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.

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