Monday, October 25, 2010

Encountering Jesus

I've recently begun reading Cornelis Bennema's new book, Encountering Jesus: Character Studies in the Gospel of John (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2010). [Authentic Media's website is currently unavailable, but you can find the book's details on Prof. Bennema's webpage.] In Encountering Jesus, Bennema offers a literary analysis—or historical narrative criticism, as he calls it—of all the characters in the Fourth Gospel who encounter Jesus and exhibit some faith-response to him. This analysis fleshes out in detail the literary theory of character Bennema proposed in a recent article, "A Theory of Character in the Fourth Gospel with Reference to Ancient and Modern Literature" (Biblical Interpretation 17 [2009]: 375–421).

Besides Bennema's BibInt article I've only read the Introduction (1–21), so I can't comment too much on the book just yet. But I've enjoyed what I've read so far. Bennema rejects the dominant view among Johannine scholars of the characters populating the Fourth Gospel as "flat" figures who function as ethical types and embody a single trait (typically "faith" or "unfaith"). Instead, Bennema suggests that the Fourth Gospel provides a range of characters; some may indeed be flat, but others exhibit an impressive range of complexity, development, and/or inner being.

Although Bennema sets out to provide a comprehensive literary analysis of all the characters who "encounter Jesus" throughout the entire Fourth Gospel, he explicit avoids applying his theory of character to the gospel's protagonist, Jesus, as well as to the Father or the Holy Spirit (18). We will see how this affects his analysis. At this early stage in the game I think this may be an unfortunate limitation. If John's characters are as "round" and true-to-life as Bennema suggests, then it would be interesting to see how this roundness relates to the character who inhabits centerstage. Indeed, it seems to me an analysis of Jesus' character—and perhaps also of the Father and the Spirit—would have provided an interesting benchmark from which to begin his comprehensive analysis of John's other characters.

Even so, I've enjoyed the first twenty pages, and I look forward to reading—and commenting upon—the remaining two hundred.

Friday, October 22, 2010

archaia in Ignatius

Ignatius, bishop of Antioch in the early second century CE who was marched to Rome and (presumably) martyred, records an interesting encounter with some of his opponents:

I heard of some people who said, "Unless I find it in the archives, I do not believe it in the gospel. When I told them, "It is written," they replied, "That is the question." But for me the archives are Jesus Christ; the sacred archives are his cross, his death, and his resurrection, and the faith that is granted through him.

ἤκουσά τινων λεγόντων ὅτι Ἐὰν μὴ ἐν τοῖς ἀρχείοις εὕρω, ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ οὐ πιστεύω· καὶ λέγοντός μου αὐτοῖς ὅτι Γέγραπται, ἀπεκρίθησάν μοι ὅτι Πρόκειται. ἐμοὶ δὲ ἀρχεῖά ἐστιν Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, τὰ ἄθικτα ἀρχεῖα ὁ σταυρὸς αὐτοῦ καὶ ὁ θάνατος καὶ ἡ ἀνάστασις αὐτοῦ καὶ ἡ πίστις ἡ δι ̓ αὐτοῦ· (Ign. Phil. 8.2)

In his chapter on "Early Christian Libraries" (144–2202), Harry Gamble offers the following discussion of the critical word, "archives" [ἀρχεῖα; archeia]:
The sense of this anecdote has been much debated, but what is important for my purposes is the meaning of the term archeion. Its original sense is "governmental house" or "magistrate's office," whence it came to mean "records office" and could signify either the place where records were kept or the records themselves. Most commentators take the word to mean "the original records" and to refer to the Jewish scriptures regarded as "archival records" or "charter documents" of the church. This is surely correct but does not necessarily exhaust the sense of this unique designation of Jewish scripture, for the word alludes to the place where such writings were deposited and available. Since its use by Ignatius's opponents has no clear ulterior motivation, all the more may it imply the existence of an archive or library of the Antiochene church where the Jewish scriptures, among other documents, were kept. (Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts [New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995], 152–53)

Monday, October 11, 2010

battle of the G[r]eeks, pt. II

In my previous post I mentioned that I am teetering on the verge of abandoning David Alan Black's first-year Greek grammar, Learn to Read New Testament Greek (Nashville: B&H Academic, 1994), the book from which I learned Greek back in the late 90s and I have used since I began teaching Greek two years ago. I also mentioned a few other introductory grammars I've looked at and briefly explained why each wasn't right for my class. Before I explain my attraction to N. Clayton Croy's, A Primer of Biblical Greek (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), I thought it might be helpful to explain my approach to teaching elementary Greek and what I expect an introductory grammar to provide my students.

