Re: [Synoptic-L] Re: [WSW] opinions about accretion
- To: Synoptic
In Response To: Jeff Peterson
On: Minear on John 21
JEFF: I think your characterization of Minear's case as "simply an
accepting the entire canonical NT in a reverent manner" is an utter misread.
He's inviting us to question our ability to infer stages in the development
of a text from such textual phenomena as have transfixed Johannine
scholars . . .
BRUCE: The word "transfixed" somehow suggests the kind of emotion that
is properly foreign to these discussions. Let me rephrase it this way:
Certain text phenomena have attracted the attention of some scholars,
as indicative of a history of the text of gJn prior to its going
public and being widely copied.
That there may be such a history, Paul doesn't directly deny; in the
passage I quoted, he merely suggests that it is irrelevant to the
concerns of those who hear the text read in church.
I say again, this argument applies not only to the case of John 21,
but to the Pericope Adulterae. It applies to any passage in the NT
canon whose originality has been doubted on any grounds whatever. It
not only vacates the claims of the higher criticism, it vacates those
of the lower criticism also. It eliminates criticism as such. That is
a perfectly intelligible attitude, to be sure, but it is not itself a
critical proposal. I see no reason to discuss it in a scholarly context.
Paul also and elsewhere, in effect, "denies our ability to infer
stages in the development of a text." But pleast to note, that is not
an argument on the evidence, it is an argument from inability. And
again, it applies in principle not to one opinion about gJn, but
equally to any critical conclusion whatsoever. It may be granted that
not every observer draws the same conclusions from text phenomena, or
notices the same text phenomena in the first place. Historical
methodology has an answer to that; it does what it can to arrive at
standards of evidence, and it enlists in investigating evidence not
one person merely, but the whole community of scholars. What one
misses, another may notice; what one overemphasizes, another may put
into better perspective. For all the fallibility of the human
material, and we could all cite some very fallible instances indeed,
from our own or others' practice, sometimes it works, or seems to. The
case of John 21, when Paul took it up, and this he begins by saying,
was very widely agreed to be one of the times when it worked.
Of course, in the Middle Ages, the scholarly consensus, if that is the
right word, would have had a very different equilibrium point. This is
merely to say that some ages, like some persons, are more susceptible
than others to the claims of textual evidence. I can't see in this a
refutation of method as such. It says no more than that some ages (and
some persons) are more munificent, or more belligerent, or more
otherworldly, than others. Not all ages, or all persons, are equally
amenable to, or supportive of, the historical enterprise as such. They
merely inhibit it or favor it to a different degree. The enterprise as
such is recognizably the same.
JEFF: . . . and suggesting that we shouldn't accept the conclusions of
critical biblical scholarship in a reverent manner.
BRUCE: Well said, and no one could disagree with that formulation.
Nothing in science should be accepted in a reverent matter. Criticism,
openness to further evidence, doubt as to one's own first impressions,
all that is definitional for the scientific approach. The conclusions
of critical Biblical (sic; this adjective is derived from the proper
noun Bible) scholarship should be received like any other critical
conclusion or working hypothesis: critically.
Now that we have that straight, what are the evidences for or against
the originality of John 21? One I mentioned is the satisfactory
finality of Jn 20 as the end of the Gospel. This Paul denies. He
argues that the last two verses of Jn 20 are meant only to conclude
that chapter, not the whole Gospel, and that Jn 21 is needed as the
end of the whole Gospel. That is ingenious enough. But does anyone
actually buy it? Let's at least consider it.
Jn 20:30-31. Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the
disciples, which are not written in this book;  but these are
written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that believing you may have life in his name.
There could be fewer finer perorations and wishes for the reader than
this. One might very well leave church feeling edified and encouraged.
As for the Minear theory that the "signs" in question are those
immediately preceding, and do not involve the whole Gospel, I ask,
Where does the first named "sign" occur in gJn? Answer, not subjective
but subject to verification by anyone with the text, at Jn 2:11,
following the Miracle at Cana:
Jn 2:11. This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee,
and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Does not this mark, and that right explicitly, a beginning far back in
the Gospel, to which, together with all the signs following, Jn 20:30
might reasonably refer?
