Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Congratulations to Stephen Carlson!

The Carlson clan added another member this week, Paul Walter!

Monday, August 29, 2005

Back from Vacation...

I've been on the road most of last week, first to Kaohsiung, and then to Taipei to see Robin Gibb in concert. But Michael and Neil, I'll have some stuff for you tomorrow, hopefully.


Tuesday, August 23, 2005

New site for Journal of Higher Criticism

The Journal of Higher Criticism by Robert Price has a new URL and a new editor:

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Blogging Depression

For those you who are total blog addicts, The Nonist offers a pamphlet on blogging depression.

There is a growing epidemic in the cyberworld. a scourge which causes more suffering with each passing day. as blogging has exploded and, under the stewardship of the veterans, the form has matured more and more bloggers are finding themselves disillusioned, dissatisfied, taking long breaks, and in many cases simply closing up shop. this debilitating scourge ebbs and flows but there is hardly a blogger among us who has not felt its dark touch. we're speaking, of course, about blog depression.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Top Ten Jesus Books

Please excuse the absence....been away down in southern Taiwan

It's interesting to look at the different lists of books on Jesus put out by the Bibliologgers:

Scott McKnight
1. N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God
2. B.F. Meyer, The Aims of Jesus (long philosophical intro)
3. J. Jeremias, New Testament Theology. Vol. 1: The Proclamation of Jesus
4. C.H. Dodd, The Founder of Christianity
5. J.D.G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered
6. G.B. Caird, New Testament Theology, chp. 9.
7. G. Vermes, Jesus the Jew
8. H.J. Cadbury, The Peril of Modernizing Jesus
9. B. Wiebe, Messianic Ethics
10. D. Kraybill, The Upside-Down Kingdom

Michael Bird
1. N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God
2. James Dunn, Jesus Remembered
3. John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew
4. Ben F. Meyer, The Aims of Jesus
5. Annette Merz & Gerd Theissen, The Historical Jesus
6. E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism
7. Ben Witherington, The Christology of Jesus
8. Scot McKnight, The Teachings of Jesus in National Context
9. Henry Cadbury, The Peril of Modernizing Jesus
10. Markus Bockmuehl, This Jesus

Sean du Toit

1. N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God
2. G.B. Caird, New Testament Theology, chp. 9. [Jesus and the Jewish Nation]
3. B. Meyer, The Aims of Jesus
4. Scot McKnight, A New Vision for Israel
5. Craig A. Evans Jesus and His Contemporaries
6. John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew
7. R. H. Horsley Jesus and the Spiral of Violence
8. E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism
9. Ben Witherington, The Christology of Jesus
10 James Dunn, Jesus Remembered

Loren Rossen
1. The Historical Figure of Jesus, by E.P. Sanders, 1993.
2. Jesus, Justice, and the Reign of God, by William Herzog II, 1999.
3. Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet, by Dale C. Allison, 1998.
4. A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, by John P. Meier, 1991, 1994, 2001, ?
5. Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews, by Paula Fredriksen, 1999.
6. The Message and the Kingdom: How Jesus and Paul Ignited a Revolution and Transformed the Ancient World, by Richard A. Horsley and Neil Asher Silberman, 1997.
7. Saint Saul: A Skeleton Key to the Historical Jesus, by Donald Akenson, 2000.

My own list would look something like this:

1. Thiessen and Merz, The Historical Jesus
2. Meier, A Marginal Jew Vol 1-3
3. Brown Death of the Messiah
4. Stephens & Winkler. Ancient Greek Novels.
5. Price. The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man
6. Metzger. A Textual Commentary on the New Testament
7. Crossan. The Birth of Christianity
8. Ludemann Jesus After 2000 Years
9. Helms. Gospel Fictions
10. Evans Authenticating the Activities of Jesus

There are several things I noted about the lists and comments, but most striking to me is the paucity of works that deal with the literary and methodological aspects of studying Jesus. Carlson has an excellent list of NT-related primary and secondary stuff but it is also light on methodology. Facts do not exist; they are constructions of methodology, and that is just as true of facts about Jesus as about anything else. Anything not supported by a reliable and publicly available methodology is simply assertions from the Well of Subjectivity. That is why I have included the works by Theissen and Merz, Helms, Evans, Price, Ludemann, and Crossan -- in one way or another they either reflect on or offer different kinds of methodologies. Several other works, such as Stanley Porter's recent work on criteria in HJ research, also do this. Conversely, that is why works like NT Wright's Jesus and the Victory of God and Sanders' The Historical Figure of Jesus are not on this list. The latter does not offer any methodological perspective for understanding the history, and the former is essentially an explication of NT Wright's theology about Jesus.

