Thursday, May 31, 2012

Matthean and Lukan Special Material, Part 2

Last week I posted part one of my review of Brice Jones, Matthean and Lukan Special Material in Matthean and Lukan Special Material, Part 1. I focused there mainly on Jones's selection of M and L passages, which is derived from Mark Allan Powell's partial list in the Fortress Introduction.

In the second part of this review, I will look at Jones's essay, "Literary Relationships Among the Gospels", which he uses to explain the role played by M and L in discussions of the Synoptic Problem.

Jones's essay forms Chapter 1 of the book (1-17) and is subtitled "A Brief Introduction to the Synoptic Problem and Matthew and Luke's Special Source Material".  He defines the Synoptic Problem and provides a little history (2-3), introducing the Griesbach Hypothesis (4) and explaining the Two-Source Theory (5), briefly offering arguments for it (6) before answering objections (7-8). Jones then introduces M and L, the main topics of the book, looking at how they functioned in Streeter's work (8-10) and in scholarship today with special reference to Stephenson Brooks and Kim Paffenroth (10-13).  The remainder of the chapter (13-17) explains the presentation and selection of data in the rest of the book.

Jones's essay typifies an approach to Synoptic Problem introduction that I have often criticized, working on the basis of the Two-Source Theory and refracting the Synoptic data through that theory.  Thus there is no encouragement for the new student to attempt to understand the data first, to study the Synopsis without prejudice to a particular way of describing the evidence.

The dominance of the Two-Source Theory is expressed in other ways in the chapter.  The Griesbach Hypothesis and the Two-Source Theory each have their own diagrams (4-5) but the Farrer Theory does not.  This is also important for new students, where visualizing a theory can greatly help in properly understanding it.   And while I am grateful to Jones for his brief reference to my work (7), I am a little disappointed to see no reference to my main book on the topic which is called The Case Against Q.

Jones lists Streeter's five points in favour of Marcan Priority (6), most of which are simple descriptions of how Matthew and Luke proceeded if they used Mark and several of which are reversible.  I think there are better arguments for Marcan Priority than those offered by Streeter and, on the whole, those supporting the "Two Gospel Theory" have had little trouble demonstrating this.  References to more recent literature by Two Gospel advocates might have helped here, especially Beyond the Q Impasse and One Gospel from Two.

Somewhat surprisingly, Jones does not offer any arguments in favour of the Q hypothesis and appears to regard it as established on the basis of Streeter's arguments for Marcan Priority.  He does, however, discuss three arguments against the Two-Source Theory (7-8), the Mark-Q overlaps, the minor agreements and the hypothetical nature of Q.  I will deal with each in turn.

(1) Mark-Q Overlaps.  Jones notes that there are Mark-Q overlap passages but does not explain why they are problematic for the Two-Source Theory.  He says:
Most advocates of the Two-Source hypothesis, however, do not think that the Mark-Q overlaps pose any real threat, since two independent yet similar traditions are bound to have existed prior to the composition of the Gospels as we know them (7).
Jones is right that advocates of the Farrer theory draw attention to the Mark-Q overlaps, but they do not do so because they think it surprising that "independent yet similar traditions" existed.  This would be a weak argument, and it is not one that I have seen. The difficulty with Mark-Q overlaps is not a general one about the plausibility or otherwise of overlapping materials.  Rather, it is specific: this data set contradicts the claim that Matthew and Luke never agree against Mark in major ways, and it contradicts the claim that Luke never takes over Matthew's redaction of Mark.  These are used as arguments for the existence of Q, arguments that are contradicted by this data set.

(2) Minor Agreements.  Jones refers to "the few cases where Matthew and Luke agree on wording with each other against Mark" (7), drawing attention specially to the minor agreement at Mark 14.65, and asking "How is this to be explained if Matthew and Luke did not know each other and the story is not found in Q?" (7).

Jones suggests that they could have been caused by shared oral tradition, or by corruption of the texts or by harmonization (though he does not explain how the last two differ).  The difficulty with the oral tradition theory is that several of the key minor agreements, including the one at Mark 14.65, feature verbatim agreement in Greek including the use of hapaxes in the Gospel in question.  The difficulty with the text-critical explanation is that it cuts both ways -- harmonization is as likely if not more likely to have diminished the number of minor agreements than to have increased them.

(3) A Hypothetical Document.  Here Jones writes:
Another difficulty is that the theory requires a hypothetical document, which is not physically attested outside of the Gospels.  This position is especially popular among advocates of solutions to the Synoptic Problem that posit Matthean and Lukan dependence.  There are difficulties in sustaining this argument, however, and most scholars tend to believe that the Two-Source Hypothesis makes the most sense of the data. (8). 
Jones here characterizes the position he is arguing against in such general terms that it is difficult to know what he is referring to.  It is true that Q sceptics will often have contexts in which noting Q's hypothetical nature will be relevant.  I have, for example, often noted the flexibility that its hypothetical nature allows for the redaction critic.  Similarly, I have drawn attention to problem of scholarly works that fail to mention its hypothetical nature, and so on.

That Q is hypothetical is a fact.  It is not an "argument" or a "position".  The question is whether positing a hypothetical text is the best way of explaining the double tradition in Matthew and Luke and the best way of establishing this is to look carefully at the evidence.

Transcription of Codex Sinaiticus available for download

Over on the ITSEE site, the good news that a Transcription of Codex Sinaiticus is now available for download.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

More on the Earthquake and Jesus' Crucifixion

I commented last Friday (Earthquake Research and the Day of Jesus' Crucifixion) on a Discover News Article Quake Reveals Day of Jesus' Crucifixion.  I was somewhat sceptical about the article's claim that earthquake research had helped to pinpoint the day of the crucifixion, not least because the article appeared to suggest a ten year window for the earthquake in question (26-36 CE) but also because of all the passages in Matthew's Gospel, this is one that causes the historian to raise an eyebrow.

I was grateful to hear subsequently from the primary author of the article that had given rise to the Discovery News report, Jefferson Williams.  And over the last few days, it has been a pleasure to exchange emails and to get a feeling for his research.  Our new dean at Duke is often telling us about the importance of interdisciplinary work, and perhaps this is one of those occasions when the arts and sciences come together in a surprising way!

After having corresponded with Dr Williams, I find myself reassured that his approach does not fall into the "Science proves religion" camp.  It is clearly not an attempt to engage in careful scientific research with a view to the alleged corroboration of details found in the Bible.  Indeed, it is clear that his approach is open and exploratory, and is essentially asking questions about possible correlations between the broad dates suggested by his research alongside textual data that may or may not witness to the same events.

The details of the article are Jefferson B. Williams, Markus J. Schwab & A. Brauer, "An early first-century earthquake in the Dead Sea," International Geology Review 54/ 10 (2011): 1219-28.  I am sure it goes without saying that I have no expertise whatsoever in Geology and earthquake research and my comments will deal solely with the article as it relates to the study of the New Testament.  Here is the abstract:
This article examines a report in the 27th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament that an earthquake was felt in Jerusalem on the day of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. We have tabulated a varved chronology from a core from Ein Gedi on the western shore of the Dead Sea between deformed sediments due to a widespread earthquake in 31 BC and deformed sediments due to an early first-century earthquake. The early first-century seismic event has been tentatively assigned a date of 31 AD with an accuracy of ±5 years. Plausible candidates include the earthquake reported in the Gospel of Matthew, an earthquake that occurred sometime before or after the crucifixion and was in effect ‘borrowed’ by the author of the Gospel of Matthew, and a local earthquake between 26 and 36 AD that was sufficiently energetic to deform the sediments at Ein Gedi but not energetic enough to produce a still extant and extra-biblical historical record. If the last possibility is true, this would mean that the report of an earthquake in the Gospel of Matthew is a type of allegory.
I had wondered about the strange coincidence between the decade of Pontius Pilate's governorship (26-36 CE) and the date range for this earthquake, also roughly 26-36.  However, it seems that this was accurately reported in the Discovery News article.

