Σάββατο, 18 Μαρτίου 2017

Neil Godfrey : Thomas Brodie : Staying Christian With a Symbolic Jesus (3)

“What Is Rule One?”

Chapter 13

The Quest for History: Rule One


The theme of chapter 13 in Thomas Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discover syncs well with a recurring theme on this blog. I have posted on it repeatedly and alluded to it constantly. I even posted on the contents of this chapter 13 soon after I began reading Brodie’s book and before I considered doing this series. That earlier post was Quest for History: Rule One — from Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus.
Many scholars of Christian origins (biblical and religion scholars, theologians) write in the belief that the most important thing to grasp about the narratives and sayings in the Gospels is the historical context that gave rise to them.
And yet, and yet, and yet. Being first in importance does not necessarily mean being first in the order of investigation. The first thing to be sorted out about a document is not its history or theology — not the truth of background events or its ultimate meaning — but simply its basic nature.
For instance, before discussing a will — its possible many references to past events, and its provisions for distributing a legacy — the first thing to be established is whether it is genuine, whether it is a real will. (p. 121, my bolding)
Its basic nature! The nature of the text we are reading! Exactly. One theologian who regularly refers to himself as a historian has insisted that historical analysis of the Gospels has nothing to do with literary analysis and that literary analysis has no relevance for historical analysis. That is flat wrong. Even at a very superficial level everyone necessarily does some form of literary analysis in order to determine how to interpret the content of what they are reading. Is what we are reading a diary, a parody, an advertisement, an official news report, a novel? Deciding that question involves some basic level of literary analysis.
The commonly expressed view that the Gospels are a form of ancient biography actually arises more from the a priori assumption that they contain or are based ultimately on biographical data than a theoretical analysis of the genre. For an analysis of the influential work of Burridge (whose work arguing for the Gospels being a form of biography is widely taken for granted but less widely analysed critically) see other Vridar posts in the Burridge archive. For discussions of a work that is, by contrast, a theoretically grounded analysis of the genre of the Gospel of Mark see the Vines archive.
(Unfortunately not even classical studies helps much here since, I’ve been informed, questions of genre generally remain fairly fluid in that department. But biblical studies does elicit certain distinctive questions critical for cultural reasons so genre analysis of biblical literature does deserve to be taken more seriously.)
But enough of my take. This series is meant to be about Brodie’s views. So for the sake of completeness I have decided to copy my earlier post within this series here. If you’ve already read it then think of this as a refresher. It’s a topic that can’t be overstated given that it appears to be utterly lost on the bulk of the present generation of scholars of Christian origins.
The new addition to my bookshelf and I are going to get along just fine. I feel like I’ve found a long-lost friend, someone who has published exactly the point I have been making on this blog for so long now, only this new friend was saying it long before it ever crossed my mind.Chapter 13, “The Quest for History: Rule One” in Thomas Brodies’ Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus, begins:
On leaving the foggy swamp created by the theory of oral tradition I came again to the search for well-grounded history, and was brought back to the person who, amid hundreds of ancient rules, asked Jesus, “Which is the greatest commandment?” And so amid the complexity of searching for history, I wondered if there was a Rule One.
This is not unlike my experience of wondering how historians can know anything at all about the existence of persons millennia ago. Few biblical scholars seem ever to have given this serious attention. The existence of certain persons seems to be mostly taken for granted. When Bart Ehrman attempted to grapple with this question (apparently for the first time) in his book, Did Jesus Exist?, it was clear he was merely opining off the top of his head and had never before seriously thought through the question in relation to a range of persons and sources. He began by saying a photograph would be proof — failing to grasp what should have been the obvious fact that a photograph is meaningless to anyone who has no idea of the existence and identity of the person in the first place. He had never thought the question through. Nor have scholars like McGrath and Hurtado who merely parrot as a given that scholars agree Hillel and Socrates existed so they did. When pushed, they can do nothing better than fall back on “scholars in their collective wisdom agree”. (Two posts in which I discuss this question: How do we know anyone existed. . . . , and Comparing the evidence. . . .)
Thomas Brodie speaks of an SBL meeting at San Diego in 2007 where Richard Bauckham
reminded his huge audience that he was unusually well qualified in history.
Accordingly, Brodie suggest, it seems that Rule One is to “attend to history”.
But Brodie also reminds us that another highly influential scholar, Brevard Childs, disagreed and would put “the meaning of the finished (canonical) text” as Rule One. The Bible’s historical background was too elusive to be a foundation, he said.
Brodie narrates a pregnant moment that registered with him in class:
I remember one day in class, as Childs was holding forth with strength and depth, he noticed how the text seemed to be structured or organized in a very specific way, and wondered if the structure was significant — in effect wondered if a purely literary feature, neither history nor theology, made any real difference. He paused, and then, almost verbatim:
‘We have no evidence that these things were important.’
The moment passed, and we returned to theology.
Recollect Churchill’s famous saying:
Occasionally he stumbled over the truth but he always picked himself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened.
Brodie acknowledges that “ultimately” both Bauckham and Childs are right: that history and theology (the meaning of the Bible) are of “supreme value”.
And yet, and yet, and yet. Being first in importance does not necessarily mean being first in the order of investigation. The first thing to be sorted out about a document is not its history or theology — not the truth of background events or its ultimate meaning — but simply its basic nature. For instance, before discussing a will — its possible many references to past events, and its provisions for distributing a legacy — the first thing to be established is whether it is genuine, whether it is a real will. (p. 121, my bolding)
Its basic nature! The nature of the text we are reading! That’s exactly what I have been saying is the first task in an exploration of Christian origins. We need first to understand the very nature of the evidence or sources we are using. And yes, that means at some level literary analysis if the sources are literary. McGrath is flat wrong when he says literary analysis is not of interest to the historian. It is of the first and utmost importance. How else can the historian know how to interpret the literary source unless he or she understands its literary nature? I told you I think I have found a new like-minded friend for my bookshelf!
Brodie elaborates:
The text [Genesis], the finished writing, is the number one artifact, and no amount of historical background or theological acumen can substitute for taking that artifact seriously. Before asking ‘What was the historical background?’ one must first ask ‘Historical background of what?’ To do otherwise is like trying to figure out ‘who done it’ without knowing what was done. . . .
As an artifact, an object, Genesis is literary, at least in the basic sense that it consists of writing — . . . . And the first step in taking it seriously is to be sensitive to writing — to the full text and to the procedures normally involved in writing, in other words, to literary procedures. The literary aspect has ‘operational priority’ (Robert Polzin . . . 1980 . . .) . . . . Literary procedures are like the foundations of a house: on their own they are unimpressive and almost useless, but to build without them is to invite disaster.
Thompson similarly demonstrates that biblical narratives are so often reiterations of a theological motif. Look how many retellings there are — I can count seven or eight off the top of my head — of the new creation being born through divided waters, from Genesis right through to the Gospels were the motif is transvalued (MacDonald’s term) into the dividing of the heavens.
As an example Brodie cites the biblical narrative of the fall of Jericho and archaeological efforts to establish the truth or otherwise of the story.
However, without ever lifting a spade, the literary aspect provides a further clue.
The drama of the victory at Jericho and ensuing defeat at Ai
is part of a larger pattern of texts concerning success-and-failure, texts that ultimately reflect the Bible’s foundational drama of success-and-failure, namely, the creation-and-fall . . . .
What is essential is that literary context gives decisive clues on how to understand a text. If a newspaper announces cheap flights to Mars, it is important to note whether the advertisement occurs in the Travel Section or in the Cartoons-and-Jokes Page. Clarity on the literary factor is Rule One. (pp. 121-122, my emphasis)
Brodie acknowledges Richard Bauckham’s significant contribution to biblical studies by “helping to show that oral tradition does not work in explaining the development of the Gospels, and he has gone on to replace oral tradition by invoking formal transmission and eyewitnesses.”
However, there are problems with Bauckham’s proposal. John N. Collins of Australia maintains that Bauckham misreads Luke’s prologue (Lk. 1. 1. 1-4); Luke is referring back not to eyewitnesses but to a process that is literary.
. . . It takes little more than a glance at the preface of Luke to realize that Luke’s focus is [not on ‘some process of teaching and learning’ but] upon a literary tradition. (Collins 2010:451)
[Since posting this I have read J. N. Collins’ article quoted by Brodie, and it is clear that Collins’ argument for the prologue referring to a literary tradition complements (not contradicts) “some process of teaching and learning”. Collins is especially interested in that “process of teaching and learning” in the community.— Neil Godfrey, 15th November, 2012]
Collins, in Brodie’s words, faults Bauckham’s work thus:
[I]t shows historical erudition but without the necessary preliminary literary homework. Bauckham reads the New Testament data on transmission and witness as historical, without asking sufficiently whether it is actually historical or whether it is simply written to look like history. (pp, 122-123, my emphasis)
The Gospel of John, for example, is written in the tradition of Hebrew narrative. Its author, therefore, had every reason to make it look like history. We know that the Old Testament Biblical narratives could look like history even when it is clear they could not be historical. Furthermore, John’s Word is being made flesh, so it is coming “in history” — and hence the narrative for theological reasons must look history-like.
But whether it is actually historical must be decided on grounds other than its appearance. (p. 123)

