My buddy, Sean Adams, has published a really helpful study of Jewish literature and genres in the Greco-Roman world.
Greek Genres and Jewish Authors: Negotiating Literary Culture in the Greco-Roman Era (Baylor University Press, 2020)
Why did you write this book, Greek Genres and Jewish Authors?
I did not set out with the intention to write this book. It began as a postdoctoral project that was going to look at a handful of Jewish authors (Luke, Paul, Philo, and Josephus) and seek to understand better how they were educated in Greek literary culture and how they used that to compose works. However, the further along I went, the more I wanted to say something about an author’s practice as being ‘normal’ or distinct; expected or unexpected according to ancient practices. This led me to change the focus of my project to a comprehensive look at how Jewish authors writing in Greek engaged with Greek genres. This required that I broaden my scope and narrow my question. I am still interested in education practices, but that is part of my next project.
Did you discover anything that surprised you?
I found many things that surprised me. First, there is so much ancient literature surviving that one cannot master it. I used to think that I could become the expert, but now I know that good scholarship is dependent on a large number of others and that one needs to know where one’s expertise stops. Second, the data that I amassed on Jewish-Greek authors allowed me to make some contribution to how some members of one minority culture engaged with the dominant culture’s literary practices and adapted them to fit their needs. I find the interactions between cultures fascinating, even more so than when I began.
How would a book like this shed some fresh light on New Testament texts? What are some ways it might enhance, or even correct, conventional readings of particular NT texts?
One of the methodological moves I adopted in this work was to treat the New Testament texts as part of a wider dataset on Jewish-Greek literature. Although I understand the desire of bringing new understanding of ancient texts to better understand the New Testament, I find it problematic sometimes that the data from the New Testament are separated from those of other texts. By changing my configuration of texts, I found that all of the New Testament authors created literary works in ways that were recognised by other ancient authors, both Jewish and non-Jewish.
I found that Jewish authors also participated in writing trends that were developing in the Graeco-Roman era. For example, we see a strong rise in biographies written in the first century AD. Interestingly, all of the surviving examples of Jewish biographies in Greek come from this era. In sum, I argue that the New Testament needs to be situated in its ancient literary context(s) in order for us to understand it most fully. As a result, I now find studies that only look at Jewish literature or practices, and so ignore the evidence of other, often contemporary, cultures, wanting further development.