What was much less accurately conveyed in that piece was the implication that this research helped to pinpoint the date of the crucifixion.  If anything, the flow of interpretation goes in the opposite direction.  Williams and his co-authors in fact have a date range of "31 AD with an accuracy of ±5 years" and, having established this, they inquire about possible candidates in the textual record, one of which is the earthquake mentioned in Matt. 27.51.  The authors conclude their article in the following manner:
This leaves three possibilities for the cause of the 26–36 AD earthquake observed in the Ein Gedi section:
(1) the earthquake described in the Gospel of Matthew occurred more or less as reported;
(2) the earthquake described in the Gospel of Mathew was in effect ‘borrowed’ from an earthquake that occurred sometime before or after the crucifixion, but during the reign of Pontius Pilate;
(3) the earthquake described in the Gospel of Matthew is allegorical fiction and the 26–36 AD seismite was caused by an earthquake that is not reported in the currently extant historical record. (8).
In other words, the article is not an attempt to find scientific corroboration for the events that are described with such apocalyptic flourish in Matthew 27.

Nevertheless, if Biblical scholars like us are right about Marcan Priority and right to be sceptical about the historical value of Matthew's redactional embellishments here, it is at least a delightful detail that there was indeed an earthquake in the region in roughly the right time period.  It is intriguing to think that Matthew may have been redacting Mark with some kind of knowledge of an earthquake in the period.

Perhaps that was what stimulated the imagination of the evangelist, or his tradition, as they retold the Marcan story.  I must admit that I do find that an attractive hypothesis.  However, the reluctant sceptic in me suspects that Matthew was able to add an earthquake in 27.51 without that precedent.  The fact that he introduces another in 28.2, at the resurrection, inclines one to think that this is simply the way that Matthew writes.

Williams et al suggest that this earthquake, in Matt. 28.2, could be understood as "an aftershock event" (7).  However, Matthew also uses the same term, σεισμός (seismos), in his retelling of the Stilling of the Storm (Matt. 8.24), so it may be that the terminology is simply characteristic of Matthew's dramatic style of narrative.

The difficulty in analyzing ancient texts for data relevant to scientific analysis is that there can be a certain etymological excitement in seeing a term like seismos that is so recognizable to us because of its relationship to our terms like seismic which are derived from it.  However, we have to use a little caution given that it is not a simple case of one-to-one mapping from our "earthquake" to their seismos, just as our "leprosy" does not correlate perfectly to their λεπρός (lepros), and the related words.

In cases like this, a lot depends on context.  Williams et al (3-4) also work with Josephus's report of an earthquake in 31 BCE, which features details of destruction that make it sound major.  Indeed this event is their "'anchor' earthquake", helpful because Josephus dates it to the "seventh year" of Herod's reign (Jewish War 1.370).  Some caution may be necessary in relation to the precise dating at 31, e.g. Daniel Schwartz, in comparing the account in War its parallel in Antiquities 15.121, dates it in the Spring of 30 BCE.

See further comments by David Meadows in Rogue Classicism and Thomas Verenna.

Charlesworth Article on Talpiot Tomb B: Update

On May 17, I blogged a detailed response to an article by Prof. James Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary entitled "What is the Message of the 'Patio Tomb' in Talpiot, Jerusalem?", which appeared on the Foundation on Judaism and Christian Origins website.  Several days ago (at least by 26 May, possibly before), the article disappeared from the web.  I have made some inquiries and I have been told that the article was uploaded by mistake and that it was in fact only a "draft".  There are plans to upload a revised version of the article "as soon as completed".

Jesus, Criteria and the Demise of Authenticity New Conference Location

The conference connected with the release of the forthcoming book edited by Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne, Jesus, Criteria and the Demise of Authenticity, has now been moved to the following new location, with thanks to Chris Keith for the announcement:
The 2012 Jesus Conference will be held Oct. 4 and 5, 2012 in Dayton, OH.  The co-hosts are United Theological Seminary and the University of Dayton's Center for Scriptural Exegesis, Philosophy, and Doctrine.  We're very excited to partner with these institutions and their fine faculty.  More information concerning registration, schedule, etc., will be forthcoming.
Apologies for being a little later on this announcement than many other bloggers (e.g. Matthew Montonini, Chris Skinner and others).  I am delighted that the conference will be going ahead.  After the disgraceful treatment of Anthony Le Donne, it was clear that the conference could no longer be hosted at its original location, so it's a big thank you to the new hosts.   I am looking forward very much to participating this coming October.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Mike Bird on Luke's use of Matthew and Q

Mike Bird has an enjoyable post up on the Synoptic Problem.  It's really refreshing for Synoptic nerds like me to see others enjoying the Synoptic Problem and taking it seriously and offering helpful critical engagement.  And it's good to see that Mike is not far from the kingdom, now openly working with the idea that Luke knew Matthew, albeit in what Michael Goulder calls a "soft line" approach, retaining a place for Q:

The Holtzmann-Gundry Solution to the Synoptic Problem (Three Source Hypothesis)

The solution that Mike is flirting with is one that attempts to retain what he sees as some of the advantages of the Two-Source Theory, Matthew's and Luke's knowledge of Mark and Q, while at the same time embracing what he sees as some of the advantages of the alternative theory that Luke knows Matthew as well as Mark.

On a basic level, the difficulty with this hypothesis is that it concedes defeat on the key premise for the postulation of Q.  Normally speaking, the existence of Q is predicated on the basis of arguments that Luke could not have known Matthew's Gospel.  If Luke knows Matthew, then there is no need to explain the double tradition material on the grounds that they both independently accessed a hypothetical document.

While commenting on Mike's post, I realized that my comment was taking on the proportions of a blog post of its own, so I am moving a revised version of that comment here.

In support of the solution, Mike notes E. P. Sanders's prophecy in 1969:
I rather suspect that when and if a new view of the Synoptic problem becomes accepted, it will be more flexible and complicated than the tidy two-document hypothesis. With all due respect for scientific preference for the simpler view, the evidence seems to require a more complicated one.
It is perhaps worth bearing in mind, though, how Sanders's own view changed over the subsequent twenty years.  In Studying the Synoptic Gospels, co-authored with Margaret Davies in 1989, he accepts Goulder's hypothesis that Luke knew Matthew as well as Mark, with the important modification that he does think Luke has other sources too, a modification with which I agree and for which I have argued too.

There is a general issue here too that the discussion of "simple" against "complex" can mask.  Scholars of yesteryear were often reticent to think seriously about issues of memory and oral tradition in the way that they configured the problem. Gundry's half-way house between Farrer and the 2ST is symptomatic of this -- he is thinking in purely literary terms as a means of configuring his solution.

