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Early Christian Thought in its Jewish Context.

Anyone glancing through Early Christian Thought in its Jewish Context might note that it fits well any publisher's list of desiderata: a topical theme, an intended audience of undergraduates and teachers, as well as, one might add, of seriously interested `lay people', a distinguished list of contributors, a concern for an overall pattern predicated on a recognition of the diversity of its components. That these characteristics make it an eminently suitable `offering' for Morna Hooker, since 1976 Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity in the University of Cambridge, bears testimony to her own achievements which have won her the respect of colleagues internationally and guided students -- although, while a number of these achievements have been `firsts' for a woman, there is only one woman among the contributors, Dr Marie Isaacs. As the Bibliography of her publications indicates, Morna Hooker too has a deep concern to communicate widely, to the `lay' as well as to the scholarly world, demonstrates a rigorous attention to the text while also tackling the broader theological themes, and has emphasized the continuities as well as the discontinuities between Christianity and Judaism, the focus of this volume.

Conscious of their audience, the editors have imposed strict controls of length and approach on their contributors, ensuring both a broad coverage of the theme and that individual chapters focus not on minor points of debate but give a clear introduction to their topic. This `textbook' format divides the book into three unequal parts: after an introductory essay by C. F. D. Moule, the first introduces the `social context' of Judaea and Galilee (A. Chester) and of the Diaspora (J. Barclay); the second surveys the major witnesses, Jesus (N. T. Wright), Matthew (I. Jones), Mark (D. Catchpole), Luke-Acts (C. K. Barrett), John (D. Moody Smith), Paul (E. P. Sanders), the Deutero-Paulines (J. Dunn), Hebrews (M. Isaacs), Revelation (J. Sweet), and `other early Christian writings' (G. N. Stanton). The third section is thematic, looking at scriptural fulfilment (P. Borgen), attitudes to the land and sanctuary (W. Horbury), monotheism and Christology (M. de Jonge), apocalyptic (C. Rowland), atonement and martyrdom (K. Grayston) and ethics (M. Bockmuehl). It would be invidious to pick out particular contributions for comment, and what follows is itself of a more thematic kind, naming representatives who must stand for the rest.

The editorial controls inevitably encourage an introductory-survey approach, although those familiar with them will recognize the mark of the individual authors throughout. Similarly the paucity of footnotes inevitably flattens the presentation, at times obscuring a distinction between the accepted and the more controversial, or fostering a via media. This is particularly true of the `social context' essays which perforce proceed by affirmation rather than by acknowledging and entering into opportunities for debate, and also -- although this would not be so inevitable -- pay less attention to the inner life of the communities discussed. This is less of a problem for the text-based chapters, although authors have obviously been faced with the choice between a superficial overview and a more detailed engagement with the text which can be more difficult to follow and more demanding of the reader (Catchpole). Similarly the `thematic' essays vary between a more comprehensive cover and the choice of particular texts or topics with varying success.

Consequently the volume is far from monochrome. There are clear differences between the authors, as between Rowland and Catchpole on Mark's view of the Temple, or in Chester's emphasis on the dimension of social protest in Jesus' message which receives less attention in Wright's symbiosis of subversive wisdom and apocalyptic, which itself breathes a different air from Bockmuehl's analysis of Jesus' relation to Jewish halakah. Perhaps more significantly, some interpret their task as an exploration of how the texts address the problem of continuity and discontinuity (Sanders), whereas others focus more on the `Jewishness' of their thought world (Dunn), and yet others lend themselves to a combination (Isaacs). Perhaps inevitably, where the focus is on the thought world continuity is more evident, where it is on self-perception the picture is more ambiguous: the dilemma implicit throughout is the claim to continuity with the past, with Scripture and the divine action and promise it proclaims, but discontinuity with the `other' who also claims that same past and whose claim demands more than mere denial. Yet this discontinuity also masks or may be expressed through a continuity, for example in techniques of scriptural interpretation (Borgen).

As Moule notes, the recognition of the Jewish context and essential Jewish character of early Christianity has become a mark of scholarship particularly since the 1960s; this has demanded that interpreters take an implicit if not explicit stand towards the `differentness' -- I avoid the historically problematic term `uniqueness', although it does appear in the book -- off Christianity which in the past was often theologically grounded and expressed in terms of superiority or replacement. Moule himself concludes `that these essays leave no room for a doctrine of two concurrent and equally valid covenants' (p. 5), but it is not clear that all the contributors wish to follow him, for here again diversity is apparent, and one feels that the choices are as much those of the contributors as impositions by the texts. Some choose not to address the question; others remain within the boundaries of their texts which may suggest the issue was far from decided (Jones), or recognize that the texts are taking a theological position which the commentator may describe while leaving open their own response (Moody Smith). Others again recognize that as Jesus or early Christianity merge into their setting, differentness has to be sought in that which cannot be explained in historical terms (implicitly Chester): for Wright, `What makes Jesus different is the resurrection' (p. 57). A different approach is that of Sweet who asks what Revelation contributes to the theme, recognizing the distinctive power of metaphor or symbol, and the danger of imposing our own rigid logical systems on the voices of the past.

To criticize a volume for what is not included is to ignore the restrictions of space and cost. Yet should a volume concerned with `early Christian thought' observe so strictly (excepting Stanton's contribution) the boundaries of the canon? For there were other voices -- or thinkers -- among early Christians in a Jewish context, and the recovery of that variety belongs on the map traced here. Yet within its own terms the volume is a useful contribution to the theme and will bring the concerns and conclusions of a range of scholarship within reach of undergraduates and others who are or should be interested in the topic. Finally, it is to be hoped that although the honorand and occasion are nowhere indicated in the title or frontispiece, the book be known as `the Hooker Festschrift'.
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Author:Lieu, Judith
Publication:The Journal of Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1998
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