Friday, February 09, 2007

James Tabor on Early Christian Assumptions

James Tabor has an interesting and provocative post on the Jesus Dynasty Blog on:

What We Assume About Early Christianity

Here is an excerpt:
. . . . Acts might well be called “From Jerusalem to Rome: The Story of Paul’s Triumph.” Luke is anxious of course to show great harmony between Peter and Paul, and even a kind of tacit agreement of James, the brother of Jesus, whom Luke has to relunctantly (sic) admit was the leader of the Jesus movement at that time. In fact the “kerygma” or “preaching” of the apostles according to Luke, as reflected in Peter’s speeches in Acts 2:22-38 and 3:11-26, is pure “Paulinism” in terms of its basic parameters–that Christ was sent from God as Messiah, that he died for the sins of mankind, that he was raised from the dead, and that he has ascended to heaven, soon to return as apocalyptic Judge.
I would like to comment on a few things here. I agree about the way that Luke brings James on to the scene to offer "a kind of tacit agreement". Luke's portrait of James is quite odd, like that of a major historical character playing a minor role in the drama. It's like Hamlet in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead but more so. Indeed, it is worth noting that Luke never even identifies James as the brother of Jesus. We know that he is not James the son of Zebedee, who dies in Acts 12, but otherwise the reader unacquainted with other early Christian sources like Galatians 1-2 would have no idea who this character was.

I have a couple of qualms, though, about the characterization of the preaching of the apostles in Acts 2 and 3 as pure "Paulinism", and from two different angles. First, and following Käsemann, Conzelmann et al, I can't help thinking that there is something very odd going on with the theologia crucis (theology of the cross) in Luke-Acts. The thing conspicuously absent from those early Acts sermons is any declaration that "Christ died for our sins". This is a really striking fact, all the more striking given the absence of Mark 10.45 (the "ransom for many" saying) in Luke.

My second qualm relates to the idea that things like "Christ died for our sins" are pure Paulinism. If there is one thing we do know from those "dark ages" of 30-50CE, it is that the earliest Christian preaching, which Paul gave to the Corinthians as of first importance, and which had been handed on to him, placed
at its heart Jesus the Messiah's death for his people's sins according to the Scriptures, his burial, and his resurrection according to the Scriptures. Paul is pretty clear in 1 Corinthians 15.1-3 that this key material was traditional. On this, one of my favourite articles is Jeff Peterson, "The Extent of Christian Theological Diversity: Pauline Evidence", Restoration Quarterly 47 (2005): 1-12 [PDF], which I have mentioned on a previous occasion.


Anonymous said...

Peter's speeches in Acts 2 and 3 are actually about as un-Pauline as one can get and still be in the first century. Paul's one mention of Jesus' davidic association looks like a foreign body, but that association is central to what Peter says in Acts 2, and the Mosaic or Elijianic dimensions of the speech in Acts 3 have no counterpart in Paul. And it is certainly meaningless to refer to the kerygma as "Pauline" when one considers just how universal it apparently was in the first-century church.

Jack Poirier

James D. Tabor said...

Thanks for your comment Mark, and Jack as well. There are certainly important differences in the "Theology of St. Luke" (Conzelmann) and what we find in Paul's genuine letters, not to mention the "theology" of Mark, and even of John, but I am using the term "Paulinism" to refer with very broad strokes to the basic elements that I note in my post that I am convinced stem from Paul's own visionary experience, not that of Jamesian followers of Jesus in Jerusalem. In other words, what most think of as the primitive tradition/kerygma, I will argue comes directly from Paul. I don't think it was widespread at all among the earliest followers. Paul does indeed say that he has "received" and "delivered" it, but the question is, how and from whom? He tells us in Galatians 1 that none of it came from men or through men. And even his account of the last supper on the night Jesus was betrayed, he writes that he "received from the Lord," not from the Jerusalem community or any other "human" source. I see no reason to take 1 Cor 15 in any other way than his own formulation. I will of course have to argue this out and offer my reasons and analysis in my book, but I appreciate your input here.

I would like to hear from either of you how historically accurate you find the general unfolding narrative portrayal of the "dark ages" in Acts 1-14? Much turns on this and it is easy to assume the way Luke relates things is fundamentally sound. I suspect the opposite, though ironically, within those materials are embedded some fragments of primitive materials.

P.S. I think Luke probably removes Mark 10:45 for reasons other than his disagreement with Mark's idea of the ransom. After all, he even references Isa 53 in his section on Phillip preaching in Acts 8. I think the consistent ways that Luke edits all three of the Markan passion predictions, the juxtaposed misunderstanding of the disciples, and the teaching about "following," (Mark 8, 9, & 10) accounts for why he removes 10:45, rather than any disagreement with the notion of the death as ransom for sins.

P.S.S. I do not at all find the idea of Jesus descended from David to be the least bit alien in Paul's thinking. I think he assumes it every time he uses the term Christ/Messiah. I also think Paul assumes a certain unfolding "history of salvation" narrative such as that reflected in Acts 3, but in terms of narration, he is more interested in his own role in that unfolding story (Munck, etc.), as he, in fulfillment of Isaiah 49, called from his mother's womb, is set to bring the salvation of humankind.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your response and your question, James.

As for the historicity of Acts 1-14, I can only say that I fall somewhere within the broad range between a Martin Hengel, who thinks we can fill a lot of the details "between Jesus and Paul", and a Burton Mack, who even thinks that the idea of the church beginning in Jerusalem is a Lukan invention. I know that isn't helpful, so let me just say that while I have my doubts about narrative details and chronology from the first half of Acts, and while I accept that Lukan theology leaves its stamp (particularly in Acts 2), I am convinced that the bulk of the so-called missionary speeches is not only pre-Lukan but pre-Pauline as well. That is not to say that these speeches began their form-critical existence *as* missionary speeches, or even that Luke found them in that form, but simply that they embody some very early theological formulations. (John A. T. Robinson found Acts 3 to contain "the earliest christology of all".)

Jack Poirier

James D. Tabor said...

Jack, I remember well the absolute thrill I experienced back in 1964 when I first read C. H. Dodd's little book, The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments. The 1936 edition had just been republished by Harper and Row. I was finishing up my freshman year at Abilene Christian University, studying 1 Thessalonians with Abraham Malherbe, and reading N.T. Greek. I found Dodd's reconstuction of the primitive kerygma to be utterly convincing and for me at that time his presentation seemed as solid as the "rock" upon which Jesus promised to build his church. Thanks for your comments placing yourself between Hengel and Mack. I find Mack's reconstruction (and that of the entire Ron Cameron SBL group), despite the guidance of my own mentor, Jonathan Z. Smith, to be very weak when it comes to the matter of the Jerusalem "church." Far from being a Lukan creation, I find it to be a Lukan embarassment. But I agree with you, and with Hengel, Acts does indeed contain much without which we would be of all men most miserable--as does Eusebius. My Blog post was aiming more at the ways in which Luke/Acts and Eusebius have formed the narrative pictures in most of our heads, despite all attempts to be reconstructive and critical. It is hard to shake, at least for me.

James Crossley said...

I suppose a basic bare bones outline of history in Acts 1-14 is possible thanks to Paul. Paul was 'converted' and there were major figures in Jerusalem would be a couple of obvious ones. Maybe we can guess that Stephen was martyred, even if the speech was more of less invented. Ultimately, I don't know how all the Acts stuff, especially the speeches, can come close to being verified because we lack anything seriously independent in most cases. In terms of a narrative history, perhaps it is tempting to go for general themes that we can roughly work out (which seems what all three of you are doing in these comments)?

Also there is the problem that Luke doesn't know when some of the stuff he writes was supposed to have actually happened. The chronology is very vague at times in the first half of Acts. This can be a problem for something like Peter's vision. I can see this possibly going back to a historical core or at least a pre-Lukan tradition - esp. as the vision itself doesn't refer to gentiles (contrast Acts 10.27-28). Even though Luke may well have substantially re-written this tradition, let's assume for the moment that there is a historical core. When would we locate it?

This is important for James' overall argument on his blog because even if there is history we don't know with any certainty when it happened and this by itself undermines (for modern historical reconstruction) the narrative history we have received from Luke as clearly theology takes pride of place in Luke's theological chronology. Yet the fact remains that Luke probably does not know when it happened or does not let us know when it happened....

So even the bare bones history is a problem. This one reason why I would favour a more generalising, broad brush explanatory approach to this period.

