Category Archives: Shelly Matthews

The Gospel of Luke in its Original Context; New Perspectives, part 3

Shelly Matthews questions the view that Luke-Acts was finalized as an early stage of a specifically anti-Marcionite program. I am one who has tended to see Luke-Acts as an initiator of a trajectory of proto-orthodoxy that can be traced through Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Tertullian and that stood in opposition to the “heresies” of Marcionism, docetism, gnosticism.

Rather, Matthews places Luke-Acts in a far more fluid place and argues that it defies classification as either orthodox or proto-orthodox. She argues that it precedes the time when Christianity could be divided from our perspective into the simplistic split between what we see as orthodoxy and heresy but is the product of

a more variegated context of early Christian pluralism. (p. 165)

In the previous post we saw one of the reasons for Matthews’ view: the view of Jesus as calm and passive throughout his final hours and the unnatural concept of his flesh. Such a depiction would appear to have more in common with the views of docetists than what emerged as orthodoxy.

Matthews further sees the Gospel of Luke as an attempt to subordinate other leaders, both women and men, who were looked up to as leaders by virtue of having had visions of Jesus. That is, the author was responding to more than Marcionism. In fact the gospel overlapped with Marcion’s gospel in key passages as we saw in our initial post.

Downgrading Mary’s encounter with the risen Jesus

According to Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians 9:1 and 15:1-8 an apostle was one who had seen the risen Lord. In the Gospel of John chapter 20 we read that Mary of Magdalene was one such figure. We even have a documentary record among noncanonical texts that Mary was regarded as a leading figure among certain Christians and that she was sometimes considered to be in conflict with Peter and other male apostolic visionaries. We have the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Philip in which Mary has a special (physical) relationship with Jesus, and the Gospel of Thomas in which Jesus promises to make Mary a male so she, too, is worthy to enter eternal life. But let’s look for a moment at Mary’s encounter with the risen Jesus in the Gospel most of us are familiar with. John 20:14-18

14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.

Matthews refers to Mary Rose D’Angelo who shows the structural similarities between Mary’s encounter with the risen Jesus and the elder John’s vision of the heavenly Jesus in Revelation 1:10-19. I have highlighted the significant passages in D’Angelo’s argument.

John in Revelation likewise hears a voice and turns back to see the risen Jesus. Jesus negatively admonishes John in a way that draws attention to the divine nature of the one encountered in the vision. Both John and Mary are then given a commission to go and tell others what they have seen. And as per Paul’s qualification of apostleship, Mary, too, can and does say that she has “seen the Lord”. If we take our canonical form of the Gospel of Luke as having been completed after the Gospel of John (which a number of scholars do, and I often find myself siding with them) then we can readily interpret Luke’s depiction of Mary as an attempt to reject the status of Mary as an apostle.

Luke “rewrites the tradition” by having Mary not seeing the risen Jesus but seeing only the empty tomb. Her encounter is with angels and it is only angels who tell her to go and tell the disciples that Jesus has risen. In Luke it is Peter who runs to find out for himself the truth of what Mary has reported and it is Peter who is the first to see the risen Jesus.

Recognizing the invisible Jesus

That brings us to the Emmaus Road episode in Luke’s gospel. Here a couple, Cleopas and another unnamed companion, are walking along a road when they are joined by a third party they do not recognize. Their eyes are prevented from recognizing him, presumably by means of some spiritual agency. It is, of course, Jesus. The couple finally “recognize” who they have seen only after he disappears from them as they “break bread”. Matthews is one with scholars who interpret this passage as representative of what all Christians are to experience as they partake of the Lord’s supper. It is in that ceremony that they “see” Jesus. In this way the incident cannot be interpreted as a genuine vision of the risen Lord that qualifies one for apostleship. That is confirmed after the couple race to tell the disciples and are in turn themselves told that Jesus has already appeared to Peter.

The authority of men only

Even here Mathews believes we see further evidence of Luke reducing the status of women in the church. If we compare the two key persons on the Emmaus road with the Clopas/Cleophas (a Semitic form of the Greek Cleopas) and his wife Mary named in John 19:25 then it does look suspiciously the case that Luke has chosen to suppress the name of the wife involved in that famous incident.

Other indicators (listed by Matthews) that Luke sought to denigrate the status of women: read more »

Doubting that Luke-Acts was written to refute Marcion; New Perspectives, part 2

Continuing my posts on Shelly Matthews’ 2017 article. . . .

