N.T.WRONG

Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

Q Was a Woman

Posted by NT Wrong on October 18, 2008

There are many factors in Q, a source for both Matthew and Luke, which point in the same direction:

    Why such an interest in the female God, the divine Sophia?

    Why is woman’s domestic work accorded equality with a man’s work (Luke 13.20-21; 12.26-27; 17.25)?

    Why is there such an interest in the salvation of women (Luke 17.35)?

    Why is Q so interested in protecting women from remarriage and divorce (Luke 16.16-18; 17.27)?

    Why the interest in flowers and in heralding all that blooms (Luke 12.27-28; 6.43-45)?

    Why is Q interested in itinerant prophets, given the prominent role of women as prophetesses in the earliest church (Luke 10.2ff; Luise Schottroff, ‘Itinerant Prophetesses’)?

    Why does Q remember so many words of Jesus containing domestic elements — salt that has lost its savour (Luke 14.34-35); children (10.21-24); lamps (11.33-35); washing cups (11.39-44); mixing flour until leavened (13.21)?

    Why does Q have such an interest in purses? eg “Make purses for yourselves” (Luke 12.33; cf. 10.4)?

Surely the answer must be: Q was a woman.

And if so, given the early date of Q (ca. AD 50), would we not expect a woman at the centre of Jesus’ circle of followers? Yes, Q was — in all probability — Mary Magdalene.

The earliest known Gospel was written by a woman. To those who protest that this is just a hypothesis, I ask: Why should we add to the centuries of suppression by male Evangelists of this Woman’s Gospel, penned by the foremost of the apostles who tradition records arrived first at the tomb? No, the Gospel of Mary, Q, must be given its rightful attribution — to the first of the Evangelists, a woman.

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71 Responses to “Q Was a Woman”

  1. Damian said

    I love it. My initial thought, though, is that in those days I doubt that domestic chores etc. were actually tended to solely by women. It would have been a family affair. the other objection would be the ability of Mary (a prostitute) to write. But, hey, I still like it. I’ll enjoy the forthcoming discussion :).

  2. john shuck said

    Q a woman? Possibly. More likely Q was gay and therefore is the disciple whom Jesus loved.

  3. ntwrong said

    Hmmmm… makes sense in light of Q’s interest in Solomon’s fashion-sense (Q 12.27).

  4. ntwrong said

    Damian – I think the private/public split is still more associated with the woman/man split – although you’re right to point out that men were involved domestically as well – none of these binaries work absolutely, which is why deconstruction always works.

    The prostitute thing is a later tradition, conflating Perfume-Girl with Mary. And there’s no reason why Mary couldn’t write if some fishermen did, or come across an eager literate convert who acted amanuensis.

    The more I think about it, the more plausible it seems. Did Jane Schaberg already suggest it? I bet somebody has.

  5. Damian said

    Very good point about fishermen. Like I said, I do like this. I think it makes a lot of sense. I’ve never heard the suggestion before, even though it seems an obvious one.

  6. steph said

    now this really is a house built on sand, a castle in the air, a fairy tale, a floating bubble and Father Christmas isn’t real either. But it’s a good story. 🙂

  7. ntwrong said

    Steph – Bah! The anti-Q brigade (and their cousins the anti-J brigade) are crypto-positivists.

    Q existed, and she was a woman!

  8. steph said

    There were several baby kews in Aramaic and Greek, and maybe several oral baby kews. Considering the kews contain the majority of sayings attributed to Jesus (if not all as singly attested kews cannot be discounted nor sayings in the passion narrative) it is not surprising that Jesus’ interest in women and female roles is reflected in the kews. Sometimes this interest is in fact just Luke’s. Matthew was a male chauvanist.

    “Q” a single written Greek document is a profitable scholarly convenience and does not reflect historical reality.

    That “Q” was a woman will make you a fortune and maybe a movie 🙂

  9. Damian said

    C’mon Steph. You must know that, considering the similarities in the Gospels, a Q document is a fair conclusion, and explains the unity better than a diverse collection of oral and written documents.

  10. steph said

    You must be joking Damian – or seriously deluded. The “Q” hypothesis has so many flaws it takes nearly half my thesis to identify the major ones. A chaotic hypothesis is able to be demonstrated precisely because of the difference and variations between those ‘similarities’ in synoptic gospels.

    For example, Kloppenborg does not demonstrate the existence of the single Greek document that he advocates. He merely has two assumptions. The first assumption is that once the double tradition is extrapolated from Matthew and Luke, one can demonstrate that it has thematic coherence and organisation. This assumption depends on a compromise: if some material from the double tradition does not fit so well, it is still “preferable to assume that it represents a single document”. The second assumption is that the order is common in a significant proportion of “Q”. This assumption relies on the same compromise: if some material from the double tradition isn’t part of the “significant proportion of Q” sharing common order, it is still preferable to assume that it fits into a single document.

    While Kloppenborg argues that complex hypotheses are more difficult to demonstrate he concedes that parsimony does not reflect historical reality.

    See Maurice Casey ‘An Aramaic Approach to ‘Q” for some initial work on the chaotic hypothesis.

  11. ntwrong said

    You’ve given me a thought Steph (and not for the first time).

    I wonder if the female author of Q is more easily detected in the earlier redactions of Q, than in the later redactions? And, guessing this may be so (or rather assuming it), I wonder if this shows an anti-female faction within the later Community of Q? I detect a growing androcentrism, suppressing the early pro-female sayings.

    I suspect something in Kloppenborg may support this line of thought.

  12. ntwrong said

    Does Kloppenberg really concede that parsimony does not reflect historical reality? Where?

  13. Damian said

    I didn’t realise it was your thesis, Steph – obviously you’re more educated on the topic than I. But to my eyes it seemed plausible, and explanatory of some otherwise unexplained quirks. I’ll check out the paper (book?) by Casey when I have a chance.

    How do you explain the remarkable similarities that do exist if you think the gospels are based on a wider tradition? You have to at least concede multiple written texts that multiple gospel authors had access to? Or are you suggesting that any ‘Q’ document was in fact a compilatory document consisting of the records of a wider tradition?

  14. ntwrong said

    Here’s a quote from the beginning Maurice Casey’s book, to explain Steph’s remarks somewhat:

    “The present state of research into ‘Q’ varies from the chaotic to the bureaucratic. At the chaotic end of the spectrum, there is no agreement as to whether Q existed, nor as to what it was, if it did. At the bureaucratic end of the spectrum, an amorphous group of scholars have agreed that it was a Greek document. It was produced by a Q community, whose concerns can be worked out from it.”

    The same arguments are rehearsed in the debate over a pre-Priestly Pentateuch* (‘J’). Was J a document containing a continuous narrative, or is there only a collection of fragmentary texts behind the priestly redaction? Roughly Documentary Hypothesis = Casey’s Bureaucratic approach, and at the other end of the spectrum Fragmentary Hypothesis = Casey’s chaotic approach. I guess somewhere in the middle is a supplementary hypothesis.

    Am I making a bad comparison, Steph?

  15. steph said

    Maurice Casey has written several books.

    I really don’t understand your question. There were not ‘multiple gospel authors’. The parallels in the synoptics vary in verbal agreement and order. We have several mini kews, not several long kews. Sometimes Matthew and Luke even had different translations of the same mini kew. This is demonstratable on the basis of their agreements and variations. Some of their disagreements are explicable on the basis of a common Aramaic source, sometimes their agreements (and lack of dependence upon each other) demands a Greek source.

  16. steph said

    In theory no but in practice yes 🙂

  17. ntwrong said

    I err towards being overly theoretical.

  18. ntwrong said

    Anyway, what are you doing writing comments on this blog at this time? Shouldn’t you be in church?

  19. Damian said

    I meant ‘the different authors of the different gospels’, Steph, sorry for the misunderstanding.

    I think I understand your analogy, N.T.

    I have to ask, though, if the mini Q hypothesis explains more than the plain ‘Q’, why has the latter received so much more coverage?

  20. ntwrong said

    Hmmmmm…
    1. A simple one-document Q is easy to market than a more complex theory. We like simple explanations. We gravitate towards them.
    2. And it makes it the earliest Gospel, closer to the ‘historical Jesus’. (That’s the argument, anyway. Synoptic theories are always closely related to, and driven by, questions of historicity. The assumption is earlier is more genuine, later involves more legend-development by the Church. All this is questionable.)
    3. Anti-oral bias. (Might be right, though.)

  21. steph said

    That’s correct – “Q” scholars have successfully marketed an attractive myth. At the extreme, they’ve reconstructed a layered ‘text’ (the ‘manuscript’ lost, buried in the sands…) and hypothesised a “Q” community. We even have a de-apocalypticised Jesus, a cynic like peasant. It’s all very congenial to 20th and 21st century ideals. (That the earliest layer is historical and later layers development of the church, is disputed by “Q” advocates – even Klopp concedes literary history does not reflect tradition history in theory although in practice he still omits the ‘later layer’ (apocalyptic) from the historical Jesus).

