27RE: [Allison-Seminar] John the Baptist: an Apocalyptic Eschatologist?
- Mar 28, 2003Dear Ted:
Well, thanks for engaging my arguments so fully. I take your response seriously because while you and Bill are yet voices crying in the wilderness, I don't take much comfort in the scholary consensus, whatever the issue. Appeal to the majority opinion is the lazy way out, and we constantly need to reexamine everything. In any case, given the diversity and plurality of the discipline, I'm ready to deconstruct the notion of consensus and try to do work without it. In any event, let's see what I think about your point-by-point response.
1. I quite agreed with you that Q is "largely a collection of
traditional sayings . . . . Q's contributors are . . . responsible
for the arrangement and selection of materials and for expressions
and lines here and there," and "the Baptist's sayings about judgment
cohere with the rest of Q." And further I agree "that's not saying
anything." In my judgment, if Q scribes were going to create
speeches for John, particularly for 2Q and 3Q, you would expect
those speeches to be apocalyptic in tone. It would be surprising if
they were not. In my view, that is precisely what the Q scribes did
do in order to use JB as an authority for their own apocalyptic
agenda, and they began 2Q with him establishing that agenda.
You're saying here that Q scribes could have created John's apocalyptic preaching out of thin air. I'm saying that they could have handed down tradition. And I'm also saying that, at the beginning, given the nature of the rest of Q, my view is the more plausible--again, at least initially--simply because the Q scribes were above all tradents, not creators. But this takes us to your next point--
2. I agree that the "Q 3:7-9 and 16-17 are full of words and
expressions and other things that don't sound . . . like Q redaction
because they don't show up anywhere else in Q" (by redaction I am
assuming you would include also literary creativity). But the same
could be said for Q 4: 1-12 and its stylistic orientation. Besides Q
4:1-12, only one other place in Q do we find the scribal formula
GEGRAPTAI (Q 7:27). But it occurs three times in Q 4:1-12. The
terms or phrases such as DIABOLOS, hIERON, hUIOS TOU QEOU, ARTOS,
to name a few, occur in Q 4:1-12, but they are not to be found
elsewhere in Q. Are we to assume then that the temptation narrative
originated with the historical Jesus, because these terms are not
found elsewhere in Q, and, therefore, could not be the redactional
composition of Q scribes?. I do not know of any one who would argue
that the temptation account in Q was Jesus' actual experience, an
experience which he shared with his disciples, who passed it on via
the oral tradition until it finally was reported to the Q scribes.
I submit that the Q scribes created that account for reasons of their
own apologetic agenda. If they can create that story about Jesus,
why could they not have created JB's apocalyptic sermon? It would
be quite consistent with their modus operandi and theological purpose
to do so.
How do I respond to this? I agree that Q 4.1-12 isn't history. But I don't see how you can jump from that to creation by Q scribes. I don't know who created this story. Perhaps it evolved. Perhaps it has a complex tradition history. It is related to Mark's briefer account in some way. Even if it was added, as Kloppenborg thinks, at stage 3 of Q, that doesn't tell us Q3 just made it up. Surely there's a lot going on between Jesus and Q, right? So the redactional issue is an open one for me. When I worked on this text for a volume called Authenticating the Deeds of Jesus, I didn't end up authenticating this one--but I also didn't decide it must come from a Q scribe. I don't know where it comes from. So for me the Q origin of 4.1-12 doesn't establish the Q origin of John's apocalyptic preaching because I don't know the origin of 4.1-12. But there's another important issue is this: If someone made this up, that is, made up Q 4, I don't think they got Jesus wrong. That is, I think Q 4 is largely in character. It assumes Jesus was a miracle worker. It has that right. It assumes that he interpreted his own ministry as a battle with demonic forces. It has that right too. It also assumes that Jesus perceived himself to be victorious over those forces. Right there also. It assumes that Jesus knew something about the Bible. I think he did and would refer as justification to The Intertextual Jesus: Scripture in Q. You see where I'm going with this? You can make something up about someone and keep the person in character. So I'd claim that, even if you could prove to me that John's apocalyptic preaching in Q comes from Q scribes, we'd still have the address the issue of whether it is in character or not. I'll return to this below.
3. "People have noticed numerous parallels between John the Baptist
and the DSS. They do not in my opinion suffice to show that John was
an Essene or a member of the community. But there are some good
parallels, and the DSS are full of apocalyptic stuff." TJW: I need
to see how you get from the Essenes of the DSS to John the Baptist.
