Sunday, 28 August 2016

Are the Petrine Letters too Pauline?

One of the weaker arguments against Petrine authorship of either 1 or 2 Peter, or both, is that they are "too Pauline." Almost inevitably this charge is left conveniently vague, leaving unaddressed or under-addressed the crucial question "What exactly about it is 'Pauline,' and how do we know that there is too much of that?" And with good reason: when one looks closer the bases for such a judgment is less than solid. In point of fact, the argument rests almost entirely upon Ferdinand Baur's supposition--inferred more from Hegel than from data--that Paul and Peter were at fundamental odds with one another. So, let's imagine this charge of being too Pauline more carefully.

What does it mean for something to be "Pauline"? Presumably, it means that it has material that is distinctive to Paul. How do we define this material? One strategy would be to contrast Pauline writings with non-Pauline writings: those things that are distinct to Pauline writings can be defined as distinctly Pauline, those things that are not cannot be thus defined. By definition then anything held in common by the Pauline and Petrine writings cannot be said to be distinctly Pauline, unless one can show that the Petrine writings knew the Pauline writings and drew that distinctly Pauline material from them. 2 Peter 3:15-16 does in fact open that possibility; but in that case Pauline material stands as evidence that the author knew Pauline writings, not that the author wasn't Peter. Only if one supposes that Peter could not have known or referenced Pauline writings could this stand as an objection to Petrine authorship, but the grounds for such a judgments are virtually non-existent. Peter lived at least fifteen, possibly twenty, years after the earliest extant Pauline text was written (depending upon what one does with Galatians, and precisely where in the mid to late 60s one dates Peter's death), and the other reason that Peter couldn't have referenced those writings seems to be "Well, he just wouldn't." Hardly compelling. That 3:16 also indicates that Paul's words are being twisted hardly indicates a later date, as Paul himself seems to have repeatedly had to deal with what he judged to be misinterpretation of his own words.

In fact, if anything, there is good reason to think that Peter would have had a special interest in at least reading Paul's writings. We see this when we consider another possible strategy for demonstrating that something is "too Pauline." One could also base one's understanding of what it means for something to be distinctly Pauline and distinctly Petrine upon "third-party" sources that describe Paul, Peter, and their thought. While theoretically possible, this does not seem to help the "too Pauline" school of thought. There are three issues here. One, the mere description of Paul or Peter and their thought does not establish that either's thought was distinct to him. Two, our best source on this matter, viz. Acts, in fact spends little time on Paul's or Peter's thought, certainly not enough to establish what is distinctive to either. Three, and most importantly, that same source indicates that Paul and Peter made an active effort to be on the same page (cf. Acts 15; cp. Gal. 1:1-10). A Peter who was actively interested in being on the same page as Paul is likely a Peter who would have been interested in what Paul wrote.

Then there is 1 Peter 5:12-13, in which Peter writes that he is present with Mark and Silas, and in fact indicates that Silas has some role in the composition and transmission of the letter. These are figures otherwise exclusively known to be in association with Paul. Indeed, Silas is cited as coauthor of several of Paul's letters. That they associated with many of the same people is corroborated by Acts and Paul's own writings. If Paul and Peter made an active effort to be on the same page; if thus Peter can reasonably be expected to have had an interest in reading Pauline texts; if they associated with much the same people: then we should not be surprised if there are clear resonances between their writings. Of course, Baur dismissed such material in Acts and the Petrine writings as examples of anachronistic efforts to present Paul and Peter as more in alliance than they were. But that is again simply to beg the question, How do we know that they weren't in such alliance? (Baur's answer, ultimately, would be "Because Hegel"). "We know that Paul and Peter were opposed to each other because Acts, 1 Peter, and 2 Peter indicate that they were allied" hardly strikes one as a strong argument.

As with other posts of this sort, I am not arguing anything about who actually wrote what. I am rather observing that the bases for many judgments that NT scholars hold as givens are not always as strong as we would like to believe. There might well be solid grounds for judging 1 or 2 Peter, or both, to be pseudepigraphy. "The Petrine epistles are too Pauline" would not seem to be among them.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Robinson: Weaknesses and Strengths

It's probably no secret that I greatly appreciate the work of J.A.T. Robinson, specifically his Redating the New Testament. I've been thinking lately about its strengths and weaknesses, and thought I'd write some of them here, beginning with weaknesses.

1) The Significance of 70: an early chapter in Redating goes by that title. Robinson argues, I think convincingly, that Jesus's predictions of the temple's destruction in 70 do not constitute a terminus post quem (time after which) for the composition of the gospels. I think that he perhaps pushes the matter of 70 too far, though. He argues that the absence in the NT corpus of any incontrovertible reference to the events of 70 gives us reason to think that the NT as a whole dates prior to 70. I feel that this might be a somewhat illicit argument from silence. Admittedly, he does bolster this by observing that such prophetic material as the Olivet discourse (cf. Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21) contain prophecies that are somewhat at variance with the known course of the First Jewish War (c. 66-73), which presents some difficulty for those who would argue that the text was written to conform with the events of those years. Given though that I see the text as more concerned with conforming itself to the Jewish prophetic tradition than to current or recent events, I'm not convinced that that would demonstrate that such variance indicates a pre-70 date either. My own feeling is that the prophecies of the destruction of the temple are probably non-probative, neither establishing a terminus post quem or terminus ante quem. That having been said, Robinson's argument does lead me to consider the following possibility: if, as the consensus chronology holds, the majority of the NT dates to between 70 and 100, and given the virtually complete absence to incontrovertibly mention of the events of 66-73, we should perhaps conclude that the events of that period simply didn't have too much impact upon the churches that produced our NT literature. If we conclude thus, then we probably also have to dispense with the argument that the eschatology that we find in things like the Olivet discourse could not have originated but in the context of the First Jewish War.

2) A Fixation with Nero: Robinson rightly objects that the reign of Domitian has become a sort of dumping ground for NT texts, especially those that mention persecution. Best I can tell, this practice began with Lightfoot. Of course, we now know that the 19th-century's understanding of Domitian's persecution is probably mistaken. Robinson is right in arguing that scholars have made too much of the events of his reign. But Robinson I think replicates this error to a large extent, by assuming that virtually any reference to persecution, unless it clearly indicates otherwise, must refer to the Neronian persecution. He replicates the error because the problem with ascribing so many texts to the reign of Domitian had not simply to do with misunderstandings about his persecutory activities, but also to do with the fact that in many cases the references to persecutions are sufficiently vague that they could refer to any number of moments in the first century of the Christian movement. In fact, Robinson's own argument with regard to the events of the First Jewish War potentially could apply here: just as there are no incontrovertible references in the NT to the events of the First Jewish War, apart from probably Revelation there are no incontrovertible references to the events of the Neronian persecution. I am inclined to think that Robinson's Nero is too big.

And now some strengths.

1) The Pastoral Epistles: Robinson was probably ahead of his time in realizing just how weak the arguments against their authenticity truly are. Let it be clear: I'm not arguing that they are authentic. In fact, I'm not here arguing anything about their status. Rather, I am noting that we are becoming increasingly aware that many of the classical arguments, such as from style, or from ecclesiastical development, or from inability to fit into the Acts narrative, are astonishingly weak. One can still argue that these texts are pseudepigraphical, but one needs to find better grounds for such an argument than the classical arguments (cf. Campbell's recent work in Framing Paul, which responds to this challenge with far greater sensitivity than most arguments against the authenticity of the Pastorals).

2) The Approach to the Data: quite simply, Robinson considers a greater range of data than most. He has no qualms looking at Eusebius. And why not? If we can consult Josephus in our reconstructions of periods two, three centuries before his time, then why can't we consult Eusebius in our reconstructions of periods two, three centuries before his (especially when much of our consultation actually consists of looking at his quotes from no-longer-extant second-century texts)? So, Robinson, properly cognizant that there is in fact no good reason to ignore Eusebius and other Patristic writers, spends his time consulting their works rather than showing why this or that text that would appear to be relevant is not, or worse, simply ignoring them. Such data informs his historical judgment, and as such he is working with more information. And working with more information, he has simultaneously more material to inspire and greater controls to govern his historical imagination.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Dating the New Testament

There are really only three ways that I know that allow one to definitively arrive at a date for any text. The first strategy: one can determine the terminus post quem (time after which) by establishing the last independently-datable event to which the text refers, and the terminus ante quem (time before which) be looking at its first attestation in external evidence, such as manuscripts or quotations. This typically yields a range of dates, and thus often constitutes just an initial framing of the investigation; usually one or both of the other two strategies will be necessary to arrive at a date within the identified range. The second strategy: one can look at references in the text to the time of the author: the author might say "In X year of Y king I write this book." Or she or he might mention an event occurring at that time. Then we can synchronize that statement with chronologies known on other bases. Third strategy: one can consider accounts of the text's origin or the author's life in other texts.

The problems come when we consider the nature of the data. With most of the NT, the first strategy yields a range from the mid-first to mid-second century C.E. Narrowing down to a century or so is a good start, but only a start. The second strategy is of but limited use to us. What little use we can make of this strategy requires synchronization with the data provided by the Acts narrative, Josephus, Tacitus, etc., and is largely limited to certain Pauline texts and probably also Revelation. The third strategy is in fact where we find the majority of our data. We have a wealth of second century material discussing the origins especially of the gospels, the lives of the attributed authors, etc. Operating on the dictum that the scholar should go where the data lives, this is where the historian interested in the origins of the New Testament texts should be spending the bulk of her or his time. Strangely, it is where such historians tend to spend the least.

This, I suggest, is why we tend towards great imprecision in our historical narratives. We'll say that, for instance, Luke's Gospel was written in the 80s. By whom? Shrug. Where? Shrug. The thing is, our shrugs are not necessarily due to the state of the data, but rather because we have conscientiously refused to consider a large amount of data in developing our reconstruction. One of course cannot simply take these data at face value (anyone who would object to using such data on such a basis obviously does not actually understand the role of data in historical investigation), but neither can one operate as if they do not exist. If one does, one should not be surprised if one is unable to find answers. It's hard enough to assemble a puzzle; when one throws out two-thirds of the pieces it becomes virtually impossible.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Hermetic Specialization

I've received some push-back on FB from my friend Bill Heroman re: my post "A Tale of Five Johns." And that's fine: there's no point in discussing ideas if they aren't going to be genuinely debated. I'm not going to rehash that push-back, but I will state an observation that comes out of that. My primary interest in that post was to work out in practice my conviction that one of the recurrent problems with modern NT scholars is what we might call "hermetic" specialization. Specialization is good; it's necessary. No one scholar can do everything, so we specialize and then bring together the findings in our respective fields of study. Too often however this work of bringing things together never really happens. Synoptic scholars often tend to operate in isolation from Johannine scholars, and vice versa, and everyone just kinda leaves the Pauline scholars to do their own thing. But when specialists in NT history fail to interact with anything outside their narrow field of interest then what emerges is a disintegrated (in the literal sense: lacking integration) vision of Christian origins. One of the major tests of our historical hypotheses comes when we go about the work of integrating narratives about, say, the origin of John's Gospel and Letters, with narratives about the origins of Revelation, with narratives about the origins of Luke-Acts, etc. That's when we begin to see that we perhaps operate with suppositions in one area which are mutually exclusive to suppositions with which we operate in another (my favourite go-to example is a tendency to suppose that data from the Pauline epistles trump data from Acts, then to also argue Paul couldn't have written the Pastorals because they can't be fit into the Acts framework). It's the work of integrating "local" narratives into a "global" frame where the rubber really hits the road. Hermetic specialization fails to engage in such work. Anyone can describe in exhaustive detail a single puzzle piece, but that won't get one any closer to solving the puzzle. Finding how the pieces fit together, that's the challenge.

The way in which I am currently working to develop such an integrated narrative is via the dates of the New Testament texts. The question of date is not entirely an end on to itself. It's a way of focusing my investigation and arguments. I think that discussions about the dates of the New Testament need to include more than just considerations of the earliest and the latest at which a text could have been written. Of course, such considerations are necessary. They exclude the vast majority of years, narrowing down what in principle could be any time in the past to a relatively small range. But we need also to develop plausible narratives that demonstrate that the text in question could have been written at a particular time within that range, and that something like that time is more plausible than any other possible time. A big part of that is to show how the dates and their supporting narratives interlock, and a significant test of any chronological framework will consist of its coherency when narratives for all twenty-seven books of the NT as well as a half or so dozen other potentially more or less coeval texts (viz. Didache, 1 Clement, Ascension of Isaiah, Gospel of Thomas, Shepherd of Hermas, and Epistle of Barnabas) are brought together.

The Stages of the Gospels

In the third part of his review of Brant Pitre's Jesus and the Last Supper, Christopher Skinner recapitulates the basic three-stage model of gospel origins. I quote his recapitulation in full here.
Stage 1: Traditions from the Ministry of Jesus (Traditions stemming from the historical ministry of Jesus in the late 20s CE)
Stage 2: Post-Resurrection Preaching of the Disciples (Religious convictions about Jesus that arose after his death)
Stage 3: The Writing of the Gospels by the Four Evangelists (Texts and traditions about Jesus that developed during the writing of the gospel narratives; what is often referred to as the evangelist’s Sitz im Leben)
What interests me here is not Skinner's critique of Pitre's monograph. I haven't yet had a chance to said monograph, so I cannot speak one way or another to whether the review is fair. What does interest me is the history of this three-stage model. Skinner associates this with form criticism, and rightly so: the stage-model received a very clear articulation under the classic form critics. What I would like to observe here is that they are not limited to the form-critical model of gospel origins.

In point of fact, you can see exactly the same three stages supposed in the work of Birger Gerhardsson, who was hardly a classic form critic, and more recently in Bauckham, who is an inveterate critic of classical form criticism. In my own soon-to-be-published  monograph, which is as skeptical of form criticism as anything written by Gerhardsson and Bauckham, I suppose something much like these three stages as a structural, organizing, principle of the latter half of the book, describing them (respectively) as the dominical, the ecclesiastical, and the evangelical settings. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine how you could think about the origins of the canonical gospels without something like this basic outline.

But this basic outline will admit of significant variation, precisely because it is so basic. The most obvious variations will have to do with the substance of each stage, which will vary from model to model. Bultmann and Gerhardsson do not vary because one has the second stage and the other does not. They vary because in filling out the substance of that stage Bultmann turned to 20th-century Yugoslavian folk singers, while Gerhardsson turned to contemporaneous Pauline and 4th-century rabbinic texts (yet somehow Gerhardsson is the one dinged for anachronism). Incidentally, we probably would want to quibble with privileging "preaching" in the second stage. Yes, preaching was important, but the extensive evidence of early Christian scriptural exegesis in the gospels suggests that there was also a lot more intellectual work going on then just preaching. Gerhardsson brings out this dimension much better than Bultmann.

There is a less obvious variation on these stages however, namely to do with how the stages interact. Gerhardsson is much more conscious than, say, Bultmann that they are heuristically-sequential rather than temporally-sequential phases. For instance, he allows more fully for the possibility that all three stages could have begun during Jesus' lifetime. Not only was Jesus teaching during his ministry, but his followers were drawing religious convictions about him and thus beginning the memorial processes that led to the composition of the gospels (and he allows for the possibility that writing, in the form of notes based upon Jesus' teaching, were being generated already during his ministry; I don't know if we can show this to have been the case, but I also don't know if we can show that it wasn't. Incidentally, Gerhardsson's narrative helps us see why it is perhaps not quite adequate to restrict the development of religious convictions about Jesus to the post-resurrection period: such convictions were modified after Easter, no doubt, and perhaps extensively, but they began earlier). Ultimately, "stages" might not be the best term. It would seem to suggest a strict temporal succession between the three that is perhaps not warranted by the data. Indeed, even on form-critical terms alone, the preaching did not end when the writing began. The stage-model has much truth to it, and in its basic insights probably indispensable, but like many heuristics tends to be somewhat aseptic.

Friday, 12 August 2016

A Tale of Five Johns

There is a fascinating cluster of data that associates five different first-generation Christian figures named "John" with Ephesus. Some or all of these figures might be the same person, but I think it useful for heuristic purposes to treat them initially as five distinct entities. These figures are:

1) John the Baptist, of whom there are said to be believers who know only his baptism present in Ephesus in the 50s (cf. Acts 18:24-19:7). Technically a pre-Christian figure, but here associated with Christian believers, so we'll group him in with the rest.
2) John the Evangelist, author of the Gospel and Letters of John (and I am fully convinced that whoever wrote the Gospel also wrote the Letters). Irenaeus, Eusebius, et. al., locate this figure in Ephesus.
3) John the Seer, writer of the Book of Revelation, to which Ephesus and nearby cities are addressed, and about whom Irenaeus, Eusebius, et. al., say he went to Ephesus after being released from imprisonment on Patmos.
4) John, son of Zebedee. Irenaeus, Eusebius, et. al., locate him in Ephesus, and frequently identify him with the Evangelist and less frequently with the Seer.
5) John the Elder, known to us from the writings of Papias. He seems to have been a follower of Jesus. He is sometimes identified with John, son of Zebedee, and sometimes as a distinct figure.

Let us begin with the Evangelist. If the Gospel and Letters are to be identified with a figure named "John" known to us independently, then John the Elder seems to be the best candidate. 2 John 1 and 3 John 3 explicitly refer to the author as "The Elder." Indeed, if the traditional attribution to "John" is taken seriously then what you have are explicitly two letters written by a man named John, the Elder. The question becomes whether this person could also be John, son of Zebedee, and of this matter I am dubious. The Papian data referring to John the Elder seems to clearly distinguish between him and the son of Zebedee. I think that there is also good reason to think that the author of John's Gospel was more at home in Jerusalem than the Galilee and quite probably moved in elite circles, which seems less likely to be an adequate description of the son of Zebedee. While I cannot rule out the possibility that the Elder and the son of Zebedee are the same person, I think this to be highly unlikely. I am close to fully convinced that the Gospels and Letters of John originated from in or around Ephesus, were written by the figure that we know elsewhere as John the Elder, and that this figure was not John, son of Zebedee.

That said, it seems to be highly unlikely that the author of the Gospel and Letters also wrote the Revelation. Strictly speaking it's not impossible: I am unaware of any study that has shown conclusively that common authorship is 100% excluded. But it does seem that in the Revelation we're moving in a sufficiently different conceptual world so as to make common authorship highly improbable. So, we have at least one other Christian leader named "John" operating in Ephesus during the first-century. At the same time, we have data that indicates that John, son of Zebedee, also ended his days in Ephesus. We could thus be dealing with as many as three Christian leaders in this city during the first-century. I think however that two is a much more likely number.

Now, the possibility of more than one leader in the same city named "John" is hardly incredible, as we know that this was one of the most common Jewish names of the time. And we also have Eusebius telling us that were two tombs to John in the city, and saying that one belonged to the Elder, and the other the son of Zebedee. What is crucial for my purposes is that early Christians apparently had some recollection that there were two prominent first-century leaders named John active in the city, but not of three. Sometimes they confused and fused them, but the crucial point is that they had no recollection of three such leaders named John. Given the strong recollection that both the Seer and the son of Zebedee were active in Ephesus (the former confirmed by Revelation itself) I want to suggest the following: John, son of Zebedee was John the Seer.

This actually makes a great deal of sense. If one reads Revelation alongside the Synoptics and the Johannine literature and then asks "To which of these bodies of literature is Revelation most closely affiliated?" one would most likely answer "Synoptics." I would suggest that this is a product of John's membership in the Twelve, whom I believe gave the most definitive shape to the Synoptic tradition. Meanwhile, I would argue that the Elder's distinct voice in the Gospel has to do with his own experiences as a follower of Jesus who was not one of the Twelve.

What about the Christians associated with John the Baptist? I would argue that Luke has made exactly the same sort of error that we would see in later generations of Christian writers: he has confused Johns. He's learned that Paul encountered Christians baptized by John in Ephesus. He mistakingly associates that John with the Baptist, when he should have associated him with the Elder or the son of Zebedee. If that is what happened, then my suspicion is that these were followers of the Elder: son of Zebedee seems too prominent for him to have made this error. If they were associated with a relatively unknown Christian leader than it seems to make better sense that Luke would assimilate that figure to the Baptist than if they were associated with one of the most prominent Christian leaders. If I am correct, then we have evidence of Johannine Christians in Ephesus already in the early-50s.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Peter and Paul in Asia

The other day, I wrote about why Luke goes out of his way to offer an explanation for why Paul did not evangelize in Asia, Mysia, or Bithynia during his second missionary (cf. Acts 16:6-7). We know of course that he did eventually end up working in Asia (cf. Acts 19 and the numerous references to Ephesus in the Pauline corpus), and the significance of that will be considered below. For now though, let us consider why he did not go to Asia, Mysia, and Bithynia at the time of the second missionary journey.

Let us recall my argument regarding why Luke felt that he had to explain why Paul did not evangelize in these regions at that time. I argued that this was because Luke understand that Paul was operating in accordance with an understanding of the geographic expansion of the Word from Zion, based upon early Christian exegesis of Isaiah 66:19. In this exegesis, it was understood that the Word would proceed from Cilicia, to Cyrene, to Asia, to Mysia, to Bithynia, to Greece, in that order. I further suggest that Luke understands that Paul should proceeded via that course and knows that his readers would expect that he had, and as such Luke presents Paul as doing so as best he can. He knows however that Paul did not go to Cyrene, and thus foregrounds the presence of Cyrenean Christians from the early days of the movement, and that Paul did not go to Asia, Mysia, or Bithynia, at least not when he was supposed to, and thus offers an explanation for that.

