Monday, 28 November 2016

"The Epistle of James"

John Robinson devotes Chapter V of Redating the New Testament to the Epistle of James. Dating it to c. 47-48, he argues that the epistle is likely the earliest Christian text still extant. As we saw in his discussion of the Synoptic gospels, this gets a little tricky, as he holds that a "proto-Matthew" and a "proto-Mark" likely preexist c. 47-48, but puts our gospels of Matthew and Mark proper at c. 60. These proto-text hypotheses become important for his argument, as he argues that the Epistle of James reflects something closer to the early stages of the Synoptic tradition, as he understands it, than to the later stages. I'm less-than-sanguine about such hypothetical proto-texts, but nonetheless I am persuaded that Robinson is on more or less the right track with regards to the Epistle of James.

We can see the strength in Robinson's position if we compare it with that advanced by Dale Allison in his 2013 International Critical Commentary on James. Now, I need to be clear: I think Dale Allison is one of the best NT scholars working today. His careful attention to detail and intellectual integrity make him second to few, if not none. Yet on the question of James's date, I think that he is mistaken. Like Robinson--and indeed most commentators on the epistle--before him, Allison recognizes that the text reflects a Christianity very much marked by the movement's Jewish origins. Indeed, as Robinson emphasizes, there is not even a hint that there are Gentiles involved in the movement at all. The letter, although clearly Christian, envisions a Christianity that is wholly Jewish. On this, Allison and Robinson are largely in agreement, but they differ greatly in what they infer from this agreement. Robinson infers that this points towards a time when Christianity could be conceived as a wholly Jewish movement. Since it is difficult to envision any Christian anywhere thinking in such terms much later than the council of 48, Robinson points to a date in the late 40s. By comparison, Allison infers from the Jewish-Christian character of the Epistle that it was produced by a second-century Jewish-Christian group, such as the Ebionites.

Here I think that Robinson has the stronger argument. Allison's argument for pushing James so late relies largely upon the lack of clear external attestation for the letter prior to c. 200. Surely, Allison reasons, if it had been written earlier it would be attested earlier. I'm not altogether persuaded. Given the fragmentary nature of our textual witnesses from this period, such lack might not in fact be that significant. I'm not convinced that attestation is particularly probative data for establishing the date of our epistle, apart from setting an absolute terminus ante quem c. 200. Perhaps more crucially, I have difficulty envisioning a scenario wherein Allison's Ebionite James ever makes it into the NT canon. This of course is what sets it apart from other known texts that might have issued from similar circles: it is a historical datum that the Epistle of James ended up in the canon, and thus one must account for that datum. Allison has to envision a form of Christianity so distantly removed from those that apparently generated the canon that it can altogether ignore the presence of Gentile believers in their midst, and I struggle to see how a pseudonymous text from such a form of Christianity made it into the canon. Precisely to the extent that Allison must emphasize the theological and social distance between those who produced the epistle and those who received it into the canon, to that extent he vitiates our capacity to account for that reception at all.

By comparison, Robinson has a ready-made explanation for the canonization of the epistle: it was preserved because it was remembered to have been written by James. If one wants to account for the absence of attestation before c. 200, which might or might not be probative anyways, one can look at the very fact that it does not address a situation that seems to have attained after c. 50: although James's prominence ensured that the letter was preserved, the archaic content rendered it of limited immediate relevance to the life of the developing church. The only other option I can conceive to preserve a later first or even second century date is to suppose that the author is intentionally and quite successfully archaizing, but at that point one might well ask why we need that hypothesis at all, rather than the much easier one of saying that it looks like it fits into the pre-50 period because it indeed dates from that period. Absent compelling positive evidence that it must date to the later first or the second centuries, such an archaizing hypothesis seems to beg the question.

I can imagine only one really substantive objection to Robinson's dating, and that is the argument that the Epistle of James is responding to Paul's teaching on faith and works and thus must postdate his writings. Robinson notes some significant problems with this objection, however. Most notably, if the Epistle is responding to Paul, it fails to engage with or even be aware of the central issue in Paul's discussions of faith and works, namely Gentile inclusion in the nascent Christian communities. For the Epistle, this discussion remains entirely intra-Jewish. Robinson argues that Paul more likely represents a later development in the discussion regarding faith and works than the Epistle of James: what began as an intra-Jewish discussion has in Paul been translated from its initial context to the question of Jewish-Gentile relations. Frankly, this is more convincing than the idea that the Epistle of James is responding to Paul yet studiously ignoring the specific concern to which Paul was writing.

"Acts and the Synoptic Gospels"

In Chapter IV of Redating the New Testament, Robinson treats Acts and the Synoptic Gospels. He argues, on the basis of its ending, that Acts was written around c. 62. He argues, as did the late Harnack before him and Colin Hemer after him, that this ending is inexplicable if Paul had already been executed under Nero. I find Robinson, the late Harnack, and Hemer compelling on this matter. I know that there are alternatives (Harnack spent decades trying to defend several of them), but ultimately none seem to deal with the data as neatly as a date of composition c. 62.

When it comes to the Synoptic Gospels, I likewise find his conclusions generally persuasive. He argues that by about c. 40, an early proto-Matthew had emerged in Jerusalem. In the early 40s, in Rome, Mark used this proto-Matthew to produce a proto-Mark, which perhaps went through numerous revisions through to c. 60. Proto-Matthew was also, obviously, a basis for Matthew's Gospel, which also assumes something much like its "final form" c. 60. It was also, to anticipate Chapter X, a source for the Didache. Luke then used these Marks-in-progress and Matthews-in-progress as sources for his own gospel, written in Caesarea during Paul's captivity there. I think that the basic outline best fits the data, although I would make some revisions.

Notably, I am less-than-enthusiastic about his language of "proto-Matthew" and "proto-Mark." No doubt, the Synoptic tradition recurred in numerous forms; the very existence of three Synoptic Gospels demonstrates this fact. I am not entirely persuaded though that any of the gospels went through the numerous "editions" posited in the heydays of source, form, and redaction criticism. This is not to deny that there are variations in the textual traditions for either Matthew's Gospel and Mark's. Of course there are. But that's not quite the same as largely speculative suggestions that portions of the texts that are omnipresent (but not uniform) in the manuscript tradition were missing from a hypothetical "first edition." This skepticism towards proto-gospel hypotheses alters how I would formulate things.

I would agree that the Palestinian church, or I would prefer to say the Jerusalem church, probably generated a body of Jesus material by c. 40. This material would have been the core of what we find in Mark, Matthew, and Luke. My suspicion is that we call "M" and "L," the Special Matthean and Special Lukan traditions, probably were largely present in this material; "M" simply represents that which Matthew drew from this material but Luke did not, and "L" what Luke drew but Matthew did not. Given that we have reason to think that Mark was part of the Jerusalem church during this period (certainly his mother was a significant member of the church by the early 40s), I am favourably disposed to think that he was involved in at least a "clerical" capacity in this initial stage of development. I am inclined to agree with Robinson that Mark and Peter went to Rome in the early 40s, where Peter taught about Jesus. Given Peter's prominent role in the Jerusalem church, his teaching about Jesus can be expected to have largely coincided with that developed in Jerusalem in the 30s. Mark then produced his gospel at the behest of the Roman church. By c. 45 or 46, he and Peter were back in Jerusalem, and Matthew got the idea to improve upon Mark's work by adding material to which Mark, writing in Rome and away from the mother church and concerned to remain close to Peter's versions of events, did not have access or feel free to add. This was perhaps completed by c. 50, as contra Robinson I see Matthew's gospel as more reflective of the Christianity of the late-40s than of the 50s. Subsequently, Luke saw what his fellows had produced, and decided that a comparable text more oriented towards the needs of the Greek mission is in order. Lacking the direct connection with Jesus' followers enjoyed by Mark, secretary to Peter, and Matthew, himself one of the Twelve, Luke decided to go to Palestine and meet with such persons. Thus did he accompany Paul on his final trip to Jerusalem, as indicated by the we-passages in Acts.

Does this narrative run contrary to the consensus view in New Testament studies? Yes. Nonetheless, I think that it is the one that makes the best sense of the various data. It also is one that can accommodate the best insights of modern scholarship. It still allows for the Synoptic tradition to develop over time; it merely places that development at c. 30-60 instead of c. 30-90, and injects greater specificity regarding the identities of those involved in the process. It still allows for such things as social memory to be operative; it merely defines more precisely where, when and among whom such operations were taking place. It still allows for source criticism, but specifies the human relations that facilitated the literary ones. It still recognizes the need to consider Sitze im Leben, but actually names the Sitze in question. Etc. The aim is not to replace such approaches to the gospels, but rather to bring them to perfection through more robust historiography.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Educated Galileans?

I've decided to pause my blog through Robinson's Redating the New Testament, in large part because I left my copy at my on-campus office yesterday and do not feel like going in the first snow of the season to retrieve it. Instead, I'm going to comment upon something I've been thinking about as of late, namely the scholarly supposition that persons such as Peter and James could not have been formally educated persons because they hailed from the Galilee. This has real consequences for thinking about such things as the authorship, and thus derivatively the date, of the works attributed to them. There is a significant difficulty with this argument, which rests almost entirely upon a fundamentalist interpretation of NT passages which state that there was a bias against their intellectual capacities because they came from the Galilee. That difficulty is that we have evidence, albeit largely indirect, that there was access to education, and moreover to Greek-style education, in the Galilee.

A century or so before Jesus was born, the Hasmonean dynasty seems to have encouraged migration north from Judea to the Galilee. This is probably best interpreted as the central government in Jerusalem attempting to more fully integrate the Galilee into the Hasmonean state. Such a move would have required administrators, and administrators require education. Now, of course, it is altogether possible that the central government would have adopted a policy of restricting education for such persons to Judea, but there is evidence to suggest that in fact such education was established in the Galilee itself. The signal piece of evidence is that John Hyrcanus sent his son Alexander Janneus to be educated in the Galilee. It's difficult to imagine that a king would send his son to that locale if there were not qualified teachers, and given the activities and interests of the late Hasmonean dynasty it's difficult to imagine that such an education would not have been strongly Hellenistic in flavour. This confirms what we might otherwise have reason to suspect: that the Galilee possessed the educational apparatus necessary for training people who would potentially play significant roles in governance. Even however if potential local administrators were sent to Judea for education, that would still have resulted in educated Galileans.

There is good reason to think that such educational apparatuses persisted and perhaps even expanded in the Herodian period. The Herodians took a keen interest in developing the north, and indeed following Herod the Great's death that would remain the centre of their power. We see Herod the Great developing Caeserea, and Herod Antipas developing Sepphoris and Tiberias. Now, early generations of scholarship probably overplayed the Hellenistic character of these centres, but given their integration into client kingdoms that were in turn integrated into the Roman state, there would have been a likely need for locals with a strong Hellenistic education.

I have restricted my focus to the issue of administrative needs, because I think that the best way to go about making the argument. But the very fact that the Galilee was integrated into the empire, and specifically the eastern half thereof, means that likely there were instances in which persons running private businesses and the like would have benefited from Hellenistic education. They might have been relatively rare, as indeed they likely were across the empire, but it is difficult to imagine that they were absent from the Galilee. Of course, we'd have to look at what we know about individuals, and there is perhaps some evidence that intimates that Peter had limited Greek skills (the fact that Papias talks about Mark serving as his translator or interpreter potentially points to this). With James, the issue will be related to the question of Jesus's education, although one cannot suppose as given that Jesus and James would have received the same quality of education (if, for instance, Joseph was aware that Jesus was not his biological son, as the gospels intimate, but had reason to suppose that James was, it's not inconceivable that he placed greater premium on the latter's education). With the sons of Zebedee, those other most prominent Galilean Christian leaders of the first generation, there is no reason to think that one or both could not have had access to such education, and some indirect evidence that suggests that they might have been exactly the sort of people who we might suspect did have such access (notably, the intimations that their father was not just a fisher but rather ran a fishing concern). Such realities complicate any "They were Galilean, and therefore uneducated" argument.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

"The [Pastoral] Pauline Epistles"

Continuing my discussion of Robinson's treatment of the Pauline epistles in Redating the New Testament, we come to his treatment of the pastoral epistles, viz. 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. This will no doubt be the section of Redating's Chapter III that readers are most likely to find objectionable, as Robinson argues that all three pastorals are authentically Pauline. He actually makes clear that no one was more surprised that he reached that conclusion than he himself, as at the beginning of the work that led to Redating he supposed as given the 20th-century consensus regarding their non-authenticity. His research changed his mind. This is the strongest part of his treatment of the pastoral epistles, as he opts to date 1 and 2 Timothy to places in Paul's career that I find difficult (although not impossible) to sustain.

We begin with Titus, which Robinson dates to the first half of 57, around the time of Paul's final journey to Jerusalem. If we grant that Paul wrote Titus, I can see no significant difficulty with this hypothesis. 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy are different questions. Starting with 1 Timothy, Robinson argues that textual details indicate that it was written at around the same time as Romans and 1 and 2 Corinthians. As such, he dates it to 55. Unfortunately, he never treats the problem of 1 Timothy 5:18, in which Paul quotes as a graphē on par with Deuteronomy a passage that exists verbatim and only in Luke's Gospel. The most expedient hypothesis by far is that 5:18 is indeed quoting Luke's Gospel here. I find it very difficult however to imagine that Luke's Gospel dates any earlier than the Caesarean captivity, which Robinson dates to 57 to 60; and indeed, to anticipate our discussion of Redating, Chapter IV, Robinson does indeed date Luke to that period. It's at that point that, by way of the we-passages, we can put Luke in close sustained proximity with such figures as James, brother of Jesus: precisely the sort of eyewitnesses that he tells us in his prologue he sought out. Strictly speaking, there is nothing preventing us from dating Luke earlier, but I feel that the probability increases exponentially from 57. By my way of thinking, this makes a date for 1 Timothy earlier than 57 improbable. At the very least, Robinson's discussion of 1 Timothy is marred by his failure to engage with 5:18.

