Over at Daniel Streett’s blog, καὶ τὰ λοιπά, he has an interesting post on the possible “death” of Enoch. It is worth checking out. It definitely has the characteristic Daniel Streett cheekiness as seen in the photo choices (the pic here is from his post, I seriously laughed out loud when I saw this). He references many of the variegated traditions in early Judaism regarding Enoch’s end and if you are unaware of them they are pretty fascinating. I particularly think these traditions are very important if you are interested in ascension traditions in early Judaism and early Christianity. If you don’t already subscribe to his blog, I suggest you do. Make sure and check it out here.
Ben Blackwell has emailed the presenters a copy of the schedule for the upcoming Paul and Judaism conference. All presenters, paper titles, and their respective presentation times are listed on the schedule for those interested. For a copy of the schedule, click below.
I was delighted to hear that my paper proposal was accepted for HBU’s Conference on “Paul and Judaism” on March 19-20. The delight of course has been accompanied by a great deal of fear and trepidation seeing as how this will be my first paper presentation at an academic conference, especially amidst scholars of this calibre. The keynote speakers include NT Wright, Beverly Gaventa, and Ross Wagner. I am also honored to present alongside one of my academic mentors and friend Daniel Streett whose paper proposal was also accepted (if you are curious about his paper, see the abstract here). I am thankful for the encouragement and well-wishing I have received as of late from many of you and I’m sorry I have not had the time to entertain some of the questions regarding what my paper is about. As a result, I thought I would post a brief description here on the blog.
The title of my paper is “So Shall Your Seed Be: Paul’s Use of Genesis 15:5 in Romans 4:18 in Light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions.” The following is the abstract I sent in:
In Romans 4:18 Paul cites verbatim the “promise” to Abraham in the LXX of Genesis 15:5 “so shall your seed be” in relation to what it means to “become the father of many nations (Genesis 17:5).” It is widely recognized that Paul reads the promise to Abraham of becoming “the father of many nations” synonymously with Genesis 15:5 as his seed becoming as the stars of heaven. Modern scholars have traditionally understood the relationship between these two texts quantitatively, both promising a vast multitude of descendants. Conversely, early Jewish interpreters of Genesis 15:5 such as Philo, Ben Sira, and the author(s) of the Apocalypse of Abraham understood the promise qualitatively, to be transformed into the likeness of the stars of heaven. This paper will argue that this early Jewish interpretation could provide a better explanation of the relationship Paul sees between these two texts. This would place Paul in context of already well-established deification traditions in early Judaism that see the destiny of the seed of Abraham as replacing the stars as the gods (or angels) of the nations. This will be demonstrated first by considering the promise of becoming as the stars as it is repeated to Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22:17 and 26:4 in the broader framework of the Hebrew Bible in its cosmological context. Secondly, it will be demonstrated that this particular interpretation of the promise as seen in early Jewish literature contemporary with Paul should be understood in terms of early Jewish deification traditions. Thirdly, it will be demonstrated that this interpretation applied to Paul’s use of Genesis 15:5 makes clear the relationship between a nexus of complexly related concepts in Romans 4 such as what it means that the “promise” to Abraham was to “inherit the kosmos,” “become the father of many nations,” and his seed to be as the stars of heaven.
Bruce Metzger’s, The Canon of the New Testament, is an examination of the development of the New Testament canon from the first century to the twentieth century. Yet, this book is more than a historical treatise on the canon; it also speaks to theological interests invested in canonicity (v). The book is structured in three parts: Part One is a survey of scholarly literature on canon formation; Part Two is an investigation through primary sources of canon formation; and Part Three is an exploration of the historical and theological issues surrounding the concept of canonicity.
In Part One, Metzger offers a detailed survey of the scholarly literature on canon formation from the seventeenth century through the twentieth century. He provides a sufficient review of the major scholars and their works and does a thorough job in highlighting the pressing topics regarding canonicity as they varied throughout the centuries.
Part Two of this book is a cache of valuable information. Although Metzger’s historical survey covers an expansive time frame, beginning at the end of the first century and ending at the twentieth century, he focuses his attention and fastidious research on the first four centuries.
