Sunday, July 12, 2009

gospels scholarship at odds with source and redaction criticism?

Okay, so this post's title is a bit of a non sequitur. Source and redaction criticism ARE gospels scholarship, so they can't be at odds, I guess. Even so, I'm very interested in the ways that our über-textual approaches to source criticism fail us when we set about reading the gospels. But first, the usual disclaimer. I am not denying that one or more of the gospel writers may have known one or more of the other gospels. Neither am I denying that earlier gospels were/may have been influential in the development and composition of later gospels. But I am questioning the assumption that the similarities between the gospels are evidence for copying, and that differences between them evidence for redacting. Source critics quite rightly insist that modern objections to copying (or, worse, plagiarism) shouldn't affect our judgments of what the gospels are or how the evangelists produced them. But my point is that the gospels themselves show that copying and editing aren't very helpful ways for thinking about their patterns of similarities and differences.

I'm currently writing a lesson on the twelve disciples that focuses on the significance of Jesus calling twelve disciples and the evidence preserved in the gospels (and Acts, Paul, and even Revelation). Of course, quite a bit of time deals with the different lists of disciples preserved in Matt 10.2–4||Mark 3.16–19||Luke 6.14–16||Acts 1.13. E. P. Sanders (Jesus and Judaism, 98ff.), of course, emphasizes the differences between the lists, while Bauckham (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 96ff.) minimizes these. Both accept that Jesus was remembered as surrounding himself with disciples, to whom he referred as the Twelve, but Bauckham's thesis requires that the Twelve refers to twelve specific, named individuals who could take (or be assigned) responsibility for the Jesus tradition.

The problem, unless I've missed something, is that the lists aren't identical. This is especially a problem for Bauckham. The differences aren't simply a matter of order; Matthew and Mark both name someone called Thaddaeus, while in both of his lists Luke mentions another Judas, this one the son of James. Critics have gone back and forth asking whether Thaddaeus was also known as Judas; I'm happy to notice that none of our texts suggest this. But there doesn't seem to be any redaction-critical motivations for changing (on the assumption of Markan [or Matthean] priority) Thaddaeus to Judas. In fact, I would be more willing to accept the opposite: That sometime after the first Easter, any remaining disciples of Jesus named Judas would have looked around for another moniker. For that matter, there doesn't seem to be any redaction-critical motivations that could explain the variations in order evident among the four lists.

For that reason, I think, both Sanders and Bauckham invoke oral tradition (or memory) to explain the variations for which we need to account. Sanders says, "In the earliest period (evidenced by 1 Cor. 15.5) noses were not counted. That it was some time before they started being counted is clear from the lists of names" (Jesus and Judaism, 101). Of course, there really is only one name from the Twelve about which there are any questions, so the extent to which the delay between an awareness of the Twelve and a list of who those twelve were is actually not very "clear" at all. Bauckham provides a more helpful theory:
It is quite intelligible that a list of this kind should be remembered as consisting of three groups, with the first name in each group a fixed point in the memory, but with the order of the other three names in each group variable. (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 98)

Admittedly, I'm not sure which source-critical assumptions, if any, Bauckham brings to his analyses. Sanders, if I'm not mistaken, is probably a neo-Griesbachian, but again I could be wrong. Regardless of which solution to the synoptic problem (a peculiarly literary problem, after all) we prefer, Matthew, Mark, and Luke (in some combination or another) should be copying from another, and the list of disciples would be a place that we would expect the most careful copying (if the names of the disciples weren't already indelibly stamped on the tradition). In other words, on the basis of some strikingly similar passages (e.g., Mark 2.1–12 parr.), we postulate that some evangelists copy from other gospels. But if, for example, Luke had Mark's list of disciples available and in front of him, why should he vary either the order of the disciples or, most significantly, substitute Judas the son of James for Thaddaeus?

So the list of disciples in the gospels, and their counterpart in Acts 1.13, suggest that the historical processes source critics have envisaged as descriptive for our gospels' composition are unlikely at least and anachronistic at worst. Even if Luke could read/had read Mark's gospel, and even if the latter was very influential over the former's composition, how do we explain the differences between their lists of apostles? Sanders can't be convincing here, because even if the precise names comprising the Twelve wasn't fixed in early Christian tradition, Luke (who replaces Thaddaeus with Judas son of James) should have known Mark's list!

