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Charity, Reward, and Atonement in Early Christianity
Christianity has often understood the death of Jesus on the cross as the sole means for forgiveness of sin. Despite this tradition, David Downs traces the early and sustained presence of yet another means by which Christians imagined atonement for sin: merciful care for the poor. In Alms: Charity, Reward, and Atonement in Early Christianity, Downs begins by considering the economic context of almsgiving in the Greco-Roman world, a context in which the overwhelming reality of poverty cultivated the formation of relationships of reciprocity and solidarity. Downs then provides detailed examinations of almsgiving and the rewards associated with it in the Old Testament, Second Temple Judaism, and the New Testament. He then attends to early Christian texts and authors in which a theology of atoning almsgiving is developed—2 Clement, the Didache, the Epistle of Barnabas, Polycarp, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Cyprian. In this historical and theological reconstruction, Downs outlines the emergence of a model for the atonement of sin in Christian literature of the first three centuries of the Common Era, namely, atoning almsgiving, or the notion that providing material assistance to the needy cleanses or covers sin. Downs shows that early Christian advocacy of almsgiving’s atoning power is located in an ancient economic context in which fiscal and social relationships were deeply interconnected. Within this context, the concept of atoning almsgiving developed in large part as a result of nascent Christian engagement with scriptural traditions that present care for the poor as having the potential to secure future reward, including heavenly merit and even the cleansing of sin, for those who practice mercy. Downs thus reveals how sin and its solution were socially and ecclesiologically embodied, a vision that frequently contrasted with disregard for the social body, and the bodies of the poor, in Docetic and Gnostic Christianity. Alms, in the end, illuminates the challenge of reading Scripture with the early church, for numerous patristic witnesses held together the conviction that salvation and atonement for sin come through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the affirmation that the practice of mercifully caring for the needy cleanses or covers sin. Perhaps the ancient Christian integration of charity, reward, and atonement has the potential to reshape contemporary Christian traditions in which those spheres are separated.
This broadly adopted textbook weds literary and historical approaches to focus on the New Testament’s structure and meaning. Anatomy of the New Testament is systematic, critical, and reliable in its scope and content.
This seventh edition has been revised throughout, to take account of current trends in scholarship and to discuss important interpretative issues, such as the Gospel of Thomas. Each chapter includes two new features, Have You Learned It? offering questions for analysis and synthesis What Do They Mean? presenting definitions of key terms to enhance student comprehension and critical thinking. The text is augmented by numerous sidebars to stimulate discussion of matters “Behind,” “Within,” and “Beyond the New Testament.”
Volume 1: Paul and the Gospels
The period since the close of World War II has been agonizingly introspective—not least because of the pain of reassessing Christianity’s attitude to Judaism. The early Christian materials have often been examined to assess their role in the long-standing negative attitude of Christians to Jews. The motivation for the early church’s sometimes harsh attitude was partly theological—it needed to define itself over against its parent—and partly sociological—it needed to make clear the line that divided the fledgling group of Christian believers fromt he group with which it was most likely to be confused. This collection of studies emphasizes the context and history of early Christianity in reconsidering many of the classic passages that have contributed to the development of anti-Judaism in Christianity. The volume opens with an essay that clearly delineates the state of the question of anti-Judaism in early Christianity. Then follow discussions of specific passages in the writings of Paul as well as the Gospels.
Biblical scholars have often contrasted the exegesis of the early church fathers from the eastern region and “school” of Syrian Antioch against that of the school of Alexandria. The Antiochenes have often been described as strictly historical-literal exegetes in contrast to the allegorical exegesis of the Alexandrians. Patristic scholars now challenge those stereotypes, some even arguing that few differences existed between the two groups.
This work agrees that both schools were concerned with a literal and spiritual reading. But, it also tries to show, through analysis of Theodore and Theodoret’s exegesis and use of the term theoria, that how they integrated the literal-theological readings often remained quite distinct from the Alexandrians. For the Antiochenes, the term theoria did not mean allegory, but instead stood for a range of perceptions—prophetic, christological, and contemporary. It is in these insights that we find the deep wisdom to help modern readers interpret Scripture theologically.
Cosmos and Anthropos in Romans 5-8
Romans 5-8 revolve around God’s dramatic cosmic activity and its implications for humanity and all of creation. Apocalyptic Paul measures the power of Paul’s rhetoric about the relationship of cosmic power to the Law, interpretations of righteousness and the self, and the link between grace and obedience. A revealing study of Paul’s understanding of humanity in light of God’s apocalyptic action through Jesus Christ, Apocalyptic Paul illuminates Romans 5-8 and shows how critical this neglected part of Romans was to Paul’s literary project.
