Monday, July 13, 2020

New Licona Series: Paraphrase, exercise books, and historical flexibility

(New content, July, 2020)

This is a longer response to Michael Licona's video here, "On Paraphrase."

My video to which this post corresponds is here.

Please remember that I am attempting not to reproduce all the work that I did in The Mirror or the Mask, aka TMOM. Chapter VIII in that book, called "Going Chreia-zy," contains many quotations from the exercises of Theon, as does Appendix 1. Please do see those for more details.

More about paraphrase

Licona has titled his video "On Paraphrase," though actually it is about a lot of other topics as well. I've discussed in TMOM the equivocal use that Licona, Evans, and others make of the term "paraphrase." (Chapter II, section 2, beginning on p. 21, "Paraphrase vs. 'Paraphrase'")

Let's talk a little more about paraphrase. What is paraphrase? Well, in broad terms it’s restating something in somewhat different terms. Suppose that we are talking about paraphrasing an historical utterance or teaching. An honest reporter of the spoken word might paraphrase because he can’t remember words verbatim, or because he doesn’t have time to give all that was said and has to summarize somewhat. Or maybe he’d change an idiom to something clearer if he knew that the audience he was speaking to actually wouldn’t understand the words otherwise. It’s very common for honest witnesses to paraphrase somewhat. Memory and moderate, casual paraphrase naturally go together.

But something that deserves to be called a paraphrase of what someone else historically said will always be recognizable, and especially if it’s set in a particular time and place. If you tell people that this is what this person said on this occasion, in answer to this question, and so forth, it should be recognizable as what he said at that time and place. With a true paraphrase of the spoken word, set at a particular time, the idea is that if you were there and knew the relevant languages, you could have recognized what was said from the paraphrase. Notice the contrast here to what Evans says about sayings like "I am the light of the world" and other sayings in the Gospel of John.

An important point here concerns motive. Changes that might be made casually or just for purposes of shortening, without intent to bend the truth, are different from the same changes made for a different motive. Obviously when we are discussing motives there will be gray areas, but it is important to remember that motive can and does make a difference to whether the person paraphrasing someone else's words is trying to "massage" history.

This does not mean that all legitimate paraphrase must be non-deliberate. Obviously, summarizing is often a deliberate activity, and, as mentioned above, there could be other reasons for deliberately paraphrasing, e.g., for clarity. Ancient Greek also had no quotation marks, and so the distinction between indirect speech ("he said that such-and-such") and direct speech ("he said, [quote]") was less explicitly marked than in modern English. We should not push this point too far. Ancient authors did have ways of indicating indirect reportage of speech. See, e.g., Luke 8:41-42, which indirectly reports Jairus's request for Jesus to come and heal his daughter. But the distinction was less often and less brightly marked in the absence of a convenient way of doing so, such as our modern use of quotation marks. This can be a source of some ambiguity about how close a report is to the exact words of the speaker. Still, a legitimate paraphrase should be recognizable; if one set of words is not even a recognizable paraphrase of something that was said historically on the occasion in question but we call it "paraphrase," we ourselves are simply confusing one another about what we mean by the term.

Often in Licona's discussion he will imply that an author is, by paraphrasing, trying to make it look like something happened in a way that the author knows it did not happen, either for artistic or theological reasons. This approach to paraphrase skips over the crucial category of normal or casual paraphrase. For example, perhaps Matthew got his version of Jesus' baptism from someone who remembered the Father's voice saying, "This is my beloved Son" rather than "You are my beloved Son." Or perhaps Matthew was indeed following Mark without additional input but was not staring at Mark's Gospel at the moment that he wrote down his own version of the baptism of Jesus and hence wrote "this is" rather than "you are." This would be entirely normal paraphrase and a different matter from Matthew's having the heavy, deliberate agenda of trying to make it look like the Father said, "This is" because Matthew wanted to make the Father speak more personally for his readers. (Licona has suggested this theory and definitely treats Matthew's "change" here as highly deliberate for some purpose.) The latter would mean that Matthew was trying to make it appear to his readers that the Father said something he did not say, because Matthew wanted his readers to feel more personally addressed by the Father's words. The former would just be the kind of casual, agenda-free paraphrase that happens constantly in real life when words are passed on in various ways. We should not assume that a change in reporting spoken words that would not be a problem if an author made it in one way is equally unproblematic if the author made it in fulfillment of some agenda of his own.

In the video about paraphrase Licona gives several examples of extremely trivial verbal differences between Mark and other Gospels concerning a saying about the mustard seed. These could easily fall into the category of casual, recognizable verbal variation. The only oddity there (again) is the way that Licona implies some deliberate activity on the part of Matthew and Luke in which they make a decision to change Mark in these minuscule ways. This shows a kind of tin ear to the way that casual variation actually occurs in normal human discourse. Even if you are using another written document as a literary source and were not a witness yourself, you are not necessarily trying to copy your source verbatim and making every tiniest variation with deliberation. But of course such trivial verbal differences are entirely compatible with truthful historical reportage.