Beginning with the Apostolic Fathers, Metzger considers this collection to represent a period of canonical preparation, where authority is not placed on a certain collection of books but rather is ascribed to the Law and the Prophets, sayings of Jesus, and apostolic sayings. Despite a few references to “the Gospel,” the majority of Jesus and apostolic saying are allusions, lacking clear and authoritative references to any particular text. Many of the allusions, nevertheless, can be traced back to canonical Gospels and Epistles, which leads Metzger to conclude that the authors of the Apostolic Fathers regard the books that would later become canonical with an “implicit authority” (73).
Before tracing the development of the canon beyond the period of the Apostolic Fathers, Metzger examines the possible reasons that precipitated the need for an authoritative collection of Christian writings. He views the conflict between the “Great Church”––as he calls it––and other Christian groups as the principal impetus for the future establishment of the canon. For example, Marcion’s rejection of Jewish scripture and Jewish contexts in the Gospels and Pauline letters caused the Church to “recognize the breadth of the written corpus as authoritative” (106). He further suggests that canon formation was influenced by persecution, during which Christians would likely be forced to choose with little delay which books they are willing to hand over to authorities and for which ones they are willing to suffer. He also mentions book making as well as Jewish and pagan constructions of lists of (authoritative) books as other possible influences perpetuating the development of the Christian canon.
After expounding on these polemical relationships and circumstances, Metzger then surveys canon formation through the Eastern and Western churches and discusses at length two early Christian book lists: the Muratorian Canon and Eusebius’ list. The results of his investigation show that it is only near the end of the second century that we first find, in Clement of Alexandria and Ireneaus, a four-fold gospel standard. According to Metzger, one exception to this later date is Tatian’s early second-century Diaterssaron, which shows that Tatian viewed Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the only authoritative Gospels; a conclusion he maintains despite his acknowledgment of extra-canonical material in the harmony (115–16). Apostolic writings, on the other hand, are still fluid as late as the early fourth century, as there is yet no consensus of which writings are to be considered authoritative and which ones are to be eschewed.
Metzger devotes two chapters to Christian attempts at finalizing a determinative canon. By adducing an extensive array of evidence from the fourth century to the present, he shows that in the East the concept of canonicity is still, as of the twentieth century, a fluid idea, while in the West the canon eventually found more stability in the sixteenth century––at least as it concerns the books of the New Testament.
In accord with his stated intent given in the preface, Part Three incorporates the theological results of the historical endeavor thus far. He begins by laying out three criteria used by the church fathers to determine which books would be considered canonical: those that attested to a “rule of faith” (defined by Metzger as those which adhered to the Christian tradition “recognized as normative by the Church” ), those perceived to be of legitimate apostolic authorship, and those that were generally accepted as authentic (251–254). Notably, a criterion of inspiration is omitted from this list; Metzger concludes that inspiration was not used to ascribe canonical status because the early church leaders frequently viewed anyone––even their contemporaries––who wrote or spoke under the guidance of the Spirit to be inspired. He ends the book with a discussion on current issues regarding canonicity, including: whether today the canon can considered open or closed, whether it is appropriate to speak of a canon within a canon, and whether the canon is a collection of authoritative books or an authoritative collection of books.
Metzger does include a discussion on canonicity and apocryphal literature, but it is one of the more curious parts of his book. In this chapter he gives adequate attention to apocryphal Gospels, Acts, Epistles, Apocalypses, and a few “Miscellaneous Writings”––which is largely made up of writings from the Apostolic Fathers. The attention given to these works is that of illustrating why the “Great Church” eventually rejected them. The reason: they contain aberrant theological views, possess little, if any, historical veracity, and are unable to convincingly demonstrate apostolicity.
