The World of Jesus and the Early Church: Identity and Interpretation in Early Communities of Faith

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THE WORLD Of JESUS AND THE EARLY CHURCH: IDENTITY AND INTERPRETATION IN EARLY COMMUNITIES OF FAITH. Edited by Craig A. Evans. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2011. Pp. xvi + 257. $29.95.

The book brings together 13 outstanding scholars to explore recent interpretations of (a) how early Jewish and Christian communities of faith functioned, how they defined themselves, and (b) how they interpreted their sacred scriptures. Part One examines, for instance, Qumran and sectarian communities (John J. Collins, Torleif Elgvin, and Dorothy Peters) and house churches in the Roman world (Margaret MacDonald). The six chapters that make up Part Two begin with the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) and the interpretation of Scripture (George Brooke) and end with lessons about dating manuscripts to be drawn from the bold claims and wishful thinking triggered by Papyrus Egerton 2 (Paul Foster)--"bad history never makes for good faith" (209).

The contributors introduce evidence and arguments coming from archeological, sociological, economic, ritual, and textual research and discoveries. In fresh and insightful ways this collaborative work draws readers into the world of Jewish and early Christian communities. It has emerged from three conferences, one held at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, and two held at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. One of the contributors teaches at the University of the Holy Land, three in the UK (one at the University of Manchester and two at the University of Edinburgh), and nine at universities, colleges, or seminaries in North America.

In the opening chapter ("The Site of Qumran and the Sectarian Communities of the Dead Sea Scrolls"), Collins warns against tying too closely the site of Qumran to any interpretation of the DSS. Even though Qumran was a sectarian settlement at the time of Jesus, too many uncertainties remain about relentlessly connecting the DSS to that site. In the light of the Bible and the DSS, Elgvin compares and contrasts the scriptural exegesis of Hebrews with the visionary, apocalyptic Book of Revelation: "While Revelation has access to heavenly liturgies and revelations on how God's plan for history and his people is unveiled in the present and the future, Hebrews has its interest in the central liturgical event in the heavenly temple, the ultimate high-priestly sacrifice of Christ prefigured by the Yom Kippur sacrifices" (36). …