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Memories of Jesus

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: Crosstalk In Response To: Bob Schacht On: Memories of Jesus From: Bruce I had suggested that the idea that memories of the life and sayings of Jesus,
    Message 1 of 4 , Jan 22, 2011
      To: Crosstalk
      In Response To: Bob Schacht
      On: Memories of Jesus
      From: Bruce

      I had suggested that the idea that memories of the life and sayings of
      Jesus, specifically as embodied in accounts that explained the death of
      Jesus, were unlikely to have been first written as late as two generations
      after Jesus's death (a position earlier stated by Gordon Raynal, who
      apparently dates even Mark, agreed to be the earliest of these accounts, to
      about the year 90). Bob finds my summary "preposterous" because . . .

      BOB: . . . it ignores the possibility of first-hand testimony of "what was
      he [Jesus] like." We already have the testimony of Papias, IIRC, who told us
      that he preferred the first-hand witness of people who knew Jesus to any
      written account.

      BRUCE: Indeed we do, and indeed he did. But look at it for a moment. Papias
      is a guy of the 2nd century, reaching into the late 1c only in his young
      days. How good, at that time, how firm and reliable, is the tradition about
      the deeds and sayings of Jesus or anyone else in the 1st century likely to
      have been?

      To answer my own question, I will now take a test specimen of the traditions
      as of that time.

      One thing we can see in the Pastorals, in 1 Clement, and in the Petrines,
      all of which have a terminus a quo in 1 Clement (c96), is that by that time
      a myth of Paul as having visited Spain, and being executed after a second
      imprisonment in Rome, was not only in being, it was accepted as firmly true
      by Clement, who was the third important leader of the group of Roman
      churches. We may assume that this myth was generally current at Rome, and
      also in whatever place the Pastorals were written. That is how far the image
      of Paul had gotten off track, and was generating spurious tradition, and
      getting that tradition embodied in texts, by the time of Papias' youth.

      Is it likely that the tradition concerning Jesus remained firm and constant,
      even as the tradition of Paul was being elaborated to that extent?

      For such reasons, I don't think it wise to assume that anything Papias heard
      in his youth, even from those who claimed to be in the direct oral line, is
      literally true. I don't think we can take Papias, or any of his informants,
      as definitive for things that happened in the first half of the 1c. I think
      we sooner or later have to mix in the 1c evidence itself.

      Bruce

      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
    • Rikk Watts
      Bruce, I agree with you that it is highly unlikely that the gospels we have were written so late. I can t think of a single recognized authority on Mark who
      Message 2 of 4 , Jan 24, 2011
        Bruce,

        I agree with you that it is highly unlikely that the gospels we have were
        written so late. I can't think of a single recognized authority on Mark who
        would agree with Gordon. But xtalk is a generous list ...

        It seems to me, however, that your implicit questioning of the Jesus
        traditions is equally lacking in credibility.

        The Acts whom you seem to assume is at once both accurate and yet
        immediately suspect speaks about replacing Judas with someone who had been
        with them from the beginning (Acts 1.21-22). This doesn't seem to serve an
        overtly apologetic purpose in the context‹i.e. nothing in particular is made
        of it; but it does indicate that eyewitness participation was taken very
        seriously‹which ought not surprise given the work of e.g. Byrskog on ancient
        interest in autopsy (i.e. eyewitnesses to events).

        If already by the time of Paul, Jesus is being accorded an unprecedented
        status (so Hurtardo and Fee) how likely is it that Jesus' earliest
        followers, for whom conversion entailed a serious shift in allegiances and
        social dislocation, would not have been interested in his teaching and
        actions? The remarkable fact that we have not one but four gospels (bioi;
        Burridge's arguments have not as far as I can tell been refuted)
        demonstrates as much‹and this from a Jewish milieu where writing and
        recording mattered (cf. Qumran and the Teacher of Righteousness; regular
        reading of Scripture in Synagogue etc.). Further, given this early high
        Christology, that Paul (whom you seem to hold in the highest esteem) clearly
        distinguishes between his words and those of Jesus, that the early church
        retains even potentially embarrassing sayings and actions, and that they
        never created sayings to address the pressing issues of their day (even Mark
        doesn't put his "all foods clean" in the mouth of Jesus but includes it as
        an editorial explanation), I find your proposal quite astonishing. That many
        of the recorded sayings of Jesus, even in translation, are often in highly
        memorable aphoristic form suggests that he too was interested in his
        teaching being remembered (what teacher is not?). Everything points in the
        direction that the early church was deeply interested in Jesus, and if they
        believed the accounts of him as contained in their gospels then it is not
        hard to see why.

        On Papias I suggest you read Bauckham (I'm assuming that you've not).
        Further I seem to remember reading somewhere (Vansina?) that most of the
        innovations to community traditions happen once the eyewitnesses are dead
        (can't quite recall the terminology). In this respect your citing 30 years
        ignores a) the fact that this is more like an average life span and thus
        fails to take into account that once ancients got beyond the dangers of
        youth they could live well into their 50s, 60s and beyond. This would make
        them revered elders whose memories would be even more prized. On this
        reading there is no in principle reason to doubt that Papias very reliable
        source for 1st century information.

        We are indeed dealing with memories, and as the recent work of Le Donne and
        others have noted, memory refraction. Allison's recent book, in rejecting
        the traditional criteria (I think perhaps a little too readily; while
        subjective and potentially introducing their own distortions some at least
        still have some value), nevertheless argues for memory recalling the gist of
        things. One might expect Jesus being a striking teacher with a striking
        sense of self-awareness might well have adapted his message/actions to take
        advantage of his culture's adaptive/refractive frame(s) to facilitate an
        accurate transmission; those small aphoristic sayings and outrageous actions
        are a good place to begin (though this hardly means that Jesus did not
        engage in extended discourse).

        Rikk Watts


        > From: E Bruce Brooks <brooks@...>
        > Reply-To: xtalk <crosstalk2@yahoogroups.com>
        > Date: Sat, 22 Jan 2011 10:11:41 -0500
        > To: xtalk <crosstalk2@yahoogroups.com>
        > Subject: [XTalk] Memories of Jesus
        >
        > To: Crosstalk
        > In Response To: Bob Schacht
        > On: Memories of Jesus
        > From: Bruce
        >
        > I had suggested that the idea that memories of the life and sayings of
        > Jesus, specifically as embodied in accounts that explained the death of
        > Jesus, were unlikely to have been first written as late as two generations
        > after Jesus's death (a position earlier stated by Gordon Raynal, who
        > apparently dates even Mark, agreed to be the earliest of these accounts, to
        > about the year 90). Bob finds my summary "preposterous" because . . .
        >
        > BOB: . . . it ignores the possibility of first-hand testimony of "what was
        > he [Jesus] like." We already have the testimony of Papias, IIRC, who told us
        > that he preferred the first-hand witness of people who knew Jesus to any
        > written account.
        >
        > BRUCE: Indeed we do, and indeed he did. But look at it for a moment. Papias
        > is a guy of the 2nd century, reaching into the late 1c only in his young
        > days. How good, at that time, how firm and reliable, is the tradition about
        > the deeds and sayings of Jesus or anyone else in the 1st century likely to
        > have been?
        >
        > To answer my own question, I will now take a test specimen of the traditions
        > as of that time.
        >
        > One thing we can see in the Pastorals, in 1 Clement, and in the Petrines,
        > all of which have a terminus a quo in 1 Clement (c96), is that by that time
        > a myth of Paul as having visited Spain, and being executed after a second
        > imprisonment in Rome, was not only in being, it was accepted as firmly true
        > by Clement, who was the third important leader of the group of Roman
        > churches. We may assume that this myth was generally current at Rome, and
        > also in whatever place the Pastorals were written. That is how far the image
        > of Paul had gotten off track, and was generating spurious tradition, and
        > getting that tradition embodied in texts, by the time of Papias' youth.
        >
        > Is it likely that the tradition concerning Jesus remained firm and constant,
        > even as the tradition of Paul was being elaborated to that extent?
        >
        > For such reasons, I don't think it wise to assume that anything Papias heard
        > in his youth, even from those who claimed to be in the direct oral line, is
        > literally true. I don't think we can take Papias, or any of his informants,
        > as definitive for things that happened in the first half of the 1c. I think
        > we sooner or later have to mix in the 1c evidence itself.
        >
        > Bruce
        >
        > E Bruce Brooks
        > Warring States Project
        > University of Massachusetts at Amherst
        >
        >
        >
        > ------------------------------------
        >
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        >
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      • Gordon Raynal
        Hi Rikk, Not to intrude on your conversations with Bruce, but to put one little note since you called out my name:)! ... First, I am entirely grateful for the
        Message 3 of 4 , Jan 24, 2011
          Hi Rikk,

