Posts Tagged speculation
Recently, through the kind provision of Stan Rosenberg and under the guidance of Alison Salvesen, a group of NT graduate students spent a few afternoons in a workshop examining high-quality facsimile reproductions of P72, one of the Bodmer codices that contains, among other things, 1-2 Peter and Jude. I’ll be quick to say that I’m not a textual critic or a manuscript expert by any stretch of the imagination, which is one reason why the sessions were so much fun. The orthography of the scribe is highly various, which may suggest that the manuscript or its text went through an aural process of transmission at some point. Along these lines, there is a fun orthographic variant at 2 Peter 3:13. The NA28 here reads καινοὺς δὲ οὐρανοὺς καὶ γῆν καινὴν κατὰ τὸ ἐπάγγελμα αὐτοῦ προσδοκῶμεν ἐν οἷς δικαιοσύνη κατοικεῖ (we await a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, according to what he promised). But here, P72 reads κενους δε ουρανους και γην καινην: an empty heavens and a new earth. Given the amount of orthographic variation elsewhere in the Petrine epistles, the most probable explanation is that the scribe has simply written ε for αι. But given that he gets it ‘right’ in mentioning the γην καινην, it at least causes one to pause and wonder what the scribe might have understood here, or perhaps better how a reader might have subsequently taken it. Could it be that someone who heard this read out might have thought of righteousness vacating heaven to come down to earth and dwell there, and so an ’empty heaven’ might express a utopian hope for a better future? Against this, of course, one would want to note the ἐν οἷς would suggest that righteousness dwells in both heaven and earth, presumably. It’s wild speculation about what is in all probability a mere orthographic variation (of the sort that could easily be paralleled in the scribe’s activity elsewhere), but also a bit of fun to ponder.
In a short note published in 1983, N. Adkin called attention to a curious quotation in (esp.) Latin fathers: maledicta sterilis, quae non parit semen in Israel (with variations) (N. Adkin, ‘An Unidentified Latin Quotation of Scripture related to Isaiah 31,9’, Revue Bénédictine 93 : 123-125). He called attention to this citation in Jerome, Let. 22.21.1, Adv. Helv. 20; Adv. Iovin. 1.22 (cf. 1.37); in Isaiam 2.4.1, 15.56.4-5; in Zach. 3.14.18-19, but also in Origen, in the Latin translation by Rufinus of Hom. in Genesis 11.1 and in Jerome’s Latin translation of Origen’s Hom. in Ezech. 4.1; in the Ambrosiaster, Quaest. 1.17; Cassian, Conlat. 21.32.2; and Quodvultdeus, Liber promissionum 1.25.34. None of them offer a definitive identification for this citation (nor do their editors), though Jerome combines it several times with Isa 31:9 and Ps 127:3.
Writing before the advent of the fully searchable corpora we now have, Adkin erroneously suggested ‘Neither Augustine nor Ambrose nor any other Greek Father cites it’. In fact, it appears in Augustine on Faustus’s lips (attributed to Moses): ‘So we find him pronouncing a curse on all youths of both sexes, when he says: “Cursed is every one that raises not up a seed in Israel.” This is aimed directly at Jesus, who, according to you, was born among the Jews, and raised up no seed to continue his family. It points too at his disciples, some of whom he took from the wives they had married, and some who were unmarried he forbade to take wives. We have good reason, you see, for expressing our abhorrence of the daring style in which Moses hurls his maledictions against Christ, against light, against chastity, against everything divine’ (14.1; cf. 14.13). And we find the quotation in Greek (via the TLG) in a couple of places: a (7th century?) tractate of Adversus Judaeos literature (ἐπικατάρατος ὃς οὐκ ἔχει σπέρμα ἐν Ἰσραήλ), and in St. John of Damascus in the Expositio fidei, 97: ἐπικατάρατος πᾶς, ὃς οὐκ ἐγείρει σπέρμα ἐν τῷ Ἰσραήλ. It also occurs in some later medieval Latin authors like Aelred of Rievaulx and Bernard of Clairvaux, though probably derived from Jerome.
But where does this citation come from? None of the proposed explanations Adkin examines is convincing, and he rightly repudiates them all. And yet it seems to appear on the scene as something that has widespread currency as scripture. Any ideas?
A speculative question: in thinking about the ways in which 19th century concepts of history underlay some of the prominent exegetical disputes, might it be that, at least in terms of some general currents, the Tübingen school operated with a concept of history determined by the flow of the Spirit (Geist), while the British reaction – above all Lightfoot, Westcott and Hort – conceived of history with the fixed point of the Incarnation primarily in view? And so do these theological concepts shade out into their broader reconstructions of history as, in the former case, a long process of the Spirit’s self-realisation in history, marked by conflict and reconciliation, and in the latter case a more punctiliar moment which the witness of the NT writers unfolds and toward which it continually looks back? So is this a conflict, in part at least, between pneumatology and Christology?
A bit of fun here. Students of the NT will be aware of the discussion about the origin of the siglum ‘Q’ to describe the putative source (Quelle) of the double tradition in the synoptic gospels, the material common to Matthew and Luke but not shared with Mark. Mark Goodacre has a nice post briefly summarising Frans Neirynck’s conclusions that the term Q originated in Eduard Simons’s 1880 book, Hat der dritte Evangelist den kanonischen Matthäus benutzt (Bonn: Universitäts-Buchdruckerei von Carl Georgi), who used ‘Q.’ as an abbreviation for Quelle. Then from the 1890s onward it was used without the dot.
But the use of Q as an abbreviation for Quelle is common in the decades before the 1880s, even though it does not appear to have been applied to the double tradition in this way. Rather, it occurs especially in geography books as an abbreviation for a well, spring or source (Quelle).
A few examples:
Carl Kreil, Magnetische und geographische Ortsbestimmungen im österreichischen Kaiserstaate, vol. 3 (1850), p. 26:
Friedrich Wilhelm Walther, Topische Geographie von Bayern (1844), p. xxiii:
Johann Georg Heinrich Hassel, Geographisch-statistisches Handwörterbuch, vol. 1 (1817), p. 461:
Christian Gottfried Daniel Stein and Ferdinand Hörschelmann, Handbuch der Geographie und Statistik für die gebildeten Stände, vol. 1 (1833), p. ii:
L. Wilhelm Meineke, Allgemeines Lehrbuch der Geographie von Europa (1824), p. 2:
And on it goes. So might it be the case that Simons is actually borrowing a well-established abbreviation from the field of geography and applying it to the synoptic gospels?
One of the most puzzling stories in Mark’s Gospel is the two-stage healing of a blind man at Bethsaida in 8:22-26. Jesus first tries to heal man with his saliva, but when asked if he can now see, the man replies, ‘I see people; they look like trees walking around’ (βλέπω τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ὅτι ὡς δένδρα ὁρῶ περιπατοῦντας). Jesus tries again, and this time the man can see clearly. The story, with the apparent misfire of Jesus’s healing mechanism, clearly puzzled early interpreters, and neither Matthew or Luke included the partial healing in their otherwise substantial appropriation of Mark.
Exegetes have long since noted the way in which this text forms a so-called Markan sandwich with 10:46-52, an episode in which Jesus heals blind Bartimaeus in one stroke. So Mark places these healings as an inclusio around the teaching of discipleship in 8:27-10:45, and apparently intends to suggest that the partial sight that the disciples presently have of Jesus will be corrected through the teaching that follows. This interpretation, in turn, makes most sense of the following scene, widely seen to be pivotal to Mark’s presentation of Jesus. In 8.27-30, Jesus poses to his disciples a question that has been building, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ The answers given are insufficient, and he asks them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answers him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ At last, the reader thinks, Peter has grasped, after perpetual misunderstanding, something that the audience has known since 1.1: Jesus is the Messiah. But immediately following this, Jesus offers the first of three so-called ‘passion predictions’ in 8.31 (the others follow in 9.31 and 10.33-34): ‘Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again’. But as Mark portrays it, Jesus here, speaking to his disciples, says all this ‘quite openly’ – i.e., not in parables as so often. But in response to this clarity, Peter thinks Jesus mistaken and began to rebuke him. But Jesus turns and famously accuses Peter: ‘Get behind me, Satan!’, with the further clarification that Peter is thinking of things humanly instead of divinely. Given the prominence that the title, ‘Messiah’ has in Mark – it is sufficient to point to its presence in 1.1 – it is unlikely that Mark intends Jesus’ rebuke of Peter to indicate that ‘Messiah’ is an incorrect title. Rather, it is an objection to Peter’s apparently unreflective view that Messiahship should exclude a life of suffering. Which is to say: Peter and the other disciples are seeing things partially, their vision yet uncorrected. This coheres with the way in which Mark plays on Isaianic sense-perception malfunction language throughout his gospel (eyes that don’t see, ears that don’t hear, etc.).
All this is more or less uncontroversial, even if it would be impossible to say all exegetes agree on these points. But why does Mark use the language of ‘people like trees walking around’ to describe the blind man’s partial sight? Is this simply the metaphor that sprang unprompted to mind? Quite possibly. But in reading the LXX of Judges the other day, I was struck with the parable in 9:8-20, in which trees go out to anoint a king for themselves (πορευόμενα ἐπορεύθησαν τὰ ξύλα τοῦ χρῖσαι ἑαυτοῖς βασιλέα). Is it possible that this image suggested itself to Mark? The verbal parallels are not precise (πορευόμενα ἐπορεύθησαν vs. περιπατοῦντας; ξύλα vs. δένδρα), but these are precisely the kinds of substitutions one would expect in a reference mediated through the phenomena of secondary orality and memory recall. What is particularly striking is the fact that the trees in Judges are attempting to ‘anoint’ (χρῖσαι) a king for themselves, while immediately following this episode in Mark, Peter declares that Jesus is the χριστός. Arguably the content bracketed by Mark’s blindness inclusio functions to preclude a traditional, royal understanding of the Jesus’s messianic identity, and so can appropriately be described as offering a form of corrective Christology (without invoking the spectre of Weeden and his overblown corrective theories).
But if the Judges text is in view, then does the blind man actually see better than commentators have often thought? Has he, in his partial vision, had a true apprehension of what the disciples were concerned about? And does Mark subtly signal that this attempt at king-making must be exchanged for clearer sight through the prism of suffering?
The case is difficult to ‘prove’ but seems at least worthy of consideration.
UPDATE: Jim Aitken kindly points out that this insight was previously observed, and I’ve now tracked down the reference: R. S. Sugirtharajah, ‘Men, Trees and Walking: A Conjectural Solution to Mk 8:24,’ Expository Times 103 (1992): 172-74. It’s always nice to claim the testimony of two or three witnesses!
In my lectures and tutorials on the ‘historical Jesus’, I have sought to find ways to introduce my students to shifts in the terrain of HJ scholarship in recent years. While there has, since at least Form Criticism in the early 20th century, been an awareness that any attempt to grasp the historical figure of Jesus must make some sense of the gospel tradition as a whole, in recent years – in line with historiographical shifts more broadly – we have all been more aware of the crucial importance of the earliest impact of Jesus in its manifold form for ascertaining something about the earthly Jesus (think Dunn, Allison, Watson, le Donne, Keith, et al.). Scholarship is divided as to whether one can ever leap the gap and cross from memory to event, and there are real questions about what it might even mean to reach an uninterpreted Jesus – as if one could, in some Emersonian dream, become a transparent eyeball, seeing all as a part or particle of God. I’ve tried to speak with my students of the shifts from criteria of authenticity to plausibility, to recurrence, to memory. I have sometimes borrowed the language of my supervisor, Markus Bockmuehl, to speak of the ‘footprint’ of Jesus in the memory of the early church, or to contend for an elision of the adjective historical to ‘historic’.
I’ve learned much from the recent emphasis on memory, but have sometimes wondered whether the connotations of the word could suggest to students something slightly too narrow, and need to be set in a slightly broader framework assessing the impact of Jesus. Memory need not be understood in purely cognitive terms, of course, and there is a capacious usage that would encompass what I have in mind. But as in reception history one can draw a meaningful distinction between Auslegungesgeschichte (history of interpretation) and Wirkungsgeschichte (effective history or history of effects), with the former bearing more of an emphasis on a self-conscious intellectual stance toward the subject in question, might it be possible to include memory as one key component in a broader assessment of the impact of Jesus – and so to speak not simply of the remembered Jesus but of the consequential Jesus?
I’m sure I’ve stolen the phrase ‘consequential Jesus’ from someone (if anyone knows its derivation do speak up), but think I’ll hang on to it as a way to help my students understand these important shifts.