Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Paul Verhoeven Jesus Film is to go ahead

For over eight years, I have been posting here on the NT Blog about the Paul Verhoeven Jesus film. Back in 2004 I was already wondering Whatever happened to the Paul Verhoeven Jesus Film Project, something that has been discussed since Verhoeven attended meetings of the Jesus Seminar in the 90s.

The story received some renewed interest when in 2008 Verhoeven published his own book on Jesus which looked like it might become the basis for the renewal of the film project.

Well, now comes the confirmation that the film is going to go ahead after all.  It's going to be made by Muse Productions who are headlining the news on their website, with a picture of Verhoeven's book and the following note:
MUSE’s Chris Hanley will back director Paul Verhoeven’s (Robocop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, co-writer of Pulp Fiction) new film based on his book ‘Jesus of Navareth.’ The project is the product of two decades of research by Verhoeven. Hollywood Deadline and Indiewire picked up the news, check their articles out here and here.
Roger Avary is to script the film and already there are some preparing for a fight, not least because it may feature the line that Mary was raped by the Roman soldier Panthera, a story that features in Verhoeven's book and which is derived from Origen's quotation of Celsus in Contra Celsum.  (Celsus was a pagan critic of Christianity writing in the mid second century whose work the third century Origen is refuting).  Mike Fleming writes in Deadline:
Verhoeven’s take on the life of Jesus Christ discounts all the miracles that inform the New Testament. That includes the virgin birth and the resurrection. Verhoeven doesn’t believe any of them happened. I wrote about Verhoeven’s ambitions in spring 2011, as he and his reps at ICM first tried to find funding — no small feat given some of the theories he put forth in the book.The most controversial: that Jesus might have been the product of his mother being raped by a Roman soldier, which Verhoeven said was commonplace at the time, and that Jesus was a radical prophet who performed exorcisms and was convinced he would find the kingdom of Heaven on earth, and did not know he would be sentenced to die on the cross by Pontius Pilate.
There's no doubt that it would be controversial to put this particular tradition in the film.  I still remember Christians picketing cinema's when Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ came out in 1987 because it depicted Jesus hallucinating about having sex with Mary Magdalene ( a scene most of the critics misunderstood).

I remember the BBC getting into hot water for even reporting the Roman soldier tradition in a documentary called The Virgin Mary that I was on in 2002 (see further Mary).  The difficulty is that the vast majority of Christians have not heard about this piece of gossip that goes back at least to the second century and possibly also to the first.

My guess is that Verhoeven will find a way to represent the tradition without committing to it in order to avoid appearing deliberately sacrilegious.  It is worth remembering, though, that Scorsese used the controversy that his film stirred up in 1988 to provide a lot of free publicity.

This is a story that I will be watching with interest.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The technology of the book -- new "aBook"

Delightful piece on Horrible Histories about the launch of the book:

I particularly like the Roman's expression when he says that "aBook is the new book that rewrites the book on writing books".

Friday, June 15, 2012

John the Baptist's Bones have been found -- again!

This morning's papers are full of another new story about the discovery of a Biblical figure's bones.  This time it is John the Baptist's bones and the story has the standard marks of modern-day relic hunting according to which some detail will in some way link the relic(s) to the first century.

The story appears in several news sources, e.g. MSNBC's Science pages and Live Science, but a nicely illustrated version is the Daily Mail's one here:

'Found', bones of John the Baptist: Tests on knucklebone provide support to extraordinary claim
By Chris Brooke
When archaeologists claimed to have found the bones of John the Baptist amid the ruins of an ancient Bulgarian monastery experts were understandably sceptical. 
But carbon dating tests carried out at Oxford University have provided scientific evidence to support the extraordinary claim. 
A knucklebone has been dated to the 1st Century AD - a time when the revered Jewish prophet is believed to have lived.
If the story sounds familiar, it may be because it had an earlier incarnation in 2010, e.g. on Discovery News (see Robert Cargill's post).  What is new is some carbon dating of one of the bones, carbon dating that dates the bones to the first century.

How, though, do the researchers know that these are the bones of the baptist?  According to the Daily Mail article:
The ‘key’ clue to the relics’ origins was a tiny sandstone box found alongside the reliquary with a Greek inscription: ‘God, save your servant Thomas. To St John. June 24.’ The date is believed to be John the Baptist’s birthday.
Well, that's the date of his feast day.  We have no idea when his birthday was.  I'd like to see the actual Greek inscription, but I can't find any pictures of it on the web at present and so, of course, any remarks are provisional.  From the translation here, the only thing that would connect these bones to John the Baptist (rather than any other St John) is the feast day.  However, that is probably too late to provide any serious link to the first century.

According to the article, the radiocarbon research was carried out by Oxford professors Thomas Higham and Christopher Ramsey.  Also mentioned is "Dr Hannes Schroeder, who carried out the research", who is quoted as saying, "Of course, this does not prove that these were the remains of John the Baptist but nor does it refute that theory."

I will watch the story with my usual mixture of interest and scepticism.  It may perhaps be worth mentioning that the only reports we have about John's body post-mortem is the report of his disciples burying his body (Mark 6.29).  Perhaps later on, after his secondary burial, some of the same disciples saved a few bones for posterity to be carried half way across Europe a few centuries later, no doubt leaving a few bones in each of several other countries too, Egypt, Turkey, Greece and Italy.

Oh, and it's all connected, of course, to a National Geographic TV documentary this weekend.

Update (10.18): Comments from Michael Heiser on PaleoBabble, John Byron on The Biblical World (very funny) and Jim West on Zwinglius Redivivus.

Update (13.30): See now the superb and authoritative response by Christopher Rollston, John the Baptist and the Reliquary of ‘Sveti Ivan’ : Methodological Reflections.

Update (Sunday, 00.29): Round-up from James McGrath on Exploring our Matrix.

Monday, June 11, 2012

James Charlesworth on Talpiot Tomb B (Revised and Updated)

This is a fully revised and updated version of my earlier post James Charlesworth on Talpiot Tomb B which commented on an earlier version of an article by James Charlesworth on Talpiot Tomb B that was subsequently removed.  This post revises that one so that it responds to the new version of the article.

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 Bible and Interpretation website:

What is the Message of the "Patio Tomb" in Talpiot, Jerusalem?
James Hamilton Charlesworth, Princeton, June 2012

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 (2); he notes the correspondences between Hebrew and English letters (9) and explains that  "Hebrew is written right to left" (9).

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" (1).  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?)" (6), which is seen in the documentary.  With the exception of a brief footnoted reference to Bauckham (15, n. 10), he 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 (6-11).  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" (9).  The yod may be a zayin; "some imagination is required" for the reading of the waw (9) and the nun "is not prima facie obvious" -- it may be a lamed (9).

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 (5, 9-10 and especially 11), 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, imagine?] 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. (5).
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? (5).
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?   According to Jacobovici and Tabor's Jesus Discovery, at the time of viewing, Charlesworth "offered without hesitation the same interpretation of the fish" (loc. 1041).  In the new article, he is still inclined towards the "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 (4).
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 (5).
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 --
Did the inscriber attempt to meld an image of a fish with a nefesh? Is there some conflation of symbols? Are there multiple meanings to be contemplated? (5), 
-- 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 (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, Charlesworth does not mention the image on the side of ossuary, the image that Tabor and Jacobovici had interpreted as a "half-fish" but which 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" (11), 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 is still read on the evening of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) to signal the importance of seeking forgiveness before God (11).
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 (12).
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 "they were reported by those who were claimed to have seen a resurrected Jesus" mean?).

Before concluding this post, I would like to comment on three other things of interest.  The first is the mention of a "rubbing of that image" (Q & A with Ben Witherington, footnote 1), 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 "there was no rubbing" and in the revised article, the reference has been changed to "a CGI generated image created from a composite of several photographs from different angles and in different lighting" (14, n. 2).

Second, I was interested to see measurements for the fish/vessel image (23 x 15 x 9 x 3) for the first time (4). This is helpful information, but I am curious about how the image was measured.

