Friday, November 17, 2017

Fake Points Don't Make Points and More Over-reading

There have been two new posts in the series on alleged fictionalization in the Gospels. Fake Points Don't Make Points emphasizes the importance of historical grounding for theological significance and argues that the evangelists thought this was important as well. More Over-Reading is the fourth in my recent series on specific examples from Michael Licona's Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?

Monday, November 06, 2017

Moo on Gundry on Matthew

Everything old is new again. If you're interested to see how a more rigorous member of the New Testament guild deals, without personal attack but also without pulling argumentative punches, with unjustified theories, have fun reading Douglas J. Moo's two-part review of Robert Gundry's "midrash" commentary on Matthew. JETS has helpfully made both available on-line here and here. Moo criticizes Gundry for making assertions without arguing, for arguing circularly, for not taking seriously the possibility that Matthew was writing about events slightly differently because he was an eyewitness, and for using skewed statistical analysis. Except for the last of these, all of these apply to the current issues concerning "bioi" and the Gospels. Moo also rightly points out the importance of historical events to the early Christians and the dubiousness of the statement that they would not have cared if Matthew were fictionalizing. He also points out that Gundry has done nothing convincing to show that the early Christians would have known that Matthew was fictionalizing and where he was doing so. If they really "had" Q, as Gundry apparently insists that they did (an "expanded Q" including Luke's infancy narrative!), and if they noted the differences between Q and Mark, on the one hand, and Matthew on the other, that Gundry makes so much of, and if they agreed with Gundry (!) that these amounted to unresolvable contradictions or tensions in emphasis (all big ifs), why would they have assumed that Matthew was writing ahistorically or getting his historical facts wrong rather than, say, Mark?

Interestingly, Moo is under the impression that classifying the Gospels as "bioi" (an idea that was already in the wind in the early 1980s) would have a very different effect from Gundry's "midrashing" of Matthew. But as we have seen, Licona and others end up doing something quite similar with "bioi" that Gundry did with "midrash." Moreover, once you accept fictionalization on the part of an author, there is no reason not to bring in "midrash" as well when one feels like it, as Licona does in the case of the infancy narratives. I note, too, that Gundry evidently thought that Luke's infancy narrative was intended to be historical and that only Matthew was wildly fictionalizing. So the shepherds were intended to be historical, but the Wise Men were a "midrashic" gloss on the shepherds. The turtledoves were intended to be historical, and the slaughter of the innocents (you can't make this stuff up) a "midrash" on the doves. This disparate treatment of Luke and Matthew, as Moo points out, is an unstable compromise, since NT critics claim to find contradictions between Luke and Mark as well at various points and since Luke's infancy narrative is also unique to his Gospel. It would have been nice if the response were to go back and throw out the ridiculous idea that Matthew wrote his infancy narrative without literal intention, but as is so often the case, later scholars resolve the inconsistency by going farther in the wrong direction. Hence, Licona thinks that the non-overlapping material in both Luke and Matthew may be made-up, non-historical "midrash."

New Licona post: Over-reading

I have a new post up on Licona examples. This one concerns over-reading connected with chronology. It's a theme that comes up repeatedly that those who want to argue against harmonizations will insist that an author is implying a chronology, while traditional harmonizers will often argue that an author isn't implying a chronology at all. If anything, if we're concerned about anachronism, the "bias" here concerning the Gospels should go toward the traditional harmonizers, since ancient authors did more writing than we do in which they were just narrating things that occurred close to one another in time without implying that the narrative order, often connected by non-committal words like kai for "and," is the chronological order. As I have often said, it is particularly ironic that those who are pressing for us to "understand the conventions of the time" seem so anachronistically rigid in insisting that chronological order is present in passages. This does not solve all apparent discrepancies. I myself don't think it solves some of the apparent discrepancies between Matthew and Mark concerning the chronology of Passion Week, for example. But it solves a fair number of them concerning chronology. Why, then, does Licona so seldom avail himself of this explanation?

Friday, November 03, 2017

Next Licona post: Fictions only need apply

My next post on Licona's gospel examples went live today at W4. It is called "Fictions Only Need Apply." Here I examine places where there is at least a minor alleged discrepancy in the Gospels but where Licona unwarrantedly restricts himself to fictionalization theories--sometimes more minor deliberate changes and sometimes rather major. One of the most striking of these is the possibility that John "relocated" the first appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene and that she really first saw him with the other women when leaving the tomb. It is possible that Licona doesn't realize what this would mean, but by the logic of the story, it would have to mean that John invented the entire scene in the garden of the tomb between Jesus and Mary Magdalene--a very important resurrection appearance scene. Here Licona simply leaves up in the air whether Matthew or John "relocated" the first appearance to Mary Magdalene, so he cannot even say (as he does in the case of John's wholesale invention of Doubting Thomas) that he concludes that some other theory is "more probable."

In this post I also mention a place where Licona suggests (per Craig Evans and Joel Marcus, he states) that Matthew may have made up the involvement of the mother of James and John in asking that they may sit on his right and left hand. The motive? To cast James and John in a better light. Here Licona does conclude that a different (fiction) theory is more probable--namely, that Mark deliberately air-brushed out the mother's involvement and transferred her words to James and John's mouths. But these are the two theories he treats as "finalists." Of course, Matthew's making up the mother would work to cast James and John in a better light only if the perceptions of the audience were manipulated to believe that the mother was really involved when she was not. Does this not go to show that, contra Licona's and his followers' repeated insistence, such "devices" really do involve misleading readers about what happened?

These are just highlights of the most recent post. My current plan is that there will be four more posts in the series. The next (already mostly written) will be on places where Licona over-reads the Gospels with respect to chronology. (That one will use a fair bit of Greek!) The one after that will be (on the current plan) a theological digression on the relationship of history to theological significance. After that will come another post on over-readings. The last post will concern some miscellaneous examples that I wanted to discuss but couldn't fit in elsewhere. In that last post I also plan to emphasize that I am not claiming that all of the examples Licona discusses can be readily resolved by harmonization but that difficulties in harmonization, even places where one cannot see a good harmonization at all, do not make a good case for fictionalizing literary devices. This, of course, has been a theme of all of my writing on Licona's work.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

New post at W4 on Gospel examples in Licona

I have a new post up at What's Wrong With the World on some of Michael Licona's examples in the Gospels. Again, as always, this is not a personal attack but rather a scholarly dispute. If you are interested in these matters and have been inclined to think that Dr. Licona's work is well-supported, I urge you to follow this series and actually read the posts, or at least parts of them if you find the whole posts too long. Don't take someone else's word for what I'm doing. There is another post in the pipeline right now. The latest one concerns places where there is not even an apparent discrepancy between Gospels and where Licona conjectures a fictionalization anyway. These are what I call utterly unforced errors.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

All is not well in Russia

We pause in our usual programing to bring you this blast from the Soviet past: Russian government frames dissidents to punish for embarrassing revelations.

In case you were wondering what to do the next time you meet a Russophile "conservative" who tells you how great Vladimir Putin is, the answer is

back away slowly and then run.

Update (10/31): As I was saying.

Monday, October 09, 2017

On Roman history "literary devices"

I have a new, long post at W4 on some examples discussed by Mike Licona from Plutarch and one from Tacitus. I know it's long, and some readers may prefer to sample it rather than reading the whole thing, which is entirely understandable. It's interesting that it takes far fewer words to claim that there is a discrepancy and a fictionalizing "literary device" than to respond to such a claim.

I will be somewhat curious to see whether Licona or someone else on his behalf attempts to respond to the substance of the post, offering specific answers to the arguments made.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Rob Bowman on the "I Am" sayings

Here is an excellent contribution on the historicity of the "I Am" sayings by Rob Bowman. I would especially draw attention to reasons 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 9 in rebuttal to doubts about the historicity of these parts of John. Some of these I had not thought of explicitly before, particularly reasons 3 and 4.

I have only two caveats, which should not be allowed to obscure the many interesting arguments. I myself would not make a hat-tip to Richard Burridge, or to the supposed discovery that the gospels "are Greco-Roman bioi." I have serious doubts about the strength of the arguments for that thesis.

Second, while I very much appreciate Rob's attempt to distinguish a legitimate from a "too loose" sense of the phrase "ipsissima vox" in New Testament studies, I'm inclined to think that the phrase is an unnecessary technical term and is now causing more confusion than enlightenment. Indeed, in the hands of Craig Evans it is being used as a vehicle for a false dichotomy--either you don't allow for the possibility that, say, Jesus' words were originally uttered in Aramaic and hence not in Greek as in the Gospels, that they had to be translated, or you think that some saying attributed to Jesus might well have never been uttered by him in anything like the form we find it, that the form we find it is a mere elaborative exposition upon some completely different incident as found in the synoptics. If the former is "ipsissima verba" and the latter is taken to be "ipsissima vox," then this is obviously using "ipsissima vox" in what Rob rightly calls a "too loose" sense. But that sense appears to be increasingly common even in evangelical New Testament studies, which means that the phrase carries a false air of technical precision while actually being radically ambiguous. So we might as well do without it. But that's just my opinion on a terminological issue.

Lots of good arguments here, so enjoy the piece.