President Bush claims that there is a link between Saddam Hussein and
Al Qaeda, but he has so far not been able to make the case. The
parallels between JB and the Dead Sea Community are only there if the
case can be made that JB was an apocalyptic eschatologist first. And
the fact that a majority of scholars accept that paradigm does not
mean that the evidence indisputably confirms that he was. I am of
the persuasion that, if one begins with the paradigm that JB was an
apocalyptic eschatologist, one tends to see the evidence from that
perspective, and thus one ends up convinced that JB was an
Well, Ted, I have my doubts here. Qumran and traditions about John (whether historical or not) have in common water rituals, location, association with Isa 40, rejection of salvation by descent from Abraham, and asceticism, just to speak off the top of my head. This might well be enough to make people wonder if there's not some significant connection, right? Aren't there connections even without bringing in the apocalyptic Baptist presupposition?
4. Regarding the parallels between JB and the so-called false
prophets which Josephus cites, I think that Josephus understands
Theudas to have been an apocalypticist. Josephus tells us that
Theudas persuaded "the masses to take up their possessions and to
follow him to the Jordan River . . . and that at his command the
river would be parted and would provide them an easy passage" (_Ant._
XX. 97-98). That sounds like an apocalyptic eschatologist to me
trying to facilitate God's new exodus. The Egyptian, whom Josephus
says (_Ant._ XX. 169ff.) tried to convince the people that, if they
went to the Mount of Olives, he would destroy the walls of Jerusalem,
sounds like one who had an apocalyptic orientation. But I do not
find anything in Josephus' description of JB that would suggest that
Josephus viewed Theudas, the Egyptian and JB as all birds of the same
feather. Herod, according to Josephus, executed the Baptizer because
he feared that John's popularity would lead to sedition. But there
is not even a hint in Josephus' description of JB that would suggest
that his sermons were apocalyptic, though Josephus, supposedly
showing great reserve as far as anything apocalyptic is concern,
nevertheless, does portray someone like Theudas in the ideational
framework of what I would call apocalyptic. Moreover, Josephus does
not make any reference to where John was performing his baptisms. If
Josephus had placed JB at the Jordan River, with which he associates
the apparently apocalyptic eschatologist Theudas, one could infer
from that placement that Josephus viewed JB as one who was working
out of a new exodus orientation.....
My response here is that Josephus, for reasons having to do with audience, wants to present John in a positive light, the others in a bad light; and given what he thinks of apocalyptic, he naturally lets it stay attached to the people he dislikes and detaches from the one he does. I have to admit that Josephus doesn't offer support for my reconstruction; my reconstruction rather has to explain why Josephus offers something else. But not embarrasment here. Josephus is, we have been learning of late, as tendentious as any of the synoptic authors, and we have two different pictures of the Baptist; so somebody's being tendentious. I say it's Josephus, you say it's the synoptic tradition. It's a draw on this one.
5. You are right. Mark does portray John as an important figure in
his eschatological scenario. However, my point is that when Mark
introduces John in 1:4ff., the apocalyptic coloration of John's
persona is certainly muted compared to Q 3:7-9, 16-17. If there was
a tradition, historically accurate or not, that John proclaimed an
apocalyptic message, such as is found in Q, and Mark knew that John
proclaimed such a message, just as he knew about the story of John's
death, Mark missed a splendid opportunity to portray John in his
Gospel proclaiming such an apocalyptic message in his introduction of
his Gospel, much the same as the Q scribes did with their Q
introduction. Mark does not even have JB voice the eschatological
prophecy of Isa. 40:3. Had he done that, he would clearly have
aligned John with apocalyptic eschatology. But for some reason he
chose not to.
Seems to me, Ted, that we have a different sense of what Mark should have done. I think you're asking way too much of the sources. Mark picks one sentence--just one sentence--to put in the Baptist's mouth. Its point, and its only point, is to testify to Jesus. Mark has no interest in an independent portrait of what John said, apocalyptic of not, or was all about. Mark links him with Isa 40, with Elijah expectation, and has him prophesy Jesus. That's it. I simpy see no reason to think that if Mark knew lines that would qualify as apocalyptic preaching, we should have any of them.
6 and 7. I agree that the lack of any touches of apocalypticism in
Mark's narration of the story of JB's death does not indicate that JB
was not an eschatological apocalypticist, for to claim so is
resorting to an argument from silence. But I think it is also
resorting to an argument from silence to state that Josephus did not
mention John's apocalyptic orientation because Josephus avoided
mentioning anything apocalyptic, and thus intentionally worked
at "toning down John's apocalyptic side. We do not know that he air-
brushed out any traces of an apocalyptic JB in his presentation of
him. Josephus apparently did not have any problems with what I
would call the apocalyptic predilections of Theudas and the Egyptian,
as I noted above.
Here I refer back to point 4. We canot prove that Jopsehus airbrushed away the apocalyptic. That begs the question (you're right there). It's just that if, on grounds other than Josephus, we think John was apocalyptic, Josephus doesn't present strong evidence against this.