Third, it is helpful to have some clarifications of the dates in this article.  Charlesworth here dates his involvement to June 2010, which coheres with the dating in The Jesus Discovery and corrects his earlier dating of June 2011.

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.

Appended Note 1:  Two of Richard Bauckham's comments to the earlier version of this post remain relevant to this revised version, so I will quote them again here:
(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).

Appended Note 2: See also James Tabor's comments on the earlier draft of 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 rather lengthy and detailed comments (9).
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 (13 June): Thanks to George Makrauer for letting me know that Prof. Charlesworth's article now also appears here (PDF) on the Foundations on Judaism and Christian Origins website.  As far as I can tell, the two versions are identical (with the exception of the preparatory material) but the page numbers to not tally.  The page numbers in my response above refer to the Bible and Interpretation version.

Friday, June 08, 2012

How would Jesus have proved his own existence?

I like to dabble in the discussions on Jesus' existence from time to time, all the more so since I had a stab at putting together my own thoughts in NT Pod 47: Did Jesus Exist? last year.  James McGrath continues to keep the issue alive in his blog and his latest post Mythicism Around the Blogosphere provides links to recent activity.  I particularly enjoyed Loren Rosson's post on The Existence of Jesus and Doug Chaplin's Inventing the Mythical Jesus. Of course a lot of the discussion comes on the back of the new book by Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, which I was lucky enough to read and comment on in manuscript.

If I were in facetious mood, I would say: If only people were as interested in things that really matter, like the existence of Q!   I must admit that the question of the existence of Jesus strikes me as an extraordinary one.  Are there any other ancient figures about whom we torture ourselves in this way?  In my podcast on the topic, I said that in some respects it is a good question because it can keep us honest.  It pushes us to wrestle with the primary sources and to reflect on the nature of ancient history.  These are good things.  But good academic study is often a matter of asking good academic questions and it is not clear that the question "Did Jesus exist?" always produces the best academic discussions.

I am tempted to say that the problem with the question "Did Jesus exist?" is that it depends what we mean by "Jesus".  Where mythicism has popular appeal is in providing an antidote to fundamentalist Christianity and a particular version of a wonder-working superman. Most scholars don't believe in the fundamentalists' Jesus, practically by definition.  For those who do not know a lot about New Testament scholarship, mythicism can provide a refreshing one-stop shop for dealing with something they find problematic on other grounds.  I am not here talking about those who publish on mythicism as much as those who find their works appealing.

Even if we refine the question to "Did the historical Jesus exist?", we still don't have an easy time of it.  There are so many different reconstructions of the historical Jesus, each one only an approximation of what the historian can know on the basis of the extant sources.  There are lots of historical Jesuses that I do not believe in.  I don't believe in Crossan's historical Jesus because I don't believe in his sources.  I don't believe in Wright's historical Jesus because he believes all his sources.  I don't believe in Morton Smith's historical Jesus because he composed one of his sources.

And in this context, the word "exist" means what?  There's a kind of absurd reductionism in trying to load complex historical analysis of ancient source material into one natty little question.  I don't have any doubt whatsoever that the primary sources are, ultimately, witnessing to traditions some of which emerged in connection with Jesus of Nazareth but the really interesting work is not going to emerge from asking the question "Did Jesus exist?"

I wonder what Jesus would have made of the question?  How would he have established his own existence?  Herod the Tetrarch was rumoured to have worried that the figure they were calling Jesus might actually be John the Baptist risen from the dead.  John the Baptist is reported to have worried about who Jesus was too -- was he the coming one, or should they expect somebody else?  And according to the accounts of Jesus' arrest, they needed Judas to identify which one was Jesus, like Spartacus, or Brian.  

