Tag Archives: Polycarp

Why did they put contradictory gospels together in the New Testament?

trobisch1The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and the Gospel of John contradict each other on the date of the crucifixion of Jesus. The Synoptics tell us Jesus ate the Passover sacrificial meal with his disciples the evening before he died; the Gospel of John that Jesus was crucified at the same time of the Passover sacrifice. In the Gospel of John there is no description of a ritual meal — “take, eat, this is my body, etc” — on the eve of Jesus’ arrest.

Whoever was responsible for collecting those gospels with such a blatant contradiction and placing them side by side in a holy canon? What on earth were they thinking?

David Trobisch in The First Edition of the New Testament offers an intriguing explanation. His explanation is in fact only one small point in a small volume that raises several major new ways of understanding the evidence for the origins of the New Testament canon. The back cover blurb sums it up:

The First Edition of the New Testament is a groundbreaking book that argues that the New Testament is not the product of a centuries-long process of development. Its history, David Trobisch finds, is the history of a book — an all Greek Christian bible — published as early as the second century C.E. and intended by its editors to be read as a whole. Trobisch claims that this bible achieved wide circulation and formed the basis of all surviving manuscripts of the New Testament. 

In the first part of his book Trobisch argues that certain characteristics of the surviving manuscript trail are best explained if they all originated from a carefully edited collection. That is, from a canonical New Testament very similar to the New Testament with which we are familiar today. The traditional understanding has been that the New Testament canon was a relatively late development and many of the surviving manuscripts originated solo long before the various works were collated into the NT. Trobisch points to features in common across most of these manuscripts that indicate otherwise —

  • English: Folio 115 recto of the codex with the...
    English: Folio 115 recto of the codex with the beginning of the Gospel of John (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    the common use of the nomina sacra,

  • the adaptation for a codex form of publication,
  • the uniform order and number of writings in the manuscript tradition;
  • the common formulation of the titles,
  • and the evidence that the collection was known as the “New Testament” from the beginning.

The second part of his book is another fascinating exploration, this time of the “editorial concept” of the New Testament. Trobisch alerts us to many features many of us who have grown up with the New Testament know all too well but have tended to take for granted. I am thinking of those many little cross-references and “coincidental” positions of the books in relation to one another. The NT is collated like a little code book in some ways. There is just enough information placed strategically to allow us to discern a real historic unity behind all of the books and to see who has written what and what the historical relationship of each of the authors was with one another. (I’m talking about a naive popular reading of the NT.) So towards the end of 2 Peter and 2 Timothy we find Peter and Paul writing in ways that lead us to think all their earlier differences (e.g. in Galatians) were patched over and they ended up as spiritually affectionate brothers. There are enough references here and there to Mark to alert us to identifying the apparent author of the second gospel as the companion of Peter. Similarly Luke is given enough “incidental” references for us to identify him as a beloved physician and companion of Paul and author of Luke-Acts. In a codex form it would have been a thrill to explore back and forth to see how all of the works do relate to one another, how their authors’ histories with one another can be discerned, and above all, how all the various ideas and teachings were really from the one spirit and pointed to real underlying harmony in the church from its beginnings.

As we have seen, Trobisch believes the best explanation for the details of the manuscript evidence is that the New Testament as we know it was collated much earlier than generally thought. He places around the middle/latter half of the second century.

Now we come to our little detail of the contradiction over the date of the crucifixion.

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Writing Ignatius into History (How the Peregrinus thesis solves many problems)

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This post is a continuation of Making Sense of the Letters and Travels of Ignatius (Peregrinus?)

TDOP = The Death of Peregrinus by Lucian. Harmon’s translation here.

All posts so far in this series: Roger Parvus: Letters Supposedly Written by Ignatius

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So far I have called attention to the many similarities between Peregrinus and the author of the so-called Ignatians.

Failed explanations for the similarities

I have explained that, to account for the similarities, it is not enough to simply claim that Lucian, for his portrait of Peregrinus, probably borrowed from Ignatius.

Ignatius of Antiochie
Ignatius of Antiochie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is not enough, for instance,

  • to say with William Schoedel that “Lucian (as Lightfoot and others have suggested) probably had Ignatius in mind when he wrote the following concerning Peregrinus: ‘They say that he sent letters to almost all the famous cities more or less as testaments, counsels, and laws; and he appointed … certain of his companions as ambassadors. . .  for the purpose, calling them messengers of the dead and couriers of the shades . . . ” (Ignatius of Antioch, p. 279). . . .
  • Or to say with Allen Brent that “Lucian, as he describes Peregrinus, endows him with many of the characteristics of Ignatius as typical of an imprisoned Christian martyr.” (Ignatius of Antioch – A Martyr Bishop and the origin of the Episcopacy, p. 50).

