Essays on John and Hebrews – Evaluation

This is the third in a series of posts in which I am reviewing Essays on John and Hebrews by Harold Attridge from Mohr Siebeck.  The previous two posts have dealt with the author and contents.

As a doctoral student who has focused on Biblical Hebrew and Applied Linguistics, I am an expert on neither the Gospel of John nor the Epistle to the Hebrews.  However, as someone whose masters work was in Biblical Studies more generally, I am well-versed enough to be acquainted with some of the more important issues within the scholarly study of those two books and to be able to recognize a high quality work when I see one.  In my estimation, Essays on John and Hebrews is a well-balanced and expertly written text that any scholar should very much like to have as a part of their library.

The text is clearly well-balanced throughout, and a couple of easy examples spring to mind from the essays dealing with the relationship between the Dead the Scrolls and early Christianity.  Whereas more sensationalist authors often attempt to show some kind of direct link between the Qumran community and early Christianity, most of the more sober scholarship that one reads suggests otherwise.  Attridge fits squarely within the sphere of this well-balanced scholarship.  Rather than suggesting a direct link, Attridge surveys the Qumran material concluding that it sheds light on Judaism in the first century.  Thus, the Qumran material sheds light on early Christianity in the sense that Christianity emerged in a first century Jewish context, yet he does not propose a direct link.  This balanced approach is representative of the approach taken throughout the rest of the essays.

In addition, the text is quite clearly expertly written.  This is obvious enough from reading the essays themselves; however, the easiest illustration of this for the purposes of this review comes in the extensive bibliography and wealth of material in the footnotes.  The bibliography is 36 pages long and consists of primary and secondary sources in a variety of different languages.  Thus, the author’s perspective is not limited by the sort of English language bias that hampers some works.  In addition, one could gain a great deal of information about John’s Gospel and the Epistle to the Hebrews just from the footnotes, though it could also be easy enough to get bogged down there.  As one example, page 142 of the text consists of only 6 lines of main body text, whereas a good 4/5 of the pages actually consists of footnotes.  This is truly the stuff of an expertly written scholarly text.

If I had to pick out essays that I thought most helpful in my context, I would say that “Johannine Christianity,” “The Restless Quest for the Beloved Disciple,” and “The Gospel of John and the Dead Sea Scrolls” are good candidates.  Incidentally, these are the essays on introductory issues, which serve to help me, since in the area of New Testament studies I would only deal with general issues.  In terms of sheer interest, I found the essays “‘Seeking’ and ‘Asking’ in Q, Thomas, and John” and “An ‘Emotional’ Jesus and the Stoic Tradition” to be enlightening.  My only study of Thomas and stoics came in the form brief treatments in New Testament survey.  So, getting to take a deeper look was beneficial.  Some of the other essays did not capture my own particular interest so much, for example reading about “The Cubist Principle in Johannine Imagery” didn’t do that much for me.  But, I cannot say that there was any particular essay I read that seemed poorly written or poorly researched.

The bottom-line here is that this is, at least in my mind, the kind of book that any serious scholar on John’s Gospel or the Epistle to the Hebrews would love to have in their library.  But, this does bring me to the one fairly serious downside of the text.  Though this is a text any scholar might love to have, the cost of the text would put it out of the reach of many, at least in terms of having it in one’s personal library.  The lowest price on Amazon is right around $170, and Amazon’s own price is $257.50.  Thus, for many scholars, this might be the kind of book that you would want to request that your university or seminary library purchase.  However, if you can afford it, I highly recommend purchasing it for your own collection.

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