For all the astute historical examination and detail that permeates this fine book, this chapter on apocryphal literature is indeed odd. It appears that instead of merely illustrating why the “Great Church” rejected certain Christian writings, Metzger uses this chapter to defend the position of the Church by traducing those writings that stand beyond the limits of a later orthodox standard. Thus, he argues that the apocryphal works are “romantic,” “fanciful,” “strange,” and “entertaining” (168–69, 174, 175, 177, 178) writings for a “popular” audience (168, 175, 178) that belie their own historicity and apostolicity (168–69, 173, 174, 175, 177, 179). This rhetoric is problematic for a number of reasons, not least that these pejorative claims are one-sided and never fall against those writings more widely accepted by the “Great Church,” like the Shepherd of Hermas, or even those writings which eventually received canonical status, like the Acts of the Apostles or Revelation. This selective use of derogatory rhetoric enables Metzger to appeal to textual agency and conclude that “certain books exclude themselves from the canon” (286) while the canonical books “established themselves” (173). Metzger’s appeal to an absolute claim against apostolic and historical authenticity of apocryphal literature is also problematic, as it does not allow him to convincingly defend the pseudepigraphical nature of some canonical material when he argues that canonicity “is not affected by features that are open to adjudication, such as matters of authorship and genuineness” (284). Unfortunately for his argument, false authorial claims and suspect genuineness are precisely the grounds by which he adjudicates that apocryphal literature is to be rejected.
Despite this peculiar examination of apocryphal literature, Metzger’s book is nevertheless a thorough and erudite investigation into the development of the New Testament canon. This is indeed a volume that should appear on the self of every student of early Christianity, who will no doubt return to it again and again to retrieve its valuable information.
In a recent JSPL article William O. Walker states his case for understanding Romans 8:29–30 as being an interpolation. Having recently finished a six month research project, in which I tried to explain how this passage fit into the flow of Romans, one could understand why I was saddened that I stumbled upon it almost immediately after I turned in the finished version of my work. Honestly, I hadn’t considered or even read anyone who had considered the passages authenticity.
In what follows I will critique what i believe are fatal weaknesses in his proposal, but before I do, I would like to state a few things that I appreciated about his work. First, I believe he is completely right to point out that this passage, especially vv. 29, 30, are strange in comparison to the surrounding material. Second, this article helped me think through much more carefully my methodology for determining if a passage is authentic or not. Now, on to the article. 
Following an earlier criticism by J. C. O’Neill, Walker believes that the passage (vv. 29, 30) creates a “logical contradiction” with what Paul has said earlier in the text. The tension is caused by the juxtaposition of two concepts: 1) it is emphasized that the believer must receive the Spirit by faith and, 2) Christians are predestined from the beginning. In other words, free will and divine sovereignty cannot be held together by a logical person.
O’Neil, though, doesn’t seem to be as convinced or clear minded about this “logical contradiction” as one would hope because he then questions the merits for the supposed contradiction that is being used for “evidence.” After he agrees with O’Neil that there is a contradiction he goes on to say, “It would be difficult to argue, however, that Paul does not elsewhere espouse some form of a doctrine of election or that he does not elsewhere alternate between divine and human agency.” It seems very difficult to ascertain the exact reason that Mr. Walker believes this “evidence” should be allowed into an argument that seeks to prove an interpolation since we know that this “contradiction” is present in undisputed portions of Paul’s writings and, ostensibly, in those texts it is not evidence of an interpolation.
Next, he says, “In the second place, the ‘person’ and ‘number’ indicated in the verbs and pronouns of w. 29–30 are different from those in the surrounding material.” He then points out that, “most of the language in w. 1–27 and much of that in vv. 31–39 is in the first-person plural— ‘we’ and ‘us,’” Strangely he only footnotes (n20) that verses 9–11 are in the second person plural. Not only that, but then he admits, “Indeed, the fact that v. 28ab (presumably Pauline in origin) shifts from the first-person plural to the third-person singular would appear to argue against such a shift as evidence for interpolation.” In spite of all the qualifying he makes he still feels that the evidence, “at least suggests that these verses may be an insertion into the text of Paul’s Roman letter.” Again, just like the first piece of evidence, I am not sure how this can be considered evidence for anything, much less his argument for interpolation.
The third piece of evidence forwarded for the case of interpolation is that this section is, “systematic, linear, repetitive, formalized, and one might almost say ‘scholastic.’” The reason for this being evidence of interpolation is that the surrounding material is, “much less formal and repetitive and much more free-flowing.”