Consider also the key of Jn 20:31, "that believing you may have life
in his name." Does this find an earlier anchor also? Yes it does, and
in the passage just quoted. Jn 2:11, "and his disciples believed in
But, it may be objected, that is just the disciples. How about that
more relevant group, the hearers of the Gospel of John, including
those in the present tense? Does gJn at large, and not just Jn 20
itself, associate believing with eternal life? Yes it does. Consider
Jn 3:15, the second most famously memorable of all passages in gJn:
"that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." And just in case
somebody missed it, that idea is repeated almost verbatim in the
second most memorable passage, Jn 3:16: "that whosoever believes in
him should not perish, but have eternal life."
I could go on, but this much suggests to me that Paul's attempt to
limit the referential circle of Jn 20:30-31 to Jn 20 itself is a
colossal failure. Jn 20:30-31 is instead a very suitable ending for
all that has gone before, and it embodies the core of what had gone
before, including passages flagged by the writer ("the first of his
signs," etc) as especially significant in the structure and design of
his book. That being so, the need for Jn 21 to complete the story
which Jn 20 supposedly leaves unfinished has not been demonstrated. Jn
20 leave gJn very well finished indeed.
So Jn 21 is not structurally required. To pass on to another argument:
Is it at odds with the Jn 20 story? Yes, and obviously. Jn 20 has
Jesus reveal himself to his disciples; some doubt, but all are
eventually convinced. But in Jn 21 the party of seven in the boat "did
not know that it was Jesus" standing on the beach, close enough to
talk to them (Jn 21:4); the later text puts the distance at about a
hundred yards (Jn 21;8, RSV). Are we not here retracing previously
traced ground? And is not the nonrecognition of the disciples more
than a little boring, after the elaborate recognition scenes
preceding? Are we not playing the same record one too many times?
Yes, and Jn 21 disarms our doubts about the whole business by counting
up the previous times; this makes the third. Well, three is a cute
So the recognition being finally accomplished, what does Jesus take up
the time by saying? (1) a prediction of Peter's martyrdom by
crucifixion. (2) a prediction that John of Zebedee (implied) will
remain alive until the Second Coming of Jesus. (3) A none too veiled
assertion that the "witness" of the Gospel is precisely this same John
That is, the burden of Jn 21 is not any instruction of the disciples,
such as almost all other extant accounts of Jesus's Appearance,
including the apocryphal, ascribe to Jesus. It is rather a validation
document for the Gospel itself.
Do we have validation claims, direct defenses of the authenticity and
in this case Apostolicity, of a document elsewhere in NT? Yes, we do.
They occur in texts like 2 Thess and 2 Peter, which on other grounds
present difficulties in the way of their acceptance. These texts are,
in effect, defending their own authenticity.
Methinks they all protest too much.
If one hangs around these texts, and I don't know of any substitute,
one slowly gets accustomed to the things they do, just as an
experienced kindergarten teacher is less surprised by the antics or
the reticences of her charges than is a green kindergarten teacher.
The protestation of genuineness is one of the things one gets to
recognize when it occurs. The trait is very widespread, it occurs
widely in ancient Chinese texts, and for that matter, in modern
stockbroker prospectuses, as well as the winningly generous E-mails
that we all used to get from the dying Nigerians, remember them? The
ones who could not depart in peace until we took six or seven million
dollars off their hands.
Could anything be more convincingly genuine than the letters of Paul
and Seneca? Not to hear them tell it. But still, and indeed for that
very reason, caveat lector.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
This'll have to do as my last contribution on this thread; thanks for the
On Fri, Apr 30, 2010 at 2:33 AM, E Bruce Brooks
>Nonsense. We have evidence that John circulated without the P.A., which
> I say again, this argument applies not only to the case of John 21,
> but to the Pericope Adulterae.
stands apart from the rest of the Gospel narratively and stylistically. If
John 21 were comparable in those respects, Minear would have written a very
different article about it.
JEFF: . . . and suggesting that we shouldn't accept the conclusions of
> critical biblical scholarship in a reverent manner.The answer to your question is yes. On 21, I recommend Bauckham's essay "The
> BRUCE: Well said, and no one could disagree with that formulation.
