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Re: [Synoptic-L] Opinions about accretion

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: Synoptic Cc: WSW, GPG In Response To: David Mealand From: Bruce No detailed reply seems necessary. As far as I am aware, the general tendency in this
    Message 1 of 9 , May 4, 2010
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      To: Synoptic
      Cc: WSW, GPG
      In Response To: David Mealand
      From: Bruce

      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
      is accretional.

      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
      things), see


      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
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