Thursday, June 18, 2009

Early Jewish Prayers in Christian Worship and Identity

Pieter W. van der Horst and Judith H. Newman. Early Jewish Prayers in Greek. Commentaries on Early Jewish Literature. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008. Pp. xvi + 298. ISBN 978-3-11-020503-9. $118.00 cloth.

Here is an excerpt of a book review I am writing for a journal:

The introduction discusses the nature and origin of the Apostolic Constitutions (AC); in which van der Horst argues for a provenance in Syria around 380 C.E. His textual criticism discussion follows closely the work of Marcel Metzger. The history of the research into the Jewish origin and nature of these Christian prayers in AC 7.33-38 focuses on the foundational maximalist work of Kolher, Bousset, and Goodenough who argue that the prayers were Jewish in orientation with rather easily recognizable Christian interpolations. This was the predominant view until the minimalist work of Fiensy who called into question some of the methodological approaches of the previous group of scholars, especially with regard to the ease of identifying Christian interpolations. Fiensy concludes, however, that the prayers represent Jewish synagogal prayers which follow contours of Rabbinic thought at the beginning of the fourth century (22). The reason for including the Jewish prayers with Christian interpolations in AC, argues van der Horst, is that the Christians in Antioch were attracted to Judaism and this was one way in which leadership could keep Christians from thinking they needed to attend the synagogue on the Sabbath to pray prayers like the Seven Benedictions (25). The next section of the introduction sets forth the task of the commentary. It will follow Fiensy’s general approach with contextually determined modifications to Fiensy’s conclusions; while focusing only on “Jewish prayers that have been christianized” (28). Thus, this commentary will not consider AC 8.6.5-8. Van der Horst’s translation will differentiate between Jewish redactional layers, Christian interpolations, while leaving unmarked those sections of text in which it is unclear if they are Jewish or Christian in origin. The introduction concludes with a useful bibliography that contains multiple entries 2007.

What is most interesting is thinking through the traditional approach to the 'parting of the ways' with regard to Jewish and Christian identity. It appears that at least in Antioch the Christians were still associating and being drawn to Judaism - possibly still not seeing significant differences between these movements with regard to their social identity. It furthermore appears that its leaders, like John Chrysostom's eight anti-Jewish homilies that were given in 386/7 indicates that the leadership of the church did not see thinks in a similar fashion. Van der Horst quotes Marcel Simon, "the anti-Jewish bias of official ecclesiastical circles was counterbalanced by equally marked pro-Jewish sentiments among the laity and among some of the clergy, too. Or rather, it is the existence of the pro-Jewish sentiments among the laity that is the real explanation of Christian anti-Semitism" (24).

Further reference:
Bousset, Wilhelm. Eine jüdische Gebetssammlung im siebenten Buch der apostolischen Konstitutionen. 1916.

Fiensy, David A. Prayers Alleged to Be Jewish: An Examination of the Constitutiones Apostolorum. Brown Judaic studies, no. 65. Chico, Calif: Scholars Press, 1985.

Goodenough, Erwin Ramsdell. By Light, Light; The Mystic Gospel of Hellenistic Judaism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1935.

Kohler, Kaufmann. "The Origin and Composition of the Eighteen Benedictions with a Translation of the Corresponding Essene Prayers in the Apostolic Constitutions". HUCA 1 (1924): 387-425.

Metzger, Marcel. Les constitutions apostoliques ; éditeur sci. et trad. Marcel Metzger. Sources Chrétiennes, 320. Paris: Ed. du Cerf, 1985.

Simon, Marcel. Verus Israel: A Study of the Relations between Christians and Jews in the Roman Empire, 135-425. Oxford: Published for the Littman Library by Oxford University Press, 1986.

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