Friday, 31 August 2012

First published photograph: Our earliest manuscript title for any gospel found? Simon Gathercole in NovT 54

Remember the days when some Bible critics claimed with almost absolute certainty that the titles of the gospels (e.g. "Gospel according to Matthew") were added very much later by the institutional church?
Novum Testamentum, one of the leading international journals devoted to the study of the New Testament, has just published an article by Simon Gathercole, Senior lecturer in New Testament at Cambridge University, with the title: "The Earliest Manuscript Title of Matthew's Gospel (BnF Suppl. gr. 1120 ii 3 / P4)".

I suppose it is an under statement to say that New Testament textual critics will / should study it very carefully.

The flyleaf bearing the title of Matthew's gospel, found with the Luke fragments of P4 (henceforth P4), has been neglected in studies of P4 as well as in the Greek New Testament. This article publishes for  the first time a photograph of the flyleaf, and seeks to provide an accurate transcription of the often misspelled title. It also discusses the various factors impinging upon the date of the fragment, such as the Philo codex in which it was found and the apostrophe in the middle of Matthew's name. A date in the late second or  early third century makes best sense of the evidence, making this neglected flyleaf the earliest manuscript title of Matthew's gospel. 

Friday, 24 August 2012

Markus Vinzent's "questionable methodological assumptions and procedures" in Christ's Resurrection - James Carlton Paget's JSNT Review Article

There are two ways in which one can take Markus Vinzent's Christ's Resurrection in Early Christianity and the Meaning of the New Testament, says Cambridge's James Carlton Paget:

"(A)t one level it is about the reception of the idea of the resurrection in early Christian history, arguing a distinctive case, systematically and clearly. At another level ... it is a book about Marcion's apparently huge influence on the developing Christian church. The first argument is in a sense a supporting cog in the second, more significant one, which is built upon additional observations and so could survive without the former, even if that is not the way Vinzent seeks to present his case - for him the presence, disappearance and re-emergence of a resurrection-based soteriology can only be explained by reference to Marcion's growing influence" (my emphasis).

I was delighted to read Paget's twenty seven page review of Vinzent's book this morning in the latest edition of the JSNT (35) 1, pp 76-102. This was so, partly because I sat next to Paget a few months ago while he and Judith Lieu discussed the book at Cambridge's Senior New Testament Seminar (with the likes of Simon Gathercole, Richard Bauckham, Peter Head etc making contributions), but also, because I found corroboration on important points between his article and my review which I did for Theology (115 [2], 123-124).

Obviously aware of copy write regulations, I thought it worthwhile to quote just a few bits and pieces from Paget's article that might hopefully lead to further clarifications, and maybe fruitful discussions. I interpret as I go along, and please remember, it is only a foretaste of Paget's extensive review!

Dating New Testament and other texts
The specific dating of  New Testament and Patristic texts is very important for Vinzent's hypothesis to work. Texts like 1 Peter, Acts as well as Ignatius and Papias' writings, in which the resurrection is quite significant must be dated after Macion. If not, then Vinzent's hypothesis becomes unpersuasive. Paget writes:

"... it should be recognised that Vinzent's dating of these texts is controversial, and his case, to some extent, is dependent upon such datings - it will make a difference to Vinzent's case, for instance, if we hold Ignatius, contrary to his view, to be a pre-Marcionite writer, or Papias to have written in the earlier part of the second century ... The first would imply ... that the resurrection was a more important concept than Vinzent assumes it was, and Paul a possibly more significant source; and the second would obviously overturn Vinzent's view that Gospel texts associated with individual names did not exist before Marcion ... Vinzent's case is, in principle, as precarious as the one against which he might be thought to be battling. Indeed, without wishing to sound censorious, it is a problem with this book that too often the author does not show how controversial his views are and, consequently, does not give sufficient airing to the reasoning of those who would contradict his own reading of a text or another piece of evidence, at least in sufficiently full footnotes" (my emphasis). The latter was more or less what I also tried to underscore in my review.

Does Vinzent follow the textual evidence, or does he read his hypothesis into texts?
Put more precisely, is Vinzent reading his "pre-conceived Marcionite" ideas into texts, or are the texts themselves supplying convincing evidence for Vinzent's overall ideas? Paget writes:

"All theories are provisional and dependent upon a possibly narrow and unrepresentative set of texts. Such an observation is especially important when dealing with Vinzent's volume because he relies so heavily upon arguments from silence to prove a variety of points" (my emphasis). Is this in fact the case? Is Vinzent making use of circular arguments? On both accounts, Paget thinks that he does:

"... Vinzent's analysis of texts leads him to the view that Marcion is a key to understanding the development of the church in the middle to the later second century, and on the basis of that assumption he sets about reading texts. What I mean is that it is often precisely the assumption of the Marcionite centrality which guides the reading of sources".

