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A New Testament Window into First Century Jewish Literature
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Richard J. Bauckham
2 Peter, Jude (Waco, Texas:  Word Publishers, 1983; 357p.  Also published by Nelson Reference; 388pp)
A Volume in the Word Biblical Commentary

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This was the first book I read by Bauckham, but I learned that he is a well- respected Bible scholar.  Bauckham is a lecturer in the History of Christian Thought at Manchester Unviersity in the UK.  This commentary won the 1985 Gold Medallion Book award.  This book is volume number 50 in the Word Biblical Commentary.

A great value of this volume is the extensive backgrounds Bauckham provides.  He refers to many other writings, as well as trends of the day, that provide insights into Jude and Peter's message.  Both these short tracts that were included in the New Testament are somewhat ambiguous and cryptic.  A very interesting feature is that chapter 2 of 2 Peter resembles the single chapter of Jude considerably.

Quoting Non-Canonical Writings
Two references in Jude either quote from or refer to non-canonical books of Jewish literature.  Bauckham discusses the various Jewish apocalyptic writings that have been considered the sources of Jude's puzzling reference to the Archangel Michael arguing with Satan over the body of Moses at the time of his death.  This fascinating story is referred to in several popular writings of the first century and later.

For the particular version of this popular Jewish story, Bauckham settles on the Testament of Moses.  This non-extant document is known to us in an expanded, rewritten later form as the Assumption of Moses.  The latter Bauckham decides is Jude's written source of this Jewish folk tale.  Just as all children learn the common stories of their culture, Jude likely also knew this story, along with other popular oral stories of Jewish heritage.

This story of Moses is one of a whole genre of popular stories developed in the Jewish community from Maccabean times into the Middle Ages, providing variations on Old Testaments events.  Some attempt to fill in gaps or clarify anomalies in the Torah stories.

See two other collections of some of these oral stories, Legends of the Bible, by Louis Ginzberg and Hebrew Myths:  The Book of Genesis, by Robert Graves and Raphael Patai.  Many of these stories were written down over the centuries in various Rabbinic collections, the Haggadah, and other popular Jewish writings.

The Watchers
Bauckham makes reference to the story of the "Watchers," but he seemed to assume his readers would know what this referred to.  This term, however, is not in common circulation, though its concepts are prominent in popular theology.  I have studied this and similar topics from other sources, and find the background fascinating, as well as important for popular Christian thought through the centuries.

The Watchers were the angels ("sons of God" referred to in Genesis 5, who left the heavenly realm and married women, which is referred to as a violation of God's commandment, but we are not told why.  A popular publication circulated widely in the 1st century BC and AD, which gives us the full story.

2 Peter and Jude seem to refer to this widely-circulated Jewish apocalyptic document of the time that provides a full story of the Watchers and their judgement.  The Watchers are assumed to be the cause of evil in the world, not the "Fall" in the Garden of Eden, as in some Jewish streams and referred to by Paul:  "as in Adam all sinned."  The "Fall" became the standard Christian theological reference point for the origin of sin.

In the Jewish tradition, the actions of the Watchers and their offspring, the Giants, are the origin of evil in the world.  This story and its concepts of the angels and judgement, did persist through the ages, despite the loss of the original document itself in the wider Christian world.

This ancient document is called 1 Enoch.  This work was discovered Ethiopia in 1773.  It is referred to by several early Christian Fathers, but the document was lost to history, except for a few portions preserved in Greek scholar named Georgius Syncellus, from about AD 792 [Laurence, The Book of the Prophet Enoch, 1883, p. vii].  It is thought to have been written as early as the 300s BC.

1 Enoch, also called The Book of Enoch the Prophet, is an apocalyptic document, dealing with the coming end of the world and final vindication of the just in the final judgement.  Many passages from this work are quoted verbatim by various New Testament writers or closely paraphrased.  Many more passages are close parallels and express a similar perspective.

One Reference to Enoch
The writer of Jude refers to "angels who sinned," without specifying what the sin was (because his readers likely knew this popular story well), as an example of coming judgement on false teachers.

