Wednesday, 23 March 2016

An addendum to my previous post

Upon rereading my post of yesterday, "Did Paul write Romans?", I realized that it could have been misread as an argument against Pauline authorship of one or more of the undisputed epistles. For clarification's sake, please be aware that this was not my intent. I am quite persuaded that Paul wrote these epistles. My interest really is in asking "Why is it that we all agree on this one point?", because it seems to me that if we can identify what warrants this shared confidence then we can conceivably refine our approach to more contested texts.

As I have been reflecting upon this interest it increasingly seems to me that if one holds the undisputed Pauline epistles to be of Pauline pedigree then one is left with little to no warrant for thinking that James and 1 Peter are pseudepigraphic. Certainly both are attributed to their respective putative authors, and I would argue that both are free from anachronism. There are no anachronisms of which I am aware in James, and the two possible anachronisms in 1 Peter (the use of Christianos in 4:16 and the reference to Rome as Babylon in 5:13) might not be anachronisms at all. The burden would be upon those who would make the positive argument that they are anachronisms, and since what we're really dealing with here is an argument from silence (these terms do not otherwise appear until somewhat later) the burden is going to hard to satisfy. And in fact there is data that can allow us to argue positively that these terms existed during Peter's lifetime. Acts tells us that Christianos was already current as early as the 30s (and remember that Peter lived into the mid-60s), and Revelation (which no one to the best of my knowledge dates later than about thirty years after Peter's passing, and some date as early as the late-60s) too seems to refer to Rome as Babylon. When we place such data against an argument from silence the argument from anachronism looks tenuous at best. An argument from a silence that might not be a silence at all is weak beyond weak.

What about arguments from language and doctrine? Certainly, if it can be shown that either James or Peter could not have written in the language or advanced the doctrines that we see in these texts then we can indeed exclude them as authors. Again, the burden is upon those who would argue positively that such is the case with regards to James and Peter. There are two arguments from language. The first would entail establishing, independent of James and 1 Peter, the characteristic features of Jacobean and Petrine style respectively. As was the case with Paul, the only data available to independently establish a specifically Jacobean style is the Acts of the Apostles, and I see nothing in that text that excludes anything in James as Jacobean. With 1 Peter things are perhaps a bit more complicated because of 2 Peter (which in turn brings in issues related to Jude), but no more so than is the case with adjudicating the authorship of the undisputed Pauline texts. If the existence of 2 Peter poses a potential linguistic problem for deciding the authorship of 1 Peter than the existence of disputed Pauline texts poses a potential linguistic problem for deciding the authorship of the undisputed Pauline texts. Again, watch out for special pleading.

The second argument from language assumes that James and Peter are typical Galileans, and that typical Galileans could not have written the Greek found in these texts. This is a virtual non-starter for several reasons, both logical and empirical. First, an argument from typicality is really an example of the gambler's fallacy. Even if we established that, say, 98% of Galileans could not write in the Greek that is in these texts it would not follow that there is a 98% chance that James and Peter could not write in such Greek. When it comes to statistics one simply cannot move from the general to the individual like that. Second. even if it did follow, which it doesn't, it still wouldn't follow that James and Peter would be in the (hypothetical) 98%. Indeed, whatever else they might have been, they were demonstrably not typical Galileans. The very fact that they become leaders of a religious movement that soon spreads across the eastern Mediterranean shows that they are in fact atypical. If argument from typicality are questionable to begin with, then how much more questionable when dealing with the demonstrably atypical? Third, empirically, we know that people in the ancient world used translators and assistants to aid in composing their. Josephus, for instance, talks about making use of such services, and Papias explicitly tells us that Mark (who happens to appear in 1 Peter!) served precisely in this role for Peter. As such, it is not clear that a lack of strong Greek compositional would in fact prohibit James and Peter from writing these texts.

What about doctrine, or more generally content? Again, we'd need an independent baseline to establish what content James and Peter could have written. The only legitimate baseline is going to be Acts. We can't very well use the undisputed Pauline literature to help establish a baseline, as the purpose here is to establish the conditions by which any epistle is judged to be authentic; as such, we are working at a stage prior to the point before which it is licit to make judgments about which literature Paul wrote. But you know what, let's go crazy and look at this literature as well. I dare anyone to find anything in the depiction of James and Peter in Acts and the undisputed Pauline epistles that contradicts anything in James and 1 Peter. Sometimes it is said that 1 Peter is too "Pauline," but in order to establish that to be probative one would have to establish more precisely that 1 Peter has themes that are exclusive to Paul. Otherwise one has simply identified a place in which Peter and Paul happened to agree. The argument from doctrine perhaps isn't a non-starter, but it's not going to establish positively that James and Peter could not have written these respective texts.

Ah, says the clever reader, you've been stacking the deck by supposing that the burden is upon those arguing for pseudepigraphy to show that James and Peter could not have used such language or written such teachings as are found in these texts. No, such a reader might say, you need to establish positively that James and Peter could have used this language or delivered these teachers. Okay, let's entertain this paper tiger of an objection. My response would be "Lest we special plead, please establish the same with regard to Paul. Show me that Paul could use the language that we see in the undisputed epistles. Show me that he could deliver such teaching." And now we are back at where we were in my previous post, with regard to relying upon Acts. I would note that the language used by Paul in Acts is really quite different from that which is found in the epistles. If my interlocutor says "Well, that's because of how Luke is presenting Paul" I would respond, "Quite so," and observe that if this is a licit account of the differences between the Lukan and epistolary Paul then it should also be a licit account of the differences between Lukan and epistolary James and Peter. I would note that nowhere does Acts present Pauline themes such as justification by faith, and if it is again objected that this is an artifact of Lukan presentation I would again respond with "Quite so, and so too are differences between the Lukan and epistolary James and Peter."

And at this point my clever reader is faced with a choice: acknowledge that the burden is upon those arguing that a writer could not have used such language or made such teaching, or be forced to defend authorship of the undisputed Pauline epistles against the corrosive arguments such as thus advanced by historical skeptics (nota bene: the term "historical skeptic" is not in fact a synonym for "historical critic") against the authorship of James and 1 Peter. And I'm not at all convinced, as I intimated in my post yesterday and again here today, that the consensus position on the authorship of the undisputed Pauline epistles would withstand such an onslaught. As such, although it is of course possible that one could hold that the undisputed Pauline epistles were written by Paul and James and 1 Peter were not written by James and Peter respectively, I'm not entirely sure if it is possible to do so reasonably. I would note further that only by raising the issue of differences between 1 Peter and 2 Peter can one begin to seriously compromise the case for Petrine authorship of 1 Peter, but if that compromises the argument for 1 Peter than the differences between disputed and undisputed Pauline epistles would compromise the argument for their Pauline origin. If so, then the case for Jacobean authorship of James is actually stronger than that for Pauline authorship of any of the thirteen canonical epistles! The take-home message: historical skepticism is a house of cards generally built upon special pleading, which if removed typically causes the whole thing to collapse.

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