I am one of those who have leaned favourably towards arguments that our canonical form of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were early to mid second century attempts to take on Marcionism. See my series on Joseph B. Tyson’s Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle for instance. Others who have raised similar arguments in recent years are Matthias Klinghardt and Markus Vincent; further, Jason BeDuhn and Dieter T. Roth have produced new reconstructions of Marcion’s gospel.

If Marcionites believed in a Jesus who was not literally flesh and blood like us but only appeared to be so, then it has been argued that Luke (I’ll use that as the name of the author of the Gospel of Luke in its final canonical form) introduced details of how Jesus was very much a fleshly body when he was resurrected and showing himself to his followers. See the previous post for the details.

Resurrection accounts overlap

Matthews draws attention to a problem with this view. The “problem” is that all reconstructions of Marcion’s gospel (even BeDuhn’s and Roth’s) include at least significant sections of Luke’s fleshly portrayal of the resurrected Jesus. Jesus says in Luke 24:39 and in Marcion’s gospel according to all reconstructions:

Look at my hands and my feet. . . . . a ghost does not have . . . bones, as you see I have.

Marcion’s Jesus also eats just as Luke’s Jesus does in the same chapter. BeDuhn gives Marcion the following and Roth suggests it is at least close to Marcion’s text.

41 And while they still did not believe [were distressed] . . . , he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence. . . . 

So Marcion’s Jesus, it seems, also had bones and was able to eat fish. Given that that was what Marcion read in his own gospel how can we interpret Luke’s details as an attempt to refute Marcionism, Matthew’s asks. (Not that this “problem” has not been noticed by scholars like Tyson but Matthews is proposing a different way of looking at the data.)

Neither Luke’s Nor Marcion’s Jesus Truly Suffers

Luke’s Jesus may bear a body of flesh, even after the resurrection, but this flesh is not the ordinary flesh of humankind, which agonizes when threatened, writhes when tortured, and decays in death. (p. 180)

Matthews sets aside as an interpolation Luke 22:43-44 that so graphically pictures Jesus in agony sweating great drops of blood in Gethsemane. Shelly Matthews explains:

For persuasive arguments that Luke 22:43-44 is a secondary insertion motivated by concern that Jesus be depicted as suffering anguish in Gethsemane, see Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament, rev. and enl. ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 220-27.

Another difficulty that Matthews’ sees for the view that our Gospel of Luke was finalized as a rebuttal to Marcionism is its portrayal of Jesus “suffering”. I use scare-quotes because Luke’s Jesus does not appear to suffer at all and so looks very much the sort of figure we would expect to see in Marcion’s gospel. In Luke there is no hint that Jesus on his way to the cross or hanging from the cross is in any sort of torment or agony. Luke’s Jesus is totally impassive.

Indeed, on the question of whether Jesus experienced torment either in Gethsemane or on Golgotha, Luke’s passion narrative can be read as an argument for an answer in the negative, as the later interpolator who felt the need to add the pericope of Jesus sweating drops of blood in Gethsemane surely sensed. (p. 180)

Matthews continues:

The Lukan Jesus does employ the verb πάσχω both in predicting his fate (9:22,17:25,22:15) and in reflecting on that suffering as a component of prophecy fulfillment (24:26,46; cf. Acts 1:3, 3:18,17:3).44 Yet, as is well known, narratives of Jesus’s comportment both on the way to Golgotha and on the cross itself suggests that his “suffering” does not include human experiences of physical agony or emotional distress.45

44 As Joel B. Green notes, the phrase “to suffer” in Luke is used to evoke the totality of the passion (The Gospel of Luke, NICNT [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997], 856).

45 Jerome H. Neyrey, “The Absence of Jesus’ Emotions: The Lucan Redaction of Lk 22:39- 46,” Bib 61 (1980): 153-71; John S. Kloppenborg, “Exitus clari viri: The Death of Jesus in Luke,” TJT 8 (1992): 106-20.

(I located each of Matthews’ references [Green and Neyrey] intending to add more detailed explanation from them but not wanting to take unplanned hours to finish this post have decided to leave those details for another day.)

For Luke, then, Jesus’ flesh is not like our flesh. It is not the sort of body that naturally recoils in anguish at pain or even threats of pain. It does not even decay when it dies.

Acts 2:31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 

Acts 13:37 But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.

The idea that flesh of certain persons could in fact be immortal was part of common Greek cultural belief. Matthews cites Greek Resurrection Beliefs for those who are unaware of this fact. (Perhaps that’s another topic I can post about one day. I have touched on it a number of times incidentally with particular reference to Gregory Riley’s Resurrection Reconsidered, as for instance in this post.)

In this post I have addressed some of the areas that would appear to make the Gospel of Luke in close agreement with Marcion’s gospel rather than a direct rebuttal of it.

Furthermore there are other features of Luke-Acts that appear to be directed at extant ideas or disputes that had nothing at all to do with Marcionism as far as we know. Those are for the next post.

 


Matthews, S. (2017). Fleshly Resurrection, Authority Claims, and the Scriptural Practices of Lukan Christianity. Journal of Biblical Literature, 136(1), 163–183.


 

New Perspective on the Gospel of Luke; part 1

Shelly Matthews

Professor of New Testament Shelly Matthews has a different take on the Gospel of Luke. Different, that is, from one that I have for a long time generally embraced on this blog. I have written positively before about Shelly Matthew’s work and find myself doing so once more here. This time I am discussing her article in the Journal of Biblical Literature last year, Fleshly Resurrection, Authority Claims, and the Scriptural Practices of Lukan Christianity.

Why Stress the Flesh of the Resurrection Body?

Unlike the earlier gospels Mark and Matthew, Luke 24 focuses readers’ attentions on the fleshly nature of Christ’s resurrection body:

39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.

The Gospel of John is usually understood in a similar vein, not least because of the following scene in the 20th chapter:

27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

But as Matthews points out, Luke and John have quite different purposes for their respective body of flesh scenes. The fourth gospel uses the physical wounds of Jesus as identifying marks so that Jesus can know who is standing in front of him: it really is Jesus who was crucified by being nailed to the cross and then speared in the side.

The need for Thomas to see the wounds may be a Johannine employment of a common topos in Greek literature evident as early as the Homeric tradition—as with Eurykleia in the Odyssey, who does not recognize Odysseus until she has touched his scar. Yet the high point of the recognition scene is not Jesus’s affirmation that the body demonstrated to Thomas is fleshly but rather a rebuke of faith that requires sight. Thomas sees the wounded Jesus and confesses, “My Lord and my God,” to which Jesus responds, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (20:29). (Matthews, p. 168)

Contrast Luke’s focus on demonstrating that Jesus’ body is flesh, just as it was before he was resurrected:

37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.

40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.

In John 21 Jesus does not eat the fish but distributes it among his disciples. In Luke 24 Jesus eats the fish to prove he is a fleshly body.

The question that follows, of course, is why would Luke want to make such a point.

Matthews’ answer is that the author of the third gospel is using the fleshly body of the post resurrection Jesus as a vital element in establishing the supreme authority of the twelve apostles against others (various visionaries such as Mary and Paul) who were looked to as authorities in his day.

Details to follow.


Matthews, S. (2017). Fleshly Resurrection, Authority Claims, and the Scriptural Practices of Lukan Christianity. Journal of Biblical Literature, 136(1), 163–183.


 

Theologians’ Miracle: Turning Fallacy into Proof

davidhacketfischer
David Hackett Fischer

Professor of History, David Hackett Fischer, has long been known for his book, Historians’ Fallacies, in which he amasses copious examples of fallacious historical analysis and argument committed (at least on occasion) even by otherwise highly reputable historians. Unfortunately, critical fallacies that he identifies as periodic blights on the work of his peers are standard practice among works of theologians writing about Christian origins.

The fallacy of the prevalent proof

Here is one that many readers will recognize, and it is one that unfortunately does too often extend beyond the limits of subgroups. On pages 51 and 52 Fischer writes (my bolding in all quotations):

The fallacy of the prevalent proof makes mass opinion into a method of verification.

This practice has been discovered by cultural anthropologists among such tribes as the Kuba, for whom history was whatever the majority declared to be true.* If some fearless fieldworker were to come among the methodological primitives who inhabit the history departments of the United States, he would find that similar customs sometimes prevail. There are at least a few historians who would make a seminar into a senate and resolve a professional problem by resorting to a vote. . . .

If the fallacy of the prevalent proof appeared only in this vulgar form, there would be little to fear from it. But in more subtle shapes, the same sort of error is widespread. Few scholars have failed to bend, to some degree, before the collective conceits of their colleagues. Many have attempted to establish a doubtful question by a phrase such as “most historians agree . . .” or “it is the consensus of scholarly opinion that . . .” or “in the judgment of all serious students of the problem. . . .”

