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2013/06/27

McGrath’s Review of Brodie’s Memoir: Incompetent or Dishonest?

Filed under: Brodie: Beyond Quest,James F. McGrath — Neil Godfrey @ 8:15 pm
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While preparing the next step of my posts on Thomas Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery, a Google search brought to my attention a review of this same work by James McGrath back in February this year. It also recently came to my attention that McGrath is to present a paper on academic freedom and that he has chosen to use Brodie’s experiences as he describes them in this Memoir as a case study.

So I read McGrath’s review of Brodie’s book, expecting to find a much more professional treatment of a scholarly peer than he had ever bestowed upon the amateur Earl Doherty. In “reviewing” Doherty McGrath explicitly defended his refusal to explain Doherty’s arguments because he did not want to lend any respectability to mythicism. When I asked McGrath why he sometimes claimed Doherty wrote the very opposite of what he did write, or accused him of not addressing themes and arguments that he clearly did address and at length, I received in return either no reply or an insult.

I did not expect to find the same treatment of Thomas Brodie. But that’s exactly what I found. One difference is that McGrath couches much of his language in tones of condescension whereas he was belligerently abusive towards Doherty.

I will write a complete response to McGrath’s entire review in a future post. However, for now I am incensed enough at his outright incompetence (or is it plain old intellectual dishonesty?) and failure to write a straight and truthful account of Brodie’s Memoir that I will address just one of his remarks.

McGrath writes in his second paragraph:

Brodie indicates that . . . his inability to find a publisher very early on was a result of things like poor grammar, lack of footnotes, refusal to accept criticisms of and feedback on his claims and interpretations, and attempting to find a Christian publisher for what he wrote on the subject (pp.32,35,40,42).

I am singling out this section because it directly relates to a section I was preparing to write up in my next blog post so registers most strongly in me at this moment. What McGrath has written here is not at all what I recalled from my reading of Brodie so I checked the page references. (Like Joel Watts, it seems McGrath assumes that it does not matter if he leaves bogus citations; that if he doesn’t follow up such things then no-one else will bother, either.)

Page 32 makes no reference whatever to a publisher or any attempt by Brodie to have anything published with the exception to say that a work of his was published in 1992. Rather, this page refers to Brodie’s studies for a Diploma. (more…)

2013/05/15

How Literary Imitation Works: Are Differences More Important than Similarities?

Recently I disappointed the pastor of the Diamond Valley Community Church when I declined to respond to his point by point counter-claims to my comparison of the miraculous feeding of the 5000 as told in Mark 6:30-44 with Elisha’s feeding 100 followers with 20 loaves of bread in 2 Kings 4:38-44. This was a pity because he assures us that his efforts were “such a burden”, but we both know that those are the trials of a self-sacrificing follower of the Lord whose every breath is dedicated to banishing spiritual darkness from a godless world.

I have encountered the sorts of objections our burdened pastor made many times before and confess that by now I have lost all interest in engaging with them. Such objections — “this is not a real parallel because the story-reasons for the food shortage are different or because the prompts that led to groups of people sitting down are different in the two stories” — are a pointlessly puerile game of “spot the difference” where the pictures are quite different to begin with.

The differences in the above images are more striking than their similarities. One can search the net and easily find hundreds more and even more striking variations — different colour schemes, additional figures, different backgrounds, different positions and postures of the central figure . . . But one thing is clear: they are all adaptations of the original Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.

We can spot mimesis so easily in a graphic. And this sort of imitation is easily enough recognized in literature. But when it comes to the Bible there are many apologists (and scholars, too) who just can’t or won’t see it. (more…)

2012/12/21

Questioning Paul’s Letters. Were they really “occasional”? Or rhetorical fictions?

Filed under: Brodie: Beyond Quest,Paul and his letters — Neil Godfrey @ 1:58 pm
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Edited with a few minor additions and corrections of lots of typos at 16:16 pm CST (Australia) time, 21st Dec 2012.

