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Dating Texts

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: GThomas Cc: GPG, WSW, Synoptic In Response To: Rick Hubbard On: Dating Texts From: Bruce Rick s recent and cautious note on GThos 17 seems to me reasonable
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 1, 2010
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      To: GThomas
      Cc: GPG, WSW, Synoptic
      In Response To: Rick Hubbard
      On: Dating Texts
      From: Bruce

      Rick's recent and cautious note on GThos 17 seems to me reasonable on
      present evidence. Just one methodological point right at the end:

      RICK: It is impossible, ISTM, to imagine that the text as we have it
      did not undergo substantial revision and updating to accommodate "new
      information" consistent with changed
      understandings about Jesus and what he said (here I like to quote what
      I call the Jack Kilmon Dictum: "Don't forget these texts have been
      highly screwed around with"). To try to assign a "date" to a text that
      is likely to have been so heavily redacted is the height of bravery.

      BRUCE: Sounds like we are completely stuck and helpless if a text has
      passed through more than one constitutive stage. I think it's not
      quite that bad. I reason as follows:

      If a text was at one point updated by its proprietor (to "accommodate
      new information" or whatever, but that is one of the standard
      reasons), then we simply have two texts, not one. We can in principle
      use evidence from each portion to date (or otherwise locate) that

      If there were two points at which such changes happened, then we have
      the original state plus two later states; that is, three texts to
      locate. There is no new theoretical problem, just a little more to
      keep track of.

      What is important is not to attempt to date a text that has not first
      been examined for signs of this kind of update (or extension, or
      whatever). This is to avoid using evidence from one part (say, a usage
      known only after Y year) to date another part, or the whole text. That
      leads to unsound results. The various textual states, insofar as
      identifiable, must be treated separately.

      Give you a classical example: the Analects of Confucius. Lyou
      Dzung-ywaen, a poet and philosopher of the late Tang Dynasty, noticed
      that in one Analects passage people referred to the disciple Dzvngdz
      precisely as "Dzvngdz," that is, "Master Dzvng." This usage is
      possible only as from Dzvngdz's own students: not his teacher
      Confucius, not his contemporaries. Then that passage, and thus the
      whole Analects, must date from the second disciple generation.

      This conclusion was admired for several centuries. It wasn't until the
      Sung Dynasty, a few centuries later, that someone else noticed a break
      in the text: certain usages were different on both sides of the
      division Analects 1-10 and Analects 11-20. So there were two strata,
      not just one, and the Lyou Dzung-ywaen example only affects one of
      them. This required reconsideration.

      This kind of scrutiny continued over the next thousand years,
      accumulating many more observations on the text, and leading, about a
      dozen years ago, to a stratification that seems to account for all the
      internal usage differences. Don't even ask me how many strata were
      finally found in the text; you don't want to know. But he principle
      remains, as I think, unavoidable: first stratify (if the signs so
      indicate), then date.

      Remember too the children's riddle:

      Q: How old was Napoleon?
      A: Well, he was different ages at different times.

      So was the Gospel of Mark, and the Jung Yung, and any number of
      seemingly familiar texts.


      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
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