Friday, February 06, 2009

Friday Review: Jesus Remembered 4

This now the fourth in a series of reviews of James Dunn's book on the historical Jesus, Jesus Remembered.

1. Flight from Dogma
2. Flight from History
3. Historical Hermeneutics

This week we begin Unit 2 with chapter 7: "Sources." It is much like the material that Meier covered things like the agrapha and Nag Hammadi, Tacitus and other Jewish sources, and) Josephus and the books of the canon. In fact, Dunn mentions Meier's work as basically a point of departure on some matters (like Josephus). He doesn't argue as extensively for some things because Meier has done the homework for us.

Josephus and Tacitus
Here Dunn basically defers to Meier's excellent analysis. We don't learn much from these references although they are part of Jesus' impact. But, as Dunn says, "about once every generation someone reruns the thesis that Jesus never existed and that the Jesus tradition is a wholesale invention" (142). Indeed, one is under way, the absolute loser of an endeavor, The Jesus Project. Anyone who seriously thinks Jesus' existence is a real question is so bad a scholar that everything they say should be immediately questioned. Any self-respecting atheist should distance themselves from this ignorance fest.

Probably the most important evidence for Jesus' existence are Paul's letters to the Galatians and Corinthians. Paul tells people that he met with Cephas and James (the Lord's brother--the interpretation that he's a cousin or half-brother are similarly devoid of serious consideration) within three years of coming to believe Jesus was the messiah. Everyone agrees this was less than 10 years after the crucifixion. So I pronounce winner of the "Grand Loser of a Thinker" award anyone who seriously thinks there is any likelihood at all to the suggestion that Jesus wasn't even a real person.

Mark and Q
As Dunn is addressing sources for addressing the question of the historical Jesus (Jesus as we might try to reconstruct him using historical sources), he next comes to Mark and Q. He gives a modest recap of standard evidence of Markan priority and Matthew's use of Mark...

Here's an example from a footnote I thought particularly interesting:

Mark 6:5
"And he could do no deed of power there, except
that he laid his hands on a few sick people and
cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief."

Matthew 13:58
"And he did not do many deeds of power there

because of their unbelief."

Dunn recognizes that the case for Q is less conclusive. Aside from our esteemed fellow biblioblogger Mark Goodacre, even someone like Martin Hengel has recently argued that Matthew used Mark and Luke and that a Q hypthesis is unnecessary. Nevertheless, Dunn believes with the majority that the existence of some sort of common source best explains the common material in Matthew and Luke that is not in Mark.

He does, however, spend some time qualifying what we can and cannot say about such a hypothetical source. For example, "we can hardly exclude the likelihood that Matthew drew on some material from this document which Luke ignored and vice-versa" (148). In other words, we cannot be certain that some of the material that has been designated M or L material is not actually Q material.

Dunn thus distinguishes between "q" material--the actual material that is common to Matthew and Luke but not in Mark--and the Q document, whose precise limits and contents we simply cannot reconstruct with any certainty. He also mentions something mentioned even as far back as Streeter, namely, that "a substantial amount of the common ('q') material was actually derived from oral tradition (not 'Q')" (149).

Some of the thinking out there regarding a Q community by top name scholars is also nothing short of embarrassing. Dunn mentions the "one document per community fallacy," as if a community that used Q would thereby have only used Q and not other sources (150). Dunn points out the lunacy (my wording) of suggesting that the absence of a theme from Q would then be taken to mean that the community that produced or used Q would not have believed in that theme. "On the same logic we could speak of 'wisdom villages' in the land of Israel which knew no prophetic books" (150).

Another potential problem with the way the Q community is often conceived is the assumption that such a community would have created the document for itself and its ideas might not be shared outside itself. Instead, "the evidence of our earliest sources is that communities maintained communication with one another; and it is more probable that tradition was written down in order to facilitate communication at a distance" (152).

Then we get into the so called "compositional history" of Q. Here Dunn says things like, "the attempt to classify and demarcate genre types has not proved very helpful in the discussion of Q" (155). And "The evidence is fully satisfied by the alternative hypothesis of a single compositional act, when the Q author/editor pulled together these different clusters, adapted them (the redactional interpolations), and knitted them into the larger single collection Q" (157).

Dunn agrees that the strongest case for Q's Sitz im Leben has been made for Galilee (159).

Matthew and Luke
Short section, "we need to be ... suspicious of the too simplistic rule of thumb that tradition only once attested is therefore necessarily of less value as a remembrance of Jesus" (161).

Gospel of Thomas
Dunn points out that scholarship is about evenly divided over whether Thomas knew the Synoptics or not. For the record, Dunn thinks Meier is a little too confident that it did. Dunn seems to favor the idea that the question of dependence is "insoluable" (162).

He discusses a little the question of whether Thomas might be Gnostic. As often, I find Dunn right on in his analysis. It is not helpful to use the word Gnostic prior to the second century, even in terms of "proto-Gnostic" or "pre-Gnostic." "We might as well describe Second Temple Judaism as pre- or proto-Christian, or mediaeval Christianity as pre- or proto-Protestant" (163-64 n.116). And Thomas seems to attest the developed, second century form of the Gnostic redeemer myth (GTh 28).

Thus, as I also believe, "it is perfectly comprehensible that a Gnostic redaction, for which a 'realized eschatology' was central, should have omitted and 'corrected' all tradition which attested a future eschatology and hope of a coming Son of Man" (164). Dunn's conclusion is apt: "while the question must always remain open that a particular Thomas saying has preserved an early/earlier version of the saying than the Synoptic tradition or that an unparalleled Thomas saying is as early as the earliest Synoptic tradition, it will always be the undoubtedly early Synoptic tradition which provides the measure by which judgment is made on the point" (165).

Dunn again gives a circumspect treatment of John as a source: "one can recognize both that the tradition has been heavily worked upon and that it is well rooted within earlier Jesus tradition" (167). John is mostly a secondary source to supplement or corroborate the testimony of the Synoptic tradition.

Dunn considers John the "Evangelist's meditations on the significant words and deeds of Jesus." But the style throughout John is the same whether we are hearing John the Baptist or Jesus or the woman at the well or 1 John--it would seem to be John's rather than Jesus' actual style. For example, Dunn posits, "Had the striking 'I am' self-assertions of John been remembered as spoken by Jesus, how could any Evangelist have ignored them so completely as the Synoptics do?" (166).

Other Gospels
Dunn closes the chapter with very brief consideration of the Dialogue Gospel, the Apocryphon of James, the Secret Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of Peter, Papyrus Egerton 2. He basically finds them to be witnesses to the various ways Jesus tradition developed. But he apparently does not find the evidence convincing to say they provide earlier witness to Jesus. Several times he reiterates that even if these sorts of sorts might provide independent witness to Jesus, that in no way means that they provide earlier witness.

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