The New Testament Environment

Written by Eduard Lohse Reviewed By Edwin Yamauchi

Eduard Lohse, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover and former professor of New Testament in Kiel and Göttingen, has provided an excellent if compact introduction to the background of the New Testament. We are indebted to John E. Steely for translating the revised German edition of 1974.

Lohse’s work is divided into two sections of three chapters each, dealing with ‘Judaism’ and ‘The Hellenistic-Roman Environment’ with two-thirds of the coverage devoted to the former. Appended is a brief bibliography of five pages, indexes of names, subjects, and NT passages, two maps and a chronological chart.

The historical surveys are succinct but the description of the various Jewish groups is fuller, with helpful citations of passages from rabbinic texts. The exposition of the synagogue services, social relations, and beliefs, e.g. about the Sabbath, should prove most helpful to students of the NT.

There are relatively few errors in the text. Pontius Pilate was installed as procurator in ad 26, not in 36 (p. 203). The Jewish-Roman War lasted until ad 73, not 70 (p. 233). On the whole the author is exceptionally well informed over a broad array of subjects.

Limitations of space force the author often to be so terse as to mislead uninformed readers. There are also some surprising omissions. In his discussion of the Samaritans (pp. 18–21), one finds no reference to the important Samaritan papyri and their implications. See Frank M. Cross, ‘The Discovery of the Samaria Papyri’, The Biblical Archaeologist 26 (1963), pp. 110–120; idem, ‘Aspects of Samaritan and Jewish History in Late Persian and Hellenistic Times’, Harvard Theological Review 59 (1966), pp. 201–211.

Lohse too readily assumes that Mark 6:17–29 erroneously names Philip as Herodias’ first husband (p. 43). See Harold Hoehner, Herod Antipas (London: Cambridge University Press, 1972). His remark that Felix ‘as a freed-man’ ‘climbed his way to this high position’ as governor (p. 47) is misleading. Felix owed his position to his brother Pallas, the imperial freedman who was secretary of the treasury under Claudius.

There is a detailed discussion of the Essenes and Qumran. The cemetery, however, is mentioned in passing (p. 91) without referring to the fact that women and children were buried there—a point which raises questions about the usual identification of the Qumran sect with the Essenes. Synagogues are discussed (pp. 158ff.) without any reference to the early synagogue at Masada or the famous synagogue at Capernaum.

As the author offers no documentation, he does not justify the positions which he takes on controversial issues or indicate that there are alternative views. He assumes as axiomatic a Maccabean dating for Daniel (pp. 23–27, 66–67). For more conservative dates, see D. J. Wiseman, et al., Notes on Some Problems in the Book of Daniel (London: Tyndale Press, 1965); Edwin M. Yamauchi, Greece and Babylon (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1967). He repeats the common assertion of Iranian influence upon Judaism (pp 63, 106) without acknowledging the speculative basis of such a judgment. See J. Neusner, ‘Jews and Judaism under Iranian Rule’, History of Religions 8 (1968), pp. 159–177.

Lohse writes (p. 144), ‘It is true that Christians who later handed down the writings of Josephus also inserted references to Jesus Christ in some other passages, but these statements can easily be recognized as such.’ Most scholars agree that there were Christian interpolations in Antiquities 18, pp. 63–64, but even Jewish scholars admit that there must have been a reference to Jesus originally. See Paul Winter, ‘Josephus on Jesus’, Journal of Historical Studies 1 (1968), pp. 289–302; Shlomo Pines, An Arabic Version of the Testimonium Flavianum and Its Implications (Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1971).

The statement that ‘Only in the fifth century ad did these so-called Targums … begin to be written down’ is inexplicable in the light of the targums on Leviticus and on Job from Qurman. Some note might have been made of the important Neofiti Targum on the Pentateuch discovered by A. Diez Macho in 1956.

The author’s lengthy discussion of gnosticism (pp. 253–277) is vitiated by his uncritical assumption of the Bultmannian position that such documents as the Odes of Solomon, the Hermetica, and the Hymn of the Pearl can be used as evidences for a pre-Christian gnosticism. See Edwin M. Yamauchi, Pre-Christian Gnosticism(London: Tyndale Press, 1973). His discussion of the Mandean evidence is more circumspect (pp. 270–271) but is still misleading. See Edwin M. Yamauchi, Gnostic Ethics and Mandaean Origins (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970).

The brief bibliography has some notable lacunae even for a short list. One would wish to add: M. Avi-Yonah, The Holy Land (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1966); J. Doresse, The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics (New York: Viking Press, 1960); R. M. Grant, Gnosticism and Early Christianity 2 (New York: Harper and Row, 1966); S. Safrai and M. Stern, eds., The Jewish People in the First m Century(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974); Emil Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, ed. G. Vermes and F. Millar (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1973); Y. Yadin, Bar-Kokhba (New York: Random House, 1971).

Edwin Yamauchi

Miami University, Oxford, Ohio