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RE: [XTalk] Intertexture of Gospels and GR literature

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  • Larry Swain
    -- ... Perhaps, but I know of few who actually deny any connection. And in the current environment such explorations would indeed be welcomed. BTW, I m
    Message 1 of 14 , Dec 21, 2004
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      > I agree that it is fair to say that Dennis MacDonald overstates his case.
      > However, I think it is even more accurate to say that Biblical studies
      > generally understates any connection between classical literature and New
      > Testament texts.

      Perhaps, but I know of few who actually deny any connection. And in the current environment such explorations would indeed be welcomed. BTW, I'm only tagentially a "Biblical studies" person--I've had graduate training in both classics and biblical studies, but basically I deal with literature--Greek, Latin, Old English, Old Norse, Old French, and one of my interestes is mimesis and imitation in these literatures. I also teach the Odyssey about as often, if not more, than I do Bible as Literature.

      > MacDonald would say he might be a parallelomaniac, but his
      > colleagues are parallelophobes.

      Oh I don't know about that. Biblical studies as a modern discipline grew out of classical studies and owes much to it. And there are periods of modern biblical study where comparison of the early church with literary and religious texts of the Greco-Roman world was indeed a popular mode of criticism--the whole Pauline Christianity as mystery cult school for example, or the Synoptic problem itself, much less most of Biblical studies textual criticism grew from classical textual criticism. We also have had recent forays into such comparisons such as Mack's work on Jesus as Cynic and so on. In fact, it would be quite interesting to revisit the notions of parallels between classical texts and NT ones...and though I don't buy any of Macdonald's argument, I certainly would not say that the possible connections between Homer and Christian writers (NT included) is not to be explored.

      In Bible college, I found it natural to
      > speak of Christianity as a development out of Judaism, and natural to look
      > for Old Testament parallels, prophecies, or allusions in the New Testament.
      > My encounter with MacDonald did not convince me that most of the parallels
      > he sees are "valid," but it did convince me that it should be just as
      > natural to look for classical parallels and allusions in the New Testament.

      I wouldn't disagree here.

      > After all, most of the "original audience" for our New Testament texts would
      > have been more familiar with Homer than with the Hebrew Bible (including the
      > LXX).

      Oh, that's quite the claim there. I rather doubt that its true as a whole, considering that even among Gentiles the earliest efforts at conversion were aimed at Gentiles who were attached to synagogues as "god-fearers". That they were familiar with Homer, or with episodes from Homer, ok, granted. That they were more familiar with that than with the "hebrew bible", or at least parts of those texts I rather doubt on the whole. Certainly exceptions could be pointed to.

      > If I were selling MacDonald, I would cherry-pick from his work two or three
      > of his strongest parallels; once one is prepared to accept that a New
      > Testament author was consciously comparing classical figures or themes with
      > Christian figures and themes, with a precision that implies a literary
      > source, then less convincing parallels take on greater likelihood. On the
      > other hand, reading nine unconvincing parallels tends to weaken his
      > credibility even in cases where his argument is stronger.

      Well so far I don't think he's made a strong case for any parallel in the NT.


      > It has been suggested that establishing literary dependence is
      > methodologically well-defined and almost a matter of common sense.

      Which is not what I said. I said two separate things: 1) that establishing literary dependence is methodologically well-defined, I'll be happy to provide bibliography for you and I said 2) that some of Macdonald's vaunted criteria, such as the notion of availibility, are common sense (would you argue that Matthew knew the Vedic texts for example?). It is this type of overreading or reading in a selective manner that I object to in Macdonald.

      > I note mutually exclusive hypotheses about which text/s are being depended
      > upon in too many instances, and too often even in redaction criticism
      > disagreement on the direction of dependence (as well as the death-defying
      > debate between whether Q must by assumed or if Matthew or Luke could have
      > known the other).

      And? What is clear and easily demonstrable is that there is a literary connection among those 3 works. A little more difficult to talk about further directions of relationship or other reconstructed texts when so much depends on uncertain dating of the texts and the relationships among the various communities is unknown. The more you know about context, date, provenance, etc, the better able you are to establish direction of influence. The problem with the Synoptics is that we know little about their intended audience, think we have the dates down well but recognize the possibiity that maybe we don't, and so on. Not quite the same as with Homer or other authors.

      >So it is still of more interest to me HOW I know that NT
      > text A does not depend on Homer text Z than THAT it does not.

      How do you know any text depends on another? For example, you've mentioned the Synoptic problem...how is it that you know that those 3 gospels depend on one another--even if you can't positively identify the direction? How is it that you know Luke is presenting Christ in contrast to Dionysius in Acts? What clues do you adduce? WIll they stand scrutiny? How do you know that Matthew 2 is mimesis of the Exodus story and Moses? What are the clues? The method of studying allusions, quotations, and imitations in the NT from the Old is not a different method from studying such allusions, quotations, and imitations between Christian texts and Greco-Roman texts. The methodology is essentially the same. Go forth and study.

      > Finally, the case for mimesis has been attacked by noting that Mark or Acts
      > is not at all the kind of mimesis we find in Vergil. But then Mark and Acts
      > have not been identified with any other literary genre of their day; if they
      > are "unique" generic types, then they could be unique types of mimesis.

      Well, first, I don't find Mark or Acts to be unique literary genres. Second, Vergil can be a control text. We see how mimesis works in the classical world by examining closely those works in the classical world in which mimesis takes place and working from there. That there may indeed be unique elements in Mark or Acts in their methods of mimesis may be true (and must be demonstrated) but that they are completely unique and as unique occur in a vacuum is the very thing you are arguing against is it not? Are you not arguing that the Greco-Roman context of Christian texts should alert us to finding parallels in Greco-Roman texts? If so, then how do you detect unique texts imitating non-unique texts with unique methods not similar to or the same as other authors of that context? Seems contradictory to me.

      Larry Swain
      > Chris McKinney
      > Claremont Graduate University

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