Saturday, October 09, 2004

Who wrote the Bible?-1

I. The Old Testament.

In OT criticism, the books whose authorship is the most hotly contested are the Pentateuch, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, and Daniel. I've addressed the authorship of the Pentateuch (Bible or Babel?) and Ecclesiastes (Vanity of vanities) in separate essays.

That leaves Isaiah and Daniel. As with higher criticism generally, attacks on traditional authorship consist in both generic and specific objections. The generic objections seize on internal differences in form and content to infer composite authorship--as well as alleged anachronisms in relation to the external data, such as we have.

The generic objections have been addressed by a variety of writers, so there's no need for me to reinvent the wheel.

Specific to the prophetic literature is the secular assumption that revelation regarding the future is simply impossible. This is bolstered by appeal to the alleged presence of assorted historical, doctrinal, and linguistic anachronisms that postdate the documents.

To stipulate that foreknowledge is impossible, even for God, is a very ambitious metaphysical claim. It assumes that there is no God, or that God cannot know the future, or that he cannot disclose the future, or that he would not reveal it.

It should be unnecessary to point out that so-called Bible scholars who deny predictive prophecy almost never present the kind of logical apparatus and metaphysical machinery needed to justify their prejudice. Having no high cards to play, they try to bluff their way through the game.

Even an open theist does not attempt a direct disproof of divine foreknowledge. Rather, he gets a running start from his postulate of libertarian freedom. Deny the operating assumption, and he is dead in the water.

Some scholars contend that even if, in principle, we made allowance for inspired foresight, it would still be highly artificial of Isaiah to assume a viewpoint in which the future is experienced as present (i.e. chaps 40-66). The problem here is that the critic has failed to crawl out of his skin and consider the psychological dynamics of visionary revelation. It isn’t simply a case of God telling Isaiah the future, which the prophet then recasts in first-person terms, but showing him the future (e.g. 1:1; 2:1; 13:1). This makes the prophet a practical participant. Insofar as he is a virtual eyewitness to future events, it is entirely natural for him to describe his experience in observational terms. But because the critic doesn’t believe in prophetic prescience, he doesn’t make a serious effort to understand the phenomenon from the inside out, based on what the seer himself tells us regarding his mode of inspiration.

Moreover, God’s foreknowledge is integral to the Isaian apologetic against heathen idolatry. In contrast to the ignorant and impotent idol-gods of heathendom, the true God declares the end from the beginning because he is the "first and the last" (41:21-26; 42:8-9; 43:9; 44:6-8; 45:20-21; 46:9-10; 48:5-8).

If, furthermore, these ostensible predictions were penned after the fact, we would expect the imagery to depict Babylonian topography, whereas the scenery, with its reference to mountains and hills (e.g. 40:4,9; 57:7)—even though Babylon lies on a flood plain—as well as acacia, cedar, cypress, and oak (41:19; 44:14), suggests that God depicted his visions in a setting familiar to the Palestinian prophet and his audience. This would be consistent with the doctrine of organic inspiration and divine accommodation. By contrast, Isaiah lacks anything like Ezekiel’s density of detail in drawing socioeconomic and political map of Exilic times (e.g. Ezk 27). If Isa 40-66 were really written by Exilic and post-Exilic hands, they would more nearly resemble Ezekiel in their plenity of period circumstantiality. Nor will it suffice to suppose that the references to Cyrus have been interpolated, for the entire chapter is centered on this future figure.

Concerning the Maccabean date for Daniel, I'd briefly make the following points:
i) As was stated above, this assumes that genuine predictive prophecy is impossible. But that is a metaphysical claim, predicated on a secular, closed-system worldview. Liberal scholars who assume this outlook never favor the reader with the kind of supporting argumentation they would need to make their operating assumption plausible, much less persuasive.
ii) It assumes that pseudonymity was an accepted literary convention. But other criticisms aside, why would the author's contemporaries be impressed by an ex eventu prophecy?
iii) Contrary to 7:26, Antiochus did not raze the Temple or level the city. But if 9:24-27 was written after the fact, how could the author be so wrong, and why would his contemporaries take him seriously? With the benefit of hindsight, why wouldn't the author make his "prophecy" fit the known facts?
iv) 2C BC Jews knew their contemporary history better than Porphyry (2-3C AD). How do we account for the canonicity of Daniel if it was riddled with anachronisms obvious to the very audience to whom and about whom it was addressed?
v) Copies of Daniel among the DDS put a squeeze on the liberal dating scheme.
vi) As Jerome pointed out, the late-dating of Daniel is a backhanded admission of Daniel's accuracy.
vii) The visions (7-12) are dependent on the narratives (1-6) for their historical frame of reference. So the two halves of his book rise and fall together. One can account for the shift from 3rd person (1-6) to 1st person (7-12) if Daniel dictated the biographical material (1-6) to scribes, which—as a statesman—he certainly had at his beck-and-call. But the viewpoint of the visions was inherently autobiographical—since these are private rather than public events.

The other OT book which has been singled out for special scorn by the liberal establishment is Jonah. Although certain historical objections have been broached, the real reason is, of course, the story of the whale.

The Hebrews were not a sea-faring people. That, indeed, is one of the sub-themes of the book. Hence, they had no exacting taxonomy for marine life. "Whale" is merely a conventional designation.

There are a number of marine animals capable of swallowing a man whole, viz. a sperm whale, killer whale, great white shark, large salt-water crocodile, or even a giant squid.

The trick would be for a man to survive in such an environment. The temporal marker (three days and nights) may be idiomatic. We shouldn't necessarily equate it with 72 hours.

There have been attempts to rationalize the miracle. However, the effort to take the miracle out of the miracle renders the event less credible rather than more so. It seems highly unlikely that a man could survive very long in a vat of stomach acid by natural means.

It is not entirely clear why liberals choose to pounce upon this particular miracle, for it is no more extraordinary than many others in Scripture. If a commentator is going to deny that such a thing could have happened, then he ought to honestly admit to himself and his reader he is an atheist in a clerical collar. There is no particular point in reading the Bible unless one reads it as a believer.

To ask, "How did God preserved the prophet alive?" is a category mistake, for a miracle is not in need of any intervening medium or mechanism. Every event is equally effortless to omnipotence.

Likewise, the question of probability is inapplicable to an act of God. Either he did it or not. Probability attaches to normal, and especially inanimate, processes of nature, like a radiometric decay rate. But it is no more or less probable that God, as a personal agent, would or would not do something.

Jonah was regarded as a historical figure in Scripture (2 Kg 14:25). The miracle was regarded as an actual event by Jesus (Mt 12:40-41), as well as Josephus and even Philo, despite the latter's love of allegory. So, in terms of original intent, the book and its contents were meant to be believed--as a real life record of space-time events.

For further reading:

_Aalders, C. The Problem of the Book of Jonah (Tyndale 1948).
_Alexander, T. "Jonah and Genre," TynB (1985), 35-59.
_Allis, O. The Old Testament: Its Claims & Its Critics (P&R 1972).
_____, The Unity of Isaiah (P&R 1950).
_Archer, G. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Moody 1994).
_____., "The Hebrew of Daniel Compared with the Qumran Sectarian Documents," The Law & the Prophets, J. Skilton, ed. (P&R 1974), 470-81).
_Baldwin, J. Daniel (Eerdmans 1978).
_____, "Is there pseudonymity in the Old Testament?" Them 4 (1978-79), 6-12.
_Harrison, R. Introduction to the Old Testament (Eerdmans 1969).
_Hasel, G. "The Book of Daniel" AUSS 19 (1981), 37-49,211-25.
_Kitchen, K. On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003).
_Margalioth, R. The Indivisible Isaiah (Yeshiva U 1964).
_Millard, A. "Daniel 1-6 and history" (EQ 49 (1977), 67-73.
_____, "Daniel and Belshazzar in history" (BAR 11 (1978), 73-78.
_Payne, J. ed. New Perspectives on the Old Testament, (Word 1970). See articles by Archer & Yamauchi.
_Waltke, B. "The date of the Book of Daniel" Bsac 133 (1976), 319-29.
_Wiseman, D. "Jonah's Ninevah," TynB 30 (1979), 29-51.
_____, Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon (Oxford 1983).
_____, ed. Notes on Some Problems in the Book of Daniel (Tyndale 1965).
_Yamauchi, E. Persia & the Bible (Baker 1990).
_Young, E. The Prophecy of Daniel (Eerdmans 1949).
_____, Who Wrote Isaiah (Eerdmans 1958).

II. The New Testament

2. The Synoptics-Acts

As a matter of tradition, as well as self-attestation, the following books are by Apostles—Matthew, John, Romans—Philemon, 1-2 Peter 1-3 John, and Revelation.

This has been challenged on a number of grounds. Before getting to the specifics, I'd like to begin with a few general remarks.

Redaction criticism begins with the idea that each Evangelist (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) has his own theological agenda, with a selective emphasis and distinctive shaping of the narrative. This idea does not strike me as inherently objectionable. But we must clarify what this admission allows for. There is no hard evidence that the Church invented a "Jesus tradition" that was then worked into the Gospels. To the contrary, the internal evidence rebuts such a theory. As G.B Caird has pointed out,
"There is one very simple test which we can apply to see whether the interests and needs of the early Church could have created the tradition as well as preserving and moulding it. Many of these needs and interests are known to us from the epistles of Paul which antedate any of our gospels. If the hypothesis of the form critics were sound, that much of the gospel tradition had its origin in the life of the early Church, then we should expect that the great debates of Paul’s career would have given rise to authoritative sayings of Jesus by which they could be settled once and for all. Yet in questions of marriage and divorce Paul admits that there are limits to the dominical sayings available to him (1 Cor
7:10,13,25). On such weighty matters as the circumcision of the Gentiles
or the value of glossolalia the gospels are wholly silent. There is in fact
not one shred of evidence that the early church ever concocted sayings
of Jesus in order to settle any of its problems," The Study of the Gospels: II. Form Criticism," ExT (1975-76), 140a.

For that matter, even the theology of the epistles does not derive from the communities to which they were addressed. This correspondence is often prompted by some doctrinal or moral crisis. In such a case, the writer (Peter, Paul, John, James, the author of Hebrews) imposes his theology on the church.

As commonly practiced, redaction criticism involves comparison between two or more documents (e.g. Deuteronomy-Kings; Samuel-Kings/Chronicles; the Synoptics), although it often presupposes the identification and isolation of editorial strata within a given document. Even though this form of criticism is typically associated with liberals, conservative scholars who try to harmonize parallel passages (e.g. the Resurrection accounts) by splicing together the various sources in order to reconstruct what "really" happened are also engaged in the same enterprise.

An obvious weak-link in any comparative method is that unless one of these documents can function as a frame of reference, we lack a standard of comparison for saying what represents the unredacted "core," what represents a modification, and what principles are operative in modifying the core material.

Redaction criticism should take its models and methods from parallel material by the same author. If you want to discover what principles and techniques of splicing and editing were employed by a Biblical narrator, the only sound procedure is to begin with a study of how he retells the same story. Examples would include the parallel accounts in Gen 24 (vv1-27,34-48), the Lucan versions of the post-Resurrection/Ascension appearances (Lk 24:13-53; Acts 1:1-11); the conversion of Cornelius (Acts 10; 11:1-18; 15:7-9) and the conversion of Paul (Acts 9:1-30; 22:3-21; 26:4-20).

Even the example of Luke doesn’t leave a lot of play in generalizing to other authors, for he is in dialogue with Greek historiography and professional literature, adapting that tradition or genre to further his own agenda. Every Biblical writer comes to the task with a distinctive socialization and set of aims. But for all its limitations, the Lucan model affords us at least one external control on how a historically and theologically alert writer of the Bible "redacts" his own material. The same general considerations apply to the Genesis account (chap. 24).