There is a delightful Roman joke that Mary Beard tells in her fantastic recent series Meet the Romans, here reported in The Guardian,
Beard tells me a Roman joke. "A guy meets another in the street and says: 'I thought you were dead.' The bloke says: 'Can't you see I'm alive?' The first replies: 'But the person who told me you were dead is more reliable than you.'" It slayed them in 4BC Rome. Beard takes the joke to have a serious point: "You realise that in Roman society, where there were no ID cards or passports, proving your existence required different criteria. The evidence of a reliable person was perhaps the strongest you had. It was very different from our society, but who's to say it was worse?"
I love this joke, and I like the lesson that Beard draws from it.  And it reminds us once again, as if we needed it, that doing ancient history is not like doing modern history.  The vast majority of ordinary punters made no impact on the archaeological record from antiquity.  Their impact, their "existence", if you like, can only be measured in so far as they influenced the memories of those who told their stories, and only in so far as those embellished, interpreted, creative memories ultimately found their way into the texts that managed to survive.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Bible in the Public Square -- Conference at Duke Sept 9-10

This just in from my colleagues in Jewish Studies:

Duke University is proud to be hosting a conference entitled “The Bible in the Public Square:” September 9-10, 2012, a special 2-day conference with experts speaking to the role of the Bible in everything from Public Schools and American Politics, to the Middle East and popular culture.  We hope you will consider attending this free conference which will address several key issues from top scholars in the field, including:

  • “Battling over the Bible in Public Schools,” Charles Haynes, First Amendment Center

  • “Right Dividing the First Amendment?  An Evaluation of Recent Decisions regarding the Bible and Public Schools,” Melissa Rogers, Wake Forest Center for Religion & Public Affairs

  • "The Bible in the Presidential Elections of 2012, 2008, 2004 and the Collapse of American Secularism," Jacques Berlinerblau, Georgetown University

For the complete conference schedule, online registration, and parking information, please visit: http://jewishstudies.duke.edu/the-bible-in-the-public-square.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Steve Walton and David Wenham on the Synoptic Problem

I have been working my way through the recently released second edition of Steve Walton and David Wenham's excellent Exploring the New Testament, Volume 1: A Guide to the Gospels and Acts.  As regular readers will know, I do like to look at New Testament introductions to see how they treat the Synoptic Problem.  Normally speaking, I have a lot to complain about, especially when the Farrer Theory gets ignored.

Well, with Walton and Wenham's introduction, there is good news for Q sceptics: the Farrer theory is treated in its discussion of the Synoptic Problem including its own diagram, brief discussion, and bibliographical references to Farrer's article, my introductory book (Way through the Maze), my monograph (Case Against Q) and even the NT Gateway (70, 73, 87).  Although it is naturally disappointing to see them dismiss the theory as having "many of the same objections as the Griesbach hypothesis" leading to the view being "not very widely held" (73), it is nevertheless encouraging to see the theory finding its way -- at last -- into the introductory literature.

What, though, of the substance of their exploration of the Synoptic Problem?  There are several reasons to find it refreshing.  For one thing, there is some discussion of the data before there is any discussion of the proposed solutions (61-5) echoing even those like me who advocate the colouring of the Synopsis (62, though I think that students will find my primary colour scheme more straightforward than their four-colour scheme).  For another, there is one sample synopsis (63, Sadducees' Question) and several lists taken over from Robert Stein's book (64, 68, 69) and one from Sanders and Davies (72).

Regular readers will not be expecting me to be unambiguously positive, though, and I don't want to disappoint them.  I would like to focus on a couple of difficulties in the discussion, the first with the way that they treat the Griesbach or Two Gospel (not "Two Gospels", 71) Theory.  Walton and Wenham offer several criticisms of the hypothesis, most of them well sustained, but the following criticism does not conceptualize the Griesbach theory fairly:
Luke's rearrangement of Matthean material   Consider the material shared by Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark (the Q material on the two source hypothesis).  Apart from rare examples (such as the temptation of Jesus, Matt. 4.1-11; Luke 4.1-13), Luke and Matthew do not present this material in conjunction with the same Markan material, but locate it in different settings in their Gospels.  In fact, on the Griesbach hypothesis, in editing Matthew, Luke has systematically moved almost all this material from its Matthean contexts to somewhere else in his Gospel.  This seems unlikely: a better explanation is that Luke is using Mark as a main source and other material to supplement Mark (73).
The difficulty with this explanation is that on the Griesbach Hypothesis, Luke is writing without reference to Mark, before Mark has been written, so the distinction between "Markan material" and "Q material" is irrelevant.  There is no option, then, for Luke and Matthew to present this material "in conjunction with the same Markan material".  For Griesbach's Luke, the distinction between double tradition and triple tradition does not exist.  This means that on the Griesbach hypothesis, Luke often follows Matthew's order; it is just that he does so most recognizably in the material that we call triple tradition.

