Inasmuch as the study of early Christianity and rabbinic Judaism can be considered within the wider context of the history of biblical interpretation, Hebrew Bible scholars will find interest in the many issues discussed in this book.
The two essays contained in the book originally were lectures delivered by distinguished New Testament scholars Martin Hengel and C. K. Barrett at the first two annual colloquia of the New Testament Department at Fuller Theological Seminary in 1997 and 1998. Hengel’s contribution, “Early Christianity as a Jewish-Messianic, Universalistic Movement,” advances his thesis that “Christianity grew entirely out of Jewish soil” (p. 1, Hengel’s italics), advocates the use of the New Testament as a source for the study of ancient Judaism, and touches on the issue of the final separation of Judaism and Christianity. Barrett’s chapter, “Paul: Councils and Controversies,” discusses the so-called Apostolic Council of Acts 15 and Galatians 2, attempting to reconstruct the history behind these varying accounts and analyzing the theological implications involved in these conflicts. A final chapter, assembled by the book’s editor, Donald A. Hagner, summarizes the discussions following the lectures, noting questions from Fuller faculty respondents and the floor as well as responses from the lecturers. There is also a short annotated bibliography of works mentioned in the lectures and related to the issues discussed, and an index of ancient sources to which the text refers.
Hengel’s essay examplifies his knowledge of the sources and his familiarity with contemporary scholarship, as well as his position within the field. In general, his conclusions are sound and well argued, though there are, of course, points throughout with which some might disagree. For instance, his suggestion that Christianity is entirely a product of Judaism is sure to raise objections from the scholarly community, as is noted in the conclusion. His insistence that the New Testament be included among the sources for our understanding of early Judaism is well founded and, as he points out, is echoed by many Jewish scholars. Hengel rightly characterizes early Christianity and rabbinic Judaism as siblings developing from a common background rather than a more traditional mother-daughter model (although he is not consistent with this; compare pp. 34 and 36). According to his understanding, putting an exact date on the final break is difficult since it is the result of a gradual process of generational estrangement. However, by the second or third generation of Christians, the separation becomes more or less final. Still, by pointing out the problems those outside Judaism and Christianity had defining the latter in distinction from the former, he correctly notes that the differences were not always clear in later periods.
The relationship between the accounts of Acts 15 and Galatians 2 is a longstanding crux. Barrett offers a well reasoned reconstruction of the events behind these accounts, contending that while they describe the same event, Luke has conflated a second meeting, which Paul did not attend, into his story of the first. It is this second council that produced the Decree, which Luke wrongly attributes to the meeting attended by Paul. Barrett’s discernment of the two-fold opposition against Paul (false teachers and fellow Jewish Christians who were zealous for the Law) is insightful and convincingly demonstrated by the sources. He also provides an enlightening discussion of the theological issues involved in these councils and how they shaped the development of Christianity. By focusing on this specific issue, Barrett has illuminated the nature of the conflicts within the early church, as well as the presence and influence of forms of Jewish Christianity in the first century.
The annotated bibliography is a wonderful addition as it will help facilitate further investigation of these topics. For the most part, the selection is well chosen, though there are important gaps. Most striking is the absence of any works by E. P. Sanders, Geza Vermes, David Flusser, James Parkes, or Jacob Neusner. The additions of these studies would make this bibliography a truly useful tool for initiating a study of the relationship between early Christianity and rabbinic Judaism.
In all, the book is well worth reading. Since it maintains the feel and style of the lectures, it is highly accessible and readable. It is particularly well suited for those who do not have an extensive background in early Jewish-Christian relations and wish to become acquainted with some of the major issues. Hagner informs us that the annual Fuller colloquium is intended to “reawaken an enthusiasm for academic study of the New Testament” (p. vii). Lectures such as these will indeed accomplish this task and Hagner and the Fuller faculty have provided a service by making them available to the public.