Friday, October 31, 2008

The Dating Game V: Document and tradition

So far in this series of posts, we have been looking at the relative ordering of the crucial documents, focusing on the sequence of the documents without attempting to pin them to particular decades. As far as the canonical Gospels are concerned, we are looking at an order like this: Mark > Matthew > Luke > John. The time comes, though, when we need to attempt to pin these texts to points in time. As anyone familiar with New Testament studies will know, the dating issue is determined by a pivotal question: do the documents post-date the destruction of Jerusalem in 70CE? Since Mark is the first in this sequence of documents, dating Mark would be a very helpful way of moving forward. If Mark post-dates 70, so do Matthew, Luke and John.

Before tackling that question, however, there are some necessary reminders. The discussion is inevitably clouded by the complications of textual tradition (observable) and textual tradition (hypothesized); I have spoken already (Preliminaries) about some of the difficulties involved with a document's evolution and range of dates and the inevitable difficulties that that causes the historian. Nevertheless, it is possible to speak reasonably about the dating of the documents as long as one bears these kinds of difficulties in mind. History, and especially ancient history, often needs to deal in approximations. It is a heuristic and not a descriptive discipline, and reasoned discussion of the date of given documents is achievable provided one proceeds with care.

It is important, for example, to distinguish clearly between the date of a given document and the date of the traditions within it and to avoid allowing document dating to get bound up with tradition history. How, then, should we conceive the question of dating a document? It should refer, I think, to the date of the given document as a observable, substantive entity with recognizable parameters such that it distinguishes itself from other documents. Matthew, for example, is recognizably Matthew and not Mark, even though it contains a lot of Mark. Luke is recognizably Luke; it is not Matthew and it is not Mark even though it contains a lot of the shape and the substance of those documents. In this kind of discussion, then, we need to be clear about what it is we are trying to date. We are dating the documents to which our texts bear witness, and not prior oral traditions, written traditions, or hypothetical earlier versions of the document in question. In this context, we are not investigating the dating of elements within the larger, later document; we are attempting to date the document itself.

A document can be no earlier than its most recent datable tradition. This is why, when we come to Mark, the question of its knowledge of the destruction of the temple is so important. If Mark is familiar with the events of 70, the presence of traditions earlier than 70 will be irrelevant. A good example of an approach that recognizes the distinction between the date of the document and the history of its traditions is Gerd Theissen's work on Mark's Apocalypse and Passion Narrative. He argues for versions of Mark 13, and of Mark 14-15, that date from the late 30s or early 40s, but thinks that Mark itself was written after 70.

It is in this context that I find myself reflecting on James Crossley's recent book, The Date of Mark's Gospel, published in the series I edit called Library of New Testament Studies in 2004. Crossley argues against the consensus that Mark should be dated somewhere in the region 65-75CE, suggesting instead that Mark's knowledge of Jewish Law, and the assumptions he makes about it, make best sense at a very early point, as early as mid to late 30s or early 40s. There are many things I like about James -- I am all in favour of young, attractive British blogging scholars who are willing to stick their necks out against the consensus on important issues, and who publish in LNTS. So I wish I were able to agree with the thesis of The Date of Mark's Gospel, but I don't. One of the book's virtues, I think, is that it effectively strengthens the case for a law observant Historical Jesus and Crossley's arguments to that end are effective. I am not persuaded, though, that James succeeds in narrowing the gap between Jesus and the author of Mark. As David Gowler points out in his review of James's subsequent Why Christianity Happened, "Jesus' Torah observance could still have been adequately represented by Mark in the 60s" (CBQ 69 (2007), 815-6 [816]). The notion that the originating circumstances of the tradition correlate directly with the perspective of the evangelist is problematic given the possibility that Mark is sometimes a faithful retailer of traditional material. Or, to put it another way, it is always going to be a tall order to demonstrate that assumptions apparently made in given traditions are identical with assumptions made by the author of the document in which they appear.

Moreover, where there are clear signs of Marcan redaction, they point away from Crossley’s thesis. In the key passage about hand-washing in Mark 7, the narrator’s framing of the material explains that hand-washing before eating food is something practised by “the Pharisees and all the Jews” (καὶ πάντες οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι). This does not set up the debate as an intra-Jewish one of the kind that Crossley’s thesis requires. The practice of hand-washing is established as something that all Jews do, and which Jesus’ disciples do not do (7.2, 5), setting up a contrast that Jesus’ words then speak into, a contrast that makes good sense on classic form-critical grounds. For Crossley, the reference here to “all the Jews” is a Marcan exaggeration, but this concedes the ground about the accuracy and precision of Mark’s knowledge of Judaism that is a major and necessary element in his case.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Witherington on Wikipedia

As I have argued here before (Wikipedia), the way forward for Wikipedia in the academy should be critical engagement rather than spurning. I have been critical of Ben Witherington's remarks on the subject in the past (New Testament scholars on Wikipedia; More on how to engage with Wikipedia) and today in a new blog entry, "What is truthiness?" The truth about Wikipedia, Ben has a little more. Referring to Shlashdot's comments on Simson Garfinkel's interesting article Wikipedia and the Meaning of Truth, Ben writes:
My son the computer whiz sent me this recent article on the standard of 'truth' that Wikipedia uses, namely verifiability from a recognized source. When one couples this with the banning of original research, it leads to real problems, and explains why so many academics do not allow the use of Wikipedia in student papers much less in scholarly work.
The criterion of verifiability from a recognized source is in fact one of the reasons for the competence of many of Wikipedia's articles, and acts as a good model for students who are engaging critically with what Wikipedia says on a given subject. And the avoidance of original research is also entirely natural and right in an encyclopaedia of this kind. Encyclopaedia Britannica is the same -- it is not a place to publish original research. Original research is published in monographs and journal articles and not in encyclopaedia entries. Indeed the value of the encyclopaedia is that it directs the reader to good original research on the topic in question.

Incidentally, I do rather like the last line of Garfinkel's article:
That standard is simple: something is true if it was published in a newspaper article, a magazine or journal, or a book published by a university press--or if it appeared on Dr. Who.
Of course the truthiness there depends on whether one is talking about canonical Who or not (a remark for the geeks).

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Dating Game IV: What about John?

It is easy to find oneself spending so much time with the vexed question of the chronological sequence of the Synoptic Gospels, and the big Synoptic Problem questions that arise, that one can forget about the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Thomas. To an extent, the relative neglect of these Gospels in this context is understandable. Whereas the Synoptic Gospels are clearly related on the literary level, there is no consensus about whether the same is true of John and Thomas. Does John know the Synoptics? Some say yes, some no. Does Thomas know the Synoptics? Again, opinions are divided. Clearly, this series of blog posts is not the place to solve this fascinating problem, but I would like to suggest a couple of ways in which we might be able to sketch out the possible lines of relationship between the Synoptics and Thomas and the Synoptics and John. I am currently in the middle of a book on the relationship between Thomas and the Synoptics, so the full argument will have to wait for its publication in the (I hope) not too distant future. As for John and the Synoptics, let me just say that I am persuaded by the evidence set out by several including C. K. Barrett and Frans Neirynck concerning John's knowledge of the Synoptics and that I would like to add an observation that may be of relevance.

So let us go to John and focus on an issue related to the phenomenon of fatigue in the Synoptics, discussed in the previous post. One of the indicators of familiarity with prior texts is a rewriting of elements in those texts in such a way that the author inadvertently creates anomalies or inconcinnities. One of the clear examples of this phenomenon in John occurs in his story of the anointing of Jesus by Mary in John 12.1-8. The story is parallel to Matthew 26.6-13 // Mark 14.3-9. The Johannine incident is clearly the same as the Synoptic incident: (1) It takes place in Bethany (2) just before Passover, (3) at a dinner where a woman has a jar of very expensive perfume of pure nard (Mark 14.3, ἀλάβαστρον μύρου νάρδου πιστικῆς πολυτελοῦς; John 12.3, λίτραν μύρου νάρδου πιστικῆς πολυτίμου; (4) she anoints Jesus; (5) there are complaints about the costliness of the perfume (τριακοσίων δηναρίων) which could have been given to the poor (καὶ ἐδόθη πτωχοῖς, John 12.5; καὶ δοθῆναι τοῖς πτωχοῖς, Mark 14.5); (6) Jesus says "Leave her. . . The poor you will always have with you . . . But you will not always have me" (ἄφες αὐτήν . . . τοὺς πτωχοὺς γὰρ πάντοτε ἔχετε μεθ' ἑαυτῶν ἐμὲ δὲ οὐ πάντοτε ἔχετε, John 12.7-8; ἄφετε αὐτήν . . . πάντοτε γὰρ τοὺς πτωχοὺς ἔχετε μεθ' ἑαυτῶν καὶ ὅταν θέλητε δύνασθε αὐτοῖς εὖ ποιῆσαι ἐμὲ δὲ οὐ πάντοτε ἔχετε, Mark 14.6-7); (7) Jesus interprets the anointing in connection with his burial (John 12.7, Mark 14.8).

John appears to have crafted this account on the basis of the Marcan narrative; the structure, the story, the wording have substantial links. The only major fresh elements in John are the naming of the woman as Mary, contextually determined by his resetting of the account as a postlude to the Lazarus story, and the naming of the one who complains as Judas, which itself may be derived from Mark 14.10-11, which comes straight after the anointing, and links Judas with an unhealthy interest in money. But there is one element in John that appears not to be found in Mark, Mary's wiping Jesus' feet with her hair (καὶ ἐξέμαξεν ταῖς θριξὶν αὐτῆς τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ, John 12.3). This detail appears to come from Luke 7.38 (καὶ ταῖς θριξὶν τῆς κεφαλῆς αὐτῆς ἐξέμασσεν. . . ), where it forms part of Luke's story of the anointing, 7.36-50, his version of the Marcan // Matthean anointing. As there, it is an anointing by an anonymous woman in the house of a man called Simon, though Luke relocates it at an earlier point in the narrative, as often (cf. the Rejection at Nazareth, brought forward to Luke 4.16-30; Paul's first visit to Jerusalem, brought forward to Acts 9.25-6 and the Jerusalem Council, brought forward to Acts 15 from its "true" location in Acts 18.22), a move that necessitates some reworking of the details, especially the stress on the forthcoming death and burial. It is now a story about a "sinner", whose hair hangs down.

The anointing in each of the Synoptic accounts makes sense. In Mark and Matthew, Jesus' head is anointed with perfume. No hair is mentioned, no feet are are mentioned. In Luke, the woman wets Jesus' feet with her tears, an act of repentance, and she wipes them with her loose "sinner's" hair before she anoints them with perfume. But John's reminiscence of the Lucan detail about the wiping of Jesus' feet with her hair creates an anomaly. First, there is no reason for Mary, in John, to be wearing her hair like a "sinner", which is the point of the Lucan story. Second, because there are no tears in John, Mary's wiping of Jesus' feet with her hair means that the perfume ends up on her hair and not on Jesus. Jesus is the one who is supposed to be being anointed. This appears to be an example of John's secondary use of prior texts that has generated narrative inconcinnity and which helps us, therefore, to sketch John into a relationship of post-dating the Synoptics.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Passion DVD release and other news

The Passion DVD is released in the UK tomorrow (20 October), and the Sunday Times marks the release with an interesting piece from Joseph Mawle (Jesus):

Best of times, worst of times: Joseph Mawle
Mawle, 34, played Jesus in the BBC’s production of The Passion this year. Here he recalls the trials of filming in Morocco — and the physical and mental strain of putting himself in the shoes of one of the most famous figures in history
Ria Higgins
. . . . By now it was around 8.30am, the sun was coming up and the torrential rain had given way to vast blue skies. Filming began a short distance from the Crucifixion site. The heat was already making me sweat and the high altitudes were taking their toll, too. At the forefront of my mind, though, was the pain and exhaustion I could only imagine Jesus feeling as he stumbled with his cross through the narrow, crowded streets of Jerusalem up to Golgotha. Nailing my arms to the cross was made possible by a prosthetics expert using special clips, fake nails and latex made to look like blood-drenched skin. Then I had to bend my knees to the right, resting my feet on an iron peg, while a second peg allowed me to rest one bum cheek. Hanging there with your arms stretched out and your knees bent was one of the most common ways used to crucify people by the Romans. . . .
Meanwhile, Doug Chaplin has an interesting post on Metacatholic discussing a remark made in the Bite My Bible blog relating to the depiction of the resurrection in The Passion. Mark Thompson (director general of the BBC) lauded The Passion for being "faithful to the gospel narrative"; Bite My Bible disputes that, citing the depiction of the resurrection -- "it shamelessly promoted the 'vision theory' of the resurrection of Jesus without an awareness of the flaws of this approach." Doug rightly disputes that and I am in agreement with him. What The Passion does here is innovative and yet faithful to the Gospels. There is an empty tomb narrative, as in all four canonical Gospels, which is hardly a "vision theory" approach, and the depiction of the disciples' difficulty in recognizing Jesus is all based on the Gospels -- Mary thinks that Jesus is the gardener (John 20.14-15); the disciples on the road ot Emmaus do not recognize him until they break bread with him (Luke 24.13-35).

While we are on the topic of The Passion, please excuse one small piece of self-indulgence. When checking up the IMDb page on The Passion, I was happy to see that they have added my credit as series consultant. Right at the bottom of the page, but definitely there.

No news yet on the American title and air date for The Passion yet, by the way.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Dating Game III: Getting the Synoptic Gospels in Order

Getting the Gospels in order is one of the fundamental issues in the dating the crucial sources in early Christianity. Before attempting to work out whether we can locate the Gospels in any particular decade, there is preliminary work to be done, to see whether we can get them into sequence in relation to one another. The issue is separable into several separate questions, all of them controversial, all of them interesting, (1) the Synoptic Problem, (2) the question of John's knowledge of the Synoptics, (3) the question of Thomas's knowledge of the Synoptics. There are still other additional questions that we could add, like the relationship of the Gospel of Peter or the Didache to the others, but to make the task manageable, at least in an introductory discussion, it is worth focusing on the texts generally regarded in the scholarship as crucial to the task at hand.

Let us begin with the Synoptic Problem. I have written a couple of books on this topic and it is pointless for me to pretend that I am beginning fresh here so let me instead summarize my conclusions and then offer a special illustration of how I think we can stack up the Synoptic Gospels in sequence.

(1) Mark is the first Gospel and it was used as primary source by both Matthew and Luke. The Priority of Mark is rightly the consensus view in Gospel scholarship. Its major contemporary competitor, the Griesbach (Two-Gospel) Hypothesis does not adequately account for much of the Synoptic data, especially the combination of Mark's alleged omissions from and additions to the combined witness of Matthew and Luke, which generate a curious profile for Mark the redactor. (See further The Case Against Q, Chapter 2 and The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze, Chapters 3-4).

(2) Luke is dependent on Matthew as well as Mark. This theory (the Farrer theory) dispenses with the need to posit a hypothetical document, Q, to explain the extensive verbatim agreement between Matthew and Luke that is not mediated by Mark. This is the thesis of my Case Against Q, summarized also for introductory students in the last chapter of The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze (see also the Case Against Q website). It is an argument against a major element in what is currently the majority view in Gospels scholarship, the Two-Source Theory, which argues that Matthew and Luke used Mark independently of one another, which necessitates Q. Arguments for Luke's independence of Matthew are unconvincing, and evidence of Luke's familiarity with Matthew needs to be taken seriously. To take just one area, it is commonly said that Luke's re-ordering of Matthew's discourses is inexplicable, but it makes good sense when one pays attention to Luke's redactional habits with respect to Mark, and his narrative habits overall.

The direction Mark > Matthew > Luke can be observed by paying attention to an important but underestimated indicator of the genealogy of documents, the phenomenon of editorial fatigue. I have argued (Fatigue in the Synoptics) that Matthew's and Luke's dependence on Mark, and Luke's dependence on Matthew, can be seen in the way in which each evangelist will, on occasion, begin by making changes to a pericope, only to lapse into the wording of the source as time goes on, creating minor contradictions. Thus we can see Matthew using Mark in the story of the death of John the Baptist (Mark 6.14-29 // Matt 14.1-12), beginning the pericope by changing Mark's Herod "the king" to his own more accurate "Herod the tetrarch", only to lapse into calling him "king", with Mark, half-way through the passage. Moreover, he adjusts the plot of the story. Where in Mark, Herodias wants John killed, Matthew has Herod himself desiring to kill John, but then Matthew retains Mark's notice that Herod grieved John's death.

