The Face of New Testament Studies, part 2

Here is a link to part 1 of this review.

David A. Fiensy’s chapter is entitled “The Roman Empire and Asia Minor.” One of the first things he discusses is who the God-fearers are. He discusses a bit of the debate in the past and then the finding and publication of a “…synagogue inscription from Aphrodisias, a city in western Asia minor…” (p. 40). He agrees with C.K. Barrett’s conclusion of the matter of the God-fearers. Namely, “(1) some Gentiles were attracted to Jewish ethics, theology, and worship but did not become proselytes; (2) in one place at least (Aphrodisias), they formed a recognized element in the synagogue; (3) such Gentiles presented a great opportunity to Christian evangelists; (4) Luke was aware of this.” (pp. 41-42)

With regards to Paul in Ephesus, he summarizes material that has the purpose of showing that the details of Acts 19.23-40 fit into the culture and history of Ephesus. While we may not have independent evidence of Paul in Ephesus from other historians, Luke is himself a source and his depiction is coherent with Ephesus at the time. This shows that there is no obvious objection to the accuracy of Luke’s report.

With regards to the “Asiarchs” mentioned in Acts 19.31, he summarizes the debate by saying the debate is still unsettled whether the term is anachronistic or not. However, I think it should be pointed out that the argument for anachronism is essentially an argument from silence. Namely, we have material before and after Paul was in Ephesus referring to Asiarchs (and some argue that the material after Paul when dated properly and interpreted correctly shows there were Asiarchs in Ephesus at the time of Paul) and so the proponents of anachronism must posit that the office died off and then was revived in the intermediate period. Not all arguments from silence are bad, however. Nonetheless, the point remains that the proponents of anachronism have more work cut out from them if their argument from silence is going to be a good one instead of a poor one.

It is then pointed out that it is far from conclusive that Paul only traveled by Roman roads. Next he discusses the evidence for a rise in the power that women had in the synagogues. The evidence is a bit off putting since it comes from the second to fourth century and so it might be anachronistic to project it backwards, but he wonders if we do project it backwards whether that would lead to a reinterpretation of passages like 1 Timothy 2.11-15. I am not sure how it would and it does not seem like he wants to pursue the question, but it is something interesting to ponder nonetheless. 

Where was Paul’s letter to Galatia sent? Was it to north Galatia or south Galatia? Fiensy summarizes recent studies and says that the arguments against a south Galatia destination have been refuted. Namely, Phyrgia can be used adjectivally and non-Celts from the province could be called “Galatians”. He wonders aloud, “if no good arguments are left to oppose southern Galatia as the destination of the Galatian epistle, why would one want to consider northern Galatia, since we have no clear indication anywhere that Paul was ever there?”

With regards to the Emperor cult and the writing of Revelation, he summarizes S. J. Fiesen’s conclusions, “(1) worship of the emperor in Asia played an increasingly important role in society at many levels; (2) worship of the emperor had wide support; (3) the cult was most popular not in Rome but in the provinces.” (p. 52) Moving on to the emperor cult in Ephesus, he suggests these conclusions give us insight in the socioreligious world of the writer of Revelation. Moreover, he suggests the establishment of a new cult around 89-90 AD could be the event that sparked the writing of Revelation. While I think this information might be useful as part of an argument for the dating of Revelation, I do not think it is conclusive in itself.

Lastly, he talks about whether there are local references in the letters to the churches. Namely, do references to the Laodiceans about being lukewarm (Rev. 3.16) refer to water situation of Laodicea compared to the hot springs of Hierapolis and the cold springs of Colossae? He opts for a moderate approach in seeing some references as reading too much into the text and others as valid, like the Rev. 3.16 example. He points out that these affect how we interpret the text since if there is a local reference to be found in Rev. 3.16, then that shows that the critique was about them being ineffective, not a lack of zeal.

This was another chapter that had a wealth of information. These two chapters have probably contained the most information of the chapters I have read so far. Thus, posts to follow on the book will either be shorter or discuss multiple chapters.

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