Baker Academic

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Podacre on Schweitzer

Mark Goodacre has posted a lecture that will be of interest to students of historical Jesus research:

Worth a listen. Albert Schweitzer, while a complicated and flawed figure, remains so very influential in our field.


Friday, January 12, 2018

Further Comments on MS 284 from the Silver-Haired Assassin Himself—Chris Keith

On January 2, I put a post on the Jesus Blog about MS 284 and the pericope adulterae's location in it.  I was interacting with some recently published comments by Maurice Robinson.  He then wrote me with some thoughts and I invited him to write them up for a post that I could then publish here as well.  He kindly agreed and I'm glad  to post them below.  I'm still much less certain than Maurice about the meaning of the obelus, but he seems to have a much better explanation for the missing patri that I had proposed.  Thanks for the discussion, Maurice.

Regarding Dr Keith’s comments on MS 284, I offer the following comments and clarifications (abridged and revised from a longer email sent to Dr Keith).

Since I had not seen MS 284 since my initial microfilm collation in Muenster in 1998, I had lacked a way to consult and verify the data until Dr Keith noted that it had been added to the VMR and now with photos of the pertinent sections made available on this blogsite.

Originally I had noted the lack of the PA at the Jn 7:52 location, with the inserted sheet placed (quite irregularly) between the page ending Jn 10.36a kosmon and the page beginning 10.36b umei=. Many years later, I theorized that the inserted sheet may have been intended to fit in a more appropriate location, namely, between Jn 10.38 and 10.39. Since I no longer had access to the document, I asked Ulrich Schmid to see whether an asterisk or insertion mark might occur in that location, which to my surprise, he reported to be the case.

My database comment now reports that the original order was 7:52; 7:53; 8:12, but with 7:53 erased and replaced by a widely spaced 8:12 in a significantly different hand. The PA subsequently was inserted on a separate paper sheet in a very late (16th century? But not from a printed TR edition) hand between Jn 10:35-36, with an obelus at the beginning of Jn 10:39 to indicate intended insertion. Further, the supplied leaf concludes with a peculiar extraneous kai following 8:11 (mhketi amartane kai sic) — peculiar since there is no suggestion in the addition or main text that Jn 8:12 should begin with kai (from my collation data such is read only by the original hand of 2193, subsequently corrected); nor would the inserted PA portion with kai fit the context in the middle of Jn 10:36 in any sensible manner.

Rather, the intent seems to have been the insertion of the PA following Jn 10:38 which itself is marked by an obelus, with the kai linking the passage to the first word (ezhtoun) of Jn 10:39, where the PA does seem to fit quite well.

Although this scenario might not be the only possible explanation regarding the observed phenomena, it certainly seems plausible and best under the circumstances.

Regarding Dr Keith’s blog comments (“An Update on the Location of the Pericope Adulterae in MS 284—Chris Keith”, Tuesday, January 2, 2018), some observations and correction are necessary.

CK: “If anyone has done more research on the paratextual matters of 284, I'd love to know more about how the obelus is used elsewhere in the manuscript.”

Frankly, so would I, since in my collation research on the PA, I certainly did not examine every MS in its entirety. However, since the obelus in this instance seems to be a late addition and not something from around the time of the original scribe (13th century), there might not be much to gain from further examination on this point.

CK: On the basis of Robinson and Text und Textwert, I previously noted that a corrector of MS 284 placed PA “after John 10:36” . . . . [also] Robinson, “The Pericope Adulterae: A Johannine Tapestry with Double Interlock,” 119.

For whatever reason, this was a misstatement on my part (and I knew better), since the inserted page is clearly between 10.36a (ending one page of the original MS) and 10.36b (beginning the next page).

MAR: However, a previously unnoticed obelus was inserted in the main text of MS 284 at the clearly more appropriate location following John 10:39.

Again a misstatement (or typo?), since the obelus appears between the end of 10.38 and the beginning of 10.39.

CK: It is not clear whether the “fact” that INTF confirmed for Robinson was the obelus’s presence or that the obelus indicated that PA should be read “following John 10:39.”

As mentioned, Ulrich Schmid (who is not to blame for any of the misstatements or typos) confirmed for me some years ago the presence of the obelus; at that time he seemed to be of the opinion that the obelus was a marker for the PA insertion (whether he still would concur, one would have to ask him). Now of course, the relevant photos are readily available (which they were not when I had asked Ulrich).

CK: I cannot personally judge whether 7:53 had originally been written in its normal location and then erased, but Robinson is correct that original script was erased and 8:12 written over it.

When I worked with the microfilm in Münster, it appeared to me that there were some indications (traces?) of 7.53 present in the erased portion. This supposition seemed to be borne out by letter-count estimates.

