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RE: [Synoptic-L] Lk1-2 and Acts

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: Synoptic (WSW) In Agreement with: Chuck Jones In Response To: David Mealand On: Stylometric Evidence for or against Lk 1-2 Let me add my note of thanks for
    Message 1 of 63 , Sep 14, 2012
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      To: Synoptic (WSW)
      In Agreement with: Chuck Jones
      In Response To: David Mealand
      On: Stylometric Evidence for or against Lk 1-2

      Let me add my note of thanks for David's stylometric report (on Lk 1-2) to
      the thanks of Chuck, just posted.

      David comments, "It is by no means a clear cut issue." I think that is
      exactly right, and may I take a moment to say why?

      From 40 years' experience with stylometric measures in various languages,
      including awareness of other people's results, I find the following.

      1. Stylometrics measures style. It does not measure authorship as such. It
      is not designed to, and in principle it cannot be designed to. Authorship
      lies one stage behind the directly measurable; for the investigator, it can
      be no more than inferential.

      2. The styles of two authors may differ, but may also be similar, either for
      random reasons, or because of intentional imitation, or because of
      unconscious imitation. An example of the latter is the one Madison letter
      (in the Federalist Papers; I have in mind the Mosteller-Wallace classic
      study) which ran way outside the usual ambitus of Madison results for the
      particular algorithm Mosteller-Wallace used (not a bad one, by the way,
      though it has proved capable of further refinement). This was most plausibly
      because in that letter Madison had in mind a tract by an earlier British
      political science writer, and was influenced by its style, almost to the
      point of imitation. A second example: Analects 18:4-6 (a Confucian text), a
      response to several passages in the Jwangdz (a hostile Dauist text) departs
      from what we might call the stylistic norm for the Analects, and resembles,
      not just the Jwangdz in general, but three passages which, upon examination,
      prove to be plausible as the exact passages to which the Analects writer
      (not Confucius, it is hardly necessary to say) was responding. This is at
      the opposite end of the emotional spectrum from the Madison case - conscious
      opposition rather than perhaps unconscious agreement - but the result in
      stylometric terms is the same: the writer has been influenced by the style
      of an outside text. Since most writing is done in a context of other
      writing, some of it exemplary for that author and some of it impinging from
      a hostile direction, these influences are in principle always present.

      3. The style of one author may vary from its own known average, for what
      amount to psychological reasons. It is possible, in scanning the stories of
      James Thurber, to detect points where a stylistic disturbance occurs. These
      points turn out to correspond very closely to the deep psychiatric issues
      identified in the Bernstein biography of Thurber (which was written after
      those particular stylometric results were obtained). Another example is the
      anonymous letters written by Jonathan Swift for the Examiner, a
      pro-government paper of the time. One of the twenty deviated violently from
      the stylistic average of the other nineteen. It turned out to describe an
      opium dream. It is a not unreasonable conclusion that Swift was reporting an
      actual experience, and in the language of that experience; he may have been
      under the effects when writing the piece, or he may have been recalling
      those effects. In any case, the piece itself gives a not implausible
      explanation for its own atypical style, and the conclusion that this letter
      is not by Swift should be rejected. Again, it is possible, by scanning
      certain long stories in the Dzwo Jwan, to detect, not so much the presence
      of an interpolation, as the point at which the author's own interest in his
      story peaks - the thematic climax of the story. Locating such points (and
      merely literary analysis can differ about where they are, or whether they
      exist) can be very helpful in detecting the author's purpose in writing the
      story. They do not indicate the sudden presence of another author. These are
      examples of stylometrics used in what I might call its home country - the
      analysis of style.

      4. Stylometric results are sensitive to the particular algorithm employed.
      Different indicators give different results for the same two passages. In
      calibrating an algorithm, to decide what measures to incorporate, one works
      from known material, of the same author in the same mood, etc, The
      prerequisite is that the material be in fact known, and though it is not as
      much of a problem with recent authors, with ancient ones there is a constant
      risk of authorially inauthentic material. The results of Walker on
      interpolations in the Pauline letters may stand as a sufficient
      methodological caution in this area. Are we (is our algorithm) measuring the
      difference between Nice Paul and Angry Paul? Or is it registering the
      difference between Real Paul and Deutero Paul? Are we finding a deviation in
      the style of Luke, or are we detecting an early scribal interpolation into
      Luke (one of the Western non-Interpolations)? These are unignorable
      questions, and they much complicate all such investigations. As for the
      Deutero Author of the Pastorals, who is trying as hard as possible to make
      his work resemble the genuine letters of Paul, or the author of Ephesians,
      who is doing the same (with more literary success) with Colossians in
      particular, we can perhaps measure how far they succeed, but those familiar
      with the literature of these problems will know that different measures
      (vocabulary, theology, tone) give different results as to authorship.

