Tuesday, September 09, 2014

A brief response to "10 Theories About Who Really Wrote the Bible"

A lot of traffic has been directed to this blog lately by a writer who has linked one of my posts on early church scholarship. While I appreciate the link, the materials in the incoming post contains a mix of well-known material and things that seem biased and inaccurate. Here is a quick response. The numbered / bolded items are the claims being made in the incoming article; below each are my notes.

10. Moses did not write the Pentateuch. 
I think most scholars are in agreement on that, though some will hold out that Moses played a part. Parts of it seem to trace back to the code of Hammurabi. There are some interesting hints in the Talmud about the time and place of editing. We don't have a completely clear view of how the documents of the Pentateuch were written.

9. The Documentary Hypothesis
The idea of multiple sources and/or editing of the Pentateuch is generally accepted by current scholars.

8. Deuteronomy Originated As Royal Propaganda
This section is close to a conspiracy theory, with "propaganda" and forged documents being "deliberately planted". Of course you can't disprove the "planted document" theory at this distance in time, but that is not the same as being credible; that part reads like a smear-job presented as a conjecture. To demonstrate the point, consider one thing: even if we imagine that the king took the "found document" and had his people add some notes to it and distribute it, that could just as easily be attributed to devotion and good management as to ulterior motives. At what point do we find it justified to question other peoples' motives and assume the worst as a given?

7. Daniel Is 'Prophecy-After-The-Fact'
A good number of scholars agree on that, and would peg the genre more as an apocalyptic-style political commentary for those parts. (Some others think differently, if they take a different view of the date of writing.) But if it were an apocalyptic-style political commentary written after the fact, the timing of the release would have made it fairly clear that it was no prophecy. It wouldn't have been a case of the author trying to "pass himself off as a genuine seer" (again the thinly veiled accusation of dishonesty); that could hardly be done successfully about events now past. The point, at that date, would be about the come-uppance of the enemies of God and Israel, more than some sort of effort to make a reputation as a seer.

6. The Gospels Are Not Eyewitness Accounts
Here the author really piles on the bias, though in ways that are common enough on internet forums: calls the Biblical gospels "anonymous", "religious advertisements", and asserts (incorrectly, when we consider the epilogue / affidavits section of John) that they never claimed to be reporting events they themselves saw. But the gospels don't seem to have been anonymous by the standards of their day. The idea that the writings had no authors attributed until the second century may be based on the first written accounts we have about the gospels dating from the second century, which is not the same thing at all as the earlier readers thinking they were anonymous, and does not mean that a scroll circulated as "Matthew's" or "John's" (etc) was somehow of unknown origin. And calling them "advertisements" suggests a materialistic/profit motive, or insincerity and self-interest, which I haven't seen good reason to take seriously. (On the point about "Lord" and Christology, some quick points of interest: When Matthew's conversations show people calling Jesus "Lord", it seems to be how he translated the "Rabbi" parts in Mark, which isn't actually a Greek word; not all the "Lord" parts of Matthew are meant as Christological. Also, given that Mark opens his gospel by applying a quote about the LORD (Jehovah) to Jesus, it's doubtful whether Mark's Christology was all that low. Things aren't always as straightforward as they seem.)

5. Matthew and Luke Plagiarized Mark
Again the slanted presentation: they shared source materials. Given that Luke and Mark were co-workers along with Paul at certain points, I would be surprised if Mark didn't give his consent to the re-use. The author of that piece does work around to the point that Matthew and Luke are expanded and more accurate, but not before he has leveled charges of intellectual dishonesty at them which he never retracts.

4. The Lost Gospel Q
Yes, there are large numbers of scholars who note that Matthew and Luke shared source material, and hypothesize a source called Q. (Luke made it plain enough he was using all the existing material he could find, like a good researcher should.) It's going a little bit far talk about Q's "recovery"; though there have been worthwhile efforts to reconstruct it based on things in Matthew and Luke but not Mark. Going beyond that to hypothesize that Q's authors believed Jesus to be a wisdom-teacher only whose death had no salvific importance ... is going further than the material will really take you. Remember how Q was reconstructed? It omitted things already found in Mark. So we wouldn't know whether Q also contained material that was in Mark, such as the passion narrative, because the "reconstruction" excludes anything that was already in Mark ... like the passion narrative and empty tomb.

3. Simon Magus And St Paul Were The Same Person
Seriously? At least the author of the article acknowledges in his early remarks that this is not accepted by mainstream scholars and is "more speculative", though I think the author calling it "radical" gives it more dignity than it has earned. I really can't buy the series of long stretches it takes to turn Paul's letters (from a man well known to the early churches, who addresses his friends by name in letter after letter) into the works of Simon Magus.

2. The Pastoral Epistles Are Forgeries
Again with the emotive terms that contain accusations of dishonesty and deceit. There has been lively debate about whether all the letters are authentic, to be sure, or whether we should simply expect Paul's style in a personal letter to be different than when writing to a whole congregation for public reading. If someone had been trying to ride on the coattails of Paul's authority, why write private letters instead of public ones? Wouldn't they get more mileage out of public letters? Why not advance their agenda or their personal reputation in the letters? Why write to Timothy and Titus, who knew Paul well personally and were more likely to detect a fraud? (I'm half-surprised the author didn't suggest these other letters were by Simon Magus. Imagine if the supposed forger had added a little bit about, "And I'd like to commend to you my friend Simon Magus ...")

1. John Did Not Write Revelation
The scholars in the early church figured that there were multiple Johns involved. It was a common enough name. And apocalyptic literature was nothing new. Revelation retains a strong Jewish flavor, to the extent that I've read some Jewish commentary that speculates whether Revelation's author served as a priest while the Temple still stood. While Revelation has a lot of distinctly Christian notes, it seems to be firmly in the Jewish apocalyptic tradition. That's to be expected when so many of the Christians were, at that time, Jewish Christians.

So that's the other side of the story, if someone wants to compare notes and make up their own mind.

Take care & God bless

By the way I'm typing this up fairly quickly. As I spot typos, I'll come back and update.


Martin LaBar said...

Good job!

Weekend Fisher said...

Thank you for the encouragement.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF