Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The Ascension of Isaiah and the Gospel of Thomas

John A.T. Robinson's Redating the New Testament is one of those books whose footnotes are often mini-essays in their own right. Over the holidays I've had the chance to pore over his notes, and in so doing been well-rewarded. I want to consider two notes: one in which he addresses the Ascension of Isaiah, the other in which he addressed the Gospel of Thomas. Perhaps not surprisingly, given his general tendency, Robinson argues that the Ascension of Isaiah (which is frequently dated to the 80s through 110s) might well date to the late 60s. His reasoning is expressed briefly, and he does not reach as firm a conclusion as he does with the texts that he considers in the main body of the monograph, but his argumentation is quintessentially "Robinsonian." Most notably, he argues that the descriptions of persecution within the book fit well the details that we know about the Neronian persecution. Certainly, the description of Beliar-in-the-flesh in Ascension 4 sounds a lot like contemporary descriptions of Nero, especially the emphasis upon matricide in 4.2; and it is stated in 4.3 that this incarnation of evil would kill one of the Twelve, a quite plausible reference to Peter's death under Nero. This, and a few other details in 4, incline me to think that the identification of Nero as the king in this chapter is probably strong. Robinson suggests also that 4.13 refers to the flight of the Jerusalem church into Pella as a contemporary event, something that I'll grant as possible but a bit on the speculative side. All considered, Robinson makes a convincing argument that a late-60s date for the Ascension of Isaiah is at the very least plausible. I would be inclined to say the following: if one dates Revelation to the 60s, then one will have a hard time arguing that Ascension must date much later.

A second footnote of interest is his off-hand statement that he is open to considering the possibility that the Gospel of Thomas is earlier than often supposed (late-first through mid-second century). He gives no explanation as to why he is thus open: are their particular details in the text that lead him to suspect an earlier date, or he is just in principle open to such possibilities? This has led to me rereading the Gospel of Thomas, with an eye to the sort of thing that might have caught Robinson's intention and made him suspect an earlier date. In so doing, I am struck by logion 12, wherein Jesus states that after he dies, James the Just will take his place in leading his disciples. As it stands it does seem to be concerned with post-dominical succession; of course, one could come up with all sorts of other rhetorical purposes for this logion, but one suspects that they might be closer to eisegesis than exegesis. Now, it is highly unlikely that Jesus uttered anything like these words, as James appears not to have been one of his followers during his lifetime. Indeed, it is not clear that James took on a leadership role before the early 40s. Yet, if the author of Thomas, or his sources, felt sufficient freedom to place upon Jesus's mouth instructions regarding the succession of leadership after his passing, then one is struck by the absence of comparable instructions regarding James's death. I find it difficult to imagine that the logion, in its present form, could have been written after 62.

Now, of course, it has been argued that Thomas is the product of a long period of development, extending certainly into the second century; indeed, this notion of development is usually used to justify a first-century date, by arguing that there was effectively a proto-Thomas in the first century that developed into the Thomas that we now have. Thus, it could be argued, logion 12 could represent an early stage in the development of Thomas, while much of the balance of the text dates much later. I am uncertain if this resolves the chronological problem posed by logion 12 however, for two reasons. One, although such hypothetical developmental theories are often carefully argued, they tend towards the speculative, especially given the relative dearth of textual material that we have for Thomas. We do not even have a complete copy in the original language, which leaves me with less-than-complete confidence in our ability to clearly define the text's literary development. Two, and I think more crucial, such a developmental theory would in fact serve to make more acute the question of why logion 12 either has not dropped out or has not been elaborated to address post-Jacobean succession. The more that one emphasizes Thomasine fluidity, and the more one emphasizes that the text was a perpetual work-in-progress that was responsive to external conditions potentially well into the second century, the more conspicuous the fact that it gives instructions that could be followed no later than 62. And further indications of a date for Thomas in, say, the 50s might be adduced. For instance, the text is concerned with the necessity of circumcision, and our extant evidence would seem to situate intra-Christian debates over the necessity of circumcision primarily in the the late-40s through 50s. That's where Acts would seem to place such debates, and the texts otherwise most directly concerned with the matter and readily dated,, i.e. the core Pauline epistles, all emerge from this decade or so. If Robinson had been so inclined, I think that he could probably have made a solid argument for a Gospel of Thomas in the 50s.

A possible objection: does not Thomas include doctrinal material that could not reasonably preexist the second century? I'm not altogether convinced that this is the case, and I doubt that Robinson would have been also. He tended to be very rigourous when it came to such arguments from development, seeing them as generally circular in nature: development theories are used to date the texts, and then the sequence of texts is used to confirm the development theories. And in any case, there seems to be a growing consensus that Thomas' gnostic character has been much exaggerated. Certainly, it does not contain much in the way of hints of the more elaborated systems of gnostic speculation that emerge in the second century. And already in the Corinthian literature Paul is addressing what has often been described as a sort of "proto-gnosticism." I don't see anything in Thomas's theology that requires second century date, or even one later than c. 60.