      5. Stylistic results are sensitive to genre. There is probably no such thing
      as a neutral sample of authorial style; authors (and the rest of us) are
      always *doing something.* Beethoven characteristically used E-flat for grand
      statements; Mozart has a special momentous Innigkeit that is often
      associated with his D minor movements. Not to notice this is to miss part of
      the expressiveness of those pieces. D major, for fingering reasons, is a
      convenient key for a violin concerto, by whomever. Writing a transition is
      like writing an apotheosis, except that the rules are different and the
      precedents are different, and the effects on anything measurable as "style"
      will be different. This is one of the problems with regarding "seams"
      (transitions and introductions and characteristic summaries) as authorially
      neutral. They are not. Nothing is. Nothing can be. The only authorially
      neutral sample (for vocabulary-based tests, and mutatis mutandis) is the
      cumulative frequency curve of that language. We can compute an average for a
      number of tested passages, but it is our average, not the author's, and it
      is our selection of passages to test, not the author's. And if it IS the
      author's, his selection bias has its own obvious problems. A recent
      biography of Robert Frost has been faulted for including and discussing at
      length only out-of-copyright poems. And so on, for a thousand variations.
      One must calibrate, and not to do so is a lapse of technique, but there are
      difficulties with the calibration process.

      6. More generally, but by definition, stylometrics considers only part of
      the evidence presented by two passages. But the evidence omitted from the
      test may be relevant, perhaps in some cases more relevant, to the final
      diagnosis. A basic blood test, though obviously useful, may not pick up a
      condition that is detectable in other ways (or, as in the famous case of the
      mammogram, may result in what the clinicians call a false positive). This is
      something of which the basic GP physician needs occasionally to be reminded.
      A similar caution applies to the text worker.

      Careful work can greatly diminish the effect of some of these considerations
      on a given stylometric test, and the results of that test become
      proportionately more interesting and suggestive, whether as the
      psychological profile of one author (the home ground of these tests), or as
      an indication of the presence of another author (an extended use, and by
      definition not as comfortable for the procedure itself). Even a less careful
      result may have its interest. But as I remarked more or less, at the end of
      a partly stylometric-based lecture in Leiden (2003; online), "in this area,
      everything works a little bit, but nothing works perfectly. All stylometric
      results must in the end be referred to the literary judgement of the
      researcher, and of the larger scholarly community."

      I think that still holds. Stylometrics is relevant, it is interesting, it
      can sometimes be *very* interesting, but it is not DNA.

      With repeated thanks, but also with repeated cautions,


      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
    • David Mealand
      I have long been aware of general differences between the style of Luke and that of Acts. In 1986 Kenny drew attention to this issue in a new way, but there
      Message 63 of 63 , Sep 15, 2012
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        I have long been aware of general differences between the style of
        Luke and that of Acts. In 1986 Kenny drew attention to this issue
        in a new way, but there still seemed to be no need to question common
        authorship of the two texts. One obvious line, in addition to noting
        similar themes, was that the earlier work was revising previous
        sources written in a Greek more influenced by Aramaic than the Greek
        of the author, even if the latter did sometimes like to imitate the
        Septuagint. The later work is more concerned with Greece and Rome.
        So the differences of style seemed explicable.

        That situation changed with the publication of the monograph by
        Patricia Walters, the reason being that this showed that the sections
        of text most likely to be authorial in each of the works displayed
        very significant stylistic differences. The criteria used were ones
        known and used in the Graeco-Roman world. The results do not in
        themselves require a decision for different authorship, but they
        do require serious further explanation. They do call in question
        a widespread assumption of common authorship, and demonstrate that
        much more careful attention needs to be given to the issue if such
        an assumption is to stand.

        One obvious line is to check the new findings and this I did. I used
        the same standard statistical method with different criteria. The
        results were still highly significant. My criteria were very high
        frequency, so I could partition the data further. The Luke sub-samples
        cohered, the Acts sub-samples cohered, but the difference between the
        two sets was still highly significant. I tried one further tactic
        of removing some sections of the Luke seams and summaries to test a
        further possible line of objection. The original results still stood.
        I then used a different (multivariate) method and included other samples
        from both texts to see where the SS samples landed in relation to those,
        and to each other. I ran variations on that. One of those is on my
        web site. After all these checks I was convinced that the original
        statistical results were robust and needed to be taken very seriously.

        I am not inferring directly from stats to different authorship. I am
        concluding that my previous reasons (and those of others) for acquiescing
        in the assumption of common authorship deserve serious reappraisal. A
        really convincing explanation of the differences needs to be provided,
        if such is in fact possible.

        I am well aware that style can be affected by what an author admires or
        detests, and by whether some disturbance of mood affects the composition
        of a piece, or the author has an opium dream. While I have not checked
        for the latter in the case of Luke-Acts, I have checked genre rigorously,
        and most of the other items one might usually suspect. I also looked
        at the lines of defence in as many of the scholarly reviews as I could
        find. Obviously I am not going to post here all the items I would put
        in an eventual properly published piece, and even there editors differ
        considerably as to how extensively the data are presented. But I
        would not be so definite about the need for reappraisal of the issue if
        I had not carried out a lot of tests not immediately evident.

        David M.

        David Mealand, University of Edinburgh

        The University of Edinburgh is a charitable body, registered in
        Scotland, with registration number SC005336.
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