He told them: "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things" (Gospel of Luke 24: 46-48)

Friday, 5 February 2010

The End of Mark 16 in the Light of Textual Criticism and Early Christian Succession

It puzzles me that certain Biblical passages that by some are categorized as doubtful in their origins, at least from the angle of textual criticism (primarily), such as the end of Mark 16 and the beginning of John 8, are not being dealt with fairly being subjected to the study of textual criticism only while they ought to share equally in other fields of study, such as the historical studies related to succession and transmission.

For examples, it appears, that the earliest text of Mark's Gospel utilized in Alexandria, on which the Alexandrian family tends to rest, omitted the end of Mark found in the Western and Byzantine manuscripts.

Considering the writings of e.g. Clement of Alexandria this particular version of Mark was written prior to the death of Peter. While according to Irenaeus, the disciple of Polycarp, (who was) the disciple of John the apostle and John the Elder, the text of Mark commonly recognised in the West by the Latin fathers and including Irenaeus and probably Polycarp, in both Greek and Latin language, arrived after the death of Peter and contained the ending.

Some textual critics mistakenly brush aside the original validity of the ending and deduce from textual methods only that these are later interpolations, included either by the community or a scribe.

I fully understand and agree with this conclusion if I would approach the passage from the angle of textual criticism only (and that is a fallacy).

Yet, this conclusion only states that the earliest Mark did not contain the ending, it does not adduce the idea of Markan or apostolic absense, nor are we in a position based upon textual criticism able to conclude that the passage is not valid as original Gospel transmission. Hence the earliest Mark was probably a proto-Mark (a Mark that lacked the ending) when considering that the end of Mark was lacking. Some critics of the Christian faith wrongly assume that this presents a difficulty, while in fact Christians have no difficulties with proto-Gospels, since the Gospels are the recordings of apostles and their disciples based upon oral transmission under the control of apostolic successors.

Hence these written works could be and probably were improved and edited by additional transmission, yet under an apostolic control (notice: I am not referring to textual variants within textual criticism but the formation of the actual source).

Given that the field of background study and historical study needs to be considered. It is likely that Mark, the disciple of the apostle Peter, himself derived in Alexandria with the earliest Gospel of Mark 55 AD or even earlier (according to early Christian tradition) only 20-25 years after the resurrection of Jesus Christ (this version of Mark did not contain the longer ending of Mark).

Yet despite of this date, the conclusion of some textual critics still does not refute the possibility that Mark was responsible for a proto-Mark which omitted the ending and later another version of Mark that contained it. Contrary to popular opinion the style of writing which differentiates the longer ending of Mark and the major body of the text does not refute this, since Mark's Gospel is Mark's recording of Peter's personal transmission of the Gospel account and hence Peter's style of wording. While the end of Mark could well present the style, not of Peter, but the scribe (that is Mark).

On the other hand, it is possible indeed that the end of Mark was never recorded by Mark; does this render the text reliable or external?

Not really!

Is the Gospel of Mark a Gospel because it contains Mark's transmission of Peter only or because it contained general apostolic transmission and tradition (that is Peter's transmission and additional transmission)?

In that case the end of Mark, may present Mark's recording of Peter's transmission, but not the transmission conveyed in the sammer as in the rest of Mark, yet still transmission and possibly even transmission conveyed by Peter. Here it is possible indeed that Mark simply summarized the transmission of Peter.

We may also conclude that the end of Mark if not being Mark's recording, neverthless conveys to us Gospel transmission that flourished among the Christians under the control of apostolic successors no less than 20-30 years after the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and hence the end of Mark 16 is correctly to be deemed Christian Scripture.

In that case the end of Mark 16 may not correctly be rendered 'transmission recorded by Mark' but nevertheless in its correct nature and category still 'Gospel transmission'.

My up coming Study Plans (New Testament Textual Criticism)

Dear readers, only to make you aware of my new study projects for the next five months.

I will continue with my studies on source criticism, and early succession and transmission in the first and second century. To accomplish this, I will have to memorize a lot of details included in the writings of the early church fathers and in Eusebius. I have recently began to memorize the list of the apostolic Succession in Rome; second comes Alexandria, then Antioch and then Jerusalem (I guess about a 100 names including date and additional data). In addition I will have to buy a whole lot of books and material, but it will be worth it. I am looking at embarking on a Mphil within the middle of next year and work on it slowly for two or three years, approximately 12-15 hours a week.

However, my study project for the following five months will be in the field of New Testament Textual Criticism.

My purpose for doing so is to respond effectively to the study of textual criticims as an approach to debunk the reliability of the New Testament, in my case the Gospels in particular.

Doing Greek III has helped incredibly in this research, even though, this level of Greek is making my hairs fall of the head by the day.

My first goal is to memorize the gospels; I am already more than half way through.

Secondly, and which I have embarked on already is understand the families and categories of textual families and to memorize the list of manuscripts and the data attached to it in the context of their own families and their connection and affinities to other manuscripts (this is an quite a mouthful).

Thirdly study and fully comprehend the history of textual criticims.

Fourthly study the methods of textual criticism which requires a fair amount of reading; I intend to follow the advise and books recommended by Barth Ehrman in his book: 'Misquoting Jesus'.

Fiftly: application: begin to read the original texts of these manuscripts and compare these with as many as I can get hold on.

My reason for sharing this with you, is particular for the Christian to keep me in their prayers, as I will also continue in my local ministry and my work in apologetics.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Bart Ehrman on New Testament Textual Criticism: Has the Text Been Lost in the Process?

A common misconception among the common individual is to view the present New Testament scripture to be the result of centuries of scribal errors, caused by continuous trends of scribal weakness, which consequently changed its text and meaning, rendering the original text as completely lost.

However, the common reader might reach this conclusion by misunderstanding the common terms and wording within the field of textual criticism and hence they misrepresent the actual of view of textual scholars such as Bruce Metzger, Bart Ehrman and F.F. Bruce among others.

Yet has the New Testament text undergone any serious changes due to centuries of scribal copying? And have scribal errors caused the original text and meaning to vanish; lets consider the wording of the popular textual critic Bart Ehrman:

Ehrman writes:

Most changes are careless errors that are easily recognised and corrected. Christian scribes often made mistakes simply because they were tired or inattentive...In spite of the remarkable differences among our manuscripts, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the oldest form of the words of the New Testament with a reasonable (though not 100 percent accuracy) (Barth Ehrman, Lost Christianities: The Battle for the Scripture and Faith We Never Knew, pp. 220-21).

Ehrman agrees in his later book Misquoting Jesus:

For my part however, I continue to think that even if we cannot be 100 percent certain...that it is at least possible to get back to the oldest and earliest stage of the manuscript tradition...This oldest form of the text is no doubt closely (very closely) related to what the author originally wrote’ (Barth Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, p. 62)

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Why I accept Form-Criticism but don't buy the Form-Critical theory

Just a few words on the Bible and form-criticism.

Form criticism as a method is not necessarily an enemy of Christianity as often presumed.
In fact form ciriticism has privileged us to recognise and study the variaty of forms and genres in the Gospels.

However Form criticism as a theory is a different matter.

While Form Criticism applies the methods that may be reasonable for Christians to take on board, the theory also carries a number of presuppositions (which I would call blunders) that Christians need to be aware of.

Firstly, it presupposes that the society of the first century was utter chaos, for example, that people generally, were unable to read, passive and unable to memorize and preserve information, unable to remain united or to organise themselves.

However, this description of the early Christian community is utterly wrong.

The ancient world was highly concerned about preservation even among the illiterate.

Secondly, people in both the Greek and Jewish world were able to read and write. In fact the highest literacy in the first century existed among Jews.

Thirdly, the practicse of memorization, recitation and transmission via a chain of successors was a common practice among both Greeks and Jews.

This simply renders the entire Form-critical postulate on this matter futile and false.

Form criticism also presupposes that a variaty of forms or genres necessarily idenfies a variaty of sources. This idea has continually been utilized by atheists and muslims alike in their attack on the Bible.

For example: Jesus taught individuals (source 1), Jesus taught the crowds (source 2), Jesus spoke in parables (source 3), Jesus spoke wisdom (source 4), Jesus healed the sick (source 5), Jesus travelled back and forward (narrative) (source 6), Jesus died and resurrected (source 7).

Form-critical scholars tend to assume that because these vary in their genre, these must therefore derive from separate sources that the gospel writers must have compiled from various locations, individuals and from different eras of the first century.

Yet is this a reliable conclusion?

Imagine a surgeon who practicing in a university hospital is involved with both teaching and practice.

Let's say that for one day he will be accompanied by an individual who will record every detail, word and deed for this one day only.

1. In the morning he chats with co-workers, students, friends and patients (this is source one).

2. Prior to lunch he gives a tutor session to a student (source two)

3. In the afternoon he lectures to a group of twenty students (source three)

4. Just before take off home, he is called to do an emergency surgery (source four)

5. He drives home (and of course he drow to work in the morning) (source five)

6. Unfortunately on the way he ends up in a serious road accident, which sends him to the hospital, he nevertheless recovers after two weeks (source 6).

If this particular day was to be published in a book and we decided to apply the theory of form criticism in our scrutiny of it, we would certainly agree that we had a number of genres combined, which to general reader simply reveals that the person engaged in a number of situations and activities, each which in their descriptions required their own identical genre, which suggests that this is one on and the same person, yet, from which the form-critic if he applies his methods concludes that this is not the same person.

There you have it: none of us (if we apply form critical methods on the records of our lives) can apply more than one genre to our life, and hence an individual cannot exist.

Examples of Oral Transmission in Clement of Rome, Polycarp and Irenaeus

Prior to the writing of Mark, the Christians utilized a oral transmission, which today is included in the four Gospels. However, memorization in the first, second and third century church continued to utilize the oral transmission alongside the written transmission.

The early church father Ireneaus (120-190 AD), the disciple of Polycarp (70-150 AD) who himself was a disciple of John the apostle (died 90/95) the disciple of Jesus, records a number of details relating to memorization and oral transmission. In his Against Heresies, Book 3, chapter 3 and verses 2-3 he records from the line of Roman successors and narrators:

‘...the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul...The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone [in this], for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the apostles... To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus. Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him...

Hence Clement of Rome the bishop of Rome and an apostolic successor was in position to memorize and recite the apostolic tradition.

Irenaeus himself records in the Fragments of the Lost Sayings of Irenaeus, chapter 2, how he sat under the influence of Polycarp the successor of John the apostle and memorized the traditions:

‘...I then listened to them attentively, and treasured them up not on paper, but in my heart; and I am continually, by God's grace, revolving these things accurately in my mind’.

Indeed Irenaeus records in Fragments of the Lost Sayings of Irenaeus, chapter 2 how Polycarp had engaged in memorization from the apostles, those who were eyewitnesses and hearers of Jesus:

‘...and how he would call their words to remembrance. Whatsoever things he had heard from them respecting the Lord, both with regard to His miracls and His teaching, Polycarp having thus received [information] from the eye-witnesses of the Word of life, would recount them all...

We read here of two lines of successors, both lines leading us back to the apostles and then to Jesus, of which both lines of successors are engaged in memorization.

Of similar lines of successors we could refers to Papias who memorized the ‘The Living and Abiding Word’ (that is information transmitted by an eyewitnesses of the account and under his control) from John the Elder and Eyewitnesses and disciple of Jesus (Eusebius, The History of the Church Book 3, chapter 39).

Irenaeus confirms in Irenaeus in his Against Heresies, Book 3, chapter 4, verse 1, that in 180 AD the oral transmission is still so intact within the church, that even with no Bible the oral preservation of the Gospel would be sufficient to preserve the entire tradition:

For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?

Early Christianity, Oral Transmission and Preservation of the Gospel Account

This is an older post, which I add to this blog due to the field-study emphasized here. I recently completed an MA on this topic and I am currently looking for the possibility to embark on a PhD for more indepth study in this area of research.

I have spent almost two years emerging myself into source criticism, early Christian testimony to the Gospels and early oral transmission. The last three months I have occupied myself with early Christianity and oral tradition. It has been fascinating to study the works of authors, such as Sanders, Riesenfelt, Bultman, Kummel, Kloppenborg, Mack, Streeter, Bauckham and others. Yet I guess the most exciting part of my research has so far been probing into the text and world of the early church fathers.

I personally reject the methodology and approach of Sanders and most liberal critics here. Sanders proposes that the most realistic approach to the New Testament and the historical Jesus is to reject all historical fact and occupy oneself with modern theories. I find it funny that this approach is categorized as something that comes somehow near historical studies. This seems to confirm the words of Etta Linneman that modern Bible criticism is more of a philosophy than historical research. This aspect relates closely to the foundational presupposition of modern critical scholarship, namely the idea that the supernatural is absent from the natural world if it even exists.

I find it funny that intellegent atheists devout themselves to follow such approaches. I find it even more funny that adheres of the religion of Islam whose life and purpose is to undermine and wipe out the Christian, follow these secular theories.

So far I have opted for reading, comparing and devouting myself to the material and facts that are available rather than reading into these a range of modern conjecture created by individuals who were not even present in the first and second century, but seem to imply that they know more about the local details of the ancient world than Jesus, Paul, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Such an approach is extremely naive and virtually foolish, it reveals logical and academic integrity.

So where am I at with my insight into early oral tradition?

Early Christianity and oral tradition can be divided into three eras.

  1. The Oral Period
  2. The Transition Period
  3. The Post Transition period.

Each of these are again sub-divided:

The Oral Period is divided into, three eras:

  • Jesus' transmission to his apostles and training of the apostles
  • The Apostolic fixing of a oral body of information, including narrative and sayings
  • The transmission of the Apostles to the apostolic disciples (successors)

The Transition period is divided into:

  • Oral transmission still dominant but its text in existence (Papia-Polycarp)
  • Text dominant but Oral transmission still in existence (particularly among the illiterate) (Justin Martyr-Irenaeus)

The Post Oral era relates mainly to one aspect, in which oral tradition is a matter of interest (Clement of Alexandria - Origin)

While the use of text is already referred to by Papias in 80-100 AD to Matthew and Mark, and later by Justin Martyr (150). It is interesting that the favour of the written word does not derive until the death of Polycarp, even though Christians read and used them (see Ignatius of Antioch).

The reason being, Christians applied the ancient rule of 'the living and the abiding word', that is history is effective history as long at the eyewitnesses are still alive and are able to transmitt the information and confirm it.

Polycarp was the last of the apostolic disciples and died approximately 140-50 as a martyr.

After Polycarp, the oral transmission is continuous, the Christians turn however to the transmission of the apostles in its written form, as the written form had been written under the guidance of the apostles and the successors (e.g. Luke).

In other words the Gospels are of the same nature as the 'living and the abiding word'.

The study is fascinating and it provides strong historical evidence that the Gospel information could not have been corrupted or fabricated within the first 200 years of Christianity.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Review and Critic of John Dominic Crossan's book: ‘The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant’


John Dominic Crossan’s book ‘The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant’ had at one point a great impact within the third Quest of the Historical Jesus. Crossan presented a new strand within the Quest adopted by a range of modern scholars, such as Marcus Borg, Gerald F. Downing and Burton Mack in which Jesus being born a Jew of the first century, leans slightly towards a Hellenistic mindset, namely in this particular case the Cynics. This approach has resulted in two strains of reactions in modern scholarship; those who strongly favour innovative ideas and approaches, and those who consider Crossan to be highly speculative, to the point of even loosing his academic integrity.

The Situation

In his book Crossan’s historical methodology includes a triadic process, the anthropological, historical and literary approach to history, in which he carefully analyzes the economic, cultural and social-political environment of the Mediterranean world. He proposes the idea that the Historical Jesus can only be discovered by considering not merely the specific era and location of Jesus in Palestine, but the entire environment of the Mediterranean world and situation alike.

Crossan’s assessment depicts the Mediterraean society as notoriously corrupt, unjust and suppressive; mainly controlled by the minority rulers, landowners and corrupt organised religion. He describes vividly the devastating situation of women, children, slaves and particularly the suppressed peasant society; these being deprived of their human rights and drained by imposed taxes.

Desperation caused various rival groups to emerge, such as revolutionists, the bandits, and the thaumaturgical response of prophets and magicians; their aim was to challenge the societal structure.

Jesus according to Crossan

According to Crossan, Jesus grew up in Nazareth, in Crossan’s view a highly Greco-Roman influenced environment due to its proximity to Sepphoris, a Gentile city and regional centre.

Jesus however begins his spiritual journey as a follower of John the Baptist, a prophet promoting an apocalyptic message. Crossan envisages a sudden turning point in which Jesus changes his mind about John and his message. Jesus embarks in a new direction excluding all elements of apocalypticism and the supernatural; which indicates that Jesus turned perhaps to the philosophy he had been exposed to in Sepphoris prior to his association with John, that of Cynicism.

Crossan’s main evidence is Sepphoris’ proximity to Nazareth combined with certain aspects of Jesus’ teaching and his wandering lifestyle. Being a Cynic, Crossan describes Jesus as repulsed with the evils of society, he becomes an introvert who escapes the typical life and structure of society. Yet unlike a Greek Cynic, Crossan’s Jesus is a Jewish Cynic, his mind is set on reformation, to create a new egalitarian society.