Robinson dates 2 Timothy to the Caesarean captivity, c. 58. He does this largely on the weight of connections with the captivity epistles, including not least of all the fact that Paul is in captivity here. There are two flies in this ointment: 2 Timothy 1:17, which states that Onesiphorus found Paul in Rome; and 4:20, which indicates that Trophimus was left ill in Miletus, when Acts 20-21 makes clear that when Paul passed through Miletus on his way to Jerusalem he was in the company of Trophimus and that Trophimus did indeed arrive in the holy city. On the first point, Robinson's argument is, if not convincing, at least plausible: that Onesiphorus came to Rome, searched for Paul, and not finding him there, went to Caesarea, where he did find him. While plausible, it does seem a bit of a strain, and one cannot help but think that Robinson is forcing 2 Timothy into a Procrustean bed. If one feels that with his treatment of 1:17, one feels it all the more when one reads his treatment of 4:20. Here he argues that when Paul says that he left Trophimus ill in Miletus, he does not mean that he was physically with Trophimus at the time of this "leaving." Rather, he is thinking like a general moving soldiers on a map: he "left" Trophimus in Miletus in the sense that he didn't move him elsewhere. Again, while strictly speaking not implausible, it really does seem to strain the text. If 2 Timothy was written by Paul, then 1:17 and 4:20 would seem to best fit a time when Paul is in Rome, after a second, otherwise unknown trip through Miletus with Trophimus.

I'm not here going to give alternative dates for 1 and 2 Timothy, because those are texts that I'm still thinking through myself. I note only what I consider to be weaknesses in Robinson's account, and state that barring better explanations for the contrary data, that I cannot affirm his dates for these texts.

Friday, 25 November 2016

"The [Prison] Pauline Epistles"

With the "prison" epistles--Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon--one encounters a greater number of critical issues than with the "core" Pauline epistles. Most notably, there is the widespread tendency to question whether Ephesians, Colossians, or both are pseudo-Pauline compositions. Suffice it to say, John Robinson finds the arguments for pseudonymity unpersuasive, and I am inclined to agree. The arguments are actually remarkably inchoate. On the one hand we're told that Ephesians and Colossians are too unlike the other Pauline texts to be from the hand of Paul, and on the other that they are too like each other to both come from the same author. Both arguments require careful definition and evaluation: on empirical grounds, what degree of similarity or difference is too great to permit common authorship, and is that degree present among the letters? Moreover, the "too much alike" argument is almost intrinsically absurd. If pushed to the extreme, it would mean that two identical texts cannot have issued from the same author, which is surely wrong. Let us not draw this out, however, but simply note that Robinson judges all four prison epistles to be Pauline compositions. On this one suspects that in this regard he is consistent with current trends in Pauline studies, as again witnessed by Douglas Campbell's strong arguments in Framing Paul (2014) in favour of the authenticity of Ephesians and Colossians.

More interesting for purposes of chronology is exactly when he dates the letters in Paul's life. There are three major candidates: authorship from Ephesus in the early 50s, authorship from Caesarea sometime c. 57-59, and authorship from Rome c. 60-62. Robinson rightly notes that the personalia of Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon in particular indicate that they were written in close proximity to each other; the corollary is that while they should be placed in the same captivity, Philippians in principle could date to another. Sticking with those three, there is good reason to think that Caesarea is the place of origin. The personalia of these letters overlap significantly with those persons who according to Acts 20 accompanied Paul to Jerusalem for his fifth and final "Christian" visit, from whence he shortly thereafter was sent into captivity in Caesarea. It is easier to imagine this common personalia if the texts were written relatively shortly after the beginning of Paul's captivity in Caesarea than it is to imagine that they were written three or so years later (Paul probably arrives in Jerusalem around May of 57, and in Rome perhaps March or April of 60). This positive argument is compelling. In addition, Robinson argues that Paul's expectation that he would shortly be traveling through the Lycus Valley (the apparent destination of these letters) fits better with what we know of his plans during this period: he is consistently looking westward, and thus the expectation that he would travel westward from Caesarea by way of Asia Minor towards Rome makes better sense than the expectation that he would travel eastward from Rome. Rome however cannot be properly speaking ruled out. For its part, the strength of the Caesarean hypothesis and the possibility of the Roman virtually exclude the Ephesian, as we have no real reason to even think that Paul was captive in Ephesus in the first place. When it comes to Philippians, Robinson again argues that the Caesarean hypothesis seems strongest. His major piece of evidence here is Phil. 1:13, which associates Paul's captivity with a praetorium: precisely where Acts 23:35 tells us that Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea. Nowhere but in Caesarea are we able to put Paul in captivity in a praetorium.