First, as with any first-year Greek program my class is intense. We cover a lot of material quickly, and to make things worse the material is cumulative. Students can't forget present active indicative verb forms just because that was five chapters ago; neither can they forget vocab from earlier in the semester as we move on. Because the class is so intense, I don't want an intense first-year grammar. This is my main criticism of Mounce and, even more so, of Porter & Co. I need a grammar that breaks up the material into manageable chunks, presents it clearly and without excessive nuance, and moves on. I don't need my students to know that the third-person singular primary verbal ending "actually is τι, but the tau dropped out" (Mounce, 133n. 8); I want them to learn it just as -ει. Too much detail muddies the issues for first-year students, and I really don't want them to have to figure out what's important and what can be ignored for now.

Second, I don't want a grammar that explains everything for my students. Again, Mounce provides a helpful foil. An independent student could purchase Mounce's grammar and, with the aid of the website an the CD, learn everything s/he needed to learn about Greek alone. But my students aren't learning Greek by themselves; they're with me, my lab assistant, and their fellow students. What I like about Black's book, then, is that it quickly and concisely explains the most critical information and leaves plenty of room for me to supplement the material with my own. My students spend about one day (out of four) per week working out of Black's book; the rest of the week is spent working on supplementary materials that either I or my lab assistant have devised. More detailed introductory grammars strike me as, well, a bit over-determined.

Third, I think I prefer a balance between inductive and deductive approach to language acquisition. (I say "I think" because I've never been clear about what people actually mean when they use these terms.) Whatever the technical jargon, here's what I strive for. I expect students to be able to fill in grammar charts (verbal conjugations and nominal declensions). The age-old gripe that Greek is about "never-ending endings" doesn't move me to compassion; if you ever hope to be able to read the language you simply have to master its morphological paradigms. Even so, none of my students sign up to endure Elementary Greek in order to be able to fill in grammar charts, and so I try to introduce them to actual Greek texts as early as possible. Black, however, doesn't begin to provide actual exercises from the GNT until chapter eighteen, which is the second chapter of the second semester. Black's exercises are excellent after chapter eighteen, but I can't expect my students to endure six months of studying Greek before they turn to actual biblical texts.

Fourth, even if it's more difficult for students to move back and forth between verbal and nominal forms, syntax, and grammar (and I don't think it actually is), I want a grammar that presents the material in a way that gets progressively more familiar with the language as a whole rather than tackling, say, all three noun declensions before presenting any verbs. Again, even if students find it more difficult to move between grammatical categories, students draw motivation from their noticeably and steadily advancing abilities to work with the language, to decipher ideas in Greek and communicate them in English, and even to provide sketchy versions of English thoughts in Greek-esque. So what Mounce might gain in terms of simplifying the material he looses in terms of his students' motivation.

I think that's enough for now. In my next post on this subject I'll explain how Black and Croy line up on these four issues. As always, your comments are welcome.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

battle of the G[r]eeks

When I first took Elementary Greek back in the fall of 1998, we used the Revised Edition of David Alan Black's first-year grammar, Learn to Read New Testament Greek (Nashville: B&H Academic, 1994). I have loved Black's book, and when I started teaching Elementary Greek in the fall of 2008 I went with what I knew. But I don't want to be blindly loyal to Black, so I've taken occasion to look at a number of comparable books:

  • William Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), is simply too much material, in too much detail, to be helpful for my purposes. I also strongly dislike the order in which Mounce covers the material; even with the two-track option, I can't understand why anyone would present the entire nominal system before introducing verbs. Mounce is a great supplement for my more advanced students, and it comes with great support materials (a CD, along with its own website), but it isn't right for my class.
  • Jeremy Duff, The Elements of New Testament Greek (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), which I really like. But I could never get past the decision to omit accent marks from the text. I was worried that my students would be intimidated by the sudden intrusion of accents on nearly every Greek word when they looked at the Greek New Testament. Given how strange the unaccented text in Duff looked to me, I didn't want my students to react similarly (perhaps even more strongly) to their GNTs.
  • James Hewett, New Testament Greek (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), which I haven't looked at in as great detail. One of my teaching assistants and former Greek students looked through the first couple chapters and liked a lot of Hewett's explanations. But his rather informed opinion matched my more superficial one: Black was still the better choice for my students.
  • And last month I received an examination copy of the long-anticipated Fundamentals of New Testament Greek (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), by Stanley Porter and friends. If Mounce is too much information in too much detail, Porter & Co. is that much again. I love this book. I would use it if I ever taught first-year Greek to a class of students who've had at least a year of Greek and are retaking the course in preparation for seminary, graduate school, or any other academic pursuit. But even I can't impose this book on unsuspecting nineteen-year-olds.