But Paget is also cautious, adding: "I am not claiming that Vinzent has a mono-Marcionite view of the latter part of the second century, or that he reads texts exclusively as reactive", but, and crucially in my opinion, Paget argues that Vinzent's "... assumptions are key to the way he proceeds, and the risks of proceeding in such a way need to be considered in any assessment of his work" (my emphasis).

Paget then goes on to discuss in more detail several texts to illustrate his claims. This include discussions about Colossians, Ephesians, 1 Peter, 1 and 2 Clement, the Didache, the Epistle of Barnabas, Samaritan Christianity etc. It is worthwhile to compare Paget and Vinzent's different interpretations! I was quite relieved to see that at least some of the concerns I raised about Vinzent's interpretations of 1 Peter, 1 Clement and the Epistle of Barnabas in my review, is shared by Paget!

One central claim that Vinzent makes, is that after Marcion, there was a "resurrection-mania" in response to him reviving the doctrine. Is this claim persuasive? For a start, Paget shows that Vinzent's reference to Reinhart Staat as support for his hypothesis is incorrect. In fact, counter to Vinzent, Paget states that "Staat is clear that that is not the case, even as we move into the third and fourth centuries and he spends some time explaining why this was so". By referring to the likes of Justin, Tatian, Theophilus of Antioch etc (mentioning significant issues overlooked by Vinzent), Paget suggests that it might be better to speak of an "increased and intense interest in the resurrection of the dead rather than Christ's resurrection, and that such a concern emerged for a variety of reasons" (my emphasis). For the latter, Paget refers to an old but very useful account of the subject by the well-known Dutch scholar from Utrecht, W.C. van Unnik (JEH 15:141-67).

Related to Vinzent's theory of a post-Marcion "resurrection-mania", is whether the resurrection becomes a theme in the second century primarily because of Marcion? Paget disagrees with Vinzent pointing out that there are in fact a number of texts that could be taken to demonstrate an interest in the resurrection, that do not mention Marcion, such as the Epistula Apostolorum, Kerygma Petrou and certain Gnostic texts. 

The Priority of Marcion's Gospel
I found Paget's critique of Vinzent' interpretation of Marcion's Gospel very persuasive, in part because of my own analysis of Tertullian's engagement with Marcion in my Durham dissertation. Probably the most devastating critique of Vinzent's theory that Marcion was the first to write a Gospel is discussed in footnote 47:

"... Vinzent bases his view that Marcion was the first to write a Gospel in part upon Tertullian ... where he asserts that Tertullian 'admits that Marcion accused 'upholders of Judaism' of having falsified his Gospel to make it fit to be combined with what Marcion regarded as the Old Testament, the Law and the Prophets', going on to argue that Tertullian proceeds to invent Marcion's argument by claiming that he had found a Gospel which he had mutilated". 

To this claim Paget responds that however one might assess this passage's reliability, Tertullian 

"never asserts that Marcion claimed the thesis Vinzent is arguing. In fact, the Latin clearly states that Marcion accused the 'upholders of Judaism' of having falsified Luke, not of having falsified his own Gospel. This is made plain in Evans's translation, which Vinzent quotes, but leaving out certain bits ... Given that Vinzent bases a lot on this passage ... his misreading of it is significant".

In Paget's conclusion, apart from a few nuanced observations, he asks the question: "But was Vinzent right?" His answer:

"I have tried to show that there are grounds for thinking that his revisionist views are based upon highly contentious conclusions, whose disputed character is dealt with in a sometimes misleading sweeping manner, and are dependent upon questionable methodological assumptions and procedures ... Few, I imagine, will be persuaded by this book ...". 

I want to reiterate that the above reflect only a few bits and pieces, highlighting some striking disagreements that Paget has with Vinzent's main ideas. There are much more meat to the bones and also several nuanced discussions in Paget's article. It is certainly worthwhile for those interested in resurrection in the second century to analyse Paget's article as well as Vinzent's book in more detail. Other reviews already published include M. Edwards, Church Times 2.12.2011; L. Wickham, TLS 6.1.2012 and F. Mulder, Theology 115 (2012) 123-124.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

WHY did Barth and Bultmann's exegetical roads split?

Recently, an Oxford friend contacted me with the following request: “... do you know off-hand where to find Bultmann’s quote about how Jesus rose only in the faith (or preaching) of the disciples? I’m having a heck of a time tracking it down!”