In response, a couple of obvious points should be brought out. First, why if we are seeking to establish an interpolation should we only consider the surrounding material? Mustn’t we ask if there are other places in the “undisputed” letters where Paul does this sort of thing? Second, even if for the sake of the argument we assume this criticism is valid, then wouldn’t we first be led to the possibility that Paul is using tradition? Wouldn’t a creed, confession, or liturgy of some sort naturally lend itself to have all of these characteristics? I can’t help but think of the Christ Hymn in Philippians 2 and this passage as being taylor fitted for this sort of claim. While I will have to postpone my thoughts on the form and function of this passage to a later post, I do think Walker is right to point out the characteristics of the passages form as being a reason to reconsider its function; this is the way communication works in general.
The fourth piece of evidence that Walker sees is, “there appears to be something of a disjunction between w. 29–30 and their context in terms of subject matter.” By continuing to point out Walker’s own hesitancy to clearly label his own evidence as clear or indisputable I run the risk of appearing to beat a dead horse, yet when one builds a circumstantial case for something their own uncertainty of their own evidence must actually become key evidence itself. In regards to the subject matter of chapter 8 he says, “It is difficult to assemble the somewhat disparate parts of Romans 8 under a single topic.” I have much more to say about this (rightly) so-called subject change, but, for now, I will simply point out that while I will concede with Walker that the general topic of the chapter is, “life in the Spirit,” suffering and its ability to rob the community of its Spirit-life through unbelief plays the antagonist in the story of the Church and this section can easily be seen as building hope for people who need to endure suffering.
The fifth thing that is used as evidence for the case of interpolation is, “the removal of w . 29–30 would leave a smooth transition from v. 28… either with or without the last five words—to v. 31.” I do not disagree with this conclusion. In my thesis, which was finished before I read this article, I brought up what is almost the same thing,
“Interestingly, if one would remove vv. 28–37 the section would still make complete sense. Paul would have moved from the presence of suffering, to its temporality, to its effect (produce endurance and hope), to the believers defense against it (the Spirit) to suffering’s inability separate the Christian from God’s love. The section following vv.28–37 would still function nicely as an inclusio since it incorporates all of the themes found in the the pericope that opens the section.”
My only reason for discussing this aspect of his case’s evidence is that what we disagree with here is the most likely application of this evidence. I do not think that the evidence leads one to conclude that this section could be an interpolation, but the most likely conclusion is to understand that Paul is doing something much more subtle here with this section. This subtlety should leads us to reflect on the text as a whole and what we believe we can surmise about its provenance and audience.
The last thing discussed about this section is that it, “can stand alone as a complete, self-contained, and meaningful theological statement that sets forth, in systematic fashion, a logical progression from foreknowledge to predestination to calling to justification to glorification.” I don’t really know how to respond to this charge since I am not really sure how the logic works. If the logic of this charge is: the surrounding section is not this way (complete, self-contained etc.), so this section could be viewed as an interpolation, then, I must disagree with the logic. Also, I would wonder how I should understand Rom. 1:2–4 which itself is very similar in that it doesn’t really ‘fit’ the way the rest of the passage is constructed (using the previous logic).
Finally, I would like to comment on the legitimacy of an argument for interpolation by the accumulation of circumstantial evidence. From what I understand about jurisprudence, certain crimes tend to require certain types of evidence in order to secure a verdict e.g., a body in a murder case. The same expectation is usually (except among the mythicists) required in the case of interpolation. If there is no textual witness to interpolation, then the case for interpolation is typically viewed as suspicion and not as an argument of facts and logic. I do not have a problem with an interpolation having made it through the early years if the cannon’s formation undetected; undoubtedly that sort of thing happened and scholars should endeavor to find interpolations. My main problem is that there is nothing in the case that cannot just as easily be argued in the opposite direction. When this is the case, the evidence is not really evidence it is opinion.