As such, Robinson dates the prison epistles to 58, in the middle of the Caesarean captivity. In my judgment, he's probably spot on, but neither he nor I would rule out Rome c. 60-62 as a possibility.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

"The [Core] Pauline Epistles"

Chapter III of Redating the New Testament is a bear of a chapter. It's fifty-five pages, making it around 15% of the total monograph. It deals with approximately 50% of the New Testament texts, namely the Pauline epistles. In part due to Robinson's habit of not offering divisions within his chapters, it's not immediately obvious how to divide up discussion of this lengthy chapter. As such, I will offer my own brief rubric for thinking about the chapter, or more specifically the material covered by the material: "core," "prison," and "pastoral" epistles.

The terms "prison" and "pastoral" are not my own, of course. The "prison epistles" refer to Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon: the Pauline epistles that present themselves as written from prison. The term "pastoral epistles" refer by convention to 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, even though 2 Timothy really doesn't deal with pastoral concerns. The term "core" is my way of referencing those that remain: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. This particular term is chosen because these texts--especially Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians--are the texts that receive the greatest attention in Pauline exegesis, and with the exception of 2 Thessalonians are by consensus considered to have been written by Paul himself.

Let us in this post then consider Robinson's treatment of the "core" Pauline epistles. There is little here to which many would object, with perhaps two exceptions. One is that Robinson judges 2 Thessalonians to be an authentic Pauline production, whereas many (but certainly not all) scholars would judge it to be inauthentic. My own feeling is that in 2016 the tide is turning towards authenticity. Douglas Campbell's in many ways revisionist account of Paul's life treats it as authentic, which I think probably reflects a greater openness to Pauline authorship of the disputed epistles even among the more "radical" end of scholarship. More interesting to me is the treatment of Galatians, as it gets at a large number of core chronological concerns.

There has historically been a cleavage between "early" Galatians and "late" Galatians. As a rough definition, "early Galatians" refers to those dating schemes that place Galatians prior to 1 Thessalonians, and "late Galatians" refers to those that place it after. Robinson opts for a "late Galatians" dating, placing Galatians in 56. He is generally impressed by the appearance of shared concerns with Romans, and 1 and (especially) 2 Corinthians. I would acknowledge these, but also press Robinson's own observation that these are not decisive for dating. What strikes me as more decisive is the narrative in Galatians. If we suppose, as Robinson does, that the discussion in Gal. 2:1-10 refers to the Jerusalem council narrated in Acts 15, then we must suppose that 2:11-14 narrates the events that led up to that council. Even Campbell, who programmatically refuses to correlate Pauline and Lukan data for purposes of dating, supposes that vv. 11-14 constitute a "prequel" to 1-10. The difficulty is that I see nothing in Galatians that suggests such a chronological break between 2:10 and 2:11. Indeed, I'm not sure if anyone would think to read Galatians 2 in this fashion, were it not for Acts 15. Gal. 2:11-14 does indeed read like it could be referencing events alluded to in Acts 15:1-2a, and in fact I would argue that it does, but I see absolutely nothing in Galatians 2 to indicate to me that Paul intends us to read these events as prior to the those narrated in vv. 1-10.

If we read Galatians 2:1-10 as referring to events that occurred prior to the events of Acts 15 then we have the salutary benefit not only of more closely adhering the narrative in Galatians, but also of accounting for why Paul only mentions two visits to Jerusalem: just as Acts informs us, as of the time just before the council he had only been to Jerusalem twice since his conversion. We also find that the reason that Paul gives for his second visit is identical with that given for Paul's second visit in Acts: response to a prophecy. Galatians becomes a more coherent narrative, and the Lukan and Pauline data cohere much more fully, if we opt for an "early Galatians," around 47 or 48, written prior to the Jerusalem council of Acts 15.