I don’t know the answer to those questions in the title. But I have been looking at scholarly arguments that maintain Paul’s letters were, indeed, carefully crafted works of theological instructions that were composed in the form of occasional correspondence. That is, their appearance as spur-of-the-moment letters is a rhetorical fiction.

I have never known what to make of Paul’s letters. There are many reasons for that. But there have always been two reasons I have been at least open to questioning what they seem to be:

  1. rosenmeyerPatricia Rosenmeyer in 2001 published a book, Ancient Epistolary Fictions, demonstrating that the writing of fictional letters was an art form well known and practiced in the literary culture of the era we are talking about. I dot-pointed some of the highlights from her book in an old post of mine, Rosenmeyer, Ancient Epistolary Fictions;
  2. I stumbled across a very modern voice from a 1904 publication warning New Testament scholars of the danger of accepting ancient sources at face value or according to their own self-witness, and the need always to demonstrate, never assume, that ancient sources are in fact what we (or even the ancients) think they are:
    • The history of classical literature has gradually learned to work with the notions of the literary-historical legend, novella, or fabrication; after untold attempts at establishing the factuality of statements made it has discovered that only in special cases does there exist a tradition about a given literary production independent of the self-witness of the literary production itself [that is, we need to ask if our earliest references to Paul’s letters base their information or knowledge of those letters on what the letters themselves say, and not from any independent tradition]; and that the person who utilizes a literary-historical tradition must always first demonstrate its character as a historical document. General grounds of probability cannot take the place of this demonstration. It is no different with Christian authors. In his literary history Eusebius has taken reasonable pains; as he says in the preface he had no other material at his disposal than the self-witness of the books at hand . . . .

      This is from an academic paper delivered in 1904 by E. Schwartz: “Uber den Tod der Sohne Zebedaei. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Johannesevangeliums” (= Gesammelte Schriften V, 1963,48-123). It is cited in a 1991 chapter by Luise Abramowski titled “The ‘Memoirs of the Apostles’ in Justin” pp.331-332 published in “The Gospel and the Gospels” ed. Peter Stuhlmacher.

jerpaulEarlier this month I wrote my first post explaining why Paul’s letter to the Galatians may not have been spontaneously written by a fearful apostle agonizing over the possibility of losing his flock as most readers have always assumed: Sowing Doubt That An Emotional Paul Authored Galatians. Paul’s “spontaneous emotional outburst” may well be seen as an artful reconstruction of passages in Jeremiah. I will have more to say about the literary/theological nature of the “opponents” Paul speaks about in that letter later in this post.

There are many other passages in Paul’s writings that can be explained as being carefully crafted on Old Testament narrative passages and structures. I am currently catching up with one of Richard Hays’ works (The Faith of Jesus Christ) along similar lines, but till I complete that I will point to aspects of Thomas Brodie’s works. 1 Corinthians 6:1-11, for example, that we have always taken to be Paul’s response to nasty squabbles within the Corinthian church involving members taking one another to court, may instead be a theological teaching based on, and “spiritualizing”, the teaching of Deuteronomy 1. To give just the bird’s eye overview (avoiding the details for now), we have in both passages (more…)

2012/12/01

Sowing Doubt That An Emotional Paul Authored Galatians

jerpaulM. Weinfeld can argue for OT books from Joshua to 2 Kings were produced by a Deuteronomic school, K. Stendhal can argue that the Gospel of Matthew was produced by a school “of St Matthew”, (and I’ll be posting again on reasons to believe “Luke” was part of “a school”), ditto for the Johannine writings, and Philip Davies can argue that the prophetic books of the Old Testament (Isaiah, Micah, and the rest) were produced by scribal schools who wrote in dialogue with one another, so why can we not imagine the possibility that the letters of Paul, all of them, were also produced by a school (or schools) rather than a single individual, whether that individual was attributed the name of Paul in honesty or duplicity.

