Wednesday, August 03, 2011

a second point in third place

I'm not gonna lie . . . in the middle of writing my first response to the intractably friendly if stubbornly oppositional James McGrath, I completely lost my train of thought. I knew exactly what I wanted to say, and I introduced my thoughts by saying, "But two problems strike at the heart of redaction criticism, and it seems to me that those who accept the results of redaction-critical analyses haven't addressed either of them."

My first point, which I expanded in my second response to James, was that the evangelists don't seem to have been sufficiently consistent redactors of their sources for us to know what motivated their particular method(s) of handling their traditions/sources. James (and many, many other NT scholars) seems sufficiently impressed that Matthew expands the traditions at his disposal. And while he (= Matthew) clearly does exhibit expansionist tendencies, there are simultaneously plenty of instances in which Matthew has the shorter text. So the expansionist Matthew is also an epitomist! Or, Matthew the spiritualizer is also, at times, more concrete than his Lukan counterpart. The situation seems sufficiently muddled to me that even probable and/or plausible historical reconstruction becomes problematic, even for those of us content with less-than-certain historical knowledge.

But then I forgot my second point. There I was, having promised the faithful readers of Verily Verily (both of you!) "two problems" that undermined the redaction-critical enterprise, and I couldn't remember the second one!! What was I to do?! I could have removed the offending promise of "two problems"; after all, blogging is far from the decrees of the Medes and the Persians. Instead, I, your humble blogger, developed an ingenious alternative second point, and no one was aware that I had temporarily lost my own plot. But hooray! I have remembered my second point, which I now offer in third place.

All sarcasm aside, we need to remember that the current discussion began with my original response to Tom Holmén's discussion of the authenticity criteria in Routledge's Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus (2008). My primary complaint, in case I didn't state it clearly enough, was Holmén's advocation of a historiographical method that sought (i) to identify earlier or later features of the Jesus tradition, then (ii) to discard the later features (redactional or otherwise), and finally (iii) to reconstruct the historical Jesus solely on the basis of authenticated, original, or the earliest material. Even if we were to overlook the overwhelming contingency that plagues the redaction-critical enterprise, is this the right way to treat material we identify as redactional? I don't think so.
  • First, in the sixth chapter of Structuring Early Christian Memory, I gave a very close reading of Luke 4.14–30, which I (along with every NT scholar of whom I am aware) think has clearly been subject to the redactional activity of the Lukan evangelist. But this cannot be the end of the story. Instead, I ask, "[W]hence comes Luke's redactional impulse?" (Rodríguez 2010:141). Granted that Luke was able to creatively handle the tradition he received from "those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word," was he free to arbitrarily handle that tradition? My analysis suggests not and shows (i) how Luke's retelling of the story we read in Mark 6.1–6a was heavily influenced by another pre-Lukan tradition (see Matt. 11.2–6||Luke 7.18–23 [Q?]), and (ii) how Luke's portrayal of Jesus' rhetorical maneuvering before the Nazarene Jewish gathering does not make Jesus unintelligible to a Sitz im Leben Jesu. Elijah and Elisha, whom Jesus evokes in Luke 4.25–27, need not legitimize the inclusion of the gentiles (even if they clearly do in Luke-Acts).
  • Similarly, Dale Allison grants the redactional nature of numerous texts (including the summary of Jesus' message in Mark 1.14–15 and the temptation narratives in Matt. 3||Luke 3 [Q?] and Mark 1.12–13), and he demonstrates that these redactional pericopae nevertheless communicate authentically the historical Jesus. This approach, which does not discard redactional material but rather continues to ask critically how such material relates to history and brings the past to bear on Sitz im Leben of the church or of the evangelist, seems to me to handle the synoptic Gospels and the Jesus tradition more responsibly than does, e.g., the approach advocated by Tom Holmén.
So, James, I ask you: How could these arguments, which feel so right, be wrong?



Anonymous said...