So on standard source-critical readings, Luke knew his lists differed from Mark's and either didn't care or thought he was correcting Mark. And if he thought "Judas son of James" was another name for Thaddaeus, we would have expected him to tell us that this was his other name (see, for example, Acts 1.23; 13.9). We can't plausibly explain Lukan redaction of Mark here. And we can't assume (as do Sanders and Bauckham) that Luke wasn't familiar with Mark (unless we're willing to jettison source-critical assumptions completely, a move which I increasingly favor). The lists of disciples demonstrate rather trenchantly, I think, that our conception of the Jesus tradition as a textual phenomenon has misled us. Instead, we should appreciate that the Jesus tradition was a narrative world (or, in more sociological terms, a symbolic universe) enveloping, contextualizing, and giving meaning to the written texts. In this perspective, even if Luke had read Mark, Luke was more richly and dynamically rooted in the tradition itself rather than the textual expression of the tradition found in Mark's gospel.

[Update: I should have read further. Bauckham (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 98) does try to explain the variation in order, at least for the first four names, in redaction-critical terms. Notice how utterly lacking in explanatory power is Bauckham's argument. Why should Matthew and Luke, who keep both sets of brothers together, be more original? Why should Mark have any interest in binding together the three nicknamed disciples? And, most problematically, why should Luke rearrange the first four names in Acts 1.13 simply because Peter and John are prominent characters (3.1–4.31; 8.14-25) and James's death is narrated (12.2)? All of this suggests that we have misconceived what the Jesus tradition is and so missed the dynamics by which it was entextualized in the written gospels.]


steve-o said...

This was an informative read. Thanks for blogging through the process towards completing your study.

Jim Deardorff said...

So why in Luke was the Thaddaeus of Matthew & Mark replaced by someone different, namely Judas, son of James? To appreciate the answer I favor, you need, for the moment, to go along with redaction criticism. Also, you'd need to allow that there is some truth to the attestations of the Patristic Fathers, namely that a Semitic Matthew came first, then Mark, and Luke third. Finally, you'd need to allow that Semitic Matthew, or Hebraic Matthew, did not contain the three primary pro-gentile verses that the later canonical Matthew has (Mt 4:14-16, 12:17-22 and 28;18-20, which are not in Mark or Luke), but did contain the 9 or 10 verses indicating that gentiles were not worthy of becoming disciples (Mt 1:21, 5:47, 6:7, 6:32, 10:5, 10:18, 15:24, 15:26, 18:17 and 24:9b).

It follows that the writer of Luke, not just the writer of Mark, would strongly disapprove of a first gospel that denied discipleship to gentiles. The writer of Mark would show his disapproval not too subtly, by adding in anti-Jewish slurs and innuendo as well as abbreviating out Judaistic chunks from Matthew, as did Marcion later with respect to Luke.

The writer of Luke, being one who could see value in much of Matthew that was omitted in Mark, would show his disapproval of anti-gentile Matthew by placing its reincorporated verses ("Q") into different contexts, by following Mark where Mark deviates from Matthew, and by very frequently deviating from Mark (and Matthew) where Mark closely follows Matthew. His changes were also subtle, yet not so subtle that later Griesbachians would seek to eliminate this editorial behavior by placing Mark after Matthew and Luke.

This lattermost bit of "cranky" editorial behavior (in Luke) applies also to the naming of the disciples, for which Mark and Matthew read nearly the same. So the writer of Luke/Acts replaced one of the disciples with a different name. It was Thaddaeus he chose to alter (into Judas son of James), probably because Thaddaeus is not mentioned elsewhere and was therefore not known for anything that would have made his name memorable and the name change disputable.

To put this reasoning into a more familiar context, you've probably read something like “Whenever Matthew departs from Mark’s order Luke supports Mark, and whenever Luke departs from Mark, Matthew agrees with Mark.” Stated in this manner, it implies that the writers of Matthew and Luke each made use of Mark. However, I prefer stating it as: Whenever Mark follows Matthew, Luke does not; and whenever Mark departs from Matthew’s order, Luke follows Mark.

When Semitic Matthew was translated into Greek Matthew, after Mark and Luke came out, is presumably when the three or more pro-gentile additions were made to Matthew so that it could compete more favorably against the new Gospels, within a Christianity that was spreading extensively into gentile lands. So the original, Semitic Matthew then had to be phased out.

Sorry I couldn't make this any shorter.

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