Σάββατο, 18 Μαρτίου 2017

Neil Godfrey : Thomas Brodie : Staying Christian With a Symbolic Jesus (2)

Staying Christian With a Symbolic Jesus

by Neil Godfrey


Too Strange!

Part III

The Third Revolution: Literary Art, Including Form/Genre

Becoming aware of how biblical writers redesigned their materials into a new work of art

Chapter 8


Dramatic happenings in the next room

Old Testament studies were much more action-packed in the 1970s than those of the New Testament.
With these two publications there was little ground left for taking anything or anyone in Genesis as being historical.
With this work everything from Genesis to Joshua was rendered suspect. Even Joshua was thus more validly classified with the “former Prophets” than with “history”. But the Book of Judges was said to be historical to the extent that its “jumbled-looking sequence and style” appeared to indicate that it was a collation of oral traditions.

What are we going to do with St John?

Meanwhile, back in St Louis, Missouri, Thomas Brodie was not getting very far in his search for the Gospel of John’s sources. Recall in our previous post that Brodie was struggling with this question since 1982, particularly through the window John 9 (the healing of the man born blind) and its apparent view out to Mark’s accounts of healings of the blind (Mark 8.11-9.8). Brodie was becoming increasingly aware that discerning John’s sources was a question that was inseparable from John’s meaning, and the the meaning of John 9 could not be separated from the rest of the Gospel. The meaning of the Gospel of John was also bound up in the narrative spanning Jesus’ ministry out over three years (as opposed to Matthew, Mark and Luke’s one year ministry). The explanations to all of these questions could not be summed up in a single article.
Then one day I woke up and realized I was being drawn into writing a commentary! (Beyond, p. 80)
Brodie did not clearly recognize it at the time, but what at this point he was entering a new, the third, revolution of his understanding. Others were also beginning to develop these new ideas to some extent. One landmark example was Alan Culpepper’s Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel (1983). Effectively for the first time the Gospel was being studied for its qualities as a finished literary product. This departed from earlier studies that sought to discern its various parts that had presumably been stitched together over time and to understand their respective histories.
If I were to deal responsibly with John’s Gospel, I would have to take account of both aspects — the sources that underlie it, insofar as they can be identified, and also the completed body, all the features of ancient rhetorical art, especially its basic form (is it . . . history or story?). (Beyond, p. 81)
To step outside Beyond the Quest for a moment, I might point out that later when Brodie finally published The Quest for the Origins of John’s Gospel in 1993 he devoted a chapter to comparing John 9 with the Markan section on healings of blind, pointing out that as the centre episode in John’s gospel it was indeed the window into the meaning of the entire Gospel

A new tool is discovered

It is one thing to establish a principle and quite another to apply it fully. Hermann Gunkel had long before shown the importance of identifying ancient literary forms correctly. Form-criticism had been focused on small units within texts.
But now, in the 1970s and 1980s, the gap was being bridged. The emerging awareness brought attention to literary features further. As never before, literary criticism was seeking to identify not only the basic form (genre/nature) of a biblical writing but, again, all the specific features that held it together and shaped it. Modern literary criticism had arrived. (Beyond, p. 81)
Not all scholars welcomed this new tool. Joseph Fitzmyer was one who defiantly declared his rejection of it in 1998. (Some readers may be aware that I have pointed out that our friend James McGrath even today has flatly rejected the idea that literary criticism has any relevance to our study of the Gospels in order to learn the history to which they supposedly allude.)
The reason some scholars have rejected literary criticism is, Brodie suggests, because some of it can be very theoretical, abstract and of doubtful relevance.
But literary criticism at its best was here to stay — both as a new way of searching for sources, and a new sense of how to look for a book’s art (its identity/form/genre and also its specific features). In the final decades of the twentieth century these two kinds of literary criticism gained momentum in biblical studies, and certainly for me the recognition of their depth constituted revolutions. (Beyond, p. 81)

Literary criticism in action

Take the two creation accounts at the beginning of Genesis: Gen. 1:1 to 2:4a and Gen. 2:4b to 24. In the first, man is created last; in the second, he is the first of the living creatures to be formed. Do we have here an instance of very clumsy editing? (This is what Jean Astruc had led generations of scholars to believe.) The disjointed nature of the text pointed to different sources clumsily stitched together.
[B]ut when looked at more closely, when seen from another angle, they constitute an extraordinary unity; they complement one another deeply . . . . In other words, Genesis begins to emerge not as muddled, but as chiselled with supreme care. I will come back to Genesis later.
What was instructive for someone like me who had swallowed the Astruc theory, was that at last, through literary criticism, through appreciation of literary art, the unity and purposefulness of Genesis became recognizable. (Beyond, p. 82)
We know how to interpret James Joyce’s Ulysses and not to mistake spelling anomalies for illiteracy. We know how to interpret Picasso’s strange faces and do not think that he lacked talent.
But for several reasons, including at times a modern sense of superiority, the superb artistry of the ancient biblical writers had not been recognized. . . . .
In studying John, it was impossible to avoid the issue of literary artistry. Was this text as jumbled as it looked, or was its curious shape — for instance, its gaps and contradictions — trying to say something? (Beyond, p. 82)

Alter alters everything

I mentioned above the influence of Culpepper on leading Brodie to read the Gospel of John as a literary unity. The major influence in this direction, however, was