Walker, William O. “Romans 8:29–30 as a Non-Pauline Interpolation” JSPL vol. 2, no. 1 (2012): 28. ↩
Actually he includes v. 28c and v.33 in his article, but for my purpose I will only discuss the material relevant to vv. 29–30 ↩
In this review I will only discuss what the author calls “contextual” evidence for his argument. Maybe, at a later date, I can engage with his linguistic evidence for interpolation. ↩
Of course, it is equally likely that Paul used some of his more memorable creations in suitable places within his written compositions. ↩
From the commentators that I checked, this section is usually viewed as at least having its genesis in an earlier creed. (see Jewett, Robert and Roy David Kotansky. Romans: A Commentary. Edited by Epp, Eldon Jay. Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006, 103 – 104. ↩
of course, there are extreme circumstances when the need for this type of evidence can be excused but there would need to be extreme mitigating circumstances e.g., eyewitness testimony of the crime. The same could go for interpolation; if there was an ancient testimony of a text being an interpolation or one of the earliest witnesses quotes the passage and leaves the section out (or, visa versa), then maybe we could proceed. ↩
I am doing my best to channel my inner “grand inquisitor” here. ↩
Crispin Fletcher-Louis has just begun his new blog here. I have thoroughly enjoyed Fletcher-Louis’s articles and monographs thus far and I’m excited to see the small engagements on his blog regarding temple studies, divine priesthood, divine humanity, etc. His earlier monograph entitled “Luke-Acts: Angels, Christology, and Soteriology” in the WUNT series is a very intriguing look at angelomorphic priestly Christology and participation. His following monograph entitled “All the Glory of Adam: Liturgical Anthropology in the Dead Sea Scrolls” is an in depth treatment of many of the texts regarding the divine priestly anthropology apparent in the DSS, much of which he wanted to further pursue after his work in the Lukan corpus. He includes an interesting commentary on the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice for those interested in these mystical priestly texts. Make sure and check out his first blog post on “The High Priesthood of All Believers.” Enjoy.
I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Mark Nanos via Skype regarding his take on the Apostle Paul as summarized in the most recent “Counterpoints” volume edited by Michael Bird entitled “Four Views on the Apostle Paul.” Nanos presents a Jewish view of Paul that seeks to deal with why Judaism has viewed him in such a negative light and how the so-called ‘New Perspective on Paul‘ does not go far enough in their re-framing of the Apostle because they are still working from within the Christianity-versus-Judaism categories. For Nanos the problematic old understanding of a Lutheran Paul as fighting against a Judaism consisting of legalistic works-righteousness has been simply exchanged for a Paul fighting against a ‘Jewish ethnocentric exclusivism and particularism (p.162).’ Although this may be a helpful observation, there were still many questions that remained regarding many of Nanos’s interpretive decisions and some important places of neglect that are addressed in this particular interview. If you have 45 minutes to spare, you may want to check it out. I apologize for the poor video quality (the bad aspect ration cutting off the top of the screen, the sound, forgetting to move the mouse cursor off the screen, etc.) it’s my first time editing on iMovie.
A special thank you to Jonathan McLeod and Alex and Katy White for their outstanding collaborative effort on our group presentation on Nanos’s view on Paul for the Pauline Theology Seminar at Criswell College Fall 2012.
After reading the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah I was left with a nagging question that I can not answer. So, I’m hoping that there is someone out there who has spent more time with apocalyptic literature or (more specifically) ascension narratives that might be able to provide an answer for me.
In the Ascension of Isaiah, the Most High commissions Jesus to descend through the seven heavens into the firmament, where the evil powers of the firmament rule and envy each other (7.9). As he travels through each heaven and into the firmament, Jesus’ form will transform to match the angels that exist in each level. So when Jesus arrives in the firmament, he is unrecognizable as the one who is the Lord of the seventh heaven (10.11). Once in the firmament, his furtive mission is to carry out the process of being born of a virgin (11.2–15), to act like a baby––so as not to draw attention to himself as if he is something greater (11.17)––to perform signs and wonders in Israel (11.18), to provoke the adversary and the children of Israel to kill him (11.19–21), to raise from the dead, send out the twelve apostles, to ascend back through the heavens, and to take his seat on his throne (11.21–22). At this point in the narrative, we learn that the purpose of this mission is be able to pronounce judgment on Satan and his forces in the firmament and to destroy them (7.10; 10.12).
Another key purpose of Jesus’ mission is that it marks a transitional point in time when those who have already ascended into the seventh heaven and have already received their supernal garments (e.g., Enoch) will then receive their crown and be aloud to sit on their throne (9.9–13). For those who had died but not yet ascended, they will ascend with Jesus and receive their supernal garments in the seventh heaven (9.17–18). So it appears that Jesus mission serves two purposes: (1) to judge and destroy the powers of the firmament and (2) to complete the transformation of the righteous, who are awaiting their supernal garments, their crowns, and their thrones.
