4609RE: [Synoptic-L] Alpha Christianity Planning Session at SBL (19 Nov)
- Nov 12, 2012To: Synoptic
In Response To: Ron Price
On: Q Etc
Another response to my recent summary of the position with regard to
potential witnesses to a pre-Resurrection Christian belief and practice.
Ron: Since Q (as normally reconstructed) never existed,
Bruce: Careful, Ron, or Chuck Jones will be after you.
Ron: and GTh was dependent on the synoptic gospels,
Bruce: At least in part, as I believe has been satisfactorily demonstrated.
I reserve the possibility that a different directionality may obtain for a
limited part of the Thomas material, which would keep the present question
at least partly open.
Ron: . . . we do indeed need to look at a third option if we are to explain
the New Testament hints at an early non-resurrection Jesus movement.
Bruce: Or more.
Ron: However I fear you are going in the wrong direction for at least two
reasons. Firstly Michael Goulder was already closer to the truth when he
wrote: "... Petrine Christianity could never have been more than a
short-lived sect of Judaism" ("A Tale of Two Missions", p.185). I differ
from him here only in his terminology. It was a sect led by James, and it
was far removed from Christianity as we know it.
Bruce: I regret not being able to follow Michael in this book. For one
thing, I think his view is too dualistic; Paul, to hear Paul himself tell
it, had more than one opposing faction at Corinth and elsewhere (eg,
Apollos, and not the curious treatment of Apollos in Acts). As for "James,"
which James? The Gnostic James whom we meet in three of the Nag Hammadi
tracts? The James of Zebedee, evidently a lax person, who in the Jerusalem
meeting accepted Paul's nonobservance of Jewish food piety rules? Or the
James of Alphaeus who, in my view, is the most likely author of the
canonical Epistle of James? More work seems to be needed here.
As for Peter, he is surely the most obscure of all the major players, and
that itself is passing strange. The two canonical Epistles co-opt him into
at least two things: (1) belief in Beta Christianity, which merely on the
evidence of Paul (not to mention the PseudoClementines, though there is that
as well) he is unlikely to have held, and (2) close association with Rome.
The Roman myth, to take only that, has many forms, including the myth that
Paul escaped his first captivity there, and continued to preach, whether in
Spain or in Greece (the myths here telling more than one story). This is the
false tradition. Does a true one underlie it at any point? Not yet
investigated with sufficient rigor and persistence. We do not know.
Ron: Secondly in your zeal to find evidence of what I would prefer to call
"the early Jesus movement", you go too far. From the very beginning, control
of the copying of documents which came to be part of the New Testament was
in the hands of (Pauline) Christians and their successors.
Bruce: Proof? My impression is that a circular letter like that of James (or
the later 1 Peter) was from the beginning circulated to Christians at large,
in more than one copy. 1 Peter is plausible as a Pauline composition, but
surely not James, which openly ridicules the position of Paul in Romans, on
faith vs works as salvific. The letters of Paul himself (but perhaps
significantly, only the ones from the last few years of his life) were
probably edited by some member of his group, for immediate wider
circulation; Romans (as witness the variant endings, of which some account
surely needs to be taken in these discussions) may have been meant by Paul
himself to be, not merely a one-church letter, but one copied ab initio to
multiple addresses; we happen to have that letter as adapted to be sent to
Ephesus. In other words, it seems that the texts were gathered at more than
one location, approved (with or without doctrinal reprocessing), and sent
out as generally authoritative documents.
What I see in the generation or two after Paul is not the formation of our
NT canon, but many attempts to replace the voice of the Apostles with the
witness of fixed documents: newly created or newly assembled authority
texts. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke are, in my view, only one aspect of
this rush to textualization.
Not all these people were Pauline, and not all the Paulines need to have
been operating at the same time and place. Consider for example the
Johannine Epistles. I think Ron is simplifying the situation.
Ron: James, Peter and their followers had no influence whatever on the
transmission of the NT texts.