Most of us are aware of the oddities in the text of the Jewish Scriptures or Old Testament. Certain stories are repeated with variations or even contradictions (e.g. the two accounts of the rise of David to kingship). Oddities, repetitions, breaks, contradictions abound. Is all of this the result of clumsy editing (“redaction”) in an attempt to quilt together diverse source material or, as Alter suggested, did it point to something else?
Or did the biblical author(s) have (in Alter’s words) a “certain notion of unity rather different from our own”? — a phrase that hit Brodie’s mind “with clanging reverberations”.
If Alter’s analysis of the Hebrew scriptures was any guide, then could it be possible that all the strange breaks and twists in the Gospel of John had nothing to do with lost sources that were clumsily tagged one after the other? Or were they, as Alter discerned of this sort of apparent confusion in the Old Testament, trying to say something?
Alter not only startled me — he provoked a process of further reading: literary criticism, rhetorical criticism, authors such as Luis Alonso Schökel, Carol Newsom, Meir Sternberg, Jan Fokkelman, Phyllis Trible, Vernon Robbins, and Gail O’Day.
Suddenly a mass of data in John, formerly assigned to a vague mixture of oral tradition, lost sources, and elusive stages of redaction, began to fall into place as the work of one accomplished writer. Strange syntax made more sense as artistry rather than as poor editing (‘redaction’).
C.K. Barrett’s view of John as dialectical became clearer in light of Carol Newsom’s work on the dialogical nature of biblical narrative. And the importance ancient writers attached to a work’s beginning, middle and end helped explain many elements, including why at these three points Mark is most obviously related to the Elijah-Elisha narrative, and John in turn is most obviously related to Mark. (Beyond, p. 83)

The veil lifts from John

So Brodie wrote his commentary on the Gospel of John.
He saw John as the work of a single author and the work itself as a unified and coherent text. He saw that text operating at three levels: as a biography of Jesus, a reflection of early church history, and as evocative of the human stages of believing.
Even if the gospel used dozens of sources, Brodie concluded that they had all been masterfully integrated into a coherent work of artistry and theology.
Even the prologue’s strange descent “from soaring poetry to mundane prose” made sense as a conveyer of the theme of the divine Word becoming flesh on earth.
The three-year ministry was found to portray the different stages of the Spirit-filled life, and this was a variation on the themes encapsulated in the central chapter 9 (the healing of the man born blind.)
The question of the double ending:
  • 20:30-31
  • 21:24-25
fell into place as part of a choreographed three-part conclusion:
  • 19:35-37
  • 20:30-31
  • 21:24-25
  • 19:35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,”37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”
  • 20:30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe[a] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
  • 21:24 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. 25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
(Proto-Luke had given a partial precedent for this with its triple “it seemed good” and its references to writing in the prologue of Luke 1:1-4.)
The Gospel’s conclusion forms a “startling” inclusio paired with the opening of the Gospel:
Compare 21:25
Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
with 1:1-3
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
and note the way the “word/s” of Jesus fills the entire earth at the beginning and end.
The world-surpassing Word (1:1-3) has generated the equivalent of world-surpassing writings (21:25).
Thus the final verse contains at least two literary features, balance (or inclusion) and hyperbole, but these features are not superficial decorations . They build towards one of the Gospel’s primary aims — imparting a sense of wonder, a sense reflected in the final suggestion of being left guessing (omai, ‘I suppose/think’). (Beyond, p. 84)
Thus Brodie came to see the Gospel of John as a tightly woven literary unity with every sentence carefully crafted to that end. (I am reminded here of another study that points in the same direction: M.J.J. Menken’s The Numerical Literary Techniques in John.)
The story’s meaning is so clearly the primary reason for the gospel that there is simply no need (I would say no room) to add further explanations that seek to make it a report of oral histories about Jesus.
The work that was eventually produced was The Gospel According to John: A Literary and Theological Commentary (1993).

Finally finding that Markan source!

Brodie then returned to John’s sources. Finally he discovered the key to the way John had used Mark. Instead of using each of Mark’s six scenes in each one of his own (John’s) six scenes, John had scattered Mark, subdividing each scene across several of his own. Thirty years earlier Raymond Brown had identified this phenomenon:
Incidents that are Units in the Synoptic Gospels but Dispersed in St John (1961).
Brown at that time had not pursued the literary implications of this. He wrote at a time when historical criticism was of primary interest and oral tradition was the ever-ready fall-back.
So the same year (1993) would see the publication of The Quest for the Origins of John’s Gospel (1993).

How strange!

The outcome was anticlimactic. Scarcely any reviewer attempted to say whether the test case (that John 9 was sourced from Mark 8.11–9.8) provided a valid argument. Apparently the material was too strange and time-consuming. (Beyond, p. 85)
Brodie tells us that he learned from a Myers Briggs psychological test that, of the four key aspects of mind — Sense, Intuition, Thinking, Feeling — he was “heavily disproportionate” in the Intuition department.
For the first time, I began to understand why what seemed clear to me — for instance, in comparing texts — was not at all clear to those whose primary strength was in one of the other three qualities, especially in Sense, in other words, in gathering sense data such as measurable facts and details. (Beyond, p. 85)
Brodie compares himself with another “Intuition-biased” person who also made significant contributions in another area, and has no misgivings about his strength in this area. Nor does he mind others who do not rely upon intuition.
But he does express concern over those who will not take the time to examine the evidence, who will not allow themselves the time and patience to engage a world that at first seems strange and threatening.