Now, here's where I begin to take a step beyond that discussion: if Luke understood that Paul should have proceeded thus, and knew that it was a common enough interpretation Isaiah 66:19 that his readers would expect that Paul should have proceeded thus, it seems highly likely that Paul in fact would have preferred to have proceeded thus. So, the first question is, Why didn't Paul go to Cyrene? The answer, I suggest, is to be found in Rom. 15:20-24: "It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written: 'Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.' This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you. But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to visit you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain." I would propose that for the same reason that Paul had not yet traveled to Rome, neither had he traveled to Cyrene: he knew that there had already been a Christian mission in Cyrene (that a mission to Cyrene has occurred this early is a reasonable inference from the apparent presence of so many Cyreneans of Jewish descent in the early church: all it took was one of these to return home and engage in a degree of successful missionary activity for Paul to consider Cyrene another man's foundation. Moreover, we lose track of Barnabas and Mark after they set sail for Cyprus in Acts 15:38, but given the traditions that designate Mark as a Cyrenean Jew and which place him in Alexandria during the 50s and 60s, it would not be altogether insane to suggest that they proceeded to North Africa from Cyprus).

I would suggest something similar with regard to Asia, Mysia, and Bithynia: Paul did not go to these regions during his second missionary journey because he knew them to be another man's foundations. That another early Christian leader might have been involved in missionizing these regions is not mere supposition, but in fact hinted at via an independent set of data. If we look at 1 Peter 1:1, we note that he wrote specifically to the churches of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. With the exception of Galatia (and "Galatia" is a notoriously ambiguous regional term) this reads almost like a list of the places in Asia Minor that Paul never evangelized. Let me then advance the following suggestion: Paul does not go to these regions on his second missionary journey because he knows that Peter has already preached there.

If correct, then we can in fact pinpoint when this Petrine mission took place. It presumably post-dates the Agrippan persecution that broke out around Passover of either 41, 42, or 43 (I lean to 41, for a variety of reasons), as we have enough data on Peter's movements prior to that point that we can say with some confidence that he probably wasn't in Asia Minor. But it had to have occurred prior to Paul's arrival in Corinth, probably eighteen months prior to Gallio's arrival in July of 51. Before that, traveled through Macedonia and Greece, missions that he perhaps undertook in 49. As such, the terminus ante quem for Paul's activity in Asia Minor is probable 48ish. Since Peter was at the Jerusalem conference (Acts 15) which occurred perhaps earlier that year, 47 seems to be the absolute latest at which Peter could have evangelized in Asia Minor. As such, it appears that Peter was likely active in Asia Minor during the early to mid 40s. This incidentally probably helps to account for why Luke does not mention Peter's activity in those regions: it occurred later than the period of Peter's ministry that best fits in with the narrative that Luke wants to tell. He wants to present Peter and Paul operating in sequence, not more or less in parallel. But I digress.

It was noted above that Paul eventually did spend a considerable amount of time in Ephesus. Asia is a really big province. It's hardly inconceivable that Peter could have spent time in Asia without spending much if any time in Ephesus. That said, there is in fact some evidence that there was a very small Christian community in Ephesus before Paul (cf. 18:18-19:7), associated with John (the Baptist, according to Luke, but I've long suspected that Luke has confused his Johns here) rather than Peter. Given that this pre-existent community is associated with a named figure other than Peter I am inclined to think that Peter's time in Asia was spent outside that major city. Rather, I suspect that he traveled by foot from Judea, passing through Cappadocia and likely northern Galatia, before traveling to coastal locales in Pontus, Bithynia, and Asia by ship along the southern the Black Sea. Paul's decision to later set up shop in Ephesus thus makes perfect sense.

My thinking is that during the first and second missionary journeys Paul was focused upon fulfilling Isaiah 66:19. In his mind, it was not necessary that the Word be preached in every corner of the regions that he understood to be named in those passages, but merely that it was preached somewhere in those regions. If he had reason to think that any missionary work took place there, he would skip over the place. Thus does he skip over Cyrene, Asia, Mysia, and Bithynia. By the third missionary journey, he considers Isaiah 66:19 to have been fulfilled, and thus is free to work in regions that he bypassed in his earlier fervour to satisfy prophecy. Thus does he proceed to Ephesus, a very strategic locale that allows him to further his missionary aims in this new phase of activity. The pre-existing Christian community amounts to only a very small number (only around a dozen, perhaps), and Paul perhaps thought that this "other man's foundation" was sufficiently small that he saw Ephesus as basically "virgin" territory. This might also be why Luke emphasizes the heterodoxy (from a Pauline perspective) of their beliefs: this foundation was a bit shaky, and thus needed Pauline refounding. Perhaps Paul then saw the foundation as his own from that point forward. In any case, I've written enough, and I'll leave it there.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Luke and the Messiness of History

Acts 16:6-7 has a curious narrative, in which it is explained that the Spirit forbade Paul and Silas to preach in Asia, even though they very much wanted to, and that they were further forbade to preach in neighbouring Mysia and Bithynia. This narrative is really strange, when you start to think about it. Why does Luke feel the need to go out of his way to explain that Paul intended to travel to these regions, but didn't? He doesn't even mention that Paul preached in Arabia (as we know he did on the grounds of his own writings), so why does Luke go out of his way to mention that Paul didn't preach in Asia, Mysia, or Bithynia? I would suggest that Luke's narrative only makes sense if we understand that early readers would have expected Paul to evangelize in those regions. The answer is, Why would they expect that Paul did such?

