Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Dialogue and Reality



The above comic has been making the rounds on the interwebs. On the surface, there's nothing objectionable to it. But it does have me thinking: what is the basis for dialogue? Because the reality is that there are people with whom one cannot effectively dialogue.

Let me suggest the following: the object of dialogue is reality. When I dialogue with you it is because I believe that we can more adequate apprehend reality by working together than I can on my own. That reality might be your beliefs, views, experiences, in which case, quite obviously, I need your input. That reality might be, maybe, the history of early Christianity, about which I know much but hardly all, and your input might well help me better work out some of what I don't know while correcting for potential errors in what (I think) I do know. But if the object of dialogue is reality then any and all participants in dialogue must be concerned with discovering reality.

The reality though is that not everyone is concerned with discovering reality. We all have experienced such persons. You know them by their belief that they can just make up or deny facts. They say, "Homosexuals are all pedophiles." You say, "There is no evidence that homosexual persons are pedophiles in any greater frequency than heterosexual persons." They say, "Homosexuals are all pedophiles." They say, "The world is six thousand years old." You say, "We have loads of material that are older than six thousand years." They say, "The world is six thousand years old." Perhaps even worse, because they are incapable of thought, they assume the same about you. Because all they can do is spout off imbecilic ideology (the "imbecilic" is actually redundant), they assume that you must be doing the same. And somehow, in some of the most baffling of psychological moves, they suppose that the act of projecting their imbecility constitutes the most sublime act of reason. One cannot dialogue with such pathology.

Ideology, I would suggest, following Lonergan, is a way to justify a willful inability to discover reality and a unwillingness to cultivate the skills needed to do so. Realizing that thinking is hard and learning to think even harder, the ideologue finds some slogans that relieve him or her of that terrible burden which is thought. And you can't dialogue with such persons, because they are a walking echo chamber. All they hear is themselves. If you disagree, they hear confirmation that there is a grand conspiracy out there. You're either part of it or been duped by it: you must be, or you'd agree; since you don't agree, you must be. It's tautology at its finest. It's also incredibly, remarkably, staggeringly, impressively stupid, and one cannot dialogue with the incredibly, remarkably, staggeringly, impressively stupid.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

The Quest for the Historical Hiawatha

From what I understand, virtually all archaeologists and historians who study the matter agree that the Iroquois confederacy--the bringing together into political and religious union the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca peoples--was carried out as a result of the work of the Great Peacemaker and his disciple, Hiawatha. There is, as best I can tell, little dispute about their existence, even though the earliest written accounts come from at least three centuries after their life. That should be instructive to mythicists regarding how actual historians approach their subject matter, but of greater interest to me are the chronological debates around when the confederacy was founded. As I understand things, there are basically two major positions. One dates the founding of the confederacy to the mid-12th century, one to the mid-15th. The basis for these dates is primarily a Seneca myth that says that the last war among the Iroquois was brought to an end when the sky darkened, which the Seneca took as a sign that they should join the confederacy, thus bringing about the Great Peace (i.e. the founding of the confederacy). There are candidates for this eclipse in 1142 and 1451. The arguments then move to which date can best be supported on the archaeological data from what is today New York and Pennsylvania, where the Iroquois resided.

Aside from being interesting in its own right, this again drives home how comparatively easy we have it in early Christian studies. Our chronological debates regarding events tend to focus upon ranges of a few years. Did Paul flee from Damascus in 36 or 37, as Campbell argues? Or 33 or 34, as I'm inclined to think? These debates are important. They have consequences for what we do with other aspects of early Christian chronology, and chronology will remain always the backbone of history. But they are nothing compared to "Was the Iroquois confederacy founded in 1142 or 1451?" We wrangle over three years, Iroquois specialists debate over three centuries. We should celebrate the richness of the data at our disposal, and the fact that the debate over such crucial events as the flight from Damascus can be narrowed down to such a small range.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

On Having Nothing

As no doubt many who read this blog know, my undergraduate degree is in Anthropology. Religious Studies was my minor, and what I chose to pursue in grad school. The reason that I opted to go in that direction had largely to do with my own ethical misgivings. I was profoundly interested in First Nations culture and history ("First Nations" is a Canadianism used to refer to our indigenous persons), but found the ethical issues of being a white person studying those traditions too intractable. Many people that I greatly respect have successfully negotiated those areas, and that's great, but myself, I just couldn't. Instead, I decided to study something that I find equally fascinating, namely early Christianity. There is ethically something quite different about studying a tradition in which you were raised and which generations of your family practiced, compared to studying traditions that your own people nearly destroyed by various forms of genocide. But I digress.

Aside from ethical difficulties in studying First Nations culture and history there are profound empirical ones. My primary interest was in pre-contact religion: what was First Nations religious life like before Europeans? But how do you study that without written texts, of which there are virtually none from Canada's First Nations prior to contact? How do you determine what in the archaeological record reflects religious practice and what does not? How do you understand the cosmologies of such groups? You can turn to oral tradition, but the oral tradition is talking about events and situations that haven't pertained for centuries, sometimes up to a millennium (such as the traditions around the founding of the Iroquois League). You can look at what early European settlers had to say, and to that end I was greatly interested in such texts as the Jesuit writings about their early experiences in what is now mid-western Ontario. But even by the time these written, starting in the mid-16th century, First Nations peoples were already finding their lifeways profoundly disrupted, and in addition there is the reality that the Jesuit themselves didn't really understand themselves what they were observing and were hardly neutral observers. Empirically, one must face the difficulty that precisely the sort of data that a historian of religion most needs is what is most lacking when looking at pre-contact First Nations religion.

As such, the study of early Christianity seemed like an empirical breath of fresh air. I could read what the early Christians thought about themselves and what they were doing. I could hear them narrate their own history, from a time not long after the events they were purporting to narrate. What wouldn't a historian of the First Nations people give for that? Imagine if scholar of the Iroquois League somehow discovered a narrative account of the founding of that league by Hiawatha and Deganawida from within a generation or two of their lives? How incredible! It would revolutionize the historiography of that time and place (namely, what is now upstate New York, in probably the twelfth Christian century). Alas, there is no such account.

This is perhaps why I get a little tetchy when I encounter programmatic skepticism regarding the texts related to early Christianity. When you have studied a time and place for which there are no written texts you come to greatly appreciate that even a little bit of writing makes a huge difference. Imagine if we had no writings from the ancient Mediterranean world. We wouldn't know that there was a distinct group known as the Jews. We wouldn't know that from that group emerged two movements, the Rabbinic and the Christian, that developed into two of the world's most prominent religious traditions. We might be able to have some sense that there existed some sort of state that controlled much of the circum-Mediterranean area at one point, but we wouldn't know that there was a Roman Republic that transformed into a Roman Empire. We probably would have a hard time determining that this state emerged from Rome at all. We wouldn't know what language(s) they spoke. We wouldn't know about the Julio-Claudians or that there were persons like Jesus or Paul. We would be quite literally clueless, as this is all the product of written texts.

The reality is that historians of Mediterranean antiquity, including historians of early Christianity, suffer from an embarrassment of riches. And like many rich folk, we tend to forget how good we have it.

Monday, 18 July 2016

A Word of Clarification

I was just rereading my most-recent post and realize that I omitted to mention something, and as a result potentially misrepresent Campbell's argument. I failed to note that he holds that the place of Paul's imprisonment must be close to Colossae, due to Phlm. 22, wherein Paul asks that a guest room be prepared for him, and also his judgment that Onesimus' separation from Philemon is only intelligible if the estrangement has been only for a few days. I would say simply the following. 1) I don't think that the request for that a guest room be prepared should be taken as more than a way of expressing Paul's confidence that he will shown be released. 2) I don't think that the evidence regarding slavery excludes the possibility that Paul is in Caesarea. 3) I do not think that this additional consideration on Campbell's part obviates the critique that he has excluded data which ought not to be excluded.

Where was Paul when he wrote Colossians?

Campbell makes a very interesting observation. He observes that when Paul (whom he judges to have written Colossians) wrote Colossians he seems to have supposed that the letter-carrier would reach that city before he or she reached nearby Laodicea. The reasoning is that in 4:16 Paul says that this letter is to be also read in the church at Laodicea. Campbell's argument is it would normally be the case that the letter would have arrived in Colossae, and then the Colossians would be expected to produce a copy for Laodicea. Campbell then argues that Paul must be writing from somewhere east of Colossae, and looking westwards it, as only in such a situation would the letter-carrier naturally be expected to reach Colossians first. Judging also (on the basis of information from Philemon, which probably was written and sent also to Colossae at the same time) that Paul must be located not far away, and thus suggests that Paul was writing Apamea, about 3.6 days journey east of Colossae.

I find this discussion interesting because it highlights what to me is a weakness in Campbell's approach. He has paid great attention to the data. He has noticed something that might in fact help greatly in discovering the locale from which Colossians was written. But because he has on programmatic grounds excluded Acts data from the discussion he has to posit that Paul was imprisoned (for we know he was in prison when he wrote these letters) in a locale that we otherwise have no evidence that he even visited, when in fact we have data that suggests he was imprisoned in Caesarea, from which one would just happen to travel west to get to Colossae and Laodicea. If I know that when Paul wrote these letters he was likely imprsioned somewhere to the east of Colossae and Laodicea, and if I have data indicating that Paul was imprisoned in a specific locale to the east of Colossae and Laodicea, why do I need to posit that he was imprisoned somewhere we don't even know that he visited?

Campbell, I think, gets into this difficulty because he converts a priority appropriate to the data into a priority appropriate to judgment. Yes, the Pauline data has a certain priority when making judgments about Paul's life. It does not follow that one should make all one's judgments about Paul's life from the Pauline data before even consulting the Acts data, as Campbell insists, nor does it follow that judgments made regarding the Acts data should not inform our judgments formed on the basis of the Pauline data. That this does not follow is highlighted by the fact that Campbell is quite willing to use data from Josephus to inform his judgments about Paul. If Josephan data can inform such judgments, why not Lukan? If it is licit to use Pauline and Josephan data from the off in the discussion of Pauline chronology, then I would suggest what is necessary is to consider a model of investigation that allows us to work with all the potentially relevant data, not excluding the Lukan.

I would suggest that we think about judgments in terms of Venn diagrams. There are three circles, one representing judgments that we can possibly infer from Pauline data, one representing judgments that we can possibly infer from Acts data, and one representing judgments that we can possibly infer from data that is neither Pauline nor Acts. What we are seeking is the place where these three circles overlap. These circles will overlap, and the reason they will overlap is because we are dealing with judgments, not data. The judgments will overlap, because even if we must judge in a given instance that Luke has made a mistake over and against something reported by Paul, that is still an overlap in possible judgments. And of course that always remains a possibility in principle (as does the possibility that Paul lied, or misreported the matter at hand, etc.).

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

On Writing Well

Noah Berlatsky recently wrote a post with the provocative title "Why Most Academics Will Always Be Bad Writers." For the most part, his analysis seems spot-on. For instance, he notes that too many academics equate obscurity with profundity: i.e., you know that what I say must be really smart because you don't understand it. That's just silliness, of course, because if you cannot understand what I am saying then you cannot know whether it is smart or otherwise. There's another part of his analysis that I find somewhat troubling, however. Towards the end of the article he presents an example from Steven Pinker's writing, wherein, in the name of writing clearly, Pinker makes an argument that is demonstrably false. It is demonstrably false because Pinker states as unequivocal fact what is in fact quite uncertain. Berlatsky thus argues that Pinker was clear in his writing precisely when he should have been vague. I am not so sure that I agree with that.

Berlatsky's argument here seems to turn upon the supposition that clarity of writing entails the absence of complexity. Pinker was mistaken because he failed to attend to the complexity of the matter, instead presenting it as simple fact. As such, I would suggest that Berlatsky is conflating terms here, such that what he means by "clear" is really "simple." As such, what he means by "vague" is really "complex." I would like to suggest a heuristic distinction here. Clarity (and unclearness, including but not limited to vagueness) pertain to form: they are how one communications. Simplicity and complexity pertain to substance: they are what one communicates. Granted this, there seems to be no reason that one cannot clearly present complex arguments.