That having been said, let it be emphasized, I am not arguing that we should date Thomas prior to 62. Rather, I am considering the sort of argument that Robinson might have advanced in favour of an earlier dating for the text, given his general approach to such questions and had he been so inclined to present such an argument.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Why Robinson Still Matters

Robinson's Redating the New Testament is of crucial significance because, to the best of my knowledge, it was the 20th-century's only monograph-length critical study devoted wholly to the dates of the New Testament texts. Indeed, Robinson, writing in 1976, had to look back to Harnack's Chronologie, published in 1896-7, to find something comparable to his own work. It was controversial because it argued for what I describe heuristically as a "lower" chronology for the New Testament texts. In my own work on the dates of the New Testament texts, I distinguish between lower, middle, and higher chronologies. While all three chronologies agree that the undisputed Pauline epistles cluster in the 50s, lower chronologies argue that the balance of the NT texts for the most part date between c. 40 and c. 70, middle chronologies that the balance dates largely between c. 70 and c. 100, and later chronologies push one or more larger works of the NT (these days, usually Luke and Acts) into the second century. Obviously this distinction is fuzzy, as are most heuristic schemes, but it's a good starting point.

Middle chronologies can also be described as the "consensus position," as by far the majority of NT scholars would subscribe to such a view. But the middle chronology has never been given a full, synthetic, defense, comparable to what Robinson did with the lower chronology, and nor has the higher chronology. The closest for the middle chronology was Harnack's aforementioned 1896-7 work, but--not surprisingly--what Harnack wrote 120 years ago does not quite correspond with the general contours of the modern middle chronology. Moreover, turning to Harnack for a synthetic defense of the middle chronology is to open a door to the lower chronology, as Harnack subsequently revised certain key dates downwards (notably those of the Gospels of Mark and Luke, and also Acts), such by the end of his career his chronological scheme straddled the lower and middle chronologies. The closest to a synthetic defense of the higher chronology is the work of F.C. Baur in the mid-19th century, but as the middle chronology is largely a response to that, and the early to the middle, an updated synthetic defense would be desirable. Indeed, Baur's chronology is hardly viable today, as even the most die-hard advocates of a higher chronology would tend to recognize. For synthetic treatments of the matter of the dates of the New Testament text, we are left with Robinson. He is virtually the only player on the field. Yet he only represents one of the three major options that are out there. This leaves us in a position where we tend to evince greater confidence in the dates of the New Testament than the current state of the research permits.

The way to begin correcting this situation is for three monographs to be produced: one giving an up-to-date defense of a lower chronology, one giving a defense of a middle chronology, and one giving a defense of a higher. I myself am presently working to produce a defense of the lower. I have no intention of writing defenses of the middle or the higher chronologies: the ideal situation is for each to be written by an enthusiastic advocate of the respective chronology, and I find that I can only be such with regard to the lower chronology. I would, quite simply, not be the right person to write the other two, necessary monographs. But I do believe they are necessary, and hope that they might emerge.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 19 December 2016

The Didache--"A Post-Apostolic Postscript," Pt. 3

We turn now to the third text that Robinson treats in Chapter X of Redating the New Testament, namely the Didache. Generally speaking, the Didache is one of the more difficult early Christian texts to work with, as our only Greek copy wasn't found until 1873, dates from the 11th century, and appears to be incomplete (incidentally, this copy is part of the Codex Hierosolymitanus, which also contains our only complete Greek copy of 1 Clement). Still, there is a general consensus that the Didache dates to the first century or so after Jesus's life. There is probably a general tendency to place it around 100, give or take a decade or two in either direction, and not surprisingly Robinson argues that this is on the high side. He instead argues that the Didache, more or less as we find it in the Codex Hierosolymitanus, was completed by c. 60.

The word "completed" is crucial here, as virtually all scholars agree that the text was composed over time, and might have originally constituted a multitude of disparate texts. Robinson agrees with this assessment, but notes correctly that "over time" is a relative term. He follows J.P. Audet, who argues in his 1958 work La Didachè: Instructions des apôtres (a classic work whose influence has been vitiated by the lack of an English translation) that the Didache was produced over a twenty-year period, spanning from 50 to 70. Robinson's only modification to Audet is to propose that the span was closer to 40 to 60. Why does Robinson place the Didache in this period? Numerous reasons. He suggests for instance that the ecclesiology of the Didache is most similar to that found in the authentic Pauline letters and paralleled in Acts: itinerant ministers, with a movement towards establishing permanent bodies of elders in the various communities. He suggests that the eschatology of the final chapter, 16 (which seems to breaks off, thus suggesting incompletion) finds its readiest parallels in 1 and 2 Thessalonians. In short, it seems to fit better with what we know about Christianity c. 50, give or take a decade, than the time around c. 100. He further suggests that the use of Synoptic materials looks it comes more from the period that the gospels were being formed than from the use of fully-formed gospels. Admittedly, these are all among the weaker arguments for establishing a text's date, but given the state of the data it might all that we can do. They do seem stronger than those used to defend the almost-entirely speculative hypothesis advanced in the late-19th century and still held by many today, namely that they represent an otherwise-unknown form of early-second-century Syrian (or, less commonly, Egyptian) Christianity.