A more creative case would be the recapitulary scheme in Revelation (e.g. 6:1-8:1; 8:2-11:19; 15:1-16:21). But, of course, the apocalyptic genre allows for more creativity in the use or reuse of symbolism.

Before redaction criticism there was form criticism. This assumes a prior, oral stage before the kerygma was committed to writing. Liberals critics act as if NT culture consisted in a society of hunter-gatherers without a written language. Although the culture that produced the NT was an oral culture, it was also a literate culture. Both modes of communication were operative at one and the same time.

I don’t see anything beyond force of habit and a need to justify unbelief that warrants this pervasive assumption in the critical literature. It even infects conservative scholarship.

Is there the slightest cultural (Jewish/Greco-Roman) evidence to suggest that the 1C Church must have or would have put off the task of committing the life and teachings of Christ to writing? From what I can tell, this is all based on abstract evolutionary schemes that have no concrete connection with 1C literary practice.

On another front, it is fashionable for moderate to liberal critics to contend that pseudonymity was a morally neutral cultural convention of the day. Among other things, though, this contention flies in the face of the controversies over the canonical status of the "antilegomena." Is precisely because the authorship of various books was suspect in some quarters that there was any controversy over the canon. And this controversy was very widespread. That, by itself, supplies direct and diverse evidence that actual authorship was not a matter of indifference to early church. Hence, the view of the liberal critics disregards the history of the canon. Put another way, the liberal theory of pseudonymity is a liberal anachronism.

Moving from the question of pseudonymity to anonymity, It is usually asserted, without benefit of argument, that the Gospels are anonymous. It is simply assumed that the titles are editorial additions. Perhaps they are, but the presumption is to the contrary. To my knowledge, all of our Greek Gospel MSS are entitled and there are no variants in the author named. The only variants are between the shorter form ("according to...") and the longer form ("the gospel according to..."). It may be objected that if the titles were original, we would expect the formula to be "the gospel of…" rather than "the gospel according to…" However, Luke informs us that a number of formal or informal gospels were already in circulation when he wrote his own (1:1), so a comparative formula was in order—even for Mark.

The fact that our MS tradition is unanimous in witnessing to these designations at the very least implies that, if they are editorial additions, they were added extremely early in the process of transmission and therefore count as one of our earliest sources of external attestation to the apostolicity of the Gospels. Cf. M. Hengel, The Four Gospels (Trinity, 2000), 48-56; 238-45.

But why assume that they must have been added by a later hand? We don’t find our friendly critics claiming that the apocryphal gospels were initially anonymous, do we? So why must the canonical gospels be anonymous? Why the double standard? The only reason that our Evangelists might not have entitled their works would be if they were addressed to a narrow and known audience. And that may, in fact, be the case. But once the gospels began to circulate more widely—and isn’t it a fair expectation that word-of-mouth would have created instant demand?—and found their way into private libraries, there would have been a natural need to add the titles. We know that at least three of the four Evangelists traveled widely. They understood that their gospels would eventually end up in strange hands and lands. Churches would want to know who wrote what. The prologue of Luke, and his evident use of Mark, serves to document this wider circulation, and within a time-frame no later than the 50s.

There is also an ambiguity in claiming that the titles are not original to the Gospels. Does this have reference to the original author or to the first edition? For example, Matthew could easily have issued more than one edition of his gospel. The first edition might have been anonymous if it was at first available to his immediate social circle. But once other churches began clamoring for copies, wouldn’t it have been natural for him to add a title identifying himself as the author? Remember, this is more than plausible speculation. We have to account for the ancient MS tradition as well as taking into account the practice of period historians and librarians.

As over against this suggestion, multiple editions might introduce unconformity into the MS tradition. However, that might also depend on whether a first edition enjoyed a very limited private circulation and did not, therefore, survive the transmission process. A later edition would naturally tend to supercede an earlier edition. It’s the later edition that would circulate more widely and be more widely copied and recopied.

