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Discontinuity and Multiple Attestation

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  • Loren Rosson
    List -- In A Marginal Jew, Volume 4, John Meier argues that the prohibition against oaths found in Mt 5:34-37 and Jas 5:12 goes back to the historical Jesus.
    Message 1 of 8 , Jun 17, 2009
      List --

      In A Marginal Jew, Volume 4, John Meier argues that the prohibition against oaths found in Mt 5:34-37 and Jas 5:12 goes back to the historical Jesus. He argues on the basis of discontinuity with pre-70 Judaism (no Jewish teaching around the turn of the era prohibited oaths entirely; Ben Sira warns against frequent swearing, and Philo says to avoid it whenever possible, but they don't forbid it entirely), but also invokes discontinuity with early Christianity and multiple attestation. I want to focus on these last two.

      (1). Meier writes:

      "In the first Christian generation, Paul swears on a regular basis, without giving it a second thought. His epistles are strewn with various oaths... The Epistle to the Hebrews makes much of solemn oaths pronounced by God and presupposes the habit of human swearing with no hint of disapproval. In the Book of Revelation, John the seer apparently sees no difficulty in portraying an angel taking an oath by the living God... Hence...the criterion of discontinuity [with early Christianity] argues strongly for the prohibition of oaths going back to Jesus." (pp 199-200)

      (2). Now in the very next sentence, Meier appeals to multiple attestation to supplement his argument. Concluding that since Jas 5:12 is a clear parallel to Matt 5:34-37:

      "The most reasonable conclusion is (1) that Jas 5:12 is an alternate form of the saying attributed to Jesus in Matt 5:34-37; and (2) that this Jesus tradition was transmitted in the early oral Christian tradition in two streams: the 'gospel' stream that retained an attribution to Jesus and that wound up in Matthew, and the 'epistolary' stream that wove sayings of Jesus into general Christian parenesis without attributing them to Jesus... We have in Jas 5:12/Matt 5:34-37 an unusual but valid example of multiple attestation." (pp 204-205)

      So taking the criterion of discontinuity (with early Christianity) in tandem with multiple attestation, we see that the prohibition against oaths is not attested enough in the NT, yet is attested enough in the NT, and thus must be authentic.

      Is this not a "heads I win, tails you lose" argument? Or am I missing something simple? Multiple attestation strikes me as a fairly reasonable criterion, but discontinuity with early Christianity contradicts it and seems useless.

      Loren Rosson III
      Nashua NH
      http://lorenrosson.blogspot.com
    • Chris Weimer
      Loren, I saw when you wrote this on your blog, and I have to disagree. I don t think discontinuity is an especially strong criterion, and I ve always been
      Message 2 of 8 , Jun 17, 2009
        Loren,

        I saw when you wrote this on your blog, and I have to disagree. I don't think "discontinuity" is an especially strong criterion, and I've always been uncomfortable with that criterion applied either to the early church or to Judaism.

        I don't think, however, it's quite a flip of the coin. Meier is implying that Paul, Gos. John, Epist. Hebrews do not have access to such a tradition about oaths, but Matthew and James do. Since Matthew and James have this statement that conflicts so much both with other writers of the early church (Paul, John, Hebrews) and Judaism which proceeded it (Philo, Ben Sirah). How else, he is implicitly asking, would this prohibition against oaths arise in two independent documents of Matthew and James?

        It's certainly a fair question to ask. For me, it's merely a variation of multiple attestation, since one author alone could invent something that is discontinuous both from earlier Judaism and the early church. But when two authors do it, the likelihood of it becoming historical (under this paradigm we have assumed) increases.