But now I think I've found the book that will pull me away from Black. My Greek lab assistant recommended I look at N. Clayton Croy's introductory grammar, A Primer of Biblical Greek (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999). There's nothing sexy about Croy's book (the same could be said about Black's, at least before the release of the third edition last year). But I like Croy's order of presentation as well as his selection of material to present; I like his explanations of Greek grammar, syntax, and morphology, and I even prefer some of his pedagogical methods over Black. At this point I think I'm 75-25 in favor of Croy for the Fall 2011 semester. In the next week or two I'll explain why I'm contemplating the switch.

My hopes, however, are that some of you with experience with Croy, Black, or any other first-year Greek grammar would chime in, critique my thinking, come to the defense of your favorite text, or whatever. What have you found most helpful in learning/teaching Greek? Or even, Is the choice of textbook not a/the most significant factor affecting student comprehension and enjoyment of the language? I would greatly appreciate your input and/or feedback with this.

Friday, October 08, 2010

stenographers in the late-antique church

I enjoyed this paragraph, particularly for the contrast it provides with both the processes and the products of text-production in the church in the fourth and first centuries ce and the relationship between text-production and oral performance:
The availability of scribes trained in stenography had another important result: it made possible the the transcription and publication of homiletical material and so added another dimension to early Christian literature. By early in the third century Origen's public addresses were taken down in shorthand transcriptions and published (Eusebius, H.E. 6.36.1). This practice became widespread, and as a result the ex tempore words of the most gifted preachers of the Greek and Latin church have survived. The extensive homiletical remains of Christian rhetores like John Chrysostom and Augustine suggest the great interest and wide readership that attached to their sermons, though they were not intended for transcription or circulation and for the most part were not published by their authors. (Harry Y. Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts [New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995], 140)

what constitutes an "edition"?

Toward the end of the third chapter of his monograph, Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995 [YUP's website seems to have deleted the page for this book), Harry Gamble discusses the peculiar publication of Augustine's work, De doctrina christiana [On Christian Instruction]. The completed work takes up four books, but it was apparently originally made public in a two-volume edition. Augustine writes about his decision to bring the original, shorter work to its intended completion:
When I discovered that the books On Christian Instruction were not completed I chose to complete them rather than to leave them as they were and go on to the re-examination of other works. Accordingly I completed the third book. . . . Then I added a new book, and so completed the work in four books. (Retractationes 2.30; cited in Gamble, 136)

How interesting that Augustine can say he "discovered" his work was not complete; he should always have known this since he, apparently, never completed it. (I'm reminded of a certain breed of student who might claim not to have known that his or her research paper had been left undone on their harddrive.) It looks like Augustine released an early, unfinished version of De doctrina into circulation, and only later decided to return to his earlier project and finish it. From this, Gamble offers the following analysis:
The question whether a text of De doctrina in only two books constituted its first edition cannot really be answered. On the one hand, from the start the scope of the work was intended to be larger, so that a text in only two books would always have been incomplete; but, on the other hand, the work had apparently been corrected and given out for circulation. Hence it was not an edition in the modern sense—a complete, definitive text—but functionally it was an edition, for the work, though incomplete, was allowed to circulate and to be copied. This case shows how misleading the term edition can be when applied in the conditions under which texts circulated in antiquity. A text qualified as an edition only when it had been emended and released by the author for copying. (137)

The issues swirling around Augustine's De doctrina and Retractationes 2.30—and Gamble's analyses of those issues—raise interesting questions about the earliest texts of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).1 The dominant view of the gospels identifies Mark as the earliest written gospel, with Matthew and Luke dependent on Mark. One of the questions gospels scholars regularly raise is how (or why) the church preserved Mark once it had Matthew and Luke. This question is exacerbated by the fate of Q (if Matthew and Luke are independent), which was (apparently) allowed to return to dust.