It should be noted that this is my only serious dispute with Robinson's treatment of the "core" Pauline epistles. It's also one that has relatively little impact beyond Galatians itself. I cannot in fact think of any other text whose date is affected by this difference of opinion. As such, as disagreements go, it's relatively minor.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

"The Significance of 70"

In chapter II of Redating the New Testament, "The Significance of 70," Robinson sets himself two tasks. The first is to demonstrate that the passages within the gospels wherein Jesus predicts the destruction of the Jerusalem temple do not necessitate a date for these texts after 70; the second is to demonstrate that certain details in these predictions, as well as the failure anywhere in the New Testament to mention the destruction or even the Jewish War as a past fact, indicates that we are dealing with a corpus that for the most part predates c. 70 C.E.

The first task can be judged to be an unmitigated success. First, there is the observation that properly speaking there is no reference to the destruction of the temple, but rather to predictions of such destruction. Therefore, the initial terminus post quem (time after which) for the composition of these passages is not the destruction but rather the prediction. Second, building upon the work of luminaries such as Dodd and Reicke, Robinson is able to demonstrate that there is nothing in these predictions that could not have been gleaned from reading the Hebrew scriptures. Quite simply, the evangelists need not have known about the events of 70 in order to have written these passages. The evidence is not such that the destruction of the temple constitutes a terminus post quem for any of the gospels.

Robinson is a bit less successful in carrying out the second task. On the failure to mention the events of the war or the destruction explicitly, Robinson probably makes too much of the argument from silence. This will risk leading him into special pleading later, as he will associate virtually any reference in the NT to persecution with that carried out in the last years of Nero's reign...even though explicit references to Nero are almost as sparse as explicit references to the events of 70. Frankly, we need to set this argument from silence almost entirely to one side. About the only place where it will be of significant relevance is Hebrews, but even here it's not really an argument from silence; rather, 10:2 asks why the temple sacrifices continue to the author's day, which is a very clear indication that they continued in her or his day, and thus that Hebrews predates 70, or at least fall of that year. But we're getting ahead of ourselves here, as Robinson discusses the date of Hebrews in chapter VII, not chapter II.

More interesting is the argument that certain details of the predictions of the temple's destruction do not make sense after 70. Here Robinson is on stronger but not insoluble ground. Particularly strong is his discussion of Matthew 24:29-31, wherein Matthew has Jesus state that the Son of Man will come with power and glory and send angels to gather all his elect from the four corners of the Earth immediately following the events that he predicts involving the temple. Robinson's point here is strong: this didn't happen c. 66-73. If Matthew has added this as a prophecy after the fact, then he has added as part of those prophecies something that manifestly was not satisfied. This seems a strange way to proceed. Admittedly, the exact eschatological sequence that Matthew envisions is somewhat opaque here, and it's not entirely clear to me that it was clear in his own mind, but nonetheless the point stands: Matthew seems to be writing about the end of the age here, which complicates any sort of prophecy after the fact. That said, this ambiguity regarding what Matthew expected to happen when does potentially undercut Robinson's argument here.

Probably the best judgment on the matter is to conclude that for the most part the events of the Jewish War have little bearing upon the question of the dates of the New Testament. They do little if anything to establish the earliest possible dates of the gospels, as the consensus chronology tends to suppose, but neither do they do as much to establish the latest possible dates as Robinson would like. When it comes to dating the gospels, one probably does well to hang little on the prophecies regarding the temple.

"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.

Monday, 21 November 2016

That Which Kills Can Also Heal

That which heals can also kill.

That's the central and intentional leit motif of my first-year "Health, Spirituality, and Religion" course, which is functionally an Intro to World Religions course with a thematic focus upon healing.

The central theme, repeated over and over again, is that the question is not "Is this religious tradition, or religion in general, healthy or toxic?" but rather "What in this tradition is healing? What in this tradition is toxic?" We consider the fact that numerous studies have shown that persons with a strongly held religious faith and who are well-integrated into a religious community tend to have better healthcare outcomes than those who are neither, whilst at the same time certain aspects of certain traditions can lead people to avoid certain healthcare options or, even worse, can cause inflict various forms of injuries. As I regularly repeat, religion X at its best is incredibly life-affirming, and at its worst incredibly life-destroying.

By my way of thinking, this is the only reasonable and responsible way to approach the question of Christianity in the context of recent developments in American and indeed global politics. The reality is that there is a surge in extreme Right-wing politics globally, and it would be disingenuous to deny either that this is happening or that much of these politics are not couched in terms of Christian faith, Christian identity, etc. Like it or not, this stuff is harmful and often wrapped in a Christian flag. That needs to be acknowledged, by Christians not least of all. At the same time, it would be disingenuous to deny that there aren't Christians fighting back against that. Yes, Marine Le Pen is a practicing Catholic, and her National Front an affront to human decency (although to her credit, she has cleaned it up to a large extent; it is literally not her father's National Front, as she expelled him from the party that he led and helped found due to his rank anti-Semitism), but Catholic social teaching also was crucial in liberation theology's turn towards the poor, the development of sanctuary cities in the US, etc. Yes, Christianity can kill, but it can also heal.

