Saturday, March 14, 2009

SECSOR—day 2 (pt. II)

I am currently cutting the New Testament III meeting, which features a panel discussion of Joel B. Green's Body, Soul, and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible (Baker Academic, 2008). I've not read the book, and since it isn't narrowly aligned with my current interests I'm not likely to for a while. Plus I'm not very keen on panel discussions of books, which isn't to say they're pointless but that I, at least, don't readily see the point. Unless someone wants to have a panel discussion of Structuring Early Christian Memory, in which case I very readily see the point. And so should you.

At any rate, I did attend the New Testament II meeting, which focused on the theme "The Gospels and the Historical Jesus." The first paper, "Making Matthew's Genealogy Count," presented by Stephen Carlson (Duke University), considered the numerical problem of Matthew's genealogy (viz., that Matthew claims forty-two generations from Abraham to Jesus but lists only forty-one, unless we posit a "missing generation" or we count someone twice). Carlson very reasonably suggested that Matthew (or Matthew's source) intends David to be counted twice (he's named twice in 1.6, but more significantly named twice in 1.17). I can't shake the feeling that trying to figure out the mathematics of Matthew's triple series of fourteen generations (γενεαὶ δεκατέσσαρες) is a bit like trying to learn chemistry from a cookbook: The chef doesn't need to focus narrowly on why sugars caramelize under heat or alcohol evaporates in the pan; she just takes advantage of the fact that it does. So also for the explanation of Matthew's genealogical account: no matter how we think Matthew got to fourteen (inclusive counting here, exclusive counting there, counting someone twice or [unusually] reckoning the "Babylonian deportation" [μετοικεσία Βαβυλῶνος] in the counting, or whatever) the important thing is that he does. I don't think, then, that we should read 1.17 in light of 1.2–16 but the other way round: 1.17 tells us how to read 1.2–16. I'm not entirely sure if Carlson would agree with me here, but that's okay.

The second paper, "The Son of Man Must Suffer and Die," presented by Michael Zolondek (Florida International University), set out to authenticate the complex of tradition in Mark 8 from Peter's confession through Jesus' Passion prediction, Peter's rebuke [ἐπιτιμάω] of Jesus, and to Jesus' counter-rebuke of Peter as Satan [Σατανᾶ; 8.33] and one who has in mind human rather than divine things [οὐ φρονεῖς τὰ θεοῦ ἀλλὰ τὰ τῶν ἀνθρώπων]. Zolondek's employed fairly standard historical Jesus tools, especially the criterion of embarrassment, in his discussion of this passage, and (again) as an example of biblical historical criticism this was fairly representative of the field. My problem, soon to be published in multiple venues, is that the traditional historical-critical tools are bankrupt (to echo strongly April DeConick's thoughts [start here]). The argument that the early church wouldn't have created this or that bit of Jesus tradition (that Jesus was baptized by John, or that Peter was the satan, or that Jesus was demon-possessed, or whatever) fails to explain, then, why the early church preserved and reproduced those traditions in their performances—written and oral—of the Jesus story. I deal with this fairly extensively in ch. 7 of Structuring Early Christian Memory, so I won't rehash the arguments here.

The third paper asked, "Did the Evangelist Compose Matthew 13:36–43 and 13:49–50?" presented by Delbert Burkett (Louisiana State University). If you've read his Rethinking the Gospel Sources: From Proto-Mark to Mark (T&T Clark, 2004; helpfully reviewed here by Michael Pahl), then you know that Burkett takes an unusual (idiosyncratic?), decisively literary approach to the synoptic problem. Again, I am publishing on this very area and have serious problems with a paradoxically simplistic over-complication of the literary relationships of written texts. In my view (which features prominently here, if nowhere else), the texts are better conceptualized as embodiments of the Jesus tradition, but for all their material existence and potential (and even actual) influence over other embodiments of the Jesus tradition—written or oral—they remained in the first century embodiments and not text-fixations of the tradition. To identify one argument that I think needs some question, Burkett queried J. Jeremias's list of evidences for Matthean composition in the texts named in his title, and for a number of them noted the ambiguity of the evidence (i.e., that what Jeremias takes as evidence of Matthean composition may reflect Q, or may come from Mark, or may be characteristic of the tradition more broadly). But then when he moves to formulate his own position—that Matthew was a compiler rather than a composer—the ambiguity disappears and he has shown that supposed clues of Matthean composition are rather more meagre than Jeremias thought. I'm not sure the two options presented—compiler or composer—adequately captures the breadth of options available for us to think about the relationship between the evangelist and the gospel. But again, see my forthcoming Structuring Early Christian Memory.

The fourth paper, "Mark 7:15: A Scatological Approach," presented by Matthew Thiessen (Duke University), considered afresh the precise nature of the debate (and the conclusions) between Jesus and the Pharisees in Mark 7. Thiessen calls to our attention the failure of contemporary critical discussion of this passage to consider the physiologically obvious referent of τὰ ἐκ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐκπορευόμενα ["things that come out of a person" (I'm tempted to type ἀνθρώπου)] is, well . . . scat. Thiessen doesn't adopt this reading himself, namely that Jesus considers defecating as a process resulting in impurity, but the question does bring some interesting evidence from (or, better, about) Qumran into view. Thiessen never referenced the lengthy discussion of Mark 7 in James Crossley's The Date of Mark's Gospel (T&T Clark, 2004), but in the post-presentation discussion he said he was familiar with (and persuaded by) James's reading (specifically of Mark 7.19b). I'm still not convinced that Mark has only kosher foods in view at 7.19b, but I agree with Thiessen (and Crossley) that Mark 7, along with other NT passages, portray Jesus as thoroughly engrossed in and affected by purity issues. That is, Jesus belongs to a socio-cultural world were purity—its loss, its renewal, its special role in relating to the Deity, etc.—just is a fact of life, like being licensed to drive a car in twenty-first-century America. Jesus isn't scandalized by purity because he never lived in a world where purity wasn't already always in the air. Now I've gone significantly beyond Thiessen's paper, but his arguments were variously suggestive for me, and I enjoyed his paper (despite its crappy title).

So as I say, I've avoided the New Testament III meeting. The New Testament IV meeting (tomorrow at 8.30 am) looks interesting. I'll comment on it tomorrow.


Stephen C. Carlson said...

I don't think, then, that we should read 1.17 in light of 1.2–16 but the other way round: 1.17 tells us how to read 1.2–16. I'm not entirely sure if Carlson would agree with me here, but that's okay.

I would agree with that. In fact, I thought that was one of my points.

Rafael said...


Wonderful. I wasn't sure, given the time you spent (I think; the last three months have faded my SECSOR memory) on how the fourteens were read in the secondary literature, if you would agree. You must have gotten your point across then, given that even I got it (though without realizing that I got it!).

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