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Proto-Orthodox Writers

A Fantastic Saying of Jesus in Papias

I have mentioned one of the intriguing traditions found in the now-lost Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord by the early second century proto-orthodox church father Papias (his account of the death of Judas).  Here is another one. In this one Papias is relating what he has heard that Jesus taught.  As you’ll see, it is not a teaching that is found in the New Testament Gospels, or in fact in any other Gospel source we have. What is most striking, in some ways, is that Papias claims that he has a clear line of tradition going straight back to Jesus to confirm the reliability of the saying:  he learned this from “elders” (that is, senior Christians) who heard from John the son of Zebedee, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, that this is something Jesus used to say.   So this is not an “eyewitness” account (or, rather, not an “earwitness” account) – it is an account that we get from Papias who got it from others who got it from John who got it [...]

The Lost Writings of Papias

In this thread I have been discussing documents known from early Christianity that no longer exist and that I very much wish would be discovered.  So far I have talked about the lost letters of Paul, the writings of Paul’s opponents, Q (the source used by Matthew and Luke for many of their sayings of Jesus), and the Signs Source (a collection of Jesus miraculous activities used by the Gospel of John).   With this post I move outside the New Testament to indicate documents that certainly at one time existed that I wish we still had.   One such document was a five-volume book produced by a church father named Papias. We don’t have this long book any longer.   In fact we don’t have any of the writings from Papias.  We know about him, and his writings, only because later church fathers refer to him.  He is first mentioned in the writings of Irenaeus, the bishop of Gaul and himself the author of a long five-volume work that attacked heretics (especially Gnostics).  Irenaeus’s book is known [...]

The Ebionites and their Gospel

There are other interesting features of the Gospel of the Ebionites, known from the quotations of Epiphanius, the fourth-century heresiologist (= heresy-hunter). We wish we had the whole Gospel. We have only these eight fragments that Epiphanius quotes. We wish we knew who actually used the Gospel. We wish we knew how long it was, what it contained, and what it’s theological slant was. It is almost impossible to say from what remains. One big question is whether, since it was used by the Ebionites – according to Epiphanius, it had a particular bias in its reporting of the words and deeds of Jesus. The term “Ebionite” was widely used in proto-orthodox and orthodox sources to refer to “Jewish-Christian” groups, or at least one group (it is likely that there were lots of these groups, and it may be that the church fathers assumed they were all the same group when in fact they had different views, different theologies, different practices, and so on). Some of the church fathers indicate that the name came from [...]

Problems with Patristic Evidence

Sorry not to have posted for a couple of days. I am out of the country and did not have the wifi connection that I was told I’d have. I confess, it was nice being incommunicado! But I’m back, for the duration I should think. And to return to the topic of original conversation on this thread – before getting sidelined with all that discussion of Luke 3:22 -- the importance, but problems, with patristic evidence (that is, citations of the New Testament in the writings of the church fathers) for the tasks of textual criticism. Of the three kinds of evidence available for establishing the text of the NT and for determining how it was altered over the years, the Patristic evidence has received the least attention. Most attention has been paid, as you would expect, to the Greek manuscripts; after them, to the versions – although some versions have been notoriously neglected, in no small measure because they involve languages few people know (Armenian, Goergian, Gothic, Old Church Slavonic, etc.) and because their [...]

Luke 3:22 — What Luke Himself Would Have Written

In my previous post I began to look at the “internal” evidence that the voice at Jesus’ baptism in Luke’s Gospel said the words that are found among Greek manuscripts *only* in Codex Bezae of the early fifth century: “You are my son, today I have begotten you,” as opposed to the words found in all the other Greek manuscripts (the voice as recorded also in Mark): “You are my son, in you I am well-pleased.” If you’ll recall, there are two kinds of internal evidence that scholars consider: “transcriptional probabilities” (which reading would a scribe more likely have preferred and therefore created by changing the text) and “intrinsic probabilities (which reading would the author have been more likely to have written originally). The last post was on transcriptional probabilities showing that the reading in Codex Bezae is probably the older form of the text. Now in this blog and the next one (or two) I will discuss the “intrinsic probabilities,” which point in the same direction. All of these arguments are meant to work [...]

More Arguments over Luke 3:22

Yesterday I posted some comments that were designed to show why knowing the Patristic evidence is so valuable in establishing what the oldest form of the text of the NT was. My illustration was from Luke 3:22, where the voice from heaven says different things, depending on which witnesses you read. The fifth century manuscript Codex Bezae is the *only* Greek manuscript that has the reading “You are my son, Today I have begotten you.” The Greek manuscripts that were produced before Bezae, and all those produced afterwards, have a different reading, the one you will find in most Bible translations, “You are my beloved son, in you I am well pleased.” The point of my post was not to give conclusive evidence that the reading found in virtually all the manuscripts is the *wrong* one; it was to show that Patristic evidence is valuable because it shows that in the second and third Christian centuries, it was the *other* reading (the one that eventually came to be found in Codex Bezae) that was most [...]

Church Fathers and the Voice at Jesus’ Baptism

In my previous post I argued that the quotations of the New Testament in the writings of the later church fathers can help both to establish the earliest form of the text and to determine when and where the text came to be changed in the process of its transmission. I indicated that I might give an example of how that works, and that’s what this post is all about. I have taken a couple of paragraphs from my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture to illustrate the point. The passage I am discussing here is a very important one. It has to do with what the voice said from heaven at Jesus’ baptism, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke. In virtually all the Greek manuscripts of Luke – hundreds of them – the voice says “You are my beloved Son, in you I am well pleased.”  But in one – count them, one – manuscript of the early fifth century the voice instead says “You are my beloved Son, Today I have begotten [...]

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 [...]

Early Christianity in Egypt

About two months ago, in May, I was feeling pretty burned out; I had just finished my manuscript on How Jesus Became God and my brain was reasonably fried. At that point, I had trouble imagining being able to come up with posts for the blog for a while, and so I asked if anyone had any questions they would like to have answered. And so once again I have learned my lesson: Be careful what you ask for! Since then I’ve been answering the questions I received (the long series of posts on Matthew were ultimately from one of the questions). I’m, maybe, half way through the list. And questions keep coming in. So I think what I’m going to TRY to do now is simply answer the remaining ones, one question at a time, one per post (unless I get carried away again, as I did with the Matthew question). Feel free to keep asking questions if there are any that are burning on your brain; but realize that it may take a [...]

When Was Matthew Called Matthew?

For years I agreed with those scholars who claim that we have very early “evidence” that the Gospel of Matthew was actually written by Matthew, the tax-collector who was a disciple of Jesus. I no longer think so. Let me give some of the relevant information. The anonymity of this author – as is true for the other three NT Gospels as well, was respected by Christians for decades. When the Gospels of the New Testament are alluded to and quoted by authors of the early second century, they are never entitled, never named. Even Justin Martyr, writing around 150-60 CE, quotes verses from the Gospels, but does not indicate what the Gospels were named. For Justin, these books are simply known, collectively, as the “Memoirs of the Apostles.” It was about a century after the Gospels had been originally put in circulation that this book was called Matthew, and the others were called Mark, Luke, and John. This comes, for the first time, in the writings of the church father and heresy-hunter Irenaeus, around [...]

Mark as Peter’s Scribe

QUESTION: Why are scholars almost certain that Peter did not give the general details of Jesus' life and ministry to his companion Mark, who faithfully recorded the details in Greek, in the style found in his gospel? I know you've said that someone such as Peter, aside from not knowing Greek, almost certainly wouldn't have had the ability to build the relatively sophisticated structure of Mark's gospel, but why couldn't Mark have "put form" on Peter's prosaic verbal account ? RESPONSE:                 This is a very good question, and as it turns out it is a bit complicated.   The first thing to say is that one has to look for *evidence* if one wants to think, for example, that Mark is recording the traditions given to the author by Peter.  The idea that he does so ultimately goes back to Papias. To begin answering the question, in this post I thought I’d talk about Papias and the tradition of the Gospels.  And rather than write it all out from scratch, I’ve decided simply to reproduce [...]

The God Christ and the Jews

I should probably at some point provide a sketch of how my book How Jesus Became God will be structured and organized (I don’t *think* I’ve done that yet; I need to look).  In any event, in the second to last chapter  I show how by the fourth century there was a broad consensus that Jesus was God in a very concrete sense: he was co-eternal with God the Father (there never was a time before which he did not exist) and was “of the same substance” with the Father, and therefore was actually equal with the Father.  In the final chapter, I go into the ramifications of this view for various polemical relationships Christians were in: with pagans (whose emperor used to be a competitor-divine-man with Jesus), with one another (as more Christological controversies erupted), and with Jews.   Here’s a part of my section on what the effect of the claim that Jesus was God had on the relations of Christians and Jews. ****************************************************************************** To discuss the rise of Christian anti-Judaism in antiquity would [...]

The Mayan Calendar, Y2K, and the Letter of Barnabas

You may have noticed that the world didn’t end two weeks ago, despite widespread anticipation. Sometimes things just don’t go as planned. It’s a strange phenomenon this expectation that the world is soon going to end; and if Christian fundamentalists and Mayan enthusiasts can’t get it right, who can? When I was a fundamentalist back in the mid 70s, I – and all my friends – were sure that the end was going to come, with the reappearance of Jesus, before the end of the 1980s. We had sure-fire biblical proof of it. I’ll give you the logic in some other post, down the line. For now all I want to say is that we were not alone in our views. Every generation of Christians from the beginning of the Christian religion until now has known fervent believers who maintained that there’s was the final generation on earth, that the end would come in their own day. As I have frequently noted, all of these die-hard prognosticators have had two things in common: every one [...]

