Saturday, January 27, 2007

Form Criticism

I’m now up to page 260 in Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses and I am wondering about what students might make of form criticism according to Bauckham.

I am not an expert when it comes to form criticism and that is probably why I pity the student who wishes to understand whatever it is that the form critics bequeathed and the value of it. For example I might take Bauckham’s summary of what form criticism is and what we have subsequently gained from it, in the following quotes:

It is a curious fact that nearly all the contentions of the early form critics have by now been convincingly refuted, but the general picture of the process of oral transmission that form critics pioneered still governs the way most New Testament scholars think [p242].

[Schmidt pioneered the argument that:] The units (pericopes) preexisted the Gospel as distinct traditions transmitted orally until Mark first put them into writing and supplied the "string" on which they are now threaded like pearls. . . This insight opened the way, for the first time, to serious study of the oral phase of transmission of the gospel traditions. This is what the form critics undertook to pursue.
That the individual units of the Synoptic Gospels are close to the oral forms in which they previously existed and that in oral transmission they were not necessarily linked together as they are in the Gospels remain, in my opinion, the most significant insights of form criticism and have not been refuted [p242-3].
But I would have to disagree with several elements here. First Bauckham seems to be targeting a perception of form criticism as a theory of oral transmission:

There is no reason to believe that the oral transmission of Jesus traditions in the early church was at all as Bultmann envisaged it.
However, Baukham is possibly misrepresenting "the whole form-critical enterprise." Broadly speaking Bauckham is not diametrically opposed to Bultmann since the notion of there being ‘individual oral units’ contained in Mk but predating the Markan Evangelist is simply an assumption or presupposition that both he and Bultmann share (i.e. that there was a period of ‘oral transmission’ for much of the Gospel ‘traditions’ and as one which requires no testing!). It is no surprise then that form criticism discovers units of tradition (since this is what it presupposed)! Of the nine criticisms that Bauckham provides against form criticism he conveniently does not mention the one made by Joanna Dewey:

Form criticism has customarily assumed that the small episodic units to be discerned in the Synoptic Gospels were the individual units of oral tradition, and that Mark composed the Gospel from these bits and pieces of oral tradition and perhaps a short written source or two. All that we know or can infer about how tradition operates suggests that this assumption of form criticism is wrong, deriving more from the critics’ own immersion in print culture than from how tradition operates. Studies from the fields of folklore, oral tradition, and oral history all suggest that traditions are likely to coalesce into a continuous narrative or narrative framework quite quickly.
Tradition generally is remembered by gathering stories around a hero (fictional or real), not by remembering disparate individual episodes. [Joanna Dewey "The Survival of Mark's Gospel: A Good Story?" JBL 123/3 (2004): 495-507]
The reason I say "conveniently" is because Bauckham makes favourable use of this article of Dewey’s a few pages earlier!

Secondly, and perhaps more relevant for students, is the point that the study of a theory of oral transmission is not necessarily the ‘primary goal’ which form critics undertook to pursue. According to my Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels form criticism had several goals, the first being to identify the various forms or subgenres:

The original form-critical agenda included three main tasks: classifying the original pericopes (self-contained units of teaching or narrative) according to form, assigning each form to a Sitz im Leben ("life situation") in the early church and reconstructing the history of tradition (see Tradition Criticism).

Thus the first goal would be the categorization of the forms (which I believe would be an important legacy of form criticism even if the results have been modified over time). Are students to take Bauckham as inferring that all three goals of form criticism were illegitimate or that form criticism should be equated only with the early form critics.

Finally, the presupposition that knowing something about the form of a tradition could provide clues as to the community who preserved it or shaped it (and the history of such a community), may have been over enthusiastically embraced by early form critics but I fail to see how it would help to presume that the two have no relation whatsoever (which I doubt Bauckham actually wishes to imply) or that the enterprise itself is completely flawed. More helpful for students is the dictionary article on Tradition Criticism in the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels:

Two other disciplines overlap with tradition criticism [the second is redaction
criticism]. The first is form criticism, which in theory focuses on the form in which various types of traditions circulated, but in practice has included the study of how such forms have changed over time and at which period of oral transmission a given form may have arisen. When it moves from categorization to historical analysis, form criticism means the same as tradition criticism. It is because of this overlap that one cannot say when the methodology was first used in modern NT studies, for many of the form critics were in fact doing tradition
So perhaps Bauckham should have taken up his problem with tradition criticism rather than form criticism?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Henry Owen not first to argue direct copying?

Stephen Carlson on his weblog hypotyposeis recently had a post on the early proponents of the utilization hypothesis (i.e. early scholars who saw direct copying of one Gospel to another). When talking about scholars espousing ‘direct dependence’ we should probably distinguish between two types of dependence:
(a) those who see that the later Gospel compositions were written with knowledge of predecessors (Augustine’s position) and
(b) those who recognize that an author fully ‘depends’ on the earlier work for the material (without which they would probably lack the information).
The first category would remain agnostic whether the author is ‘relying’ on an earlier work or whether they simply show some knowledge/familiarity of the earlier work when writing their own version.

I had previously taken Henry Owen (1764) as the first person to espouse the second category of dependence because I had thought any persons prior to Owen would simply have been considered heretics and feared for their lives and consequently never got around to articulating or demonstrating a theory of dependence.