> Nothing in science should be accepted in a reverent matter. Criticism,
> openness to further evidence, doubt as to one's own first impressions,
> all that is definitional for the scientific approach. The conclusions
> of critical Biblical (sic; this adjective is derived from the proper
> noun Bible) scholarship should be received like any other critical
> conclusion or working hypothesis: critically.
> Now that we have that straight, what are the evidences for or against
> the originality of John 21? One I mentioned is the satisfactory
> finality of Jn 20 as the end of the Gospel. This Paul denies. He
> argues that the last two verses of Jn 20 are meant only to conclude
> that chapter, not the whole Gospel, and that Jn 21 is needed as the
> end of the whole Gospel. That is ingenious enough. But does anyone
> actually buy it?
Beloved Disciple as the Ideal Witness" (in his collection *The Testimony of
the Beloved Disciple*) and his further treatment of the subject in *Jesus
and the Eyewitnesses*, pp. 364ff. I referenced the latter in my first post
because Bauckham does better with some aspects of the text than Minear,
including on some points you note (e.g., the reference of the signs in
20:30�31). He's also quite convincing (in part following Hengel in *The
Johannine Question*) that 21 does not represent the author as John the son
of Zebedee, but as one of the two unnamed disciples in 21:2.
All the best,
>[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
- Jeff Peterson wrote in reply to Bruce Brooks:
> I think your characterization of Minear's case as "simply an argument forJeff and Bruce,
> accepting the entire canonical NT in a reverent manner" is an utter misread.
> He's inviting us to question our ability to infer stages in the development
> of a text from such textual phenomena as have transfixed Johannine scholars,
Both the old 'Proto-Mark' which often used to be posited as a part of the
Two-Source Theory to explain the Minor Agreements, and the old 'Proto-Luke',
are today rejected by almost everyone.
So some scholars got it wrong. But this doesn't prove that inferring stages
in the development of a text cannot be done. It merely proves that a rather
more rigorous approach is required. I suggest that the approach should
include at least:
(1) demonstrating that the posited document at each earlier stage is more
consistent than the later stage(s), because altering a well-thought-out text
(even one's own) usually introduces some inconsistencies;
(2) demonstrating a convincing motive for the alteration(s), bearing in mind
that a significant alteration to a text in the first century would have
involved rewriting the whole by hand if it was to be kept neat.
Of course my own reconstruction of the stages in the development of the
gospel of John (see my web site) does attempt to demonstrate these features.
The posited original of the gospel is better structured and creates an even
grander impression than our extant text. (Similarly for the original of
Luke's gospel, but that's not described on my web site.)
Web site: http://homepage.virgin.net/ron.price/index.htm
- I am not quite sure quite what the accusation of
people being "anti-accretionist" is directed at.
There are plenty of NT scholars who hold that
further letters were added to those by Paul, and
that some short passages were added even to the
In the case of the Synoptics
it is hard to see how those who agree Markan priority
can dissent from the two later Synoptics being
a case of accretion, though some do try hard
to gloss over the extent to which the later
texts strive to "correct" Mark. (Presumably even a
Markan posteriorist would be obliged to admit
that a "decretionist" process implies dissent
at least in regard to some major and presumably
In the case of the Fourth Gospel surely it is
widely held that the material in it was worked over
and rearranged over a long period. That Ch. 21 is
a subsequent addition to the main edition is hardly
a rarely held view due to the factors mentioned,
despite the stylistic evidence for difference being less
than that for the difference between signs and non-signs
narrative. In the Farewell discourses the varying repetitions
have certainly been seen as evidence of reworking.
To that one could add that some of those discourses are
more, others less like the style of the first
"Johannine" epistle. And who can read Jn 6
without being aware of sharp twists and turns
in the content later in the chapter? The view
that there are late or subsequent additions
here is not unknown.
If someone holds that most of these examples are
some kind of accretion, then are they really one
of the dogmatic anti-accretionists about whom
we are being warned?
