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My Memory Book, ch. 3

In my previous post I started to summarize what I will be covering in my new book, which hopefully will be published next spring, possibly under the title Jesus Before the Gospels.   After devoting the first chapter to a demonstration that everyone agrees that some early Christians were inventing stories about Jesus (as seen in the apocryphal Gospels; it should be stressed – those who read and thought about these Gospels “remembered” Jesus in light of the stories they told),and a second chapter to showing how critical scholars, for as long as there have been critical scholars (late 18th century) have argued that also in the NT there are “invented” traditions that also affected how Jesus was remembered, I move on in the next chapter as follows.  (My original plan for this thread was to summarize all six major chapters of my book in one post; then it was to summarize two chapters per post; but I want to devote an entire post to this chapter!  And so it goes….) Chapter three is tentatively entitled, [...]

My Memory Book, chs. 1-2

So, as I mentioned in the previous post, I did not start writing my current book until I had a very full outline already in place.  With a massive outline that covers everything you want to say, the book pretty much writes itself.   Well, that’s what I tell people.  It’s not true, of course; but I have found that once all the hard work of research and outlining is finished, the writing – just for me, of course – is the very, very different chore of putting into clear and compelling words the ideas that I already know that I want to express.  It’s a completely different kind of task. I won’t reproduce here the outline of my book (for which you should be glad since, as I mentioned, it’s 42 pages long….).  But I will say something about the six main chapters to give you an idea of how it will flow.  Here I’ll summarize the first two chapters.  In the following posts I’ll cover the other four. Chapter One is tentatively entitled “Oral [...]

The Year’s Society of Biblical Literature Meeting

This coming week, on Thursday, I head off to the annual Society of Biblical Literature, which this year is being held in San Diego.   I’m not sure if I’ve discussed the meeting on the blog before.   It is the main professional meeting that I go to every year; it’s always held the weekend before Thanksgiving (well, Saturday through Tuesday).   I go on Thursday evenings because I always have a commitment there first thing Friday morning. The SBL is a learned society for all professors of biblical studies – and graduate students and others academically committed to the field.  It’s not a really a conference that layfolk would or should be interested in.  It is a group of serious scholars talking serious scholarship using serious scholarly jargon based on scholarly assumptions.   Not fit for normal human consumption.  When I say a “group,” that makes it sound rather small, like a couple of dozen people.   And it’s not actually that kind of group.  It’s a group of many thousands.   The Society meets at the same time, in [...]

2017-12-14T10:22:02-05:00November 15th, 2014|History of Biblical Scholarship, Public Forum|

The Next Step: Redaction Criticism

In this breezy overview of New Testament scholarship that I’ve been giving, from roughly the 18th century till today (!) I have talked about textual criticism (establishing what the authors of the New Testament originally wrote based on the surviving manuscripts), source criticism (determining what the written sources of the New Testament were – especially the Gospels, and most especially the Synoptic Gospels), Life of Jesus research (up to Albert Schweitzer’s day), and finally form criticism (the interest in establishing the formal characteristics of the oral traditions of Jesus in circulation before the Gospels were written down). In some respects, form criticism put the final nail in the coffin of historical Jesus research, a coffin fashioned by Wrede and Schweitzer. If the stories about Jesus, even in our earliest Gospels, are not accounts of what happened but narratives that were formulated by communities of Christians after his death (as the form critics assumed), well, there’s not much source material left if we want to reconstruct the life of Jesus. And so a lot of scholars [...]

Form Critics and Oral Tradition

Once it came to be realized that Mark’s Gospel – the earliest of our surviving accounts of Jesus – was driven not purely by historical interests in order to record biographical information with historical accuracy, but was (like the other Gospels) written in order to convey theological ideas in literary guise, the movement to use Mark to write a “Life of Jesus” more or less collapsed on itself, for a time and among most New Testament scholars. What arose from the ashes of this “Quest of the Historical Jesus” could not have been foreseen by its devotees – as often happens in times of disciplinary progress and change. The big breakthrough came with the work of Karl Ludwig Schmidt (whose most important book was never translated into English, to my knowledge). Schmidt realized that the theologically loaded parts of Mark’s Gospel were not found in the core stories found throughout its account, but in the “framework” for these stories, that is, in the narrative transitions that the author himself provided for moving from one story [...]

More Background on Oral Traditions

Up until the 1920s, critical scholars who were deep into questions of New Testament studies had focused a lot of their attention (not all of it, obviously) on questions of textual criticism (how do we know what the “original” text was?) and source criticism (what are the written sources lying behind the New Testament – especially the Gospels?). The former was a matter of concern largely because it was thought that the words of Scripture were inspired by God – so it was important to know what those words were! The latter was a matter of concern in no small measure because of the intriguing questions themselves (was Mark the first Gospel? Did Matthew and Luke copy it? Did Q exist? and so on) but even more because of the significance of their answers for understanding the historical Jesus. If we want to get back to Jesus, and the later Gospels represent alterations of the traditions about him by later authors, then surely the best procedure is to determine our *earliest* sources. And if Mark [...]

Background to the Interest in Oral Traditions

Just to give a bit of background to the work I’ve just started doing on the question of the oral traditions about Jesus in the years before the Gospels were written, some initial points: 1) I am not, decidedly NOT, the first scholar to think this might be of some interest! On the contrary, it has long been intriguing to scholars, and there are a number of important books that have appeared in recent years, for example, James Dunn, The Oral Gospel Tradition (just last year!) and, even better known, Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (a fat and very important book.) I would make two points about these (and other similar) books: they are not written for general audiences but for scholars, and I fundamentally disagree with lots of their views and claims! My approach will be very different, as, no doubt, will be my conclusions and arguments. 2) I am just at the beginning stages of my work. My plan is to read as extensively as I can over the next three months [...]

Patristic Evidence: Why Time and Place Matter

In my previous post I indicated that there are three major kinds of evidence for reconstructing the text of the New Testament: the surviving Greek manuscripts (obviously our best source of evidence), the early versions (ancient translations into such languages as Latin, Coptic, and Syriac), and the quotations of the church fathers. Moreover, I indicated that one advantage of the citations of the church fathers is that this kind of evidence can be dated and located far more easily than can the Greek manuscript evidence. But now in looking back over the post, I realize that I never indicated why that might matter. As with all things dealing with textual criticism (which I use strictly in the technical sense: textual criticism is NOT simply the scholarly study of texts – e.g. as literary critics engage in – it is the *reconstruction* of texts, that is, the attempt to get back to the text as written by an author given manuscripts that have differences in them; textual criticism is used for every literary text of the [...]

Early Doubts about the Pastorals

In my discussion of the role of women in the early church, I discussed the fact that women are ordered to be silent in 1 Timothy, one of the Pastoral epistles, but that this view should not be attributed to Paul himself because, despite the fact that 1 Timothy *claims* to have been written by Paul, it almost certainly was not -- that is, its author was lying about his identity. A lot (a *whole* lot) of modern-day scholars and lay readers object (strenuously) to the idea that the author was actually “lying,” but I go to great lengths in my two books on forgery (one written for a general audience, the other written for scholars) to show that in the ancient world, pseudepigraphic writing (that is, when an author claims to be a famous person, knowing perfectly well that he was someone else) was considered a form of literary deceit and was in fact denounced as a form of lying. Be that as it may, the reality is that the majority of NT scholars [...]

Jesus’ Literacy

QUESTION: I don't know if you have covered this or not, but how about the issue of whether Jesus was literate or not? I came across a recent book on Amazon.com titled "Jesus' Literacy: Scribal Culture and the Teacher from Galilee" by Chris Keith, and the topic sounds interesting.   RESPONSE: Yes indeed, it’s a very interesting – and much debated – issue. I have not yet read Chris Keith’s book, but it’s on my (very long) list. I do know what he argues (since I just asked him in an email): he thinks that Jesus was not trained in reading and writing, the way scribes in Palestine were; but it may be that lower class people who heard Jesus engage in serious discussion over the meaning of the Torah may well have *mistaken* him for someone who was. Scribes themselves would have looked on him as not up to their standards. I’ll have to read the book before passing judgment. But basically, it sounds like he and I are on the same page. Here [...]

Where Did Israel Come From?

Yesterday I indicated that my post on the Conquest narratives would be my last for a while on the Hebrew Bible. I lied. Several people pointed out that I finished the post with a cliff-hanger: Where then did Israel come from? In other words, if the Israelites did not conquer the Promised Land as narrated in Joshua, but Israel did at some point appear in the land of Canaan – where did they come from? The following is my very brief summation of the options ******************************************************************************************************************** Explanations for the Beginnings of Israel in the Land Modern scholars have come up with a number of explanations for how the nation of Israel emerged within the land known as Canaan. The following are the four most popular. FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for membership options. If you don't belong yet, JOIN!! The Conquest Theory.   Popularized especially by American archaeologist William Albright in the mid-20th century, this view more or less accepted the accounts of Joshua as factually accurate.  [...]

Geza Vermes

Now that I have been posting on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the historical Jesus, I would be remiss not to mention  that one of the absolutely great scholars of modern times, one of the world experts on both the Scrolls and Jesus, died several days ago.   Geza Vermes was a formidable scholar.   Of the three major English translations of the Scrolls, it is his that I typically use and prefer.   In the 1970s he began publishing a series of books on Jesus that did more than almost anything to push for the idea that if Jesus is to be understood, he must be understood as a first century Jew.   This was something of a novel idea at the time.  It has become the standard view that virtually every Jesus scholar on the planet shares. Vermes was a scholar’s scholar.  Professor at Oxford, he was an incredible linguist, intimately familiar with every ancient historical source of relevance, a creative thinker.    He wrote books for scholars but also books that were accessible to the educated layperson.   [...]

The King James and William Tyndale

Many, possibly most, people don’t realize that the King James Version was not the first translation of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament into English. There were seven major translations published earlier, and all of them to a greater or lesser extent (almost always greater) were dependent on the one(s) that came before them. The first, greatest, and most influential was the translation by William Tyndale. It was also the riskiest. It cost Tyndale his life. In 1408 a law had been passed in England making it illegal to translate or to read the Bible in English without official ecclesiastical approval; this was in response to the translation activities connected with (pre-Reformer) John Wycliffe and his followers, whose English rendering was not from the original Hebrew and Greek, but from the Latin vulgate. By the time of Tyndale in the early 16th century, it was possible to learn Greek at Oxford, and just possible to pick up Hebrew, and he did so. Tyndale was refused permission to publish a translation in England, [...]

The SBL Meeting

I’m just back from the annual Society of Biblical Literature meeting, which took place, this year, in Chicago.   This is a professional meeting that always occurs the week before Thanksgiving, where professors of biblical studies from around the country (and less-so, around the world) come together for about four days to give and hear academic papers on an enormous range of topics related to biblical studies.  Maybe 5000 or 6000 of them/us?  The vast majority of people in that camp are themselves religiously committed in one way or the other (mainly Christian, fewer Jews); some of us are not believers but are simply interested in the Bible for historical, cultural, or literary reasons – although even most of us in that boat started out in our academic lives as believers. I read two papers at the conference.  One was actually at a meeting going on in conjunction with it, rather than part of it, the Biblical Archaeology Society Fest – where they bring in twenty scholars, most of the archaeologists, to discuss with the lay [...]

Modern Interest in the Apostolic Fathers

An interest in the "church Fathers" emerged in Western Europe among humanists of the Renaissance, many of whom saw in the golden age of patristics their own forebears -- cultured scholars imbued with the classics of Western Civilization, concerned with deep religious and philosophical problems. No wonder, then, that the humanists focused their attention on the writings of the "great" Fathers of the church such as Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, the Cappadocians, and the like, while showing virtually no interest in their comparatively "primitive" and "uncultured" predecessors, such as Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, Barnabas, and Hermas, who on no reckoning were cultured scholars or brilliant thinkers. When a “most ancient” church Father like Irenaeus was mentioned, it was usually in order to show the unrefined nature of his theology and to censure his aberrant doctrinal views, which failed to reflect the more mature and nuanced statements of later times. The Reformation provided some impetus for the study of Christian writings immediately after the New Testament period, but even then few scholars evinced an [...]