        Chris Weimer
        SFSU



        --- In crosstalk2@yahoogroups.com, Loren Rosson <rossoiii@...> wrote:
        >
        >
        > List --
        >
        > In A Marginal Jew, Volume 4, John Meier argues that the prohibition against oaths found in Mt 5:34-37 and Jas 5:12 goes back to the historical Jesus. He argues on the basis of discontinuity with pre-70 Judaism (no Jewish teaching around the turn of the era prohibited oaths entirely; Ben Sira warns against frequent swearing, and Philo says to avoid it whenever possible, but they don't forbid it entirely), but also invokes discontinuity with early Christianity and multiple attestation. I want to focus on these last two.
        >
        > (1). Meier writes:
        >
        > "In the first Christian generation, Paul swears on a regular basis, without giving it a second thought. His epistles are strewn with various oaths... The Epistle to the Hebrews makes much of solemn oaths pronounced by God and presupposes the habit of human swearing with no hint of disapproval. In the Book of Revelation, John the seer apparently sees no difficulty in portraying an angel taking an oath by the living God... Hence...the criterion of discontinuity [with early Christianity] argues strongly for the prohibition of oaths going back to Jesus." (pp 199-200)
        >
        > (2). Now in the very next sentence, Meier appeals to multiple attestation to supplement his argument. Concluding that since Jas 5:12 is a clear parallel to Matt 5:34-37:
        >
        > "The most reasonable conclusion is (1) that Jas 5:12 is an alternate form of the saying attributed to Jesus in Matt 5:34-37; and (2) that this Jesus tradition was transmitted in the early oral Christian tradition in two streams: the 'gospel' stream that retained an attribution to Jesus and that wound up in Matthew, and the 'epistolary' stream that wove sayings of Jesus into general Christian parenesis without attributing them to Jesus... We have in Jas 5:12/Matt 5:34-37 an unusual but valid example of multiple attestation." (pp 204-205)
        >
        > So taking the criterion of discontinuity (with early Christianity) in tandem with multiple attestation, we see that the prohibition against oaths is not attested enough in the NT, yet is attested enough in the NT, and thus must be authentic.
        >
        > Is this not a "heads I win, tails you lose" argument? Or am I missing something simple? Multiple attestation strikes me as a fairly reasonable criterion, but discontinuity with early Christianity contradicts it and seems useless.
        >
        > Loren Rosson III
        > Nashua NH
        > http://lorenrosson.blogspot.com
        >
      • Jim West
        the criteria that have been bandied about since bultmann (at least) all suffer from the same general flaw: universals never always apply. to set up
        Message 3 of 8 , Jun 17, 2009
          the criteria that have been bandied about since bultmann (at least) all
          suffer from the same general flaw: universals never always apply. to
          set up inevitable failure in the reconstruction of the life of the
          historical jesus by means of criteria that may or may not apply in
          specific situations is - well to be frank - an utter waste of time and
          nothing but pure unadulterated speculation.

          loren's defense of one 'criterion' while dismissing another is equally
          short sighted. the baby, in the case of all these criteria, really
          needs to once and for all be thrown out with the filthy and now
          completely useless bathwater.

          Chris Weimer wrote:
          >
          >
          >
          > Loren,
          >
          > I saw when you wrote this on your blog, and I have to disagree. I don't
          > think "discontinuity" is an especially strong criterion, and I've always
          > been uncomfortable with that criterion applied either to the early
          > church or to Judaism.
          --
          ++++++

          Jim West
          http://jwest.wordpress.com
        • Loren Rosson
          Chris wrote: Meier is implying that Paul, Gos. John, Epist. Hebrews do not have access to such a tradition about oaths, but Matthew and James do. Since
          Message 4 of 8 , Jun 17, 2009
            Chris wrote:
            "Meier is implying that Paul, Gos. John, Epist. Hebrews do not have access to such a tradition about oaths, but Matthew and James do. Since Matthew and James have this statement that conflicts so much both with other writers of the early church (Paul, John, Hebrews) and Judaism which proceeded it (Philo, Ben Sirah). How else, he is implicitly asking, would this prohibition against oaths arise in two independent documents of Matthew and James? It's certainly a fair question to ask. For me, it's merely a variation of multiple attestation, since one author alone could invent something that is discontinuous both from earlier Judaism and the early church. But when two authors do it, the likelihood of it becoming historical (under this paradigm we have assumed) increases."
            Thanks for this. I see what you're getting at, but it still comes off greasy. I can appreciate when the criterion of embarrassment is used to supplement multiple attestation, because then we're dealing with reworkings of an uncomfortable saying in different ways. But discontinuity and multiple attestation reinforce each other, as you note, by inaccessibility (Paul, John, and Hebrews) and accessibility (Matthew, James) in equal measure. I suppose in this light it is a variant of multiple attestation, but inversely. 
            Loren Rosson IIINashua NH http://lorenrosson.blogspot.com




            [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
          • Chris Weimer
            Hey Loren, I guess for me I have to partially agree with Jim that universal application is hard without an examination of each particular case. Which is why I
            Message 5 of 8 , Jun 17, 2009
              Hey Loren,

              I guess for me I have to partially agree with Jim that universal application is hard without an examination of each particular case. Which is why I would accept oaths going back to Jesus if both James and Matthew contained it (although it's still iffy, for example why doesn't Luke have it?) but not if James alone had it.

              Chris
              SFSU

              --- In crosstalk2@yahoogroups.com, Loren Rosson <rossoiii@...> wrote:
              >
              > Chris wrote:
              > "Meier is implying that Paul, Gos. John, Epist. Hebrews do not have access to such a tradition about oaths, but Matthew and James do. Since Matthew and James have this statement that conflicts so much both with other writers of the early church (Paul, John, Hebrews) and Judaism which proceeded it (Philo, Ben Sirah). How else, he is implicitly asking, would this prohibition against oaths arise in two independent documents of Matthew and James? It's certainly a fair question to ask. For me, it's merely a variation of multiple attestation, since one author alone could invent something that is discontinuous both from earlier Judaism and the early church. But when two authors do it, the likelihood of it becoming historical (under this paradigm we have assumed) increases."
              > Thanks for this. I see what you're getting at, but it still comes off greasy. I can appreciate when the criterion of embarrassment is used to supplement multiple attestation, because then we're dealing with reworkings of an uncomfortable saying in different ways. But discontinuity and multiple attestation reinforce each other, as you note, by inaccessibility (Paul, John, and Hebrews) and accessibility (Matthew, James) in equal measure. I suppose in this light it is a variant of multiple attestation, but inversely. 
              > Loren Rosson IIINashua NH http://lorenrosson.blogspot.com
              >
              >
              >
              >
              > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
              >
            • Loren Rosson
              Chris, you wrote that universal application is hard without an examination of each particular case , and I certainly agree; it should almost go without
              Message 6 of 8 , Jun 17, 2009
                Chris, you wrote that "universal
                application is hard without an examination of each particular case", and I
                certainly agree; it should almost go without saying. But my original point was
                that the criterion of discontinuity (with early Christianity) is flawed **in
                principle**, while other criteria at least have the right idea, even when
                problematic in certain cases. Neither of us are wild about discontinuity with Judaism either,
                and I'd almost go so far as to say that one is flawed in principle too (for
                different reasons).

                 

                Loren Rosson III

                Nashua NH

                http://lorenrosson.blogspot.com/




                __._,




















                [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
              • E Bruce Brooks
                To: Crosstalk Cc: GPG; WSW In Response To: Loren Rossen and Others On: Criteria for HJ From: Bruce I thought there was considerable theoretical interest in
                Message 7 of 8 , Jun 19, 2009
                  To: Crosstalk
                  Cc: GPG; WSW
                  In Response To: Loren Rossen and Others
                  On: Criteria for HJ
                  From: Bruce

                  I thought there was considerable theoretical interest in this recent
                  exchange. I here add a few methodological reflections of my own. Loren
                  concluded the series by summing up his initial point this way:

                  LOREN: But my original point was that the criterion of discontinuity (with
                  early Christianity) is flawed **in
                  principle**, while other criteria at least have the right idea, even when
                  problematic in certain cases.

                  BRUCE: The "criterion of discontinuity," whether one expects Jesus to be
                  non-Jewish or non-Christian or both, does seem to be problematic on its
                  face. We can expect Jesus to have been Jewish, and we can at least keep open
                  the possibility that the later movement had some sort of continuity with
                  what he did during his lifetime. And not reject those continuities out of
                  hand, when the evidence seems to suggest them.

                  But I think the short answer is that all rules of thumb are problematic.
                  They and their counterparts in textual or lower criticism cannot be
                  mindlessly applied. That mind is needed in the conduct of text criticism
                  (higher as well as lower) was established long ago by Housman, and people
                  coming into the field should have read Housman. An abridged version is
                  available 7/24 at

                  http://www.umass.edu/wsp/philology/front/housman/01.html

                  The larger question here, it seems to me, is, What is the use of experience
                  in the study of texts? The old hand should be better at it than the
                  greenhorn, but everyone knows that previous knowledge can act to prevent the
                  acquisition of new knowledge. What is the practical solution of this
                  paradox? I think the key to successful use of previous knowledge is the
                  quality which I call tact, the most elusive of the intellectual virtues.

                  http://www.umass.edu/wsp/methodology/outline/tact.html

                  TEXTUAL CRITICISM EXAMPLE

                  A lot of experience is summed up in the observation that sometimes scribes
                  leave out things. This gets into the canon of known and recurrent scribal
                  errors, as it should. And there are subtypes, such as retrace errors, when
                  the scribe goes back to his Vorlage and picks up, not the place he was at,
                  but a place three lines lower which ends in the same phrase. The intervening
                  material then gets omitted. Recurrent situations tend to acquire names in
                  the trade; this one is called homoeoteleuton.