A most elementary fallacy

Brodie then targets the common fallacy found in the writings of many biblical scholars, including some recently discussed in my reviews of Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity. Although Bauckham is correct to say that historians were expected to have a thorough knowledge of the places of which they wrote, it does not follow that references to geographical features is evidence of genuine historical writing. Accurate geographical details in fiction, including ancient fiction, are legion. Brodie drives the point home by citing every local geographical feature of the setting used by film-makers to show Superman taking flight. “But that does not make Superman historical.”
And likewise, John’s precision in mentioning places may give a close imitation of the style of historians, but again that alone does not make history. Style is not substance. What Bauckham has clarified is not that John is a historian but that he has imitated the conventions of historians. He has made his work history-like. This is an important contribution to clarifying John’s literary form, but the issue of history must be decided on other factors. (p. 123)
I believe this is where I believe Michael Vines’ study of genre theory and its application to the Gospel of Mark is a golden contribution. Burridge’s What Are the Gospels? drew entirely on superficial appearance and style to conclude the Gospels were biographies. Vines, on the other hand, dived into literary theory and discovered what the authors were really doing and that superficial appearances were badly misleading.

Locating the sources

Another central factor for the historian is the identification of the sources of a text like the Gospel of John and how the author uses them. Brodie refers to Jesus’ journey from Jerusalem and Judea (in the Gospel of John) to Samaria and Galilee – John 2:23-4:54 – and how it is unlike any journey in the Synoptics. It does, however, correspond to the journey of the Word of God in Acts 1-8. There are many details to corroborate John’s dependence upon Acts (Heffernan 2009).
Such adaptations, such creative rewritings, were not unusual. They were central to ancient literary compositions. So it is impossible to make a historical claim about John 1-4 without first examining its dependence on Acts 1-8.
But here is the problem.
But some who claim to find history in John do not examine such literary links. (p. 124)
Brodie tells us that in September 2007 he contacted Bauckham to ask him if he ever explored the question of the relationship between John and the Synoptic Gospels “in the context of the literary relationships of the ancient world, Greco-Roman and Jewish.”
A few days later, on 26 September, he replied and said quite simply ‘No’.
I had to admire his promptness and honesty. But it reminded me of London’s Metropolitan Police when they were first offered fingerprinting. The Metropolitan Police were no slouch outfit. Based in Scotland Yard, they had a proud professional tradition. It was they who maintained order in the capital city at the heart of the largest empire the world has ever seen. They did not need these flimsy-looking spider-lines. (p. 124)
Let me quote part of the following paragraph here:
Tracking creative rewriting is like looking for fingerprinting. In comparing texts it often shows similarities that may appear as virtually invisible as fingerprints. But the phenomenon of creative rewriting is not going away. It is like a technology that is improving steadily. Virtually every year now brings some new discovery of how it contributed to the making of a biblical or biblical-related text, and with each discovery comes an increased opportunity to learn how rewriting can work. New Scotland Yard and London’s Metropolitan Police have long since become leaders in solving difficult cases. Solving what exactly John did will take time. . . .
Failure to connect John with Acts is part of a larger neglect around literary matters — whether about sufficiently recognizing literary art, including literary form, or the strange ancient method of creatively adapting sources. This neglect violates Rule One of historical research.
Brodie footnotes another case-study to illustrate this. James Dunn, for example, can detect that Luke is “something distinctive” in the creation of his speeches in Acts, but instead of checking to see if there are verifiable literary explanations, particularly whether Luke might be using the epistles and translating them into new form, he assumes that Luke is drawing on undefined tradition.

No solution in eye-witnesses or social memory

In my earlier posts on Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity and related posts on Le Donne, I address the new scholarly trend to look to social memory to replace the traditional construct of oral traditions. Bauckham has kicked at the weaknesses of the oral tradition explanation for the Gospel narratives, but by replacing it with eye-witness testimony and formal processes of teaching and learning through authoritative persons he has merely replaced “one ghost” with another.
One forgets there is a chasm beneath the impressive edifice.
The chasm is so deep that, like the theory of oral tradition, it threatens to devour decades of research energy, until, someday, some future Bauckham will arise and say ‘That dog don’t hunt! It does not deal with the data — with the text and its links to other texts.’
The problem is not solved by moving from one imaginary foundation to another — from eyes to memory, in other words from eyewitness testimony to social memory.
It seems so elementary to me. Why are Brodies’ words not taken as a given among scholars?
Social memory does not necessarily prove the historical existence of the individual remembered. There is a social memory of Superman . . . . The discussion of the social memory of Jesus rests on the presupposition of Jesus’ historicity . . . . Historical existence provides a foundation for social memory; but social memory does not provide a reliable foundation for historical existence. (p. 125, my emphasis)

Deeps Below, Storms Ahead


Chapter 14


Chapter 14 of Thomas Brodie’s Memoir of a Discovery is probably one of the volume’s most significant and it is to be regretted that some of Brodie’s critics have so totally avoided its message. This chapter strikes at the heart of what most of us at first find most challenging about Brodie’s thesis.
But first, let’s start where Thomas Brodie himself starts in this chapter. Let’s begin when he meets the new professor of New Testament at Yale Divinity School, Richard B. Hays, in the 1980s. There is a new wind beginning to blow in New Testament studies and Hays’ work is among those ships that have felt its first gusts. (We will see that many are still in denial and refusing to prepare.) Meanwhile, Hays invited Brodie to speak on Luke’s use of the Old Testament to his New Haven class.

Richard Hays’ thesis has been published as The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-4:11. Hays argues that a section of Galatians is a product of an author reworking a larger narrative about Jesus Christ and some of the Old Testament.
Since then, Brodie informs us, Hays has become “a pioneer in narrative theology — in showing how New Testament narrative often builds a story or narrative that is grounded on that of the Old Testament”. Others have come along to complement his work. Some of these:
  • N. T. Wright 2005, Paul: In Fresh Perspective
  • Francis Watson, see bibliography
  • Carol Stockhaussen 1989, Moses’ Veil and the Story of the New Covenant: The Exegetical Substructure of II Cor. 3:1-4:6; 1993, ‘2 Corinthians 3 and the Principles of Pauline Exegesis’, in C. A. Evans and J. A. Sanders (eds) Paul and the Scriptures of Israel.
In acknowledging the importance of the Old Testament “allusions” or “echoes” in the New Testament, these works (according to Brodie) are “a real advance for New Testament research.”

But there’s a but . . .

Brodie’s optimism is tempered, however. The above “pioneers” speak of “echoes” and “allusions” and for that reason do not really do full justice to the way the New Testament authors re-worked/re-wrote the literature of the Old.
If many scholars have jumped at doing “history” with the Gospels before they have taken care to explore the nature of their literary sources, Richard Hays has been too quick to jump into doing theology. By that Brodie means that Hays has failed to appreciate that questions of theology can be significantly influenced by understanding how the texts being studied came to be put together, how they were transmitted. By understanding how authors put the texts together one can better appreciate the questions of theology they posed in their final products.
Hays can appreciate that the continuity between the narratives of Luke-Acts and of the Old Testament functions to give readers the theological message that they can have assurance in the continuity and reliability of God’s plan. But what he misses, according to Brodie, is that one of the most central factors of God’s plan was the composing of Scripture itself. So by studying the way Scriptures were composed, how they were sourced and put together, we can understand how God worked, how he implemented his plan. For Brodie, such questions are fundamental to truly appreciating the theology of the New Testament writings.
Brodie appears to me to be suggesting that a scholar can trace the mind of God, at least as it was understood by the New Testament authors, through an analysis of the literary sources of the New Testament writings and the way the Old Testament writings were “reworked” into the New.

And the ineffectuality of “intertextuality”

The word intertextuality has been frequently used by scholars studying the ways New Testament authors made use of their literary sources but its meaning is also too often imprecise. The word originated with Julia Kristeva in 1966 and today is more commonly associated with anthropological questions of interaction between cultures, Several biblical scholars use the word to refer to concepts as light as “textual allusions” or “echoes”. This is fine insofar as it draws attention to the relationship between written texts. But Brodie is arguing that ancient writing involved much more than “allusions” and “echoes”:
The kernel of ancient writing was not in allusions: it was in taking hold of entire books and transforming them systematically. VIrgil did not just allude to Homer; he swallowed him whole. And there are comparable systematic transformations within the Bible. Allusions and quotations were often little more than decorations and embellishments. (p. 127)
So what is the nature of the textual relationship that is at the core of Brodie’s argument if it’s more than “echoes” and “allusions”?

Transforming Texts Beyond Immediate Recognition

Spotting the differences between the following stories earns no points. But spotting the similarities AND being able to coherently explain them might yield rewards. Many scholars have discussed the comparisons of Luke’s narrative with its matches in Matthew 8:5-13 and John 4:43-54. Many commentators of the Lukan narrative have even been aware of the Naaman episode.
Naaman the Syrian commander
2 Kings 5:1-19
The Centurion
Luke 7:1-10
5 Now Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great and honorable man in the eyes of his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was also a mighty man of valor, but a leper. 2 And the Syrians had gone out on raids, and had brought back captive a young girl from the land of Israel. She waited on Naaman’s wife. 3 Then she said to her mistress, “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! For he would heal him of his leprosy.” 4 And Naaman went in and told his master, saying, “Thus and thus said the girl who is from the land of Israel.”5 Then the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.”So he departed and took with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. 6 Then he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which said,Now be advised, when this letter comes to you, that I have sent Naaman my servant to you, that you may heal him of his leprosy.7 And it happened, when the king of Israel read the letter, that he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and make alive, that this man sends a man to me to heal him of his leprosy? Therefore please consider, and see how he seeks a quarrel with me.”8 So it was, when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Please let him come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.”9 Then Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and he stood at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’ 12 Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. 13 And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.15 And he returned to the man of God, he and all his aides, and came and stood before him; and he said, “Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel; now therefore, please take a gift from your servant.”16 But he said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive nothing.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused.17 So Naaman said, “Then, if not, please let your servant be given two mule-loads of earth; for your servant will no longer offer either burnt offering or sacrifice to other gods, but to the Lord. 18 Yet in this thing may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the temple of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand, and I bow down in the temple of Rimmon—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord please pardon your servant in this thing.”19 Then he said to him, “Go in peace.” So he departed from him a short distance. 7 Now when He concluded all His sayings in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum. 2 And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear to him, was sick and ready to die. 3 So when he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to Him, pleading with Him to come and heal his servant. 4 And when they came to Jesus, they begged Him earnestly, saying that the one for whom He should do this was deserving, 5 “for he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue.”
6 Then Jesus went with them. And when He was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. 7 Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.9 When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turned around and said to the crowd that followed Him, “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” 10 And those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant well who had been sick.

But almost no-one noticed — certainly I didn’t — that, to a decisive degree, the centurion consists largely of a transformation of Naaman.
The differences between the texts are great, and it needs careful examination to see the central continuity between them, yet . . . John Shelton, building on brief comments by a few earlier scholars, has put Luke’s systematic dependence on the Naaman account beyond reasonable doubt.
The Naaman text has been transformed beyond immediate recognition. (p. 128)
Ancient writing, Brodie informs us, was quite unlike modern literature in that it was preeminently concerned with preservation of the past masters.
At the heart of the composition of ancient texts, including biblical texts, lay a visceral instinct for literary preservation. The reason for this deep-seated custom of preservation and re-use seems to lie, in part at least, in a feeling that existing knowledge, stored largely in precious handwritten texts, was not to be taken for granted by was to be thoroughly understood, imitated (imitatio; Greek, mimésis), emulated (aemulatio; Greek, zélos), rewritten (in diverse forms, Near Eastern and Mediterranean) — and thereby preserved. . . . The purpose, then, was both to preserve what existed, and simultaneously to ensure that it was available in fresh form for a further generation. The essential was preservation, not recognition. (p. 128)
We know that Dennis MacDonald tells us that imitating authors liked to leave “flags” to alert readers to where they had cleverly reconstructed an earlier text. For Brodie, however, by no means are all of the imitated texts recognizable. Many are not!
They are hidden, and unless the researcher is alert to the diverse ways in which they may be disguised, they remain hidden — thus concealing much of the heart of the matter.
The problem can scarcely be overstated. (p. 129)
The process of establishing literary links or literary sources can be difficult. Brodie even quotes a passage from George Steiner’s After Babel and wishes they could be engraved in gold on black marble above the corridors where new students walk. I have taken the liberty to go beyond Brodie’s extract and quote directly from Steiner myself slightly more expansively. After pointing to the “manifest dependence of” James Joyce’s Ulysses on Homer’s Odyssey, Steiner points out that
The Homeric text can be set to music in its original wording or in translation. It can serve as caption to a painting or sculpture which illustrates one or another episode. But the painter, sculptor, or choreographer need not cite his source-text. He can imagine, reflect, or enact it with greater or lesser fidelity.
He can treat it in a limitless variety of perspectives ranging from ‘photographic’ mimesis to parody, satiric distortion or the faintest, most arcane of allusions.
It is up to us to recognize and reconstruct the particular force of relation. (How soon does the generally alert but unaided reader catch the detailed echoes of David Copperfield in Dostoevsky’s The Possessed, or the kinship between the fable of Lear and that of Cinderella, particularly when the latter is case in the form, say, of a ballet or a pantomine?) (my formatting. Steiner, After Babylon, p. 447)
So Thomas Brodie begs for the opening of minds beyond the pre-programmed limits of the conventionally taught textual relationships. He returns to the “narrative theology” of Richard Hays and writes:
Among the ‘limitless variety of perspectives‘, narrative theology has an honoured place, but it is best set in the context of three uses that are particularly pertinent in biblical studies. (p. 129)
So what are those “three uses”?

1. Quotation

This one is obvious. (That’s my comment, not Brodie’s, but I don’t think he’d disagree.) I won’t belabour the point with definitions. We quote for the purpose of having words and their source recognized to lend them authority.

2. Narrative Allusion/Echoes

Again, the point of an allusion or echo is that the source text be recognized, otherwise the point of the allusion is lost.

3. Transformation

Here we come to the crux of Brodie’s arguments. The above two are understood well enough but this third one is still largely unexplored.
We know that many biblical scholars and lay readers will flatly reject and scoff at any suggestion of literary dependence if it is “not easily recognizable”. “The differences outnumber the similarities!” is the common refrain. “I simply don’t see the similarities” is another. (Those last two sentences are my own, not Brodie’s, but I believe they point to how Brodie would tiresomely retort if he were a tired man like me right now.)
In this case the older text is so thoroughly reworked that at first sight it is not recognizable. The purpose of this transformation was not to hit people with a clear authoritative quotation . . . or subtly to evoke a theological narrative (à la Richard Hays), but to respect and preserve the text in adapted form so that it fulfils some other function. (p. 130)
What counts, Brodie writes, is not “easy recognition” but whether the connection can truly be established through the application of valid criteria and honest effort.
And the hidden connections are vast — far, far greater in number and volume than connections that are easily recognizable. . . . (p. 130)
The quickly recognizable allusions are few, says Brodie, but those that are “beneath the surface” are by far more numerous.
The time has come for biblical research to move out into the deep. (p. 130)
The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there. (L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between, 1953, the opening line)
Transformation of texts is found
across virtually the whole range of ancient literature, nonbiblical and biblical, Old Testament and New . . .
Moreover the evidence for the ways authors transformed texts is steadily increasing and for support of this Brodie cites:
Other scholars have acknowledged that literary analysis of the Bible “is only in its infancy” (Robert Alter, 1981; Luke Johnson, 1998), and Brodie is saying we have only barely begun the voyage of discovery. We can all see a few allusions and quotations to the OT in the NT. Brodie is comparing these readily visible relationships to the few fish that we see jumping above the ocean’s surface. It is in the deeps below that we find just how many and varied are the fish indicated by these few.

Criteria for Recognizing the Presence of Transformed Texts

How can one come to recognize a text that has been transformed into something else?
The initial process of recognizing the presence of an underlying literary source — recognizing for instance that within Genesis lies a transformation of Homer’s Odyssey; or that within Matthew lies a transformation of Romans — can sometimes resemble what happened within the dog [Argo, who after twenty years sensed a presence in the disguised Odysseus that he once knew] and the nurse [Eurycleia, who recognized Odysseus from a single scar that she knew could only identify one person]. Some kind of scent. Or a telltale detail. And suddenly you know. Or at least you have a strong suspicion.
But no matter how strong the suspicion, no matter how accurate the nose, the claim that one document used another needs to be backed by systematic investigation. A strong suspicion is useless in court. You need evidence — plus clarity. (p. 133, my formatting and emphasis)
Here is where I wonder if those sudden “sensations” of recognition can be false decoys sometimes. Might not a “scent” or “telltale detail” sometimes point rather to an allusion than a larger transformation? Sometimes an argument for a hidden yet reworked textual source can seem light, or it might contradict a rival and stronger argument for an alternative source. Such is my own partial reservation with respect to Thomas Brodie’s argument here. I am still very new to this type of study and cannot deny I have much to learn. And I do agree that there are significant numbers of times when that “scent” of familiarity does lead to remarkable discoveries of (or certainly strong arguments for) a re-worked source text. Brodie would answer that here is where criteria are important for helping one build a clear argument for literary dependence.
I have posted several lists of criteria for literary borrowing on this blog and Brodie lists some of these and others.
Criteria themselves show divergence:

Allison Van Ruiten and Kowalski
The history of interpretation
Some shared elements (words, word order, imagery, structure, circumstances) especially if the shared elements are unusual
The prominence of the subtext in the tradition and interest of the later writer.
A quotation is indicated by five words in the same order as in the OT
An allusion is indicated by two substantial words
. . . . although other factors (overlapping with those of Allison) are also considered in practice)

Brodie’s criteria fall into three categories.

1. Initial plausibility, including accessibility

Did the proposed source text exist before the text being reviewed? Would it have been accessible to the author of the later text? Would the author have been likely to have read it or make use of it?
These questions do not establish anything but a possibility. Answers in the negative would necessarily close that avenue of inquiry.

2. Significant similarities between the two documents, beyond the range of coincidence

Is some of this evidence strong and requiring more than coincidence to explain? Ignoring the strong evidence by focusing on the weak only obscures the question, as we saw Brodie point out in an earlier chapter.
The similarities can include:
  • genre
  • theme
  • plot/action
  • pivotal clues
  • order/sequence
  • completeness
  • tell-tale details, including details of wording

3. Interpretability — or the intelligibility of the differences

Differences will sometimes be very great, but what counts is whether the differences can be explained in a way that deepens our understanding of the new text. Sometimes such explanations can reveal new surprises about the nature of the reworked document.
The example of Virgil’s reworking of Homer’s epics has been given before. I don’t think Brodie mentions it again in this chapter but it is worth keeping in mind since it is a reasonably widely known example of what Brodie is talking about. One may read of Aeneas having smooth sailing around a certain passage and bypassing the dangers of Scylla and Charybdis and the temptations of the Sirens completely. One may think at first that Virgil has chosen not to make any use of these dramatic episodes in Homer. But we know now that Virgil is very mindful of them and deliberately setting Aeneas above Odysseus by having him more blessed by the gods because he avoids them. They are there in the Aeneid after all — but Virgil has “reworked” them to produce a hero greater than Odysseus. A nymph who captures Odysseus’ heart and keeps him many years from his destiny is transformed into a Queen of Carthage who cannot keep Aeneas from his destiny. In Homer war precedes the voyages that lead to home; in the Aeneid the structure has been reversed and war concludes the homecoming.
The differences are great but they are “interpretable”. We can recognize the reason for them and how Virgil was creating differences to exalt his Roman hero above the Greek counterpart.
Some texts they swallow whole, almost; others they distil; or reverse, or adapt in ways that are strange — so that the old cloth become a new thread. And having thus produced something new — the new thread — the active writer does not cease. In a highly complex process, the thread is interwoven with other threads to produce a new text, literally a new textus, ‘woven (Latin texere, ‘to weave’), and the patten of the weaving can open up a new country. (p. 134)
Brodie’s discovery of took new shape when he took up Joseph Fitzmyer’s challenge asking what other writers transformed literature the way he believed the biblical ones did. That’s when he learned what many others already knew about the classical literature, and saw that the biblical writers were only doing what other writers of that era were doing.

Determination not to see

N. T. Wright (2005) refers to a scholar’s “determination not to see”.
Wright is no flyweight. And he measures his words. Besides, it is unusual, in biblical scholarship nowadays, to speak plainly about a negative attitude in another scholar. But there it was: ‘It is hard to argue against such determination not to see what is in fact there in the text‘.
We can all too easily fail to see something. But Wright, Brodie stresses, is talking about an “unwillingness to see” that Paul’s letters are engaging large narratives from the Old Testament. Brodie quotes Wright further:
Paying attention to the underlying narrative structure of Paul’s thought, then, is not simply a matter of recognizing the implicit narratives in Paul and drawing out their implication for detailed exegesis. Something much deeper, more revolutionary, is going on when we start to unearth these implicit stories, and I suspect it is resistance to this element that is currently driving both the resistance to recognizing narratives at all and, more particularly, the increasingly forceful resistance to the ‘new perspective’. (my bolding)
Brodie finds in Wright’s words a sobering reminder that clarity of argument is not always enough to persuade. He forecasts storms ahead.
(“Determination not to see” applies to more than the new insights promised by literary analysis, as many readers of this blog are well aware. And it would be an interesting exercise to compare some of those narratives in Paul’s subtext with the “original” texts that emerge from various scholarly arguments for interpolations in Paul.)

The Crumbling Evidence for Paul

Chapter 15


Chapter 15 of Thomas Brodie’s discovery memoir (Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery) surveys what can happen when one applies comparative literary analysis to the letters attributed to Paul. The third case study Brodie outlines is one I particularly love. How can one not be attracted to a scholarly synopsis that introduces a case for a view that one has long held independently as a consequence of one’s own personal analysis?
When I compare the conclusion of Acts (a conclusion generally regarded as problematic or otherwise incomplete) with other ancient (including biblical) literature I am almost sure there is nothing problematic about the ending of Acts at all. It is based upon the conclusion of Israel’s “Primary History”. That is, the conclusion of Acts is strikingly similar to the concluding chapter of 2 Kings. (I have posted detail on this before.) And of course once one recognizes that, the logical question to ask is whether the events of Acts leading up to that conclusion bear a similarity to the events in 2 Kings leading up to the liberal captivity of the king of Judah. In other words, does Paul’s journey to Rome evoke substantial literary connections with the exile of the captive “Jews” to Babylon? I believe it does. So I cannot help but take pleasurable notice when Brodie makes the same point.
Regrettably there is a dark side to this chapter, or at least to the way a key point the chapter makes was completely botched in a review by a certain associate professor and world authority on parallelomania studies between science fiction and religion. But I will save that for the “Who holds the pen?” section.
It’s an interesting time to be posting this review and overview. We currently have a series by Roger Parvus with a quite different take on the nature and origins of the Pauline letters. So plenty of scope to exercise our synapses.

What does a study of Paul have to do with the Gospels?

Thomas Brodie took up a serious study of Paul’s epistles in the 1970s when he came to believe that they were a key to truly getting to the bottom of understanding the origin of the Gospels.
And in order to understand Paul’s letters one usually attempts to get some sense of how they relate to each other. Which comes first? Brodie decided that 1 Corinthians was of central importance in that it appeared to set the pattern for other epistles.
So Brodie’s trajectory is essentially from 1 Corinthians to other epistles to the Gospels.
1 Corinthians, however, was indebted in part to Numbers and Deuteronomy, according to Brodie’s study. And this is where the problems get interesting.

Alter alters everything

I have posted recently some thoughts on the Gospel of Mark initiated by my reading of Robert Alter’s Art of Biblical Narrative. My application was tame by comparison with where Brodie took Alter’s ideas on the role of dialogue in the Bible. Alter led Brodie to see the dialogical nature of Romans as being modeled upon the pattern of dialogue in the narrative of the Hebrew Bible.
For Brodie,
It eventually became clear that dialogical thinking is not just an occasional feature of Romans. It is a key to its structure.

Note: Romans has
  • two introductions (1:1-7; 1:8-15)
  • two conclusions (15:14-33; 16:1-27)
  • A body of 10 didtychs or dyads — each in 2 parts, except . . .
  • The 7th (chapters 9 to 11) “which, with climactic grandeur, consisted of three parts.”
This diptych (or triptych) structure is not a matter of trivial curiosity. It sets Romans more firmly within the larger biblical tradition, and it provides a clue to its meaning and to emphasis. (p. 138)
I understand Brodie here to be referring to the way the Hebrew Scriptures so often are found telling stories in doublets. Compare the two narratives of creation in the first two chapters of Genesis, the two accounts of David’s rise to power, etc.
Now I know Brodie’s point here will be a challenge to many who have long been deeply immersed in the conviction that Romans is a pastiche of “original” and “proto-orthodox redactional” material. Or as Roger Parvus has put it, original “zigs” countered by redactional “zags” in an effort to make Paul’s teaching appear to be supportive of what became orthodoxy.
I would have to make time to do a far more serious study of Brodie’s thesis to know how to comment on the pros and cons of his point. There are no doubt others who have long been way ahead of me in this department.

The Quest for the historical Paul

We have an abundance of literature that appears to be by and about Paul but it proves to be problematic when we attempt to uncover the life of Paul behind it.
  1. The letters of Paul often contradict the teaching of Paul in Acts;
  2. “Many researchers see evidence that Luke’s account in Acts is historically unreliable.” (p. 139)
  3. The thirteen letters supposedly written by Paul are so divergent in style and content that few scholars accept they were all written by the same person;
  4. Some of the seven letters widely attributed to Paul (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, Philippians, Philemon) are widely divergent in style:
    • e.g. the stylistic differences between 1 and 2 Corinthians are “far greater” than between Romans and Ephesians — yet virtually every scholar agrees Paul wrote both 1 and 2 Corinthians!
That last point leads Brodie to ask if anyone really does follow the criteria they claim to believe in for sifting the genuine Pauline letters from the collection.
As for the second point above, it appears that Brodie works within the assumptions of biblical scholarship that, as far as I have been able to assess, begins with the assumption that Acts is based on genuinely historical sources and only abandons this if the contrary can be demonstrated. That, to my mind, is not a valid approach. Historians are usually taught to test their sources before making such assumptions about them. The valid approach to Acts, I believe, is to hold it in abeyance until sound arguments (and evidence) can be adduced for treating it as largely based on history or otherwise.
Despite many biographies of Paul that have been produced by scholars, Brodie notes that Gregory Tatum was able to write in New Chapters in the Life of Paul, 2006:
The jigsaw puzzle of Paul’s life and thought lies in disarray, . . Older syntheses of Pauline biography and theology have been demolished by successful critiques. . .

Creating Paul’s Life from the Scriptures

Brodie ran a conference session in August 2008 titled “The New Testament Use of the Septuagint and the Increasing Difficulty of Writing a Life of Paul”. His focus
was on the way that down-to-earth details concerning Paul are composed on the basis of specific Old Testament texts — details of plot and scene and emotion. (p. 140)
Brodie issued a twenty page handout, two of those pages in Greek, with coloured lines linking correspondences in wording and content.
I am not in a position to comment on the following points. Before I could do that I would want to take time to study more thoroughly the phenomenon of literary re-writing and to compare the evidence for this in the case of Paul’s letters a careful scrutiny of the arguments for interpolation in related areas of the letters.
I imagine some readers will not be convinced that a letter expressing an author’s emotional outburst would likely be a studied literary artifice. Habits of thought and approach to Paul’s letters are culturally ingrained. I have referenced often enough on this blog one scholar’s study that should disturb any tendency to take such an assumption for granted. See my post on the ancient art and craft of letter-writing — and how pupils were indeed taught to artfully compose epistolary fictions drenched with all those little touches of verisimilitude. See Ancient Epistolary Fictions.
1. Galatians 3:1-5, Jeremiah’s anger becomes Paul’s anger
I shared Brodie’s argument here in a post last year: Sowing Doubt That An Emotional Paul Authored Galatians.
So I won’t repeat Brodie’s outline of it in his Memoir of a Discovery. His summing up will do:
Galatians is not raw emotion. It contains a rehearsed literary adaptation of ancient Jeremiah. (p. 141)
2, Ancient Israel’s need for wise judges becomes Corinth’s’ need for wise judges

Brodie’s next study was 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 (New King James):
6 Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? 2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? 3 Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? 4 If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? 5 I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? 6 But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers!
7 Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated? 8 No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren! 9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,[a] nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
The author heatedly warns the Corinthians of their need for wise judges lest they lose out on their inheritance altogether.
A comparison with the opening of Deuteronomy should give us pause, argues Brodie, before we jump to the conclusion that this is really a spontaneous piece of writing.
Deuteronomy 1 also begins with a need for ancient Israel to choose wise judges. It concludes with failure and loss of inheritance. The motifs of daring and defeat that bracket the Corinthians passage are found to bracket the sad conclusion of the message of Deuteronomy 1.
There are a whole series of precise links between the texts, and the plot thickens when it emerges that the beginning of Deuteronomy (Deut. 1) is not about something trivial, some bizarre change of fortune, which went from goodness to losing the land. It is itself a distillation of the narrative at the beginning of Genesis, when humanity went from goodness to losing its original place with God (Gen. 1:1-4:16). Paul’s scene at Corinth emerges as a distillation and adaptation of the dramas surrounding the emergence of God’s people, the emergence even of humanity. (p. 142)
Brodie concludes with the comment that thirty pages, not just a few words, are required to present all the links here. In the Greek, too, of course.
Again I cannot comment on this view of Brodie’s for the simple reason that I need to do more study and background reading. Brodie does briefly touch upon the relationship between 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 and Deuteronomy 1 on page 130 of The Birthing of the New Testament. To do his analysis justice here I would need to take time to structure the two texts in table format and with Greek fonts, so that will have to await for another day. One should note that the same section of Birthing addresses other relationships between 1 Corinthians and Deuteronomy, and that Brodie explains in Beyond the Quest that he deliberately chose to avoid addressing in any depth the relationship between Paul’s letters and the Old Testament in order to keep that volume (approx 700 pages) at a reasonable length. (Some readers here will be reminded of the savage attacks upon Earl Doherty for writing a book of 800 pages while some of the same persons appear to have nothing but praise for a fellow relative-conservative like Raymond Brown for writing in excess of 1500 pages!)

3. The Jews’ deportation to Babylon the template for Paul’s journey as a prisoner to Rome

Brodie self-consciously begins his discussion of Paul’s journey to Rome with the comment one hears so often among Bible students and scholars: the detail is SO REAL! And look at that “We” in the narrative! It HAS to come from an eyewitness report! Such protestations could only emanate from “true believers” who are ignorant of the wider world of literature and who know only what they are required to know to buttress their faith.
Brodie, like many of us here I am sure, was once such a believer. He admits it. But Brodie learned what many of us likewise came to learn:
The narrative is indeed precise, but the precision does not necessarily come from a diary. It has now been established that the account of the first great adventure voyage — the storm and shipwreck (Acts 27:9-41) — is modelled on well-known literary accounts of storms . . . . (p. 142)
Anyone who had read no further than Homer’s Odyssey could never have opined that the Acts narrative “MUST” have derived from an eyewitness report! What come to mind at this point is Tim Widowfield’s recent post lamenting the ignorance among Bible scholars (and perhaps too many “true Bible believers”) of the wider world (“wider” in the sense of anything beyond Israel and the Bible).
The point here, however, is that Brodie noted many “striking similarities” between the Acts account of the prisoner Paul’s journey to Rome and the Old Testament account of the bringing of the people of God into captivity in Babylon.
The sequences of events match one another, except that the episode of the commander with the power of life and death is brought forward in Acts (2 Kgs 2518-21; Acts 27:42-44), and to a significant degree, the events are reversed: what is brutal in the journey to Babylon is matched by kindness on the way to Rome: the commander who kills the prisoners in 2 Kings 25 is matched in Acts by the commander who saves them. And after an account of the Judeans’ internal drama (2 Kgs 25.22-26; Acts 28:17-28), both conclude by telling of a prisoner who in fact is free, the king in Babylon, and Paul in Rome (2 Kgs 25.27-30; Acts 28.30-31). Again the texts need prolonged analysis, especially because the account of being brought to Babylon provides just one component of the account of being brought to Rome. (p. 142)
After delivering the above three cases at the 2008 conference, Brodie discovered others that he considered “much clearer”:
  • Luke’s account of the conversion of Paul (Acts 9:1-30) — that Brodie had earlier linked to Damascus events in the Elijah-Elisha narrative — appears also to be “based strongly on” the call of Moses (Exod. 3-4)


So! If these three texts are enlisted in our attempts to reconstruct the historical Paul — his anger towards apostates, his agonizing over the Corinthians, his perilous sea-voyage — can be reduced to the literary art of imitation, can we honestly make double use of them and count them towards original “real Paul” expressions of “how it really historically was”?
And if this sort of evidence for Paul’s life really does crumble under the scrutiny of literary analysis then what what is the way forward to explaining Paul?
Thomas Brodie laments his failure to respond cogently and persuasively when confronted with questions like these at the time of his conference (2008). He was still in the process of learning how to formulate his ideas. He was asked if such allusions to Old Testament passages might be nothing more than a speaker or writer idly alluding to something once read as a child as one spoke of contemporary events? Ronald Reagan as President would occasionally reference back to a film he had made. Are we reading something like that?
I did not answer the question well. I was not clear about the key issues of complexity and precision. The relationship between the previously mentioned New Testament texts and the Old Testament is incomparably more complex and precise than the relationship between President Reagan’s answers and the films to which he alluded. Highly precise literary complexity is not achieved without careful crafting. Recalling books or films spontaneously does not give the same precision as writing. . . . Detailed conscious work is needed. The way the Old Testament is used in Galatians 3, in 1 Corinthians 6, and in Acts 27-28 is incomparably more precise and complex than the way Ronald Reagan used film narrative. (p. 141)
I cannot deny I find some, but by no means all, of Brodie’s literary comparisons needing much more investigation and much more detailed argument than he has presented so far to be persuasive. Brodie appears to acknowledge this when he reminds readers that he did not include a detailed study of Paul’s letters in his Birthing of the New Testament volume. The thesis is so broad in its compass that it clearly takes more than the efforts of one scholar to present fully every aspect of it. And if that’s the case, it probably takes more than time than any one student has to cover all the bases, too. If so, then what Brodie has done is, hopefully, ignited interest among a range of students and scholars who are prepared over time to explore the new continent.

Who holds the pen?

Everybody has been told that ancient letters were sometime dictated to a scribe. The scribe held the pen while sitting while the real author stood or pace around dictating what was to be conveyed. Everybody knows that and most of us have probably been taught to imagine that that’s the way Paul composed his letters.
Brodie believes that a literary analysis of the letters makes such a dictation method of composition highly unlikely.
In the detail of the epistles, adaptation is so pervasive, intricate, and coherent that the authorship seems inextricable from the person holding the pen — often not Paul. In 1 Corinthians, for instance, there is an indication that the letter as whole is not actually penned by Paul; he just adds a greeting and his name near the end (1 Cor. 16.21). If Paul is not the person holding the pen, then he is not the author.
[The paragraph break here is unfortunate. The directly related explanation for that last sentence follows in the next . . . ]
The situation in crafting an epistle like 1 Corinthians is not like chess, where someone on the sideline can dictate the moves and so effectively play the game from a distance. Rather, it involves a degree of complexity and precision, a degree of inner coordination in the person holding the pen, that, like holding a golf club (or bat/hurley/tennis racquet), the decisive movement of playing must come from within the player, and no mentor can be said to be the main player. *
Then there is this footnote to add further weight to the claim:
* A similar idea on the inseparability of a specific book’s substance from its authorship occurs in K. J. Van Hoozer’s analysis of the Fourth Gospel. ‘It is difficult to see how the substance of the witness could be preserved if the beloved Disciple were not also responsible for its . . . finely tuned . . . form’ (2002: 262) (p 143)
So when James McGrath writes of Brodie’s argument the following,
Brodie also botches ancient authorship completely, claiming on p.143 that “If Paul is not the person holding the pen, then he is not the author.”
we can see now that it is McGrath who has botched Brodie’s argument completely by apparently only reading that one sentence and skipping over the explanatory context. Are there any professional associations or systems of accountability that are meant to govern America’s public intellectuals?

The future?

If Brodie’s analyses are correct then it is clear that
the epistles and Luke cannot be taken at face value in writing a life of Paul. (p. 144)
One thing is clear. In recent years there has been a growing interest in literary analysis of the Bible and an increasing awareness of the use of the Septuagint in the composition of the New Testament works. And if literary analysis increasingly sheds light upon the Septuagint as a source of the epistles and Acts, reconstructing the life of Paul must become increasingly difficult.


How Paul Was Made

Chapter 16


The last post in this series concluded with
If Brodie’s analyses are correct then it is clear that
the epistles and Luke cannot be taken at face value in writing a life of Paul. (p. 144)
One thing is clear. In recent years there has been a growing interest in literary analysis of the Bible and an increasing awareness of the use of the Septuagint in the composition of the New Testament works. And if literary analysis increasingly sheds light upon the Septuagint as a source of the epistles and Acts, reconstructing the life of Paul must become increasingly difficult.
So who or what was Paul and where did this character come from?

For Brodie, the answer hit him (“with a shock”) in 2008 after years of absorbing the contents of the work of Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative. To see Brodie’s thoughts on his first encounter with Alter’s work return to Act 3, Scene 1 (Too Strange!). In one of those light-bulb moments it suddenly occurred to Brodie that almost every chapter of Alter’s book aptly explained the New Testament epistles.
Like Hebrew narrative, the epistles are reticent. And composite. And repetitive. And, standing out from the list: like Hebrew narrative, the epistles are historicized fiction.
Historicized fiction.
A mass of data had suddenly fallen into place.
What hit me was that the entire narrative regarding Paul, everything the thirteen epistles say about him or imply — about his life, his work and travels, his character his sending and receiving of letters, his readers and his relationship to them — all of that was historicized fiction. It was fiction, meaning that the figure of Paul was a work of imagination, but this figure had been historicized — presented in a way that made it look like history, history-like, ‘fiction made to resemble the uncertainties of life in history’ (Alter 1981:27). (p. 145)
 Rosenmeyer not mentioned by Brodie, but very pertinent to his argument.

No doubt some will dismiss such an idea as unrealistic but to those people I would highly recommend reading Patricia Rosenmeyer’s Ancient Epistolary Fictions — some critical details are discussed in an earlier post. (Brodie does not list Rosenmeyer in his bibliography.) Brodie refers to other known cases of epistolary fictions: the letters between Paul and Seneca, as well as more recent examples.
My own thoughts in response to Brodie’s view is that such a Paul would explain how it was so easy for so many different Pauls to appear, each one representing a different type of Christianity. We have more than one Paul represented in the canonical epistles. We have another Paul in Acts; and another in the Acts of Paul and Thecla. And so forth. The many Paul’s appear to have been sculptured out of various theologies, not biographical memoirs.
Brodie nonetheless wants to emphasize that such a notion does not mean Paul has no value for the faithful. The Good Samaritan is a fictitious character but represents an inspiring “truth”. Similarly, Paul remains an inspiring character who captures the essence of Christianity. Brodie quotes C. Martini (The Gospel According to St Paul):
Paul is a representative figure for all of Christianity. (Martini 2008:15)
Paul is a figure to be imitated, a model for the faithful. Christianity is encapsulated in his persona. There may have been an inspiring figure on which the literary person was based, but that historical person is not the literary one.
Brodie was not the first to come to this view. Bruno Bauer had also concluded that both Jesus and Paul had been “non-historical literary fictions”. Bauer’s doubts were taken up by many of the radical critics among the “Dutch, French, Anglo-Saxon scholars at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century”. Brodie intimates that their doubts faded from the scene because their methods were largely undeveloped. (I’m not so sure that their views were sidelined because of criticisms of their “methods”. Brodie is surely being very optimistic in relation to his peers.)

Paul as a Literary Figure – Direct Evidence from the Epistles

1. Authorship

It is now widely accepted that Paul did not write all the letters attributed to him in the NT.
Once the principle is established that Paul’s name, plus details about his life, do not necessarily establish the historicity of Paul, then the road is open for further questions about his historicity. (p. 148)
I’m thinking now of 2 Timothy where the author names those who have deserted him, and those who have remained with him, and asks Timothy to bring him a cloak and some parchments — yet all of this must necessarily be fiction if 2 Timothy were not authored by Paul. Compare how so many Bible scholars and others insist that “realistic details” are a sure sign of historicity in relation to the Gospels and Jesus. (And those details in 2 Timothy are precisely the sorts of details that Rosenmeyer demonstrates were part and parcel of epistolary fictions to lend them a sense of authenticity.)
Brodie, however, points to a different example. Elsewhere Brodie has argued that a significant section of 1 Corinthians (calling on the need for wise judges) was a skilled reconstruction of a portion of Deuteronomy.
As already mentioned in the previous chapter, the composition of 1 Corinthians is so complex and precise that — like the person holding the golf club — authorship must be granted to the person holding the pen. (p. 148)
The detail of Paul saying he is penning his own signature is also another piece of fiction that adds a cute piece of verisimilitude.
Technically one might counter that Paul could have been rewriting Deuteronomy a bit like the way Virgil rewrote Homer. But what Brodie is implying is that the letters of Paul are not what they appear to be at face value: they are not spontaneous letters but carefully composed literary pieces made to look like spontaneous writings. On this point, however, I am stretching over into Brodie’s second point of evidence.
(Someone might like to tap McGrath on the shoulder and ask why he did not read this chapter by Brodie before writing his review in which he inexcusably misrepresented Brodie’s arguments about authorship and ask him to post a retraction.)

