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Kirchengeschichte: Alte Kirche, Christliche Archäologie
Warum zitieren frühchristliche Autoren pagane Texte?Zur Entstehung und Ausformung einer literarischen Tradition.
Berlin u. a.: De Gruyter 2015. XI, 170 S. = Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, 218. Geb. EUR 79,95. ISBN 978-3-11-043096-7.
David T. Runia
The monograph under review is a revised version of the disserta-tion by Vadim Wittkowsky prepared at Moscow State University and accepted in December 2005. The aim of the work is to investigate why early Christian writers chose to cite and make allusions not only to the sacred scriptures (at first the Hebrew Bible, but later more and more the New Testament as well) but also to the writings of the author’s who were external to the biblical and Jewish tradi-tions (3). In order to fulfil this aim, however, the scope of the investigation had to be broadened because it is a major thesis of the volume that early Christian practice in citing »pagan« authors builds upon, and therefore cannot be examined in separation from its origins in Hellenistic Judaism.
The book is accordingly divided into three parts. In the first the reader is guided through the writings of Greek-speaking Jews, beginning with Aristobulus and including not only the major authors Philo and Josephus, but also pseudonymous writings such as the Sybilline verses and other works which imitate Greek models. The second part deals with citations of and allusions to non-Jewish material in the New Testament, found mainly in Paul and Acts. Here W. takes a decidedly maximalist view, adding some intriguing albeit speculative examples of poetic material to the small number of non-biblical citations that have been generally accepted. In one case he definitely goes too far, seeing in the phrase ›the father of the lights‹ in James 1:17 an allusion to Pythagorean number specula-tion on the hebdomad (79), when the reference is more likely to Hellenistic-Jewish exegesis of the sun and moon in Gen 1:16. The third and longest part deals with early Christian writers of the second and early third century. Here the main emphasis falls on Justin and Clement, but there is also a treatment of material in the anti-Gnos-tic polemic of Irenaeus and Hippolytus.
The conclusions reached on the basis of the above analyses are solid and convincing, if not particularly original. Early Christian writers take over the main objective of using non-biblical material from Hellenistic-Jewish literature. It is primarily for purposes of »propaganda« (neutrally understood, 15), exploiting all three motifs of the »priority« thesis (orientals earlier than Greeks), the »theft« theme (Greeks in-debted to Moses) and the »consensus« argument (agreement of Greek v iews with scripture). The citations can be directed at an external audience, for example with a protreptic purpose, or they can have an internal audience in mind for purposes of admonition (84).
The study covers a huge amount of ground in a compact and lucid manner, with numerous cross-references adding to the clarity of presentation. It is warmly to be recommended not only for the overview that it gives, but also for the persuasiveness of its conclusions. As the study itself indicates (144), it can serve as the starting-point for further research on this very interesting topic.
There is also, it must be said, some room for improvement. The main criticism must be that it has not been updated in any significant way since the completion of the dissertation ten years earlier. I would also note that the title is somewhat misleading. As much emphasis is placed on the »how« and the »when« of the non-biblical citations as it is on the »why« relating to their use. In addition, the term »pagan« in the title is also not ideal for the reason that it deriv-es from a tradition that is not directly related to the one being studied (Latin Christianity). »Heidnisch« would have been prefer-able (42), but even better perhaps »außerbiblisch« (3).
Some comments can also be made on the treatment of Patristic writers. In the case of Athenagoras it might have been mentioned that the De resurrectione is almost certainly inauthentic and to be dated at least a century later (see now the recent exhaustive study by N. Kiel, Leiden 2015). It would also have been worthwhile to mention the apologist’s use of handbook literature such as the Placita of Aëtius. If Chr. Riedweg is right in attributing the Cohortatio ad Graecos to Marcellus of Ancyra (4th century), then this work falls outside the time-frame of the study. It is very doubtful that Irenae-us would have regarded Greek philosophy as a »Null«, i. e. a neutral body of material which he could use to attack his »Gnostic« opponents (112). Finally, the statement that Clement derives his Pythagorean, Platonic and Stoic ideas from Philo and that for him Greek philosophy in reality amounts to Philonic philosophy (122) lacks nuance. Clement learnt much from Philo on the value of Hellenism but he was a convert from Platonism in a way that Philo never was and had had an independent training in philosophy before he ever came across Philo’s works.