What value—if any—might there be for thinking of Mark in terms similar to the incomplete, two-volume "edition" of De doctrina, and the other two synoptics as "completions" of the former? On the one hand, given Mark's abrupt beginning in 1.1–13 and—even more dramatically—the sudden ending at 16.8, the gospel of Mark does bear every indication of being an incomplete work that always anticipated "the rest of the story." On the other hand, however, Mark is its own carefully crafted, artistic, sophisticated account of the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, and if Matthew and Luke originally intended their gospels to displace Mark they clearly failed.

I suspect these types of questions have already been set to Mark, Matthew, and Luke. But has anyone broached these questions from the perspective of book-production and -dissemination in the early Roman empire (and/or in late-Second Temple Judaism)?

1 Of course, De doctrina, the earliest books of which were written c. 397 and was completed c. 426, is over three hundred years later than the gospels. The dynamics of text-production—including its technologies and its cultural value—were certainly not identical in the first and fourth centuries. But according to Gamble, the testimonies of Augustine and Jerome "indicate that the traditional procedure of the first three centuries remained in effect" (132).

Monday, October 04, 2010

the [un]orthodox corruption of scripture

More from Harry Gamble, who refers to a polemical fragment from Little Labyrinth (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.28.8–19; see Gamble 1995: 122–23). I don't want to reproduce the quote; you can follow the link if you're interested. The point, however, is that Hippolytus (?) is writing against certain named Christian scholars in Rome who have disseminated copies of the scriptures (= the gospels?) in order to support a particular theological point of view. According to Gamble:
The work of each [viz., Theodotus, Asclepiades, Hermophilus, and Apolloniades] was current in many copies, so that copies were easily obtained and compared. It is unlikely that the ready availability of copies was due to purely private, individual copying. Despite its scholastic aspect, this textual work in Rome was not disinterested but stood in the service of exegesis and theological argument, which makes it still more probable that the emended texts were produced in numerous copies, the better to promote their wide use and thus sustain a particular theological viewpoint.1

I can't help but remember Bart Ehrman's work, particularly in The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). Ehrman's thesis is that the "corruption" (in its technical, text-critical sense of variation rather than its popular sense of degradation) of scripture wasn't the sole domain of heterodox scribes and theologians; orthodox (or proto-orthodox) tinkerers also affected the readings in the text. As I read Ehrman, however, I couldn't help but think that Ehrman's analyses depended on too little data. That is, Ehrman made his claim for the orthodox corruption of scripture on the basis of individual variant readings and only rarely considered (i) the effect of a given change on the subsequent manuscript tradition or (ii) the effect of a given theological perspective on potentially problematic readings throughout a given manuscript. Of these, the latter is even rarer than the former.

Gamble's discussion, however, makes clear what Ehrman assumes: that changes to individual manuscripts had limited effect upon the tradition as a whole. If a person or a group of people wanted to conscientiously alter the reading of a text and wanted that change to displace an earlier reading, additional steps had to be taken. In the case of the Little Labyrinth that Eusebius cites, the heterodox teachers in Rome were involved not just in corrupting scriptural texts but also in disseminating their corrupted texts. The Little Labyrinth mocks its opponents' folly: "[The readings] of Asclepiades, for example, do not agree with those of Theodotus. And many of these can be obtained, because their disciples have assiduously written the corrections, as they call them, that is the corruptions, of each of them" (Eus. H.E. 5.28.17; my emphasis). But behind the author's scorn for the numerous copies then in circulation and the ammunition these copies provide against the scribes responsible for them, we can sense a certain frustration—even concern—that the flood of corrupted manuscripts might actually affect the Church's reception of the sacred tradition.

Perhaps, given the paucity and selectivity of the data that survives from antiquity, such evidence against the "proto-orthodox corruptors" of scripture is unlikely to have survived. Even so, this is the type of data I would look for in support of Ehrman's thesis. Gamble, who takes up the question directly of the relation between the authority invested in a text, its textual stability, and its preservation, provides a more helpful basis for historical discussion in that he appeals to actual textual evidence. Ehrman, it seems to me, often relies on the hermeneutical potential and theological possibilities of particular variants and their placement within the very interpretive framework for which he's arguing (viz., the orthodox corruption of scripture).

