On: Kym Smith's Johannine Solution
Kym has attempted to read my recent note as a reaction to his work; it was
instead a reason for not reacting. I am still reluctant to react. But since
nothing else seems to be going on, perhaps the two of us might go off in a
corner and in low voices consider Kym's 12 Feb 07 post.
In general, it consists of a narrative of how the various evangelists and
their colleagues could have produced the Gospels we know (along with Acts).
One can see where Kym is coming from, and note the way the various pieces
are fitted together, both chronologically and geographically. It's not
without neatness. But the narrative leaves untouched questions of Synoptic
relationship that need to be argued before this unifying account can even be
considered, and as it stands, it assumes a degree of Church organization
that, to my mind at least, strains credulity.
KYM: The solution presupposes that the Revelation of John was given before
any of the gospels were written; this I have argued elsewhere, here I will
only state it.
BRUCE: Tilt. This seems to regard the Revelation as a real event. I am not
prepared to see in it more than an apocalyptic composition of the usual
overheated symbolic sort.
KYM: After the Revelation was given in 62, the Gospel of Mark was the first
gospel to be written.
BRUCE: As for Mark being first, so far so good.
KYM: It was written (mid-late 64 - with Peter being primarily responsible
for it) and distributed widely and speedily (by Mark: Rome to Alexandria via
Corinth, Ephesus, Antioch and Jerusalem)
BRUCE: This is just within the usual date for the death of Peter. But I am
at a loss to know what "responsible for it" means. Written? Dictated? More
seems to be here asserted than the usual theory: that Mark later wrote up
his miscellaneous remembrances of Peter's preaching. But how much more? It
is hard to respond to an essentially unclear statement.
KYM: . . to encourage the believers during what the apostles believed would
be the last of the last days. They believed that Nero would be unveiled as
the beast whom Jesus would destroy before ushering in the new heavens and
the new earth. When Nero died and Jesus had not returned, the Church faced a
great crisis. If the apostles had been wrong about the timing of Christ's
appearing; what else were they wrong about? The reliability of the Christian
gospel itself was threatened.
BRUCE: I am still somewhat tempted to regard the "desolation" of which Mk 13
speaks as the intended desecration (Hb: "appalling profanation") by Caligula
in 40. But there are other things in Mk 13 also, and the task is to make
sense of all of them. Vincent Taylor had an interesting segmentation into
more and less Semitic passages. He admitted that his result went against his
expectations. Here is one of those things that might deserve to be taken up
where he left it. If I had taken captive 7 NT experts (in the battle last
week), I would
certainly set them in a sealed room, without Internet, and demand of them,
on pain of unspeakable reprisals, to come up with a satisfactory account of
Mk 13 within a week. Unfortunately those 7 got away, and I haven't so far
been able to corral any others. Maybe next battle.
KYM: When John was released from Patmos soon after Nero's death he called a
council at Ephesus (September/October 68). Attending were the remaining
apostles (I suspect around six) and other eyewitnesses and leaders of the
Church. That council realized that the Church might outlast the apostles and
other eyewitnesses who, until this time, had been the keepers and tellers of
the stories about Jesus. This meant that those who had been guardians of the
oral traditions had to commit them to writing to ensure that they would
still be available for the continuing Church.
BRUCE: This scenario seems to be somewhat pre-empted by the Mark scenario,
just above. The riddle remains: if Mark was first (as I am willing to
assume), why Mt and Lk, never mind Jn? My answer would be: theological
update. Kym urges a preservation motive. If Mk existed, and was as widely
spread as Kym asserts, the need for this may not have been acute. If there
was nevertheless such a need, I want to be shown which specific passages Kym
regards it as applying to. We have gone too long without examples.
Kym also assumes the theological equality of all the remembered material,
and posits a quiet and gentlemanly division of responsibilities for parts of
this essentially homogeneous material. I think this exceedingly unlikely.
All our early indications are that the meaning of Jesus was variously
interpreted within different corners of the Jesus movement. If there had
been some sort of meeting of the whole, capable of bringing together all the
memory strands of the then extant local traditions, especially at the late
date posited by Kim (in effect, the second human generation), I would
anticipate that it would have been characterized by just as furious
disagreement as Paul found in Corinth, and over some of the same issues.
KYM: There were two reasons for committing what they had taught to writing.
Firstly, those things needed to be recorded for the continuing Church.
Secondly, something had to be written quickly to encourage the believers at
this critical time. What the council resolved to do was to expand Mark, the
gospel with which the whole Church was now familiar.
Following the council, then, those who had been eyewitnesses began to verify
and collate those things which they had been teaching until this time. Once
that collection (effectively Q) . . .
BRUCE: Eek, here is the demon Q. The motive in this scenario, if we accept
the scenario, can only have been to save everything BESIDES what was known
to be in Mk. But Q as it now officially stands (IQP) contains, not
supplements, but variants, of things in Mk. That is, unless Kym is prepared
to revise Q to fit his scenario (and such a revision can always be
considered; I am not yet convinced that there is NOTHING in that particular
slot), we have a conflict between asserted motive and observed result.
KYM: . . . was complete they began adding it to the Markan structure. This
expansion I have called AEEMark (Apostles and Eyewitnesses Expansion of
BRUCE: Just to keep my place: We now have Mk, Q, and a single text amounting
to a combination of the two: Mk fleshed out with Q. Three physical things.
KYM: After proceeding for some time, however, for a number of reasons, what
was to have been a comprehensive and chronologically ordered gospel was
abandoned. In its place, the gathering produced the shorter and more
exhortative Gospel of John.
