Tuesday, 22 November 2016

"Of Dates and Data"

I've begun rereading John A.T. Robinson's Redating the New Testament for the...well, actually, I've read it so many times that I'm not actually sure what time this is. I think it might be number four. Maybe five. In any case, I've decided that I might blog upon Redating as I reread, beginning with chapter I, "Dates and Data."

"Dates and Data" is what one expects in an introductory chapter. It defines the question, and considers the current (as of the mid-1970s) state of the question. What is interesting for this writer is that the state of the question isn't that far off in 2016 from what it was when Redating was published in 1976. Robinson observes that prior to Redating, the last major, synthetic work focusing upon the dates of the New Testament comes from 1897, in volume II of Harnack's Geschichte der altchristlichen Litteratur bis Eusebius. This still-excellent volume unfortunately tends to be under-read in contemporary scholarship, perhaps in large part due to the fact that it has never been translated into English. That said, Robinson's discussion of synthetic works on the dates of the New Testament texts is virtually up-to-date. Just add a reference to Redating itself, and this discussion would suffice for 2016.

One aspect of past work that Robinson could flag more fully is the fact that Geschichte was not Harnack's final word on the dates of the New Testament (Robinson does mention this, on p. 5, but in passing). Most notably, while Harnack dated Luke-Acts to c. the 80s in Geschichte, he would subsequently revise this opinion twice, both downwards, eventually concluding that Acts was written before Paul's death c. 65. This in turn required him to revise his date for Mark's Gospel downwards. What that means is that Geschichte itself cannot be considered Harnack's definitive synthesis of the dates of the New Testament, as he would come to disagree with certain of its judgments.

Harnack's later revisions demonstrate why serious work on the dates of the New Testament need to be synthetic in nature. This is a matter that Robinson discusses at length in this initial chapter. My own go-to example is 1 Timothy 5:18, which quotes as scripture a phrase that occurs verbatim in Luke's Gospel, and only in Luke's Gospel. One's judgments about both Luke's Gospel and 1 Timothy are thus closely entailed. If one judges that 1 Timothy is quoting Luke's Gospel here, then Luke's Gospel must predate 1 Timothy and 1 Timothy must postdate Luke's Gospel. If one can then establish the date of either text, one has narrowed down the possible dates for the other. Yet it continues. If Luke used Mark's Gospel as a source, then Mark's Gospel must also predate 1 Timothy and 1 Timothy postdate Mark's Gospel; likewise if Luke used Matthew's Gospel. Any treatment of the dates of Mark's Gospel, Luke's Gospel, and 1 Timothy in isolation from each other will be incomplete. Unfortunately, the tendency within the modern academy towards hyper-specialization tends to inhibit such synthetic work.

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