accredited to Paul in the eastern churches (though hesitatingly by Clement and Origen of Alexandria) and included in a collection of Pauline epistles in the Chester Beatty Papyrus 46 (ca. 200 CE), doubts about this attribution persisted among many ancient Christian commentators, especially in Rome.
  • Authorship: an anonymous writer familiar with members of Paul’s circle such as Timothy (13:23); the refined literary style and theology of Hebrews differs from Paul. Other candidates include Barnabas, Luke, Apollos, Silas, Priscilla, Clement of Rome, etc.
  • Date: the epistle is cited as early as 1 Clement at the end of the first century CE. The audience seems to be second generation followers rather than eyewitnesses of Jesus (2:3) and experienced social ostracism and imprisonment (10:32-34; 12:4; 13:3, 13, 23). It is unclear how much the author draws knowledge of the temple cult from observation or scriptural exegesis (i.e. the focus is on the tabernacle) or whether the Jerusalem temple was presently functioning.
  • Audience: although there is no specific address in an epistolary prescript and greetings are sent from “Italy” (13:24), the addressees seem to be Hellenistic Jews or non-Jews (former God-fearers or potential proselytes to Judaism?) who could grasp the author’s complex scriptural argumentation and philosophical reasoning. The audience is presumed to be in danger of relapsing from their faith, whether due to their experience of persecution or anxiety about the loss of participation in the Jerusalem temple cult (pre- or post-70 CE?), so the writer of Hebrews stresses the supremacy of Jesus as the high priestly intercessor over the Levitical priesthood and sacrificial system and issues warnings against disobedience and admonishments to endurance (2:1-3; 3:12-13; 5:11-14; 6:1-12; 10:23-31; 13:7, 9, 17).
The Theology of Hebrews: the Superiority of Christ
  • Combines thorough knowledge and creative interpretation of the Septuagint and intertestamental Jewish traditions with Middle Platonism (e.g. the earthly sanctuary patterned after the heavenly one) .
  • Jesus is identified with God’s pre-existent wisdom (1:1-3). The text emphasizes both his incarnation to become completely human and his exaltation.
  • Jesus is superior to the prophets (1:1-4), angels (1:5-2:18), Moses (3:1-4:13), and the Levitical priesthood (4:14-7:28). Jesus ushers in a new covenant that provides the purification for sins and mediates direct access to God (8:7-13; Jeremiah 31:31-34); the temple sacrificial system was a shadow that pointed to the full reality of Jesus’ high priestly sacrifice (9:13-10:18). The Sabbath day also pointed to the fuller reality of the future rest that the faithful will receive (4:1-13)
  • Since he did not descend from the priestly tribe, Jesus’ priesthood is compared to the priest and king Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110:4; Dead Sea Scrolls fragment 11QMelch [11Q13]).
  • Hebrews issues a call to endurance like the former pioneers in the faith (chapter 11), so that they might look forward to their future unshakable inheritance.

Christian Supersessionism in the Patristic Period

Question: do you think that the Epistle to the Hebrews reflects an intra-Jewish debate (e.g. how are sins purified and access mediated to God apart from the cultic apparatus of the temple and sacrificial system) or does it support Christian supersessionistic theology?

Supersessionism and Replacement Theology: the belief that the church has superseded and replaced Israel as the covenant people or the “true Israel.”