That Jesus must appear in human form in order to complete the transformation of the righteous into their immortal state is clear to me: Jesus serves as the firstfruits of human apotheosis. What is less clear, though, is why Jesus had to descend into the firmament and carry out the mission in order to judge and destroy the rulers of the firmament. It is also curious to me that when Jesus does ascend, he does not pronounce judgment on the powers and he does not destroy anyone.
So here are my question: According to the Ascension of Isaiah (or other narratives which might invoke a similar theme), how and when is this judgment and destruction supposed to take place and why was it necessary for Jesus to carry out this mission in order to judge and destroy the powers of the firmament?
This semester I am taking a class on Christianity in the second century, where we are reading through Christian primary literature. For this class I have decided to catalog the different ways in which the apostles are used to promote a certain way of Christianity. For example, I want to see how Peter is used by the various second century writers to promote their own Christian self-identification and how this same figure is used to polemicize against other Christian groups. I am examining these texts from a historical point of view, rather than a theological perspective. In other words, I am not attempting to argue that one text is superior to another because one might hold to a more “orthodox” or “heretical” view than another. Rather, I am seeking to find the different ways in which Christianity expressed itself in the second century and, more specially, how they used apostolic figures to express these sometimes competing views. Because of this, I will speak of all these groups as Christian, and will do my best to avoid terms like “gnostic,” “heretical” and “orthodox.”
Let’s begin with James. In our earliest record of James, he is presented as one of the pillars of the Christian movement (Gal 2.9). This tradition of James as an authority is indicated again in Acts 15 and 21 and is supposed by second century writers based on the fact that they used his name to authorize their writings (see also the Epistle of Jude, where the author validates the letter by establishing a familial relationship with James [1.1]). In the NT, James is––for the most part––a consistent figure; namely Jewish. In the epistle bearing his name, James is adamant about keeping the Torah, and speaks about the Torah in terms of grandeur (“law of liberty,” 1.25; “royal law,” 2.8). The law also retains its function in the Jesus movement as a form of conviction (against favoritism, 2.9), and it does not appear that James is willing to be selective as to which portions of the law Christians must follow; rather the unity of the law is upheld in that if someone breaks one part of the law, he or she has violated the entire law. It should also be noted that James’ community gathers in a synagogue (2.2).
I am not convinced that Acts 15 speaks against the Jewishness of James or James’ Jewish vision for the church. The role of Gentiles in a Jewish community was a debated issue within the spectrum of Judaism. So it does not follow in my mind that the James of Acts is necessarily promoting a dichotomy between Christianity and Judaism. What is more important to notice about James at this point is that there is no indication that James despises the god of the Hebrew Scriptures or the Scriptures themselves.
Thus, in the NT, I believe the Jewishness of James is upheld or at least nothing definitively reveals James to be other than a promoter of some spectrum of Jewish Christianity.
In the middle of the second century, we find two apocalypses attributed to James. The First Apocalypse of James reveals a conversation between Jesus and James prior to Jesus crucifixion and another conversation between the risen Jesus and James prior to James’ martyrdom. In the Second Apocalypse of James, we find James on trial, reporting to his accusers about conversations he and Jesus had in the past, after which he is stoned.
There is a significant difference between the James of the First Apocalypse and that of the second. The former has a positive view of the god of the Hebrew Bible (HB). This god is the one who is unnamable and ineffable (1 Apoc. Jas. 24). Jesus comes from him and is his image (1 Apoc. Jas. 24, 25). In the Second Apocalypse, however, the god of the HB is viewed in a much more negative light:
“Your father [god of the HB], whom you consider rich, will grant that you inherit all that you see.…His inheritance, which he boasted about, claiming it was great, will prove to be insignificant. His gifts are not blessings and his promises are evil intrigues. You are not of <the children> of his compassion, but he does violence against you. He wants to do injustice against us. And he will have dominion for a period of time appointed for him” (2 Apoc. Jas. 52, 53).
