Monday, 21 December 2015

The Timing of Gal. 2:1-10

This will surely come as a surprise to those who know me best: I've come to judge as correct a minority position with regard to the timing of the events described in Gal. 2:1-10. I am convinced that these occurred during Paul's second trip to Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 11/12, rather than his third, recorded in Acts 15. The following is my reasoning.

If Acts 15=Gal. 2:1-10 then we have to assume the following. First, that Luke omits a reference to the prophecy that took Paul to Jerusalem in the first place; second, that Luke introduces a trip to Jerusalem unknown from the Pauline literature. If Acts 11:27-30=Gal. 2:1-10 then suddenly we have Luke referring to a prophecy which takes Paul to Jerusalem and locating this during Paul's second journey. Moreover, if we look at what takes Paul to Jerusalem in Acts 15 it's a conflict in Antioch, focused upon Gentile inclusion in the new movement (cf. vv. 1-3): exactly the sort of conflict described in Gal. 2:11-14. Put quite simply, the data coheres better, and provides a ready anwer to the question: "Why does Paul in Galatians mention only two visits when Acts narrates more?" Simple: only two visits had occurred when Paul wrote Galatians. Frankly, as far as I can tell, the only reason to think that Acts 11:27-30 can't equal Gal. 2:1-10 is an argument from silence: Luke doesn't mention that Paul discusses such matters with the leaders in Jerusalem during his second visit. I don't think that's sufficient to overturn the coherence that occurs if we imagine Gal. 2:1-10 describing events that occurred during the second Lukan visit and 2:11-14 describing the struggle that leads to the Jerusalem council (alluded to in Acts 15:1-3). As such I would suggest that he wrote the Epistle to the Galatians in the period immediately running up to the Council of Acts 15.

It is perhaps a datum of some further interest that, according to Acts, immediately following the Council Paul went to what would be considered southern Galatia. I suspect that Paul had heard that the controversy with which he was struggling in Antioch had spread to the churches of that region, so before the Council he writes a letter and after he goes to check on them in person. If you consider that the controversy that took place in Antioch could have arisen in southern Galatia more or less simultaneously (i.e. it didn't have to necessarily start in Antioch and spread to southern Galatia) this hypothesis requires little more time than that which Paul would have needed to draft his letter. The time frame supposed by Acts 15:2 is sufficiently ambiguous to allow for such a relatively brief amount of time.

Getting more specific with regard to time, we need to remember that Luke is remarkably inexact with chronology and here even more so than usual. This means that we have to rely upon other sources to get a better sense of the absolute dates of these events. Luke has Paul and Barnabas being commissioned to go to Jerusalem before Agrippa's persecution of the church in, probably, 41. He then has Paul and Barnabas returning after Agrippa dies, in 44 (cf. 12:24-25; some variants read that they return "to" Jerusalem and some "from," and given the fact that they are next located in Antioch the latter seems to make better sense). That trip could have been anytime in that range, or potentially even some amount of time after Agrippa dies. Here is where Galatians very much helps us. If we suppose, as I think likely, that Jesus died in 30 and that, following Harnack, Jewett, and Riesner Paul was converted approximately eighteen months later, then Paul was converted in 31. If he went up to Jerusalem two to three years later (the "three years" of Gal. 1:18, reckoned inclusively), and a second time eleven to fourteen years after that (the "fourteen years" of Gal. 2:1, reckoned inclusively and dated either from the conversion or from the first visit), then the events of Gal. 2:1-10 take place thirteen to seventeen years after his conversion, i.e. sometime between 44 and 48. Given Paul's itinerary as described in Acts 16-17, and the fact that he spends eighteen months in Corinth before appearing before Gallio sometime between July 1 51 and June 30 52 (cf. the Gallio inscription), it seems to me that 48 remains the best date for the Council, although or year or two in either direction is possible. If we suppose 48, then permit perhaps 47 for the travels in southern Galatia before the Council, then we have the second visit in perhaps around 46. Again, though a year or two in either direction is altogether possible.

The above of course supposes a fairly high degree of confidence in the Pauline itineraries given in Acts 13-18. I can defend this supposition, which is not assumed arbitrarily but rather is the product of antecedent investigation. That, however, would be an altogether different blog post.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

The Date of the Disputed Paulines

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that all six of the disputed Paulines are indeed Pseudo-Pauline. There is often an unspoken supposition that they must then have been written subsequent to Paul's life. This does not in fact necessarily follow. There is no reason in principle that one or more Pseudo-Pauline texts might have circulated prior to Paul's passing. Indeed, there are hints within the undisputed Paulines that Pseudo-Pauline literature had begun to circulate during his lifetime: cf. 1 Cor. 16:1 and Gal. 6:11, in which Paul goes out of  his way to indicate that he is writing in his own hand; 2 Thess. 2:2 refers to letters sent "as if from Paul," thus suggesting an awareness of at least the possibility of spurious letters, whilst 2 Thess. 3:17 explicitly spells out that Paul's signature is a mark of authorship, and although the letter is disputed we should not be surprised if this reflects an contemporary or near-contemporary awareness that Paul had such concerns or engaged in such a practice. What this means is that merely establishing that a letter is Pseudo-Pauline does not establish Paul's death as a terminus post quem for its date of authorship. Of course, the opposite would the case: if it can be shown that the letter could not have originated prior to Paul's death then it must be reckoned as Pseudo-Pauline. Pseudo-Pauline origin is insufficient to establish a post-65ish date, but a post-65ish date is sufficient to establish Pseudo-Pauline origin.

So perhaps the thing to ask is whether any of what we are treating as Pseudo-Pauline texts clearly post-date Paul's life. Probably the main argument used to establish that certain of these texts must post-date Paul's life is what we might call the argument from ecclesiastical anachronism: i.e. the ecclesiastical structures evinced in some of these texts is more advanced than that which existed prior to c. 65. It ought to first be noted that this is really only relevant to 1 Timothy and Titus. And when I look at these texts I'm really not convinced that the argument holds. Yes, Paul talks at length about the qualifications of bishops and deacons in 1 Tim. 3, but Philippians 1:1 supposes an identical bipartite church structure. Yes, 3:2 refers to "the bishop," τὸν ἐπίσκοπον, but is a single definitive article really sufficient to establish that we are dealing with a monarchical bishop here? The author elsewhere talks about elders, even though he doesn't deal with their qualifications in chapter three, which leads me to suspect that we are dealing with the well-attested, early tendency to treat the offices of the bishop and elder as interchangeable. This perhaps receives some confirmation from the fact that Titus 1:5-9 talks about the qualifications of elder in a way markedly similar to the way in which 1 Tim. 3 talks about the qualifications of the bishop, and again this discussion does not seem to reflect an ecclesiastical structure more advanced that anything in the undisputed Paulines. As such I'm not entirely persuaded that the argument from ecclesiastical anachronism is empirically sound.

A stronger argument with specific respect to 1 Timothy comes from 5:18, which quotes as a γραφή a passage identical to one found in Luke (cf. 10:7), and only found in Luke. Given the tendency of early Christian writers to cite quotes inexactly from memory the fact that it is verbatim identical is really quite significant. Although one cannot rule out that we are dealing with an otherwise unknown text, including a hypothetical source for Luke's Gospel or a proto-Luke, by far the simplest and most compelling argument is that 1 Timothy is citing Luke's Gospel. Now, the fact that it is referenced as a γραφή does not tell us a great deal about the date of the text: we have no positive evidence telling us that Christian writers couldn't have begun referring to Luke's Gospel or any other writing as a γραφή soon after it was written. It just doesn't seem sufficient to establish a terminus post quem. The real issue comes with what one thinks about the date of Luke's Gospel. If one dates it to post-70 then one would most reasonably conclude that 1 Timothy also must post-date 70, and thus subsequent to Paul's life. If one follows the "early chronology" for Luke-Acts that would see Acts being written at around 63 or 64, and Luke's Gospel sometime before that, then a 1 Timothy written during Paul's life becomes a possibility. This is simply another reminder that questions about the dates of the New Testament are as a rule quite intertwined: a shift in the date of one text can have definite consequences for the date of another.

Frankly, I can't think of any real reason that any of the other Pseudo-Paulines must post-date c. 65. Thus I conclude that of the Pseudo-Paulines only 1 Timothy could not have been written during Paul's lifetime, and this only if Luke's Gospel is dated subsequent to Paul's life. Again, though, I must emphasize: these are not arguments for Pauline authorship. A pre-65 date or even just the possibility thereof is insufficient to establish Pauline authorship. And the statement "Could have been written during Paul's lifetime" is not identical to "Was written during Paul's lifetime." But we should be at least open to the possibility that one or more letters of the canonical Pauline corpus are precisely the sort of forgeries against which Paul perhaps was taking precautions by putting his signature on his letters.

Monday, 14 December 2015

On Authorial Intent

I wrote a brief post this morning on intent in Lonergan and Meyer, about which my friend Justin Schwartz (Ph.D. student at Regis College in Toronto, the Mecca of Lonergan studies) had kind words, suggesting that I place what I wrote here, in this venue. So, that's what I'm doing.

To quote myself, with a few modifications:
If intention is something located entirely in the writer's head then knowing an author's intention is very difficult if not impossible. Meyer's argument, derived from Lonergan, is that intention is not located entirely in the writer's head. If writing is ordinarily a communicative act then we can in principle determine what the writer intended to communicate. This is no different in principle from what we do when we read an email or talk to a friend: one communicates, the other seeks to understand what is being communicated. Now, of course, one must attend to the qualifier "in principle." There are all sort of things that can lead us to misconstrue the writer's intention. The writer might not have adequately communicated her or his intention. We might not have the requisite capacity for understanding the intention. But ultimately that is all that Meyer means by "intention": what the writer meant to communicate. He will give this "intended sense" primacy (his word), but that I think must be understood in a strictly temporal sense: i.e. reading for intention is the first thing for which a reader should aim, but not necessarily the final thing.
 Thus endeth what I wrote on FB. I will add the following.

Let us consider a thought experiment, in which you argue that intention, as defined above, is impossible to know. If that were the case you would not be able to know how intention is defined above. You would not even be able to know that I aimed to communicate about intention above. But if you cannot know how intention is defined above then you could not argue that intention, as defined above, is impossible to know. In short, the moment that you respond to my argument you implicitly concede the very thing against which you argue explicitly. On the supposition that no one would proceed in such a self-reversing fashion I presume that this thought experiment can remain entirely in the realm of hypothesis.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

The Date of Hebrews

I've been thinking about the date of Hebrews. Hebrews is a notoriously difficult text to work with for those of us interested in what Lonergan calls "basic history": "basic" in the sense of dealing with foundational matters, such as chronology. Out of the twenty-seven books of the NT it is the one text that does not have even a putative author, and the old saw (going back to Origen) that only God knows who wrote the letter is probably not far from the mark. We can however venture some guesses as to when it was written.

There are, I think, four crucial data when thinking about this matter: the apparent references to Hebrews in 1 Clement (notably ch. 36, but upwards of fifty references have been identified at different times by different scholars); Heb. 13:23; the traditional title, "To the Hebrews"; and Heb. 10:2. I have organized the material in this order, as it allows us to consistently narrow down the likely range for the epistle's date.

The Clementine references to Hebrews as well as Hebrews 13:23 together point to a probable date before c. 90ish. 1 Clement is typically dated to the mid-90s, although there have been arguments that would place it around 70 (the strongest argument for which is probably 40-41, which could be read as indicating that the Jerusalem temple is yet standing); for our purposes we can go with the majority date on this matter. Certainly, if there is anything to the traditional attribution to Clement of Rome, 1 Clement can't be much if at all later than c. 100, when Lightfoot dated the end of Clement's bishopric (allowing that, whatever it meant to be "bishop" in that era was probably unlike what the term later came to indicate, this probably does give us a good sense of when Clement flourished). Hebrews 13:23 also points to a similar terminus ante quem: if the Timothy referenced in this passage is the only other Timothy known from the first Christian century, and there's frankly neither good reason to think otherwise nor good reason to multiply entities here, then it is difficult to imagine that a man active in Christian ministry by probably the late-40s and certainly by the 50s (cf. Acts and the Pauline epistles) would still be flourishing much later than the 90s. Both together suggest a probable maximal limit for Hebrews at the 90s. As for terminus post quem, the reference to Timothy gives us perhaps a lower window of c. 50, as we have no clear evidence of his activity as a Christian leader prior to the Jerusalem council, although a date in the 40s probably couldn't be ruled out. Tentatively though we can suggest that Hebrews was most likely written between 50 and 90 of our era.

The traditional title, Πρὸς Έβραίους (Pros Hebraious), tentatively points us towards a date in the lower half of the 50-90 frame. Now, of course, the title might very likely not be original to the epistle, although it is not clear that it is secondary. There is, to the best of my knowledge, no positive evidence that the letter ever circulated absent this phrase at the beginning. At the very least, if it is secondary, it entered the textual tradition very early, and it cannot be assumed that such addition was made in complete ignorance of the historical situation of the letter. As such we can tentatively treat the title as evidence for the situation in which the text originated. When doing so it is worth noting that we know of a group of Christians called the Hebraioi (the plural nominative of Hebraios, whilst Hebraious is the plural accusative of the same word): according to Acts, it was one of the sub-groups of the Jerusalem church. Now, the Jerusalem church appears to have dissolved in the 60s, perhaps around the beginning of the Jewish War, and although there is evidence that it was reconstituted in Pella and then in Jerusalem after the revolt there is no real evidence that there was ever again a group within the church that went by the name Hebraioi. Thus, again tentatively (note the repeated italics), I suggest that the epistle was written to this group before its dissolution in the 60s.

On its own the argument from the traditional title is not particularly strong, however. The exact relationship of the letter to the title is too unclear, and even if granted as evidence for the question of date we cannot with a high degree of confidence rule out that the Hebraious of the title do not have a referent other than the Hebraioi of Acts. It is really more suggestive than anything. Heb. 10:2 however likewise points to a pre-70 situation. More than one scholar has argued that the reasoning of Hebrews regarding the temple makes more sense before rather than after 70. If Hebrews' argument is to show that the temple establishment is obsolete then what better way to urge this point than to observe that it no longer operates? This is exactly what the Epistle of Barnabas, a clear post-70 text, will do. I think that in and of itself this argument has some weight, but is not decisive: it turns too much on what we think the author would have done under certain circumstances. 10:2 however is different. It reads, in the NRSV, as follows: "Otherwise, would they [i.e. the temple sacrifices] not have ceased being offered, since the worshipers, cleansed once for all, would no longer have any consciousness of sin?" One could I suppose argue that Hebrews means something like "would they not have ceased being offered before Jesus came?", but that seems only necessary if we assume a post-70 date. The far more straight-forward reading is that there is an unspoken minor, which makes the logic of the passage proceed as follows: If the sacrifices could cleanse once and for all they would have ceased; they have not ceased; therefore they do not cleanse once and for all. Indeed, writing after 70 the author would have faced the possible rejoinder that they have in fact ceased; that he (possibly she) evinces no concern for this rejoinder seems to make more sense pre-70.

Could Hebrews have been written between 70 and 90? Yes, no question, that remains a viable possibility; nothing definitively rules it out. On the balance of the evidence something between 50 and 70, and perhaps not too close to 70 due to the dissolution of the Jerusalem church early in the Jewish War, seems to make more sense. As for who wrote this letter, I wouldn't even hazard a guess, although we might be able to say a bit more about its situation. I would probably rule out a Roman origin, as the reference in 13:24 to "those from Italy" sending greetings seems to suggest that the writer is not writing in Italy: if she or he is with people who came from Italy then she or he is probably not in Italy. I would suggest that the writer is someone who is at least familiar to or with Pauline circles, due to his companionship with Timothy (cf. again 13:23). Someone not in Rome at the time of composition, active c. 60, and with Pauline connections: that leaves virtually all the usual suspects and even some unusual ones (such as Apollos, Barnabas, Clement himself, Luke, Priscilla, Aquila, Silas) still in play, without any clear way to adjudicate between them, and as such any more precise statement than that and we're probably going beyond what the evidence will allow us to say. We might add that of these Barnabas, Silas, and Luke have known connections with both the Jerusalem church and with Timothy, thus perhaps shifting the balance of probabilities towards such figures (if indeed the author was someone that we know about from broader tradition, which cannot be taken as a given), but truthfully any effort to be too exact is going to be problematic.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Why are there Petrine writings?

At SBL this weekend I picked the excellent 2015 volume from Eerdmans, Peter in Early Christianity, edited by the incomparable Helen Bond and Larry Hurtado. There is in this book a quite interesting contribution from Matthew Novenson, entitled "Why are there some Petrine epistles rather than none?" In it Novenson operates from two suppositions: 1) the four known Petrine epistles (1 and 2 Peter, the Letter of Peter to Philip, and the Kerygmata Petrou) are pseudepigraphic, and 2) pseudepigraphical epistles are quite rare, compared to pseudepigraphical gospels and apocalypses. These two suppositions lead him to ask, Why did this relatively rare corpus of pseudepigraphical originate? His answer is that someone wrote 1 Peter in the name of the apostle, and then the authors of our other three epistles followed that person's lead. Although quite possible, this seems to some extent to leave the question unanswered, as it does not clearly explain why 1 Peter was written in the first place. At the end of the chapter we still do not know why there are some rather than none.

Perhaps Novenson makes it too hard on himself. If he were to judge that 1 Peter was actually written by Peter, allowing for the fact that the realities of ancient authorship do not require the apostle to have actually penned the words in the letter (thus removing considerations such as his levels of literacy and education), then in fact Novenson has a ready-made answer: Peter wrote an epistle and this inspired a tradition of emulators. Why are there some Petrine epistles rather than none? Because Peter wrote at least one epistle. All that would then be left to do is the mundane historical work of defining the situation that led Peter to pen 1 Peter.