8 and 9. "John and Mark and Q (giving us probably two or maybe three
independent sources) all agree that John was looking for a redemptive
figure." TJW: I hold that John was clearly dependent upon Mark. I
can provide strong evidence for that if your wish, impressive
evidence that I have just come upon. I plan to publish it as soon as
I can. Thus, we are left with only Mark and Q as the only
independent Christian sources for our understanding of JB. You
ask "why else [in John's Gospel] the discussion of whether John is
Elijah or the Messiah?" I submit that, in Jn. 1:19ff., John's intent
at the outset of his Gospel is to disassociate JB from the identities
ascribed to Jesus in Mk. 8:27-29: namely, John has JB confess
strongly that he is not the Messiah or the prophet or Elijah. Thus,
in Jn 1:19-21, John adopted and adapted Mk. 8:27-29, with its
identity motif leading to a messianic confession (non-messianic
confession in John), made an adjustment to the list of identities in
the Markan passage by removing JB from the Markan order, in order to
accommodate his need to make John the principal speaker, and not
Jesus, as in Mk. 8:27-29, and then inverted the first and last
persona in the Markan order of the identities proffered (i.e., from
Mark's JB--Elijah--prophet--Messiah to John's Messiah--prophet--
I won't dispute your evidence that John knew Mark. And you may be right about John 1 drawing upon Mark 8. Seems possible to me. All I can say is that, up until now, I've tended to think that John 1 knows some non-synoptic tradition about the Baptist. I was long ago impressed by Lou Martyn's article on Elijah in the Davies Festschrift, which sees some complex tradition-history here. Maybe you're saying that John 1 can't be an independent witness to traditions about the Baptist; everything is from Mark. Since I don't know your work on John 1, I don't have a response. But I am strongly inclined to think that John 3:22-30 shows non-synoptic tradition that sounds rather early.
10. "Mark's failure to mention fire, his preference for Holy Spirit
alone, seems a phantom argument to me. All one has to say is that his
tradition deleted fire because it wanted to think of the baptism of
Christians." TJW: Which and whose tradition, and its origin? Is
this not an argument from silence? "Why be surprised that Mark
doesn't have something found only in Q? Lots of stuff in Q would fit
nicely in his gospel, but he doesn't have it." TJW: True, but see
#5. "But you can't argue, can you, that if Mark doesn't have
something it's not historical?" TJW: No.
Do we have a misunderstanding here? Let's say Jesus said something close to Q 3:16. And let's say that Q is close to the original. But then, between the Baptist and Mark (40 years!), someone revised the saying to make it plainly refer to Christian baptism, which is why Mark has the saying in the form he does. This scenario in fact seems highly likely to me. Certainly this is not an argument from silence. Q and Mark disagree here, and we have to explain that. So Mark is just passing on a tradition here, and his redactional treatment of the saying--whatever little that may be--says nothing about John and apocalyptic.
11. ". . . it's just John, Mark, and Q; and as I observed, all three
have John proclaiming a coming one." TJW: A "coming one" does not
have to suggest an apocalyptic scenario. A coming one could be a
reference to a messianic liberator. If John was dependent on Mark,
as I argue, then we have only two independent Christian sources, Mark
and Q, for information about JB. Both of them have their own
respective apocalyptic agenda. The fact that JB is included in their
respective agenda, does not mean necessarily that they have
represented the historical JB accurately. Mark dramatizes Jesus'
prayer in Gethsemane, are we to trust that the words of that prayer
provided by Mark are accurate or that the prayer ever took place,
when the three closest disciples are asleep when Jesus prayed? Who
then heard the prayer to record it for posterity? In my view, no
one. Mark made it up, just as he made up Jesus' two hearings/trials
(a position that I think can be strongly supported, given the result
of a recent discovery I have made of what clearly appears, in my
judgment, to have been Mark's post-70 CE source for his trial
narratives). Furthermore, Luke adopted and adapted Mk. 1:9 for his
presentation of the baptism of Jesus. In Luke's version (3:18-21) of
the Markan story, Luke places JB in jail and then has Jesus come
forth for baptism. If we cannot trust Luke and Mark (two extant
texts) with representing either "history" accurately or their sources
accurately, why should we trust Q (a hypothetical document) to have
presented the historical JB accurately as a proclaimer of apocalyptic
The proposition that John was looking for a messianic liberator seems to me to concede a lot, doesn't it? Wouldn't it be suggestive to observe that Jesus was baptized and endorsed somebody who was looking for a messianic deliverer and that many of his post-Easter followers, such as Paul, had a strongly eschatological or apocalyptic orientation? Seems to me this circumstance fits more easily my view than that of, say, the Jesus Seminar.