In similar sentiment, we read:
The creator god [of the HB] cannot perceive the light of the supreme Father and he merely uses the light. “Because of this he [utters curses], and because of this he boasts, that he may not be rebuked. For this reason he is superior to those who are below, who were looked down upon, in order to be perfected in them. After he captured those who are from the Father, he seized them and shaped them to resemble himself and so they are with him” (2 Apoc. Jas. 54).
By contrast, the author of the Second Apocalypse views the supernal Father as the superior deity:
“But understand and know the Father who has compassion, who was not given an inheritance, whose inheritance is unlimited, with an unlimited number of days.” Rather, it is an eternal [day], and it is [light]” (2 Apoc. Jas. 52–53).
That the author of Second Apocalypse is polemicizing against the god of the Jews is clear. It would follow then that this author has appropriated the representative leader of the church for a more non-Jewish purpose; namely, the rejection of the Jewish god and, thus, all things promised by the this god (e.g., land, long earthly life). This is diametrically opposed to the James we find in the Epistle (who reveals no animosity against the god of the HB, seemingly view the Torah in high regard [1.25; 2.8–12], and still envisions the community meeting in a synagogue [Jas 2.2]) and is more extreme than the James we find in Acts (wherever one might place the James in Acts on the Jewish/Christian spectrum, he never rejects the god of the HB).
Aside from their disparate views on which god constitutes the true and supreme deity, these two works are homogenous on some fairly substantial points. Both works decry the flesh and look toward a time when their terrestrial bodies can be defenestrated (1 Apoc. Jas. 27; 32; 2 Apoc. Jas. 57; 63). In spite of the author of the First Apocalypse affirming and praising the Jewish god, he nevertheless joins the author of Second Apocalypse in condemning the terrestrial as perishable, impure, and ignorant and anticipating the imperishable supernal life (1 Apoc. Jas. 28; 2 Apoc. Jas. 46; 60).
Thus, in the two apocalypses of James we find both continuity and discontinuity. The two James’ agree that the flesh is to be dispensed and they both condemn the terrestrial realm because of its inherent failures and both look forward to an eternal life of supernal bliss. However, James becomes schizophrenic when we look at his view of the Jewish god; the author of the First Apocalypse favors the Jewish god and never mentions the possible existence of another greater deity, while the author of the Second Apocalypse rescinds the authority of the Jewish god––claiming he only promised things that were perishable––and exalts the supernal god––who promises immortality. In other words, in the 1 Apocalypse of James we find a Jewish James, while in the 2 Apocalypse of James we find a non-Jewish James, who actually rejects the Jewish god. They perceive of their future in similar terms but perceive of their pasts in very oppositional ways.
Fourth Maccabees is a philosophical treatise intended to show how reason can overcome pain and adversity (chs. 1–3). By enduring through adversities––as in the case of the martyrs in 4 Maccabees––God rewards such an individual with apotheosis. It is in this light that the author of 4 Maccabees tells the story of the martyrdom of Eleazar, the priest, and the mother and her seven sons. Throughout the tortures and coaxing of Antiochus and the torturers, none of the martyrs succumbed to the pain and the desire for “instant deliverance” (15.3). In so doing, they rejoiced in their postmortem hope of immortality (see 7.18–19; 9.8–9, 21–22; 10.15; 14.5; 15.3 16.13, 25; 17.5, 11–12; 18.3).
But the deaths of the martyrs represent more than their own immortality, their deaths were also viewed as vicarious sacrifices, providing forgiveness of sins for the nation and purifying the land from the tyrant (i.e., Antiochus IV; 6.27–29; 17.20–22). Thus, the martyrs deaths were efficacious for both their own immortality and the deliverance of the nation from sin and impurity.
The martyrs are repeatedly compared to and encouraged to imitate past heroes who endured bravely through trials. The four most prevalent heroes are Abraham and Isaac (7.13–14; 13.8–12; 16.18–20; 18.11; cf. Gen 22 [Akedah]), Daniel (13.9; 16.3, 21; 18.12–13; cf. Dan 6), and the three youth in the furnace (13.9; 16.3, 21; 18.12–13; cf. Dan 3). These past heroes are consistently evoked as those who courageously and willingly offered their lives but they are never evoked as paradigms as those who died as an expiation for sins or the deliverance of a nation from oppressive powers.
