Friday, June 5, 2015

About The Only Thing I Learned During My Arguments at Religion Dispatches

I was tempted to post more of that exchange with Matthew Berry posted yesterday.  It went on but, as Marilynne Robinson said, it tended to accumulate instead of develop.  One point of interest began as the typical dismissal of the story in the Gospel of John, the woman caught in adultery, though, as atheists will do,  Berry moved the date of its alleged insertion into John to the 9th century.

The date that the woman caught in adultery was very first added is incredibly easy to establish, which is why I said "at least as late as 800 AD". I can explain why if you'd really like to know.

I welcomed his condescending pose because it made me especially glad to be able to point out that would make its presence in the Codex Bezae, a fifth-century manuscript rather a mystery.  I did look up the date to confirm my memory on that point and was interested to find out that no other than the atheists' favorite New Testament scholar,  Bart Ehrman, has located it in non-canonical books.  While I'm not competent to judge the arguments, in detail,  those show that the blog atheist assertions about that story are anything from uninformed to outright fabrication.  From a blog by the New Testament Scholar and sometimes debating opponent of Ehrman, Daniel B. Wallace

The great majority of scholars hold that the so-called pericope adulterae or “PA” (the story of Jesus and the adulteress found in John 7.53–8.11) is not original to John’s Gospel. The first manuscript of John to include this story is Codex Bezae (D), which dates to the fifth century, and on internal grounds these verses interrupt the narrative of John’s Gospel and feature non-Johannine vocabulary and grammar. But if the PA is not from the hand of the Fourth Evangelist, where did it come from?

Many scholars have noted that these verses contain distinctively Lukan grammar, vocabulary, and themes, but the lack of early manuscript evidence associating PA with Luke’s Gospel has made this a dead-end. Bart D. Ehrman, however, made a groundbreaking contribution several years ago (“Jesus and the Adulteress,” New Testament Studies 34 [1988]: 24–44) by demonstrating the likelihood that PA as we have it in John’s Gospel is in fact a conflation of two earlier stories, one found in Papias and the Didascalia, and the other found in Didymus and the Gospel of the Hebrews. Erhman noted that all of the Lukan features of PA John are found in the former of these (what I’ve termed “PA East” = John 8.2-7a, 10-11).

My article builds on Ehrman’s contribution by arguing that PA East and the Lukan special material (the so-called “L” source, which is that material unique to Luke’s Gospel) have remarkable similarities in their style, form, and content. Citing distinctive parallels in each category, I conclude in my article that “in terms of style, form, and content, PA East so closely resembles the L material that PA East almost surely would have been part of an original L source” (p. 247). Given a shared Syro-Palestinian provenance, I contend that a single line of transmission from L to the Didascalia is in fact quite plausible.

From all this, I draw several conclusions. Perhaps the most interesting is that “we can affirm the essential historicity of the event recorded in PA to the extent that it is preserved in the Didascalia, since identifying the account with the L source places it into the middle of the first century” (p. 247). Much of this beloved story rings true to what else we know of Jesus’ life and would almost certainly not have been the kind of account the early church would have invented.

As for why Luke left this story out of his Gospel, there’s no reason to think that he included every story he heard, and the non-conflated PA East is a bit of a bore compared to the form that appears in Codex Bezae. Nevertheless, it continued to circulate (likely orally) in Palestine, made its way into the Didascalia, and was ultimately conflated with a similar story and inserted into John’s Gospel. Why? At this point, I’ll simply refer interested parties to the work of Chris Keith, whose proposal I find quite satisfying.

Of course, most ancient texts that come down to us aren't the uhrtext directly from the pen of the author,  I doubt any of them are.  Pointing that out about the New Testament was what made Ehrman famous with people who didn't know that already and who believed it debunked Christianity.   And it's lucky for  Ehrman's field that it didn't or they wouldn't have much to make a career out of and he'd never have become famous and gain fans among atheists and get on Fresh Air.

I believe the story and my belief in it works if it is an anachronistic example of modern reportage, which so few atheists would realize was an anachronistic expectation, or if it is an allegory because the result is of a piece with the rest of the teachings of Jesus.   As I've recently used the story in an argument against capital punishment, I thought I'd share one of the few things I learned during my arguments at Religion Dispatches this week.  Not from an atheist, I had to come across it while looking up a citation for the date of that manuscript.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting the link between Luke and John (and was there a "pen" or a "fourth evangelist"? Or a community which produced the gospel more in the manner the medieval cathedrals were built: many hands making contributions, and impossible to credit one person with sole authority/responsibility? Anyway....).

    An interesting link because I haven't done the detailed analysis of Biblical scholars, but I did note (in seminary, so many times my professors began to comment on it) the link between the Lukan anointing story and the Johannine version (it's the only story, besides the Crucifixion, told in all 4 canonical gospels. You could look it up.....).

    And yeah, I've found more than once with on-line atheists that a little knowledge is a dangerous their presumptions. Scratch them, and they are all fundamentalists, convinced, as Neibuhr pointed out, that if the gospels aren't 100% accurate history and 100% the work of a single writer, then the whole thing is a scam and that "scandal," once understood, will bring down the entire edifice of belief.

    You'd think they'd never read "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," or, conversely, they seem to think they're living in a Dan Brown novel.

    Either way, it's kinda funny.