  • “…be not made like unto some, heaping up your sins and saying that the covenant is both theirs and ours. It is ours: but in this way did they finally lose it when Moses had just received it, for the Scripture says: ‘And Moses was in the mount fasting forty days and forty nights, and he received the covenant from the Lord, tables of stone written with the finger of the hand of the Lord.’ But they turned to idols and lost it. For thus saith the Lord: ‘Moses, Moses, go down quickly, for thy people, whom thou broughtest forth out of the land of Egypt, have broken the Law.’ And Moses understood and cast the two tables out of his hands, and their covenant was broken, in order that the covenant of Jesus the Beloved should be sealed in our hearts in hope of his faith” (Epistle of Barnabas 4:6-8)
  • “We have been led to God through this crucified Christ, and we are the true spiritual Israel, and the descendants of Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham, who, though uncircumcised, was approved and blessed by God because of his faith and was called the father of many nations.”(Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 11.5)

The Third Genos (race, people, tribe) that is neither Jewish nor Greek

  • “Since I see thee, most excellent Diognetus, exceedingly desirous to learn the mode of worshipping God prevalent among the Christians, and inquiring very carefully and earnestly concerning them, what God they trust in, and what form of religion they observe, so as all to look down upon the world itself, and despise death, while they neither esteem those to be gods that are reckoned such by the Greeks, nor hold to the superstition of the Jews; and what is the affection which they cherish among themselves; and why, in fine, this new kind or practice [of piety] has only now entered into the world, and not long ago…” (Epistle to Diognetus 1.1)

The Harmful Charge against Jews of Deicide (The Accusation of Killing God)

  • “The one who hung the earth in space, is himself hanged; the one who fixed the heavens in place, is himself impaled; the one who firmly fixed all things, is himself firmly fixed to the tree. The Lord is insulted, God has been murdered, the King of Israel has been destroyed by the right hand of Israel.” (Melito of Sardis, On the Passover)

The Return to Persian Yehud

The Aftermath of the Exile (587 BCE)

  • Judah was a Babylonian province governed by Gedaliah; the Davidic king Jehoiachin was released from prison in Babylon (2 Kings 25:27-30).
  • The final edition of the Deuteronomistic History, select prophets, and psalms of lament address why Yahweh permitted the exile.
  • Exilic hopes: new exodus (Isaiah 40:1-5), new heart for covenant obedience in a restored nation (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:22-30; 37:1-13), and new temple (Ezekiel 40-47). The servant’s vicarious suffering (Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12).
  • Jews in the dispersion met in local assemblies or “synagogues.”

Cyrus “the Great”

  • Cyrus II of Persia (550-530 BCE) conquered Babylon in 539 BCE and established the Achaemenid empire. The imperial propaganda of the Cyrus Cylinder has Cyrus as a liberator chosen by the Babylonian god Marduk.
  • Permitted subject peoples to practice native cultic practices.
  • The edict of Cyrus (Ezra 1:2-4; 6:3-5) enabled the exiles to return to their land and rebuild the temple, returning the sacred vessels stolen by Nebuchadnezzar. Many Jews remained in the diaspora (e.g. Esther).
  • Cyrus as Yahweh’s anointed (Isaiah 44:28-45:1).

The Persian Province of Yehud

  • Sheshbazzar (“prince of Judah”) led a first wave of returnees, but the rebuilding of the temple was stalled due to economic conditions and opposition (538 BCE).
  • The Davidic governor Zerubbabel and high priest Joshua led a second wave in the reign of Darius I (522-486) and they completed the temple dedication (515 BCE).
  • Nehemiah returns in the twentieth year of the Persian ruler Artaxerxes I in 445 BCE to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and restore civil leadership to the Levites (Nehemiah 2:1; cf. the Elephantine papyri).
  • Ezra returns in the 7th year of Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:1-8), but it is unclear if this is Artaxerxes I (465-424 BCE) or II (404-358 BCE). Ezra enforced the Torah (final edition of Pentateuch) and prohibits intermarriage with foreigners to construct strong social boundaries for a minority ethnic group.
  • Ezra-Nehemiah was originally one book structured by Cyrus’ decree (Ezra 1:1-4), the temple construction (Ezra 1:5-Nehemiah 7:72), and the communal re-dedication to God (Nehemiah 7:73-13:31).

