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Re: [XTalk] Re: Discontinuity and Multiple Attestation

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  • 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 1 of 8 , Jun 17, 2009
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      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



      [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 2 of 8 , Jun 19, 2009
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        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


        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.



        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.


        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.


        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.


        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


        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 3 of 8 , Jun 20, 2009
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          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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