Luke appears secondary to Mark in the Feeding of the Five Thousand story (Matt 14.13-21 // Mark 6.30-44 // Luke 9.10-17), which he begins by resetting it in "a city called Bethsaida", which causes an inconcinnity when he later repeats, with Mark, "we are in a desert place here" (Luke 9.12).

The same phenomenon of editorial fatigue also shows Luke to be secondary to Matthew. In the Parable of the Talents / Pounds, Luke, who loves the 10:1 ratio, begins with a major change: ten servants, not three; and with one pound each. Yet as the story progresses, Luke gets drawn back to the plot of the Matthean parable, with three servants, "the first", "the second" and "the other". The wording moves steadily closer to Matthew's as the parable progresses.

I offer these brief examples of the phenomenon of fatigue to draw attention to the possibilities for using literary criticism to theorize about the direction of dependence among related documents. What will be of interest next will be to explore the still more vexed questions of the relationships between the Synoptics, John and Thomas.

Early Christian Writings on the way back

Today is obviously the day for returning heroes. Early Christian Writings is coming back soon, at least according to the dramatic announcement on Peter Kirby's website of that name.

Bible and Interpretation

As Jim West says, it is good to see that Bible and Interpretation is back, and with a slick new design. Perhaps along with welcoming their return, I could put in a request for an RSS feed?

Jim West has an article in the new edition about Biblical Studies on the web. He returns to the question of Wikipedia and its use in academia and makes one remark that surprises me:
Yet rather than providing reliable materials many academics adopt the default position that "it's already out there on Wiki and people just need to read that." This is, I suggest, a grave mistake (and potentially even a touch of laziness).
I am troubled to hear that academics are adopting that kind of position -- it is not something that I have come across. My own view is that students should not be reading it so much as writing it, testing it against their critical review of the secondary literature. I realize that that is aspirational, but I like to get the best out of my students.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Dating Game II: Getting Paul's letters in order

One of the easy mistakes in the dating game is to shoot too quickly for absolute dates, to look in a given document for hints that might help us to pin it to a a specific date. Some of our documents, though, are not of the nature that will allow us to pin them to a particular decade, let alone a particular year, and in such circumstances, it is important to try to get them into the right relative order, to make sure that we are stacking them up in the right order with respect to one another. Our general reluctance to do this may have something to do with our general reluctance to get our hands dirty doing serious work on the Synoptic Problem, or to do the related, equally difficult work on other big issues that make some of us recoil, Pauline chronology, John's familiarity (or not) with the Synoptics, Thomas's use (or not) of the Synoptics. But if we are to make progress on dating our crucial sources, these are the kinds of specialist areas that we need to invest in.

Let us take what is perhaps the most straightforward area first, the issue of getting Paul's letters in order. We are lucky here to have a degree of consensus on the parameters and general shape of the question. We agree, broadly, that Paul's letters were written in the 50s, with the late 40s the very earliest we can go. And we have general agreement on the basics of how to frame Paul's life. No one seriously thinks that 1 Thesslaonians is a late letter, or that Romans is an early one. If there are serious disagreements about the integrity of 2 Corinthians, and the authenticity of 2 Thessalonians, there is nevertheless broad consensus that the order of the undisputed letters goes something like this:

1 Thessalonians
1 Corinthians
2 Corinthians

It is easy to be sure about Romans. Paul is explicit that he has preached the gospel fully in a circle from Jerusalem to Illyricum (15.19), and that he is on the way now to Jerusalem with the collection for the saints there, with a view to heading off next to Rome and then to Spain (Rom. 15.23-9). Now the collection provides us with the most helpful basic piece of sequential dating material because it is mentioned, at different states of development, in three other epistles, all of which predate Romans.
Gal. 2.10: Only they would have us remember the poor, which very thing I was eager to do.

1 Cor. 16.1-4: Now concerning the collection for the saints: you should follow the directions I gave to the churches of Galatia. 2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that collections need not be taken when I come. 3 And when I arrive, I will send any whom you approve with letters to take your gift to Jerusalem. 4 If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.

