Re: Laupot's article on the Tacitus fragment
- 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.
- 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,
"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
Next, Laupot takes umbrage at my suggestion that he relies on the
assumption that the christiani were active the defence of Jerusalem.
"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.