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Another Meeting at SBL

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: XTalk Re: Alpha Christianity at SBL From: Bruce Gordon Raynal has just mentioned the Jesus Seminar meeting at SBL this Nov, with its celebration of
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 8, 2012
      To: XTalk
      Re: Alpha Christianity at SBL
      From: Bruce

      Gordon Raynal has just mentioned the Jesus Seminar meeting at SBL this Nov,
      with its celebration of Bultmann. That reminds me of another event at SBL,
      which I venture to mention. I first give a little background.

      JSem and Bultmann are a very logical pair. Bultmann more or less establishes
      the view of the Gospel material which JSem takes as a starting point. That
      view is that all the Gospels are late, none has any standing as an
      eyewitness account, and all therefore stand roughly equal as sources of
      Dominical Sayings. Then all the sayings in the Synoptics can be put in a
      single pile and stirred well, and from that pile modern individuals can pick
      what seem to them to be possibly genuine in origin.

      That view is risky on at least two counts, both of which require careful
      reading of the texts, but what else are we here for?

      (1) The line in Mk (13:14) which leads to its post-70 or near-70 dating is
      more naturally read as an allusion to Antiochus IV Epiphanius, who had
      desecrated the Temple in an earlier time (the quote, which Matthew following
      Mark makes explicit, is from "the holy prophet Daniel"), and thus a
      reference to the threatened desecration of the Jerusalem and other temples
      by Caligula in 40. Since Caligula died early the following year, and the
      threat at once disappeared, Mk 13:14 as a refuted prediction could not have
      been written later than 40. When a Gospel wants to point to the destruction
      of Titus and not the threatened desecration of Caligula, it does not do what
      Mark does, and it does not do what Matthew, following Mark, continues to do;
      it does what Luke does at the corresponding passage (Lk 21:20), and refers
      explicitly to armies surrounding Jerusalem. The Gospel writers surely had
      their limitations, but they were probably not so dumb that they could not
      tell an idol from an army. It then follows that not only Mark, but Matthew
      who fails to update Mark, are both pre-70 documents. Luke, which in its
      present form follows Matthew, is then the first post-70 Gospel. Matthew is
      still pre-70, and Mark, coming well before Matthew, is significantly
      earlier. This puts Mark at minimum back into the lifetime of Paul, and
      establishes Mark as a source of much more value than Bultmann allows.

      (2) Mark itself is stratified. The Caligula reference, which Mark is at
      pains, in 13:14, to have properly decoded by his readers (sic), is itself in
      a late layer of the Mk 13 Apocalypse, as Taylor showed in an appendix to his
      commentary. Then Mk 13:14 itself was written in the year 40, and there is
      material in Mk 13 which must be still earlier, since that prediction was
      inserted into it. This puts a certain amount of Mark back into the 30's,
      long before any witness of Paul. There are also the widely recognized pair
      of predictions, Mk 14:28 and 16:7, where the following verse talks past the
      verse in question, and responds instead to the verse preceding it. Other
      examples abound, and need not be repeated here.

      The implication of all this is that much of Mark is early, and part of it,
      the part into which the rest has been interpolated, the ground narrative of
      Mark, is *very* early. This is a different picture than the one on which
      Bultmann relied. If we rely instead on Mark, we get a picture of Jesus
      different from the usual one (which is heavily weighted toward that most
      effective of all Second Tier Gospel passages, the Sermon on the Mount). That
      Markan Jesus is a figure which gradually develops, and the various
      interpolations in effect mirror those developments; Paul's Jesus represents
      a later stage of that development.

      At its early end, the stratified Mark links up with several other documents
      widely recognized as "primitive" (meaning, very early): the Epistle of
      James, the Didache, the pre-Pauline hymn embedded in Philippians 2, and so
      on. That is, if we take only the earliest Mark as our basis, we find a
      surprising amount of consistent documentation in extant texts, some of them
      canonical or embedded canonical.

      Jesus did not found, but did give rise to, the earliest Christian movement.
      To the earliest stage of this movement, the earliest Mark and other
      acknowledged "primitive" documents are consistent witnesses. This
      Christianity, not surprisingly, differs from the theologically and
      administratively more developed Christianity of the second half of the 1st
      century. To this earlier version, I have given the name Alpha Christianity.
      For a summary of these findings, see


      There has been a certain amount of interest in this result, among scholars
      and among what might be called the larger Christian public. For some years
      now, we have sponsored an Alpha Christianity meeting at the annual SBL, not
      a panel, but a time when interested persons can get together, raise
      questions, and make suggestions for future research. This year's meeting
      will be at 8 AM on Monday 19 November, in the main convention site; exact
      room to be announced (or will be searchable sv Alpha Christianity on the SBL
      listing, when SBL finally gets the bugs out; be sure to check "Include
      Additional Meetings").

      That is the announcement. Thanks for the opportunity to make it.


      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst

      Almost needless to say, if anyone will be making an SBL presentation
      compatible with, or of direct interest to, the Alpha Christianity subject, I
      would be glad to be told of it, and will give it suitable notice and
      publicity on our web page and elsewhere.
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