One thing that I find interesting about this narrative is how well it coheres with another datum, namely the longer title of the Didache, which reads in English "The Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles." It has long struck me as a remarkable coincidence that we have the Didache, the Epistle of James, the Gospel of Matthew, and the Gospel of Mark all being attributed to figures associated with the first-generation Jerusalem church and all evincing a close literary relationship. If there is no connection between this body of densely-related literature and Jerusalem than we have virtually to posit among the ancients an intentional effort to deceive on this point. It’s far from clear to me that such a conspiracy is better defensible on the data than the hypothesis that a religious movement that began in Judea happened to produce a considerable among of its earliest texts in Judea. And it also happens that, as best we can tell, during the 40s and the 50s the Jerusalem church expended considerable energy on thinking about the place of the Gentiles in the nascent movement. Given the state of the text-critical evidence we probably should not dismiss out of hand the possibility that the longer title provides data for considering the initial conditions under which the Didache was produced, and we should seriously entertain any hypothesis that can make good sense of the text overall as well as the title(s).

Sunday, 18 December 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Epistle of Barnabas--"A Post-Apostolic Postscript," Pt. 1

In this post I begin to work through Chapter X of J.A.T. Robinson's Redating the New Testament, "A Post-Apostolic Postscript," in which he treats certain texts of the Apostolic Fathers, namely the The Epistle of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache, and 1 Clement, in that order. Not surprisingly, given his overall tendency, he dates all of these earlier than most: Barnabas to c. 75 (as opposed to the early second century), Shepherd of Hermas to c. 85 (as opposed to early to mid 2nd century), the Didache to c. 60 (as opposed to the late first or early second), 1 Clement c. 70 (as opposed to 95 or 96). In this post I begin with the Epistle of Barnabas.

Virtually all scholars agree that the Epistle of Barnabas must postdate 70, as it seems very clearly to reference the destruction of the temple, but to predate the second Jewish War of 132-135. Robinson constitutes no exception here. The primary evidence for this is 16.3-4 (here following Michael Holmes' translation): 3 "Furthermore, again he says: 'Behold, those who tore down this temple will build it themselves.' 4 This is happening now. For because they went to war, it was torn down by their enemies, and now the very servants of their enemies will rebuild it." The source for the quotation in 16.3 is unclear, although given the epistle's love of quoting Jewish scriptures and then giving a Christian interpretation thereof one suspects that it might be a now-lost Jewish text. No matter: the salient point is that this seems a pretty clear retrospective reference to the events of 70. The idea that the text must predate the second war turns upon the supposition that after 135 any lingering hope of rebuilding the temple would have been lost. Myself, I think that the post-70 limit is certain, but the pre-135 limit less compelling, as it supposes a bit too hastily judgments about who could hope for what when.

Within the 70-135 range, Robinson dates the text to Vespasian's reign (70-79). Frankly, I think that his primary reason for doing so is wafer-thin. He notes that in 4.45, Barnabas quotes Daniel 7:24 and 7:7-8 (again from Holmes): "Ten kingdoms will reign over the earth, and after them a little king will arise, who who will subdue three of the kings"; "And I saw the fourth beast, wicked and powerful and more dangerous than all the beasts of the earth, and how ten horns sprang up from it, and from these a little offshoot of a horn, and it subdued three of the large horns with single blow." Robinson argues that in Barnabas the three kings and the three large horns are taken to represent the Flavian emperors--Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian--and that the latter two already ruled alongside the first (their father) during his reign from 70 to 79. To call this interpretation speculative and the consequent chronological judgment strained would be charitable. I am really not sure what in the text would lead one to think that Barnabas intends to reference the Flavian rulers here, and even if Barnabas does it is not clear to me that one should situate them during Vespasian's rule rather than Domitian's, by which time all three would have actually been "kings." Now, properly speaking, this could involve a correction to Robinson's chronology of as little of six years, for by the end of 81 Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian had each in succession stood as emperor (Titus holding the office barely two years before his premature death caused it to pass to his brother).

That said, Robinson is probably correct in noting that the concerns addressed in Epistle of Barnabas fit a period earlier than the Hadrianic (as a date into the 120s or 130s would suppose). Indeed, and here it is I speaking and not Robinson, the letter's combination of a concern with on the one hand docetism and on the other the relationship between Christianity and Judaism seems more reminiscent of the Ignatian literature (dating to Trajan's reign, c. 98-117) than any other. Indeed, given the epistle's tendency to constantly cite "the prophets," one has to wonder if it doesn't issue from the sort of circles that Ignatius had in mind when he wrote (unsympathetically) about persons who say "If I do not find it in the archives [i.e. Old Testament], I do not believe it in the gospel" (Ignatius to the Philadelphians, 8.2, again following Holmes). My own inclination is thus to tentatively situate Barnabas in the Trajanic period, but acknowledging that these sorts of arguments are among the weaker ones for chronological reckoning. Unfortunately, given the current state of the data, I'm not sure if stronger arguments are viable.

"The Gospel and Epistles of John," cont'd.

At last we come to the epistles of John, and thus the end of Robinson's treatment of the dates of the NT. There remains to consider his "Post-Apostolic Postscript," which deals with select texts from the Apostolic Fathers (and which I aim to treat in several posts, each dealing with a different text). The epistles of John are particularly resistant to chronological situation. Even 2 Peter, which is notoriously resistant, at least lets us know that it most postdate at least two Pauline epistles (cf. 3:15-16). There is nothing remotely comparable in the Johannine epistles. Thus does Robinson do what I think to be just about the only viable procedure: he places them at the end of his investigation, and with a framework already in place asks where they best fit. He argues, reasonably, that they probably were written in parallel with John's Gospel: neither before nor after that gospel, but rather as the gospel was coming together. He argues more specifically that they postdate what we might call a "Proto-John," i.e. absent the Prologue (1:1-18) or the Epilogue (ch. 21), but predate the completed gospel; thus he situates them at c. 60-65, just prior to when he dates the completed Gospel of John.

The basic idea that the tradition that eventuated in the Fourth Gospel developed over some time seems reasonable, as too is the hypothesis that while this development was yet ongoing letters were produced by the same circle or author. As such, I can hardly rule out that in 1, 2, and 3 John we have one or more Johannine letters produced in chronological parallel with the gospel. I am a less-than-convinced that there was a Proto-John, as Robinson proposes. Really, the only evidence that John ever existed absent these passages is that it could have existed absent these passages; in other words, the hypothesis becomes its own confirmation, a dubious way to proceed. More generally, we really don't know that John's Gospel went through various editorial stages, as the Bultmannian and neo-Bultmannian traditions have tended to suppose; such supposition tended to be programmatic rather than demonstrated. At the very least, Robinson seems to overstate his case here, as he does with other parts of his hypothesis. For instance, yes, 1 John 1:1-4 could be read as a "first draft" of John 1:1-18, as Robinson argues; but it could also at least as plausibly be read as correcting a docetic misreading of the Gospel (as, for instance, Raymond Brown argued). All this however speaks ultimately to the difficulty of situating the letters in time.

My own feeling is that the particularly close literary relationship between the Gospel of John and 1 John place them within proximity to each other. My thinking is that 1 John represents more fully the theology behind the gospel, and that the time when the author would be most disposed to explicate said theology most fully would be around the time that the gospel circulated: either as he was working on the gospel, or to amplify it afterwards. Thus, granting that the Gospel is to be dated around 65, I would think that the mid-60s is best for 1 John. Frankly, at this point I remain agnostic on II and III John.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

"The Gospel and Epistles of John"

In Chapter IX of Redating the New Testament, Robinson comes at last to the gospel and epistles of John. I say "at last," because in the introductory chapter he had noted that it was doubts about the standard dating of this literature to the 90s that led him on the course of research that eventuated in Redating. That his real interest is ultimately in the dates of these four texts is reinforced by the fact that his next, and last, monograph was The Priority of John, which although not quite complete at the time of his passing was published posthumously. In this blog post, I'll focus specifically upon the Gospel of John, and in another upon the letters.

An initial word must be given regarding Robinson's use of "priority." When I hear the word "priority" in relation to the gospels I think in terms of source relationships: to say that John has priority is thus to say that it is a source for one or more other texts. What Robinson means however is something closer to what I would call "primitivity." What he is responding to is the idea that John represents a relatively advanced theology, whether its in its Christology or its pneumatology or its soteriology or whatever. This is crucial for dating purposes, because it was the idea that John represented an advanced Christianity that led F.C. Baur to date it into the late-2nd century. A date that late is today a non-starter, largely due to the work of J.B. Lightfoot a generation after Baur, but there remains a lingering supposition that John must come last of all the gospels, and must be late enough to allow its advanced theology to develop (although how we can know whether that development must have taken sixty years rather than thirty, I've never been entirely clear. Robinson makes much the same point with regard specifically to Brown's five-stage theory of the development of John's Gospel: one could in fact affirm those five stages and date the gospel to the 60s rather than the 90s, as Brown insists one must do). Robinson affirms and builds upon the work of C.H. Dodd, which aimed to show that John in fact builds extensively upon an early, "primitive," tradition that was in direct contact with the Jewish-Christian circles of the first Christian generation. Where he moves beyond Dodd is in asking why, if on Dodd's own arguments, everything that in John's Gospel could have existed by 70, does Dodd need to place the gospel in the 90s, following the consensus position built by Lightfoot.

Thus does Robinson open up for discussion the hypothesis that John's Gospel predates 70. He recognizes however that he needs to consider the relevant data more carefully before he can affirm that hypothesis. He looks at whether or not John's Gospel evinces an awareness of the events of the Jewish War, especially the fall of Jerusalem and, concludes, I think rightly, that it does not. Here we must be careful about the argument from silence: this line of argument merely establishes that the events of 70 are no impediment to dating prior to 70, not that one should thus date the text. Robinson examines the apparent reference after the fact to Peter's death (cf. John 21:18-19), and concludes that indeed this passage likely postdates that event (which he earlier dated to 65). He considers 21:22-23, which are often seen as evidence that by the time that these last section of the Gospel was written the Beloved Disciple had already passed away, and notes correctly that this is not a necessary reading of the passage. Thus he is able to establish c. 65 as a likely terminus post quem for the Gospel.

