Originally published in The Jewish Chronicle, 14 July 1978.
Donum Gentillicium: New Testament Studies in honour of David Daube. Edited by C. K. Barrett, E. Bammel and W. D. Davies. Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press. £15.00.
The time is long past when Christian scholars calmly dismissed the Rabbinic literature as having nothing of value to offer except as a contrast to the teachings of Jesus. The distinguished New Testament scholars whose essays in this volume are a tribute to the man from whom they have learned much about ancient Judaism (and to whose learning and personal character the editors warmly acknowledge their indebtedness) are not simply bent on being fair to the Pharisees. They all appreciate that their own discipline can only profit from the knowledge of the Jewish background in the first two centuries of the present era that can be gleaned from the Tannaitic literature.
The essays are highly technical, discussing, in either English or German, various points of comparison and difference between New Testament ideas and those of the Rabbis. The majority of the contributors are fully aware of how difficult it is to date accurately the sayings of the Rabbis (a saying may, for example, be attributed to an early teacher but this does not necessarily mean that he really did say it, at least in the form we now have it). They believe, nonetheless, and with justification, that new light is thrown on, say, Pauline concepts by considering how similar concepts pursued their life among the Jewish Palestinian teachers, albeit of a later age.
A brief review must fail to do justice to a work of such scholarship. Only one or two random observations can be made. In C. K. Barrett’s interesting article on “Shaliah and Apostle” it is stated with too great a confidence that for the Rabbis the priests who offered the sacrifices in the Temple were the deputies of God not of the congregation. If the Talmudic evidence is to be used, it ought to have been noted that the Talmud does, in fact, discuss this very issue. Similarly, B, Lindars remarks that in the time of Jesus “exorcism is one of the functions of the rabbinate,” giving as his source Daube’s “The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism” and adding “not officially, of course, but according to popular estimate.”
I looked up Daube to find that the passage from the Talmud quoted says nothing about exorcism (“Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai knew the speech of angels and demons”) and is in any event so late as to be irrelevant since it refers also to the fourth-century Babylonian teachers Abbaye and Rava.
H. Odeberg’s German essay “Die Sefirot und Abbia” is rather peripheral to the theme of New Testament studies and, although the doctrine of the “four worlds” is touched on in the Zohar, its full development took place as late as sixteenth-century Safed.
A complete bibliography of Daube’s writings is added to a volume of essays which lives up to the claim on the jacket that they make contributions of first-rate importance for the study of the New Testament in the light of its Jewish background.