Lonergan is clear about what distinguishes religion that heals from religion that kills. He doesn't use quite that rubric, but the idea is there. He talks about religious conversion, by which he means not conversion to a specific religion but rather to a particular way of being in the world. The religiously converted moves beyond parochial self-interest and even parochial group-interest, and towards a universal love for all persons, even in principle all matter (Teilhard de Chardin is on the theological outs these days, but his focus upon love and matter perhaps needs some second and third looks in the face of the ecological crisis). Although a practicing Jesuit and loyal cleric of the Catholic Church, Lonergan does not argue that Christianity has a monopoly on such love, nor that every self-declared Christian or Catholic possesses it. Rather, he envisions it as something that occurs in some Christians, in some Jews, in some Muslims, in some Buddhists, in some Taoists, in some Hindus, in some atheists...and which does not occur in others. When I hear the words of the modern Catholic Gloria, "Peace to people of goodwill," I am reminded of this idea: there are people of goodwill in all these traditions, and people of ill will as well. That is the line that truly divides us, not those between traditions.

I would argue that this is the crux of where we are today. We are being told that there is a clash of civilizations, Christian versus Muslim, white versus dark. This was implicit for much of the Bush II years, despite Bush II's (I have come to believe quite sincere but ultimately unconvincing) efforts to deny this message, and under Trump the euphemisms are going to all but disappear. Trump is many things, but a person of goodwill he is not. But this clash of civilizations is not the real conflict. The real conflict is between those who are motivated by love on the one hand, and those who are motivated by parochial self- and group- interest on the other. It's between those who understand intuitively that the declaration "Black Lives Matter" is implicitly a statement that all lives matter, and those who are so immersed in zero sum thinking that they see an explicit affirmation of the significance of black lives as a denial of their own significance. It is not a clash of civilizations, but rather a clash between civilization and barbarism.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Elitism and Decline

We've been hearing a lot of critiques of "elitism" lately. Most of it is nonsense, predicated upon what Asimov poignantly described as "the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'" It is not elitist for me to say that I know more about first-generation Christianity than those who have not spent most of their adult life studying the matter, as I have; nor is it elitism for my senior colleagues in the field to say that they know more than I do. All things being equal, I know more on the matter than someone who lacks the formal training and vocational experience that I've had the opportunity to acquire, while a Jimmy Dunn or an Adele Reinhartz knows far more than myself. Conversely, I know next to nothing about almost everything else. I know very little about car engines, and nothing about brain surgery. As such, on those matters, I defer to those who have that specialized knowledge. I do not attempt brain surgery myself, and I do not ask a brain surgeon to fix a car. None of that is elitism. Quite the opposite, in fact. It's common sense, the rallying call of the populist.

In light of this, I want to make a bold suggestion: the problem of "elitism" is not elitism, but rather the irresponsible refusal to listen to experts on the spurious grounds that they are "elitist." The problem lies with the concept, not the reality that it supposedly but does not in fact describe. Lonergan identifies the refusal to listen to expertise as the basis for what he calls the longer cycle of decline. By refusing to listen to expertise decisions are made on the basis of ignorance, and these decisions inevitably create difficulties and crises--and these are in turn resolved not on the basis of expertise but rather on the basis of ignorance. It soon becomes a race to the bottom, in which everyone loses. It eventuates in but does not resolve itself in men like Trump, but he's just the symptom, a cynical bastard who capitalized on the decline to further his own narcissistic interests. He's an effect not a cause, an epiphenomenon really, a fact that no doubt would burn his fragile tiny-handed little ego but there you have it. In any case, it seems hard to deny that we are well into such a cycle at this point, and that it is not limited to the US. (Or the UK: the fixation on the POTUS election and the Brexit vote hides that this is very much a global phenomenon).