Mike's post is to some extent falling prey to the same issue by finding Q a solution to issues of "alternating primitivity". The Two-Source Theory projects every variation onto a textual base and does not take seriously what Luke himself tells us, that he was working with both oral and literary sources (Luke 1.1-4).  It's a point I have often made, but here is a quotation of one iteration of it:
One of the potential difficulties with the Q hypothesis, and something endemic to the discussion of “alternating primitivity”, is the routine confusion between literary priority and the relative age of traditions.  For a long time scholars have accepted that Matthew and Luke might witness to different, sometimes more primitive versions of material they share with Mark.  It is an obvious extension of this principle to see Luke sometimes witnessing to more primitive versions of material he nevertheless shares with Matthew.  The reduction of the variety and richness of oral tradition to the level of the reconstruction of the precise wording of an hypothetical document is one of the more unfortunate consequences of the Q theory, in which consideration of the double tradition is inevitably forced into purely literary terms.  The recognition that Luke was literarily dependent on Matthew (as well as Mark) challenges the exegete to take seriously those places where he apparently witnesses to a different, perhaps more primitive tradition, leading to a reassessment of – and perhaps ultimately a more nuanced role for – oral tradition in Synoptic relationships (Case Against Q, 188).
The main difficulty, though, with the Holtzmann-Simons-Gundry approach is that once Luke's knowledge of Matthew is (rightly) conceded, there is no need for Q. The high verbatim agreement between Matthew and Luke means that we are not dealing with later, secondary overlay, but direct copying by Luke of Matthew -- Q actually causes problems for making sense of that high verbatim agreement.

The issue of order is similar.  Gundry appeals to Q in order to explain Luke's order.  This approach works with the notion that an evangelist's order was largely dictated by source constraints, the kind of perspective that made sense in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but makes less sense now. Further, as I have often pointed out before, postulating a Q to explain Luke's order only throws the problem back to Matthew's order. The different ordering of the double tradition is a fact; at least one person, Matthew or Luke or both, has done some rearranging.

Mike's specific concern, though, is that Luke's use of Matthew "leaves us wondering why he broke up Matthew’s speeches quite so abruptly and artlessly".  This remark takes us back to the value judgements that I and others have criticized in the past. I suppose that I have a higher opinion of Luke's art than Mike who is here in the tradition of Streeter, Kümmel and others, but I would repeat that (a) Luke does the same with Mark's speeches; (b) the value judgement is not shared by contemporary artists; (c) narrative-critical reflection on the alleged artless episodes provides further pause.  There is no point repeating all of these arguments here, though I would encourage at least some reflection on the issues raised in any assessment of Luke's alleged abrupt and artless rearrangement.

Mike rightly points out that Luke's knowledge of Matthew helps to explain the minor agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark, but he adds that the "three source" approach may also help to explain the Mark-Q overlaps.  I am not so sure.  If anything, it tends to confuse the issue. The problem with the so-called Mark-Q overlap material is that it contradicts the assertion that Luke and Matthew never agree in major ways against Mark, something that is used to argue for the independence of Matthew and Luke, and so Q. But since Matthew and Luke do indeed agree in major ways against Mark, one of the key reasons for postulating Q is removed. Having Luke working with Q and Matthew here has no explanatory advantage.

To illustrate the point rather than leaving it at the abstract level, Mark has "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Mark 1.8).  Matthew and Luke have "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand . . ." (Matt. 3.11-12, Luke 3.16-17).  We gain nothing by suggesting that Q is finishing Mark's sentences here if one already has a theory in which Matthew is redacting Mark. No, Matthew is the one finishing Mark's sentences and he is copied by Luke.

Thanks again to Mike for his stimulating post.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Earthquake Research and the Day of Jesus' Crucifixion

Usually speaking, these stories crop up around Easter so it's a surprise to see this one appearing now.  As usual on these occasions, it's a shame that journalists did not check in with Biblical scholars before going to press with a problematic article.  Here's the piece on Discovery News:

Quake Reveals Day of Jesus' Crucifixion
It's been debated for years, but researchers say they now have a definitive date of the crucifixion.
Jennifer Vegas

The article focuses on a detail in Matthew's story of the crucifixion:
Matt. 27.51: And behold, the veil of the temple was torn into two, from top to bottom.  And the earth shook and the rocks split open.
Geologist Jefferson Williams has investigated earthquake activity to see if he can use it to pinpoint the date of Jesus' crucifixion:
To analyze earthquake activity in the region, geologist Jefferson Williams of Supersonic Geophysical and colleagues Markus Schwab and Achim Brauer of the German Research Center for Geosciences studied three cores from the beach of the Ein Gedi Spa adjacent to the Dead Sea. 
Varves, which are annual layers of deposition in the sediments, reveal that at least two major earthquakes affected the core: a widespread earthquake in 31 B.C. and an early first century seismic event that happened sometime between 26 A.D. and 36 A.D.
Now I should say at this point I have not been able to consult Williams's work directly, but from this report, it becomes apparent that the research pinpoints the crucifixion to the decade between 26 and 36.  Given that the traditions locate Jesus' death during the time when Pontius Pilate was prefect, and given that Pilate was prefect from 26-36, this is not big news.  In fact, the precise correlation between Pilate's governorship and the window for the earthquake seems so striking that I wonder whether there is some confusion over the reporting.

Nevertheless, the article goes on to pinpoint the date of Jesus' crucifixion using other means, primarily the work of Colin Humphreys and Graeme Waddington, which dates back to 1985 (see The Date of the Crucfixion).  At least on the basis of the reports in the article, then, the earthquake research is only able to locate the crucifixion within the ten year period 26-36, but the older Humphreys and Waddington article is required for more precision.  

Several bullet-points are offered in order for the pinpointing:

  • All four gospels and Tacitus in Annals (XV,44) agree that the crucifixion occurred when Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea from 26-36 AD.
  • All four gospels say the crucifixion occurred on a Friday.
  • All four gospels agree that Jesus died a few hours before the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath (nightfall on a Friday).
  • The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) indicate that Jesus died before nightfall on the 14th day of Nisan; right before the start of the Passover meal.
  • John’s gospel differs from the synoptics; apparently indicating that Jesus died before nightfall on the 15th day of Nisan.

The "all four gospels" is the kind of thing that might sound impressive to someone not acquainted with scholarship on the Gospels because it gives the impression of multiple independent attestation.  However, it is consensus in New Testament scholarship that Matthew and Luke knew Mark and were dependent upon Mark for their crucifixion narratives, so this is not independent attestation.  Views differ a little on John, but many (like me) think that John knew the Synoptics too. 

The first three bulletpoints are taken over from the article by Humphreys and Waddington, which also uses the rhetoric of "all four gospels".  The latter two bullet points contain errors.  The Synoptics appear to place the death of Jesus on the day of Passover, 15 Nisan, and not on 14th.  They depict Jesus engaging in the Passover meal at sunset, when the day begins, and being crucified that same day.  John does indeed differ from the Synoptics, but not in the way claimed here.  John depicts Jesus' death as occurring not on the day of Passover (15th), but on the day before (14th).  So either Williams is confused or the journalist is confused or both.

Typically, the same errors are taken over without any checking in other versions of the report, e.g. the Daily Mail.

However, the real problem with this kind of work is that it fails to take seriously the nature of the texts that are being studied.  What Matthew appears to be doing here is to rewrite his Marcan source in typical Matthean fashion.  Of all the evangelists, Matthew is the one who likes to add earthquakes to his accounts.  There is one again at the resurrection (Matt. 28.2).  Indeed, one should probably be wary of using the term technical term "earthquake" to describe all of these -- it is the evangelist's way of saying that the earth was shaking and something dramatic was happening.  He describes the big storm (Matt. 8.23-27) as a great earthquake (seismos) on the sea.

