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Re: [XTalk] Bailey's response; reply to Schacht, I

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  • Mahlon H. Smith
    ... Bailey ... imagery ... at ... If I may interject here, this analogy of the filter is useful for illustrating what I find primarily defective in Bailey s
    Message 1 of 5 , Dec 2, 2001
      Ted Weeden wrote to Bob Schacht:

      > Thus, it appears,if I may pursue this thread a bit, that
      > Bailey, having been won over to Dodd's interpretation of the how the oral
      > tradition was passed on with some assurance that its authenticity was not
      > corrupted at any of the discrete moments of transmission, finds,
      > nevertheless, that the cogency of Dodd's position lacks something. It
      > lacks a clearly defined, articulated methodology to validate it. So
      > sees, as I understand him, that it is his task, picking up upon the
      > of his analogy, to identify the nature of the filter and explain how it
      > works to assure that villagers at the foot of the mountain are getting the
      > same tasting spring water," as can be tasted from its originating source
      > the top of the mountain.

      If I may interject here, this analogy of the filter is useful for
      illustrating what I find primarily defective in Bailey's theory. Though not
      myself an anthropologist or folk-lorist, I have no problem with Bailey's
      suggestion of primarily oral communities acting informally as a *haflat
      samar* to insure the relative stability of tradition. For I see something of
      that sort behind the 2nd c. proto-Orthodox insistence on the chain of
      transmission of "apostolic" tradition within the major churches of the
      eastern Mediterranean struggling with the open-ended novel revelations of
      gnostic speculation. At the early end of this trajectory there is little
      evidence of established "formal" control mechanisms in Xn writings -- i.e.,
      appeals to the authority of specific scriptures or to the doctrinal
      authority of designated community leaders whose job is to censure what is
      taught. Rather, these formal controls seem to have been put in place
      precisely because the informal appeal to "apostolic tradition" was
      undermined by the claims of gnostic teachers/authors to themselves preserve
      apostolic tradition. Once the formal filters of canonical scripture, creed &
      episcopal magisterial authority were firmly in place in the major urban
      churches (roughly ca. 140-160 CE) they could effectively be used to filter
      out the fluid traditions emanating from extraneous sources (even traditions,
      such as the gospels of Thomas & Peter, that included water from the same
      sources as the canonical gospels). But the older informal filter of
      "apostolic tradition" continued to be operative in Xn communities outside
      the sphere of influence of the Great Hellenistic Church (now identified as
      "heretics" -- i.e. sectarians -- by the latter) which continued to preserve
      traditions & works that the major urban churches rejected. Witness the
      demonstrable reverence of such marginalized Xn communities for traditions
      ascribed to John or Mary or Thomas or Philip.

      Thus, one by-product of my research on the evolution of the various elements
      of the formal doctrinal filter of Greek Orthodoxy is the conviction that
      early to mid-2nd Xns across a wide spectrum of Mediterranean churches
      recognized the filter of informal oral communal control as too porous to
      guarantee the purity of the "traditional" fluid it transmitted. If 2nd Xn
      leaders from Ignatius through Hippolytus were skeptical of the ability of an
      informal, non-hierarchical, oral community to keep apostolic tradition
      uncontaminated from foreign elements, Bailey's claim that an informal filter
      applied by Xn communities in the first generation of explosive missionary
      expansion & relatively unregulated charismatic preaching could have
      preserved the details of primitive Jesus tradition relatively unchanged is
      rather historically incredible. Orthodox writers from Ireneaus on insisted
      that the *formal* filters of episcopal authority & apostolic scripture were
      authorized by the 12 themselves & thus guaranteed the purity of Orthodox
      sources. If there is reason for historical skepticism regarding that
      dogmatic claim, is there any reason to trust Bailey's theory that an
      informal filter operative in the story-telling & preaching of Xn communities
      during the first generation was able to keep the oral Jesus tradition free
      from contamination by the ideas of other minds.

      Bailey's analogy of the underground transmission of water from a mountaintop
      source helps to point out the weakness of his whole filter theory in
      interpreting the oral formation of the primitive Jesus tradition. In the
      case of most mountain springs -- e.g., the sources of the Jordan on Mt.
      Hermann above Caearea Philippi, one is able to test the water that emerges
      at the base of the mountain against the water at the source. While water
      drawn close to the source may still "taste" the same, close chemical
      analysis will show that it has in fact picked up other trace elements from
      its underground passage through rock & soil & other underground aquafers.
      If one cannot locate the exact primal source itself, one can assess the
      additives by comparing samples drawn from separate outlets down the
      mountain. Similarly scholarly analysis of the Orthodox synoptic tradition
      reveals the presence of foreign elements that have *not* been filtered out
      by the process of its subterranean oral transmission even after the
      introduction of a formal written filter. That is the reason for the whole
      synoptic problem. Since there is no way for anyone to go directly to the
      source in the case of the oral Jesus tradition, the only way to test how the
      water "tasted" close to the source himself (i.e., HJ) is to introduce the
      most advanced modern microfine filters designed to *eliminate* elements that
      can be demonstrated to have been present in the soil thru which it passed
      between its origin (HJ) & its first testable outlets (written gospels).
      Simply to assume that any oral filters in place during the first stages of
      formation of the Jesus tradition were sensitive enough to accomplish this
      task is scientifically naive, especially when we have ample recorded samples
      that indicate that even the introduction of writing did not prevent the
      introduction & mutation of sayings & stories of Jesus in the tradition that
      the greater Hellenistic church eventually canonized as "apostolic".



      Mahlon H. Smith
      Department of Religion
      Rutgers University
      New Brunswick NJ 08901


      Synoptic Gospels Primer

      Into His Own: Perspective on the World of Jesus
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