Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New JSP imminent

According to their website, the current issue of The Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha is still the December 2010 issue. However, I have it on good authority that the next issue (20/3 [March 2011]) will be issued very soon. When it's released I'll put up a link and a list of its contents. But for now, as a teaser, let me suggest that this issue will feature a very helpful discussion of the literal vs. metaphorical intentions of the therapeutic language in 4Q521. That text, famously found among the cache of texts from Cave 4 near the Dead Sea and originally published in 1992, contains striking thematic and traditional similarities to Jesus' response to John the Baptist's disciples, recorded in Matt. 11.2–6||Luke 7.18–23.

James Tabor, who published an essay with Michael Wise on this fragmentary text in the early 1990s, has posted a translation and discussion on his website. All of this is very interesting!!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Taylor-made Bultmann, again

In his book, The Formation of the Gospel Tradition (London: Macmillan and Co., 1933), Vincent Taylor has a remarkably perceptive comment about the potential authenticity of material in the gospels that scholars might, for whatever reason, judge secondary. In context, Taylor is discussing Rudolf Bultmann's radical scepticism ("[I]t is not strange that [Bultmann] has been looked upon as Strauss Redivivus" [14]) and the "Barthian sympathies" evident in Bultmann's 1925 book, entitled simply Jesus.
In this book "community-sayings" often become a transparent veil. Bultmann will point out how characteristic they are, and that they could never have been formed if Jesus had not taught this or that. The procedure of the community, he argues, "is the best witness for the teaching of Jesus" (J. 72). The certainty with which the community put the eschatological message into His lips is hard to understand if He did not actually proclaim it, and one cannot doubt that the most important words which demand complete obedience to God's will go back to Him.The book did us the service of showing what ought perhaps not to have been doubted, that a "community-saying" is not an invention ex nihilo, but a construction which could not have existed apart from the movement created by Jesus Himself. (Taylor 1933:14–15)

To many of us, the idea of Jesus' followers creating any saying of Jesus will be inappropriate. But scholars have recently come to appreciate that even verbatim reproduction of another person's words is to (re)create them as our own (not unlike how I have recreated Taylor's words in this post, and Taylor himself recreated Bultmann's words). (Re)Creation is not necessarily falsification. Matthew may have said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit," but he did so as a representative of the Jesus tradition and to the community of Jesus' followers. Apparently, Matthew expected his audience to accept that his words were also Jesus' words. Taylor's explanation of Bultmann's work clearly communicates this idea.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Forgering Ahead: Bart Ehrman and NT Pseudepigraphy

As I mentioned previously, Bart Ehrman graced our fair city and gave the inaugural David L. Dungan Memorial Lecture, "Does the New Testament Contain Forgeries? The Surprising Claim of Modern Scholars." Ehrman's point was, in a word, Yes, the New Testament does contain forgeries. This doesn't strike me as one of modern scholarship's "surprising claims"; it is, after all, well over two hundred years old. But Ehrman's point—and he may be right here—is that the results of the work of "modern scholars" has not been as widely diffused as we might like. Of course, Ehrman presents the results of modern scholarship in rather tendentious terms (I don't think you have to be a fundamentalist or even conservative Christian to agree with this); it would be "surprising" if NT scholars began calling pseudepigraphal (falsely inscribed) texts "forgeries."

At any rate, Ehrman's lecture is available on the University of Tennessee's website; see here for the video (including the Q&A that followed), which is linked with Ehrman's PowerPoint. An even dozen of my institution's faculty, staff, and students attended the lecture on Thursday, 27 January, and last night (9 February) we met—along with some interested students who weren't able to attend the lecture—to discuss Ehrman's claims. I think a helpful and encouraging discussion followed, and on top of that we got to eat dinner together. Score!

I prepared written notes for last night's discussion. First I tried to summarize Ehrman's lecture to remind us what we heard (or to catch up any students who weren't able to hear Ehrman in person); then I responded to two aspects of the lecture ([i] his use of the term, forgery, and [ii] his tabulation of NT documents). Of course, there were other things to respond to, but I limited my prepared remarks to these two. You're welcome to look over my comments; if you have any additional insights, any questions, or if I misrepresent Ehrman or respond inappropriately to him, please feel free to leave a comment here.