His mission begins with a band of disciples, to whom he offers a social program; they challenge the authorities, and seeks to deliver the less fortunate from societal and religious suppression.

To challenge the suppressive societal system and delivering its victims, Jesus and his followers devised two perfect means of resistance, what Crossan entitles ‘magic and meal.’

Magic to Crossan, in this case Jesus’ miracles, is unofficial religion, basically a rival reaction to official religion. Yet to Crossan healing-miracles were not supernatural they were merely declarations.

According to Crossan, the problem was rooted in the priestly system, that had succeeded in applying the idea of sickness as divine reaction to individual sin. This concept had led to mental degradation and suppression, in which the necessity of temple rituals and the cost of ritual participation were the only means of salvation. Others such as lepers were merely ostrized and excluded from society. By declaring the sick pure the priestly system lost its power and those caught in its grip were reintegrated back into society.

Jesus’ focus on exorcism suggests a similar motive, while Crossan in his book excludes any notion of personal demons he describes exorcism as deliverance and recovery from traumatic and mental disorder; particularly of individuals who had been victimised by the unjust structure of society or colonial powers.

The second mean of reform included a meal of commensality. Crossan effectively describes the vitality of sharing a meal, as it symbolised social status and identity. By eating with the poor and the sinful outcasts, Jesus broke the barrier of the class system and the religious exclusion; indeed therefore, to Crossan Christianity is the religion of the poor, the excluded and outcasts, the humble and the victims.

The Jesus of Crossan is also purely sapiental, whereas divine, prophetic and messianic descriptions are considered later myths; Jesus performed no miracles, and his resurrection is considered to be a later invention.

Jesus opposition to the priests and the temple culminated in his death. Initially he was arrested, crucified under Pilate, died, and his body was thrown in a ditch and eaten by the dogs.

Criticism and Evaluation

Generally Crossan’s appraoch has been strongly criticised. His focus on the Gospel strata, his preference to non-canonical Gospels, including the construction of his own, the so called ‘Cross Gospel’ and his criterion of multiple attestation has been deemed highly speculative.

Furthermore, his methods fiercely oppose the rules of archaeology, by basing his assessment from the earliest strata toward the later, while archaeology can only work the other way round.

Also his use of multiple attestation is questionable! Crossan appears highly inconsistent in utilizing this criteria and frequently refrains from this criteria when the information does not suit his own theory and conclusion, such as Jesus’ prediction of his apocalyptic return (Allan, 106).

A third matter relates to the Mediterranean environment, how relevant was it for Galilee and Judea of Jesus time.

The whole Cynic idea has also been criticised; Witherington points out that there is little resemblance in neither message, lifestyle and practice; these two are clearly distinguishable. In fact his focus on the commensality meal might even contradict the Cynic view, as Cynics considered begging to be an honour (Witherington, p.72). Witherington also points out that the proximity of Sepphoris to Nazareth plays little role, as enmity would separate the locations. Furthermore, no evidence remains that cynic influence flourished in Sepphoris.

Speculative interpretations also mark Crossan’s picture; Jesus change of view relating John the Baptist needs explicit evidence, and his reference to miracles and exorcism as a means of social deliverance is not explicitly evident from the context.

Crossan’s approach to sources is also questionable; he values his interpretations as sufficient if they can be based upon any piece of preceded writings; in fact, in his book, Crossan uses this approach continually; but on what basis is such a conclusion evident, especially, when previous texts and immediate events are strictly exclusive of each other?

Positives about Crossan’s Book

Neverthless Crossan also points out issues of remarkable significance

His book challenges an often typical tendency of Christians to spiritualise even the matters which to Jesus were urgent and practical. While the tendency is to gaze forward and hope for an apocalyptic order and reform only, Crossan describes an immediate social reform against poverty and injustice in which the followers engage and get practical.

Similarly the commensality of shared meals, Crossan gets the point across effectively; while these may not have been the ultimate devise of changing society, Crossan is correct in its outstanding application; Jesus was publically breaking down the barriers of suppression.

Similarly with the healing factor, while the exclusive view of Crossan that healings were a mere announcement of acceptance; the healings certainly triggered such an effect.

Crossan’s view certainly encourages a modern Christian to seek the true values of life, to resist the temptation of pursuing wealth while others lack the basics, to get practical, to speak out where injustice occurs, to liberate the poor and the victims and to seek and fight for what may benefit a suffering majority rather than a benefitted minority.