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Re: [XTalk] Re: Discontinuity and Multiple Attestation

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  • 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 1 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


      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 2 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


        The University of Edinburgh is a charitable body, registered in
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