The lists on the Bibliologs tend to be slanted toward the conservative side of exegesis, one reason I have included the Stephens and Winkler collection of ancient Greek novels. I think many on the conservative side would be quite shocked to find out that the sequence of events at the end of Jesus' career -- entering the city to cheering crowds, being taken for a divine being, getting arrested, having a trial before the local potentate, being tortured, hung on a cross, and surviving it, are staple scenes in Hellenistic fiction. I doubt there is any history of Jesus in the Gospels, save what the writer of Mark brought in from the letters of Paul. In my view, familiarity with the motifs, stereotypes, construction practices, and conventions, of Hellenistic fiction should be mandatory for students of the NT. This problem of ignoring Hellenistic fiction also crops up in work that compares the Gospels to Hellenistic writing -- usually the scholar compares the Jesus stories to Hellenistic biography or history and ignores Hellenistic fiction. (ex: "A question too often neglected" Mattila, S. L. N. T. Stud. v41, 1995, 199-217). The underlying axiom of Gospel research is that the stories are history (criteria of historical presumption), and this is reflected in the choice of comparison. It is time that axiom was given up.....

I followed the links on Michael Pahl's and Steve Carlson's sites, and bumped across this:

Doug Chaplin writes:
Those who approach the historical data wishing to construct an alternative narrative of historical information (and only narrative makes data information in the discipline of history) to that of the gospels will be influenced for example by just how materialistic conception of history they have. Does historical event include, for example, healing (whether presumed to be psychosomatic or inexplicable)? Or exorcism (whether presumed to be a response of faith creating the right circumstances within that culture for the healing of a diseased mind by trust in a more powerful authority figure, or inexplicable)? These are not, strictly speaking, questions of methodology, but part of the basis of an overarching set of presuppositions or philosophical foundations.
I disagree. These are questions of methodology. Scholarly methodology is done by methodological naturalism; anything else is apologetics. Healings would be perfectly acceptable; miraculous healings would not. Many NT writers have attempted to dodge a commitment to scholarship by arguing that methological naturalism amounts to an unscholarly a priori. That is both unscholarly and incorrect. Methodological naturalism is the foundation of western scholarly and scientific work and predates the development of historical Jesus studies. Essentially such arguments put forward by apologists are like ecologists claiming that they needn't pay attention to conservation of energy laws because they are an a priori developed by chemists.

A further problem, quite apart from the claim that materialism is not a question of methodology, is that natural law represents a set of reliable and useful rules that permit others to understand and repeat one's inquiry. Once these are suspended under the rubric of a priori, how can inquiry take place in the utter absence of rules? All that is left is the preferences of the exegete.

Trevor Pinch outlined the problem in one of his books on psychic research and science. Once one suspends natural law, controlled inquiry is not possible. Imagine two test subjects, one in NY and one in Seattle. NY turns over a set of cards, and Seattle nails them, all 25, correctly and in order. Consider one restricted set of possibilities and where they go....

1. Seattle is reading NY's mind with ESP powers
2. Seattle is using clairvoyance to predict what card will be turned over.
3. Seattle is reaching out with telekinesis to re-arrange the cards in NY to the desired order.
4. Seatlle is mind controlling his witnesses in Seattle so that they report only what he wants them to report.
5. A bystander/witness in the experiement is doing 1,2, 3, or 4.
6. Some random non-witness has, for reasons of his own, decided to reach out and touch the experiment with some variation of 1,2,3 or 4.

...this eventually brings us to:

7. The world is simply an imagined event in the mind of Seattle etc.

Given the variety of posited supernatural powers (the Christian God is said to have unlimited power), how can one design a controlled experiment? Once you give up natural law as the basis for inquiry, inquiry must thereupon cease, since without repeatable rules no methodologically sound assertion can be made.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Light blogging

I'm snowed under by a blizzard of translation work this month. So light blogging until September here. In the meantime, enjoy some pictures of the local wildlife....

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Bethsaida II: Recovering the Original Structure of Mark

In analyzing the Bethsaida section, three other pericopes need to be explored as well. As discussed earlier in this work, the tale of the death of John the Baptist (6:14-29) has been expanded with material from the Book of Esther in a very unMarkan way. The very next pericope, 6:30-44, also seems to be non-Markan. Here is the structure:

A..And they went away in the boat to a lonely place by themselves.

.....B..Now many saw them going, and knew them,
..........and they ran there on foot from all the towns,
..........and got there ahead of them.

..........C..As he went ashore he saw a great throng,
...............and he had compassion on them, because
...............they were like sheep without a shepherd;

...............D..and he began to teach them many things.

....................E..And when it grew late, his disciples came him and said, "This is a lonely place,
........................and the hour is now late; send them away, go into the country and villages round
........................about and buy themselves something to eat."

.........................F..But he answered them, "You give them
.............................something to eat."

..............................G..And they said to him, "Shall we go
...................................and buy two hundred denarii worth
...................................of bread, and give it to them to eat?"

...................................H..And he said to them, "How many
........................................loaves have you? Go and see."

...................................H..And when they had found out,
........................................they said, "Five, and two fish."

..............................G..Then he commanded them all to sit
...................................down by companies upon the green

.........................F..So they sat down in groups, by hundreds
..............................and by fifties.

....................E..And taking the five loaves and the two fish
.........................he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and
.........................broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples set before the people; and he divided the two among them all.

...............D..And they all ate and were satisfied.

..........C..And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces
...............and of the fish.

.....B..And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

A..Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat
.....and go before him to the other side, to Beth-sa'ida, while
.....he dismissed the crowd.

There are several indicators here of a non-Markan hand at work. First, the use of the word compassion, which shows up only in other places where the text appears to have been redacted. Second, the extensive use of narrative in the second half of the structure -- Jesus rarely goes so long in a pericope without uttering something portentious. Third, the completely unMarkan center, which has a very unMarkan rhythm. Compare, if you will, the very Markan center of the Sanhedrin trial (RSV):

A..And the high priest tore his garments, and said, "Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?"

B..And they all condemned him as deserving death.

A..And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to strike him, saying to him, "Prophesy!"

B..And the guards received him with blows

Note the prolix/pithy balance so common in complex Markan centers. The center of 6:30-44 does not resemble that nice rhythm in any way. Further, the brackets do not balance each other in true Markan style. The outside brackets, BCDE/EDCB can be construed to relate, but the interior brackets FGH/HGF do not relate to each other at all. Compare again the Sanhedrin Trial, where, when Jesus gives his non-answers, in the opposite brackets, Peter denies Jesus. Similarly, in the opening bracket the High Priest accuses Jesus of being Christ, in the paired closing bracket, the maid accuses Peter of being a follower of Jesus. Mark's brackets are usually very tightly structured, whereas the writer of this passage, 6:30-44, did not take the time to make sure the interior worked correctly.

Hence, 6:30-44 is not from the hand of the writer of the original Gospel of Mark.

In addition to 6:14-29 and 6:30-44, another pericope needs to be explored: Mark 10:46-52. This pericope contains the famous verse, Mark 10:46, which many exegetes believes signals that something has been removed. I have deliberately refrained from showing the chiasm for this pericope to give the reader a feel for its rhythm (text is RSV).
A And they came to Jericho; and as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great multitude, Bartimae'us, a blind beggar, the son of Timae'us, was sitting by the roadside.

B And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

C And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent;

D but he cried out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"

E And Jesus stopped and said, "Call him."

F And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; rise, he is calling you."

F And throwing off his mantle he sprang up and came to Jesus.

E And Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?"

D And the blind man said to him, "Master, let me receive my sight."

C And Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your faith has made you well."

B And immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.

A And when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Beth'phage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, and said to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat; untie it and bring it. If any one says to you, `Why are you doing this?' say, `The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.'"
The first thing to notice about this pericope is the A bracket
And they came to Jericho; and as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great multitude, Bartimae'us, a blind beggar, the son of Timae'us, was sitting by the roadside.
There's absolutely no question that this is unMarkan. The standard Markan A bracket has a location change that is both singular and concrete. Thus, I join with those who say that something has been removed here. In my own view it is most likely to be Mark 7:1-23, in which the scribes come down from Jerusalem. That is easy to see if Jesus is in Jericho on his way to the big city, but difficult to imagine if Jesus is in Galilee.