It’s just a thought-experiment. I am willing to take it up because I think that the argument that Paul really wrote certain letters because they reflect a certain personality and loose way of thinking are naive and circular. Not that I reject the historicity of Paul. I don’t. But I don’t “believe” in his historicity, either. I simply don’t know. I find a lot of merit in Roger Parvus’s argument that the name Paul was attributed to hide the identity of an earlier first century author of several of the letters. I can acknowledge Earl Doherty’s argument against the letters being composed in the second century by Marcionites. Then again, Bruno Bauer who disputed the historicity of Paul was no dim-wit, either. Moreover, I am always conscious of Patricia Rosenmeyer’s study of ancient letter writing that demonstrated that the most realistic touches in letters are not necessarily signs of authenticity. And many if not most scholars, it seems, are quite willing to admit that at least some of the letters written in Paul’s name belong to a Pauline school of some sort. So I’m open to the question of the provenance of the letters attributed to Paul.

But probably every commentator on Paul’s letter to the Galatians I have read has gone along with the assumption that that letter’s expressions of frustration, anger, hostility are sure signs of a personal author’s personality quaking through the pages. Clearly none of them read Rosenmeyer, but let’s leave her work on epistolary fictions aside for now. Let’s look instead at an observation Thomas Brodie has made in Birthing of the New Testament.

That’s the kind of man Paul was

Colin Powell, former US Secretary of State, once said he liked to rattle people’s cages, because seeing someone rattled helps you meet the real person. So when Paul suddenly becomes angry in Galatians and calls the people stupid (literally, ‘mind-less’, without nous, a-noetas, Gal. 3:1) you feel this is the real thing. And when he repeats it a little later the effect is even stronger: ‘Are you so stupid?’ (Gal. 3.3). OK, so that’s the kind Paul was. (p. 141, Beyond the Quest)

That’s the verdict of most of us who have read Galatians. But Brodie then introduces a challenge.

He suggests that if we look more closely at Galatians, and then cast our minds back over what we have read in the Old Testament books, in particular Jeremiah, and take a fresh look at that book — in particular in the Septuagint or Greek version, we will see something very similar. Jeremiah also calls the people mindless, then repeats the accusation for intensified effect (Jer. 5.21, 23).

Galatians is not raw emotion. It contains a rehearsed literary adaptation of ancient Jeremiah.

Jeremiah in Galatians (more…)

2012/10/26

Oral Tradition is Unnecessary to Explain the Gospels

This post concludes Thomas Brodie’s critique of the role oral tradition has played in Biblical studies, especially with respect to accounting for the Gospel narratives about Jesus. It is taken from chapter 6 of The Birthing the New Testament: The Intertextual Development of the New Testament Writings.

Even if a hypothesis is unclear in its foundation, and even if in practice there are serious difficulties with getting it to work, perhaps in some way it is still the only apparent response to a real need. It is appropriate therefore to ask whether the hypothesis of oral tradition is necessary to New Testament studies. (p. 60)

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.Reasons for seeing Oral Tradition as Necessary. .Thomas Brodie’s responses.
“Gospel texts follow the rhythms of oral speech.” “Oral rhythms do not require reliance on oral tradition.
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“Oral rhythms are a quality of both oral communication and much writing, especially ancient writing.”
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“Someone sitting silently at a computer can compose oral rhythms with a view to being heard by the ear.”
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“The variations between the gospels correspond to the variations that occur in oral communication.” This looks plausible at first glance.
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But look closely at the differences between the gospels and one begins to see a very deliberate variation governed by a quite different and coherent theological strategy.
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Differences that arise through oral transmission alone are not like this; they are accidental and haphazard.
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Oral tradition fills the gap between the historical Jesus and the Gospels. “Oral tradition may or may not assure more historicity.
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“From a historical point of view, the ideal is that the evangelist is an eye-witness to the gospel events – thus needing no tradition whatever – or else speaks directly to such a witness.
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Interjecting an unpredictable chain of communication into a period of less than a lifetime has the effect not of promoting claims to historicity, but of dissipating them.”
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Besides, it is “not appropriate” (I would say it is “invalid”) that “a desire for a particular type of historical conclusion should predetermine the idea of how the gospels were composed.”
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If the idea of oral tradition is to stand, it must stand on its own inherent merits.
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“Oral tradition is embedded in the fabric of New Testament studies, in the prevailing paradigm, and, for the moment at least, there is no alternative paradigm to replace it.” “It is true that oral tradition has been embedded in the fabric of NT studies and is central to the prevailing paradigm. But that situation is changing rapidly.
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“The literary approach, despite its teething problems – its occasional obscurity, pretentiousness, and narrowness – is not an esoteric game.
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“Rather, the literary approach provides the context which, when developed, offers the best prospect for future research. It restores the writings to their role as literature, even sacred literature, and it does not exclude theology and historical investigation. On the contrary, it sets history and theology on a firmer footing.”
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The Gospels portray scenes of people speaking, often in the open air. It is a scene of oral simplicity.“Such simplicity corresponds with the simplicity suggested by oral tradition.” True, the gospels do depict scenes of simplicity far removed, most often, from the world of writing.
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“However, the fact that a scene is rustic need not mean that the artist who portrays it is rustic. A film, for instance, may portray rural life but be produced in the countryside by city dwellers using highly technical methods. Likewise, the simplicity portrayed in the gospels need not indicate the way the gospels were composed.”
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(The quotations are from pages 60 and 61 of The Birthing of the New Testament. Formatting is my own.) (more…)

