Friday, July 24, 2020

Trump and Fatigue

Over the last twenty years or so, I have occasionally drawn attention to "the phenomenon of fatigue", according to which one can see an author making characteristic changes to a source at the beginning of a passage, only to lapse into the wording of the source later on. I have argued that one can see this in Matthew's use of Mark, Luke's use of Mark, Luke's use of Matthew, the Protevangelium of James's use of Matthew and Luke, and Hypostasis of the Archons's use of Genesis (the latter forthcoming). [*Links at the bottom of this post.]

When I am teaching, I of course like to use contemporary analogies for the phenomenon, and one of my favourites comes from the adaptation of one of Enid Blyton's Noddy books for television. But yesterday, I noticed a good example of the phenomenon in Trump's remarks on the coronavirus in his Press Briefing.





Trump likes to call coronavirus "the China virus". It is a typical (and profoundly problematic) trope of his, and although in the earlier briefings, he was beginning to drop the use of the term, it has come back in a major way in the renewed briefings this week.

In yesterday's briefing, Trump was clearly reading from a script that had been prepared for him, but he also appeared to be editing it on the hoof, substituting "China virus" every time that "coronavirus" appeared. Until, later in the speech, he lapses into the wording of the script, and he accidentally says "coronavirus". I quote here from the relevant sections of the speech, in order (full transcript here):
Thank you very much.  Thank you, everybody. Thank you. 
We’ve had a tremendous week uniting the country in our fight against the China virus.  I have reminded people of the importance of masks when you can’t socially distance, in particular.  A strong message has been sent out to young people to stop going to crowded bars and other crowded places . . . . 
. . . .And I said, “There’s nothing more important in our country than keeping our people safe, whether that’s from the China virus or the radical-left mob that you see in Portland” — where I want to thank Homeland Security and others in law enforcement for doing a fantastic job over the last few days . . . . 
. . . . Our goal is to protect our teachers and students from the China virus while ensuring that families with high-risk factors can continue to participate from home.  Very important . . . .  
. . . . Fortunately, the data shows that children are lower risk from the China virus, very substantially.  When children do contact the virus, they often have only very mild symptoms or none at all, and medical complications are exceedingly rare.  Those that do face complications often have underlying medical conditions.  Ninety-nine percent of all China virus hospitalizations are adults.  And 99.96 percent of all fatalities are adults.  That means that children are a tiny percentage — less than 1 percent, and even a small percentage of 1 percent. 
In a typical year, the flu results in more deaths of those under 18 in the United States than have been lost thus far to the coronavirus.  Many different names.  Many, many different names . . . . 
. . . . We’re asking Congress to provide $105 billion to schools as part of the next coronavirus relief bill.  This funding will support mitigation measures, such as smaller class sizes, more teachers and teacher aides, repurposing spaces to practice social distancing, and crucially, mask-wearing. 
Trump uses his idiosyncratic, problematic term "China virus" five times in the speech, and I think that each time he is editing "coronavirus" on the hoof, substituting the Trump term for the normal, accepted term. But then he lapses. He uses the correct, universally accepted term "coronavirus", and immediately realizes what he has done, and qualifies with "Many different names. Many, many different names", a standard Trump qualification for when he has veered away from his intended language. From here, he then uses "coronavirus" one more time, in the name of the "coronavirus relief bill", and "China virus" does not recur.

* Links:

Mark Goodacre, "Fatigue in the Synoptics", New Testament Studies 44 (1998): 45-58
NT Pod 39: "Fatigue in the Synoptics


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):
Braeside
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

Sourceomania

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]:


Key:

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:



Key:

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:




Key:

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]:



Key:
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.