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Alternating Primitivity (Lk 6:39)

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: Synoptic In Response To: Ron Price On: Alternating (Mt/Lk) Primitivity From: Bruce Ron s point seems well taken. I agree with the people at one of last
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 13, 2008
      To: Synoptic
      In Response To: Ron Price
      On: Alternating (Mt/Lk) Primitivity
      From: Bruce

      Ron's point seems well taken. I agree with the people at one of last year's
      SBL panels that alternating directionality between Mt/Lk is the strongest
      contemporary argument for an outside source, and Ron's list of passages to
      be examined will probably do as well as any to start off with.


      Just one thought at first glance: Ron calls them "aphorisms," which I take
      to mean conventional wisdom sayings, afloat in the culture and quotable by
      anybody. I wouldn't call them aphorisms (except maybe Mt's version of "the
      blind leading the blind, Mt 15:14, cf Lk 6:39 but the two are not
      narratively parallel); I would call most of them comparisons. Which, I
      suppose, is why some of them get into some definitions of parables.
      Including Luke's definition of parables (cf supra).

      This is Ron's first example. I don't have any great difficulty seeing the Mt
      version of it as earlier, and that happens to be the aphoristic member. But
      I'm not comfortable with making the directionality argument on aphoristic
      grounds. In general, as far as my own text experience goes, the presumption
      that an aphorism precedes a narratively engaged (or less aphoristic) usage
      may not be sound. Students who first read Shakespeare often report finding
      him just a tissue of quotations. I suppose the same obtains with people
      (perhaps in an earlier century) who are familiar with Latin aphorisms and
      then undertake to read Virgil. Both impressions of directionality are very
      natural, but it turns out that neither is historically correct. In general,
      I don't think that there is a reliable directionality indicator in the fact
      that one member of a pair of related passages is more aphoristic than the
      other. I would want more.

      Matthew plugs his "blind man" comparison into an adversative incident with
      the Pharisees; Luke uses it to start off a nonadversative disquisition on
      teachers (part of his Sermon on the Plain), where it follows other advice on
      humble behavior; both Evangelists have a use for it. Is the comparison drawn
      in the first place from common folksay? I could believe it. Do we need to
      posit a written source, in whatever language, for folksay? I shouldn't think
      so. Is either text here drawing on the other, or are they both drawing
      independently on folksay? Not immediately apparent, but since much of the
      material on both sides of each passage is also found, somewhere or other, in
      the other text, I would think that the hypothesis of literary indebtedness
      may have more going for it. That hypothesis needs to include a corollary
      allowing the rearrangement of the indebted material.

      The Markan parallels to some of that material also need to be considered
      before anything like a final decision can be rendered. Mt/Lk comparisons too
      frequently ignore Markan parallels.

      Of course, there aren't supposed to BE any Markan parallels, for those of us
      who hear a certain conjectural text defined as material in Mt/Lk but not in
      Mk. But you know how it is with that pet baby alligator. It is cute at
      first, but then it grows, and starts eating everything else in sight. The Q
      alligator, as it seems to me, has already swallowed a lot of Mark, and last
      I heard, it was taking aim at the Passion narrative also. Hard to control.


      The other thing that worries me about previous treatments of passages like
      this (and I find some of it in Ron's comments also) is that it relies almost
      exclusively on arguments about what some writer is likely to have done, or
      not done. But surely imagining the motives of a long dead and wholly unknown
      person is a perilous enterprise. It seems to me that it would be better to
      have something else when we can get it, and when we CAN get it, to weigh
      those cases more heavily (non numerantur, etc) than the more head-internal
      impressionistic ones.

      The vice of imagining people's heads, or failing to, comes out for me in the
      usual reaction to Luke's treatment of the Sermon on the Mount. How, say
      those who like myself have Sunday School pictures of the thing burned into
      their retina, could Luke possibly have laid a finger on this beautiful
      scene, with lambs and small children with curly hair (both the lambs and the
      children) spotted all over the landscape? How could Luke have torn it apart
      and strewn its pieces all over the place? And with that indignant rhetorical
      question they subside into a smoulder of resentment. Which is intended to
      banish other considerations forever, and send their proposers away
      permanently abashed and apologetic.

      Fine, me too, but resentment isn't evidence. We might more rationally ask:
      is the Sermon credible in the first place? I think the answer must be that
      it is not. Getting a multitude up on a mountain isn't very practical, and it
      isn't the practice in the Gospels anyway - Jesus uses mountains or other
      out-of-the-way places for prayer and solitude: not to gather audiences but
      to get away from them. As to content, I think it came out when we recently
      considered Ron's revised Synoptic Source proposal (which featured a rather
      rationally arranged source) that to compose his Sermon from those
      constituents, Matthew would have had to start with one of the documents,
      dodge into the other at one point, and then back to the first. Given for a
      moment the cogency of Ron's version of Matthew's source, I ask: NOW who is
      distributing a beautifully arranged document in rags and tatters all over
      the landscape?

      Answer: Matthew.

      Further, as to Luke, people who ask these questions this way ignore the fact
      that Luke has his own idea of a sermon; he is not just scattering other
      people's sermons to the four winds. He is gathering and repackaging. His
      sermon locale is much more reasonable (he gets Jesus down off the mountain
      first), and his continuity both in what follows (the Sermon on the Plain)
      and at the other points where he uses the Matthean Sermon material, is
      defensible. You may not find it beautiful (people remember their childhood
      feelings too strongly for that to be a common reaction), but you can't say
      it is without a plan of its own. It's something more than vandalism. That
      Luke's plan is in some ways an inferior revision of the Matthean plan I
      would readily concede. But that is just the point: Luke's behavior toward
      Matthew is part rationalization (relocation) and part using the material for
      different purposes of his own. Such as they may be.

      It is not enough to be aghast at what is happening to Matthew; we also need
      to consider what Luke, in his own terms, may be up to. I would even suggest
      that getting Luke straight is the prerequisite to seriously considering


      I won't embark here on a consideration of Ron's twelve passages (and the
      above is not meant as a serious consideration of his first one). Maybe
      another time; I am already over my six line limit on most people's browsers.
      This is just by way of personal prolegomena. Thanks to Ron for bringing the
      matter up; these things are always fun to think about.

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