2. Genre/form/kind/nature

Identifying the genre or form of a writing is pivotal — what kind of document it is, what is its nature, whether novel, economic report, science fiction, biography — but the process of identifying the genre or nature of the epistles has not been easy; it is a work in progress. (p. 148)
The letters have long been regarded as spontaneous letters from one person to groups of others or individuals, but closer scrutiny has shown they contain more sophistication and meticulously shaped essays than that model would lead us to expect. A few scholars prefer for this reason to call them epistles rather than letters. They make careful use of rhetoric.
They appear to contain several ancient forms of writing. Seneca’s letters are also carefully constructed essays blending different forms of writing, and can likewise be called “essays in disguise”.
They are also much longer than other epistles known in the ancient world. They stand in a class of their own.

3. Autobiographical passages

Brodie believes that the autobiographical passages in Paul’s letters are like similar passages in other forms of ancient writing that are composed for pedagogical purposes. They are created to present Paul “as a paradigm of the gospel of Christian freedom” (Brodie quoting George Lyons, Pauline Autobiography, 171, 224-226)
Brodie actually quotes Lyons making this point at some length. I am reminded of what I learned reading Paul and the Stoics by Troels Engberg-Pedersen. Paul speaks of his own life and his relationship with his readers as a personified illustration of the Christian’s relationship with Christ. Like Christ, he stoops in compassion to the level of the wayward and lost in order to lift them up to an exalted status with him. Paul is recognized as presenting his own biography as a model of Christ for others to follow. He leaves behind all his riches of the law and status as a Pharisee to humble himself for the sake of the salvation of others. And so forth.

4. References about readers/communities

Similarly the imagined readers or audience of the letters are also literary creations. This includes the opponents mentioned in them. They are all “pedagogical rather than historical”.

5. References to receiving traditions

Given the apparent literary nature (non-historicity) of so much else that appears to be directed toward “imitating history”, it is reasonable to view Paul’s claims to have received traditions in the same light. So Brodie points to the account of the appearance of Christ to the apostles and that he has argued in detail for this description being based closely upon the descriptions of God’s appearance at Sinai and other occasions.

6. References to writings from himself and his readers

Brodie further remarks that Paul’s references to other writings of his do not necessarily refer to other real documents. They are part of the drama. The Hebrew Bible itself refers to earlier writings that we have reasons to believe did not exist. Brodie cites Stott here, (Why Did They Write This Way?), who makes this argument not just for biblical writings but for other ancient works, too. Katherine Stott concludes (though this is not quoted by Brodie here),
[R]eferences to these documents serve important purposes in the narrative within which they are embedded, regardless of whether they existed or not, or whether the stories about them have any foundation in historical reality. (Why Did They,p. 136)

7. Travels

Paul’s travels reflect other known travel accounts: the bringing of the money to Jerusalem (1 Cor 16:1-4 — cf. Baruch 1:6-7); the shipwreck in Acts 27 (Susan Praeder, The Narrative Voyage (1980 dissertation); Vernon Robbins, Sea Voyages and Beyond); the journey to Rome as a prisoner (Acts 28, cf 2 Kings 25 to Babylon).

8. Occupation as tent-maker

Brodie compares the literary image of the tent in the Septuagint with the image of Paul as the architect (1 Cor. 3:10-11). He notes also other tent images, such as God spreading the heavens out like a tent, the role of tents for Israel in the wilderness, and John’s image of the Word “tenting among us” (John 1:14).

Paul as a Literary Figure – Circumstantial Evidence from Biblical Studies Generally

1. The slow retreat from historical claims towards recognizing history-like writing

  • In 1909 the Pontifical Biblical Commission upheld the literal interpretation of Adam and Eve.
    • In 1943 a papal encyclical (Divino Afflante spiritu) stressed the need to recognize the Bible’s literary forms.
  • In the 1960s many scholars still insisted on the historical reality of the Genesis patriarchs.
    • In 1974 and 1975 Thompson and Van Seters published evidence that the accounts of the patriarchs were composed much later than had traditionally been thought and could not be considered historically reliable.
The works of the Bible are history-like. They do read like history, but they are not history. (I sometimes find myself reflecting that it is actually religious dogma for three major religions that they had origins in historical, earthly events. History is ideological enough when it serves political and cultural ideology; it is no less so when it is upheld as the foundation of religions.)

2. Gradual acceptance of attributed authorship

It has long been understood that an historical Moses wrote the Pentateuch, that Solomon and David wrote the Psalms, that a real Isaiah wrote the Book of Isaiah. Scholarship has been gradually exposing the problems associated with assuming that these were historical authors of the works associated with them.

3. Growing awareness of the literary nature of the Hebrew Bible

From around 1970 studies of the literary nature of the Bible began to increase. A range of scholars have since discerned the literary characteristics of the Bible’s foundational narratives, and especially of the longer narrative from Genesis to 2 Kings, from Creation to the Fall of Jerusalem — ‘the Primary History’. “Historicized fiction” is no longer an alien concept.

4. Growing awareness of the literary nature of the New Testament

Brodie points to the emerging studies of the literary character of the Gospels and Acts. Many now see the Gospel of Mark, no longer as a crude, unliterary work, but as a carefully crafted piece of literature.

5. Incipient awareness of the continuity between Old and New Testaments

In the scholarly world the sharp distinction between the Old and New Testament writings was entrenched especially from the time of Bultmann and, Brodie points out, did not begin to mend until towards the turn of this century. It has taken a while for the role of the Septuagint to be appreciated as fully as it is now, of Paul’s use of specific OT texts.
Brodie anticipates a time when just as the Primary History came to be seen as historicized prose fiction, to will come a time when the NT letters will be recognized as historicized epistolary fiction.
The idea seems valid, but it needs prolonged testing, bu someone else. It particularly needs a systematic comparison between the elements of Hebrew narrative artistry — as listed by Alter and others — and the art of the Pauline epistles. (p. 153)

Outline of a Working Hypothesis

Brodie explains that his thesis is in accord with occasional suggestions (e.g. E.E. Ellis, “Paul and his Coworkers” in the Dictionary of Paul and his Letters) that the epistles were the product of “some form of group or school”. Brodie further reminds us that it was a common enough practice in antiquity to attribute authorship of one’s work to another and there is abundant Biblical precedent for the same practice — e.g. Moses, David, Solomon.
The working hypothesis Brodie suggests begins thus (my formatting):
A key purpose in composing the epistles with Paul’s name was to build a new Moses, a figure who, like Moses of old, would bring God’s word to the people, in Paul’s case to all the people, and would do so in a form that showed God’s word as continuing creation into a new phase, into a new creation.
In doing this they followed ancient methods of composition. They reshaped existing writings, especially the scriptures — with which they saw themselves in continuity — and particularly the scriptures pertaining to Moses. (p. 153)
The obvious difference was that instead of using prose narrative they used the letter genre. Yet the letters remain charged with powerful narratives about God and the new Moses, Paul.
While Brodie sees Moses as the central figure shaping Paul’s letters, he also acknowledges the influences of others, such as Daniel, Tobit and Ezra.
Brodie sees the tone of the letters as possibly being set by “the Logia, a brief arrangement of sayings” mostly distilled from Deuteronomy (and some from Ben Sirach) and that now appear in Matthew 5 and 11.
First Corinthians played a key foundational role. The writers of the epistles were aware of one another, and in diverse ways, while each built something new, they also built on one another. (p. 154)
Luke, also, contributed to the building of the Paul figure. Brodie (like Marianne Bonz) further sees Luke as incorporating Rome’s foundational epic, Virgil’s Aeneid, in his construction and following a similar way of commemorating Christian origins as Virgil commemorated Rome’s.


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