Saturday, January 30, 2010

Markan forgery

Biblical scholar Margaret Mitchell and an inter-disciplinary team have subjected a purportedly medieval manuscript of Mark's gospel to close analysis and have determined that it is a nineteenth- or early twentieth-century forgery. The story is available in The Art Newspaper, along with a helpful affirmation that even forgeries are valuable learning opportunities:
Mitchell, a biblical scholar, undertook the task of analysing the text and found it to include the same errors contained in an edition of the Greek New Testament published by Philipp Buttmann in 1856. This led her to conclude that the creator of the Archaic Mark used Buttmann’s text as a guide for his forgery. “I’ve been asked repeatedly if I’m disappointed that the work is a forgery. I’m not. There is no longer a question mark after the date of the manuscript and that is tremendously satisfying,” said Mitchell.

The university intends to preserve the codex and encourage its use for further research into the forger’s techniques. “Those who study forgeries may be the largest beneficiaries of our scholarship,” said Mitchell.

[HT: Bible and Interpretation]

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Satan in Mark

This is probably not very significant. But I noticed this afternoon that Mark refers to the devil as "Satan" (or "the satan" [ὁ Σατανᾶς; ho Satanas]) six times (1.13; 3.23 [2x]; 3.26; 4.15; 8.33), which is almost half of the uses found in the four gospels (fourteen). In contrast, ὁ διάβολος [ho diabolos; "the devil"] is also used fourteen times in the gospels, but not at all in Mark. Unless we understand "Beelzebul" as another name for the devil, it looks like Mark only refers to him as ὁ Σατανᾶς.

In light of the frequently noted Aramaicisms in Mark—Semitic terms the evangelist explains/interprets for the benefit of his audience—I think it's interesting that nowhere in Mark does the evangelist interpret Σατανᾶς, a transliteration of שׂטן [śāṭān]. I'm not sure what to make of this lack, if indeed we should make anything of it at all. It may simply be that Σατανᾶς was the standard way in Markan circles for referring to God's chief adversary and so didn't need any interpretation. But if we can take the mixed use in the other gospels of both Σατανᾶς and διάβολος as evidence that, at least in other spheres, there was some need to explain who Σατανᾶς was, it may be somewhat surprising that Mark doesn't ever clarify ὁ Σατανᾶς with a phrase like, ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον· ὁ διάβολος [. . . Satan, "which is translated, 'the devil'"].

placing Jesus' baptism in (literary) context

In her comments on Mark 1.9–11, Adela Yarbro Collins appeals to biographies of Greek poets to provide a literary parallel to Mark's account of Jesus' baptism and the declaration of Jesus as God's well-pleasing son. Here's a rather extended passage from Collins, Mark: A Commentary (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 147:
Ancient biographies of poets contain similar accounts near the beginning of the narrative about their main subjects. In the popular biography of Aesop, he is portrayed as a slave, extraordinarily ugly, and unable to speak because of a severe speech impediment. This low status is somewhat mollified by divine power. near the beginning of the narrative, Aesop assists a priestess of Isis. As a reward Isis grants him the power of speech, and the nine Muses bestow upon him the power to devise stories and the ability to conceive and elaborate tales, as well as other gifts of excellent speech. A story was told about the archaic lyric poet Archilochus involving an extraordinary experience which revealed that he would be a poet. When he was leading a cow to market at night while the moon was shining, he met a crowd of women who offered to buy his cow. When he had agreed and they had promised to give him a good price, both the women and the cow disappeared, and before his feet he saw a lyre. He was overcome and realized that they were the Muses. Like Archilochus, the Jesus of Mark has an experience near the beginning of the narrative that transforms him and prepares him for his life's work. Archilochus experienced an epiphany or vision of the Muses, who enabled him to be a poet; Jesus sees the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descending like a dove and hears the divine voice address him as beloved son. The allusions to scripture in the words of the divine voice suggest that Jesus is being appointed as messiah or prophet or to an eschatological role that combines both offices. As Aesop was given gifts of wise speech by Isis and the Muses, Jesus is endowed with the divine Spirit on this occasion, the power that enables him to teach with authority, to heal, and to cast out demons.

It pains me to criticize Collins here, especially because (i) I'm really impressed with her commentary so far, and (ii) I think she's exactly right that we need to contextualize Mark in its larger traditional world. But the stories of Greek poets hardly provide the appropriate traditional world for understanding Mark. Notice the phrase, about halfway through the quote, "Like Archilochus, the Jesus of Mark has an experience near the beginning of the narrative that transforms him and prepares him for his life's work." Like Archilochus?! None of the story Collins has relayed sounds remotely like Mark's account of Jesus, which suggests that very little—if any—of Mark's story of Jesus is "like Archilochus."

The differences simply too great to draw any meaningful parallels between Archilochus and Aesop, on the one hand, and Jesus of Nazareth. Aesop is awarded for assisting a priestess of Isis; Jesus comes to John in the Judean wilderness, which is world's away from the Temple hierarchy in Jerusalem. Archilochus encounters the Muses without knowing it; nothing in Mark 1 suggests Jesus encounters either God or one of his agents unawares. The stories of Aesop and Archilochus simply belong to a completely different world from the stories of Jesus, and only the fact that both are ancient from our point of view hides that fact. It would be just as appropriate to draw links between Mark 1 and stories of John Henry or Emiliano Zapata.

Why does any of this matter? I can think of two reasons. First, notice that these parallels actually affect Collins's interpretation of Mark 1.9–11. She reads the divine voice in 1.11 (and its allusions to Hebrew biblical traditions) as a suggestion that "Jesus is being appointed as messiah or prophet or to an eschatological role that combines both offices." But I don't see any such implication in the text. For one thing, the voice's declaration that Jesus is God's son is not very prominent in the rest of Mark's gospel. Mark uses phrase υἱὸς θεοῦ only at 1.1 (if we accept the textual variant); at 3.11 and 5.7 demons acknowledge Jesus as υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ; at 15.39 a centurion calls the recently deceased Jesus υἱὸς θεοῦ. In Mark 9.7 the heavenly voice again declares Jesus God's "beloved son." Perhaps Mark 13.32 is also relevant. If Mark 1.9–11 narrates when Jesus is appointed to the status of God's son, I would expect the rest of the narrative to have more to do with Jesus as God's son. I think Collins would have done better to read this passage as the account of Jesus being declared (not appointed) the son of God (= royal messianic figure). The rest of the gospel makes good sense as the account of Jesus as the chosen king of God's people; notice that as early as 1.14–15 Jesus is announcing the nearness of God's (= his) kingdom.

