- The Jewish Teachers of Jesus, James, and Jude: What Earliest Christianity Learned from the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha by David A. deSilva
As a gentile attending the Passover seder one year in the home of friends, I was asked what I gathered was an old chestnut of a question: With whom did Jesus study Torah? I knew that in the New Testament Paul had boasted of studying with Rabbi Gamaliel, the grandson of Rabbi Hillel the Elder (Acts 22:3). But I had never heard the answer that my host gave that night to his own question—namely, that Jesus had studied with Hillel himself. That he did so is folklore at best, but it is chronologically possible. Hillel would have been about seventy, Jesus about ten. Nazareth and Jerusalem are not neighboring towns, but the Gospel of Luke (2:41–52) does report Jesus’s parents traveling to Jerusalem at Passover, losing track of the boy, and then discovering him with elders in the Temple “both listening to them and asking them questions.” Luke makes the Son of the Most High a prodigy of talmud torah. This is the scene imagined in Hieronymus Bosch’s Jesus among the Doctors of the Temple, reproduced on the jacket of deSilva’s book. DeSilva imagines this scene in reverse, however, turning Jesus from the prodigious little teacher that Bosch imagined into (with Jesus’s brothers) a dutiful little learner. This is rhetorical synecdoche rather than historical reconstruction, but [End Page 513] Jesus did have brothers or “half-brothers,” as deSilva perhaps piously calls them. Three are named in the Gospels, along with unnamed sisters, to a minimum total of six children for Mary. Two of the brothers, James and Jude, are the authors of letters included in the New Testament. What deSilva offers, to put it less catchily than he does, is an admirably close intertextual study of links between, on the one hand, the “voice” (his term) heard in these letters and in the words of Jesus in the Gospels and, on the other hand, the voice heard in selected works of Jewish literature from the last pre-Christian centuries. This aspect of deSilva’s serious and careful study is its major merit and principal claim to originality.
The literature of rabbinic Judaism was all produced in the Christian era. The “Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha” of deSilva’s subtitle thus refers to nonrabbinical Jewish literature chronologically prior to both the Christianity and the Judaism that were to be. The irony here, inasmuch as the author wishes to stress Christianity’s debt to Israel, is that Christianity preserved the books in question, while Judaism eventually repudiated them. Some of them began as part of the Bible read by Grecophone Jewry both in Palestine and in the much more populous Western Diaspora. That Bible became (and remains) the Old Testament of Greek Christendom. Translated into Latin, it became the Old Testament of Latin Christendom until the Reformation, after which it has lived on as the Bible of Roman Catholicism. By the sixteenth century, however, this Bible had long since been repudiated by rabbinic Judaism as it had become the citation text for the emergent Christian scriptures. Nothing in it that was not extant in Hebrew made it into the emergent Palestinian Jewish canon, the Tanakh of today’s Judaism.
Martin Luther declared the contested works apocryphal, and “apocrypha” they remain in most Bible scholarship to this day. Yet the Greek word apocryphon—meaning “hidden,” it should be noted—carried initially a note of excitement and discovery rather than of inferiority or deception. Think of the hidden-and-then-discovered Dead Sea Scrolls in the twentieth century. Exegetical continuity existed between the habit, growing steadily stronger in Second Temple Judea, of discovering hidden, revolutionary meanings in received scriptures and the composition of purportedly lost-and-recovered scriptures (apocrypha), sometimes fictitiously attributed to hallowed names from earlier Jewish literature (pseudepigrapha). The fabrications may have been transparent even at the time, and yet the works were...