Can We Trust the New Testament? A Response to Bart D. Ehrman

Monday, February 07, 2011

relating text and tradition

I've started reading David C. Parker's short little book, The Living Text of the Gospels (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). This is an epoch-changing book, both for the studies of the gospels (and other early Christian written texts) and for text-critical research. Fifty years ago New Testament text critics may have been fairly confident regarding the goal of their research—viz., the recovery of the original text of the writings of the NT. Today, however, most text critics and a growing number of NT scholars more generally are coming to question both the utility of "original text" as an academic pursuit and the utility of text-critical methods for uncovering (or recovering) the prized "original text." David Parker's book is an important factor behind this shift:
Instead of eliminating material in order to recover a single original text, the editor analyses all the developments of the material in order to demonstrate the processes to which they owe their origin. The textual critic's task has not become less important because there is no definitive text to be recovered. There is a sense in which an editor's continuing importance has increased. For when it is assumed that there is an original text [original emphasis], the textual critic's task is very simple: to recover the original text. The user then offers grateful thanks for the definitive product, and gets on with the interpretation, while the editor goes in search of another text to polish off. But if the task does not consist in recovery of an original text, then the study of the entire range of materials available will not cease with the publication of an edition. . . . [T]he quest for an original text need not be the only option available to the modern textual critic, or the only expectation of the modern reader. Returning to the Gospels armed with these possibilities, we ask this question: are the Gospels the kinds of texts that have originals? (6, 7; my emphasis)

At any rate, enough of the introduction to the current state of text-critical research. I'm actually very interested in a comment Parker makes regarding an illustrated manuscript of the Pentateuch. This example, I think, illustrates the kind of claim I make regarding early copies of the written gospels (by "early," I mean of the first three or four centuries). Namely, I suggest that we should read the written texts of the gospels as moments or instances of the Jesus tradition rather than as standard, fixed, "canonical" versions of that tradition. In the earliest Christian centuries the Jesus tradition was considerably more fluid than we experience it today (though we should recognize that even today we are comfortable with a surprise level of fluidity; consider as one example the myriad nativity displays every year sporting both angelic hosts and Magi worshiping the baby Jesus, despite the fact that not one single text bring angels and Magi together with Mary, Joseph, and the new-born Christ). Did Matthew, as one who performed the Jesus tradition, always include eight beatitudes in the third person and one in the second? Did Luke, as another performer, always limit himself to four beatitudes (in the second person)? And did he always pair his beatitudes with corresponding woes? I find it unlikely, though providing documented support for my opinion here is especially difficult. So I was especially interested in the following, which seems, at least, to support my approach to relating text and tradition:
The provision of pictures places the text in a different light for the reader. This may best be illustrated by the example of a manuscript of the Pentateuch. It has a series of miniatures accompanying the story of Joseph. But the miniatures contain material and scenes which are found in Jewish apocryphal writings, and not in the written text of the Genesis. Thus the entire manuscript, text and pictures, is telling a different story from that found in the text alone. (27; the manuscript in question is the Vienna Genesis)

I don't think I agree with Parker's last point. "The entire manuscript" isn't telling "a different story from that found in the text alone." Rather, the manuscript is telling a larger story from that found in the text alone. For its intended audience, this "larger story" was already invoked and evoked by the manuscript. This is the only way, as far as I can see, why an illustrator would think it okay to illustrate a biblical manuscript with scenes from apocryphal texts. That is, the written text was a moment or instance of the larger Joseph tradition. And it doesn't much matter that the written text doesn't narrate other moments or instances of the tradition, some of which are only found in apocryphal writings. Text and tradition belong together, and this "belonging together" happens within the audience, at the moment of reception, rather than within the text. Unfortunately, that means it's much more difficult—and often impossible—for us to see today how text and tradition relate to one another. But every now and then we get a glimpse of the larger traditional connections, and these glimpses remind us not to read our written texts too narrowly, too myopically, or with too great a restriction on what we think a text does not say.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

the first review

I received an e-mail yesterday from T&T Clark that included a review of Structuring Early Christian Memory: Jesus in Tradition, Performance, and Text. Daniel Frayer-Griggs, of the University of Durham, has reviewed my book for Theological Book Review, and he has had kind things to say. I've included the concluding paragraph of his review below:
This is a profoundly ambitious and highly technical work, calling for nothing short of a paradigm shift in gospels research. Rodriguez's discussion of social memory theory is highly suggestive and should enliven both gospels and historical Jesus research, and, while he is perhaps too sceptical regarding the existence of Q and the continued relevance of source and redaction criticism, his analysis of the relationship between orality and textuality is learned and illuminating.

Thank you, Mr Frayer-Griggs. I hope we meet one day.

My Visual Bookshelf