BRUCE: The unstated "reasons" are crucial, and need to be stated if the
argument itself is not to fall apart. What, for example, happened to the
physical, but as we are now told, incomplete, Mk+Q? Is this step necessary,
and for what reason? What fact in the extant texts is it there to explain?
KYM: John, then, had first use of the material the apostles' had collated
(Q). It was completed in late 68 (October or, at the latest, November).
BRUCE: That Jn outranks some, or all, of the other Gospels is theologically
satisfactory to many: as one NT scholar put it, "John got it right." But
even this implies that all the other Gospels are chronologically earlier, as
well as being inaccurate at many points. I would say that they are certainly
*theologically* earlier; but this is just to say again that Jn is the most
evolved of the four. Hard sell here.
KYM: Once John was completed and while it was being copied and distributed,
what remained of the apostles' recollections was divided up between Matthew
and Luke, each of whom would produce lesser but still substantial expansions
of Mark. Matthew and Luke agreed on what each should use uniquely, the
remainder both would use to ensure that between the three later gospels,
nothing was omitted of what the apostles and others had collated. However,
both men were free to adapt the material to fit the particular readerships
targeted by their gospels.
BRUCE: This at least answers the objection of Streeter and others, who fail
to find intelligible motive for the way Mt and Lk take turns with Markan
material, as though at least one knew what the other was doing. Myself, I
here agree with M Goulder, that Luke had both Mt and Mk in front of him, and
was determined to improve on Mt's handling of the earlier Markan tradition.
I like that explanation much better, partly because it requires the positing
of fewer councils of the whole, with all the Evangelists agreeing to divide
the material between them, like Paul and Peter assigning themselves to
different segments of the unconverted. Who calls that meeting? Who has the
power to enforce those decisions? How much of a unitary "Church" is it
actually valid to posit at the period in question?
In my home field (classical Sinology) we sometimes encounter ingenious
theories of texts, which amount to attributing to their authors nothing more
than a determination to produce precisely the texts which we happen to have.
I tend to suspect such theories as being too ad hoc, and as supplying too
little in the way of intelligible human motives. Put it this way: If we had
no Lk, would it be necessary to invent one? Anyway, this area, to my eye at
least, is another hard sell.
KYM: Matthew and Luke returned to their respective homes to write. Both had
copies of Mark and John as they wrote and neither needed to duplicate what
they knew was already contained in the latter. Similarly, while they used
the Markan framework, they were not compelled to include all of the shorter
gospel because it would also continue to circulate in its own right. The
last two gospels may have been completed by the end of 68 but certainly
would have been by early 69. (Luke would have gone on to complete Acts by
BRUCE: It takes us outside the current topic, and it would also take us
outside the limits defined by List protocol, but somebody, somewhere, needs
to discuss the Pervo claim of a very late Acts. I will try to corral another
7 unwary NT experts soon. I see I am going to have to schedule a few more
As for the scenario before us, it explains too much, too easily. It handles
omissions and duplications with equal aplomb, because both are stated to be
within the group's collective, indeed communal, mandate. Myself, I think it
was Lk's announced intention to replace Mk (and all his sources) with
something more adequate to the needs of believers or future believers. I
can't imagine him leaving part of the logic of his work to be external to
it; that is, based on a confidence in the continued availability, to *all*
his own readers, of the text of Mk. Is there any positive sign that this was
the case? I can't think of one, but am willing to be told.
Failing such, I want something with more meat on its theoretical bones to
explain what of Mk was omitted by Lk. I still think that John Hawkins went a
long way in this direction, and I can't imagine that the real answer will
differ greatly from the one to which his work pointed: avoidance of the
demeaning, the emotional, the theological inadequate, and above all,
avoidance of the Galilean elements. Next of course to John, which is further
along that same trajectory, Lk is the most Jerusalemizing of the Gospels.
KYM: It was not considered necessary to preserve Q because all of it was
contained in one or more of the three later gospels.
BRUCE: This to me is open to the same objections I just made for Mk. It
imputes to the Evangelists a motive that matches their present canonical
status: that is, as one of four parallel accounts. It requires that ALL the
Evangelists can look sideways in their Bible, so to speak, and take note in
great detail of what the others are doing, or not doing. It requires
collusion at the beginning, and full mutual knowledge at the end. If we open
our Bibles and look at the four of them, there they are, forever cheek to
jowl. But I can't think that this situation or anything structurally
equivalent to it obtained during what I will call the Evangelical period.
Thus far Kym's suggestion. I am concerned also for what it does not contain,
that is, a recognition that these texts are not unitary, but stratified.
What about Jn 21? What about the widely acknowledged signs that blocks of
material have been moved around in Jn? What about my own findings (see you
all in San Diego) about a similar situation in Lk? What about (missed you at
SBL/NE last year) the evident late and theologically motivated addenda to
Mk? What about (missed you yet again at SBL/EGL last month) the signs that
the Twelve are a late and Church-historically motivated addendum to Mk? The
evidences for something of this sort are palpable. I think they need to be
followed up. A theory which works in terms of integral texts, of single
authorship, just doesn't cut it, in the face of these rather widespread
indications. Also James (too bad you couldn't make it to SBL/NE last month),
and 2Cor, etc etc.
What is it that we have in front of us? This is the first question to be
asked of any text we are interested in. Is it one thing, or a conflated
several, or a linear composition extended over time, or a successively
interpolated core? These and other possibilities richly exist, in all
literatures ancient and modern. Not to reckon with them, especially when
signs of them are recognizably present, is in my opinion not really to
engage the problem seriously.
Such are my reservations. I don't assume that anyone shares them, but such
as they are, they are my personal reason for not contributing to the
discussion which, perhaps due to other factors, never happened in February.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst