Sunday, June 21, 2020

Letter from Edwin A. Abbott to Percival Gardner-Smith

I was recently noodling around for some biographical information on Percival Gardner-Smith who is well known in the field of NT studies as the author of St John and the Synoptic Gospels (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1938), and the subject of Ian Mills's and Laura Robinson's recent NT Review Podcast, on which I guested.

I came across this lovely piece of correspondence sent to Percival Gardner-Smith by another scholar well known in our field, Edwin A. Abbott:

Letter from Edwin A. Abbott to Percival Gardner-Smith
Letter from Edwin A. Abbott to Percival Gardner-Smith dated Jan. 26, 1892. In the letter Abbott enclosed a circular on behalf of his sister, offering a home for young Indian children. Abbott also alludes to a "big book" he has in the press. He writes that the book will be too big to send and requests that Gardner-Smith get a copy from Mudie's.
The letter is reproduced in high quality at the above link, in Brown Digital Repository. But the date given, 26 January 1892, is surely wrong. Gardner-Smith was born on 3 February 1888, so he was not even 4 years old at the time. The letter asks Gardner-Smith:
". . . to pigeon-hole the enclosed circular which my sister has recently issued, in case any of your pupils' parents may want a home for young Indian children."
No doubt Gardner-Smith was a precocious child but he is unlikely to have had pupils, or to have been interested in "a big book in the press" that Abbott goes on to mention.

So what is going on here? The date of the letter certainly looks like 26 Jan. 92:

The only sense I can make of it is that the date is in fact 26 Jan. 12, i.e. 1912, when Gardner-Smith would have been 23, and curate of St Mark's Milverton, Leamington. But could that digit be a "1"? The loop at the top is certainly odd, but this is the way that Abbott wrote the capital "I", as in this letter:

Or from another letter, see here:

That "I" does look a bit like a "9".

These are not perfect analogies, especially as the digit drops below the line, so I'm not sure if this is the solution. But certainly a date in 1912 would work, and it is surely preferable to the idea that Abbott was writing to a three year old.

The letter features the following annotation in a different hand:

This is presumably an inference that the mentioned "big book in the press" is The Anglican Career of Cardinal Newman (1892), unlikely to be of interest to a three year old. But if the letter is 1912, the book would be Light on the Gospel from an Ancient Poet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1912), a book that would certainly have been of interest to the twenty-three year old Gardner-Smith.

That's my suggestion. I wondered if it could perhaps be a different "Percival" but I can't find a friend of Abbott's other than Percival Gardner-Smith, and it may be Gardner-Smith himself who provided the letter to Thomas Banchoff, who has a lovely picture of Gardner-Smith in his eighties, also in the archive.

Update 1: here is my attempt at a transcription of the letter (with thanks to Graham Gould for help with reading lines 2-3):
Willow Road
Hampstead N.W. 
26 Jan. 92
My dear Percival, 
After all good wishes, and deprecations [for "depredations"?] of influ-enza  — this is to ask you to pigeon-hole the enclosed circular which my sister has recently issued, in case any of your pupils’ parents may want a home for young Indian children. My sister is ?bright or motherly, and my niece is fond of children — almost to excess: so I think the little people wd be happy with them. At the same time she does not limit herself to the very young children, nor to those of Indian parents.  
I hope you will hear of me again soon in the literary sphere. I have a big book in the press, so big that I shall not be able to afford to send it to you: but you must get it from Mudie’s. I think it will be interesting; I hope it will not be too irritating.  
Yours ever 
Edwin A. Abbott

Update 2:  I am grateful to Graham Gould who points out that "other letters from Abbott in the Brown Digital Repository suggests that Abbott had moved from Braeside, Willow Road, Hampstead to Wellside, Well Walk, Hampstead, by 1895 and so would not have been living at Braeside in 1912." And having run through the archive now myself, I notice that Abbott was already living at Wellside by 1893, and was still there in 1913. So the letter above, sent from Braeside cannot be from 1912 unless he was using old notepaper! Graham also points out that there are letters where the "1" digit is written with a straight line, and not with the loop that he used in writing a capital "I".

So the mystery is not solved!

I wondered if the "big book in the press, so big that I shall not be able to afford to send it to you" could help us out some more. How big was The Anglican Career of Cardinal Newman, the 1892 book, which is written in a note on the letter? It is indeed absolutely massive -- 440 pages in volume 1 and 500 pages in volume 2! So it really does seem likely that we are looking at 1892. The 1912 book that I was suggesting, Light on the Gospel from an Ancient Poet is also huge (600 pages), but it seems impossible to get the 1912 date to work given the address on the letter.

Either Abbott is writing to a three year old about getting a book on Cardinal Henry Newman from Mudie's (an old lending library), or this is a different Percival.

Update 3: This is a very enjoyable case of collaborative research. Many thanks to Graham Gould, Tony Bellows, and Deane Galbraith, for some really helpful contributions.

It is beyond reasonable doubt that the letter was written in 1892, when Abbott was still living at Braeside, and that rules out my suggestion above about trying to relocate the letter to 1912. But the letter is not written to a three-year old Percival Gardner-Smith. That much is true. So could it be Bishop John Percival, a known colleague and friend of Abbott's? He seems like the ideal candidate, but I had earlier balked at the suggestion (a) because I could not imagine someone addressing an esteemed colleague by his surname; and (b) because I assumed that Thomas Banchoff, whose collection this is in, had received the letter from Percival Gardner-Smith himself, with whom Banchoff had had conversations. John Percival certainly seems like a very strong candidate in that in 1892 he is still headmaster of Rugby School, and so the reference to "your pupils' parents" would make excellent sense.

Update 4 (June 22 2020): Many thanks again to Graham Gould, Tony Bellows, and Deane Galbraith, and thanks now also to Michael Strickland: there is more! It is beyond reasonable doubt that this letter is in fact written to Bishop John Percival. It turns out that addressing people by their surname in this way, "My dear Percival" was indeed common in the era. Moreover, there are specific examples of "My dear Percival" in William Temple's Life of Bishop Percival (London: Macmillan, 1921), which one can read in toto on Google Books.

Moreover, having enjoyed digging a little into this fascinating Life of Bishop Percival, another piece falls into place -- he would indeed have been interested in a book on Cardinal Newman. He was a fan (if that's the right way to put it), and had him to dinner at Trinity College, Oxford, where he was president, in 1880. Temple adds this note:
"The Cardinal stayed with Percival for a few days. From this time onwards Percival often wrote to him, and being in Rome in 1887 sent him a painting of his Church — San Pietro in Vellabro, — which Newman always kept in his room and caused to be hung at the foot of his bed when he was dying." (p. 78).
So of course Percival would have been interested in Abbott's massive book about Newman.

This has been a lot of fun to unravel, and huge thanks to my collaborators.

Update 5 (June 23 2020): Today I received a voicemail from Prof. Thomas Banchoff, the curator Flatweb,  the wonderful collection of material located in Brown's Digital Repository, and he confirms what we had surmised, that the letter is indeed a letter to John Percival. I am hoping to speak to Prof. Banchoff later in the week. I will also get in touch with Brown Digital Repository about correcting the title and data for this letter in their records.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019


Samuel Sandmel's invocation of the problems of "parallelomania" in 1961 has become legendary in the field, to the point of truism, misrepresentation and cliché. It even has its own Wikipedia page.

Much less well known is sourceomania. I heard it for the first time earlier this week. Nobody even quotes it. And up until I started tweeting about it this week, even Google did not seem to know the term ("Did you mean source romania?")!*

The term "sourceomania" was coined by Morton Scott Enslin in a little known article published posthumously in 1985, “Luke and Matthew: Compilers or Authors?” ANRW II.25.3 (1985): 2357-88. The article reflects on the scholarly inclination to see the evangelists more as archivists than as authors, and to default to hypothetical sources to explain variation at every turn. Enslin uses the term twice. I quoted the first use in yesterday's post. Here is the quotation in context:
In sum, it cannot be too strongly emphasized that the only support for this hypothetical Q, which so mysteriously completely vanished and of which no slightest mention is to be found in any of the Fathers, is the assumption that neither Matthew nor Luke could have been satisfied to use the other, had he known it, so meagerly. What that really means is that we could not have so done. It is easy to forget that none of these writings, which we prize so highly today, was "Holy Scripture" or "canonical" to the other writers. Obviously, both Matthew and Luke found Mark of great use, but neither hesitated to alter, shorten, or correct to a degree that a modern critic might weIl hesitate to follow. I cannot avoid the conclusion that these hypothetical sources which no one has ever seen -- be they Q or L or proto-Luke or M -- are simply the consequence of the very modern notion that one holy evangelist could not deliberately have altered or violated the writings of another. Thus these deviations, as notably Luke's flat contradiction of Mark's account of the Passion, with the Galilee chapter deftly avoided and the disciples remaining in Jerusalem awaiting their reception of the Spirit, are commonly explained as due to the utilization of a different source. Sourceomania, if I may so phrase it, is a disease from which many critics have suffered. The point to be remembered is that each of the evangelists was apparently dissatisfied with the work of his predecessors and thought he could do a better job. Else he would not have written. They were not joining with respected colleagues in contributing chapters for a Festschrift (2364; emphasis added).
 The second use of the term comes when Enslin is discussing Luke 9.51-6 (Samaritan Village):
To me the basic weakness in much source analysis is the assumption of the use of some different source every time one author alters or changes another. Luke corrects Matthew because he thinks Matthew incorrect, not because he chances to find a different version of the event in some source which he chances to have in his hand or in his memory. One of the fatal symptoms of what I have styled "sourceomania" is the inability to recognize the evangelists as authors who had ideas and were ready to express them. They did not conceive themselves as weighted down by the awesome responsibility of preserving unaltered a series of facts for future generations who would study them under the critical magnifying glass as contained in Holy Scripture (2374; emphasis added).
Although Enslin himself does not provide a definition of the term, it seems pretty clear that his problem relates to the instinctive appeal to imagined sources in lieu of even considering the possibility that a given feature might come from the author of the work one is reading. If I might attempt a definition, it would go something like this:

Sourceomania: the unnecessary and obsessional evocation of sources to explain elements in a work at the expense of considering authorial creativity.

Perhaps that definition can be improved upon, but I think the gist of what Enslin is saying is clear. As a minimum sources person, I am of course more sympathetic to the point than my maximum sources friends will be, but as a descriptor of a feature that I have seen time after time in the literature, asserted as if self evident rather than carefully argued, I think it's pretty great.


* When I composed this draft yesterday, "sourceomania" returned no proper hits at all on Google. Now, as well as this blog, it has found a lovely example from a book by Finn Damgaard, Rewriting Peter as an Intertextual Character in the Canonical Gospels (Copenhagen International Seminar; Abingdon: Routledge, 2016): 2:
The "sourceomania" (the word is taken from Enslin. . .) that has characterized New Testament scholarship for so long has paradoxically minimized the most obvious sources, namely the canonical gospels themselves, with the result that important insight into early Christianity has been neglected.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Morton Scott Enslin: the American Austin Farrer?

When I was putting together my website about Q, over twenty years ago, when websites were the latest thing, and when they were still fun and exciting, and when we hand-coded everything, I was aware that what I was offering was an utterly fringe theory, which would be regarded as completely maverick, so one thing I wanted to do was to show that there had been other prominent Q sceptics. I was not alone!

I pulled together a Key Quotations page and tried to show that there were several scholars who had been sceptical about Q while holding on to Marcan Priority, and I hoped that invoking names like E. P. Sanders, alongside lesser known dignitaries like John Drury, might at least lend a veneer of respectability to my strangely unorthodox site.

One issue for a British Q sceptic like me was that Michael Goulder was pretty well known in UK scholarly circles, and his works respected and engaged even by those who disagreed with him. But in the USA, things were different. The Griesbach theory (Mark used Matthew and Luke) was regarded as the official opposition to the reigning Two-Source Theory, and if you told someone you were sceptical about Q, they automatically assumed you must be sceptical about Marcan Priority too.

So I tried in my Key Quotations page to show that there was at least some kind of pedigree for the Farrer theory in the USA. Indeed, James Hardy Ropes and Morton Scott Enslin had already set out their opposition to the Q hypothesis in 1934 and 1938 respectively.  Enslin's contribution came from a lovely little book, Christian Beginnings, which was reprinted in 1956.

Up until yesterday, I thought that that was the only thing Enslin had written on the topic. But when re-reading a recent fine article by John Poirier, I spotted a footnote to a work I had never read:

Morton Scott Enslin, “Luke and Matthew: Compilers or Authors?” ANRW II.25.3 (1985): 2357-88

ANRW is famously glacial in its publication schedule; Enslin died in 1980, and this appeared five years later. Moreover, the article appears to have been written before 1976 since he talks about William Farmer's forthcoming Synoptic Problem revision, which came out that year.

Enslin's article is delightful, and has something of the "devil may care" attitude one sometimes sees in scholars who are in the twilight of their careers. Enslin was born in 1897 and was almost eighty when he wrote this piece. His central concern is the way that so many scholars see the evangelists not as authors but as "compilers" of traditions. If I were putting together my "World Without Q" website today, I might be inclined to use this quotation:
In sum, it cannot be too strongly emphasized that the only support for this hypothetical Q, which so mysteriously completely vanished and of which no slightest mention is to be found in any of the Fathers, is the assumption that neither Matthew nor Luke could have been satisfied to use the other, had he known it, so meagerly. What that really means is that we could not have so done. It is easy to forget that none of these writings, which we prize so highly today, was "Holy Scripture" or "canonical" to the other writers. Obviously, both Matthew and Luke found Mark of great use, but neither hesitated to alter, shorten, or correct to a degree that a modern critic might weIl hesitate to follow. I cannot avoid the conclusion that these hypothetical sources which no one has ever seen -- be they Q or L or proto-Luke or M -- are simply the consequence of the very modern notion that one holy evangelist could not deliberately have altered or violated the writings of another. Thus these deviations, as notably Luke's flat contradiction of Mark's account of the Passion, with the Galilee chapter deftly avoided and the disciples remaining in Jerusalem awaiting their reception of the Spirit, are commonly explained as due to the utilization of a different source. Sourceomania, if I may so phrase it, is a disease from which many critics have suffered. The point to be remembered is that each of the evangelists was apparently dissatisfied with the work of his predecessors and thought he could do a better job. Else he would not have written. They were not joining with respected colleagues in contributing chapters for a Festschrift.
Enslin has a delightful turn of phrase, and I am reminded of Farrer's own "golden eloquence". I particularly like his coining of the term Sourceomania, and I am planning to post on this tomorrow. While he does appear to be aware of Austin Farrer's "On Dispensing with Q" (2365 n. 16, misspelt as "Farrar"), his views were developed long before Farrer's 1955 article, and if there is any influence, it is more likely to have gone in the other direction, from Enslin to Farrer.

Over forty years earlier, in 1933, he was reflecting on Luke's sources in Acts, and analogizing from the Gospel in this way:
Even in the Third Gospel, in spite of the amazingly fortunate accident that a primary source Mark and a probable clue to a second source by virtue of a parallel Matthew are preserved, we quickly reach an impasse in source analysis, as is abundantly evidenced by the total disagreement of scholars, vide the happy proto-Luke, our inability to determine the size or nature of Q, which now waxes, now wanes, and finally the indications that we shall awake some morning to find that it has become orthodox again to believe that Luke actually used Matthew. And this is true simply because Luke was a skilled author, not an adept with scissors and paste pot. If this is the case for the Gospel -- and I do not feel the picture overdrawn -- how much more difficult is it in Acts which stands alone. ("A Notable Contribution to Acts", JBL 52/4 (1933): 230-8 [238]).
I rather like "scissors and paste pot". I don't think I've seen that variation before. The thinking does resemble Farrer's. He was endlessly frustrated by what he called "paragraph criticism" and obsession with sources, at the expense of appreciating the the gospels as wholes. Farrer repeatedly delved into the patterning and structure of Mark, and was fascinated with the attempt to understand his mind. Enslin thinks similarly, and says of Mark:
Few books of greater power have ever been penned. On every page the unfettered author is to be seen, not the docile reteller of his teacher's sermons. That it was the death or retirement of Peter which led Mark to this new step in Christian literary activity, while often suggested, appears to me most unlikely. Rather it appears far more probable that it was the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, which convinced our author that the long expected fulfillment of Jesus' predictions of the momentary coming of the kingdom of God was now at hand ("Luke and Matthew", 2363).
Enslin's essay goes on to explicate several passages that he sees as troubling for the Q hypothesis, often anticipating arguments that Michael Goulder would use. On Matt. 4.1-11 // Luke 4.1-13 (the Temptation Story), for example, he writes:
The simplest and most natural explanation of the Matthean-Lukan form of the temptation story is that it is secondary to the Markan narrative and a deliberate recasting of it, not a parallel story from another source which Matthew and Luke independently preferred and substituted for the Markan. Attempts to see it as a more primitive story -- or at least as one preserved in a source earlier than Mark, and possibly known to him -- appear to me, as already remarked, too ridiculous to demand serious reply. And by all rules of the critical game, if a fancied Q is to be seen as providing the non-Markan parallels of Matthew and Luke, this ornate and scarcely primitive-sounding story must be seen as one of its incidents ("Luke and Matthew", 2375).
I can't help smiling at "too ridiculous to demand serious reply". Perhaps I will write like that when I am eighty.

Additional note: Further investigation reveals that the ANRW article is in fact a massively expanded version of an article that originally appeared in 1967, "Luke and Matthew", JQR 57 (1967): 178-91.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

How similar are the Synoptics, and how do we represent it?

I have enjoyed the feedback, especially on twitter, from lots of people since I dusted down the blogging machine and reignited it earlier this week. I should blog more often! I had forgotten how much fun it is.

Anyway, this is the third post in the current series; cf. post one and post two.

Before continuing with critical reflections on Matthew Larsen's Gospels Before the Book, I'd like to pause to think a bit more about how we represent degrees of similarity between the Synoptic Gospels. This has been one of the most enjoyable take-aways from reflecting over the last couple of days. Larsen produced a proportional Venn diagram (p. 104) of the degree of similarity between Matthew and Mark in a bid to show just how similar these works are. He uses the pericope divisions in Aland's Synopsis. Here's my coloured version of his diagram, using my Synoptic colouring scheme: [2]:


Matthew's non-Marcan material (blue)
Mark's non-Matthean material (red)
Material shared by Matthew and Mark (purple)

The numbers:

Mark: 115 Aland pericopae
Matthew: 178 Aland pericopae
Overlapping: 107 Aland pericopae

93% of Mark is paralleled in Matthew.
60% of Matthew is paralleled in Mark.

The  diagram, though rough and ready, provides one metric for seeing how closely related Matthew is to Mark. The question then arises: what about Luke's relation to Mark? How close is it? Here's the proportional Venn diagram, again using my colouring scheme:


Luke's non-Marcan material (yellow)
Mark's non-Lucan material (red)
Material shared by Mark and Luke (orange)

The numbers:

Mark: 115 Aland pericopae
Luke: 185 Aland pericopae
Overlapping: 101 Aland pericopae

88% of Mark is paralleled in Luke.
55% of Luke is paralleled in Mark.

These figures are surprisingly similar to the figures for Matthew, surprising as Matthew is often regarded as so much closer to Mark, a kind of "second edition" of Mark. To some extent, this is a result of using the Aland pericopae rather than the traditional verse parallels, but I look forward to running some more precise numbers in due course.

The thing that got me thinking afresh about this whole question was Larsen's comment that "there are no two works from the ancient world more similar to each other" than Matthew and Mark. As I mentioned the other day, I am not sure if this is right. Matthew and Luke are much more similar overall, but we tend to miss this because of classic Two-Source Theory thinking that minimizes their macro-similarities, and projects their close non-Marcan agreements onto a non-extant source, with a view to maintaining  their independence from one another. Here's the proportional Venn diagram, again using my colouring scheme, and again using the Aland pericopae:


Matthew's non-Lucan material (blue)
Luke's non-Matthean material (yellow)
Material shared by Matthew and Luke (green)

The numbers:

Matthew: 178 Aland pericopae
Luke: 185 Aland pericopae
Overlapping: 137 Aland pericopae

74% of Matthew is paralleled in Luke.
77% of Luke is paralleled in Matthew.

I am grateful to Joe Weaks on The Macintosh Biblioblog (this is all wonderfully nostalgic!) for raising the question about the utility of traditional Venn diagrams like this. His suggestion is to work instead with rectangles:

Graphically Displaying Synoptic Data

This post shows how we can attempt to represent Matthew // Mark, Mark // Luke, and Matthew // Luke using coloured rectangles. I must admit that I really like Weaks's proposal, and not just because we use the same colour scheme. The only thing I'd say is that I think it would be harder to do the rectangle thing in black and white because it would be less clear that we are dealing with overlapping rectangles, whereas with circles, it is obvious even in black and white where one work ends and another begins.

Weaks continues by asking the next major question: can one represent the overlaps between all three Synoptics using the coloured rectangle approach? Weaks shows that it is possible here:

Graphically Displaying Three Synoptic Gospel Data

This diagram is also excellent. My only qualm is that on first sight, it can look like the double tradition (green) is also part of the triple tradition (brown), which is of course not the case, and one simply has to discipline one's mind not to see it that way, though of course in a more complex version one could at least attempt to depict with shades of colour pericopae that are pure triple (with only a handful of minor agreements), pure double (with no Marcan agreements), and everything in between. But life is probably too short for that.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Larsen's Challenge to Studying Synoptic Relations

This is a second post on Matthew Larsen, Gospels Before the Book (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018) [First post here] in which I'd like to comment on Larsen's challenge to the study of Synoptic relations in Chapter 6.

Larsen's concern is that scholars of the Synoptic Problem tend to see the gospels as separate, discrete books, each with a unique author, [1] rather than seeing the gospels as different instantiations of the same fluid textual tradition. He illustrates the point by noting the way that various Synoptic theories are diagrammed. He is talking about diagrams like these, and he gives his own versions of them (p. 102), and writes:
In all these graphic depictions, each constellation of textualized gospel tradition is represented as its own discrete unit, bounded by lines within a box or a circle or some other shape, with arrows indicating the direction of source relationship and redaction. All of this, however, as should be clear by now, serves to reinforce the third-century and subsequent gospel textuality and authorship discourse, reifying each gospel as an enclosed, separate text with its own unique author. How might we rethink the data? (p. 102).
It's actually not always the case that these diagrams are "bounded by lines within a box or a circle or some other shape"; my own preference has been to avoid the boundary lines, e.g. here in my book The Synoptic Problem: A Way through the Maze (p. 22):

In fact the irony of Larsen's concern about "clear black lines separating out discrete gospels from one another" (Larsen, p. 104) is that sometimes entities in these diagrams are placed in a box in order to show uncertainty about their existence or tangibility, as here in my diagram of the Two-Source Theory (Way Through the Maze, p. 20):

Nevertheless, Larsen's broader point is worth thinking about. Is it fair to say that diagrams like these tend to make us think too rigidly in terms of discrete, separate gospels, with different authors, and to ignore the overwhelming similarity between the Synoptics? Larsen's suggestion is to represent the "degree of overlap" between Matthew and Mark by means of a "Proportional Venn diagram of Overlap Between the Gospels of Mark and Matthew" (p. 104). So he counts the number of parallel "stories" in the index of Aland's Synopsis (see further yesterday's post):

Mark: 115 “stories”.
Matthew: 178 “stories".
Overlapping: 107 “stories”.

He then plugs these numbers into a Proportional Venn diagram, which I have adapted here in a coloured version (using my Synoptic colouring scheme) [2]:

Matthew's non-Marcan material (blue)
Mark's non-Matthean material (red)
Material shared by Matthew and Mark (purple)

It's a great idea to represent the data in this way, and I'm grateful to Larsen for thinking of it. There are precedents, e.g. the nice Wikipedia coloured diagram, but I don't recall having seen a proportional Venn diagram like this.

There is a point that needs making, though. The proportional Venn diagram is doing something completely different from the theory diagrams. The proportional Venn diagram is illustrating some of the data, while the other diagrams are illustrating theories of Gospel relationships. In other words, the Venn diagram is illustrating (an element in) the Synoptic Problem while the other diagrams are illustrating solutions to it.

It's a basic point, I know, but it is an important one. I have argued that one of the difficulties with the way that the Synoptic Problem is studied is that a theory is presented (usually Two-Source) and the data is then refracted through it. As Jason Staples says, it's "solution to plight" thinking.

In a sense, Larsen's preference for the proportional Venn diagram could be seen to forward this aim -- we might think of it as a way of encouraging people first to take the data seriously, and to get a sense of the problem before proceeding to solution. The difficulty, though, with the way that Larsen discusses the issue is that the Venn diagram is presented as an alternative to the theory diagrams, contrasting their bounded, discrete entities, with his overlapping materials. But both are necessary -- finding ways to represent the data as accurately and as clearly as possible as well as representing the theories as clearly as possible.

And with respect to those theory diagrams, everyone discussing the issue realizes that there are massive overlaps between Matthew and Mark. That's the beginning point of the discussion. If there were only differences, there would be no Synoptic Problem. Placing an arrow from Mark to Matthew (and to Luke) only expresses a model of textual relationships. One can still, like Burkitt and others, see Matthew as a "fresh edition of Mark" (see yesterday's post), and use a classic diagram to show that relationship, the new edition being subsequent to and incorporating the previous edition. Or, to use Larsen's language, if we "think of the textual tradition we call the Gospel according to Matthew as continuing the same unfinished textual tradition of “the gospel” more broadly understood", there is nothing to stop us illustrating that in a theory diagram, a diagram that would be attempting a solution to the problem, which is a quite different thing from a diagram that attempts to depict the data.

[1] Larsen regularly uses the term "human" author, though I am not sure why the adjective is necessary given that no one is arguing for animal or alien authors.

[2] Generated using the Venn Diagram Generator.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

How Similar is Luke to Matthew? Reflections Stimulated by Larsen

I have recently been enjoying reading Matthew Larsen's Gospels Before the Book (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018) and have been reflecting on elements in its thesis. In one sense, I was predisposed to find the book appealing since I have myself flirted with the idea of Mark as an "unfinished" gospel (NT Pod 71), though I am less certain about some of Larsen's broader claims. In due course I hope to comment on his scepticism about our ability to do source- and redaction-criticism, but first, in this post, a couple of positive observations.

In Chapter 6 of Gospels Before the Book, Larsen reflects on how his thesis impacts on synoptic relations, which is a topic of interest to me. Larsen argues that we should not see Mark and Matthew as distinct "books", each with their own author. Each is an instantiation of a fluid textual tradition. To develop this point, he writes:
Viewed from within a different framework, we begin to see another picture. If one assumes the texts we now call the Gospels according to Matthew and Mark are not both part of the same fluid textual tradition, then to my knowledge there are no two works from the ancient world more similar to each other than the Gospel according to Mark and the Gospel according to Matthew, a fact often overlooked (101).
This perspective reminded me of the strong 20th century (mainly British) scholarly tradition of seeing Matthew as a kind of "second edition" of Mark. The tradition goes back, I think, to F. C. Burkitt in 1910, who described Matthew as "a fresh edition of Mark, revised, rearranged, and enriched with new material” (The Earliest Sources for the Life of Jesus (Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1910). Streeter echoed the judgement in his famous Four Gospels, and there's a fairly strong continuing tradition of seeing Matthew this way, e.g. by Graham Stanton, James D. G. Dunn, and more recently Francis Watson.

But a further thought on reading Larsen here occurred to me, and that thought was, "What about Luke?" Larsen is arguing that Mark is so similar to Matthew that there are no two works in the ancient world that are anything like as close as these two. But the point becomes stronger if one draws in Luke too. If Matthew and Mark are two of the most similar works from antiquity, surely Matthew and Luke are even more so.

The difficulty here is that decades of two-source thinking, with its insistence on Luke's independence from Matthew, have tended to immunize us against noticing the extent of the similarity between these two gospels. We allow Q to mediate their non-Marcan similarities, and then we stress their differences in attempting to underline their independence. But the similarities between Matthew and Luke are not limited to the two-hundred or so verses of double tradition. It is a question of their entire gospel projects.

I have been attempting press the point about the macro-similarities between the two works, in addition to the micro-similarities, for some years. If Matthew is effectively a kind of fresh edition of Mark, could Luke be seen still more as a fresh edition of Matthew? I don't know if I want to go that far, but I do think it worth pointing out once again just how similar these two works are. Unlike Mark, both begin with Infancy Narratives; both end with resurrection appearances & commission to "the eleven"; both feature a lot of additional identical sayings material, frequently with very close verbatim agreement.

It turns out that we can quantify the similarity between the two in a rough-and-ready way. Larsen does an interesting experiment in quantifying the degree of agreement between Matthew and Mark by using the index of Aland's Synopsis, and it's something we can extend to Matthew and Luke. Larsen's figures are as follows (pp. 103-4):

Mark: 115 “stories”.
Matthew: 178 “stories".
Overlapping: 107 “stories”. Thus, Larsen says:

93% of Mark is paralleled in Matthew.
60% of Matthew is paralleled in Mark.

I checked Larsen's numbers and they came out the same way for me. I then did a count on the Lucan parallels, and they come out like this:

Luke: 185 "stories"
Overlapping with Matthew: 137. Thus:

74% of Matthew is paralleled in Luke.
77% of Luke is paralleled in Matthew.

It is of course a clunky and imprecise way of doing things, and my own preference would be to do it on the basis of sentences or verses rather than Aland units, but it is interesting nevertheless to see just how quantifiably "similar" Matthew and Luke are to one another, at least according to this metric.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Favourite -- and least favourite -- Jesus Films

Every couple of years, I teach a course on Jesus in Film at Duke. Last time I taught the course, I ran a fun poll at the end in which I asked students "What is your favourite Jesus film?" I posted the results here.

This year's results are now in! Amazingly enough, the academics' most hated film of all, Passion of the Christ, gets the most votes, albeit only a fifth of the class (6/30). As before, Jesus Christ Superstar gets a good showing, as does the wonderful BBC Nativity. Newcomers Young Messiah and Risen do surprisingly well:

(1) Passion of the Christ [6 votes]

(2) Jesus Christ Superstar
The Nativity (BBC, 2010)
Young Messiah [4 votes each]

(5) Jesus of Nazareth
Life of Brian
Last Temptation of Christ
Risen [2 votes each]

One vote each:

The Gospel According to St Matthew
The Miracle Maker
The Passion (BBC / HBO, 2008)
The Bible / Son of God

This time I thought to ask them several additional questions, including "What is your least favourite Jesus film?" And here there is a clear winner!

(1) Godspell [17 votes]

(2) Life of Brian [3 votes]

(3) Greatest Story Ever Told
The Bible / Son of God [2 votes each]

One vote each:

King of Kings
Gospel According to St Matthew
Last Temptation of Christ
Killing Jesus
The Star

Further Response to Alan Garrow

I am grateful to Alan Garrow for responding to my post on Garrow's Flaw (details and links here) over on Bart Ehrman's blog.

I had pointed out that Garrow's model diagnoses high verbatim double tradition passages as the result of Matthew's copying of Luke alone. "High DT [double tradition] passages," he says,"are best explained by Matthew’s copying of Luke without interference from any other entity.” Low verbatim passages are the result of Matthew conflating Luke and the Didache. The claim is foundational and explicit in Garrow's work:
"[W]hen Matthew copies Luke without distraction he produces High DT passages. When, however, Matthew knows differing versions of the same event he conflates them – resulting in a Low DT passage."
In my response, I pointed out that Garrow's own list of "High DT passages" includes several cases of Matthew actually working not from "Luke alone" but from Luke and Mark. In other words, his claim that Matthew produces high verbatim passages when working from Luke alone is contradicted by his own model. 

Garrow responds by arguing that Matthew's behaviour is "consistently plausible". I quote the paragraph in full:
A good solution to the Synoptic Problem is one that allows each Evangelist to behave in a consistently plausible manner. To rebut my thesis, therefore, Goodacre must show that, under my proposal, Matthew is required to do something that is essentially implausible. The unbelievable behavior he identifies is that Matthew (according to me) sometimes very closely conflates two or more related sources (e.g. The Sin against the Holy Spirit, where Matt. 31.31-32 conflates Mark 3.28-30, Luke 12.10 and Did. 11.7), sometimes switches between sources at intervals (e.g. the Beelzebul Controversy, where Matt. 12.22-30 alternates between Mark 3.22-27 and Luke 11.14-23), and sometimes decides to forego the labor of conflation where the rewards for doing so are limited (e.g. John’s messianic preaching and the sign of Jonah: Matt. 3.12 // Luke 3.17 and Matt. 12.38-42 // Luke 11.16, 29-32 respectively). I must leave you to judge whether this variation is so extraordinary as to justify Ehrman’s view that this is a ‘completely compelling’ reason to declare that Matthew could not have known Luke.
This does not respond to my point, which is not a question about degrees of plausibility, but a question about the consistency and coherence of Garrow's model. I do not have a difficulty with the issue of variation in degrees of verbatim agreement; indeed, as Garrow points out, I have myself written about this. The issue to which I am drawing attention is straightforward: Garrow claims that high verbatim agreement in double tradition is diagnostic that Matthew is working form Luke alone. I am pointing out that on his model, high verbatim agreement does not illustrate this.

Garrow adds some general criticisms of the Farrer theory, including the old chestnut about "unpicking", which dates back to F. Gerald Downing. I have little to add here to the excellent critiques by Ken Olson and Eric Eve on this issue, but I will say that no critic of the Farrer theory has yet successfully isolated a single occasion where an advocate of the Farrer theory uses the term that they consistently put in quotation marks. I generally try to avoid putting things in quotation marks that are not quotations, but I realize that practices vary. 

Garrow concludes with his favourite quotation from me, "The theory that Matthew has read Luke … is rarely put forward by sensible scholars and will not be considered here" (The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze, 109), where I was of course just describing the field at the time of writing, a description echoed by Garrow himself three years later, "“The possibility that Matthew directly depended on Luke’s Gospel has not been widely explored” (The Gospel of Matthew's Dependence on the Didache, 228 n. 10). I should perhaps let on that my engagement with Alan's work began long before Evan's wager; that just gave me the opportunity to share work in progress. What's been fun has been the demonstration that people really are interested in the Synoptic Problem.

Review of The Star by Emily Waples

It's fun to be teaching a course on Jesus in Film when a new Jesus film comes out! The Star (dir. Timothy Reckardt) was released in November in time for the pre-Christmas crowds. I gave my students the opportunity to write a review of the film for extra credit. One of them was so good that I asked her if I could reproduce it here:

Review of The Star
Emily Waples

The Star (2017), directed by Timothy Reckart, begins with a Pentatonix rendition of Carol of the Bells. The Nativity story that unfolds is as rethought and modernized as the opening a capella song. A subtitle appears on screen, immediately tipping us off to the films historical inaccuracy: 9 months BC. Then again, in an animated film featuring talking animals, were we expecting much regard for historicity?

The film begins with Mary in Nazareth (faithful to Luke 1.26) and the angels apparition to her. At its onset, the angelic apparition is not unlike that in Jesus of Nazareth, if more fantastic: a bright light fills the room, taking on a vaguely angelic form. The light crystallizes as stuff best described as stardust. Later, the same stardust indicates the angels apparition to Joseph, a scene omitted from the film (perhaps to save time, perhaps to avoid more discussion than necessary of Marys inexplicable pregnancy parents dont want questions about the birds and the bees. Marys quick acceptance of the angels words serves the same purpose). The plot proceeds and, like in Jesus of Nazareth, Mary goes to visit Elizabeth (Luke 1.39), a visit only detailed by Marys return to Nazareth with her cousins (6 months later, the subtitle tells us), just in time for her and Josephs wedding feast. Somehow a single shawl hides her pregnancy. When Joseph does discover her pregnancy, hes not angry, as in The Nativity (2010). If he was, again with the unwanted questions. Josephs character develops to be a worried but good-hearted father-to-be, one who several times prays to God for a sign. And that sign is Bo, the donkey.

