Saturday, 8 August 2020

Some Okay Reasons to Date the Gospels Prior to 70

Erik Manning recently wrote a blog post arguing for a pre-70 date for the canonical gospels. I wrote up some thoughts in a Facebook comment responding to a query about the post, and I thought I'd make those thoughts (and a couple others) available here.

1) Manning seems to refer to all dates for the gospels after 70 as "late." The implication is that pre-70 dates are "early." I don't think this is a particularly helpful typology. There is surely a significant difference between someone who dates Luke's Gospel c. 80 and someone who dates Luke's Gospel c. 120. I prefer to use a typology of "lower" (pre-70), "middle" (between 70 and 100), and "higher" (after 100), as this allows us to differentiate more fully between the majority position within scholarship (which is for the most part a "middle" chronology, on this typology) and the minorities who hold respectively to "lower" and a "higher" ones.

2) Manning's evaluation of post-70 dates is a bit of a straw man. He suggests that the only thing going for such dates is the denial of the supernatural. His reasoning goes like this: Jesus predicted the fate of the temple; scholars who "rule out" the supernatural deny that he could have done so pre-70; therefore such scholars conclude that the gospels must post-date 70. Moreover, he argues, this is the only reason to affirm a post-70 date for the canonical gospels. This is a straw man in at least two regards. First, while the canonical gospels' treatment of the temple's fate is probably the single strongest argument in favour of a post-70 date for each of the gospels, it is hardly the only one. Second, there are scholars who "rule out the supernatural" yet affirm that at least one canonical gospel predates 70. This is because one need not believe in the supernatural to believe that Jesus could have anticipated the destruction or desecration of the temple (both anticipations appear in the gospel tradition). It's entirely plausible that someone writing before 70, familiar with the various Jewish writings that talk about the destruction of the first temple and the desecration of the second under Antiochus IV, could think that perhaps one day the temple might be destroyed or desecrated. And I'd add moreover that a pre-70 date for one or more of the gospels does not require one to affirm that Jesus anticipated either the temple's destruction or desecration, merely that someone (whether Jesus, a tradent operating after Jesus, or the evangelists themselves) operating prior to 70 could have anticipated such. Cultural hand wringing about the supernatural is entirely a red herring.

3) Of the seven reasons given for a pre-70 date for the gospels, the majority actually speak to a pre-70 Acts. If indeed Acts is the sequel to Luke's Gospel, and if indeed Luke's Gospel used Mark's Gospel as a source, then a pre-70 Acts would establish a pre-70 Luke and Mark. It might under more controvertible conditions speak to a pre-70 Matthew or John.

4) Let us now consider Manning's seven reasons, enumerating them by Roman numerals.

i) Manning notes that Paul is still alive and well at the end of Acts. (He incorrectly states that Paul was under house arrest in Malta. The house arrest is actually and famously in Rome). Of the different explanations for the ending of Acts, I still think that the strongest argument is that Acts ends where it does because Paul was yet alive when the book was written. I find it exegetically baffling that a full quarter of Acts is devoted to the legal and other processes that result with Paul pending trial in Rome, only for the book to end without any report upon how his legal case turns out. As such, I find it easier to read the ending of Acts sometime between 62 (the likely year in which the house arrest in Rome ended) and before 68 (the latest likely year of Paul's death) than I can after 68. One should however note that other explanations remains viable: just because I think this explanation the strongest does not demonstrate that the others must be wrong.

ii and iii) Manning argues that we should expect Acts to mention Peter's death (likely between 64 and 68) or James (certainly in 62), and that since he doesn't the book must predate these events. I'm not persuaded that we should expect such death notices. Neither Peter nor James feature significantly in the second half of Acts (actually, James really doesn't play that significant a role in the book overall), so the fact that their deaths go unmentioned is hardly surprising. There's also a crucial matter of timing. As noted above, the latest event explicitly mentioned in Acts almost certainly dates to 62, the same year in which James died. As such, even on the earliest possible date for Acts, the author almost certainly knew of James' fate yet chose not to report it. Our knowledge of Peter's death is sufficiently murky that I'd really not want to place much weight on what the author of Acts might have been expected to know and when. That being said, since Manning is concerned actually with the date of the gospels and not of Acts, it is somewhat surprising that he fails to address the fact that John 21:18-19 might very well suppose the death of Peter as a past event (I'm actually not convinced that it does, but it is nonetheless far from impossible and thus must be addressed).

