A Jewish text contemporary to the early days of Christianity is the focus of a new book by Dr. Phillip Munoa III, associate professor of religion at Hope College.
Munoa's book is "Four Powers in Heaven: The
Interpretation of Daniel 7 in the Testament of Abraham." It
was published earlier this year by Sheffield Academic Press
of the University of Sheffield in England, as part of an
international series titled "Studies in the Pseudepigrapha."
Munoa's work is part of a field of study devoted
to the subject of beliefs about Jewish mediators or
deliverers held by Jews living in "Second Temple Judaism," a
period that runs from the sixth century B.C. to the first
century A.D. and slightly beyond.
The non-canonical books of the period, like the
first-century "Testament of Abraham," are called
"Pseudepigrapha." Scholars of the works are interested in
how Jewish writers understood the role that human figures
would play in God's salvation of Israel and the world.
"This is significant for the Christian community
because early Christianity began within the Jewish community
of the Second Temple period and preached that Jesus of
Nazareth was being used by God to save the world," Munoa
Chapter Seven in the Old Testament Book of Daniel
focuses on a dream of Daniel's in which a being described as
"ancient of days" sits in judgment. As the dream unfolds,
"one like a son of man" is presented to the ancient figure
and given dominion over the earth.
The testament's author, he notes, comes to
different conclusions concerning the biblical passage than
did the early Christians who were his contemporaries. While
early Christians identified Daniel 7's "ancient of days" as
God and the "one like a son of man" as Jesus, "The Testament
of Abraham" interprets them as Adam and Abel respectively.
"This use of Daniel 7 testifies to the different
ways that Jewish communities envisioned God's salvation and
judgment," Munoa said. "Some Jews gave a prominent role to
Adam and Abel, some like Jesus' followers, saw Jesus as the
savior, but both groups used Daniel 7 to make their case."
According to Munoa, scholars overlooked the
Pseudepigrapha for many years because of the texts'
sometimes-peculiar teaching and non-canonical status. He
noted that they are now valued, however, for the promise
they hold for understanding early Judaism and Christianity.
"My book, along with others, argues that the best
sources for understanding early Christian views of Jesus are
the Jewish writings of that era," he said. "Scholars have
discovered that the Jews had many ideas about how God would
save the world and through whom he would save it."
Munoa's book is a revised and updated account of
his doctoral dissertation research, carried out at the
University of Michigan. In addition to his doctorate, he
holds a bachelor's degree from Grace Bible College and
master's degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary and the
University of Michigan. He joined the Hope faculty in 1993.