Wednesday, 21 December 2016

1 Clement--"A Post-Apostolic Postscript," Pt. 4

With this blog post, I discuss Robinson's treatment of 1 Clement, the final text that he considers in Redating the New Testament. I will post in the next few days on other matters that come out of my reading of Robinson, especially on how it relates to my own current research programme, but this completes my "review" of Robinson's chronology proper.

1 Clement is generally dated to the mid-90s, and this because it is supposed (largely following Lightfoot) that the text became associated with Clement of Rome (who is never actually mentioned in the body of the text) because it was sent from Rome to Corinth at a time when he was the bishop of the former church. Robinson, not surprisingly opts for a date a couple decades earlier, in early 70. Some of his argumentation here is related to that which he advanced for the Shepherd of Hermas: that Clement was likely associated with this text not because he was bishop of Rome when it was written, but rather because he was the Roman church's "foreign secretary." In terms of generating an exact date, Robinson argues that the "sudden and repeated misfortunes and reverses that have happened to us" of 1.1 (following Holmes's translation) refer, not as Lightfoot and others have argued, to the events of Domitian's reign, but rather to the Neronian persecution and the chaos of the Year of the Four Emperors. He argues also that the discussion in chapter 41 of the Jerusalem temple supposes that it is yet standing. Thus, he argues, the text must have been written in the latter part of 69 or the earlier part of 70.

I find these arguments to be of varying weight. Robinson is wholly correct to note that the association with Clement needn't indicate that the letter was written when he was bishop, and thus that a date as early as the 70s or even into the late-60s is theoretically possible. He is of course correct in judging that it cannot date much earlier than that, as it talks about the deaths of Peter and Paul as past events (cf. chapter 5), and they appear both to have died in the mid- to late- 60s. I'm less convinced that 1.1 refers to the Neronian persecution. Indeed, it's not even clear to me that 1.1 references persecution at all; "misfortunes" and "reversals" could entail a great number of things. On the upper end of things, I am unconvinced that chapter 41 necessarily supposes that the temple yet stands; unlike Hebrews 10:2, the argument in this passage seems quite conceivable after the destruction of the temple. I think frankly that Robinson puts too much weight on this datum. 100 however seems like a reasonable terminus ante quem, as Clement seems to have died around that time. Thus, a range from c. 70 up to c. 100, around which time Clement seems to have died, seems by far the most viable range.

A potential objection to the earlier end of this range is that 47.6 refers to the Corinthian church as "ancient" (ἀρχαῖος). Robinson addresses this quite well, and is surely correct in arguing that this hardly makes the 90s more likely than c. 70. All Clement seems to be saying here is that the church has been around for some time. C. 70 the church in Corinth would be about twenty years old, and by c. 90 it would be about forty...is there something about forty that would make it ancient when twenty is not? When we remember moreover that ἀρχαῖος can simply be translated as "old," it doesn't seem unreasonable to think that in a movement barely forty years old (as of 70) a church that is twenty years old might well have been one of the older communities then in existence. Another objection is the fact that Clement probably cites Hebrews, which is part of why 1 Clement is often dated to the 90s: if Hebrews is dated to the 80s or early 90s, then 1 Clement cannot date any earlier. But Robinson has already given very good reason to date Hebrews before 70, thus anticipating and obviating this objection.

That all being said, at this point, I am unconvinced that we can be as precise in that range as either Lightfoot or Robinson desired. The reality is that we don't know that much about the church in these latter decades of the first century, at least not relative to our detailed knowledge of the 30s through 60s. In particular, we lack precisely that form of data most needful for chronology, namely a solid narrative account. We have that for the earlier decades in Acts, but that breaks off c. 62. The one argument that might incline me towards an earlier date in this range is Robinson's observation that 1 Clement does not seem to suppose a sole bishop in the church at Rome, whereas by the time Ignatius is writing during Trajan's reign he can suppose precisely that. But even there, Ignatius could be writing as late as c. 117, thus allowing for the better part of twenty years to intervene between the latest possible date for 1 Clement. As such, I am generally inclined to think that, as with the Shepherd of Hermas, we have to conclude that it likely dates to the last three decades of the first century, but that on the basis of the extant data greater precision is excluded.

A final note, not raised by Robinson: such a conclusion would allow for the possibility that the Clement of Phil. 4:3 is the Clement of 1 Clement. If Clement was one of the most prominent--perhaps even the most prominent--leaders in the Roman church of the 90s, then it's not at all improbable that he was active in Christian ministry in the late-50s. That said, as I concluded in a comparable discussion with regard to the Shepherd of Hermas, while not impossible or even improbable, I do not think that the data permits us to make such an identification with confidence. We cannot even be certain from Philippians that Clement is associated with the Roman church at all (although if Philippians is written from Rome, that would be quite probable), and moreover "Clement" appears to have been a very common name in Rome. This seems to be a matter upon which we might need to remain agnostic.

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