Davies and Canon, Afterlife, Internal Jesus (Who Is Hungry)

I finished Philip Davies’ Scribes and Schools yesterday. 

My impression of his argument is that he believes the canon of the Hebrew Bible was roughly determined in the Hasmonean Period, when Israel was eager to establish a national identity against the Hellenizers, who wanted the Jews to absorb Greek culture.  For Davies, the biblical ideas of a monarch and Israelite dominance over foreign aggressors would especially resonate in the time of the Hasmoneans, after the Maccabees had defended their culture from Antiochus Epiphanes, achieved independence for their nation, and set up a priest-king as ruler.  Davies acknowledges that there was a Jewish culture before the Hasmoneans rose to power, for the Maccabees were obviously fighting for certain beliefs and customs in their battles against Antiochus; he also doesn’t assume that the biblical books originated during the Hasmonean Period, for he dates the Torah to the Persian Period, when the Jews entered the “Promised Land,” established a temple state, and had to distinguish themselves from the people already in the land, issues that the Torah highlights.  But Davies seems to think that the Hasmonean Period was the time when Jews consciously turned their focus on their national culture and the scribal class made decisions about which books to emphasize and preserve.  They had to at that time, for Hellenizers were challenging Jewish culture with an alternative way of doing things!  The Jews had to sit down and decide what their culture actually was and would be. 

At the same time, not everything was set in stone, for some even after the Hasmonean Period believed that Ben Sira was inspired.  Yet, Josephus acts as if the Jews had a canon of twenty-two books in his day.  And, although Davies acknowledges the possibility that Jubilees may have been authoritative in certain circles of Judaism, his tendency seems to be to treat canon as somewhat official after the time of the Hasmoneans.  He disputes those who argue that the Qumran Temple Scroll was intended to replace the Torah, for example, seeing it as something like Tatian’s Diatessaron, an attempt to harmonize the four Gospels.  The implication is that the Jews viewed the Torah as canon, so their aim was to interpret and harmonize it, not to replace it.  Davies also doesn’t associate the rabbinic disputes as to which books defile the hands (i.e., are inspired) with an attempt to determine their canonicity.  For him, canonicity was roughly determined centuries before, during the Hasmonean Period.

This is my understanding of Davies’ position.  I may be inaccurate in some areas, for scholars are nuanced, and it’s quite easy for me to miss what they’re getting at.

I thought about the issue of the afterlife, for some reason.  In my eyes, the lack of a rigorous conception of the afterlife in the Hebrew Bible has been an indication that it’s largely pre-exilic, since the nations of the ancient Near East (except for Egypt) also lacked a rigorous conception of the afterlife: people went to Sheol, and that was it!  Here, the Hebrew Bible mirrors its ancient Near Eastern neighbors before Israel’s exile, meaning we should understand it against the backdrop of Akkadian and Ugaritic sources rather than Greek ones.  Some have suggested that the Jews got the idea of resurrection from the Persians.  If that’s the case, then it’s odd that the Torah wouldn’t explicitly mention it, if (as Davies argues) the Persian Period was when it was composed.

At the same time, there were die-hards against an afterlife even in the Hellenistic Period.  Jesus Ben Sira was one of them.  The Book of Ecclesiastes was another one, if it dates to the Hellenistic Period.  This had puzzled me whenever I’ve sought to incorporate things into a scheme of progressive revelation, in which God reveals to his people a conception of the afterlife when he feels they are ready.  A concept of the afterlife existed in the Hellenistic Period, and prominent Jewish people rejected it!  Qoheleth was still puzzled about why life is so short and futile, even though there was a concept in his day that could have solved his dilemma—one that claimed there was life beyond the grave!  Maybe it took a while for God’s people to become “ready” for that idea. 

Now for Henri Crouzel’s Origen.  As I read Crouzel yesterday, I was reminded of something a friend once told me.  He was an older gentleman, and I tutored him to help him read better.  He said that his pastor told him there’s a Jesus inside of every Christian, and that Jesus gets hungry, so we need to feed him by reading the Bible, going to church, etc.  Origen was saying something similar.  It’s an odd concept.  I mean, Jesus is in heaven, so how’s he inside of every Christian?  Yet, the Bible talks a lot about “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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