CK: It almost certainly indicates the omission of patri at the end of 10:38 by the original scribe, as the obelus occurs directly between tw and ezhtoun, where the missing word belongs.

Here is where I have to differ with Dr Keith’s interpretation: the obelus does not involve the omission of patri at the end of 10.38, but the -tw in question is merely the last part of autw, with the first portion (au-) appearing on the previous line.

Given that MS 284 is clearly a late Byzantine MS and a component part of Ï (according to NA27 p.713; this list no longer present in NA28), it would not be expected to follow the Alexandrian/Western reading kagw en tw patri at that point. Rather, the text of MS 284 simply followed the normal Byzantine reading kagw en autw.

Thus, the obelus could not indicate a missing patri, but would have to indicate something else. The insertion of a an initial kai preceding 10.39 (such as concludes the inserted leaf) seems to be the only viable possibility (Codex Bezae also includes kai at that point, with limited versional support) — yet that limited Western reading normally would not affect late Byzantine MSS (Swanson shows various MSS inserting the postpositive de or oun at that point: Ì45 Ì66 Í A K D P Y f1 f13 2 69 346 565 579 1071 1424 — but none other than Bezae appear to insert an initial kai before ezhtoun. So also various other published collations of Byzantine MSS (Scrivener et al.).

CK: Furthermore, 284 also reflects a practice of reading PA at John 7:53, though this evidence has not been mentioned by previous scholars. Someone wrote “L Jo” in the margin of 284 where John 7:53 would have been and the same thing at the top of the separate sheet of paper containing PA.

This is correct, and that indicator is apparently in the same late hand as that of the inserted leaf. Also at the 7.52/8.12 location is an additional note, apparently legetai (legt), which serves as a reading instruction regarding omission of the PA in the Pentecost lection, continuing with 8.12. However — not noted by Dr Keith — a similar but barely visible note appears in the margin of 10.39 in close position to the obelus. That note also appears to read L Jo, with what seems to be gr (the usual indication for a variant reading) written below. If this is correct, such would once more point to the insertion location for the supplied PA leaf, in a location that otherwise would not interrupt the Pentecost lection. This supposition if further supported by the fact that Jn 10.38 also represents the specific end of a lection within the Synaxarion (sabb. e in the Johannine section), while Jn 10.39 begins a separate lection (Jan 12 in the Menologion). In other words, the indicated insertion point seems to have been selected specifically so as not to interfere with the internal content of any particular lection.

CK: What can be said is there is a placement of a separate sheet of paper containing PA between two pages that end and begin in the midst of John 10:36, with a reading aid in the margin at John 7:53 that corresponds to the separate sheet of paper.

That certainly can be said; but one should not ignore the similar marginal “reading aid” that appears opposite the obelus between 10.38 and 10.39.

CK: Clearly, more analysis of this interesting manuscript is needed.

So too for virtually all NT Greek MSS. Any takers?


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Tr*mp as a Topic of Jewish-Christian Dialogue - Part 1 (Larry Behrendt)

I am happy to feature a guest post by my co-author, Larry Behrendt. This is first of two parts wherein Larry addresses Christian support of Trump as a topic of Jewish-Christian dialogue. 

"Your vote will affect the future and be recorded in eternity. Will you vote the values that will stand the test of fire? This is Mike Huckabee asking you to join me November 6th and vote based on values that will stand the test of fire"

You read it here earlier: Anthony Le Donne and I wrote a book together about Jewish-Christian dialogue. We’ve begun to promote it, in a series of events last month near Anthony’s teaching gig at United Methodist Seminary, and also in Boston during the annual conference of the Society of Biblical Literature and American Academy of Religion.

