In The Jewish Teachers of Jesus, James, and Jude: What Earliest Christianity Learned from the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, David deSilva sets out to correct the misperception that the teachings of Jesus and his half-brothers owe very little to Jewish teachings and traditions. He does so by reintroducing apocryphal and pseudepigraphical texts that would have shaped the thought of Jewish teachers living in the 1st century CE. The author confines his study to the Jewish teachers of Jesus, James, and Jude, though he acknowledges that Greco-Roman philosophy has certainly played a role in the composition of New Testament documents. He also limits the discussion to texts, traditions, and teachings that were plausibly available to Jesus, James, and Jude and are identifiable by their distinctive material.
In chapter 1, “Recovering the Voice of Jesus” (pp. 14-30) deSilva answers the question: what counts as Jesus’ teaching? He offers a brief survey and evaluation of the traditional criteria for discerning authentic Jesus sayings (Embarrassment, Dissimilarity, Multiple Attestation, etc.), including a weighty critique of the application of the Criterion of Dissimilarity. The reader would do well to pay close attention to deSilva’s reconceptualization of this criterion because it is applied frequently throughout the book. Essentially, he argues that this criterion should only be used positively since it is natural that most of Jesus’ teachings arose out of his Jewish social and literary context and so should not be expected to be entirely dissimilar. All of the Jesus material examined in the remainder of the book is subjected to these traditional criteria; however, as deSilva acknowledges, his findings are somewhat more liberal in favor of authenticity than others.
Chapter 2, “Recovering the Voices of James and Jude” (pp. 31-57), accomplishes two tasks: 1) determining the relationship of James and Jude to Jesus and 2) deciding whether James and Jude authored the Epistles that bear their names. As to the first task, deSilva takes the view that James and Jude were natural sons of Mary and Joseph with the result that they were half-brothers of Jesus. Turning to the second task, deSilva concludes that despite the quality of Greek on display in the Epistles both texts were authored by their namesakes.
An investigation of the influence of the teaching of Ben Sira on Jesus and James is undertaken in chapter 3, “In the School of Ben Sira of Jerusalem” (pp. 58-85). DeSilva argues that the contacts between Jesus’ teaching and that of Ben Sira “render it certain that Yeshua Ben Yoseph knew and valued some of the sayings of Yeshua Ben Sira” (p. 68), even if those sayings were mediated indirectly. One example of such contact between Ben Sira and Jesus is the practice of extrapolating ethical applications on the basis of existing commandments from Torah (cf. Matthew’s so-called Six Antitheses). The Epistle of James, according to deSilva, closely resembles Ben Sira both in terms of form and topic, being itself “an epitome of Jewish Christian ‘wisdom literature’” (p. 82). The most impressive overlap between these two texts concerns the topic of speech and the power of the tongue, including a shared metaphor of the tongue as fire. Additionally James 1:19 contains a slightly modified form of Sirach 5:11 concerning being quick to listen and slow to speak. In the conclusion to this chapter deSilva suggests that as a respected teacher in Jerusalem the teaching of Ben Sira would have influenced many Jewish teachers in synagogues throughout Palestine and the Diaspora all the way down to the time of Jesus and James.
The next chapter, “The Book of Tobit: Life Lessons from an Edifying Tale” (pp. 86-100), offers a brief summary of Tobit, describes the text’s theological and thematic motifs, and enumerates some parallels in the teachings of Jesus concerning prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Tobit 4:15 is a reverse Golden Rule, a maxim found in many texts and various milieus, including Jesus’ teaching in Luke 6:31 and Matthew 7:12. Tobit was available in Hebrew and Aramaic well before the turn of the era, so it is plausible that Jesus would have been familiar with the tale and its ethical motifs.
DeSilva summarizes each of the five books of the Enochic corpus and intersperses an analysis of the influence of each book in chapter 5, “The Book of Enoch: The Order of God’s Cosmos and the Consequences of Violations” (pp. 101-40). He begins with the Book of the Watchers, which has had a palpable influence on the Epistle of Jude (Watchers’ punishment; wandering stars; citation of 1 Enoch 1:9-10). The four blocks of material that comprise the Admonition of Enoch resonate in the teachings of Jesus and James, particularly regarding opinions of the wealthy. The development of the “Son of Man” figure from Daniel in the Parables of Enoch as an eschatological agent associated with the final judgment has had a significant impact on similar teachings in the Jesus material. Jesus may not have known the text of the Parables, but his conception of the “Son of Man” is dependent upon the Enochic expansion of that figure from Daniel.
In chapter 6, “Military Messianism and Jesus’ Mission: The Psalms of Solomon” (pp. 141-57), deSilva describes the influence of the Psalms of Solomon on later messianism and Jesus’ own self-understanding. Of particular note is the insistence on a Davidic messiah, since it is in the Psalms of Solomon that the title “son of David” is used as a messianic identifier. Additionally, Jesus’ excoriation of hypocrites and his teachings on prayer and the generosity of God echo similar teachings in the Psalms. Two major points of divergence are noted: Jesus does not emulate the violence expected of the Davidic messiah and does not expel Gentiles but rather welcomes them.
