Saturday, August 14, 2010

Review of Early Jewish Prayers in Greek

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.

Jewish prayers in Greek are an oft neglected group of liturgical texts that provide insight into Diaspora Judaism, relations between Judaism and Christianity, and how biblical material was contextualized and interpreted within religious communities. This present volume, which is part of the Commentaries on Early Jewish Literature series, offers commentary and introduction into a specific set of literary and non-literary artifacts – Jewish prayers which are written in Greek. The work is co-authored with Pieter W. van der Horst, Professor Emeritus of New Testament, early Christian literature, and the Jewish and Hellenistic World of early Christianity at Utrecht University, NL. He comments on the Apostolic Constitutions (AC), Pap. Egerton 5, Pap. Fouad 203, and tombstone inscriptions from Rheneia. Judith H. Newman, Professor of Old Testament and early Judaism at the University of Toronto, Canada; comments on the Prayer of Manasseh, the Prayer of Azariah, the Prayer of Jacob, and the Prayer of Joseph, which is included as a way to contextualize the Prayer of Jacob (p. 250). This publication continues the high-quality work that one has come to expect from these careful scholars. They provide insightful commentary, clearly-developed argumentation, and compelling historical judgments into the role of these ancient Jewish prayer texts in the lives of diverse religious communities.

Horst and Newman provide densely packed introductions for each of the prayers, presenting issues related to the reception and interpretation of each prayer. One example will have to suffice for this brief review. Horst discusses the nature and origin of AC arguing for a provenance in Syria around 380 C.E. His textual criticism discussion follows 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. They 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 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 Horst, is that the Christians in Antioch were attracted to Judaism and this was one way in which church leaders could keep Christians from thinking they needed to attend the synagogue on the Sabbath in order to pray prayers like the Seven Benedictions (25). Though this conclusion might be contested, Horst has identified a significant issue relating to the way in which ‘the parting of the ways’ is often presented without sufficient attention being given to differences in each particular context. His commentary on AC 7.33-38 offers a generally convincing redaction-critical reading, which finds much of this material sourced in the Seven Benedictions with added content from other aspects of “the Sabbath morning service” (p. 89).

Horst and Newman, however, do approach their commentary from somewhat different perspectives. Horst’s commentary often has the feel of a traditional commentary, especially in his discussions of sources, syntax, and conceptual parallels. Newman’s exegesis is informed by contemporary theoretical and literary perspectives that support her exegetical choices into these fragmentary pieces of discourse. This results in a slight lack of coherence within the commentary proper. That minor quibble aside, this volume provides reliable commentary and up-to-date bibliography for liturgical works that are sometimes overlooked in discussions of Jewish identity and early Christian origins and should be included among the resources of scholars working in these areas of research.

This is a revised version of a review that was published originally as:
Review of Pieter W. Van der Horst and Judith H. Newman, Early Jewish Prayers in Greek. (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2008), Bulletin for Biblical Research, volume 19, no. 4 (2009): 601-2.

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