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Re: Did Luke write the Gospel of Luke?

Postby Cicero » Thu Jun 01, 2017 9:51 pm

> What I have is a studied perspective on 1-st century Judaism.

I don’t question this at all. What I question is the extent to which cultural trends translate into rules governing individual behaviour. This kind of assumption is made often, even in professional academia, where I would give the same response; my observation that doing so implies a naive view of human psychology was meant as a broader critique, not as a denigration. Whatever society’s view on a certain point you’ll always have splinter sects with different tendencies. To assume human behaviour can be so easily quantified I find risky.

But let’s leave this to one side.

> The ancient world didn't have any illusion that their mythologies qualified as historical... The Jews ... rooted YHWH (and also Jesus) firmly in history.

Here I have three problems with your argument.

Firstly, I strongly suspect that your initial claim is false. As far as I can tell from my own perusal of classical literature, the ancients made the same “history-nonsense” distinction as we do; they made no third category of “myths conveying theological truths” any more than the Jews did. Ancient philosophers ridicule myths as “old wives’ tales” all the time.

Secondly, the Jews believed they were rooting YHWH in history but they didn’t actually do so. I don’t know how far you adhere to the historical accuracy of the OT but it’s generally agreed even among Christians (though by all means correct me if you dissent) that the first eleven chapter of Genesis are quite clearly myths. Again, disapproval of the practice doesn’t mean they were capable of recognising it when it happened.

Thirdly, I think there is some terminological confusion on the word “myth.” A “myth” as an attempt by a human culture or society to explain reality (like the Roman/Greek/Jewish myths) isn’t quite the same as the process by which a historical narrative is contaminated by analogical narratives. I remain unconvinced that the two processes can simply be equated.

> The 2nd-century Christian fathers seem to have a clear picture of what was history vs. what is legend/mythography.

Here I must simply disagree with you; many of these myths were accepted and even some of these writings. As I’ve already said, I’m not so keen on the Church Fathers. But even if I were to overlook that point, this rebuttal is something of a red herring. I wasn’t arguing that second century Christianity was a representative sample of Ancient Christianity. I was arguing that second century Christianity is a clear counter-example to your claim that “Christians” generally did not engage in mythological practices.

> ... Ignatius is not regarded as inspired of God or on the level of Scripture.

No, but he’s a highly respected theologian. I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make here. My argument isn’t that Ignatius is as reliable as the Gospels (clearly he isn’t in so far as he’s further away from the events he describes). My argument is that Ignatius is about the most respectable, orthodox, decent Church Father you can get, and even he shows this tendency to lapse into mythologisation. That, if anything, should prove that the credentials of Luke’s anonymous source can’t be assumed simply on the basis of an argument like yours;

> But on a different level, apocalyptic writing is, by nature of the genre, filled with verbal images, metaphors, archetypes, and fantastic language of all sorts.

Fair. The literacy point I also concede.

> My difficulty with this is the markedly Hebraistic tone of Luke 1.5 to the end of chapter 2. Of all of his Gospel coming from a Jewish context, this text is it.

The trouble is that if Luke’s style is Septuagintal, as opposed to based on some other Hebrew source, there must be another explanation anyway. The question isn’t, why is Luke Hebraistic here and not elsewhere; the question is why does he model himself on the Septuagint here and not elsewhere. This cannot be explained – or at least not wholly explained – by saying his source was Hebraistic.

With regard to your list of similarities between Matthew and Luke: they remain mostly unremarkable, and the ones that aren't, as I've already pointed out, actually argue against your case because they are brought about in incompatible ways. I have nothing to add here to what I have already said; if the same is true on your end I suggest we leave this topic as it is.

Similarly on the genealogies. Obviously, the Christians believed Jesus was a king. My point is that if he grew up a humble carpenter's son he is extremely unlikely to have had officially recorded genealogies.

> Yes, and isn't this a fascinating observation you've made!

I'm not sure whether I'm missing some sarcasm here, but I really don’t follow you. The fact that we see an accumulative increase in the amount of myths in Christianity is an argument that miracles died out? I’m honestly fogged.

Again, if any of this is annoyance due to my lapse in my previous post, I understand but please don’t let that put you off this debate.. I’m enjoying it, and hoping it can continue. I'm willing to move on to new grounds if you think the infancy narratives have been fully threshed out.
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Re: Did Luke write the Gospel of Luke?

Postby jimwalton » Thu Jun 01, 2017 10:02 pm

Just so you know, and I am perfectly clear, I have been thoroughly enjoying this discussion with you. It's been fantastic, and I appreciate all your information and your attitude (especially with that one comment cleared up). Thank you for the exchange of thoughts.

> What I question is the extent to which cultural trends translate into rules governing individual behaviour.

Yes, and these things are so difficult to get as firm a handle on as we would like. Any scholar or archaeologist would tell you that the information we have from any given culture or era is AT BEST 10%. There is so much we don't know. I was reading the other day about the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and the author was saying, "We assume we know what the Jews felt after this horror, but we have to assume. Other than Josephus we have NO writings from them. If we are being honest, we have to admit that we don't know because nothing has survived, if anything was even written." And that was an immense historical occurrence and a massive cultural and religious shakeup. And yet even of that we have so little. It credits us as scholars to put the pieces we have together as best we can while admitting how little we truly know. Here we are trying to explicate how the 1st-c. Jews of Palestine, if taken as a generalized whole, treated mythology vs. what they considered to be religious truth, and it's—to be deeply honest with you—difficult to speak of with accuracy. Certainly some people (as some moderns are) are agonizingly superstitious, others skeptical to a fault, others intellectual and demanding evidence, and others knowing that evidence is not the only source of knowledge.

