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Five Influential Primary Sources

July 24, 2009

I’ve been meaning to respond to Ken Brown’s tagging of me pertaining to Kevin Sculls’ meme asking for the five primary sources that have most influenced your reading of the Bible

Here are Kevin’s rules:

  1. List the 5 primary sources that have most affected your scholarship, thoughts about antiquity, and/or understanding of the NT/OT.
  2. Books from the Bible are off limits unless you really want to list one, I certainly will not chastise you for it.
  3. Finally, choose individual works if you can.  This will be more interesting than listing the entire corpus of Cicero as one of your choices.

5. Dead Sea Scrolls/Rabbinic Material – OK, I’m not sure I could have a bigger cheat than to group these two sources together, but it’s not like someone is going to read one parable that has rabbinic parallels or one thought from the DSS that is paralleled in the NT, or a Shammai/Hillel argument, and suddenly have a paradigm shift. It is the build up of reading many of these texts, and when one starts to become familiar with the thought world of one group from the Second Temple period, and the early rabbis from the post 70 destruction, they begin to see very quickly that the religious issues that the authors of the NT dealt with were not sui generis and foreign to Judaism, but took place within a definite context that made sense religiously to the Judeans and Galileans of the day. There is simply no shortcut to this from one text that I know of (I could be wrong but I doubt it). This may be hard to believe for those that think God wrote the Bible to them, but it really had meaning and value to the first hearers and readers: even Revelation!

4. ANE Creation Myths – Valuable for disabusing one of the notion that Genesis is a modern science textbook, and recognizing the cosmology of the ancient Hebrews. For the sake of rule number three above which I have already violated most grievously I’ll suggest Enuma Elish (but read the others!).

3. Ba’al Cycle – Once you realize Baal’s function as a god and the ancient social reality of the Israelites you can begin to see why Baal worship was such a problem and why the ancient authors chose to express their beliefs about YHWH in the manner they did.

2. Jubilees – As with the other sources above Jubilees is valuable for following the development of the Israelite religion. Jubilees theology and deterministic God very easily lets one see just how much of a “Scandal” Jesus’ and Paul’s claims would have been to persons inculcated into such a Judaism.

1. 1 Enoch – What else did you think I was going to write? George Nickelsburg put it best: “1 Enoch hovers like a shadow over the gospels.” I would also suggest many other books of the NT as well. Simply put: I don’t know any way to make sense of some parts of the NT other than to read through the lens of 1 Enoch.

What I like about my list is that it covers what I would call the trajectory and “ramping up” of Israelite religion into the NT period, and makes sense of some of the biblical interpretations in the NT that are simply assumed by the authors. For that development in my own thinking I have to thank Jim Scott who took me on that journey along with some texts by James Kugel.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. July 24, 2009 11:48 am

    I was wondering if you could and would recommend a few titles that treat 1 Enoch. You may have posted on this elsewhere and I am just too lazy to search right now, but I would appreciate your recommendations. I just received Early Judaism: Texts and Documents on Faith and Piety by Nickelsburg and Stone, but the treatment of 1 Enoch is necessarily short. I have a number of articles, but wanted something book-length. Thanks!

    • July 29, 2009 8:10 am

      Nickelsburg and VanderKam’s new translation has a good basic intro and the entire text of 1 Enoch, which is important once you gain a basic understanding to actually read the text, not just about the text. You can find this book in paperback real cheap. great resource.

      After that it is Nickelsburg’s Hermeneia commentary. Indispensable. Hardback and more expensive.

      Both are published by Fortress Press.

  2. July 27, 2009 4:15 am

    Likewise, could you give one or two titles on the Jubilees, Ba’al Cycle and ANE Creation myths?

    • July 29, 2009 8:12 am

      VanderKam’s “The Book of Jubilees” is short and a great resource, though quite pricey for a thin paperback book.

      Benjamin and Matthews’ “Old Testament Parallels” gives a little background material and the ancient primary texts along with their OT parallels. Not only beneficial for creation stories and Ba’al cycle but for other OT literature as well. Paperback and affordable.


  1. Final Summary: 5 Most Influential Primary Sources « Paul of Tarsus

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