    There really would be a market for “Q” authored by a woman. That would appeal to many I’m sure. Easy to understand, romantic, stuff for a full feature film. 🙂

  22. steph said

    shouldn’t who be in church?

  23. Damian said

    Steph, how does a Q document/community de-apocalypticise Jesus? I don’t really understand how that works. By this do you mean that initially there was no apocalyptic aspect to the Jesus ‘myth’ and it was added later, “post-Q” according to advocates?

    If so, then how does mini-Q differ in the possibility of apocalyptic layers of being added onto historical ones?

  24. ntwrong said

    Damian – in some of the reconstructions of the Q community, including Kloppenborg’s, the earlier (and thus more historical and authentic) material is believed to have a ‘wisdom’, yet non-apocalyptic, flavour. By contrast, the later additions by the Q community, and the later accretions to Q, are thought to add apocalyptic sayings. On this account, the historical Jesus was a sage, not interested in the end-times.

    This is an untenable position, and has been ever since Albie Schweitzer wrote ‘Quest Of The Historical Jesus’ nearly 100 years ago and exposed the navel-gazing nineteenth-century liberal hippies.

    Now, of course, we also have the Dead Sea scrolls, which show how wisdom and apocalyptic are completely tied up together.

  25. steph said

    Thanks – I was busy in church.

    (I think you mean ‘flavour’ not ‘favour’)

  26. ntwrong said

    I thought that was where you were.

    (Thanks. WordPress has given me the power to edit comments, now.)

  27. If you haven’t already, have a look at Amy-Jill Levine, “Who’s Catering the Q Affair? Feminist Observations on Q Paraenesis”, Semeia 50 (1990): 145-61

  28. steph said

    🙂

  29. ntwrong said

    Thanks for the reference, Mark. I’ll take a look (I haven’t read it).

  30. Damian said

    Thanks for explaining this to me, guys – I appreciate it. It’s always to learn you’re mistaken, and that there’s a better answer out there.

  31. Tom Verenna said

    Are we forgetting that Q itself is not only hypothetical (all-too hypothetical) and much (if not all) of the verses attributed to Q have a history going back at least as far as the Torah traditions (Thomas L. Thompson argues that the traditions extend to a period even earlier).

    It is easy to promote the idea that Q was a woman (the same way some scholars hypothesize the woman-author/redactor in the Gospel Luke). But lest we forget that ultimately we are talking about fictional characters (i.e. Luke takes Mary Magdalene from Mark, who invents the character out of thin air at the end of the Gospel, and uses the character to fill a specific role at the end).

    To assume Jesus was Gay (aside from assuming historicity) may be a far stretch and ignores the literary functions of the disciples and of Jesus’ role in the narrative. We can debate for ages upon the authenticity of The Secret Gospel of Mark, but it has mysteriously vanished and the Scholar who found it is no longer alive. (Not to mention the whole notion that Clement was a historical church father as opposed to a pseudonymous personae is just downright silly on the part of the scholar who decided the secret Gospel redactor was Clement!)

    But who am I to stand in the way of new ideas? The conclusion is not impossible, even if I feel it to be improbable. Interesting, indeed!

  32. ntwrong said

    Tom – We’re not ‘forgetting’ that Q is hypothetical. Its hypothetical nature is very much at the forefront of discussions in the responses here. The question about Q being a woman is a ‘what if’ built upon at least half a dozen major ‘what ifs’ or prior assumptions.

    But this is not to say that a continuous written source for most, or all, of the double tradition (Q) is not a serious option. I still think it has legs. (However, Steph and Mark don’t, and they’re specialists in the field.) The various options have been around for a while, and the current trend is against large reconstruction of sources and somewhat against written sources in favour of oral traditions. I tend to think there’s a better case for both larger and written traditions. But the defenders of this position have made some hairy arguments for them in the past, which is why they’re getting taken apart at present.

    I also consider there was a historical Jesus who claimed to be the Enochic Son of Man, and ranted about God’s Judgment and the end times in Galilee and Judea, and was probably killed by the Romans in Jerusalem. There’s also a lot of fictional elements — but there’s a lot of fictional elements in the tales told about most ancient historic figures, so that’s not enough in itself to discount a historic figure. In the end, the better and most economic explanation of all the various traditions about ‘Jesus’ seems to be that he existed and started a movement(/s). The same variance of traditions about Mary Magdalene supports her historicity, although there’s admittedly less to go on there. Jane Schaberg’s book The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene sets out the various Mary traditions nicely.

    Saying that, maybe you can make a more convincing case for Jesus being a complete fiction?

  33. Tom Verenna said

    Kudo’s on your interpretations of Q. I’m not so convinced about its existence, and actually Dennis MacDonald is working on a book right now where he is going to prove (per MacDonald) that Q is derived directly from Deuteronomy. I am excited to see the study myself (If I were a bit more buddy-buddy, I wonder if he would be willing to send me a pre-published version, but at least now, I can only wait for it to come out).

    Your Enochic Son of Man Jesus is, while interesting and refreshingly original (at least I don’t recall anybody else submitting this conclusion) to me, no different than one of the hundreds of different historical Jesus’ proposed by various historical Jesus proponents. I would bet (as a point of fact) that you probably had to fraction the Gospel narrative (under the assumption that the Gospels represent ancient biography perhaps?) and cherry picked out the verses which paint Jesus as your Enochic version while ignoring the rest? If I am wrong (and that can be the case here), I would like to know your methods at determining this Jesus over the others proposed over the past 300 years. How did you determine which is fiction and which isn’t? How did you decide which belonged to narrative and what part the narrative was built around?

    You say, “but there’s a lot of fictional elements in the tales told about most ancient historic figures” but you ignore (not intentionally, I presume) the hundreds of fictional stories and tales told about hundreds of fictional characters–and this is not foreign to Judaism. The entire Torah is a fictional story based around fictional elements. Can’t forget Joshua, Judges, the two Kings, two Samuels, etc… just from the canon. Pseudepigrapha expand these traditions (can anybody say extracanonical Gospel traditions expanding upon the legends formulated in the Pauline corpus and the now-canonical Gospel accounts and Acts). 2-4 Maccabees are fictional stories about fictional characters (even written in the style of history). Tobit, Judith, again using fictional characters to create whole narratives.

    Josephus and Philo are just as guilty. Josephus creates a whole scene where (using Judith as a model perhaps) has Alexander the Great so infuriated that the Jews ignored his call to aid in the fight against the Persians he marches on Jerusalem. The high priest in the story (whose name means “knowledge”) seems to be appropriately placed being as he receives from god the Knowledge to not only save Jerusalem but procure a future with rights and honors among the Greeks. Philo as well, created fictional scenes of prejudice that seem more like propaganda than historical events.

    Do these stories contain Historical elements? Yes. In fact in all of these cases (the Gospels, canonical or otherwise, also included) are fictional stories with some (even very few) historical elements intertwined. (The Gospels contain historical locations, not many, but some, and historical people get mentioned like Herod, Tiberius and Pilate, but as far as that–nothing else verifiable)

    I would not make an argument from silence, nor would I suggest that just because the Gospels are fiction that Jesus never existed. You would be wrong in assuming that. And, there is not one particular reason why I feel Jesus never existed historically. There are hundreds of small reasons that when looked at cumulatively they build a very strong case for ahistoricity. To get into everything here would take up more time and room than you would probably permit me to ramble on about. I would request that, if you’d like to hear my perspective, you lay out your reasons for a historical Jesus in a new blog, and I would respectfully reply. A discussion seems more suitable for discerning perspective than having me simply lay out my interpretation point by point.

  34. steph said

    Tom says “Are we forgetting that Q itself is not only hypothetical (all-too hypothetical) and much (if not all) of the verses attributed to Q have a history going back at least as far as the Torah traditions”

    It’s hardly surprising that some (“all”?!!) of “Q” reflects ideas of the Torah when Jesus was a Jew depicted in the gospels as telling Jews to come back to God (the likely Aramaic root of metanoia).

    And Wrong, a single written Greek document source has no legs. The differences between the minor agreements suggest otherwise! 🙂

  35. Tom Verenna said

    Steph, you say that the reason why Q reflects ideas of the Torah is because “Jesus was a Jew depicted in the gospels as telling Jews to come back to God”, but that’s a circular argument. Q represents Jesus because Jesus was a Jew, and Jews wrote Q about Jesus. Jesus is a Jew because the Gospel says Jesus was a Jew and taught about the Jewish God, we know this because the Gospels say Jesus is a Jew and taught about the Jewish God.

    It is easy to get lost in all the hundreds of years of scholars, one after another, presupposing a historical Jesus (in the same way some have presupposed a historical Homer or a historical Odysseus), and take for granted this assumption. I suspect that if one considers their perspective on a historical Jesus from a position of critical and literary analysis (in the same way we can critically look at Tobit and know its a fiction) they would come to another conclusion than the one you just drew. That is not to say you are not critical, conversely you’re probably quite critical and astute – but as so many historical Jesus scholars and Q scholars come from the second historical Jesus quest school of thought, it is easy (I know from personal experience–unfortunately) to just trust the consensus without examining the questions.

  36. steph said

    Yup, I’m presupposing Jesus is real and the way the earliest sources depict him fits the historical context quite well. Thank you for your condescending lesson. I’m about as good as talking to fundamentalists as I am to mythicists. I’ll just have to burrow away in my circular world with like minded people lost in centuries of bad scholarship.

  37. Tom Verenna said

    I’m sorry, I didn’t think that came off as condescending, and if it did I apologize. But you are making a lot of baseless claims and assertions and not backing up any of them. How can you say he hits the historical context? Based on what? The Gospels? That would be circular. Suggesting he fits the context of what earliest sources?

    You don’t think scholarship was poor fifty years ago? One hundred years ago? You would trust scholarship from Bultmann today?

  38. ntwrong said

    Steph:
    a single written Greek document source has no legs. The differences between the minor agreements suggest otherwise!

    Go on – give me your best example.

  39. steph said

    Yup, baseless claims – bit like yours. Jesus is legendary so therefore all traditions are mythological.

    Oh I learned alot from Albert Schweizer. I learned alot from Geza Vermes. I’ve learned alot from alot of scholars. I learned alot from NT Wright. I learned how evangelicals make their claims and do history. I also learned from Wrightsaid, his on line fanclub. What a phenomenon.

  40. steph said

    Q 11.39-51 and the Aramaic behind that. Sorry I’ve lost enthusiasm for this post. I have a horrid taste in my mouth. I forgot that it wasn’t only apologists who made me hate this discipline.

  41. Tom Verenna said

    First, Steph, so far you have ad hoc’d me (where did I ever say all traditions are mythological?) and dodged my questions. I’m annoyed by that. After you finish ad hom’ing me (likening me to an apologist and a fundamentalist? How often do they ask for evidence and are willing to adjust their opinions based on it?) and running off to your safe place (Apparently its your soap box) would you please come back and support your claims?

    I’m not asking you to saw off your arm and leg. I’m not criticizing *you*. I’m asking you for evidence.

  42. ntwrong said

    Tom –

    Jesus’ self-description as ‘the Son of Man’ is considered by most NT scholars to be central to the tradition, not a later invention. All I am doing is interpreting his self-description in light of a work written some 50 years before Jesus was active, and so which is the most relevant source for understanding the title. There’s many who’d generally agree. And lack of precise agreement on the nature of Jesus might just be due to the passing of time since then; it is not evidence of the nature of the material itself.

    Identifying hard-and-fast rules for ruling some sayings of Jesus authentic and others fictional is impossible at this juncture. And I don’t think it’s necessary. If you’re making a strict logical argument, you might have to go down this path, but it’s just not the right way to proceed. Instead, I’d recommend an abductive approach: what makes the best explanation of the data we have? We’ve got multiple traditions about Jesus, within a few decades of his death, often at odds with each other, but also with some general agreements. We’ve also got a movement(/s) which claims to be formed by Jesus, claims blood relations with Jesus, and claims firsthand knowledge of Jesus. These are odd claims for a purely legendary Jesus, and I haven’t been persuaded by any ‘parallels’ drawn from legends. You’ve either got to do a lot of explaining away of this data, or apply a too-strict rule of exclusion of data, in order to avoid the conclusion that there is some historical Jesus behind all of this.

    Ancient historiography and mythography tended to be completely fictional when dealing with events in the remote past, but not so when dealing with events in the immediately prior 0-100 years. The more recent historiography included a lot of fictional elements, sure, but a completely fictional work would be odd. This is the general pattern from Herodotus and Thucydides onwards. The Gospels aren’t straight ‘history’ or ‘biography’ — they’re preaching in a biographic form — but I see them as following the general rule in Herodotus, etc.

    This, by the way, explains why there’s barely anything historical in the Old Testament from Genesis to Kings — and only minimally towards the end.

  43. steph said

    ps your eminence, I don’t really have a ‘best example’ – it’s the combination of examples and the chaotic model that are the arguement. Single examples don’t do the model justice.

    as for evidence, I have no wax tablets from the first century. They don’t last apparently. I can only hypothesise and suggest what is historically plausible.

  44. steph said

    argument…

  45. NT,
    Thanks for responding so kindly to me. You said a lot so I’m going to have to break it down a little.
    ” Tom –
    Jesus’ self-description as ‘the Son of Man’ is considered by most NT scholars to be central to the tradition, not a later invention.”

    I don’t think it was an invention either. It was an interpretation of prophetic statements made in the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible by the authors. Particularly Ezekiel and Daniel.
    All I am doing is interpreting his self-description in light of a work written some 50 years before Jesus was active, and so which is the most relevant source for understanding the title.
    I can understand that. But you assume a self-description, unless you have some extrabiblical source?
    There’s many who’d generally agree.
    I have no doubt that my position is controversial and a minority. But, so was Thomas L. Thompson’s and John Van Seter’s at one point. Scholarship has to continually reevaluate itself. It cannot just be content with “everyone agrees = right”. Just imagine if other sciences accepted this premise? And, history is a science. Not exact, of course, but it does follow mathematical formulas, like Baysian Theory.
    And lack of precise agreement on the nature of Jesus might just be due to the passing of time since then; it is not evidence of the nature of the material itself.
    I would surmise that there are so many interpretations of the data precisely because of the reason which you so eagerly dismiss below:
    Identifying hard-and-fast rules for ruling some sayings of Jesus authentic and others fictional is impossible at this juncture. And I don’t think it’s necessary.
    By what means do you interpret the data then? If you go by only the “son of Man” that does not lead to helpful suggestions. Clearly an author could have attributed that title to their Jesus. I find it interesting that this self-designation only appears in literature that is clearly deriving it from scripture (Revelations, Hebrews–it appears only once here in relation to scripture interpretation–once in Acts) but it appears nowhere in Paul., our earliest attested source of Christianity.
    If you’re making a strict logical argument, you might have to go down this path, but it’s just not the right way to proceed.
    I am not suggesting one stick rigorously to logical argument, as in these matters it is difficult to make a syllogism with what little evidence is available.
    Instead, I’d recommend an abductive approach: what makes the best explanation of the data we have?
    I agree, and this is exactly my approach as well. I have just not taken anything for granted which has led me to a different conclusion than you have. I have no problems with the perspective that Jesus exists historically, as I am trying to be honest and of course such a possibility exists. But, the question for you would be: Does this possibility seem more probable or less probable when you stop accepting the presuppositions that have been forced on Biblical exegesis students and educators for three hundred years?
    We’ve got multiple traditions about Jesus, within a few decades of his death, often at odds with each other, but also with some general agreements.
    Aside from the fact that you are presupposing a “death” (it is only through Gospel attestation that you have knowledge of a death and only through Acts that you have knowledge of a “movement” after death–you are using text to validate text), would you be willing to admit that multiple traditions exist of Moses, Elijah, Enoch, and Abraham as well, and these traditions too can conflict. Does that make these traditions more reliable or could it not also mean that people, very interested in the original legend, built upon it?
    We’ve also got a movement(/s) which claims to be formed by Jesus, claims blood relations with Jesus, and claims firsthand knowledge of Jesus
    I’ve never read anywhere in any early attestation of a ‘blood relation’ with Jesus. Second; our earliest attestation to the Christian tradition comes from Paul who claims he follows Jesus through revelation alone. And, he disagrees (calling Peter and the Jerusalem church hypocrites ever) with those who later are recorded by Gospel tradition as being witnesses to a historical tradition. This is rather problematic, don’t you think?
    These are odd claims for a purely legendary Jesus, and I haven’t been persuaded by any ‘parallels’ drawn from legends.
    I suppose you have not read my Mythicism, Minimalism and its Detractors article? I do not hold to them either. I am not a conspiracy theorist. I do, however, accept Erich Gruen’s position, along with Philip Davies and Thomas L. Thompson, that the Jews were adept at creating their past and Christians seem just as adept at it. They created their past strictly from their own traditions, whether they be Hellenized traditions or reinvented or newly interpreted ones, that is why Judaism in the first century CE was so diverse, numbering upwards (and probably more than) some 30 sects!
    You’ve either got to do a lot of explaining away of this data, or apply a too-strict rule of exclusion of data, in order to avoid the conclusion that there is some historical Jesus behind all of this
    I have no problems at all explaining my conclusions and interpretation of the data. Would you be willing to give me an example of something from the text which you feel is unexplainable from what you consider to be my position?
    Ancient historiography and mythography tended to be completely fictional when dealing with events in the remote past, but not so when dealing with events in the immediately prior 0-100 years.
    I would be (mostly) inclined to agree if we were talking about historiography. You are assuming Genre, which you cannot do if you ignore the intricacies of which is fiction and what is fact within the narrative – you have no way to determine Genre otherwise. So before really critiquing this part of your conclusion, I would need you to explain how you derived the idea that the Gospels represent historiography? Or are you just assuming that too?
    The more recent historiography included a lot of fictional elements, sure, but a completely fictional work would be odd. This is the general pattern from Herodotus and Thucydides onwards. The Gospels aren’t straight ‘history’ or ‘biography’ — they’re preaching in a biographic form — but I see them as following the general rule in Herodotus, etc.
    I disagree and recent studies by Mary Ann Tolbert and Michael E. Vines, Dennis R. MacDonald and Thomas L. Thompson dispute the position (most recently suggested by Charles Talbert), which (ironically) has only been enforced over the past few decades by a large amount of Evangelicals.
    This, by the way, explains why there’s barely anything historical in the Old Testament from Genesis to Kings — and only minimally towards the end.
    Again, how can you make this statement when you don’t care to evaluate which parts are historical and which parts are fact? It seems (please correct me if I am wrong) that you are merely taking for granted what other scholars have said; you obviously realize the problems with this, but why you won’t follow through with your conclusions (in regards to assuming Genre/historiography) is puzzling.

  46. ntwrong said

    Steph wrote:
    I don’t really have a ‘best example’ – it’s the combination of examples and the chaotic model that are the arguement. Single examples don’t do the model justice.

    I can appreciate that. “Inference to the Best Explanation’ is the only method that does justice to ancient texts.

  47. How about reading them and appreciating what the author intended?

  48. ntwrong said

    Tom –

    If you make the rule of evidence for ancient literature that it must be confirmed by an external source in order to be historical, that’s a very high bar to get over. It has the consequence of eliminating a great deal of historical material along with nonhistorical material. Rather than approaching the Son of Man sayings (or any other Jesus sayings) on a one-by-one basis, my method would be to assess the internal likelihood of these sayings being genuine against the full context of the Gospels, other Christian documents, the social phenomenon of the early Church, etc. The abductive method does not care if we can’t identify which precise parts are historical or not, or what was the historical core of Jesus’ message, etc. Even though we may lack corroborating evidence for Jesus-material, such a method does not conclude the material is pure fiction like a logical positivist would. It also doesn’t precede from “assumptions”, as you keep repeating, but from an attempt to make the best sense of the available evidence. In abduction I make no assumptions I can’t support. But that doesn’t mean I should test each and every bit of data against a positivist standard.

    When I said there’s many who generally agree about the Son of Man, I wasn’t making any appeal to the current state of scholarship. You misunderstood the point I was making. I was just contradicting your statement that it was “interesting and refreshingly original (at least I don’t recall anybody else submitting this conclusion)”. I don’t feel forced to accept any particular “presuppositions”, but want to test each and any conclusion according to the best explanation of the data. I want to test the historicity of Jesus. And I do. Nothing is “unexplainable” under your theory that Jesus did not exist, but it is not the “best explanation”.

    In terms of Genre, Mark (as the first Gospel) is a mixture of biography (a subset of historiography, tending towards the inclusion of more legendary material) and preaching. This is determined by comparison with all other texts. It doesn’t read like any mythography I know. I agree if you can’t see anything historiographic about the Gospels, then it is logical for you not to accept its attempt to include some degree of historical content. But I can’t see how you can read Mark as entirely different from broadly contemporary works with historiographic content. Mark is more a Pausanias than a Thucydides. But he’s not writing a legend narrative.

    When making an inference to the best explanation, I compare various hypotheses which I am aware of or have formulated myself. Looking at the data in its entirety, I wonder whether it is best explained by a historical figure who at least had a few minimum characteristics of the Jesus of the Gospels, Paul’s letters, other early Christian literature such as the Ascension of Isaiah or Revelation. It doesn’t much matter what these are precisely, but a person claiming to be an Enochic Son of Man, from Galilee, named Jesus, dying in Jerusalem, is a good set of characteristics. The ‘Son of Man’ title doesn’t make much sense to non-Aramaic speakers, but is always replaced with other images of supremely powerful divine intermediaries — so it is a constant in the literature. The (contradictory) apologetics by Matthew and Luke for Jesus’ Davidic birth, while coming from Galilee, is best explained by a problem with a historical Galilean figure’s Galilean birth. The prevalence of the death in Jerusalem tradition, together with the succession of Jesus’ two brothers at the head of the early church, makes that most probable. There is no good reason to prefer a merely legendary origin for the name Jesus. The most economical explanation for data such as this (and another group of data could suffice) is that there was a real historical Jesus behind the traditions about him.

    Much of the variations in historical Jesuses stems not from historical attempts to reconstruct him, but from pious attempts to rescue Jesus from end-time apocalyptic lunacy (nineteenth century liberalism, the Jesus Seminar), or from other first-century Jewish traits not presently in fashion — for believers. Believers who can no longer believe the orthodox creeds, but still desperately want to cling onto some form of Jesus. It is these believers who have written the historical Jesus accounts from the beginning, not mere historians. It is Christians and Jews who have mostly been interested in the historical Jesus. Given the distance of time since AD30, and the propensity of people to fill that gap with their own desires, and the coincidence of historically reconstructed Jesuses with the times in which they are posited, the variances we find are fully explained without having to suggest that the sources are entirely fictional.

  49. ntwrong said

    Can you suggest an ancient legend-text which is, when taken as a whole, comparable in genre to the Gospel of Mark?

    To me, Mark is comparable to bad historiography (Pausanias, etc). But if you find a purely legendary text without any historical content, I might be persuaded otherwise. If you give me more than one, that’d be good, too. Half a dozen would be swell. Not just bits of texts, mind you. Whole works.

  50. john shuck said

    “Believers who can no longer believe the orthodox creeds, but still desperately want to cling onto some form of Jesus.”

    I guess I have been one of those.

    This was a very helpful post, especially this last long comment, N.T., for those of us lurking. I find myself spinning around on this.

  51. Tom Verenna said

    Tom –
    If you make the rule of evidence for ancient literature that it must be confirmed by an external source in order to be historical, that’s a very high bar to get over.

