RE: [Synoptic-L] Alpha Christianity Planning Session at SBL (19 Nov)
- To: Synoptic
In Response To: Ron Price
On: Q Etc
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
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,
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.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
- 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]
- To: Synoptic
In Response To: David Inglis
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:
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
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
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
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?