How to Date Documents, including Barnabas

QUESTION: In a comment on my recent post on the letter of Barnabas, where I indicated that “it is almost certainly to be dated to the 130s CE (for reasons I could explain if anyone really wants to know….)” – one reader asked: I, for one, would be quite interested in the how these various works are dated. Seems like it would be of utmost importance seeing as the date of composition all but decides the question of authorship. Even if it only provides a general sense of why a particular date is hung on a manuscript or composition, I think it would be helpful.   RESPONSE: Yes, as it turns out, it is very difficult to date ancient writings; but scholars who have worked on such matters (for nearly 300 years now, in some instances) have marshaled pretty good evidence in case after case, although in many instances there continue to be substantial debates. There are several ways to establish parameters, which are fairly commonsensical. If a writing is quoted by an author whose [...]

Why Was Barnabas Attributed to Barnabas: Part 2

In my last post but one, in starting to talk about why the anonymous Letter to Barnabas was attributed by early Christians to Barnabas, best known as a one of the closest companions of Paul, I talked mainly about the mid-second century philosopher/theologian-eventually-branded-arch-heretic Marcion. You may have wondered why. In this post I’ll tell you why. VERY brief review. Recall, the letter of Barnabas is stridently anti-Jewish, claiming that the Jews never were the people of God because they had broken the covenant as soon as God had given it to them on Mount Sinai (by worshipping the Golden Calf); they misunderstood the law, taking it literally, when it was meant figuratively. Even though Jews never realized it, the OT was not a Jewish book but a Christian book, that not only anticipated Christ but proclaimed the Christian message. END of review…. The first explicit reference to this anonymous letter is in the writings of Clement of Alexandria, writing around 200 who quotes it and claims it was written by Barnabas, who, he indicates, was [...]

Why Was The Letter of Barnabas Attributed to Barnabas?

QUESTION: So why was the Letter of Barnabas thought to have been written by Barnabas?   BACKGROUND: This question was asked in reference to my discussion of “Gematria” in the Letter of Barnabas. For fuller background, if you’re interested, you should refer to this post: “Another Instance of Gematria (For Members)” (the search function on the blog is very good, btw; it is in the upper right hand corner of your screen). In that post I note that the “Letter of Barnabas” was not actually written by Barnabas. In fact, it could not have been, since it is almost certainly to be dated to the 130s CE (for reasons I could explain if anyone really wants to know….). Barnabas, the companion of Paul, must have died no later than the 70s CE, more likely the 60s – some seventy years before this letter was written. So Barnabas couldn’t have written it. FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for membership options. If you don't belong yet, THE YEAR IS [...]

Melito and arly Christian Anti-Judaism

I AM IN THE PROCESS OF MAKING THE PENULTIMATE EDITS ON MY MY BIBLE INTRODUCTION.  TODAY I HAD TO REVIEW AN EXCURSUS ON EARLY JEWISH-CHRISTIAN RELATIONS IN WHICH I DISCUSS THE RISE OF ANTI-JUDAISM IN THE EARLY CHURCH, IN CLUDING THIS BIT ON MELITO OF SARDIS.  I THOUGHT IT MIGHT BE WORTH POSTING HERE. ******************************************************************************************************************** Melito was a bishop of the city of Sardis in Asia Mino in the mid to late second century.  Today he is best known for a sermon he wrote that lambasts the Jews for the role they played in the death of Jesus.   In it we find the first instance of a Christian author claiming that since the Jews killed Jesus, and since Jesus was God, the Jews are guilty of deicide – the murder of God.   This charge was used, of course, to justify all sorts of hateful acts of violence against Jews over the centuries.  In part, the rhetorical eloquence with which the charge was sometimes leveled has contributed ot the emotional reaction that it produced.  Consider Melito’s [...]

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 [...]

The Collection: Apostolic Fathers

About a week or so ago I talked about translating the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library. Some people have asked me to say more about the Apostolic Fathers. It may be useful to devote a couple of posts to this collection: when were these authors first gathered together? Who decides which books should be included in the corpus? On what grounds? Etc. For much of this I draw from the Introduction in my edition. The term “apostolic father” first occurs in the Hogedos of Anastasius, the seventh-century anti-monophysite abbot of St. Catherine’s monastery on Mount Sinai, who spoke of “the apostolic  father Dionysius the Areopagite.”  Somewhat ironically, the works of Dionysius the Areopagite, allegedly the convert of the apostle Paul (Acts 17:34), have never been included in modern collections of the Apostolic Fathers: since the sixteenth century they have been recognized as forgeries of later times (possibly the early sixth century).   (They are still fascinating reading: but they are not writings by someone from the generation after the apostles.)  In any event, neither Anastasius [...]

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