Now let’s move on to some particulars. The question is often bound up with the question of dating, for a late date takes the document outside the likely lifespan of the Apostolate and their contemporaries. Assuming Marcan priority, Mark was written before Matthew and Luke. Luke was written before Acts. There are several reasons for dating the composition of Acts in the early 60s:
i) no reference to the final disposition of Paul
ii) no reference to the death of Peter or James
iii) the legal ambiguity of the Christian "sect"
iv) Luke’s effort to bring Christianity under the protective penumbra of Judaism. None of these amounts to conclusive evidence, but each is more plausible than alternative explanations, and they have a cumulative force. Luke had taken careful note of martyrdom of Stephen and the Apostle James (Acts 7:58ff.;12:2), so why not Peter, Paul and James the Lord’s brother? They were hardly less important. Luke devotes chapter after chapter to the impending trial of Paul. How could he ratchet up the reader’s interest only to drop the whole affair if he knew its ultimate outcome? Linking Christianity to the legal fortunes of Judaism would have backfired after the Jewish Revolt (AD 66).

There are also internal indicators of a pre-70 date for Matthew:
i) The Gospel spends a lot of time on debates over the kosher laws, Temple rites and regulations, Sadducean banter, the terms of Gentile admission, and so on—all of which presuppose a transitional period when the Temple was still standing, the Sadducees had clout and the tension between Christian and Jew hadn’t yet hardened into an irreversible rift. It is telling that liberals are so indifferent to this evidence when they are the first to insist that the NT documents were the product of religious communities who contemporized the message to suit their immediate circumstances. But even apart from liberal assumptions, there is, at least, a demographic slant to each of the Gospels. Notice the difference in orientation between Matthew and Justin. Justin writes as a Gentile trying to bring Jews into the fold. Matthew writes as an insider to Judaism, arguing from within the same living tradition as his Jewish target.
ii) Matthew contains three prophecies that would have been worded differently after the fact (10:23; 16:28; 24:34). According to liberal theology, the redactors felt free to make up speeches and put them in the mouth of Christ. It is inexplicable that a redactor writing after AD 70 would fabricate a "failed" prophecy or reproduce a tradition that falsified his own cause. Remember that liberal scholarship regards the gospels as unhistorical propaganda. Insofar as a putative redactor made creative use of tradition, it would be a self-serving rather than self-defeating adaptation. After all, there’s some evidence that the Evangelists were prepared to gloss statements that invited misunderstanding (e.g. Mt 19:17; cf. Mk 10:18). If, however, these considerations constrain us to date Matthew prior to AD 70, then the clunky machinery of redactional middlemen is even more suspect, since we’re now pushing the date back to within the normal life-span of the original disciples.
iii) Related to (ii), if the Olivet Discourse were post-70 composition, we would expect Matthew’s fulfillment-formula to kick in at 24:15.
iv) If Jas 5:12 is dependent on Mt 5:34-37, then that would push the date of Matthew back to at least the 50s if not the 40s (Cf. D. Guthrie, New Testament Introduction [IVP 1990], 749-753.), given that James was executed c. AD 62. Against Matthean priority, it may be argued that Mt 5:34-37 represents an expanded version of an oral logion. However, it could just as well be the case that James alludes to the Matthean saying because his audience was already familiar with the fuller form. Conversely, there are three points in favor of Matthean priority:
a) In terms of scholarly method, if you can account for the data on the basis of extant sources, that is more responsible than postulating imaginary (=oral) sources.
b) We have another parallel between Jas 5:2 and Mt 6:19. This coincidence is easier to account for from a literary rather than oral source.
c) It is hard to understand why Matthew would rewrite James in a less idiomatic style whereas it is easy to figure why James, with his cultivated ear, would improve on the tramontane original. Cf. Blass/Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament (Chicago, 1961), §149.

No comments:

Post a Comment