The Weekly Roundup – 2.22.19

“The stories of the ancestors of the Israelites do not come from any one period but developed over time. It is best to see the ancestors as composite characters.” – John McDermott

  • Bart Ehrman asks and answers the question “Why does it matter if Mark’s Gospel was written first?” What it boils down to is that once we realize Mark’s Gospel was in all likelihood the first of the Synoptics to have been written we then have a framework with which to interpret Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels. They must have edited Mark’s Gospel for some reason. If we can deduce what those reasons were then we “have some purchase on the question of what [their] ultimate concerns and objectives were.”
  • Related to Ehrman’s piece, a post over at Broken Oracles discusses the redaction of Mark 14:47 in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Both try to resolve Markan ambiguity about the moral nature of the violent action undertaken by the anonymous disciple with particular additions. It is an interesting example of Markan priority at work.
  • Over a decade and a half ago John McDermott’s Reading the Pentateuch was published and its first chapter laid out the case for why it cannot be read as “strict history.” Some of that first chapter is available online. McDermott discusses the historical Abraham, the Exodus, and more.
  • Bradley Bowen at Secular Outpost wrote an introduction to a series making the case for atheism. In that post he briefly discusses strong vs. weak theism as well as type 1 atheism vs. type 2. As he defines it, atheism is at its core a rejection of theism and there may be a variety of reasons for which a person rejects theism.
  • Scholars have long observed that the Gospel of John appears to have gone through different stages of redaction. Back in 2015, Paul D. on his blog Is That in the Biblepublished a post examining the reasons why scholars think this. His discussion centers on two kinds of aporia or contradictory texts: geographical and chronological. This piece provides an excellent summary for the evidence of Johannine redaction.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Musings on Mark: Artfully Structured

Gerd Theissen, The New Testament: A Literary History (Fortress Press, 2012), 43-44.

The Gospel of Mark is artfully structured. It consists of individual pericopes, each of which makes its own point. Through their arrangement into a gospel they acquire a “surplus of meaning”: in the framework of the story of Jesus they point to the mystery of Jesus’ person, which is revealed only in the entirety of the story. The individual narratives are therefore, on the one hand, superficially constructed into a plausible chronological and geographical order, but at the same time they are interpreted by a christologically motivated ordering. A geographical and a christological outline overlie each other.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Bart D. Ehrman: Redaction Criticism

Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, sixth edition (OUP, 2016), 120-121.

A “redactor” is someone who edits a text; “redaction criticism” is the study of how authors have created a literary work by modifying or editing their sources of information. The underlying theory behind the method is simple. An author will modify a source of information only for a reason – why change what a source has to say if it is acceptable the way it is? If enough changes point in the same direction, we may be able to uncover the redactor’s principal concerns and emphases.

We can subject the Gospels to a redactional analysis because we are convinced that their authors used actual sources in constructing their narratives; that is, they didn’t make up most of their stories themselves. Moreover, we are relatively certain that at least one of these sources still survives. To put the matter baldly: most scholars believe that Matthew and Luke used the Gospel of Mark as a source for many of their stories about Jesus. By seeing how their authors edited their stories, we are able to determine their distinctive emphases.

Michael D. Coogan: Some Books Went Through Multiple Editions

Michael D. Coogan, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures, third edition (Oxford University Press, 2014), 10-11.

Although some ancient and most modern authors have produced single works that remain essentially unchanged, that was not the case with many books of the Bible. They often went through several editions over the course of several centuries – editions that sometimes included major revisions, expansions, and rearrangement. The book of Jeremiah tells us that the prophet originally dictated his prophecies or “oracles” to his scribe Baruch, who wrote them down (Jer 36:1-4, 32). So in theory, at least, there was an original. But that original was expanded by stories about the prophet, told in the third person, and therefore not by the prophet himself, and by much other material; these expansions may have taken place in different ways at different times and places. When we compare manuscripts of the book of Jeremiah, whatever its original may have been, we find very different versions. The traditional Hebrew Masoretic Text is roughly 15 percent longer than that found in the Septuagint and in some manuscripts among the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the order of some of the chapters also differs. Similar editorial processes are evident in many other books of the Old Testament, and the study of these processes is called redaction criticism.