Now, of course, there are oligarchs in this world. There are people who have a disproportionate and wholly unmerited power over the lives of others. The conceptual problem that has emerged is an eliding of both this group and those with specialized knowledge into the single term, "elites." I am an expert in early Christian knowledge; I am in no conceivable sense an oligarch, and the suggestion that I am would constitute a Monty Python level absurdity; but the slippery usage of the term "elite" obviates this distinction. Sadly but not ironically, for this is part of the decline, the only way to effectively resolve the problems presented by oligarchy is to turn to those who have acquired specialized knowledge in how to run effective and fair democracies, but the decline itself precludes such a move. And when viewed from that perspective, suddenly cries against "elitism" become not radical but reactionary, which shouldn't surprise us as they have come most loudly from the far Right, for these cries are simply ways to silence the people who constitute the greatest threat to the status quo: a status quo that is characterized by the breakdown social and political institutions unparalleled in the experience of most people currently living in the developed world (do not mistaken status quo for stasis: the status quo can quite easily, and invariably is, a dynamic process, for such processes are necessary even to maintain the illusion of stasis). And so, we are damned to following this cycle downward towards its inevitable end, left only with the hope that the end will not be as bad as it conceivably might.

Friday, 11 November 2016

The Hope of Remembrance

I was going to write this as a FB post, but it became too long. As is my Remembrance Day custom, I write in memory of my grandfather, Joseph "Andy" Bernier, who joined the Canadian army just a couple weeks after we went to war in 1939 and spent the next six years in and out of active combat in various fields of the European theatre. He served through to the end of the war and beyond, eventually being one of just two hundred Canadian soldiers who participated in the last recorded action of the war in Europe: the liberation of Texel Island on May 20, 1945, which still had an active German garrison almost a full two weeks after the surrender. As always, I am very proud to call him grandfather, and hope always that I might have but half his courage.

This year though, I face a poignant reality that drives home all the more the importance of the sacrifices he and so many made during those dark years, as we face a horrible darkness of our own. Seventy years after my grandfather's struggle--and that of his entire generation--against powerful fascist, racist regimes ended, we face the same struggle in our days: except now it is not emerging in some foreign power across seas and oceans, but rather in our own democracies. 
It is my fervent hope that this struggle will not be as bloody as theirs turned out to be, that in fact it will be a war of words rather than arms, but that nonetheless our eventual victory will be as decisive as it was in 1945. More, I hope that in the end this struggle will allow us to exceed even the great accomplishments that that greatest generation achieved, that it will be not merely to conserve what is being threatened but to progress towards something greater. Their struggle led to the founding of the United Nations: might ours lead to genuine unity among the peoples of this world, a unity founded upon mutual respect and, yes, love, a unity that sees as much value in the child born in a small African village as one born to a real estate mogul in Queens, such that we can begin the work of healing the wounds that we continue to inflict upon our planet.

In the immortal words of Tennyson, "Tho' much is taken, much abides," and we remain "strong in will, to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Abstraction and its Uses

We cannot talk about early Christianity in the singular because it consisted of diverse groups. Given this diversity, we must speak of multiple Christianities.

We cannot talk about parliament, whether British or Canadian or Australian, in the singular, because it consists of diverse parties. Given this diversity, we must speak of multiple British parliaments, or multiple Canadian parliaments, or multiple Australian parliaments.

We cannot talk about any university in the singular, because any university consists of multiple faculties. Given this diversity, we must speak of any university as multiple universities.

We cannot talk about a given human body in the singular because it consisted of diverse organs. Given this diversity, we must speak of any given human body as multiple bodies.

These propositions are all horribly flawed, and they are flawed because they ignore the concept of level. A body is not an organ, but rather a higher-level abstraction in which organs exist. A university is not a faculty, but rather is a higher-level abstraction in which faculties exist. A parliament is not a party, but rather is a higher-level abstraction in which parties exist. Early Christianity is not one of the diverse groups that made up early Christianity, but rather a higher-level abstraction in which those groups existed.

Of course, it might be objected that, unlike parliament, university, or the human there was no formal unity that constituted a higher-level of abstraction in which diverse Christian groups operated. That is a hypothesis, and one that needs to be substantiated. The problem is that the data is hostile to that hypothesis. If we use "formal" in the colloquial sense of "official" then perhaps it might hold, in that early Christianity was by definition "unofficial" until the 4th century. But then again, so too would it hold for the human body. If we use "formal" in the more technical sense of form, then the evidence is really quite strong for a formal field in which early Christian groups operated. It took the form largely of movements and communications between congregations existent in the various cities of the empire, and perhaps at an early time points east. These lines of communication and movement do not obviate but in fact were primary vectors for conflict. Conflicts in Jerusalem spilled over to Antioch spilled over to Galatia, for instance. Of course, in the first couple generations this formal, unofficial unity was perhaps relatively inchoate, as novel phenomena often tend to be, but it still existed.

There was an early Christianity. It was singular. It was pluriform. These statements are not oxymoronic, not if one understands the difference between parliament and party, university and faculty, body and organ.