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Re: [Synoptic-L] Alpha Christianity Planning Session at SBL (19 Nov)

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  • Ronald Price
    ... Bruce, Since Q (as normally reconstructed) never existed, and GTh was dependent on the synoptic gospels, we do indeed need to look at a third option if we
    Message 1 of 8 , Nov 12, 2012
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      Bruce Brooks wrote:

      > Over the last century or so, there has been widespread interest, both lay
      > and clerical, in what I might call a less Pauline Christianity. At present,
      > as far as I know, there are three principal suggestions that such a
      > Christianity existed, and can be accessed by modern persons.
      > ..... 1. ... the fictive document Q
      > ..... 2. ... the also non-Resurrection Gospel of Thomas,
      > ..... 3. ... A cluster of [early] texts [representing] ... Alpha Christianity
      > (to use my term for it) ...

      Bruce,

      Since Q (as normally reconstructed) never existed, and GTh was dependent on
      the synoptic gospels, we do indeed need to look at a third option if we are
      to explain the New Testament hints at an early non-resurrection Jesus
      movement.

      However I fear you are going in the wrong direction for at least two
      reasons. Firstly Michael Goulder was already closer to the truth when he
      wrote: "... Petrine Christianity could never have been more than a
      short-lived sect of Judaism" ("A Tale of Two Missions", p.185). I differ
      from him here only in his terminology. It was a sect led by James, and it
      was far removed from Christianity as we know it. Secondly in your zeal to
      find evidence of what I would prefer to call "the early Jesus movement", you
      go too far. From the very beginning, control of the copying of documents
      which came to be part of the New Testament was in the hands of (Pauline)
      Christians and their successors. James, Peter and their followers had no
      influence whatever on the transmission of the NT texts. Even interpolations
      aimed at rehabilitating Peter would not have been approved by the historical
      Peter, for they were only rehabilitating an image of Peter which suited
      (Pauline) Christians.

      Ron Price,

      Derbyshire, UK

      http://homepage.virgin.net/ron.price/index.htm



      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • Chuck Jones
      Bruce, Q is not fictive.  It is non-exstant.  The consistent bias of your language isn t worthy of scholarly dialogue.  J and P are not fictive sources for
      Message 2 of 8 , Nov 12, 2012
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        Bruce,

        Q is not fictive.  It is non-exstant.  The consistent bias of your language isn't worthy of scholarly dialogue.  J and P are not fictive sources for the flood narrative, they are sources for which the evidence is found in the document Genesis itself.  But you know this stuff.  You just choose to ignore it.

        (the historical) Jeez,

        Chuck Jones
        Atlanta, Georgia


        ________________________________
        From: Ronald Price <ron-price@...>
        To: Synoptic-L <Synoptic@yahoogroups.com>
        Sent: Monday, November 12, 2012 6:32 AM
        Subject: Re: [Synoptic-L] Alpha Christianity Planning Session at SBL (19 Nov)


         
        Bruce Brooks wrote:

        > Over the last century or so, there has been widespread interest, both lay
        > and clerical, in what I might call a less Pauline Christianity. At present,
        > as far as I know, there are three principal suggestions that such a
        > Christianity existed, and can be accessed by modern persons.
        > ..... 1. ... the fictive document Q
        > ..... 2. ... the also non-Resurrection Gospel of Thomas,
        > ..... 3. ... A cluster of [early] texts [representing] ... Alpha Christianity
        > (to use my term for it) ...

        Bruce,

        Since Q (as normally reconstructed) never existed, and GTh was dependent on
        the synoptic gospels, we do indeed need to look at a third option if we are
        to explain the New Testament hints at an early non-resurrection Jesus
        movement.

        However I fear you are going in the wrong direction for at least two
        reasons. Firstly Michael Goulder was already closer to the truth when he
        wrote: "... Petrine Christianity could never have been more than a
        short-lived sect of Judaism" ("A Tale of Two Missions", p.185). I differ
        from him here only in his terminology. It was a sect led by James, and it
        was far removed from Christianity as we know it. Secondly in your zeal to
        find evidence of what I would prefer to call "the early Jesus movement", you
        go too far. From the very beginning, control of the copying of documents
        which came to be part of the New Testament was in the hands of (Pauline)
        Christians and their successors. James, Peter and their followers had no
        influence whatever on the transmission of the NT texts. Even interpolations
        aimed at rehabilitating Peter would not have been approved by the historical
        Peter, for they were only rehabilitating an image of Peter which suited
        (Pauline) Christians.

        Ron Price,

        Derbyshire, UK

        http://homepage.virgin.net/ron.price/index.htm

        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]




        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      • E Bruce Brooks
        To: Synoptic In Response To: Chuck Jones On: Q and Thomas From: Bruce Chuck Jones, though he seems not to be concerned over my view of Thomas as largely
        Message 3 of 8 , Nov 12, 2012
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          To: Synoptic
          In Response To: Chuck Jones
          On: Q and Thomas
          From: Bruce

          Chuck Jones, though he seems not to be concerned over my view of Thomas as
          largely post-Synoptic, has taken exception to my characterization (as
          "fictive") of another candidate for an early Christian witness, namely Q.
          Permit me to take exception to the exception.

          Chuck: Q is not fictive. It is non-exstant.

          Bruce: "Non-extant" would correctly describe a source for which we have
          evidence, but which happens not to have survived. Thus, the existence of the
          Didache was known long before a copy turned up; when it did turn up, it was
          recognized as a known but previously non-extant text. It is now extant. But
          there is no evidence of any kind, not only no physical evidence, but also no
          reference in early writings, to anything which can be identified with Q. To
          call Q "non-extant" thus reifies Q beyond what the evidence (in this case,
          the complete absence of evidence) will properly warrant.

          Q is simply a scholarly inference, going back to 1838, from certain
          distributional facts about Matthew and Luke. Reconstructions of Q (of which
          there have been at least two dozen over the past century, no two identical)
          are conjectures based on those facts. They are constructs. I believe the
          normal meaning of "fictive" (from the verb for "make") will cover this
          situation. Q is an artifact: a modern scholarly construct based on a modern
          scholarly inference. The modern inference can be challenged, and the facts
          on which the modern inference is based can be otherwise explained, as
          witness Goulder among others. Those who do this, Goulder and the rest, are
          not denying a fact; they are challenging a construct, by supplying an
          alternate scenario.

          Chuck: The consistent bias of your language isn't worthy of scholarly
          dialogue..

          Bruce: The word "bias" implies, indeed indicts, a predisposition not based
          on evidence. The accusation fails in my case, and the word is not
          appropriate. My own view of Q is not based on any predisposition. It is
          based on careful study of the claimed evidence for Q (including doublets),
          and of other possible readings of that evidence. Whether or not I am in
          error in my own reading of that evidence, my conclusion comes from
          examination of the evidence. Chuck's accusation that I have reached my
          position by another route is wrong in fact, and discourteous in context.

          The accusation of "bias" is very common, as everyone on this list will be
          aware, for opinions to which someone is warmly opposed. To take another
          firsthand case, I have consistently taken the position, in material posted
          to this and similar lists, that Mark is prior to Luke, and that Luke is
          literarily indebted to Mark. This again is not a childhood fantasy or an
          unreasoning preference; it is a conclusion from the evidence, a conclusion
          in which I happen to coincide with many reputable people. (As far as that
          goes, there are some people who have their doubts about Q, though it might
          be impolitic to collectively stigmatize them as "biased," since the managers
          of this list include at least one of them). The upcoming SBL will have at
          least two panels on other views of the Mark/Luke relation, so it may be said
          that unanimity as to the conclusion to be drawn from the Mark/Luke evidence
          does not exist. This, however, does not reduce all views of Mark to "bias."
          My own view, to which I feel entitled by reason of prior investigation, used
          to be stigmatized as "biased" by my old friend Leonard Maluf, who for more
          than ten years regularly asserted that Markan Priority, by whomever held,
          was simply a result of bias. That accusation too is without foundation.
          Those who hold Markan Priority have their reasons for doing so, reasons
          which cannot properly be classed as "bias."

          As for my "consistency," which Chuck also wishes to make a fault, the
          evidence in both the Mark and Q cases is very much now what it was last
          Tuesday, and I ask to be excused for taking the same view of that evidence
          as I did last Tuesday.

          As Chuck will remember, with or without consulting the list archive, I have
          on several occasions not only confessed to a lack of faith in Q, but have
          given reasons in support of my alternate construal of the Mt/Lk situation;
          my proposal involves a three-stage formation process for Luke. Again, I may
          be wrong (though I don't recall that anyone else has offered a satisfactory
          account of the gross inconcinnity in the position of the Nazareth episode in
          Luke), but these proposals alone should have hinted to Chuck that my
          conclusion about Q rests on study, and not on something else.

          My position on Q, and in particular on my alternative way of accounting for
          the facts that have led some to posit (sic) a Q, has evolved since about
          2006, most stages of that evolution being in some form visible not only to
          this list, but to anyone who consistently attends local and national
          meetings of SBL. The reliance on evidence at all points in this sequence, I
          should think, is manifest, and that alone should prevent a charge of "bias"
          from arising.

          In view of all this, which I should not have needed to rehearse, I will
          appreciate Chuck's restatement of the position.

          Bruce

          E Bruce Brooks
          Warring States Project
          University of Massachusetts at Amherst
        • Chuck Jones
          Bruce, I believe despite the word count of your post, you did not address J and P. I invite you to do that. Chuck Jones Atlanta, Georgia Sent from my iPhone
          Message 4 of 8 , Nov 12, 2012
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            Bruce,

            I believe despite the word count of your post, you did not address J and P.

            I invite you to do that.

            Chuck Jones
            Atlanta, Georgia

            Sent from my iPhone

            On Nov 12, 2012, at 11:36 AM, "E Bruce Brooks" <brooks@...> wrote:

            > To: Synoptic
            > In Response To: Chuck Jones
            > On: Q and Thomas
            > From: Bruce
            >
            > Chuck Jones, though he seems not to be concerned over my view of Thomas as
            > largely post-Synoptic, has taken exception to my characterization (as
            > "fictive") of another candidate for an early Christian witness, namely Q.
            > Permit me to take exception to the exception.
            >
            > Chuck: Q is not fictive. It is non-exstant.
            >
            > Bruce: "Non-extant" would correctly describe a source for which we have
            > evidence, but which happens not to have survived. Thus, the existence of the
            > Didache was known long before a copy turned up; when it did turn up, it was
            > recognized as a known but previously non-extant text. It is now extant. But
            > there is no evidence of any kind, not only no physical evidence, but also no
            > reference in early writings, to anything which can be identified with Q. To
            > call Q "non-extant" thus reifies Q beyond what the evidence (in this case,
            > the complete absence of evidence) will properly warrant.
            >
            > Q is simply a scholarly inference, going back to 1838, from certain
            > distributional facts about Matthew and Luke. Reconstructions of Q (of which
            > there have been at least two dozen over the past century, no two identical)
            > are conjectures based on those facts. They are constructs. I believe the
            > normal meaning of "fictive" (from the verb for "make") will cover this
            > situation. Q is an artifact: a modern scholarly construct based on a modern
            > scholarly inference. The modern inference can be challenged, and the facts
            > on which the modern inference is based can be otherwise explained, as
            > witness Goulder among others. Those who do this, Goulder and the rest, are
            > not denying a fact; they are challenging a construct, by supplying an
            > alternate scenario.
            >
            > Chuck: The consistent bias of your language isn't worthy of scholarly
            > dialogue..
            >
            > Bruce: The word "bias" implies, indeed indicts, a predisposition not based
            > on evidence. The accusation fails in my case, and the word is not
            > appropriate. My own view of Q is not based on any predisposition. It is
            > based on careful study of the claimed evidence for Q (including doublets),
            > and of other possible readings of that evidence. Whether or not I am in
            > error in my own reading of that evidence, my conclusion comes from
            > examination of the evidence. Chuck's accusation that I have reached my
            > position by another route is wrong in fact, and discourteous in context.
            >
            > The accusation of "bias" is very common, as everyone on this list will be
            > aware, for opinions to which someone is warmly opposed. To take another
            > firsthand case, I have consistently taken the position, in material posted
            > to this and similar lists, that Mark is prior to Luke, and that Luke is
            > literarily indebted to Mark. This again is not a childhood fantasy or an
            > unreasoning preference; it is a conclusion from the evidence, a conclusion
            > in which I happen to coincide with many reputable people. (As far as that
            > goes, there are some people who have their doubts about Q, though it might
            > be impolitic to collectively stigmatize them as "biased," since the managers
            > of this list include at least one of them). The upcoming SBL will have at
            > least two panels on other views of the Mark/Luke relation, so it may be said
            > that unanimity as to the conclusion to be drawn from the Mark/Luke evidence
            > does not exist. This, however, does not reduce all views of Mark to "bias."
            > My own view, to which I feel entitled by reason of prior investigation, used
            > to be stigmatized as "biased" by my old friend Leonard Maluf, who for more
            > than ten years regularly asserted that Markan Priority, by whomever held,
            > was simply a result of bias. That accusation too is without foundation.
            > Those who hold Markan Priority have their reasons for doing so, reasons
            > which cannot properly be classed as "bias."
            >
            > As for my "consistency," which Chuck also wishes to make a fault, the
            > evidence in both the Mark and Q cases is very much now what it was last
            > Tuesday, and I ask to be excused for taking the same view of that evidence
            > as I did last Tuesday.
            >
            > As Chuck will remember, with or without consulting the list archive, I have
            > on several occasions not only confessed to a lack of faith in Q, but have
            > given reasons in support of my alternate construal of the Mt/Lk situation;
            > my proposal involves a three-stage formation process for Luke. Again, I may
            > be wrong (though I don't recall that anyone else has offered a satisfactory
            > account of the gross inconcinnity in the position of the Nazareth episode in
            > Luke), but these proposals alone should have hinted to Chuck that my
            > conclusion about Q rests on study, and not on something else.
            >
            > My position on Q, and in particular on my alternative way of accounting for
            > the facts that have led some to posit (sic) a Q, has evolved since about
            > 2006, most stages of that evolution being in some form visible not only to
            > this list, but to anyone who consistently attends local and national
            > meetings of SBL. The reliance on evidence at all points in this sequence, I
            > should think, is manifest, and that alone should prevent a charge of "bias"
            > from arising.
            >
            > In view of all this, which I should not have needed to rehearse, I will
            > appreciate Chuck's restatement of the position.
            >
            > Bruce
            >
            > E Bruce Brooks
            > Warring States Project
            > University of Massachusetts at Amherst
            >
            >


            [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
          • E Bruce Brooks
            To: Synoptic In Response To: Ron Price On: Q Etc From: Bruce Another response to my recent summary of the position with regard to potential witnesses to a
            Message 5 of 8 , Nov 12, 2012
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              To: Synoptic
              In Response To: Ron Price
              On: Q Etc
              From: Bruce

              Another response to my recent summary of the position with regard to
              potential witnesses to a pre-Resurrection Christian belief and practice.

              Ron: Since Q (as normally reconstructed) never existed,

              Bruce: Careful, Ron, or Chuck Jones will be after you.

              Ron: and GTh was dependent on the synoptic gospels,

              Bruce: At least in part, as I believe has been satisfactorily demonstrated.
              I reserve the possibility that a different directionality may obtain for a
              limited part of the Thomas material, which would keep the present question
              at least partly open.

              Ron: . . . we do indeed need to look at a third option if we are to explain
              the New Testament hints at an early non-resurrection Jesus movement.

              Bruce: Or more.

              Ron: However I fear you are going in the wrong direction for at least two
              reasons. Firstly Michael Goulder was already closer to the truth when he
              wrote: "... Petrine Christianity could never have been more than a
              short-lived sect of Judaism" ("A Tale of Two Missions", p.185). I differ
              from him here only in his terminology. It was a sect led by James, and it
              was far removed from Christianity as we know it.

              Bruce: I regret not being able to follow Michael in this book. For one
              thing, I think his view is too dualistic; Paul, to hear Paul himself tell
              it, had more than one opposing faction at Corinth and elsewhere (eg,
              Apollos, and not the curious treatment of Apollos in Acts). As for "James,"
              which James? The Gnostic James whom we meet in three of the Nag Hammadi
              tracts? The James of Zebedee, evidently a lax person, who in the Jerusalem
              meeting accepted Paul's nonobservance of Jewish food piety rules? Or the
              James of Alphaeus who, in my view, is the most likely author of the
              canonical Epistle of James? More work seems to be needed here.

              As for Peter, he is surely the most obscure of all the major players, and
              that itself is passing strange. The two canonical Epistles co-opt him into
              at least two things: (1) belief in Beta Christianity, which merely on the
              evidence of Paul (not to mention the PseudoClementines, though there is that
              as well) he is unlikely to have held, and (2) close association with Rome.
              The Roman myth, to take only that, has many forms, including the myth that
              Paul escaped his first captivity there, and continued to preach, whether in
              Spain or in Greece (the myths here telling more than one story). This is the
              false tradition. Does a true one underlie it at any point? Not yet
              investigated with sufficient rigor and persistence. We do not know.

              Ron: Secondly in your zeal to find evidence of what I would prefer to call
              "the early Jesus movement", you go too far. From the very beginning, control
              of the copying of documents which came to be part of the New Testament was
              in the hands of (Pauline) Christians and their successors.

              Bruce: Proof? My impression is that a circular letter like that of James (or
              the later 1 Peter) was from the beginning circulated to Christians at large,
              in more than one copy. 1 Peter is plausible as a Pauline composition, but
              surely not James, which openly ridicules the position of Paul in Romans, on
              faith vs works as salvific. The letters of Paul himself (but perhaps
              significantly, only the ones from the last few years of his life) were
              probably edited by some member of his group, for immediate wider
              circulation; Romans (as witness the variant endings, of which some account
              surely needs to be taken in these discussions) may have been meant by Paul
              himself to be, not merely a one-church letter, but one copied ab initio to
              multiple addresses; we happen to have that letter as adapted to be sent to
              Ephesus. In other words, it seems that the texts were gathered at more than
              one location, approved (with or without doctrinal reprocessing), and sent
              out as generally authoritative documents.

              What I see in the generation or two after Paul is not the formation of our
              NT canon, but many attempts to replace the voice of the Apostles with the
              witness of fixed documents: newly created or newly assembled authority
              texts. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke are, in my view, only one aspect of
              this rush to textualization.

              Not all these people were Pauline, and not all the Paulines need to have
              been operating at the same time and place. Consider for example the
              Johannine Epistles. I think Ron is simplifying the situation.

              Ron: James, Peter and their followers had no influence whatever on the
              transmission of the NT texts.

              Bruce: The Apostles are by definition Apostolic, and I at least see the
              process of textualization as greatly stimulated by the end of the Apostolic
              period. Did Peter have a following, a tradition of his own? One way to ask
              that question is to examine the whole of the supposed Petrine corpus
              (conveniently collected by Lapham) for ideas common to that corpus, or most
              of it, but unknown or less common outside. Lapham has suggested a few
              motifs; I have found one or two more. What to make of them is a subject that
              seems to have conspicuously lacked followup. I mention it here merely to
              invite followup.

              This is one way to examine the proposition that Peter (for one) had no
              influence on the transmission of the NT texts. I agree that he probably
              wrote none of them, and edited still fewer. But did he have input into any
              of them? A claim often encountered is that the Jesus material in Mark comes
              from Peter; that claim may indeed have been one reason for retaining the
              otherwise obsolete Mark (obsoleted by the rapid post-Apostolic appearance of
              Mt and Lk) in the eventual Canon. Has the claim been examined? My own brief
              investigation suggests that the idea that Mark listened to Peter in Rome is
              merely part of the Roman myth abovementioned, and should be rejected. Not
              seriously examined as far as I know, but possibly having something to it, is
              the alternate possibility that Mark listened to Peter not in Rome but in his
              mother's house in Jerusalem, where (if Luke is not telling a complete lie)
              Peter once went to take refuge in a moment of danger. Then Peter knew the
              address, and on at least one reported occasion went to it. Is there material
              in Mark which can reasonably be construed as owing to the verbal report of
              Peter, made in person to Mark in Jerusalem? Yes, there is, and I have done a
              paper on it. More may exist. But until Mark is combed for such
              possibilities, we have no idea whether Peter was in fact a major source for
              Mark. Such is the undone work attending this subject. (Or if in fact it has
              been done, I would more than usually appreciate a reference to the place
              where the results may be found).

              Pending this and other seemingly scanted researches, I feel that any final
              conclusion about the role of Peter, not in disseminating the NT canon (which
              in any case was still in a fluid condition in the 4c), but in leaving an
              imprint on it, may be somewhat premature.

              Ron: Even interpolations aimed at rehabilitating Peter would not have been
              approved by the historical Peter, for they were only rehabilitating an image
              of Peter which suited (Pauline) Christians.

              Bruce: I think Ron is equating what I call Alpha Christianity with "Petrine
              Christianity," and I do not accept that equation.