I begin with my conviction that the earliest Christians believed that in their operations certain HB/OT prophecies were being fulfilled, especially those of the last chapters of Isaiah. I then note that in Isaiah 66:19 YHWH states that he will send "survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Put, and Lud—which draw the bow—to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the nations." Now, this is where it gets interesting. There is good reason to think that by the first century "Tarshish" was frequently identified in Jewish exegesis with Tarsus, i.e. Paul's hometown, and that this was expanded into Cilicia and perhaps southeastern Anatolia in general. "Put" almost certainly was taken to refer to Cyrene. Josephus identifies "Lud" as the ancestor of the Lydians, and ancient Lydia of course laid largely within what was by the first-century Roman Asia. Rabbinic literature identifies Tubal with Bithynia. Javan was generally identified with the Greeks (indeed, the LXX renders it as "Greece" Ἑλλάδα), and in rabbinic material more specifically with Macedonia. The LXX also includes a reference to Μοσοχ between Lud and Tubal, which seems to correspond to Meshech, which the rabbis apparently identified with Mysia. (Riesner attempts to suggest that Second Temple Jewish exegesis located Put in Anatolia, in or around Cilicia, but I find his arguments unpersuasive).

Cilicia; Cyrene; Asia (Lydia); Mysia; Bithynia; Greece. This is almost exactly the order in which Luke attempts to narrate Paul's missionary journeys in the Diaspora. There is work in Cilicia and thereabouts, interrupted by intervals back "home" at Antioch and Jerusalem and Cyprus; then the effort to enter Asia; then the effort to enter Mysia; then the effort to enter Bithynia. Then, Paul heads off to Greece. Only Cyrene stands out, but three notes are in order. One, Luke goes out of his way to highlight the role of Cyreneans in the early spread of the gospel to the Gentiles; two, he frequently links Cyrenean Christians with Cypriot Christians; three, there is evidence that the Cyrenean and Cypriot Jewish communities had a particularly close relationship. I would suggest that Luke was aware that Paul never traveled to Cyrene, and thus did as much as he could to bring Cyrene into a geographically-structured narrative as close to the place where it should have appeared. This also accounts, I think, for why he neither mentions Paul's time spent preaching in Arabia while also going out of his way to explain why Paul never entered Asia, Mysia, or Bithynia: the former did not fit into his geographical scheme, while the latter was mandated by it.

But here we come up against a question: why didn't Luke just make up Pauline journeys to Cyrene, Asia, Mysia, or Bithynia? And the answer is deceptively simple: Luke didn't just make things up. His aim was precisely to show how prophecy was being concretely fulfilled in the activities of the early Christians (cf. the language of Luke 1:1). That aim was incompatible with just making things up. But it was not incompatible with an attempt to "bring out" what Luke considered to be the divine plan evident in the pattern of those activities. This created situations wherein the messiness of history did not conform to Luke's relatively tidy prophetic schema, and Luke had to account for that. His account not surprisingly conformed to the theological outlook that structures his work: the Spirit decided that Paul was not to operate in these areas.

If the above is a correct interpretation then the following seems also to be the case: Luke could expect his readers to be aware of the geography of prophecy found in Isaiah 66:19. He could expect them to expect that Paul would enter into Asia, Mysia, and Bithynia. Otherwise it is hard to account for why he would feel a need to give an explanation. He could have just passed over it in silence. It is precisely because these particular prophecies of Isaiah 66 were not fulfilled by Paul (again, cf. Luke 1:1) that he must mention them.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

On Being Emic

A recent discussion on FB turned upon the emic/etic distinction. For those who might be unfamiliar with the terms, the emic/etic distinction emerges out of Americanist anthropology, and was coined by the linguistic anthropologist Kenneth Pike. The emic refers to the attempt to understand persons of other cultural contexts from within their own perspective, whereas the etic refers to the attempt to understand such persons from within our perspective. It is the difference between trying to "think as" versus "think about," between trying to see the world as others see the world and trying to situate others within our own vision of the world. Emic thinking is frankly far more difficult than etic thinking, as it is not just about thought but also about empathy. And as certain candidates for high office in the United States demonstrate quite readily, not everyone is equally endowed with empathy.

When studying anthropology at the undergraduate level, it was drilled into me that one cannot get to the etic before really grasping the emic (it should be noted that I studied in a context deeply influenced by the Americanist tradition of cultural anthropology, in which Canadian anthropology has always participated deeply due to the fact that the first American anthropologists often carried out fieldwork among our indigenous persons; the British tradition of social anthropology would tend to approach things somewhat differently). Before one can really understand others on one's own terms, one must understand them on theirs. Understanding others on one's own terms is completely appropriate: it is what allows one to construct for oneself a coherent reality that includes other persons within its ambit. But to the extent that one has not yet adequately apprehended others on their own terms then what one is integrating into that coherent reality is not those persons but rather a bad pastiche of those persons. (BTW: it literally goes without saying that what one is integrating into one's reality are constructions, not the literal persons, but I will say it anyways).

Anthropologists are primarily concerned with studying others who are our contemporaries, but I think that the above lesson applies equally well to studying the ancients (something which Americanist anthropology, which includes in its ambit the archaeology of the Americas, is well-experienced at doing). In fact, I would argue that the same insight that drives the Americanist anthropologist to give heuristic priority to the emic is identical to that which drives Meyer to give heuristic priority to the intention of the author. Before I can make judgments about, for instance, to what extent material in Acts is to be useful for reconstructing past events, I must first know what the author of Acts (let's call him Luke, for convenience) means to communicate. If he means to communicate fiction then the probability that he can inform us greatly about the past course of events decreases greatly. A writer who means to communicate actual courses of events is hardly free from error in so doing, but is more likely to achieve this aim than someone for whom it's not an aim at all. And we can only know this by what we can reasonably define as an emic analysis of the text. Indeed, in principle the only thing that differs between the work of the anthropologist and the work of the historian in such instances is the character of the data with which each works: the anthropologist works with living persons, their activities in the present; the historian with the artifacts left behind by such activities.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

History without People

My absolute favourite anthropologist remains Eric Wolf. I love his work. Just amazing. His magnum opus is usually considered to be Europe and the People without History (although it was his final work, Envisioning Power, in which he builds upon his experiences as a Holocaust survivor and an anthropologist to examine the culture of Nazi Germany, that really led me to fall in love with his scholarship). In People without History, his focus is upon those non-European peoples that Europeans encountered during their period of expansion from c. 1400, i.e. the people left out of standard accounts (still today, and all the more so in 1982, when he published the work), i.e. people without history (indeed, literally outside of our traditional historiography). It is a breath-taking work that really should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the world that we live in. That said, as I think about the historiography of early Christian studies I am struck by the extent to which we can play with the title of Wolf's book, and talk about New Testament studies and the history without people.

