Ancient Judaism


Daniel Gurtner has written an especially important book that I will be recommending to my students for years to come. Let me explain why.

It is well known that the New Testament writers often draw heavily from the Old Testament. What is less often appreciated is the way that they also use ideas and traditions found only in ancient non-biblical Jewish works (often called “the Pseudepigrapha”). Many of these books were apparently widely read in Jesus’ day. In fact, before later councils set the official canon of Scripture, a few of these works were considered “scripture” and read alongside the biblical books. Given their influence, they are indispensable for understanding certain aspects of the New Testament books.

Take, for example, 1 Enoch. The work is explicitly quoted in the New Testament epistle of Jude:

It was of these also that Enoch in the seventh generation from Adam prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with his holy myriads, to execute judgment on all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness which they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”  (Jude 14-15)

Jude is here quoting from 1 Enoch 1:9, which speaks of the coming of the Lord God. What is interesting about this is that, in context, Jude seems to apply a passage about the coming of the Lord God to Jesus. In effect, Jude identifies Jesus as the divine kyrios (“Lord”). (On this, see Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, WBC [Waco: Word, 1983], 96). The point is underscored in verse 17 where Jesus is identified as “Lord” (kyrios): “But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Enoch also has important implications for the study of Paul’s letters, the Gospels–especially Matthew!–and other works such as 2 Peter and Revelation. Given its influence, it is little wonder Ethiopic Christians came to read it as Scripture.

Whenever I teach the New Testament and turn to books like 1 Enoch, students immediately see their significance. “Where can I learn more about books like 1 Enoch?,” they ask. In the past, I did not always have an ideal recommendation. Now I do. Daniel Gurtner has written the perfect introduction to these books.

While there are numerous other books written by contemporary scholars that look at non-biblical Jewish works, many are simply too cumbersome. The standard work has been the two volume set edited by James Charlesworth. In addition to being a bit dated, this work also includes many later texts that have less value for New Testament students. A one volume introduction that is both thorough and up-to-date yet also focused in scope has long been needed. Thanks to Gurtner, one is finally available.

A little about the author. Daniel Gurtner is one of the finest New Testament scholars working in the field today. I consider his published dissertation, The Torn Veil: Matthew’s Exposition of the Death of Jesus, SNTSMS 139 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007) to be one of the most careful and yet also insightful monographs on Matthew ever written. This is a difficult balance. When a scholar has a legitimate insight, he or she often tends to overstate its importance. Insightful scholars are not always as cautious as they should be. Conversely, when a scholar seeks to be careful, he or she often becomes unwilling to say anything new. Cautious scholars are great, but they can often be accused of writing much while saying little. Gurtner is the rare scholar who is both insightful and judicious.

It should also be said that Gurtner is also a recognized expert of the Second Temple period. With Loren Stuckenbruck, Gurtner is co-editor of the premiere resource, T&T Clark Encyclopedia of Second Temple Judaism. There is no better guide to the state of scholarship regarding Second Temple matters than this fine installment. You can read my glowing endorsement of it here. The only unfortunate thing about this outstanding two-volume work is its price tag – $430! (It is so indispensable for my own work that I had to bite the bullet, but, yikes!)

Gurtner’s new book, Introducing the Pseudepigrapha of Second Temple Judaism: Message, Context, and Significance (Baker Academic, 2020), brings together his vast knowledge in an accessible, affordable publication. (You can purchase it for only $35 by clicking the link here or the ones at either the top or bottom of this post.) There is simply no better place to begin than with Gurtner’s meticulously researched, balanced study.

Notably, Loren Stuckenbruck, Gurtner’s co-editor of the T&T Clark Encyclopedia of Judaism, writes a helpful forward. Anything written by Stuckenbruck is worth reading so it was great to see a word from him here.

From the Table of Contents, you can see the breadth and depth of this book, which covers not only apocalyptic works like 1 Enoch and 2 Baruch but also looks at other key texts, including various fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls.


Foreword by Loren T. Stuckenbruck
Section 1: Apocalypses
1. 1 Enoch
2. 4 Ezra
3. 2 Baruch
4. Apocalypse of Abraham
5. Sibylline Oracles 3-5, 11
6. Additional Writings: 2 Enoch, 3 Baruch, Apocalypse of Zephaniah, Testament of Abraham, and Apocalyptic Material in the Dead Sea Scrolls
Section 2: Testaments and Related Texts
7. Testament of Moses
8. Testament of Job
9. Aramaic Levi Document
10. Testament of Qahat
11. Visions of Amram
12. Additional Writings: Testament of Solomon, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, Testament of Naphtali (4Q215), and Other Testamentary Material in the Dead Sea Scrolls
Section 3: Legends and Expansions of Biblical Traditions
13. Jubilees
14. Biblical Antiquities
15. Genesis Apocryphon
16. Letter of Aristeas
17. Joseph and Aseneth
18. Additional Writings: Life of Adam and Eve (Greek), 4 Baruch, and Ezekiel the Tragedian
Section 4: Psalms, Wisdom Literature, and Prayers
19. Psalms 151-155
20. Psalms of Solomon
21. Sentences of Pseudo-Phocylides
22. Additional Writings: Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers, Prayer of Joseph, and Prayer of Nabonidus (4Q242)

In addition, I should mention that the endorsements from various scholars the book has received are very impressive. You can read them here.

What is especially helpful here is the way the Gurtner not only summarizes the various works, he also treats their “significance.” If you are curious about why each book is important, Gurtner tells you. He examines what treasures we learn from each work. Some examples:

  • 4 Ezra 14 has Ezra writing under the inspiration of the Spirit. The book offers some important insight into what (at least some) ancient Jews thought this must have involved.
  • 2 Baruch speaks of how the righteous have a store of good deeds laid up for themselves in heavenly treasuries (24:1). This is the same kind of language used by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:19, 20).
  • Sibylline Oracles 4 uses baptismal imagery. Gurtner points out that this is interesting since “scholars generally agree that there are no signs of Christian authorship in Sibylline Oracles 4” (p. 134).
  • The Testament of Moses seems to have especially influenced Jude. Famously, Jude describes how Michael and Satan had a confrontation over the body of Moses. This, Gurtner suggests, “likely draws from the now lost ending” (p. 176).

Again, I heartily recommend this fine work to all students of the New Testament. This is the introduction for which we have long been waiting. This should be required reading for any serious student of the New Testament who has not yet explored the Jewish literature of the Second Temple era.

1 comment

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: