This review appeared in the Jul-Sep 2007 vol. 164 no. 3 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background LiteratureBaker Academic, Peabody, MA January 1, 2012
This book is a major expansion and revision of the author’s Noncanonical Writings and New Testament Interpretation (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1992). As the subtitle suggests, it is a guide to the literature that forms the background or context of the New Testament. Writings before and during the New Testament period that may have influenced and/or shared a historical and cultural context are introduced as are later works that may reflect earlier tradition and/or include interpretations of the New Testament.
Evans discusses eleven topics: Old Testament apocrypha, Old Testament pseudepigrapha, Dead Sea Scrolls, Old Testament versions (including the Septuagint), Philo and Josephus, Targums, rabbinic literature (including the Mishnah and Talmuds), New Testament apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, early church fathers, Gnostic literature, and other writings (including Greco-Roman literature and nonliterary sources). For most of these Evans includes a box listing all the specific books in the group, brief summaries of the books, representative themes, and a bibliography (both for the group and individual books). The treatment of individual works is brief. For example in the section on the Old Testament pseudepigrapha, about one-third of a page is devoted to a summary of 1 Enoch and nearly a page to bibliographic sources. This is one of the larger entries. However, this is sufficient for the purpose of this work. The bibliography lists many resources if further information is needed.
Given the volume’s purpose, its only shortcoming is its handling of Greco-Roman material. In chapter 11, “Other Writings,” Evans includes a list with works and dates of many authors (pp. 287–98). However, beyond this, little help is given. An additional section on authors who refer to Jesus and/or early Christianity is a helpful collection of such material (pp. 298–300). A few other groups of Greco-Roman literature are also mentioned. It is refreshing to see Evans devote about twenty pages to nonliterary material such as inscriptions, papyri, coins, and ostraca; however, this is more a collection of helpful samples than a discussion of how to use the material. Nevertheless it may prompt readers to study these materials more.
More emphasis on certain authors including Homer (given his important role in the ancient world) would have been helpful, for this volume gives the impression that the Jewish material is more valuable than anything else. No doubt the Jewish material is valuable but other sources in the Greco-Roman world need to be noted as well.
In a final chapter on the use of background materials in exegesis, Evans demonstrates how a knowledge of ancient sources can illuminate the biblical text.
The book concludes with almost two hundred pages of helpful appendixes and indexes. These include a list of over sixty pages of “Quotations, Allusions, and Parallels to the New Testament” (pp. 342–409) and other helpful discussions such as “Messianic Claimants of the First and Second Centuries” (pp. 431–43).
This book can be a significant time-saver for anyone who does research in New Testament and/or reads the better commentaries. It is a quick reference to help track down important references.
—Joseph D. Fantin