2 Cor. 9.1-4: Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the offering for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year; and your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brethren so that our boasting about you may not prove vain in this case, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be; lest if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we be humiliated - to say nothing of you - for being so confident.
This is a fine example of the way in which sequential biography mentioned in documents can help us to date those documents. Clearly the collection is at an early point in 1 Cor. 16 -- Paul has recently instructed the Galatians about it, and he is only beginning now to talk to Achaia about it; presumably he has not yet begun to talk to Macedonia about it. By 2 Cor. 9 it has advanced much further. At least a year has passed; Paul is expecting Achaia to be ready, and Macedonia is ready too. So 1 and 2 Corinthians are placed in their expected sequence with respect to one another, but both also earlier than Romans.

There is actually one more opportunity the material here provides, but it is an invitation often and surprisingly refused. The major, marked difference between 1 Cor. 16 on the one hand and 2 Cor. 8-9 and Rom. 15 on the other is that Galatia has dropped out. Where Paul, when he was writing 1 Corinthians, had expected the Galatians to participate, they are out of the picture by the time that he was writing 2 Corinthians, something further confirmed by their absence from Romans. The crisis in Galatia, therefore, appears to have taken place between the writing of 1 and 2 Corinthians. This is when Paul lost the allegiance of the Galatians who had turned to what Paul saw as "another gospel" and getting circumcised (Galatians). The order of Paul's letters, then, goes something like this:

1 Thessalonians
1 Corinthians
2 Corinthians

Getting the relative dating of 1 Corinthians and Galatians right illustrates the value of dating questions in the study of Christian origins. The hints provided by Paul's biography for establishing that 1 Corinthians precedes Galatians correlate with other factors of interest in the study of Paul. What is the source of his gospel? Is it through human agency (1 Corinthians 15.1-11) or directly from God (Galatians 1.6-12)? What about his use of Jesus material? Is it a coincidence that his earlier epistles, 1 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians, are rich in Jesus material but his later epistles are not? What about Paul, the Law and justification? Is it significant that the earlier epistles, 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians, are light (to put it mildly) on the forensic language while the later epistles (Galatians, Romans, Philippians 3) feature it heavily?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Oldest Bible

It is good to see Codex Sinaiticus still making the news and on Monday, Radio 4 (which most right thinking Brits, and many others too, love with passion) broadcast a half hour documentary:

The Oldest Bible
Roger Bolton tells the story of the Codex Sinaiticus bible, found in 1844 in a monastery in the Sinai Desert and then split between Egypt, Russia, Switzerland and the British Library. It is soon to be digitised for world-wide viewing, and poses a significant challenge to the Bible as we know it.
You can listen again from the link above, or by going straight to the iPlayer. It will be available for the next few days. Once I've listened, I will comment here. Meanwhile, an article related to the programme has drawn heavy criticism and helpful correction from Dirk Jongkind on Evangelical Textual Criticism. I would be interested to hear Dirk's and others' comments on the programme too when they have listened.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Duke Papyri Online Developments

This exciting local news was mentioned by David Meadows on rogueclassicism and is worth a mention here:

Ancient Papyrus Documents to be Available Online
DURHAM, NC -- A Duke University-led research team will use an $814,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to develop collaborative online editing tools for ancient documents preserved on papyrus.

The new electronic editing environment, when completed, will enable scholars –- regardless of their location -- to research, retrieve and display ancient texts, supplementary data and digital images of papyri.

The research team is led by Duke professor Joshua Sosin and university librarian Deborah Jakubs.

Sosin, associate professor of classical studies and history, co-directs the Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri, an online repository of ancient Greek and Latin documents preserved on papyrus, pottery and wood. The collection contains more than 50,000 published texts that can be searched electronically through the Papyrological Navigator (PN), a new interface that merges data from different scholarly projects to allow simultaneous searching of texts, translations and images. The PN, whose development was also funded by Mellon, is online at . . . .

ITSEE News RSS feed

ITSEE (Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editions, University of Birmingham) has added an RSS feed: ITSEE News.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Dating Game I: Preliminaries

I have been asked to present a paper at this year's SBL Annual Meeting in Boston on "Dating the Crucial Sources" for a new consultation entitled "Cross, Resurrection and Diversity in Early Christianity". Simon Gathercole is speaking in the same session; April DeConick is responding to me and Stephen Patterson is responding to Simon. John Kloppenborg will be in the chair.