Yes some do try to minimize the extent of change
of view and dissent during the period in which the
documents were produced, just as some try
to give too many documents too early a date, but
are there really so few who admit that there
was both conflict and change of view over
David Mealand, University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh is a charitable body, registered in
Scotland, with registration number SC005336.
- To: Synoptic
Cc: WSW, GPG
In Response To: David Mealand
No detailed reply seems necessary.
As far as I am aware, the general tendency in this subject, worldwide
and in all the humanistic sciences, over the last century and
continuing at the present moment, is toward less receptivity to the
idea that culturally central texts have a history, in which the
present state of a text is not also the original state of that text.
The degree to which the evidence of the text (or of the texts in a
corpus) can break through that disinclination varies with disciplines
and with persons; it is also (as I see it) a function of the degree of
personal engagement that individuals (or whole religions) feel they
have with a particular text. In NT, texts thought to be closely
involved with Jesus are much more protected against criticism, in this
way, than are those thought to be more peripheral, and among the
Gospels, John is less protected than the Synoptics (as David has
noted). Still more obviously, conjectural texts or noncanonical texts
are relatively available to text-formation proposals. This, I would
think obviously, is not a function of the texts in question, but of
the kind and degree of regard in which they are held by modern persons.
The rest is a matter of terminology, and it may help if I define "Accretion."
1. A text can grow by the addition of material; unless the addition is
a one-time thing (in which case I like the term "layering"), this is
what I think it is fruitful to call "accretion." Your vestpocket diary
2. To a text there can appear a rival, which attempts to do the same
thing better. This is nothing that the first text does, it is a result
of what another author, or advocacy group, does. The appearance of
Matthew in open succession to Mark, or the appearance of the Wudz
military text in succession and rivalry with the older Sundz, would be
examples. This is corpus growth, not text growth. But corpus growth is
very important in its own way. Your newspaper is an example of
accretional growth, whereas the appearance of another newspaper in
town would be corpus growth.
The Pauline letters grew in several ways: (1) later proprietors of the
Pauline idea added lines or whole chapters to the genuine letters, to
insert ideas that had become important at a later time; this is a
little like the self-interpolation of the Analects of Confucius, which
was done (in this case, by the original proprietors) to introduce new
ideas into the earlier material, and also to reduce ideological
differences between the old material and the latest additions. These
are interpolations from outside, not accretional growth from within.
(2) As Harrison has nicely shown, scraps of genuine Paul personal
notes were fleshed out, again by the Paul movement, to justify certain
later practices and doctrines; this is not so much accretion as
"reopening" an older text for later extension. Thus what are called
the Pastorals; they used to be merely the Personals. (3) Whole new
Epistles were written over the name of Paul, to extend his authority
to new ideas and to meet new issues. Their theology (though many have
argued to the contrary) progresses even beyond the latest point
reached by Paul, whose own ideas had evolved over the course of his
career. These are the Deuteropaulines. They are an example of corpus
3. The reopening of texts for further growth beyond their original
limits, necessarily by someone other than the original text
proprietors, is another distinct model. The Pastorals are a small
example; Acts in Bezae is the only really well-known NT case
otherwise. In Han China, when classical authority was sought for all
kinds of new theories and sensibilities, a tremendous spurt of new
composition occurred, but along with that, much energy also went into
extending the already famous classical texts. So beside several new
military manuals, the old Sundz (AND the almost as old Wudz, the two
recognized classics of the military art) were expanded to many times
their original size.
What to call all these varieties of text activity, including the
continued growth of a single text once written (like the layering in
Mark, or the rearrangements in Luke, or the shifting of panels in
John) is something of a problem. For one tentative but
well-intentioned list of possible types, with illustrations both
ancient and modern (there is nothing specifically ancient about these
As David points out, there are people who are more open than other
people to proposals about text or corpus growth. We need not argue
about their numbers, relative to those who are less receptive. The
scholarly future of the subject, insofar as it has one, surely lies
with those who can continue to examine the evidence of the texts
(along with the evidence of later manuscript variants, as an aid in
establishing the text in the first place). I wish them well. And I
have opportunities for them, including publication opportunities, if
they are encountering difficulty in getting a hearing for analyses of
this type; contact me privately.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst