Thomas Brodie Illustrates The New Testament’s Dependence On the Old

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by Neil Godfrey

Thomas L. Brodie

Chapter 7 of Thomas Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery is now available online. (Thanks to Sheffield Phoenix Press.) This is the chapter in which he addresses in  depth his argument for the Gospel authors borrowing from the Old Testament to craft their narratives about Jesus.

I have been posting a chapter by chapter series on Thomas L. Brodie’s book, Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus. Chapter 7, however, is where Brodie draws the reader in to the nitty gritty of a case-study that demonstrates the way an author of a Gospel drew upon Old Testament literature in order to create his narrative.

I did address in very broad outline the main points of this chapter in Brodie’s Mythicist Case: The Facts, but at the same time I knew that anyone seriously interested in engaging with Brodie’s argument would need to read the detail. Phoenix, the publisher of Brodie’s book, has very kindly given me permission to post the chapter (see permissions) in which Brodie spells out all of this detail.

I have now posted this on my vridar.info page: see Thomas L. Brodie: The New Testament’s Dependence On the Old — Illustrated.

Since then, however, I have learned how to embed the same (6MB pdf) document here:

Download (PDF, 6.05MB)


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31 thoughts on “Thomas Brodie Illustrates The New Testament’s Dependence On the Old”

  1. Surely you can understand, given the subjective nature of the assessment, why one may be hesitant to follow Brodie’s reasoning? I mean, two names: Strack-Billerbeck.

    I don’t like these types of arguments, not because I’m sure they’re bad, but because I’m not sure they’re good.

  2. I wonder if anyone has the time to apply a Bayes test to the details of Brodie’s case study here. I find some comparisons by Brodie more problematic than others. That’s why I think a case by case test is a good idea rather than a sweeping rejection of “these types of arguments” — unless we can be explicit about what we mean by that and what, specifically, we don’t like and why.

    1. A Bayes test wouldn’t matter. I’m not a mathematician, and have seen those who are come down on either side of its applicability. The only sensible course of action for me is to reserve judgment. This doesn’t mean I reject it’s conclusions, it means I don’t know if they’re valid or not. It’s not that I’m sure they’re wrong either, just that I can’t responsibly use them.

      The fact that you find some more problematic than others is exactly the problem. If I say even more of them are problematic than you do, what do we do now? We both give our reasons, argue about it a bit, I walk away convinced that you’re too credulous, and you walk away convinced that I’m setting an unreasonable standard of evidence. I’m not sure there’s anything to see here other than a clash of opinions based strongly on implicit interpretive paradigms.

      I say “these types of arguments” not as a “sweeping rejection,” but because of the medium. It’s a blog comment, not a treatment. My concern is that too much rests in the eye of the beholder.

      1. There’s nothing about this sort of literary question of historical interest that makes it so unique that it cannot be assessed through valid reasoning that can also be symbolized by the Bayes rule. That’s all Bayes is — a symbolic aid to or representation of valid reasoning. Bayes has been productively applied to literary analysis and probably most other “discipline” areas. Literary analysis and detective work is exactly where Bayes has proved useful before — e.g. deciphering who wrote the “last 12” of The Federalist papers.

        (I’d be interested in knowing if Carrier’s critics in this area are even aware of the extent to which Bayes has been productively applied in any and every area from economics to sociology to linguistics to cryptography to cause and effect in scientific and medical questions to election forecasting to computer science to forensics to . . . . . )

        Once we question the traditional Eusebian-Acts model of Christian origins (the model, despite is various tinkerings, that lies at the heart of all explanation of Christian origins anchored in a handful of followers of the historical Jesus) then we are free to consider a wide range of alternatives. (I don’t mean they presume a Christ Myth theory. I mean that the historical Jesus is no longer considered a necessary part in any explanation.) Brodie’s conclusions are just one of many competing solutions. I think it’s important to try to grapple with the details and be explicit about what we find problematic and why. I’m sure most of us agree that it is too easy to let aesthetics and comfort zones (whether comfort in the old or comfort in using a brand new product) weigh too heavily on where we go with any of these.

        1. I know what Bayesian reasoning is. I also know that some mathematicians have suggested it is not applicable in this context. Since I said “mathematicians,” and not “Stephanie Fischer,” I think we can safely assume that they’re familiar with where Bayes has been successful. Your appeal to Carrier doesn’t really make sense though, since this application would not be what Carrier promotes (which also has mathematicians on either side). What his critics say doesn’t really matter, because this isn’t the context he uses Bayesian reasoning in.

          You miss my fundamental criticism. Brodie can, far too often (I haven’t read this book, but have read others) be refuted with a simple “I don’t find that compelling.” No alternative model is demanded–nothing is actually required that will forward discussion. It’s a question of whether or not I find a given proposal plausible. And that’s it. If I say that I don’t, the argument is effectively over. We’ll dress it up a lot and spend a lot of time with one side explaining why it’s plausible and the other why they don’t, but what it comes down to is “This makes sense to me” and “It doesn’t to me.”

          I don’t mean to suggest that he isn’t going to contribute anything valuable. Just that I am in general skeptical of this style of argument. It relies too much on plausibility, which is basically synonymous with individual credulity. I tend to think, in general, if the parallel is not explicit we are generally safer to speak of similarities in themes or structure than we are specific parallelism.

          And I’m aware that he is one model among many to consider. I am considering it, if I wasn’t I wouldn’t be suggesting a caveat, would I? The simple fact that I don’t find it compelling doesn’t imply the sort of closed-mindedness your wording, probably unintentionally, frames me as having.

          I’m telling you what I don’t like about the approach–not specific points of the chapter, the entire approach. There is a lack of external objective controls that make it a lot closer to assessing poetry than I think it should be.

          1. I am surprised anyone would say that Bayes can’t be applied to questions of literary borrowing. I haven’t seen any such argument. Perhaps you can point me.

            I can understand the “I don’t find that compelling or persuasive” response. I have it a lot, too. But I also feel uncomfortable with such responses until I can either identify or make point by point explicit arguments that are grounded in all the normal rules of logic and evidence. That’s where I think many New Testament scholars let their game down. They dismiss this or that view by simply saying they don’t find it persuasive or compelling. That sounds like nothing less than a subjective/aesthetic preference to me, rather than a response engaging in a reasoned and supported way with the arguments and evidence underpinning the hypothesis.

            1. I haven’t encountered anyone dealing explicitly with literary borrowing. But this is a variant of the standard Bayes example–the drug test. What we’re looking at here is a drug test where we don’t know how many false positive or false negatives we had. The failure rate is a giant question mark. Ian, over on Irreducible Complexity, pointed out exactly this difficulty today. He would be relevantly trained, but I had read it before in an article in the Bayesian Analysis journal. Give me a day or two and I’ll dig it up if you like–Bayesian Analysis doesn’t exactly make it’s way into my Zotero, since I’m not likely to be citing it anytime.

              Further, Brodie isn’t just arguing for literary borrowing. Mimetic criticism looks for parallels that are considerably more subtle than would usually be implied by that.

              Why is “I don’t find this compelling” not reasonable, but “I do find this compelling” is perfectly sensible? After we break it down, that’s all he’s saying. You can’t fault “New Testament Scholars” and treat Brodie like he’s behaving outside of that paradigm. He isn’t. His parallels exist in the eye of the beholder. I have no obligation to disabuse him of that vision simply because I don’t share it.

              By way of analogy, it could be wonderfully fruitful to compare Rom.11.26 with Tract.Sanh 10.1. But Rom.1126//Tract.Sanh 10.1 is not a terribly productive tack. I’m not saying that Luke didn’t use 1Kings, and I don’t think anyone else is either, but that’s not all that Brodie is saying, and I’m not sure that his analysis leads anywhere productive, or to anything even vaguely resembling firm knowledge. You’ve more than once shared my sentiment that there is a need for greater rigor. Brodie doesn’t get a pass on that, and isn’t demonstrating it.

              Would you be taking the parallels as seriously if Brodie suggested that they proved the divine inspiration of Luke to look at earlier sources to best express his truth, but his method was the same? I’m sorry, you’re being less critical here than you should be, and less critical than you typically are. Brodie frequently operates without external controls. There is nothing but his opinion and a hunch.

              1. “Literary borrowing” may have overly simplistic connotations so let’s stick with the argument of Brodie: how about the sort of intertextuality and transvaluations that we see in much other literature of the era (e.g. Virgil’s use of Homer’s epics)? That is Brodie’s argument and given that Bayes is designed to help us through an endless maze of unknowns (including the endless possibilities of false positives and false negatives) it is surely worth serious consideration and testing here.

                I’m surprised you see my presentation as somehow “less critical” than I am for other works. I did not receive the same criticism when I posted quite different arguments here by Doherty and then by Parvus, or where I have discussed yet more diverse range of views. I thought my intentions have been made very plain by now — I am about sharing a diversity of views I consider interesting or worthy of more exploration, especially those that gain little or no attention in the mainstream. I have expressed some reservations about some of Brodie’s arguments. I don’t think I have to repeat or expand on my own personal views with every post I write. I’m much more interested in trying to give certain ideas a fair hearing. McGrath wrote a “review” of Brodie’s book asserting that his arguments were simplistic, even fatuous. I have presented this chapter to try to strike one more blow against the ignorant damage I believe McGrath is trying to spread.