Geoff Hudson said...

Acts is a book of reversals of an original history written during the reign of Nero, I suspect by none other than James the real traveller himself. The classic faux pas in the text is the apparent final journey by ship to Rome around 60 CE - a journey which apparently came to grief in north westerly winds would you believe (just what a ship sailing to Rome would fly very well in). It is obvious that the ship was not attempting to sail to Rome but the other way to Caesarea. There was no shipwreck from which people miraculously escaped - the ship merely wintered (sheltered from the prevailing north west winds), probably in the harbour of Paphos. It was a ship taking grain from Alexandria in Egypt to Palestine for the relief of a famine. For the real history, I suggest that the person on board was James, and that he was subsequently killed in Jerusalem by the high priest Ananus in 62.

Steven Carr said...

If there is one thing we do know from those "dark ages" of 30-50CE, it is that the earliest Christian preaching, which Paul gave to the Corinthians as of first importance, and which had been handed on to him, placed at its heart Jesus the Messiah's death for his people's sins according to the Scriptures, his burial, and his resurrection according to the Scriptures. Paul is pretty clear in 1 Corinthians 15.1-3 that this key material was traditional.

One other thing we do is that many early converts to Jesus-worship in Corinth scoffed at the idea that God would choose to raise a corpse from the grave.

Paul still regarded them as Christians.

The Thessalonians also probably believed that the dead were lost.

James Tabor says that Luke references Isaiah 53.

True , but he avoids quoting any verse which suggests any sort of ransom.

Geoff Hudson said...

'Receiving' and 'passing on' (1 Cor.15:3) is a prophet's vocabulary for the Spirit which can be received and passed on as from Elijah to Elisha. I cannot see how forms of Christianity involving the worship of a man, or a risen man who had died for sins, could possibly have been exported from Judea. Such forms of worship have their roots in Roman culture.

I don’t know what Bock or Cameron think. For me Acts might well be called “From Rome to Jerusalem: The Story of James’s Failed Mission".

Anonymous said...

Surely there is a danger of being too subtle here.
As a persecutor of Christians, Paul will have had at least some knowledge of Christ and Christians - bordering perhaps on obsession (hence his zeal). Around the time of Stephen's death the new sect may have been just about the hottest topic for any zealous scribe or purist Pharisee.
Add to this Paul's meetings with Peter ane James and 1 Cor 11, Gal 1 could easily belong in the same category as 1 Cor 15. It is an odd idea that Paul 'received from the Lord' accounts of historical events. But when eyewitnesses to those events are still alive, it's doubly odd. I don't think such a view of 1 Cor 11 can be defended, though AN Wilson and his ilk had a good try. said...

For me , Paul is a fictitious character created to promote the agenda that he does. I see his activities in Acts as substituted with changes for those of the leader of the original Christians (anointed ones?), namely James, the real traveller. I believe that the epistles in Paul's name are edited versions of what once were prophetic type documents of the Spirit written by James. Conveniently Paul disappears in Rome at the same time as James is killed in Jerusalem. said...

As for James being the head of the Jerusalem church, I doubt that. The 'church' of Acts 1,2 was more than likely in Rome where there were indeed large brick-built tenement houses (similar to those preserved in old Ostia) with up to five stories which could have accommodated Jews from every nation under heaven (Acts 2.5) in something like a ghetto. They 'went upstairs' (Acts 1.13) in the house in which they were staying - these folk were away from their usual homes. They were refugees fleeing persecution. The house could hold a group numbering about 120 (Acts 1.15). 'The whole house' of Acts 2.2 suggests a large house.

I further suggest that in Rome, James was chosen to replace Judas who had been executed in Judea. Judas had 'served as' their leader (Acts 1.16), not 'as guide for those who had arrested Jesus'.

Didn't one Judas have two sons by the names of James and Simon, apparently both executed, but I don't swallow that either. Were these two always together, but transmogrified into Paul and Peter?

Isn't it Didymus Judas Thomas? And aren't Didymus and Thomas essentially adjectives meaning twin. Thus we have Judas the twin. Who would then have been Judas's twin? My bet is Matthias the father of Josephus. If you recall, Matthias and Judas were involved together in the interpolated asynchronous account of the pulling down of the so-called 'eagle' from over the gate of the 'temple'.