Beyond Divine Maturity
In Portraits of a Mature God, Mark McEntire traced the narrative development of the divine character in the Old Testament, placing the God portrayed at the end of that long story at the center of theological discussion. He showed that Israel’s understanding of God had developed into a complex, multipurpose being who could work within a new reality, a world that included a semiautonomous province of Yehud and a burgeoning Mesopotamian-Mediterranean world in which the Jewish people lived and moved in a growing diversity of ways. Now, McEntire continues that story beyond the narrative end of the Hebrew Bible as Israel and Israel’s God moved into the Hellenistic world. The “narrative” McEntire perceives in the apocryphal literature describes a God protecting and guiding the scattered and persecuted, a God responding to suffering in revolt, and a God disclosing mysteries, yet also hidden in the symbolism of dreams and visions. McEntire here provides a coherent and compelling account of theological perspectives in the apocryphal writings and beyond.
Archaeology is a science in which progress can be measured by the advances made backward into the past. The last one hundred years of archaeology have added a score of centuries to the story of the growth of our cultural and religious heritage, as the ancient world has been recovered from the sands and caves of the modern Near East-Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq. Measured by the number of centuries which have been annexed to man's history in a relatively few years, progress has been truly phenomenal. This book deals with the recent advance and with those pioneers to the past who made it possible. Interest in biblical history has played an important part in this recovery. Names such as Babylon, Nineveh, Jericho, Jerusalem, and others prominent on the pages of the Bible, have gripped the popular imagination and worked like magic to gain support for excavations.
This book is written from the widely shared conviction that the discovery of the ancient Near East has shed significant light on the Bible. Indeed, the newly-discovered ancient world has effected a revolution in the understanding of the Bible, its people, and their history. My purpose is to assess, in non-technical language which the layman can understand, the kind of change in viewing the biblical past which archaeology has brought about in the last century. Since the text of the Bible has remained constant over this period, it is obvious that any new light on its meaning must provide a better perspective for seeing the events which it describes. In short, I am concerned with the question, How has history as written in the Bible been changed, enlarged, or substantiated by the past century of the archaeological work?--from the Preface
Locating a Tradition in Ancient Israel
Peterson engages one of the most enduring controversies in current critical scholarship on the Hebrew Bible, the identities and provenances of the authors of the various “editions” of the Deuteronomistic History. Critically reviewing the presuppositions of scholars reaching back to Martin Noth, and using careful analysis of motif and characterization at each redactional level in each book of the Deuteronomistic History, Peterson asks where we might locate a figure with both motive and opportunity to draw up a proto-narrative including elements of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and the first part of 1 Kings.
Posing his questions in the form of a “Whodunit?” Peterson identifies a particular candidate in the time of David who had both knowledge and a theological and political agenda, qualified to write the first edition. He then extends the method to identify the particular circle who became the custodians of the Deuteronomistic narrative and supplies successive redactions, informed by the original formative vision, down to the time of Jeremiah. Careful argumentation yields surprising results at each stage.
Biblical Israel and the Politics of Identity Formation
Genesis calls its readers into a vision of human community unconstrained by the categories that dominate modern thinking about identity. Genesis situates humanity within a network of nurture that encompasses the entire cosmos—only then introducing Israel not as a people, but as a promise. Genesis prioritizes a human identity that originates in the divine word and depends on ongoing relationship with God. Those called into this new mode of belonging must forsake the social definition that had structured their former life, trading it for an alternative that will only gradually take shape. In contrast to the rigidity that typifies modern notions, Genesis depicts identity as fundamentally fluid. Encounter with God leads to a new social self, not a “spiritual” self that operates only within parameters established in the body at birth. In Belonging in Genesis, Amanda Mbuvi highlights the ways narrative and the act of storytelling function to define and create a community. Building on the emphasis on family in Genesis, she focuses on the way family storytelling is a means of holding together the interpretation of the text and the constitution of the reading community. Explicitly engaging the way in which readers regard the biblical text as a point of reference for their own (collective) identities leads to an understanding of Genesis as inviting its readers into a radically transformative vision of their place in the world.
Volume 1, Scripture and the Scrolls
The recovery of 800 documents in the eleven caves on the northwest shores of the Dead Sea is one of the most sensational archeological discoveries in the Holy Land to date. These three volumes, the very best of critical scholarship, demonstrate in detail how the scrolls have revolutionized our knowledge of the text of the Bible, the character of Second Temple Judaism, and the Jewish beginnings of Christianity.