Alternative Voices

  • Ruth: a Moabitess becomes the ancestor of king David.
  • Jonah: a prophet is unable to resist the call to invite the people of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, to repentance.
  • Trito-Isaiah: eunuchs and foreigners are welcome (ch. 56).
  • Esther: at the encouragement of her uncle Mordecai, Esther intervenes before the Persian ruler Ahasuerus (=Xerxes I from 486-465 BCE?) to deliver the Jews from the wrath of the prime minister Haman. The story is the basis for the Jewish holiday Purim and a subsequent Greek edition makes the diaspora characters more pious.
  • Chronicles: re-write the history in Samuel-Kings from a more hopeful theological perspective for the returning exiles.


The Book of Joshua and Judges

The Deuteronomistic Historian (Joshua-2 Kings)

  • Theory formulated by Martin Noth based on the consistent language, linking speeches (e.g. Joshua 1, 23; 1 Samuel 12; 1 Kings 8:14-61), and summaries (e.g. Joshua 12; Judges 2:11-19; 2 Kings 17).
  • The narrative was shaped by the theological worldview of Deuteronomy and interprets the Assyrian conquest of Israel and the Babylonian conquest of Judah as punishment for covenant disobedience (cf. Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

The Book of Joshua: Introduction

  • Named after the central character.
  • Chiastic structure: A1 entering the land (1:1-5:15), B1 taking the land (5:13-12:24), B2 dividing the land (13:1-21:45), A2 retaining the land (22:1-24:33)
  • Historicity: Traditional Conquest Model (Albright), Peaceful Infiltration (Alt), or Internal Peasant Revolt (Gottwald). See the larger debate between “maximalists” and “minimalists” about the historicity of Israel’s origins narrative.
  • Archaeological data: see Eric H. Cline “1177 BC: The Collapse of Civilizations and the Rise of Ancient Israel and PhilistiaThe Bible and Interpretation.
  • Textual data: full conquest (11:16-23; 12:1-24; 21:43-45) or lengthy battles (11:18) with territory still to be possessed (13:1-7; 18:3; cf. Exodus 23:29-30; Judges 1).

The Ideology of the Text of Joshua

  • Herem or the “ban”: not keeping plunder but devoting everything in the city to destruction as a sacrificial offering. See the Mesha Stele.
  • Yahweh as a warrior (i.e. the Jordan crossing, the commander of Yahweh’s army, the fall of Jericho’s walls).
  • Viewed as divine judgment (Genesis 15:16; Deuteronomy 9:5; Joshua 11:10), just as the Assyria and Babylon were instruments of judgment against Israel and Judah.
  • Exclusive covenant loyalty against adopting cultural and religious practices of the “Other.” Note that Rahab the Canaanite is assimilated into Israel while the Israelite Achan is put under the “ban.”
  • The ethical and theological problem of divinely mandated genocide. Should it be read as “negative revelation” in contrast to ideals of non-violence and social justice in other parts of the biblical canon?

Judges: Introduction

  • Structure: prologue (1:1-2:5), the Judges (2:6-16:31), and the epilogue (17:1-21:25). There is debate whether Judges 5 reflects early oral tradition (cf. Serge Frolov “How Old is the Song of Deborah“).
  • Clan leaders or deliverers who organize an informal militia from the tribes to fight oppressors. Some famous ones are Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson.
  • Cycle of sin, oppression, distress, deliverance, and rest before the pattern repeats.
  • Anticipating the monarchy: “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). This is exemplified in a horrific story of the Levite’s concubine (19:1-21:25), which also portrays Judah positively (tribe of king David) and Benjamin negatively (tribe of king Saul).