iv) Manning argues that Luke would surely have reported the Neronian persecution that broke out sometime c. 64 or 65 had he known of it. This is really a variant of 1: if the author knew that Nero began to persecute the church within a couple years of the end of Acts, then how likely would he have been to overlook this fact and pointed a rosy colour of Christian-imperial relations? And indeed, it is not unreasonable to think that the author could have anticipated that a reader might go "Okay, sure, things were fine at the end of Paul's two years in Rome, but how did we get from that to Nero persecuting the church just a couple years later?" That having been said, I cannot rule out that Luke knew of the persecution and had reasons now opaque for not mentioning it. Further, there has been some work of late trying to show that the Neronian persecution never happened. Admittedly I find this work less than persuasive, but intellectual integrity requires us to engage with the arguments and more to the point recognize that if they are affirmed then Manning's argument "iv" loses all weight. In any case, given such issues, I'd be wary to put much weight on the absence of reference to the Neronian persecution.

v) Manning argues that surely if the gospel writers were writing after 70 then they would have made clear that Jesus' predictions of the temple's fate indeed came true. It is indeed tantalizing that they don't make this clear. Nonetheless, insofar as this is articulated as an argument from silence, I'd be wary of affirming it. That being said, there are certain particularities in the way that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John discuss the fate of the temple that I think make greater sense before than after 70. Luke's treatment I think is equally intelligible both before and after; the matter of 70 has no bearing as to the date of the Lukan Gospel.

vi) This is probably Manning's weakest argument. Manning argues that such issues as Gentile inclusion and division between "Palestinian" and Hellenistic Jewish Christians holds little relevance after the destruction of 70. He adds as empirical support that "first century" writings such as 1 Clement, the Epistle of Polycarp, and Didache are not concerned with such matters. There are some insuperable problems here. First, there are chronological issues. 1 Clement could reasonably date as late as c. 100, or (less likely) into the second century; Polycarp is almost certainly writing in the second century (quite plausibly as late as c. 120, and some would argue--I think without adequate warrant, but nonetheless--into the 140s); and Didache could conceivably date as late as the early second century (I'd be inclined to date it earlier than that, but nonetheless I can't exclude a date in the second century). As such, even if we could demonstrate that Acts predates these texts, Acts could yet date potentially into the second century. Second, and more fundamental, I am far from convinced that the events of 70 would have obviated questions about the relationship between "Palestinian" and Hellenistic Jewish folk. There's good reason to think that there was still a "Palestinian" Jewish Christian community based in Jerusalem until 135, and after that we know of communities in the Galilee into at least the fourth century. That having been said, it is probably fair to say that Jewish-Gentile and intra-Jewish issues began to recede during the latter part of the first century, but I don't think that we know enough about the timing of this recession to support a pre-70 date for Acts. This brings us to the third and most fundamental issue with vi: as of this time we have neither the data nor the methods to establish the chronological development of Jewish-Gentile and intra-Jewish concerns among early Christians. Quite simply, arguments from these sorts of developments are among the weakest when it comes to establishing the dates of NT texts. This cuts both ways, though: for instance, older arguments that say that John's Gospel must date later than the other canonical gospels because its Christology is so "developed" simply do not hold up to empirical scrutiny.

vii) Manning argues that Paul quotes Luke's Gospel in 1 Timothy 5:18, and thus Luke's Gospel must predate Paul's death (and thus predates 70). This might well carry the day, but only after a lot more work. There are three issues, minimally. First, and most fundamentally, the overwhelming majority of New Testament scholars do not think that Paul wrote 1 Timothy. This near-consensus is not unassailable, but nonetheless intellectual integrity demands that it be confronted. Second, while it is true that 1 Timothy 5:18 quotes words found verbatim in Luke 10:7, it is also the case that almost exactly the same words are found in Matthew 10:10. There is but one word difference, and given that ancient writers often quote texts imprecisely such similarity with the Matthean variant makes it entirely plausible that 1 Timothy 5:18 is quoting Matthew's Gospel rather than Luke's. This brings us to the third issue: while I do think it most likely that the author is quoting Luke 10:7 and slightly less likely that he is quoting Matt. 10:10, I cannot rule out the possibility that the quote comes from a no-longer-extant text (the author refers explicitly to a "writing," which to me makes it unlikely that he's quoting oral tradition). Ultimately, I'd more inclined to use Matthew's Gospel and Luke's to establish the earliest possible date for 1 Timothy than to use 1 Timothy to establish the latest possible date for either of these gospels. That is to say, if indeed 1 Timothy 5:18 quotes either Matthew's Gospel or Luke's, then 1 Timothy must postdate the earliest of these.
 
