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5061Re: [Synoptic-L] Luke and Matthew

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  • Brad McAdon
    Jul 24, 2014
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      A few responses to Bruce’s response to my earlier post. I apologize for the length.

      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?’


      First, “propinquity in time and space” would be an ideal. We do not know with any certainty where either Matthew or Luke worked and composed their texts.

      Second, I grant that the general rhetorical training prepared students for a public career. But, since (as far as we know) this was the only form of general education offered, it would also serve as the initial training for those aspiring to be historians, philosophers, and members of the literati.

      Remember, too, there was no distinction between rhetoric and literature—the general education was primarily literary: reading, analyzing, and imitating literary texts. Thus, there is no need to envision Matthew or Luke as pre-senatorial.

      Brad’s initial comment: 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’s response: 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’s response: First, to be as skilled with reading, interpreting, and crafting / imitating (if I can use the word here) texts as the authors of Matthew and Luke were would, without a doubt, situate them among the literate (if not literary) elite within the Greco-Roman culture. Second, while I can agree with some of the sentiments of those who suggest that the gospels are imitations of Homer, for many (if not most) of the passages from the Homeric texts that they proffer as sources for the gospel author the relationships are, as many have noticed, strained. The case is very different with the synoptic gospels—in fact, that is the synoptic problem, right? Matthew and Luke copied (imitated) much of Mark’s structure and language, often verbatim. It seems to me a much better case can be made that Matthew and Luke imitated Mark than Mark imitated Homer.

      Here is an example from Lucian (2nd century CE) that you might be familiar with: In his How to Write History, he notes that a Crepereius Calpurnianus (otherwise unattested character) was a keen emulator (zelwtes akros) of Thucydides. Lucian complains that Crepereius modeled himself “closely to his original [and] like him began with his own name.” Lucian then reads the first line from Crepereius’s work, which, except for the name, place, war, is, in the Greek, verbatim with the first line of Thucydides’s Peloponnesian War: “Crepereis Calpurnianus of Pompeipolis wrote the history of the war between the Parthians and the Romans beginning at its very outset.” After criticizing a few other similar imitations of Thucydides, Lucian says that he quit reading Crepereis’s work, because, as he was familiar with Thucydides’s work, he knew what was coming next. For Lucian, Crepereis’s work was an inappropriate / slavish imitation of his source. How is this example any different than much of what we see in the synoptic gospels? Can you explain this difference to me? My guess is that if Lucian read the synoptic gospels, his response would be similar--these are inappropriate imitations.

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

      Bruce’s response: 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’s response: First, you can call what Virgil does with the Homeric texts a “transformation” or “intertextual” or “allusion.” That’s fine, but that seems anachronistic, as Virgil was writing within an educational and literary culture that termed what he was doing as “imitation.” Second, I will leave the question whether Matthew and Luke had political motivations to others, and the question is irrelevant to whether or not they practiced imitation (just as it’s irrelevant whether Crepereis above had political motivations). They certainly had literary motivations; there is no doubt that Luke was trying to “set the record straight,” perhaps in his mind founding a or “the” Christian literature?? 

      Brad’s original:  . . . and also recognizes that Luke imitated the LXX,

      Bruce’s response: 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.

      Brad’s response: Imitation does not necessitate that one “produce something in the same category.” One can, but it is not at all necessary. And, what you describe Luke doing with the LXX is what the authors I cited in my first post refer to as mimesis or imitation.

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

      Bruce’s response: 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.

       Brad’s response: Was the Homeric schoolroom “ill designed” for Virgil or Horace or Cicero or so many other skilled readers and writers from all literary genres? If the "Homeric schoolroom" trained students--including historians, philosophers, men of letters, satirists, . . .--how to carefully read, analyze, dissect, imitate, and create literary texts via mimetic instruction, how would this schoolroom not prepare the author of Matthew and Luke (and Acts) for the work(s) that they produced?

       Brad McAdon

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