              But to take the proposal as it stands: That the Historical Peter was still
              alive when these interpolations were being made in the postApostolic period
              is intrinsically unlikely. It is at least equally unlikely that, had Peter
              been around, the doings of the Pauline editorial team would have been
              submitted to him for approval. In any case, what would be an example of an
              interpolation aimed at rehabilitating Peter? Offhand, I can think of none.
              What I do find are a whole slew of interpolations in the Pauline corpus,
              probably inserted at the time the corpus was first gathered, most likely
              already in the late 60's, which are designed to take the heat out of Paul's
              extreme opposition to what I call the Alpha Christians in the churches of
              his time, and to moderate not only the tone, but the substance, of the
              debate which we can see in Paul's own writings, which are nothing if not
              consistently vehement (Anathema, indeed), and to substitute something more
              irenic and lovable - something the future church could more easily live
              with, a basis for amicable coexistence. One of the most obvious of those
              interpolations (here as often, I rely on the very careful work of William O
              Walker Jr) is the "love" chapter of 1 Cor. With a little more work along
              these lines, preferably by Walker himself, we may have a clearer picture of
              just what was going on in the minds of Paul's first editors. That will be an
              enormous advantage in taking up question of canon (or subcanon) formation.
              At present, I cannot think that we stand on firm ground in this regard.

              I don't want to weary anyone, but the topic of interpolation in the sacred
              texts is never popular, and in our decade, perhaps less popular than in some
              others. Persons with a Pauline interpolation to argue for, and looking for a
              place to publish it, are respectfully reminded that the Project's journal,

              http://www.umass.edu/wsp/journal/index.html

              though perhaps for the moment slightly less prestigious than Novum
              Testamentum, does exist, and is taking contributions on this and kindred
              subjects. Prospective authors are welcome to contact me personally. In just
              a few more days, I will be cruising the far-flung halls of SBL, in vigorous
              search of promising papers. But I can't cover all the sessions, and
              prospective authors who wish to shortcut that necessarily imperfect
              discovery process may feel very free to do so.

              For starters, in case someone lacks a topic: Walker Interpolations p17 gives
              a list (by no means complete, but it will do to start) of passages in Romans
              which have been suspected, at one time or another, of being interpolated.
              Walker himself has published on exactly four of these: 1:18-2:29, 13:1-7
              (Haustafel; see the postPaulines for more examples), 16:25-27(the Doxology),
              and, following the publication of his book, 8:29-30.

              What about the rest? Here, surely, is a fine way to pass the time some
              weekend, when other diversions pall.

              Bruce

              E Bruce Brooks
              Warring States Project
              University of Massachusetts at Amherst
            • David Inglis
              Recent references to Michael Goulder have led me to crystallize some thoughts regarding scholars that have gone before us. In particular, how much weight
              Message 6 of 8 , Nov 12, 2012
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                Recent references to Michael Goulder have led me to crystallize some thoughts regarding scholars that have gone before
                us. In particular, how much weight should we give to the opinions of the 'greats?' How, I have no hesitation in
                accepting 'hard' evidence from anyone, e.g. details of particular variant readings in mss, quotes from the early church
                fathers, or the like, but I start to get more wary regarding interpretations of what that evidence means, or comments
                regarding what such and such scribe might have chosen to do, or what any of the authors (e.g. of the gospels) might have
                been trying to achieve. Going back in time a bit, how much weight can we give to people who never knew the papyri that
                are so important today (P46 and P75 immediately spring to mind)? Then, perhaps more relevant to today, how much has the
                advent of computer-based analytical techniques allowed us to uncover information that was simply unknowable only a short
                time ago? A contentious issue, I feel sure, but nevertheless I'd like to know what people think. I particularly like
                this quote from Isaac Newton: "I have not been able to discover the cause of those properties of gravity from phenomena,
                and I frame no hypotheses; for whatever is not deduced from the phenomena is to be called a hypothesis, and hypotheses,
                whether metaphysical or physical, whether of occult qualities or mechanical, have no place in experimental philosophy."



                David Inglis, Lafayette, CA, 94549, USA





                [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
              • E Bruce Brooks
                To: Synoptic In Response To: David Inglis On: Greatness From: Bruce David raised several interesting questions of method. Herewith my first thoughts, if only
                Message 7 of 8 , Nov 12, 2012
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                  To: Synoptic
                  In Response To: David Inglis
                  On: Greatness
                  From: Bruce

                  David raised several interesting questions of method. Herewith my first
                  thoughts, if only to encourage the thoughts of others.

                  David: Recent references to Michael Goulder have led me to crystallize some
                  thoughts regarding scholars that have gone before us. In particular, how
                  much weight should we give to the opinions of the 'greats?'

