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Re: Laupot's article on the Tacitus fragment

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  • Tom Curtis
    In his article Laupot claims to demonstrate that: a) The metaphor in the Tacitus fragment ( destroy the vine and destroy also the branch ) was suggested by
    Message 1 of 7 , Nov 8, 2000
      In his article Laupot claims to demonstrate that: a) The metaphor
      in the Tacitus fragment ("destroy the vine and destroy also the
      branch") was suggested by the name of a party being discussed (the
      nazoreans or equivalent); b) that this refference is linguisticaly
      obscure, and so was not the result of later christian redaction; and
      that c) the authenticity of the fragment proves the "christiani" were
      actively involved in defending Jerusalem; and so d) the "christiani"
      were not Pauline christians, who were pacifists. Claims a), c), and
      d) are disputable, and so his case is definetly not proven, despite
      his claim in an earlier email.

      Laupot's first claim can be substantiated by showing that no other
      deriation of the metaphor is probable. This Laupot tries to show by
      a claim that the "root/branch" metaphor is otherwise unknown in latin
      literature, and that an accidental coincidence of meaning between the
      key phrase of the metaphore (stirps=latin for branch) and the aramaic
      name of the christiani (nazorean=netser=hebrew for branch). The last
      is the statistical argument which occupies most of the paper. Laupot
      fails, however, to discuss other possible sources for the metaphore.
      No mention is made of greek literature, which we may presume Titus to
      have been familiar with. More importantly, no consideration is given
      to the possibility that the metaphore was suggested by a symbolic
      association of the jews (nation of Israel) with vines, the other key
      term in the metaphore. Such an association does exist, being a
      common Old Testament metaphore. This association constitutes an
      alternative and less obscure source for the metaphore, significantly
      weakening Laupot's argument.

      More troubling is Laupot's assumption that because Titus wanted to
      eliminate the christiani, they must have been active participants in
      the defense of Jerusalem. At the time of the discussion, the current
      rebellion was effectively crushed. Titus' primary concern, both as a
      general and as son of the emperor was to prevent future rebellions,
      either in Judea, or elsewhere in the empire. Thus, there is no need
      to supose that Titus was exclusively concerned with disloyal elements
      within Jerusalem or Judea.

      If we allow ourselves a wider scope in determining who the christiani
      were, we find that Pauline christians might well fit the bill. We
      know from a variety of sources that Roman authorities believed
      christians to be disloyal and immoral. They also were geographically
      and racially diverse, making them potentially more dangerous than the
      jews. Further, there was reason to suppose that the temple was the
      center of their worship. Evidence of this can be found in the sacred
      geography, for example, in Luke/Acts. It is also implicit in Paul's
      letters, in his continuos encouragement of gentile christians to
      contribute to the poor in Jerusalem. Finally, if the "christiani"
      are identified as Pauline christians, this explains the distinction
      made between jews and "christiani", especially as no distinction is
      made between other jewish factions.

      I am not arguing that the "christiani" were Pauline christians, only
      that it is a possible identification. Given this possibility,
      Laupot's case needs significant strengthening if he is to
      substantiate his claims. His assumption (c) must be explicitly
      argued for, and other alternative identifications must be considered.


      Tom Curtis
    • Tom Curtis
      Before I take up substantive issues, I must apologise to Eric for my misremembering classical as latin , and for the unwarranted criticism that resulted.
      Message 2 of 7 , Nov 12, 2000
        Before I take up substantive issues, I must apologise to Eric for my
        misremembering "classical" as "latin", and for the unwarranted
        criticism that resulted. Further, I must apologise for the mistake
        as regards the statistical argument, which I regard as valid so far
        as it goes. My criticism was not against the basic method of
        Laupot's argument, but against the failure, in two cases, to
        sufficiently consider alternatives.

        With regard to the lack of consideration of alternatives, Laupot
        acknowledges the existance (and Roman knowledge) of the Israel/vine
        metaphor. He rejects the significance of this to his argument,
        however, saying:
        "Semetic sources on Israel as a vine do not employ 'netser', and the
        point of the paper was to explain the statisticaly rare event
        involved in the implied use of 'netser'."
        I concede this happily, but Laupot fails to condsider the employment
        of one metaphor often suggests the employment of related metaphors.
        Thus, the metaphor "vine" suggests the possible
        metaphors "vine/vinyard", "vine/leaf", "vine/grape", "vine/wine", or
        (of course), "vine/branch". Given the existance of the "Israel/vine"
        metaphor, we must allow some probability that the "christiani/branch"
        metaphor was suggested by the existance of the original vine
        metaphor. The higher that probability, the less probable is Laupot's
        claim that the use of branch as a metaphor for "christiani" shows
        the "christiani" were also called netsarim.

        I do not think this possibility rebutts Laupot's statistical
        argument. Indeed, he has persuaded me on this point. However, he
        ought to give consideration to this alternative source of the
        metaphor, and make allowance for the the extent to which it weakens
        his argument.

        Next, Laupot takes umbrage at my suggestion that he relies on the
        assumption that the christiani were active the defence of Jerusalem.
        He writes:
        "I never implied or stated they were active participants in the
        defense of Jerusalem. I said they had been major participants in the
        War because Titus has wanted to eliminate the Temple on their
        account. I was carefull not to state or imply what their function
        may have been in the war."
        Indeed, Laupot may well have been carefull to not state their
        function. Are we to presume from this "care" that Laupot thinks they
        may have been non-combatants? If so, then he agrees with me that
        the "christiani" might, for all the evidence we have, have been
        pacifists. In that case his evidence that they were not Pauline
        Christians is non-existant. Of course, he believes no such thing.
        He later writes:
        "Apparently the Romans weren't interested in other Jewish factions
        [than the christiani] at that moment; they were mainly interested in
        their chief opponents among the insurgents."
        If the christiani were the Roman's chief opponents, they were
        certainly actively involved in the defense of Jerusalem. This is a
        crucial assumption of Laupot's, and it ought to be stated and
        defended, not "carefully not stated or impl[ied]".

        The fact that Titus wanted to destroy the Temple on account of the
        christiani, must clearly give us information about who the christiani
        were. Equally, the distinction made between the christiani and the
        Jews also provides information. Given this distinction the most
        probable identifications are either that the christiani were the most
        significant faction amongst the Jews in the War (Laupot's
        assumption), or they were a group with a significant gentile
        membership, ie, a group including Pauline christians. Laupot may
        consider that if we allow ourselves wider scope to consider this
        alternative "we only get the fantastic and the outre", but this
        fantastic and outre possiblity is the traditional identification, the
        identification he is arguing against. Laupot may consider it
        apropriate to not give consideration to the thesis he opposes; I do

        Laupot also queries my use of Luke-Acts as a historical source. I
        would have thought that work to have been a primary historical
        source. The sacred geography used in Luke-Acts is evidence of what
        Pauline christians believed immediatly following the War. The way
        the work is centered around Jerusalem shows that Jerusalem occupied a
        special place in Pauline christian thought, even after the
        destruction of Jerusalem. I do not consider Luke-Acts to be entirely
        without merit as a history either, but that was not my point.

        Finaly, I wish to express surprise at the dismissive tone of Laupot's
        response. I had expected, in this forum, that people would be able
        to respond politely to criticism.


        Tom Curtis
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