The films few (and, for the most part, secondary) human characters are worth examining with regards to their biblical origins (or lack thereof). Following the Disney princess trope, Marys morality is established through her uncommon kindness towards animals. The primary recipient of her care and the films central character is a donkey, whom she names Bo (voiced by Steven Yeun). Both she and Joseph are depicted as Jewish. The part of the plot revolving around Mary and Joseph reflects a more Lukan influence: Nazareth, Elizabeth and Zechariah, census, manger, though it balances the Lukan emphasis on Mary with the Matthean focus on Joseph so that the two share the spotlight. With regards to the shepherds (Luke) and the Magi (Matthew), the latter play a more substantial role, if only because the addition of three camels to the cast of animal characters must have been irresistible to writers Simon Moore and Carlos Kotkin. Still, the film does not neglect the shepherds: the apparition of the heavenly host to them is included, relying heavily on Ruth, the sheep who befriends Bo and Dave the dove (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key) (Luke 2.8). For his part, Herod is a classic baddie. The wise men (Matthew) visit him, and while their conversation takes a backseat to the camels antics, the film at least alludes to the darker aspects of the Matthean nativity narrative: Herod sets his helmeted hunter (hes dressed as a Roman soldier) and his two dogs (they provide a voice for the silent assassin) after Mary, and, consulting a scribe, remarks, If you cant kill this one child, Ill kill them all. This is the closest the film comes to the Massacre of the Innocents (Matthew 2.16), but it is an appropriate choice given the intended audience.

Though I could not sympathize with the complaints of famous actors serving as distractions in Jesus films like The Greatest Story Ever Told, in The Star, familiar voices frequently take you out of the action: Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin) as Mary, Zachary Levi (Disneys Tangled) as Joseph, Aidy Bryant (SNL, Girls) as Ruth, the peppy sheep, and Oprah Winfrey as Deborah, the strangely prescient camel whose reverent remarks about the baby Jesus frequently set goofball fellow camels Felix and Cyrus guffawing (Tracy Morgan, SNL, and Tyler Perry, the Madea movies, respectively). A host of popular singers join them: Gabriel Iglesias as Rufus, Kelly Clarkson as Leah, Kristin Chenoweth as Abby, and Mariah Carey as Rebecca.

The film relies heavily on slapstick, screwball and situational humor (chase scenes are frequent in the film). It is at times quite self-conscious (or self-referential), taking advantage of popularized Nativity elements to allude to the made-up plot revolving around Bo. For example, the older donkey tells him, We grind grain, we dont carry kings and you know Bo will prove him wrong and carry the pregnant Mary to Bethlehem (a popularized image not biblically founded). Bo, turning away from his dream of joining the so called royal caravan comes to help Mary and Joseph on their trip to Bethlehem (like The Nativity and The Nativity Story (2006), The Star has a significant road trip sequence).

Humor aside, The Star pushes broad Christian tropes: forgiveness (of Rufus and Thaddeus, the soldiers dogs) and the power of prayer (at times, the speed and way with which God seems to answer Josephs requests makes you wonder if the film is pointing to coincidence, rather than divine intervention; more likely, however, the film is remarking on the unexpected way God is said to answer prayers: Joseph, who is not fond of Bo, asks God for help and the donkey appears). Reckart includes a subtle commentary on the meaning of Christmas: the royal caravan, which Bo seeks to join, is represented by the unmistakable sound of jingle bells. You almost expect Santa to show up. But what is the true meaning of Christmas? Bo gives a definitive answer, turning his back on the caravan and the jingle bells, returning to help Mary. The story has an evangelical bend, too, in the story of Ruth, who leaves her flock to follow the star of Bethlehem (Matthew 2.2). The message is spelled out for us: following God requires sacrifices. Mary and Joseph verbalize the same idea: Just because God has a plan doesnt mean its going to be easy. Christian platitudes? Yes. But they suit The Star.

The end credits contain a disclaimer that the filmmakers sought to create a playful, fun story while striving to capture the values and essence of the story. If I judge The Star by these criteria, Im inclined to declare the film a moderate success. Its a childrens movie, far more so than any of the films weve seen this semester. It outdoes Godspell (1973), in a good way, and strikes a more humorous tone than The Miracle Maker (2000). The worthwhile comparison with The Young Messiah (2016) is between that films Jesus and Bo, who both display a remarkable ignorance of the divinity of Jesus. Only after everyone else has put two and two together does Bo realize that the baby is king, just in time for him to bow down along with the Magi, shepherds and host of animals (its a pretty nativity picture, though not as impressive as that in The Nativity Story. Perhaps because animation, far easier to manipulate, is not as impressive as a live-action shot). Within its own genres comedy, animated, children’s – The Star is a success. But, revolving around a made-up story about animals, it does not fit well in a classic canon of Jesus films.