—Published in Fides et Humilitas, no. 3 (2016): 117–119

The aim of this work is to show that it is more correct to say that Jesus spoke from within Judaism than against it (p.4). Most readers assume that because Jesus’s words are distinctly different than the Old Testament in many places, then he must have been radically different from the Judaism of his day or that he was the only faithful interpreter of the Hebrew Scriptures. Thus, according to David deSilva, many who read the canonical gospels unintentionally hold to a caricature of Jesus found in Infancy Gospel of Thomas, where Jesus learns and develops his teachings in spite of his Jewish heritage, than they do a historically informed canonical reading of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

This is in part because of certain criteria in historical Jesus research. Jesus’s differences with Judaism and it’s literature were emphasized, particularly through the criteria of dissimilarity. deSilva, however, is not thwarting the entire discipline of historical Jesus research in one fell swoop. Yet, he affirms, “Reliance on these criteria is inversely proportional to confidence in the historical reliability of the sources” (p.26). And, “Skepticism embraced for its own sake is not therefore critical” (italics authors; p.29). deSilva believes that a survey into Jesus’s use and adaptation of the teachings found in the Jewish Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha help give a fuller picture of the historical Jesus. deSilva's second chapter “Recovering the Voices of James and Jude” makes a similar argument for the historical existence of James and Jude through emphasizing their use of Jewish pseudepigrapha (1 Enoch and Testament of Job). To be clear, deSilva is not arguing for Jesus’s, James’s or Jude’s dependence on these sources; rather, they “creatively engaged” with these texts, and traditions related to these texts (p.13).

deSilva traces this engagement, selectively choosing several Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphal texts, which seem to have shaped the teachings of Jesus, James, and Jude. First, texts available to Jesus and his brothers in first century Palestine (Wisdom of Ben Sirach, Tobit, 1 Enoch) are considered. Other texts are selected for their importance; for the concepts were available to Jesus and his followers concerning his mission and identity (2, 4 Maccabees, Psalms of Solomon, Lives of the Prophets). A third group, the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs and the Testament of Job, are examined for their respective influence on the Sermon on the Mount and the book of James (Jas 5:11).

Two criteria are used by deSilva to determine a texts influence over Jesus and his brothers: availability and distinctiveness. These criteria ask (1) whether the texts would have significant enough presence in Palestine to influence Jesus and his brothers, and (2) is there enough similarity between these Jewish texts and that of the New Testament. deSilva is not showing literary dependence, per se, but, he demonstrates that a level of influence took place. Therefore deSilva is hesitant to say some texts had a great deal of affect on Jesus and his contemporaries as, the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs and Testament of Job—which to date were not discovered in Palestine or thought to show any connection to Palestine.

This volume presents a solid introduction into the Jewish backgrounds of Jesus and his brothers.

Bibliographical Information

David A. deSilva. The Jewish Teachers of Jesus, James, and Jude: What Earliest Christianity Learned from the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. x+ 343. ISBN: 978-0-19-532900-1. $40.95 [hardback].
About the Author:
Trey Moss

Trey Moss is a Ph.D. candidate at Southern Seminary and is currently serves as book acquisitions editor for the Center (Ancient Judaism and early Christianity).