So, then, let us consider: what are Novenson's arguments that Peter did not write 1 Peter, and do they actually warrant that judgment? It turns out that the arguments are only derivatively against Petrine origin, and more precisely against a pre-70 date. This is itself a debatable move, for if one is quite prepared to dispense with the traditions that connect Peter with 1 Peter then can one be quite so confident in the traditions that indicate that Peter died before 70? Surely both must be up for debate, and if so then it is not self-evident that a post-70 date would exclude Petrine authorship. But, given my vaguely neurotic obsession with the dates of the New Testament texts, I find myself focusing upon the argument for a post-70 date for 1 Peter, and find myself less-than-entirely persuaded by the arguments advanced in the chapter in order to establish the case. (In what follows I will quote from Novenson, then offer my rejoinder).

1)     “[T]he use of the name of Babylon for Rome.” The initial, negative rejoinder to be made is that this is entirely an argument from silence and thus of limited probative value; after all, we do not have positive evidence that Rome was not referred to as Babylon before 70. The argument risks further begging the question: the judgment can only be sustained if we have antecedently judged 1 Peter to have been written post-70, because otherwise it would constitute positive evidence of such usage pre-70; yet that is exactly the question at hand. Positively, we might well have evidence of such usage pre-70, as there is a respectable minority in the New Testament guild that dates Revelation to before 70. This is a reminder of John A.T. Robinson’s insight that one cannot consider the dates of the NT (and other first-century Christian) texts in isolation from but rather in relation to one another: one’s judgment on the matter of Revelation’s date will potentially impact one’s judgment regarding that of 1 Peter, for if Revelation is written in the late-60s then one could hardly rule out that Peter, who died just a few years earlier on general consensus, was unfamiliar with the term. Further, both 1 Peter and Revelation seem to assume that the readers are familiar with the usage, such that even if we date Revelation to the 90s we have not evidence that the term was in use no earlier than that point but rather no later. Considering all the above we simply do not have a terminus post quem for the usage, and thus to use it to establish such a terminus is a debatable move.

2)     “[T]he use of the name Christians for the recipients.” Again, the supposition is that “Christian” only emerged post-70, and again, this is entirely an argument from silence that risks begging the question. It is again empirically questionable, as the Acts of the Apostles tells us that the movement was already called “Christians” quite early, situating the story to which Luke connects the origin of the name no later than the end of the 30s. Again, other judgments about dating become relevant: if, as Harnack came to hold at the end of his life and a minority camp has always argued, Acts was written around 63 or 64 then we have evidence that this term was used to describe members of the movement before 70. Likewise, given that most scholars would date the Acts to the 80s and 90s, and that it seems to suppose that the usage is already known to the readers, it seems to provide no terminus post quem and is thus non-probative in this instance.

3)     “[T]he presence of established churches throughout Asia Minor.” I must admit that I find this to be a somewhat surprising argument, as it must dispense with a wealth of evidence, such as the core of the Acts narrative (which has Paul founding churches throughout Asia Minor in the 40s and 50s) and Pauline or pseudo-Pauline texts such as Galatians (written to the churches of Galatia), Colossians (which not only is addressed to Colossae but also mentions churches in Laodicea and Hierapolis, all of which are Asian cities) and 1 Timothy (which has Timothy in Ephesus). Granted outstanding questions regarding the accuracy of the Acts narrative and the Pauline authorship of certain of these particular texts there nonetheless seems a clear Christian memory that no later than c. 50 there were Christians in Asia Minor, and their extent throughout the region is far from clear. Certainly the evidence does not readily support the negative judgment that there not churches throughout Asia Minor, and indeed unless one wants to call into question the authenticity of Galatians or the date of Paul’s death (roughly coeval with that of Peter, on the consensus date, which, without further argument, we ought to suppose that Novenson assumes given his subscription to the closely-related consensus date of Peter’s death) then we know that there were churches in at least Galatia (one of the locales mentioned in 1 Peter 1:1) during Peter’s lifetime. An argument from silence in which there is no silence at all should probably be judged to be a less-than-compelling position.

4)     “Among other reasons.” Remaining uncited and thus inaccessible to critique such reasons do not exist in Novenson’s argument. We can thus dispense with them.

The point of the above is not to argue that 1 Peter is pre-70 or that it was written by Peter; such positions would require a great deal more work than this. The argument is that the supposition that 1 Peter is pseudepigraphical requires more than showing it to be post-70 (as one must also show that Peter died pre-70 for that to serve as an argument in relation to Petrine authorship), and the judgment that the text is post-70 requires more work than is frequently undertaken in contemporary scholarship. Too often we simply assume that we know which NT texts are genuine and which are not: Romans and the other six undisputed are immune from arguments for inauthenticity; Colossians, Ephesians, and 2 Thessalonians remain always a coin flip (and thus are usually treated functionally as pseudepigraphical, lest one be vulnerable to the objection “I just don’t think Paul wrote that”); the Pastoral Paulines are immune from arguments for authenticity; and the Catholic epistles tend to be treated functionally as pseudepigraphy. Yet most of these judgments were reached over a century ago, and we’ve learned a great deal more about the ancient world since then. We need to be able to render good accounts of why we still affirm these judgments, or else perhaps we don’t actually know what we think that we know.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Is Timothy Titus?

Recently I stumbled upon Richard Fellows' argument that Timothy and Titus are the same person. I have to admit, the suggestion is very tantalizing. It does help to account for the complete and marked absence of Titus from the Acts narrative. Linguistically it seems unobjectionable: there seems no compelling reason that "Titus" couldn't be a diminutive for "Timothy." After some time thinking through possible objections I have become convinced that there is only one that really has much weight, sufficient so as to cause me some reluctance to adopt this hypothesis. Let us consider the various objections and why certain of these are perhaps not as strong as they might at first seem.

The Post-Conciliar Sequence: The problem is that according to Gal. 2:1 Titus accompanies Paul to Jerusalem for the council, whereas according to Acts 16:1 Paul meets up with Timothy in Lystra some time after the council. First, the sequence is only a problem if Gal. 2:1-10 is to be equated with the trip of Acts 15. Since I'm inclined to identity Gal. 2:1-10 with the trip of Acts 11/12 (and Gal. 2:11ff. with the lead-up to the trip of Acts 15) it doesn't particularly bother me. Second, and Fellows's argument turns on this observation, Paul does not go immediately to Lystra after the council, but rather to Antioch, where he spends an unspecified amount of time. Thus, if we grant that Acts 15=Gal. 2:1-10 then we still potentially have time for Timothy/Titus to move on to the Lystra region ahead of Paul, and if we (as I am inclined to do) think that these meetings actually took place perhaps three or so years apart then there is no problem at all.

Paul's reference to both Titus and Timothy in the same letter: the supposed difficulty here is that Paul would not likely alternate between different names for the same person in the same letter. Just from my own writing and speaking habits I'm not sure if that holds. I will often alternate in a single discourse between names for the same person, especially nicknames. Fellows observes that this is likewise not unknown in ancient literature, and that moreover Paul will alternate between Peter and Cephas in Galatians, in fact in the span of a single sentence (cf. 2:7-9). As such this probably constitutes no objection at all.

The reference to Titus in 2 Timothy 4:10: this is, by my estimation, the only solid objection to Fellows's position. His argument is that 1) it's pseudo-Pauline, and 2) that the pseudo-Pauline writer is either a) referring to a different Titus or b) makes a mistake in distinguishing Timothy from Titus. #1 does indeed keep with the consensus view on the matter of authorship, so we'll grant #1 for the sake of argument. I'm not so sure about #2, however. Really, the only reason to suspect that the author of 2 Timothy has anyone other than the Titus otherwise known in the data or that the author is making a mistake by separating the two figures seems to be Fellows's own hypothesis. In other words, at what point is Fellows simply begging the question? What 4:10 tells us is that among the earliest known reception of the Pauline legacy Timothy and Titus were known to be separate persons (and this becomes all the more significant if one adopts the very minority position that Paul wrote 2 Timothy). Absent an otherwise compelling empirical case that the two figures must be the same person it seems to me that this very early witness to the non-identity of Timothy and Titus leaves Fellows's argument in somewhat tenuous condition.

As with many things in the study of the first Christian decades there is no knock-down argument in either direction. The problem is that, whilst tantalizing and perhaps solving certain problems, the Timothy=Titus hypothesis would seem to create a new, previously non-existent, problem, which frankly might be more difficult to resolve than the problems that the hypothesis aimed to resolve in the first place. As such, at this point, until I see something that would compel me to change my mind, I find myself placing it in the "Possible, but not probable," category.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Marcion and Acts

I've been reading Joseph Tyson's Marcion and Luke-Acts. It's one of those books that I've read pieces of, but never read straight through. I have some thoughts about the book and decided to put them in a blog, primarily because I know Marcion and Luke-Acts has some influence among non-academic readers. And it's understandable: Tyson articulately presents a case for an extremely late dating of Acts. In fact, it's probably the best case that I've seen. In the end I think that it fails, but that does not change the fact that he's made a contribution, as scholars should always be engaging with the best version of positions with which they disagree. Tyson has provided me with such a version in the case of a mid-2nd century Acts.

For those who are not familiar with the work Tyson argues that Luke-Acts is a response to Marcion (with some nuance: a proto-Luke existed prior to Marcion and was used by those who produced Luke-Acts, whilst Acts was a novel creation that probably depended upon a number of sources). Tyson argues that this renders the specific content of our Luke and even more so Acts more intelligible than any other context. The question in response is thus: is our Luke-Acts actually more intelligible in the context of Marcion?

Tyson's thesis turns to a large extent upon the supposition that Peter and Paul were much further apart than Acts suggests. Acts, Tyson argues, is responding to Marcion by showing that the Jewish Christianity exemplified by Peter and the Gentile Christianity exemplified by Paul were not separated, as in reality, by a wide chasm, but rather were more or less allied. This leads me to ask: were Peter and Paul as divided from each other as Tyson supposes? The idea that Acts is attempting to retrospectively bridge the wide chasm between these leaders becomes difficult to sustain if in fact there was no such wide chasm in the first place.

As best I can tell the main text that Tyson takes as evidence for their relationship is Galatians 2. Let's begin with v. 14, wherein Paul tells us that he asks of Peter: "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?" This is simply astonishing in the face of hypotheses that would say that Peter was strictly Law-observant, in stark contrast to Paul. Paul is explicitly telling us that Peter lived as a Gentile. Peter and Paul thus begin to look a lot alike: both Jewish, both Christian, both interacting with and operating to some extent as Gentiles. Peter's positive interactions with Gentile Christians are borne out elsewhere in the Pauline letters, notably 1 Corinthians, which indicates that at the very least Peter was an influential figure in the primarily if not exclusively Gentile church at Corinth. The picture that emerges of Peter in the Pauline letters is someone who like Paul interacts with Gentile Christians, assimilating himself to their conduct even to the point that he can be described by Paul as living like a Gentile. There is thus Pauline precedent for presenting Peter and Paul as similar in many regards.

If we read earlier in Galatians 2 we also see Peter and Paul (as well as James and John) reaching theological concord over the specific matter of the relationship between the Jewish and Gentile missions. Such concord is exactly what Tyson thinks makes Acts so clearly a product of the mid-second century. One wonders however: if Paul, a contemporary, was aware that he reached concord with the Jerusalem leadership, Peter included, why must the text date to the better part of a century after those events? Paul's awareness of such concord suggests that this theme did not originate in a post-Marcionite imagination concerned to bring the apostle into closer relationship with Peter; rather, it originated at the very latest with Paul's own writing of Galatians 2.

Once Tyson's central argument begins to waver further problems begin to come into view. For instance, there is Acts' treatment of Mark, which seems to me utterly unintelligible on the Marcion hypothesis. Consider, Mark is first introduced in relation to Peter, when the latter goes to the house of the former's mother (cf. 12:12). Then we see him go off on a missionary journey with Paul and Barnabas (cf. 12:25). So far so good for Tyson: we can easily read this as an attempt to show that the same figures were involved in both the Pauline and Petrine operations, and thus show them to have been more closely related than they actually were (but only, of course, if Mark's association with both figures can be reasonably judged to be a fiction, preferably one created by the author of Acts). Yet what follows seems to undercut such a purpose, for Paul and Mark suffer a breakdown in their relationship after the latter departs from Paul and Barnabas in Pamphylia (13:13). The author makes clear that Paul still holds a grudge some time later (cf. 15:36-4), and this grudge in fact leads to a breakdown in Paul's relationship with Barnabas. Neither Paul's relationship with either Mark or Barnabas (also associated early on in the text with the early Jerusalem community of which Peter is a leader; cf. Acts 4:36) is ever healed. Notably, the ultimately unhealed (at least in Acts) breach between Paul and Barnabas, which is explicitly over Paul's refusal to reconcile with Mark, comes about in the context of the Jerusalem council, or more specifically its aftermath: precisely the place in Acts wherein, on Tyson's hypothesis, one should expect an emphasis upon the harmony between Paul on the one hand and Barnabas and Mark, associates of Peter, on the other. That, however, is precisely the opposite of what one finds.

Overall, if Acts is indeed trying to maximize the concord between Paul and Peter and their respective camps well beyond that which is attested in contemporary texts then it is doing a fairly poor job thereof. The concord seems not that much greater than what we find in Gal. 2, and his characterization of Mark is really quite baffling on this hypothesis. Now, that being said, there seems little question that the author of Acts wants to show that the apostles found effective mechanisms for maintaining unity (although never homogeneity) across the early decades of the movement. Yet it still seems unclear to me why we need run off to Marcion in order to find a context wherein such a concern makes sense. We know that conflicts recurred throughout the church in the intervening century or so between the Jerusalem council and Marcion's flourishing. The church during this period was often thinking about how to resolve such conflicts. This is evident in the Apostolic Fathers, perhaps most notably 1 Clement. I see no reason that Acts' demonstrable concern with unity is not explicable in the ongoing ecclesiastical concern to maintain unity in the face of division.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Dating 2 Peter

A recent blog post by Daniel Gullotta has inflamed my neurotic obsession with the dates of the New Testament texts. I recognize fully that this fixation on the tedious and the trivial is not healthy, and that I should be judged and probably medicated, but in lieu of that I will work out my compulsion in writing.

Gullotta's post is not directly about dating the NT texts, but he does address the dates of 2 Peter and Matthew in passing. He argues that since 2 Peter 1:17 quotes Matt. 17:5, and since Matthew reports the destruction of the temple, both must be post-70; from this he further infers that Peter thus could not written 2 Peter, but I'm not particularly interested in that question, but rather in the claim that both must be post-70. So, first, the obvious: if indeed 2 Peter 1:17 is quoting Matt. 17:5 and this from the final text of Matthew then it would follow that the production of Matthew's Gospel is a terminus post quem for the production of 2 Peter. The discussion thus turns on two initial questions. Does 2 Peter quote Matthew? Could Matthew be pre-70? Gullotta says "Yes" to the first question and "No" to the second, thus requiring him to date 2 Peter to the post-70 era. With regards to the first question I'm not actually convinced that 2 Peter 1:17 does quote Matt. 17:5: it might, it might not. But let's run with the supposition that it does and see what results. With regard to the second question, it ought to be observed that a sizable number of reputable and hardly fundamentalist scholars have argued that the Matthean (and also Lukan) reference to the destruction of the temple does not necessitate a post-70 date. As such a "Yes" to both initial questions are live possibilities, at least sufficiently live to allow us to explore as a thought experiment what would follow if 2 Peter 1:17 does indeed quote Matt. 17:5 *and* Matthew could be pre-70.

Now, let me emphasize the above: this is merely a thought experiment, nothing more. I am not arguing what I think to be the case with 2 Peter, in large part because I have yet to formulate clearly my own thoughts on the date of 2 Peter. However, I am reminded of John Robinson's observation, at the beginning of his Redating the New Testament, that when it comes to the dates of the NT corpus everything is intricately interconnected. The judgments one makes with regards to one text or set of questions will have implications for the judgments one makes with regards to other texts and questions. And that leads me to think about the Synoptic Tradition more broadly, asking two further questions. One, is Luke-Acts pre-70, as a reputable minority would infer from the ending of Acts? Two, did Luke know and use Matthew, as an increasing number of scholars would hold? If one answered "Yes" to the two prior questions and now "Yes" to these, then Matthew must be pre-70 and 2 Peter potentially but not necessarily pre-70. In fact, in such a situation, Matthew cannot be much later than 60 (the argument for a pre-70 Acts is, in its fullest form, that the text was written not long after the last event mentioned, namely Paul's two years of house-captivity in Rome, which probably ended c. 62, and certainly no later than his subsequent death; this would probably put Luke not much later than c. 60, and Matthew earlier still). Note that this wouldn't settle the issue of pseudepigraphy, as 2 Peter could still be post-70 or pre-70 but not Petrine. It would however open up the chronological (and only the chronological) possibility of Petrine authorship. We would now require a fifth question: is there adequate warrant, independent of the relationship to Matthew's Gospel, for thinking 2 Peter to be Petrine? If one answered "Yes" then one would have to conclude that it is Petrine, whereas "No" would lead one to conclude the opposite. Note that this question should be asked anyways, and if the answer is "Yes" whereas any of the previous answers were "No" it might require one to revisit those answers (that is, if one has compelling reason to think that 2 Peter is Petrine and yet one judged both that it quotes Matthew and that Matthew is post-70 one will need to revise one or both of those latter judgments, as all three cannot be true at the same time).