While some argue that expiatory value is attached to the Akedah in 4 Maccabees, I am not convinced. For one, the two passages in 4 Maccabees where the expiatory nature of the martyrs’ sacrifices is evinced (6.27–29; 17.20–22) no allusion to the Akedah appears. The allusions to these past heroes are always evoked in context courage, willingness, and immortality. The author of 4 Maccabees has, therefore, given no indication that he is reading these paradigmatic stories in any other way.
I am also not convinced by the arguments that state that the expiatory nature of the Akedah is implicit in that it is ambiguous whether Isaac lived or was sacrificed (cf. 13.8–12; 18.11) and (thus) by comparing Isaac to the martyrs’, the conclusion that Isaac’s death was vicarious would naturally follow. Concerning the latter, this argument conflicts with the author’s habitual reflections of the martyrs’ being encouraged to behave like their ancestral heroes. In other words, the ancestral heroes are always presented as paradigms for the martyrs’, not vice versa. Concerning the former argument, it would appear that the author of 4 Maccabees is dealing with the obvious tension between the martyrs and their heroes, in that while the martyrs’ die, their heroes, whom they emulate, are delivered prior to their deaths. Because of this, the author of 4 Maccabees emphasizes the areas in which they are similar (e.g., bravery, willingness, rational) but stops short of creating a new Akedah tradition in which Isaac is actually sacrificed but also does not say that the sacrifice was stopped. Thus, it is difficult to even say that the author implies that Isaac died on the altar. The most that can be said is that the author of 4 Maccabees has refrained from explicitly stating how the offering of Isaac ended and, thus, has created an ambiguity, which alleviates the inherent tension in the comparisons that are made between the Akedah and the Maccabean martyrs.
Although the Akedah fails to be persuasive, both the Old Greek and the Theodotion versions of the three youth contain additional material that relates to our conversation about vicarious sacrifices (LXX Dan 3.22–96). Of particular interest is the first prayer made by Azarias, one of the three youth.
While this addition is primarily about God’s deliverance (cf. LXX Dan 3.95–96), Azarias’ speech reveals that the imminent (although never completed) death of the three youth would have been viewed as a meritorious sacrifice, efficacious for the nation. Azarias begins by praising God, then confesses the sins of the nation, and acknowledges the justness of God’s judgment. He then pleads to God not to forget his covenant, which he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (vv. 34–35). After they acknowledge that there is no burnt offerings or sacrifices in the land, they ask God:
But rather with a broken life and a humbled spirit may we be accepted, as though it were with whole burnt offering or rams and bulls and with tens of thousands of fat lambs; thus let our sacrifice come before you today… (vv. 39–40)
Following this, Azarias asks God to deliver them (v. 43). This is an odd request when he just finished asking God to accept their sacrifice. Thus, perhaps Azarias is requesting a postmortem deliverance. Nevertheless, Azarais views their deaths as something that should deserve merit. In this case, the merit is expiation of national sins; they would serve as vicarious sacrifices for the sins of the nation. With the nation being purified from their sins via the sacrifice of the three youth, their hope seems to be that God will deliver the nation from exile and oppression (vv. 40–45). (There does not appear to be any appeal to a hope of future immortality.)
Assuming that this tradition preserved in these Greek translations predates 4 Maccabees (first half of the first c.–early second c.)––which I think is a safe assumption––it is interesting that the author of 4 Maccabees does not appeal to this tradition when he is ascribing expiatory value to the martyrs deaths (cf. 6.27–29; 17.20–22). Perhaps this silence suggests that the author was unaware of this tradition. Or perhaps the author did not like these additions to the Hebrew/Aramaic texts and chose to ignore them altogether. Nevertheless, I find it fascinating that there is yet another martyrology that ascribes nationalistic merit to the (would-be) deaths of the martyrs’. Perhaps, in our examinations of 4 Maccabees, if we are looking for ancient heroes whose deaths exhibited merit, we should look to the three youth. In the end, though, I think this would be about as tenuous as looking for expiatory value in the Akedah as it is presented in 4 Maccabees; the author simply does not make this connection.