Saturday, July 29, 2006

Dictionary of Paul and His Letters: A Brief Review

Gerald F. Hawthorne et al., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ( Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 453.

This review will be brief not because I can't think of a great deal to say, on the contrary, because I can think of too much. With over 100 contributors and some 200 articles, a truly substantiative review would require a remarkably long engagement. Contributors vary broadly, and include such notables as Ben Witherington III, James D G Dunn, Larry Hurtado, F F Bruce, and many more.

The volume is packed with information, I'd emphatically reccommend people not follow my lead in reading it cover to cover. While there is still much to be learned engaging it in that fashion, it's simply too much to take in, and much of it ends up being forgotten. Here's a look at a section from the first article, Abraham:

Four major themes are found in these texts. First, the stress on Abraham as a tenacious monotheist, often portrayed as the first of his kind, is prevalent in texts from both Palestine and the Diaspora from 200 b.c. to a.d. 200 (Jub. 11:16–17; 12:1–5, 16–21; 20:6–9; Pseudo-Philo Bib. Ant. 6:4; Josephus Ant. 1.7.1 §§154–57; Philo Abr. 68–71, 88; Apoc. Abr. 1–8). Second, God establishes a covenant with Abraham through which his descendants are blessed (Jub. 15:9–10; Pseudo-Philo Bib. Ant. 7:4; 1QapGen 21:8–14) and are shown compassion (Pseudo-Philo Bib. Ant. 30:7; Pss. Sol. 9:8–11; T. Levi 15:4; As. Mos. 3:8–9). However, sometimes one must obey the stipulations of the covenant in order to remain within it (Jub. 15:26–27). Eventually other nations would be blessed as well (Sir 44:21). Third, Abraham’s character is extolled. He is righteous (T. Abr. 1:1A), hospitable (T. Abr. 1:1–3A; Philo Abr. 107–110; Josephus Ant. 1.11.2 §196) and virtuous (Josephus Ant. 1.7.1 §154; Philo Abr. 68). He is faithful (Sir 44:20; 1 Macc 2:52; Jub. 17:17–18), he loves God (Jub. 17:18) and is even called the friend of God (CD 3:2–4). Josephus maintains that Abraham and his seed are rewarded because of the patriarch’s virtue and piety (Ant. 1.13.4 §234). Fourth, Abraham lived according to the Mosaic Law (Jub. 15:1–2; 16:20; Sir 44:20) or the natural/philosophical law (Philo Abr. 3–6). Abraham is alive (4 Macc 7:19; 16:25; T. Levi 18:14; T. Jud. 25:1; T. Benj. 10:6) and praises those who die for keeping the Law (4 Macc 13:13–18). Abraham established the covenant by being circumcised (Sir 44:20). Additionally, Abraham is noted for his powers of intercession (T. Abr. 18:10–11A) and his ascension to the heavens where he receives revelation (Pseudo-Philo Bib. Ant. 18:5; T. Abr. 10–14; Apoc. Abr. 15:4–30).


As one can see, this is clearly not light reading! However, the non-specialist (the dilletante exegete, as it were) has no need to be intimidated. While an academic book, it nonetheless offers much to the amateur, or even the beginner.

Each article is prefaced with an outline of its contents, and succeeded by a substantial bibliography including both works cited, and related works.

My only real caveat is that, like so many others, the articles tend to speak of the NPP in terms restricted to Wright, Dunn and Sanders. While they are, of course, the most prolific proponents, and one would be loathe to disregard them, it nonetheless grows wearisome to hear the same three names, and only the same three names, related to the NPP. Some of this can, I think, be attributed to the date of the book (1993), but it's a trend that continues unabated, so it certainly can't all be blamed on that.

This minor quibble aside, this is an excellent resource that belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in Paul and his epistles.

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