Allow me to demonstrate this using an example from my own obsessive-compulsive area of interest, namely the chronology of the New Testament era. If someone asked me "In what year did Jesus die?" I could answer with "30 C.E.," because that is what I think to be the case. Perfectly clear, and quite simple. But intellectual integrity would really require that I respond with "Most likely 30 C.E., but it might have been 33," because I know that I cannot rule out 33. That is a perfectly clear answer. It's also a more complex one, because now I've introduced two alternatives and ranked their probabilities differentially. If I was asked either "How do we know this to be the case?" or "How do we determine which year is correct?" then I would have to give even more complex responses. I would have to discuss the data indicating that Jesus died in Judea whilst Pontius Pilate was prefect and the years in which that have possibly been the case; the data in the gospels which indicate that Jesus was probably killed on a Friday, either on 14 or 15 Nisan in the Jewish calendar; the astronomical and calendrical data that allows us to determine that during Pilate's time in Judea 14 or 15 Nisan fell on a Friday only in 30 or 33. I might then talk about how I find that it is easier to construe the data relevant to the chronology of Paul's life if we assume that the crucifixion occurred in 30 rather than 33, and could go at length over that material. I could mention that when the early church set about trying to synchronize their calendrical systems they seem to have fairly consistently arrived at 30 for the crucifixion. Etc. None of this is simple. It's all quite complex, especially in aggregate, and would get only more complex as I look ever more closely at the details. Yet I can work at making all of it as clear as possible.

There is a further consideration, namely of audience. What counts as clarity varies, depending upon whether one is writing for a popular audience with little to no knowledge of New Testament studies; or for a popular audience that consists of laypeople and clergy whom one can expect to have a degree of knowledge in the area; or for fellow New Testament scholars; or for New Testament scholars whom one knows to specialize in historical Jesus studies or matters of chronology. Clarity varies with these audiences. For an audience consisting of New Testament scholars clarity is often best achieved by presenting Greek words untranslated, on the supposition that these scholars have the training and experience necessary to do that work themselves and that in fact the act of providing a translation might well be distracting. For a popular audience such a practice would be utterly elitist and really quite obnoxious. This speaks to the specialization of knowledge. Academics are all highly specialized, such that very often, when I read what some of what my colleagues in New Testament produce, I am utterly baffled: not because they are bad writers, but rather because there are not enough hours in the day for me to be equally proficient in all things. As a consequence, what might appear to me to be quite opaque might to the specialist be crystal clear--and that's only a problem if the specialist is intentionally trying to write for non-specialists. If I am not the audience of the writing in question then my failure to apprehend said writing really does not speak to its quality. It is hardly a critique to say that something did not achieve that for which it did not aim. This of course brings up the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is not just about incompetent persons overrating their own competence but also competent people under-appreciating the extent to which others do not share in that competence: precisely because a specialist takes so much for granted, at times she or he will have notable difficulty recognizing what must be spelled out explicitly and what must not.

The above is all to say that writing clearly is not simple.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Of Cyprus and Canaries

A chronology of the New Testament must address crucial critical issues pertaining to the twenty-seven books of the canon, as well as other probably early Christian works such as the Didache, 1 Clement, and Ascension of Isaiah (the SBL second edition handbook tells me that I am no longer to italicize such non-canonical works, and although the result looks decidedly odd to my eyes I dutifully follow suit). One also needs to consider such matters as the chronology of Paul's life, because the reality is that we can say more about his movements and operations than we can about any other first-generation Christian. As one works through such matters, one finds that one's judgments about a particular matter does not necessarily line up well with one's judgments about others.

As I read through the work of Douglas Campbell on Pauline chronology, I cannot but think that he has placed himself in a position where his judgments collide as described above. He argues that Paul's flight from Damascus (cf. 2 Cor. 11:32-33) can only have occurred between late-36 and early-37. More precisely, he finds himself compelled to narrow this time frame down to late-36, in order to accommodate the data from Acts. He also argues that Paul must have appeared before Sergius Paulus (cf. Acts 13:7) during or less than a year after the reign of Tiberius (which ended on Mar. 16, 37). This leaves a very small window for Paul to appear before Sergius Paulus. Not an impossible window: there is as much as a year-and-a-half for Paul to travel from Damascus to Cyprus, with a visit to Jerusalem (cf. Gal. 1:17-18, which Campbell supposes refers to the same course of events as 2 Cor. 11:32-33) and then presumably also to Cilicia (cf. Gal. 1:20), then Antioch, and then to Seleucia (presumably Seleucia Pieria, Antioch's port), and then to Salamis in Cyprus (cf. Acts 12:25-13:5, which Campbell treats as an itinerary for Paul's journey to Cyprus, in fact adducing sailing conditions from Seleucia to Salamis as evidence that this journey occurred earlier in the year rather than later).

In order to reckon with the tight fit of his chronology, Campbell argues that Paul probably fled Damascus in late-36, then went to Jerusalem for a fortnight, then went to Tarsus (in Cilicia), then wintered in Antioch after the fortnight that he spent in Jerusalem (as per Gal. 1:18). That can place him in Salamis early in the new year, although one suspects that he wouldn't have arrived much before mid-March, after the sailing season opened on March 10. This puts his likeliest early arrival, on Campbell's own account, probably around the same time that Tiberius dies. Given Campbell's insistence that Sergius Paulus was governor in Cyprus for less than a year after Tiberius's death that leaves a very tight time frame indeed.

Now, again, Campbell's account is not physically impossible. It is quite conceivable that Paul could set out from Damascus by late-36 and carry out the proposed travels in the time span allotted. That is to say, if the data necessitated that Paul did so then we would justified in judging that he did. Campbell's work is marked by a laudatory attention to detail in terms of such realities as travel time, so we shouldn't be surprised that he has done his homework in this regard. The difficulty that I face is that I'm not sure that the data necessitates the chronology that he proposes, and in fact I would suggest that the data militates against it. First, I am not entirely persuaded that the data requires that Paul left Damascus no earlier than late-36, although I will acknowledge that here Campbell is on the strongest ground. Second, Campbell bases his argument that Paul must have appeared before Sergius Paulus during or shortly after the reign of Tiberius on his reading of the Chytri inscription, but he himself admits that it could be referring to Gaius instead of Tiberius, which would allow for Paul before Sergius Paulus as late as 41, and it has often been argued by others that the inscription refers to Claudius, thus allowing for as late as 54 (and in fact, if we allow for the possibility that Sergius Paulus remained governor for up to just less than a year after the death of the respective empire, then we have to reckon with much of 55 with reference to Claudius). Third, he must suppose that Luke dislocates his material temporally without any real notice, but as I argued in my penultimate post prior to this one I think that the evidence militates against this supposition.

I have found it to be a general rule in chronological work that when my judgments on two or more matters require me to posit a very chronologically tight series of moves on Paul's part (or that of any other figure) it is typically a sign that my judgments on one or more of these matters is mistaken. Such chronological fit thus becomes a sort of canary in the coal mine for a problem in my synthesis of various matters. Whilst Campbell's arguments with regard to Paul's movements in late-36 through early-37 are not impossible, I am not at this point optimistic about the canary's health.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Paul and Sergius Paulus

I argued in yesterday's post that, within the context of the primary narrative in Acts, Luke without exception presents datable events in order, and that the instances in which we can show that his narrative is out of temporal order we can do so precisely because he gives us "signposts" to that effect. There is one possible exception to the first of these arguments, namely Paul's appearance before Sergius Paulus (cf. Acts 13:7), and in the interest of completeness I should discuss that matter.

I didn't consider that event in my discussion of independently datable events yesterday, because it is actually unclear whether Paul's appearance before Sergius Paulus is independently datable, and whether if it is that it would be out of order in Acts. It depends entirely upon what one does with an inscription from Chytri, an ancient Cypriot city. The text is fragmentary and unclear, and its date is debatable, but has been argued by many scholars to refer to Sergius Paulus (or, more fully, Quintus Sergius Paulus). It might, or it might not. It might also refer to the emperor Tiberius, or possibly Gaius, or possibly Claudius. Or it might not. It might indicate that Sergius Paulus was governor under this emperor. Or it might not. Campbell argues that it probably does refer to Sergius Paulus, and probably Tiberius but also possibly Gaius, certainly not Claudius, and that it does indicate that Sergius Paulus was governor in Cyprus under the emperor in question. Given that Cypriot governors were typically appointed for only a year, then if he is correct then we are dealing with a potential terminus ante quem for Paul's appearance before Sergius Paulus to c. 41 (the end of Gaius' reign). Given that Paul's appearance before Sergius Paulus is narrated after the events of Agrippa's reign in chapter 12, which end with the narration of his death in 44, then if Campbell is correct Luke would demonstrably be presenting these events outside of temporal order. If Campbell is incorrect then there would no such demonstrable disorder.

If the reference is to someone other than Sergius Paulus, if the emperor in question is Claudius (thus allowing a terminus ante quem as late as 54), if the inscription does not indicate that Sergius Paulus was governor under the emperor in question: if any of these statements is true then the inscription in fact adds nothing new to the discussion of Pauline chronology. And given the state of the data, I'm not entirely convinced that any of these statements is less probable than the position adopted by Campbell. In fact, given the state of the inscriptional data, and given Luke's otherwise-verifiable accuracy in temporal sequence, the very fact that he seems to want to place Paul's appearance before Sergius Paulus sometime during the reign of Claudius might actually provide ancillary evidence that "Claudius" is indeed the best reading on the Chytri inscription.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

The Order of Acts

As I continue to work through Campbell's excellent Framing Paul I have been thinking about the order of Acts. Like John Knox (the 20th-century historian of the New Testament era, not the Scottish Reformer), he emphasizes the fact that temporal succession is not necessarily the foremost structural concern in Acts, such that Luke is willing to place events out of temporal sequence in order to serve other, rhetorical and structural, purposes. Whilst we can grant this without difficulty, it nonetheless seems to me that Luke is not disinterested in temporal succession, and that we can suppose that as a general rule he understands that the situation of narrated events in the sequence of Acts is a general index to when they occurred relative to others. Generally speaking, if he narrates A before B that is, I suspect, because he understood that A occurred before B.

This suspicion is based in the data. Acts demonstrably unfolds over time. Its narrative opens in the early 30s, shortly after Jesus's death. In chapter 9 we learn of Paul's flight from Damascus, which on independent grounds we can date to 34 to 37 (Campbell says 36-37, but I think that the evidence he provides in fact allows the flight to have occurred as early as 34). In chapter 12 we learn of Herod Agrippa's death, which on independent grounds we can date to 44. In chapter 18 we learn that Paul is before Gallio in Corinth, and on independent grounds we know that this could only have occurred in 51/52. In chapter 24 we see Paul appearing before first Felix and then Festus in Judea, and we know that these were present in that province between, respectively, c. 52-59 and c. 59-62. Chapter 28 then rounds out the book with a spatio-temporal notice that Paul spent two years in Rome, which joins earlier notices about the length of time that he spent in places such as Corinth and Ephesus, such that on the basis of what we read in Acts 24 we can with a high degree of confidence state that the narrative ends in 62. In fact, as far as I can tell, Luke's probable error of placing Theudas before Judas is the only instance in which he demonstrably places events datable upon independent grounds out of temporal sequence without signposting (these italicized words are a crucial qualifier), and this occurs not in the narrative proper but rather in a dialogue attributed to Gamaliel (cf. Acts 5:34-39). As such, I am not unaware of an independently datable event in the narrative proper that is out of temporal sequence without signposting. Such temporal accuracy seems exceedingly improbable if temporal succession was largely a matter of indifference to Luke.

That said, Luke does narrate events out of strictly temporal sequence. We know that because he gives us signposts to that fact. Perhaps the most obvious is his statement in Acts 11:19-20: "Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they spoke the word to no one except Jews. 20 But among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus." Although the event is narrated almost immediately prior to the narration of the Agrippan persecution and Agrippa's death (cf. Acts 12), which probably occurred in the years 42-44, it explicitly connects back to events narrated in 8:1, and which cannot have occurred any later than 35 and perhaps as early as 31 (respectively, the latest and earliest dates at which Paul was likely converted, and thus the terminus ante quem for the Pauline persecution). We know that here Luke might well be narrating events that took place up to a decade or more prior to the time upon which the narrative is currently focused, but we only know this because Luke provided us with signposting. Such signposting speaks against the idea that Luke was unconcerned with temporal sequence, precisely because he evinces a concern to let us know when that sequence has been disrupted. As such, as best I can tell, with one exception, which lies outside his narrative proper, Luke's temporal sequence either is demonstrably accurate or he provides us with signposts that let us know that the sequence is disordered.