Robinson concludes that the gospel was completed c. 65: thus allowing for the knowledge of Peter's death, but also bringing it into close temporal contact with the Palestinian Jewish-Christian circles with which Robinson, following Dodd, believes it is in contact, and also explaining why it evinces little to no awareness of the Jewish War. I find his argument that John's Gospel could be as early as 65 generally compelling, as well as his suggestions that it coheres best with a pre-70 milieu. I find his arguments from silence regarding the Jewish War less compelling, and would counter with one of my own: if, as Robinson insists, the Christian literature of the late 60s is dominated by reference to the Neronian persecution then why is probable reference to that persecution limited to the notice about Peter's death? One might say "Well, the nature of a gospel narrative is such that it tends to resist references, even the most allusive, to contemporary events," but that then vitiates the argument that the gospel should contain references to the Jewish War. My own thinking is that this is again an instance wherein his treatment of Nero is problematic. Robinson wants to think that the events of the Neronian persecution were so significant that they are referenced everywhere in the NT; he wants to state that the events of the Jewish War were so significant that they should be referenced everywhere in the NT if the bulk of the material post-dates 70; yet is unphased by the fact that a text that seems to clearly reference the Neronian persecution bears little evidence of being effected by its events beyond a simple notice about Peter. Frankly, I think that Robinson engages in a degree of special pleading, wherein types of arguments that he would not allow with regard to the destruction of the temple he quite happily uses in regard to the Neronian persecution.

Those reservations about Robinson's argument notwithstanding, I do think that a date in the mid to late 60s makes a great deal of sense. The notice about Peter does show that the Johannine evangelist, or subsequent redactor, is prepared to make reference to events that post-date Jesus's life. The fact that this is the most recent event thus referenced would seem to carry some weight: the more time elapsed between the events of c. 30 and the final composition of the Johannine gospel, the more likely we would find more and later such editoralizing. Combine this with the argument from Dodd that the tradition is quite at home in a pre-70 milieu and I think that something in the mid to late 60s makes better sense than something in the 90s.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

"The Book of Revelation"

In Chapter VIII of Redating the New Testament, Robinson addresses the date of Revelation. Throughout my posts on Robinson, a general theme has emerged: Robinson was right to reject the fixation upon Domitian's reign that has bedeviled the chronology of the New Testament writings since Lightfoot, but in the process of so doing he replaced it with a fixation upon the end of Nero's reign. If Robinson reads of persecution in an epistle, he seems to almost automatically see Nero lurking in the background. I think that in the case of, for instance, the Petrine epistles and Jude, this leads him into possible blind alleys. With Revelation, he is probably quite right to detect Nero haunting the text, and I find his consequent decision to place the text in the late 60s quite compelling.

Revelation has what the other texts that Robinson places during the latter days of Nero's reign lacks: a fairly clear reference to Nero, namely the statement that the number of the beast is the number of a man, the famous "666" (Rev. 13:18). From what I know of the matter, it seems to be near-universally agreed among critical commentators that this is a reference to Nero, the sum of whose letters in Hebrew (where each letter had a numerical value) would indeed be 666. There is also a suggestion that the one of the beasts' heads had suffered a fatal wound, but would return, healed (13:3): a statement generally taken to refer to the manner of Nero's death (head wound, inflicted by a servant acting at Nero's behest) and the widespread belief that he would one day return. This would seem to suppose that Nero is already dead. Even those who hold to a Domitianic date generally have to concede this reference to Nero, and that it likely means that much of the imagery in Revelation is related to the latter days of his reign as well as perhaps the chaos of the Year of Four Emperors (68-69 C.E.) that intervened between Nero's death and the founding of the Flavian dynasty. Such persons have to resort to expediencies such as suggesting that a Domitianic writer is making use of material from the Neronian or immediate post-Neronian period. Robinson simply takes the step of identifying that later Domitianic context as unnecessary, and thus situating the Revelation around the time with which it seems most immediately concerned. As is his tendency, he also seeks to show how the Revelation supposes a situation in which the Jerusalem temple still stands, and indeed it is not clear to me how one could read chapter 11 without thinking that that this was the case.

But what of the traditions that John was banished to Patmos by Domitian, and then restored by Nerva? Surely that must suggest that John's banishment occurred in the 90s, towards the end of Domitian's reign, and his return sometime in 96 or 97, during Nerva's reign of barely a year (we talk about Nerva reigning from 96 to 98, but really he became emperor in September of 96 and died in January of 98, making his reign approximately 16 months long). And surely he must have written the Revelation during that banishment. But surely is that? Here Robinson discusses at length the ingenuous explanation earlier proposed in George Edmundson's 1913 study of the early church in Rome (a study that has only been equaled in my opinion by Lampe's From Paul to Valentinus, and which exceeds Lampe's in terms of "basic history"). The Year of the Four Emperors ended with the elevation of Vespasian to emperor on July 1, 69. But Vespasian was busy in the East, and his eldest son Titus was tied up with the revolt in Judea. In his stead, his eighteen-year-old son, the future emperor Domitian, functioned as emperor. Indeed, for the first half of 70 he was granted that title in Rome. Domitian was draconian in putting down any dissent against the new Flavian dynasty. Now, this is where it gets interesting. When Vespasian arrived at Rome, he decided to pursue a more moderate policy when it came to dissent. He took Nerva, the future emperor, as his fellow consul. Edmundson's argument is that John was indeed banished to Patmos by Domitian and pardoned by Nerva, but that this occurred not in the 90s, when Nerva succeeded Domitian as emperor, but rather in 69-70, when Domitian was ruling in Vespasian's stead and Nerva was subsequently charged by Vespasian to undo the damage done by Domitian's harsh measures. Robinson notes difficulties with this argument, notably that it requires that the king "list" of Rev. 17:10 begin with Claudius, and is thus reluctant to affirm the hypothesis, but also notes that overall it handles the Patristic evidence regarding the date of the Revelation quite admirably. Ultimately though, Robinson is generally inclined to see this Patristic evidence of lacking in much relevance for considering the origin of Revelation.