Again, the above is purely a thought experiment. It is offered to demonstrate how the judgment that 2 Peter quotes Matthew does not obviate the possibility of Petrine authorship (as, incidentally, neither does the fact that 2 Peter obviously stands in some sort of close source-critical relationship with Jude, even though you will hear it argued that somehow this militates against Petrine authorship). Part of the difficulty with these sort of discussions is a tendency to make observations without fully thinking through their significance. Does a Matthean quotation actually necessitate a post-70 date? If not is a post-70 date more probable than a pre-70 date? On what grounds? Under what conditions would a pre-70 date be more reasonable (one was suggested above: if the text can be shown to be most reasonably judged as Petrine then a pre-70 date should follow)? Similar issues occur when it is argued, for instance, that the reference to Paul's writings in 2 Peter 3:15-16 necessitate a date in the late first or early second centuries. Why is that the case, though? Paul's earliest letters probably date not much later than c. 50, perhaps even earlier (depending upon what one does with Galatians). Is the difficulty that 3:16 refers to Paul's letters as "scriptures"? How do we actually know that someone could not refer to Paul's letters as γραφὰς (which at this time should probably bear the more neutral term "writings") in, say, 65? Perhaps it is the case that such a reference is impossible before 70, and perhaps it is not the case. It needs to actually be demonstrated, not simply assumed.

Jacob Neusner has a dictum: what we cannot show we cannot know. In other words, one must be able to show why one's conclusion is the most probable, and that means explaining why the data that one cites actually support the conclusion that one reaches. Too often the work of showing is simply over-looked in the rush to judgment.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Historiography and Inference

When my maternal grandfather was approaching 65 he assembled his paperwork in order to claim his pension. As he did so he was surprised to discover that after a lifetime of writing out Dec. 6, 1910, as his birth date that in fact his birth certificate said that he was born on Dec. 6, 1911, a full twelve months later. This was problematic as his health was in serious decline and he really needed to get that pension. For the historian it presents an interesting question: how do we explain the discrepancy between what a man believes to have been his date of birth and the date listed on his birth certificate.

Now, the first thing to do is to ask how my grandfather came to know that his date of birth was Dec. 6, 1910. The answer is: probably the same as most of us know our birth date. Our family members who can remember when we were born tell us that was the date. In short, it is based upon what we might call oral tradition. In the case of my grandfather there was the interesting situation that his eldest sister was still alive when the discrepancy was discovered, and she was old enough not only to remember but to have actually assisted in his birth. This was the early 20th-century in rural Canada after all: he was born at home, not in a hospital. Aunt Dorcas was quite certain that, yes, Grandpa had been born in 1910, not 1911.

So what we are really dealing with at this point is a discrepancy between oral tradition and written records. Now, there is a tendency I think for many historians to favour records over oral tradition, but in this case we run in to trouble if we do, and this because of another datum, namely that my grandfather's younger brother was born early in 1912. If my grandfather had been born in December, 1911, my great-grandmother would have given birth to him whilst several months pregnant with another child, a biological improbable scenario. Quite simply, if his brother was born early in 1912 then my grandfather could not have been born in December, 1911.

The balance of the data suggests that in this case the written record is probably mistaken and the oral tradition probably correct. Yet the historian, at least any worth the name, will not stop there. In fact, this is where historiography really gets going, because the question now to be asked is "Why did this error arise?" Recall that I said this was rural Canada in the early 20th-century, a land before cars and telecommunications. Recall that I also said that he was born at home. Recall that he was born in December, which a century ago would have been the dead of winter in the region where he was born. So his family would have had to physically go into the county clerk's office to get him registered, and this without car and in the dead of winter. Under these conditions it is quite probable that the birth was not officially registered until several months after he was born, quite likely in the New Year. This would have been quite standard practice a century ago. Thus I infer that what simply happened was that when they went to get the birth registered whomever filled out the paperwork at the clerk's office had gotten to used to writing "1911" for the year and simply made a typographical mistake. This seems by far the easiest way to account for the totality of the data.

The interesting thing to note is that whilst this is the easiest way to account for the data I actually do not have a source that tells me that this was the result of a typographical error made by someone who was used to writing 1911 rather than 1910. And that's okay, because history is not the enterprise of adjudicating which sources are true and which are in error, even though (as in this case) one might recognize demonstrable error in the sources. Rather, history is the enterprise of explaining why the extant data relevant to a certain event (in this case, the birth of my grandfather and the registration of that birth) takes the form that it does and only that form. Sometimes the best explanation might actually appear in our sources, and if so that is a happy evidentiary boost, but very often we have to infer it using our imagination. The trick is to develop an imagination disciplined by reason and informed by data.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Narrative and Chronology

I was just rereading Marc Bloch's The Historian's Craft. Now, anyone who knows anything about 20th-century historiography will know that Marc Bloch is hardly would could be a conservative or traditionalist historian. He was one of the foundational figures of the Annales School of historians, who have been working for four generations to establish history as a department of the social sciences rather than a department of the humanities. He had little time for traditional, "political," history. Yet, interestingly enough, in his book most fully focused upon historical method we come across the following statement.
Now, the narrative sources--to use a baroque but hallowed phrase--that is, the accounts which are consciously intended to inform their readers, still continue to provide valuable assistance to the scholar. Among their other advantages, they are ordinarily the only ones which furnish a chronological framework, however inconsistent.
As I read this I cannot help but be reminded of Rainer Riesner's observation that no historian of Paul's life or the course of the first Christian decades has ever been able to dispense entirely with the framework found in Acts. And with good reason. Try to construct a history of the church in those decades absent Acts. Or the gospels for that matter. Without these narrative sources we'd have practically no idea when to situate the epistles. It is only because we read in the gospels (and in 1 Tim. 6:13, which is at that moment actually functioning in a narratival fashion, as defined by Bloch) that Jesus died under Pontius Pilate that we can narrow his crucifixion down to a specific decade, and frankly apart from that and other references to contemporaries we would have no idea that Jesus is to be situated in the first century at all. That's of course why mythicists need to work so hard to dispense with any connection between the gospels and history: because it is precisely these texts that nail Jesus down to a real time and place.

Similarly, the single most important chronological "anchor" not just for Paul's life but for the decades following Jesus's life is the inscription, found in 1905, that allows us to date Paul's appearance before Gallio in Corinth to sometime between July 1, 51, and June 30, 52. This chronological insight is lost however the moment that we decide that Acts 18:12-17 is nought but fiction. And it continues. New Testament historiography has tended to stake a great deal on the Jewish War of 66-73 and the Domitianic persecution of the church in the 90s. Yet again the very occurrence of such events are known almost entirely from narrative sources. Or try to talk about Valentinus and Marcion and other significant figures of the 2nd century absent such sources. Etc.

Bloch notes that the narrative sources are valuable with regards to chronological framework, despite often being quite inconsistent. This, I think, is a crucial point. Due to the pernicious influence of a particularly virulent inerrancy New Testament historiography has tended to put far more emphasis upon chronological and other inconsistencies in our narrative sources than is probably helpful or healthy. Those given to Chicago-style inerrancy want to show that the sources lack any inconsistency at all, a quest that would make Don Quixote proud. Such persons adopt an all-or-nothing approach to the narrative sources: either all is consistent or none is useful. The problem is that many of their opponents adopt the same approach, the only difference being that where one chooses "all" the other "chooses" nothing. Neither allows the possibility that it might very well be the case that, yes, Paul did indeed appear in front of Gallio in 51/52, even as, for instance, everything that Gallio is reported to have said during that meeting is entirely a Lukan construction. Or Luke might get details of Paul's itinerary wrong even whilst depicting the overall sweep of the church's early missionary expansion with reasonable fidelity. Etc. So many, probably far too many, of our debates regarding history method are really engaged with disputing the Quixotism of inerrancy instead of dealing with the actual work of historiography.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Of Cynics and Criteria

One of my great blessings in life, although I did not fully realize or appreciate it at the time, was the opportunity to write a B.A. thesis under William Acres, one of the last students of the great Tudor historian, Geoffrey Elton. The thesis itself wasn't very good, through no fault of Bill's: I just didn't know how to write something on that scale (only forty pages or so, but when you'd never written anything longer than about twelve or so forty is a lot). But what I learned from Bill was invaluable. The one thing that he taught me that I still use everyday in my research is that coming up with the right question is more crucial than coming up with the right answer. This isn't any sort of hippy-dippy "the journey is more important than the destination" stuff. Rather, it's simply a recognition that whilst you can ask the right question and yet get the wrong answer if you ask the wrong question you have virtually precluded the possibility of a right answer. Answers can only be as good as the question that they address. Questions mal posées will almost invariably yield mauvaises réponses.

