Review of Tuckett on 2 Clement

Christopher Tuckett, 2 Clement. Introduction, Text, and Commentary.

This is the latest offering from the retiring Professor of New Testament in Oxford, the recent recipient of the British Academy’s Burkitt Medal for Biblical Studies. Full disclosure: Chris Tuckett is a senior colleague of mine in Oxford whose work I have long admired. That said, even were I not predisposed to appreciate this volume, the book itself would have won me over.

Tuckett’s work is marked by unsensational sanity and eminently reasonable textual decisions, virtues one sometimes feels lacking among certain scholars of the second century.  In particular, he brings to bear his considerable expertise in the source and redaction criticism of gospel traditions, in so-called Gnosticism and related phenomena, and in the apostolic fathers to produce a splendid treatment of the curious document known to us as 2 Clement.

As with some other writings traditionally classed among the Apostolic Fathers, 2 Clement has not been well served by major commentarial or monographic treatments in English. One struggles to think of anything beyond Lightfoot’s magisterial treatment in the 1890s and Donfried’s 1974 NovTSup volume. While there have been several major treatments in German, this volume is a welcome addition to the English-language literature on 2 Clement, and a major augmentation to scholarship in any language on the text. This augurs well for the series it inaugurates, Oxford Apostolic Fathers, for which Andrew Gregory and Paul Foster join Tuckett as editors (‘A series of critical editions of early Christian texts, comprising the text itself in the original language, a facing translation, a substantial introduction, and extensive notes’).

In his 80-page introduction, Tuckett argues that an otherwise unknown author penned 2 Clement as a type of ‘sermon’ with a paraenetic purpose (though resisting some definitions of ‘sermon’ as too narrow for 2 Clement), and tentatively places its composition in Rome in the early-middle 2nd century in light of the possible links to Valentinian terminology that do not seem encumbered by later strong rejection of that theology by the majority church. 2 Clement’s major purpose is apparently to redress a situation in which the ethical resolve of its community seems to have weakened, but one should be wary of theories that depend on the identification of a particular set of opponents behind the text. Moreover, Tuckett provides some useful cautions against assuming that the case against the originality of chs. 19-20 is watertight and urges it to be seen rather as indecisive. He also offers an overview of the theology of the sermon and its citations. If the caution with which Tuckett approaches the text does not satisfy those with a lust for grand hypotheses, it arguably does more justice to the nature of the evidence in question.

Part II (pp. 83-123) offers a facing page Greek-English edition and translation of the text, in which the textual decisions are reasonable and the translation readable. The remainder of the book (pp. 125-303) is comprised of a substantial commentary on 2 Clement. One of the most useful features of the commentary is the section addressing ‘parallels’ that begins each new chapter. Possible sources for 2 Clement’s many citations are evaluated, and Tuckett’s expertise in evaluating gospel traditions is on display in suggesting plausible solutions to notable cruces. While on the whole I might be more inclined to see Pauline influence on 2 Clement than is Tuckett (in my view, the cumulative case for such influence is stronger than any particular link in the chain), he offers well-reasoned arguments for discerning the sources of the sermon that should be taken seriously by all future scholarship on the text.

In short, then, this is an important book in an important series. Scholars and serious students of the apostolic fathers will want to own it, while others should ensure that the libraries of their academic institutions have purchased it for their reference.

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  1. #1 by Paul Williams on January 6, 2013 - 3:49 pm

    Hello David

    I too share your admiration for Tuckett’s work. I particularly appreciated his sober introductory work, ‘Christology and the New Testament.’

    He writes,

    ‘In some sense Jesus seems to have regarded himself as a prophet with a mission that would arouse hostility and violence against himself. He was willing to accept that violence, convinced that he would be ultimately vindicated by God, and may have used the imagery of the vision of Daniel 7 to express this (albeit perhaps a little cryptically). He may have had some idea of ‘messiahship’ as not totally against his own beliefs about his role, though it would seem that many aspects often associated with messiahship were probably not part of a programme which he would accept as his own. In all this he claimed a close personal relationship with God, expressed through an idea of sonship, but which others would share with him.’

    p. 202

    It seems not unreasonable to conclude from Tuckett’s analysis that Jesus did not consider himself to be God incarnate or the Second Person of the Trinity. This Christology happens to converge with the portrayal of Jesus in the Quran: Jesus as just a man, not in anyway divine, who was a prophet sent by God to the people of Israel.

    regards

    Paul

  2. #2 by Scott Caulley on January 7, 2013 - 4:24 pm

    Thanks for the good review, David. I’m glad to find your online presence. I enjoyed getting acquainted during the time we overlapped in Tübingen.

    alles Gute!

    Scott Caulley

    • #3 by davidlincicum on January 7, 2013 - 8:02 pm

      Scott! Great to hear from you! We think very fondly of our time in Tübingen, and you and your wife made us feel right at home. It’s great to be in touch, and I hope all is well.

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