If you read histories of early Christianity, there seems to really be only one identifiable historical actor, namely Paul. We'll talk about what James, Peter, Barnabas, were doing, but generally speaking only insofar as it impugns upon Paul's life. And Paul alone is the one figure that is universally allowed to have written or even notably contributed to (some of) the works attributed to him. Admittedly, to a certain extent this is a consequence of the data: we have something resembling a biography of Paul from relatively early, whereas we have nothing comparable for other figures of the early post-Easter church, and his letters do contain more notably greater amounts of autobiographical data than we find in the Catholic Epistles. Still, it's not like we have zero data on other figures, and at times one is struck by the reticence to utilize that data: indeed, to even try to utilize that data.

The sterling example of such reticence in my mind is Peter. We have enough data from the gospels and Acts to think that Peter was a significant figure both in Jesus's lifetime and in the development of early Christianity. Prima facie, even if we had no explicit statements on the matter, we should reasonably anticipate that he was prominent in shaping the Jesus tradition. It's nice to find that anticipation confirmed via data that dates to within a century of Jesus's death and perhaps a half-century of Peter's, but frankly even without that data it would be a reasonable hypothesis. In fact, the opposite hypothesis, that this figure who was apparently prominent in both Jesus's life and the earliest decades of the Christian movement had little to no input into the shaping of the Jesus tradition, seems on the surface really quite unlikely. Yet for the most part, our models for the origins of the Jesus and gospel traditions have for the better part of a century ignored Peter as a highly probable historical actor.

Now, of course, at times it is appropriate to ignore named actors. Historical investigation occurs on multiple levels of abstraction, and only on some of those is appropriate to work with named actors. On some levels of abstraction it would in fact constitute an impediment to knowledge if we were to do so. That said, one can look at named actors on the level of basic history and at, say, the sort of social-historical concerns that gripped the form critics on another and which in large part require us to abstract from named actors (although the specific procedures and suppositions of form criticism are now largely obsolete, it does not vitiate in principle the prospects of producing a social history of early Christian knowledge, with a focus upon the Jesus tradition). These are complements, not opponents. But there can be no complementary relationship when one of the complements is ignored, as the concrete operation of named actors in the production of the Jesus tradition has been functionally ignored for much of the last century.

Friday, 5 August 2016

The Accidents of History

In a FB discussion of yesterday's post I mentioned something that I called an "accident of history." I identify three scholars in the last-third of the 20th century who had been particularly diligent in matters related to basic history. One, J.A.T. Robinson, produced the most extensive, synthetic, study of the dates of the New Testament since Harnack's work seventy years earlier. A second, Colin J. Hemer, was actively engaged in critically updating the work of William Ramsay c. 1890-1910, who perhaps more than any other scholar in the history of NT studies worked to integrate the findings of archaeology into the history of the NT era (and, as a side-note, his understanding of Paul's theology was in many ways well ahead of its time). A third, Ben F. Meyer, recognized that other disciplines had not stopped thinking about how to do basic history when we turned to other pursuits a century ago, and that as such, if our basic histories were to be adequately updated, so too must our thinking about how to do basic history.

Unfortunately, all three of these men passed away relatively young, all from cancer. Robinson died at 64. He left an uncompleted monograph, The Priority of John, which expanded upon his arguments on the date of John's Gospel that he had earlier developed in Redating the New Testament (Robinson had been for the bulk of his career focused upon Johannine studies and contemporary theology--his 1963 work, Honest to God, was one of the most influential works of Christian theology produced in the 1960s--and it was doubts about the date of John's Gospel that led him to undertake full-scale reevaluation of the dates of the entire NT corpus). Hemer died at 57. He too left an uncompleted monograph, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. Fortunately, both Priority of John and The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History were close enough to complete that colleagues were able to bring them into a publishable state. But, as Conrad Gempf says in his foreword to The Book of Acts: Hemer's premature death "seemed especially sad in that he had spent years reading, learning, accumulating knowledge, and was just at the point of beginning to burst out with monograph after monograph applying this wealth of learning." Had these scholars had another decade or two or three to continue writing, what further might they have contributed to a reinvigorated basic history?

Meyer was able to contribute greater quantity of his specific contributions to basic history than either Robinson or Hemer: Robinson did not turn to such issues until relatively late in his abbreviated life, and Hemer died so much younger than the other two men that his contributions were cut short that much sooner. That said, Meyer did not produce as great a quantity of basic history as either of the other two, because his interests were really philosophical. Collingwood distinguishes between doing history and thinking about what it is that we do when we do history, and Meyer more fell into that latter category than either Robinson or Hemer (who were much more interested in just getting on with doing history than in thinking about doing history). Still, Meyer was producing what I consider to be a remarkable basis for doing basic history: one that took into account the "Copernican turn" in historiography identified by Collingwood (namely, the recognition that history is an inferential enterprise carried out on the authority not of data but rather of the historian) and augmented it with a sophisticated theory of the historical and knowing subject derived from Lonergan. His work is indispensable to a reinvigorated basic history, I would argue, because it gets us around the common objections raised in the discipline regarding the possibility of arriving at historical knowledge. Still, even though he lived longer than either Hemer or Robinson, he was also sick for a much longer time. Hemer and Robinson both suffered from relatively short illness, whereas Meyer was dying for a decade. Certainly his output during that decade was less than it might have been had he not been so ill, but we do probably have more of what he might have written than we do of certainly Hemer and probably Robinson.

