Re: [Synoptic-L] Lk 1:5f
- To: Synoptic
In Response To: Ron Price, Leonard Maluf
On: Lukan Births Narratives
We seem to be coming down to questions of publics and preferences, and that
may be a good place to leave the subject. By way of winding down:
RON: It may be that your thought here is based on out-dated ideas.
BRUCE: Undoubtedly. My whole life is based on ideas which were obsoleted on
7 July 1937. That doesn't mean they are wrong, it just means they are not
trendy. I am currently pursuing the possibility that, trendy or no, they may
RON: As I understand it, the most widely respected modern source for this
topic is Harry Gamble's _Books and Readers in the Early Church_ (Yale UP,
1995). Gamble states that it is unlikely that any of the gospels was
composed for strictly local use, but broader dissemination must have been
intended from the outset (p.102).
BRUCE: Hmmm, I have Gamble on the text history of Romans (1977), but not the
work mentioned, and I can't at this moment readily access that work. The
phrase "must have been" strikes me, however, as an argument from lack of
evidence. If Gamble were quoted as saying "therefore, there were," a reader
without the book might validly expect to have something cogent. As to
whether the evidence Gamble does cite bears on the period in question, I
rely, faute de mieux, on the 1997 review in Journal of Early Christian
Studies. As there summarized, among Gamble's evidence for "early" wide
distribution of Christian writings is this: "there exists plenty of evidence
that churches shared copies of their documents, and that collections of
Christian writings were in circulation at very early dates (e.g., the
collection of the letters of Dionysius of Corinth already during his own
lifetime, ca. 170)."
That is, "very early" here means the late 2nd century, or about 100 years
after the time of interest to us. Again quoting the review: "Yet, even from
the late second century, Christian libraries included texts from classical
pagan authors, and became the medium through which these classical texts
were collected and preserved (202)."
Once more the late 2nd century seems to be the limit of the evidence. And
again, "Even smaller churches had sizeable congregational libraries by the
beginning of the fourth century."
That would be right on trajectory with a beginning of wider collecting in
the late second century. Good. Excellent. But none of this suggests a
similar situation during the period when most people think the Gospels were
written, which could therefore have influenced the content or tendency of
those gospels. The local community, if any, may well have weighed with, or
even dictated to, the writer of a given Gospel. The wider integrated
Christian community, not likely. Because it is not likely that such a
community existed at the requisite period.
Consistently with Gamble's data as here indirectly reported, I think we have
evidence, in the manuscripts taken collectively, for the reality of local
traditions throughout the whole of the period here covered (late 2nd to
early 4th century). The centers were not insulated from each other, but they
often acted independently. They were capable now and then of creatively
altering the sacred texts (eg, Acts) to their liking, and of declining to
notice alterations made at other centers (eg, the famous "Western
non-interpolations"). That is, a formative NT textual event in one of those
centers, in this period, didn't immediately, or didn't ever, resonate in the
other centers. To this extent, and it is the only functional test I can
think of, the centers collectively did not constitute a single audience. I
can't readily imagine that this situation, of considerable if not watertight
functional separateness of the local Christian centers, was produced by the
fragmentation of an earlier (1c) uniform Christian public. Not when all the
formative tendencies are running the other way, toward greater
communication. If the Roman Empire had collapsed, and local Kingship had
reappeared, in that period, well, maybe. But this is exactly what did not
happen; rather, the reverse.
If there was not a single audience, then I should think that the claim of
Gamble, that the Gospels were written ab initio with such an audience in
view, cannot plausibly stand.
Evidence apart, it seems to me somewhat theoretical and even gratuitous to
refer the changes in later Gospels to the desires of a unified public, a
public which was comparing many versions before accepting a particular one.
Especially when the people we KNOW were keen on outdoing extant Gospels were
the WRITERS of the later Gospels. I find that the Lukan preface, Lk 1:1-4,
is (1) aware of other versions of the Gospel, and (2) implicitly finds them
inadequate, since ALk immediately embarks on his own version (whether at 3:1
or at 1:5 we can let ride for the moment). His determination not to do what
Matthew has done is manifest, at least to some of us, and it seems equally
manifest that this rather captious determination to excel, or at minimum not
to duplicate, Matthew, sometimes leads him into strange solutions, less
satisfactory to at least the modern reader than the solutions of Matthew.
Communication among the Gospel writers is required by this scenario, but
that can easily have been brought about by the travel of single copies of
the said Gospels. This is much easier to imagine, in the late 1st century,
than continuity of audience over the then extent of Christendom, and wide
circulation of all Gospels within that audience. I am prepared, indeed by
the evidence I am required, to posit the one, but I think not the other.
Turning now to another aspect of this general audience matter:
LEONARD: I do think that a position supported by the entirety of manuscript
evidence should have a privileged status that can be overturned only by
rather compelling arguments to the contrary. I haven't seen any that I would
describe in this way.