To take Matthew's "earthquake" as a geological report is to misread his account.  The story he is presenting here is one of those that very few New Testament scholars would take seriously as history.  It's even read with caution by the most conservative scholars, and for good reason.  The Discovery report ends its quotation of Matt. 27.51-2 with the tombs opening, but if it had continued its quotation, the reader would have seen how Matthew goes on to recount what some people call the Zombie Pericope, when bodies come out of the tombs, walk around and meet people.  This is not history but legend.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Matthean and Lukan Special Material, Part 1

I am grateful to Wipf and Stock for sending over a review copy of Brice Jones's new book:

Matthean and Lukan Special Material
A Brief Introduction with Texts in Greek and English

It's actually cheaper ($10.18) to buy direct from Wipf and Stock than from Amazon although the latter gives a decent preview of the book.  See already the notice and comments on Mike Bird's blog.

The idea of Jones's book is to gather together under one cover the passages that appear in Matthew alone and Luke alone, the "Matthean and Lukan Special Material".  Each passage is written out in full, first in Greek (NA27) and then in English translation (NRSV) and the short volume is prefaced with an introductory essay on the Synoptic Problem.

I will comment on the book in two posts.  In this first post, I will comment on the presentation of Special Matthew and Special Luke. In the second post, I will comment on Jones's introductory essay on the Synoptic Problem.

The presentation of Special Matthew and Special Luke may provide a useful introductory sketch of the contours of some of this material for undergraduate students and the interested beginner.  The presentation is clear and uncluttered.  For advanced students and scholars, however, the book's usefulness will be limited. The passages are presented without text-critical apparatus, marginal notes, Biblical citations or commentary, and there are several issues related to the selection of passages.

Jones's selection of passages (14, n. 31) is dependent on Mark Allan Powell, Fortress Introduction to the Gospels (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998), 62 and 86.  His Special Matthew is practically identical to Powell's list list (adding only Matt. 5.39a) and his Special Luke is identical to Powell's list.  The problem is that Powell is offering in each case what he calls a "Partial List".  They are not comprehensive lists of the contents of Special Matthew or Special Luke.

Jones's presentation therefore retains all of the anomalies of Powell's partial lists. The opening of Luke (Luke 1.1-4) is included , but the opening of Matthew (Matt. 1.1) is not.   The Lord's Prayer is included in Special Matthew (Matt. 6.9-13) but excluded from Special Luke (Luke 11.2-4). Matthew's Birth Narrative ends two verses early (Matt. 2.21).  Luke's Birth Narrative excludes the first note about Jesus' growth (Luke 2.40) but includes the second (Luke 2.52). Jesus' words to the repentant thief are included in L (23.43) but the rest of the conversation (23.39-42) is not.

The difficulty with relying on Powell's lists is that they are not comprehensive.  They are introductory, illustrative handlists for the newcomer.  Powell's lists exclude some famous pieces of Special Matthew, like John the Baptist's reluctance (Matt. 3.14-15) and Pilate's Wife's Dream (Matt. 27.19), but it excludes still more from Special Luke, the dating of John the Baptist's Mission (Luke 3.1-2), Luke's Woes (Luke 6.24-26), True Blessedness (11.27-29), Casting Fire (12.49-50), Herod's threat (13.31-3), Tax-collectors and sinners (15.1-2), Servant of all Work (17.7-10), Kingdom within you (17.20-1), and Peter at the tomb (24.12).  All of this material is absent from Jones's presentation.

Moreover, because Powell's partial list of Special Matthew throws the net more widely than his partial list of Special Luke, there is an imbalance in Jones's presentation of each set.  The presentation of M is relatively maximizing when compared to the presentation of L.  I am not sure why Powell's partial list of L material incorporates a little less than Powell's partial list of M but it may be that Powell had to exclude more of L in order to squeeze it into one page in the book (86). Whatever the reason, though, the holes should be filled in when one moves from a list to a book.

To be fair to Jones, it is not straightforward to decide what material to include and what to exclude, and if he had made his own lists, no doubt they would have raised their own questions.  But that itself draws attention to the difficulty of simply presenting partial data without any commentary or notes.  The reader can never be sure why one piece is included and another is excluded.

The difficulty with delineating Special Matthew and Special Luke is that one person's Sondergut is another person's Matthean or Lucan redaction.  So Jones, following Powell, includes Luke's version of the Rejection at Nazareth (Luke 4.16-30, cf. Mark 6.1-6), the Call of the Disciples (Luke 5.1-11, cf. Mark 1.16-20) and the Anointing (Luke 7.36-50, cf. Mark 14.3-9) which others would regard as triple tradition.  Similarly, variant double tradition passages often find their way into M (e.g. Matt. 18.21-22, cf. Luke 17.4) but not L.

One of the lessons here is that mastering the Synoptic data is indeed a key element in understanding the Synoptic Problem.  While the introductory sketches are of course always welcome, in the end there is no substitute for detailed work with synopses and texts, with exploration of the nuances and details that make the problem so interesting.

In the second part of this review, I will look at Jones's essay, "Literary Relationships Among the Gospels", which he uses to explain the role played by M and L in discussions of the Synoptic Problem.

Friday, May 18, 2012

More on the RBL "Rejoinders" Issue

Further to my post yesterday on RBL Innovation: Scholarly Rejoinders to Reviews, see the related post from Tim Bulkeley at Sansblogue.  Bob Buller wrote to Tim and me and I reproduce the following with his permission:

Let me begin by thanking you for noting the two author responses announced in today's RBL newsletter. I am of course grateful for any publicity that bloggers offer RBL, but I also am curious to see how you, your readers, and other bloggers respond to the notion of authors responding online to reviews published online. That being said, I must note that this "innovation" is not exactly new. The RBL blog has invited comments almost from the beginning (2008), and we published the first authorial response in September 2009 ( At that time we also established the policy that, although we will not announce all comments in an RBL newsletter, we will announce author responses in a newsletter, so as to promote greater dialogue between reviewer and author. For additional author responses (unfortunately, a small number of authors use the blog to respond), see: (December 2009) (January 2011) (February 2011) (February 2011)

All of these were, I believe, announced in an RBL newsletter; if any were omitted, it was a mistake, not a matter of policy.

I should also note that RBL blog comments are carefully moderated: commenters must identify themselves either in the comment heading or within the comment (no truly anonymous comments), and we will not publish ad hominem attacks. In short, we hold commenters to the same standards as we expect of our reviewers (see, in order to promote meaningful and productive dialogue.

Thanks again for your blog posts today. I do hope that more authors and readers will avail themselves of the opportunity to comment on the many reviews that we publish.

Bob Buller

Follow-up on Charlesworth on Talpiot Tomb B

Since posting it yesterday, I have done a major revision of my post James Charlesworth on Talpiot Tomb B including comments from Richard Bauckham and critical reflections on James Tabor's response to Charlesworth.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

James Charlesworth on Talpiot Tomb B

Those with an interest in the claims made by Simcha Jacobovici and James Tabor on Talpiot Tomb B, "the Patio Tomb", have been looking forward to hearing more about the views of Prof. James Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary who acted as the "primary academic consultant" on the project (Tabor, Preliminary Report, 1, n. 2) and who appears in the documentary labelled The Resurrection Tomb Mystery (USA) / The Jesus Discovery (Canada).  His report is now available, as a PDF on the Foundation on Judaism and Christian Origins website:

What is the Message of the "Patio Tomb" in Talpiot, Jerusalem?
[Note: link became inactive 26 May; see updates at the bottom of the post]
James Hamilton Charlesworth, Princeton

The article provides a useful summary of the issues raised by the documentary and the related book (but not the Jesus Discovery website or the Preliminary Report, neither of which is mentioned).  Charlesworth is broadly supportive of Tabor's and Jacobovici's claims, but he is cautious and sceptical at several points.  Charlesworth discusses the different possibilities for the interpretation of the image on ossuary 6 (nefesh, amphora or fish?) and he defends his reading of YONAH at the bottom of that image.  He asks lots of questions and encourages continued debate.

The piece is aimed at a non-scholarly audience for whom Charlesworth explains terms like "ossuary" and "nefesh"; he explains what happened in 66CE (pp. 1-2); he notes the correspondences between Hebrew and English letters (pp. 6-7) and explains that  "Hebrew is written right to left" (p. 7).

In spite of that target audience, I will admit to some disappointment that Charlesworth does not engage directly with any of the scholars' critiques of the project, whether here, on the ASOR blog, on Bible and Interpretation, on Robert Cargill's blog, on Christopher Rollston's blog or elsewhere.  He does mention "scholars and non-scholars" who "have been reporting and blogging" and he speaks about his dismay over "occasional ad hominem comments".  As one who has experienced some unpleasant remarks, including from those involved in the making of the documentary, I very much share Charlesworth's concern on that front.  Nevertheless, I think there is a danger in only mentioning blogging in the context of complaining about those who abuse the medium because it can all too easily be taken as a reason not to engage with serious scholarly criticism of the claims.

In relation to this, it is disappointing that Charlesworth simply repeats the sight reading of the inscription on Ossuary 5, "Divine [YHWH], who lifts up (or raised up), from (the tomb or death?)" (p. 5), which is seen in the documentary, and does not engage with the careful analysis and criticism of this claim, with alternative readings, offered by Richard Bauckham, Christopher Rollston and others (see also Rollston's review here; see further links in those posts).  The difficulty with not engaging with the critics is that it can give the impression that the reading in question is uncontested and somehow self-evident.  It is not.  It is controversial and unclear.

By contrast, there is some exposition of the alleged YONAH inscription that appears at the bottom of the image on Ossuary 6 (pp. 5-8).  It is useful to have this exposition given that previously Charlesworth's views were only known through reports (See most fully Taborblog).  Charlesworth is actually quite guarded about his suggestion and only puts forward the reading quite tentatively.  Of the four alleged letters, he regards only the he as "unmistakable" (p. 6).  The yod may be a zayin; "some imagination is required" for the reading of the waw (p. 7) and the nun "is not prima facie obvious" -- it may be a lamed (p. 6).

Having read Charlesworth's own defence of this claim, I admit to being no more convinced than I was before, and pleased to see the way in which he makes the suggestion only tentatively.  One of the reasons for my own scepticism has been the confusing nature of the case.  With so much going on in the head of the fish / base of the vessel -- arms and legs of a stick man, a mouth and an eye of a fish, Hebrew letters that extend unusually and further lines that are unaccounted for -- it is doubtful that YONAH is there (see further The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy and the Talpiot Tomb).

Like Tabor and Jacobovici, Charlesworth is inclined to see a stick man here too (p. 8), though he does not explain which lines belong to the stick man, and whether any of the lines that form the stick man do double duty as parts of the alleged YONAH inscription (see further my Changing Body of the Stick Man and links there).  I suspect that most scholars will remain sceptical about the presence of a stick man given the lack of clarity about which lines represent his arms and legs.

Charlesworth does, however, add a new element to the discussion of the stick man with an interesting speculation about the size of his head:
If this is a large fish and Jonah is intended, then it is possible to image [sic] a stick figure inside the fish.  If so, the head is absurdly large. Why? Obviously, some Jews imagined the resurrection body to be similar to but different from the fleshy body.  Would some early Jews have imagined a resurrected body would have a large head?  Is that the ideal body? We simply need to raise questions and be open to dialogue. (p. 4).
I would be interested to hear if there is any analogy for the idea of the resurrection body having a massive head.  I would doubt it, but I will listen with interest.  But in any case, the key question presumably would relate not to the resurrection body but to the book of Jonah, where there is no hint that the character has a massive head, either before or after being swallowed by the fish.

Moreover, one of the issues mentioned by Charlesworth does have a straightforward explanation.  He asks:
Why has the engraver spent so much time on the lines within the spherical "bottom"?  One can count at least 14 strokes.  Why? What was imagined? (p. 4).
As  Juan V. Fernández de la Gala has helpfully illustrated (ASOR Blog), those lines are the way that the artist shades in the vessel, seen also at the top of the vessel (the "fish tail") and the vessel decorations (the "scales"):

But what of the image itself?  Charlesworth is inclined towards Tabor and Jacobovici's "fish" interpretation, but he suggests that there are merits also in the ideas that it is a nefesh monument or an amphora.  Indeed he wonders whether the artist was being deliberately ambiguous, perhaps attempting to depict all three.  He suggests, for example, that:
A symbol must be interpreted and usually has many meanings.  Symbols appear in a world of ambiguity and bring with them more than one meaning (p. 3).
Charlesworth adds:
But, something is intended.  We should move beyond what it could possibly be and ask what is the intentionality that created this image (p. 4).
I must admit to struggling with this.  It is difficult to ask about the "intentionality" of the artist without having a clear handle on "what it could possibly be".  Perhaps my fondness for Occam's Razor is the problem.  Where Charlesworth wonders about the decorative squares inside the image --
Could they be an attempt to meld an image of a fish with a nefesh?  Is there some conflation to be contemplated? (p. 4), 
-- I can't help thinking that it is unnecessary to interpret the image as a conflated nefesh-fish when the vessel interpretation appears more plausible.

Charlesworth's concern with the amphora theory relates to the handles:
The image has something on each side. Could these be handles?  If so, they are not like any known handles on an amphora, whether drawn or part of an amphora itself (p. 4).
Since Charlesworth does not mention any of the scholarly critiques of the project, it may be that he is unfamiliar with the attempts to illustrate answers to this type of question.  Antonio Lombatti's detailed and helpful illustrated article Observations on the “Jonah” Iconography on the Ossuary of Talpiot B Tomb, for example, provides several useful analogues, including this graphic from a useful post by Thomas Verenna:

Moreover, since he does not mention it in the article, Charlesworth may be unaware that in May 1981, Zvi Ilan reported that the first excavators of the tomb, who actually saw the ossuary, interpreted the image in question as an amphora (ASOR blog).  Furthermore, while Charlesworth suggests that the image on the side of ossuary "looks like a fish's tail" (p. 4), this image clearly appears to have handles on either side, as I have often mentioned here (see How the half-fish became a vase and why it matters and links there):

The key point about this image, which Tabor and Jacobovici concede may have been interpreted as a vase in 1981, is that it provides the all-important contextual information about the image on the façade.  Vase on the side; vase on the front.

Charlesworth's post concludes with reflections on the meaning of the image, and although he suggests that "meaning resides in ambiguity and all symbols are multvalent" (p. 8), he focuses on the idea of Jonah and the fish, linking this first with repentance and then with resurrection. He draws attention to the repentance theme in Luke 11.29-32 and adds that
 Jonah was read on the evening of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) to signal the importance of seeking forgiveness before God.
There is, however, no evidence that I am aware of that Jews were reading Jonah on the Day of Atonement as early as the first century.  The first reference I know of to Jonah being read at Yom Kippur is b.Meg. 31a.  But in any case that does not help with the imagined Christian identification of the tomb.

