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Book Review: Essays on the Sermon on the Mount


John P. Meier Interpretation 1987 41: 202 DOI: 10.1177/002096438704100219 The online version of this article can be found at: http://int.sagepub.com/content/41/2/202.2.citation

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Union Presbyterian Seminary

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Christ in Community, by JEROME H. NEYREY, S.J. Michael Glazier, Inc., Wilmington, 1985. 295 pp. $12.95 (paper).

NEYREY PRESUMES A GREAT DIVERSITY in the New Testament portraits of Jesus and then hypothesizes that such diversity may be largely accounted for by the various experiential horizons of the early Christian communities. For Neyrey the Christology of the New Testament is essentially a record of the early church's ideas and perceptions of Christ from within its own diverse cultural Sitze im Leben, so that these diverse Christologies provide a window into the sociology of the church rather than into the historical Jesus. In fact, the possibility of data from the historical Jesus is never considered as a potential check or corrective to ecclesiastical "distortions." In the first part of the book, Neyrey distills the four Gospels into a series of what he calls "catchbasins" to collect various stages of the church's portrait of Jesus (Mission and Membership, Understanding of the Old Testament, Eschatology, Ethics, Group SelfUnderstanding), after which he proposes to examine the experience and Christology of the various Christian groups who have produced the Gospels' portrait ofJesus. The second part of the book examines two Pauline portraits of Jesus (I Cor. 1: 18-25; Phil. 2:6-11) in an attempt to show how Paul's portraits were shaped by the situation of the churches to which he was writing. The third part gives a very cursory summary of the Christology of Ephesians and Colossians. Neyrey seems to have attempted to do two things at once and has fallen

short in both. On the one hand he writes ostensibly for the sophisticated layperson in the church, but his work presumes a breadth of critical scholarly expertise lacking to most laypersons. On the other hand he writes for the scholarly community, but his work fails to marshal and fully develop the critical dimensions of his suggestions. Perhaps the greatest weakness of this work is a strong tendency to state the conclusions as initial hypotheses which, to no one's surprise, are then "clearly" found in the materials carefully selected and arranged for analysis. This is not to say that the book is a total loss. There is much to stimulate interest, some intriguing hypotheses, some unusual angles of insight, some unique combinations of data which suggest whole new \vays of looking at some of the New Testament material. One only wishes these could have been fully developed. In spite of its weaknesses, or perhaps because of them, the scholarly community will find this book a thought-provoking intersection with the contemporary flow of critical biblical studies. M. ROBERT MULHOLLAND, JR.
Asbury Theological Seminal)

Essays on the Sermon on the Mount, by HANS DIETER BETZ. Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1985. 170 pp. $27.95.

THIS VOLUME is not a full-scale commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, but rather a group of essays written as preparatory studies for such a commentary, to appear in the Hermeneia series. The positive contributions are those one would expect of Betz. First, Betz

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Shorter Reviews and Notices


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shares with us his vast knowledge of Greco-Roman literature and makes some intriguing comparisons: for example, the Sermon on the Mount might be compared to the literary genre of the philosophical epitome, such as is found in the Enchiridion of Epictetus and the Kyriai Doxai of Epicurus. At the same time, Jewish parallels are not ignored: contacts with Jewish wisdom-traditions are obvious. Indeed, the Sermon on the Mount sees Jesus as the teacher of the right interpretation of the Law; Jesus is presented as an orthodox teacher within the range of acceptable Jewish VIews. This leads into Betz's second contribution, which consists in a provocative thesis underlying all the essays. According to Betz, the Sermon on the Mount is, in its entirety, a pre-Matthean document written by Jewish Christians of the mid-first century, perhaps in Jerusalem. It propounds a view ofJesus and his teachings notably different from that of Paul or the evangelists. These Jewish Christians see themselves as still part of Judaism, yet they are conscious of tensions with the motherreligion. Thus, feeling that they are the "true Judaism," they are in conflict with both the Pharisees and gentile Christianity. The theology of the Sermon on the Mount is not that of Matthew, who is open to a world-church of Jews and Gentiles. In contrast, the Christian preaching of the death and resurrection of Jesus plays no role in the Sermon on the Mount. If this preaching was known to the community of the Sermon on the Mount, it had been rejected. There is no explicit Christology or soteriology based on Christology. It is this second contribution that will no doubt arouse much debate. The

present reviewer must confess that he remains unconvinced of this pivotal point. There is simply too much Matthean vocabulary, style, and theology in the Sermon on the Mount to allow for a totally pre-Matthean document. Conversely, the Sermon on the Mount fits too neatly into the overall pattern of the Gospel to be a foreign body. The weakness of Betz's approach is especially striking in the treatment of 5: 17-20. Eyebrows will be raised over Betz's resurrection of the idea that "least" in 5: 19 refers to Paul. More to the point, whatever the prehistory of the Sermon on the Mount, it is now an integral part of Matthew's Gospel, the concrete document in front of us. An exegete treating the Sermon on the Mount cannot do his job adequately if he does not explain how the Sermon on the Mount was incorporated into this larger whole and what it means there. Of course, one must remember that these essays are preliminary. One must await the Hermeneia commentary before a final judgment can be made. JOHN P. MEIER
Catholic University

Discipleship in the New Testament, edited and with an Introduction by FERNANDO F. SEGOVIA. Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1985. 213 pp. $16.95 (paper).

THISCOLLECTION OF PAPERS delivered at a symposium at Marquette University seeks to reexamine discipleship in the New Testament in the light of recent scholarship. Four of the papers deal specifically with the teacher-disciple relationship. Werner Kelber argues that

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