I finally finshed up my reading on faith and science. That was certainly a lot to think about. I’ll post about those ideas in the next few weeks as I get my thoughts together for my Sunday school series.
So, I finally get to read something I am interested in for a few weeks. I immediately pulled Brad Young’s latest book, Meet the Rabbis off the shelf – I’ve been dying to read it for months. It reminded me about how much I love the “Jerusalem School” of Synoptic interpretation. That is something I’ve never really posted about so I thought I’d do that here. I first encountered this movement while studying the historical background of the New Testament in graduate school. It was marvelous. I thought my brain was going to explode. The context of first century Judaism is one of the most (if not the most) important aspects of Synoptic interpretation. Since the early 80s, the Jerusalem School has used rabbinical tradition and Jewish cultural context to frame the words of Jesus (It began with the work of David Flusser, Robert Lindsey, and Shmuel Safrai at Hebrew University). In its rabbinical context, Jesus’ words reveal precise interpretation – something lost in our generalized, Westernized approach to scripture. For me, they do what Robert Alter and Simon Bar-Efrat have done for the Old Testament. If you are preaching the gospels and have not digested their research, chances are good you may be missing a significant part of its meaning – particularly the parables. And that doesn’t have to do with our ability to interpret a text, but rather our inability to fully interpret without the original rabbinical references. All the Greek in the world won’t help you unearth those Hebraisms that inform that original interpretation.
Though not all of the books below originated in the “Jerusalem School,” here’s a good list to start with when learning about Synoptic context and rabbinical tradition:
Kenneth Bailey, Poet and Peasant/Through Peasant Eyes
David Bivin and Roy Blizzard, Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus
David Daube, The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism
Julius Scott, Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament
Marvin Wilson, Our Father Abraham
David Flusser, The Sage of Galilee
David Instone-Brewer, Traditions of the Rabbis from the Era of the New Testment: Prayer and Agriculture
Oskar Skarsaune, In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity
Do yourself a favor and read everything Young and Bailey have written.
Here’s a thought: a lot of folks are worried about “postfoundationalist” interpretation of the Bible – that there is no “framework” in which to firmly place Jesus’ teachings. But it seems that Jesus made sure that his words would not be interpreted too far from his original intent. He didn’t choose archaeology or geography to anchor his teachings. He chose literature – rabbinic literature to be exact. And the literature/oral tradition with which Jesus interacted (the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Tannaitic Midrashim, etc.) has been painstakingly preserved by its followers. So, the “reference” points of the gospels are as strong today as when they were spoken by Jesus himself. Curious about the “framework” from which Jesus taught? Check out the books above.