Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Tom Wright on Da Vinci Code

There's another interesting link on the N. T. Wright page. It seems that Tom Wright has read The Da Vinci Code and is inspired to comment:

Decoding Da Vinci (1.8 Mb PDF)
Borderlands: A Journal of Theology and Education 4 (2005): 24-7
. . . . The fantastic popularity of The Da Vinci Code is only partly explicable by its being a real page-turner. Even I, while laughing at its ridiculous thesis, wanted to know what would happen next. (The end, by the way, is a total disappointment.) It plugs in to a major alternative view of Christian origins which has enormous energy behind it just now, especially in America. People want to believe something like this. The only real questions are, Why? And Is there an answer?. . . . .
Not surprisingly, Wright uses the article as a platform for refuting what he sees as "the mainstream liberal-American ‘myth of Christian origins’ which is widely believed, indeed taught, in many churches and seminaries" and he goes on to enumerate the items and to offer counters to them. Some comments:
By contrast, the canonical gospels – despite every effort to prove the contrary – are still regarded by the great majority of scholars as early, written by the 80s of the first century at the latest, i.e. within fifty years of Jesus’ lifetime. Here we are back with some of the foundational historical work done by two former Bishops of Durham, Lightfoot and Westcott. The New Testament
documents are solidly rooted in the first century. The gospels are dependent on traditions that are very early indeed. Professor Richard Bauckham of St Andrews, who knows more about early Christian traditions than most other scholars put together, is about to publish a book arguing for a much stronger eye-witness content in the canonical gospels than has normally been supposed.
The first sentence is an overstatement. I don't think the majority, let alone the great majority, date all four canonical gospels to the 80s, and certainly not the 80s "at the latest". My reading of the consensus would be that Mark is written by the 80s -- it's usually dated somewhere in the late 60s to early 70s -- but that Matthew, Luke and John are variously dated anywhere from the 80s to the early second century. The statement that "the gospels are dependent on traditions that are very early indeed" is also an overstatement. I would say that the consensus view is that the Gospels may contain some traditions that are early; the jury is very much out on how many, how far, which ones. On the Bauckham note, I look forward to the book. This is the first that I have heard of it, though Bauckham's article on the same topic in the first issue of the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus is worth a look.
. . . . a strong political critique . . . . Jesus is Lord, therefore Caesar isn’t. That is there in Paul. It is there in Matthew. In John. In Revelation. That is why, from at least as early as the second century, the Roman empire was persecuting the people who were reading Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul and the rest – not, we note, the people who were reading ‘Thomas’, ‘Philip’ and the other Nag Hammadi codices. Why would Caesar worry about people rearranging their private spiritualities?
I recall Wright making a similar remark in his address at the BNTC last year and I am intrigued by it. How do we know that those being persecuted were those reading what became canonical? I suppose that there are signs that Ignatius was reading books that became canonical. No doubt there is other evidence too, but it's going to be a tough one to demonstrate, I'd have thought.


Andrew Criddle said...

It seems clear that from the Pliny-Trajan correspondence on, a persecuted Christian was a Gentile Christian who refused to demonstrate his loyalty to the state by giving religious reverence to the Emperor or the Gods.

Although there were exceptions, such as the Marcionites, it would seem that non-Orthodox 2nd century Christians were generally more flexible on this sort of issue.

Jon said...

I had heard about Richard Bauckham publishing on gospel historicity. He is coming to speak at St Andrews RTSF group regarding this subject as well.


Stephen Martin said...

Perhaps NTW is overstating the case (I'm not qualified to say, not being a NT scholar). Over here in North America, however, there is a popular mistrust of institutions (especially the churches and the state). By nature they suppress the truth, particularly the spontaneous and authentic "spirituality" of ordinary people. Enter the heroic scholar (or novelist) who, armed only with his/her empiricist commitments and a determination to find the truth whatever the cost is able to unmask the veneer and tell us what is "really" going on. The creation-evolution debate in popular culture (not the scientific world) is fuelled by this, I'm convinced. The best example of this with reference to NT scholarship was the "From Jesus to Christ" series on PBS, which habitually made statements of "the church has taught... but scholars now agree that..." type. This sort of mythologizing becomes so tiresome that NTW can (IMO) be excused for wanting to prick that balloon once and for all. But thanks also to Mark for demythologizing, in turn, the good Bishop!

jjramsey said...

"My reading of the consensus would be that Mark is written by the 80s -- it's usually dated somewhere in the late 60s to early 70s -- but that Matthew, Luke and John are variously dated anywhere from the 80s to the early second century."

Pardon my denseness, but I had thought the consensus was that it was now out of date to place the canonical Gospels in the early 2nd century, except perhaps for John.