                  http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/270472/homoeoteleuton

                  Knowing these recurring situations is very helpful. You meet one and you
                  don't struggle to discover its working principle, or to explain it in some
                  ad hoc ingenious way (such as the omitted line in the Tang Stone Classics,
                  somewhere in the Jvng Songs section); you say, Oh, yeah, there's one of
                  *those* again. And you move on, unfatigued, to the next thing. Excellent
                  economy of time. We can't avoid spending time, that's one of the rules of
                  the game in Pascal's Casino, but we can at least try to get something in
                  return for our expenditure. Having a mnemonic list of things likely to occur
                  helps us to maximize that ratio.

                  The error comes with being oversold on the idea that scribes *always*
                  abbreviate, so that the shorter of two variants is *always* preferable to
                  the longer, yielding the maxim

                  Lectio brevior potior.

                  Which is entirely right - except in the cases where it is entirely wrong,
                  and as Griesbach already showed, these are at least as numerous,
                  typologically, as the cases where it is right. In effect, the very helpful
                  recollection mnemonic, when elevated to an unthinking principle, leads one
                  to guessing one and not the other of the Griesbach options, with a 50%
                  chance of success. Anybody off the street could do as well. Any kid. Any
                  random number generator. This is what happens when we enshrine some
                  experience at the cost of other experience. The problem is not experience,
                  it is the enshrinement of experience, and the substitution of past
                  experience for future observation.

                  MULTIPLE ATTESTATION (THE CASE OF OATHS)

                  This, to me, is another of the fallacious principles that have dogged NT
                  from its early days. Here was one comment on Loren's original post, which
                  began by agreeing that the principle of discontinuity was perilous in
                  practice, and then continued (with Loren's example: the question of oaths in
                  Meier's v4):

                  CHRIS WEIMER: I don't think, however, it's quite a flip of the coin. Meier
                  is implying that Paul, Gos. John, Epist. Hebrews do not have access to such
                  a tradition about oaths, but Matthew and James do. Since Matthew and James
                  have this statement that conflicts so much both with other writers of the
                  early church (Paul, John, Hebrews) and Judaism which proceeded it (Philo,
                  Ben Sirah). How else, he is implicitly asking, would this prohibition
                  against oaths arise in two independent documents of Matthew and James?

                  It's certainly a fair question to ask. For me, it's merely a variation of
                  multiple attestation, since one author alone could invent something that is
                  discontinuous both from earlier Judaism and the early church. But when two
                  authors do it, the likelihood of it becoming historical (under this paradigm
                  we have assumed) increases.

                  BRUCE: But the two have to be independent. It used to be thought that if a
                  story appeared in all three Synoptics, then we had three independent
                  witnesses to that story. It is now understood that the Synoptics are
                  mutually dependent, and that the presence of a story in Luke may merely mean
                  that he thought it worth retaining from Matthew, who in turn liked it in
                  Mark. It is a further vote of confidence, if you like, but it is not an
                  independent reading. There is no separate pipeline back to Jesus.

                  Are Matthew and Jacob (as it says in my Greek text) independent? Not if you
                  examine them closely, and take account of the gradual formation process of
                  one or both. Are any two Christian texts really independent? Not all of them
                  borrow verbally from all the others, but many of them are probably aware, at
                  some remove, of at least some of the others. The argumentative or
                  refutational stance of much of the early Christian literature alone will
                  attest the degree of awareness (not always leading to passive acceptance)
                  within this body of writings. Thomas, for example, is undoubtedly an
                  enterprise of its own, but one which is at pains to give a special spin to
                  some already familiar stories about Jesus. It is parasitic on what I might
                  call the Gospel tradition. This is not the same as being independent of the
                  Gospel tradition.

                  Date also plays a part. If a story (or an idea) occurs in several texts, but
                  all those texts are late (say, all of them Deutero- rather than Pauline
                  epistles), then all that proves is that the idea was popular at a late stage
                  in the evolutions (sic) of Christianities (also sic). Reducing that evidence
                  to the "multiple attestation" rubric throws away too much information. It is
                  not that appearance in more than one text is without interest, but rather
                  that it is not the only fact of which we need to be aware in interpreting
                  the situation.