I've been thinking about this recently, with regards to historical Jesus studies. Part, perhaps most, of the difficulty in this sub-field of New Testament studies has been the tendency to ask questions mal posées. We typically ask "Did Jesus say or do A or B?" or "Was Jesus or B?" The problem with the first question is that it is virtually impossible to answer, at least as it has typically been formulated. The way that it has typically been formulated is to functionally assume that we do not know a priori any of Jesus's activities, and then one-by-one ask whether Jesus did this, or this, or this, or this, each "this" in isolation from each other. This is a quintessential example of what Lonergan describes as pre-scientific thinking, wherein one asks "What is the nature of A?" (i.e.: is X "authentic" or "inauthentic"?), rather than the properly scientific question "How does A relate to B, C, D...?" Asking about the nature of an account, whether it is "authentic" or otherwise, allows one to isolate each account as a datum abstracted from the data pool, and thus to skew the pool so ridiculously that the patently absurd (such as, "Jesus was a Jewish peasant Cynic") looks possible, even compelling. It should go without saying that the question "Was Jesus A or B?" falls victim equally to the charge of being other than scientific, seeking the nature of Jesus unrelated to any other entity (indeed, it is when one puts Jesus in relation to other entities, asking for instance, "How did Jesus relate to Jewish peasant Cynicism?," that one realizes the true poverty of the argument. One realizes immediately that there was no such thing as Jewish peasant Cynicism, and this for two reasons: there is no evidence of a Jewish Cynicism, and Cynicism was a thoroughly urban phenomenon. Thus one is asking "How does Jesus relate to this unattested phenomena?" If one can simultaneously construct from the data a reasonable account of how Jesus relates to, for instance, the well-attested Jewish prophetic tradition, then surely that account is to be preferred to one that seeks to relate Jesus to the unattested).

Such mischief results entirely from asking the wrong questions, in this case as a consequence of a sub-field that is just now becoming to make the transition to scientific thinking. This transition can be dated to the last decade. Whilst there were intimations of such thinking before this point (Ben Meyer being particularly notable, hence my interest in his work) it is really with James Dunn's Jesus Remembered that we see the transition really take hold at the centre of the discourse. Dunn and those who have followed in his wake are asking not "Did Jesus say or do A or B?" or "Was Jesus A or B?" but rather "How does the way that the emergent Christians represent Jesus relate to his operations?" Thus, one is not asking "Was Jesus someone who thought himself to be Messiah?" but rather "How does the fact that emergent Christian represented Jesus as Messiah relate to his operations?" When asked this way we see clearly that the statement "The emergent Christians represented Jesus as Messiah because they believed him to be Messiah" is in fact inadequate, and in fact a tautology. It simply defers the question, which can now be re-articulated as "How does the fact that the emergent Christians believed Jesus to be Messiah relate to his operations?"

So, let us test two hypotheses. The first is the aforementioned Jewish peasant Cynic hypothesis. To the question "How does the way that the emergent Christians represent Jesus relate to his operations?" it would have to give the answer "The emergent Christians represented Jesus as the Messiah despite the fact that he operated as a Jewish peasant Cynic rather than in a manner conducive to messianic interpretation." The second hypothesis to test against this would say "The emergent Christians represented Jesus as the Messiah because he operated in a manner conducive to messianic interpretation." Whilst both are logically possible they are not equal, as the latter exceeds the other significantly in terms in parsimony, a term recurrently misunderstood within the discipline of NT studies, for parsimony is not the principle that one should prefer the simplest hypothesis but rather that among otherwise equally plausible hypotheses one should prefer the one that supposes the fewest entities (your average conspiracy theory fails the test of parsimony, even though they are often quite simple, attributing everything to a shadowy group of conspirators, precisely because such shadowy groups usually are unnecessary to account for the phenomena under discussion); the Cynic hypothesis is less parsimonious not because it is not as simple, but rather because we must suppose the existence of an otherwise unattested Jewish peasant Cynicism, whilst the Messiah hypothesis can dispense with this entity entirely.

The point of the above is to demonstrate that often the primary difficulty in adjudicating between hypotheses is a result not of the data but of our questions. If the question "What is Jesus?" then, yes, in the abstract, the Cynic and the Messiah hypotheses seem like equally matched contenders. If the question is "How do emergent Christian representations of Jesus relate to Jesus's operations?" then we can rule out one of these hypotheses with very little thought.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Functional specialties, revisited

Bernard Lonergan talks about eight "functional specialties" in the work of theology: research (within theology and biblical studies: textual criticism, more or less), interpretation, history, dialectics, foundations, doctrines, systematics, and communication. He has a wonderful phrase: the former specializations are more essential, the latter more excellent. That is to say, one cannot interpret a text without the antecedent work of textual criticism, thus making textual criticism more essential; yet textual criticism is hardly an end on to itself, but rather creates the conditions for interpretation, which transcends textual criticism (in the strict, literal, sense, of going beyond--transcending--the limits of what textual criticism aims to do; the latter specialties are more "excellent" in the empirical sense of building upon and moving beyond the former specialties). Thus the work of a textual criticism can eventually, and perhaps indirectly, contribute to the work of a systematic theologian, yet that does not mean that the textual critic is doing systematic theology. In fact, the textual critic need not think about anything but her or his own work, and can in fact treat it as an end on to itself; it retains its own autonomy, which need and indeed should not be compromised for the needs of the latter specialties.

Now, the obvious objection to the above is as follows: "Well, I'm not a theologian, so talking about functional specialties in the work of theology is irrelevant." In response I would of course acknowledge that Lonergan worked out this eight-fold schema within the context of Catholic theology; yet, I would also note the empirical reality that I, who am not a Catholic theologian, find this schema quite useful. Why do I find it nonetheless useful? Well, because I think that it can be translated into a basic outline for the relationship among various levels of thought within not just theology and biblical studies and beyond. Let us consider how this might work by moving through the specialties, with specific focus upon biblical studies.

Research--as noted, within theology and biblical studies more or less the work of textual criticism.
Interpretation--the work of understanding what the person or persons who produced the texts with which we work aimed to communicate.
History--the work of inferring from texts (and other material) previously interpreted what was happening in the past (or, as Lonergan puts it, "what was going forward," i.e. what was changing over time, with no value judgment implied by the word "forward").
Dialectic--the work of inferring from "what was going forward" the conflicts that were driving the forward movement. Classic examples of such work include the Marxist tendency to foreground class conflict, or the feminist tendency to foreground gendered conflict. Of course, one might find multiple conflicts driving history forward, that can be studied in terms of class, gender, race, more traditional intellectual history: all of which might well be at play.
Foundations--the work of taking a side on these conflicts. The Marxist does not simply say that class conflict is a significant factor in the forward movement of history but rather takes a side in that conflict, namely with the subordinated classes; the feminist takes a side in gendered conflict, namely with women's struggle for equality and justice.
Doctrines--from the work of taking a side in conflicts one begins to develop formal "doctrines." Examples might include the Marxist doctrines of false consciousness or hegemony or the feminist doctrines of patriarchy and androcentrism.
Systematics--once a body of "doctrines" exists one begins to bring them into relationship with each other. The Marxist considers how false consciousness relates to hegemony and other Marxist doctrines, the feminist how patriarchy and androcentrism relate to each other and other feminist doctrines.
Communications--one a systematic understanding of the world begins to emerge there is an effort to make this intelligible in the specific time and place in which one operates. The Marxist thus considers how false consciousness and hegemony are operating here and now, the feminist how patriarchy and androcentrism.

I intentionally used Marxism and feminism in my above examples, in order to demonstrate how this eight-fold schema, although articulated by Lonergan in terms of the Catholic thought in which he was immersed, can aid in the process of organizing different levels of investigation operating within different traditions (and the Marxist and feminist traditions are precisely that, viz. traditions: a term here used in the purely empirical sense of referring to a cluster of discourses joined by shared history and common concern). For the biblical scholar the salient point is that the arch-conservative can in principle reach exactly the same conclusions vis-à-vis research, interpretation, history, and dialectics as the most radical Marxist-feminist. They will begin to diverge sharply with the work of foundations and thereafter, with the arch-conservative usually sounding more and more like this as the discussion proceeds.

Something like the above schema allows us to determine what sort of argumentation is relevant for what discussions. This is why I in fact think that countering anti-LGBT Christians on the level of biblical or Pauline interpretation is the wrong move. It is better to engage them at the level of foundations through communications. Foundations: by what warrant have you decided that you agree with (your interpretation of) Paul on this matter? Doctrines: how has agreement with (your interpretation of) Paul led to a particular formulation of the doctrine of marriage? Systematics: how do you relate that doctrine of marriage to other key Christian doctrines, such as grace? Communication: how do you convince the rest of us that we should agree with your foundational, doctrinal, and systematic views on the matter? Because if the anti-LGBT Christian cannot answer those questions then frankly it is irrelevant what Paul said on the matter.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Proof and New Testament Studies

I stumbled across an interesting post today, on the burden of proof. The author, Joshua Schrei, is critiquing the philosophy that says that only that which can be proven can be accepted as true. He is most interest in atheism, but I could not help but recognize the thinking of my own discipline in this piece. How many times have I read, in response to a quite well-crafted historiographic argument about Christian origins, "Yeah, but it's possible that something else is the case." To take one of my favourite go-to examples, I hold that the best explanation for the ending of Luke-Acts is that it was written prior to Paul's death. Almost inevitably, when I say this, I am informed by some clever soul that "Well, it's possible that it was written afterwards." To which all I can say is, "Yeah, it is." The follow-up question is, "So what?" Possibilities are a dime a dozen. If I have presented a case as to why one should accept as true it is sufficient to state that might be false; indeed, that x might be false is already implicit in the fact that I must argue that it is true, and thus in stating it as possible all one is doing is uttering a pure redundancy. No, one must demonstrate why a is false, which means that one must present a case that more adequately accounts for the data then the argument that I have presented.