If you’ve listened to Anthony talk about Jewish-Christian dialogue, he’ll sometimes mention the thing he thinks Jews most want to ask Christians and Christians most want to ask Jews—these questions are sometimes asked in dialogue, and more often they’re not asked, but it’s interesting what we wonder about each other even when we leave it unsaid. Anthony thinks that the number one question Christians want to ask Jews is about Jesus, and that’s certainly my experience. Anthony’s said he thinks many Jews want to ask Christians about the Holocaust: how could Christians have participated in it, or allowed it to happen … and I’ve sometimes thought that Jews really want to ask Christians about proselytization: why do some Christians seem so keen on converting others (especially Jewish others) to Christianity? Other times, I’ve wondered whether there is any single thing Jews want to ask Christians (most Jews don’t seem to me to be all that interested in Christianity). But I’ve never objected to Anthony phrasing his inquiry in this way. If nothing else, it leads to good conversation.
At some point during our book promotion last month, Anthony wondered out loud whether he still had a bead on what Jews want to ask Christians. Maybe, Anthony asked, the number one question on the minds of Jews today is: How could so many Christians have voted for Donald Trump? His question has been bouncing around in my head since then. At least when it comes to me, Anthony is right.
A caveat: when I’m wondering how Christians and Jews could have voted the way they did, I’m not talking about all Jews and all Christians. I’m talking statistics, and trends. There are something like 2.7 billion Christians worldwide, and roughly 75% of U.S. residents identify as Christian, which means that there are a lot of different types of Christian: Catholics, Protestants, Mainline Protestants, Evangelical Protestants, white Christians, Christians of color, Christian men, Christian women, Hispanic Catholics, Hispanic Protestants (who knew there were so many Hispanic Protestants?). In the U.S., 70% of Mormons are Republican or lean Republican; 58% of the members of the United Church of Christ are Democrats or lean Democrat; 75% of Jehovah’s Witnesses have no party affiliation. Even within these subgroups of Christians, there are sub-subgroups, and sub-sub-subgroups, as well as individuals who simply don’t fit any pattern we might devise for them, and a lot of these people did not vote for Trump. So when we talk about “Christian support for Trump,” we can only speak in a broad general sense, one that needs all the nuance we can muster.
With this caveat in mind, let’s look at the broad numbers. Clinton won the Jewish vote by 47 percentage points, 71% to 24%. There is nothing surprising in this vote margin; it is on par with how Jews have voted in past Presidential elections. American Jews strongly identify as liberal and Democrats, with the minority Orthodox Jewish-American population representing something of an exception to this rule (though even Orthodox Jews supported Clinton over Trump by a wide margin).
Contrast the Christian vote. Per the respected analysis of the Pew Research Center, Trump won the Protestant vote by 19 percentage points (58% to 39%), and the Catholic vote by 4 percentage points (50% to 46%). Again, no huge surprises here. Since 1952, Protestants have supported the Republican Presidential candidate in every election except two—the 1964 Lyndon Johnson landslide, and the 1992 election where Protestants voted about equally for Bill Clinton and the first George Bush. As for Catholics … we generally expect the Catholic vote to be close and to go to the winning candidate. Between 1972 and 2016, Catholics supported the Republican Presidential candidate six times and the Democrat six times, and the majority of Catholics voted for the winning candidate in 11 of these 12 elections. 
If we stopped our analysis here, we’d say that 2016 is same old, same old: Jews and Christians voting in the usual ways. Certainly, there’s nothing in this Christian voting pattern that’s surprising to Jews. If there’s any wonder here, I think it flows in the opposite direction, with many Christians puzzled why Jews “paradoxically” keep voting liberal and Democratic. Even as Jews have assimilated into American life and been accepted as friends and neighbors by Christians, Jews have never joined other “white” ethnic Americans in voting for conservative candidates for public office. Indeed, Jews today vote more like Muslims than Christians. 
No, the wonder I feel about the 2016 election is why so many white Christians voted for Trump. Actually, I should place emphasis on how white Christians voted. No pollster (to my knowledge) provides us with numbers that neatly split the white and non-white Christian vote, but we can clearly see this split in the polling that was reported. Pew tells us that Trump won the white, born-again/evangelical Christian vote by 65 percentage points (81% to 16%), won the white Catholic vote by 23 percentage points (60% to 37%) and lost the Hispanic Catholic vote by 41 percentage points (67% to 26%). And an earlier Pew poll (taken before the election, in June of 2016) showed that Trump then led Clinton among white mainline Protestants by 11% (this at a time when Clinton led Trump in that same poll by 9%, and 11% of the mainline Protestant vote was undecided; my best guess is that Trump won the eventual white mainline Protestant vote by at least 15%), and that Clinton then led Trump among Black Protestant voters by 81 percentage points (89% to 8%). Obviously, there’s a pattern here: the Christian vote was dramatically split along racial lines.
I can show you my math if you want to see it, but I estimate that white Christians overall supported Trump by about a 2-1 margin, while Christians of color (and all non-Christians) supported Clinton by a bit more than that same 2-1. Trump beat Clinton in large part because his white Christian base showed up at the polls in large numbers. Consider that in 2016 white evangelicals made up about 17% of the U.S. population, but these same white evangelicals accounted for 20% of registered voters and represented about 26% of the U.S. electorate. Some of this 17%-26% gap might be due to different ways of measuring who is a white evangelical (and in this piece I’ve followed the path of many others, and failed to make any effort to distinguish “evangelical” from other relevant categories, like “fundamentalist” and “born again”), but some of this gap has to represent a high white evangelical interest in voting in national elections. Given this gap, it’s difficult to argue (as some have tried) that white evangelical voters were not enthusiastic supporters of Donald Trump. 
Notice how I slipped in this discussion, from a focus on white Christians to one on white evangelicals. It’s easy to make this slip, because so much attention has been focused on the white evangelical vote. But it’s obvious from the polls that white mainline Protestants and white Catholics also voted for Trump in substantial numbers. In the 2016 Presidential vote, the sharpest political divide was not between white evangelicals and everyone else, but between white Christians and everyone else. If this seems unfair to progressive white Catholics and mainliners, then think of it this way: if we look at the vote solely in terms of race and religion, the only group that supported Trump were white Christians. Christians of color voted for Clinton, as did white non-Christians and every other non-Christian group I can measure (Jews and Muslims in particular), and the margin of the Clinton vote among these other groups was substantial in every case. I’ll throw in one additional factoid: PRRI’s data shows a substantial correlation between the percentage of white Christians in a given state, and support for Trump in that state. Four key battleground states where Trump performed better than expected had larger than average concentrations of white Christians, including Iowa (64 percent), Wisconsin (63 percent), Ohio (53 percent), and Pennsylvania (57 percent). Indeed, if we look at the 20 states with the largest populations of white Christians by percentage, only two of them (Maine and Minnesota) voted for Clinton.
So far, I’ve focused solely on the numbers. But the reason Jews might ask Christians about support for Trump is not limited to the numbers. It’s also a product of the way many Christians participate in politics. These Christians—conservative Christians, predominantly white conservative Christians, have announced their intent to vote their Christian values. So the online Christian Voter Guide proclaims their “mission” to be “to get unregistered Christians registered to vote, educated in the Biblical worldview, and voting accordingly on Election Day.” A second Christian voter guide explains its purpose, “simply put, to vote as Jesus would have us vote.” A third guide (calling itself queries all Presidential candidates “who claim to be Christian to share their Christian testimony with the voters by answering pointed questions about their walk with God, who precisely is their God, and their candidacy platforms.” There are evidently so many competing Christian voting guides that Christianity Today deemed it necessary to publish a “Guide to Christian Voting Guides.” Of course, the people who write Christian voting guides might be expected to think Christian voting is important, but there is evident interest in politics among evangelical leaders generally: fully 93% of evangelical leaders say that it is important or essential to take a public stand on social and political issues when those issues conflict with moral principles. The following declaration of Christian political faith is typical of what I’ve frequently read in Christian voting guides and voting guidance:
Some people proclaim, “I don’t mix my politics with my faith” or “I don’t take my religion into the voting booth”. The problem with a statement like this is: for a true Christian that is not even possible. When a person confesses to be a Christian, then it logically follows that being a follower of Christ should invade every aspect of their life. The true believer cannot separate their Christianity from their politics … To do so is an open denial of the faith which they profess to hold to. In all of life and certainly politically, Christians are called to declare and defend a biblical worldview.
Today we might associate the evangelical movement with a keen interest in politics, but not so long ago the exact opposite was the case. The tendency among conservative Protestants in the first half of the 20th century was to separate from politics, not to engage in it. It’s also instructive, I think, to consider whether Jews think they should bring their “Torah values” into the voting booth, because for the most part I can’t find that view articulated by contemporary Jewish leaders. (By Jewish conservative Republicans, perhaps, but not by Jewish religious leaders). For example, the myth that American Jews vote mostly to promote U.S. support of Israel is … a myth (a 2015 poll showed that the “U.S.-Israel Relationship” scored fifth among the primary political concerns of American Jews, well below the concern expressed for the economy, national security and healthcare). You have to search hard to find Rabbis discuss whether Jews are even obligated to vote, but if you succeed, you’ll probably find some lukewarm statement about how Jews should “contribute to the general welfare of the lands in which we sojourn.” But if what we’re looking for is a Jewish view on voting for a “Biblical worldview,” I think Rabbi Yitz Greenberg nails it here:
It does not say in the Torah, “Thou shalt vote; I am the Lord.” The Torah’s laws generally take off from where the society is; they try to move the standard situation closer to the ideal. The Torah does not advocate voting for political leadership because it was given in a culture that was neither egalitarian nor democratic. The Torah does instruct that the king and the leaders be and act under the rule of law—but it does not deal with the population at large or with the selection process.
I mean … doesn’t that make sense?
I shouldn’t get too chauvinistic here. Let’s go back to what I said earlier, about statistics and different kinds of Christians and Jews, and the tendency of humans to break whatever patterns we describe for them. Jews are a tiny minority in the U.S., and something like 900,000 of us voted for Trump, including such prominent Trump supporters as Steve Mnuchin, Gary Cohn, Wilbur Ross, and of course Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. If we wanted to assemble a Jewish-Christian conference to assess responsibility for Trump, there’d plenty of shame to go around. Moreover … I can easily find prominent Christian voices who said “no” to Trump, from Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore to popular ex-evangelical Rachel Held Evans. (The Evans essay I’ve linked here might be the most thoughtful expression of Christian conscience I read during the 2016 campaign, even if I did disagree with much of it.)
But at the risk of self-righteousness, I find it hard to get over what I saw in last year’s election. With Trump, an overwhelming number of “values-based” white Christians voted for a President who personally contradicts every value I might associate with Christianity (humility, honesty, empathy, kindness and generosity). These very same Christians who proclaim the importance of voting for a Biblical worldview, voted by a large majority for a thrice-married failed casino mogul who has bragged that he has never asked God for forgiveness. Christians instructed to vote as Jesus would have us vote, voted in substantial numbers for a candidate who insisted (in an interview with Playboy magazine) that Jesus Christ had a massive ego, told a crowd at a Christian university not to forgive their enemies but to “get even,” championed the birther movement and lied with alarming frequency, talked about religious liberty (even claiming that he was personally a victim of anti-Christian persecution because he was subject to a routine IRS audit) but called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, and bragged on tape about engaging in sexual assault.
Yeah. I’d like to ask Christians about how this could have happened.
(If you want to know why I think white Christians voted for Trump in such numbers, tune into Part 2 of this discussion, which will appear in this space in a few days.)

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

An Update on the Location of the Pericope Adulterae in MS 284—Chris Keith

**What follows is an excerpt from the draft of my brief essay on "The Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53-8:11)" in volume 1 of the Reception of Jesus in the First Three Centuries, eds. Chris Keith, Helen K. Bond, and Jens Schroeter (Bloomsbury T&T Clark).  As part of that research, I had the opportunity to look more closely at the location of PA in MS 284.  If anyone has done more research on the paratextual matters of 284, I'd love to know more about how the obelus is used elsewhere in the manuscript.  (Many thanks to the New Testament Virtual Manuscript Room for making images available.)

An update regarding MS 284 is necessary.  On the basis of Robinson and Text und Textwert, I previously noted that a corrector of MS 284 placed PA “after John 10:36” (see Keith, Pericope, 121; Maurice A. Robinson, “Preliminary Observations regarding the Pericope Adulterae based upon Fresh Collations of Nearly All Continuous-Text Manuscripts and All Lectionary Manuscripts Containing the Passage,” Filología Neotestamentaria 113 [2000]: 42; Kurt Aland et al., eds., Text und Textwert der griechischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments V. Das Johannesevangelium: 1. Teststellenkollation der Kapitel 1–10, ANTF 36, 36, 2 vols. [Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2005], 2:211–215).  Subsequently, Maurice A. Robinson, “The Pericope Adulterae: A Johannine Tapestry with Double Interlock,” in The Pericope of the Adulteress in Contemporary Research, eds. David Alan Black and Jacob Cerone, LNTS 551 (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 119, has addressed this location for PA again.  He states,
MS 284 originally had 7:53 in the normal location, followed by 8:12; but 7:53 was then erased, leaving a gap before 8:12.  Subsequently, PA was inserted on a separate paper sheet between the pages concluding John 10:35 and commencing John 10:36 (all this was known previously).  However, a previously unnoticed obelus was inserted in the main text of MS 284 at the clearly more appropriate location following John 10:39.  This fact, hitherto, had not been observed but—based solely on an educated guess by the present writer—was subsequently confirmed by the INTF.

Based on Robinson’s wording, it is not clear whether the “fact” that INTF confirmed for Robinson was the obelus’s presence or that the obelus indicated that PA should be read “following John 10:39.”  MS 284 is now viewable remotely via the INTF’s incredible New Testament Virtual Manuscript Room at (accessed 6 Dec 2017).
John 7-8 in MS 284
Upon examination, I cannot personally judge whether 7:53 had originally been written it its normal location and then erased, but Robinson is correct that original script was erased and 8:12 written over it.  It is also clear that someone inserted PA, written on a separate sheet of paper, at the John 10 location, though strictly speaking it splits John 10:36 (rather than splitting 10:35 and 10:36 or coming clearly “after John 10:36”), coming between a page that ends with John 10:36’s τὸν κόσμον and a page that begins with the immediately subsequent ὑμεῖς.  Whether the obelus on the next page of 284 clearly indicates that PA should be read after 10:39 (per Robinson), however, is highly questionable.  There is an obelus, but its placement is not “following 10:39.”  The manuscript moves seamlessly between 10:39 and 10:40, with the obelus coming immediately before 10:39.  It almost certainly indicates the omission of πατρί at the end of 10:38 by the original scribe, as the obelus occurs directly between τῷ and ζήτουν, where the missing word belongs.  Furthermore, 284 also reflects a practice of reading PA at John 7:53, though this evidence has not been mentioned by previous scholars.  Someone wrote “Λ Jo” in the margin of 284 where John 7:53 would have been and the same thing at the top of the separate sheet of paper containing PA. 
The added sheet containing PA. 
In short, there is no clear evidence that a corrector of 284 intended PA to be read “after John 10:36” or even “following John 10:39.”  What can be said is there is a placement of a separate sheet of paper containing PA between two pages that end and begin in the midst of John 10:36, with a reading aid in the margin at John 7:53 that corresponds to the separate sheet of paper.  Clearly, more analysis of this interesting manuscript is needed.

