Reviews of

Trajectories through the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers

In Andrew GREGORY, Apostolic Fathers, Christopher TUCKETT, Dan Batovici, NT reception history, Oxford University Press, Second century on October 7, 2010 at 11:00 pm

2010.10.02 | Andrew F. Gregory and Christopher M. Tuckett, eds. The New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers, Volume 2: Trajectories through the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers. Oxford: OUP, 2007 (hardcover 2005). Pp. xvii + 506.ISBN: 978-0-19-923005-1. Paperback.

Reviewed by Dan Batovici, University of St Andrews.

This is the pre-print version of the review published in Biblical Interpretation 18.2 (2009), pp. 161-3.


The last century has witnessed various results in the scholarship concerning the reception of the New Testament in the larger ensemble of the second century texts. Nevertheless, one remarkable effect is the awareness regarding the significance of the subsequent usage of the New Testament for its own interpretation, along with – and as a complement to – the importance of its sources.

The book under review here (first released clothed in 2005) is the second of the two centenary volumes celebrating the volume The New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers, published by “A Committee of the Oxford Society of Historical Theology” at Clarendon Press in 1905. Of the two, the first one is A.F. Gregory and C.M. Tuckett, eds., The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005 and pbk. 2007). Most of the articles included in these volumes were presented at “a conference held at Lincoln College, Oxford, in April 2004” (v).

The first volume, concerned mainly with textual issues, was divided in two main parts, of which the first one groups together three contributions presenting textual issues in both corpora – Apostolic Fathers  (AF) and New Testament (NT) – while the second part of the book was dedicated mostly to evaluating the presence of NT text in a particular AF text: seven papers focus on a specific text from the AF corpus and its relation with the NT writings, preceded by an extended methodological inquiry from the part of the two editors.

The second volume includes twenty contributions. Five of them echo the textual concerns developed over the first volume: a paper presenting gospel traditions in the second century (H. Koester) parallels the first part of the first volume. The rest of the four threat either the presence of a particular NT text in AF texts (A. Lindemann on Paul, A.J. Belizzoni on Luke) or the general presence of the NT in an AF text (B. Dehandschutter and M.W. Holmes, both on the Martyrdom of Polycarp). In that, these papers correspond to and indeed continue the second part of the first volume. It should be noted that the Martyrdom of Polycarp was not treated at all in the 1905 volume and the two contribution mentioned above will therefore be of great importance for future scholarship on the general theme of the reception of the AF in NT. In particular, the paper of B. Dehandschutter is a very useful essay that reconsiders the historiography of the relation between the NT and the Martyrdom of Polycarp in past scholarship.

It should also be noted that one striking difference from the 1905 volume is the concern for explicit methodological issues involved in assessing the textual relation of the writings of the AF to the texts that later formed the NT, difference illustrated mostly in the first volume but present also in some of the mentioned papers of the second one. For instance, M.W. Holmes’ paper takes on in the first instance the methodological stance of the editors formulated in the first volume (61-82), stance that emphasize the importance of the Köster criterion – formulated in Synoptische Überlieferung bei den Apostolischen Vätern, TU 65 (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1957) and reiterated in H. Koester, ‘Written Gospels or Oral Tradition’, JBL 113 (1994) 293-7, esp. 297 – who places the solution of the reception problem in redactional criticism, as his criterion states that a reading can only be considered a certain use in one text of another, if that reading is an identifiable redactional particularity of the supposed source text. After establishing that the result of applying this criterion on some seventeenth fragments is negative, Holmes – noticing that this is “hardly […] the whole story” (418) – goes on inquiring what does according to the gospel mean in the account of the Martyrdom. An interesting result of this narratological analysis is that there is identifiable, in the anonymous author claim that Polycarp’s passion has happened according to the gospel, an exegetical endeavour of the author of the Matyrdom concerning the gospel.

On the other hand, this second volume displays a far more composite structure than the first one does. Although the editors outline that different ordering might have been equally possible (3-4), the twenty papers are presently structured in eight chapters, each containing a variable number of articles. Three of these eight chapters contain the papers mentioned above, dealing mostly with textual issues, although may include literary concerns as Holmes’ paper does. The rest of the papers are developed on comparative basis and are concerned mainly with theological issues. Space limitations would not allow for a full presentation of all papers. Suffice to outline the topics covered in chapters containing them and to present, to some extent, two significant contributions. These chapters, grouping different comparative papers on both the NT and the AF treat: Christology; church, ministry and sacraments; a number of NT parallels to specific topics from Didache, the letters of Ignatius and the letter of Polycarp.

As it is outlined in P. Oakes paper on the two letters addressed to the Philippians by Paul and Polycarp, one of the justifications for a comparative analysis is the ability to clarify both elements of the comparison (356). However, the basis for Oakes’ comparison – apart from that that both letters were addressed to the same community – is that “Polycarp consciously writes in the shadow of” Paul’s letter (354), and “that there are actual and perceived continuities between the addressees” (355). Hence here the understanding of Polycarp’s letter is benefiting from the comparison on two topics: leadership and suffering. A comparison between the two letters on first account puts in perspective the disappearance of the episkopoi between he two letters, disappearance especially significant in the time of Polycarp when Ignatius urges the submission to a leader, with the possible result that Polycarp’s letter is a refusal to a request of guidance from the church of Philippi. The comparison on the theme of suffering reveals that the suffering of the community referred to in both letters comes from its economic status being affected in a number of different ways. Also very relevant for the study of Polycarp is the interpretation Oakes offers, in an appendix (370-3) to his paper, to the Latin version of the first sentence of chapter 14, previously classified by Lightfoot as nonsensical, interpretation that asserts “prior face-to-face contact between Polycarp and the Philippians” (353).

C. Claussen’s study on the Eucharist in John and the Didache is particularly important for the study of the former, as it starts by noticing that the synoptic gospels and the first Pauline letter to the Corinthians might not be the suitable context for the proper understanding of the Johannine Eucharistic fragments, since John does not have an account of the Last Supper. Carson firstly examines the Eucharistic prayers in Didache against the background of Jewish meal-prayers and then the background of the terminology used in Didache 9-10, with the result that some terms are better understood in a Hellenistic-Jewish context while others in a Christian one. When turning to the Eucharistic fragments of the gospel of John, several areas present parallels with the fragments of the Didache on this topic that form a better understanding of the former: “similarities in wording and theology make it quite likely that the Fourth Gospel and the Didache may be seen as belonging to the same liturgical tradition“ (162-3).

All in all, notwithstanding that the structuring of the book and, generally, the diversity of opinions and methodological starting points might render it to a certain point less affable for the less specialized reader, this is a volume that no serious scholar interested in the presence of the New Testament in the second century will avoid. The impressive display of scholarly knowledge makes this work, along with its companion volume, a valuable reference tool for both New Testament and Early Patristics.

Dan Batovici
University of St Andrews
db47 [ at ] st-andrews.ac.uk

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