RE: [GTh] Authorship and Dating GTh
To: GThomas (GPG)
In Response To: Tom Reynolds
On: The 1st Century
Tom seems to be very positive about his postulates, but I can only respond that they are not the only ones being relied on in the larger NT community, and even if they were, they do not necessarily prove his point. I dislike repeating things, and do so here only on the chance that somebody may find these notes useful. Here, then, are the postulates, with my responses.
Tom: (1) There were two versions of Christianity, the Jewish-Christian version in Jerusalem and the Pauline version preached by Paul and his followers.
Bruce: Paul himself reports at least four versions of Christianity within his own churches, and his direct information is probably not complete. He himself might not include the Jerusalem Christians as real Christians (see Galatians), and the Alexandrian Christians were certainly beyond his ken (whether or not Luke’s claim that Paul had to reinstruct the Alexandrian Apollos is correct, it emblematizes a quite likely situation). I don’t think the question can be reduced to this degree of simplicity.
Tom: The Jewish-Christian version is the one of the eyewitnesses of Jesus on earth.
Bruce: There is likely to have been more than one view of Jesus held by his Jewish followers, probably including the idea that Jesus was dead and that the whole program was off. Else, why the frenzy throughout the rest of the 1c to prove, or assert, that the program was still on, and Jesus would come any minute to bring the world to an end?
Tom: The fundamental issue was whether Christianity is a variation of Judaism or something new.
Bruce: Maybe to modern historians. At the time, I doubt the question presented itself in this way. Were the Essenes new? Were Hosea and Malachi new? Was John the Baptist new? I would think that the answer in all cases is Yes, but this need not mean *entirely* new, having no connection with previous Jewish tradition, let alone defining a departure from Jewish tradition. The process of Christianity and Judaism disentangling from each other seems to have gone on all through the latter part of the 1c and into the 2c (eg, Marcion), with a certain amount of bad language on both sides.
Tom: (2) That an oral tradition developed before any written material is axiomatic in the 1st century culture.
Bruce: or in any other century and culture, including the present age. But we cannot place an exact number on “before.”
Tom: At most 10% of the population was literate and as little as 2%. (One estimate 5-10% one 2-4%).
Bruce: I have seen these figures, and I have seen other figures. Mediterraneanists of my acquaintance, sober and eminent people whose advice I have asked, have not found them convincing, or even felt that there is a firm basis for any such numbers. Literacy (and in what language?) is likely to have varied radically in different places, so even if we did have a Mediterranean average, what good would it be as a factor in a particular situation? Would the Mediterranean average help us or mislead us when applied to the Roman Senate? To the slaves in a Greek silver mine?
Consider also: If one walks down the halls of SBL and shouts “progymnasmata” one will get a large response, from people who emphasize the rhetorical training widely available in the 1c (some near-contemporary teaching manuals survive). There are people out there who maintain that everyone in Galilee was bilingual in Aramaic and Greek. Not that they are automatically correct, but they seem to have the makings of a case. And it goes in the opposite direction from these “literacy” figures.
But suppose that only 3% or 8% of the NT-relevant persons WERE literate in the sense required to produce and profit from the written texts with which we are familiar. What then? Will not the tradition have been in the hands of that 3% or 8%? The rest can have things read to them, and Paul seems to envision that process. On the other hand, for what looks like evidence of a primary readership and not a hearership for Mark, note Mark’s comment in his Caligula prediction of 13:14, “Let the reader understand.” I am not sure that this line has been given the analytical prominence it seems to deserve.
Tom: (3) Nobody dates Mark before AD 50 and very few before AD 60 so the oral tradition was around for 2 decades at least and probably 3.
Bruce: Actually, I am not the only one to envision an early Mark; several have made that suggestion. Let me say at once that I am perfectly willing to be the only one holding this view, because I would then have an entire monopoly of the logical future of NT studies, which would be neat. And perhaps even profitable. But in all honesty, I am going to have to acknowledge a few predecessors, and in fact, am glad to do it. I appreciate their company, and their help in pointing out some of the key passages. I am prepared to share.
I admit that if headcount were all, Mark would be a late text. But on what grounds?
There is something in historical studies called a terminus a quo, a point which a given passage *cannot be earlier than.* Thus, when Jesus warns James and John that they are courting martyrdom by asking for leadership, the chances are extremely good that this was written in view of the actual martyrdom of at least one of them, under Herod Agrippa I in c44 or 45. That passage was thus, at earliest, written in c45, and not before. Is there any passage in Mark which requires a later such date? The Caligula prediction of Mk 13:14, which I mentioned above, can only have been written in the summer of 40, when the threat of desecration of Jewish temples by Caligula’s demand to be worshiped in them, was a live worry (see Josephus). In this case, the limit works both ways: it could NOT have been written in 41 or any subsequent year, because Caligula died in early 41, and the threat immediately vanished (and the prediction thus embarrassingly failed to come off). Then we can say of these two passages in Mark, with some confidence, that one was written in 40 and the other not earlier than 45.
I think, subject as always to correction by those with better information, that these two are the only intrinsic dates in Mark. I notice that both of them precede the year 50. Others have noticed the same thing, as I mentioned above. If nothing in Mark requires a completion date later than 45, and if Luke (with his explicit description of the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by Titus’s army in the year 70) must be dated to after 70, we have at minimum a 25-year gap between Mark and Luke. Is this reasonable? 25 years, as it happens, is exactly one average human generation. If we think of Mark as a first-generation Gospel, and Matthew and Luke (clearly close in time) as the second-generation Gospels, a lot of other evidence then comes in to support. For one thing, both Matthew and Luke treat Mark with respect, which is hard to understand if he were merely a competitor, but highly intelligible if he were an established and widespread authority, with whom any prospective later and revisionist authority had to reckon.
And so on. I invite general consideration of the implications. I think they will help us in reading GThos, or any other text from the early Christian age.
Tom: One really need to understand the 1st century culture. I recommend Bruce Malina book "New Testament World"
Bruce: I have dipped into Malina’s writings, and frankly, I don’t find them cogent. He and many others seem to me to be using particular “approaches” to get more, or different, out of the texts than has previously been obtained. I am familiar with the same pattern of “approaches” in literary studies generally, and in my specific field of Sinology. I find the whole tendency unhelpful. Or worse, because it takes attention away from what to me are sounder and more productive (and as is happens, also more traditional) ways of dealing with a text or a corpus of texts.
Efforts (like Malina’s “cultural anthropology”) to get us out of our rut of self and into the mindset and foodset of a different culture are certainly in a sound direction. The discovery by the NT community some decades ago, that Jesus was a Jew, was an important moment of recovery. I just don’t think that anthropological or cultural or any other generalizations about the early Mediterranean world are necessarily helpful in sensitizing us to the dynamics of creation and reception surrounding the specific NT texts and their noncanonical brethren. The “Mediterranean Peasant” approach looks to me like an earlier effort of this type. Trouble with that one is that, though Jesus was undoubtedly a Jew, he was neither Mediterranean (he lived and died in a backwater of the otherwise dominant Greco-Roman culture) nor a peasant (he was the eldest son of a probably prosperous artisan of Nazareth, and probably never sickled a sheave or stomped a grape in his life). We can substitute the Greco-Roman culture of, say, 1c Ephesus (Paul’s late HQ) for our own immediate circumstances, as a check on our unconscious extrapolations of the familiar, and it’s useful in a negative way. But how close does this really get us to Jesus? Or the Zebedee brothers?
I have to wonder.
E Bruce Brooks
University of Massachusetts at Amherst