I think I've stated this to you before, but it's worth re-stating:

I think the major problem with the criteriological approach to Jesus historiography resides in its intrinsic decontextualization of Jesus tradition(s); once we strip a saying or a deed out of its context and juxtapose it with other "authenticated" material, we are unable to re-contextualize it--for the gospels are the only context we possess for those sayings. And, as common knowledge suggests, context determines meaning.

I'm afraid if we use this "sifting" approach, it is inevitable that we are left with a sagacious Jesus, who spoke short-pithy maxims in a vacuum.

Thus, I think Allison is correct when he concludes that we either know a lot (as historians) about Jesus, or we know hardly nothing at all.

This, of course, isn't to say that such criteria have no value--they certainly prompt us to ask difficult questions--nor is it to suggest that we shouldn't ever invoke questions of historicity; rather, these criteria should not be used exclusively, nor primarily (or even secondarily!!), in our search for the historical Jesus.

Nathan S.

James F. McGrath said...

Challonge! :)

Jim said...

Hello Rafael,

My first post here. My first view.

I’m not up to full speed on the back and forth between you and McGrath.

I have some criticisms of McGrath. Not worth floating here. Except as they might overlap with questions for you. Next.

I’ll cut right to the chase.

Liminalia? Spectral evidence?

Those questions might sound crazy. Or unintelligible. Not parts of the standard terminological tumbler for NT studies. My general sensibility for these questions derives from how liminalia and spectral evidence (dreams) emerge ubiquitously as one engine which drives science. Or legal hermeneutics. See Kekule’s dream. The steps in scientific method after such initial liminal insights are exactly one reason why we invented science. To test hunches for trustworthiness. So too with legal hermeneutical-imagination. To which we apply sociology of laws. And common sense. I’m not trying to use non-standard nuances to define liminalia. Or spectral evidence. Dictionary definitions should do.

I’m chewing on a decision to republish some post-grad research under this skew.

I confess a charismatic bias. More in the Eliade tradition of encyclopedism. In this context. I wonder whether McGrath is oblivious to Pentecostalism. Or just deliberately non-saying in respect for it (perhaps contempt?). I don’t know. Open questions. My post-grad research focused some on these questions. Not expressly on redaction. My question for you is a baby-step. Infantile. Maybe way off-target in the range of redactional studies. Or perhaps an ally for your sensibility. There’s something in your sense of the redaction problems which feels right to me.

I wonder whether the critical bias of scholarship is fastidiously exorcizing of liminal insights from NT studies? The rationalism of criticism like a scalpel removing spectral evidence? If such subjective vectors of liminal and spectral influence (dreams) operated on bible writers (redactors, editors, or worms that ate the texts - a throwaway), then how would any critical reader discern a genuinely novel insight emerging from liminalia and distinguish that from a so-called deliberate and formal textual ‘redaction’? Why does the phenomena of chaotic interruptions to the texts get scuttled into ‘oral’ tradition? – when an equally powerful possibility involves the liminal voices in a single head? Take “Luke” - who writes texts upon texts about dreams upon dreams and more dreams. What if “Luke” dreamed? Like on the road to Macedonia? And so revised his texts? Sure, he studied the many sources too. I say more -- not less -- criticism. On the rational side of this critical question for me, see e.g., Margaret Somers on the quantification of narrative. Plural voices in a single communicative agent. Simultaneously. Quantifiable

Please know that I’m not advocating a position. Nor coming from a fixed one. I feel these questions as open ones. I’m not quite sure what my position would be. I’m pretty resistant to generalizations. Except for play. Small stuff under a microscope or the minutiae of facts in a legal case feel closer to home for me than a lot of NT generalizations. But I’m ignorant of the field. Amateur at best.

To the extent that I do have a sweeping general bias – much of the enterprise of critical NT studies strikes me as so ‘textual’ as to kill the ‘life.’ Liminal and spectral life. Probably my Quaker bias at full – ugly – bore. So throw that one away.



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