Whatever we make of such issues as the external evidence or the count of kings in 17:10, I am generally persuaded that Revelation fits best in the relatively narrow time before Nero's death in 68 and the destruction of the temple in 70.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

"The Epistle to the Hebrews"

The Epistle to the Hebrews is in many regards unique in the New Testament. On the one hand, it is the NT text that yields the least amount of internal data with regard to authorship, yet also the text that yields some of the strongest data with regard to date. Indeed, I would argue that it is the one text of the NT that can be without serious objection dated prior to 70. Even the authorship of each of the so-called undisputed Pauline texts can and have been disputed, and consequently placed later than 70 (although these arguments are unconvincing, for a variety of reasons). But quite apart from such critical questions as authorship, one really needs to engage in some serious exegetical or historical back-flips to situate Hebrews later than 70; either that, or simply ignore crucial data. Thus, not surprisingly, in Redating the New Testament Robinson dates it to the pre-70 period.

With that build-up, let us consider the crucial datum, namely 10:1-3, with v. 2 as the primary evidentiary locus. In the NRSV, this passage reads as follows:
1 Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased being offered, since the worshipers, cleansed once for all, would no longer have any consciousness of sin? 3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year.
We must define carefully the argument being made by Robinson, and which I find incontestable. He is not arguing that Hebrews must be pre-70 because it talks about the Jerusalem temple as a present reality; he is quite aware that Jewish writers continued to do that for centuries after the destruction. No, the issue is the logic of the passage. Hebrews here is arguing the following:
If the sacrifices cleansed once for all, they would have ceased.
The sacrifices have not ceased.
Therefore the sacrifices do not cleanse once for all.
Of course, one could quibble with Hebrews' logic on metaphysical or other such grounds, but that's quite beside the point. What matters is that the conditional is only satisfied prior to 70. The argument is sound prior to 70, unsound afterwards. More to the point, it is unsound in a way that would have made it ridiculous to advance the argument post-70. After the destruction of the temple 10:1-3 would have been, quite simply, a howler. All the reader had to say was "But Mr. Hebrews, the sacrifices have ceased." A post-70 Hebrews is an incomprehensible Hebrews.

Thus far so good. Where Robinson perhaps trips up is that he again exhibits symptoms of his severe Neronitis. Hebrews mentions persecution. It mentions greetings from "those from Italy" (13:24) which Robinson, probably correctly, interprets as indicative that Hebrews was not written in Rome, or anywhere else in Italy, despite hypotheses to the contrary: the language of being from Italy suggests that he was referencing persons who were not currently in Italy; instead, he suggests that it was written to Rome, a hypothesis about which I am less sanguine. So, he argues, it mentions persecution, it's written to Italy...well, surely it must be referencing the Neronian persecution but postdate the destruction of the temple, and thus should be situated in the late-60s. Moreover, he suggests that since it makes no mention of Paul, despite referring to Paul's companion Timothy in 13:23), it probably postdates Paul's death. Thus he dates it to c. 67. Now, 67 is a decent possibility. Certainly, there is nothing to exclude it. I do wonder however if Robinson's tendency to see Nero around every New Testament corner has perhaps led him too quickly to place this letter at this time.

A final word should be said about the inevitable speculation regarding authorship. This is a temptation too tantalizing to ignore in any critical discussion of Hebrews. Robinson argues that either Hebrews was written by Barnabas or by someone whose name no longer exists in our extant material (the latter is a possibility too oft ignored: we should not take for granted that the author is someone whose name we otherwise know). His argument is that disagreements about Hebrews' authorship were limited to the eastern church, whereas the western church only knew Barnabas as the author. He notes also that Hebrews was more prominent among western than eastern theologians in the early Patristic era, and thus surmises that they were better situated to know who wrote the text. I will confess that I have not undertaken the work to fact-check his claims on these matters, because the authorship of Hebrews is besides the point for my purposes. That said, if he is correct on these data, it would indeed be a strong argument, certainly stronger than speculating on the basis of the content and then trying to correlate with biographical details of known figures (for instance, the incredibly weak argument that since Hebrews has Platonic-sounding material, and since Apollos is from Alexandria, and since there was a known Middle Platonic Jewish philosopher active in Alexandria in the first-century, it must be Apollos. One cannot begin to parse out the logical fallacies is in this line of argumentation). Myself, I increasingly suspect that the very confusion over the author's identity suggests that it wasn't someone otherwise remembered in the early church, perhaps a figure close to Paul whose name was soon lost to history (the proximity to Paul accounting for the fact that already in the second century Hebrews is appearing in collections of Pauline writings). For my purposes, that is less important than the date, which is clearly pre-70 (and one might add, almost certainly post-50, as Acts 16 seems to indicate that Timothy did not become prominent in Christian ministry until around that time).