Cumulatively, I think that Manning makes a reasonable but not unassailable case for dating Mark's Gospel, Luke's Gospel, and Acts prior to 70; he makes a weaker case when it comes to Matthew's and John's.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Handling with care

As many readers will no doubt be aware, the last couple days have been hard ones in the biblical studies world. Jan Joosten--Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford--has confessed to and been convicted in France of possessing child pornography. This has led to open discussions about how to address such matters. It's also reopened discussions around the legacy of Richard I. Pervo, who was convicted in 2001 of much the same crime as Joosten, and subsequently published several monographs and a commentary in a major series; had a Festschrift dedicated to him; and received a glowing obituary from the Society of Biblical Literature lauding his character and ignoring his conviction. Much attention has centred upon the legacy of these men, and how to handle their work in publications, teaching, and supervision. Here I would humbly like to give my own take.

As I do so, I want to make clear that I wholly understand the argument for never again citing the scholarship of a person credibly accused (or in the cases enumerated above, convicted) of such offenses, or assigning their work to students. Indeed, I am deeply sympathetic to such a practice as part of cultivating zero tolerance for abuse. I do not believe that we owe men who abuse or exploit the vulnerable anything, not least of all academic citation and recognition. That being said, I also recognize that there are practical issues. I'll illustrate this with my own situation. In 2018, Joosten co-authored a book entitled How Old is the Hebrew Bible? with Ronald Hendel. (Incidentally, Prof. Hendel has released a statement on Joosten's arrest). As someone working on a monograph on the compositional dates of the New Testament, I found this monograph very useful for thinking especially about methodological issues. Indeed, what Joosten and Hendel describe as a "cultural historical" method is very close to what I describe as "contextualization." As such, I duly cite their work in not only the manuscript of this upcoming monograph but also in a forthcoming article. It's probably too late to remove it from the forthcoming article, but not from the monograph. In so doing however, do I penalize Hendel for Joosten's crimes? In this case it's perhaps not a significant concern: Hendel is just as well-established a scholar as Joosten, and this will hardly hurt his career. But what if Hendel were a junior scholar fighting for recognition and employment in a tough jobs market? In such a case, would the potential injury outweigh the potential good?

Turning to Pervo, I find the issue to personally be more pressing. Pervo worked on Acts; I work on Acts. He (several years after being convicted) published a monograph entitled Dating Acts, focused upon when Acts was composed; I'm writing a monograph focused upon when the books of the New Testament were composed. Moreover, I hold to positions regarding Acts that are diametrically opposed to Pervo's own. Given his prominence within Acts scholarship, if I fail to cite his work in my forthcoming monograph, then it could easily lead to suspicion that I'm ignoring scholars with whom I disagree. That however is a relatively minor concern; I could easily respond to such suspicions by stating explicitly that I do not cite him because of his criminal history and frankly if that's not good enough for people than I'm not the problem (although, again, a graduate student or less-established scholar might not feel or really be as free to take such a stance, coming as it will be against more senior people in the field). My greater concern is teaching and supervising at the graduate level. Let's say someone works on a doctoral thesis with me, focusing upon Acts. Am I doing that person a disservice if I do not ensure that they know the work of a Acts scholar as prominent as Pervo? If they don't know the content of his Hermeneia commentary on Acts, are they at a disadvantage to others? Am I doing my job in a conscientious fashion if I fail to ensure that they do know that content?

I've not reached definitive answers with regard to much of the above. I find that the situation resists easy answers, because it is one of competing goods. That is to say, it is good for us to cultivate zero tolerance practice towards abuse and exploitation; it is also good for us to ensure that our students are familiar with the literature regularly cited in the field they're studying, and that remains the case even if we don't think that particular literature should be cited. I honestly don't know how to best realize both these goods, and certainly not in the particular case of Pervo.

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Robinson's Neronian Error

It's no secret that my nearly-completed monograph Rethinking the Dates of the New Testament aims to argue a renewed case for what I call a "lower" chronology for the composition of the New Testament texts. By "lower" chronology I mean simply to say that with the exception of the undisputed Pauline epistles I would date most of the New Testament texts approximately 25 years earlier than the majority of my colleagues. The best known advocate of such a chronology prior to myself is surely John A.T. Robinson, late Anglican bishop of Woolwich, whose Redating the New Testament argued that the entirety of the New Testament was written prior to 70 C.E. Legitimately, people might wonder about the relationship between my work and Bishop Robinson's. As such, in a series of posts, I intend to focus upon certain critiques that I myself would bring against Redating. In doing so however I want to emphasize that I do not think that these critiques mar the overall framework developed in Robinson. Indeed, I think that his chronology for the composition of the New Testament texts is probably closer to the mark than most alternatives. Nonetheless, insofar as excellence is not the same as perfection, critique is a legitimate way to improve even the best of things.