On the Griesbach hypothesis, this material becomes "triple tradition" by virtue of Mark's subsequent action, according to which Mark shows preference for material that is in the same order in his sources Matthew and Luke.  In other words, it is an important element in the Griesbach hypothesis that Mark effectively creates the triple tradition by his selections from Matthew and Luke, a selection that is at least partly done on the basis of Matthew's and Luke's agreements in order.  Under such circumstances, it is a little unfair to criticize the theory for failing to explain Luke's ordering of double tradition.  The data set double tradition is generated by a subsequent move made by Mark, partly on the basis of the question of order, and not by Luke's editorial decisions.

The second difficulty I would like to mention also relates to the question or order, but this time for the Farrer Theory.  Griesbach is presented as the major alternative to the Two-Source theory (71-3) and Farrer is given a paragraph at the end under "Other Views".  It is dismissed in one sentence as follows:
This view faces many of the same objections as the Griesbach hypothesis, for it still holds that Luke has edited Matthew in ways that appear hard to understand and this has meant that, like the Griesbach view, it is not very widely held (73).
I disagree, of course, that it is hard to understand Luke's editing of Matthew, and it may be that Walton and Wenham's difficulty arises from their conceptualizing this work under the heading of criticizing the Griesbach hypothesis.  So let's take a look at what they say on the topic when they are discussing Griesbach:
Why does Luke break up Matthew's teaching blocks?  As we saw, Luke has most of the teaching found in Matthew's sermon on the mount (Matt. 5-7), but spread around his Gospel (see p. 69), and something similar happens with Matthew's four other teaching discourses (Matt. 10, 13, 18, 24-25).  If Luke is using Matthew, this seems unusual behaviour. (72).
On the Farrer theory, though, Luke's primary source for the structuring of his Gospel is Mark and paying careful attention to the way that Luke works with Mark helps to explain his use of Matthew.  His attitude towards lengthy discourses in his source material is consistent, and we would not expect him to retain all of Matthew's huge, theme-based structures when we can observe him reworking material in a plausible, biographical narrative (Case, chapters 4, 5 and 6; Maze, 123-8).

Take, for example, the third of the big Matthean discourses listed by Walton and Wenham,  Matthew 13.  Matthew 13, the parable chapter, is a massively expanded version of Mark's parable discourse in Mark 4.1-34.  Luke's parallel, in Luke 8.4-18, is a greatly reduced version of Mark 4, less than half its length, omitting some material and redistributing the rest.  Given that Luke here halves the length of Mark's version of the very discourse in question, it is hardly "unusual behaviour" to see him behaving in the same way towards Matthew's expansion of it (cf. Walton and Wenham's chart on 72 that nicely illustrates Matthew's expansion and Luke's reduction of Mark 4).

One last issue.  One of the things I like about Walton and Wenham's chapter is that it encourages students to pay careful attention to the Gospel Synopsis, and they provide an example of one themselves on 63, the Sadducees' Question.  Their English translation, however, masks an issue that is often missed, a telling minor agreement.  They have Matt. 22.27, "Last of all, the woman herself died", Mark 12.22, "Last of all, the woman herself died" and Luke 20.32, "Finally, the woman also died".  But Matthew and Mark are not identical here.  Matthew has ὕστερον δὲ πάντων . . . whereas Mark has ἔσχατον πάντων . . .  Luke follows Matthew and not Mark with his ὕστερον.  Why is this worth mentioning?  Because  ὕστερον is 7/0/1+0, seven times Matthew, never Mark, only here in Luke-Acts.  It is Matthew's way of representing the last in a series.  It's one of those nice minor agreements that illustrates Luke's knowledge of Matthew in triple tradition.

BibleWorks 20th Birthday Contest

Jim Barr has been in touch to mention the BibleWorks 20th Birthday Contest.  They are giving away two copies of BibleWorks to the best entries.