Because my PhD is all about the resurrection, I was able to get the quote right away for my friend. As I read Bultmann’s famous paragraph once again (probably for the tenth time since 2006), it made me think back very fondly of the interactions between Karl Barth and Rudolf Bultmann between 1922-1966 which I analysed to some degree while studying in Durham, UK in 2008/9.

What struck me in particular this time around, was how the later Barth reacted against Bultmann’s demythologizing programme as well as his existential reading of Scripture in his famous article: “Rudolf Bultmann – An Attempt to Understand Him”. This parting of the ways between them, can be observed by their respective views about the resurrection. I quote snippets from Bultmann first and then from Barth’s reaction.

“Christ meats us in the preaching as one crucified and risen. He meets us in the word of preaching and nowhere else. The faith of Easter is just this – faith in the word of preaching ... The word of preaching confronts us as the word of God. It is not for us to question its credentials ... Faith and unbelief are never blind, arbitrary decisions. They offer us the alternative between accepting or rejecting that which alone can illuminate our understanding of ourselves ... If the event of Easter Day is in any sense an historical event additional to the event of the cross, it is nothing else than the rise of faith in the risen Lord, since it was this faith which led to the apostolic preaching. The resurrection itself is not an event of past history. All that historical criticism can establish is the fact that the first disciples came to believe in the resurrection ... But the historical problem is not of interest to Christian belief in the resurrection. For the historical event of the rise of the Easter faith mean for us what it meant for the first disciples – namely, the self-attestation of the risen Lord, the act of God in which the redemptive event of the cross is completed ... Through the word of preaching the cross and the resurrection are made present: the eschatological “now” is here, and the promise of Isa. 49. 8 is fulfilled ...” (Rudolf Bultmann, The New Testament and Mythology, [ed.], Hans-Werner Bartsch, [trans.], Reginald H. Fuller, Kerygma and Myth. A Theological Debate, Vol. 1 [London: SPCK, 1972]), 41-43.

“Surely, if we want to understand any given text, the provisional clue to its understanding must be sought from the text itself, and moreover from its spirit, content and aim. Surely we should be condemning our text to silence in advance if we approached it with such a criterion, alien alike to its spirit, content and aim. How can we decide even before we have read the text what it actually says, and what is only temporary imagery?.. Is not Bultmann’s very concept of myth, the infallible criterion which dominates his hermeneutics, quite alien to the New Testament?” (Karl Barth, “Rudolf Bultmann – An Attempt to Understand Him”, in Kerygma and Myth. A Theological Debate [ed.] by Hans-Werner Bartsch, [trans.] by Reginald H. Fuller [London: SPCK, 1972]), 108.

“Is the demythologized kerygma allowed to say anything about God’s having condescended to become this-worldly, objective and – horror of horrors! – datable? Apparently [for Bultmann] it is not allowed ... Nor can it admit that it originated in the concrete fact that the disciples saw with their own eyes, heard with their ears, touched with their hands, in space and time, not only the dereliction of the Word made flesh hanging on the cross, but also as the glory of the same Word made flesh risen from the dead ... Apparently the demythologized kerygma must remain silent about what caused faith ... Apparently the kerygma must suppress or even deny the fact that the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the total Christ event, is the event of our redemption, that it possessed an intrinsic significance of its own, and that only because it has that primary significance has it a derived significance here and now. Yet this event is the ground of our faith and of the kerygma, and faith and kerygma are only secondary to it and derivative from it” (Ibid., 109-10).

Over the past few years, I’ve been struck by how often some biblical scholars forget that there was an early and a later Barth. It seems that Barth’s later exegesis did become more historical compared to i.e. his Romans commentary. Did he go far enough though? Scholars remain divided on that.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Explosive stuff that evangelicals and liberals need to know about Gerd Luedemann - an extraodinary interview

It is probably fair to say that Prof Gerd Luedemann from Gottingen is currently the most controversial New Testament biblical scholar in Europe. He is famous for many things (i.e. being a member of the American Jesus Seminar with the likes of John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg), but the two issues he is best known for is without a doubt his i) 1994 monograph in which he rejected the testimony of the empty tomb in the canonical gospels as unhistorical, arguing that Peter and Paul had hallucinations of the risen Jesus; and ii) his 1999 "Letter to Jesus" in which he kissed Christianity goodbye.

I was privileged to have an interview with Prof Luedemann (and his wife!) while attending a major conference on the resurrection in Europe. Believing in the bodily resurrection of Jesus as the best explanation for the available testimony, it might seem strange to some that the discussion we had was highly significant to me. Why was it significant? Luedemann is quite outspoken about his personal journey, the people who influenced him, those he disagrees with, and what he thinks of "liberal churches". Make sure to read his reflections on Hans Conzelmann, Andreas Lindemann, Rudolf Bultmann, John Dominic Crossan, and Marcus Borg! I hope to publish an article on the life and scholarship of Prof Luedemann at some stage. I will therefore only mention a few excerpts from our discussion. Please keep two things in mind while reading: i) Professor Luedemann is German, which may account for the sentence structure of some responses; ii) What is reported here cannot and should not be interpreted in isolation from Prof Luedemann's published work.

Mulder: Prof Luedemann, you used to believe in the resurrection, but that changed. Which books and professors had a major impact on your new interpretations?

Luedemann: For my first New Testament course seminar, I had Hans Conzelman as teacher, with Andreas Lindemann [picture right] as his assistant ... I found their exegesis very convincing ... it was like a philosophical presupposition which I liked, for I was memorising Voltaire in French [at the time]. And then I remember I had my doubts. And then I remember I talked to Lindemann about this [Jesus' resurrection], and he said it did not happen. So what do you do? I can still "see" him [Lindemann], he was only three years older than me. He said whenever he is preaching the gospel, or whenever the gospel is preached, nothing is present from the past. So you don't worry about history. It's there in the act of preaching.

Mulder: In the kerygma [preaching] like Bultmann?

Luedemann: Yes, he was a Bultmann student. I was never convinced by that. The moment the preacher preaches, the Word of God is there. I think you need some foundation there, not only faith. So that is what Lindemann told me. I was not convinced.

Mulder: I was fascinated after reading your work, and also AJM Wedderburn, Marcus Borg, and John Dominic Crossan.

Luedemann: Borg and Crossan are invited to speak to Christians, and they get high honorariums.

Mulder: Borg especially?

Luedemann: O yes. And I don't know how they can do it ... when we come to discussing things, then I come to realise that they're not really believers. They're just fooling around.

Mulder: Are they therefore being unethical? That could be the implication?

Luedemann: Well, the churches probably expect them to be like that.

Mulder: But the church also know that they're not really honest?

Luedemann: Well, liberal churches are like that. Maybe it is self deception. But look who is going there? They despise evangelicals ... [those] churches want these people with the double talk. They need it.

Mulder: So tell us what happened between 1994 and 1999. In your 1994 book you put forward the view that Jesus' body decomposed in a tomb and that Peter and Paul experienced hallucinations of the risen Jesus. In the same work you maintained that one can remain a Christian despite this. You based this insight on your appreciation for the Marburg systematics theologian Wilhelm Herrmann [picture left] who separated faith and history from each other [Herrmann was Rudolf Bultmann and Karl Barth's dogmatics professor]. And then in 1999 in your "Letter to Jesus", you famously said you cannot be a Christian any longer. So please tell us more about your five year existential experience of being a Christian [between 1994 and 1999], and how it eventually panned out.

Luedemann: Well, in 1994 the quotation from Herrmann was from a book in which he says that we can live with the little we really believe and not with the much that we have to believe ... I had these ideas. I was however never able to make a system of it, because I did not believe it.

Mulder: So why did you say it then? Why did you say "yes" for Christianity in 1994 despite your historical findings?

Luedemann: Look, I was a professor in Theology. There had to be a synthesis.

Mulder: So you pretended?

Luedemann: No. You end up with that [synthesis]. The only thing I enjoyed in that book was the things I said about DF Strauss that the tomb is full. And I learnt that from Conzelman. I visited him a lot.

Mulder: Did Conzelman say that in public?

Luedemann: In private.

Mulder: So Conzelman in private said the tomb was not empty, but in his academic and public work he would not say that?

Luedemann: Or he was undecided. You see, I had a good relationship with Conzelman. He died in 1989. He was sick for three years. I went to him once a week, and asked him all sorts of questions. He talked to me about Martin Hengel from Tuebigen. He would say to Hengel: "The grave is full!".

Mulder: Conzelman would say that to Hengel?

Luedemann: He would say that to him. And I immediately said he is right about that.

Mulder: So when did you lose your faith?

Luedemann: I probably never had faith.

Later on we had a very interesting discussion about Martin Hengel. Surprisingly, Luedemann conceded that he has respect for Hengel's historical work, and that they communicated by email before his death. Hengel is relatively well known for arguing for the historicity of the empty tomb of Jesus. What an extraordinary discussion we had!