Eerdmans have sent along a new volume titled Early Judaism and Modern Culture: Literature and Theology, by Gerbern S. Oegema for review.
Gerbern Oegema has long been drawn to the noncanonical literature of early Judaism — literature written between 300 b.c.e. and 200 c.e. These works, many of which have been lost, forgotten, and rediscovered, are now being studied with ever-increasing enthusiasm by scholars and students alike. Although much recent attention has been given to the literary and historical merits of the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and other deutero- and extracanonical writings, Early Judaism and Modern Culture shows that it is also important to study these literary works from a theological perspective. To that end, Oegema considers the reception of early Jewish writings throughout history and identifies their theological contributions to many issues of perennial importance: ethics, politics, gender relations, interreligious dialogue, and more. Oegema demonstrates decisively that these books — more than merely objects of academic curiosity — have real theological and cultural relevance for churches, synagogues, and society at large today.
His is a vibrantly written treatment of the non-canonical literature of early Judaism. Most importantly, he describes that literature’s influence on the Bible, Jewish philosophy, gender, ethics, interreligious dialogue, politics, and the early church (among other things). Consequently, he also views these materials which were excluded from the canon but still read and preserved to be important even now.
The works he considers include apocrypha, pseudepigrapha, Philo, Josephus, and Qumran texts. So, essentially, what he does is to harvest texts from early Judaism and use them as sources for our understanding of both early Judaism and modern culture: ancient and modern theology. The publisher’s blurb has it right.
It will remain up to the reader, though, to determine if those ancient texts really are meaningful today. Oegema’s guided tour into the land of early Judaism is well worth its tiny price. Like any good guide, it’s frequently not the historical information per se that’s so intriguing, it’s the little asides.