BRUCE: The manuscript evidence, by definition, reflects only what I have
called the public period of a text: the time when it begins to be copied for
more than local use. For reasons mentioned just above, I think that this
period is unlikely to coincide with the period of Gospel composition.
Lachmann agrees. He felt that his NT edition (for the first time somewhat
realizing Bentley's intention) reflected, not the respective NT holographs,
but rather the state of the NT as of the 4th century. Subsequent manuscript
finds may have pushed that down a little, but I think it is still agreed
that manuscript evidence does not reach all the way back. Any text events
occurring before that curtain will, by definition, not be attested in the
form of divergent manuscript readings. Just as any really formative stages
in the Iliad will not be attested in the Athenian variants - those variants
tell us much about Athenian schoolmasters, but nothing about the bards of
Ionia, centuries earlier. They leave unrepresented the formative stage of
The only traces which such earlier events can leave is in the structure of
the texts themselves. In the case of Luke, if the structure points to
rearrangement (leaving inconcinnity), or to insertion (resulting in
inconsistency and separability of the inserted passage), during the period
when the text was still in its formative state, then we as analysts are
entitled to take note of those indications, and to draw from them whatever
conclusion seems philologically justified.
The general impression of those who have considered such indications is that
our Luke, not to mention other Gospels, is different from what it would be
if the text had proceeded consecutively from the pen of one author, under
one single guiding conception. There have been insertions, and there have
been relocations, while the text (as it were) was still molten.
Manuscript evidence is important. But privileging it above all other
evidence effectively confines us to the near side of the Lachmann curtain.
My suspicion is that there may have been something happening on the far side
of that curtain, and that the signs of those early happenings in the texts,
like the signs of ancient folding in the shape of our current mountains, or
of archaic tectonic drift in the shapes of our current continents, are valid
evidence for those happenings.
Take a perhaps easier example, from another tradition entirely. The earliest
of the Upanishads, by tradition and by the common consent of scholars, is
the Brhad Aranyaka Upanishad. To the ordinary and unprejudiced eye, the BrA
will appear to be, not one work in six chapters, but three closely similar
works, each in two chapters, and simply bundled together. Each of those
three constituents concludes with a transmission genealogy, and the
genealogies, though similar, do vary in small particulars. It would appear,
then, that the Brhad Aranyaka Upanishad originally existed in three parallel
and somewhat divergent versions (as it might be, local texts), each of them
with its own specific transmission genealogy, generally the same but with
local divergences, and that at some point those local traditions were
combined into a single comprehensive tradition, not (as it happens) by
producing a combined version, or by choosing one of the three and discarding
the other two, but by simply juxtaposing all three. That some ancient Indian
sage was inspired to write such a work as the present BrA is simply not
credible. We have instead, before our eyes as it were, a consolidation
scenario from very early times. Times earlier than all the subsequent
members of the long Upanishad sequence, which show no trace of such a
consolidation process, and are clearly unitary texts.
It would obviously be vain to study the recitations of contemporary
Upanishadic masters, in search of an extant tradition which consists of only
one of the three BrA variant texts, perhaps with a much longer transmission
genealogy attached. The extent recitation tradition does not reach back that
far. We have only the mute witness of the text structure itself. Even
without such later supporting testimony, I find that internal evidence
I feel similarly about the tacit text history which we find embedded in the
inconcinnities, the reversed introductions of new characters and places, and
the long and poetically emphatic sections of which, nevertheless, no further
narrative use is made, in the text of Luke. These things have voices of
their own, and need to be heard in the final accounting.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
- Bruce Brooks wrote:
> Thinking about Ron's suggestion, just now, reminded me of something possiblyBruce,
> relevant, which I toss in as a sort of second reply to at least that aspect
> of his comment. It concerns the degree to which local communities and
> traditions were in mutual contact in the 1st century.
> I start with the ending of Mark, and I note that those who feel it is
> interrupted in the middle of a sentence seem to have the better of the
> argument. Parallels can be found, with extreme effort, for ending a sentence
> or even a segment with gar, but not a whole work, and anyway, the point with
> Mark is that if it ends at Mk 4:8 [16:8], it does not narratively deliver what
> it has narratively promised, and that is a no-no.
I don't know what you think was narratively promised but not delivered. If
you are referring to the promises in 14:28 and 16:7, then I understand your
point, but would answer it by arguing that both these verses were
interpolated into the text. Anyway you'll have to make a very good case if
it's to outweigh the overwhelming consensus of recent critical scholars that
16:8 is the original ending.
Mark is the subtlest of the synoptic authors. His picture of an empty tomb
is quite enough to suggest the resurrection of Jesus. He avoids presenting
any of the original disciples as seeing the risen Jesus, for this would add
to their status, contravening his persistent denigration of Peter et al..
Of course, as we know, later generations did try to plug what they saw as an
omission (Mk 16:9-20 etc.), but all such later additions can be shown to be
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