Page after the added sheet, with obelus prior to John 10:39.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Oral Tradition and Synoptic Verbal Agreement

In the published version of his University of Oxford doctoral thesis, Oral Tradition and Synoptic Verbal Agreement (Pickwick, 2016), Travis M. Derico takes a different approach to the question of oral tradition and the development and composition of the Synoptic Gospels. In the main, Derico notes, oral tradition is invoked by gospels scholars to explain variation among the gospels, since variability is the “one characteristic that is now almost universally acknowledged by New Testament scholars as being essential to oral tradition” (5). Nearly by default, stability and agreement—especially verbal, but also of order—is an index of the influence of written tradition.

Rather than appeal to the [in]famous variation of our Synoptic Gospels and offer an oral-traditional explanation of that variation, Derico takes aim at the assumption that stability results from the influence of written, literary tradition. (To be sure, the claim that written tradition is not or cannot be subject to similar forces of variability have been falling out of favor for some time now; see David Parker’s now-famous book, The Living Text of the Gospels [Cambridge University Press, 1997], and Parker’s massive influence over the practice and conception of NT text criticism.) If—Derico would say “Since”—we know that oral Jesus traditions influenced the Synoptic Gospels’ composition, we cannot equate agreement with literary influence and variability with oral.
[W]e do not know how [oral Jesus] traditions were composed, preserved, or transmitted; so we do not know the extent to which the Synoptic Evangelists might have produced the kinds of features we observe among the texts of their Gospels by reference to orally transmitted Jesus traditions; and so neither do we know the extent to which they produced those features by strictly literary means. (10)
Derico proposes an alternate research agenda. He suggests “we could hunt down and survey a large number of comparable parallel oral-traditional texts, and see whether they bear any relevant similarities to the Synoptics” (11). For this, Derico turns to the programmatic work of John Miles Foley (1947–2012), who offers three principles for identifying appropriate and relevant comparanda and for their comparative analysis: tradition-dependence (respecting the particular, idiosyncratic forms, features, and functions of each tradition), genre-dependence (comparing like with like rather than dissolving the vast variety of types of oral tradition into a single typology [viz., oral tradition]), and text-dependence (taking into account the textual dynamics of our evidence and its relation to oral verbal art, including especially the willingness to admit our ignorance in the face of lacunae in our evidence).

Derico sets out to “address the agreement in wording displayed among many parallel Synoptic pericopae,” in particular to “expose the consensus view [that agreement is evidence of the influence of literary, written tradition] to serious scrutiny” (15). Though Derico’s analysis privileges and focuses on verbal similarities among the Synoptic Gospels, the Introduction does end with one reference to that other significant kind of agreement among Matthew, Mark, and Luke: agreement in order (see p. 16).

Derico begins with a dense and careful discussion of the theoretical and empirical basis for the claim that verbal similarities of the kinds we see in the Synoptic Gospels (e.g., between Matt 16:24–28||Mark 8:34—8:1||Luke 9:23–27) could only result from a literary relationship and, moreover, that this literary relationship is the dominant or most important relationship between our texts as wholes. After spelling out the "standard argument" for this claim (see p. 28), Derico calls out one particular premise for further discussion: "Kinds or amounts of verbal similarity found in these Synoptic parallels could not have been produced by exclusive reference to oral traditions, except for oral traditions produced by means of a formal program of rote memorization" (28). The majority of the volume is devoted to discussing "four kinds of empirical evidence that New Testament scholars have used to support or rebut [this premise]" (37). These four kinds of evidence are: anecdotal evidence from common experience (see Chapter 3), anecdotal evidence from uncommon experience (see Chapter 4), transcripts of actual oral literature (see Chapter 5), and scientific studies of human memory (see Chapter 6). Derico summarizes the discussion of these four chapters on pp. 202–4:
Our examination has produced two main findings. First, the empirical evidence that has been presented in confirmation of statements of [this premise] is much weaker than is generally supposed. . . . Second, the evidence presented against [this premise] is rather stronger than has been advertised. (203)
None of this proves one way or another whether the patterns of verbal similarities between our gospels result from the use of oral or written sources, and Derico doesn't offer his argument in support of one or the other kind of sources. Instead, Derico's argument is much more restrained: The evidence underlying the claim that the Synoptic Gospels' verbal agreements must result from a literary relationship is "much weaker than is generally supposed," and, conversely, the evidence against this claim is "rather stronger than has been advertised." In other words, Chapters 2–5 don't argue for oral rather than written sources behind the gospels' verbal agreements; they only undermine gospels scholars' confidence that verbal agreements must be indicative of written rather than oral sources.