          Not to intrude on your conversations with Bruce, but to put one little
          note since you called out my name:)!
          On Jan 24, 2011, at 10:19 AM, Rikk Watts wrote:

          > Bruce,
          >
          > I agree with you that it is highly unlikely that the gospels we have
          > were
          > written so late. I can't think of a single recognized authority on
          > Mark who
          > would agree with Gordon. But xtalk is a generous list ...
          >

          First, I am entirely grateful for the list's and your generosity.
          Seriously!

          Second, you will find the usual range of dates (65 to 80) on the Early
          Christian Writings site (www.earlychristianwritings.com), as the
          general range of dates given for Mark. I lose no sleep over it being
          written in 70. I think 80 to say 85 actually makes far more sense,
          because how I understand the genre of the Gospels (and you know we
          disagree about this), because how I see the interface of Mark with
          both "house churches and those internal issues" and the Roman world,
          and because I think this kind of creativity suggests a real "pondering
          time" after the R-J war. Thus I say 80 and even push 85 (so beyond
          those typical stated limits) to highlight these aspects. But hey, if
          Mark wrote it the afternoon after the "walls came tumbling down," that
          is fine with me. Who knows how long a particular artist takes in
          their creativity? Some works are dashed out. Some works are poured
          over for years. We can all guess about that, no matter our "genre"
          understandings, but we cannot be any more precise than "a range of
          years." And that is based on how we make connections with author/
          previously produced materials/ community/ world situation and how all
          of those things relate and interrelate.

          I'll close on this note. A really generous thing to do, now and
          again, is to set down one's own understandings and think carefully
          through alternate proposals. Crosstalk is a place for that, and so I
          think most generous for all of us:)!

          Gordon Raynal
          Inman, SC
        • Rikk Watts
          Hi Gordon, No problem : ). If you don t mind my saying, I think I m actually pretty happy to set aside my own views and consider those of others ‹ as I think
          Message 4 of 4 , Jan 24, 2011
            Hi Gordon,

            No problem : ).

            If you don't mind my saying, I think I'm actually pretty happy to set aside
            my own views and consider those of others ‹ as I think my scholarly output
            and academic affiliations bear out. From my perspective, I don't think lack
            of open-mindedness is actually the issue. It's simply that not all proposals
            are equally worthy of open-mindedness. No scholar that I know feels any
            particular twinge, when in assessing which views invite serious attention,
            s/he decides to focus on some and ignore others. Not all hypotheses/new
            ideas are created equal. Just because someone has a creative and "plausible"
            (presumably to them) idea doesn't really tell me anything about the
            likelihood of it being true. Consider the respective fates of the iPod and
            the Zune; or Bowman's theory of Mark being based on a Passover Haggadah.
            Perhaps there was a great conspiracy of close-mindedness; or perhaps the
            Zune was just plain "wrong" and Bowman simply failed to convince his readers
            that his idea was worth pursuing. I find it hard to believe that it was the
            former. The problem was not with his audience's lack of open-mindedness, but
            Bowman: he failed to make his case.