Consequent to the above, I would argue that our treatment of Acts needs to reckon seriously with two realities. One, that temporal succession is indeed an intentional structural feature of Luke's narrative; the order of independently datable events and presence of temporal signposting demonstrate that. Two, that Luke has a fairly decent grasp on the temporal succession of the events that he narrates; again, this is demonstrated by the order of independently datable events. Now, he might well make errors, as with Theudas and Judas, but he seems overall to aim for and achieve a fairly high degree of temporal accuracy. As such, contra Campbell and Knox, it seems not only reasonable to incorporate the data offered by the Acts sequence into our own historical work, but also potentially unreasonable to do otherwise.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

More on Campbell

In yesterday's post I wrote about Douglas Campbell's recent work on Pauline chronology. I've read some of his articles on the matter before, but I'm just now getting around to reading his Framing Paul, where he develops his thoughts on chronology more fully into a comprehensive frame for Pauline exegesis. Campbell is, without question, one of the best writers on NT chronology working today. Unlike many working within that sub-field he understands that a) chronology is a historical project, and b) as such cannot be reduced to literary relationships but rather most focus upon constructing intelligible human operations. This elevates his account to a level comparable to the greatest chronologists in the modern study of the New Testament. Where I disagree with him it is because we have made different decisions on controvertible matters.

Two decision points--one procedural, one empirical--in particular seem to force our chronologies into a degree of divergence. The conceptual has to do with the relationship between the Pauline and Acts data. Campbell, following John Knox and really the discipline more broadly, argues that the Pauline data must be given primacy over the Acts data. And of course he's right: on the specific matter of Pauline chronology, all things being equal Paul's own autobiographical statements must take precedence. He's also right that Luke is not invariably concerned with presenting material in its proper chronological order. In fact, space seems at least as much a structuring principle in Acts as time, with the expansion of Christianity first north along the Levantine coast and then west towards Rome constituting a primary (perhaps the primary) means by which Luke organizes his account. This can all be granted, although I am not entirely convinced that Luke is disinterested in the issue of chronology, especially when we see instances in which he signals to us that he is connecting a given account back to earlier episodes (cf. Acts 11:19-20, which is set up explicitly as the immediate sequel to Acts 8:1). Where I think that Campbell errs however is that he seeks to construct a chronology solely on the basis of the Pauline epistles. I fear that for Campbell "secondary" too easily translates as "dispensable."

The second point is empirical. Campbell argues that given what we can know about the period Paul must have escaped Damascus under the ethnarch of the Nabatean king Aretas (cf. 2 Cor. 11:32-33) sometime in 36 or 37. Identifying this with Paul's departure from Damascus and trip to Jerusalem referenced in Gal. 1:17-18, Campbell argues that this must have happened 2-3 years after Paul's conversion and 10-14 years before his second journey to Jerusalem (cf. Gal. 2:1. Campbell rightly allows that in Jewish idiom "three years" could mean greater than two but no greater than three, and "fourteen years" greater than thirteen but no greater than fourteen, and also acknowledges that the fourteen years could be consecutive or alternatively concurrent with the three). Thus he treats this as (in his own words) the "anchor" of Pauline chronology. I am very much inclined to agree with Campbell that Gal. 1:17-18 and 2 Cor. 11:32-33 refer to the same series of events (as does, I would argue, Acts 9:23-26). I am further inclined to agree that Campbell is right in arguing that 2 Cor. 11:32-33 makes most sense if the Nabateans controlled Damascus at the time that Paul fled the city (over and against the argument that the ethnarch was merely a local Nabatean functionary). I am less sanguine about being able to narrow the range of years in which such conditions existed down to 36 and 37. Indeed, Campbell himself acknowledgments that such conditions could have existed as early as 34.