In this post I want to critique what I call Robinson's Neronian error. He advances this error in response to a more pervasive Domitianic error. We'll start with the latter. The Domitianic error seems to have receded in frequency among contemporary biblical scholars, although I don't think we can say that it has disappeared entirely. It consists of two limbs. The first is the affirmation that Christians suffered widespread persecution in the final years of Domitian's reign. The second limb is the supposition that virtually any unspecified reference to persecution found in the New Testament refers to this putative Domitianic persecution of the 90s. Example of this error in operation: Hebrews writes about persecution, therefore it was written in the 90s. Robinson rightly critiques this Domitianic error on two grounds. First, the empirical evidence for this persecution is limited largely to Domitian's order c. 95 that his cousin Flavius Clemens be executed and Clemens' wife Flavia Domitilla be banished. It is possible, although far from certain that Flavius Clemens, Flavia Domitilla, or perhaps both were Christians. While we cannot exclude the possibility of a persecution of Christians in the 90s, we would probably want more positive evidence than the execution of one imperial cousin who might have been a Christian and the banishment of his wife who might also have been a Christian. More crucial to us however is Robinson's again quite right objection to the second limb, namely that while many of these unspecified references to persecution found in the New Testament could be describing the experience of a putative persecution that occurred in the 90s, they could as easily be describing the experience of persecution at some other time.

But it's on his critique this second limb that Robinson gets himself into trouble. He moves in most cases almost immediately from correctly noting that these unspecified references to persecution need not be referring to events of the 90s to stating that they probably refer to events of the 60s, under Nero. In so doing, he virtually recapitulates the Domitianic error, except now as the Neronian error. This latter error has structurally identical limbs as the former. The first is the affirmation that Christians suffered widespread persecution in the final years of Nero's reign. The second limb is the supposition that virtually any unspecified reference to persecution found in the New Testament refers to this putative Neronian persecution of the 60s. Example of this error in operation: Hebrews writes about persecution, therefore it was written in the 60s. (Italics used to emphasize that only the emperor and the decade change for Robinson: the basic logic of his argument does not). Now, this Neronian error is arguably less egregious than the Domitianic error, in that the first limb is far stronger in the former than the latter. The evidence that in the final years of Nero's reign Christians suffered what they experienced as persecution is stronger (although not unassailable) than the evidence that Christians suffered likewise in the final years of Domitian's; indeed, both Tacitus and Suetonius report that this was the case. Where Robinson, again, gets into trouble is on the second limb of the error, for just as these unspecified references to persecution in the New Testament need not refer to events of Domitian's reign neither need they refer to events of Nero's. They could conceivably refer to persecution at virtually any point from the 30s onward, and indeed in some even many cases need not necessarily refer to a specific persecution at all. Just as they need not refer to a Domitianic persecution, they need not refer to a Neronian either.

There is no question that for the purposes of establishing the dates of the New Testament documents contemporary scholarship's Domitian has been too big. There is equally no question that Robinson's Nero is also too big. Both the Domitianic and the Neronian error must be abandoned. (So too the related but less prevalent Trajanic error, which sometimes seeks to correlate biblical texts with the limited but better documents actions taken by Pliny the Younger towards the end of Trajan's reign, specifically c. 112).

Monday, 25 May 2020

Is Religion Essential?

This blog has been on de facto hiatus for some time, for a combination of reasons. One is that I've been very much focused upon finishing my current book project, which tends to decrease the time that I spend blogging. Another is that my father has been sick since late last year, which has taken up significant time and energy. And the last of course is COVID. And it's on this that I want to post today.

Now, I'm not going to talk about the disease per se. I know next to nothing about virology and epidemiology, although apparently more than certain elected officials. I do know a thing or two about religion though, so and I want to talk about the idea that religious gatherings are not essential services. In doing so, I want to apologize for straying from this blog's focus upon biblical studies, but the context in which we are situated would seem to warrant this.