                  Jim West, as I read him, came near to recommending that all rules of thumb
                  be dumped. I think that may be a little drastic. I would rather see previous
                  experience preserved, just not as an .exe file. Thought is necessary to
                  successful application. On that, Housman and I agree. But it is still handy
                  to have something to apply in the first place.

                  CHRIS (After an intervening comment by Loren): I guess for me I have to
                  partially agree with Jim that universal application is hard without an
                  examination of each particular case. Which is why I would accept oaths going
                  back to Jesus if both James and Matthew contained it (although it's still
                  iffy, for example why doesn't Luke have it?) but not if James alone had it.

                  BRUCE: Again, this disregards the dates, and the other probable
                  circumstances, of the texts in question (and of those not in question). It
                  conspicuously omits Mark, not to mention the first and thus earliest layer
                  of the Didache. I would favor instead a look at the big scene.

                  THE BIG SCENE

                  To take the problem in its largest dimension, I think it is wrong to
                  approach this fairly large body of evidence asking only one question, in
                  this case, the HJ question. The evidence is prepared to tell us much more
                  than this, and if we let it tell us what it knows, say about the emergence
                  of the sacraments in early church history, or the variety of disputation
                  about the nature of Jesus, or the ways of accommodation of the early Jesus
                  groups to the insistently present world around them, or anything else that
                  they have in mind as the urgency of the moment, then we take a lot of the
                  undesirable heat out of the investigation. Some of the text material that
                  points to early church practice gets used up, so to speak, in documenting
                  that practice, and those pieces are that much less likely to be misapplied
                  to a question for which they are not really appropriate evidence.

                  This is what I mean by the maxim, Let the text ask its own questions, and
                  give its own answers. Let it give us hints about Peter, for instance, or the
                  Galilean churches, or the early days of Antioch (I would love to have a
                  videotape of Antioch in the year 31). Any lawyer knows better than to
                  interrogate Witness A in an attempt to establish Point B. In this sense, I
                  would like to see more lawyerish thinking in the NT discussions.

                  What does Jacob, for example, tell us? Nothing directly about the HJ, who
                  (except for two manifest interpolations) is not even mentioned. A fact which
                  scandalized Luther, and others before and since. But rather, most probably,
                  what a movement leader, perhaps in Galilee, thought it most important to
                  emphasize to some newly planted cell groups north of him, undoubtedly some
                  in Syria and probably also in more distant places, eg Edessa. These, at
                  least according to one interpretation of the evidence, are the zone of the
                  oldest Christianity. What the Galilean center was saying to the Syrian and
                  Edessine periphery, pretty early in the game, is a matter of intense
                  interest. I think it unwise to waterboard it in search of something else,
                  such as a biography of the HJ. Let it tell us what it happens to know, and
                  then take to ourselves, later on, the task of assembling that and everything
                  else into a picture. The picture will probably be largely one of the early
                  and middle development of the several early Christianities. Well, OK, that
                  is just where it happens to come out. From that, judiciously assembled and
                  carefully interpreted, it may become much more practical to try to detect
                  the original impulses, the HJ impulses, amidst all the others. If we should
                  then desire to do so.

                  The mathematicians know that you sometimes can't reach a desired result in
                  one jump. You need to work with intermediate stages (lemmas) instead: two or
                  three jumps rather than one jump. Their method is sanctioned by its
                  tremendous practical success. We might think of taking a hint from that
                  success. Maybe a one-year moratorium on talk of HJ, and a concentration on
                  anything and everything else, would do unanticipated wonders for the HJ
                  quest.

                  Bruce

                  E Bruce Brooks
                  Warring States Project
                  University of Massachusetts at Amherst
                • David Mealand
                  With regard to some of the items classed as discontinuous I am not sure that discontinuity is the best term for analysing the problematic criterion. In its
                  Message 8 of 8 , Jun 20, 2009
                    With regard to some of the items classed as "discontinuous"
                    I am not sure that discontinuity is the best term
                    for analysing the problematic criterion.

                    In its early stages what happened was that
                    form critics identified passages which belong
                    to a transitional stratum, which goes beyond
                    what it owes to Judaism, but without containing
                    formulations which are arrived at in early Christianity.

                    One could class this material as "transitional" though
                    that term was not, as far as I am aware, used in the
                    works which kicked off this kind of analysis of
                    the tradition.

                    Identifying passages or parts of passages which belong
                    to the transitional phase does seem to me to be
                    a viable and worthwhile way of proceeding.

                    David M.





                    ---------
                    David Mealand, University of Edinburgh



                    ---------

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