Consternation about alternative possibilities is a result of defining proof and truth as synonymous. If that which can be held as true is that which can be proven then, indeed, one cannot affirm that Luke-Acts was written before Paul died, because I cannot prove it, certainly not if by "proof" we mean "conclusively exclude all alternative possibility." Of course, the opposite is true: if I cannot prove that it was written before Paul died neither can another prove that it was written afterwards. In a discipline such as ancient historiography were I to affirm only what could be proven beyond any doubt then I would have very little to affirm.

Schrei nails the cost of "proofism," arguing that,
[h]istorically, the people who cling to proof as an absolute barometer of truth and only accept the "proven" theorems of the day are inevitably the ones to be proven wrong when science validates the hunches, inspirations, and intuition of its forward thinkers.
Spot on. Subscription to "proofism" ultimately retards any scientific discipline, as it cannot advance. Everyone is so busy arguing over the basic issues that no one can move on to bigger issues. This is quite evident in NT studies, wherein we see endless debates over the same, quite basic, things. Yet, as Karl Popper argued, it is not the cautious scholars who advance a scientific discipline, but the wildly incautious ones. This does not refer to the cranks and the loons who argue the demonstrably false, but rather to the person who says "I know that I cannot prove that is the case but neither can you prove that it is, but I have enough reason to affirm it and thus I will."

It seems to me that the only way to do history is not to focus upon proving every single thing that one says beyond any reasonable doubt but rather to go out on limbs, to affirm that a is likely the case, and thus to ask what the consequences are for b. This is the best way to open ourselves up to new questions. For instance, a question that recently occurred to me, "What about Jesus's operations led to the community of goods?" This is a perfectly valid question that would be virtually excluded under the regime of proofism because there would inevitably be a hundred identical objections: "Well, that assumes that there was a community of goods." Quite so, it does indeed. And, again, so what? It is a perfectly legitimate question: granted the antecedent judgment that Jesus's followers formed a community of goods in Jerusalem shortly after his death what might that tell us about Jesus himself? This is a question that has the potential for significant insight into question, and one that our obsession with proof has virtually foreclosed. And that's really a pity, not just for this question, but for those that would follow from an answer to this question, and for all other questions ruled out by an excessive concern with never saying anything that could be controverted.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Regarding Papias and the Oral Fixation

Once again I was thinking about Papias of Hierapolis. I was thinking about how he tells us that Mark based his gospel upon Peter's oral teaching, a statement of some interest given the recent emphasis upon the oral world in which Mark’s Gospel is thought to have originated. We have to be careful here, and eschew any narrative that would programmatically suppose that the gospel tradition en toto underwent a period of lengthy and exclusively oral development before anything was written down. Such a supposition was been around for some time, and more recently has become associated with the work of Milman Parry, Albert Lord, and Walter Ong. In recent scholarship Werner Kelber and James Dunn have especially emphasized the notion of an oral-only phase, and this is an area wherein Dunn’s significant achievement in Jesus Remembered perhaps could use some correction. Consider. Second Temple Jewish groups produced a significant amount of textual material. Thus they demonstrably could and would produce textual material. Christian groups and persons—most of whom were Jewish in background—are by no later than 50 also producing textual material, and thus they demonstrably could and would produce textual material, and this well before c. 69 or 70, the most commonly held date for Mark’s Gospel. Why, one wonders, they could or would not have produced textual material c. 30-50? Was there something about the Jesus tradition that made writing it down verboten? If so, what changed by c. 70? I know of no data that would either indicate the existence of such a prohibition or the subsequent dispensing therewith.

In this connexion the rate of literacy in early Christianity is altogether irrelevant. There is no evidence that the early Christians c. 30-50 differed notably in terms of literacy from Second Temple Judaism more broadly, and yet Second Temple Judaism quite happily produced texts throughout this period. There is no evidence that the Christians of c. 30 differed notably in terms of literary rate from the Christians of c. 50, and yet the Christians of 50 also quite happily produced texts. Let us consider the numbers. Let us suppose as given the much-vaunted but hardly unassailable 10% literary rate in the ancient Mediterranean and let us further suppose, for the sake of argument, that the statistics of church membership given in the New Testament are inflated to ten times their historical reality. That would still leave 12 persons in the upper room when Matthias was chosen to replace Judas, of whom 1.2 would be literate (cf. Acts 1:15); 300 who joined the movement at the first Christian Pentecost, of whom 30 would be literate (cf. Acts 2:41); and 50 who saw the resurrected Jesus, of whom 5 would be literate (cf. 1 Cor. 15:6). The point here is not to pass judgment upon the historical reality to which any of these passages attest, if any, but rather to demonstrate that even with a relatively low rate of literacy and assuming gross hyperbole in our sources regarding ecclesiastical demographics the earliest Christians had sufficient numbers to begin writing and reading each other’s work. After all, it only takes one to write and another to read a text. Compounded with the reality of the Second Temple Jewish world’s cultural and social investment in written text this is more than sufficient to call into question the “oral-only" hypothesis.

This hypothesis does not adequately apprehend media diversity in the production of Mark’s Gospel because it treats orality and literacy functionally as a contradictories when in fact they are contraries. They coexist quite happily: texts are dictated during composition and read orally. Dialectically we might suggest that the material permanence of the written corrects for the material impermanence of the oral. We are now in a position wherein we can better understand the Israelite and later Jewish urgency to render their insights intelligible through the work of writing: it generated a material permanence that aided in the conceptual articulation of emergent insights that orality alone would not fashion. This in turn allows us to further situate the origins of the gospels more fully in the historical reality of Second Temple Judaism than might otherwise be the case, recognizing that there was for a Jewish movement nothing more natural than to communicate through writing what they believed that the God of Israel was doing in their time. That is to say, rarely did Mark reflect as fully his Jewish background than when he decided to write down Peter’s teaching about Jesus, and he did this within a wholly Jewish context.

The oral-only hypothesis faces another, insuperable, difficulty: if the oral tradition was so distinct from the written tradition, and given that we can know the oral tradition only through data that comes to us through written material, then how can we define the content or form of the oral tradition? And if we cannot define the content or form of the oral tradition then how can we know that it is so distinct from the written? And if the oral tradition can be defined via the written data then how can it be so distinct at all? It is Papias that cuts the Gordian Knot by telling us that what we find in Mark’s Gospel is something that is close to the oral world of the church than is, for instance, Matthew’s Gospel; far from being opposed to the work of Kelber, Dunn, and others, Papias provides much-needed evidentiary confirmation of what otherwise would remain but an interesting proposal. It does so however by leading us to the conclusion that either the literary remains represent fairly well the form and content of the oral tradition or we can never know much about the oral tradition at all. Thus it is alas a Pyrrhic victory, and one that sends us back to the actual data in front of us, namely the gospel texts.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

The Gospels as Interhorizontal Communication

I've been thinking about Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15-16, as I tend to do on days upon which the Earth revolves the Sun. For those unfamiliar, first, shame on you; second, the text reads follows (following Kirsopp Lake's translation):
"And the Presbyter used to say this, ‘Mark became Peter’s interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not, indeed, in order, of the things said or done by the Lord. For he had not heard the Lord, nor had he followed him, but later on, as I said, followed Peter, who used to give teaching as necessity demanded but not making, as it were, an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles, so that Mark did nothing wrong in thus writing down single points as he remembered them. For to one thing he gave attention, to leave out nothing of what he had heard and to make no false statements in them.’” [16] This is related by Papias about Mark, and about Matthew this was said, “Matthew collected the oracles in the Hebrew language, and each interpreted them as best he could.”
Now, a couple critical points are in order. Although writing in the 4th-century Eusebius is here quoting from the work of Papias of Hierapolis, from the early-2nd. The fact that Papias's reports come to us via quotation is not particularly problematic, at least not for those who understand the conditions under which historians of the ancient world work: a great deal of our data comes to us this way, and if we were to ignore all such data our knowledge of the ancient world would be greatly impoverished. For instance: pretty much all of our knowledge about Greek philosophy before Plato (including that of such figures as Pythagoras and Socrates) comes from material quoted by Plato himself and subsequent writers. Likewise with the fact that Papias is quoting from "The Presbyter" (or "Elder"--perhaps the Elder who self-identifies as the author of 2 and 3 John): again, absent such preserved oral tradition we would know nothing about, for instance, Socrates. When these basic critical matters are squared way Papias becomes our earliest extant extra-canonical, direct, reference to the production of the gospels: not a set of data to be lightly ignored.

Thus far the critical niceties. Let us begin with the analysis.