The difference between 34 and 36 might seem pedantic, but it has implications for a range of other judgments. To a certain extent this difference is mitigated by the difference between a consecutive and concurrent dating of the three and fourteen years of Gal. 1-2. These permutations though all serve to underscore the conceptual point above: that the conscientious decision to ignore the Acts data potentially mars the enterprise. Once that data is introduced certain possibilities become more plausible and others less. For instance, if Paul fled Damascus in 36/37, and if the fourteen years are consecutive with the three, then the Jerusalem visit of Gal. 2 presumably happened between 49 and 51 (and indeed Campbell dates it to late 49/early 50). If Gal. 2 refers to either the Jerusalem visit of Acts 11 or Acts 15 the chronology leaves little room to allow for the Pauline journeys of Acts 16-17 to occur in time for him to be in front of Gallio in 51/52 (as per the Gallio inscription, correlated with Acts 18:11-12; note that I see no evidence in Acts that leads me to think that Luke is presenting these journeys out of temporal sequence). Now, absolutely, if what we can infer from the Pauline data here invariably contradicts what we can infer from the Acts data then we must prefer the Pauline; no question. But given the considerations above I'm not sure that we need to conclude that such contradiction exists. In fact, if we allow for a flight from Damascus as early as 34 and a concurrent dating in Gal. 1-2 then Paul could have made his second visit to Jerusalem as early as 44--thus more than allowing Gal. 2 to refer to the visit of either Acts 11 or Acts 15 and still allowing sufficient time for the general course of events as per Acts to have unfolded. Heck, if we allow for a flight from Damascus as late as 37 and concurrent dating then we could have a Gal. 2 visit in 47, which would probably exclude it as a reference to the visit of Acts 11 but not as a reference to the visit of Acts 15.

In summation, I am finding Campbell to offer one of the best handlings in recent years of the chronological evidence in the Pauline epistles themselves. But where he seems to be weakest is precisely where he excludes evidence from Acts that, whilst secondary, might in fact make a difference for his chronology.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Reality as Limitation

I've recently been working through the scholarship of John Knox and Douglas Campbell on Pauline chronology, and have been struck by an odd phenomenon. In procedural term, I couldn't be further removed from Knox and Campbell. They seek to establish a Pauline chronology exclusively on the basis of the data found in the Pauline epistles, whereas I am persuaded that this simply cannot be done (not least of all because in point of fact this is not how Knox and Campbell themselves proceed, as they quite readily refer to data from Josephus and other historians of the first and second centuries). Bracketing out the Acts data, Knox and Campbell came to the conclusion that 1 and 2 Corinthians and Romans must have been written in that order (1 Cor.--2 Cor.--Romans) within the span of approximately a year. Working independently, without consulting Knox and Campbell (as it is my habit to work as much as possible with the primary data before turning to the secondary literature), I came to much the same conclusion by working with the Pauline and the Acts data: 1 Cor.--2 Cor.--Romans, over the span of approximately a year. There are of course some differences in our conclusions. For instance, I provisionally allow for up to two years between 1 Corinthians and Romans, but would be altogether open to saying that it's closer to one year; for another instance, due to a number of differences in procedure and supposition we arrive at different absolute dates (although the difference is in fact minimal, only about four years: and when dating biblical texts four years is really within what we should normally consider a reasonable margin of error. And interestingly enough: although I tend to date the New Testament texts consistently earlier than most scholars, I would in fact argue that Campbell dates the undisputed Pauline texts a tad too early).

The phenomenon that intrigues me: independent inquiries utilizing disparate procedures have arrived at a remarkably similar set of results. In my mind, this is only possible if in fact reality imposes strong limitations upon the possible attentive, intelligent, and reasonable judgments that can be drawn on the basis of extant data. I use the qualifiers "attentive, intelligent, and reasonable" because, although I disagree ultimately with their procedure and a number of suppositions and judgments that they make along the way, no one can accuse Knox and Campbell of failing to pay careful attention to the data, to thinking intelligently about what we might infer from the data, and working to generate controls that can differentiate reasonable inferences from unreasonable ones. This idea, that reality places limitations upon possible attentive, intelligent, and reasonable judgments, lies at the very heart of Lonerganian critical realism. It is, in a certain sense, the "realism" referenced by the term. The role of the "critical" in the term is to distinguish which statements about reality are reasonable from those which are not, and then to adjudicate between those designated as reasonable to determine which it is most reasonable to affirm. It is this recognition that reality limits what can be considered to be reasonable judgments that makes Lonerganian critical realism more than idealism, whilst the recognition that judgment is integral to the work of knowing is what makes it more than empiricism.