In addition to the extremely telling quotations I have given in earlier posts from Craig Evans, here are some examples of what Licona thinks counts as retaining the "gist" of the spoken word.


For the next-to-last logion, it appears that John has redacted “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”... to say, “I am thirsty.”... John has redacted Jesus’s words but has retained their meaning. Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? pp. 165-166

Really, does that retain the meaning? At all? (Note that in John's Gospel someone even gets Jesus a drink after he says this. John is undeniably portraying Jesus as literally expressing thirst on the cross.)

Jesus’s final logion in Luke 23:46, “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit”..., becomes “it is finished” in John 19:30..... John redacts Jesus’s words, and although he maintains their gist, he adds some theological flavoring that is consistent with the portrait of Jesus he has painted from the very beginning. (p. 166)

Really, is “It is finished” maintaining the gist of “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit”? Only in the labyrinth of some theological scholar's imagination. What does it mean to “add some theological flavoring” while “maintaining the gist”? As these examples make clear, such vague, equivocal phrases include making up, inventing, entire sayings of Jesus that did not occur historically in the contexts portrayed in any recognizable fashion. These two sayings both have quite a bit of theological flavoring, but it is different in kind. This is not paraphrase at all, and to call it "paraphrase" or "retaining the gist" merely creates confusion.

There is a great deal of on-going equivocation taking place concerning the meaning of the concept of "paraphrase" and the related concept of "ipsissima vox"--the very voice of a speaker (usually Jesus). If an author is engaging in moderate, recognizable (in the scene), natural paraphrase, including a somewhat shorter summary of what a speaker says (Jesus or someone else), without trying to manipulate or extrapolate what he himself thinks Jesus should have said or would have said, and without trying to add his own agenda, then that can be legitimately called "paraphrase" or "ipsissima vox" (the very voice) as opposed to "ipsissima verba" (the very words). Exactly what this will look like will depend on the circumstances, how long of a block of material the author is trying to record, how good the author's memory or other sources are, etc. But Licona, Evans, and others (including Daniel Wallace, whom Licona is following concerning "I thirst" and "It is finished") are using these terms and phrases in ways that are confusing, stretching them beyond any legitimate use. Nor should we be confused by what philosophers call a "beard" problem or sorites problem, in which the difficulty of drawing one, bright line means that nothing falls clearly on one side or another. See this post on "paraphrase" and the beard problem for more.

The parable of the wicked tenants

On the parable of the wicked tenants, which Licona discusses, it is very probable that a combination of casual witness variation in wording (genuine paraphrase), partial literary dependence without the intention to copy every word exactly, and Matthew's knowledgeable supplementation of Mark's factual content explain the differences. Certainly no use of special exercises or deliberate, fact-changing strategies are necessary to explain natural variations in the way that a story is told. Moreover, in TMOM (Chapter X, section 3, pp. 264ff) I note that there is probably an undesigned coincidence between Matthew and Luke in the telling of this parable, showing that Matthew did have independent information about what happened when Jesus told this story. Hence, the dialogue that Licona says that Matthew creates probably is not a creation at all but a report.

The difference in Matthew that Licona notes is literally just an answer on the part of the crowd, not recorded in Mark but found in Matthew. (In Matthew, someone in the crowd answers Jesus' somewhat rhetorical question about what the landowner will do to the wicked tenants.) Licona uses the relative smallness of this difference to imply that it would be no big deal if Matthew made up the crowd's answer when he believed that they didn't really answer Jesus at all. In point of fact, some critical Gospels scholars (see here, for example) have used the allegation that Matthew made up this answer to mean that Matthew is trying to make it appear that Jesus "got" them (in a way that he knew didn't really happen) by "having" them pronounce their own judgement. If Matthew was trying to make it look like Jesus "did a gotcha" on the crowd by inducing them to pronounce their own judgement, when Matthew knew that this wasn't the case, that makes a difference to how we view the difference.

There is nothing that appears remotely artificial about Matthew 21:40-41. Why should they not be Matthew's factual addition to Mark, based upon his own memory? Licona frequently works with a rigid, either-or redactive model according to which Matthew is erased as a witness of an event if Licona and other scholars have decided that he was "following Mark." But as I emphasize in TMOM (see also Chapter XI, section 2, pp. 401ff), it can be both-and. It probably often is. There can be literary dependence along with very probable factual independence in which one author supplements the other author's information about what happened. This concept of partial dependence, which I emphasize in TMOM, is something that Licona ignores repeatedly in this video series.

In short, there is no good reason to believe that Matthew "created a dialogue" (one answer to a question) that he knew never happened, here or elsewhere, and if possible still less reason to believe that Matthew was trained in or following some ancient Greek exercise in so doing.


Theon and more Theon

The Progymnasmata of Theon is available here. This writing and rhetoric curriculum was taught to Greek schoolboys in the first century. Licona uses statements in this curriculum to support the supposed historical flexibility that the Gospel authors (or perhaps, as he now conjectures, their hypothetical Greek assistants) allegedly had in writing about the life of Jesus.

Interestingly, Licona acknowledges in his book that he thinks he is finding devices in the historian Plutarch and in the Gospels that he doesn’t even claim to have found in the exercise books.