Charlesworth goes on to mention the connection between the resurrection and the sign of Jonah in Matt. 12.38-41, the text that is key in Tabor's and Jacobovici's case (See my The Talpiot Tomb, Jonah and Q).  The big question here relates to dating.  Most scholars (me included) date Matthew after 70CE, after the dates of the ossuaries in this early Roman period tomb, which places a question mark against Tabor's and Jacobovici's case.  Charlesworth's comment is:
These Jewish reflections [Matthew's] are from the first century CE, but after 70CE they were reported by those who were claimed to have seen a resurrected Jesus (p. 9).
And Charlesworth goes on to quote 1 Cor. 15.3-8 followed by Joseph Ratzinger's Jesus of Nazareth.   It looks like Charlesworth is here distancing himself from interpreting the sign of Jonah as a sign of the resurrection in the pre-70 period, and so aligning himself more with sceptics like me than with Tabor and Jacobovici.  But I could be wrong -- it is not easy to parse Charlesworth's prose here (What does "there were reported by those who were claimed to have seen a resurrected Jesus" mean?).

Before concluding this post, there were three further elements that raised questions.  The first is a mention of a "rubbing of that image" (p. 11, n. 2), i.e. the image of the fish / vessel on ossuary 6.  I had not heard about this before and so asked Prof. Charlesworth for clarification.  He responded by saying emphatically that in fact "there was no rubbing" but it remains unclear what he is referring to in that note.

Second, I was interested to see measurements for the fish/vessel image (23 x 15 x 9 x 3) for the first time.  This is helpful information, but I am curious about how the image was measured.

Third, I don't understand the dates given in the article.  On p. 1, the first sighting is in the "summer of 2011" but on p. 2, the same event seems to be dated to "January 2012".

In summary, after having read Charlesworth's article carefully, I am sorry to say that I remain completely unpersuaded by the claims made in the documentary, the book, the website, and the preliminary report.

Update 1 (Friday, 9.29am): See now Richard Bauckham's comments to this post, which I have promoted to the post itself:

(1) I have been able to access Jim Charlesworth's article only via your website. I cannot find it on the Foundation on Judaism and Christian Origins website, and I am baffled by the opening sentence of the article: "For the full report with more images, visit" I cannot find this "full report" at that web address. Where should I be looking?

(2) Charlesworth's reiteration of the reading of the Greek inscription that he made when he first saw it (shown in the film) without taking any notice at all of any of the very considerable subsequent discussion of it by fellow-scholars is extremely disappointing, especially as he himself says in this article that "we need each other in a dialogue that appreciates the input of others" (p. 5).

(3) I was puzzled by his appeal to the multivalency of symbols in relation to the fish/nephesh/amphora image when he first made it in email correspondence back in the autumn, and his elaboration of it in this article still leaves me baffled. He says, "Any attempt to enter the mind of an engraver in order to discern the intention of an “artist” borders on unsophisticated methodology," but then goes on precisely to discuss all sorts of considerations precisely with a view to discerning the engraver's intention. Furthermore, what exactly does he mean by calling this image a symbol. His footnote refers to his own extensive discussion of the image of the "serpent" in his book on that topic, reporting that he found this to have about thirty meanings. But these are all meanings of the image of a SERPENT. This scarcely seems a valid parallel to the suggestion that the image on the ossuary may be ambiguously a nephesh or an amphora or a fish. If it is indeed a fish, then one might say that the fish is a multivalent symbol - conceivably, for example, an early Christian engraver might have intended both Jonah's fish and the Christian ICHTHYS acronym (though Jim Charlesworth himself rather dogmatically dismisses the latter as having any relevance). An amphora might also have more than one possible symbolic significance (a funerary symbol? one of the famous Temple vessels?). In such cases, we could be dealing with an intentionality on the part of the engraver to provide a symbol with a range of meaning or we could have an image so ambiguous that we can't discern the engraver's intentionality, given our limited evidence. But what does it mean to say that the image is ambiguously a nephesh and a fish and an amphora? I don't think Charlesworth means that the engraver could have intended such an ambiguity (see page 4, paragraph 4, beginning "It is easy..."). He seems to mean that the image is ambiguous to us and we find it very difficult to discern the engraver's intentionality. Even so, as I have pointed out, Charlesworth himself offers plenty of considerations towards resolving the ambiguity. So is his appeal to the multivalency of symbols no more than a warning to us not to seize too quickly on an interpretation, but to engage, as he says, in "a dialogue that appreciates the input of others, whether philologists, archaeologists, biblical scholars, or specialists in ancient art" (p 5). If that is all it amounts to, then I must say it seems to me that a good deal of such dialogue has actually occurred in the extensive discussions, especially in the highly reputable location of the ASOR Blog. I can say this as someone who has not contributed to that particular dialogue myself (reserving my own contributions to the discussion of the Greek inscription).

Update 2 (Friday, 10.05 am): See now James Tabor's comments on Charlesworth's article at Taborblog.  Tabor echoes Charlesworth's focus on the "intention" of the engraver and suggests that "Often only a trained eye can decipher what the writer intended".  This may well, of course, be the case, but the "intention" of the writer still has to be demonstrated on the basis of what s/he actually wrote.

Tabor also echoes Charlesworth's stress on the notion that all the strokes at the base of the vessel / fish are accounted for:
Also, as Charlesworth points out, those who read these markings as intentional Hebrew letters do not claim that all the marks in the mouth of the fish are part of the letters, some are related to the fish itself (i.e., the straight line of the mouth), whereas others seem to form the eye of the fish as well as the arms and legs of a stick-like figure, attached to the large head. What does seem to be the case is that all of the inscribed markings (not the scratches or imperfections in the stone) are intentional.
There are, I think, a couple of difficulties here.  First, Charlesworth does not appear to be convinced that the image is a fish.  He thinks it might be, but he also finds the nefesh and amphora theories compelling, even suggesting some conflation of all three, with ambiguity and multivalence. But if it is not a fish, then all the extra lines in its "head" need explanation because they can no longer be relegated to the background in order for the alleged YONAH inscription to stand out.  

Second, even if some lines are attributed to YONAH, some to a stick man (variously configured) and some to a fish head and mouth, there are still some lines left over.  See, for example, Bob Cargill's helpful graphic here:

Notice especially the several "ignored lines". 

Third, both Charlesworth and Tabor make clear that they don't see all the marks here as forming Hebrew letters.  Charlesworth writes:
Obviously, I never intimated that all the lines in "the head of the fish" are letters; anyone who imagined that I did make such a claim or that I ignored some lines simply was dependent on a journalist's summary of my comments (p. 7).
And Tabor here echoes the comments.  I am puzzled by their insistence on this point since I am unaware of anyone who says that they claimed that  "all the lines . . . are letters".  It is a fact, though, that several of the lines in the "head of the fish" do not do service as letters or lines in the fish head or lines on a stick man.  But to repeat my earlier point, I think it is always preferable to cite those against who one is arguing so that one can check up on whether the argument is fairly represented.

Update 3 (30 May): the link to Charlesworth's article is now broken and has been since at least 26 May.  The report is that Charlesworth's article was a draft and that it was uploaded by mistake.  More here.

Update 4 (11 June): a revised version of the article is now available on The Bible and Interpretation.  Although some of the revisions adjust points that I had criticized above, most of my critique stands.  I will therefore revise and repost this response and provide a link here when it is ready.

Update 5 (11 June): my revised version of this post now updated in line with the revised version of Charlesworth's article is available here.

RBL Innovation: Scholarly Rejoinders to Reviews

Ever had a book review that you would like to issue a rejoinder to?  It's almost always been the policy of journals not to allow a right of reply to authors who feel that they have been hard-done-by in a book review.  But now the SBL Review of Biblical Literature is allowing authors their right to reply in its blog.

The blog format enables authors to add their thoughts on their reviewers in the "comments" and the regular RBL newsletter has begun to draw attention to these.

It will be interesting to see how this develops.  I can imagine someone offering a right humdinger of a response if they feel they have been treated unfairly.  Will this make reviewers more careful to be as fair and accurate as possible?  Will it make them more restrained, their tone more civil?

I must admit to mixed feelings about this.  On one level, it could help to hold reviewers to account.  But on the other hand, it is part of the academic experience to learn to cope with reviews of your work with which you may disagree.  I wonder if the ease of a blog-comment response will encourage too many authors to respond too quickly and too negatively to critiques of their work that may -- on reflection -- help them.

Moreover, sometimes discretion is the better part of valour.  If you have an unfair review, it's sometimes better not to respond.  Knee-jerk responses all too often end up looking petty, pompous or self-indulgent.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Walter Wink (1935-2012)

Further to my brief post last week, there is now confirmation of the sad news of Walter Wink's death on 10 May.  Richard Deats, on the Fellowship of Reconciliation website, writes:
Walter Wink, 76, one of the most creative and influential scholars of our day, died peacefully at his home in Sandisfield in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts on May 10, 2012. 
The website goes on with a fine tribute.  Comments also on The Biblical World and The Quaternion and a tribute at The Holy Irritant.  As further tributes appear, please let me know (in the comments below, if you like), and I'll update this post with them.

Update: more tributes collected here on Anoigmatic.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Walter Wink

Several on twitter are reporting the death today of Walter Wink.  I am sorry to hear about this.  I haven't yet seen a confirmation of this; more in due course.

A short tour around Duke University's west campus

Want to come to Duke?  Here's a nice little youtube video of what west campus (where I work) looks like in the spring.


Anthony Le Donne

I have been an admirer of the work of Anthony Le Donne for a few years now, and I have read with profit his Historiographical Jesus: Memory, Typology, and the Son of David (and what a fine use of the Oxford comma in that title!) and his recent, shorter Historical Jesus: What Can We Know and How Can We Know it?, which is a great way to spend a couple of hours stimulating your thinking.  I was present at a great session at the SBL a couple of years ago that focused on Anthony's first book.  And we were delighted to publish in the Library of New Testament Studies the book he co-edited with Tom Thatcher, The Fourth Gospel in First Century Media Culture.

Anthony is an original thinker, a fine scholar and an obvious star of the future.  I was really shocked, therefore, to hear that Lincoln Christian University recently terminated his employment, apparently because of some perceived problem with his recent book on the Historical Jesus.  It makes no sense to me that an institution that uses the name of "university" would do something so stupid and so damaging to its reputation.  Nothing good can come of this.  I offered my sympathies to Anthony privately when I first heard about this several weeks ago, but now that it is public information, I wish to make a public statement of how disgusted I am by this folly.

I mentioned to Anthony and to Chris Keith that in the light of this action, I would not be willing to participate in the planned conference on Jesus, Criteria and the Demise of Authenticity, scheduled for October, if it were to take place at Lincoln Christian University. I am pleased to hear that there are now plans to host the conference elsewhere, and I do hope that those plans will come to fruition.

Many other bloggers have commented on the shameful affair. Jared Calaway is Appalled and Angry, Michael Bird writes about Evangelical Confessionalism and Academic Freedom, Brian LePort writes about Academic freedom, evangelical confessionalism, and the word “university”, James Crossley weighs in with Academic Freedom, Christian ‘Universities’ and ‘Secular’ Universities, James McGahey has a post on Another Unjust Firing: Reflections on Anthony LeDonne's Dismissal from Lincoln Christian University, Jim West speaks about When Ideology and Indoctrination are More Important Than Education: The Bizarre Firing of Anthony Le Donne, Christopher Skinner writes on The Curious Case of Anthony Le Donne and James McGrath asks if it is Time for the End of the Sectarian University?  Larry Hurtado speaks more generally about this kind of affair in Academic Injustice and Shameful Cowardice, with a response by John Hobbins.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Work of Professional Scholar: Answering Emails

Over on his new blog, my colleague down the road at UNC Chapel Hill, Bart Ehrman, has been offering a series of insights into The Work of the Professional Scholar.  Only the first part is (Introduction) is publicly available but one can get a flavour of those behind the paywall from their titles, Supervising PhD Dissertations, Undergraduate Theses, Undergraduate Courses and Graduate Seminars.  

Now of course these are all important elements in the life of the professional scholar, but what Bart has not so far mentioned is that the vast majority of one's time is spent ploughing through the endless, endless stream of emails that pour in on a daily basis.  For some scholars, the situation is so bad that they simply choose to ignore all email correspondence until the emailers in question become as persistent as the importunate widow.

One scholar confided in me that they only way that he was able to get any research done was to ignore everything until people started shouting at him.  I suspect that many other academics are the same.  As the editor of a book series, I will confide here that many academics routinely ignore emails requesting assistance.  Ask any publisher and you will hear the same story.

When my kids were little, I remember someone asking one of them what their dad did for a living and she said "He does something on the computer".  It wasn't "teaching" or "reading books" or "talking to students".  She'd seen me endlessly attempting to dig down through that email mountain.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Bruce Longenecker on Hearing the Silence in Luke

Thanks to Caitlin Mackenzie for sending over this press release about Bruce Longenecker's new book:

Uncovering the Literary Dimensions of Luke’s Gospel
Learning from the Silence in Luke 4:30

After Jesus is threatened to be thrown from a cliff by an angry crowd, Luke 4:30 says that He “passed through the middle of them and went on his way.” What happens to elicit his escape? Why are readers not given all the details of this important story? What should we be listening for in this seemingly intentional silence?
In this refreshingly unique book, New Testament scholar Bruce Longenecker demonstrates that reading Luke’s narrative is richly enhanced through attentiveness to that which is tantalizingly left out. Hearing the Silence invites the reader to delve deeply into the literary and theological dimensions of the Lukan narrative through an exploration of Jesus’ strangely under-narrated “escape” in Luke 4:30. Through a unique survey of this scene in Jesus novels and films, Longenecker brings into dramatic relief the options for interpreting this curious event, including a variety of strategies that have been employed to iron the scene’s narrative oddity. Against their backdrop, Longenecker’s own constructive proposals bring the reader into direct contact with some of the most significant features of the Lukan Gospel and worldview . . . .
More here.

Jesus' Will Found!

Over on the Huffington Post, Mark Miller has the scoop of the century, something that dwarfs other recent claims to have found Jesus' bonebox, the nails used to crucify him and the earliest Christian iconography.  We now have the Jesus' final will and testament:

Jesus' Will Found

An archaeologist has scored the discovery of a lifetime, unearthing a tattered, faded parchment that experts have certified as the last will and testament of Jesus Christ.

It looks like New Testament scholars will be eating humble pie for some years to come.  Not only does it hint at a romantic relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, but also it suggests that the author of the first Gospel was personally known to Jesus and, moreover, that he was not the tax-collector by the same name but a "school buddy" from Nazareth.

