Jewish Literature: An Anthology

Jewish Literature: An Anthology June 3, 2020

Edited by Brad Embry, Ronald Herms and Archie T. Wright
Early Jewish Literature: An Anthology (2 vols)
Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2018.
Available from Eerdmans.

By Andy Judd

Early Jewish Literature: An Anthology offers more than seventy selections from Second Temple-era Jewish literature, each introduced and translated by a leading scholar in the field. Organized by genre, this two-volume anthology presents both complete works and substantial excerpts of longer works, giving readers a solid introduction to the major works of the era—the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, the writings of Josephus and Philo of Alexandria, and the Septuagint (Apocrypha).

This two-volume set offers a delightful and useful window into second temple Judaism, opening a treasury of translations and commentary on key pre-rabbinic texts. It will be of interest to those seeking a guided tour of this colourful period of early Judaism, as well as those who want to better situate the texts of the New Testament in its literary context.

The anthology includes representative texts from the period 516 BC to AD 70 — from the reconstruction of the temple to its destruction at the hands of the Romans. This fertile period of literary production is introduced with two overview chapters, orienting the reader to early Jewish literature and the broader history of the second temple period. The anthology is then broken up into eight sections split over the two volumes.

Volume one has 4 sections covering perhaps more familiar material with close links to the Hebrew Bible: biblical literature (e.g. Daniel and danielic literature), historical works (e.g. Maccabees), romanticized narratives (e.g. Tobit), and biblical interpretation (e.g. the Pesharim). Volume 2 moves further out into the literary world, tracing the development of important literary genres from the period including wisdom and legal texts (e.g. Sirach, Rule of the Community), apocalyptic literature (e.g. the Sibylline Oracles), psalms, hymns and prayers (e.g. Psalms of Solomon) and testamentary literature (e.g. Testament of Moses).

Each section begins with an introduction to the type of literature and its significance. The individual works are then given their own solid introduction touching on the normal questions of context, structure, themes, theology, sources and reception. A bibliography of introductory and advanced works is also provided. English translations of the individual works are supplied, either in extract (as with the selections from Josephus) or in full (as with 1&2 Maccabees) with some textual notes in footnotes. Most of the translations are original, although some rely on standard texts such as the NRSV. The anthology also includes some maps, useful glossaries of Biographical Names and Terms, as well as indexes of subjects and ancient texts.

This is an incredibly useful anthology and introduction. It gives a much needed orientation for those of us who are not experts in, say, the Qumran literature but would like to get a feel for the literary milieu to which our much more familiar biblical documents owe their style and shape. The mix of commentary and primary documents makes it a fun read, as well as a useful reference work and valuable teaching resource.

Andrew Judd is Lecturer in Old Testament at Ridley College and is a PhD Student at Sydney University.

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