Responding to Elton Hollon- #2-#2- The Hellenization of Sources

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A Second Response to Elton Hollon’s Response
A Critique of Full Preterism
#2 – #2

This installment will be very brief. As I suggested in my first response, I believe that one of the foundational problems concerning the contemporary writings of the few centuries leading up to the first is the Hellenization that had impacted Hebraic thought. I cited numerous sources in documentation of this. I want to examine that a bit more.

Hollon agrees on the one hand that Hellenization had a profound impact on the Jewish understanding of the Biblical apocalyptic narrative yet insists that we must give their synchronic testimony equal weight as the diachronic (OT) even noting that the synchronic narrative may be incorporating “a change in meaning over time”:

Most researchers reject the theory that the OT (one source) explains the rise of the Jewish apocalyptic genre as overly simplistic. More likely, due to the effects of Hellenization and its facilitated cross-cultural communication (Greek as the lingua franca), multiple cultural influences best explain the emerging range of ideas. Developments may draw from other cultures or be innovative responses to cross-cultural influence. For this reason, our approach combines diachronic with synchronic analysis, using contemporaneous/closer sources. This combination is essential to avoid confusion. Rejecting diachronic analysis risks introducing anachronisms, explaining ‘the biblical meanings in terms of senses which only developed later,’ whereas rejecting synchronic analysis risks etymologizing, not identifying a change in meaning over time. Both are important because words and themes may change meaning over time. Our approach recognizes the influence of the OT on NT eschatology, so it recognizes the importance of diachronic analysis. Instead, it includes synchronic analysis distinguishing between degrees of influence (P. 11-12). (I have omitted Hollon’s footnotes for brevity. Be sure to read his article to access those).

While Hollon insists that we look to the synchronic sources, including Enoch, he nonetheless says: “Still, the OT remains one of the most significant sources in the study of apocalyptic, and our article nowhere suggests otherwise.” But what his article does suggest is that the later, altered (Hellenized) views of apocalyptic have the same evidentiary value, or perhaps even trump the more ancient, original definitions found in the Tanakh, since it is being insisted that changes in meaning over time must be honored.

In my response, (#5) I offered this from Tom Holland on the issue of Hellenization in the early church and its impact on hermeneutic:

There is no doubt these documents give fascinating insight into this period of Judaism, but their relevance for the New Testament message must be questioned… They assume there is a strict equivalence in terminology and themes found in these writings and in the New Testament. They use intertestamental texts as the key for understanding the New Testament texts. This presupposes they share the same theological outlook and their meanings are transposable. However, this understanding is flawed. (Tom Holland, Romans: The Divine Marriage (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011), 23).

Holland is suggesting that while the synchronic sources use the same terminology as the Tanakh, they are approaching those texts with different perspectives, meanings and definitions – which Hollon seemingly acknowledges. Yet he suggests that we should accept these different definitions as of equal, if not greater, authority than the diachronic (OT) sources. This is a major part of the difference between Hollon and myself.

In recognition of the fact that in the synchronic sources “words and themes may change meaning over time” (i.e. different from the meanings in the Tanakh), I suggest that this change of meaning is to be avoided. After all, a recognition of the “canonical authority” of the ancient texts should make us cautious about allowing the non-canonical sources to over-ride the original (diachronic) definitions. What right did the later uninspired writers have to change the original meaning of the inspired canonical works? We should recognize that the NT writers appeal, virtually exclusively, to the OT as the paradigmatic source of their eschatological expectation. When they speak of their eschatological expectations they cite the Tanakh. They do not rely on what we today would refer to as non-canonical works.

My point here is very simple, I do not value the synchronic testimony of Hellenized sources as much as I do the testimony of the Tanakh since the NT writers place their emphasis on the OT sources. While the synchronic sources such as Enoch, Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon, Jubilees, and other works are cited / echoed in the NT, and are no doubt interesting, they were not the authoritative “source” of the apostolic eschatology (Acts 3:19f; 24:14-15).

More to come.