Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Licona post V up at W4

The fifth post in my series on Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? is up at What's Wrong With the World.

There will in all likelihood be a wrap-up post to follow, the last in the current series. That, of course, isn't to say that there won't ever be any other posts that discuss Licona's work, but that will be all in the current series.

If you know someone who is interested in this topic and who would profit from it, be sure to direct him to the Licona tags and New Testament tags both at W4 and here. Here are all of the Licona posts at W4, and here are all posts there tagged with New Testament. Here is the Licona tag at Extra thoughts, and here is the New Testament tag. There are a few unique posts here, though the majority of the recent posts are at W4.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Fake Points Don't Make Points and More Over-reading

There have been two new posts in the series on alleged fictionalization in the Gospels. Fake Points Don't Make Points emphasizes the importance of historical grounding for theological significance and argues that the evangelists thought this was important as well. More Over-Reading is the fourth in my recent series on specific examples from Michael Licona's Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?

Monday, November 06, 2017

Moo on Gundry on Matthew

Everything old is new again. If you're interested to see how a more rigorous member of the New Testament guild deals, without personal attack but also without pulling argumentative punches, with unjustified theories, have fun reading Douglas J. Moo's two-part review of Robert Gundry's "midrash" commentary on Matthew. JETS has helpfully made both available on-line here and here. Moo criticizes Gundry for making assertions without arguing, for arguing circularly, for not taking seriously the possibility that Matthew was writing about events slightly differently because he was an eyewitness, and for using skewed statistical analysis. Except for the last of these, all of these apply to the current issues concerning "bioi" and the Gospels. Moo also rightly points out the importance of historical events to the early Christians and the dubiousness of the statement that they would not have cared if Matthew were fictionalizing. He also points out that Gundry has done nothing convincing to show that the early Christians would have known that Matthew was fictionalizing and where he was doing so. If they really "had" Q, as Gundry apparently insists that they did (an "expanded Q" including Luke's infancy narrative!), and if they noted the differences between Q and Mark, on the one hand, and Matthew on the other, that Gundry makes so much of, and if they agreed with Gundry (!) that these amounted to unresolvable contradictions or tensions in emphasis (all big ifs), why would they have assumed that Matthew was writing ahistorically or getting his historical facts wrong rather than, say, Mark?

Interestingly, Moo is under the impression that classifying the Gospels as "bioi" (an idea that was already in the wind in the early 1980s) would have a very different effect from Gundry's "midrashing" of Matthew. But as we have seen, Licona and others end up doing something quite similar with "bioi" that Gundry did with "midrash." Moreover, once you accept fictionalization on the part of an author, there is no reason not to bring in "midrash" as well when one feels like it, as Licona does in the case of the infancy narratives. I note, too, that Gundry evidently thought that Luke's infancy narrative was intended to be historical and that only Matthew was wildly fictionalizing. So the shepherds were intended to be historical, but the Wise Men were a "midrashic" gloss on the shepherds. The turtledoves were intended to be historical, and the slaughter of the innocents (you can't make this stuff up) a "midrash" on the doves. This disparate treatment of Luke and Matthew, as Moo points out, is an unstable compromise, since NT critics claim to find contradictions between Luke and Mark as well at various points and since Luke's infancy narrative is also unique to his Gospel. It would have been nice if the response were to go back and throw out the ridiculous idea that Matthew wrote his infancy narrative without literal intention, but as is so often the case, later scholars resolve the inconsistency by going farther in the wrong direction. Hence, Licona thinks that the non-overlapping material in both Luke and Matthew may be made-up, non-historical "midrash."

New Licona post: Over-reading

I have a new post up on Licona examples. This one concerns over-reading connected with chronology. It's a theme that comes up repeatedly that those who want to argue against harmonizations will insist that an author is implying a chronology, while traditional harmonizers will often argue that an author isn't implying a chronology at all. If anything, if we're concerned about anachronism, the "bias" here concerning the Gospels should go toward the traditional harmonizers, since ancient authors did more writing than we do in which they were just narrating things that occurred close to one another in time without implying that the narrative order, often connected by non-committal words like kai for "and," is the chronological order. As I have often said, it is particularly ironic that those who are pressing for us to "understand the conventions of the time" seem so anachronistically rigid in insisting that chronological order is present in passages. This does not solve all apparent discrepancies. I myself don't think it solves some of the apparent discrepancies between Matthew and Mark concerning the chronology of Passion Week, for example. But it solves a fair number of them concerning chronology. Why, then, does Licona so seldom avail himself of this explanation?

Friday, November 03, 2017

Next Licona post: Fictions only need apply

My next post on Licona's gospel examples went live today at W4. It is called "Fictions Only Need Apply." Here I examine places where there is at least a minor alleged discrepancy in the Gospels but where Licona unwarrantedly restricts himself to fictionalization theories--sometimes more minor deliberate changes and sometimes rather major. One of the most striking of these is the possibility that John "relocated" the first appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene and that she really first saw him with the other women when leaving the tomb. It is possible that Licona doesn't realize what this would mean, but by the logic of the story, it would have to mean that John invented the entire scene in the garden of the tomb between Jesus and Mary Magdalene--a very important resurrection appearance scene. Here Licona simply leaves up in the air whether Matthew or John "relocated" the first appearance to Mary Magdalene, so he cannot even say (as he does in the case of John's wholesale invention of Doubting Thomas) that he concludes that some other theory is "more probable."

In this post I also mention a place where Licona suggests (per Craig Evans and Joel Marcus, he states) that Matthew may have made up the involvement of the mother of James and John in asking that they may sit on his right and left hand. The motive? To cast James and John in a better light. Here Licona does conclude that a different (fiction) theory is more probable--namely, that Mark deliberately air-brushed out the mother's involvement and transferred her words to James and John's mouths. But these are the two theories he treats as "finalists." Of course, Matthew's making up the mother would work to cast James and John in a better light only if the perceptions of the audience were manipulated to believe that the mother was really involved when she was not. Does this not go to show that, contra Licona's and his followers' repeated insistence, such "devices" really do involve misleading readers about what happened?

These are just highlights of the most recent post. My current plan is that there will be four more posts in the series. The next (already mostly written) will be on places where Licona over-reads the Gospels with respect to chronology. (That one will use a fair bit of Greek!) The one after that will be (on the current plan) a theological digression on the relationship of history to theological significance. After that will come another post on over-readings. The last post will concern some miscellaneous examples that I wanted to discuss but couldn't fit in elsewhere. In that last post I also plan to emphasize that I am not claiming that all of the examples Licona discusses can be readily resolved by harmonization but that difficulties in harmonization, even places where one cannot see a good harmonization at all, do not make a good case for fictionalizing literary devices. This, of course, has been a theme of all of my writing on Licona's work.