Most jurisdictions the world over have not defined religious gatherings as essential services for purposes of pandemic-related regulations. Some have seen this as an attack on religion. Strangely, the same persons seem to have little trouble with for instance Pride parades being prohibited by these seem regulations, although surely if prohibiting religious gatherings is an attack on religion than prohibiting LGBT gatherings is an attack on LGBT people. This observation is not made flippantly or as a superficial attack on hypocrisy (any attack on hypocrisy is of course analysis that has barely made it halfway to an insight). Rather, the failure to rigorously think through the consequences of one's virulent rhetoric is a sign that one is propagating not intellectual and reasonable argumentation but rather ideological drivel.

The drivel in this case has to do with a fundamental failure to distinguish between "essential" and "important." In the context of the pandemic, "essential" means simply "things that one cannot live without for any significant length of time." And the application of this to religious gatherings is not difficult. I can go a lot longer without going to church than I can without food, water, or life-saving medication. It does not however follow that religion is unimportant. It just means that given the fact that one can survive for an extended period of time without attending religious gatherings and the reality that large gatherings greatly facilitate the spread of the disease, it is a reasonable measure to temporarily restrict and even prohibit religious gatherings in the interest of saving lives.

Here we might introduce another word: "excellent." In Lonergan's understanding, that which is essential provides the foundation for that which is excellent; or alternatively, one might say that excellence is that which builds upon that which is essential in order to create a better world for all of us. For instance, higher education is excellent. It provides among other things the teaching and training necessary for people to treat illness and work towards finding a vaccine for COVID. It is not essential in the same sense that food and drink are essential. No student can succeed in higher education without food or drink. Anyone who has tried studying on an empty stomach can tell you that. Man may not live by food alone, but without food no man may live. One needs to meet basic needs in order to work towards more "advanced" needs. So, no, religion is not essential. It may however very well be excellent, and might I suggest that it shows its excellence precisely in realizing that its full practice must be curtailed for a season in the interest of saving lives.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

The Joy of Teaching the Apostolic Fathers

As someone who labours largely in canonical literature, it is nice to bring my head up now and again and teach other material. Right now in fact I'm teaching one of my dream courses: a graduate seminar on the Apostolic Fathers. We're working our way through the entirety of that corpus, and hopefully will also find time to touch upon Justin Martyr's First Apology and the Gospel of Thomas: works not typically reckoned among the Apostolic Fathers, but close enough temporally as to be of pedagogical relevance. As I teach this course, I am finding one unexpected benefit: the fact that none of my students consider these texts to be part of their biblical canon allows us to ask questions openly which some might find awkward when they are addressed towards canonical work.

Let us consider a concrete example. Last week we covered the Shepherd of Hermas. For those unfamiliar, you should go and read it; if you still haven't read it, then I'll give the relevant Coles' Notes here. The Shepherd centres around a series of visions by a Roman Christian named Hermas, active in perhaps the last quarter of the first century or the first half of the second. Students have noted that many of these visions are reminiscent of those in the Revelation of John. Now, if I asked students to explain what is going on with the visions recorded by John of Patmos, many would no doubt feel uncomfortable considering the possibility that they were the result of physiological or psychological realities, and perhaps even more they would feel uncomfortable considering the possibility that the visionary framework is entirely fictional. Much of that reticence disappears when they come to a non-canonical work, and students will much more openly consider possibilities with regard to the Shepherd of Hermas that they might find at first blasphemous with regard to the Revelation of John. That allows us to more openly consider such possibilities. And what that also means is that what when they do turn to canonical work they are all the better equipped to explore such possibilities there. Work with non-canonical texts often opens up a critical distance that many struggle to find when studying canonical texts. Because, after all, the aim of historical investigation is neither to "prove the bible wrong" nor to "prove it right," but rather to more modestly figure out what was happening a couple millennia ago so as to produce the materials available to us today.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Of Star Trek and Reality

When I was in high school, I stumbled upon a book called The Star Trek Chronology: A History of the Future. It was 1994; Star Trek: The Next Generation had just finished its seven-year run; Trek was in the air; and as someone greatly interested in history this book intrigued me. It probably would not take heavy psychoanalysis to plot a line from picking up that book in 1994 and beginning in 2007 the work that led to my soon-to-be-completed monograph, Rethinking the Dates of the New Testament.

