Tuesday, June 26, 2007 

Pharisaical Ponderings

I have several times indicated that in my opinion E.P. Sanders' Jesus and Judaism is the best work on the historical Jesus to date (here, here, here, and here). However, my excessive lauding of Sander's work on the historical Jesus has likely given the mistaken impression that I accepted pretty much everything Sanders put forth in Jesus and Judaism (hereafter JJ). This is not so. At the time when I initially read (and then eventually re-read) JJ there were two things that I disagreed with concerning Sanders' reconstruction of the historical Jesus. First, was Sanders' assertion that what most offended Jesus' contemporaries was his claim that sinners need not repent of their sins nor seek forgiveness of their sins in order to have a share in the (soon) coming kingdom and then, second, I had a problem with Sanders' claim that the Pharisees did not play a dominent role in Jewish Palestine and likely were small in number being chiefly located in Judea.

I am still not persuaded on Sanders' position concerning Jesus' message to sinners, but I am slowly coming around to accepting the second proposition concerning the Pharisees (principally via the now classic work by Anthony Saldarini entitled Pharisees, Saducees, and Scribes in Palestinian Society: A Sociological Approach). But I have not engaged enough with the requisite material in order to flesh out any thing at the moment here as to why I think I now agree with Sanders. However, what this one issue has alerted me to is the amount of historical questions there are surrounding the Pharisees. Here are, in no particular order, some of these major historical issues surrounding the Second-Temple Jewish group known as the Pharisees:

1.) Were the Pharisees, as some have asserted, major players in Palestinian society or were they a relatively marginal group no more influential than any of the other Jewish groups during the Second Temple period?

2.) What (if any) historical truth can be ascertained from the gospels concerning the Pharisees? In other words, how much of the gospels' portrayl of the Pharisees is mere caricature born out of polemic and how much has a historical basis? More importantly, how did the historical Jesus view the Pharisees? Was he in fundamental agreement with Pharisaical points of view or in fundamental disagreement with them or something in between?

3.) What was the Pharisaical view of the so called 'am a ha'aretz (people of the land). Did they view them as transgressors or simply as the common people who they believed did not necessarily have to adopt the strict purity regulations that governered their own lives?

4.) Can one or should one draw a direct historical link between the Pharisees and the post-70 Rabbinic sages? How much of Rabbinic traditions concerning the Pharisees reflect actual pre-70 Palestinian Jewish times?

My goal before this year is over is to investigate these issues and to discover where I stand concerning the Pharisees. Here is some of the relevant literature that I hope to read this year in regards to the historical Pharisees:

1.) Louis Finkelstein, The Pharisees: A Sociological Background of their Faith (2 Vols), 1939.

2.) Jacob Neusner, The Rabbinic Traditions about the Pharisees before 70 C.E. (3 Vols), 1982.

3.) Anthony J. Saldarini, Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees in Palestinian Society, 1986.

4.) E.P. Sanders, Jewish Law from Jesus to the Misnah: Five Studies, 1990.

5.) Jacob Neusner and Bruce Chilton (eds), In Quest of the Historical Pharisees, 2007.

Hopefully, in future posts I will be able to tackle some of these issues but for the time being I must get to reading.

Saturday, June 16, 2007 

My Synoptic Pilgrimage Part 2

For the second part of my synoptic pilgrimage (see Stephen Carlson's post for another pilgrimage “story”) post I want to discuss why I believe that the Two-Source theory (hereafter 2ST) will continue to dominant synoptic studies as the "best" solution to the synoptic problem. Along with Goodacre I was pleasantly surprised that the Farrer-Goulder hypothesis garnered so many votes in Brandon’s poll. However, Deconick is surely correct in her assertion that the poll hardly counts as a reliable indicator of the present (or future) state of the synoptic problem in the academy. Now, I certainly wish I could share in Goodacre’s optimism concerning the future of the Farrer-Goulder hypothesis among NT scholars but the fact of the matter is that I do not foresee the 2ST ever losing significant ground to the Farrer-Goulder hypothesis (although it certainly has a better chance than say the Griesbach hypothesis). To understand why I think this is so I must digress for a moment.

Those who are avid fantasy readers will surely have read or at least heard of Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series. It is one of the best fantasy series ever written and in my mind rivals the Lord of the Rings (if nothing else it outdoes it in scope with to date 11 books and a twelfth forthcoming). One of the more remarkable things about the books in this series is that every book contains what is called a Wizard's Rule which are basically general principles that the Wizards in Goodkind’s universe adopt and which the plot of each book pivots around. And it is the first Wizard’s Rule (incidentally, this is also the name of the first book in the series, Wizard's First Rule) that pertains to our topic. Succinctly, Wizard’s First Rule states the following:

With minimal persuasion people will generally believe things to be true for one of two reasons: either because they are scared that it may be true or because they strongly wish it to be true.

What this principle signifies is the problem of trying to achieve a fair level of objectivity when one is emotionally invested in a certain topic. Obviously, a state of complete objectivity can never be attained (since it would mean a complete disinterest in the topic under scrutiny) but this principle indicates that any level of objectivity will be difficult to obtain when one is so emotionally involved in an issue. So what does this principle have to do with the synoptic problem and the 2ST solution?

I believe that most Q scholars fall prey to the second part of Wizard’s First Rule, i.e, it is difficult for scholars to relinquish Q because deep down they want and even need it to be true. Why is this so? In short, Q has something for everyone. Its acceptance spans the liberal/conservative spectrum and so finds adherents in virtually every scholarly ideological framework. Goodacre expresses this better than I can so I will quote him at length:

"If we were to dispense with Q, it would not be without tears. For Q has been all over the world, loved by everyone, feminists and liberation theologians, the sober and the sensational, the scholar and the layperson, a document with universal appeal. Indeed one of the keys to its success has been its ability to woo both conservatives and radicals alike. While conservatives, for example, are drawn by its early witness to sayings of Jesus, others have seen its lack of a Passion Narrative as witnessing to an alternative stream of early Christianity, one not based on the proclamation of a crucified Christ. For those at one end of the theological spectrum, Q can give us a document of Jesus material from before 70, written within a generation of the death of Jesus. For those at the other end of the spectrum, Q aligns itself with the Gospel of Thomas to form a “trajectory” in early Christianity that contrasted radically with emerging orthodoxy, and which only “canonical bias” can now obscure from out view." (The Case Against Q, 16-17)

Because Q offers so much to so many it is easy to see why Q scholars strongly want the existence of Q (of whatever form) to be true. Because of this and ultimately because of Wizard’s First Rule I simply do not see the 2ST theory ever losing ground to the Farrer-Goulder hypothesis or to any theory which does not invoke Q as a solution to the synoptic problem. Q is simply too valuable and too desired by the academy. Goodacre is right: to dispense with Q would not be without tears and because of this I believe scholars will continue to be persuaded that Q is the best solution to the synoptic problem even if overwhelming evidence were to be presented otherwise.

Note: My more perceptive readers have surely realized that Wizard’s First Rule could be turned around on me since it could be argued that I dispensed with Q precisely because of my frustrations with its abuse which led me to want it not to exist. It can certainly cut both ways.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007 

My Synoptic Pilgrimage Part 1

Recently, Brandon Wason at Novum Testamentum created a poll in which he asked readers to vote on what they thought was the most persuasive “solution” to the synoptic problem (here). Not surprisingly, the Two-Source theory came out on top but with the Farrer-Goulder hypothesis, of which I am an adherent, taking second place. The results of Brandon’s poll elicited some interesting responses, most notably in the exchanges between Mark Goodacre and April Deconick (here, here, and here). For my own part, I tended to agree with Goodacre against Deconick but that is not what I want to discuss. Instead, I would like to offer a brief account of my pilgrimage from the Two-Source theory to an acceptance of the Farrer-Goulder hypothesis.