The Covenant and the Torah


  • Torah is often translated “law” but can be defined more broadly as “instruction” or “teaching.” It may denote the Mosaic law, the Pentateuch, or the Hebrew Scriptures.
  • The Torah was the covenant charter for how to live as the people of God. Disobedience could be remedied through repentance and the cultic means of atonement.
  • Torah reveals Yahweh’s righteousness to the nations (Deuteronomy 4:5-8).
  • Leviticus: the Greek title leuitikon means “levitical” or “pertaining to the Levites” (priests), while the Hebrew title vayyiqra means “and he called.” Leviticus focuses on the priestly call to be holy or set apart.
  • Deuteronomy: the Greek title deuteronomion means “second law,” while the Hebrew ‘elleh hadevarim means “these are the words.” Deuteronomy represents itself as Moses’ final speech to the Israelites about to enter the promised land.

ANE Covenants

  • Parity treatises and Suzerainty treatises.
  • Suzerain treatises: title or preamble, historical prologue, stipulations, blessings or curses, witnesses. Example: “Treaty between the Hittites and Egypt.”

ANE Law Codes and Law Forms

  • Cuneiform legal collections from Mesopotamia: Code of Ur-Nammu (2064–2046 BCE), Code of Lipit-Ishtar (1875–1864 BCE), Laws of Eshnunna (1800s BCE), Code of Hammurabi (1792–1750 BCE). We also have the fourteenth century BCE Hittite Laws and the twelfth century BCE Middle Assyrian Laws.
  • Law codes embedded in the Pentateuch: Ethical Decalogue (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5), Covenant Code (Exodus 20:19-23:33), Ritual Decalogue (Exodus 34:11-26), Deuteronomic Code, Holiness Code (Leviticus 17-26), Priestly Code (portions of Exodus, Numbers, and Leviticus)
  • Casuistic Laws: case law (“if you do x, the consequence will be y”)
  • Apodictic Laws: absolute commands or prohibitions (“thou shall not!”)

The Priestly Cult

  • The holy deity dwells among the people in the portable tabernacle and later the temple, so one must be in a state of ritual purity (i.e. clean) to enter increasingly sacred spaces. In many cases, a prescribed length of time or a ritual washing could remove the condition of being “unclean.”
  • Sacrifices: Burnt offering, Grain or Drink offering, Peace offering, Sin offering, and Guilt offering. The intent could range from offering thanksgiving, showing one’s dedication to God, making restitution for mistreating sacred objects or personal property, or expiating unintentional transgressions.
  • The sin offering cleansed the sin that defiled the sanctuary (cf. Jacob Milgrom) and perhaps the worshiper.
  •  On the “Day of Atonement” (Yom Kippur), sin offerings were made for the priests and people and a ritual scapegoat was driven out to the wilderness.

The Dietary Restrictions

  • Leviticus 11:3-8 and Deuteronomy 14:4-8.
  • Medical or hygienic reasons?
  • Revulsion towards certain types of creatures?
  • Ethical injunctions such as reverence for life or not imitating certain creatures?
  • Boundaries to separate the social body of Israel from other peoples in the land of Canaan? See especially Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Polution and Taboo.

Specifics in the book of Deuteronomy

  • Structure: title or preamble (1:1-5), historical prologue (1:6-4:49), stipulations that are general (i.e. Decalogue) and specific (5-26), blessings or curses (27-28), witnesses (29-33), and epilogue (34-35).
  • The Shema (“hear!”) (6:4-9): commands exclusive monolatry and is the justification for the practice of the Tefillin (phylactery) wrap and the use of Mezuzah (parchment with biblical texts in a case placed on the doorpost). It is also cited in the New Testament (Mark 12:29-30; Romans 3:30; 1 Corinthians 8:6; James 2:19).
  • The centralization of worship as opposed to many altars. One God, one people, and one designated place of worship.
  • Example of changing laws: accused murderers fled to cities of refuge rather than altars to be protected from vengeance.

Christian Approaches to the Old Testament Law

  • Theonomy: enforcing the Mosaic Law in a modern theocracy.
  • Marcionism: viewing the Mosaic Law as completely irrelevant to Christians. Marcion differentiated the God of strict justice from Jesus’ loving heavenly Father.
  • Division between moral, civil, and ritual laws.
  • Salvation-historical approach.