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Choice and Constraint

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: Synoptic On: Choice and Constraint From: Bruce I had denied Chuck s statement that we must choose the solution that leaves the fewest loose ends of
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 24, 2012
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      To: Synoptic
      On: Choice and Constraint
      From: Bruce

      I had denied Chuck's statement that "we must choose the solution that leaves
      the fewest loose ends of significance." I had said that we are also free not
      to choose one of a group of admittedly imperfect views; we can instead
      simply go on working.

      CHUCK: I wish we had the luxury of not choosing, but a scholar's approach to
      the synoptic problem is foundational to her or his interpretation of the
      synoptic gospels--in fact, virtually any individual passage within the
      synoptics. Imagine someone sitting down to write a critical commentary on
      Mark without having personally decided whether she or he believes Mk was a
      source for Mt rather than the other way around.

      BRUCE: The professional and preprofessional requirement to have a position
      on Mark (or whatever), and to proclaim that position from pulpit and on
      page, is of course extreme for many. I know that. I can sympathize with
      those who find themselves thus constrained, before they have had a decent
      opportunity to arrive at a reasoned position on Mark (or whatever) in
      appropriate tranquility. Alas for them. What I can't consistently do is to
      recommend their plight as a model for critical scholarship.

      As for setting out to write a critical commentary (properly so called)
      without having been through the sometimes arduous process of critically
      examining the text, again, there is undoubtedly a lot of it going on, but I
      don't feel that this fact constitutes a validation of the situation. To me,
      it only multiplies the gravity of the situation. It may sometimes an act of
      intellectual virtue NOT to write a commentary on Luke. Let those with one in
      the works consider it well.

      Before we have critically examined the text (or the group of texts, if
      relevant), we literally don't know what we are talking about when we make
      statements about the text (or any pet passage in it). This is the simple
      truth. That modern scholarship (in many fields, and I have much in mind the
      Sinological field) in fact often proceeds against this basic principle is
      lamentable, but that is not my fault. It is not my mission to reform
      scholarship. I haven't the time for it; I haven't the position for it; I'm
      not being paid for it. The extent of my hope in this situation is to operate
      free of some of its most damaging shortcomings.

      OPTIONS

      But what about the others? What can someone realistically do, who is forced
      by economic or other reality into having to talk about Mark before having
      had the time to think about Mark? Where is the scope for one's brain, for
      one's faculty of intellectual honesty? I should imagine that at least
      sometimes there will be possibilities. I have several times commended Frank
      Beare's little Synoptic commentary which goes about under the name The
      Earliest Records of Jesus (1962). it takes the reader through the Huck
      Pericopes in order, #1-#253. Under each of those rubrics, Frank does the
      right thing by reading all Synoptic versions of that pericope together. That
      is most certainly the way to start: with a properly dynamic perception of a
      text or passage which after all is part of a web of interrelationships.
      Frank is cumbered by a lot of ideas current in his time (among them the Q
      notion), but within those limits, he is using his eyes and ears, and often
      comes up with unobvious but suggestive observations. For instance, he is
      clear that the Lukan form of the Lost Sheep is simpler than, and thus prior
      to, the Matthean form (p150). He does not draw even the immediate inference
      (that the series of Sheep, Coin, and Son parables, which all make the same
      point in increasingly human terms, probably count as a compositional group,
      and that we have here a Lukan original series selectively winnowed by
      Matthew). Such things are not developed, but have been left for later people
      to pick up on (in this particular case, I seem to be, myself, the later
      people in question). Frank makes the right move (considering all versions
      together), he uses his eyes (to detect the directionality), and then he
      passes on, leaving something for future generations.

      Should he have instead sat down ("Come, I will write a duodecimo") to pen a
      full commentary on Luke? I don't think that his 1962 insights, taken
      together, really add up to a proper basis for doing so. A lot more work
      would have been required. But he has cleaned up some of the perplexities
      that infest the material, and to that extent has made life easier for those
      who may later attempt something of the sort. To my eye, he has played a
      practical and honorable part in an ongoing enterprise. So, I should think,
      might any of us, however situated.

      In scholarship, we have to take the view that our work is part of a
      continuum; that what we leave undone (or wrongly done, which can also
      happen), other hands will extend or fix. Beare has situated himself well
      within that perception. Must some green ThD preach every Sunday out of a
      previous (if inadequate) understanding of Luke? Then do so; there is no
      profit in arguing with necessity. But that church might also have an adult
      study group, and in the newsletter of that study group it might be possible
      to put on record, and over the years to accumulate, little productive
      observations like Frank's on Lk 15:3-7. Who knows where that might lead?

      I realize that I am here praising Beare in much the same way that Shaw once
      praised Ruskin. But a complete culture must find some useful work for its
      Ruskins as well as its Shaws, and I am far from regretting the parallel. On
      the contrary, I advertise it, and recommend it.

      Auch kleine Dinge, if they are well done in their way. Some interesting
      Sinological results have been published in the commencement programs of
      girls' high schools in the far north of Japan, because that was the only
      place their author could find. So also Weierstrass in 1824. Doing what one
      can, where one can, is a perhaps useful substitute for doing what one cannot
      yet, in a situation one has not yet reached, and may never reach. But there
      is always a next person, someone to hand off to in the relay race. Or if in
      our case there should not be, it is still seemly to act as though there
      were.

      Respectfully suggested,

      Bruce

      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
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