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

"The Petrine Epistles and Jude," Pt. 2

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

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

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

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

Monday, 5 December 2016

Robinson on 1 Timothy 5:18

1 Timothy 5:18 is one of those recalcitrant pieces of data that resist the best laid schemes of mice and men. It reads, in the NRSV, as follows: "for the scripture says, 'You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,' and, 'The laborer deserves to be paid.'" I would argue that it is in fact one of the single most historically informative verses in the entirety of the New Testament. So much information is loaded into this one verse. None of it is information that the writer intended to communicate, but it is there, and incredible. The information comes in the fact that the phrase "The laborer deserves to be paid" is found virtually verbatim and only in the Gospel of Luke (10:7; with a close variant in Matthew 10:10), is treated as being on par with a quotation from Deuteronomy (v. 25:4), and introduced as coming from a writing (graphē, translated traditionally, as in the NRSV, as "scripture," but not necessarily implying all the things that later Christian doctrine would mean by that latter term. N.B.: the fact that graphē is in the singular doesn't mean that much. Early Christians would regularly run together quotations from two different texts, introducing them as coming from, for instance, a single prophet).

The significance of the near-verbatim agreement is evident if we look at the three texts in question together:
Matthew 10:10 ἄξιος γὰρ ὁ ἐργάτης τῆς τροφῆς αὐτοῦ
Luke 10:7 ἄξιος γὰρ ὁ ἐργάτης τοῦ μισθοῦ αὐτοῦ
1 Timothy 5:18 ἄξιος ὁ ἐργάτης τοῦ μισθοῦ αὐτοῦ
The only difference between Luke 10:7 and 1 Timothy 5:18 is that the latter has dispensed with γὰρ ("for"), and this is easily explicable given the syntax of 1 Timothy. Between Matthew 10:10 and 1 Timothy 5:18 there is this variant and one other: where Luke and Timothy both have τοῦ μισθοῦ αὐτοῦ ("their pay"), Matthew has τῆς τροφῆς αὐτοῦ ("their food"). This reduces but does not exclude the probability that 1 Timothy is citing Matthew's 10:10, while the degree of verbatim agreement is such that a citation of Luke 10:7 seems highly probable. Indeed, virtually any argument that would not imagine that 1 Timothy 5:18 is citing either Luke or Matthew would have to invoke a hypothetical entity as the source of this material. And such invocation always gets tricky.

As I noted in my discussion of Robinson's treatment of 1 Timothy in Redating the New Testament, he completely fails in that context to address this datum, even though it stands as strong counter-evidence to his decision to date 1 Timothy two to four years earlier than Luke's Gospel. He does however address it in passing, in a footnote on p. 183, a full hundred pages after his treatment of 1 Timothy on pp. 82-84. The reason for his treatment of the datum at this point, in the midst of his discussion of 2 Peter and Jude, need not concern us here. More interesting is what he says in that footnote. Robinson tells us that "'The labourer is worthy of his hire' could well be a proverbial saying, not a quotation from Jesus." Here we see exactly what I predicted was necessary above: the invocation of a hypothetical entity as the source of the material. But any time such hypothetical entities are invoked, the question of necessity is raised: do we need to posit the existence of such an entity? If not, if we can account for the data without such an entity, then the principle of parsimony takes over and we can dispense with the hypothetical entity. That seems to be the case here. While it is certainly the case that the phrase found in Luke 10:7 and closely paralleled in Matthew 10:10 could have come from proverbial wisdom, either instead of from Jesus or because Jesus spoke a preexisting proverb, the fact that 1 Timothy speaks in terms of a writing should incline us away from thinking that the author of the epistle (i.e. Paul or Pseudo-Paul) derived it from such a source. And when we have ready-at-hand two extant candidates for possible written sources of this material, we should only invoke hypothetical source texts when those two candidates have been clearly excluded. The mere possibility that 1 Timothy is citing a no-longer-extant hypothetical source does not constitute such exclusion.

It is actually quite strange that Robinson feels the need to posit this particular hypothetical source, i.e. a vaguely defined "proverb." He's already argued that there was a proto-Matthew as early as 40, whereas he dates 1 Timothy to 55. It wouldn't have taken much for him to say "Paul is citing proto-Matthew here, and representing a variant in the tradition that also shows up in Luke's Gospel a couple years later." As I find his argument for proto-Matthew less-than-compelling, I would still take issue with such a narrative, but at least it would reduce the number of hypothetical entities by one; such reduction is to be welcomed. As I stated in my discussion of Robinson on the date of 1 Timothy, and will state again, his failure to deal adequately with 5:18 greatly mars his treatment of that text.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

"The Petrine Epistles and Jude," Pt. 1

I'm currently working my way through Robinson's sixty-page chapter on the dates of 1 and 2 Peter, and Jude. This is his longest chapter, exceeding by five pages that in which he treats the whole of the Pauline corpus. If the number of pages devoted to these three small epistles (Jude is just one chapter) seems disproportionate to their size, that is because they are proportionate to the critical difficulties surrounding efforts to situate especially 2 Peter and Jude in time and place. Generally absent from the letters are the wealth of details regarding itineraries, plans, etc., in Paul's letters, which combined with the Acts data allow us to situate the majority of these letters within, at most, a ten year period, and in some cases a period extending only a couple years. In fact, we are left with very little material that would explicitly peg these letters to a relatively narrow time range. In this post, I'll address just 1 Peter, leaving 2 Peter and Jude to another post (the latter two need to be treated together, given their obvious source relationship). Indeed, the critical matters are complicated enough that, even at 60 pages, one is struck as much by what Robinson does not address as what he does.