It is interesting to me that Papias envisions Mark's work as well as Matthew's in turns of translation. "Mark became Peter's interpreter" could just as easily read "Mark became Peter's translator," and in any case what we are dealing with here is the idea of rendering Peter's teaching about Jesus intelligible within the horizons of others. The same idea is present with regard to Matthew, and the other horizon is referenced as the Ἑβραΐς διάλεκτος: the Hebrew "language" or "dialect." After some years of struggling on the question I have become persuaded by Francis Watson's recent work that the Ἑβραΐς διάλεκτος is best read as a reference to a "Hebraized" Greek, and that Papias is referring here to the Gospel of Matthew itself, not to an earlier Aramaic or Hebrew Gospel. But no matter: what matters is that Papias envisions Mark and Matthew undertaking the work of interhorizontal communication.

"Interhorizontal communication" is a term of my coinage to reference communication between two horizons. "Horizons" is Lonergan's term, and denotes the things that we care and know about. It includes culture, language, etc.: in other words, the conceptual resources that we have near to hand through which to construct and discuss reality. Ben Meyer uses this concept to great effect in Early Christians, arguing that earliest Christianity was defined by the need to negotiate the differences between the Hebraioi and Hellēnistai, known to us from Acts 6:1. There is good reason to think that Luke is being overly schematic in presenting these two groups, and that in fact the church from the off evinced even greater horizontal diversity than is encompassed by these terms (and that Luke knows this: cf. the Passover account in Acts 2), but the passage is sufficient to demonstrate a retrospective awareness of such diversity in the earliest period of the church. Such diversity marks the entirety of the New Testament: what are Paul and others doing but to figure out how to get Christians of diverse backgrounds to coexist in unity? Interhorizontal communication is at the heart of the epistles, and Papias seems to envision that it lies at the heart of the gospels also.

This is hard to reconcile with the habit of supposing that each gospel represents the thought of a single community, or perhaps a single trajectory, within early Christianity. Such habit treats the gospels as each functionally a horizon on to themselves. Instead, what is suggested here is that we view the gospels and much of what Paul, James, etc., are trying to do as efforts to transcend horizons, to fashion a unity that stands above but not against diversity. That is, Mark, Matthew, and potentially Luke and John, should be read less as instances of difference and more as concerted efforts to negotiate difference: a not insignificant shift in our perspective.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Priority of Insight over Concept

In my most recent post I mentioned the idea that insight comes before concept. This apparently struck a couple readers as quite, well, insightful, so I want to unpack it a bit more.

First, let me state, for the record, that this formulation does not originate with me. I heard it from Michael Vertin, a professor at Regis College in Toronto who was a close friend with Bernard Lonergan. For me thought it helped sum up the brilliance of Lonergan's achievement. What follows however is purely my exegesis of the formulation, for which no one but myself is to blame.

It is really a way of summarizing the distinction in Lonergan's thinking between attending to the data of experience and making intelligible sense of what I have noted in attending. Through attending I gain insight, then I set out to render those insights conceptually intelligible. This is really an incredibly powerful tool. In the field of religious studies, which is broadly speaking my area of expertise, it allows for some significant breakthroughs. For instance, I have long wondered why it is that all the earliest known religious traditions seem to have some sort of spirit-belief. I can now understand this is the result of three things: 1) certain experiences so common as to 2) recurrently generate comparable insights, 3) combined with limited heritage of conceptual resources. For instance, there is a common experience of the wind. This experience leads to the recurrent insight that the wind blows on its own accord. The limited conceptual resources lead to a recurrent tendency to describe this in anthropomorphic terms.

As humanity moves along the course of history however new data, new insights, and concepts will emerge. Two general tendencies will likely emerge. Such different groups will tend to have comparable experiences they will also tend to generate comparable insights; however, as they generate ever-new conceptual resources there will emerge a diversity in how these insights are articulated. Thus there will tend to be greater diversity on the level of concept than insight. Let us consider a particular set of insight and concepts. Much conceptual work in metaphysics has, for the last three or so millennia, been focused upon explaining the insight that although the world is constantly changing nonetheless it always remains. The Abrahamic traditions tend to articulate this in terms of God's creative work: change expresses the will of God, even as his ever-presence in the world ensures continuity. The Indian traditions tend to articulate this by defining reality as a sort of undifferentiated monism and the existence of differentiation and thus change as a product of illusion. Conceptually these are very different ways of thinking about reality, but when thinking in terms of insight they might not be as far apart as they might first seem.

The reality is that unless we can find better ways to coexist the 21st century promises to be no less bloody than the 20th, and given our present capacity for destruction I'm not sure that we can survive that as a species. Any tools that can allow us to identify our human unity despite and even through the din are to be welcomed. I am inclined to think that the distinction between insight and concept is such a tool.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Mythicism and Freeze-drying

I haven't blogged in awhile, largely because I've been preoccupied with finishing a paper that I'm delivering next week to the Lonergan Research Institute at Regis College in Toronto (and which can be found here). The LRI is the centre for Lonergan studies. Lonergan had close ties with Regis, and the centre houses the Lonergan archives and oversees the publication of his collected works. It was a significant honour to be invited to speak at the Institute, so I feel a real responsibility to ensure that what I present is my best work.

As I wrote the paper I returned to Meyer's scathing book review of John Dominic Crossan's The Historical Jesus. Here I will quote a passage that comes near the end of the view.
Historical inquiry, with its connotations of a personal wrestling with evidence, is not to be found. There are no recalcitrant data, no agonizing reappraisals. All is aseptic, the data having been freeze-dried, prepackaged, and labelled with literary flair. Instead of an inquiry, what we have here is simply the proposal of a bright idea. But, as Bernard Lonergan used to say, bright ideas are a dime a dozen—establishing which of them are true is what separates the men from the boys.
As I reread this passage, which I quote in the paper discussed above, it occurs to me that this describes well what we see in mythicism. It's always good form to critique the best version of a position, and for mythicism that is surely Richard Carrier's work. It's well-written, an exemplar of rhetoric and of making one's historiography appear like a hard science. But that's all smoke and mirrors. Carrier's got a bright idea, but that's all. That bright is that there is a 2 in 3 chance that Jesus did not exist. That doesn't tell me that Jesus did not exist. In fact, "Did Jesus exist?" is not even Carrier's question but rather "Is there a conceivable world in which Jesus did not exist?" And the answer to that is "Yes." But that's not enough. One must further ask "Is that world the one that best accounts for the totality of the relevant data?" Does it account for the most data whilst adopting the fewest suppositions? Does it resolve problems throughout the field of study, or does it in fact create new ones? And on those matters Carrier fails, as has been shown repeatedly by various NT scholars, professional and amateur, here on the interwebs (which, one should note, is just about the only place that this "debate" is taking place. It's certainly not taking place in the academy. Kinda like what fundamentalist Christians euphemistically call the evolution "debate"; the debate, it turns out, exists primarily in their heads).

I can conceive of many things. I can conceive of a world that sprang into being fully-formed last Tuesday, with all our memories and the appearance of age prefabricated by a deity named Goozawana. But conceiving of such a world does not make it so. There is a reason that we distinguish between fiction and history. The objects are different. One aims to suggest what might be, the other to define what actually was. That's a significant difference. I have yet to see Carrier move beyond the realm of the what might be into the realm of what is. I'll check back when he does.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

On Charity in Reading

Love is a central aspect of Lonergan's thinking. For Lonergan a conversion to love is what ordinarily sets us down the path towards cultivating our moral and intellectual awareness: through loving I learn what to value; through learning what to value I learn to value truth; and through valuing truth I learn how to discover what is true. I regularly ask myself: within the academy, how does such love work itself out in practical terms, however?

In typical Lonerganian fashion I begin by looking at my own operations. Thus will I go semi-autobiographical. With the recent spate of hate crimes against Muslim persons in Canada and the US I have found myself motivated to learn more about Islam. Not that I'm ignorant of Islam, of course, but it's not something to which I've given that much thought over the years. But one of the things that I wanted to do was read the Qur'an straight through, something I've never done before. Now, like probably any text, there are passages in that text that seem bizarre, even troubling, to the uninitiated. As I encounter those texts my first instinct is always to put them in the best light possible. I ask myself, for instance, "Do these texts unambiguously advocate violence, as both groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda as well as anti-Muslim provocateurs might suggest?" If I find myself unable to see how they cannot be read as anything but warrants for violence I look at the writings of, for instance, feminist Qur'anic interpreters, or more generally any interpreter of the Qur'an who is concerned to present what we might consider a more "humanist" or irenic exegesis. This is because my interest is precisely to see how Muslims and non-Muslims might coexist in the same world without sniping at or killing one another.

Let us call such a procedure "reading for charity." I would suggest that it is a procedural example of the priority of love. Quite simply, I am giving the Other, in this case Muslims, the benefit of the doubt. I know that those enamoured with a certain understanding of the hermeneutic of suspicion might find this foreign, even offensive, but I'm okay with that. And that's because in point of fact what I am employing is precisely a hermeneutic of suspicion, namely a suspicion that those who would use the Qur'an to warrant violence--either in the name of Islam or against Muslim persons--are driven not by a commitment to truth but rather by a commitment to hate. Such persons are violent not because of how they read the Qur'an, but rather they read the Qur'an the way they do because they are violent. Violent people, it turns out, tend to produce violent exegesis, and of such exegesis I am indeed quite suspicious.