Statistically, the likelihood that each of these scholars would find their scholarly careers cut short by cancer was quite low. But it happened, and not only is it a human tragedy (as illness always is) but it was also a great loss to NT scholarship, especially for those of us most interested in basic history. It is an accident of history, the sort that in fact emphasizes the important of basic history. No social history or cultural history or doctrinal history, no law-like speculative philosophy of history, could apprehend this accident. It is something that we can know only when we ask who did what when and where.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

The Beauty of Older Scholarship

I am learning to love older scholarship. And by "older" I mean pre-war. And by "pre-war," I mean before the Great War, i.e. the First World War, the War to End All Wars, i.e. the war that made the Second World War virtually inevitable. Historical accounts of New Testament scholarship often identify the First World War as a turning point. Without exaggerating, I would describe this turning point as follows. In the two or so decades prior to the war, NT scholars tended to focus upon what Lonergan would describe as "basic" history: who did what where and when. After the war there was a shift towards what Lonergan calls "special" histories, such as the history of tradition, the history of form, the history of redaction. The reasons for this shift are unnecessary to discuss here. Rather, it is sufficient to state that when one reads through the work of the pre-war period you sort of get the sense of an aborted project.

The NT historians of the pre-war years were building upon the work of titans such as Lightfoot and Zahn to produce remarkable insights into the origins of Christianity. Some of the work of that period has never really been surpassed. For instance, George Edmundson' 1913 The Church in Rome in the First Century remains one of the best basic-historical studies of the subject, simply because so little work has been done on the matter since then. It can be augmented greatly by works such as Lampe's excellent 1987 Die stadtrömischen Christen in den ersten beiden Jahrhunderten, translated into English as From Paul to Valentinus: Christianity at Rome in the First Two Centuries, which as its German sub-title (Untersuchungen zur Sozialgeschichte) suggests, is a social history. Lampe is not doing basic history, not primarily. He does it of course, when necessary, but that is not his focus. Indeed, a focus upon basic history has all but disappeared within NT scholarship.

I think that this is deeply problematic. As noted above, in a real sense the multi-decade crisis that began in 1914 brought a premature end to the enterprise of basic history as it relates to NT studies. As such, there was yet much left undone, and some of our only studies on a number of basic-historical matters are now well over a century old. Edmundson's work on the Roman church remains excellent, and in many ways indispensable due to a dearth of comparable work, but it was written 103 years ago. And this is a problem, because basic history is basic for a reason. I love social history. It's really my primary passion. But social histories presuppose basic histories. They suppose that we know what was happening, and then attempt to make sense of that. An obvious example of this is chronology: if one wants to write, for instance, a social history of early Christian knowledge (to adapt a term from Peter Burke), then it makes a real difference whether the bulk of extant first-century Christian works were written c. 40-70, as per John Robinson, or 40-100 as per the consensus dates, or 40-140 as per the neo-Baurian school. Yet we continue to work with a chronology that was worked out in the main a century ago, and has been subjected to very limited testing since then. To the extent that our basic histories are as antiquated as they are, then to that extent our social histories will also suffer--as will our cultural histories, our histories of doctrines, our tradition histories, etc. As such, I find myself returning time and again to scholars such as Harnack, Lightfoot, and Edmundson, because they are really our best examples of NT scholarship focused upon basic history. If we are to generate basic histories that take into account everything that we've learned over the last hundred years then we have to return to where the project of basic history broke off. And I'm learning a lot from them.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The Embedded Luke

I've been thinking a fair bit about Luke's historical knowledge. I have been focused upon Acts, but as I am convinced that it was written as the sequel to Luke's Gospel I realize that I must think about both works together. When I do I note something of interest. There are a number of events or situations narrated in Luke-Acts that we find independently attested elsewhere: the death of Herod Agrippa, the expulsion of Jewish-Christians from Rome (although this is a bit more controverted than the others), Gallio's proconsulship in Corinth, Felix's and Festus's respective tenures in Judea. Conversely, we have a number of places where Luke seems to make errors: the census of Quirinius and the famous reversal of Theudas and Judas in Acts 5. I've been thinking through what to make of this combination of apparently solid historical reporting and probable error, and as I do I notice what is possibly a very interesting pattern.

The events or situations about which Luke is fuzziest occurred decades before his primary narrative. Conversely, Luke seems best informed about events from c. the mid-40s through to the early-60s. Interestingly enough, the largest cluster of events or situations of which Luke is best informed are situated after the first of the We-passages. With this data in mind, I would like to propose a simple explanation for why he tends to be more accurate during the 40s through early 60s: that was the period in which he himself flourished. He is best informed about this era because he lived through it, as an adult in the prime of his life. It doesn't follow of course that everything he reports in those later chapters occurred, or as described (in fact, there is at least one narrative in that latter part of Acts in which I would argue Luke is demonstrably confused on the matter that he reports, namely his description of Apollos and the twelve disciples in Ephesus, described at the end of 18 and beginning of 19). Neither does it follow that everything he describes earlier confused or mistaken or wrong-headed. It does suggest though that in these later passages his relationship to the material has changed, from something like what we might call an archivist to perhaps something closer to an embedded journalist.