                If you really want my own view, I have not yet had a chance to examine or test Brodie’s arguments in order to come down with a definitive conclusion yet.* Some of Brodie’s conclusions are directly at odds with other views I have considered very likely to be facts of a matter. Where I do find elements of Brodie’s conclusions worthy of more attention is where I see they converge with other studies (also based on literary analysis).

                Brodie’s literary argument approach is not unique. A growing number of scholars are engaged in the same sorts of questions and explorations. What has brought Brodie to attention now, however, is that he has made explicit what he sees as the implications of his case for historicity. I have remarked before on the slightly dismaying way other scholars (e.g. MacDonald) seem keen to quickly add some comment that their arguments do not call the historicity of Jesus into question. But it seemeth to me that the very fact they must say this tells me they are, deep-down, aware of the implications of their arguments — but that they are more keenly aware of how unwise it is to say so!

                Can you show us an example of what you mean by Brodie’s failure to get a pass on rigour. (Again, I don’t find “I find this compelling/I don’t find this compelling” responses useful.)

            2. I’ll post the question regarding the applicability of Bayes to Reddit’s askscience, which is probably where I’m most likely to get an expert answer that’s comprehensible to the non-mathematician. I’m not going to accept it’s applicability (or the results of such an application) from anyone less than an expert. It’s complicated math. I respect the experts on the matter for the same reason we should in most such technical ventures. I’ll wait a bit though, since I don’t want to end up doxed. But the person responsible for assembling such an analysis (should it be feasible) isn’t the critic, it’s Brodie. Until then he’s failed to demonstrate that he’s doing more than telling neat stories.

              I don’t think your presentation is less critical at all, if by presentation you mean the summarizing contained in your blog. I refer instead to your comments, where you contrast Brodie with “New Testament Scholars”, as though he is engaging a different, more critical paradigm. He isn’t. He’s seeing signal in noise, and declaring the signal true. It’s not on the critic to show that it’s just noise, it’s on him to prove it is in fact a signal. And in most cases you would insist that this was his responsibility. Here you don’t, instead you demand that the critic engage him case by case. It’s unusual. What exactly am I supposed to respond with other than “I don’t see the parallel?” I don’t have anything other than “I do see the parallel” to address.

              You yourself have acknowledged that in some cases you find it strained, or it seems he goes too far, but it isn’t his rules that changed. So his rules get the wrong answers. That means they aren’t great rules. You can’t have it both ways–no case by case study is required, because by your own assessment his rules are unreliable. It is my suggestion that his rules are not strong enough to resist the whim of the wielder. You have implicitly agreed that this might be so. That is a very serious problem. Serious enough that the critic is more than justified in viewing the totality with a jaundiced eye.

              I don’t mean to suggest his argument is unique. I recall expressing equal skepticism regarding MacDonald over a decade ago. For exactly the same reason–there is no control. He sees a dog in the clouds, I don’t. Looking more closely at where he thinks the snout should be isn’t going to change that.

              1. I don’t understand the “seeing shapes in clouds” perception. If that’s how you see it, then I have to accept that’s your view. I have seen plenty of “shapes in the clouds” arguments (e.g. Jesus was Caesar or a Roman invention) but 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.

                What I find problematic in some instances is not “the rule” — though I’m not sure what you mean by the rule here, actually — but Brodie’s explanations for some of the parallels. I would ask if he is attempting to apply the one explanation for too many things. Example, I would need to spend a lot of time and study before I could be confident of his explanation of the way the Gospel of John is composed. I would need to spend a lot of time thinking through the implications of Brodie’s particular view of the Proto-Luke (with it’s material extending into our Acts) before I could be sure of that, too.

                But not even McGrath denies the parallels. He simply explains them all as being coincidental and ultimately as meaningless as changing cloud shapes. That’s where I suspect Bayes can help. Bayes does not require anything other than setting out the thoughts every historical or literary or other inquiry should set out, and to think carefully all the possible options. That’s all it is. It is a control in the sense that it helps us keep a check that we do this as comprehensively as possible. We do the same without referencing the symbolism of Bayes. The symbolic reference is nothing other than a reminder not to miss any steps.

                Since Bayes has historically been opposed “to the death” by statisticians as invalid methodology, yet also used by other statisticians to produce demonstrably more reliable results, I have no doubt one would be able to find at least one specialist dumping on Bayes for something.

              2. Bayes’ (i.e. probability theory) relevance here isn’t a question for a science blog, but more for a philosophy blog. Quite a few philosophers think that Bayes is the correct way to deal with uncertainty, especially cognitive scientists and AI researchers, who argue that Bayes (i.e. probability) follows directly from formal logic. So for example, Occam’s Razor isn’t just a nifty philosophical heuristic for judging between two competing explanations in Biblical Studies, it is a law of probability that the simpler explanation is more likely.

            3. I apologize, I though I’d responded to your request for a specific example, but realize I haven’t.

              You and I will, no doubt, agree that John and James offer to call down fire as an echo of 1Kings?

              But what of the possibility that it is historical, and it was John and James who were familiar with 1Kings?

              What of the possibility that it’s coincidence–that Luke thinks it the kind of thing prophets do, rather than drawing on one prophet in particular?

              Brodie provides us no way to differentiate between these possibilities. I picked one where I would guess we both agree that Brodie is probably right to avoid the problem of the signal in the noise coming between us in an “I say X,” “No I say Y” type of pointlessness.. You and I agree that there is signal here. How do we–objectively and rigorously–answer the critic who only sees noise?

              I’m not sure that we can. I don’t think they can either (they are seeing a different signal), hence my practical agnosticism, regardless of what I find compelling.

              1. I actually addressed those various options in an earlier response to another commentator: http://vridar.org/2013/08/01/thomas-brodie-illustrates-the-new-testaments-dependence-on-the-old/#comment-25061 — Not that I expect you to read every comment to everyone else here 🙂

                To my mind the case to question the alternative possibility that Luke was drawing upon an historical tradition by the prima facie presence of other related literary allusions in the same section of Luke. Their presence does not, per se, decide the question, of course. Luke may have been inspired the historical tradition to construct the narrative with the backdrop of the related literature.

                The thing I don’t like about Brodie’s arguments is that I don’t think they can be assessed adequately either way, pro or con (or qualified), without a lot of work, or at least work from someone who is very steeped in the way ancient literature works.

              2. John and James certainly could have been familiar with 2 Kings, but according to Luke they didn’t understand Jesus’s prediction of his own death and resurrection, so why would they have made a connection to the story of Elijah being called up to heaven? Also, it’s John and James who offer to call down the fire from heaven. Why would they have thought they had that power? Why would they have thought that raining down fire from heaven was an appropriate response to a lack of hospitality? Was that consistent with the mission and teachings that Luke describes?

                I’m just spit balling here, but I think there might be enough anomalies here to make a persuasive probabilistic argument that borrowing better explains the passage than memory. Brodie doesn’t make the argument, and to my mind, New Testament scholars are notorious for using assertions and assumptions in order to simply skip over necessary intermediate steps in arguments. Nevertheless, without having seen some attempts to make a rigorous argument of the issue, I’m not ready to despair of the possibility that it can be done.

              1. Hi Vinny,

                It’s certainly possible that such an argument could be made. But that’s not my concern. My concern is that Brodie hasn’t made it. Until a real assessment of the probability is offered, he isn’t giving me anything but his hunch.

              2. I don’t think he has made it either Rick (although his hunches are certainly worthy of more respect than mine). One of the things that bothers me about historical Jesus studies in general is how even liberal scholars who recognize the problems with the sources have a penchant for finding interesting possibilities and claiming that they constitute absolute certainties. McGrath claims that we can be “almost certain” about some of the things that Jesus said. Ehrman claims that Galatians 1:19 proves Jesus’s historicity “beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt.” Bullshit! The best anything is going to be is “more likely than not,” and it’s going to take a pretty rigorous fucking argument to establish even that.

  3. I find it very hard to make any sense of James and John asking Jesus whether they should call down fire from heaven to destroy the inhospitable Samaritans prior to Jesus’s journey to the place where he was to be taken up to heaven in Luke 9:51-55 other than as an allusion to Elijah calling down fire from heaven to destroy the king’s men prior to his journey to the place where he was to be taken up to heaven. That seems more than sufficient to me to make a prima facie that Luke is using the Elijah story as a source, even if we cannot be certain about all the details of the borrowing.

      1. I agree. I also agree with McGrath that it’s easy to find parallels almost anywhere. My disagreement with him is that I think it is just as big a problem for historicists as it is for mythicists. Anything could be borrowed from somewhere else and anything could have some root in some historical event. There is very little secure footing, although that business of calling down fire from heaven seems to be solidly enough on the side of allusion that I am inclined to cut Brodie at least a little slack.