Second, and even more importantly, Collins's appeal to biographies of Greek poets actually facilitates the trend among NT scholars to read early Christian literature outside of (and even in opposition to) the Jewish cultural context in which the texts were written and apprehended. The parallels between Jesus and Israel's patriarchs, monarchs, prophets, etc. are much more compelling than any similarities with Aesop and/or Archilochus. Perhaps we could make the case that stories of the Greek pantheon and biographies of poets and heroes help us understand the context in which Mark was (later) read and understood. But at this point I am utterly unconvinced that these stories provide any purchase on how the earliest memories of Jesus (say, the first century at least) were expressed, understood, and passed on.

Monday, January 25, 2010

how early Christians related to Israelite tradition

Over the last five years or so I have been growing increasingly aware of and frustrated by the tendency among NT critics to describe early Christians—especially the evangelists—in terms that imply they related to the sacred traditions of Second Temple Judaism as outsiders. Though these descriptions only imply and insinuate a view of the early Christians vis-à-vis their traditions, those implications and insinuations have dramatic consequences for our views of the evangelists as authors, the texts they left behind, and the larger issues of Christian origins we try to get at when we approach the gospels.

Sometimes this tendency almost casts the evangelists' relationship with sacred tradition in a light similar to a heart surgeon's relationship with the organs occupying the open ribcage on the table before her. The evangelists "worked with," "manipulated," "redacted," "revived," "created," "transformed," etc. their traditions, whether their Jesus traditions or sacred Israelite traditions. This view is directly related to the outdated view of the evangelists dominant among the form critics who explicitly and conscientiously cast the evangelists in the role of the Brothers Grimm, collectors of other peoples' traditions and stringers of pearls. For well over fifty years biblical scholarship has been aware of the inadequacies of this conception of the evangelists with respect to the Jesus tradition, but we have nevertheless continued to talk about them in similar terms with respect to Israelite tradition.

Notice, for example, Robert Stein's description of Mark's original audience: "It is also apparent Mark’s readers were familiar with various OT characters and possessed considerable knowledge of the Jewish religion” (Mark [BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008], 10; my emphasis). I can’t help but think that Stein has rather understated the point. Mark and his readers—the movement of Jesus’ followers who proclaimed him as Israel’s messiah to Jews throughout the Roman empire and, in time, to gentiles—were not “familiar with” Hebrew biblical traditions. Rather, they lived in a world defined and appraised by those traditions. By way of analogy, I am (vaguely) familiar with things Kanye West has written and/or said, but I live in a world defined by the writings and sayings of Martin Luther King, Jr. Even putting the two men next to each other seems a bit ridiculous, and I think the same can be said of Stein’s (and most NT critics’) comments about Israelite tradition in Mark.

Jewish scholar Lawrence Schiffman evinces a similar conception of the evangelists and the early Christians, especially in his rather strong distinction between ancient Judaism and early Christianity. In his description of one of the Dead Sea Scrolls—4Q521, also known as the Messianic Apocalypse—Schiffman rightly emphasizes this text's Jewish provenance. However, he also draws too stark a distinction between Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity, and that too-stark distinction gives rise to the following:
This text, therefore, has no connection to Christianity at all, except that it indicates the presence of the messianic idea in Judaism before Christianity emerged. It is understandable that those Jews who started the early Jesus movement brought with them the teachings of Judaism that they had learned. This beautiful poem [viz., 4Q521] sums up these beliefs, calling on human beings to observe God's Torah in order to bring about the eternal redemption. (Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls [New York and London: Doubleday, 1995], 350; my emphasis)

"Brought with them"? "That they had learned"?! I can't help but think that we have (wrongly) imagined the evangelists along the lines of representatives of the British Museum who acquire cultural property from distant and exotic lands and cultures and cross borders with said property, relocating these objects in altogether foreign contexts. But the evangelists weren't Britons digging in the sands of Egypt or the ruins of Assyria. They were Jews (as Schiffman acknowledges) who lived and moved and had their being in the stories of Moses, David, Isaiah, Elijah and Elisha . . . the story, in other words, of YHWH, which they saw also in the story of Jesus.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Jews, Christians, and everything in between

I've begun playing with phrases that might help me get at my problem with the way Jews and Christians (and the relation between them) have been conceived in biblical scholarship (broadly understood). A particularly interesting example of this conception, in a mildly polemical context, comes from Lawrence Schiffman's recontextualization of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls: Their True Meaning for Judaism and Christianity [New York and London: Doubleday, 1994]). The very first paragraph of the Preface reads,
This book aims to correct a fundamental misreading of the Dead Sea Scrolls. For some forty-five years, the scholars publishing and interpreting the scrolls have focused almost singlemindedly on the scrolls' significance for our understanding of early Christianity. This is the first work ever written to explain their significance in understanding the history of Judaism. (xiii)

I'm not interested in assessing the truth of Schiffman's claim (although I don't really doubt him here). Instead, I can't help but feel that Schiffman conceives the shift from "early Christianity" to "the history of Judaism" as a change of categories rather than as a broadening of categories. In my way of thinking, understanding the DSS and their significance for ancient Judaism is a larger question—not a different question—than the DSS and Christian origins.

Why does this matter? Well, consider Schiffman's description of "the messianic idea," by which he means the Jewish messianic idea. Again, I can't help but feel that Schiffman is excluding, or at least neglecting, Christian messianic ideas.
The messianic idea has been central tot he development of postbiblical Judaism in all its various forms. Generally speaking, the concept envisions the eventual coming of a redeemer, a descendant of David, who will bring about major changes in the world, leading to world peace, prosperity, and the end of evil and misfortune. Essential to the messianic idea in Judaism is the expectation that when the time comes, the ancient glories of the Davidic kingdom will be reestablished in the Land of Israel. Unquestionably this-worldly, Jewish messianism expresses its ideas in concrete terms. it looks forward to the messianic era, when the spiritual level of humanity will rise, resulting in and from the ingathering of Israel and the universal recognition of Israel's God. Of course, that definition is a sweeping generalization. in reality, the messianic idea in Judaism has a complex history, further complicated by the simultaneous existence, even within the same strain of Judaism, of various views of messianism. Within this history, we can distinguish certain patterns or trends of messianic thought. (317)

Despite a couple ideas in that paragraph that I think don't befit traditional Christian messianic ideas (though in the history of Christian ideas we could probably find an analogy to all of Schiffman's elements of the messianic idea), very much of this description describes Christianity very well. Some even, represent an important shift in perspective that helps us appreciate anew numbingly familiar aspects of Christianity (e.g., if Christianity identifies Jesus as Israel's messiah, how, if at all, does he bring "world peace, prosperity, and the end of evil and misfortune"? Or do we think these are things about which Jesus couldn't be bothered?).

