Monday, June 12, 2006

What's wrong with redaction criticism?

One of my tasks this summer is to complete several encyclopaedia and dictionary entries for different projects, one of which is a short piece on Redaction Criticism. In thinking about this entry, my mind turns not just to the strengths of redaction criticm -- and some of my best friends are redaction critics -- but also to its weaknesses. Here, in summary, are my thoughts about what is wrong with redaction criticism as it is normally practised in Synoptic criticism:

(1) As normally practised, one of the goals of redaction criticism is to reconstruct the history and character of the community behind the Gospel in question. But the assumption that the Gospels are all written for a specific community has recently been called into question by Richard Bauckham et al in The Gospels for All Christians: Rethinking Gospel Audiences (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998). My own general verdict on this book is that it scores important points against the traditional scholarly view, but that it does not sufficiently distinguish between the communities from which the Gospels were written from the communities to which the Gospels were allegedly written. Gospels with large target audiences are still inevitably Gospels that reveal information about their author's context. So with some nuancing and rethinking, redaction criticism still has a role to play, but it is a role that does require some work.

(2) Redaction criticism's excessive emphasis on what is distinctive in each Gospel can be misleading. Matthew, for example, might like something in Mark so much that he reproduces it verbatim – he might think that a given section of Mark expresses his own view better than anything he can add himself. I have argued in a forthcoming article (given as a paper at the SBL 2005 Matthew Section) that Matthew's view of Peter, for example, is remarkably similar to Mark's and that we tend to miss this because we are obsessed with where Matthew is different from Mark, and so miss key ways in which Matthew underlines Mark when he reproduces material. In teaching, I try to make this point by noting the way in which students often go to quotation when they find something that they really like in their secondary literature source material. They use quotation, in other words, to underline their own view in a "they said it better than I can" sort of way. Sometimes when Matthew reproduces Mark verbatim, he does so because he has found something with which he is extra specially in agreement. We need to be wary of the assumption that Matthew includes a given passage because he is doing some kind of docile reproduction.

(3) This is a related point. Redaction criticism tends not to allow sufficiently for the effect that a source gospel might have had on a given evangelist. What if Mark fundamentally altered Matthew's views? Gospels are works of propaganda or persuasion and were presumably designed to persuade others, yet we tend to imagine Matthew taking up an utterly critical stance to Mark as if his (Matthew's) views were all fully formed before he came across Mark. My view is that Mark has a profound and overwhelming effect on Matthew, changing and developing his thinking on all sorts of fronts. He likes the book so much that when he rewrites it in order to replace it, he incorporates a large amount of it into his own work. To take one example, I have argued in an as yet unpublished piece on John the Baptist in Mark and Matthew that the idea of depicting John as Elijah was a Marcan innovation. Before Mark, it was always Jesus who had been seen as Elijah. Matthew takes the identification forward, while Luke reverts to the pre-Marcan Jesus as Elijah.

(4) Sometimes, there is too speedy a correlation between the page of the text and the evangelists and their communities. The evangelists are not always recounting material because they see a poignant or important link with the experiences in their community. Sometimes they are simply "telling the story". They are writing Gospels about Jesus, attempting to persuade readers about the good news of Jesus the Messiah's life, death and resurrection. Of course the selection, presentation and creation of material is done in engagement with their own and their communities' interests, but too often redaction criticism works as if those interests do not include some good, old-fashioned "telling the tale".

(5) One of my developing concerns about redaction criticism relates to the way that it is used in some Q scholarship. Redaction criticism is largely the means by which the text of Q is reconstructed, yet there have been recent claims that the reconstructed Q will now help us in the job of doing redaction criticism of Matthew and Luke. The circularity here ought to be obvious, but the increasingly concrete nature of the reconstructed Q text causes it to be missed.


Michael said...

Concerning pt. 3, doesn't Drury have much to say about Matthew's following of Mark's innovation (that John the Baptist is an Elijah type figure) whereas Luke sticks with the older Jesus-as- Elijah approach? I seem to recall reading it recently in "Tradition and Design in Luke's Gospel".

simon said...

I agree entirely with point 5. We seem to be making all sorts of assertions about Q that are affecting our reading of the 'original' gospel, of the nature of Jesus' message and self understanding in a way that resembles the Da Vinci Code more than serious historical scholarship. But I do wonder if the whole model of synoptic relationships is too fixed - with or without Q - so that someone has to have used somebody else and hence we can read between the gaps and create a theological view from the differences.

Rick Sumner said...

Likwise concerning pt. 3, I'm intrigued by the paper you allude to. I'm curious as to how Jesus as Elijah (the harbinger of the Messiah) can be reconciled with the very early declaration of Jesus as the Messiah. Do you mean Jesus as Elijah in the sense that JBap is so described?

I've toyed with the idea of "Jesus as Elijah" before the crucifixion, and "Jesus as Messiah" after the resurrection experiences, but this, IMO, is incredibly speculative. Not utterly indefensible, but not defensible enough either.

Any idea when/where your paper will be published?

Michael F. Bird said...

Mark, on point (1) you say: "[Bauckham, GAC] does not sufficiently distinguish between the communities from which the Gospels were written from the communities to which the Gospels were allegedly written." In a paper forthcoming in JTS I argue that it is nearly impossible to distinguish these in the Gospel texts themselves. How do we know the difference between what is descriptive of an author's community and what the author thinks is prescriptive for the audience he's writing for?

Doug said...

First of all, to pick up on your point 5 (which I guess is foundational in many ways to your concerns!) it's not just a question of Q. Except for seeing how Matt and Luke use Mark, which gives a reasonable basis for a limited redaction criticism, every other attempt depends on reconstruction, whether it is the two source hypothesis, the Farrer hypothesis or any other. Every view of an evangelist's redaction depends on circularity, outside the consensus of using Mark. That is, in fat a very limited basis, but not an irrelevant one for establishing tendencies.
On your first point, I would certainly want to acknowledge some influence from the church community within which the evangelist wrote as possible, but I doubt we could establish with any degree of feasibility what comes from the church community and what comes from the evangelist. We have no certainty of how itinerant any evangelist is. Perhaps Matt is based in Antioch or around when he writes, but how long has he been part of the church there? How much does an assessment of Matt's Syrian tendencies depend on an assumption that the Didache isn't dependent on Matthew's teaching. How much individual theology is an evangelist allowed, and how could we tell the difference (given the paucity of evidence) between an evangelist's own thought, and that of his community. Luke is presumably associated (at the least)in some way with Pauline churches, yet there is room for considerable dispute about whether he reflects Pauline theology on a large number of key questions.
I find myself, in the end, far more sceptical about redaction criticism than you.

Mark Goodacre said...

Michael: many thanks for that. If so, then this must be yet another occasion where I have read something, forgotten about it and resurrected it as my own idea! I usually do this with Michael Goulder's stuff, so it would be a pleasant change to have done it with Drury. I don't have Drury with me at the minute so I will have to check it when I'm next in the office.

Simon: thanks for that. At least with other theories one has concrete texts that one can compare with one another. What concerns me about hte way people work with Q is that the text is reconstructed in the very process of doing the redaction criticism, and then that text is going to be made a basis for subsequent redaction criticism.

Rick: I gave the paper at the 2002 SBL in Toronto and would be happy to send you a copy. No plans for publication on that one yet.

Michael: good questions. I look forward to your JTS piece and likewise your SBL piece on the topic (and congratulations to the Aussies today. What a cracking match!).

Doug: thanks for that. No, point 5 is an "add on" rather than foundational. Contrary to popular belief, I am interested in a lot more than just the Synoptic Problem : ) The circularity I am concerned about relates specifically to the attempt to use redaction criticism to reconstruct a hypothetical text and then use that text for the basis of redaction criticism. That's a problem one finds just with hypothetical texts. And I agree about the serious problems in finding the evangelists' communities; I just long for a little more clarity on the from which / to which issue. Cheers.

J. B. Hood said...

NO WAY! Forgive me for gushing but I put on my blog not 8 hours ago a request for discussion/biblio on "Matthew as reader of Mark," with special mention made of the idea that Mark probably heavily influenced Matthew's theology in a great many ways.

I wonder now if you have mentioned this in the past and it stayed with me. I tried to google key phrases ("Matthew as a reader of Mark" and variations) but found nothing.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, JB. Fancy that, and apologies I haven't had to a chance to read your blog. I have blogged on the topic in connection with SBL papers given on the topic, one on "The Rock on Rocky Ground", concerning Matthew's reading of Mark's characterization of Peter, and one on Elijah and John the Baptist. They were temporarily available here but have been removed because one is being revised for publication and one is submitted for publication. Let me know if you'd like a copy.