Still more intriguing is the mention of Luke in the document.  Does this mean that the author of the third Gospel was engaging in subterfuge when he suggested that he was not one of the eye-witnesses (Luke 1.1-4)?  Perhaps this will turn out to be a previously unsuspected case of protective anonymity.

Although I am going to have to reassess some of my own work on the Gospels in the light of the new discovery, one element confirms something that I have been saying for a while, that we need to take seriously the Missing Pieces in Historical Jesus research.  The mention of Vinnie, the village beggar, and Janet, the masseuse, illustrates that there are indeed figures involved in Jesus' life about whom we know nothing.

On the other hand, perhaps I could just join the "few naysayers" already mentioned in the article.  I'm sure if I look hard enough, and sit around at the computer blogging all day, I might be able to find something to nit-pic about.

Also noted by Jim West and Antonio Lombatti, who will also, no doubt, be among the nay-sayers.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Criticizing the Criterion of Embarrassment in Historical Jesus studies

Both Loren Rosson and Doug Chaplin comment on my recent NT Pod 60:  The Criterion of Embarrassment and they make some excellent points.  There are also some very helpful remarks from Michael Barber on the post itself.  Here are some further thoughts, partly by way of clarification and summary, on the criterion:

(1) The major difficulty is the term itself, "embarrassment".  I simply do not believe that the evangelists were "embarrassed" about anything that appeared in their Gospels, unless of course one is thinking of the skandalon of the cross that all the early Christians were dealing with in different ways.  The evangelists were not sitting around, dictating the story of John's Baptism, fidgeting uneasily, with red faces.  When I read Mark's account, it's quite the contrary -- a bold proclamation of a theophany that establishes Jesus' identity clearly for everyone listening.

E. P. Sanders prefers the term "against the grain" and this is far more useful than "embarrassment", which sounds so horribly like attempts at pop-psychology of the evangelists. Looking for features in an account that go "against the grain" is what historians do all the time.

(2) The use of this criterion, like the other criteria, is often used too mechanistically. It is invoked, and the invocation is often regarded as sufficient to establish the historicity of the event or saying in question.  As I've been arguing in the recent podcasts, the value of the criteria is in teaching students about how the historian works, especially students who bring with them some confessional agendas that might interfere with the task.

As soon as the criteria become a kind of toolbox for the historical Jesus scholar, they become problematic.  It should give us pause when we remember that other ancient historians do not devote pages of their studies to discussing the special "criteria" for their topics.  Discussion of historical criteria is useful for training students.  Their use in scholarly invocation is the problem.

(3) Historical Jesus scholars seldom give any thought to how the criteria work in concert with one another.  As I have mentioned before, I cannot get my head around the apparent absurdity that the very traditions that are supposed to be "embarrassing" are the very same traditions that are supposed to be "multiply attested".  At the very least, some thought should be given to the contrast between the criteria.  One should inform and correct the other.

The point can be illustrated from the phenomenon of singly attested traditions, like the Blind Man of Bethsaida (Mark 8.22-26).  Scholars commonly provide good reasons for Matthew's and Luke's omission of the story from Mark -- the use of spit, the non-immediate healing.  The fact of the omission illustrates that the evangelists were not reticent about omission when they wished.  If a later evangelist was really "embarrassed" by material he found in an earlier account, he simply omitted it.  By analogy, one can imagine the same thing happening at different stages in the tradition, with different tradents.

At the very least, I would like to underline the problems with the terminology.  If we can talk instead about material that is "too much with the grain" and "against the grain", I suspect that we will improve our historical sensitivity.

Jesus the Magician Rowan Atkinson Style

If you haven't seen this before, you'll love it.  If you have, you'll love it even more -- it's sublime.  Rowan Atkinson reads from something that sounds rather like John 2.1-11 (Wedding at Cana) but morphs into something that is from a version that is less familiar to most New Testament scholars:

It's actually a superb creative harmonization of several Synoptic and Johannine texts, largely from the KJV.  I am really tempted to set this video as a challenge in my NT Intro next semester to see how many of the texts they can recognize.  I especially love the play on "sick of the palsy" which always sounds so strange to modern ears.

Ephesus Conference

Just heard about this conference at Harding School of Theology:

Ephesus Conference in honor of Dr. Richard Oster
An international conference on the study of Ephesus and its connection to the New Testament will be held at HST as a tribute to the 65th birthday of professor Richard E. Oster.
The May 18-19, 2012, conference is slated to acknowledge Oster’s work on ancient Ephesus as a religious center and site of early Christian activity.
More here, and official website here.

HT: a comment from Jeremy.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Was Jesus a Magician? - Helen Ingram

I am delighted to see that my former doctoral student, Helen Ingram, has put together an excellent website based on her PhD work at the University of Birmingham:

Was Jesus a Magician? 
Extracts from "Dragging Down Heaven: Jesus as Magician and Manipulator of Spirits in the Gospels" by Dr Helen Ingram

It's packaged to be a little less dense and technical than the PhD itself, with most footnotes removed, and some nice pictures added.  And there are a couple of Youtube presentations of  the thesis by means of audio interviews with another Birmingham PhD, Dr Richard Goode. Here's the first, for a taster:

Thanks, Helen, for making your work widely available in this way!  Also mentioned already on Paleojudaica, Exploring our Matrix and elsewhere.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Richard Oster's 7 Subversive Letters

Thanks to Allen Black for pointing out his colleague Richard Oster's blog in which he focuses on the Book of Revelation in anticipation of his forthcoming book on the subject:

Sub•verto –– to overturn, cause to topple over, by pressure from below or at the base (s.v. Oxford Latin Dictionary).
This blog is based upon research and ideas for a manuscript I have sent off to a publisher. It looks at Revelation 1-3.
• Written by an author relocated because of subversion.
• Sent to 7 congregations needing to resist the cultural regime of Roman Asia.
• Designed to sabotage the recipients' easy reliance upon the values of the culture and its religions.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Bible and Ancient Greek Linguistics

Thanks to Wally V. Cirafesi for letting me know about this new venture:

Biblical and Ancient Greek Linguistics (BAGL) is an international journal that exists to further the application of modern linguistics to the study of Ancient and Biblical Greek, with a particular focus on the analysis of texts, including but not restricted to the Greek New Testament.
The journal is hosted by McMaster Divinity College and works in conjunction with its Centre for Biblical Linguistics, Translation and Exegesis, and the organization ( in the hosting of conferences and symposia open to scholars and students working in Greek linguistics who are interested in contributing to advancing the discussion and methods of the field of research. BAGL is a refereed on-line and print journal dedicated to distributing the results of significant research in the area of linguistic theory and application to biblical and ancient Greek, and is open to all scholars, not just those connected to the Centre and the project.
More at the link above. 

April Fool's Biblical Studies' Carnival

Jonathan Robinson has put together an excellent Biblical Studies Carnival, rounding up all the activity for the month of April:

April Fool's Biblical Studies Carnival

Don't miss the seriously weird illustration of something that is not Jonah coming out of the fish's head.

British New Testament Conference

This year's British New Testament Conference will be held at King's College, London and there are details here:

06 - 08 September, 2012
King’s College London has the honour of hosting the BNTC 2012. This annual conference brings together scholars from across the United Kingdom to explore various areas of research pertaining to the New Testament. The conference is divided into seminar groups and plenary sessions featuring this year’s keynote speakers:
Andrew Clarke
James Crossley
Anthony Thiselton (Graham Stanton Memorial Lecture)
More here.  (Wish I could be there!)