Inasmuch as Schiffman has transferred his focus from Christianity to Judaism, I think his focus is still too narrow (though he would probably say his focus is what he wanted it to be). I think our understanding of Christianity and Schiffman's understanding of Judaism would only be enhanced if we broadened the interpretive field that gives our questions meaning rather than moving from one field to another.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

reflections on biblical-style philology

Count me among those who were shocked (no pun intended) by the Chargers' loss to the NY Jets Sunday. I have been saying for a couple weeks that I thought San Diego was the best team in the NFL (though the Vikings looked pretty darn good, didn't they?!), and I expected them to bring the Vince Lombardi Trophy to southern California next month. If I was a gambling man, I'd put money on Indianapolis and Minnesota in the Super Bowl, with the Colts winning. But then again, if I was a gambling man I'd already be broke.

But in Monday's news coverage of the Jets' victory, I saw a headline flash up on the tv screen that read, "The Jets ground the Chargers," an obviously intentional if not very creative pun. But I have to admit, it took me a few minutes to get the pun's intent. First, I thought it would have been a more appropriate headline if the Chargers had won, so that "The Chargers ground the Jets." After all, Jets are grounded; they don't do the grounding. So when I tried to imagine a more appropriate pun, I asked which verb is more appropriate when the Chargers is the object. That's when I realized that I had misread the verb, ground. The headline, almost certainly, didn't use ground in the sense of "keep planes (or jets) out of the sky" but rather in the sense of "provide a path for electrical current to be dissipated into the Earth."

Given the different semantic domains in which the English verb ground occurs, the word's meaning in this context varies significantly depending on whether we infer the crucial context from the presence of "The Jets" in the immediate context or from the presence of "the Chargers." And nevermind that ground, in a football context, also means "to throw onto the field" (as in, "Sanchez grounded the ball with three seconds left on the clock."). Given the very many different things ground CAN mean (and we've only considered its meanings as a verb!), it's all the more amazing how quickly and effortlessly we intuit what it ought to mean in a particular context. As native English speakers, we identify the interpretive options available and discriminate between them with surprising ease; if not for my initial misinterpretation of the headline I would not have even realized the dynamics at play when I make sense of that simple headline. But that doesn't make those dynamics any less sophisticated.

We can only wonder how ridiculous so much of what qualifies as peer-reviewed, publishable biblical scholarship would strike the average first-century person as inane and absurd. I'm not maligning everyone else's scholarship and excusing my own; the problem I'm trying to raise is in some ways part of the essence of our discipline. But it should go some way toward tempering the rancor that sometimes accompanies biblical scholarship to realize that many of us have earned our PhDs trying to understand and explain phenomena that made sense intuitively to children and the uneducated masses.

Monday, January 18, 2010

in the news: Greek accents (no, really!)

I don't find issues concerning ancient Greek in the news very often, and certainly issues concerning accents (and breathing marks; really, diacritics in general) are even rarer in America's news organs. So it provided a pleasant start to my day to find a piece entitled, "All Greek: St John's T-Shirt Dismays Expert" in last Thursday's Santa Fe Reporter. This is a bit like all those misspelled Greek (and otherwise foreign) tattoos, though perhaps a little less permanent.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sharon Mattila and the Synoptic Problem

I've recently put the finishing touches on an essay challenging the historical viability of the image of the synoptic evangelists that arises from much source-critical inquiry. Then, in a footnote in Adela Yarbro Collins's Mark: A Commentary (Hermeneia; 2007), I came across Sharon Lea Mattila's article, "A Question too Often Neglected" (NTS 41 [1995], 199–217). Mattila builds on the work of F. Gerald Downing and highlights "the question of compositional procedures . . . as being fundamental to establishing the boundaries of what can or cannot be presumed reasonable in the positing of a synoptic model" (199). Mattila carefully considers the compositional techniques that probably account for the writings of Justin Martyr, Tatian, Josephus, Livy, Diodorus, and Arrian, but she also considers the different cultural locations between these authors and the synoptic evangelists. The fact that this essay is fifteen years old and yet not, as far as I am aware, very widely cited presents a serious blindspot for source criticism (and gospels scholarship in general) in the early twenty-first century.

The article as a whole deserves a careful reading by everyone interested not just in the patterns of similarities and differences between the synoptic gospels (and other Christian literature!) but also in integrating those patterns with historically and culturally appropriate models of text-composition. But I leave you with just a small quote from Mattila's conclusion (which builds upon the work of my doctoral supervisor, Loveday Alexander):

Ignoring an essential set of parameters because it is not easy to determine cannot e justified, for such a practice removes source criticism from its concrete historical context into a realm of abstraction that is ultimately historically meaningless. The question of compositional procedures must be addressed so that we can be sure we have grounded the synoptic gospels and related literature, together with those who composed them, in a concrete and historically credible world. (217)

I made exactly this point in Chapters 2 and 4 of Structuring Early Christian Memory (T&T Clark, 2010), though without knowing about Mattila's article. That's unfortunate, for she has stated her case more succinctly and in greater detail than I have.

Friday, January 15, 2010

a survey you should take

The Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) is planning a new online Bible resource, called "The World of the Bible: exploring people, places, and passage," and aimed at "general audiences." They're looking for input from people who constitute "general audiences," and they've developed a survey "to assess their current level of familiarity with and interest in the Bible." You can find the survey here.

This is your chance to let the leading professional society of biblical scholars—of diverse political, cultural, and theological backgrounds—know what your needs for such a resource might be. I highly recommend everyone give your two (or three) cents.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

In the beginning . . .

Classes for the Spring 2010 semester begin later this morning, and I'd like to wish all of Johson Bible College's students a successful and blessed semester. I am teaching two sections of Elementary Greek II, as I did during the Spring 2009 semester (we begin the adventure that is third declension nouns later this morning . . . woo-hoo!). I'm also teaching a senior-level course on Mark's gospel, which is a new course for me. I think it will be an interesting course, so I'm looking forward it. Finishing out my undergraduate load, I'm team-teaching an elective Advanced Greek course that we offer every other spring. That class was a lot of fun in the Spring 2008, and I'm anticipating another good one this time.

The Spring 2010 term actually began on 10 December 2009 for my graduate students, so they should be hard at work already. There I have my World of the NT course, as always; but this semester I'm rewriting History of NT Interpretation, so it isn't being offered.

Between now and May, in addition to teaching, I'll be developing the Mark course, rewriting the History of NT Interpretation course, working on a handful of book reviews, and trying to pull together a book I accidentally wrote last year (the parting of the ways book I mentioned here is a few feet behind the back burner but very much still on my mind). There are also a number of other projects on the horizon; I'll mention those as details emerge.

But for now I'd like to wish JBC's students a great Spring 2010 term. This is my eighth semester at JBC, and each term I've grown closer to my students and learned more from them and because of them.

סמסטר טוב

Monday, January 11, 2010

Was Paul a Jew?