Bruce: The Apostles are by definition Apostolic, and I at least see the
process of textualization as greatly stimulated by the end of the Apostolic
period. Did Peter have a following, a tradition of his own? One way to ask
that question is to examine the whole of the supposed Petrine corpus
(conveniently collected by Lapham) for ideas common to that corpus, or most
of it, but unknown or less common outside. Lapham has suggested a few
motifs; I have found one or two more. What to make of them is a subject that
seems to have conspicuously lacked followup. I mention it here merely to
This is one way to examine the proposition that Peter (for one) had no
influence on the transmission of the NT texts. I agree that he probably
wrote none of them, and edited still fewer. But did he have input into any
of them? A claim often encountered is that the Jesus material in Mark comes
from Peter; that claim may indeed have been one reason for retaining the
otherwise obsolete Mark (obsoleted by the rapid post-Apostolic appearance of
Mt and Lk) in the eventual Canon. Has the claim been examined? My own brief
investigation suggests that the idea that Mark listened to Peter in Rome is
merely part of the Roman myth abovementioned, and should be rejected. Not
seriously examined as far as I know, but possibly having something to it, is
the alternate possibility that Mark listened to Peter not in Rome but in his
mother's house in Jerusalem, where (if Luke is not telling a complete lie)
Peter once went to take refuge in a moment of danger. Then Peter knew the
address, and on at least one reported occasion went to it. Is there material
in Mark which can reasonably be construed as owing to the verbal report of
Peter, made in person to Mark in Jerusalem? Yes, there is, and I have done a
paper on it. More may exist. But until Mark is combed for such
possibilities, we have no idea whether Peter was in fact a major source for
Mark. Such is the undone work attending this subject. (Or if in fact it has
been done, I would more than usually appreciate a reference to the place
where the results may be found).
Pending this and other seemingly scanted researches, I feel that any final
conclusion about the role of Peter, not in disseminating the NT canon (which
in any case was still in a fluid condition in the 4c), but in leaving an
imprint on it, may be somewhat premature.
Ron: Even interpolations aimed at rehabilitating Peter would not have been
approved by the historical Peter, for they were only rehabilitating an image
of Peter which suited (Pauline) Christians.
Bruce: I think Ron is equating what I call Alpha Christianity with "Petrine
Christianity," and I do not accept that equation.
But to take the proposal as it stands: That the Historical Peter was still
alive when these interpolations were being made in the postApostolic period
is intrinsically unlikely. It is at least equally unlikely that, had Peter
been around, the doings of the Pauline editorial team would have been
submitted to him for approval. In any case, what would be an example of an
interpolation aimed at rehabilitating Peter? Offhand, I can think of none.
What I do find are a whole slew of interpolations in the Pauline corpus,
probably inserted at the time the corpus was first gathered, most likely
already in the late 60's, which are designed to take the heat out of Paul's
extreme opposition to what I call the Alpha Christians in the churches of
his time, and to moderate not only the tone, but the substance, of the
debate which we can see in Paul's own writings, which are nothing if not
consistently vehement (Anathema, indeed), and to substitute something more
irenic and lovable - something the future church could more easily live
with, a basis for amicable coexistence. One of the most obvious of those
interpolations (here as often, I rely on the very careful work of William O
Walker Jr) is the "love" chapter of 1 Cor. With a little more work along
these lines, preferably by Walker himself, we may have a clearer picture of
just what was going on in the minds of Paul's first editors. That will be an
enormous advantage in taking up question of canon (or subcanon) formation.
At present, I cannot think that we stand on firm ground in this regard.
I don't want to weary anyone, but the topic of interpolation in the sacred
texts is never popular, and in our decade, perhaps less popular than in some
others. Persons with a Pauline interpolation to argue for, and looking for a
place to publish it, are respectfully reminded that the Project's journal,
though perhaps for the moment slightly less prestigious than Novum
Testamentum, does exist, and is taking contributions on this and kindred
subjects. Prospective authors are welcome to contact me personally. In just
a few more days, I will be cruising the far-flung halls of SBL, in vigorous
search of promising papers. But I can't cover all the sessions, and
prospective authors who wish to shortcut that necessarily imperfect
discovery process may feel very free to do so.
For starters, in case someone lacks a topic: Walker Interpolations p17 gives
a list (by no means complete, but it will do to start) of passages in Romans
which have been suspected, at one time or another, of being interpolated.
Walker himself has published on exactly four of these: 1:18-2:29, 13:1-7
(Haustafel; see the postPaulines for more examples), 16:25-27(the Doxology),
and, following the publication of his book, 8:29-30.
What about the rest? Here, surely, is a fine way to pass the time some
weekend, when other diversions pall.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
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