As for not trusting Luke and Mark--well, that's why we're having a debate, no? I don't just trust them either, which is why I forward arguments. Now in the present case, seems to me that it comes down to this. You're urging that John the Baptist wasn't apocalyptic but that first Q, without any basis in its tradition, made him into an apocalyptic preacher, and that Mark -- independently I presume -- then associated him with an eschatological text (Isa 40) and Elijah expectation (the clothes and chap. 9) and had him announce a messianic liberator. I'm just saying that Mark and Q agree in surrounding John with eschatological expectations because they were following tradition, and that the tradition is correct.
12. "I wonder why Q would even bother to use John the Baptist as an
eschatological figure if he weren't such in the tradition. Why use
him at all? Why not just put the eschatological sayings on Jesus'
lips? What is gained for Q by calling upon John?" TJW: If Josephus
is correct, John was a very popular and well-known figure. Why, Q
scribes even have Jesus say (7:28) that there is no one born of woman
greater than John (which would *include* their own Jesus, who like
John was born of woman). The Q scribes obviously held John in high
esteem, as did others. It strikes me that it was not a bad idea for
you to have JB on your side as a revered authority and to have
him "make the nomination speech" for your hero as the "coming one"
and set his agenda, particularly if your mission is going badly in
Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, where your missionary efforts have
been rejected (10:13-15), and people will not accept your hero as
their hero. I think, given the desperate straits of the Q people's
missionary enterprise, it was a very resourceful and imaginative
tactic to recruit the popular and martyred JB as a the "big gun" to
rally "the faithful" and convince them that their cause will be
justified and vindicated in the "apocalyptic" end of things..
Well, maybe so. But then you've got the problem of being out of character, don't you? If Q is appealing to John because it's got an audience with such a high view of John, then in fact it already knows things about John. How could it be otherwise? But does Q then paint a picture of the Baptist that no one would recognize? That wouldn't work rhetorically, would it? Again I'm back with my earlier point about Q's JB being in character.
13. "The criterion of embarrassment . . . [i]t's nice to use when
applicable, but you can't throw things out on this basis. Otherwise
we wipe out most of the past. Same thing with the criterion of
discontinuity. In Jesus of Nazareth I explained why I find these and
our other criteria almost unworkable." TJW: I agree that these
criteria are problematic. They are tools which must be used
judiciously and with a healthy dose critical caution. If nothing
else they may keep us honest about our own paradigms which inform our
judgments from the beginning anyway. I am suggesting that the
results derived when these criteria are applied to test the paradigm
that JB was an apocalyptic eschatologist bring the validity of that
paradigm into question. Are the criteria in application
misrepresenting the historical JB or is the paradigm which has been
constructed a priori misrepresenting the historical JB? The issue
of the validity of the "apocalyptic" paradigm vs. the validity of the
results of the application of methodological criteria vis-a-vis that
paradigm cannot be addressed here, unfortunately.
If the criteria are so problematic, as you seem to agree, why insist on using them? If we're going to use criteria, let's use Theissen's criterion of plausibility. In any case, I'm not sure why you want to continue to use the criteria if they're not sound. Like you've I've written that their function is to help keep us honest. But I don't think they're very effective at even that.
15. "Even if I am wrong about everything above, I'd insist adamantly
that we could never conclude John was not an apocalypticist. All we
could conclude is that we don't know much about him." TJW: That may
well be our problem we do not know much about JB. So we cannot say,
with whatever relative certainty we can have about such matters of
the past, whether JB was or was not an apocalyptic eschatologist.
And if we cannot then be certain of that, how can we know whether or
not JB's protege, Jesus, if he was in fact his protege, was taught
apocalyptic eschatology at the feet of his mentor, and thus, he
himself, i.e., Jesus, was assuredly, at least according to your
pillar #1, an apocalyptic eschatologist.
Ah, I began with: Even if I am wrong. But you see, despite your incisive criticisms, I'm mule-headed and don't think I'm wrong.
17. "Finally, I've been using apocalyptic all the way through this
because you are, Ted. But maybe we're working with a different
definition of it?" TJW: No, I think we are pretty much in agreement
in this discussion on what is meant by "apocalyptic.
No problem--unless you want to distinguish between apocalyptic messianic liberators and nonapocalyptic messianic liberators, in which case we'd probably end up with another debate. But I think that's enough for this morning. Again thanks.
Thank you for engaging me on this very important issue. It is far
more complex and requires far more in-depth argument, with
appropriate supporting evidence, than can be presented in this
particular forum. And given the protocols of this seminar, as I
understand them, should you wish to respond to what I have presented
above, I will not be able to respond in turn, because I will have
used up my two opportunities to engage you on the same thread. I
think that is only fair to all participants, and I want to express my
appreciation to Jeffrey Gibson, who arranged for this seminar
exchange, for inviting, and perhaps persuading you, to offer this
seminar. Thank you for your time and the spirit in which you have
responded to us all as we have presented our queries to you.
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