The Tablet has an essay entitled, "Was Paul a Jew?" which picks up the discussion of Pamela Eisenbaum's new book, Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle (New York: HarperOne, 2009). I'm sympathetic to Eisenbaum's larger program (which I've encountered in Gabriella Gelardini's edited volume on Hebrews [see my comments here]), though I think there are problems with some of her details. Nonetheless, Stanley Stowers's blurb is about as positive as I could ever hope to receive; Stowers says:
Eisenbaum shows the implausibility of the common interpretation of Paul that pits a Christian essence against a superficial or rejected Jewish hull. The book's great accomplishment is to show us a historically plausible picture of a fully Jewish Paul who was also fully committed to Christ.

So I'm interested. Even so, the Tablet's essay, linked above, reveals more about the ways of thinking about Paul (and other Western symbols) in popular media than it does about the historical Paul and those who knew and/or remembered him in the first century or so of Christian history. Here's a blurb which illustrates both the nuance that I hope to see more of in our own reflection of Paul and the over-simplification that persists on seeing Christianity and Judaism as separable (or worse, separate!) "things":
If all this is true, it follows that when Paul condemns Jews, he is aiming his barbs at my meddling fellow Jewish missionaries of Christ, not the Jews, a people I harshly reject. And when he speaks of Judaism having been superseded, he means Judaism as a lifestyle to be aspired to by pagans, not Judaism as practiced by Jews. (In Acts, Jews do persecute Paul for preaching the gospel. But Acts doesn’t count as a source for Paul, since the man who probably wrote it, Luke, came along nearly half a century after him, by which point the Jesus movement was busily suppressing its Jewish roots.) (original italics)

[HT: Bible and Interpretation]

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Who wrote the DSS

This isn't new, but it's worth re-posting here. published a brief essay, "Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?" Given the recent mentions of Raphael Golb in the press (not to mention in the American judicial system), Who wrote the DSS? is a rather important question.

[HT: Bible and Interpretation]

The end is nigh!

This will come as a shock to some of you, but apparently Hollywood has it wrong. The world isn't going to end in 2012. For the real "times and seasons" (which, I thought, was not for us to know; thank God I, too, was mistaken), see Harold Camping, of Family Radio fame. (I've never heard of Family Radio.)

Camping, 88, has scrutinized the Bible for almost 70 years and says he has developed a mathematical system to interpret prophecies hidden within the Good Book. One night a few years ago, Camping, a civil engineer by trade, crunched the numbers and was stunned at what he'd found: The world will end May 21, 2011.

Unfortunately for my students, the Spring 2010 semester ends either on 1 May (MA New Testament students) or 13 May (undergraduate students). So . . . none of your assignments will be affected by the Parousia. Thankfully for me, final grades for non-graduating students don't have to be submitted until 24 May 2010. So no grading for me!

Thank you, Jesus!

UPDATE: So . . . I didn't pay attention to the difference between 2010 and 2011. I guess I'll have to do this semester's grading, and the next's, too. But in the Spring 2011, I'm letting the grading pile up on my desk!

"The Gospel versus Judaism"?

First an explanatory comment: In my view the function of scholarship is debate and agonizing movement [in the sense of ἀγωνίζομαι (agōnizomai; "I struggle, fight; I make effort")] toward greater understanding. So my engagement with Michael Holmes's treatment of the Apostolic Fathers is appreciative rather than adversarial, critical rather than combative.

Okay. Holmes (2007: 243) introduces his translation of Ign. Phld. 8.2–9.2 under the subheading "The Gospel versus Judaism." Given my exposure to Ignatius thus far (my reactions are available in these posts), I expected certain things. I was surprised, then, that I didn't encounter what I expected. Holmes, of course, is the expert and I the neophyte newly come to Ignatius' epistles, so I may be am ignorant of the scholarly discussions on which this label may be based. In other words, I speak here (as sometimes elsewhere) from ignorance.

Ignatius begins with a very interesting (if typical) exhortation to "do nothing in a spirit of contentiousness." I say "interesting" because this particular exhortation (which is fairly typical of Ignatius) is based [ἐπεί (epei; "because, since")] on Ignatius' experience of "some who say, 'If I do not find it in the archives, I do not believe it in the gospel'" (Ign. Phld. 8.2). When Ignatius responded, "It is written," these apparently contentious people (snidely?) retort, "That is precisely the question" [πρόκειται (prokeitai; lit: "it is put [before us]," in the sense of "that is the issue at hand and under consideration")]. Ignatius then responds (to the Philadelphians, not the contentious people), "But for me, the 'archives' are Jesus Christ, the unalterable archives are his cross and death and his resurrection and the faith that comes through him" (Phld. 8.2).

Holmes's interpretation, including his translation (which I've reproduced here), clearly understands "the archives" [τὰ ἀρχεῖα (ta archeia)] as a reference to Hebrew biblical texts (the Law and the Prophets, understood generally). I think this is right. What is more, Ignatius, then, privileges the gospel story ("Jesus Christ . . . his cross and death and his resurrection and the faith that comes through him") to the Bible. Then, in To the Philadelphians 9 Ignatius goes on to talk about the priests and the high priest, about the patriarchs "and the prophets and the apostles and the church" (9.1). Then, as he did in 8.2, Ignatius privileges the gospel over these things:
ἐξαίρετον δέ τι ἔχει τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, τὴν παρουσίαν τοῦ σωτῆρος, κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, τὸ πάθος αὐτοῦ, καὶ τὴν ἀνάστασιν. οἱ γὰρ ἀγαπητοὶ προφῆται κατήγγειλαν εἰς αὐτόν· τὸ δὲ εὐαγγέλιον ἀπάρτισμά ἐστιν ἀφθαρσίας. πάντα ὁμοῦ καλά ἐστιν, ἐὰν ἐν ἀγάπῃ πιστεύητε.

But the gospel possesses something distinctive, namely, the coming of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, his suffering, and the resurrection. For the beloved prophets preached in anticipation of him, but the gospel is the imperishable finished work. All these things together are good, if you believe with love. (Ign. Phld. 9.2; Holmes 2007: 244, 245)

My guess is that Ignatius' "the gospel has something different," along with his submission of the Bible to "Jesus Christ," provides a substantial portion of the reason Holmes subheads this section "The Gospel versus Judaism." Here I have two comments. First, that peculiar term, Ἰουδαϊσμός, which I've discussed here (and follow the links back), doesn't occur in this passage. So "The Gospel versus Judaism" is clearly an interpretive mood not (necessarily) warranted by the text.