1 Harry Y. Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995), 123.

Eusebius, Origen, and text-production in antiquity

Harry Gamble quotes the following from Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History, which provides an interesting discussion of text-production in the early-third (or perhaps early-fourth) century.
As [Origen] dictated there were ready at hand more than seven shorthand writers [tachygraphoi] who relieved each other at fixed intervals, and as many copyists [bibliographoi], as well as young women who were skilled in fine writing [kalligraphein], for all of whom Ambrose provided without stinting the necessary means.1

In all that I've read about text-production in antiquity, I'd never run across the role of women as scribes. Origen, of course, is unusual in his literary output, the veritable Ben Witherington III of the third century (or perhaps Ben Witherington III is the Origen of the twenty-first century), so we certainly cannot assume his method of text-production is generalizable. But extreme as Origen's process may have been, it is nevertheless an extreme version of ancient text-production, and Origen's peculiarities seem to be quantitative (the volume of text-production) rather than qualitative (the method of text-production).

1 Harry Y. Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995), 120.

letter-collections and written tradition in antiquity

Now that I've finished reading Jesus in Memory, I've been able to return to Harry Gamble's very important monograph, Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995). Earlier in the book Gamble proposed the collection of (ten of) Paul's letters to seven churches as the motivating factor behind the Christians' early adoption of the codex format (rather than the scroll; see pp. 58–66). Now I'm reading Gamble's discussion of another collection of early Christian epistles: the letters of Ignatius of Antioch (109–12). Gamble's analyses of these letter collections are always interesting, even if I find parts of them still open to question.

Even so, what caught my interest is an almost off-handed comment about the early interest in written texts early in the second century among the church in Smyrna (western Asia Minor). Gamble has carefully teased out a surprising level of literary activity among the Smyrnaean Christians, and then he says:
This intense activity shows that the church at Smyrna in particular had both the interest and capacity to reproduce and distribute texts, and this, moreover, during the first two decades of the second century, a period often regarded as still heavily committed to oral tradition and little interested in the written word. (112)

Indeed. If Gamble has accurately reconstructed the letter-gathering, -transcribing, and -transmitting activities of the Smyrnaean church, then the interest in written texts at this Christian center is surprising. And Smyrna isn't the first major center of Christianity in the ancient world that comes to mind; if this state of affairs obtained in Smyrna, what must the text-production situation have been like in Alexandria, Rome, Jerusalem, or Antioch?

But what catches my attention, at least at this point in Gamble's analysis, is the way this textual interest breaks down generically. That is, the texts in which the church at this historical juncture (late-first to early-second century) exhibits such striking interest are all letters, and in fact the collections are of a single author's epistolary works. Collections weren't made on the basis of letters to specific churches or regions of churches (e.g., letters to Asian churches, or Syrian-Palestinian churches, or European churches, etc.). They also weren't all collected together in a single mass (important Christian epistolary texts). What we see are specific anthological interests in Paul's letters, Ignatius's letters, and so on.

Here's my point: What we don't see—and what makes Gamble's barb against the predilection for oral tradition that many of us assume among the general culture of Late Antiquity (and the early Christians in particularly) somewhat specious—are interests in written texts across multiple genre. We don't see at this stage in the Church's history a collection of gospels. Justin Martyr will demonstrate awareness of at least two and possibly all four canonical gospels in just a few decades, but this isn't the same as collecting and binding together multiple narrative texts. Tatian, a few decades after Justin, will bring together the four gospels in his Diatessaron, but this, too, is a far cry from collecting and anthologizing narrative texts. Irenaeus, just a few years after Tatian but on the other side of the Empire, may be the first instance we have of a four-gospel collection, but even here his interest in collecting narrative texts results more from Marcion's exclusive preference for [a corrupted version of] Luke's gospel rather than from the same sorts of impulses we see behind the collection of Paul's and Ignatius's letters.

So when Papias, the late-first- and/or early-second-century bishop of Hieropolis, says, "For I did not think that things found in books would benefit me as much as things from a living and abiding voice," he clearly demonstrates a preference for oral tradition over written texts.1 In context Papias's preference for the "living and abiding voice" applies especially to evangelical and, perhaps, paraenetic tradition. Presumably, if Papias had been writing on the apostle Paul, his estimation of the value of written texts would have differed. And equally clearly Papias doesn't reject tout court the value of written texts; after all, Papias is writing his own text, the now-lost Expositions of the Sayings of the Lord.

Harry Gamble, then, hasn't actually demonstrated any parity between oral and written expressions of the tradition in the early church, though he has very helpfully encouraged us to consider how generic dynamics intersect with media dynamics.

1 οὐ γὰρ τὰ ἐκ τῶν βιβλίων τοσοῦτόν με ὠφελεῖν ὑπελάμβανον, ὅσον τὰ παρὰ ζώσης φωνῆς καὶ μενούσης (Papias, Frag. 3.4; Greek text from Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations [third edition; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007], 734).

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