                  Bruce: Words like "great" should never be used of persons, in general
                  because it is overreaching (we all die sooner or later), and
                  methodologically because the word begs the argument. It is the argument, not
                  the person, that can carry conviction in a later age. Or in any age. The
                  Chinese have the habit of referring to Da Lishrjya Szma Chyen ("The Great
                  Historian Szma Chyen"). That adjective is virtually required in Chinese
                  academic discourse; it is something of a fixed Homeric epithet. The problem
                  is that it is in effect an argument from authority, not from evidence. Plus,
                  as it happens, that same venerated Szma Chyen turns out to have merely
                  messed up his father Szma Tan's history, dubious though that history already
                  was (the two together are more or less the Herodotus of China). For a
                  partial exposé, see our journal, Warring States Papers v1, p164-167:

                  http://www.umass.edu/wsp/journal/wsp1/index.html

                  Oops, that piece is not available for free download. Gotta buy the issue.
                  See the order page.

                  David: . . . Going back in time a bit, how much weight can we give to people
                  who never knew the papyri that are so important today (P46 and P75
                  immediately spring to mind)?

                  Bruce: I suppose it depends how relevant those papyri (or any other modern
                  discoveries) are to the matter in hand. Maxwell's Equations probably survive
                  P75 pretty well. But in general, all conclusions, even our own conclusions
                  of yesterday, are forever subject to revision in the light of new evidence,
                  or of continued examination of the old evidence. Moments ago, I resent to
                  our small Mencius study group a revised version of a paper on the chronology
                  of Mencius 2, written a few months back, but now with several changed dates,
                  based on closer inspection (by my colleague Taeko, not by me, but she and I
                  exchange working notes every couple of months) of the millennia-old
                  evidence. The old can be new when viewed afresh. It is surely part of the
                  job of scholarship to continually view the evidence afresh. Our former
                  selves, our selves of yesterday, are not "great" either. In any operative
                  sense.

                  David (quoting Newton): " . . . for whatever is not deduced from the
                  phenomena is to be called a hypothesis, and hypotheses, whether metaphysical
                  or physical, whether of occult qualities or mechanical, have no place in
                  experimental philosophy."

                  Bruce: Newton is great if anybody is; he looms permanently large in the
                  history of science. (The usual trinity, for those who move in these areas,
                  is Archimedes, Newton, Gauss). But I think that a lesser being can still
                  quarrel with Newton's rejection of what he calls "hypotheses." (His dictum,
                  in Latin, was hypotheses non fingo; slightly contemptuous). Statistically
                  speaking, most of our decisions, including decisions about textual matters,
                  are made on the basis of incomplete evidence, or incomplete reflection. That
                  does not mean that no such decision is better than any other such decision;
                  it means that no decision is final. For that matter, last I heard, Newton's
                  system of gravitation has since been modified, to the advantage of its
                  practical and theoretical accuracy. Was it then only a hypothesis after all?
                  if so, it was a very valiant and long-sufficing one, and argues well for the
                  use of hypotheses, if framed in the light of evidence, and tested against
                  the light of other evidence.

                  The evidence is all we have, and our decisions of the moment are the best we
                  can make - today, this hour - of the evidence. If others can improve on our
                  insight, or our sense of what evidence is relevant, or for that matter on
                  our statistical toolkit, our tools of interpretation, so much the better.
                  No? Not better for us, maybe, but better for the subject, and the subject is
                  what counts.

                  Bruce

                  E Bruce Brooks
                  Warring States Project
                  University of Massachusetts at Amherst

                  PS: For those interested in the concept of greatness, I might venture to
                  recommend C P Snow's collection of profiles, called Variety of Men. Those
                  considered (with technical as well as literary insight; Snow inhabited both
                  of his Two Cultures) are mostly scientists, but also political and literary
                  personages. Snow seems somewhat to agree with my thought, above, that
                  greatness is not exactly a question of who was right, not even morally
                  right, but who looms large on the subsequent human scene. Orwell on Gandhi
                  is pretty good too, if one wants a followup.

                  Poor pitiful human creatures anyway. But some of them have their moments.

                  Chinggis Kaqan (Genghis Khan to many). There is a tune called The Marching
                  Song of Chinggis Kaqan. I used to play it on the flute, at parties in my
                  graduate days. There were those (not all of them Central Asians, either) who
                  responded to it.

                  Answers, schmansers. To me, the durably great are those with the rare gift
                  for asking the right questions. Or even asking that the right questions be
                  asked. Clemenceau: De quoi s'agit-il?
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