Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Different Source Theory Implications part 2

Previously when writing about theological implications for one’s synoptic solution, I was rather dismissive of the suggestion that there were any real differences between source theories. Let me quote the notion as expressed by Scot McKnight, "A Generation Who Knew Not Streeter: The Case For Markan Priority," chapter 3 in, David Alan Black and David R. Beck (eds.) Rethinking the Synoptic Problem (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 95,

Griesbach and Oxford proponents differ substantially; and the differences are enormous in implication. But they are united in this: the problem is worthy of study, and it makes a difference for interpretation, for history, for theology, and for pastoral theology.[footnote]55

55 J. S. Kloppenborg, "The Theological Stakes in the Synoptic Problem," in The Four Gospels--1992: Festschrift Frans Neirynck, ed. F. van Segbroeck et al.; 3 vols., BETL 100 (Leuven University Press), 1:93-120, provides an excellent example of how modern scholars sort out the differences that various solutions offer.
I believe this to be grossly overstating the case. I have since tracked down Kloppenborg’s article and wish to comment here. Kloppenborg only compares two synoptic theories for comparison, and I guess the reason he chose to compare the Griesbach Hypothesis with the Two Document Hypothesis was because of the contrast in hypothesized sources for Griesbach’s theory (whereby Mk is no source at all and neither is Q). Although I would not see these two solutions as the top contenders it is foreseeable if one chose some "modified two-source theory" or "three-source theory" to compare with the Farrer theory there would obviously be even less difference. But even with these two contrasting source theories, Kloppenborg comes up with few results. In fact there are basically only three differences he asserts:

(1) On the Griesbach Hypothesis, the author of Mk "accentuates Jesus’ shunning of his family" and "views Jesus’ family as unbelieving opponents," "systematically vilified the disciples" and "omits any positive sign of the rehabilitation of the disciples, apart from the residual comments in 1428 and 16,7 (both taken from Matthew)" basically, "an eirenic view of Mark is not possible. On the GH, Mark is combative not complementary." But is not Mark’s theology rather combative on any source theory? I doubt very many would disagree with the above assessment of Mark’s theology even from the perspective of Markan priority. Mark strikes me as negating all kinds of views about Jesus (and those who supposedly knew Jesus) and I do not place Mk last.

(2) On the GH Mark has "removed from his christological portrait the motif of Jesus as the apocalyptic judge." But once again, this motif is still a conspicuous absence on the 2DH since this motif was present in Q (in canonical Mk Jesus is not the apocalyptic judge, which again seems deliberate to me—again points negatively made). This was, as I already suspected, disappointing for a section dealing with consequences affecting "christology, soteriology, ecclesiology" and Kloppnborg does himself admit that "for the most part it is not possible to argue that one scenario of development is more probable than another."

(3) Finally Kloppenborg brings out the theological implications of the Q hypothesis: "The most remarkable difference between Q and the narrative gospels lies in the valuation of the theological importance of Jesus’ death." Kloppenborg wishes to affirm that "the impression of normitivity, ubiquity and appropriateness" is an expectation that is merely generated by "the fact of a canon." In other words, Kloppenborg is saying that Paul’s theology of the cross "has mislead generations of scholars into thinking that this rhetoric was successful in promoting his vision and that this vision was representative of the various Christianities alive in the Mediterranean basin." I have no problem with this notion but I must ask, Would it not be considered Lk’s own intention (on the 2DH and the Farrer theory) to portray Jesus’ death as more martyr-like and less sacrificial (for sins)? For author Luke, Jesus’ death was necessary (rather than salvific) so again I don’t really see how Q makes much difference. Kloppenborg’s concludes "that the 2DH implies the existence of early Christians who did not (yet?) see the need of an account of the death of Jesus" but it is not only the 2DH that implies this.

Kloppenborg’s article is intended to raise "critical self-consciousness" "exposing the theologies which are implied by each source hypothesis" but I remain unconvinced that many differences exist, especially since they are not our only Christian documents from the first century.

Monday, October 16, 2006

A note on "re-oralization"

In a comment to my most recent post (Dunn’s Source Theory part 2), Stephen Carlson asked me to post if I found out whence I got the term "re-oralization". It seems I read it in (a book I have only just begun reading): Samuel Byrskog, Story as History—History as Story: The Gospel Tradition in the Context of Ancient Oral History (Boston; Leiden: Brill Academic 2000), 138-9, see "Conclusion [chapter 3]: Orality and Literacy as Re-Oralization." On page 139 Byrskog credits the term to Margaret A. Mills, "Domains of Folkloristic Concern: The Interpretation of Scriptures," in Susan Niditch (ed.), Text and Tradition. The Hebrew Bible and Folklore (SBLSS; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990), 231-241. I’ve only actually read Byrskog up to page 65, and I found "re-oralized" on page 16, but the fuller explanation is on page 139, where Byrskog (drawing on Mill) says that the term "describes scripture’s perpetual return to oral currency." Byrskog continues,

Re-oralization is somewhat similar to the phenomenon of "recitation composition" that Vernon K. Robbins has brought attention to, focusing on how an ancient writer perceived an antecedent oral or written text as a performance and how a new performance perpetuated as much or as little verbatim wording as was congenial to the writer.

Also on page 139, in a footnote [240], Byrskog provides a negative answer to an earlier question of mine on what term was used for this notion in William A Graham, Beyond the Written Word,

Graham does not, however, employ the term "re-oralization."

In the same footnote, Byrskog has also provided me a further two references to chase up to do with Graham’s work (the latter looks promising): Martin S. Jaffee, "Oral Culture in Scriptural Religion: Some Explanatory Studies," RelSRev 24 (1998), 223-230. David L. Balch, "The Canon. Adaptable and Stable, Oral and Written. Critical Questions for Kelber and Riesner," Forum 7:3-4 (1993), 183-205.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Dunn’s Source Theory part 2

Previously I commented briefly on the source theory of James D. G. Dunn (it appears he is proposing that although "Q" eventually became a written document the Q traditions were still known and used in oral form by the Jesus communities and the Evangelists). I only just yesterday discovered that he has a book dealing more specifically with his source theory _A New Perspective on Jesus: What the Quest for the Historical Jesus Missed_ (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005) and I wish to make several small comments.

Much of the book is really an introduction to Dunn’s source theory and it even includes a newer version of his "Altering the Default Setting: Re-envisaging the Early Transmission of the Jesus Tradition" published NTS 49 (2003): 139-75, as an appendix. I guess it goes to show just how relevant is one’s source theory to a quest for the historical Jesus and I have to admit that what Dunn is advocating about the earliest period of transmission is basically what I had been imagining already. But I also have some hesitation about Dunn’s so-called oral period. Dunn quotes p141 of Sanders and Davies _Studying the Synoptic Gospels_ (my copy arrived last Thursday, yay!) I give the original sentence:

"The problem is that we don’t know how to imagine the oral period neither how
long it lasted nor how oral transmission actually functioned."

Dunn also mentions that "one or two voices even question whether there ever was a period of oral transmission in the first place" providing two references in the footnotes (W. Schmithals and E. E. Ellis), neither of whom doubt the presence of traditions (instead they believe the traditions were simply literary from the very start). But Dunn overlooks the more skeptical position that the Jesus traditions could have developed much later, during the "written period." I would like to support Sanders & Davies point that we just don’t know how to imagine the oral period, but I would also like to suggest that to me the notion of an oral period is really just a negative one, and not much more. And by that I mean that it really means (for want of a better term) "pre-written period" i.e. "prior to the period when the Gospels were written." The terminology "oral period" might, misleadingly, seem to suggest a period where material stemming from Jesus is transmitted in unbroken fashion until the "written period." Dunn is to be congratulated for pointing out that the material was not necessarily memorised or handed down directly from Jesus himself, but more likely represented the impact that Jesus had (already) made on people as they began to remember him and his actions and teachings.
Dunn does not explicitly discuss the idea that perhaps some of the actions and teachings attributed to Jesus were due to them being (or seeming) appropriate to the kind of person Jesus was, the kind of things he did or said (or was thought to have done, or would have or might have done or said) even though the were things that were not necessarily unique to Jesus. But I think this possibility needs to be included in the discussion. There were plenty of proverbs, aphorisms, parables, and miracle reports circulating before and after Jesus. I presume that there was undoubtedly plenty of wisdom being passed down and recycled both in and outside synagogue (addressing morals, ethics) as well as prophecies made or interpreted from the Scriptures. It would be ridiculous to be able to claim originality for many sayings, and I don’t think we should read the Gospels as necessarily claiming complete originality but rather they provide traditions that were likely the best fit with Jesus’ intentions and of the kind of things that were important to him. Much of the wisdom teaching we find in James also turns up in "Q" material on the lips of Jesus. I suggest that this is: 1) because such wisdom was widely available and widely known and widely applied by numerous teachers, and, 2) that Jesus would be expected to be familiar with such things and obviously would have taught something similarly wise to those who wanted to know more about God’s reign, applying his own emphasis and adapting the common stock themes to his own context as good teachers did.

I am most surprised that in a book on the historical Jesus, Dunn has also overlooked what seems to me one of the strongest traditions—that Jesus was a healer. I understand that over time Jesus was recognised more and more in a prophetic role and a teaching role as the significance of his life and death and mission took on more meaning. But to me the healing traditions cannot be overlooked. I do not wish to evaluate the type of historical healing he did (or was thought to have done) since I cannot see how the healing of one’s body or mind or social being can be separated off in the first place. A Jesus who came to inaugurate God’s reign goes hand-in-hand with a Jesus who heals, and it seems just as likely that the latter preceded (as it assumed) the former. Otherwise I think we would need to deny both as somewhat unoriginal and as reapplied to Jesus (but I’m now a bit off-topic).

So what I’m suggesting is that the so-called "oral period" may well have included material being "transmitted" orally, but perhaps not in such an unbroken line of tradition as implied by Dunn’s theory (of remembering Jesus impact and then going over the stories again and again). I wish to uphold the point that we still cannot imagine what the pre-written period was like and how much people "remembered" and how much was told "in remembrance" of Jesus. We do not know whether the pre-written period should be granted as being as active (as the written period) in giving shape to the Jesus traditions, although I expect Dunn is largely on track for explaining some of the traditions. I applaud Dunn for calling attention that the importance lies in the significance of Jesus’ "impact." I am also suggesting that the healing traditions are probably quite old (and popular) traditions. Since we expect more variation with oral versions than we see in the synoptic Gospels (hence theories of literary dependence) there may be something still considerably "oral" about the shared healing stories (since they don’t share as many verbal agreements as some of the other traditions).

I also discovered that what I had been calling "secondary orality" Dunn calls "second orality" and I recall the term re-oralisation also being used by someone else which I think is even clearer. I wish I had the time and energy to find out who else deals with this phenomenon.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Claiming Pastoral Significance

Despite my suspicion that there is not particularly much pastoral relevance to differing solutions to the synoptic problem, I now have come across a fourth reference arguing for such relevance. I discussed this previously.

Besides two references of William Farmer _The Gospel of Jesus: The Pastoral Relevance of the Synoptic Problem_ (Louisville: Westminster/John Knowx Press 1994 and his earlier "The Import of the Two-Gospel Hypothesis" Concordia Theological Quarterly vol 48 no 1 (1984), 55-60, and Kloppenborg’s "The Theological Stakes in the Synoptic Problem," in _The Four Gospels--1992: Festschrift Frans Neirynck_ vol 1:93-120, there is now also what appears to be a lecture called "The Pastoral Relevance of Who Wrote the First Gospel" by Halvor Ronning filmed at the Jerusalem Perspective conference June 2006. Unfortunately it seems it is only available by purchasing the 8 volume set of DVD’s for $99 US

From memory the Jerusalem school’s source theory is that Lk wrote first, followed by Mk then Mt (but positing various other stages and sources as well I think) so presumably Ronning’s lecture espouses the pastoral importance of Lukan priority. Perhaps it is more comforting for congregation members to believe that the original Gospel author was highly educated (and made a jolly good first effort)!