The argument in my 2013 work, Portraits of a Mature God: Choices in Old Testament Theology, that received the most push-back was that even for Christian interpreters a theology of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament should be complete before moving on to the New Testament. Because my approach followed the narrative development of the divine character, the reading of a Christian Bible moves in one direction.
What I found dissatisfying about this claim was that so much more still sits between the Hebrew Bible/Protestant Old Testament and the New Testament. This observation presented the need for my forthcoming work, An Apocryphal God: Beyond Divine Maturity. The title plays with the Greek word for “hidden” because the beginning point for a further development of the divine character lies in the collection of literature found in the larger Christian canons that sometimes receives the label “Aprocrypha,” and because the divine character developed in the Hebrew Bible that moves into later traditions is almost always hidden in some way.
My new book also examines texts commonly assigned to the “Old Testament Pseudepigrapha” and some found only among the Dead Sea Scrolls to see how the divine character continues to develop. The linear nature of this development remains a matter of uncertainty because some of the literature contained with the Hebrew canon was still developing and the boundaries of the canon itself were not fully determined at the time these books we perceive to be later were being written. Some of the books, like Jubilees, go back and retell ancient stories, presenting a divine character in those times who acts more like the one at the end of the plot in the Hebrew Bible. Additional books in the “wisdom literature” category, like Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon, seek to connect the wisdom tradition with other elements of Israelite religion like the law and worship in the temple, reshaping the divine character of their present in the process. Still others, like 1 Enoch and the War Scroll, develop a detailed layer of supernatural characters and activity, both good and evil, between earth and the divine realm, pushing God’s direct work in the human world into a distant future.
I summarize these developments in Jewish literature leading up to the Christian era as revising God’s past, expanding God’s present, and charting God’s future. There are multiple directions to this movement, and the division of Judaism into sectarian movements, including Christianity eventually, is a reflection of this diversity. The challenge is finding a way to present the many directions that is organized enough for readers to follow without over-simplifying the complex reality in and around these fascinating texts. We will find out how well I have accomplished that in August.
Meanwhile research on the literature that lies on or outside the boundaries of the Bible continues its explosive growth of the last two decades and our ability to do the kind of synthetic work I have attempted will continue to increase.