There are many observations of differences in the pericopes [in the Gospels] that follow for which potential devices are neither described in the compositional textbooks nor observed being employed by Plutarch. We will keep in mind that many of the compositional devices in use by Plutarch are likewise not found in the compositional textbooks. Nor are they taught in any of the ancient literature that has survived. Accordingly, much of what an ancient author did and why he did it will remain in the realm of informed guesswork for modern historians. (Why Are There Differences, p. 117)

This is quite an important statement and deserves some reflection. The role of the exercise books is broader than Licona’s claim that it taught students to carry out particular, named activities. Rather, it involves generally leading us to believe that historians were allowed to bend or change facts when they narrated them. Licona uses the exercise books to teach something like an alleged ancient worldview of historical flexibility that goes well beyond any specific devices that he even claims to have found in an exercise textbook.

Having raised the prior probability that apparent discrepancies in Plutarch are "devices," Licona then believes that classicists find additional "devices" just by looking at apparent discrepancies in Plutarch. He then applies this second list to the Gospels, and adds further a category to the Gospels like "crafting the story" where he does not even bother to name a specific device from either the exercise books or Plutarch (Why Are There Differences, pp. 180-185).

It's important to note this so that listeners and readers don't get the erroneous idea that Licona claims to have objectively found all of the most important literary devices he alleges--including some very prominent ones such as transferral and displacement--"in the exercise books." That isn't even the claim! This is a point I will return to later when discussing Plutarch; it should be borne in mind.

The quotations from the exercise books make, to be frank, rather dull reading for many modern readers. This may be why it is tempting just to let a scholar tell you what they were getting at and what they were all about. It is possible that some readers will prefer to accept someone else's word on that subject, and that's understandable. The difficulty with doing that here is that you have two scholars who are telling you quite different things about the genre of these books and what it meant. 

I have already raised questions about Greek education in the previous post and in Chapter V of TMOM that would apply to three out of the four evangelists, meaning that they likely never so much as saw a Greek exercise book or anything like it. In this video Licona quotes, as he does in Why Are There Differences? a bare assertion by scholar Gerald Downing that it would have been impossible for the evangelists to handle "source material"--such as, presumably, Matthew's using Mark--without being trained from such Greek exercise books. I already dealt with that quotation in TMOM. In short, Downing gives no argument to speak of for such a sweeping, strong, dogmatic assertion, and there is good reason to doubt it. In context in his own article Downing doesn't seem to think the exercises terribly relevant to the Gospels' actual redactions anyway. But I'm not going to repeat what I said there on the topic. Suffice it to say that this quotation is just an assertion, and not well-supported. See pp. 143ff.

For various reasons, therefore, someone might consider the discussion of what Theon was getting at in his exercise books to be moot, at least for three out of four of the evangelists who very likely never so much as encountered them. 

But if you are inclined to think that "Licona has shown" or "Evans has shown" that one or more of the evangelists "would have been taught" to make certain adaptations of the facts because of the "pedagogy of the times" as shown by Theon's exercise book, then I would ask you to take the trouble to investigate this for yourself rather than just accepting that these scholars have shown this. That is only fair to ask on such an important topic, and I'm certainly not asking you just to take my word for it. So if this is you, or even if you just want to know more of the details, read on!  (You can find even more in TMOM, Chapter VIII and Appendix 1, and the whole Progymnasmata at the link above.)

In the video to which I'm responding here, Licona starts by citing Theon on the importance of paraphrase, and here he lumps together so many things that it is scarcely possible to tease them all out. Theon says that paraphrase is very useful, including being useful for historians. Who doubts it? What does this truism have to do with historical flexibility? For one thing, paraphrasing an historical source can just be a matter of telling a story in one's own words. It need not have anything to do with altering a single fact, big or small. Imagine reading a passage of narrative about a battle and then just using one's own words to tell the very same facts. Those of us who have taught writing teach our students to do this all the time without recommending anything concerning historical flexibility. Narrating the facts in one's own words is not changing anything factual. So "paraphrasing one's source" can be a skill for historians to use right there in a way that is not any sort of advice for altering what happened.

Licona's procedure is to quote broadly-stated comments by Theon about the usefulness of paraphrase or about how history is a succession of narratives (as of course it is) or about how students are going to be taught to vary the narratives as though these comments mean that Theon in his book is giving historiographical advice--advice about how much flexibility is allowed in the accuracy of historical reportage. Licona then expects the hearer or reader to take his word for it that this is what Theon is addressing. In this video he has even doubled down and said that Theon really is giving such advice explicitly. But just paying attention closely to what Theon actually says in these quotations, without assuming that he's addressing the topic of historical flexibility, allows one to see that Theon doesn't address that topic at all in the quotations Licona gives. And as I will show here and show even more in TMOM, when you follow to the actual examples that Theon gives, you see even more clearly that his interests are just different from those that Licona is attributing to him.

For example, Licona makes much of the following quotation from Theon, which he says is "even clearer" that Theon is addressing the historical issues in question between Licona and me.

Thought is not moved by any one thing in only one way so as to express the idea that has occurred to it in a similar form, but it is stirred in a number of different ways, and sometimes we are making a declaration, sometimes asking a question, sometimes making an inquiry, sometimes beseeching, and sometimes expressing our thought in some other way. There is nothing to prevent what is imagined from being expressed equally well in all these ways. There is evidence of this in paraphrase by a poet of his own thoughts elsewhere or paraphrase by another poet and in the orators and historians, and, in brief, all ancient writers seem to have used paraphrase in the best possible way, rephrasing not only their own writings but those of each other.
Where in any of that does Theon say anything whatsoever about how much it is allowable for historical authors to bend, flex, or swerve from literal accuracy in recording what happened? Nowhere at all! It is as though Licona thinks that by claiming that a quotation is about that topic, he can convince his hearers that it is. It is unfortunate that he sometimes succeeds in convincing them, since the passage just doesn't say anything about changing facts (or not changing facts). Notice, too, the links Theon draws between orators, poets, and historians. Here as elsewhere he indicates that he is teaching skills common to these professions. But that provides a clue that he just isn't talking about how close to fiction or how far from fiction history is or ought to be. 

The point is made even more obvious if we look at how Theon continues immediately in that very passage:
While Homer says, “Such is the mind of men who live on earth / As the father of men and gods grants it for the day,” Archilochus, rephrasing the lines, says, “Such, Glaucus, son of Leptines, is the mind / Of mortal men as Zeus brings it for the day.” And again, Homer has spoken of the capture of a city in this way, “They kill the men, and fire levels the city, / And some lead off children and others deep-zoned women.” Demosthenes adapts it thus, “When we were on our way to Delphi, necessarily we saw all these things: houses destroyed, walls thrown down, a place deserted by those in the prime of life, few women and children, and pitiful old men.” Aeschines treats it thus: “Look at their disasters in your imagination and think you are seeing their city captured, the throwing down of walls, burning of houses, temples robbed, women and children led into slavery, old men, old women learning late to forget liberty.” Furthermore, Thucydides says, “There is envy in rivalry with the living, but one who no longer stands in the way has been honored with unchallenged good will”; and Theopompus, “For I know that many look upon the living with ill-will, but they abandon their envy of the dead through the number of years”; and Demosthenes, “Who among all of us does not know that some envy, greater or smaller, exists for all the living, but not even one of their enemies hates the dead.”
Theon illustrates linguistic and rhetorical variation in the use of proverbial or profound sayings and imaginative descriptions of what the sack of a city is like. This is simply not about the subject of historical alteration. It is not that Theon has a high view of historical accuracy. He may or may not. It's that he isn't expressing any opinion on that topic. He is trying to teach students to be good speakers, rhetoricians, and writers, which will be useful to historians among others. You could use those writing skills to write highly literally accurate history. You could use them to write shaded or factually inaccurate history. Or anything in between. Theon just doesn't tell you what you should do as far as that is concerned.

Or consider Theon's discussion of elaboration. I have a section on this in TMOM--Chapter VIII, section 10, "Misunderstanding elaboration exercises," beginning on p. 161. You might think, and Licona clearly does think, that elaboration means elaborating what happened, or elaborating someone's words and putting them back into that person's mouth. He writes,

Writers can add to the original words or thoughts for clarification, further description, or artistic improvement. Theon is thinking in terms of only a very few additional words. However, he follows up his section on “Paraphrase” with one on “Elaboration,” in which a text is expanded in order to add what was lacking in thought and expression. (Why Are There Differences, p. 13)
And applies the idea in this way:

The logia of the Jewish leaders at Golgotha differ slightly. In Mark 15:31b–32 they say, “He saved others; he is not able to save himself. [He is] the Messiah, the King of Israel! Let him come down from the cross now, in order that we may see and believe.” Matthew 27:42–43 is similar to Mark with only slight alterations but then elaborates, “He saved others; he is not able to save himself. He is the King of Israel. Let him come down from the cross now and we will believe in him. He has trusted in God. Let God rescue him now if He wants. For he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’” (Ibid., p. 164)

So did these additional taunts recorded in Matthew happen in an historically recognizable way, or are they Matthew's ahistorical "elaboration" of what we find in Mark?

But actually, Theon's examples (and other examples in other exercise books) don't grant license to historians to elaborate events. Theon even illustrates “elaboration” by contrasting how one orator (Demosthenes) praises the Athenians with how another one does. One praised the Athenians for a noble act more briefly while the other states it at greater length and with more structure and, Theon believes, more pleasantly. This is how Theon illustrates "elaboration" as supplying something that is lacking. Here is the whole passage, of which Licona quotes a part in the video I'm responding to:
Elaboration is language that adds what is lacking in thought and expression. What is “lacking” can be supplied by making clear what is obscure; by filling gaps in the language or content; by saying some things more strongly, or more believably, or more vividly, or more truly, or more wordily—each word repeating the same thing—, or more legally, or more beautifully, or more appropriately, or more opportunely, or making the subject pleasanter, or using a better arrangement or a style more ornate.

Consider the words about the Euboeans in Aeschines’ Against Ctesiphon and Demosthenes’ On the Crown. The Athenians had gone to their aid, even though the Euboeans had been the cause of wrong to them, and had saved them and restored their cities. Aeschines says: “You righteously and justly restored the cities themselves and their constitutions to those who had entrusted them to you, not thinking it right to remember your anger when they had put faith in you.” And Demosthenes: “You, on the one hand, did a noble thing in saving the island, but it was a yet nobler thing by far, that when their lives and their cities were absolutely in your power, you gave them back, as it was right to do, to the very men who had offended against you, and made no reckoning, when such trust had been placed in you, of the wrongs which you had suffered.” Because Demosthenes’ version is heavier in sound Aeschines’ version can seem in contrast solid, firm and simple, and because those who understand such things can perceive that Demosthenes repeats sounds, let us, when teaching, examine and discuss the details. Aeschines simplified in combining the good deeds into one; Demosthenes made them into two things, presenting separately the act of saving and the act of restoring, and at the same time he has amplified the second act with the addition of “a yet nobler thing by far.” Moreover, Aeschines spoke of the state of mind in which the Athenians acted; Demosthenes described it more fully: “You, on the one hand, did a noble thing,” brings credibility by adding “on the one hand.”
So even "elaboration" shows no signs of being any kind of statement about the nature of history and its relationship to truth or how flexible an historian can be. Again and again we find Licona asking Theon questions that Theon is not trying to answer and thereby imposing an anachronistic template on his text.

Licona repeatedly suggests a false dilemma: He represents me as saying that the techniques Theon teaches are "only for the classroom" and says that, according to Theon, they are also for use when writing an historical narrative. For use by the historian in what sense? I have already addressed this point explicitly in TMOM:

Licona creates a false dichotomy: Either the students would later use what they had learned “when writing professionally” (which he implies would involve historical alteration) or they would not use the skills they had learned in their professional work. The latter would seem strange. Why are they bothering to do all of this training, or why are their parents bothering to have them receive this education, if it will have no relevance to their later professional work? But the erroneous implication is that the sort of “writing professionally” in which they would use what they learn from rhetorical exercise books would be a) writing history while b) altering historical fact....If a student ended up being an historian, he would need to be able to write well. In that sense, of course an historian would use the skills learned from a good writing curriculum in his “professional writing,” and he would do so even if he never bent a single fact. (TMOM, p. 171)
There are many ways for something to be useful to an historian. Any of us who have taught writing and rhetoric know that we are teaching skills that are not just for the classroom, because we hope that students will use these abilities to use language well and even tell a story well in many different realms of life. We may even teach a future historian how to write well by giving him the opportunity to write a fictional story. Historians need to be able to write in a way that is interesting rather than boring, varied rather than dull and unchanging. They need to be able to make logical connections and arguments. They need to be able to write narrative and present dialogue, and so forth. But the student can and hopefully will use the abilities he learns in the classroom to tell entirely factual stories later. It's very odd that Licona takes it that being useful to an historian means being useful for telling the historian how much flexibility he has in literal accuracy of reporting. This is eisegesis of Theon through a failure to understand the genre of a writing curriculum.

"Varying" the narrative

Licona believes that Theon's statements about varying the narrative are particularly indicative that he is giving historiographical advice. But here we have to look, again, at the actual examples Theon gives. They are extremely artificial and verbal, making it obvious that they are exercises in the use of language and composition, not exercises meant to teach anything at all concerning historical accuracy or flexbility. (I emphasize here again that I am not saying that Theon is teaching students to be historically accurate. What I am saying is that he just isn't addressing that topic.)

Here I ask the reader's patience as I give him the longer context of the quotation Licona gives. Notice that it just starts by listing all sorts of ways in which one could write a narrative in varied form. The passage Theon uses to illustrate (what modern writing teachers would probably call a part of the "prompt") is from an historical document. Could it be that Licona thinks that this use of an historical passage as the exercise prompt in and of itself means that the exercises are teaching historians to vary facts? That certainly doesn't follow! Once again, one may very well use historical narrative as the basis for exercises without teaching anything about licensed historical flexibility in historical writing, as those who have worked with language curricula well know. Theon is giving the students the opportunity to vary the narrative in many different ways, some of them quite stilted.

Since we are accustomed to setting out the facts sometimes as making a straightforward statement and sometimes as doing something more than making a factual statement, and sometimes in the form of questions, and sometimes as things we seek to learn about, and sometimes as things about which we are in doubt, and sometimes as making a command, sometimes expressing a wish, and sometimes swearing to something, sometimes addressing the participants, sometimes advancing suppositions, sometimes using dialogue, it is possible to produce varied narrations in all these ways.
At the beginning of the second book of his Histories Thucydides set out the following narrative in the manner of a straightforward statement: “A force of Thebans a little over three hundred in number made an armed entry during the first watch of the night into Plataea in Boeotia, a town in alliance with Athenians,” and so on. If we want to suggest something more than a simple statement of facts, we shall speak as follows: “The arrival at Plataea of the Thebans was, it seems, the cause of great troubles for Athenians and Lacedaimonians and the allies on each side; for a force of Thebans a little over three hundred in number made an armed entry during the first watch into Plataea in Boeotia,” and then we append the rest of the narration.
 If we want to treat this as a question, we shall do so as follows: “Is it really true that a force of Thebans a little over three hundred in number made an armed entry during the first watch into Plataea in Boeotia?” And continue in this interrogative way with the rest of the account.
If we want to treat it as an enquiry, (we shall ask,) “Who were the Theban men, a little more than three hundred in number, who made an armed entry during the first watch into Plataea in Boeotia?” And phrase the rest as an enquiry.
Raising doubts and asking questions do not differ from each other in procedure, so we shall be satisfied with an example of one of them. If we ask a question or express doubt, we shall proclaim, “Is sleeplessness the most talkative thing of all?” The speaker seems in doubt because, while a questioner seeks an answer, one in doubt does not quite do so but only addresses himself as at a loss.
If we want to treat it as a command, we shall do so as follows. At the end of the narration, after (describing) the destruction of those who entered Thebes, we shall introduce someone advising the Thebans or Plataeans as follows: “Come, O Plataeans, be worthy of your city and of your ancestors who contended with Persians and Mardonius, and of those who lie buried in your land. Show the Thebans that they do wrong in thinking you should harken to them and be slaves and in forcing those unwilling to do so, contrary to oaths and treaties, when, a little more than three hundred in number, they entered under arms during the first watch into our city, an ally of Athenians.” Then we shall continue the rest as addressing Plataeans. If we suppose the command to be addressed to the Thebans, we shall say, “Come, O Thebans, make clear how you are worthy of yourselves and your ancestors and the rule you have over all Boeotia, and show to the Plataeans that, though they are your slaves, they have not only run away to the Athenians but also have destroyed a little more than three hundred of your men who went under arms about the first watch into Plataea, which belonged to them.” And we shall narrate the rest in this way. It is possible also to create a command, if we suppose someone exhorting the Thebans before they made the entrance into Plataea, ordering them to do what they did: “Come, O Thebans, so that a little more than three hundred of you may go under arms about the first watch into Plataea, which belongs to you but now is an ally of Athenians.” And we shall describe the rest, as far as possible, in this way.
If we express a wish, we shall say, “O that a force of Thebans, a little more than three hundred in number, had never gone under arms during the first watch into Plataea in Boeotia, an ally of Athenians,” and continue the narrative to the end in the form of a wish.
The way the narration is produced in the form of an oath is clear enough. We excuse ourselves from describing the use of direct address since we have already given an example of the vocative in discussing the declension of grammatical cases (in a chreia). In advancing a supposition we shall say, “Let us suppose that men of Thebes, a little more than three hundred, went under arms about the first watch into Plataea in Boeotia, a ally of Athenians; and that Naucleides and those with him opened the gates, there being no guard stationed there because of the treaty,” and the rest in the same way.
If we wish to use a dialogue form, we shall suppose some people talking with each other about what has been done, and one teaching, the other learning, about the occurrences; for example, (A.) “Often in the past it occurred to me to ask you about what happened to the Thebans and Plataeans at Plataea, and I would gladly hear now if this is a good opportunity for you to give a narrative account.” (B.) “By Zeus, it is a good opportunity, and I shall tell you now if, as you say, you have a desire to hear about these things. The Thebans, always at odds with the Plataeans, wanted to seize hold of Plataea in peace time. A force of them, therefore, a little more than three hundred in number, went under arms about the first watch into the city, an ally of Athenians.” (A.) “How then did they easily escape notice, going in at night when the gates were shut and a guard posted?” (B.) “You slightly anticipated what I was going to say, that some men, Naucleides and those with him, opened the gates, there being no guard posted because of the peace,” and so on. In the same way we shall continue asking and answering in accordance with the rules of dialogue.
Moreover, when stating the facts, sometimes we use the positive, but it is possible (as an exercise) not only to use the positive but also to produce narrations in negative form. The positive form is the way we said Thucydides produced his narration; a negative version would be, for example, “Neither did a band of Thebans, a little more than three hundred in number, go under arms about the first watch into Plataea in Boeotia, an ally of Athenians, nor did Naucleides and those with him open the gates,” and so on to the end.

(I am indebted to Tim McGrew for noticing that the modern editor says that words in parentheses are editorial additions. So "as an exercise" in the last paragraph is evidently a modern editorial addition.)

This set of exercises occasionally does have the student envisaging someone advising the Plataeans or the Thebans.  This is done so that the student can create commands and questions to practice different grammatical structures. And these are interspersed with exercises in which the writer does various things such as suggesting how the arrival of the Thebans affected the Athenians. This (note!) is what Theon calls doing "something more than" a statement of facts! Presumably the arrival of the Thebans was indeed a cause of trouble for the Athenians and Lacedaimonians. So doing something more than making a statement of facts is giving the implications of the facts narrated, which could be entirely accurate implications.

Theon also suggests telling the story by using what is called the interrogative mood: Is it really true that _____? This is, again, clearly a verbal exercise. And the same for phrasing it as a wish. The writer imagines himself as wishing that the events had never happened and writing in that manner. Phrasing as a vow is, "Let us suppose that ____." These verbal variations force the student to use the Greek language in different ways. Phrasing as a command causes the student to write in the imperative mood. This is an exercise in using the imperative verb form. It has nothing to do with advising a future historian to make up and present as historical in history a character who was not present at the events.

The "dialogue" is not only incredibly stilted and artificial (unlike any dialogue recorded in the Gospels, much less Matthew's record that Jesus asked a single question and that his audience answered). It is also, in this case, worded as a "frame story" for the historical story, making it clear, again, that Theon's interest is in making the student write dialogue for practice, not in teaching a student to make up non-historical dialogue in apparently historical writing. That is simply not in view. No doubt in historical writing there will be occasion to write down dialogue, and it's good to practice. Hence, writing dialogue is useful for future historians, not just "for the classroom," as is writing interrogatives. But when the historian does it, it can be historical dialogue. Theon's exercise simply tells us nothing about pretending in writing that is presented as historical that someone asked a question instead of making a statement or pretending that a crowd answered a question when they really didn't, that someone asked a question he didn't really ask, or anything of the kind. Again, the artificially varied examples that Theon gives make this quite clear.

And finally, as if all of that were not enough, Theon literally suggests that a student might "vary the narrative" by negating all of it! In this exercise, the student writes that this didn't happen and that didn't happen and the other thing didn't happen, "and so on to the end." One hopes (one truly does hope) that no one will suggest that this was a "compositional device" being recommended for future historians! We are obviously not to think that one could literally change a statement to a negation--perhaps to say that Abraham Lincoln was not shot in the theater, nor did John Wilkes Booth jump down onto the stage, etc., in an historical work. Julius Caesar was not stabbed in the Forum, nor did Antony give a speech over Caesar's body, and so on, to the end. Theon just gives this along with all the other exercises in the list of varying the narrative. Here, he is teaching the students to negate, just as he is having them practice writing commands, writing dialogue, writing interrogatives, etc. Useful skills, no doubt, for (as Theon says) poets, historians, and all sorts of writers. But not historiographical advice. If nothing else could do it, this should make clear the genre of the work and the genre of the exercises.

"The literary device of inflection"--a blunder

The assumption that Theon's exercises are providing literary devices for modifying the facts in historical narratives leads Licona and, following him, Craig Keener into quite a serious blunder, which Keener applies to support a highly implausible suggestion about Matthew. Licona says that there is a literary device of inflection taught in Theon's exercise books:

Theon explains that inflection can also include changing the number of persons involved. For example, we can change the number of people speaking from one to two or even more. The converse may likewise occur, changing a plurality of persons speaking to only one. The same may be said of the number of persons being addressed.

On a regular basis, we observe Plutarch employing inflection when mentioning two or more persons speaking in one Life while only mentioning one speaking in another Life. (Why Are There Differences, p. 11)
Does Licona actually mean that Theon is teaching students in writing history to change the number of people who were literally present in a scene? E.g. If an historian knows that only one person was present or spoke, is Licona claiming that Theon is licensing the historian to say that there were really two, or if there were multiple people, to say that there was only one? It appears that this is what Licona means, as we see in examples where he tries to apply this to Plutarch. For example,

[I]t is “all the others” except Cato who are assigned...the words attributed to Ahenobarbus in Pompey. Does Plutarch transfer what others were saying to Ahenobarbus (or from Ahenobarbus to others), or does he employ inflection by changing a plural in Caesar to a singular in Pompey (or change a singular in Pompey to a plural in Caesar)? (p. 71)
Here Licona suggests that perhaps Plutarch may be trying to make it look like there were more people who said something than really did say it, or that he may be trying to make it look like there were fewer people who said it than really did say it.

Craig Keener interprets Licona in this same way--as saying that there was an actual literary device of changing the number of people involved in an historical scene. In Christobiography, which was in press at the same time that TMOM was in press, Keener says this,

Compositional handbooks, as well as biographers' practice, show that narrators could freely change an action's subject from one person to more or from multiple persons to one. Thus, for example, Plutarch in one life depicts the reaction of Cato's sisters, but in another, the same reaction of his (singular) sister. (Christobiography, p. 317)
For this claim about this allowance to "freely change" the number of people who carried out an action, Keener expressly cites Licona's discussion of inflection. It should go without saying (but probably needs to be said) that if Cato really had multiple sisters, Plutarch could refer to just one of them in one of his Lives and to the group of them in a different Life, without changing any fact at all. This is a standard point that traditional harmonizers have made--that mentioning one individual when multiple individuals were involved doesn't mean changing the number of individuals involved to just one. But Keener and Licona apparently do not wish to invoke that harmonization here but rather to say that Plutarch is actually changing the number of people involved--trying to give the impression without historical justification either that there were multiple sisters who reacted in this way or that there was only one.

Keener then goes on to make quite a striking application of this so-called device:

This practice may account for Mark omitting a second figure known to Matthew (Mark 5:2//Matt. 8:28; Mark 10:46-52//Matt 9:27-31; 20:29-34), or, I think perhaps more likely, Matthew doubling a Markan figure to concisely compensate for omitting similarly delivered or healed figures elsewhere. (Christobiography, pp. 317-318)
What does this mean? As quotations from Keener's commentary on Matthew show (which I discuss in TMOM), it means that Keener is strongly suggesting that Matthew literally made up extra blind men and (he suggests here in Christobiography) an extra demoniac who were not present in the scenes in question in order to compensate for not telling entirely different stories related in Mark.

[Matthew] probably doubles the healings of the blind men for the same reason that he doubled the demoniacs delivered in 8:28....; he had omitted one elsewhere (Mk 8:22–26) as part of his abbreviating technique and so compensates by simply adding one in this story. (Keener, The Gospel of Matthew, pp. 306-307)

Matthew doubles Mark’s demoniacs (Mt 8:28//Mk 5:2), as he later doubles his blind men...In both other instances of doubling he has omitted one of Mark’s accounts (the demoniac of Mk 1:23–26; the blind man of Mk 8:22-26), hence he feels justified compensating here.... (Ibid., p. 282)

Licona suggests something similar, though he says "perhaps":

Perhaps Matthew has doubled up the demoniac in order to compensate for not telling the story of Jesus healing another demoniac mentioned earlier in Mark 1:21–28.

As we observed in the preceding pericope, Matthew, who was given to abbreviating Mark, may have doubled up on the number of blind men in order to include another story from Mark 8:22–26 of Jesus healing the blind that Matthew will not otherwise mention. (Why Are There Differences, p. 135)

To compensate? To "include another story"? How does adding a person in one story compensate for not telling an entirely different story? How does it "include" the other story? Suppose I tell about my friend George who had a flat tire in Grand Rapids and, separately, about my friend Bob who had a flat tire in Lansing. And suppose that you for some reason want to tell about Bob's flat tire in Lansing. If you "make" George be present with Bob in Lansing, when you know that he wasn't, does this somehow "include" the story of George's flat tire by "compensating"? This is quite a far-fetched theory. After all, the people Jesus heals are not little demoniac and blind-man game counters. They are real people healed or delivered at specific times.

Keener explicitly uses Licona's supposed literary device of "inflection" to say that this doubling up of people was something narrators were freely allowed to do! One does wonder, if this were true, in how many places in the Gospels we would have to wonder whether the author has "freely" (Keener's word) changed the number of people involved, ahistorically. And why not, if this was something that was just allowed to narrators? Why would we not expect such invisible multiplication in some places that we have not previously guessed, if this was a literary device that was "part and parcel of the genre"?

But in fact, the idea of a literary device of inflection that allows an author freely to multiply people is a significant blunder on Licona's part, unfortunately followed without question by Keener. Theon is not describing any literary device that allowed historical narrators to change the numbers of people at all. He is literally just giving students linguistic exercises in writing the singular, dual, and plural numbers in the Greek language. Here is Theon:
Inflection takes many forms; for we change the person in the chreia [anecdote] into all three numbers and do this in several ways: (expressing it as) one person speaking about one or two or more; and conversely two speaking about one and two and more, and also plural persons speaking about one and two and more. If the chreia is that Isocrates the orator said that those with natural ability are the children of the gods, we inflect it as one person speaking of one other by saying, “Isocrates the orator said that the student with natural ability was a child of gods”; and as two of two, that “The twin orators Isocrates said the twin students with natural ability are children of gods”; and as plural of plural, that “The orators Isocrates said the students with natural ability are children of gods.” From these examples it is evident how we shall inflect the other forms; for (the original statements) are changed into the five grammatical cases.
The translator and editor of this edition of Theon, George Kennedy, takes a much lower view of the Gospels' literal historicity than I do in his own writings. However, he comments explicitly on this exercise:
For elementary students of Greek, a highly inflected language, practice in grammatical inflection was important. Thus they were asked to restate a chreia in a variety of grammatical forms, even though the results might seem artificial.
Kennedy makes it clear that this is just a grammatical exercise. The quotation from Theon makes that explicit. Greek has a dual number (exactly two entities) as well as a plain singular and plain plural. Theon is of course not suggesting that an historian would try to give people the impression in an historical work that there literally were twin orators named Isocrates who said that twin students with natural ability are children of the gods nor that there were plural (three or more) orators named Isocrates!

This artificiality is also evident in the examples of "varying the narrative" given above--trying to restate the narrative in the form of a command or in the form of a wish, or even negating the entire narrative. The pattern is the same. These exercises are simply not about what historians were free to portray as factual in their putatively factual narration.

This is what we come to when we don't understand the genre of an exercise book. Scholars end up thinking there is a literal historical "device" of making up extra people in particular scenes in history when all that the exercise was doing was giving Greek students practice in using the dual and the plural number in the language!

This blunder and its eyebrow-raising results in the interpretation of Matthew illustrate the importance of deciding for yourself on these matters and not succumbing to rhetoric or arguments from authority.

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