It is a pleasure to be invited to give a paper, and a special pleasure to do so at one of the inaugural meetings of a new consultation. When one is invited to present, it will usually be in an area that overlaps with one's area of expertise, but which at the same time provides a fresh challenge, as here. I have written a little about dating issues but not a lot. It is something that interests me, but this is providing me with an opportunity to spend some time thinking through things in a more systematic and serious way. But where does one begin with such a broad topic? One of the pitfalls of attempting to date early Christian documents is to shoot too quickly for absolute dates, to try to pinpoint each text to a specific moment without doing the prior work on working out the relationships of documents to one another. Thus however much we might find matters like the Synoptic Problem not to our taste, it is essential to get on top of such things if we are to get some feeling for the most plausible relationship of documents to one another. It is a necessary prior step before attempting to fix documents to a specific date or range of dates.

Before that, though, several more preliminaries and important reminders:

(1) What is a document? I once wrote an article on Q called "When is a text not a text?". Although it dealt specifically with the hypothetical document Q, it got me thinking about the broader issues of what we mean when we talk about "texts" and "documents" in antiquity. Of course we all know that we do not have autographs and we know that there were no printing presses, but textual critics rightly remind the rest of us to behave like we actually know that that is the case. Too often, we lapse into treating our scholarly constructs as if they are the actual artefacts that they are only aspiring to be. At the very least, we need to keep reminding ourselves in discussions like this that we are not dealing with fixed points and known entities but with reconstructions and approximations.

(2) A Document's Evolution: there is a related issue here, that the more we become text-critically sensitive, the more we are inclined to reflect on the evolution of the documents we think we know. When we try to date Mark's Gospel, what are we dating? Something that approximates to our scholarly reconstructions of Mark 1.1-16.8 or something akin to what the vast majority of witnesses have, a Mark that goes on beyond 16.8? When we try to date John, are we imagining a version with or without the pericopae adulterae, with or without Chapter 21? When we date Thomas, are we dating textual antecedents to the Oxyrhynchus fragments, where where Coptic Thomas's Saying 77 is found with Saying 30, or constructs more akin to the Coptic, or both or neither? Even in our print culture, a document's history is often about a date range rather than a fixed point in time. When I refer to John Knox's Chapters in a Life of Paul, do I date it to its original influential edition in 1950 or the revised version of 1987, in which he reacts to his own critics of his earlier work? (And to make it still more complicated, we could insist too that even the 1950 edition featured revised versions of articles written in the 1930s). The point here is that sometimes our attempts to date documents precisely ignore what we know to be the case, that documents are not static entities even today, let alone in antiquity.

(3) Text and Tradition: There is a further related issue that often causes confusion. We sometimes speak as if a document is as early as the traditions it contains. Or, to put it in another way, we confuse tradition history with a document's dating. Thus a document first penned in the year 80CE might contain good traditions from the early 30s. One first penned in the 60s might be full of historically dubious legends. We should be careful to make sure that in attempting to date a document we are not simply dating the traditions contained in that document.

It is not my intention, though, just to talk about the difficulty of the task at hand, but rather to make sure that certain warnings are in place before embarking on the journey ahead. I want to make clear that where I do talk about dating documents, I am doing so in full knowledge that there are difficulties here, and that we speak in a shorthand that sometimes has to bypass complex issues to which we will have to return.

Biblical Studies Carnivals XXXII to XXXIV

On Metacatholic, my friend and former graduate student Doug Chaplin has done a superb job with the latest Biblical Studies Carnival:

Biblical Studies Carnival XXXIV

It is thorough, well-judged, well written -- a fantastic job. As I often seem to comment now, the burgeoning blogging world, and the impossibility of keeping up with everything, is making the carnival ever more useful and important. I must apologize, therefore, for failing to mention the two previous carnivals:

Biblical Studies Carnival XXII (Ancient Hebrew Poetry, John Hobbins; in three parts -- Part Two; Part Three)

Biblical Studies Carnival XXIII (Pisteuomen, Michael Halcomb)

The latter is a new blog to me, but difficult to read in my browser, with a kind of black text on dark grey background.

Journal for Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism latest

Another new article has been added to the Journal for Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism, Volume 5:

5.6: Hans Foerster, "The Celebration of the Baptism of Christ by the Basilideans and the Origin of Epiphany: Is the Seemingly Obvious Correct?" (PDF)