That explanation doesn’t work. That kind of borrowing by Lucian would only have compromised his ridicule of Peregrinus. He couldn’t have expected to convincingly expose Peregrinus by substituting a lot of characteristics from someone else, especially when he was writing so soon after the demise of his target. People would have noticed that his portrait was false.

More convincing explanations

But I have also now shown that the letters themselves contain puzzling features that point to a different explanation for the similarities. The similarities exist because the letters were in fact written by Peregrinus, but the puzzles exist because changes were later made to the letters to disguise his authorship.

lucian_peregrinusFortunately, with help from TDOP, enough telltale traces of the true provenance of the letters remain so that the puzzles can be solved.

  • Authorship by Peregrinus provides a more convincing reason for the urgency of the request that Ambassadors of God be sent from Asia to Antioch.
  • And that request for Asian Ambassadors matches up with the presence of Asian delegates in Syria who, according to Lucian, helped, defended and encouraged Peregrinus.
  • My theory also provides a more convincing reason for the request that a most God-pleasing council be convoked.
  • And it can plausibly reconstruct the circumstances of Peregrinus’ arrest and detect the route that was originally in the letters.
  • It can give a definite meaning to the otherwise vague expression “May I have the joy of you.”
  • Moreover the theory can explain, for instance, why the name of Polycarp is not found in the letter to the Smyrneans, but is found awkwardly lodged in another letter.
  • And why, for instance, only in the so-called letter to Rome is there no mention of a bishop, presbyters and deacons.
  • And it can explain the ‘filtering out’ that has occurred in the church addressed by that letter.

Other lesser anomalies find similarly satisfying solutions.

And, of course, since Peregrinus at some point became an apostate, there is an overall plausible reason why a later Christian would have needed to disguise the letters if he wanted to use them.

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Second Century Witness — or Lack Thereof — to an Ignatius of Antioch

My theory can explain too, why the name ‘Ignatius’—with a single questionable exception to be considered shortly—is nowhere to be found in any second-century Christian writings outside of the letter collection itself. read more »

Invitations to Watch a Martrydom: The Letters of Ignatius (or Peregrinus) continued

This post is a continuation of Solving a Puzzle (or four) in the Letters of Ignatius: The Christian Years of Peregrinus

IN MY PREVIOUS POST I argued that the Asian delegates to Antioch mentioned in the letters to Philadelphia and to Smyrna should be identified as being part of the Asian delegations that, according to Lucian, were sent to encourage Peregrinus when he was imprisoned by the governor of Syria.

The author of the letters was Peregrinus, I maintain, and when he wrote them he himself was being led in chains to Antioch for imprisonment and— he hoped—martyrdom.

And having heard that the recent factional turmoil in the church of Antioch had ceased, he wanted the churches in Philadelphia, Smyrna and other cities in Asia to appoint delegates to go Antioch for his martyrdom.

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THIS POST will inspect the other letter that he wrote after learning that peace had been restored in the Antiochene church.

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That letter is the letter to Polycarp, and although it was written at the same time as the letters to Philadelphia and Smyrna, it differs from them in several significant particulars. As will be seen, these differences are the clue to its true character.

Solving the many puzzles of this letter will confirm that the would-be martyr was indeed being led to Antioch, not Rome.

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The Letter to Polycarp

Polycarp is identified as the bishop of Smyrna in the letter addressed to him but, strangely, not in the letter to the Smyrneans that was written at practically the same time.

one would never guess that the two men had just parted

The prisoner wrote the two letters just a short while after his departure from Smyrna, having visited with Polycarp and his church during his stop there. Yet, from the kind of advice contained in the first five chapters of the letter to Polycarp, one would never guess that the two men had just parted. One could legitimately wonder why they didn’t discuss the material in those chapters when they talked face-to-face presumably just days before. And the advice to Polycarp regarding his responsibilities to the members of his church who are widows, or married, or slaves (IgnPoly 4 & 5) looks like advice for a newly installed bishop.

It looks like most blessed Polycarp has been forced into a text where he was not originally present.

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