Hellenistic Commentary to the New Testament

Article excerpt

Hellenistic Commentary to the New Testament. Edited by M. Eugene Boring, Klaus Berger and Carsten Colpe. Nashville: Abingdon, 1995, 633 pp., $69.95.

Some commentaries provide little more than the author's opinions vis-d-vis those of other authors, rendering such works of little value for those outside their particular theological traditions. Most users of commentaries already read the Bible and (one hopes) can read texts in context, trace themes through Biblical books, and so forth. Where most readers find themselves more dependent on other sources is in the relatively unfamiliar terrain of ancient language and culture. Especially where such readers are NT students, they will find the Hellenistic Commentary to the New Testament an invaluable tool.

One important advantage of this commentary is that it includes a breadth of sources that most NT scholars, even those proficient in Greco-Roman antiquity in general, have not read. While many NT scholars read Apuleius, Aristotle, Diogenes Laertius or Epictetus, for example, how many read what remains of Alciphron, Apollodorus, Callimachus or Eunapius?

Pace Crossan et al., the NT clearly arose in a distinctively Jewish environment. Nevertheless, Judaism in the time of Jesus and the apostles was part of the larger Greco-Roman culture and even the least Hellenistic streams of early Jewish thought (e.g. the Dead Sea scrolls or 1 Enoch, versus Josephus, Aristeas or Philo) bear some relation to the larger Mediterranean world of which they are a part. Those accustomed to the older paradigm (Greco-Roman versus Jewish) might expect this work to include little Jewish material, but while that is not its central focus, the commentary does include significant Jewish material.

An inevitable weakness of the commentary's use of sources is the question of where to stop. Scholars will inevitably disagree as to which texts are most relevant (especially in the gospels, I would have preferred more Jewish sources than appear). Comparing my own research file of perhaps 80,000 index cards, I find hundreds of sources that the commentators could have reproduced and did not (for which those frightened by the already high price of the book might be grateful), sources that in many cases I think illumine the text more fruitfully than sources they have reproduced. At the same time, I find in this volume many sources that I do not already have and I appreciate the book providing not only the citations but the translations (generally with sufficient context for basic comparisons), which I can peruse and evaluate directly.

Another possible weakness of the work is its focus on texts rather than background in general, which limits other available sources of background; an excavation report would hardly be appropriate in such a volume. This weakness stems not from a lack of sensitivity to other sources, however, but from the limitation of the chosen genre, a limitation that is more than matched by the breadth of sources it allows the editors to provide. …