The topic of martyrdom occupies the seventh chapter, “Jewish Martyrology and the Death of Jesus: 2 Maccabees and the Lives of the Prophets” (pp. 158-74). DeSilva points out that the righteous martyrs in 2 Maccabees offer their lives voluntarily on behalf of others who have forsaken the covenant, believing that their personal chastisement will lead to reconciliation for the people. These martyrs also express a hope of vindication in resurrection. Jesus was likely aware of these stories and their interpretation since they were often recited at the Festival of Hanukkah. More striking, the author of 4 Maccabees uses cultic and sacrificial imagery to describe martyrdom, a feature that is employed in later Christian reflection on Jesus’ death. The Lives of the Prophets testify to a strain of tradition that understood martyrdom to be the typical end for the prophet. In line with Maccabees and the Lives, it is likely that Jesus anticipated his death as a prophet, believed that his death would be beneficial for restoring the relationship between God and God’s people, and hoped that God would vindicate him in new life. Jesus also seems to have combined these notions with the sacrificial imagery of Isaiah’s suffering servant to complete his own understanding of his mission and potential martyrdom.
“The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs: A Legacy of Ethics and Eschatology for a New Generation” (pp. 175-236) is the eighth and longest chapter, containing a summary of each testament and analysis of its influence on Jesus and James. A long portion of this chapter (perhaps overlong at around 28 pages) is spent on the question of the origin of this text—is it a Christian text steeped in Jewish tradition or a Jewish text with Christian interpolations. DeSilva settles on the latter. This section, which the author hopes has “renewed the case for a Jewish origin” (p. 236), provides an important discussion, but even so the material is a lengthy tangent from the primary aim of the book. DeSilva acknowledges the probability that Jesus and his brothers did not read or have access to these texts, but suggests that they were drawing from similar streams of moral and ethical reflection. The most obvious point of connection with Jesus’ teaching is the combination of the commands to love God and to love one’s neighbor. The elevation of this two-fold commandment as the most important in the Torah, which we see in Jesus’ teaching, is lacking in the Testaments. James’ teaching on the human’s natural disposition toward envy and the connection of jealousy and murder also resonates with teachings found in the Testament of Simeon . Furthermore, James’ instruction on speech and the integrity of one’s soul, mind, and action echoes topics found in the Testament of Benjamin.
Finally, in the last chapter, “The Testament of Job: Job Becomes and Example of Patient Endurance” (pp. 237-51), deSilva addresses James’ understanding of the figure Job as a paragon of endurance, a description in contrast with the canonical narrative. It is in the Testament of Job that the righteous sufferer is aware of the reason for his torment and chooses to wait patiently and courageously for God’s intercession and reward. Although the date and provenance of this document seem to preclude the possibility of James’ knowledge of it, deSilva argues that it is likely that James knew the Testament of Job based on shared verbal and thematic material. One example of dependence is the peculiar way in which each document describes the character of God as merciful and compassionate and offers this as a justification for endurance.
The book concludes with a summary and final reflections on the continuity of the teaching of Jesus, James, and Jude with traditional Jewish teaching as handed down in the Jewish Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (pp. 252-9). This is followed by endnotes, a bibliography, and indices.
This is an admirable and persuasive thesis, though I do not find all of deSilva’s parallels to be convincing [e.g. the generic wisdom of Ben Sira regarding forgiveness or kindness to enemies (pp. 71-2); piety in Tobit (pp. 93-5)]. One question I would pose in response to some of these examples is whether topical or thematic overlap implies knowledge (direct or indirect) or just common topoi? In some of these cases it might be helpful not only to show that certain themes are distinctive of a given text and also appear in Jesus, James or Jude, but that the same themes are exclusive to that text. DeSilva does show this type of exclusive correspondence in some cases (e.g. martyrdom in the 2 and 4 Maccabees; the “Son of Man” in the Parables of Enoch), and it is these examples that prove to be the most persuasive. Taken cumulatively, however, deSilva offers a convincing argument that each of these texts has in some way shaped the teaching of Jesus and his brothers. The reader should not expect to find much material on the Epistle of Jude, which, outside of the second chapter, is only mentioned in relation to the Enochic material. Granted the brevity of Jude, I was nonetheless surprised to find no mention of Jude’s allusion to the lost ending of the Testament of Moses, the so-called Assumption of Moses, which might have warranted at least a footnote for the sake of thoroughness.
This volume is an enjoyable read and an extremely valuable resource for anyone interested in Jesus’ Jewish roots, especially the oft-overlooked roots sunk deep in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. The summaries of each document and syntheses of major themes and motifs make this volume particularly useful for students seeking an introduction to these texts as well as information on Second Temple Judaism or the figures and teachings of Jesus, James, and Jude.