Stephen Carlson translates a passage from 1716 of LeClerc mentioning direct dependence in which it seems that the second category might have already been espoused by others. I asked Stephen who these might be and what type of dependence they saw. Stephen’s helpful reply is found in his post Early Proponents of the Utilization Hypothesis.

The "they" that Le Clerc referred to in 1716 should be the early modern "Augustinians," such as Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) and John Mill (1645-1707), who, along with J. J. Wettstein (1693-1764) and others, were more explicit than Augustine in fact about the utilization of prior gospels.

Stephen then provides a quote each from Grotius, Mill and Wettstein indicating they each held to a model of direct dependence. Thank you Stephen for these (especially the translation of a passage from Grotius whom I have been meaning to find out more about).

I will have to revise my understanding of the beginnings of the utilization hypothesis and update my lecture notes for BN101.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Papias' opinion of the Greek Gospels

I haven’t read many books over the last two years so I’m enjoying any chance I get to continue reading through Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (I’m up to page 229). I’m questioning Bauckham’s opinion of Papias’ view of the Greek Gospels:

Thus Papias is concerned throughout with two aspects of each Gospel: its origin from eyewitness testimony and the question of "order." In both cases he wants to explain why a Gospel with eyewitness origins lacks proper "order." [page 224]

Papias himself, however [unlike Eusebius], seems to have been interested, not in arguing for the apostolic origin of the Gospels he discusses, but rather in explaining how Gospels which were agreed to be of apostolic origin came to differ so much in their "order." [p226]

But is it merely the chronological order that Papias is concerned about? Papias may simply not be very impressed with the Synoptic Gospels because they are not in his opinion written by apostles (or the "seven"[!] disciples of Jesus) and so are not any more impressive than his own books on Jesus. The Greek Gospels would only be providing that which Papias himself was also able to provide by having also relied on eyewitness testimony of others. This would explain why, unlike most other people, Papias was not so very impressed by that which was contained in such books and why he does not really seem to be defending them after all.

I would have liked Bauckham to have addressed the notion that Papias was censored by Eusebius. There are only two sentences I noticed addressing the notion:

Alternatively, Eusebius has omitted something of which he did not approve. He had his own ideas about the origins and differences among the Gospels (see especially _Hist. Eccl._ 3.24.5-16) and is likely to have suppressed material in Papias that was not consistent with them.
These sentences only relate to it the likelihood "that Eusebius has omitted some material" prior to the "Therefore Matthew" quotation. Didn’t Eusebius have access to Papias’ five books and only quoted a few lines. Isn’t this showing him to be a little suspicious of Papias considering Eusebius’ purpose should have been helped by depending more on Papias? Hmm.

Is Papias defending the Greek Gospels? Bauckham suggests that Papias is not necessarily responding to critics but he may be intending "to set any such misgivings [differences between the Gospels] to rest." [p229] But it seems Bauckham is assuming that Papias must have thought more highly of the Greek Gospels than he gives evidence for. Bauckham says,

Given this limitation, [that Mk was only complete in the first stage of the historian’s task] Papias valued Mark’s Gospel because of its scrupulously accurate record of the _chreiai_ as Peter related them. [p228]
but he has not sufficiently demonstrated that "Papias valued Mk’s Gospel" though perhaps Bauckham simply means "Mark, in Papias’ opinion, at least was accurate in reproducing Peter’s preaching."

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Transmission models

The synoptic problem is usually solved with literary theories and such source theories might be categorized according to which Gospel is dependent on the others (e.g. Lukan posteriority) or source of the others (e.g. Markan priority) for their literary traditions. But what of categorizing (and incorporating) oral transmission theories? I’m not aware of any comprehensive list of transmission theories and it would appear that there is an increasing number of oral transmission models on offer. I wonder if any or all of them are just as compatible with any literary model? And I wonder why the two are not more often treated together when articulating one’s source theory? The following three are the oral transmission theories usually named (with various labels):

Form-critical model (traditions generated in and for the community who transmitted them).
Rabbi-disciple model (rabbinic-like memorization where Jesus taught his disciples to memorize his teachings).
Informal controlled model of Ken Bailey (control exerted over certain types of traditions by the community but anyone could participate in transmission process).

There are of course various other transmission models (of which I only have a more vague understanding) such as those of Werner Kelber, Vernon Robbins, James Dunn, and Richard Bauckham (and of course the no-oral-transmission model of Michael Goulder). It would be helpful if scholars in future could articulate not only which literary source theory they subscribe to, but also which transmission model they find most attractive and how such a model is to be integrated into their overall source theory. I think that it is much less helpful to compare and discuss literary theories whilst ignoring theories of transmission.

Perhaps one could also appeal to various transmission models according to the type of tradition? Or perhaps each Gospel author should be explained by recourse to a slightly different oral source theory? I get the impression that no one model can yet claim to explain the whole pre-literary process behind all of the Gospels (from every stage of every tradition—i.e. from birth to inclusion in the first written account) and I guess this is one reason why literary models usually dominate the discussion.

Admitting oral source models into one’s source theory does make a difference. Otherwise one can categorize source theories incorrectly and speak, for example, of the ‘Goulder-Goodacre theory’ which are really two very different composition theories since, unlike Goodacre, Goulder supposes that the non-Markan traditions in Mt and Lk do not stem not from any oral sources.