The last chapter presents the real innovation for gospels scholarship. In 2002–2003 Derico did ethnographic fieldwork in northern Jordan, in which he "recorded several oral-traditional narratives concerning an American missionary called Roy Whitman, who helped to found the small Jordanian evangelical Christian community in the late 1920s and served as its primary leader until his death in 1992" (205). Derico presents transcripts (in Arabic) of those oral-traditional narratives, along with English translations. Derico compares his recorded narratives with similar pericopae from the Synoptic Gospels (viz., narrative tradition without sayings of Jesus or John the Baptist), analyzing the appearance of verbal similarities between his (certainly) oral-traditional narratives and the gospels. Again, Derico's analysis is modest. He doesn't claim the transcripts of his narratives prove the gospels' similarities stem from oral rather than written sources; he demonstrates only that the kinds of similarities we see in the gospels appear also in oral-traditional narratives. Those same similarities in our gospels may result from the use of written sources, but thanks to Derico, we now know beyond any reasonable doubt that these similarities may also result from oral sources. This includes parenthetical agreements (e.g., Matt 4:18||Mark 1:16||Luke 5:2). I quote Derico's conclusion at length:
[I]n each of these cases it seems reasonable to argue cautiously ab esse ad posse: if we observe that one rather casual oral-traditional process produces certain kinds of verbal agreement, then we are probably justified in supposing that another equally or more deliberately controlled oral-traditional process could (ceteris paribus, and given a basic generic congruency between the texts transmitted in the two traditions) produce those kinds of verbal agreement too—and it seems a good bet that the mechanism of the first-century oral Jesus tradition was at least as deliberately controlled as the mechanism of the twentieth-century oral Whitman tradition. But in that case it is also possible that those kinds of verbal agreement could have found their way into the Synoptic Gospels by the Synoptic Evangelists' independent reference to oral Jesus traditions. (265)
Derico ends with a call for gospels scholars to pursue or commission ethnographic fieldwork seeking to discover, analyze, and comparatively present "the relevant sorts of oral-traditional data" in order to shed light on what is actually possible in the production of written texts like our gospels (266). The book also includes two appendices, the first with transcripts of Derico's oral-traditional narratives and the second with comparative analyses of the verbal similarities in those narratives. There is also a bibliography and three indices (modern authors, subject, and gospel and other ancient texts).

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was negatively predisposed to Derico's thesis when I first picked up his book. My own skepticism toward source-critical theories—Alan Kirk has not unfairly called me a "Synoptic source-critical agnostic"—is not motivated by a belief that oral-traditional phenomena fully explain the composition of and relationship between our Synoptic Gospels. Instead, my skepticism is a reaction against the confidence with which synoptic source critics build upon their presuppositions of literary source relationships between Mark, Matthew, and Luke. That does not, however, predispose me to prefer over-confident presuppositions of oral relationships.

But this is the beauty of Derico's argument: Nowhere does he over-extend his evidence. He clearly demonstrates (some of) the kinds of verbal similarities we see in the Synoptic Gospels within certainly oral-traditional narratives; he does not claim that those similarities prove our gospels are orally and not literarily related. Moreover, his use of comparative analytical methods strikes me as a significant advance over other gospels scholars' comparative works, especially the psychological experiments of Robert K. McIver and April D. DeConick. Derico is careful to compare like with like (the experiments described by McIver and DeConick do not provide useful comparanda for the Synoptic Gospels); he also remains circumspect in his conclusions.

Derico spends all his analytical energies on verbal similarities between the Synoptic Gospels (and comparable verbal similarities in his Whitman transcriptions). He does not address that other pillar of source-critical analysis: similarities in order of pericopae. This is a lacuna Synoptic Gospels source critics will want to address, either to redress Derico's thesis or to extend it.

