This post is a kind of “thinking aloud” series of responses to Doherty’s list of reasons for adhering to the conventional wisdom on Paul. I am primarily concerned with the relative dates of the letters. It makes no difference to me if the real person behind them was Buttox who sold the world on his pen-name Paul. What counts is the place of the letters in the history of Christian origins.
Earl Doherty’s reasons (reduced to dot-points in my previous post) are in bold type, with my reflections following. There are, of course, various other arguments than those addressed below for sometimes dating the letters well into the second century. But I am only considering these few explicit arguments for the first century (really meaning pre 70 ce) date here.
# Paul’s epistles do not reflect orthodox beliefs in historical Jesus. We would expect them to reflect this if they were second century.
This is one of the reasons I am not willing to toss overboard a first century (pre 70 ce) period for the letters of Paul.
But is this decisive?
I have no problem with some form of first century (pre 70 ce) precursors to orthodox Christianity, but if we are arguing for a “riotous diversity” of Christianities from the beginning, at what point do we introduce a trend to coalesce some of these towards orthodoxy? Does not the evidence from the mid and later second centuries, albeit provenanced among “proto-orthodox fathers”, testify to a very diverse riot of Christianities at that time? Does not the Ascension of Isaiah testify to something of a Pauline-like Christ figure being worshipped in the early part of the second century?
# Claims that Paul’s epistles reflect Marcionism are weak.
Yes, they do not quickly strike us as blindingly obvious. But Marcionism was not the only form of Christianity that reportedly followed Paul before he was embraced by the orthodox. Besides, our evidence for Marcionism comes from the later part of the second century and we have no clear idea if its characteristics at that time are a clear indicator of what it was like in its initiating generation.
# Sections in Paul’s letters that have been said to reflect anti-Marcionite polemics are best explained as later ad hoc orthodox editing.
Agreed. But the second century lasted a hundred years. One can understand the likes of Tertullian arranging for copyists to edit the letters in the latter part of that century.
# The slightly “jumbled, inconsistent” character of the Pauline epistles is what we would expect from uncoordinated and mostly occasional writings spanning years and different situations. (Notwithstanding some clear tampering in the second century as well.)
Yes. But the devil is in the detail. The jumbles and inconsistencies need to be examined case by case to see if each is best explained as being part of a set of occasional writing or as an interpolation (using criteria such as those advanced by Walker and Munro.)
# “A strong indication of some degree of authenticity is the personality of a writer who is engaged in the type of apostolic work being presented. The strong and emotional personality that emerges in the genuine Paulines is not conceivable as the product of a deliberate forger living in a later time and slaving over a writing desk to create a fictional character of a century earlier.”
Disagree with this one. There is little doubt that the reader meets an emotionally expressive letter-writer in several of the epistles. But it does not follow that the real author (as opposed to the narrative/literary persona that is expressed through the letters) is to be identified with the one named within the letters themselves. The Paul character was claimed by a number of diverse “sects” and each had their own image of Paul that they expressed in various genres: Acts of the Apostles, Acts of Paul and Thecla, the Pastorals, and our Pauline corpus too? Expressing a character type in creative writing was certainly within the bounds of an educated person who had been through the normal literary exercises of writing from various character points-of-view, writing with verisimilitude in letter formats, etc. Indeed, a group of letters expressing a strong personality would have more potential for competing with dramatic narratives in the long run.
# Paul is mentioned in 1 Clement and the letters of Ignatius (probably written in his name, but early in the 2nd century).
This brings us to something more solid. We have no way of deciding whether a strong personality should be identified with a real author or with a literary persona, and hence we have no prima facie reason for defaulting the epistles to a real Paul in the mid first century. Enter external attestation for the purpose of relative dating. (I have spoken often of the historiographical truism of independent attestation for verifying historicity, but here the question is relative dating.)
But still the question of whether or not the Pauline epistles predate the fall of Jerusalem is not securely settled in my mind. Doherty presents strong arguments for dating 1 Clement and Ignatius no later than the (very) early second century. But I have not studied the arguments for the various datings of these works for some years, and have a new book by Roger Parvus reviving Turmel’s argument for the Ignatius letters belonging to a period well into the second century that I have yet to read. I would need to revisit 1 Clement and Ignatius before committing myself either way on this point.
As for the content of Paul’s letters, such as Romans 11 and its relationship to the fall of Jerusalem, there is certainly a disconnect between the thought in Romans 11 towards the Jews and what is found in 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 (a clear post-70 text).
This internal evidence does draw me towards a pre-70 date for the letters.
It is not absolutely decisive, however. There are a few what-if alternative scenarios that it does not necessarily exclude.
As for Justin not mentioning Paul, I do find myself in synch with Earl Doherty on this one, too. Paul belonged to a different branch of Christianity — even if that was Marcionism or Valentinians — with which Justin had no interest in engaging.
Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)
- “When everyone is agreed on something, it is probably wrong” — Thompson’s Rule - 2020-08-11 13:27:59 GMT+0000
- Reading the Gospels through a Roman Philosopher’s Eyes - 2020-08-05 09:18:07 GMT+0000
- Jesus the Logos in Roman Stoic Philosophers’ Eyes - 2020-08-04 11:15:00 GMT+0000
If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!