The quest for the historical Christian communities

Discussion about the New Testament, apocrypha, gnostics, church fathers, Christian origins, historical Jesus or otherwise, etc.
User avatar
Peter Kirby
Site Admin
Posts: 5421
Joined: Fri Oct 04, 2013 2:13 pm
Location: Santa Clara
Contact:

The quest for the historical Christian communities

Post by Peter Kirby » Fri Dec 13, 2013 6:21 pm

Victor Paul Furnish has some brief words to say against a crop of writers questioning the historicity of Jesus, including:

http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/revi ... carpenter/
"Moreover, most of the contributors take little account of the role of the Christian communities within which the New Testament writings originated, to which they were directed, and for which they provide, unquestionably, firsthand historical evidence."

This just makes me curious to know what can we know about the Christian communities within which the New Testament writings originated? Hopefully more than the mere dass ("that they existed") to which German scholarship in Bultmann had retreated concerning the question of the historical Jesus.

I ask because I've seen several writers say pretty much the flat opposite to Furnish: that we can't blithely assume that any particular Christian writing is evidence for a Christian community and that, if it is, we may know nothing else about it. (We have immediate evidence for an author but only indirect evidence for any possible community or communities of which the author was a part.)

What do we know about the Christian communities?

How could this support Furnish's contention that contemporary ideas about Christian origins without a historical Jesus neglect to account for them?
"... almost every critical biblical position was earlier advanced by skeptics." - Raymond Brown

User avatar
stephan happy huller
Posts: 1480
Joined: Fri Oct 04, 2013 3:06 pm
Contact:

Re: The quest for the historical Christian communities

Post by stephan happy huller » Fri Dec 13, 2013 10:02 pm

I was just reading Ehrman's blog and find it odd the way these scholars defend the historicity of Jesus. The argument seems to be akin to 'if it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, Jesus must have been a duck.' Ehrman in his latest post argues that only 'qualified' people can write about the question of the historical Jesus. But I don't understand the basis to this argument. It is not as if the study of early Christianity has already examined various 'theories' about the nature of Jesus and then concluded that Jesus must have been historical. The idea that Jesus might not have existed has only emerged in recent years because of sniping from mythicists in the blogosphere. That individual authors here or there have questioned who or what Jesus was has always been around. But the question of the nature of Jesus, whether or not he is existed and to what degree he was originally understood to be a supernatural divinity is a relatively new discipline. I don't see what 'training' Ehrman feels that he or his colleagues have undergone to make them experts on the question of whether or not Jesus existed.

Is there a course in the universities that helps scholars gain expertise in determining 'fictitious individuals' or to distinguish when divinities have been transformed into historical figures? It seems bizarre that he should make this argument in the first place. I don't see where Ehrman received his training to be an authority on the question of whether or not Jesus existed.
Everyone loves the happy times

User avatar
Peter Kirby
Site Admin
Posts: 5421
Joined: Fri Oct 04, 2013 2:13 pm
Location: Santa Clara
Contact:

Re: The quest for the historical Christian communities

Post by Peter Kirby » Fri Dec 13, 2013 10:06 pm

It's posturing. First you'll need a Ph.D. to have an opinion, then you will need peer-reviewed publications, then you will need tenure, then you will need a headcount of like-minded peers, then you will need a session at the SBL for the subject, and then they'll slap you on the back and say you were one of them all along, but boy oh boy are you dead wrong anyway!

It's a game that is played only because it is a winning move in the eyes of some observers and because both sides are playing mainly for the sake of the sideline observers, winning hearts and minds and airtime.

(It's rather annoying that way. Presentations aimed at people who know their shit and just want to dig into the evidence are few and far between.)
"... almost every critical biblical position was earlier advanced by skeptics." - Raymond Brown

User avatar
DCHindley
Posts: 2847
Joined: Mon Oct 07, 2013 9:53 am
Location: Ohio, USA

Re: The quest for the historical Christian communities

Post by DCHindley » Fri Dec 13, 2013 10:15 pm

I'm not so convinced that documents produced within early Christian communities provide "firsthand historical evidence" about Jesus, if that is what Furnish is getting at.

Those documents do in fact provide "firsthand historical evidence" about the beliefs "of the Christian communities within which the New Testament writings originated, and to which they were directed." However, their beliefs about "Jesus Christ" do not necessarily reflect an historical Jesus.

The functions these documents, or the elements they drew from as sources (oral or written traditions, etc), served in early Christian communities is subject to interpretation. Rudolph Bultmann, for instance, attributed all sorts of liturgical functions to sayings about, or from, Jesus, basing his interpretation on a very early understanding of the inner workings of oral tradition.*

DCH :whistling:

*Selected books relevant to NT research on Oral tradition, from

John Miles Foley’s bibliography in Oral-Formulaic Theory and Research, 1985 (bibliography through 1982)

Lee Edgar Tyler, Juris Dilevko, and John Miles Foley, “Annotated Bibliography.” Oral Tradition, 1:767-808. 1986. (Takes Foley’s original bibliography to 1983, with annotations).

Lee Edgar Tyler, “Annotated Bibliography to 1985.” Second installment, covering the years 1984-85, Oral Tradition, 3:191-228, 1988

and from Crosstalk2 posts and Amazon reviews:

Rudolf Bultmann. Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition. Forschungen zur Religion und Literatur des Alten und Neuen Testaments. Neue Folge, 12. Heft. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1957. Trans. by John Marsh as The History of the Synoptic Tradition. Oxford and New York: Basil Blackwell and Harper, 1963.
A methodologically pre-Parry study of oral tradition in Gospel materials. Interested in recovering the synoptic tradition that preceded and gave shape to the gospels, he describes a number of laws or tendencies of oral composition and transmission (espec. pp. 307-43, trans.) reminiscent of some of Olrik's laws of folk narrative. Conceives of tradition as the inevitable complication and growth of smaller to larger units. Sees no incongruity between oral and written media, and so postulates a smooth transition from oral tradition to written text.

Axel Olrik. "Epische Gesetze der Volksdichtung." Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum, 51:1-12, 1909. Trans. Jeanne P. Steager in The Study of Folklore. Ed. Alan Dundes. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1965. pp. 129-41.
A basic study setting out many of Olrik's famous laws of structure in oral folk-narrative in many different traditions. Repetition is tied to laws of three, four, two to a scene, contrast, initial and final position, and concentration on a leading character. Stresses the consistency of occurrence of these patterns.

Milman Parry L'Epithète traditionnelle dans Homère: Essai sur un problème de style homérique. Paris: Société Editrice "Les Belles Lettres." 1928. Trans. by Adam Parry as "The Traditional Epithet in Homer." In The Making of Homeric Verse: The Collected Papers of Milman Parry. Ed. Adam Parry. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971. pp. 1-190.
One of the two requisite theses for the doctorate degree at the University of Paris. Casting aside the contemporary Analyst-Unitarian debate over one or many Homers, and proceeding with the aid of then current linguistic studies (e.g., Duntzer 1864, 1872 and Ellendt 1861), he broaches and painstakingly illustrates his theory of a traditional diction that evolved over hundreds of years of verse-making. First defines the formula as "an expression regularly used, under the same metrical conditions, to express an essential idea" (MHV, p. 13) and posits the substitutable phrase he names the formulaic system. Also discusses generic and ornamental epithets, the process of analogy in the creation of formulas, thrift in formulaic style, the problem of originality and predetermination, and the use of epithets in poems composed in nontraditional style. His rigorous methodology involves a great many examples. This essay marks the foundation of oral-formulaic theory, although at this point (in 1928) Parry does not make the connection between traditional structure and orality.

Birger Gerhardsson. Memory and Manuscript: Oral Tradition and Written Transmission in Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity. Acta Seminarii Neotestamentici Upsaliensis, 22. Lund: C.K. Gleerup, 1961.
Proposes the memorization of a fixed and consequent oral rote transmission by disciples in connection with the rabbinic schools and the New Testament. Describes memorization followed by interpretation as a major pedagogical principle throughout history. The process involved elements arranged associatively to facilitate remembering, an ancient method of ordering oral traditional materials. Written notes were sometimes used to aid in learning texts, as was the practice of recitation with a rhythmical melody. Jacob Neusner's forward to the 1998 reprint of this book apologizes for his scathingly negative review of the initial edition.

Albert B. Lord. "The Gospels as Oral Traditional Literature." In The Relationships among the Gospels: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue. Ed. William O. Walker, Jr. San Antonio: Trinity University Press. 1978 pp. 33-91.
Applies oral methodology to the gospels, locating generic life-patterns of a mythic nature common to oral texts. Also discusses each gospel as a traditional multiform and undertakes a comparative analysis of traditional motifs and verbal correspondence among the Matthew, Mark, and Luke texts.

Birger Gerhardsson. [Evangeliernas förhistoria] The Origins of the Gospel Tradition. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979.
Considers the problem of the origins and history of the tradition from the time of Jesus to the appearance of the written texts, with a discussion of the oral aspects of the Torah tradition.

Werner H. Kelber. "Mark and Oral Tradition," Semeia, 16:7-55. 1980.
Although fully acknowledging a pre-Markan synoptic oral tradition, he takes as his central thesis that "the gospel is to be perceived not as the natural outcome of oral developments, but as a critical alternative to the powers of orality" (46). Thus he disagrees with Bultmann's (1957) hypothesis of a smooth, organic transition from orality to writing and posits instead a shift from collectivity to individual authorship and a "crisis" of oral transmission brought on by the retreat of Jesus' oral presence into a necessarily textual history. Notes the oral traditional features of Mark's gospel (formulaic and thematic patterning, variants with other gospels, modulation in the order of events with relation to other sources) and the fact that Mark's chirographic enterprise went on in a milieu that included a contemporary synoptic oral tradition. An imaginative and stimulating article that takes account of current research on oral literature.

Werner H. Kelber. The Oral and the Written Gospel: The Hermeneutics of Speaking and Writing in the Synoptic Tradition, Mark, Paul, and Q. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983.
Continuing along paths blazed by Ong outside the field of Biblical studies, he aims to illustrate the importance of the oral roots of Biblical texts and to liberate those texts from the cultural bias toward the authority of print: "We treat words primarily as records in need of interpretation, neglecting all too often a rather different hermeneutic, deeply rooted in biblical language that proclaims words as an act inviting participation" (p. xvi). Chapter 1 ("The Pre-Canonical Synoptic Transmission," pp. 1-43) reviews the theories of Bultmann and Gerhardsson and seeks to integrate the contemporary oral literature research of Parry and Lord, Ong, and others; it is concerned with establishing the phenomenology of speaking. Further chapters treat the oral legacy and textuality of Mark and Paul. Argues that "the decisive break in the synoptic tradition did thus not come, as Bultmann thought, with Easter, but when the written medium took full control, transforming Jesus the speaker of kingdom parables into the parable of the kingdom of God" (p. 220). Contains a sizable bibliography of oral literature studies and apposite Biblical research (pp. 227-47).

User avatar
Peter Kirby
Site Admin
Posts: 5421
Joined: Fri Oct 04, 2013 2:13 pm
Location: Santa Clara
Contact:

Re: The quest for the historical Christian communities

Post by Peter Kirby » Fri Dec 13, 2013 10:40 pm

I think what he's saying is that non-historicist writers think about the documents but not about the communities behind them. If they thought about the communities behind them, they might realize why they are wrong about the historicity of Jesus. (Yes, not sure why, but that seems to be his point.)

Maybe it's a way of obliquely referring to the view that the Gospels are fictional or allegorical (an idea in some but not all non-historicist writers), saying that their communities didn't view them as such.
"... almost every critical biblical position was earlier advanced by skeptics." - Raymond Brown

Bernard Muller
Posts: 3490
Joined: Tue Oct 15, 2013 6:02 pm
Contact:

Re: The quest for the historical Christian communities

Post by Bernard Muller » Fri Dec 13, 2013 11:28 pm

This just makes me curious to know what can we know about the Christian communities within which the New Testament writings originated?
First, I am certain Luke's gospel was written for the Christians of Philippi and we can know a few things about that community through Paul's epistle to the Philippians, gLuke and Acts.
Mark's gospel was most likely written in Corinth, but there are a lot less evidence than for gLuke & Acts towards Philippi. More like a long series a weak clues. A lot can be known about the Christians of Corinth, through Paul's epistles to them, the gospel and 1 Clement.
For Matthew's gospel, that would be the Levant, most likely Antioch. But there are very few clues for that. Acts and the gospel provide some indication on Jewish Christian communities there.
For John's gospel, it would be Asia minor, probably Ephesus (where Paul and Apollos of Alexandria (I regard him as the author of "Hebrews") spent years of their apostolic time). The Christology here is close of the one of Paul and the author of Hebrews (who, in my view, imported a few important items (Son of God, Firsborn, pre-existence, second to God, sacrifice for atonement of sins, etc.) from Philo of Alexandria). 1 John and gJohn would give some info about the community there.
Note: "community" may be only one congregation or a few of them, but not necessarily all the "orthodox" Christians in the city.

Cordially, Bernard
I believe freedom of expression should not be curtailed

Adam
Posts: 641
Joined: Fri Oct 04, 2013 3:28 pm

Re: The quest for the historical Christian communities

Post by Adam » Sat Dec 14, 2013 2:42 pm

Richard Bauckham and others go so far now as to write that the gospels are based not just on Christian communities but upon eyewitnesses. My own view is that seven written eyewitness accounts underlie the four gospels, as Peter Kirby conveniently copied in there from Christian Forums:
viewtopic.php?f=3&t=14#p495
Peter may wish sometime to make note somewhere on his post that these are my views and not his, even though this is clear in the context of the preceding and following posts by me.
Here at ECW we don't placidly accept consensus scholarship, as Peter's second post yesterday in this thread cleverly demonstrated, and Blood's signature proclaims. Thus a proper reply to my thesis is still lacking.

User avatar
Peter Kirby
Site Admin
Posts: 5421
Joined: Fri Oct 04, 2013 2:13 pm
Location: Santa Clara
Contact:

Re: The quest for the historical Christian communities

Post by Peter Kirby » Wed Dec 18, 2013 1:02 am

Adam wrote:Richard Bauckham and others go so far now as to write that the gospels are based not just on Christian communities but upon eyewitnesses.
An example of the campaign being waged in Anglo scholarship for a (stronger) conservative/traditional point of view in the study of the New Testament, largely corresponding to the weakening popularity of liberal theological viewpoints in the pews of the US and UK. Some mistake this for the advance of knowledge, but it's hard to believe that the (scholarly) tail is wagging the (popular) dog here.

(The same can be said of some of the pablum produced for the growing number of alternately religious and non-theistic.)
"... almost every critical biblical position was earlier advanced by skeptics." - Raymond Brown

Kunigunde Kreuzerin
Posts: 1389
Joined: Sat Nov 16, 2013 2:19 pm
Location: Leipzig, Germany
Contact:

Re: The quest for the historical Christian communities

Post by Kunigunde Kreuzerin » Thu Dec 19, 2013 1:27 am

Peter Kirby wrote:This just makes me curious to know what can we know about the Christian communities within which the New Testament writings originated? Hopefully more than the mere dass ("that they existed") to which German scholarship in Bultmann had retreated concerning the question of the historical Jesus.
It's one of the important questions we need to ask. I doubt a little bit that the higher theological meanings of the writings show us the reality of the Christian communities (1. Cor 3.2, Heb 5.12 "milk, not solid food"). As for myself I would start with "genuine" ( :mrgreen: please do not charge me) writings which discuss problems of the communities and I think that for example 2 John and 3 John are without a great doubt such "genuine" writings (not by the beloved disciple, but by an early Community leader in a real historical situation).

PhilosopherJay
Posts: 383
Joined: Fri Oct 04, 2013 7:02 pm

Re: The quest for the historical Christian communities

Post by PhilosopherJay » Thu Dec 19, 2013 7:33 am

Hi DCHindley,

It is nice to know that nothing new has been added to this list since I read these works some 20 years ago.

I have never been convinced that one could distinguish oral from literary composition. The frequent use of epithets or phrase repetition simply cannot be equated with oral composition. Because Bill Fingers frequently uses the epithets "the Caped Crusader," "the Dark Knight," and "the World's Greatest Detective," for his Batman character, we cannot conclude that Batman originated in an oral culture in which believers in an Historical Batman used these terms to describe him before there was a comic-book, radio, television or movie "Batman." Likewise because Ian Fleming used the phrase "shaken, not stirred," we cannot conclude that the British Naval Intelligence Division that he worked in during World War II was illiterate. Dr. Seuss' audience may not read very well, but Dr. Seuss was not necessarily composing orally when he captured this bit of conversation:
Do you like
green eggs and ham

I do not like them,
Sam-I-am.
I do not like
green eggs and ham.
My more recent investigations into the field seemed to suggest that the majority of people now in the field repudiate the extreme positions of the earlier workers in the field that oral composition was easily detectable from literary composition.

Warmly,

Jay Raskin
DCHindley wrote:I'm not so convinced that documents produced within early Christian communities provide "firsthand historical evidence" about Jesus, if that is what Furnish is getting at.

Those documents do in fact provide "firsthand historical evidence" about the beliefs "of the Christian communities within which the New Testament writings originated, and to which they were directed." However, their beliefs about "Jesus Christ" do not necessarily reflect an historical Jesus.

The functions these documents, or the elements they drew from as sources (oral or written traditions, etc), served in early Christian communities is subject to interpretation. Rudolph Bultmann, for instance, attributed all sorts of liturgical functions to sayings about, or from, Jesus, basing his interpretation on a very early understanding of the inner workings of oral tradition.*

DCH :whistling:

*Selected books relevant to NT research on Oral tradition, from

John Miles Foley’s bibliography in Oral-Formulaic Theory and Research, 1985 (bibliography through 1982)
...

Werner H. Kelber. The Oral and the Written Gospel: The Hermeneutics of Speaking and Writing in the Synoptic Tradition, Mark, Paul, and Q. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983.
Continuing along paths blazed by Ong outside the field of Biblical studies, he aims to illustrate the importance of the oral roots of Biblical texts and to liberate those texts from the cultural bias toward the authority of print: "We treat words primarily as records in need of interpretation, neglecting all too often a rather different hermeneutic, deeply rooted in biblical language that proclaims words as an act inviting participation" (p. xvi). Chapter 1 ("The Pre-Canonical Synoptic Transmission," pp. 1-43) reviews the theories of Bultmann and Gerhardsson and seeks to integrate the contemporary oral literature research of Parry and Lord, Ong, and others; it is concerned with establishing the phenomenology of speaking. Further chapters treat the oral legacy and textuality of Mark and Paul. Argues that "the decisive break in the synoptic tradition did thus not come, as Bultmann thought, with Easter, but when the written medium took full control, transforming Jesus the speaker of kingdom parables into the parable of the kingdom of God" (p. 220). Contains a sizable bibliography of oral literature studies and apposite Biblical research (pp. 227-47).

Post Reply