Sunday, 18 December 2016

The Shepherd of Hermas--"A Post-Apostolic Postscript," Pt. 2

While I find Robinson on shaky ground in his dating of the Epistle of Barnabas, I find him on pretty solid ground with the dating of the Shepherd of Hermas, at c. 85 (compared to the mid-2nd century of broader consensus). Before we discuss his arguments however, we need to consider a question that he does not raise, namely the unity of the Shepherd. The text is remarkably complex, consisting of three separate parts (often cited separately, a practice I will follow here as it was followed by Robinson): the Visions, the Mandates, and the Similitudes, abbreviated typically and respectively as Vis., Mand., and Sim. Indeed, the text is sufficiently complex that the Society of Biblical Literature Style Guide, 2nd ed., dedicates an entire appendix to the discussion of how best to cite the text. No other text is signaled out for such special treatment. Historically, this complexity was seen by critical scholars as evidence of a composite work, written by multiple hands over an extended period of time. In contrast, Robinson simply assumes the unity of the text, without arguing for it. This is something of a weakness in his treatment, although coming as the discussion does in a "postscript" it perhaps can be forgiven: this is more an appendix than it is the main body of the work. It should also be noted that more recent scholarship has moved somewhat in the direction of seeing the text as a unity. In her 1999 Hermeneia commentary on the text, for instance, Carolyn Osiek argues that it was written by a single author, over an extended period of time. My own inclination is to think Robinson and Osiek more likely to be on the right track than not. In general, I think that the tendency to disintegrate texts that come to us as an unity into hypothetical composite parts is a hold-over of certain habits of speculation introduced into the discipline in the 19th-century: habits that tend to suffer from a dearth of evidence and a fuzziness of concept that vitiate their arguments.

Robinson's date for the text turns on on two matters: the irrelevance of the Muratorian Canon for the discussion, and the crucial relevance of Vis. 2.4.3. As Robinson notes, the argument for a second-century rests almost entirely upon the Muratorian Canon, which states that the text was written "recently," by a man named "Pastor," the brother of Pius, bishop of Rome from 140-154. Now, no question, the Shepherd is situated in Rome: that's clear from the text itself. But, as Robinson notes, the Canon is not generally considered to be a reliable source, and more recent scholarship seems inclined to push it from a late-second century date into the third and even fourth centuries. As Robinson notes, for no other text would chronological judgments rest almost entirely upon the canon's evidence, and thus it seems questionable to do so with the Shepherd. Moreover, Robinson is able to produce a compelling explanation for the text's likely error: the Latin title of the Shepherd is Liber Pastoris (Book of the Shepherd), and suggests that the author of the canon has simply made the mistake of assuming that this was the name of the author, i.e. Pastor.

More compelling is the data given by Vis. 2.4.3. Here, Hermas is having a vision of an elderly lady, who in Holmes' translation says to him
Therefore you will write two little books, and you will send one to Clement and one to Grapte. Then Clement will send it to the cities abroad, because that is his job. But Grapte will instruct the widows and the elders. But you yourself will read it to this city [i.e. Rome], along with the elders who preside over the church.
There is a longstanding and likely correct supposition that the Clement referenced here (even if fictionally) is likely Clement of Rome, the putative author also of 1 Clement, and according to tradition the third bishop of Rome after Peter. It is sometimes supposed that this verse indicates (even if fictionally) that Clement was bishop at the time that Hermas wrote these words. Clement's episcopacy is typically dated to the 90s, although arguments have been made that would date its advent to the mid-80s. Robinson argues that this description of Clement's role suggests that Clement was more of a "foreign secretary" (his term) than a bishop proper, and thus that the text should predate his episcopacy. Given that the exact role of the "bishop" of Rome in these early decades remains unclear, I find myself generally unable to adjudicate between these two positions with confidence, and would be more inclined to say more generally that the Visions date to the last two or so decades of the first century. Other evidence adduced by Robinson points also in this direction. For instance, the reference to the elders who preside over the city (in Vis. 2.4.3, cited above) does seem to suggest an ecclesiology more like that which we know from the first rather than the second century.

We are left with the problem, identified by Osiek, that the text overall, while likely written by a single author, might well have been written over an extended period of time. I am perfectly happy to grant such a scenario, not least of all because of the sheer size of the work. But would this require us to move the completion of the text significantly into the second century, if at all? I'm not convinced, and thus am inclined to situate the Shepherd overall in the late first-century. Note that this would permit one to identify Hermas the author with the Hermas mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:14. Robinson however does not make this identification, and for good reason. Both are Roman Christians, in the first century (if the above hypothesis is deemed correct), named Hermas, but I'm not sure that suffices for an identification. This differs from the identification of the Clement of Vis. 2 with Clement of Rome, wherein the description of his role in the Shepherd matches closely the description of his role that we find in relation to 1 Clement. Absent such data, I am reluctant to think the Hermas who wrote the Shepherd is likely the Hermas mentioned by Paul. Certainly, the recurrent efforts to use Rom. 16:14 as a datum for dating the Shepherd need to be greeted with reserve.

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