Second, in the movement from 9.1 (priests, highpriest, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, church) to 9.2 ("the gospel possesses something distinctive"), I can't help but notice that Ignatius privileges the gospel not over Judaism (= not-Christianity) but over the entire history of God's revelation to his people, including the apostles and the church. All these former (Jewish and Christian) figures are simply a means by which to "enter in" to something [εἰσέρχονται (eiserchontai; 9.1)]. Immediately previously Ignatius made reference to the highpriest, who "has been entrusted" [πεπίστευμαι (2x)] with the Holy of Holies [τὰ ἅγια τῶν ἁγίων] and with the secret things of God [τὰ κρυπτὰ τοῦ θεοῦ]. God's "secret things" presumably refers to the things available only to him, and the Holy of Holies is that sacred space reserved for his presence alone, except for that one time a year (Yom Kippur) when the highpriest entered God's exclusive space to atone for himself and the people. So, equally presumably, when Ignatius refers to "entering in" to something, he means "entering in" to God's presence as his [acceptable] people.

Oddly, this is a remarkably Judaic way of viewing the gospel, one that, I would argue, is not "versus" Judaism and which characterizes other writers who make much more extensive use of Hebrew biblical traditions than does Ignatius. In fact, I would hesitate to attribute this understanding to Ignatius at all, except that (you'll recall) Ignatius lumps "the apostles and the church" along with the priests, highpriest, patriarchs, and the prophets (see Phld. 9.1). Perhaps, then, we should take a cautiously broader view of "the archives," mentioned in 8.2, than simply as the Law and the Prophets. That is, Ignatius is saying that all of the writings (perhaps including Paul's epistles [and any other Christian texts Ignatius both knows and considers authoritative]) are subject to the gospel story (8.2; 9.2). And in making this point, Ignatius is able to simultaneously (i) subsume the apostles and the church along with Jewish heroes to the gospel, and (ii) frame all of this in terms of Israel's historic access to YHWH, a framing much more characteristic of the (Jewish) NT authors and others, such as the didachist and the author of 1 Clement.

So Ignatius finishes 9.2 with πάντα ὁμοῦ καλά ἐστιν, ἐὰν ἐν ἀγάπῃ πιστεύητε, "All these things together are good, if you believe with love." Perhaps we should take Ignatius literally here: Not "the gospel is good, unlike Judaism," but all these things—from the priest to the patriarchs to the apostles and the church—are good, but under one condition. "If you believe with love."

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Christianity from the circumcision

I have commented on the word Ἰουδαϊσμός [Ioudaïsmos; "Judaism"] twice before, once in a response to Richard Horsley's claim that Judaism is "a largely European Christian scholarly construct" (Jesus in Context, 110) and once in a response to Ign. Magn. 8–10, which Michael Holmes subtitled (in his English translation), "Judaism and Christianity." So I found it interesting to run into this relatively rare word (in Greek biblical literature only five uses in the Maccabean texts and twice in Galatians) once again in Ign. Phld. 6.1:
Ἐὰν δέ τις Ἰουδαϊσμὸν ἑρμηνεύῃ ὑμῖν, μὴ ἀκούετε αὐτοῦ. ἄμεινον γάρ ἐστιν παρὰ ἀνδρὸς περιτομὴν ἔχοντος Χριστιανισμὸν ἀκούειν ἢ παρὰ ἀκροβύστου Ἰουδαϊσμὸν. ἐὰν δὲ ἀμφότεροι περὶ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ μὴ λαλῶσιν, οὗτοι ἐμοἰ στῆλαί εἰσιν καὶ τάφοι νεκρῶν, ἐφ᾽ οἷς γέγραπται μόνον ὀνόματα ἀνθρώπων.

But if anyone expounds Judaism to you, do not listen to him. For it is better to hear about Christianity from a man who is circumcised than about Judaism from one who is not. But if either of them fails to speak about Jesus Christ, I look on them as tombstones and graves of the dead, upon which only the names of people are inscribed. (Holmes 2007: 240, 241)

I've encountered this passage before, which is a bit odd since I've never read any of the Apostolic Fathers (other than the Didache); perhaps Boyarin addressed Ign. Phld. 6.1 in Border Lines. But I think a few observations are possible here, especially on the strength of the discussion in my post, "Judaism and Christianity (Ign. Magn. 8–10)."

First, Ignatius appears to imagine the "anyone" [τις] who expounds Judaism as being a gentile. This, perhaps, isn't a necessary inference from the comparative statement, but it does seem to me that Ignatius exhorts the Philadelphians to shun a particular content (Ἰουδαϊσμός) rather than a certain ethnicity (Ἰουδαῖος). In other words, Ignatius isn't saying, "If a Jew speaks to you . . ."

Second, Ignatius' identification of the two hypothetical speakers in terms of "circumcision" [περιτομήν] and "uncircumcision" [ἀκρόβυστος] may simply be a result of Pauline influence (see Romans 2). But given my immediately preceding point as well as the emphasis on action rather than belief for the word Ἰουδαϊσμός, the "circumcision/uncircumcision" language likely continues the focus on behavior. Ignatius isn't telling the Philadelphians to avoid Judaism (as we understand the term, i.e. as a particular religious perspective) but rather those who espouse those set of practices that distinguish Jews from gentiles.

Third, Ignatius seems to be less critical of Jews who observe peculiarly Jewish practices than gentiles (= gentile Christians, I presume) who do so. For the circumcised Jew who proclaims Χριστιανισμόν ["Christianity"] is better [ἄμεινον] than the [circumcised?] gentile who proclaims Ἰουδαϊσμόν ["Judaism"]. In fact, the "uncircumcised man" [ἀκρόβυστος] who proclaims Judaism must have been circumcised if his proclamation of Judaism is to make any sense at all; the language of ἀκροβυστία must surely be metaphorical (even ironic) here.

Fourth, both speakers come under Ignatius' censure if they fail to speak of Jesus Christ. This raises the question, which Ignatius doesn't address, whether the bishop would have found acceptable a gentile proclaiming Judaic practices as long as he gave sufficient attention to proclaiming Jesus. In other words, was Ignatius' problem less about the idea of circumcision/Jewish distinctive culture and more with a phenomenological (or experiential) complaint that gentiles who found Jewish observances meaningful for their faith spent too much time expounding those observances rather than the message of/about Jesus?

Fifth [which, strictly speaking, is a question rather than an observation], how does the reference to "the names of men" (or "human [as opposed to "divine"?] names"; μόνον ὀνόματα ἀνθρώπων) relate to Ignatius' point? Is this simply an aspect of his metaphor of these speakers who neglect Jesus Christ as "tombstones and graves," or is this another way of speaking of his view of Ἰουδαϊσμός apart from the preaching of Jesus Christ? Is this, in other words, similar to the polemic in the Pastoral Epistles against [Jewish] genealogies (see 1 Tim 1.4; Tit 3.9)?

Friday, January 08, 2010

παράκλητος as a precise legal term

This morning I read Lochlan Shelfer's essay, "The Legal Precision of the Term 'παράκλητος'" (JSNT 32/2 [2009], 131–150), which surveyed (exhaustively, apparently) the use of παράκλητος [paraklētos; from which we get "Paraclete" as a reference to the Holy Spirit] in pagan and Hellenistic Jewish literature and argued that, with one exception from the Classical period (Demosthenes, De Falsa Legatione [343 BCE]), every use of παράκλητος was either (i) a translation of the Latin advocatus, or (ii) consistent with its use a translation of advocatus.

I found a lot about this article interesting, but I think I can best explain where Shelfer's argument took my mind in a series of progressive observations:

  • With the exception of Demosthenes, παράκλητος only appears in pagan literature six times, once in an Oxyrhynchus papyrus (P.Oxy. 2725.10), and in one piece of epigraphic evidence (a "confession inscription" from northeaster Lydia [modern Turkey]). Regardless whether or not we accept Shelfer's argument regarding παράκλητος as a Greek translation of the Latin advocatus, our Greek term appears to have been rare in gentile (pagan) usage.

  • Despite this rarity among gentile writers, Shelfer notes that παράκλητος "is used often . . . by Jewish writers during the Roman Empire" (142). Philo alone, writing in the first-century CE from the northern Egyptian metropolis, Alexandria, uses the term eleven times. Given Philo's involvement in judicial affairs between the Alexandrian Jewish population and the Roman justice system, perhaps the utility of παράκλητος isn't all that surprising. At any rate, our term seems to be especially popular in Jewish Hellenistic Greek relative to gentile Hellenistic Greek. Παράκλητος even appears in transliteration in Hebrew and Aramaic texts as פרקליט [prqlyt]

  • The Johannine writings continue the popularity of παράκλητος in Jewish texts: "The currency of the word in Jewish writings no doubt contributed to its most famous uses in the Christian Scriptures where it appears in two places, four times in a speech by Jesus to the disciples in the Gospel of John, the 'Farewell Discourse", and once in 1 John" (145). Five uses in a single set of texts (the Johannine literature) certainly qualifies as a frequent use of παράκλητος, a usage akin to Philo and distinct from gentile use.

If these observations are correct, then I find it interesting that, whatever else the Johannine corpus (especially the gospel, but also Revelation) says about "the Jews," it nevertheless exists within a Jewish symbolic universe. This is fairly obvious from other, more blatant themes in the text (testimony of Moses, Jesus as the λόγος [logos], etc.), but even in the minor details (here, the use of a Greek legal term) John appears thoroughly at home among Hellenistic and Roman Jewish literature, especially where that literature is distinctive vis-à-vis its pagan counterpart.

document no. 2: Pulling at Paul

Here's a second paper I've written and not yet sent off to be published. As always, I welcome any comments/criticisms/questions.

Pulling at Paul

me on Scribd

I've decided to try out Scribd. I've had a user account for a while now, but I haven't uploaded any documents. Now I have. I'm wading into the Scribd rather than diving; I'm keeping my documents private. But my understanding is that they are still viewable to anyone who has a direct link.

While I don't want my non-published work completely available, if you'd like to see my most recent paper here's your Golden Ticket. As always, I'd be particularly interested in any comments/criticisms/questions you might have.

Tradition, Text, And Gospel

on defining biblical scholarship

In the process of putting the finishing touches on an article, I returned to Clifford Geertz's The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973), a book I first encountered early in 2002 as I groped after the theoretical basis of my Master's thesis at Cincinnati Christian University. And I came across this:
Cultural analysis is intrinsically incomplete. And, worse than that, the more deeply it goes the less complete it is. It is a strange science whose most telling assertions are its most tremulously based, in which to get somewhere with the matter at hand is to intensify the suspicion, both your own and that of others, that you are not quite getting it right. But that, along with plaguing subtle people with obtuse questions, is what being an ethnographer is like.

There are a number of ways to escape this—turning culture into folklore and collecting it, turning it into traits and counting it, turning it into institutions and classifying it, turning it into structures and toying with it. But they are escapes. The fact is that to commit oneself to a semiotic concept of culture and an interpretive approach to the study of it is to commit oneself to a view of ethnographic assertion as, to borrow W. B. Gallie's by now famous phrase, "essentially contestable." Anthropology, or at least interpretive anthropology, is a science whose progress is marked less by a perfection of consensus than by a refinement of debate. What gets better is the precision with which we vex each other. (Geertz 1973: 29)

I am currently engaged in proposing a semiotic approach to gospels scholarship, a proposition that began in Structuring Early Christian Memory but that I'm realizing more and more I need to push and expand before moving on to my other interests (particularly the "parting of the ways," my analysis of which will depend thoroughly on this semiotic approach).

The most common criticism I have received, from multiple quarters, is of my rather uncontrolled, open-ended, fluid understanding of ancient tradition and how that tradition was expressed in and related to written texts. So, naturally, I like Geertz's idea, in which biblical scholarship's "progress is marked less by a perfection of consensus than by a refinement of debate." More precise, controlled, "scientific" biblical scholarship isn't "better" if its precision and control—its science—are distortions that provide an "escape" from the historical processes and communities and texts at the heart of our analyses.

links are live

Previously I announced the newest issue of the Journal for the Study of the New Testament, but at that time the link to the current issue still led to the Sept. 2009 (32/1) issue. This morning the link has been updated, and I have added links to the abstracts of each article in the original post. If your library doesn't get JSNT, take advantage of their InterLibrary Loan service.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

We are Borg

I assume it's okay for me to post this brochure online; if this somehow violates some arcane copyright statute someone please let me know. At any rate, those of you in the East TN area might be interested in a presentation at St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church (Farragut TN) by Marcus Borg, a historical Jesus scholar and Canon Theologian at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral (Portland, OR).

Borg is well known as a prominent member of the Jesus Seminar, though I've pointed out elsewhere that his work is qualitatively different than most of what has been published under their banner. He is also particularly known for persistently challenging eschatological reconstructions of the historical Jesus, though my own sense is that Borg (and others) lost that debate before it started simply because of the stark binary dichotomy that proponents of a sapiential Jesus often foist upon the ancient data.

Personally, I'm not particularly interested in Borg's prescriptions for how to be Christian in the twenty-first century. If this were a lecture series about the historical Jesus, I would be much more likely to shell out the $45.00 registration fee. For those of you with a more pastoral bent, however, the cost is less than 6.5 hours of labor at the current Federal minimum wage. Well, that's before taxes.

[HT: Daniel Overdorf]

Poirier on NT introductions and the synoptic problem

I just finished reading John Poirier's article, "The Synoptic Problem and the Field of New Testament Introduction" (JSNT 32/2, 179–190), a very brief piece that surveys the treatment of source-critical hypotheses among introductory discussions of NT research. Naturally, Kloppenborg and Tuckett don't receive very much treatment since they don't exhibit the neglect Poirier is chronicling (see p. 185, n. 17). Poirier doesn't mention Mark Allan Powell's Introducing the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), presumably because Powell's book was published after Poirier's article was in the process of publication. This adds to the impression, I think, that Poirier has put his finger on an on-going problem (see Goodacre's discussion here) rather than chronicling a problem with past research.

In the interest of full-disclosure, I should say that I myself am not a proponent of the Farrer-Goulder-Goodacre approach to gospel relationships, but neither am I convinced against it. Rather, what I like most about the ascendancy of this set of arguments is the reminder that the results of source-critical inquiry must be plugged back into Christian origins scholarship (including gospels scholarship) with a healthy respect for the contingency of those results. We will certainly have to debate what constitutes healthy respect for this contingency, but certainly the cavalier confidence in Markan priority and Q that characterized NT research in previous decades (including the just-completed Naughties) does not.

Monday, January 04, 2010

out last month

The December 2009 issue of Journal for the Study of the New Testament [JSNT 32/2] arrived in the mail today, though the website still has September 2009 listed as the current issue. The actual current issue includes the following articles:

All five essays look promising. I have half an essay on a topic related to Poirier's topic idling on my hard drive and waiting for my renewed attention. And given my current reading among the Apostolic Fathers as part of a revision of my History of New Testament Interpretation course, Garrow's essay piques another of my interests. I am also developing a graduate-level course on Romans (see Jipp's essay) and continuing to refine/develop my freshman-level Gospel Narratives course (see Shelfer's essay).

I'll try to add links to the articles when JSNT updates their website.

heretical diets in Ign. Trall. 6.1

Now that I've finished my review of Chris Keith's book I've been able to get back to reading the Apostolic Fathers. I've tried not to stop completely, but certainly my progress was slowed as I paid particular attention to reviewing Chris's book.

So this morning I turned to Ignatius' epistle To the Trallians. Here's the Greek text, along with translation, of Ign. Trall. 6.1 from Michael Holmes (third edition; 2007: 218, 219):

Παρακαλῶ οὖν ὑμᾶς, οὐκ ἐγὼ ἀλλ᾽ ἡ ἀγάπη Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, μόνῃ τῇ Χριστιανῇ τροφῇ χρῆσθε, ἀλλοτρίας δὲ βοτάνης ἀπέχεσθε, ἥτις ἐστὶν αἵρεσις.

I urge you, therefore—yet not I, but the love of Jesus Christ—partake only of Christian food, and keep away from every strange plant, which is heresy.

As I consider Ignatius' view of food (and remember, this is far afield from my specialties), I'm reminded also of Ignatius' demonstrable affinity for Paul and his writings. If Ignatius was as fond of Paul as he seems to have been, and if Paul argued forcefully—both in his letters and in Luke's portrayal of him in Acts—that issues of diet should not disqualify a person from being counted among God's people, then how can Ignatius have deviated so far from Paul in prescribing a quite restrictive view of diet and fellowship?!

Paul was quite emphatic: The unity of the people, and not the food on their plate, mattered to him (see 1 Cor 8–10; Rom 14–15). This is also the point of Luke's portrayal of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15: Through Peter's ministry in Caesarea and Paul and Barnabas' work among the gentiles in Asia Minor, God had made clear that he had "made clean" (Acts 10.15) the people who eat pork and shrimp and [O, the greatness of his mercy!] even Taco Bell. Is Ignatius really capable of getting it this wrong?

It has been about eighteen months since I read Daniel Boyarin's Border Lines (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), which was a fascinating, very technical exploration of heresiology among Jews and Christians and its role in the "parting of the ways" between them. But if I remember correctly, Boyarin argues that the Greek word αἵρεσις [hairesis; "sect, division, party"] did not take on the "heretical" connotations of the English word heresy until the third or fourth century.

If this is the case (i.e., if Boyarin did make this argument as well as if this is a more helpful way of reading αἵρεσις), then the consequence for our understanding Ign. Trall. 6.1 is fairly clear. Ignatius' letters are often dated to c. 110 CE (though some have suggested a later date of 125–150 CE), which obviously antedates the third or fourth century. The texts of the New Testament (which also, obviously, antedate the third or fourth century and which, in my estimation, also antedate Ignatius), use αἵρεσις in the sense of "sect" (Acts 24.5, 14; 1 Cor 11.19; Gal 5.20; 2 Pet 2.1) or "party" (Acts 5.17; 15.5; 26.5; 28.22) rather than of "heresy." So I would render Trall. 6.1 as follows:

Therefore I urge you—yet not I but the love of Jesus Christ—only make use of Christian food and abstain from [every] strange plant [or herb], which is divisive [αἵρεσις].

If this gets us closer to Ignatius' intended meaning (or to his audience's likely understanding of his language), then he actually appears more Pauline here than in Holmes's translation (if I have understood Holmes rightly). The problem isn't that eating the wrong foods pushes a person or group of people beyond the pale of "Christianity"; rather, the church(es) in Tralles has/have formed groups [αἱρέσεις; haireseis (groups, divisions)] around distinctive menus. This coheres, I think, with another distinctive Ignatian emphasis: the importance of submitting to the bishop and other church leaders (see, inter alios, Trall. 2–3). Ignatius' emphasis on the bishop ensures both the unity of the church and its protection from false teaching. If the Trallians will accept "only Christian food" [μόνῃ τῇ Χριστιανῇ τροφῇ; monē tē Christianē trophē (6.1; = "food sanctioned by the bishop"?)], their unity will be restored/preserved and their ability to submit "to the bishop as to Jesus Christ" (Ign. Trall. 2.1) will likewise be restored/preserved.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

a brief comment (well, almost)

As I wrap up Chris Keith's book, The Pericope Adulterae, the Gospel of John, and the Literacy of Jesus (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009), I found the following particularly interesting:
Regardless of whether PA was oral or written, GJohn's absorption of PA demonstrates that, into the second and third centuries, written gospel texts, even authoritative ones, functioned in a 'performance mode' in light of the texts' scribe (or performer) and readers (or [intended] audience). The interpolator was both a reader of GJohn's author and an author in his own right, modifying GJohn in light of his (intended) audience. PA is thus primary evidence that long-held assumptions that written tradition was 'fixed' while oral tradition was 'free' are incorrect. (Keith 2009: 259)

Keith's point about the problematic assumptions upon which NT scholarship has depended since at least the rise of form criticism in the first third of the twentieth century is dead right. If we accept any literary explanation of the synoptic gospels' interrelationships (e.g., the Two-Source Hypothesis or the Farrer Theory), we are similarly hard-pressed to explain how later evangelists could handle the text(s) at their disposal without a sense that they were falsifying those texts. The answer (or a significant part thereof) must be the altogether different conception of fixity current among ancient Christians. Moreover, this conception of fixity (for the early Christians clearly and demonstrably did think their traditions were fixed and stable, despite [and even in the face of] the variations between them) applied to both oral and written expressions of tradition and was capable of, among other things, incorporating interpolations such as PA.

But that's not actually what caught my interest, and so I've emended this post's title by adding the parenthetical qualifier. I was particularly pleased to see Keith's suggestion that the [written] text of John's gospel functioned along the lines of a performance of the Jesus tradition. This idea has not, unless I've missed it, played a significant role in his argument throughout The Pericope Adulterae; it is, on the other hand, a significant aspect of my argument in Structuring Early Christian Memory: Jesus in Tradition, Performance, and Text (London and New York: T&T Clark, 2010). The idea of the written texts themselves—texts that have been subjected to intense examination in all their minutiae and presumed to exist in a stable form similar to our familiar NA27 or UBS4rev—as performances of the tradition rather than the final expressions of the tradition will likely be one of the (if not the) most significant advances in gospels scholarship in the next generation. But then again, I would say that, wouldn't I?

educated guesses on Jesus . . .

. . . in the second and third centuries. I'm currently in the middle of Chris Keith's proposal regarding the Sitz im Leben der Kirche of the Pericope Adulterae's [PA] original insertion into John's gospel at 7.53–8.11. Keith identifies four facts for which any such proposal must account:
  • A version of PA known in the early church no later than the second century;
  • Early references to PA "as being located in a gospel context, which could have been GJohn but may not have been";
  • Early Christian writers typically employed PA as an example for early Christian leaders to follow (especially bishops, especially in terms of ecclesial discipline);
  • At some point no later than the mid-fourth century CE a scribe had inserted PA into John's gospel at John 7.53–8.11. (Keith 2009: 213)

After rejecting the popular theory that the early church suppressed the Pericope Adulterae from their Jesus tradition, Keith goes on to propose that second- or (more likely) third-century Christian responses to pagan critiques of Jesus/Christianity as thoroughly uneducated and illiterate provide the most likely context driving the insertion of PA into John's gospel. [Note that Keith does not suggest that PA originates in the second or third century, only that PA's insertion into John's gospel occurred during this time.] The driving consideration behind Keith's proposal is that, of all various facets of PA's portrayal of Jesus, only the image of a Jesus who was capable of writing (= grapho-literacy) is unparalleled elsewhere in the Jesus tradition. In other words, Jesus as out-maneuvering the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus as interpreter of Torah, Jesus as compassionate for the outcast, Jesus as siding with sinners . . . these all have parallels elsewhere (and presumably, therefore, would not justify PA's inclusion into a canonical gospel). But Jesus as writing . . . this is unique to PA and so sustains Keith's explanation of PA's interpolation.

If a writing Jesus explains PA's insertion into John's gospel, then the socio-historical context of PA's insertion must be one that required (or at least desired) a writing Jesus in the first place. With this in mind Keith surveys a number of early pagan critics of Christianity (Celsus, Lucian, Galen, and Minucius Felix) who highlight Christians' and Jesus' vulgarity and illiteracy. These criticisms were rooted in earlier critiques (see John 7.15; Acts 4.13), and later, more educated Christians (including Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine) benefitted from PA's portrayal of a grapho-literate Jesus.

All of this makes very good sense, and Keith's argument is well worth reading in full. But I have a question that, so far, has yet to be addressed (or even raised).1 It seems to me Keith's argument depends a lot on the assumption that the literate Christians needed (or at least found useful) a grapho-literate Jesus for their responses to their pagan opponents. But if these literate, educated Christians (again, including Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine) needed (or at least found useful) a grapho-literate Jesus, and one of these (not necessarily Ambrose, Jerome, or Augustine, but someone like them) inserted PA into John partly in response to non-Christian polemic, then how do we explain the presence of these educated folk among Jesus' followers in the first place? In other words, something attracted grapho-literate people to Christianity even before a grapho-literate Jesus, via PA, entered the Jesus tradition. This is especially the case if we accept Keith's argument, as I'm prone to do, that "the highest educated Christians in the early centuries of the Church tended to be converts who had gained a pagan literate education in their pre-Christian lives" (Keith 2009: 84). Why, then, would these same individuals need to insert PA's image of a grapho-literate Jesus into John's gospel rather than point to whatever factors legitimated their own conversion to Christianity?

While I'm here, I'm still not sure how this Sitz im Leben der Kirche would explain PA's insertion into John's gospel, since, as Keith argues, PA was already widely known (and accepted?) even before it found a canonical home. That is, Keith does not argue that PA originated in the second or third century (as I noted above) but that it was inserted into John's gospel at this time. He also argues that PA did not (necessarily) present a grapho-literate Jesus prior to its insertion in John's gospel, which means that when a scribe inserted PA at John 7.53–8.11 he also took a pericope that didn't mention writing and used it to propose an image of Jesus doing precisely this (see John 8.6, 8). So we have grapho-literate Christian leaders taking an authoritative, if non-canonical, story of Jesus not judging an adulteress and inserting that story into the Fourth Gospel, along with the twice-added mention of Jesus writing in the ground with his finger.

At this point I'm not sure I'm persuaded by Keith's proposal here, but (as I say) he may address my questions a bit further on. And even if not, Keith's analysis of PA and features of the Johannine narrative that may have motivated PA's insertion is very persuasive. But the situation surrounding PA's entrance into John's gospel is largely lost to history, and so Keith is trying to make a proposal on the basis of very sparse evidence. His critique of other proposals makes them largely untenable, and my own questions of Keith's proposal may be simply a function of our inability, absent new evidence, to identify when, how, or why the Pericope Adulterae found a place between John 7 and 8.

1 Let me say again, I'm in the middle of Keith's argument (pg. 228; see Keith 2009: 203–56 for his entire discussion of "The Historical Context for the Insertion of the Pericope Adulterae into the Gospel of John"). Knowing my luck, Keith addresses this question on p. 229!

I was part of that decade

[File this under shameless self-promotion.]

James Crossley has very briefly summarized the "naughties" in NT/biblical scholarship. Two of the issues he highlights are (i) the debate between confessional and secular biblical scholarship, and (ii) the rise of memory in the discussion of historical Jesus/Christian origins research. Yours truly [*ahem*] gets a mention along with Bauckham and Dunn; anyone who knows James might not be surprised that these latter two come off as scholars who might benefit from some "mediating." Especially in Bauckham's case, I agree.

My Visual Bookshelf