Over the years, I lost track of my old copy of The Star Trek Chronology. I recently was at a used bookstore in my hometown, located just a couple blocks from the store where I bought the book in the first place, and seeing a copy picked it up. I would like to quote from the introduction. "We choose, in this volume, to treat Star Trek's invented universe as if it were both complete and internally consistent. In effect, we are pretending that the Star Trek saga has unfolded according to a master plan, and there is a logical, consistent timeline in those episodes, even though we (and you) know very well that this is not entirely true." It is a fascinating vanity, and one that (again perhaps not coincidentally) closely resembles my own general approach to history, which proceeds on the understanding that our data issue from a complete and internally consistent reality. The difference of course is that the authors of this book knew full that their "data" did not issue from such a world. There is no logical, consistent timeline, because there were no actual events.

But things are different with history. There is a consistent timeline (one wants to be less sanguine about supposing the existence of a "master plan"). There were actual events; they happened in space and time; and in principle (although not always in practice, due to the limitations of data) we can determine the relationship between these events. And as such "consistency" becomes a significant test, one which forces us to consider the degree to which insights drawn from careful attentive to the data of the past can be brought together into a coherent, consistent understanding of said past. This is in large part what Collingwood means by the historical imagination. Sometimes, as Collingwood notes, such an understanding leads us to recognize that this or that ancient source is mistaken, where intentionally or otherwise. For instance, I have no doubt that Philo encountered a group of Egyptian Jewish sectarians whom he described as the Therapeutae, and I have no doubt that they in many respects closely resembled the Essenes. I have no doubt on this matter because Philo tells me that this is the case, and on the one hand there is no reason to think that he is lying and on the other he is someone who I can reasonably expect to know about Judaism in Egypt. I also have no doubt that Eusebius read Philo's account; he says that he did, and he knows its details quite well. But I also have no doubt that he is entirely wrong when he concludes that these Therapeutae were in fact Christians. No doubt, as late Second Temple Jewish groups the Essenes, the Therapeutae, and the early Christians all bore a "family resemblance," such that descriptions of any one of these would resemble to some extent the other two; and I would argue that Eusebius, in his zeal to find any evidence for early Christians, mistook resemblance for identity. I make this judgment even though I actually cannot prove Eusebius to be wrong; it is possible that the Therapeutae were Christians; there is nothing that excludes the possibility; but I frankly find an error on Eusebius' part to be a more compelling explanation. The data permits a coherent, consistent understanding of the past, and that understanding I would argue entails the judgment that one of my authorities erred. This is possible because the data issues from a complete and internally consistent reality, even though the data themselves are incomplete and inconsistent.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

The Seduction of Artifice

There is a wonderful scene early in Agatha Christie's Lord Edgeware Dies where Lady Edgeware, upon learning that her husband has been murdered, throws herself into hysterical grief. Now, Hercule Poirot and Inspector Japp both immediately recognize that she's acting. Japp--who is already convinced that Lady Edgeware is the murderer--says "See, clearly she's guilty!" Poirot says, "No, I have interacted with Lady Edgeware before today. She is a professional actress. Her entire way of being in the world is to figure out what role others expect her to play at any given time, and playing it to the point of excess. Her grief is artificial, as I know that she hated her husband, but since everything that she does is artificial this tells us nothing about whether she committed the murder." (I am here paraphrasing: these are not direct quotes). There is, I think, an instructive lesson here for historians.

Very often I hear it said that this or that aspect of the gospels or of Acts is a "literary device" or "literary construct," and as such we can conclude that whatever event it describes never happened. When one makes such an argument one is thinking much more like poor Inspector Japp than like the astute M. Poirot. The nature of texts is such that everything in them is a literary construct; the mere observation of that fact is meaningless for the historian's purposes. What must be shown is that the aims behind this particular literary construction are such as to obviate its usefulness for those who want to reconstruct past events; that is to say, Japp must not merely suppose that Lady Edgeware's artificial grief is intended to hide her guilt but rather must show that this is the case. Now, in many cases one can show this. Returning to Dame Christie, her novels are all literary constructions, and one would be ill-advised in thinking that they describe events that actually happened. There was no Lord Edgeware who was murdered c. 1933; he had no American actress wife who flew into artificial hysterics at the news; a conceited Belgian detective did not solve the case. But we know this because we know that Christie aimed at fiction and not history; her literary constructs were all in service of that aim. By contrast, a true crime story might well use many of the same devices as she does to describe events that are well documented. (Think of such movies for instance as The Black Dahlia and Zodiac, and the point becomes evident). There is in all literature artifice; indeed, on one level all of literature is artifice; but the presence of literary artifice is not in and of itself an index of historical untruth.