On my reading, perhaps the most helpful aspect of his discussion concerns the individuated, particular phenomena that scholars lump together under the label "oral tradition" (or, worse, "orality"). In Chapter 2, Derico briefly critiques "speculative accounts of the characteristics of a universal 'orality' in which the early Christians are supposed to have participated" (33–36; p. 33 quoted). I quote him at some length:
To put it bluntly: there is no such thing as 'orality.' There is no monolithic psychological or sociological phenomenon that is uniformly displayed among or uniquely experienced by the members of 'oral cultures,' or the partially or totally illiterate members of 'chirographic cultures.' . . . Likewise, there are no universal oral forms or characteristics of oral literature which, when recorded in written documents, can be reliably distinguished from literary forms or characteristics. (34–35)
Biblical scholars interested in questions of media criticism, performance, oral tradition, etc. ought to commit this to memory; it would help them to do so if they read my Oral Tradition and the New Testament: A Guide for the Perplexed (T&T Clark, 2014), esp. Chapter 4. The oral expression of tradition (or even of information more generally) is subject to the entirety of the breadth of human variability, whether at the individual, social, or cultural levels: it can be impromptu, scripted, or something in between. It can be informal or ritual, or something in between. It can be sacred, deviant, or something in between. It can be spoken by educated elites, illiterate peasants, or someone in between. And so on. The categories typically offered to us (e.g., "oral" or "literary"), these are inadequate at every level.

I might add one final recommendation. I'm not a fan of Kenneth Bailey's theory of "informal controlled oral tradition," and I'm particularly skeptical of the uses of that theory by gospels scholars (esp. James D. G. Dunn, but also N. T. Wright and Richard Bauckham, as well as those influenced by these three). Bailey's theory has been subjected to repeated (and thorough) debunking, and I've commented elsewhere that the debunking itself has been problematic. Derico spends over 50 pages discussing Bailey's theory (pp. 63–114), with over half of that space devoted to Theodore Weeden's critique (pp. 89–114). Those of you who think Weeden has disproved Bailey's theory—of which, again, I am no advocate—will need to deal with Derico's analysis, which I think puts Weeden's objections to rest.

This is an important book for everyone interested in the composition of the Synoptic Gospels, whether your interests are primarily source-critical (identification and analysis of written sources) or performance-critical (analysis of oral sources).

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Did you beat up Travis Derico?

I'm preparing a review post of Travis M. Derico's published doctoral thesis (University of Oxford), Oral Tradition and Synoptic Verbal Agreement: Evaluating the Empirical Evidence for Literary Dependence (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2016). I'll confess to being negatively disposed toward Derico's thesis (viz., the verbal similarities we observe between the Synoptic Gospels are not, ipso facto, sufficient grounds for presuming a literary relationship between those gospels). I am, I supposed, used to seeing "oral tradition" and/or "memory" conscripted into all kinds of arguments for which they are not well-suited.

I must admit, however, that Derico's book is very careful, methodical, clear, and clear-headed. In a field rife with overstatements, Derico's conclusions are judicious and fair. If you're interested or involved in source criticism of our Synoptic Gospels, this is a work you're going to want to read. And I'll post my review shortly.

But for now I want to know: Have any of you accosted Dr. Derico on some out-of-the-way playground or in some dark alley and pummeled him senseless? I quote from Oral Tradition and Synoptic Verbal Agreement:
For [Frans] Neirynck, the real problem with [Matt 26:67–68] is that, where both Mark and Luke have the soldiers blindfolding Jesus before ridiculing him with the demand that he prophesy, Matthew has left the blindfold out. The resulting story, Neirynck thinks, is incoherent—Jesus is asked to "prophesy" who hit him when he can see perfectly well who hit him; and this probably indicates that all the manuscripts of this text have been interpolated from Luke.

Neirynck's claim that Matthew's depiction of Jesus being mocked by the soldiers is incoherent in the absence of a blindfold suggests that Neirynck was never in any sort of physical fight. This is probably an overall good for Neirynck, but it evidently handicapped his ability to imagine the scene Matthew portrays. When a person is forcefully struck on the head (even once—even if the person is a trained fighter), he is likely to become temporarily disoriented. If a person is hit repeatedly from all directions with sticks or clubs (as may be suggested by the verb ῥαπίζειν), he may very quickly cease to know where he is, much less who is hitting him. Blindfold or no, there is no difficulty at all about the soldiers crying, "Prophesy—who hit you?" if one imagines some of the blows coming from behind. (242–43)
Whoever you are, whether you prevailed over Dr. Derico or whether he recovered and returned the favor, just know that your school-yard or back-alley aggression has made a contribution to biblical scholarship. This, I like to think, in addition to the milk money with which you may have walked away.

Watch this space for my review, which I expect to publish before the end of the year. And if you know Prof. Derico, congratulate him on a book well-written and offer him a thick-cut ribeye for his shiner.