Another striking thing about this pericope is the center of it. From the C bracket to the B' bracket, this pericope consists entirely of brackets containing a single action, with the exception of the center F' bracket. This kind of rhythm is entirely unMarkan. I do not believe that this pericope is from the hand of the original writer of Mark.

Yet another sign of unMarkan origin is the pericope's allusion to Plato through the name of its central character, Bar-Timaeus. In Plato's dialogue of the same name, Timaeus, it is not difficult to find the parallel between Jesus -- about to be executed -- and Socrates -- eventually to be executed, as well as Peter, James, and John, and Socrates' three friends. Socrates, like Jesus, is a tekton. Bar-Timaeus is blind, and Timaeus has a discussion of optics and the physics of the eye. Like Jesus, Socrates will enlighten his companions as to the truth. The name stinks of literary invention, and this would make it the only pericope in Mark with an origin in Plato or some other Hellenistic literature. All in all, this pericope would not seem to be from the hand of the original writer of Mark.

Let us now summarize our findings
about the long interpolated section that starts in Mark 6 and continues to Mark 10 (and probably into Mark 11 as well). This list strikes out everything not original to Mark, according to my analysis. Redacted but original text is in bold.

Mk 6:14-29 Herod executes John the Baptist
Mk 6:45-56 Jesus walks on water
Mk 8:1-13 The second feeding miracle, of 4000
Mk 8:22-26 Jesus heals a blind man, who sees men like trees walking
Mk 8:27-33 Jesus makes first Passion prediction; "Get thee behind me, Satan!"
Mk 8:34-38 Jesus says you must deny yourself and take up cross to follow him
Mk 9:1-13 Jesus is transfigured on a mountain with Moses and Elijah
Mk 9:14-29 Jesus heals an epileptic that the disciples failed to heal
Mk 9:30-37 Jesus makes his second Passion prediction
Mk 9:38-41 Whoever is not with me is against me....
Mk 9:42-50 If your hand offends you, cut it off; salted with fire
Mk 10:1-12 Teachings on divorce
Mk 10:13-16 Kingdom belongs to children
Mk 10:17-31 The rich getting into heaven is like a camel.....
Mk 10:32-34 Jesus makes his third Passion prediction
Mk 10:35-45 James and John want to be at Jesus' right hand

Mk 7:1-23 Pharisees criticize Jesus for eating with unwashed hands (moved)

Note how this would flank the Temple episode with iterations of Psalm 110 and 118 in Mark 10-11 and Mark 12, and with Pauline material in Mark 10 (divorce and food laws) and in Mark 12 (taxes and love). It is likely that other parts of this narrative have been re-arranged, but the unsettled nature of the narrative section makes it difficult to tell.

Does the Gospel of Mark have a chiastic structure, as many exegetes have posited? It seems almost impossible that it does not, given the writer's obvious interest in recursive structures, but reconstructing it is extraordinarily difficult. Most exegetes tend to place the pivot point of the Gospel in Mark 8, where Jesus is spotted as the Christ by Peter. But Mark's smaller structures do not pivot on theologically important material, but on material that is dramatic for narrative purposes. For example, the center of the Sanhedrin Trial and Peter's denial is Jesus getting beaten by the guards. The Crucifixion centers on Jesus being mocked. A glance at other centers will show that theologically important material is generally outside the center. Hence, it is likely that the center of chiasm is not where exegetes put it, in Mark 8, but where the narrative pivots, at the fateful decision to cleanse the Temple, or in Mark 9, where the Transfiguration links the Baptism and the Crucifixion.

It is easy to pick out oppositions on either side of this divide. For example, front and back offer a sequence of 5 conflict stories and a major parable. Each parable structures the forthcoming narrative. Pauline material flanks either side of the Temple Cleansing. One might oppose the Gerasene Demoniac to Jesus' predictions in Mark 13, while John's announcement of Jesus' entry into the world surely parallels the now lost ending where Jesus exits the world and the disciples are sent out into it to preach. However, the element of subjectivity in such speculations is too high to be convincing.

In the next post we'll take a look at the larger structure of the Gospel.