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Re: [XTalk] Re: Bart Ehrman, Witherington, Scholars and TV

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  • David B. Gowler
    Rikk, Many thanks for your thoughtful response. I apologize that my schedule prevents me now from giving it the full response that it deserves. I will be
    Message 1 of 68 , Apr 1, 2006
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      Rikk,

      Many thanks for your thoughtful response. I apologize that my schedule
      prevents me now from giving it the full response that it deserves. I will be
      away for over a week, but let me jot down a few initial thoughts in haste.

      First, I was focusing on pre-70 CE, because my initial side comment to which
      you responded was about the diversity during that time period (I think that's
      the case).

      Second, concerning Stark's use of Origen. I personally wouldn't use Origen as
      evidence about the numbers circa 40 CE to begin with (and I use Acts with great
      caution). But, since Stark did use Origen, and since he was arguing for a
      rather small number, I question his decision only to use the first part of the
      sentence ("few in the beginning"). Not doing so, I think, gives a misleading
      impression of what Origen actually says, and the full context is not as
      supportive of Stark's position as he suggests. And, yes, I'm sure that Stark
      realizes that Origen is responding to a charge from Celsus. My point was that,
      as Stark acknowledges, he is *assuming* a beginning number. I am not as
      interested as Stark is, obviously, about the growth from 40 CE through the time
      of Constantine. And, yes, there's no real way of knowing (even if it did make
      a difference), of what type of number Origen meant in the latter, unquoted part
      of the sentence: "not so very few." We do know, however, that he was arguing
      against Celsus's accusation of "few in number" (and Origen contrasts it with
      the "multitudes" during his time). So, in my view, Origen does not support
      Stark's case as much as Stark suggests, since Origen concludes by saying "not
      so very few" (and Stark omits it).
      >
      >
      Third, re my point about "limited data"--once again, Stark certainly realizes
      this. Stark has to make an "assumption" about numbers (40 CE), because all the
      literary evidence comes from much later (Acts, Origen, etc.) and there is no
      physical, material evidence from archaeology for the Jesus movement (directly;
      of course we learn from archaeology about that time period, but we cannot point
      to specific Jesus movement data) during that time period (I think Stark cites
      Grady Snyder's Inculturation of the Jesus Tradition). So Stark's
      "conservative" guess of 1000 may be near the mark. Even 1000 people, though,
      in that time period and in different places, could reflect a fair amount of
      diversity (doesn't Stark himself allude to this? I don't have my book with me).

      Fourth, Stark is a respected sociologist and a prolific author. But, as he
      readily acknowledges, he is not (and, he adds, never will be) a NT scholar. As
      far as the NT, the pre-70 Jesus movement, and the ancient Mediterranean (and
      their respective literatures), I have to admit not-so-humbly that I trust my
      own scholarship in those areas. If we were talking about Stark's works on the
      Latter Day Saints only, I would not be so bold as to make that claim.

      As far as a place to start. I don't have a copy of it with me, but I think
      Jack Elliott's 1986 Semeia article (subtitled "More on Methods and Models," I
      think) was quite helpful for me twenty years ago as I continued to work through
      these issues. I think his critique and modification of Theissen's "wandering
      charismatics" theory (recently updated by Theissen, in Der Jesusbewegung, 2004)
      was very good (including his critique of Theissen's anachronistic use of
      Freudian psychology and functionalism, as well as the need to include conflict
      theory)--and I also think, along with Elliott, that parts of Theissen's
      arguments have great merit (and help to substantiate the idea of diversity in
      the pre-70 CE Jesus movement). Off the top of my head, some examples of more
      recent works worthy of discussion are Denny Duling's social network analysis;
      Elliott's "From Faction to Sect"; the Stegemanns's social history, The Jesus
      Movement; and so forth.
      >
      >
      And I'm sure that Stark knows the pitfalls of ethnocentricity and anachronism.
      But his real concern is explaining the growth of Christianity (which isn't
      really my interest), not the pre-70 CE Jesus movement, correct? (Even if it
      were, I'm not convinced that he knows enough about the NT or the Jewish and
      Hellenistic-Roman first-century contexts to avoid ethnocentrism and
      anachronism, but that's beside the point, since it's not his concern). Perhaps
      the growth of the Latter Day Saints is analogous; I'm just not completely
      convinced it is.

      Finally, as far as the "hotly debated" matter of the developing oral tradition
      (a point which I made in the context of how diverse even 1000 people could be).
      It seems to me that arguments for a small amount of diversity within the early
      Jesus movement (pre-70) are often connected to the idea that the oral tradition
      has a fairly fixed form due to "corporate memory" and so forth (as well as a
      more favorable view of Acts's portrayal). As I argued on the list a few months
      back (and in my recent CBQ [68:1] review of Dunn's new book, A New Perspective
      on Jesus), I find those arguments unconvincing. I think Dunn, for example,
      underestimates the amount of creativity during the oral tradition. And even
      Dunn recognizes that there were several traditions or versions of traditions
      "from the first" (which makes Dunn "uncomfortable"; 50-51). Ted Weeden, by the
      way, found a fatal flaw in Bailey's work (Dunn depends on Bailey's work to a
      fair extent) in his review of Dunn's book. I make these arguments about oral
      tradition, not only because of the nature of oral tradition itself, but because
      of the rhetorical environment of the first century (which includes a fair
      amount of creativity for the Gospel authors as well) and my analyses of the
      similarities and differences among the four Gospels. Once again, a shorthand
      version is found in my CBQ review.
      >
      >
      Let me just clarify one other thing, which was probably due to my initial lack
      of clarity. I did not say that early Christianity was "very diverse" (as you
      stated in your post); I said "quite diverse," which in fairness was not very
      clear. For the time being (since I have already lingered too long!), suffice
      it to say that I meant to imply something about halfway between "very diverse"
      (e.g., Mack) and "a small amount of diversity" (from 40-70 CE).

      I apologize for any lack of clarity and/or nuance; I wrote in haste.

      With every good wish,
      David

      ******************************
      Dr. David B. Gowler
      Pierce Professor of Religion; Associate Professor
      Oxford College of Emory University
      http://userwww.service.emory.edu/~dgowler
      http://www.emory.edu/OXFORD/pierceprogram/Pierce.html
      ******************************
      Barack Obama, Nov 2, 2004: If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who
      can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior
      citizen somewhere who can't pay for her prescription and has to choose between
      medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my
      grandmother. If there's an Arab American family being rounded up without
      benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It's
      that fundamental belief--I am my brother's keeper, I am my sisters'
      keeper--that makes this country work. It's what allows us to pursue our
      individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. "E
      pluribus unum." Out of many, one.




      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • Rikk Watts
      Thanks David for taking the time. Much appreciated. Sounds like you re busy and I ve got to get some things done as well. Take care Rikk
      Message 68 of 68 , Apr 1, 2006
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        Thanks David for taking the time. Much appreciated. Sounds like you're busy
        and I've got to get some things done as well.
        Take care
        Rikk


        On 1/4/06 8:39 AM, "David B. Gowler" <dgowler@...> wrote:

        > Rikk,
        >
        ... much snipped..


        > With every good wish,
        > David
        >
        > ******************************
        > Dr. David B. Gowler
        > Pierce Professor of Religion; Associate Professor
        > Oxford College of Emory University
        > http://userwww.service.emory.edu/~dgowler
        > http://www.emory.edu/OXFORD/pierceprogram/Pierce.html
        > ******************************
        > Barack Obama, Nov 2, 2004: If there's a child on the south side of Chicago
        > who
        > can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior
        > citizen somewhere who can't pay for her prescription and has to choose between
        > medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my
        > grandmother. If there's an Arab American family being rounded up without
        > benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It's
        > that fundamental belief--I am my brother's keeper, I am my sisters'
        > keeper--that makes this country work. It's what allows us to pursue our
        > individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. "E
        > pluribus unum." Out of many, one.
        >
        >
        >
        >
        > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
        >
        >
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