2012/10/25

Oral Tradition in NT Studies is Unworkable

Thomas Brodie has shown that the theory that the Gospel narratives began as oral traditions is not founded on valid logical argument. Nonetheless, he recognizes that an idea that rests on little more than mere presumption “may still be useful as a working hypothesis.” So he proceeds to explore whether the theory of oral tradition works in New Testament studies. What follows is from Brodie’s chapter 6 of The Birthing the New Testament — all posts archived here.

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First, here’s a chart of the arguments attempting to explain how oral tradition worked — as covered by Brodie. He covers many scholars in quick succession and it can be a bit numbing for someone wanting a quick blog read and who is unfamiliar with the topic to take it all in very easily. I use the many colourful images that have arise in the various attempts to explain how oral tradition is supposed to work:

(more…)

2012/10/24

Oral Tradition is Unfounded: from Kelber to Koester

Filed under: Brodie: Birthing New Testament,Oral Tradition — Neil Godfrey @ 1:00 am
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My last post in this series ended with Thomas Brodie’s question:

On what basis, then, is it possible to go on claiming oral tradition?

Brodie asked this after surveying how Hermann Gunkel’s paradigm of oral tradition came to dominate biblical, and especially New Testament, studies, while at the same time pointing out the logical fallacies and cultural prejudices that served as its foundation.

This post continues with Brodie’s responses to more recent arguments attempting to shore up the case that the Gospel narratives were preceded by their counterparts in oral traditions. They are taken from chapter 6 of his book The Birthing of the New Testament. (Before doing a post like this in the past I would often take time to read for myself the scholars being discussed so I could present their arguments independently and comment on, say, Brodie’s assessment of them. Unfortunately my circumstances at the moment do not permit that — otherwise I would never get to completing this post at all. So keep in mind that what follows are my presentations of Brodie’s summaries of the arguments of others.)

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W. H. Kelber

Brodie summarizes Kelber’s argument as it appears in the Anchor Bible Dictionary (1992) as essentially saying

that ancient writing was particularly influenced by oral culture and rhythms (1992:30-31).

Brodie agrees. Ancient writing was so influenced. But he also notes that Kelber fails to take into account that all ancient writing “reflects the rhythms of oral speech.”

That does not prove that all authors depended on oral tradition; it simply means they wrote for the ear rather than the eye. (p. 55)

Recall in my previous post I paraphrased Brodie’s point here:

Ancient writing was largely governed by rhetoric. Rhetoric, the art of speaking, also became the art of writing. Writing was geared to oral communication. It was composed for the ear.

In this sense all ancient literature is oral, including the Greco-Roman classics and the Bible. (p. 52)

All Kelber is identifying, then, are the signs that the gospels, like all ancient literature, are dependent upon orality with respect to their form and thought pattern. (more…)

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