            In this busy world of highly competitive demands, new ideas, if they are
            going to get heard, need to have something going for them. For me, sorry to
            be so blunt but I guarantee I'm not alone, mostly subjective reconstructions
            of what the early Christians were doing are a dime a dozen and simply aren't
            worth my time. As I tell my students, I (and I think most academics) like
            to see serious engagement with previous scholarship showing both an
            understanding of that scholarship and why earlier proposals don't work, and
            an indication of how this new proposal takes account of that scholarship and
            makes better sense of the actual data. I also like to see some appeal to
            what we know of first century practice and beliefs in order to show how this
            new proposal makes better sense of the data in that world. If I don't see
            good evidence of either, I tend not to bother, since in my experience over a
            number of decades such theories inevitably tell me more about the
            imaginations of their proponent than history. (I recall one individual on
            this list making a great deal of noise about the gospels being some kind of
            art/metaphor. But when several requests for evidence that first century
            readers, to whom they were presumably addressed, ever saw them this way went
            unanswered, I had little choice but to conclude that the entire proposal was
            an exercise in solipsistic anachronism). Perhaps I'm getting a bit old and
            crotchety but, as I approach my sixties, if someone wants to gain my
            interest then that's what it's going to take. I'm happy to be open-minded
            (ask the folks who participate in the Mark Seminar at SBL) but a proposer
            has to earn that right; not simply assume it.

            Best (and if you one day produce that OUP volume on Mark that wins the day,
            I'd be more than happy to stand up and introduce you on your world lecture
            tour).
            Rikk


            > From: Gordon Raynal <scudi1@...>
            > Reply-To: xtalk <crosstalk2@yahoogroups.com>
            > Date: Mon, 24 Jan 2011 11:05:31 -0500
            > To: xtalk <crosstalk2@yahoogroups.com>
            > Subject: Re: [XTalk] Memories of Jesus
            >
            > Hi Rikk,
            >
            > Not to intrude on your conversations with Bruce, but to put one little
            > note since you called out my name:)!
            > On Jan 24, 2011, at 10:19 AM, Rikk Watts wrote:
            >
            >> Bruce,
            >>
            >> I agree with you that it is highly unlikely that the gospels we have
            >> were
            >> written so late. I can't think of a single recognized authority on
            >> Mark who
            >> would agree with Gordon. But xtalk is a generous list ...
            >>
            >
            > First, I am entirely grateful for the list's and your generosity.
            > Seriously!
            >
            > Second, you will find the usual range of dates (65 to 80) on the Early
            > Christian Writings site (www.earlychristianwritings.com), as the
            > general range of dates given for Mark. I lose no sleep over it being
            > written in 70. I think 80 to say 85 actually makes far more sense,
            > because how I understand the genre of the Gospels (and you know we
            > disagree about this), because how I see the interface of Mark with
            > both "house churches and those internal issues" and the Roman world,
            > and because I think this kind of creativity suggests a real "pondering
            > time" after the R-J war. Thus I say 80 and even push 85 (so beyond
            > those typical stated limits) to highlight these aspects. But hey, if
            > Mark wrote it the afternoon after the "walls came tumbling down," that
            > is fine with me. Who knows how long a particular artist takes in
            > their creativity? Some works are dashed out. Some works are poured
            > over for years. We can all guess about that, no matter our "genre"
            > understandings, but we cannot be any more precise than "a range of
            > years." And that is based on how we make connections with author/
            > previously produced materials/ community/ world situation and how all
            > of those things relate and interrelate.
            >
            > I'll close on this note. A really generous thing to do, now and
            > again, is to set down one's own understandings and think carefully
            > through alternate proposals. Crosstalk is a place for that, and so I
            > think most generous for all of us:)!
            >
            > Gordon Raynal
            > Inman, SC
            >
            >
            > ------------------------------------
            >
            > The XTalk Home Page is http://ntgateway.com/xtalk/
            >
            > To subscribe to Xtalk, send an e-mail to: crosstalk2-subscribe@yahoogroups.com
            >
            > To unsubscribe, send an e-mail to: crosstalk2-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com
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