Wednesday, 7 December 2016

"The Petrine Epistles and Jude," Pt. 2

So, we come to what I consider to be the hardest two NT texts to situate in time and place: 2 Peter and Jude. The two texts provide next to no clues as to the time or place at which they were written. We don't even have the clear indication that the text was written from Rome that we find in 1 Peter 5:13, or (to anticipate the next chapter of Redating the New Testament) the fairly clear indication of a pre-70 date that we find in Hebrews 10:2. Only two real indicators exist. One, if the text is deemed to be authentically Petrine, then it must predate Peter's death in the mid to late 60s; two, it must have been written after at least two of Paul's letters (cf. 3:15-16). The reference to "All [Paul's] letters" might reasonably be thought to suggest that more than two of Paul's letters were written, although we cannot take for granted that 2 Peter is referencing only extant letters; despite recurrent claims to the contrary, it hardly requires that 2 Peter is envisioning a collection of Pauline letters, and in any case we don't know that such a collection didn't exist in Peter's lifetime (Paul would not have been the first or last writer whose letters were collected during his own lifetime). Likewise, the reference to these letters as graphai tells us nothing, because the data is such that we simply do not know when that term first was applied to Paul's letters. As such the conditions envisioned by 3:15-16 could conceivably have already existed in, say, the 40s. Still, given that our extant authentic Pauline letters cluster primarily in the 50s, we probably would do well to think that this is the earliest probable date for the letter. Jude doesn't even offer this meager data, as even if we judge it likely that the text was written by Jude, brother of James and likely also Jesus, we have no clear data on his time of death (although given what we know about his brothers a date much later than, say, 80, seems unlikely; this coheres well with Hegesippus' report, mediated by Eusebius, that under Domitian, who reigned from 80 to 96, Jude's descendants but not Jude himself were subjected to persecution).

Any discussion of 2 Peter and Jude needs to address the fact that the two texts have much in common. In fact, much of what is found in Jude is also found in 2 Peter 2. Three basic relationships have been posited: Jude used 2 Peter, 2 Peter used Jude, both used a common, non-extant, source. In Redating, Robinson proposes another possibility: both were written by the same author, whom he specifically identifies as Jude. He argues that when, in Jude 1:3, the writer states that "while eagerly preparing to write to you about the salvation we share, I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints," what he was preparing to write was nothing other than 2 Peter, in the name--and presumably at the behest--of the better-known apostle. In principle, there is nothing objectionable about this hypothesis; Ehrman's recent effort to show that Christian amanuenses in no circumstances operated in such a fashion is loaded with both empirical and conceptual difficulties, and really quite unconvincing. The more salient question is whether it fits the data of 2 Peter and Jude. Although Robinson's solution has a certain elegance that I find attractive, there are certain data that potentially resist affirmation.

Most notable, I think, is 2 Peter 3:1. Here, the author states that this is the second letter that he has written to the readers. Most typically this is construed as a reference to 1 Peter, and Robinson is probably correct in saying that if 2 Peter is straightforward pseudepigraphy only 1 Peter makes sense. But he's also correct in noting that 2 Peter's description of the content of the former letter does not really sound like 1 Peter. I wonder though if his own solution works, when he argues that what is in mind is our Epistle of Jude. Now, granted, the description of the previous letter would sum up our Epistle of Jude aptly, but if Jude is writing as Peter would he break character and refer to his own previous writing in the first person? Could he reasonably have expected his readers to know that suddenly this is Jude talking in his own voice, not Peter's? In fairness to Robinson, he does not consider this to be a necessary part of his larger hypothesis, but rather states that 2 Peter could be referencing a no-longer-extant Petrine text. Still, it does make me wonder whether Robinson is working a little bit too hard to make the pieces fit. Ultimately, when it comes to 2 Peter and Jude, I find myself not quite able to affirm Robinson's position, but neither quite able to dismiss it. I can't find anything to rule it out, but at the same time it feels almost too good to be true.

In terms of date, Robinson lands at 61-62 for the both of these texts. As intimated above, if 2 Peter is to be attributed to Peter, either directly or by way of an authorized amanuensis, this is probably around the time that we need to be looking: late enough that the text can plausibly talk about Paul's letters as if they are plentiful, but before Peter's death later in the 60s. If Jude is by Jude, then likewise we'd want to be looking from the mid-50s, but perhaps through the 70s or so would remain viable. Robinson's observation that Jude might very well have assumed a greater leadership role after James's passing in 62, which is perhaps not reflected in the letter, is well-taken, but as an argument from silence suffers from the intrinsic weaknesses of such a line of argumentation. Also, this increased leadership role is better attested for Jude's descendants than for Jude himself. In any case, if written by Jude, a date much later than c. 62 is hardly demanded by the data. Of course, if neither is authentic, then bets are largely off, although dates well into the second century strike me as improbable: neither text seems particularly preoccupied with the sort of matters that we know on other grounds became increasingly significant as the 100s ticked by.

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