2010-01-04

Taking Eddy & Boyd Seriously (2)

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by Neil Godfrey

Eddy and Boyd are often touted as having written some sort of authoritative rebuttal of arguments sceptical of “the historical reliability of the Synoptic Jesus tradition”, but as I began to show in my earlier part 1 post, and will continue here, their work

  •  misrepresents specific arguments they claim to refute;
  •  demonstrates a shoddiness, sometimes bordering on intellectual dishonesty.

Uncharitable post?

One commenter said I lack a sense of charity or humanity when I speak harshly against certain authors. I sometimes think he might have a point, and I reconsider. But other times I confess I have little patience with public intellectuals who are looked to as authorities yet whose work demonstrates a lack of respect for the integrity of their public audiences and/or the logical norms of wider scholarly discourse, and who substitute these for popular or partisan assertions and obfuscations.

“The Case for the Authenticity of 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16” (Part 2)

Continuing from my Part 1 post, here is the passage under discussion:

13. For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.

14. For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews,

15. who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men,

16. hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.

If Paul indeed wrote this, then he clearly believed that Jesus was  a recent historical person.

However, there are many published scholarly arguments against this passage’s authenticity: it reads like a savage anti-semitic attack, blaming Jews for the death of Jesus and gloating that they have finally got their just-deserts. Many have seen this as a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 c.e.

Elsewhere in Paul’s letters, however, a far more hopeful and gracious attitude is expressed towards the Jews. Romans 11, in particular, is cited as Paul’s real optimism that his fellow countrymen are only temporarily “blinded” and will one day all be saved. Further, the passage in 1 Thess. 2 reads most smoothly if the “anti-semitic” passage is removed. For reasons such as these, many have argued that this one passage is not authentic to any original letter of Paul. It is a later insertion.

Specifically, Birger A. Pearson (1971) discusses the following reasons for believing it to be a non-Pauline insertion:

  1. The passage begins a second “thanksgiving section” in the letter — something that appears to be an anomaly in Paul’s letters
  2. This same passage begins with a repetition of the same words and phrases (or identical ones) as had been already written in 1:13ff.
  3. The passage intrudes into a ‘travelogue’ or ‘apostolic parousia’ section, something used by Paul to declare his travel plans and desire to be with the congregation, etc. — Paul nowhere else breaks up a ‘travelogue’ section
  4. The passage urges one church to follow another church as an example — while elsewhere (including in chapter one of this same letter) Paul commands his churches to follow him, or praises them for doing so, as he follows Christ
  5. This passage points to a period of persecution of Christians in Judea between 44 and 66 (when the Jewish War against Rome began) b.c.e. — there is no other evidence for such persecution
  6. The description of Jews as “hostile to all men” is found elsewhere among secular anti-semitic literature of the time — it contradicts Paul’s favourable views of Jews in other letters
  7. This passage blames the Jews for the murder of Christ — Paul never blames them in other letters, but does accuse “the rulers of this age”, a phrase that is found in other literature to refer to archons or angels and demons
  8. The passage says that the Jews have filled up their sin quota, meaning that there is no longer any way for them to avoid condign punishment from God — something alien to Paul’s thought elsewhere about the Jews, and to the fact that Paul could boast about being a Jew himself
  9. The phrase for “to the utmost” means that the Jews have at last, finally, in the past, received their ultimate punishment without any more hope, and many commentators say that this could only refer to the event of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 c.e. — while in Romans 11 Paul speaks of ongoing and future hope and promise of salvation for the Jews.

There are additional points. Among them are the syntactical arguments of Schmidt (1983). Schmidt went beyond the old method of using statistical frequencies of certain words and phrases to detect interpolation on the grounds that in this case the passage is too small for this sort of analysis to produce decisive results. Advances in linguistic studies now enable us to study “‘the syntactical pattern’ of a text or of an author’s style.”

Schmidt’s approach was accordingly to study the style and grammar of the passage within the context of the letter, focusing on the section from 1 Thess 1:2 to 3:10 (i.e. the pre-exhortation section of the letter between the opening greeting and the concluding benediction). His analysis concludes that interpolation is the best explanation for 2:13-16 because this passage:

  • contains content that does not fit well in 1 Thessalonians
  • has content that does not fit well into Pauline thought in general
  • intrudes into the overall structure of the letter
  • is built around an unPauline conflation of Paul’s genuine expressions

All of this would seem to be a formidable set of reasons for thinking the passage to be a forgery inserted into the letter by a copyist. But E&B will have none of it, and I will discuss how they manage the above arguments in this and future posts.

Recapping from previous post

In my last post I addressed their opening (point 1) “case for the authenticity of 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16”. This point of theirs claimed that the lack of manuscript evidence for an interpolation was “no minor problem”.

Two of the scholars they cite in support of their assertions (W. O. Walker and J. W. Simpson) actually protest that lack of manuscript evidence is far from being an adequate point against an interpolation — yet E&B would leave the uninformed reader thinking that their opposite claim is supported by those who actually contradict them.

As Robert M. Price summed up in a review of Walker’s work:

[Walker] shows how the uniformity of textual witnesses amounts to exactly nothing in view of the fact that we possess no copies dating from the relevant time frame (as well as raising the possibility that we lack such materials precisely because, as Caliph Uthman was said to have done with the Koran, earlier texts were destroyed so as not to undermine the authority of the official textus receptus).

(I have a summary of some of Walker’s points in my post a literary culture of interpolations.

My own estimation of the scholarly integrity of E&B took a severe blow when, in the course of following up their footnote citations, I further discovered

  • they had copied a passage from another publication as their own words
  • authors they cited as supporting their assertions actually contradicted each other

How E&B dismiss the linguistic case for interpolation

Here I continue with E&B’s second point. Warning: launching into a discussion of linguistic arguments here — gonna be a bit dry and technical.

E&B write in The Jesus Legend:

2. There is little to be said in favor of rejecting these verses on syntactical grounds. It is true that verses 12 and 17 can be seamlessly joined together. But for an author as given to parenthetical expressions as Paul is, this observation carries very little weight. It is also true that these verses seem stylistically uncharacteristic of Paul, but it is not clear that they are so to an extent that would warrant the conclusion that they are not Paul’s own words.30 (p.212)

The footnote attached at 30 reads:

30. Schmidt’s linguistic arguments have been convincingly answered by J. Weatherly, “The Authenticity of 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16: Additional Evidence,” JSNT 42 (1991): 91-98; and J. W. Simpson, “The Problem Posed by 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 and a Solution,” Horizons in Biblical Theology 12 (1990); 52-54.

With these three sentences E&B dismiss the syntactical case for interpolation. They once again supply a footnote reference that might allow a casual reader to understand that the scholarly arguments are on E&B’s side in this casual dismissal. But once again, E&B are not being honest with their audiences.

E&B want their readers to think in terms of just another one of those many lengthy digressions Paul was accustomed to making. This will no doubt be enough to satisfy the reader who “wants to believe” in the purity of their holy text. But this is not what is argued in the scholarly guild, or at least not among any of the scholars E&B cite on this page and who do discuss this passage at length. E&B are once again failing to respect their readers. Public intellectuals surely have a responsibility to be honest with their public.

The argument for interpolation goes far beyond the simple truism that the verses either side of the passage can be joined naturally without the intervening disputed verses. E&B simply ignore the real arguments, even though they are discussed in the sources he cites for his own over-simplification.

E&B further say that “there is little to be said in favour of rejecting these verses on syntactical grounds.” This is simply not so either, even according to the authors he cites who argue against the interpolation case.

“Little to be said”? Another stereotypical case of Paul getting sidetracked with a digression?

That’s not what the ‘authorities’ he cites argue at all.

What Weatherly  and Simpson [E&B’s footnote 30] really say

They actually argue that Paul chose to write in an uncharacteristic style for a particular context. This is hardly a slam-dunk case against the linguistic argument for interpolation. But before getting to that, I show a bit more of the tenor of Weatherly’s and Simpson’s publications misleadingly cited by E&B.

Weatherly, for example, concedes that the strong arguments of Schmidt:

“are true as far as they go”

“is also correct as far as it goes”

“once more we must agree with Schmidt’s description of the data as far as it goes”

“though [Schmidt’s] hypothesis would account for the phrase, it is not the only one that will do so” (Weatherly says that Paul himself could have deliberately combined some of his expressions he could use in other letters and conflated them himself to have written in an “exceptional” and “uncharacteristic” (out-of-character) way for a special context – pp. 96-97)

Simpson (also cited by E&B) is even stronger in contradicting E&B’s assertion of the weakness of the linguistic case:

The virtue of the interpolation view, as it has been developed by Pearson and Schmidt, is, as we shall see, that it seeks to solve the broadest range of problems, that is, that it draws out in a valuable way the evidence which any view of 1 Thess 2:15f. must take into account. (p.43)

Weatherly, in attempting to disagree with Schmidt, also concedes the weakness of one of his own argument in which he cites thirty-four verses from other Pauline verses when he says of those citations

It could be argued that many of these examples are not directly comparable to 1 Thess 2:13 . . . (p.92)

In one instance, Weatherly recognises that the 1 Thess 2:13 passage contains a departure from a particular way Paul uses the conjunction ‘kai’ meaning ‘and’, but can find apparently one comparable example (2 Cor 1:15) in the whole of the Pauline corpus to suggest that Paul could on occasion break his own style. This is surely one more instance where Weatherly’s paper is a long way from E&B’s claim that it has “convincingly answered” the linguistic case.

So Weatherly concedes that Schmidt’s study and method do indeed have much to say in favour of an interpolation, but Weatherly argues for a different set of control texts for comparison. Weatherly compares the syntax of the passage with data in other Pauline letters. In other words, Weatherly is bypassing the methodology of Schmidt to compare the passage within its own letter-context.

He also finds that one syntactical feature (the separation of “Lord” and “Jesus” by another word in the Greek text) is not only unique to 1 Thessalonians, but is unknown anywhere else in the whole of the New Testament. One may well interpret this fact as counting against Weatherly’s (and hence E&B’s) case. It cannot be considered part of a “convincing answer” one would be looking for in E&B’s cited paper.

Weatherly further concedes that a couple of Pauline phrases in 2:13-16 could have been added by an interpolator in order to disguise the interpolation (pp.81-82).

In another instance he brings in a phrase found elsewhere only in 2 Thessalonians in support of his argument against interpolation. But of course, as Weatherly himself recognises, this depends on accepting 2 Thessalonians as a genuine Pauline letter — something, I suspect, few scholars would do.

Weatherly concludes:

. . . the evidence for its inauthenticity is, at best, equivocal . . . (p.98)

It hardly sounds like even Weatherly is saying that “there is little to be said for” the argument for inauthenticity, let alone that his work is an unequivocal rebuttal of Schmidt.

Weatherly finally underscores his arguments with what he considers must be decisive in the debate and the starting point of any discussion over the authenticity of the passage:

Particularly because every extant manuscript of 1 Thessalonians includes the passage, it can therefore be regarded as authentic. (p.98)

But the manuscript evidence is irrelevant in this case, as is explained in the first post of this E&B series.

Recall also in the previous post that the other name E&B cite with Weatherly as “convincingly answering” Schmidt’s linguistic arguments also disagreed with Weatherly on the relevance of the manuscript evidence.

Simpson argues that there are “real problems” for any explanation of the unusual features of 2:13-16 (pp. 43, 54, 62), thus contradicting E&B who cite him in support of their assertion that “there is little to be said in favour” of the interpolation theory. Simpson concludes his discussion of the evidence with:

This is not to say that any of these arguments do not point to real problems in regard to 1 Thess 2:13-16, only that the interpolation view is not the best solution. (p.62)

Among the alternative explanations (“better solutions”) that Simpson proposes in particular are:

              1.              that differences in language style can be accounted for by Paul quoting from an earlier document that was not his
              2.              that Paul underwent a change in his thinking about the Jews as his own circumstances changed

Both of these alternatives are adding hypothesis to hypothesis, and thus can be seen as more complex explanations (guesses) than the interpolation theory, especially given the “culture of interpolations” rife at this time. This was discussed in the earlier post.

Simpson concedes that as for the first alternative explanation, Schmidt himself had considered it but rejected it because it did not address the other problems with the anomalous relationship the passage has with its surrounding context.

In other words, the “convincing answer” E&B claims Weatherly and Simpson have published in response to Schmidt’s linguistic argument for interpolation is an answer that argues, in significant part, that Paul himself chose to write in a non-Pauline manner. I can see why E&B chose to hide the “evidence” for their misleading assertion behind a footnote citation.

This brings us to E&B’s own explanation for the stylistic differences.

E&B’s explanation for the linguistic differences

If an explanation is required, it seems more likely that it is to be found in the parallels that exist between these verses and teachings in Matthew and Luke (Q). David Wenham and others have shown that the teaching about the Jews killing the prophets, about them filling up the full measure of their sins, and about God’s wrath overtaking them in the end all have significant parallels in Q . . .  On this basis Wenham has made a strong case for viewing Paul as echoing a preexisting Jesus tradition in verses 15-16. Obviously this would explain the stylistic differences. (p.212)

But if we suppose that Paul is using an earlier source similar to Q itself, we are left with more unanswered questions:

  • why would Paul have introduced this material in a very unPauline way that uniquely violates Paul’s standard use of “travelogue” and “thanksgiving” structural units (points 1 and 3 of the 9 listed near the beginning of this post) (as Schmidt shows and as Simpson acknowledges) ,

and

  • why there is so little, if any, other evidence for Paul knowing of such a source?

E&B fail their readers once again by not indicating that their are any problems with their proposed solution. They are failing their less well-informed audience by hiding from them the disputed nature of their arguments and assertions. If E&B really did have solid rebuttals to the real arguments against interpolation it is hard to imagine them not producing them. They would not rely on conveying the appearance that their oversimplifications and assertions are the final word in the debate.

Conclusion

E&B do no justice to the real scholarly debate about the authenticity of this passage on linguistic grounds. They sweep aside with a footnote the real complexities and depths of their opponents’ arguments. They misrepresent the nature of the linguistic argument by referring to Paul’s propensity for long digressions. It is easy to demolish a straw man without any real effort.

A main reason for my wanting to start this Vridar blog was to make available to a wider audience some of the scholarly studies and conclusions that too rarely ever reach them. I am not qualified to discuss the subtleties of Greek grammar and Paul’s style, but as a layman I can read and grasp a few things from the scholarly literature, at least enough to see that E&B misrepresent the linguistic arguments and hide the complexities and richness of biblical studies from the public.

E&B here are doing nothing more than cherry-picking a few conclusions or points from within publications, and implying their assertions have a more general academic support than they can really demonstrate. In the process of this cherry-picking it has not mattered to them if the papers from which they select this and that really argue against each other, or contradict or severely qualify or simply fail to address E&B’s claims. It is the old fundamentalist method of proof-texting from the Bible:

How proof-texting works:

Judas went out and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:5)
Jesus said, Go and do thou likewise. (Luke 10:37)

  • Bill Warrant
    2010-01-04 19:14:31 UTC - 19:14 | Permalink

    very nice!

    Do you support the mythical Jesus view? I myself am not yet convinced either way.

  • 2010-01-04 21:04:10 UTC - 21:04 | Permalink

    I prefer to address a different question: How to explain the origin of Christianity? And to answer that I attempt to use and understand the available evidence in the same way evidence is evaluated and used in nonbiblical historical studies. I attempt to avoid squeezing answers to questions out of evidence that cannot, by normal (nonbiblical) historical standards, yield those answers.

    So far that approach has not given me any reason to discover an historical Jesus as an explanation for any of the evidence we have.

    Historical studies do not normally inquire into whether so-and-so ever existed. They begin with the evidence they can see exists, and then attempt to use that evidence in ways that can be justified by normal (nonbiblical) historical methodologies. (“Biblical” histories too often create special rules for themselves that would never be tolerated in other historical disciplines. And they create these rules in an attempt to find evidence to support their models. What is needed is to scrap those models and find new ones that the evidence they do have will support.)

    I’m not saying the mythical view of Jesus for its own sake is not important. I think it is, but it is not really an historical question. Perhaps more a sociological or cultural question. Its implications reach into the very core of our western identities and knowledge and belief systems. Humans have believed all sorts of weird things, and when you ask why, the answer is not an objective intellectual one. It goes much deeper than — or really bypasses — that.

  • Bill Warrant
    2010-01-05 00:03:43 UTC - 00:03 | Permalink

    I’m asking you this because this passage is an important passage for Jesus’ historicity (which is also why E&B discuss it). People like Earl Doherty make a case for its inauthenticity in the context of this question. Have you read Doherty’s ‘Jesus puzzle’? If so, what did you think of it?

    You haven’t answered the question and I’m trying to figure out why. I think it actually is a historical question. If you believe there’s not enough evidence either way that’s fine.

    Scholars always completely ignore this question, because they pressupose a historical Jesus and consider mythicists to be on the lunatic fringe.

    • 2010-01-05 04:10:48 UTC - 04:10 | Permalink

      For me to say yes or no to a question of historicity is to open myself to a discussion (not necessarily with you) that I do not want. I am more interested in the most satisfactory explanation for the rise of Christianity that the evidence can yield. But yes, I do not see any clear or strong evidence for the existence of an historical Jesus. I see a lot of evidence against.

      Yes, I have read and written a review of Doherty’s ‘Jesus Puzzle’ for Amazon. Also have a copy of that review here. That will tell you what I thought of it. I have not yet seen his new book, but it’s on its way to me now. I was not at the time as strongly convinced of Doherty’s explanation for the origin of the Christ idea, but his arguments for Jesus not being historical are, I believe, very strong. Mainstream scholars sometimes say the arguments have all been refuted ages ago, but when pressed, cannot say where. They have been ignored, not rebutted, by the mainstream. The couple of places where there have been attempts to rebut them are actually rebuttals of straw-man caricatures or misrepresentations of the arguments, from what I have read.

      As for making the case for the inauthenticity of 1 Thess 2:13-16, Doherty is only repeating the arguments widely accepted among (non-fundamentalist or more liberal) scholars. I am citing some of these scholars in my posts. I am surprised E&B even feel a need to defend its authenticity, because if they defend it as original to Paul, they then have to do another major task of finding ways to deny it is anti-semitic.

      Your last sentence explains, at least to me, why it is more a cultural question than an historical one. The presumption of Jesus’ historicity is embedded in our culture. The existence of Jesus is rarely, if ever, a subject of institutional scholarly inquiry. As you said, the position is relegated to “lunatic fringe” status. This is probably an inevitable reaction. But it is not “lunatic fringe” at all: lunatic fringes either avoid the main body of data used and/or refer to bogus data. This is not the case with the Jesus myth arguments, and the main reason, I suspect, for the depth of hostility against them. (Okay, maybe some few are lunatic-like, but I am thinking of Jesus myth proponents who have caused the greatest offence to established groups ever since Arthur Drews.) In actual fact, mainstream assumes the existence of Jesus and when asked for evidence can only touch on two or three bits of straw that are all subject to debate and controversy. This is nothing like the case for the existence of other ancient personalities, despite the claims of some scholars.

      Mark’s characters and narrative are, I believe, allegorical. They even have names that tell readers their roles. Once we strip away all the bits borrowed from other literature, particularly the Old Testament, there is nothing left. This is not the same with historical figures who were mythologized — with historical persons there is always still plenty of real person left after you strip away the mythical associations.

      In the mid second century we read of Justin Martyr debating with a Jew, Trypho, and nearly all the information he provides about Jesus is from the Old Testament. There is a handful of data from something he calls the Memoirs of the Apostles. I suspect the gospels that we know were coming into existence around Justin’s time, and were being created the same way as Justin manufactures information about Jesus — from the Old Testament.

      I don’t “believe” or “disbelieve” anything about Jesus as historical or mythical. As for the gospel narratives, I certainly don’t believe that their Jesus was historical. The gospels present an exclusively literary or theological character, not a real person. Strip away everything that is borrowed from the Jewish Bible and maybe a bit of other literature and there is no-one left to see. The writers of the Pauline and other New Testament epistles, and Revelation, certainly appear to have never heard of any of the gospel narratives or gospel Jesus.

      At the moment I do think that the evidence for the rise of Christianity is best explained without any reference to a real Jesus in Galilee. Trying to explain it in terms of such a person only multiplies the questions and problems the evidence throws at us.

      • Bill Warrant
        2010-01-05 17:33:13 UTC - 17:33 | Permalink

        Thanks for your lengthy reply. You say you won’t answer the historicity question, but I’m glad that you actually did answer it in the remainder of your reply 🙂

        I agree with most of what you say.

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