2013-08-08

Parallels, Drum Majorettes and Brodie

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by Neil Godfrey

drummy logoThomas Brodie argues that the Gospel narratives are in large part sourced not from oral traditions but from the Greek versions of the Jewish scriptures. I recently posted a chapter from one of his books in which he presents the minute details of an argument for the literary indebtedness of one scene in the Gospel of Luke to passages about Elijah in 1 Kings 19. Rick Sumner responded with his view that Brodie’s argument was too subjective to be of any real value. Exchanges followed and Rick has since presented a more formal response on his blog, The Drum Majorette, to explain why he believes Brodie’s arguments are inadequate.

Rick argues that arguments like those of Brodie (another example would be those of Dennis MacDonald that argue the Gospel of Mark and the Book of Acts draw in places upon scenes in the Homeric epics) are “unchecked interpretation” comparable to a Freudian seeing sexual allusions everywhere. He implicitly compares Brodie’s argument with a psychologist explaining our attraction for a drum majorette in terms of our latent homosexuality:

But this “prominent psychologist” provided their own interpretation. The drum majorette protrudes from the band the way they erect penis protrudes from the body. Thus, our attraction to her represents our latent homosexuality.

This is the among the stupidest things I’ve ever heard.

Yet, stupid or not, it was treated seriously, and accorded serious consideration. And ever since I first read Cleckley’s volume some 15 years or so ago it has served as a constant reminder to me of the dangers of unchecked interpretation.

I believe such an analogy fails to appreciate what it is that Brodie and MacDonald are doing with their analyses of the literature.

The comment of mine that prompted Rick to write his post was this:

. . . when one gets down to the structural and detailed verbal analysis of literature, I think that’s where we are doing more than cloud-shape-spotting. I think, in fact, that we can all at least “see” the parallels that Brodie, for example, points out. The question is not seeing them, but explaining them.

Rick has two problems with my comment, one lesser and one greater.

The lesser one:

The question actually isn’t explaining them, unless we share Brodie’s conviction that they are sufficiently significant as to require explaining. And that is the shape in the cloud–that the parallels are significant, not simply that they exist. That they are real parallels, and not false positives.

We see things differently. Let’s take the shape in the cloud analogy. If I see a horse-shape taking form in moving clouds I know that I am seeing nothing other than a coincidental momentary coalescing of wind-blown water vapour that has no relationship to any real horse apart from what is happening in my own imagination. That is, I have a ready explanation for the pattern that I see.

The fact that I saw a horse-shape in the clouds is a real fact. I did see it. I could even have pointed it out to someone else and we would have shared the ephemeral experience. What is interesting is explaining that fact. Why did I see a horse pattern in the clouds? I have several options to explain a real pattern: spirits in the sky; an unhealthy obsession with horses; a temporary drug-induced cognitive disconnect; a species-wide predisposition to find meaningful order in random surroundings as an evolutionary survival advantage.

Let’s move on to literary parallels. I see a lot of “he said”, “she said”, phrases in a book. I see lots of the same phrases in another book. The parallels are real. They are clear and evident facts. The two books really do share those phrases. Lots of times. What is the explanation for that parallel between the two books? There is an explanation just as there is an explanation for my seeing a pattern in the clouds. The explanation is that the phrase is ubiquitous in every English speaker’s daily discourse, so ubiquitous in its relationship to any description of verbal exchanges between people that it is inevitable that any book that includes dialogue is going to include those phrases.

The parallels are real. There really are parallels between horses and the shapes I see in the clouds. There really are parallels between the “he said/she said” phrases between two books. The same words exactly are found numerous times. But the explanations for those very real parallels do not extend to real relationships between horses and clouds or between the two books.

I have heard that someone has seen a lot of parallels between Julius Caesar and Jesus Christ and written a book arguing that Jesus was indeed Caesar. I have no doubt that there are identifiable parallels. I doubt, however, that I would agree with the author’s explanations for them. That’s why the book still sits unread on my shelf.

That is what I mean by the parallels really existing, that we really can see them, and it is what I mean by the real question being how to explain that data.

MacDonald and Brodie do point to real parallels in the literature. The question is whether or not their explanations of them are valid.

This brings us to Rick’s second and “greater” problem with my comment.

The greater one:

But the more important point is . . . what inspired me to move here, since I’ve seen it a couple times. Brodie isn’t doing an analysis except by the most liberal use of the word. What he’s doing is literary criticism. The distinction isn’t terribly subtle.

To me “literary criticism” is the evaluation and interpretation of literature and is usually informed by literary theory. That’s certainly not what Brodie is doing in the chapter of his that I recently posted. What he is doing is literary or textual analysis. He is analysing the textual data. And there really are parallels — including some of the “he said” ones (p. 54 of chapter 7). Brodie explains (rightly, of course) that those “he said” parallels are “so common” that they are meaningless for trying to establish a direct literary relationship between two texts. He has an explanation for those parallels that everyone would accept. But of course there are other more complex parallels that may or may not require more complex explanations. Literary borrowing is not by any means necessarily the predetermined explanation for every complex parallel.

alterThis sort of analysis is genuine analysis. One of the pioneers in applying literary analysis to the Biblical literature is Robert Alter. In The Art of Biblical Narrative he wrote:

It is a little astonishing that at this late date (his book was published in 1981) literary analysis of the Bible of the sort I have tried to illustrate here . . . is only in its infancy. By literary analysis I mean the manifold varieties of minutely discriminating attention to the artful use of language, to the shifting play of ideas, conventions, tone, sound, imagery, syntax, narrative viewpoint, compositional units, and much else; the kind of disciplined attention, in other words, which through a whole spectrum of critical approaches has illuminated, for example, the poetry of Dante, the plays of Shakespeare, the novels of Tolstoy. The general absence of such critical discourse on the Hebrew Bible is all the more perplexing when one recalls that the masterworks of Greek and Latin antiquity have in recent decades enjoyed an abundance of astute literary analysis, so that we have learned to perceive subtleties of lyric form in Theocritus as in Marvell, complexities of narrative strategy in Homer or Virgil as in Flaubert. (pp. 12-13)

What Robert Alter had just illustrated was a comparison of the story of Tamar and Judah (chapter 38 of Genesis) with the surrounding story of the selling of Joseph by his brothers and Joseph’s reappearance as a slave in Egypt. Most scholars and general readers have not seen any relationship between these two narratives. Alter demonstrates, however, that close attention to the Hebrew text betrays a very close relationship. The Tamar and Judah story is wedged strategically into the Joseph narrative in such a way as to throw out ironic and trenchant commentary upon the Joseph story.

It is the same pattern we are very familiar with in the Gospel of Mark, for example. Compare Mark’s tendency to bracket or bookend a story with another: the cleansing of the temple is wedged between the story of the cursing of the fig-tree; the healing of the hemorrhaging woman is tucked within the narrative of the raising of the daughter of Jairus; and so forth. Literary analysis can confirm the very real, intentionally creative relationship between these narrative couplets. They are not the product of a crudely inefficient way of stitching together different traditions.

What MacDonald and Brodie have done is also to compare literary units by the same type of literary analysis. The difference from Alter’s study is that they have compared literary units in different works of literature. Alter focused on literary units that had an obvious “geographical” relationship. The relationships between the texts analysed by Brodie and MacDonald are not so obvious.

Are the valid grounds for comparing literary units in quite different literary works? Is it valid to analyse Virgil’s Aeneid to see if and/or in what manner it has borrowed from Homer’s epics?

Brodie goes further than Alter’s 1981 observations and notes that even studies of the ancient classical literature were slow to grasp the importance of literary imitation. From my earlier post (the coloured portion is a direct quotation from Brodie):

As never before I started wading through libraries, and eventually hit on the obvious — the pervasive practice of Greco-Roman literary imitation (mimēsis) and its sundry ancient cousins, many of them Jewish. Jewish practices included rewriting and transforming older texts; and Jewish terms included rewritten Bible, inner-biblical exegesis, and the processes known rather loosely as midrash, Hebrew for searching — in this case searching for meaning.

What I had noticed within the Bible was the tip of the iceberg. Here was a whole world of diverse ways of deliberately reshaping diverse sources.

The process I was invoking was not just present in the ancient word — it was at the very centre of ancient compositions. And the New Testament use of the Old, pivotal though it is, is just part of the larger pattern whereby the Bible as a whole distils the larger world of ancient writing. (Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus, p. 44 – my bolding and formatting)

Biblical studies, Brodie reflects, “had developed in a world where the very concept of any form of imitation was fading, and aversion to the notion of imitation had affected even classical studies.” Though he had studied both Virgil and Homer in high school there was no teaching that one had imitated the other. The Oxford Classical Dictionary had no entry for imitation until its 1996 (third) edition.

Brodie is doing analysis, contra Rick Sumner. Brodie, MacDonald, Alter are all doing literary analysis. And literary analysis is a fundamental exercise before we know how to interpret or make intelligent use of any document.

Before anyone knows how to interpret or understand the meaning of any textual data one must first have some idea if the document one is reading is an official public record, a parody, an informal letter, a narrative history, etc. Making that judgment is a form of literary analysis. Often familiarity enables us to make this literary analysis at an unconscious level. A historian making use of the Ems telegram will also need to analyse the texts of different versions of the message, the meanings of words across translations, the innuendo accompanying certain expressions, etc. Scholars of ancient Israel have found it useful to analyse Israel’s theological laws in the light of treaty formulae of other ancient Middle East civilizations, and so forth.

Literary analysis of source documents is vital for the historian.

Literary analysis produced the Q document for biblical scholars. Literary analysis is at the heart of the Synoptic problem.

Literary analysis is what establishes for most biblical scholars the “Jewishness” of the Gospels. It is clear that the Gospels have been heavily influenced by the Jewish scriptures, and it is only literary analysis that enables anyone to see that.

So I have to disagree with Rick Sumner when he says Thomas Brodie is not doing analysis. How else can anyone describe what he sets out in detail in chapter 7 of Beyond the Quest? Rick appears to be saying that there is no such thing as “literary analysis”.

So I’m mystified by Rick’s next statements:

Brodie makes an implicit claim about probability. That the most probable explanation for the parallels is dependence. But he makes this claim with no data, and therefore has no response to the person who says “No it isn’t.” And that’s how these discussions always go.

See, we could, at least in principle, do a meaningful analysis. We could compare sources we know Luke used (Mark, Q/Matthew), sources we know he was at least familiar with (eg the LXX) and sources we know he didn’t know (eg later Christian documents). This would, by necessity, be mostly linguistically based. But if the linguistic analysis held up we could move on to thematic considerations.

I simply don’t understand how Rick can see Brodie makes an interpretation of parallels with “no data”. He has data with the “he said” parallels and offers an explanation for that data. There is a literal plough in one text and a metaphorical plough in the other; there is a departing in both texts, and references to death in both; in both there is a statement referencing someone’s head lying down on the ground; etc. That’s all data.

Now Rick may well not agree with Brodie’s explanation for these parallels, but surely he cannot say the similar words do not exist. Brodie does have data. It is one thing to disagree with an explanation for the data but another to simply say the data itself does not exist. Brodie even highlights it in bold type. Is there or is there not a plough in both text? If there is, then we have data of parallel words. We have many other texts also featuring ploughs. Is there an argument that any two of those texts are related to each other in a borrowing or some other sort of dependency relationship? What is the best explanation for that data?

Rick then follows with what I think is a contradictory statement. He does speak of doing meaningful analysis on Luke and Mark. Exactly. And that’s the sort of analysis Brodie is doing — it is literary analysis on two different texts. Moreover, Brodie is doing that analysis on texts that were clearly known by the author of one of them: whoever wrote Luke knew the Greek version of the Jewish Scriptures. And yes, as Rick says, this analysis would be “mostly linguistically based”.

So yes, we have data. Brodie sets out his data.

Even the Freudian psychologist had data. He saw two eye-catching members related to a larger body and imposed an explanation to relate them to a particular common factor. One does not have to agree with that explanation. It sounds stupid to many of us. But the student who is studying Freud is justified in making efforts to argue alternative explanations for the parallel nature of the data. And alternatives are not hard to find. The exercise can expand our understanding of the ways our minds work.

If I have complained that Brodie’s argument is too often ignored it is because I have too rarely seen any methodical argument explaining why Brodie’s interpretation of the data is wrong and why some other explanation makes more sense.

Rick is quite entitled to disagree with Brodie’s explanation of the data; but it is not a valid argument to simply say that the data itself does not exist.

 

36 Comments

  • 2013-08-08 10:35:20 UTC - 10:35 | Permalink

    Hi Neil. You misunderstand what I mean by data. what we’re looking for its statistical data., with which we could perform probabilistic analysis. Brodie provides none, which is why he doesn’t provide a probabilistic analysis.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2013-08-08 10:43:37 UTC - 10:43 | Permalink

      Statistics are only one form of data. Why do you limit yourself to statistics? What is invalid in my presentation?

      (But one form of statistics are implied even here — if one allows statistics a role in the discovery of Q. They are also implied in the argument that Luke used Mark, too. The same method is used for both. But of course I am referring to statistics in a less formal sense.)

    • Neil Godfrey
      2013-08-08 20:14:29 UTC - 20:14 | Permalink

      I took my cue about your view of the data from your “lesser problem” — I understood you to be saying that what Brodie treats as parallels are not, in your view, parallels at all, but “false positives”. I understood you to be saying that only “parallels” that are “sufficiently significant” require explanations, inferring that nothing in Brodie’s argument was addressing any parallels that were “significant”. I understood you to be saying that there are no real parallels because there are none that you view as significant enough to require explanation.

      This is what I understood to be the basis of your view that Brodie has “no data” about which to argue a case.

      • 2013-08-08 21:10:25 UTC - 21:10 | Permalink

        You’re comparison to the synoptic problem is excellent (I make the same comparison in my post on parallelomania as a term). But it doesn’t help you, it helps me. Anyone who wants to can, right now, find out how many word agreements there are between Luke and Mark. We can, right now, find out the rate of word order agreement. We can even compare this with agreement between Luke and Matthew. Real, quantifiable numbers.

        Brodie doesn’t provide those numbers. He doesn’t give any kind of statistical analysis at all, but that is what his claims require. This is *exactly* what he needs to do–approach it like the synoptic problem.

        We find here an excellent example of a meaningless parallel. You use the synoptic problem as an example before you read my post. But my post was up before yours. What we have here is a parallel, but not dependence, since neither of us are drawing from the other.

  • 2013-08-08 10:38:22 UTC - 10:38 | Permalink

    I see this objection a lot: Your evidence doesn’t prove what you say it proves, therefore you have have no evidence.

    • 2013-08-08 22:31:54 UTC - 22:31 | Permalink

      This is a rather absurd caricature of what I wrote (and an even worse paraphrase of Neil’s response). Are we looking for meaningful discussion? Or just trying to score laughs from the choir?

  • Blood
    2013-08-08 14:06:57 UTC - 14:06 | Permalink

    It isn’t Brodie’s responsibility to provide “data” for “probabilistic analysis.” He is engaging in textual criticism, the same thing Bible scholars have been doing for centuries. Does Sumner expect all Biblical scholars to jump through such hoops? I think not. Brodie is singled out because Sumner doesn’t like Brodie’s conclusions.

    • 2013-08-08 21:21:11 UTC - 21:21 | Permalink

      Actually, I’m very sympathetic to Brodie’s conclusions, in so far as his conclusions are that Jesus is a literary construct, and have long been on record to that effect. But agreeing that the gospels are literary does not mean I should not expect Brodie to be more rigorous. And yes, I do expect it of others, and am also on record at some length on the problems of subjectivity in historical inquiry. But Brodie, for the record, isn’t doing text criticism, he’s doing literary criticism. Text criticism is largely unrelated here.

      That you immediately assume I have motivations outside of engaging the material might betray more about your own convictions than it does of mine

      • Neil Godfrey
        2013-08-08 21:41:21 UTC - 21:41 | Permalink

        Again, we seem to be talking past each other. You declare that Brodie lacks rigour but ignore his argument that is very detailed and, some would say, rigorous, simply because you want to see him use statistics in a literary analysis, it seems. Literary analysis can use stats, but it also depends heavily upon meaning and patterns. Now meaning and patterns do not necessarily mean direct borrowing. But we can’t ignore the parallel meanings and patterns because we don’t like what one person concludes from them.

        • 2013-08-08 21:54:35 UTC - 21:54 | Permalink

          Actually, ignoring parallels and meanings is exactly what we can do if we feel that they are not sufficiently striking to suggest borrowing. That is *exactly* what we do. We do it all the time–we just did, with both of our use of the synoptic problem as an example.

          Again, we’re getting too caught up on statistics. Let’s rephrase it to “probabilistic argument.” I’m not a mathematician, I don’t know what the best probablistic argument to make here is. But Brodie doesn’t make one at all. That’s a problem.

          In our first comments on this topic you suggested Bayes as a means to overcome this deficit. I’m not sure if Bayes is applicable or not (as I mentioned there as well), but why do you need to suggest anything at all? Why hasn’t Brodie already presented a probablistic argument? Both you and I have expressed that one would be wonderfully useful here. The only difference between us is that I think it’s necessary.

          • 2013-08-08 22:35:49 UTC - 22:35 | Permalink

            My point seems to be perpetually lost. I’ll try again 🙂 — You say we can ignore parallels if they are not explained by borrowing. Of course — IF you are only interested in the question of borrowing and have not addressed the reasons someone argues they are explained by borrowing. But to say that “they don’t point to borrowing” without contrary argument is, well, not an argument.

            You mentioned somewhere else the fact that I independently referred to the synoptic problem. You pointed out, I think, that this example demonstrates the meaninglessness of the parallel (we each used the reference independently) — but on the grounds that it did not demonstrate borrowing.

            I have tried at length to explain that we first need to recognize the patterns or duplicates, etc. And then we need to arrive at the best explanation for them. Borrowing is only one of several possibilities. But explanations, hypotheses, need to be argued and rebutted. If you don’t like the borrowing one, then propose a better one. The fact that we both mentioned the synoptic problem independently can be explained very simply. Authors who engage in dialogue and who have a common set of background information that relates to what they are discussing are likely to independently refer to facets of that common pool of information. If there were in addition other patterns language and thought in common between our posts then one might, like a school teacher marking assignments, begin to think there is reason to think one is lifting off from another.

            Simply saying Brodie does not have data or evidence for his claims is not a rebuttal of his argument. He does have data, evidence, to support his claims. If his reasoning is flawed, or there is a simpler explanation for the specific data he does itemize in detail, then that is what needs to be addressed.

  • Neil Godfrey
    2013-08-08 20:38:13 UTC - 20:38 | Permalink

    Rick Sumner has written another article, “Parallelomania“. It is a response to another blogger’s post, “I Hate Parallelomania“. The latter is about McGrath’s expected dismissal of Brodie’s case with a dismissive epithet. The author hates the word “parallelomania”. But Rick’s response is interesting. He writes:

    See, here’s how it works. If most people can agree on your parallel, nothing else is needed–consensus eliminates the need for further convincing, almost by definition. But (as is the case with Brodie) if they can’t, the onus is on you to provide statistical data to back up your implied probabilistic claim.

    Again, Rick appears to be denying the existence of parallel appearance of words of phrases between two texts simply because he does not agree with someone’s interpretation or explanation for the presence of such parallel words.

    Statistics would add nothing to the fact (or otherwise) of certain words or concepts being found in common across different texts. As my post points out, the parallel words or word meanings do exist. But it seems that because Rick does not agree with Brodie’s explanation for this, or the conclusion he draws from it, he goes one step too far and simply denies that the words are really “parallel”.

    I think where he wants statistics to come into play is to establish Brodie’s conclusions. How would statistics help in establishing that Mark’s opening verses are a direct authorial collation of passages from Exodus, Isaiah and Malachi, or that Virgil adapted Homer’s epics?

    Making probabilistic claims about literary dependence without statistical analysis is nothing more than a description of what you, personally, find plausible.

    That’s not how we establish literary borrowing and adaptation in the cases I mentioned just above.

    But if you make detailed, specific, numerous claims about literary dependence, you need detailed, specific and abundant evidence.

    Compare the type of analysis the synoptic problem has received with what Brodie has provided.

    Which makes me wonder how anyone could have read the fine print in Brodie’s chapter 7 and say Brodie supplies no “detailed, specific and abundant evidence”. He provides pages of it, highlighted in bold font. I still think Rick simply dismisses it all as even “evidence” or “really existing” because he does not agree with Brodie’s interpretation of it.

    • 2013-08-08 21:12:28 UTC - 21:12 | Permalink

      You’re misunderstanding me. Your appraisal above was more accurate. The parallels are there, they just don’t mean anything on their own. They need to be interpreted (which was also Sandmel’s point–the simple act of finding a parallel does not establish connection).

      Why do you think that pointing to other cases invalidates my criticism? Ten people can be wrong as easily as one. I also explained what kind of evidence you need for probabilistic claims. Quantifiable evidence. Brodie could, at least in principle, have that. He just doesn’t.

      • 2013-08-08 21:23:31 UTC - 21:23 | Permalink

        But he doesn’t quantify them, they are just quantifiable. Doing that kind of analysis–giving us those numbers, comparing them with numbers outside of the compared passages, assessing for false positives (like the one we just had with the synoptic problem!) is *his* responsibility, and until he does so the critic has no obligation to engage beyond the clash of opinions.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2013-08-08 21:37:52 UTC - 21:37 | Permalink

          I don’t understand your perspective on “quantifiying” — the “he saids” can be quantified but so what? A single striking image can be distinctive enough to cry out for borrowing given other conditions. And Brodie’s argument certainly is couched within the arguments of literary practice and available texts of the day, as well as motivations and means.

          • 2013-08-08 21:49:15 UTC - 21:49 | Permalink

            Hi Neil, I agree that a “single striking image” can be enough (which is what I meant by the parallel everyone agrees on!), but what happens when it isn’t, such as now? What is the next step? I don’t think the image is striking enough. Neither do many others. And it is this that makes the probabilistic argument necessary. As to whether my suggested method is the best one, I have no idea, I’m not a mathematician (as I note in my post). I offered a suggestion, could be it’s horrible. It’s a moot point, because Brodie doesn’t offer a probabilistic argument at all, and it is this absence that I see as his shortcoming.

            Without the probabilistic argument, one side says “That’s a striking image!” The other side says “No it isn’t!” and that’s all that happens. It simply isn’t productive.

            • 2013-08-08 22:42:01 UTC - 22:42 | Permalink

              Again I don’t understand. I only mentioned a single striking image as one of the various types of criteria used in discussions of intertextuality. I did not say that it was found in every instance. Of course there are degrees of “strikingness”. When we get to the “less striking” end of the spectrum then distinctiveness is not, per se, an adequate criteria to establish borrowing. Brodie’s argument in chapter 7 does not hang on the presence of a single striking image. And again re Bayes — it is merely a tool to help us be sure we cover all bases of what we are thinking about and reasoning about anyway. It does not “add” any “mathematical precision” to the argument here. It helps guide how we normally work through probabilities of events by other means. It is a tool to help us be sure we cover all bases and apply the same consistent evaluations to each factor to be considered.

              • 2013-08-08 23:07:06 UTC - 23:07 | Permalink

                I think it hangs on significantly less striking agreement than Brodie does. I’d follow the conventional view–that Luke has constructed it with an eye to Elijah–but am not persuaded that he’s offered sufficient reason to view it as a literary reworking of 1Kings to the degree and detail that Brodie suggests. I just don’t find, for example, the threefold challenge, to be striking enough to indicate borrowing.

                I suspect we’ve both said about all we have to offer on the subject though, I don’t think we’re going to agree on who owns what burden of proof. Thanks for the dialogue.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2013-08-09 00:04:17 UTC - 00:04 | Permalink

                And as you may know by now, I always have a problem with the “I don’t find X persuasive” response. To me that’s the subjective response and not the argued one.

      • Neil Godfrey
        2013-08-08 21:34:42 UTC - 21:34 | Permalink

        MacDonald and Brodie do provide “quantifiable” evidence, as do all studies that study intertextuality. Quantities of “parallels” are always among their criteria, as they are for our understanding of Virgil’s use of Homer. But statistics are not the only tool when establishing a literary relationship. Distinctiveness within the context of cultural plausibility is another.

        But literary relationship does not necessarily equate with direct borrowing. There are is a clear literary relationship between the Aeneid and the Epic of Gilgamesh, but that relationship is not best explained by Virgil’s use of Gilgamesh.

        You seem to be confusing literary relationship with just one kind of relationship. We need to first of all set out the data — and keep the interpretation/explanation of this data separate. The interpretation needs to be examined on its own terms and not confused with the existence of parallel terms.

    • 2013-08-08 21:32:49 UTC - 21:32 | Permalink

      Hi Neil, just a heads up, it actually isn’t a response to “I Hate Parallelomania,” it’s a response to his follow-up post, where he offers his reflections on Sandmel (which I take issue with). While I don’t think the term “Parallelomania” is inaccurate here, I’m not sure that McGrath has used it helpfully. Drawing these kind of battle-lines isn’t really helpful, so perhaps we could keep me on “team Rick,” and McGrath on his own.

  • 2013-08-09 00:19:27 UTC - 00:19 | Permalink

    Somewhat off topic: the first sentence of this BibleInterp article is

    In some quarters it is now fashionable to argue that Jesus did not exist!

    [Sarcastically clutches pearls]

    • 2013-08-09 01:58:58 UTC - 01:58 | Permalink

      I’ve managed to deal with this fallacy-filled BibleInterp article in the comments.

      • Neil Godfrey
        2013-08-09 10:22:20 UTC - 10:22 | Permalink

        Oh how boring. The author has never once had an original thought. She has been thoroughly programmed with all the conventional expressions and stock answers. She talks of an open mind but she clearly has never read the point of view she believes she is addressing.

        • 2013-08-09 13:40:09 UTC - 13:40 | Permalink

          Only my html (blockquote tags and italics especially) and reference to xkcd.com/774 at the end was removed by the editors from my comment on the BibleInterp article.
          McGrath has, predictably, reposted the article.

  • Scot Griffin
    2013-08-10 00:53:11 UTC - 00:53 | Permalink

    “Hi Neil. You misunderstand what I mean by data. what we’re looking for its statistical data., with which we could perform probabilistic analysis. Brodie provides none, which is why he doesn’t provide a probabilistic analysis.”

    Actually, Brodie does provide data, if you are willing to see it, in the form of the sheer number and nature of the commonalities (not parallels) between the two texts. You can assign any probability you want to each individual commonality/parallel in the new text being developed independently of the older text, but when you have so many critical commonalities/parallels between the two texts, according to conditional probability the likelihood that the later text was not sourced using the earlier text becomes vanishingly small. Brodie does not need to engage in any kind of statistical analysis when the conclusion is overwhelmingly obvious.

    I wonder if freely available plagiarism detection software would reach the same conclusion?

    • 2013-08-10 01:24:30 UTC - 01:24 | Permalink

      If it was overwhelmingly obvious, the vast majority of Brodie’s audience would see it. That’s simply what the term means. But they don’t. So the appeal to what’s “obvious” doesn’t suffice.

      And, to head off the ad hominem I’ve already been on the receiving end of, those who reject it do not all have a vested interest in Brodie being wrong historically. Take Earl Doherty–he needs the transfiguration to exist independently of Mark to support his reading of 2Peter. If Brodie is right, Doherty is wrong (which has serious implications for his argument from silence, since it would have a glaring false positive in the case of 2Peter). So Doherty is obligated to reject Brodie, and has argued as much without addressing Brodie directly. Of course, one might suggest that Doherty still has a pre-existing reason to reject Brodie–and he does!–but it’s not as simple as the ivory tower closing their eyes to the “overwhelmingly obvious” reading.

      As to plagiarism detecting software, it would be an interesting excercise. But I’m addressing the argument Brodie makes, not the one he could have made. He doesn’t use it, so a response to him is not obligated to consider its merits.

  • 2013-08-10 15:52:20 UTC - 15:52 | Permalink

    I doubt, however, that I would agree with the author’s explanations for them. That’s why the book still sits unread on my shelf.

    And that’s why you should read Francesco Carotta’s book… not that I am trying to convince you of his hypothesis, but to determine for yourself where his discovered parallels are correct, and let us know what you think of it.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2013-08-10 21:21:38 UTC - 21:21 | Permalink

      Replying to Ed-M. You are right. I should read them and discuss them here. That has been my intention and reason I did buy his book. That project has been slipped behind other priorities in the meantime, however. (It’s a big book — lots to read.)

      • 2013-08-12 20:51:23 UTC - 20:51 | Permalink

        (In response to Neil’s reply to my post 7, above.) Thank you. Yes, it’s a huge book and very interesting. Still, I can think of a different way how a res gestae Divi Iulii could have become gMark: a new work using that of Caesar as a substrate… on purpose of course. How? I don’t know. But it has to account for MacDonald and Brodie’s hypotheses. Carotta’s hypothesis of diegetic transposition, unfortunately, doesn’t.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2013-08-12 21:42:18 UTC - 21:42 | Permalink

          It may not be irrelevant that Crossan has also linked the Gospel of Mark with the propaganda surrounding Augustus — “the good news” itself was an imperial propaganda term. Thomas Thompson takes this further and shows that this sort of terminology and salvation-reversal concepts were the stock propaganda of rulers throughout the Mid East and East Mediterranean region for centuries.

          • 2013-08-13 16:12:38 UTC - 16:12 | Permalink

            Yes, I know about Crossan’s linking of Jesus and Augustus as the Son of God (filius dei for the one, divi filius for the other). In fact, all the claims Christianity claimed for itself the Roman Imperial Cult, beginning with the Cult of Divus Iulius, also claimed for itself. It would be only a cinch, once the Empire adopted Christianity as its most favored state religion, to merge the imperial cult liturgy into that of the Christian Church. I’m sure you’ve heard of Ethelbert Stauffer’s Jerusalem und Rom, I understand that according to Herr Stauffer, the Catholic liturgy reflects an origin in the Funeral of Julius Caesar more than anything else.

            I’m not knowledgeable about Thompson’s work, however. 🙁

          • 2013-08-16 18:59:36 UTC - 18:59 | Permalink

            Wait a minute… isn’t Thompson the one who argued against the historicity of the Jewish Patriarchs, which ahoristicty is now widely accepted?

  • 2013-08-15 11:19:50 UTC - 11:19 | Permalink

    http://tinyurl.com/ls55p7d A follow up on mine and Rick’s back and forth on parallelomania.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2013-08-15 21:51:13 UTC - 21:51 | Permalink

      You write in your post, “I think there is an unconscious desire to maintain the historicity of the texts because of the deeply held religious beliefs of biblical scholars in general (a vast over-simplification I know). This, in turn, leads to a reluctance to deal with parallels in the texts.”

      Exactly. So many come to the study of the gospels and Christian origins already immersed in the assumptions of historicity. The gospels are invariably assumed to have some historical basis. This assumption is always rationalized but never justified.

      As you also infer, historical Jesus studies, using the same approach, would reject any notion as fanciful that Virgil’s Aeneid has real parallels with Homer’s epics.

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