Book Plunge: Greek Genres and Jewish Authors

What do I think of Sean Adams’s book published by Baylor University? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Not too long ago, I saw a post on Facebook arguing for Jesus Mythicism and sometimes, these guys come up with arguments I haven’t seen before. Unfortunately, they’re never good, but at least it’s something different. In this case, we have nothing written about Jesus in Hebrew. Instead, it’s in Greek.

Granting that, why would that be a big deal? As Sean Adams shows in his book, Jewish writers were regularly writing in Greek. It makes perfect sense. It was the lingua franca of the time. However, not only were they writing in Greek, they were taking the genres of the people around them and writing in those genres as well.

Those of us with a great interest in the New Testament are immediately thinking of Greco-Roman biographies, and that is true, but others were used too. Jews wrote poetry, including epic poetry, didactic literature, philosophical treatises, novels, and histories.

Some writings we don’t have examples of. We don’t have any Jewish comedies in Greek. We can only speculate as to the reasons why this is. It would be wrong to say flat out that no Jew ever wrote a comedy in Greek. They could have written it and it was just lost like a number of writings have been.

Yet all of these show that Jews were interested in what was going on in the world around them at the time. They not only knew the language, but they were educated in the writings and could put out writings that matched it. Some of these would bring knowledge of their people and their thinking to their Greek speaking neighbors.

This meant Jews had to have access to these writings and be reading them and know them. While Jews were isolationists in some regards such as making sure they kept the Law properly including Sabbath observance and circumcision, in other ways some of them freely interacted with the culture around them. It wouldn’t be across the board. There would be some disagreements, but these writings show that for some, such interaction was acceptable.

Adams has done a marvelous work cataloguing all of these. Some might be skeptical of the Gospels and the letters of Paul and others being used saying that these are Christian writings. It is understandable, but it would be a mistake to say that because a writer was a Christian, he was henceforth not Jewish. I remain convinced that if you spoke to Paul right before the axe came down on him and asked if he was a faithful Jew, he would say yes.

Anyone wanting to see how Jews interacted and what works they wrote should go and get this book. Having said that, one caveat. This book is not really layman friendly. Adams assumes you have a strong knowledge of Jewish culture at the time and of Greco-Roman writings. A layman will still get something out of it, but a lot will go over their head as well.

Either way, Adams has definitely shown an area that needs more research to it. We had a remarkable revolution in New Testament studies with the strong arguments that show the Gospels are best described as Greco-Roman biographies. If that is so, and I think it is, it’s time to study how else Jewish culture interacted with Greek culture on the literary front. Adams has done a great service with that and we should be grateful.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)