Robinson argues our 1 Peter was written in Rome (cf. the reference to "Babylon" in 5:13, which is almost certainly a coded reference to Rome), during the spring of 65: after the Roman fire of July 64, in a context where the rumours that the Christians were responsible were beginning to circulate, but before an outbreak of the Neronian persecution proper (which he argues began in summer of 65).
This argument has a number of strengths over the view that might place it later. These strengths also create certain liabilities for his argument. For instance, as Robinson notes, the tendency to place NT texts such as 1 Peter in the 80s and 90s developed during the course of the 19th century, which developed the idea that 1) that there was a significant anti-Christian persecution under Domitian, and 2) that any reference to persecution in the New Testament could be associated with this Domitianic persecution (this latter supposition is rarely stated explicitly, But it is a clear tendency in certain sectors of NT studies). Robinson rightly notes that the evidence does not generally support the first supposition, and that even if it did we must reckon with the reality that not every reference to persecution in the NT will be to an identifiable or even specific occurrence. A difficulty that I identify in Robinson's work generally, and it's very much on display in this chapter, is that he's replaced this Domitianic "dumping ground" with an Neronian one. Virtually any time that other scholars say "This reference to persecution must be a reference to Domitian" Robinson says "No, it's a reference to Nero." Although this is perhaps an improvement in that at least he is on stronger grounds for thinking that there were significant anti-Christian actions under Nero, I nonetheless suspect that his Nero might be too big.

This weakness recurs in another strength of Robinson's position. A date for 1 Peter during the Neronian persecution permits us to posit 1 Peter originating in Rome at precisely a time when we know that Peter himself was in the city. This is a strength because, frankly, there is really no good reason to dispute 1 Peter's Petrine authorship. In fact, I would argue that the evidence for Petrine authorship of 1 Peter is approximately comparable in strength to the evidence for Pauline authorship of Romans. The data is such that any judgment which doesn't have the letter being written in Rome, by Peter and company (cf. the references to Silas and Mark in 5:12-13) is probably going to have to swim in the pools of inchoate skepticism. But if we've already reason to suspect that Robinson's Nero is too big, might we not have reason to suspect that he has too quickly supposed that the letter had to be written during Peter's mid-60s Roman sojourn? Even though there is very good reason to think that Peter was in Rome during the early-40s, and some reason to think that he was also there during the mid-50s (I'm much more persuaded of the earlier visit than the later), Robinson does not even consider the possibility that 1 Peter could have originated at these times.

As a thought experiment, let us imagine that 1 Peter originated when Peter was (on my judgment) likely in Rome around 42 or 43. There are some definite advantages. 1 Peter's "primitive" character is generally recognized as being not far off from that of James's, and indeed there is no clear evidence that the letter has much awareness of or interest in a Gentile mission (I am aware that the letter is sometimes thought to be written to a Gentile audience, and while the data allows this as a possible reading I don't think it is a necessary one). Related, we have a cluster of data which suggests that from the late-40s onwards both Silas and to a lesser extent Mark were increasingly associated Paul and his missionary activity. We wouldn't lose anything. For instance, in this reading, one would have had Peter fleeing Jerusalem during the Agrippan persecution of 41 or 42 (I think 41 more likely), and thus still have the letter written in a context related to an identifiable persecution (although, as noted, I'm less than persuaded that this is a desideratum of a reasonable account of Peter's origins). This persecution by all accounts did not spread beyond the holy city, and thus we can account for why Peter can tell Christians in Anatolia that they have not yet endured such things.

Really, about the only datum that I can imagine which could exclude this hypothesis is the use of the term "Christian" in 4:16. This datum is often cited as evidence that 1 Peter must be post-Petrine. Nowhere else is this term attested during Peter's life, and therefore must be later. The first limb of that statement is questionable, and the second a non sequitur. The first limb is questionable because of Acts (cf. 11:26), which as we noted a venerable minority, including a luminary no less than the late Harnack, have dated to c. 62-63. Moreover, Acts 11:26 gives us notice that the believers were first called "Christians" in the midst of the discussions of the events of c. 40 or 41. Indeed, interesting enough, this notice is given immediately before Luke's transitional passage that leads to his narration of the Agrippan persecution. Might this be more than a coincidence? In any case, even if we disregard the data from Acts entirely and date that text later than Peter's life, we are still left with nothing but an argument from silence, and in fact are simply speculating about when the term originated. I am not sure that is enough to carry a counter-argument.

I am not arguing that 1 Peter was written in the early 40s. A full exploration would want to consider the evidence that Peter was in Rome in the mid-50s, and consider that as a possibility. It would want to weigh the three proposals: 1 Peter during the apostle's probable first visit to the capital, 1 Peter during his possible second visit, and 1 Peter during his final sojourn. I see such queries as filling in a lacuna in Robinson's account, as his Nero fixation blinds him to the possibility of alternative proposals.