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5058Luke and Matthew

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    Jul 24, 2014

      To: Synoptic/GPG

      On: Luke and Matthew

      From: Bruce


      Brad McAdon had commented on my suggestion that given their closeness in time and date, it was more likely than not that Matthew and Luke were aware of each other. I respond to a couple items.


      Brad: If one considers the training that aspiring writers / speakers received during the Greco-Roman period, one could come away with thinking that it is inconceivable that the author of Luke did not know Matthew.

      Bruce: Trouble is, this argument from general training applies to any two people, at any two locations  in the Roman Empire. I am more comfortable with an argument where propinquity in time and space counts for something. The general rhetoric argument also (I should think quite accurately) assumes preparation for a public career in writing and speaking, which is likely enough for Pliny, but somehow hard to figure for Matthew or Luke, insofar as we can presently envision Matthew and Luke. I don’t see Luke, even in his wildest dreams, as pre-senatorial. Even if could afford the lessons, what would he do with the resulting skill?

      In general, with one or two (I think) explainable exceptions, the later the NT text, the better the Greek. Both Matthew and Luke are better than Mark, and 1 Peter is better than all of them. I suspect we have here a general cultural trend that need not be closely tied to any particular in the life or situation of the people we are trying to talk about. Germans speaking English in 1974 could usually be recognized as such. Germans speaking English in 2014 are better at it than I am. So it goes. By “it” I here mean general acculturation.

      Brad:  (accepting for now that Luke post-dates Matthew).

      Bruce: Red herring. It does not matter, for the general proposition, which was later. Or if both were essentially simultaneous. Was there a West Side Antioch Authors Club? Free papyrus to life members? Where Matthew and Luke worked at adjacent tables, each peering over the other’s shoulder?


      Brad: Mimesis, or the practice of compositional and literary imitation, was the core of Greco-Roman education. Isocrates (4th century BCE) was the first (among surviving texts) to emphasize the importance that students imitate (mimesis) the best models . . .


      Bruce: Sure, but same objection. This describes the high secular literary culture. If (as some have suggested), the Gospels are imitations of Homer, then we may have a situation. I am not yet convinced.


      Brad: . . . and provided specific examples of subject matter / themes, arrangement, and diction from the likes of Lysias, Isocrates, Dinarchus, Thucydides, Demosthenes, and others that students should “study and imitate.”


      Bruce: My point exactly.


      Brad: A useful example of an author imitating another text is Virgil’s rewriting of the Homeric texts.


      Bruce: I would have called it a transformation rather than an imitation, but still, same point. Vergil was consciously trying to found a Roman literature, based on Greek models, as was his friend and contemporary Horace in the lyric sphere. Directly encouraged by Augustus, no less, and for reasons of state, no less. Is there any similar motivation, or any literary motivation at all, for Matthew or Luke? Are they playing to packed houses, giving readings of their latest chapter in the parlors of the wealthy? As both Horace and Vergil did? The example is sound in its own sphere, but I feel that Matthew and Luke are both operating in a very different world of intention and method.


      Brad: Scholars of the Lukan birth narrative have noted that the author imitated themes and language from the LXX. When one considers the extent to which the Lukan birth narrative has similar themes and language as Matthew’s birth narrative . . .


      Bruce: This, to my eye, gets into more interesting territory. Lexically, the two narratives have almost nothing in common, and the older scholarship cannot take that fence. Literarily, they are clearly related, and Luke is clearly the later.


      Brad . . . and also recognizes that Luke imitated the LXX,


      Bruce: Tilt. Luke is not imitating the LXX, meaning, he is not trying to produce something in the same category as the LXX. He is sometimes quoting, sometimes more or less inexactly echoing, the LXX. Every time he does so, or even if (as in Lk 1-2 and Acts 1-15) he only adopts a sort of generally Septuagintal diction, for what I might call a “Biblical” effect, he is adding to his product what will count with his hearers as having greater sonority, weight, and thus authority. It is I think to be noted that these effects require prior conditioning in the Septuagint, complete with its sort of secondhand Semitic turns of grammar, and that an audience not so prepared, however expert in Homer, will find it impenetrable, will miss all the color, will not get the background music, will not be able to complete the quotations, will be completely at a loss. See my Perga paper.


      if Luke were trying to imitate the LXX in the usual sense of the word, he would have come out with a post-Isaiah prophecy scroll. Which is not what we have, unless I have missed something.


      Luke is trying to imitate Mark and (in his second or Luke B phase) Matthew, in the sense that he is trying to produce something in the same category: he is trying to execute a Gospel. If there is no precedent in Greek literary typology for a Gospel, well, tough. We then have something slightly new under the sun. And have people adequately considered the degree of paraphrase and rephrase that is standard in exposition of the Talmud? Those devices of variation have names too, only they seem not to be Greek names.


      Brad: . . . it becomes reasonable that the Greco-Roman practice of mimesis might be the best explanation for the similarities—and differences.


      Bruce: Personally, I very much doubt it. The Homeric schoolroom seems ill designed to equip a reader, let alone a writer, to take Luke(or Mark) in the right way. Conversely, growing up in (or regularly auditing) a synagogue is no sort of background for watching a performance of Alcestis in the local arena. There would seem to be no skill transfer at the level of abstraction here being proposed.


      Theory. Terms. I have my doubts about the protean concept “mimesis.” Children not only learn how to walk, they acquire a sort of distinctive stride, by soaking up their parents’ way of walking. Not by going to school to it so many hours a day, at so many lepta per hour. How many abused children abuse their children in turn, not because they like it, but because as parents, their only model of a parent, which they have intimately assimilated over years, and are unconsciously limited to acting out in their turn, is a model of an abusive parent. If that is mimesis, then everything is mimesis, and the concept loses analytical force.


      Writers who have formed their style on the pulps take years to get rid of that style in their later, more highbrow writing, if indeed they can at all. Maugham, for one, has testified to the difficulty of cleaning youthful enthusiasms out of one’s toolkit. And if he hadn’t, his late works would have done it for him. Dictional detox. I don’t think we need to bring in Vergil to explain this, or its opposite.




      E Bruce Brooks

      Warring States Project

      University of Massachusetts at Amherst


      Luke 1-2 is a very free, I would also say a somewhat competitive, remake of Matthew 1-2. As a literary performance, complete with orchestra and chorus, Luke 1-2 leave Matthew 1-2 in the dust, as was surely intended. Matthew’s Parable of the Tares is a very free reconstruction of Mark’s otherwise thematically untouchable Parable of the Seed, which Luke indeed drops altogether). Matthew’s Parable of the Two Sons (Gundry p422) is a very free recasting of Luke’s Parable of the Prodigal Son, making more or less the same point without all the emotional trimmings. Once we stop counting lemmata and perceive these higher-level literary relations as such (to repeat myself, Luke is not a failed scribal copy of Mark), the dynamics of the Synoptic relations (not to mention their poor cousins, the Johannine relations) begin to come into focus. Notice that even in this small list of examples, we already have one Mt > Lk (the Birth Narratives) and one Lk > Mk (the Two Sons; compare the Lord’s Prayer and the First Beatitude). Whence the utility of the Luke A/B/C model, which in various stages of development I have been suggesting on this list since somewhere around 2005. It accounts (without need for an outside-source conjecture) for this bidirectionality between Mt and Lk.


      Or so it looks from here.


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