Returning to roots and finding new growth

In September 1991 Brodie returned to the place of his former studies, Tallaght, Dublin, for a sabbatical year.
There he completed, in a careful academic presentation, a work he had begun in 1973 in Jerusalem — the dependence of part of Matthew upon part of Deuteronomy: “Fish, Temple Tithe, and Remission: The God-based Generosity of Deuteronomy 14-15 as One Component of the Community Discourse (Matt 17:22-18:35)”. This was published in the Revue Biblique 99 (1992).


Discovering the Crucial Bridge — With a note on “Parallelomania”

Continuing Thomas Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery
This post follows on from my earlier one on Chapter 8 where Brodie is beginning to appreciate the nature the literary artistry of the biblical books.

Chapter 9

The Third Revolution Deepens: 1992-1995

If a Jesus narrative were based on the Elijah-Elisha story (see “That Is An Important Thesis“) one had to ask why. Would not the story of Moses or David have been more appropriate as a model? This question perplexed Brodie until his further studies on Genesis opened up a new awareness of the nature of the biblical literature. But let’s digress a moment to consider an objection that has on some theologian’s blogsites recently been flung at Brodie’s arguments since he has claimed they lead to a “mythicist” conclusion.

Parallelomania: the facts

“Parallelomania” has once again been flung as a dismissive epithet by a number of theologians and religion scholars at Christ myth arguments in general and Thomas Brodie’s arguments in particular, so it is worth taking a moment to revisit the article that introduced the notorious notion of “Parallelomania”. It can be read on this Vridar.org page; I have taken excerpts from it in the following discussion.

I don’t think James McGrath has ever had the time to read that article that he invites others to read. If he had, he would know that its author (Samuel Sandmel) points out that by “parallelomania” he means plucking passages from the vast array of, say, rabbinical literature or from a work of Philo’s out of their broader contexts and using them (thus decontextualized) to claim they have some direct relevance to similar sounding passages in the New Testament. That is not what what Brodie is doing. Sandmel even explains that the sort of detailed analysis done by Brodie to explore questions of literary indebtedness is indeed justified and is not to be confused with something else that he is addressing.
The key word in my essay is extravagance. I am not denying that literary parallels and literary influence, in the form of source and derivation, exist. I am not seeking to discourage the study of these parallels, but, especially in the case of the Qumran documents, to encourage them. . . . .
An important consideration is the difference between an abstract position on the one hand and the specific application on the other. . . . . it is in the detailed study rather than in the abstract statement that there can emerge persuasive bases for judgment. . . . . The issue for the student is not the abstraction but the specific. Detailed study is the criterion, and the detailed study ought to respect the context and not be limited to juxtaposing mere excerpts. Two passages may sound the same in splendid isolation from their context, but when seen in context reflect difference rather than similarity.
Note the problem with taking excerpts from a corpus of literature and using them as parallels with something else. This results in
confusing a scrutiny of excerpts with a genuine comprehension of the tone, texture, and import of a literature.
In Brodie’s analyses, on the other hand, it is as much the tone, texture and import of the respective documents that is being analysed as the individual words and phrases.
One of the greatest sins of “parallelomania” is
the excessive piling up of . . . passages. Nowhere else in scholarly literature is quantity so confused for quality . . . . The mere abundance of so-called parallels is its own distortion . . . .
I recently posted chapter 7 of Brodie’s book to demonstrate that Brodie does not make his case by a mere piling up of matching words or ideas. The structure, the theme, the context, the motivation — these are all part of Brodie’s argument.
Finally, the crowning sin of parallelomania is one that I not too long ago identified in the work of historian Michael Grant about Jesus. I’ll first quote Sandmel:
On the one hand, they quote the rabbinic literature endlessly to clarify the NT. Yet even where Jesus and the rabbis seem to say identically the same thing, Strack-Billerbeck manage to demonstrate that what Jesus said was finer and better. . . . . Why, I must ask, pile up the alleged parallels, if the end result is to show a forced, artificial, and untenable distinction even within the admitted parallels?
Grant followed many theologians who insist that though the golden rule was known in some form among the rabbis (and in other civilizations), Jesus expressed it better than anyone else.
Sandmel’s article on “parallelomania” is actually an endorsement of the sort of work being done by scholars who work seriously on literary analysis of texts and a warning against the sins found too often among the mainstream scholars. Unfortunately some theologians, McGrath included in his Burial of Jesus, are on record as saying that literary analysis has no place in the work of historical inquiry. On the contrary, without literary analysis the historian has no way of knowing how to interpret literary documents.
It is that very detailed study that Sandmel said is necessary, and the study of the context, both immediate context and the wider cultural context of literary practices of the day, that Brodie is undertaking. He is not plucking passages out of context from disparate sources and making an abstract claim that they can be read as a “parallel” to, and by implication source of, what we read in the gospels. (Such “extravagance” is the characteristic fault of “astrotheology”, but not of the scholarly work of Brodie and MacDonald.)
This is not the same as saying that MacDonald’s and Brodie’s arguments are necessarily correct. They still need to be studied and engaged with. There may be alternative explanations for some of the data they have addressed and believe points to literary borrowing. But it is not particularly scholarly to simply reject an argument one does not like by dismissing it with a pejorative label.

Now back to Beyond the Quest

Thomas Brodie explains that he had a special interest in the final form of the book of Genesis, and in particular its meaning as a finished work of literature. Since 1753 when Astruc conjectured the possibility that various features of Genesis could be explained best if it had been put together like a patchwork quilt from various sources, scholars had focused most of their efforts on uncovering those sources. And if that hypothesis was correct (a hypothesis that culminated in today’s Documentary Hypothesis) then it was unlikely Genesis could ever be understood as a finished work of literary artistry.
Brodie’s problem with this approach to Genesis was twofold:
There were two main problems with these hypotheses. First, they did not work; in fact, they led to endless confusion about lost documents and traditions, and sometimes generated proposals that were incoherent. Second, they distracted attention from the one thing that was certain — the present form of the book of Genesis, essentially the only Genesis document that has ever been verified. (p. 90)
In an earlier post we touched on Brodie’s contact with Brevard Childs. That contact came about through Childs’ willingness to assess an article by Brodie arguing for strong similarities between the Genesis account of Jacob’s return from Syria (Genesis 31-33) and Jeremiah’s account of the return of the exiles (Jeremiah 30-31). If McGrath is correct about Brodie’s arguments then we would expect Childs to have ridiculed Brodie’s effort as “parallelomaniacal” but instead we read that Childs “appreciated the similarities”. The problem for Brodie was that Childs asked how he knew it was the author of Genesis who used Jeremiah and not the other way around. The question led Brodie into a deeper study of Genesis and the prophets.
In exploring the unity and artistry of Genesis one detail one feature (sometimes prompted by the observations of a number of other researchers) began to impress itself upon Brodie:
the book was carefully organized into a series of paired texts — beginning most obviously with a pair of creation stories (Gen. 1-2), a pair of sin stories (Adam and Eve; Cain and Abel), and two complementary genealogies (4.17-26; and ch. 5). . . . (p. 91)

However, it looked at first as if that DNA double helix broke when one reached Genesis 11, the story of Babel.
Babel was unique in the Bible, the one and only tower reaching for the sky. There seemed to be nothing paired with it, in fact nothing in the nearby text that was remotely like it. Babel stood out in the imagination like the ultimate unforgettable skyscraper, but the second part of Genesis 11 was just a boring genealogy.
Brodie looked more closely.
Oddly, the ending after the genealogy — the end of Genesis 11 — had some of the same phrasing as the beginning of the Babel story. And the numbers in the genealogy were curious: overall they kept getting smaller. In fact, looking at it more closely, it was clear that while the genealogy had started as something very imposing, it ended as a fragile family going nowhere. And so the balance between the two parts of Genesis 11 eventually emerged: there were two collapses, one of the great city of Babel, the other of the imposing family; one of the outside world; the other closer to home.
The effect of the two evocations of collapse was to heighten the sense of the fragility of life, to show human striving as ending in a place that is desperately bleak. . . . But the deadly pairing has a purpose. It is the background to the story of the faith of Abraham.
Eventually it became clear that the pairing filled all of Genesis, one of several patterns that, despite the great diversity, formed the book into a profound unity. . . . .
Not that the reasons for the pairing were clear to Brodie, but he was convinced of this structure. The two opening creation stories, for example, are connected by such joins as:

Genesis 1 . . . Genesis 2 . . .
In the beginning . . . In the day . . .
God . . . Yahweh God . . . (the latter name associated with God’s earthly compassion-Ex.3:15)
Created . . . made . . . (made, a more mundane word than created)
The heavens and earth . . . earth and the heavens . . . (priority is changed to earth)

Brodie also came to sense that Genesis was very tightly united to the rest of the narrative that followed, right through to the fall of Jerusalem in 2 Kings. Interestingly, a growing number of scholars (I think more from Europe than America) have in recent years begun to argue that the Primary History, Genesis to 2 Kings, was composed by a single author as a single work. (These are my own comments, not Brodie’s.) At least one has suggested that the different books approximate something of the structure of the Histories of Herodotus. All of these studies are yet in their infancy, I think.
What surprised me was the degree of that unity. By taking a number of soundings, it began to become clear, as others had suggested, that Genesis was tied soul and sinew to the entire epic, right to the fall of Jerusalem.
It was also tied to the Elijah-Elisha narrative. (p. 92)

Why choose the Elijah-Elisha narrative for Jesus?

quote_begin It showed Jesus not just as an individual belonging to one generation, but as containing in himself the stories of all humans, right back to the beginning, and even as containing or evoking the Genesis story of creation. quote_end

Brodie’s understanding of the relationship of the Elijah-Elisha narrative in 1 and 2 Kings to the remainder of the Primary History (Genesis to 2 Kings) is so unexpected and different from any other analysis that, to be appreciated, requires “patience”. Revisit the subsection It needed patience, patience, patience in an earlier post in this series to see the significance of that. (I’m not saying that one must agree with Brodie’s argument or be accused of impatience. Appreciation of an argument does not imply acquiescence to it. Engagement, however, does require appreciation or understanding.)
Brodie saw the narrative of Elijah and Elisha being constructed and adapted out of key episodes between Genesis and Kings (e.g. Noah’s Flood, the Sinai revelation after the Exodus . . .) .
The result: the Elijah-Elisha narrative is a ready-made synthesis of the Old Testament’s foundational epic (Genesis-Kings), of its narrative and theology. If you were writing a narrative about Jesus, and wanted to ground that narrative in the older scriptures, you could scarcely find a more suitable foundation than the ready-made synthesis, the Elijah-Elisha narrative. (p. 93)
The significance of this for Jesus?
It showed Jesus not just as an individual belonging to one generation, but as containing in himself the stories of all humans, right back to the beginning, and even as containing or evoking the Genesis story of creation. (p. 93)


“It is original, but not off the wall”

Continuing Thomas Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery
This post follows on from my earlier one on Chapter 9 that
  • began with a discussion of my own on parallelomania,
  • introduced Brodie’s desire to understand why the gospels appeared to use the Elijah-Elisha narrative as the framework for the life of Jesus,
  • Brodie’s deepening understanding of the literary artistry and coherence of the Book of Genesis,
  • and culminated in Brodie’s The Crucial Bridge, the hypothesis that the Elijah-Elisha narrative was an encapsulation of the larger themes of the Primary History, or Genesis to 2 Kings.

Chapter 10

From Homer to 4Q525: 1995-2000

Thomas Brodie continues with his biographical changes of circumstances that will segue into the establishment of the Dominican Biblical Institute, covered in chapter 11.

Among the snippets of interest for Brodie’s understanding of the Bible that emerge in this chapter:
  • By concentrating on understanding Genesis in its final form rather than through seeking to identify its possible sources, Brodie began to see the whole book slowly taking on a coherent shape, thus losing its initial appearance of a series of awkwardly joined story-segments. The story of Abraham began with the themes of those two all-too-ephemeral values of beauty and wealth.
  • The themes of duality in the Bible, discerned as early as the two creation stories of Genesis, are present even in the duality integral to the story of Elijah and Elisha. The same theme of heavenly focus balanced or set against the earthly plane is found in both. Indeed, it was work on Genesis that helped shape Brodie’s understanding of the Elijah-Elisha narrative, both in its episodic details and dual themes.
    • Michael Barré suggested that, like the ancient god Janus, the second creation account (Gen. 2.4b-24) is two-faced: it looks back to the first creation account, so that the two accounts form a pair, a diptych; but it also includes features that look forward to the account of the fall (Gen. 3).” (p. 97)
  • Could or should Genesis be related at all to Homer’s epics, in particular the Odyssey? The character of Jacob appeared to mirror the essential qualities of Odysseus. But was not Homer too far removed from the Bible? Then Brodie leaned that others had made similar observations linking Genesis to the Odyssey, and even between Jacob and Odysseus. But the notion of Homer-Bible relationship was prima facie too far removed from what was acceptable in Biblical studies. The Anchor Bible Dictionary said it all with its entry for Homer:
Brodie confined his views on the Homer connection to an appendix in his Genesis as Dialogue:
The investigation of Genesis’ relationship to the Odyssey will require years of research — detailed analysis and thorough application of the criteria for [judging literary] dependence — and until such research is developed it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions. But, as with the case of Genesis and the prophets, there is already sufficient evidence to propose that Genesis’ use of Homer is a reasonable working hypothesis. (p. 96, citing Genesis as Dialogue, p. 492)
We know other scholars have since published on the relationship between Homer and both the New and Old Testament books. Brodie mentions Dennis MacDonald’s work on Homer and the Gospel of Mark, and himself writes of his belief that understanding these relationships might ultimately help us understand how the New Testament was written.

Matthew’s Logia and Qumran

In 1973 Brodie had proposed that we find in the Gospel of Matthew evidence for a source document that had been based on Deuteronomy and Sirach. This Sayings document, or Logia, was identified by Brodie through:
  • Five Beatitudes (Mt . 5:5-9)
  • Five Antithesis, plus a prologue and a sequel (Mt. 5:17-48 in parts)
  • A Call/Song of Revelation/Wisdom (Mt. 11.25b-30)
The five beatitudes are the blessings upon the gentle, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, the merciful, the clean of heart, and the peacemakers.
This is followed by a section on the Law. After the prologue (“Do not think I came to undo the law . . . “) we have a series of antitheses (“You have heard it was said of old, ‘You shall not kill . . . , But I say to you that all who are angry . . . ” etc.).
Then we have the cry of wisdom: “I thank you, father . . . for hiding these things from the wise and understanding and revealing them to infants. . . .”
In The Birthing of the New Testament Brodie explains that his argument that these passages point to an earlier source document is based upon:
  1. the same texts having a distinct literary relationship with Deuteronomy and Sirach
  2. the texts form a unity — with affinity to a Qumran document and the testimony of Papias
  3. the explanatory power of the thesis in understanding the development of the NT writings.
So it is of some interest that in 1988 and 1991 there was published (in varying degrees of completeness) a Qumran document that had been discovered in 1952 and that follows the same pattern.
The following translation is taken in large part from The Sacred Page blog, and I have highlighted the three-fold division Brodie points out by way of comparison with his own Logia document:
with a pure heart, and does not slander with his tongue.
Blessed are those who adhere to her laws, and do not adhere to perverted paths.
Bles[sed] are those who rejoice in her, and do not burst out in paths of folly.
Blessed are those who search for her with pure hands, and do not pursue her with a treacherous [heart.]
Blessed is the man who attains Wisdom,

and walks in the law of the Most High,
and directs his heart to her ways,
and is constrained by her discipline
and alwa[ys] takes pleasure in her punishments;
and does not forsake her in the hardship of [his] wrong[s,]
and in the time of anguish does not abandon her,
and does not forget her [in the days of] terror,
and in the distress of his soul does not loathe [her.]
For he always thinks of her,
and in his distress he meditates [on her, and in all his life [he thinks] of her,
[and places her] in front of his eyes in order not to walk on paths […]
[…] together, and on her account eats away his heart […]
[…] … and with kings it shall make [him s]it […]
[with] his [sc]eptre over … […] brothers … […]

[And] now, sons [“children”], lis[ten to … and do] not reject […] […] … the evil of […]
The similarities are clear: it opens with beatitudes; the next section is a series of antitheses on the law, although here those antitheses are between obeying and not obeying; and it concludes (though most of the remainder is missing) with an apparently climactic call.
Brodie is not confident, however, that the Qumran document provided a specific model for what we read in Matthew. There was, Brodie points out, a great physical distance between the author of Matthew or his source and a copy of 4Q525.
But 4Q525 does provide an example of a form of writing that could have provided a general model for Sayings. (p. 100)
Thomas Brodie wrote to David Noel Freedman asking him if he would examine an extensive manuscript.
He agreed, and when he had received it, he sent a critique, and a general comment: ‘It is original, but not off the wall’. He also began to investigate how it might be edited and published. (p. 100)

The Dominican Biblical Institute, and its Research

Chapter 11

The Dominican Biblical Institute

This hurts. It becomes personal.
From my outsider perspective I understand that the Dominican Biblical Institute (DBI) was founded by Thomas Brodie (though he has an oblique way of explaining this in Beyond the Quest), so when I turn now to the DBI’s website to see what they have had to say about Brodie and the book, aspects of which I am addressing in this series of posts, and read the contents on the following images, it hurts, as it must hurt anyone who knows a significant loss that accompanies religious differences.

And on another DBI page we read about the change of directors:

And so we come to chapter 11 of Beyond the Quest, in which Thomas Brodie gives an overview of plans, activities, a conference and research of the DBI.

It has three aims:

  1. Short-term: Immediate Service
  2. Medium /Long-term: Research that clarifies the roots (especially biblical roots) of the Catholic/Christian faith
    • One way of doing this is by tracing how the texts were formed, something that gives clues to how the Church was formed, which in turn provides background that makes it easier to renew the church . . . . The two levels of engaging scripture, the intellectual quest to identify roots through research, and the spiritual quest to generate fresh life through exercises such as lectio, complement each other. . . (p. 104)
  3. Long-term: Help integrate Christianity with other truths
    • The clarifying of Christian origins and Christian faith will make it easier to integrate the truth of faith appropriately with the truth that is in culture, art (including literature), world religions, and science. . . something cries out, not for uniformity — ‘vive la difference‘ at several levels — but for a reasonable amount of integration, harmony, and meaning. (p. 104)


I omit here Thomas Brodie’s discussion on the Lectio Divina Conference, though I am sure it was of primary interest to him personally.
During the process of research in Limerick, the historical existence of Jesus was not discussed; it was taken for granted, and left undisturbed — probably the only practical way to proceed initially. As I see it, proposing Jesus did not exist historically is like a heart transplant; you either do it fully or not at all. Instead the research had other features and dealt with other topics. (p. 106)
Priority for literary issues, especially sources

So literary criticism has research priority. What the the text’s sources and what is the text’s artistic structure. Not that these are the primary end-goals of research, but they do need to be addressed and understood before other questions that derive from those texts.
The methods followed and developed, Brodie points out, have been “discussed and generally approved” by the Church in three main documents:
  1. 1893: Pope Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus, emphasized the use of critical historical method
  2. 1943: Pope Pius XII, Divino Afflante-Spiritu, emphasized the need to identify literary form/nature
  3. 1993: Pope John Paul II/Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, identified five main kinds of methods, especially historical and literary. Joseph A. Fitzmyer has produced a useful commentary on this text.
The Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures

Preliminary work has been done on “Genesis’ reshaping of the book of Jeremiah in the Jacob story”.
As for examining the re-working of Homer’s Odyssey in Genesis 11 to 50, this hoped-for study has not yet started.
But OT studies being done elsewhere “remain encouraging”
  • Calum Carmichael, 1979, Women, Law, and the Genesis Traditions (on how Deuteronomy’s laws reshaped women-related episodes in Genesis)
  • David P. Wright, 2009, Inventing God’s Law: How the Covenant Code of the Bible Used and Revised the Laws of Hammurabi
  • Jeffrey Stackert, 2007, Rewriting the Torah
  • Bernard Levinson, 1977, Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation (I have posted in part on this book.)
The Gospels and Acts

DBI often uses as a starting point Thomas Brodie’s Birthing of the New Testament. The Intertextual Development of the New Testament Writings (2004). Brodie says of his conclusion (chapter 26) that he “certainly holds back”. Further,
I made the mistake too of including some examples that were weak (for instance, Chapter 52, on Judg. 21 and the Last Supper). I believe such examples are true, but they are indeed weak, and insistence on what is weak, whether by someone presenting the argument or someone opposing it, confuses the discussion. As in a courtroom, the issue is not whether some evidence is weak, but whether there is enough evidence that is strong. (p. 108)
Birthing is incomplete, Brodie says. It lacks a full discussion of the epistles. Nonetheless it goes further than any other work in providing a skeleton outline of how the NT documents were composed.
But the skeleton needs to be further tested and elaborated, and much of the work at the Limerick centre, while undertaken with an independent spirit, contributed to such testing or elaboration.
John Shelton and the centurion’s servant

One example of how testing and elaboration of Brodie’s ideas have led to revision of them came with John Shelton’s dissertation.
Brodie argued in Birthing that Luke’s account of the healing of the centurion’s servant — Luke 7:1-10 — depended upon Elijah’s saving of the widow’s children (in the LXX it is “children”, not “child”) — 1 Kings 17:1-16. John Shelton demonstrated an even stronger use of the healing of Naaman the Syrian commander (2 Kings 1-19).
So the relationship between the Gospel and Hebrew narrative was shown to be more complex than Brodie had initially thought. Moreover, it was more emphatically clear that the account in Luke did not come from Q but from the LXX.
The clarifying of the opening episode of Luke 7 (the centurion’s servant) serves in turn to bolster the already existing evidence that all three other episodes of Luke 7 — the raising of the widow’s son (7:11-17), the vindication of John the Baptist (7:18-35), and the woman’s anointing of Jesus’ feet (7:36-50) — likewise originated largely through Luke’s literary transformation of accounts from the Elijah-Elisha narrative.
Of these three, the one concerning John the Baptist is again an account that is usually attributed to the hypothetical Q. (p. 109, my formatting)
A primary result of Shelton’s work, then, has been to more strongly establish Luke’s indebtedness to the Elijah-Elisha narrative. By establishing Luke’s use of this narrative for material that has long been attributed to Q, Brodie is confident that we are entering
a line of inquiry that is more verifiable than invoking an unseen source that does not have so solid a literary foundation. Once Luke has been clarified through this more verifiable process, the way is open for a well-grounded discussion of Luke’s relationship to Matthew. (p. 109)
John’s transformation of the Synoptics

Anne O’Leary: showed Matthew’s reworking of Mark was done “in accordance with the literary practices of antiquity” (this half of her thesis was published in 2006) and that John in turn adapted sections of Matthew.
Martin Heffernan’s thesis on John 1-4 and Acts 1-8 showed Jesus journey from Jerusalem to Galilee corresponds strongly, and uniquely, to the apostolic journeys of Acts 1-8.

Clarifying Mark’s sources

The literary character of the Gospel of Mark “has slowly been appreciated”. It had long been considered unliterary, even clumsy, and its sources hopelessly lost. But the view of Mark as a literary work is gaining ground now, and two scholars who have made progress here are:
Adam Winn: showing in detail Mark’s indebtedness to the Elijah-Elisha narrative
Thomas Nelligan: uncovering evidence that the Gospel of Mark reflects Paul, especially in the case of 1 Corinthians where the associations are not just theological but also “precise and literary”.


This has not been investigated yet at DBI. The concept is of Septuagint-based version of Luke-Acts based on the Elijah-Elisha narrative. According to Brodie, such a document has potentially more explanatory power than Q, and promises clarification of the relationship between Matthew and Luke and provides a precedent for Mark, Matthew and John.
And it clarifies the reality behind Raymond Brown’s view (1971) that the Elijah-Elisha account is the best literary model for all four gospels. (p. 111)
Brodie has attempted to work with exponents of Q, believing a dialogue is more promising than an either-or conflict. Partly to promote such a dialogue a conference was held in 2008 devoted primarily to the role of the Elijah-Elisha narrative in the Gospels.
Paul’s epistles
In 2005 another conference attempted to explore the origin and nature and place of Paul’s letters. That is, it sought to address ways the epistles
  • used older writings, especially the Jewish scriptures
  • used one another
  • were used by the evangelists
Results were published in The Intertextuality of the Epistles, edited by Brodie, MacDonald and Porter (2006). The CBQ review of this volume described it as “essays [that] herald a promising new approach”.
Brodie is especially keen on exploring in depth 1 Corinthians and its sources and final shape but this has yet to come to fruition.


Thomas Brodie comes across as far more devout than many who shudder at his “mythicist” views would expect. I have posted on this before. He appears to have had no desire to thwart the spiritual growth of Christians but to establish it on a more deeply spiritual basis. One might even say that he has shown a way forward that was called for by the Protestant Albert Schweitzer
. . . Modern Christianity must always reckon with the possibility of having to abandon the historical figure of Jesus. Hence it must not artificially increase his importance by referring all theological knowledge to him and developing a ‘christocentric’ religion: the Lord may always be a mere element in ‘religion’, but he should never be considered its foundation.
To put it differently: religion must avail itself of a metaphysic, that is, a basic view of the nature and significance of being which is entirely independent of history and of knowledge transmitted from the past . . .
From pages 401-402 of The Quest of the Historical Jesus, 2001, by Albert Schweitzer.
The next section of Brodie’s Memoir is announced by the theme: Becoming aware of the need to lay some theories to rest. . . . .

“We need a gentle funeral”


Chapter 12

The Funeral: ‘Oral Tradition’ And Its World

Chapter 12 of Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus by Thomas Brodie addresses the problems Brodie came to see with oral tradition as an explanation for Gospel sources.
I have covered Brodie’s arguments on oral tradition in depth here (see Two Core Problems with the four links there), and have yet to do more posts on the detailed work of Barry Henaut. So this post will survey primarily what led Brodie to raise the questions he did.
I recently posted on Robert Alter’s description of literary artistry in Genesis. It was Robert Alter, in the same book, The Art of Biblical Narrative, whom Brodie credits with “waking him up”. Alter was reading an attempt by Robert Culley to demonstrate that the variations in the Hebrew Biblical narratives might be understood through the variants that appear in oral storytelling among peoples of West Indies and Africa. On the contrary, however, Alter noticed that Culley’s presentation of the Hebrew narrative variants were not at all random as the oral tradition thesis would predict. No, when in Genesis we read what seems to be the same narrative being told several times about different people, or even about the same person in different circumstances. What we are reading are predictable type-scenes, not unlike some of the repetitions we read in Homer that adhere to fixed patterns (though in Homer the conventions applied more to rituals of daily existence while in the Bible they are applied to crucial junctures in the lives of the heroes.)

I grinned when I read that Brodie even went out of his way to meet personally Walter Ong, a scholar who published much on orality, because in my own early days of wanting to understand what lay behind the New Testament I myself traveled especially to dig out and copy many articles on orality by Ong.
What Brodie learned was that
even writing, for most of its history, resonated with orality. All ancient writing, until the eighteenth century, reflected orality or oral rhythms; it was aural, geared to the ear, to being heard — unlike modern writing, geared primarily to the eye. Virgil’s epic was highly crafted and a distillation of earlier literature, but it was saturated with orality; it was geared to oral communication , to being heard, and in fact it was being read aloud in Augustus’s imperial court before it was complete. But such orality was still not oral tradition, not oral transmission, it was simply a quality of ancient writing. (pp. 115-116)

“Studying non-literate tribes did not help”

How does one deduce from a piece of writing that it is based on oral transmission? Studies have been made into variations of oral transmission among non-literate tribes and into the variations that have arisen through rabbinic methods of memorization. The fact is (as Fitzmyer published in relation to the rabbinic variants) that these variations are not the sorts of variants we find in the Gospels. They do not account for the Gospel data.

“Gunkel’s influence has been massive”

Brodie again covers the decisive influence of Hermann Gunkel that still holds sway over the oral tradition paradigm used by biblical scholars. See earlier posts, Oral Tradition Behind Gospels and OT: Unfounded, Unworkable and Unnecessary and The Making of a Mythicist, Act 1, Scene 1 (Thomas Brodie’s Odyssey) for the details of Gunkel’s contribution and his impact today.
To this day, few researchers attempt to spell out the logic underlying the claim to oral tradition.
With admirable honesty James Dunn states that oral tradition is a presumption, and he justifies the presumption by saying it is inescapable (2007: 157). With due respect, it is not.
The core presumption is that Jesus Christ was a specific historical person, and within that theory, something is needed to bridge the gap between the death of Jesus (generally placed around 30 CE) and the composition of the Gospels (generally placed around 70–100). (p. 117, my formatting)
Even if the theory that Jesus Christ was a specific historical person were true, Brodie continues, one does not need oral tradition to fill the gap. Brodie relates detailed images of events in Ireland eighty years ago firmly lodged in his mind from the stories told by one person, a mother recollecting a time in her childhood, a father recalling his teen years, a grandparent reminiscing. . . .
It is possible to bridge a bap of almost a century, or even more than a century, without relying on an ill-defined and unpredictable process of oral tradition, and it would make elementary sense, if the evangelists wanted to bridge a gap of several decades, that they would speak directly to those who had been present. (p. 117)
Some readers will be thinking here of Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. (I would like to revisit some core claims in that book since my earlier series of posts on it. I have much more to say about the nature of the historiography Bauckham relies upon, and that I believe he seriously misconstrues in several ways.) Brodie discusses Bauckham in his next chapter so I will leave his comments till then, too.

“A world of vagueness where, despite fine erudition, logic is lost”

Sometimes of course it is easy or convenient to invoke oral tradition. Certainly, it is incomparably easier to call on irretrievable oral tradition than to try to follow the retrievable but complex processes of literary transformation and genius. And when an undefined oral tradition is combined with an undefined link to the Synoptics, then all bases seem to be covered.
But the result is a world of vagueness where, despite fine erudition, logic is lost. The problem with the role given to oral tradition in the twentieth-century discussion of the Gospels is not just that it did not account for the data, but that its fog of confusion absorbed energy and blocked progress on central issues. (p. 117, my formatting)

“Two essential phenomena remain”

Two essential phenomena remain.
The variations among the Gospels, including John, fit well among the variations of ancient literary rewriting, but they do not fit well among the variations of oral transmission.
And the Gospels’ orality, strong though it is, fits well not into oral tradition but into the orality of all ancient writing. (p. 118, my formatting.)

A genie, once released from its lamp, is soon beyond control and very difficult to put back. Once the genie of oral tradition was released, writes Brodie, it took a life of its own. Three generations have become so accustomed to the idea that “a radical review seems unthinkable”. Well-loved theories die hard. “It is always tempting to try another expedition to Mount Ararat.”
For centuries physics was “haunted by the theory of an all-pervasive substance called ether . . . which was believed in the nineteenth century, for instance, to act as a medium for transmitting electromagnetic waves such as light and X-rays. Slowly, however, as researchers began to understand the nature of light and the structure of matter, it became clear that ether was not needed to explain the data . . . ”
Oral tradition is like a theory of ether that has clouded form-history (‘form-criticism’) and created a vast vague world, often of simple isolated people or communities telling developing stories, a theory that by its very vagueness is evocative and engaging. It is time that this theory be laid to rest, time to free the study of forms from unnecessary complications and to bring it to a new level of maturity. We need a gentle funeral. (p. 119)

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