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Frey, Jörg, and John R. Levison[Eds.]
The Holy Spirit, Inspiration, and the Cultures of Antiquity. Multidisciplinary Perspectives. Ed. with A. Bowden.
Berlin u. a.: De Gruyter 2014. XVI, 413 S. = Ekstasis, 5. Geb. EUR 119,95. ISBN 978-3-11-031017-7.
This multidisciplinary volume on the origins of early Christian pneumatology in relation to the various cultural matrices of Antiq-uity has twelve essays. In the opening essay, editors Jörg Frey and »Jack« Levison outline a century of study on the topic of early Christian pneumatology, starting with the History of Religions school and ending with a »maelstrom of perspectives on the Spirit« (31) today. They conclude that a fresh examination of the cultural matrices of early Christianity regarding the Holy Spirit is needed. In order to achieve this, they propose a history of religions approach with various modifications. First, parallels between ancient texts and ideas are to be explored as part of a pluriform discourse where »a text is illumined by various contexts or perspectives in interac-tion with one another« (34) rather than by making inferences of origin or influence. Second, they see a need to go beyond the Judaism-Hellenism divide and acknowledge that »texts from Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity composed overlapping segments of Hellenistic culture« (36). Third, a balanced history of religions study can only be achieved through an interdisciplinary collaboration of New Testament scholars and experts in disciplines such as Stoicism, Jewish mysticism, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Graeco-Roman medicine and Plutarch.
The length of essays in the book varies greatly, from ten pages (Becker’s essay) to seventy-four pages (Tigchelaar’s essay). While the book has a broad scope, there are no contributions on the spirit in the Jewish wisdom traditions found in Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon, or in the Jewish apocalyptic writings such as Psalms of Solomon, 4 Ezra and the Similitudes of Enoch. More importantly, how-ever, three essays do not deliver on the intended aim of the volume to explore early Christian pneumatology in the diverse cultural worlds of antiquity. While Teun Tieleman’s essay is a competent, insightful study of Stoic pneumatology, he does not indicate how this can be a helpful dialogical context for understanding early Christian pneumatology. Similarly, Fulco Timmer’s study does not show how Philo’s understanding of spirit contributes to or illuminates an understanding of early Christian beliefs in the Holy Spirit. His brief mention of Paul on p. 292 should have been developed into a case study. Michael Becker’s essay on Johannine pneumatology is not evidence of the »balanced history of religions approach« the book called for. Besides a lack of interaction with relevant English works on the Spirit in John (e. g. Burge 1987; Bennema 2002; Buch-Hansen 2010), there is no mention of other corpora or environments that can be dialogue partners for John on the topic of pneumatology. Given that this essay was the shortest, there was plenty of scope for development. I would have appreciated a concluding essay to the book, highlighting similar findings, new trends and suggestions for further research, rather than leaving it open-ended.
I now turn to the remaining essays, which were more in line with what the book envisaged. The essay by Heidrun Gunkel, Rainer Hirsch-Luipold and Jack Levison on Plutarch and the story of Pentecost in Acts 2 is the best essay in the book and paradigmatic of what the book seeks to do. This is an excellent example of how one ancient author (Plutarch) can shed light on another (Luke), show-ing that the origins of early Christian pneumatology are more contextual (operating in contexts that show similarities and differ-ences) than genealogical (one being derived from the other). In a competent, nuanced and refreshing way, the authors demonstrate that the historical roots of the early Christian pneumatology are part of a broad pneumatological environment with complex cross-fertilization processes.
Two essays explore a novel field, namely ancient medical texts. However, their findings add no new insights to existing understandings of early Christian pneumatology. Theorizing that Luke uses spirit in a medical sense, Soham Al-Suadi compares the use of spirit in Luke and Graeco-Roman medical texts and concludes that the latter are unsuitable to interpret the former. Annette Weissenrieder looks at the meaning of ἐμφυσάω in John 20:22–23 and ancient medical texts, but her conclusion simply confirms the majority position that John 20 refers to the rebirth of the disciples through an infusion of spirit in analogy to Gen 2:7 LXX and Wis 15:11. This raises the question whether this context is a profitable dialogue partner for early Christian pneumatology.
Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar’s study is a meticulous and comprehen-sive analysis of the concept of spirit in the non-biblical Dead Sea scrolls, connecting it with the concept of spirit in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. While his 74-page analysis is a great contribution in itself, his conclusions are remarkably modest. While he rightly advocates the comparison of systems (for example, the Scrolls and the bible) rather than individual texts, he does not clarify the pneumatology of each system and seems to indicate that no system has a homogenous pneumatology.
Judith Newman’s essay is a fine study on two Spirit-inspired Jewish teachers of the Graeco-Roman era – Paul and the maskil of the Qumran writings. I only wished she had cast her net wider and explored the Spirit-inspired teachers/interpreters in Sirach 39, Wisdom of Solomon, Philo, and the early parts of Ezekiel and Daniel.
Volker Rabens’s exercise on reading Paul in the context of Philonic mystical traditions is also an excellent example of what the book envisaged. His argument is that in both Philo and Paul the spirit enables intimate, mystical encounters with the divine, which transform people’s religious-ethical life. Interestingly, both Beate Ego and Rabens look at the concept of spirit and the beholding of God but while, in an earlier essay, Ego compares Ezekiel and Merkabah mysticism, Rabens looks at Paul and Philo. This is where a concluding essay would have been helpful in raising the question whether it is profitable to read Paul in connection with Ezekiel, where spirit and the beholding of God are first combined in a biblical tradition (so Ego).
Jörg Frey’s nuanced essay traces the conceptual development of the Spirit as a personal reality in the biblical tradition. Since the bible depicts quite different concepts of the Spirit, this is no small task but Frey competently sketches a »history« of the Spirit, from a dynamic power to a discrete agent to a divine person. One could raise the issue that this essay is more a biblical theology of the Spirit’s personhood and thus contradicts the book’s intended aim. Frey, however, anticipates this and explains that »[t]he development towards the personality of the Spirit constitutes one of the decisive Christian developments, which is not to be explained from external History of Religions influences but from internal developments« (371).
This volume of essays, like so many others of its kind, is a »mixed bag«. The topic is relevant, the need for a fresh study has been demonstrated, and the proposed approach is laudable in that it avoids a reductionist approach to a vast and complex topic. Yet, while many essays provide excellent examples of how biblical texts can be read with texts in other cultural environments, some essays are off target. Having said this, I greatly appreciated the nuanced and balanced history of religions approach that was proposed, the interdisciplinary nature of the project, and consequently the breadth of environments that were explored to gauge the historical roots of early Christian pneumatology. All too often scholars pursue their research in isolation, and the interdisciplinary study and collaboration portrayed in this volume can be an example for other projects.