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Roth on Vinzent on Marcion

(LWH:  Given the stir created by Markus Vinzent’s recent book on Marcion, I invited Dieter Roth to give a guest blog-posting on the book. Dieter has just published a full critical reconstruction of the text of Marcion’s Gospel, and is far better qualified than I to provide comment on the subject.)

Last week Larry was kind enough to write a blog post mentioning my new monograph The Text of Marcion’s Gospel published by Brill in January of this year,[1] and he has now extended an invitation for me to write a guest entry interacting with Markus Vinzent’s new book entitled Marcion and the Dating of the Synoptic Gospels.[2] Indeed, this volume is one of several monographs that have been, or are about to be published, concerning Marcion or Marcion’s Gospel. Though perhaps the present decade has not yet reached the amount of scholarly output found in the debates on Marcion’s Gospel in German scholarship of the 1840s and 1850s, we are well on our way![3]

Vinzent’s views are unique in the renewed debates concerning Marcion’s Gospel in that he believes that Marcion wrote the first Gospel ever written and that all four of our canonical Gospels used Marcion’s Gospel as a source. In his own words, “Marcion, who created the new literary genre of the ‘Gospel’ and also gave the work this title, had no historical precedent in the combination of Christ’s sayings and narratives” (p. 277). Vinzent essentially attempts to construct his case on two foundations: first, and foremost, on the basis of his reading of several important sources for and works on Marcion’s Gospel and second, on the basis of what Vinzent presumes to be the content and readings of Marcion’s Gospel. In a forthcoming review of Vinzent’s monograph in the Journal of Theological Studies I noted that it is important to take Vinzent’s voice into account within the contemporary discussions of Marcion’s Gospel, and that he has provided the reader with a helpful collection of many of the relevant ancient and modern sources for scholarship on Marcion’s Gospel and the Synoptic Gospels. At the same time, however, I find much of the argumentation in his volume to be problematic and, at least to my mind, insufficiently nuanced, at times indefensible, and ultimately unconvincing. Within the confines of my brief, forthcoming JTS review I offer two specific examples concerning problems with Vinzent’s use and reading of the sources (the first foundation noted above), so I will not repeat those here. Instead, in this post I would like to focus my comments on larger issues related to the reconstruction of Marcion’s Gospel (the second of Vinzent’s foundations). Discussion of some aspects of Vinzent’s attempts to establish his case via his reading of the sources could perhaps be done in a follow-up posting, but I leave that decision up to Larry and the interests of the readers of his blog.

Right at the outset of the volume, one already encounters three highly curious comments. First, though Vinzent clearly seems aware of the history of scholarship on Marcion’s Gospel and the reconstructions of Marcion’s Gospel in Greek by, e.g., Theodor Zahn and Adolf von Harnack, unaccountably he writes “Marcion’s Gospel has not been critically edited from its Greek and Latin sources to provide us with its contours and, as far as possible, with its Greek wording, except for a very early attempt by the famous August Hahn (1792-1863)” (p. 4).

Second, on the same page he refers to my 2009 Ph.D. dissertation as providing “a textcritical commentary on Marcion’s Gospel, on the basis of which one can establish, at least to some extent, the Greek text, yet he does not give us the text itself.” Though it is true that the reconstruction of the entirety of Marcion’s Gospel only appears in my above-mentioned monograph (word count restrictions precluded my doctoral thesis from dealing with all of the sources and reconstructing all the verses of Marcion’s Gospel), my dissertation provided a textual commentary on every verse attested by Tertullian precisely in order then to reconstruct every verse attested only by Tertullian. In fact, the reconstruction of Marcion’s gospel-text as evidenced in Tertullian is one of the main contributions of the dissertation.

Finally, Vinzent states, “The Gospel and [Marcion’s] Apostolikon (of ten Pauline letters) can be recovered only partially from glimpses that are given by his opponents, unearthed from their writings (primarily Tertullian, Epiphanius, Adamantius’ [Pseudo-Origen?] Dialogue I-II, and Codex Bezae)” (p. 9). When I first read this sentence, I was fully agreeing with Vinzent until he got to “Codex Bezae.” Though the question of the relationship of Marcion’s Gospel to the so-called “Western” text has often been discussed, Codex Bezae is not a source for Marcion’s Gospel and has no place in this list. Such statements are a bit surprising and unexpected for a monograph focusing on Marcion’s Gospel and, unfortunately, reflect subsequent problematic interactions with ancient sources and scholars by Vinzent.

The reader then confronts two further problems surrounding Marcion’s Gospel when reading through Vinzent’s text of Marcion Gospel. First, Vinzent uses a novel manner of chapter and verse numbering. Though there have been occasional exceptions in the history of research, generally verses in Marcion’s Gospel have been referred to with the number of the corresponding text in Luke, much as is done in modern Q studies. Doing this does not mean that the relationship between Marcion’s Gospel and Luke has been decided, or that the reading in Luke is that of Marcion. It simply provides a way for scholarship to reference “the verse in Marcion’s Gospel that corresponds to the verse in Luke.” Vinzent, however, does not do this and not until n. 188 on p. 273 does he let the reader know why: “the verse counting is taken from Marcion’s Gospel: A Synoptic Commentary.” The problem is that this is a planned work of Vinzent’s that has not been published!

Furthermore, as far as I could tell, Vinzent nowhere indicates the source for his, sometimes extensive, citation of Marcion’s Gospel. For instance, on pp. 264-72 he offers Marcion’s Gospel, Luke, Mark, and Matthew in parallel columns in order to argue that Marcion is the “key factor for the innersynoptic relation” (p. 272). Yet, not only is his reconstruction different in both readings and order from what I argue we can actually reconstruct from the sources, there is no indication of the basis for his own reconstruction. Surely we must first argue for a reconstruction before drawing conclusions about the “innersynoptic relation.”

One further problem highlights a methodological issue in reconstructing Marcion’s Gospel. On p. 275, Vinzent offers an (English) reading of Luke 5:36-39 in Marcion’s Gospel. This parable is clearly attested for Marcion’s Gospel, but, in my view, the precise wording cannot be reconstructed. Vinzent’s focus, however, is on 5:39, which (as some others have done before him) Vinzent argues was not present in Marcion’s Gospel, but was added by Luke as an anti-Marcionite reading. The problem is, however, that 5:39 is unattested for Marcion’s Gospel. That is to say, no source makes any mention of either its presence or its absence. As Ulrich Schmid already pointed out in a 2003 article, arguments positing the absence of 5:39 in Marcion’s Gospel are “simply creating positive evidence (in this very case positive negative evidence) out of no evidence at all.”[4] With Schmid, I would posit that arguments from silence based on Marcion’s supposed theological proclivities should not be employed when considering what was or was not present in Marcion’s Gospel. In my view, then, any attempt to establish the relationship between Marcion’s Gospel and Luke by invoking such an argument from silence is so tenuous that it cannot be taken as having any force.

Though I readily admit that I was initially attracted to the study of Marcion’s Gospel due to interest in the questions that Vinzent is also interested in, including the relationship between Marcion’s Gospel and canonical Luke, I quickly became convinced that before any of these issues can be discussed on a sound basis, significant attention must once again be given to the actual text of Marcion’s Gospel. Apart from all the other problems I have with Vinzent’s volume, a fundamental one is that if we are going to debate the place of Marcion’s Gospel in early Christianity, we must first debate the reconstruction of Marcion’s Gospel.

In sum, for reasons outlined briefly in my forthcoming JTS review, I do not think that the relevant sources, in particular Tertullian, support Vinzent’s thesis. Nor, as highlighted above, do I find his attempts to invoke Marcion’s Gospel to be established on a critical or cogent reconstruction of Marcion’s Gospel. Of course, the devil is in the details and discussing all the particulars here would impose far too much on those patient enough to have read this already far too long blog post. It is my hope, however, that constructive dialogue among those engaged in the present debates concerning Marcion’s Gospel, along the lines that Markus and I have already enjoyed numerous times over the past years, will continue and that as a result, greater insight will be gained into this fascinating and important Gospel text.  (Dieter T. Roth, University of Mainz)


[1] Dieter T. Roth, The Text of Marcion’s Gospel (Leiden: Brill, 2015).

[2] Markus Vinzent, Marcion and the Dating of the Gospels (Studia Patristica Supplements 2; Leuven: Peeters, 2014).

[3] Dieter T. Roth, “Marcion’s Gospel and Luke: The History of Research in Current Debate,” Journal of Biblical Literature 127 (2008): 513-27.

[4] Ulrich Schmid, “How Can We Access Second Century Gospel Texts? The Cases of Marcion and Tatian,” in The New Testament Text in Early Christianity/Le texte du Nouveau Testament au debut du christianisme, eds. Christian-B. Amphoux and J. Keith Elliott (Lausanne: Editions du Zebre, 2003), 143 (139-50).

REF Results and Research in the UK

In December 2014 results of the UK “Research Excellence Framework” (REF) were released, and now the funding councils for England & Wales and for Scotland are making decisions in light of these results.  The REF is the latest version of the periodic ordeal suffered by UK scholars and universities in which departments submit up to four publications (from the preceding period since the previous such review) of each member of academic staff who is “submitted” for the review.  These publications are rated by committees appointed for the particular subject areas/disciplines (or combinations of smaller fields of study) on a scale of 0 to 4 (4 = a publication of international significance that contributes in some noteworthy way to knowledge of a given subject, i.e., the sort of publication that everyone working on the topic should read and that will likely be cited for years/decades to come).

The REF exercise (formerly called the “Research Assessment Exercise” or RAE) produces ratings of departments, not named individuals.  UK universities are funded by public funds in two streams or “envelopes”:  A certain amount per student (the teaching “envelope”) and a certain amount in the research “envelope.”  The latter amount is calculated by the funding councils using REF results.  Indeed, the major point of the whole exercise is to give the funding councils a way of judging how much of the latter “envelope” to award to each university.

There are also some curious features of this whole exercise that show that it really has little to commend it as an academic assessment of publications and departments.

For example, these committees are expected to judge publications that in a good many cases have been published only short months (or even weeks) before the submission deadline.  How a committee can judge in advance that a given publication is to become seen, for example, as discipline-changing so early in the life of the publication is a mystery to me.  But, it’s what the government says must be done, and so . . . it’s done.

There is also some game-playing by university departments.  As I’ve noted, the results don’t name individuals, but give a department-based assessment.  Departments want to obtain a high rating, of course, both because of the prestige factor (the results typically used in advertising and recruitment) and because there are the financial consequences mentioned already.  Departments, however, are free to submit as many or as few of their academic staff as they wish.  So, if a given department has only some, or a few, people whose publications are likely to get high ratings, they can submit only these people, hoping to get a collective high rating for the department.

But the announced results don’t indicate what percentage of members of a department have been submitted.  In Divinity here in Edinburgh, we submitted 90% of academic staff this time.  But some places submitted much smaller percentages.  This could give a misleading impression, the REF results perhaps reflecting the research of only a small portion of a given department.  (Prospective postgraduate students take note.)

So far as biblical studies is concerned, this REF got off initially to a curious start.  When the committee was initially announced, there was no one recognizable as a contributing biblical scholar on it.  After strong representations to the body responsible for the REF (English Higher Education Funding Council) and the chair of the relevant committee, eventually two respected biblical scholars were added to the committee.  This was a curious situation because I am reliably told that in this REF the publications in biblical studies comprised some 19% of the total of published works submitted in Theology and Religious Studies.  Given that this committee received submissions in all areas of, and approaches to, religion studies and in all religions, that 19% has got to be one of the largest single subject areas, if not (perhaps) the largest.  Anyway, it’s done, and now the funding councils will apportion funds according to their chosen policies.  As Emeritus Professor, I’m out of the whole ordeal now, and thoroughly sympathetic with colleagues who aren’t.


Marcion’s Text of the Gospel of Luke

I’m pleased to note that the new and thorough study of Marcion’s text of the Gospel of Luke by my former PhD student, Dieter T. Roth, has now appeared:  The Text of Marcion’s Gospel (Leiden:  Brill, 2015).  The publisher’s online catalogue entry is here.

Marcion is the famous (notorious?) 2nd-century Christian teacher who rejected the OT as Christian scripture (and rejected the OT deity as well).  As well, he rejected multiple Gospels, and multiple apostles, finding in these pluralities  . . . confusion.  Only one Gospel.  Only one true Apostle.  That was his stance.  His choices:  Only the Gospel of Luke, and only epistles of Paul.  These comprised Marcion’s canon.  Indeed, by ca. 140 CE, Marcion had a closed canon.  So “canon-consciousness” was scarcely a late development, even if what became the canonical “winner,” our familiar “Bible” of OT and a 27-book NT took a couple more centuries to achieve closure.

The problem is that we don’t really have any manuscript preserving Marcion’s NT.  What we have are ostensible quotations of it and references to it by later Christian writers.  So, the scholarly task is to devise some way of trying to reconstruct Marcion’s text.  Some years ago, Ulrich Schmid performed this task on Marcion’s text of the Pauline epistles:  Ulrich Schmid, Marcion und sein Apostolos. Rekonstruktion und historische Einordnung der marcionitischen Paulusbriefausgabe. Arbeiten zur neutestamentlichen Textforschung, 25 (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1995).  But the only previous attempt to reconstruct fully Marcion’s text of Luke was by the great Adolf von Harnack a century ago.

So, Roth’s new work is a historic milestone of research.  In addition to a full history of previous research, Roth also improves on Harnack’s classic work by giving a fresh and independent analysis of the data, and also by providing detailed comments and explanation for his judgements about the text of Marcion’s gospel.

One final observation:  It’s often stated that the NT canon represents primarily the exclusion of texts, but that’s actually a very dubious claim.  Marcion certainly represents an exclusionary move.  But in comparison the familiar NT canon actually represents an inclusive motive, favouring plurality, even a certain diversity.  Four Gospels, not just one.  Multiple apostolic voices, not simply Paul.  Oh, and by the way, there is actually little indication that the so-called “apocryphal” texts were intended to form part of a canonical collection as diverse as the NT.  So, it’s difficult to sustain the claim that they were “excluded” from such a collection.

But, in any case, Roth’s newly released study is now the “go-to” work on Marcion’s text of Luke.

Middleton on Martyrdom in Mark and Revelation

Paul Middleton offers a tightly argued and stimulating essay on early Christians’ attitudes toward suffering (for their faith/Jesus) and martyrdom:  “Christology, Martyrdom, and Vindication in the Gospel of Mark and the Apocalypse:  Two New Testament Views,” in Mark, Manuscripts, and Monotheism:  Essays in Honor of Larry W. Hurtado, eds. Chris Keith & Dieter T. Roth (London:  Bloombury T&T Clark, 2015), 219-37.

Middleton (one of my former PhD students) is now the “go-to guy” on early Christian martyrdom, with a number of valuable and informed studies of the subject, including these:  Radical Martyrdom and Cosmic Conflict in Early Christianity (London:  T&T Clark, 2006); Martyrdom:  A Guide for the Perplexed (London:  T&T Clark, 2011); and “Early Christian Voluntary Martyrdom:  A Statement for the Defence,” Journal of Theological Studies 64 (2013): 556-73.

In the first part of the essay in question, Middleton reviews some major issues about early Christian martyrdom, taking what I regard as sound and balanced stances on some controversial issues.  For example, in response to some scholars’ minimizing of the incidences of state-sponsored executions of Christians, he rightly notes that, though “imperial persecution” (i.e., empire-wide) was sporadic, “local prosecution” (by magistrates such as Pliny) needs to be taken into account as well:  “To insist upon a persecution/prosecution distinction is artificial; to the Romans all actions taken against Christians were prosecution for misdemeanour rather than persecution, while Christians would interpret all such action as manifestations of the suffering anticipated in the NT on account of Jesus’ name” (221).

Noting that early Christian texts typically present Christian martyrdom as a kind of re-enactment of Jesus’ execution (perhaps the first example of this the Stephen episode in Acts 7, followed by a number of other texts, particularly evidence in Ignatius of Antioch’s letters), he observes how suffering (variously) for Jesus’ sake is likewise treated in light of, and connected to Jesus’ own “passion.”  He also notes, however, that “not all early Christians appear to have placed the same value on suffering and martyrdom” (225).  Seconding an earlier study by Elaine Pagels, he judges, “There is, therefore, a clear correlation between an early Christian group’s view of the Passion [Jesus’ own suffering/death] and their attitude to martyrdom” (227).  The “less enthusiastic” for Christian martyrdom also tended to be those who thought that Jesus did not really suffer (so-called “docetic” Christians).

The second part of Middleton’s essay (227-37) is a survey of the treatment of Christian suffering/martyrdom in the Gospel of Mark and in Revelation.  He makes a contrast between these two writings:  Mark emphasizes the necessity to follow Jesus in suffering and “take up the cross” also, with very little explicitly stated as the reward, whereas Revelation emphasizes both the looming danger of martyrdom and also proffers explicit rewards for those who are faithful through suffering/martyrdom.  I grant that he makes a case successfully that these two writings treat the topic differently, at least as to emphasis.  But I think that he reads Mark overly bleakly, not doing justice to some texts and (in my view) misreading one or two others.

For example, Middleton judges that the reader of Mark “has to imagine the vindication of Jesus which takes place beyond the text” (231).  But at various points readers are assured that Jesus will both suffer and be raised (by God).  E.g., texts often referred to as “passion predictions” are more accurately “passion-resurrection predictions” 8:31; 9:31; 10:32-34, reflective of a curious monocular tendency in Markan scholarship.  Likewise, the transfiguration episode (Mark 9:2-13) includes Jesus’ reference to his resurrection (which the text highlights by having the disciples puzzled over the matter), and in Mark 14:27 again Jesus foretells his resurrection and renewed leadership.  Finally, in 16:7-8 the mysterious youth announces to the stunned women at the tomb that Jesus has been raised bodily, and that they will again see him in Galilee.  So, I’d say that readers of Mark should have little doubt that Jesus has been vindicated and what form that vindication has taken.  Consequently,in my view,  the hope of believers is not quite so contentless as Middleton claims.  In short(as Middleton seems to have suspected), I don’t find Mark quite as “bleak” as he does.  But I’d guess that his view is more widely shared among Mark scholars than mine is.  So take that into account.

But, our somewhat different “take” on Mark aside, I reiterate my praise for this fine essay.  He certainly shows differences among various early Christians on the subject of suffering & martyrdom.  I’m honoured to have been Paul’s supervisor, and pleased and honoured to have this fine essay included in this volume.

Beavis on Hebrews & Wisdom

Mary Ann Beavis has produced an intriguing study of the epistle to the Hebrews:  “Hebrews and Wisdom,” published in the multi-author volume: Mark, Manuscripts, and Monotheism:  Essays in Honor of Larry W. Hurtado, eds. Chris Keith & Dieter T. Roth (London:  Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015), 201-18.  She proposes that the author of Hebrews drew heavily upon “wisdom tradition” (esp. as reflected in Wisdom of Solomon) in expressing Jesus’ significance, but notes that the term “wisdom” (Greek: sophia) isn’t used . . . even once.  So, her key question is why and what to make of this.

Beavis, now an established scholar, was an outstanding M.A. student I supervised in my time in the University of Manitoba.  She wrote an excellent thesis, “A Study of the Relation of the Old and New Covenants in the Epistle to the Hebrews, in the Light of Scholarship 1938-1980,” and then went on to complete her PhD in Cambridge.  Her PhD thesis was published:  Mark’s Audience: The Literary and Social Setting of Mark 4:11-12 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1989).

In this essay, Beavis draws a comparison to what other scholars have observed about the Gospel of John:  That it, too, draws upon wisdom traditions in framing the portrait of Jesus, and yet GJohn as well does not once mention the word “wisdom.”  But, she notes, “unlike John, the Wisdom influences on Hebrews have mostly gone unremarked, including by feminist biblical scholars and theologians” (218).  Her own conclusion is that “Hebrews, like John, is indeed a suppressed tradition of Sophia, but its Christology, cosmology, ethics, and perspective on sacred history continue to echo her voice” (218).

The essay draws upon work that Beavis has done towards a commentary on Hebrews in a series designed to reflect a feminist perspective:  Mary Ann Beavis & HyeRan Kim-Cragg, Hebrews (Wisdom Commentaries; Collegeville, MN:  Liturgical Press, forthcoming 2015).

Her essay is provocative and cuts a new furrow in scholarly work (as typical of her work from her student days onward).  It deserves a thoughtful and patient consideration. At the risk of being premature, I offer a couple of initial thoughts.  These aren’t rhetorical jibes, but honest questions/reflections offered as a contribution to further reflection on Hebrews and Beavis’ stimulating essay.

I wonder, first, if we are sometimes in danger of “sexualizing” the topic more than is helpful.  After all, in languages that “gender” their nouns, grammatical “gender” doesn’t translate out consistently into sexual gender.  Of course, in Hebrew and Greek, the nouns for “wisdom” are “feminine” gender.  So, if you develop a literary (or visual) personification of the topic, you’d produce a female figure, such as “Dame Wisdom” in Proverbs and Wisdom of Solomon.  But does the use of such a literary trope reflect the view that divine Wisdom really is female (or that either sex is relevant)?  Or is it simply  . . . a literary trope, suggested by the grammatical gender of the nouns in question.  If it is basically a literary trope, then is it a case of a kind of “gender-bending” or gender-transfer (my terms, not Beavis’) if the authors of GJohn or Hebrews drew upon Wisdom texts/traditions in lauding Jesus’ significance?  I’m not so confident (at least  not yet) that we can draw this conclusion.

Moreover, do these Wisdom-figures as drawn in Proverbs and Wisdom of Solomon represent genuine expressions of ancient women, or reflect women’s views of things, or indicate any deference to, or particular regard for, women?  Not likely, I’d think.  So, it’s not (again, not yet) so clear to me that in these literary tropes we have some authentic “voice” of women, and so not so clear that or how  the female “voice” has been “suppressed,” or continues as an echo, e.g., in Hebrews.

I’ll put the matter this way:  Aren’t those texts that feature a personification of Wisdom in female form written also likely by males and for males (primarily)?  I.e., aren’t they, too, just as indicative of a male-dominated (“patriarchalist”) culture as anything in GJohn or Hebrews (perhaps even more so?)?  If so, then the deployment of a “female” Wisdom in one text and the failure to do so in another is hardly indicative of a genuine presence or absence of a feminine/female “voice”.  Or do I miss something.

I hope that my demurral isn’t based on a misunderstanding or that I’m simply insufficiently au fait with feminist theory/work on this particular matter.  But, in any case, a blog posting isn’t the venue for the serious and detailed discussion necessary and appropriate for scholarly judgement in the matter.  So, I’ll simply underscore my view of Beavis’ essay as a stimulating study that deserves further thought, my pride in her accomplishments, and my gratitude and pleasure in having her contribution to this volume.

The Nazareth Home of Jesus?

In the latest issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, archaeologist Ken Dark (University of Reading, his personal page here) recounts for a general readership his recent work in/around Nazareth, proposing identification of first-century house structures, and other features of first-century Nazareth: Ken Dark, “Has Jesus’ Nazareth House Been Found?” Biblical Archaeology Review 41, no. 2 (2015): 54-63, 72.

He contends that in that time Nazareth would have been a small town or large village, with craftsmen, plenty of fresh water (from several springs), and an economic level generally somewhat higher than some scholars have imagined.  There are a number of photos of structures and artefacts, as well to illustrate what he discusses.

He also contends that his survey of the surrounding area, particularly looking at the area between Nazareth and the larger and nearby town of Sepphoris (information here) suggests a striking difference in accommodation to Roman culture.  The pottery and other items found nearer to Nazareth suggest a more observant Jewish culture (e.g., stone vessels, which did not contract ritual uncleanness as did pottery ones), contrasting with the artefacts found closer to Sepphoris.  This would mean perhaps an effort in Nazareth to maintain a cultural distinction from what may have been regarded as the too-accommodating posture of Sepphoris, and that earlier claims about Nazareth inevitably being influenced by the presence of “pagan” philosophy and religion in Sepphoris may need to be examined critically.

In answer to the question in the title, Dark simply judges “could be.”  He has identified first-century CE domestic structures, but no name on the door!

Manuscripts . . . and a Guinness

Yesterday my colleague, Prof. Paul Foster, and I went with eight of our current PhD students for another of our periodic visits to the Chester Beatty Library (Dublin) to examine their fabulous collection of early biblical papyri.  We try to make this visit about every 2-3 years, making it a regular feature of what we offer to PhD students in NT/Christian Origins here in New College (Edinburgh).  We can fly over early in the morning and return that same evening.

The Director and Curator very kindly agreed to arrange for us to have direct (“autopsy”) access to a number of folios of various of their biblical papyri, and a private space in which we could examine them carefully and discuss details.  I had chosen particular folios of key papyri:  the Gospels codex (P45), the Pauline codex (P46), the Revelation codex (P47), the Numbers-Deuteronomy codex (Rahlfs 963), and each of the two Genesis codices (Rahlfs 961 and 962).  These are all Greek, and all copied by/for early Christian usage, so the selection allowed students to see and compare how these various texts were copied.

These papyri also reflect varying approaches to constructing codices large enough to accommodate large bodies of text.  So, e.g., P45 was constructed of individual papyrus sheets folded and then stitched together, whereas P46 was a “single gathering” codex of some 52 papyrus sheets (as probably the case also with P47).  On the other hand, Chester Beatty V (Rahlfs 962), one of the copies of Genesis, originally 84 leaves (42 sheets), was composed of 10-leaf/5-sheet gatherings (or, as the modern book trade calls them, “quires”).  These are all 3rd century manuscripts, and so, to my mind, show that Christians in this period were experimenting with different ways to construct large codices.  And that, I contend, suggests that they were at the “leading edge” of codex technology, developing the codex for more serious literary purposes than had been the case.  Otherwise, if they were simply adopting a previous literary use of the codex, why were they experimenting still with these different kinds of codex-construction?

The PhD students had been invited to indicate particular folios that they’d like to see, in some cases to check for themselves readings or other features, and it was interesting to see them have the opportunity to do this.  In one or two cases, I think we were able to query a prior reading of texts at particular points (with the aid of hand-held microscopes).  And in another case, I was able to satisfy myself that what looked like a “line filler” in the photographs was actually a shadow caused by a break in the horizontal fibres of the papyrus.  As well, there were folios on which there were errors in copying and corrections, entered in different ways.  It’s clear that a copying capable of a high-quality “calligraphic” hand wasn’t necessarily free from making errors (such as omitting a whole line of text!).  It was also interesting to see how ancient copyists handled (or, amusingly in some cases, mishandled) the “nomina sacra” practice that distinguishes early Christian copies of texts.

Earlier in the day we also visited the Book of Kells exhibit in Trinity College, and were invited to view the recently set-up Freyne Library (from the personal library of the late Prof. Sean Freyne), and have coffee with a few colleagues in the department there.

And, of course, at an early lunch in “The Duke” (local pub/restaurant), those of us so inclined were able to test for ourselves how Guinness tastes in its hometown.  Answer:  Very nice!

“Quests for Freedom”: A New Multi-Author volume

I am pleased to find in today’s mail my complimentary copy of a multi-author volume arising from a multi-year international research project on “Concepts and Practices of Freedom in the Biblical Traditions and in Contemporary Contexts.”  The book, edited by Michael Welker = Quests for Freedom:  Biblical–Historical–Contemporary (Neukirchen-Vluyn:  Neukirchener Verlagsgesellschaft, 2015).  (The publisher’s online catalogue entry can be accessed here.)  Organized and led by Welker, the project drew in scholars in various specialities, of different perspectives, and of various nations.  Discussions were often animated, sometimes with lively disagreement, and always highly informative, as we learned from one another over several years of meetings.

My own contribution to the volume is a (somewhat shortened) version of the paper that I wrote for the project:  “Freed by Love and for Love:  Freedom in the New Testament” (pp. 209-27).   (The larger version is available under the “Selected Published Essays” tab on this site:  “Freedom in the New Testament.”

In the published version of my essay, I have two main objectives:  (1) to survey briefly references to freedom in the NT in light of the historical context in which they first appeared and (2) to highlight the notable and distinctive NT emphasis on love, both as the basis of freedom (esp. the notion of God’s love) and the purpose of human freedom.  I contend that this latter emphasis is radically distinguishable from dominant treatments of freedom in the Roman era (and in our era as well).  In the final paragraphs of the essay, I offer some brief reflections on how the treatment of freedom in the NT might suggest directions of thought and action today.

Review of “Gospel of the ‘Lots’ of Mary”

I’m pleased to note a newly-published review of the monograph by Anne Marie Luijendijk, Forbidden Oracles?  The Gospel of the Lots of Mary (Tuebingen:  Mohr-Siebeck, 2014) available here.  Sarah Parkhouse (graduate student, Durham University) offers a mainly descriptive account of the book and Luijendijk’s analysis of the miniature codex to which the book is devoted.  So, for those of us who don’t yet have the monograph and are curious about that codex, Parkhouse’s review is very helpful, and may whet one’s appetite for the book itself.

Bauckham on Hurtado

Richard Bauckham’s essay on my work on Jesus-devotion is a model of clarity, accuracy, fairness, and incisive critique:  “Devotion to Jesus Christ in Earliest Christianity:  An Appraisal and Discussion of the Work of Larry Hurtado,” in Mark, Manuscript, and Monotheism:  Essays in Honor of Larry W. Hurtado, eds. Chris Keith & Dieter T. Roth (London:  Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015), 176-200.

Bauckham’s essay is based on his presentation at the day-event held here (7 October 2011) under the auspices of the Centre for the Study of Christian Origins on the occasion of my retirement from the University of Edinburgh.  He has been one of the most important figures in the study of early Jesus-devotion over the last several decades, and he was one of the early influences upon my own thinking back in the 1980s.

The first seven pages give, to my mind, an accurate and concise account of key features of my own work, and I could only wish that others who wish to engage my work could exhibit the same care and accuracy in representing it.  The bulk of the essay, however (pp. 182-200), is given to (1) “criticism and issues related to Jewish monotheism and the intermediary figures,” and (2) “criticism and issues related to the earliest devotion to Jesus and its origins.”

The first part includes a review of claims that “there is evidence of some veneration of angels in Second Temple Judaism,” here particularly citing studies by Loren Stuckenbruck, Clinton Arnold, and Charles Gieschen.  Bauckham rightly notes, however, that, although there is some evidence that individuals sometimes invoked angels (perhaps particularly in situations of distress, and as the agents of God’s help), there is scant indication that angels were praised, prayed to, invoked, etc., in gathered worship circles of Roman-era Jews (in fact, a point conceded by, e.g., Stuckenbruck & Arnold).

Then, Bauckham quickly notes the claim of Crispin Fletcher-Louis that some human figures were worshipped in Second Temple Judaism, and Bauckham basically agrees with me that we really don’t have evidence of this.  Next, Bauckham cites the argument (first made by Lionel North, and then echoed by Dunn & McGrath) that in 2nd-temple Jewish tradition “the only sort of worship that was confined to the one God was sacrificial worship,” and so the sort of devotional actions that I have cited don’t really comprise “worship” in the robust sense of the word.  He seems basically sympathetic to my response (which is that early Christian corporate worship didn’t involve sacrifice at all, to Jesus or to God, so sacrifice is an invalid criterion of “cultic worship” in assessing the devotional practice of these circles).

Then, Bauckham discusses the objection that my criterion of worship as the best indication that a figure is treated as genuinely “divine” is too narrow.  Here, Bauckham differs over my readiness to accept that features of some “divine mediator/agent” figures are shared by Jesus and other heavenly beings.  He then goes on to argue that “so-called principal angels and exalted patriarchs are not plenipotentiaries” and so aren’t analogies for the status given to Jesus in earliest Christian texts.  Bauckham insists that the roles given to Jesus exceed almost anything ascribed to principal angels and patriarch (Bauckham grants, however, that the role of Michael/Melchizedek in some Qumran texts may be an exception).  He also here reiterates his argument that the extensive “participation in all the power and authority of God” ascribed to Jesus accounts for why he (and none of the “intermediaries of the Jewish texts”) was worshipped.

I agree that NT texts collectively ascribe to Jesus a combination of roles that make it hard to find a full precedent or parallel in ancient Jewish texts.  But I don’t see indication in NT texts that the reason for worshipping Jesus is that he has such a combination of roles.  Instead, it seems to me, NT texts make the actions of God in exalting Jesus and now requiring him to be reverenced the reason for doing so.

Next, Bauckham urges that ancient Jewish devotion to God involved more than cultic worship, taking in also obedience to Torah, i.e., the larger sphere of behaviour.  He also contends (rightly) that beliefs are important as well as devotional practice.  I agree, and his citation of Philo (Decalogue 52-65) makes a clear connection between God’s unique status as creator of all else and the rightness of worshipping God alone.

Bauckham then urges the importance of “early Christian exegesis of the Hebrew Bible.”  I agree again.  See my brief discussion in Lord Jesus Christ (pp. 73-74), where I posit “charismatic exegesis” as one of the kinds of revelatory experiences in which new insights were formed.

The next few pages are devoted to the question of whether earliest Christian devotion can be described as “binitarian.”  Bauckham affirms the term, but faults me for not being clearer in stating what I mean in pointing to how NT texts link Jesus with God “in an unprecedented manner.”  He urges that Paul adapts the ancient Jewish confession of God’s uniqueness (the “Shema'”) in 1 Cor 8:4-6, and contends that  I stop short of an adequate articulation of matters.  Perhaps.  But, to my mind, my reluctance to go much beyond what I’ve written arises from the slender basis for saying much more about how Jesus (and especially the “pre-existent” Jesus) is related to God, at least in Paul.  Bauckham endorses here Tom Wright’s emphasis on Jesus as the embodied, personal return of YHWH, but I’m not (or at least not yet) able to see the basis for making this notion quite so central.

The final critique of me is that “it is misleading to limit study of early Christian devotion to Jesus to cultic worship.” Bauckham endorses Chris Tilling’s argument that in Paul we see depicted a relationship between believers and Christ that most closely resembles “the Jewish relationship to YHWH.”  I agree that there are some similarities, but there also seem to me to be some distinctions.   In NT texts generally, Jesus is the unique means by whom believers now have access to God, and their relationship to Jesus is with a view to a redemptive and filial relationship with God.  Jesus doesn’t substitute for, or replace, God, and believers’ relationship with Jesus doesn’t substitute for a relationship with God.

[Addendum:  I hasten to explain that the final sentence in the preceding paragraph is not intended to characterize the views of Bauckham or Chris Tilling.  I simply caution against a possible simplistic inference by others.]

Bauckham’s final words reiterate the generous characterization of my work with which he commences this essay. I’m most grateful for this affirmation, and for his thoughtful and informed critique, even if I am not always able to agree with it.



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