A Stranger Problem with Lake’s Translation

Other problems with the edition of the Apostolic Fathers done by Kirsopp Lake relate to the period when he produced it. This is scarcely an avoidable problem, of course; but the reality is that his time is not ours. Lake was born in 1872 and was given, then, a solid Victorian education in the classics in Oxford. And there are passages in his translation where his cultural milieu shines through, none more clearly than in Barnabas 10, where Barnabas is discussing some of the food laws of the Old Testament in order to show that Jews have misconstrued them in a literal way -- misled as they were by an evil angel -- when in fact God meant them to be taken figuratively as indications of how one was to live. And so, for Barnabas, the commandment not to eat pork, for example, does not literally mean not to eat pork; it is a command not to live like or associate with people who are like pigs -- who grunt loudly when hungry but are [...]

Problems with Lake’s Translation of the Apostolic Fathers

Some people have asked if I could give some examples of the problems with the translations of the Apostolic Fathers in the original edition done by Kirsopp Lake. It’s a fair enough question – although I do want to stress for the 29th time that I think on the whole he made a very fine translation indeed. But there are some serious and widely recognized problems with it. As one might expect, the translations are dated in places. No longer do we use intentionally archaizing language in translations to indicate their sacrality or antiquity. Lake did do that. It’s like speaking King James English, though, when talking about religion, instead of just talking as one normally talks. Technically it’s not wrong, but it’s a bit strange. Even the authors of the Bible (not to mention the Apostolic Fathers) spoke in the language of their day, not stilted language of 400 years earlier (despite what you hear from the people who still think the King James Version is the one and only inspired translation of the [...]

Lake’s Apostolic Fathers

I mentioned that the first edition of the Loeb Apostolic Fathers was done by Kirsopp Lake and that I think he was a great scholar and that it was a great edition.  I’ve always looked up to him, as a brilliant scholar of an earlier generation with very many interests closely parallel to mine.   Our backgrounds could not be more different.  He grew up in England and went to Oxford; I grew up in Kansas and went to Moody Bible Institute.  J Born in 1872, as a young man Lake experienced a serious illness that affected his health for life, and that at the time kept him from pursuing the rigors of the legal profession (he wanted to practice law).  His physicians evidently thought that the study of theology would be a tame enough pursuit for his frail frame, and he took his degree from Lincoln College, Oxford.   Lake was musically inclined -- as a young curate in Durham England he conducted the Mikado -- and was early in his career concerned principally with modern social [...]

The Art of Translation

When I agreed to produce a new translation of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library, my first thought was: How hard can it be?  These were texts that I had read and studied from the time I was in my PhD program in the early 1980s.  I translated them regularly with my graduate students.  I taught seminars on them.   It can’t be that tough, can it? Oh boy was I wrong.   If you’re not accustomed to doing a translation for publication, the first time comes as a shock.  At least it did for me.  Publishing a translation is very different indeed from simply reading the Greek (or Latin, or whatever) to yourself, making sense of it in your head; and it is also very different from sitting around a seminar table with a group of students working out plausible ways to construe a text.  For one thing, when you’re preparing a translation for publication, you have to make a hard and fast decision about how you want to render a passage, a sentence, [...]

The Loeb Apostolic Fathers: The Challenges

To continue my thread about translating the Apostolic Fathers for the Loebs…. So, the editor at Harvard Press, Peg Fulton, asked me if I would be interested in taking on the task of doing a new edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loebs. She wasn’t offering me the opportunity then and there. She was suggesting that I write up a prospectus that she could take to the board of the Loebs, in which I described the need for a new edition and explained how I would go about making one. After I thought about it for a while, and got advice from my friends, I decided to go for it. I had never (ever!) planned doing a serious translation project for publication. I had lots of other things I wanted to write – scholarly monographs, textbooks, and so on. But I thought it made sense to do it, both personally and professionally. So I wrote up the prospectus and the editorial board agreed it was a task that needed to be done – and [...]

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