    That is not my position at all. I’m well aware of the limitations with texts. What I am asking you to do is not apply special-pleading arguments to one particular type of literature over another. You are not (or maybe you have, and if so please present your case for it) examining the larger picture with literature in antiquity. You are accepting the Gospel genre are mainly historiography (or at least, you would assert the authors were intending to write from historical memories/traditions) without considering the overall literary milieu of Jews in the Hellenistic, Roman and the so-called Second Sophistic periods.
    It has the consequence of eliminating a great deal of historical material along with nonhistorical material.
    Of course it would! I agree completely. Perhaps I was not clear in representing my argument. I will expand on anything you wish me too.
    Rather than approaching the Son of Man sayings (or any other Jesus sayings) on a one-by-one basis, my method would be to assess the internal likelihood of these sayings being genuine against the full context of the Gospels, other Christian documents, the social phenomenon of the early Church, etc.
    Indeed I have. Why stop at just Christian literature though? Why ignore so many Jewish pseudepigrapha and Jewish literature during these periods? Christians are not separate from these traditions – they’re apart of these traditions. Keep in mind, the Christian scholar and the Jewish scholar had to attend the exact same type of schooling in Roman Period gymnasiums. There is no separate education system for Jews/Christians/Romans/Greeks – all received the same type of education, including being versed in all types of languages and literature in antiquity. Perhaps I’m taking for granted your knowledge of the methods of composition of ancient literature and the education system these Gospel authors would have had to go through?
    The abductive method does not care if we can’t identify which precise parts are historical or not, or what was the historical core of Jesus’ message, etc. Even though we may lack corroborating evidence for Jesus-material, such a method does not conclude the material is pure fiction like a logical positivist would.
    I appreciate you considering me a logical positivist (perhaps I am), but I am also very well versed in historical methodology. The problem is, however, that modern methods of historical research do not take into account the literary criticisms that are now understood, that weren’t previously. You cannot accurately determine anything in a text without first determining genre and context. Modern literary-critical studies have been more successful at Gospel exegesis than any historical Jesus study – precisely because it does not make the assumption of a historical Jesus.
    Perhaps I am not explaining the problems associated with your hypothesis. How old was Jesus when he (per you) was killed by the Romans? How did he die? Did he have a trial? Who represented him if he had a trial (remember law and decorum reigned supreme in Roman courts)? Which disciples are historical and which are fictionally created? Which texts do you ignore and which represent accurate history? (You can’t just assume the earliest traditions are the most accurate, as histories closest to the events described can be shown at times to be more fabricated than those done by later historians who were more thorough) The questions go on and on. And, unfortunately for you, by making one assumption, you have to make a dozen others in order for your “abductive method” to produce anything useful. It’s one assumption after another. And it never ends.
    By doing this, you have also fractured the text and are not reading it wholly. In your eyes, some author (4 actually, all anonymous, which is NOT typical of historiography nor biography in antiquity at all) sitting in a study somewhere had an outline of historical traditions and other models, and somehow weaved an entire story using both. How can you make that claim? Where does one stop assuming and start applying abductive reasoning to make such a determination? If you can’t, as you even suggest, be sure, how can you even claim that your “abductive method” is actually doing what you say its doing: That is, interpreting the available data. You are just going in blind and hoping that this method is doing what you want it to do.
    Also it doesn’t precede from “assumptions”, as you keep repeating, but from an attempt to make the best sense of the available evidence. In abduction I make no assumptions I can’t support. But that doesn’t mean I should test each and every bit of data against a positivist standard.
    But if you are making a claim without supporting evidence, you cannot very well be “[attempting] to make the best sense of the available evidence” as such evidence cannot exist and by your own admittance. If accepting a premise without supporting evidence is not an assumption, would you please provide a better word?
    When I said there’s many who generally agree about the Son of Man, I wasn’t making any appeal to the current state of scholarship. You misunderstood the point I was making. I was just contradicting your statement that it was “interesting and refreshingly original (at least I don’t recall anybody else submitting this conclusion)”.
    Ah, you’re correct and I did misunderstand. My humblest apologies.
    I don’t feel forced to accept any particular “presuppositions”, but want to test each and any conclusion according to the best explanation of the data. I want to test the historicity of Jesus. And I do. Nothing is “unexplainable” under your theory that Jesus did not exist, but it is not the “best explanation”.
    You don’t know my whole theory well enough to make that statement. I would be more than happy to discuss my position, but first I would need to know where yours is. That is why I asked you to make a post concerning your reasons for accepting Jesus’ existence and your interpretation of the evidence. So far (please do not take this as anything other than a statement of fact) all you have provided have been assumptions and reasons why you accept these assumptions. I am not looking for hard evidence, just reasons why I should accept your assumptions over my interpretation of the evidence (my evidence, by the way, is well attested; i.e. how authors composed fiction, why they did, genre classification, full knowing readers, imitatio via model use, etc…).
    In terms of Genre, Mark (as the first Gospel) is a mixture of biography (a subset of historiography, tending towards the inclusion of more legendary material)
    Based on what? How do you reach this conclusion? (Or, do you just accept this assumption because so many others do? Have you read any recent studies? Have any been published since those that I recommended earlier that take the studies I used to task?)
    and preaching. This is determined by comparison with all other texts.
    Which texts? Who did the study? Where can I read it? If you did it, please list your methods for determining genre.
    It doesn’t read like any mythography I know.
    Please, C.S. Lewis (I say this in jest), this is not the time for jesting. I never once called it “mythography”. It is a novel. Jewish fiction novels had been around since the Persian period and had developed into more “Greek” novels or cycles from Jews attending Hellenistic gymnasiums.
    You also are not recalling the very fact that often times legends and myths were known to be just that but still accepted as historical truth. The famous Parian Marble, for instance, catalogs the history of the “world” and lists historical events along side of the conquering of Troy, the Amazon invasion, and the voyage of the Argo. It was so common to accept fiction story as history, that there is an instance in both Pliny and Lucian of a ghost story that takes place. Lucian uses the fictional story to satire those who believe in fictional stories (!) in his Philopseudes, and Pliny the Younger recounts the story as if it were historical fact, acting as if he even knew these people. This example is just one of many. Another example would be the fiction story by Josephus concerning Alexander the Great. Also, the letter of Aristeas could even be considered a complete fiction (I tend to think it was a complete fiction, along with Erich Gruen), but it was a fiction that was believed within the author’s lifetime!
    I agree if you can’t see anything historiographic about the Gospels, then it is logical for you not to accept its attempt to include some degree of historical content. But I can’t see how you can read Mark as entirely different from broadly contemporary works with historiographic content. Mark is more a Pausanias than a Thucydides. But he’s not writing a legend narrative.
    You say that so authoritatively. As if I should not be reading it in the manner which I do. But I do read it, apparently, in an entirely different way. Perhaps that is because I accept that the whole of the Gospel is meant to be read as a whole (and the reader did indeed read it wholly) and not as a history-fiction hybrid.
    When making an inference to the best explanation, I compare various hypotheses which I am aware of or have formulated myself. Looking at the data in its entirety, I wonder whether it is best explained by a historical figure who at least had a few minimum characteristics of the Jesus of the Gospels,
    Where would you start? What “minimum characteristics” would you attribute to Jesus without ignoring the context of the narrative (if not utterly destroying it)?
    Paul’s letters,
    Paul does not give any historical information about Jesus at all. See my article here for more information: http://tomverenna.wordpress.com/2008/10/16/intertextuality-between-paul-and-the-hebrew-bible/

    other early Christian literature such as the Ascension of Isaiah or Revelation.
    The Ascension of Isaiah may have had an earlier Jewish version redacted by Christians. Revelations is little more than a interpretation of canonical Isaiah through Christian eyes, although in a much more apocalyptic/prophetic manner than the Gospels.
    It doesn’t much matter what these are precisely, but a person claiming to be an Enochic Son of Man, from Galilee, named Jesus, dying in Jerusalem, is a good set of characteristics.
    You are assuming he died in Jerusalem, but Jerusalem is part of the narrative. Paul went first to Damascus, not Jerusalem according to Galatians. How do you know the central Christian presence at that time wasn’t there? If there were a historical Jesus, why couldn’t he have died elsewhere? You assume Jerusalem (not based on ANY evidence) because the Gospels suggest that is where he died. And they do so because of a literary reason; Jesus is the new David, who must return to Jerusalem triumphantly on a colt. He must then suffer and die, but not before climbing the Mount of Olives (as David had done) to beg for forgiveness and have prayer. He dies in Jerusalem because his author was making a mimetic reference that a full-knowing reader would have understood and appreciated.
    You are assuming he claimed to be the “Son of Man” rather than it more probably being a literary function put forth by the Gospel authors who were fitting their Jesus’ into a narrative based on Hebrew scriptures. You have NO evidence for this assumption you are making, either.
    You are assuming that Jesus was born in Nazareth (lived in Galilee), but there is no evidence of Nazareth being inhabited at that time period (via archaeological data), and all the evidence at Nazareth appears to be from the Middle Ages, just as with Capernaum. But you assume these are historical locations (instead of rightly reading the names of the cities as literary allusions or allegories to the Hebrew Bible) and do so because the Gospels say so.
    You assume his name was Jesus, although Paul explicitly states that he was “given” the name because of what he had done (although Paul does not once ever say the Romans killed him, nor does he ever place the event on earth). The name itself is eponymous, like “Job” (persecuted) or “Abraham” (Father of all Nations) or “Isaac” (Laughter), Jesus Christ is literally the ‘anointed savior’ of mankind. He is filling the literary function of his character in the Gospels. You are taking away that literary function by making all of these assumptions.
    The ‘Son of Man’ title doesn’t make much sense to non-Aramaic speakers, but is always replaced with other images of supremely powerful divine intermediaries — so it is a constant in the literature.
    It would make perfect sense to other elite Jews who could read, who were the intended audience for the Gospel of Mark. Nobody else would have been able to read the document. Only those versed in Greek (which could ONLY be learned through attendance at Gymnasium) would have been able to read it. It was far too complex for the average Hellenized Jew.
    The (contradictory) apologetics by Matthew and Luke for Jesus’ Davidic birth, while coming from Galilee, is best explained by a problem with a historical Galilean figure’s Galilean birth.
    No, it isn’t. It is best explained through two different authors’ interpretations of scripture. Luke’s intent was to expand upon Matthew’s narrative by fitting it into the whole of Jewish birth narratives in the Hebrew Bible. Mary and Elizabeth both become Sarah. Matthew was starting this process, which is why he included a exodus to Egypt and a mass-killing of infants to reflect Exodus traditions with Moses. He has Jesus born in Bethlehem precisely because David was a Bethlehemite and was born in Bethlehem. Jesus lived in Nazareth because the prophecy is that the savior shall be a Nazirite. It’s not reflexive of historical traditions, but older Jewish traditions directly from scripture.
    The prevalence of the death in Jerusalem tradition, together with the succession of Jesus’ two brothers at the head of the early church, makes that most probable.
    So you assume that Jesus had brothers too? And that they really headed the early church? Based on what?
    There is no good reason to prefer a merely legendary origin for the name Jesus. The most economical explanation for data such as this (and another group of data could suffice) is that there was a real historical Jesus behind the traditions about him.
    There is plenty of good reason for preferring a legendary origin for the name Jesus! The whole of Biblical tradition is plum full of eponymous names! Every single character in the patriarchal narratives, Joshua, Judges, Kings and Samuels, Job, the prophets! They are all allegorical names! It’s a Jewish literary tradition. It is a tradition that any scholar would know of and utilize.
    Much of the variations in historical Jesuses stems not from historical attempts to reconstruct him, but from pious attempts to rescue Jesus from end-time apocalyptic lunacy (nineteenth century liberalism, the Jesus Seminar), or from other first-century Jewish traits not presently in fashion — for believers. Believers who can no longer believe the orthodox creeds, but still desperately want to cling onto some form of Jesus. It is these believers who have written the historical Jesus accounts from the beginning, not mere historians.
    You’re explaining to me motive when we’re discussing method!
    It is Christians and Jews who have mostly been interested in the historical Jesus. Given the distance of time since AD30, and the propensity of people to fill that gap with their own desires, and the coincidence of historically reconstructed Jesuses with the times in which they are posited, the variances we find are fully explained without having to suggest that the sources are entirely fictional.
    No, but the methods used by critical scholars, even those used by yourself, are questionable and downright specious considering you are drawing conclusions directly from assumptions. If you don’t like me suggesting you are using assumptions—then stop accepting conclusions without evidence!
    I am thoroughly enjoying our conversation. I look forward to your reply.

  52. Tom Verenna said

    Can you suggest an ancient legend-text which is, when taken as a whole, comparable in genre to the Gospel of Mark?

    To me, Mark is comparable to bad historiography (Pausanias, etc). But if you find a purely legendary text without any historical content, I might be persuaded otherwise. If you give me more than one, that’d be good, too. Half a dozen would be swell. Not just bits of texts, mind you. Whole works.
    I can do this, but first there are a few things we need to keep in mind. First, the Gospels are a part of a long tradition of Jewish fiction writing (starting with the Patriarchal narratives, but most securely seen in Exodus). Tobit, for example, has all the hallmarks of Mark, with the exception of the parables. The parables have all the markings of those spoken by God in the Hebrew Bible or even Job. What the Gospels are (in my opinion), are a combination of two traditions in fiction like Daniel. Daniel and the Lions Den is a complete work of Hellenistic fiction, but the story is a mixture of both narrative and parable. In fact, the Gospel of Mark can be said to be modeled after Daniel and the Lion’s Den in terms of combining these traditions.
    I highly recommend Michael Vines’ ‘The Problem of Markan Genre: The Gospel of Mark and the Jewish Novel, which irrevocably lays out the case for the Gospel of Mark as the genre of a Jewish fiction novel (not mythography – as I do not hold to that perspective).

  53. Tom Verenna said

    Also, Glen Bowersock has a study done which suggests that the Gospels’ genre rose out of Greek romance novels. Mary Ann Tolbert’s book Sowing the Gospel is also very similar in theme to Bowersock’s, but she doesn’t suggest that the genre is Greek Romance (but she does suggest that the style and manner in which Mark was written best reflects ‘fiction novel’ rather than biography/historiography). Sorry for the additional interjection. I just don’t want you to take my word for it.

  54. ntwrong said

    The Patriarchal narratives and Exodus were written many centuries after they were set, which explain their fictional historiographic character. The same is the case for Tobit – set many centuries before it was written, in the time before the Assyrian conquest of Samaria. So, there’s one major problem with viewing Tobit as having “all the hallmarks of Mark…”.

    The parables of Jesus are only a part of Mark. Sure, Mark includes a varieties of genres — in fact, inclusion of multiple genres is a ‘hallmark’ of ancient historiography, is it not?

    Daniel is written in ca. 165 BC, and set in the sixth century BC. So it’s not comparable, also. The description of Mark as “a mixture of both narrative and parable” and comparison with Daniel’s mixture of court tales and apocalyptic vision reports is superficial to the point of being misleading.

    There’s no good comparison in ‘Jewish fiction’. Do you have any other legendary or fictional works that compare?

    Or does your idea rest on the assumption that Mark is fictional? Have you simply assumed the conclusions of MacDonald uncritically? (You see, there is a difference between — on one hand — arguing from the internal data of Gospels and other early Christian literature, with comparison to other ancient literature and — on the other hand — arguing from the conclusions of others. I’m interested only in the data, not in the opinions of the largely apologetics-spewing brigade of pseudo-historians who pretend to be interested in the historical Jesus. So you may wish to consider whether the ‘assumptions’ you keep alleging are really that.)

    I see a wide gap between the type of literature you’re trying to compare Mark with and the Gospel of Mark itself. The Gospel has a lot of historiographic traits, especially if you bear in mind that biography, while based on a hstorical person, can be filled with legends. If you’re going to convince me — and being quite open to having any conclusion challenged, I’m quite open to convincing — I need some solid evidence of comparative genre. I have read just about everything written in ancient Judaism (including Christianity) between 500 BC and AD 200, so I suspect you might have to go further afield than Jewish works. But surprise me. I have changed my mind on lots of things. Is Mark a fiction story? Then produce some comparative literature.

  55. ntwrong said

    To not lose sight of the broader argument, I say:
    1. Mark is most comparable to biographic historiography, a genre given to the mixing of legend and historic detail — and much less comparable to mere fiction or legend.
    2. Ancient historiographic and biographic forms become less and less reliable as the period examined becomes more and more remote. As a generalisation, ancient historiography and biography has a historic basis for subjects within 0-50 years of the writer, and memories generally become quite unreliable when first recorded textually after 150 years. (Folklorists tend to come up with figures like this, too.)
    3. Mark was written within 50 years of its subject (J. Crossley thinks it might be the week or so after Jesus died, or thereabouts).
    4. Therefore, Mark is not complete fiction, but is (legendary) biography based on historic events.

  56. steph said

    “Inference to the Best Explanation’ is the only method that does justice to ancient texts”

    I don’t understand. That sounds like “Q”. I can show you my ‘chaotic’ thesis but I can’t explain it in a blog comment.

  57. ntwrong said

    Incidentally, Bauckham and others who (mis)use the biography genre forget that ancient biography is the most imaginative and most legendary form of ancient historiography. Their argument rests on a modernizing mistake that biography = true. It doesn’t.

    By contrast, I am making a quite different and quite minimal use of the argument from genre: biography provides no guarantee of truth, but biography on a recent subject (say 0-50 years ago) can generally be expected to relate to a historic person, although we should also expect fictional elements throughout.

  58. ntwrong said

    Steph: no, no, no, no, no. 😉 The ‘best explanation’ could either be the chaotic explanation of the double tradition, or the document explanation — the method depends entirely on which hypothesis provides the best fit for the data overall. The method certainly doesn’t a priori favour one over the other. By “ancient texts” I meant Matthew and Luke especially.

    You’re welcome to write the First Ever Guest Post on the N. T. Wrong Blog outlining a chaotic kew. If that appeals to you, email it to n_t_wrong at yahoo dot co dot uk.

  59. Tom Verenna said

    You’ll forgive me, but after this I must go to sleep. To start, you are confusing the timelines with which the stories are set with a discussion on genre. Genre is, by definition, the writing style. Content is judged based on that style. Whether or not the author chose to write his story a few decades earlier or a few centuries earlier does not change the manner in which it was written. Can we be clear on this? The modern fiction story has not changed much in modern times from its ancient counterpart where I can confidently say that just because Catcher in the Rye was written during the period in which the author of the book had lived does not make it any less fictional. The setting of the story is a matter of preference for an author, in antiquity as it is in modern times. To use an example I have used already in this discussion, Lucian’s Philopseudes is a satire fiction written with his fictional characters living in the second century CE. His fictional story The Passing of Peregrines, is also written with the intent of this fiction taking place during the author’s lifetime. Greek romance novels, also fictional stories, take place during these times. This seems to be more an author’s discretion than any maxim on genre.

    Mark may be the first Hellenized Jew to write a fictional story setting his story in a modern time-frame a generation earlier. But if that is the best you can do to dismiss the type of literature, it’s a weak attempt. Style is how Genre is determined, content is part of it, but only once genre is determined can context be understood. Tobit, like Mark, has a wandering protagonist, which is written in the same style, with model use, and eponymic names attached. The story elements are different in the same way that The Apocalypse of John is different than Revelations. Both represent apocalyptic genres, but the content is going to be different. The style is the same. You seem to think all genres must produce exactly the same model, but this is a naïve conclusion. Genres grow and develop, no genre just appears. This all comes down to understanding literary composition in antiquity. You either understand it or you don’t. Most historical Jesus scholars do not have a clue. (Probably because, as you suggest, they are Christians or Jews and are unconcerned with such things)

    When I said Daniel and the Lion’s den, I meant the narrative portions of Daniel not the last few chapters which may be additions like Bel and the Dragon, Susanna, Song of the Three Jews, etc…. Daniel and Jesus are both interpreters. In most cases where Jesus tells a parable he is interpreting something. Daniel likewise interprets for his audience, who—like in the case of Jesus’ disciples—are just as clueless. But the style is similar still when examining the storyline. In both stories, men of the law or of the king want to kill them; in both instances the servants of the law or king are fruitless in finding a way to justly condemn them. Both are sealed into a cave or tomb at the behest of a king who (uncharacteristically) pities them or seems genuinely concerned about them. Both narratives (the Lion’s Den in particular when compared to Gospels) have a great commission of the Lord.

    But why just look are texts earlier than Mark? Mark is part of a tradition. That includes noncanonical Gospels which are just as fictional. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, for example. The Acts of Paul, another fictional story written in novel form. Canonical Acts, also written in novel form, takes place decades before it was written but is just as fictional. The life of Saint Genevieve written by a Monk ten years after her supposed death is another fiction. The Gospels are a movement in the development of the genre of fiction novel. Whether the author wanted to place them a few decades earlier or not.

    Additionally, the Gospels are anonymous. Ancient historiography and biography were not anonymous. Fiction was written anonymously. Ancient historians were very proud of their literature; that including Jewish historians like Josephus and Philo. Why aren’t they named? Because they are not attested to in the first century, it has been suggested by some scholars (I am agnostic on the issue) that the Gospels all be dated in the second century. Luke-Acts is already under a revised dating of the second century (See studies done by Joseph B. Tyson, Richard I Pervo). Assuming this position may be accurate, it would put quite a bit of time between the established timeline of the Gospels and the actual date of composition. But this is more hypothetical, and I’m much too conservative in the area of dating when it comes to these things. But the position is out there and has been put forth.

    That aside, however, I do not accept all of MacDonald’s positions. (If I did, I would accept the historical Jesus) That is why I gave a few studies on the subject so you can independently verify what they suggest and come to your own conclusions. I do not want you to take my word for it. I’m not going to be as comprehensive on a blog as Michael E. Vines or Mary Ann Tolbert will be in a monograph published by an academic press. That is why I am recommending them to you for further research. They not only compare the internal data with style and composition evidence, but are going to be much more exact in their conclusions concerning them (they’ll have access to charts and diagrams and additional resources that I just don’t have the time to prepare in this comment form).

    You keep saying that Mark contains a lot of historiography but have failed to explain your methods in determining this. I have explained (even given examples) of my methods. I have explained to you the manner in which authors composed their material. I have given you examples of where my interpretations are better and more traditional than yours. I like that you’re open. I am also open to being wrong. I do not mind my conclusions being criticized or examined (I expect that and want that). If I am making assumptions I want to know. If I am drawing false conclusions I want to know. But one thing at a time.

  60. ntwrong said

    I forgive you for sleeping. I only sleep in 3-hour stints, but I accept others are weaker in the flesh. 😉

    You’re quite right that the form of historiography is the same whether it draws from fiction or truth, but wrong to think I don’t realise this. Ancient historiographers wrote a single genre (historiography). But their sources become more and more unreliable as time passes. The timescale affects veracity, not genre. Ancient historiography is still historiography whether it’s true or false. Ancient historiographers didn’t have the modern post-von Ranke methodology to distinguish fact from fiction, and it wasn’t a concern to them so much as the transmission of tradition concerned them.

    Mark wrote historiography for those who interpreted it as historically correct (as understood in the first century AD), he did not consciously include fictional stories. In fact, though, like all ancient biography (and, in a different way, all modern biography), his work was a mix of history and fiction.

    I see you now accept that Mark is distinguished by the fact that his writing based on a recent figure, not a (clearly) legendary figure of the past. You’re entitled to ignore this datum, and dismiss it as a “weak” distinction. But I have good grounds for the distinction: it is a significant distinction that separates Mark from not only from purely fictional historiography but also from any of the settings of Jewish fiction.

    That is what the data tells us. Are you sure you’re not arguing from your assumption of Mark being fiction? Just because you read Homer in order to learn Greek doesn’t mean that you can’t write factual history also, you know.

    I certainly don’t claim that “genres must produce exactly the same model”, whatever you meant by that. Genres change, and that is integral to what a genre is. But that doesn’t mean you can equate Mark’s mixture of narrative and parable with Daniel’s mixture of court tale and apocalyptic vision report. The equation is just wrong.

    St Genevieve existed. So did St. Antony, although his biography is filled with nonsense, and hers is too. These are examples of biographies of historical figures, like Mark. Filled with nonsense.

    It is not true that the Gospels were anonymous, but an unproved assumption of scholars. Some of the authors named in the superscriptions may be original, such as Mark and Luke, and perhaps John. Luke also includes the addressee, Theophilus. It would be unusual to include a addressee but not the name of the author, so the superscription — or rather something on which it was based — is most probably original. The superscriptions were clearly later standardised when the gospels were grouped together by the proto-Catholic church, so this is plausibly when they lost the original form which named the authors, or even changed the authorship to emphasise apostolic authority.

    I don’t think I’ll go through Mark identifying biographical motifs, just because it’s too boring, and all the possibilities will already be listed in some evangelical exercise. In substance, however, the attempt to arrange disparate source material within an overarching chronology (usually partly invented) is much more typical of biography than fiction or even romance.

    The identification of Mark with Jewish fiction is a genre error. Mark is preaching in the form of ancient biography (a subset of ancient historiography). It is filled with legendary material and later accretions. But it is based on a historical figure called Jesus, who probably at least was a sort of Galilean preacher telling about the end of the world, making some claim about coming judgment and the Son of Man, gathering followers, and dying in Jerusalem. The mixture of fact and fiction in ancient biography would lead us to expect some such mix of fact and fiction in the Gospel of Mark.

  61. john shuck said

    I am really interested in this conversation. Thank you both for keeping at it. I often wonder what these authors thought they were doing when they wrote their gospels (besides of course hoping that folks will all talk about them when they die).

    “I have read just about everything written in ancient Judaism (including Christianity) between 500 BC and AD 200…”

    Is there a place where I might find a bibliography of this literature? And, is it available in English?

  62. steph said

    I agree with everything you say Bishop (except the son of man), but I do think there is more of an argument for history in Mark. It’s a bit off topic maybe but I’m not really participating in this discussion… James Crossley of course dates Mark from sometime between the late 30s and early 40s CE and I agree with his thesis.

    Crossley’s major contribution is an investigation of early Jewish law and how it affects Mark’s gospel. He demonstrates that Mark takes for granted that Jesus fully observed biblical law and that Mark could only make such an assumption at a time when Christianity was largely law observant. This could not have been later than the mid-40s, from which time on certain Jewish and gentile Christians were no longer observing some biblical laws such as food laws and the Sabbath. He argues with justification that in all three Synoptic Gospels Jesus is portrayed as a Torah observant Jew in conflict with Jews dedicated to expanding and developing the Biblical laws and concludes that this must reflect the views of the historical Jesus. He claims that the early church would not have had so much internal controversy over the observance of the Biblical Torah if Jesus had deliberately challenged it or told others to challenge it. He also notes what is particularly significant: that both Matthew and Luke show clear signs that traditions concerning the Torah must not be interpreted as challenging it. This is not an issue that is not found in Mark, suggesting that Matthew and Luke were written up in the context of non-observant Christians. Crossley challenges the use of the external evidence (such as Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria) often used for dating Mark, relying instead on internal evidence from the gospel itself. Crossley also questions the view that Mark 13 reflects the Jewish war, arguing that there are other plausible historical settings. He also details the unfulfilled predictions in Mark. Here we have for example the prediction that James and John would “taste the cup” with him (Mark 10.38ff) with the cup being a metaphor for death so that James and John were to have died with Jesus, and the unfulfilled prediction in Mark 9.1 which anticipates the coming of the kingdom before the deaths of some alive now. The former passage is omitted by Luke and altered by Matthew and the latter respectively altered and toned down by Matthew and Luke. It is an indication that for Mark the coming of the kingdom will be a past event before “some standing here” die. Matthew alters this to be less specific and Luke omits the “coming”, leaving only the “seeing”.

    But probably not much of an argument in his thesis if you assume Jesus didn’t exist.

  63. Tom Verenna said

    You’re quite right that the form of historiography is the same whether it draws from fiction or truth, but wrong to think I don’t realise this. Ancient historiographers wrote a single genre (historiography). But their sources become more and more unreliable as time passes. The timescale affects veracity, not genre. Ancient historiography is still historiography whether it’s true or false. Ancient historiographers didn’t have the modern post-von Ranke methodology to distinguish fact from fiction, and it wasn’t a concern to them so much as the transmission of tradition concerned them.

    Not only do I realize this but I pointed this out to you two of my posts ago.

    Mark wrote historiography for those who interpreted it as historically correct (as understood in the first century AD), he did not consciously include fictional stories.

    That’s a silly statement. A.) It’s another assertion without evidence (something you are very keen to keep doing apparently), B.) You say he didn’t consciously include fictional stories—really? So he didn’t change, alter or otherwise add in anything? He didn’t create any narrative at all? And you’re going to tell me he didn’t recognize that what he was creating wasn’t fictional in any way? Who do you think “those who interpreted” his Gospels were?

    In fact, though, like all ancient biography (and, in a different way, all modern biography), his work was a mix of history and fiction.

    You must think that by continuously reasserting that the genre is ancient historiography that it will magically come to fruition. I have been waiting for you to assign your methods for determining this but you seem to want to keep dodging this point and continually reassert your conclusion over and over. I asked you very direct questions in previous comments about your methods and have yet to receive any answer to any of them.

    I see you now accept that Mark is distinguished by the fact that his writing based on a recent figure, not a (clearly) legendary figure of the past.

    Where would you draw that conclusion from?

    You’re entitled to ignore this datum, and dismiss it as a “weak” distinction.

    You didn’t give any datum. You asserted it and then went off on a rant, doing little less then exposing your own ignorance of classical literature.

    But I have good grounds for the distinction: it is a significant distinction that separates Mark from not only from purely fictional historiography but also from any of the settings of Jewish fiction.

    Do I have to ask you all the questions you don’t seem to ever ask yourself? WHY is it significant? HOW is it distinct? WHAT separates it from purely fictional historiography? HOW can you keep suggesting it is historiography without ever once explaining your methods for making this determination? HOW can you separate Mark from the settings of Jewish fiction?

    That is what the data tells us.

    Apparently it only seems to whisper it to you who I turn cannot seem to be able to reproduce any of it for the public who actually has the ability to question your assumptions.

    Are you sure you’re not arguing from your assumption of Mark being fiction? Just because you read Homer in order to learn Greek doesn’t mean that you can’t write factual history also, you know.

    Are you paying attention? I’m not arguing MacDonald’s position. MacDonald makes some very good points, but I do not agree with every conclusion he makes. There is no “assumption” involved. I have clearly laid out several examples of Mark using scripture to create narrative—particularly in the cases where you have stated “historical characteristics,” and I went out of my way to give you examples of where these tropes come from—and that they are indeed tropes and not historical memories is beyond respite from anybody who has taken the time to read all of the Christian and Jewish literature from the Persian Period through to the Second Sophistic which you claim to have done.
    Unlike what you have been doing this whole conversation, I am not inclined to just take your word for it. No matter how many times you wish for that. I will challenge your presuppositions at every turn, demand you back them up and expose your assumptions for what they are.

    I certainly don’t claim that “genres must produce exactly the same model”, whatever you meant by that.

    You wrote: “Can you suggest an ancient legend-text which is, when taken as a whole, comparable in genre to the Gospel of Mark?” I gave you some examples, but you dismissed them for petty picky reasons, most important being what date the narratives were set in history.

    Genres change, and that is integral to what a genre is. But that doesn’t mean you can equate Mark’s mixture of narrative and parable with Daniel’s mixture of court tale and apocalyptic vision report. The equation is just wrong.

    I’m not equating it with apocalyptic vision reports nor am I comparing it to court tales! I’m talking about the literary narrative itself. I’m discussing literary tropes that Mark was aware of and utilized.

    It is not true that the Gospels were anonymous, but an unproved assumption of scholars.

    You’re being silly again. The Gospels are pseudonymous. They were given these names by heresiologists and apologists after the fact.

    Some of the authors named in the superscriptions may be original, such as Mark and Luke, and perhaps John.

    How do you make all these assumptions? On what grounds?

    Luke also includes the addressee, Theophilus. It would be unusual to include a addressee but not the name of the author, so the superscription — or rather something on which it was based — is most probably original.

    Theophilus means ‘lover of god’ and could be an address to the whole of Christianity. You’re speculating that it was meant for one person. I might be inclined to agree that the recipient be none other than Theophilus of Antioch, which would fit right in with Pervo and Tyson’s arguments for a redating of Luke-Acts to the second century. It could also have been an eponymous name like the rest of Luke’s characters.

    The superscriptions were clearly later standardised when the gospels were grouped together by the proto-Catholic church, so this is plausibly when they lost the original form which named the authors, or even changed the authorship to emphasise apostolic authority.

    Sure, let’s just continue speculating! The world may not be spherical! Gravity is just a pesky theory so maybe we can just ignore it! Hey, speculating is fun, but can we serious for a little bit here?

    I don’t think I’ll go through Mark identifying biographical motifs, just because it’s too boring, and all the possibilities will already be listed in some evangelical exercise.

    I’m sorry, but you’re not going to back up any of your assumptions? Did I hear you right?

    In substance, however, the attempt to arrange disparate source material within an overarching chronology (usually partly invented) is much more typical of biography than fiction or even romance.

    Actually this would be false. I already pointed you to recent studies which show that this ‘overarching chronology’ as you put it is clearly indicative of Jewish fiction writing and greek novel in general.

    The identification of Mark with Jewish fiction is a genre error. Mark is preaching in the form of ancient biography (a subset of ancient historiography).

    Look, this is now the seventh or eighth time you have asserted this asinine position which you refuse to support. I’m growing impatient with you here. I have given you adequate amount of time and even the option to write up an article explaining your methods. Interestingly enough when you attempted to explain to me in a very general sense how you came to this conclusion, I exposed your method and you ignored responding to me completely.

    If you do not want to have a serious conversation, just say so. If you don’t want to have to back up your baseless assertions with any sort of “datum” then say so. Stop pretending as if your conclusions are the dues ex machine of genre studies and that everyone agrees with you. Your conclusions, however you came to them, have been challenged. I asked you three times now to direct me to a study that is more up to date and takes Tolbert, Vines, MacDonald, etc… to task. You have ignored this question or for some other reason unknown to critical thinkers have not answered it. In fact you have not answered a single question concerning method and study.

    It is filled with legendary material and later accretions. But it is based on a historical figure called Jesus, who probably at least was a sort of Galilean preacher telling about the end of the world, making some claim about coming judgment and the Son of Man, gathering followers, and dying in Jerusalem. The mixture of fact and fiction in ancient biography would lead us to expect some such mix of fact and fiction in the Gospel of Mark.

    You keep asserting! Stop asserting! Don’t ‘tell me’, ‘show me.’ I gave you examples of how these “characteristics” are literary tropes, not historical memories. You keep dodging this. You won’t expand on any of it. Don’t keep wasting my time.

    From now on, I’m going to be posting up blogs about our exchanges because I’m tired of the formatting on comments (I never did want to have this discussion here in the comment section). If you want to keep asserting things without evidence, you’ll have to do it where everyone visiting your site can see you doing it – or you can actually produce evidence for your assertions for once. Or, you can just ignore my blogs dealing with this conversation all together. I don’t care. But if you think I’m just going to take your word for it that the gospels represent historiography then you’re mistaken. I’m just not that gullible.

  64. ntwrong said

    Tom – although you disagree, I still consider my distinctions between Mark and the ‘legendary’ or ‘fictional’ works you provided (in particular the temporal-proximity distinction) are significant. You obviously don’t, but unfortunately label these distinctions as assumptions (they are not, they are conclusions) and minor (they are not, they are significant for the reasons given). So, at this point it is over the interpretation of these data that our difference lies. As you have already dismissed my conclusions without reason, I will leave the conversation there. You may well be right that Jesus is a pure fiction, but I haven’t seen any comparative evidence yet in the area of genre that begins to prove your case. Thank you for your posts.

  65. ntwrong said

    Steph – thank you for outlining James Crossley’s argument. You’re right, it is arguments such as these that demonstrate a difference of beliefs between Jesus and the later church for which the best explanation is an historical Jesus. And – OMG – he’s kinda Jewish, interested in halakhic interpretations of the Law that would later become irrelevant.

    Unfortunately Tom holds to his interpretation so dogmatically that he doesn’t distinguish between an inference from data and an ‘assumption’. As you experienced, it is hard to engage him when he is pretending to argue with recourse to empirical data, but in fact arguing from a dogmatic a priori position (‘Jesus doesn’t exist, so anything about him is fictional’). The essential fallacy of such a course of argument (disguised a priori) is commonly known as the ‘No True Scotsman’. Whatever data you put forward, it’s qualified. Whatever data you ask for, it’s considered unnecessary, or irrelevant. Even though he can’t produce a comparative Jewish work to Mark in the legendary/fictional genre, he still assumes a priori that it is legend or fiction. That’s a bad way to argue. And I don’t think MacDonald et al have made out the necessary basic grounds from either Jewish or Greek literature and education on which to make the argument for Jesus’ fictionality.

  66. steph said

    Thank you for the kind invitation above (which I’ve only just noticed amidst all the ‘discussion’). However I must decline because first, I haven’t the confidence to deal with the ensuing battle given what’s happened here, and second, I think it would compromise the detail in my chaos. I really can’t summarise it at this stage other than a basic outline which isn’t dissimilar to the one Maurice proposes at the end of his book ‘Aramaic Approach’. I’d rather finish the thesis properly and let people deal with that if they wish but I don’t want to get involved in any heated debates like the one above 🙂

  67. steph said

    Oh I agree! Don’t R.I.P – you’re too much of an inspiration on the internet especially when I’m downunder!

  68. ntwrong said

    John – I spent the last 20 minutes trying to find the soft copy of my list of texts. All I have is a hard copy in front of me. I might redo it.

  69. ntwrong said

    Steph – What a shame. However, if you find a way to write a short piece on what you have done, hinting at what you’ve got to do next, let me know. I can even switch comments off on your post.

  70. john shuck said

    Way too much time on me! Thank you, though!

  71. Damian said

    Steph – I, too, would love to hear any short piece you wanted to write on the subject.

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