I’ve recently begun researching the use of some OT passages in extracanonical Jewish literature for a dissertation chapter. Six primary bodies of literature are most significant for NT studies:
- OT Apocrypha
- OT Pseudepigrapha
- Dead Sea Scrolls
- Rabbinic literature (i.e., Targums, Talmuds, and midrash)
This may raise two questions.
1. Why is extracanonical Jewish literature significant for NT studies?
G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson give five reasons (“Introduction,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament [ed. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007], p. xxiv, bullet points added):
How is the OT quotation or source handled in the literature of Second Temple Judaism or (more broadly yet) of early Judaism? The reasons for asking this question and the possible answers that might be advanced are many. It is not that either Jewish or Christian authorities judge, say, Jubilees or 4 Ezra to be as authoritative as Genesis or Isaiah. But attentiveness to these and many other important Jewish sources may provide several different kinds of help.
- (1) They may show us how the OT texts were understood by sources roughly contemporaneous with the NT. In a few cases, a trajectory of understanding can be traced out, whether the NT documents belong to that trajectory or not.
- (2) They sometimes show that Jewish authorities were themselves divided as to how certain OT passages should be interpreted. Sometimes the difference is determined in part by literary genre: Wisdom literature does not handle some themes the way apocalyptic sources do, for instance. Wherever it is possible to trace out the reasoning, that reasoning reveals important insights into how the Scriptures were being read.
- (3) In some instances, the readings of early Judaism provide a foil for early Christian readings. The differences then demand hermeneutical and exegetical explanations; for instance, if two groups understand the same texts in decidedly different ways, what accounts for the differences in interpretation? Exegetical technique? Hermeneutical assumptions? Literary genres? Different opponents? Differing pastoral responsibilities?
- (4) Even where there is no direct literary dependence, sometimes the language of early Judaism provides close parallels to the language of the NT writers simply because of the chronological and cultural proximity.
- (5) In a handful of cases, NT writers apparently display direct dependence on sources belonging to early Judaism and their handling of the OT (e.g., Jude). What is to be inferred from such dependence?
Cf. this article:
Richard Bauckham. “The Relevance of Extracanonical Jewish Texts to New Testament Study.” Pages 90–108 in Hearing the New Testament: Strategies for Interpretation. Edited by Joel B. Green. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995. [2nd ed.; 2010 ]
2. What are some helpful resources that explain the nature and significance of extracanonical Jewish literature?
Researching this vast literature is a daunting task, but it has never been easier with the proliferation of introductions, surveys, commentaries, new translations, etc. Start with this first book by Craig Evans, and go from there: