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Re: [XTalk] The Issue With Mark

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: Crosstalk Cc: GPG In Response To: Private Inquiry On: The Early Church From: Bruce I here omit the name of a private correspondent, since privacy should be
    Message 1 of 2 , Jan 12, 2009
      To: Crosstalk
      Cc: GPG
      In Response To: Private Inquiry
      On: The Early Church
      From: Bruce

      I here omit the name of a private correspondent, since privacy should be
      respected, but will address the point raised, as being of general interest.

      A: First, it has always been my understanding that the Church began on the
      day of Pentecost (Feast of the First Fruits seem appropriate). If that is
      correct, then there is no way the Church could have existed while Jesus was
      on earth...in fact he is quoted as having to go so he could send the Holy

      BRUCE: It depends in part on what one means by "Church." Some indeed see the
      Church, in the sense of the consciously organized Jesus movement after the
      Crucifixion, as established at Pentecost, basing themselves essentially on
      Acts. Pentecost, according to Acts, is the point at which the followers of
      Jesus, the prototype Church, are so to speak on their own, where as you say
      the guiding authority is no longer the present Jesus but the Holy Spirit.
      But Acts is a late text, and it is evidently concerned to construct a
      satisfactory history of the Jesus movement, and not simply to record the
      earliest traditions available to it. The schematism of the design of
      Luke/Acts is more or less obvious. So is that of Matthew, who took a
      different tack formally, but was equally concerned to have the story of
      Jesus be shapely in a literary sense, as well as impressive in a doctrinal
      sense. We may enjoy their artistry, but it does detract from their
      credibility as mere reporters.

      What is the earlier evidence like? In the Mt/Lk view, the Church was really
      a Jerusalem thing. But how then does one account for the people who listened
      to Jesus in his lifetime, all over Galilee? Mark may exaggerate their
      number, but they were surely more than zero. Equally surely they existed in
      clusters all over Galilee, and in all probability also in the regions just
      to the north of Galilee, the places to which even the earliest layers of
      Mark (as I reconstruct them) have Jesus visiting. Were these people blotted
      out by a cloud or a thunderclap, at the moment of Jesus's crucifixion? I
      venture to doubt it. They, I would suggest, were the "Church" of Jesus's
      lifetime. The very idea of a Galilean Church is anathema to Matthew and
      Luke, who explicitly pronounce eternal condemnation on Capernaum in
      particular. But doesn't their condemnation itself witness to the fact that
      there was something there to condemn? Does not even Acts slip up once, in
      mentioning that after the conversion of Paul, the Church "throughout all
      Judea AND GALILEE and Samaria had peace and was built up, and walking in the
      fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit it was multiplied"
      (9:31). Oops.

      There is a good little book, really a pamphlet, by Elliott-Binns, called
      Galilean Christianity, which takes a longer look than is usual at these
      damned and denied little churches. I warmly recommend it.

      A: Second is that my understanding of the churches established by the
      Apostle Paul (especially the Gentile churches) were not pattered on the
      style and methods of worship of Jerusalem Jews (although Christianity was
      originally considered a sect of Judaism).

      BRUCE: Again, it seems that most of our information really comes from Acts,
      and again, I am reluctant to credit it unreservedly. Acts is based in part
      on a constructed polarity between Peter and Paul, each of which it
      assimilates to the other (the author of Acts simply loves polarities and
      binary schemes, his biggest one being the Jerusalem-Rome Axis, the endpoints
      of his entire panorama). That polarity is surely the creation or
      exaggeration of the author of Acts. What does seem to come through all the
      evidence taken together, at least as I read it, is that the Jesus groups at
      first met in synagogue style, indeed in literal synagogues, and slowly
      evolved in a different direction. Liturgical history is very hard to dig out
      of the existing sources, canonical and otherwise (as reading only half the
      tome of Lietzmann on the Lord's Supper will demonstrate), but among the
      things that seem to have happened is that the Jesus movement, which as I see
      it (and, as I believe, the oldest material in Mark reports it) had
      originally split off in a rather radical direction from the John movement,
      quite soon after the Crucifixion began to reassimilate itself back in a
      Johannine direction. It reintroduced baptism (noted in gJn as a practice not
      of Jesus, but of his disciples). It reintroduced personal prayers (noted in
      Mt/Lk as requested by the disciples specifically to imitate a Johannine
      practice). And first of all, because first attested not in the third tier
      Gospel (John), nor yet in the second tier Gospels (Mt/Lk), but in the first
      tier Gospel (Mark), it reintroduced fasts. None of this would necessarily
      distance the Jesus followers from other Jews. Jesus (according to Mark)
      preached in synagogues, and only later in the open, and then only in order
      to accommodate the numbers. Even Acts shows Paul as preaching first in
      synagogues, and only later in other and more public venues. The documents
      apparently representing the earliest counsel of the Jesus leaders to their
      flock (the core layers of Didache and James) are cast, not in specifically
      Jesus terms, but in terms of received Jewish morality, with explicit
      references to OT persons and maxims. This might have been intelligible to
      Gentiles long accustomed to take part in synagogue meetings, but probably
      less so to Gentile groups per se. Paul himself, when in Jerusalem, was a
      member of a synagogue for outlanders (the same one, as I take it, to which
      Simon of Cyrene belonged). It would therefore have been his personal model
      also. I can only think that the synagogue was the prototype on which other
      little house churches were initially based, however much they may later have
      diverged from that beginning.

      A: Finally, I think your allegory to the U.S. constitution is great. Rather
      than point to the amendments (which I consider anomalies), I would point to
      the legislation passed by Congress over the last 200+ years and see how much
      that has changed WITHOUT looking at amendments. The legislation changes with
      the times, but within the bounds of the Constitution.

      BRUCE: I am not a deep student of the Constitution (my textbook is Dowling
      on Constitutional Law, plus the Dissents of Justice Holmes). But my parallel
      would be Constitution : Legislation :: Gospels : Patristics. The later
      Church fathers enormously expand doctrine and practice. They legislate, as
      it were. But supposedly within the parameters laid down by the canonical

      Is there then an Early Church analogue to the Constitutional amendment
      process? I should think it is the Deuterocanonical literature: attempts to
      extend the authority of the early Apostles by continuing to produce material
      under their names. And who votes on these proffered extensions of the
      constitutive Gospels (and genuine Pauline Epistles)? Those same Patristic
      writers, who comment freely on the credentials of such latecomers as 2 Peter
      or Jude, or for that matter James (anterior, as analysis can show, to even 1
      Peter). It was the Church Fathers, meeting jointly or writing severally, who
      had the say on whether to "amend" the recognized constitutive texts by
      admitting to their number these more dubious productions.

      The constitutional/legislative process asks, What kind of country is this
      anyway, and How does it do what it does? I think there is a very close
      parallel with the Gospels (what kind of tradition do we have, anyway?) and
      the later tract writers (how shall the life of the Church proceed?). The
      whole first few Christian centuries were vigorously and continuously engaged
      in working these questions out for themselves, and as late as the major 4c
      codices we find some eventually noncanonical texts appended to the
      recognizably canonical ones. The conversation was not yet concluded.

      What I have suggested in previous postings was that this conversation, the
      tension between memory and doctrine, began already within period during
      which the Gospel of Mark was slowly put together, and that the process of
      its putting together - its accretional growth - was an anticipation in
      miniature of the later process of revisionist Gospel composition, and the
      Deuterocanonical growths that continued unabated in an even later time.

      If you look at it carefully, isn't Church doctrine still fluid enough to be
      subject to authoritative pronouncements and clarifications at one end of the
      scale, and wild commune and storefront growth at the other? And in the
      middle, are there not many in our time who have in effect canonicalized the
      so-called Gospel of Thomas? Has the conversation ever really stopped?


      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
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