Epistle of Barnabas Background and Canon

2.0 The Development of the Canon of the New Testament: Epistle of Barnabas1)http://www.ntcanon.org/Epistle_of_Barnabas.shtml

(Alexandria, 70-135 CE)

The Epistle of Barnabas is a theological tract (not an epistle) that discusses questions that have confronted the followers of Jesus since the earliest days of his ministry: How ought Christians to interpret the Jewish Scriptures? What is the nature of the relationship between Christianity and Judaism?

Writing at a time when the level of antagonism between church and synagogue still ran high, the anonymous author of the “epistle” is concerned to prove that the death of Christ on the cross is a sacrifice that fulfills a plan set forth in the Old Testament (9.7-9). Throughout his interpretation of the Old Testament he takes a radically anti-Jewish attitude that was unique in primitive Christian literature. In a sustained attack upon Judaism, the writer declares that the distinctive enactments of the Mosaic Law, including animal sacrifices and the material temple, are mistakes arising from Jewish blindness and reliance upon an evil angel (9.4). By means of allegorical interpretation he imposes upon the Old Testament, including even the dietary laws in Leviticus, a meaning totally foreign to the intention of the original authors. The author attempts to show that only Christians understand the true meaning of the Scriptures (10.12) and that they are the true and intended heirs of God’s covenant. In short, the Epistle of Barnabas is a good and early example of what became the dominant method of interpreting the Bible in the early and medieval church.

It is generally agreed that the author was from Alexandria, in view of his fondness of the allegorical approach for which Alexandria was well-known and the fact that all the earliest evidence for the existence of the document derives from there. It appears to have been written after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE (16.3-5) but before the city was rebuilt by Hadrian following the revolt of 132-135 CE. Within these limits it is not possible to be more precise.

The text has been reconstructed on the basis of the following witnesses:

Epistle of Barnabas2)http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/barnabas.html

Information on the Epistle of Barnabas

John Dominic Crossan quotes Koester as stating that New Testament writings are used “neither explicitly nor tacitly” in the Epistle of Barnabas and that this “would argue for an early date, perhaps even before the end of I C.E.” Crossan continues (The Cross that Spoke, p. 121):

Richardson and Shukster have also argued for a first-century date. Among several arguments they point to the detail of “a little king, who shall subdue three of the kings under one” and “a little crescent horn, and that it subdued under one three of the great horns” in Barnabas 4:4-5. They propose a composition “date during or immediately after the reign of Nerva (96-8 C.E.) . . . viewed as bringing to an end the glorious Flavian dynasty of Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian . . . when a powerful, distinguished, and sucessful dynasty was brought low, humiliated by an assassin’s knife” (33, 40).

In 16:3-4, the Epistle of Barnabas says: “Furthermore he says again, ‘Lo, they who destroyed this temple shall themselves build it.’ That is happening now. For owing to the war it was destroyed by the enemy; at present even the servants of the enemy will build it up again.” This clearly places Barnabas after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. But it also places Barnabas before the Bar Kochba revolt in 132 CE, after which there could have been no hope that the Romans would help to rebuild the temple. This shows that the document comes from the period between these two revolts.

Jay Curry Treat states on the dating of Barnabas (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, v. 1, pp. 613-614):

Since Barnabas 16:3 refers to the destruction of the temple, Barnabas must be written after 70 C.E. It must be written before its first undisputable use in Clement of Alexandria, ca. 190. Since 16:4 expects the temple to be rebuilt, it was most likely written before Hadrian built a Roman temple on the site ca. 135. Attempts to use 4:4-5 and 16:1-5 to specify the time of origin more exactly have not won wide agreement. It is important to remember that traditions of varying ages have been incoprorated into this work.

Treat comments on the provenance of the Epistle of Barnabas (op. cit., p. 613):

Barnabas does not give enough indications to permit confident identification of either the teacher’s location or the location to which he writes. His thought, hermeneutical methods, and style have many parallels throughout the known Jewish and Christian worlds. Most scholars have located the work’s origin in the area of Alexandria, on the grounds that it has many affinities with Alexandrian Jewish and Christian thought and because its first witnesses are Alexandrian. Recently, Prigent (Prigent and Kraft 1971: 20-24), Wengst (1971: 114-18), and Scorza Barcellona (1975: 62-65) have suggested other origins based on affinities in Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor. The place of origin must remain an open question, although the Gk-speaking E. Mediterranean appears most probable.