If God did not spare these angels, "but threw them down into Tartarus and delivered them to be kept in chains of darkness until judgement" [2 Peter 2:4, Holman Christian Standard Bible and Jude 6].  This refers to a story detailed in 1 Enoch Chs. 9 and 20, as divided by Nicklesburg and VanderKam in 1 Enoch:  A New Translation.

Another Reference to Enoch
Jude quotes an additional section from the book of Enoch [Ch 2, verse 9 in Nicklesburg and VanderKam].  Jude slightly rephrases this in verses 14-15, quoting from a Greek version of the original Aramaic document.  Here is how that reads in the Holman CSB translation:

(14b) Look!  The Lord comes with thousands of His holy ones (15) to execute judgment on all, and to convict them of all their ungodly deeds that they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things ungodly sinners have said against Him.
The passage reads this way in the translation from the Ge`ez (Ethiopic) version:
(2:9) Look, he comes with the myriads of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to destroy all the wicked, and to convince all humanity for all the wicked deeds that they have done, and the proud and hard words that wicked sinners spoke against him.
      – 1 Enoch:  A New Translation, p.20
Here is how the passage reads in an older English translation of this ancient document:
Behold, he comes with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon them, and to destroy the wicked, and reprove all the carnal for everything which the sinful and ungodly have done, and committed against him.
      – The Book of Enoch the Prophet, translated by Richard Laurence (1883), p.2

In the translation of 1 Enoch, you see that the verse from Enoch matches the full verse 15 from Jude.  In the version of the document translated in 1883 by Richard Laurence, however, the Enoch verse stops short.  The remaining portion, however, is found also in a later chapter of Enoch.In addition Jude includes a quote from a later portion of 1 Enoch.  Jude 15b:

(15b) ...and of all the harsh things ungodly sinners have said against Him.
Here is how the second passage reads in Laurence's translation (1883):
...who utter with their mouths unbecoming language against God, and speak harsh things of his glory
      – Laurence, The Book of Enoch the Prophet, 26:2

Which was First
In his commnetary on the two New Testament epistles, Bauckham also accounts for the similarity between 2 Peter and Jude differently than most commentators.  He proposes that Jude was written first, placing it much earlier than some commentators, with Peter referring to Jude in the general topic of apocalyptic judgement of the false teachers, borrowing many specific phrases.

One factor that makes me question this is the fact that Peter used the future tense in speaking of the presence of these antinomian teachers among the believers, while Jude speaks as if they are currently present.  This seems to be a strong indication of 2 Peter's priority to Jude.

High Colloquial Greek
Bauckham provides excellent and extensive commentary on word meaning and usage in Jude.  He determines that Jude has a very high, though colloquial, style of Greek, and shows familiarity with much Hellenistic and Greek classical literature.

On the other hand, it appears that Jude quotes from Old Testament references in the Hebrew, rather than the Septuagint.  Jude seems very familiar, likewise, with current Jewish literature, though he is obviously writing in Greek to a Greek-speaking audience.

Bauckham's commentary is very thorough and enoightening.  I wish he had given more detail, however, on the other documents that clearly appear to be background for Jude's dynamic short document, and some references in 2 Peter.  Otherwise, this is a well-written, valuable reource that takes us beyond popular religion into the real heart of the time and the text.

See related reviews on this site:
[Review] 1 Enoch
[review] An Adventure in Christian Science Fiction
[TXT] The Book of Enoch the Prophet
[Review] The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish Origins of Christianity
[review] Demonic Metaphysics
[Text] God and the Problem of Evil
[review] Jesus and the Jewish Resurrection
[review] Justice and Vengeance in Dante's Medieval World
[Review] Principalities and Powers: Notes On Demonic Hierarchies
[Review] Reading List Notes on Hebrew Myths:  The Book of Genesis, by Robert Graves and Raphael Patai
[review] The Revelation of Comfort and Hope
[Review] Review of Legends of the Bible, by Louis Ginzberg
[review] Thessalonica, Qumran and the Cult of the Emperor
[Review] Uncovering the Hidden Kingdom
[review]Yeshua - The Jewish Character of the Early Church and Jesus' Teachings

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First, abbreviated, version written for Amazon.com 26 April 2006
Revised and posted on Thoughts and Resources 18 September 2006
Last edited 28 February 2022

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2006, 2022 Orville Boyd Jenkins
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