Books in Brief
Julian the Apostate
G. W. Bowersock
(Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1978) 135 pp. $12.50
After Alexander the Great, the Roman emperor Julian may well be the most intriguing personality of ancient history. So saying, G. W. Bowersock, Professor of Greek and Latin at Harvard, introduces his 135-page work on the life and personality of the man who less than 40 years after the institution of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire tried to reverse that momentous act and restore, if only briefly, the former pagan gods to primacy.
Inspirer of early and late church invective, a great deal of secular Roman history, and even modern-day fiction (witness Gore Vidal’s Julian), the Emperor was himself a prolific writer, thus supplying much of the documentation for Bowersock’s characterization of him as an ascetic revolutionary not unlike Lenin or Mao-Tse-Tung.
Written with style and precision, Bowersock’s sketch of Julian and his reign takes account of the latest scholarship about this enigmatic figure and solidly evaluates all earlier accounts.
An Introduction to New Testament Literature
Donald Juel with James Ackerman and Thayer Warshaw.
(Abingdon, Nashville, 1978) 340 pp. $13.95 cloth; $7.95 paper
This introductory text was written especially for literature teachers and Biblical scholars teaching and studying the New Testament as a literary work. The book defines and exemplifies in an unusually clear and understandable way such concepts as Markan priority, form and redaction criticism, and esthetic artistry. Most of the book is a comparison of common themes in the Gospels and Acts, with a few examples from Revelation and Paul’s Letters thrown in for good measure. Potentially rewarding companion reading for this book would be Documents for the Study of the Gospels, reviewed elsewhere in this department. A well-integrated text and an excellent introduction to some of the concerns of this new approach to Bible study.
Documents for the Study of the Gospels
David R. Cartlidge and David L. Dungan
(William Collins, Cleveland, 1980) 298 pp. $14.95 cloth, $8.95 paper
This collection of fresh translations of little-known Christian writings from the first through third centuries and of roughly contemporaneous Greek, Jewish and Roman commentaries is a valuable new aid for every serious student of the New Testament. The writings translated cover subjects and themes common to all four heritages such as: miraculous births and other miracle stories, sacraments, martyrdoms and ascension accounts. Apocryphal Christian stories from the life of Jesus include the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, The Gospels of Philip, James and Peter, The Acts of the Holy Apostle Thomas, and more. In separate introductions, the editors assign authorship, date each composition and discuss its major themes and implications. These translations, collected here for the first time in a single volume, comprises the first third of the book. The second two-thirds of the book contains relatively contemporaneous religious writings from Greek, Roman, and Jewish sources. They are offered to illustrate the philosophical and religious milieu in which the Gospels were written, and to provide a background against which to compare both the canonical Gospels and the non-canonical writings in this book.
A Hidden Revolution
(Abingdon, Nashville) 336 pp. $12.95
Who were the Pharisees? According to author Ellis Rivkin in A Hidden Revolution, the Pharisees were a class of Jewish scribes and scholars who developed a triad of revolutionary concepts which are fundamental to Judaism and Christianity as we know them today.
The Pharisees rose to power after the collapse of the ruling priestly class (Sadducees). This occurred when Menelaus, a Hellenized Jew, usurped the high priesthood and began to sacrifice pig flesh to Zeus. The Hasmoneans, a prominent Jewish family, rallied the masses around themselves to revolt against these practices. After their victory, the Hasmoneans called a “great assembly” (megale synagoge) in which a Hasmonean was named High Priest and the dominance of the Pharisees was established.
When the Pharisees supplanted the Sadducees as the interpreters of the Law, they introduced the following triad of beliefs:
(1) A God Father who was personally concerned with every single individual in His world;
(2) A Twofold Law received from God at Mount Sinai, consisting of the Five Books of Moses (the Torah) and a set of laws transmitted orally. (The Oral Law was compiled and written down about the second century A.D. and is known in Hebrew as the Mishnah.) Together, the Written Law and Oral Law were binding on all Israel. During their earlier tenure as the interpreters of the Law, the Sadducees had taught that only the Five Books of Moses were divinely given.
(3) Resurrection and immortality of the soul—the Sadducees believed in neither of these.
These three concepts did not affect Judaism only. Rivkin states that Christianity subsumed them into its own system of belief. Faith in Jesus, however, replaced faith in the Twofold Law.
What Rivkin finds most striking in all this is that the Pharisaic revolution was so poorly documented by historians. Rivkin’s systematic and meticulous analysis of primary data from the Hasmonean and New Testament periods uncovers for the reader this fascinating revolution.
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Julian the Apostate