[* Reference: see page 102 of Vansina’s Oral Tradition]

historiansFallacies

Most historians agree . . .

. . . that a genuine historical event lies behind the story of Stephen

I could just as easily have written “most historians agree that genuine historical events like behind the stories in Acts.” But let’s limit the discussion here to Stephen’s martyrdom. (This post is, after all, my follow-up to my Stephen post.)

Shelly Matthews (also a theologian but who seems to be one of the relatively few who happily demonstrates a clear understanding of sound historical-critical method and writes history with a clear understanding of the philosophy undergirding her approach) admits she stands against what has been the traditional consensus of her peers over the historical value of Acts.

Firstly, however, Matthews correctly explains how her peers have traditionally attempted to glean “kernels of history” from the Book of Acts:

Biblical scholars employing methods of historical criticism do recognize that the coherence of various aspects of Acts is ahistorical, imposed by Luke upon his sources because of his theological concerns, his apologetic tendencies, and/or his aim to delight his audience. For more than two hundred years, historians of Christian origins have approached the book of Acts presuming that its author’s intrusive hand can be pulled away, freeing his sources to bear unencumbered witness to the historical events that occurred in the earliest decades of the church.

Applying methods captured by metaphors of winnowing and digging, they have attempted to distinguish Acts’ redactional/theological/fictional elements from the actual history presumed also to reside in the text.

From these “kernels of history,” from this “bedrock,” scholars have then constructed their own versions of a coherent narrative of Christian origins understood to correspond with events that happened in history. (p. 15, my formatting)

Theologians have thus generally assumed that “real history” lies “beneath” the text and that all they have to do is apply tools like redactional criticism to know what parts of the text to pull away (e.g. the theological or literary creations of the author) and thereby expose the original source. And that source material is for some reason often presumed to point to “bedrock history”. read more »

The Fiction of Stephen the First Martyr

Screen shot 2013-11-26 at 8.05.04 PMI was introduced to the work of Shelly Matthews through the Acts Seminar Report. She is one of the Seminar Fellows. I have since read — and enjoyed very much — her historical study Perfect Martyr: The Stoning of Stephen and the Construction of Christian Identity.

Shelly Matthews is one of the few theologians I have encountered who demonstrably understands the nature of history and how it works and how to apply historical-critical questions to the evidence. She is a postmodernist (and I’m not) but I won’t hold that against her. At least she understands and applies postmodernist principles correctly — unlike some other theologians who miss the point entirely and resort to trying to uncover “approximations” of “what really happened” behind the fictional (and ideological) narratives in the Gospels and Acts.

Matthews is critical of the way scholars have with near unanimity assumed that the story of Stephen’s martyrdom in Acts is based on some form of bedrock historical event:

  • How else to explain the sudden propulsion of Jesus followers beyond the limits of Palestine?
    • (Recall that the Acts story tells us it was the death of Stephen that instigated the wider persecution of the “church”, and persecution led to the scattering of the believers, and that scattering led to the proclamation of the message beyond Judea.)
  • How else to explain the conversion of Paul?
    • (Recall that Paul — originally “Saul” — was one of those persecutors and it was his “Damascus Road” experience that brought him to heel and turned him from persecutor to missionary.)

Those are the twin (prima facie) arguments that have assured scholars that the Stephen event is historical ever since they were made explicit in the nineteenth century by Eduard Zeller (son-in-law of F. Baur).

But let’s save the discussion of method and criteria of historicity till last this time (or maybe a follow up post). To begin with we will set out the grounds for questioning whether the Stephen narrative in Acts owes anything to some historical “core” event. The question of the historicity of Stephen’s martyrdom is not the primary theme or interest of Shelly Matthew’s study (as its title indicates) but she does address it as part of her larger discussion on historical-critical inquiry and the way scholars have culturally fallen under the spell of the fundamental narrative outline and ideology of Acts. (Her discussion could equally well apply to the question of the historicity of Jesus but I think we need to wait for scholars to come to grips more generally with critical and methodological questions about Stephen before taking that step.)

External evidence

Outside of Acts there is not a whisper of awareness of the martyrdom of Stephen until Irenaeus talks about it around 180 CE. And Irenaeus is clearly using Acts itself as his source. (Recall, too, that the Acts Seminar has concluded that Acts itself was written in the second century.) read more »