Concerning the relationship between Barnabas and the New Testament, Treat writes (op. cit., p. 614):

Although Barnabas 4:14 appears to quote Matt 22:14, it must remain an open question whether the Barnabas circle knew written gospels. Based on Koester’s analysis (1957: 125-27, 157), it appears more likely that Barnabas stood in the living oral tradition used by the written gospels. For example, the reference to gall and vinegar in Barnabas 7:3, 5 seems to preserve an early stage of tradition that influenced the formation of the passion narratives in the Gospel of Peter and the synoptic gospels.

 

Epistle of Barnabas:3)http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/barnabas.html

Text

Resources

Information on the Epistle of Barnabas

John Dominic Crossan quotes Koester as stating that New Testament writings are used “neither explicitly nor tacitly” in the Epistle of Barnabas and that this “would argue for an early date, perhaps even before the end of I C.E.” Crossan continues (The Cross that Spoke, p. 121):

Richardson and Shukster have also argued for a first-century date. Among several arguments they point to the detail of “a little king, who shall subdue three of the kings under one” and “a little crescent horn, and that it subdued under one three of the great horns” in Barnabas 4:4-5. They propose a composition “date during or immediately after the reign of Nerva (96-8 C.E.) . . . viewed as bringing to an end the glorious Flavian dynasty of Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian . . . when a powerful, distinguished, and sucessful dynasty was brought low, humiliated by an assassin’s knife” (33, 40).

In 16:3-4, the Epistle of Barnabas says: “Furthermore he says again, ‘Lo, they who destroyed this temple shall themselves build it.’ That is happening now. For owing to the war it was destroyed by the enemy; at present even the servants of the enemy will build it up again.” This clearly places Barnabas after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. But it also places Barnabas before the Bar Kochba revolt in 132 CE, after which there could have been no hope that the Romans would help to rebuild the temple. This shows that the document comes from the period between these two revolts.

Jay Curry Treat states on the dating of Barnabas (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, v. 1, pp. 613-614):

Since Barnabas 16:3 refers to the destruction of the temple, Barnabas must be written after 70 C.E. It must be written before its first undisputable use in Clement of Alexandria, ca. 190. Since 16:4 expects the temple to be rebuilt, it was most likely written before Hadrian built a Roman temple on the site ca. 135. Attempts to use 4:4-5 and 16:1-5 to specify the time of origin more exactly have not won wide agreement. It is important to remember that traditions of varying ages have been incoprorated into this work.

Treat comments on the provenance of the Epistle of Barnabas (op. cit., p. 613):

Barnabas does not give enough indications to permit confident identification of either the teacher’s location or the location to which he writes. His thought, hermeneutical methods, and style have many parallels throughout the known Jewish and Christian worlds. Most scholars have located the work’s origin in the area of Alexandria, on the grounds that it has many affinities with Alexandrian Jewish and Christian thought and because its first witnesses are Alexandrian. Recently, Prigent (Prigent and Kraft 1971: 20-24), Wengst (1971: 114-18), and Scorza Barcellona (1975: 62-65) have suggested other origins based on affinities in Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor. The place of origin must remain an open question, although the Gk-speaking E. Mediterranean appears most probable.

Concerning the relationship between Barnabas and the New Testament, Treat writes (op. cit., p. 614):

Although Barnabas 4:14 appears to quote Matt 22:14, it must remain an open question whether the Barnabas circle knew written gospels. Based on Koester’s analysis (1957: 125-27, 157), it appears more likely that Barnabas stood in the living oral tradition used by the written gospels. For example, the reference to gall and vinegar in Barnabas 7:3, 5 seems to preserve an early stage of tradition that influenced the formation of the passion narratives in the Gospel of Peter and the synoptic gospels.

 

 


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Related: Non Canonical Text

Apocryphal New Testament Writings List


Related: Early Christian Writings

References   [ + ]

1. http://www.ntcanon.org/Epistle_of_Barnabas.shtml
2, 3. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/barnabas.html

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