Like most young religious studies students I held to the Two-Source theory (commonly referred to as Q) unquestioningly. Everything that I read and/or was taught accepted the existence of Q as a fundamental basis of NT scholarship. But slowly I began to have misgiving after misgiving about Q, especially concerning the way Q was constantly abused by certain scholars in their attempts to locate various stratifications or editions of Q, and the extent to which most of these same scholars believed that they could extrapolate a specific Q theology or Q community. This was especially exemplified for me when I was researching burial practices in the Second-Temple period and came across a book called Roll Back the Stone by Byron McCane. In this book, McCane devoted an entire chapter to an examination of the Q community’s specific burial theology (which was, of course, at odds with typical Second-Temple Judaic practice). His ostensibly dubious analysis especially alerted me to the pitfalls that occur when scholars become strongly dependent on Q.

The next crucial thing which happened that started me on a path to Q skepticism was an encounter with of one of the many minor agreements between Luke and Matthew against Mark. Of course, at the time I did not understand the issues surrounding the minor agreements since I had yet to even read anything written against the Two-Source theory. And so, intriguingly, I stumbled upon this minor agreement from a discussion unrelated to the synoptic problem. A friend of mine was authoring a series of posts (I would provide links but the posts nor his blog now exist) attempting to indicate why inerrancy was a faulty view of the Biblical texts. One of the several passages he used was Mark 2: 23-28.

In this passage the author of Mark attributes to Jesus the saying that it was Abiathar who was high priest when David entered into the house of God to feed his hungry men. However, according to 1 Sam 21: 1-6 it is Abiathar’s father Ahimelech who was the high priest at that time and not Abiathar as Mark mistakenly indicates. Furthermore, it is not until Ahimelech and his fellow priests are slaughtered in 1 Sam 22: 17-19 that Abiathar becomes high priest. Given that both mens’ names begin with an “A” and the proximity of the two narratives to one another it is easy to see how Mark could have made the mistake. But it is a mistake nonetheless.

My friend further pointed out to his readers that what was interesting was what Matthew did with this passage. In the Matthean version of this passage (Matt 12: 1-8) the author of Matthew simply omits Mark’s reference to who was the high priest during this particular Davidic episode. More than likely, as my friend observed, given the gospel of Matthew’s probable Jewish authorship, the author of Matthew being more acquainted with the Hebrew scriptures recognized that Mark made a mistake and so remedied it by simply omitting the reference altogether. Immediately curious as to how Luke dealt with this passage I read Lk 6: 1-5. Now, you must realize that I was still operating under the rubric of a Two-Source theory and so recalling that the consensus of scholarship has been that Luke was of gentile authorship I expected Luke to replicate Mark’s mistake since he most likely was not as versed in the Hebrew scriptures as Matthew. Instead I was astonished to discover that his version followed Matthew’s verbatim by simply omitting the reference to the high priest. Here's how it all worked out in my head:

1). Mark mistakenly identifies the high priest in 2:23-38 as Abiathar and not Ahimelech.

2). Matthew because his gospel is more Jewish and well versed in the Hebrew scriptures (as his preoccupation with finding passages in the Tanach which he felt Jesus had fulfilled clearly exhibits) spotted the error and chose to "fix" the situation by omitting the reference to the high priest altogether.

3). Luke follows Matthew by omitting the reference to the high priest thus agreeing with Matthew against Mark.

4). Generally, scholars view the author of the gospel of Luke as a Gentile and so it seems rather unlikely that the author would have recognized Mark's mistake on his own.

5). Therefore, it seems more probable to assert that Luke knew Matthew and chose to follow suit with Matthew by omitting the reference to the high priest.

Once I had worked this out in my mind I realized that the principal implication of these conclusions was that, contrary to what the Two-Source theory stated, if Luke in fact knew Matthew then this would entail that invoking Q as a source might be superfluous. Now of course this one minor agreement does not prove that Luke knew Matthew and at the time I was still a bit reluctant to dispense with Q. However, what was chiefly important for me concerning this encounter with one of the minor agreements was that I could for the first time conceive of the possibility of Luke's literary dependence on Matthew. Eventually, I read Mark Goodacre's The Case Against Q and was persuaded that Q was an unnecessary postulate of the synoptic problem and that the literary relationship between the synoptics could in part be satisfied with reference to Luke's dependence on Matthew.

To be continued...

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