Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.03.45

Robert A. Kraft, Exploring the Scripturesque: Jewish Texts and Their Christian Contexts. Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism, 137.   Leiden/Boston:  Brill, 2009.  Pp. ix, 313.  ISBN $147.00.  $9789004170100.  

Reviewed by David Lincicum, Mansfield College, University of Oxford (


Electronic versions of these essays available on Kraft’s homepage.

In this collection of previously published essays, Kraft presents a series of his most significant contributions to the methodological problems and possibilities of investigating Jewish texts that were transmitted, preserved, read and sometimes interpolated by Christian tradents. Part One examines ‘general context and methodology’ in five essays; the remainder of the book is devoted to specific studies of some texts from the so-called ‘pseudepigrapha’ (though Kraft wants to dispute the usefulness of the term), as well as particular problems in the Dialogue of Timothy and Aquila, Pliny the Elder, Philo of Alexandria and Flavius Josephus.

The first two chapters (‘The Pseudepigrapha in Christianity’ and ‘The Pseudepigrapha and Christianity, Revisited’) comprise, in Kraft’s words, ‘the heart and backbone of this collection’. These essays have already exercised an important influence on the study of pseudepigraphical texts,1 and one hopes their republication here will continue this impact. The question of whether Old Testament pseudepigrapha are Christian or Jewish in origin has long been a vexing one, though many have simply assumed unquestioningly that texts without overt Christian elements should be considered Jewish. Kraft wishes to reverse this assumption by beginning with the fact that the vast majority of the manuscript tradition from this material has been preserved in Christian contexts; thus ‘the Christianity of it is the given, it is the setting, it is the starting point for delving more deeply into this literature to determine what, if anything, may be safely identified as originally Jewish’ (32). Kraft expertly characterizes the complications of studying these texts, and his problematizing methodological remarks should be heeded. The following two chapters argue that deliberate Christian alteration of Greek Jewish Scripture in transmission is remarkably difficult to demonstrate (chapter 3), and that Christianity and Judaism in antiquity were not sufficiently monolithic for us to claim that their ways definitively parted before the fourth century (chapter 4). Chapter 5 reprises Krafts critical reviews of the standard editions of the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha by Sparks and by Charlesworth.

Part Two (‘Selected Specific Studies’) contains five essays on individual topics that are less programmatic in nature, though still notable for their close attention to detailed questions arising from the concerns of the first chapters. The difficulties posed in mostly theoretical form in the first essays are most concretely illustrated in Kraft’s study of the ‘recensional problem’ in the Testament of Abraham. There he demonstrates that the question of varying recensions is closely bound up with one’s view of the hypothetical origins of the book, and he argues that the ways in which these recensions should be viewed are considerably more complicated than sometimes thought (note the chart on p. 117). A useful survey of ‘Ezra materials in Judaism and Christianity’ (chapter 7) is followed by an evaluation of 5 Ezra which cautiously argues that this little work may be an example of Christian re-use of an originally Jewish text (chapter 8). Two less polished, though not uninteresting, chapters follow, previously published only in electronic form. The first suggests that the manuscript tradition of the Testaments of the 12 Patriarchs may contain an anti-Enoch bias that grows over time (chapter 9). The second highlights some possible traces of Jewish texts and ideas in the Christian Dialogue of Timothy and Aquila, though the essay comprises an exhortation to further research more than a statement of definitive conclusions (chapter 10).

In Part Three (‘Some Related Studies’), the scope of the book widens to include Pliny the Elder, Philo of Alexandria, and Flavius Josephus. These essays are not strictly related to the question of the Christian preservation of Jewish manuscripts, though all the texts examined are of interest to those considering the intersection of Judaism and Christianity in antiquity. Kraft suggests that Pliny’s report on Essenes, often scrutinized for the light it might shed on the nature of the community responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls, yields only meager gains: Pliny may not even have conceived of the Essenes as Jewish, and his report is so muddled that it is best not to rely too heavily on it for specific information about the Qumran community (although one notes a minor discrepancy in this regard between the text of p. 207 and note 19). Three chapters on Philo of Alexandria follow. The first argues, briefly and not altogether convincingly, that Philo wanted to downplay the importance of Seth in light of rival interpretations (chapter 12a) and, more convincingly, that Philo and certain of his near contemporaries display neither unbounded enthusiasm for glorifying the figure of Enoch, nor suspicious criticism of him as a threat (chapter 12b). In ‘Philo’s Treatment of the Number Seven in On Creation,’ Kraft provides a useful comparison of the significance of the number seven in both Philo’s treatises De Opificio and Legum Allegoria, though ultimately the conclusions he draws from this are necessarily tentative (chapter 13). The final two chapters suggest together that the Sabbath crisis in Alexandria involving Tiberius Julius Alexander, Philo’s nephew, is reflected in the writings of both Philo (chapter 14) and Josephus (chapter 15). In the case of Philo, this is seen in his shifting stance toward the biblical figure of Joseph, with all the overtones of Egyptian political power associated with him. Should the more negative portraits of Joseph be taken to reflect Philo’s disillusionment with his nephew’s actions as a similar ruler in Egypt? And should these shifting stances therefore spur us to re-date Philonic treatises with reference to one another? These can only remain tentative suggestions – and to his credit, Kraft presents them as such. The reasons Kraft suggests for Josephus’s ambivalence are much more persuasive, but the difficulties of finding convincing historical referents to the allegorical strategies Philo pursues renders any such attempts provisional at best.

The volume ends with a very brief conclusion of one and a half pages, matching the two and a half page introduction. The excellence of these studies aside, one might have wished for a more substantial framework which indicated in broad terms the context, purpose and further possibilities for these essays. Other minor questions about the collection might be raised. Whether ‘scripturesque’ is an equally suitable designation for all the texts under consideration is questionable. Were the writings of Philo or Josephus ever considered scriptural? Or the Dialogue of Timothy and Aquila? The ‘comprehensive index’ that replaces the more traditional author, subject and source indices is interesting, but a bit unwieldy. Perhaps more significantly, a slightly wider scope might have provided the opportunity to gather together more of Kraft’s essays in a collection of kleine Schriften.2

Such quibbles aside, in these collected essays Kraft provides a model for careful, patient reflection on the problems posed by the texts that survive from the earliest period of Jewish and Christian encounter. The studies are relentlessly focused on the primary texts themselves, reframing old questions in light of fresh reflection on the rugged edges of previous hypotheses. Specialists in both ancient Judaism and Christianity will find much to ponder in these chapters. In particular, the first two chapters especially should be required reading for all students of the Old Testament pseudepigrapha.


1.   Note, for example, James R. Davila, The Provenance of the Pseudepigrapha: Jewish, Christian, or Other? (JSJSup 105; Leiden: Brill, 2005).
2.   Other essays by Kraft that might have been included in a volume with slightly wider scope include the following: “Scripture and Canon in Jewish Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha,” “The DSS and the Apostolic Fathers, with some Observations on Other Early Christian Literature apart from the NT,” “Early Developments of the 'Two-Ways Tradition(s)' in Retrospect,” “The 'Textual Mechanics' of Early Jewish LXX/OG Papyri and Fragments,” “The Codex and Canon Consciousness,” “Daniel Outside the Traditional Jewish Canon: In the Footsteps of M. R. James,” “Reassessing the Impact of Barthélemy's Devanciers, Forty Years Later,” “Philo's Bible Revisited: the ‘Aberrant Texts’ and their Quotations of Moses,” “Para-Mania: Beside, Before, and Beyond Bible Studies”. The original publication details of these are available on Kraft’s homepage.

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