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."


barry said...

"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..."
---------one reason i don't take seriously the possibility that Matthew's author was an eyewitness (that is, not after I did my own extensive analysis of the sources, though I still answer apologetics arguments on the merits)) is because of the majority Christian scholarly opinion, confirmed true by my own investigations, that the author borrowed extensively from Mark.

Assuming as true that Mark is the earliest gospel, and that it is used extensively by Matthew's author (two theories most Christian scholars hold to)...

...then it doesn't matter if you can come up with a hypothetical scenario in which a eyewitness chose to use a non-eyewitness source to tell the world about events that the eyewitness saw and heard first-hand....eyewitnesses don't normally do that, so unless a Christian can show Matthew was an exception to the normal way of doing things, then the normal way (i.e., people who have first-hand knowledge do not rely as extensively on second-hand reports of same as Matthew did) will have greater plausibility (i.e., an eyewitness did not author Matthew).

Matthew's authorship is unlikely for several reasons Christians cannot easily dismiss, not the least being that

all church fathers agree he wrote in Hebrew letters,

NONE of them express or imply he ever wrote in Greek despite their interest in telling the reader which language he wrote in,

Jerome bluntly asserted that a) an unknown person was responsible for Greek edition of Matthew, and b) that person created that edition by translating Hebrew Matthew into Greek (Lives of Illustrious Men),

All church fathers are agreed Matthew intended to address "Jews", so that's another reason to believe he'd have found Aramaic or Hebrew sufficient to facilitate his intent.

and finally, most Christian scholars deny that canonical Greek Matthew reads like "translation Greek".

Those who declare anonymous authorship have far more historical support, than conservative who argue from silence that because Matthew could have, he likely did, create a second original in Greek. The early fathers, intent to tell the reader the language Matthew wrote in, would more than likely have mentioned this Matthean Greek had they believed Matthew ever created such a thing.

Lydia McGrew said...

While Markan priority and Matthean literary dependence on Mark is certainly the majority view, it is not a knock-down. It's important to remember that when one starts questioning Matthean authorship (which is supported by evidence of its own) by treating Matthean literary dependence on Mark as having unassailable status. I don't camp on Matthean priority either, but it deserves more credit than it gets in "the majority of scholarly circles," etc. Matthew's dependence on Mark is by no means so unshakably established that it can bear the weight of being treated as somehow contradicting Matthean authorship. Wenham's discussion here is highly useful. It's surprising how many of the arguments for Markan priority could just as easily be turned on their heads as arguments for Matthean priority. Many scholars have seemed unable to distinguish arguments for Markan priority from arguments for Matthean-or-Markan priority.

If Matthew did depend to some degree on Mark, this scarcely constitutes an argument that he was not an eyewitness. Indeed, authors such as Gundry and many others want to have it both ways. On the one hand, they want to treat Matthew as wholly dependent on Mark for anything *true* in his gospel, thus treating him (functionally) as not an eyewitness. On the other hand, they want to note many *differences* between Matthew's wording, emphases, and versions of the stories and then treat these as evidence that Matthew fictionalized! But the fact that Matthew diverges from Mark in so many ways could better be explained by his actually having his own memories of the events. This possibility is left out of account, so that the divergences are noted but treated as evidence of Matthew's unreliability! That is argumentatively illicit. For example, the fact that Matthew has slightly different versions of what was said in various stories need not at all indicate some sort of fact-free literary adaptation of Mark but could indicate a somewhat varying memory, just as we often find in truthful eyewitnesses.

My own book on undesigned coincidences shows a number of places where Matthew's unique material is confirmed by coincidences with other gospels. This sometimes occurs even in places where Matthew's version of the story in other respects is much like Mark's.

If Mark in fact wrote first, it isn't all that surprising that Matthew would use his gospel to some degree so that he didn't have to "reinvent the wheel" at every point. I can easily imagine myself doing such a thing even for events I witnessed myself, though nowadays we would, of course, have different conventions as far as citation, avoiding concerns of plagiarism, obtaining permission, etc.

Lydia McGrew said...

"NONE of them express or imply he ever wrote in Greek despite their interest in telling the reader which language he wrote in"

That's actually not correct. Tertullian, for example, in Against Marcion refers to the widespread knowledge of a gospel which is overwhelmingly likely to be the Greek version (since a Hebrew version was never widely used) and attributes it to Matthew as the author. Later writers such as Epiphanius and Augustine also quote from the Greek Matthew and attribute it to Matthew.

In any event, the Greek version of Matthew *exists* and is therefore a phenomenon that must be explained! It is fairly irresponsible to conclude on the basis of an argument from silence that Matthew must never have written in Greek, as that leaves the gospel's existence in Greek unexplained. The Greek version was given an authority from its earliest existence that is best explained by its having an apostolic origin. The early Christians didn't just give any old book that kind of prestige on the basis of some kind of subjective feeling about it! Authorship was important to them. Nor (Hengel is good on this) do we have reason to believe that the Gospels ever circulated anonymously *in the relevant sense*--that is, without titles ascribing them to their authors. Ehrman's use of "anonymous" in this context is grossly misleading. I have written about that point elsewhere.

and finally, most Christian scholars deny that canonical Greek Matthew reads like "translation Greek"."

Which simply means that it isn't a wooden translation. Actually, writing two versions in different languages is something that bilingual authors have done for many years. At the time of the Reformation it was a known thing for authors to write separate versions of their documents both in Latin and in some vernacular such as German or Dutch. The compositions would have been separate and would have contained some differences of wording. One would not have been a wooden translation of the other. But that does not mean that they were not in a significant sense a version of the same thing.

Btw, notice here that I, the blog author, had to split my comment due to the character limit. So please, no whining about that (which I've noticed, possibly in one of your more trollish comments that I didn't publish--I can't recall) as though it's some kind of plot to stifle dissent. It's set by blogger, and I have no control over it.

Unknown said...

What does "bioi" mean

Lydia McGrew said...

"Bioi" means "biographies" and is nowadays being used in NT studies in quite a technical sense to say that the gospels *are* (in some strong, literary, even metaphysical sense) in the genre of "Greco-Roman bioi." The probabilities that Matthew, Mark, or John were influenced by written Greco-Roman biographies, such as those written by Plutarch, are actually pretty low if one takes traditional authorship with any seriousness. The liberal NT critic and classicist, Richard Burridge, credited with promoting this thesis, talks about the "Johannine community" and pretty clearly doesn't take traditional authorship with much seriousness at all. Luke might well have read such works, but that doesn't mean that the genre designation is all that enlightening when talking about Luke, either. (Look for my post on this blog on Colin Hemer's take on Luke and whether "Greco-Roman bioi" parallels are useful for discussing Luke.)

At first people believed that the thesis that the gospels "are Greco-Roman bioi" was going to rescue their historicity by arguing against the silly idea that they are myths or legends. Unfortunately, this sort of genre criticism backfired when various authors such as Burridge and Michael Licona began to use the "bioi" designation to argue that various fictional embellishments and alterations were allowed and expected in the gospels if we acknowledge that they "are bioi"--in other words, that any author who considered him to be writing a Greco-Roman bios considered himself "free" or "licensed" to invent to some extent.

This is actually not at all clear even concerning the genre they wish to use. It seems instead like each author had his own ideas about how truthful he wanted to be. There has never been a satisfactory defense of the idea that each individual author who thought of himself as writing "Greco-Roman bioi" would have thought it was fine to alter the facts. Nonetheless, that is how that genre is being used concerning the gospels. The gospels *are* bioi; hence, their authors thought it was okay to use fictionalizing literary devices, and their readers would have expected them to do so, even if they couldn't figure out precisely where they were doing so. Both the premise (in any sense that implies useful literary influence and conscious use of a known genre) and the inference from the premise are highly dubious. That was what I was alluding to.

Unknown said...

I think you are right. Thanks for the explanation