Barnabas, Epistle of

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An anonymous Christian work dating from the late 1st or early 2d century. Clement of Alexandria knew it well and spoke of it as the work of "the apostle Barnabas." This tradition was repeated by Origen, Jerome, and others, but finds no support in the text. Eusebius categorizes the epistle twice among the "disputed" books (Hist. eccl. 6.13.6; 6.14.1), once among the "spurious" (3.25.4).

Both author and audience are left unidentified, and the epistolary character of the writing has long been questioned. Many scholars have classified Barnabas as a theological treatise, others as a homily. The work evinces a tendentious theological agenda and a rambling style. Scriptural quotations are piled up and connected loosely with keywords, often relying on an interpretive logic that may escape the modern reader.

The author, almost certainly a Gentile, reads the Old Testament christocentrically, argues vigorously for a spiritualized understanding of Jewish cult practices, and views the golden-calf incident as the epochal transgression for which ancient Israel lost its claim to be God's people. He denies the literal significance of sacrifice (chap. 2), fasting (chap. 3), circumcision (chap. 9), the dietary laws (chap. 10), sabbath observance (chap. 15), and the temple (chap. 16). On the other hand, the author finds Jesus and the cross wholly foreshadowed in Scripture: in the scapegoat ritual (chap. 7), the rite of the red heifer (chap. 8), the naming of Joshua (="Jesus") as Moses' successor (chap. 12), and Moses' outstretched arms during the battle with Amalek (chap. 12). Many of the christological and cultic proof texts are similar to those adduced in Justin's Dialogue with Trypho. The closing chapters (1820) offer a catechesis on the "two ways" that exhibits close affinities to chaps. 1 to 5 of the Didache. The content of Barnabas thus accords well with the emerging literary forms of the 2d-century Church.

The provenance of Barnabas remains disputed. Its frequent attestation among North African Fathers, especially Clement, and the author's use of the allegorical method of interpretation point toward Alexandria, but Syria and Asia Minor have also been suggested.

Bibliography: Anchor Bible Dictionary 1.61114. j. n. b. carleton paget, The Epistle of Barnabas: Outlook and Background (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2, 64; Tübingen 1994). r. hvalvik, The Struggle for Scripture and Covenant: The Purpose of the Epistle of Barnabas and Jewish-Christian Competition in the Second Century (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2, 82; Tübingen 1996). r.a. kraft, Barnabas and the Didache, vol. 3 of The Apostolic Fathers: A Translation and Commentary (New York 1965). f. r. prostmeier, Der Barnabasbrief (Kommentar zu den Apostolischen Vätern 8; Göttingen 1999).

[j. n. rhodes]