        1. I’m less concerned with the historicist/mythicist angle than I am with whether or not it’s a productive way to approach the texts in the first place. I’m not sure that it is, because I don’t see it becoming more than a way for people to excercise their prejudices in concert.

  4. As a sceptic with regards to Q I find these lines from pages 75 and 76 …interesting.

    “In the case of Lk. 9.57-62. the transformation of the LXX- plus perhaps some indebtedness to the Epistles ist he simplest explanation of the data, and in scientific method the explanation that accounts for the data most simply is to be preferred.
    In this case, Q is unnecessary, and therefore unjustified.”

    “Matthew used this part of Luke’s text but adapted and abbreviated it, as he frequently did with Mark’s text. Of course this raises the question of Matthew’s overall relationship to Luke, but that was already mentioned when outlining the sequence of the New Testament documents (Chapter 5), and has been discussed at length elsewhere essentially to say that Matthew first used a brief Elijah-based version of
    Luke’s work (a work containing Lk. 9.57-62), and that, as a later stage,canonical Luke-Acts used Matthew.8”

  5. “Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree,
    Merry merry king of the bush is he.
    Laugh, Kookaburra, laugh, Kookaburra,
    Gay your life must be!”

    A very familiar old kid’s song sung in Australia longer than I have lived.

    Fairly recently it was the subject of a plagiarism lawsuit against a well known Aussie rock group who, it was successfully claimed, had ripped off a riff from the original.


    And its that issue which is confronted here is it not?
    Although ‘plagiarism’ and ‘ripped off’ should perhaps be replaced with something like an ‘older cultural theme or motif borrowed from a pre existing work and re-presented with additions and adaptations in a new work”
    Or something like that.

    Now the judge in the kookaburra case decided that there were enough similarities between the old work and the new work to state that the latter had borrowed in part from the former.

    I wonder, using the same sort of criteria, what he would decide in the ‘Luke’/Kings case?
    And, how that has ramifications for the many other ‘;similarities’ in the NT from previous material. OT and other.
    And, further, its implications for the concept of ‘historicity’.

    1. This brings us back to the Elijah story being referenced in Luke. There can be little doubt that the story of James and John wanting to call down fire from heaven as did Elijah is taken from the OT narrative. The question then becomes: Were J and J themselves, historically, recalling that OT story so that Luke was merely documenting that “tradition”? Or did Luke embellish that tradition with his own literary recollections? Or is Luke’s narrative best explained as a reconstruction/emulation/transvaluation of that OT story? That’s where I would have thought putting all the details and background knowledge(s) under a Bayesian process might yield interesting results.

      1. Continuing with my theme of low culture used as a point of reference I point you to Ian Fleming’s “Goldfinger”.
        On the third occasion that Goldfinger meets James Bond he declares war on him with these words, pertaining to the number of times their paths have crossed.
        “The first meeting, Mr Bond, was happenstance, the second was, perhaps, coincidence. The third time was deliberate” [from memory].

        How many times did the NT authors conspicuously ‘borrow’ from others – not just OT but the wider cultural environment?
        The equivalent of twice perhaps, or perhaps three times – plus?

        I recall some prominent NT scholar [I suspect it was Dom Crossan] saying something like that without allusion, direct and indirect, to the OT there was no JC passion story.
        You may be able to supply better detail.

        We cannot just take this one example from Brodie in isolation, there is the cumulative effect with the mass of material that even my venerable RSV acknowledges by placing footnotes at the bottom of its pages which refer to passages elsewhere in the NT and OT that have parallels [yikes] in either thought, words or plot to the NT material above.
        Just one example:
        ‘Mark’ 6.14-29 [Salome, Herod and John the Baptist] has footnotes to – Esther 2.9, 5.3, 5.6, 1Kings 18 and ‘many’ to “Mark’s” later editors “Matthew” and “Luke”.
        Too many to be coincidence.

  6. Oh god, more of this parallelomania akin to the likes of another theologian named Thomas- Tom Harpur, along with his buddies Acharya S., Freke & Gandy, etc. Correlation=/=causation.

    1. You are evidently not smarter than the average given that your comment is belied by a raft of evidence. Firstly, if Brodie’s argument was as you claim, then you must fault various leading New Testament scholars for seeking his contributions to their works, and for editors and peer-reviewers of scholarly journals for being so incompetent as to publish them.

      Secondly, you are at least sensible enough to hide behind a mask and avoid embarrassing yourself by revealing your true identity when you make such an ignorant dismissal.

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