I, of course, was claiming that by-and-large, 1st-c. Jews were an educated bunch. I have read in one source that Greco-Rome was culturally not prone to superstition, but philosophical and practical. That, of course, can't describe all of the populous. The Jewish population of Palestine, I have read, was largely literate, but the Gentiles who also populated the area (such as Sephhoris and others) were better considered nonliterate than illiterate (which usually denotes ignorant). But we all know it's piece-work scholarship. Luke, by my observation, seems to have been one of the what we might call upper middle class (though there was no such technical category in the 1st century). He was educated, well-travelled, and erudite. I have a hard time putting him in the category of superstitious and confusing fact with mythology. But we also know that Greco-Rome juxtaposed indulged deep philosophy, juridical discourse, and mythology. I have read, in my studies about mythography, that they didn't make the mistake of thinking myth was history, but knew that myth was a theological explanation for how things came to be, how things worked, and why they worked that way. But hey, I'll admit to only knowing a sliver of what scholars know about mythography.

> I don’t know how far you adhere to the historical accuracy of the OT but it’s generally agreed even among Christians (though by all means correct me if you dissent) that the first eleven chapter of Genesis are quite clearly myths.

I subscribe to the historical reliability and accuracy of the Old Testament. My study of it shows that where extra-biblical corroboration exists, it corroborates the OT record. As far as Genesis 1-2, I adhere to the position taken by Dr. John Walton (in "The Lost World of Genesis One") that Genesis 1-2 are accounts of functional creation, not those of material creation—telling us how God ordered the cosmos to function, not how it came to be. And therefore it is not mythography (and differs significantly from the ancient Near Eastern creation mythographies). The Flood I take to have been a massively regional flood, but not global. Many of the tribal groups in Genesis 10 are identifiable historically, and even the Tower of Babel is fairly well pin-paintable. These are all discussions for another time, however.

> The trouble is that if Luke’s style is Septuagintal, as opposed to based on some other Hebrew source, there must be another explanation anyway.

I've been giving this a lot of thought. As I have re-studied Lk. 1.5-25, it is jammed, literally jammed with OT references. Luke is obviously trying to make a strong connection. The other thing that occurs to me is that it makes perfect sense that Luke, being a Gentile, would have accessed the Scriptures via the Septuagint rather than through a Hebrew text.

> The question isn’t, why is Luke Hebraistic here and not elsewhere; the question is why does he model himself on the Septuagint here and not elsewhere.

Yes, this is an excellent question and a valid critique. I'm still giving it thought. It's a great point you've made.

> With regard to your list of similarities between Matthew and Luke: they remain mostly unremarkable

Agreed. I only offered them because you said, rather categorically, "there is simply no point of contact between Matthew’s story and Luke’s story at all."

> My point is that if he grew up a humble carpenter's son he is extremely unlikely to have had officially recorded genealogies.

We learn from the Bible that the Jews were tenacious genealogists (Neh. 11 is merely one example; there are several elsewhere in the OT, like 1 Chr. 1, et al.). It mattered to them particularly with regard to priests and to David. Both Matthew and Luke's genealogies trace through David, so it doesn't surprise me that these records were kept. Certainly the wider the family tree spreads, the proportionately fewer are actually in the royal family because only 1 family gets to inherit the throne itself.

> I'm not sure whether I'm missing some sarcasm here, but I really don’t follow you. The fact that we see an accumulative increase in the amount of myths in Christianity is an argument that miracles died out? I’m honestly fogged.

Sorry. No, I wasn't being sarcastic. My point was that if the miracles were made up, there would be tendency to continue the presence of them so that the image of divine power would continue to marvel the masses. But instead miracles largely fizzle out with the apostles, suggesting to me that the record of them is not the stuff of legend but of history.
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Re: Did Luke write the Gospel of Luke?

Postby Cicero » Sun Jun 04, 2017 8:16 pm

> Certainly some people (as some moderns are) are agonizingly superstitious, others skeptical to a fault… I, of course, was claiming that by-and-large, 1st-c. Jews were an educated bunch… I have a hard time putting [Luke] in the category of superstitious and confusing fact with mythology.

I mostly agree with this. With regard to what I disagree with: I can respect a subjective argument like the one you make about Luke, and I admit that my own argument against it is subjective, too. I just don’t share your confidence about the ability of even an educated ancient man to sift history from myth, and that’s mainly based on what I’ve read of the Church Fathers.

> the Tower of Babel is fairly well pin-paintable. These are all discussions for another time, however.

You’re right that it’s a discussion for a different time, but I’d say they’re methodologically relevant, though. I’m still curious as to whether you accept that there’s such a thing as a wholly artificial way of looking at stories like this, and I’d suggest the Tower of Babel is a good example of the problem I have with your approach generally, also as applied to the infancy narratives, where I’ve run out of specific examples.

Bear with me; I’m not trying to change the subject. This is relevant.

The Babel story is an aetiology. Language change isn’t generally observable over the course of a human lifespan, so naturally ancient man was curious about the reason for linguistic diversity: it’s fairly clear to me that a story like that of the Tower of Babel was designed to answer these questions, and that not only the original audience of this tale, but also the person who originally wrote it, would have interpreted its message along these lines.

Today we know that most of the linguistic diversity we observe is the result of historical changes, many of which we can reconstruct with a high degree of accuracy, and that all language change we can’t reconstruct due to lack of evidence can in principle be explained along the same lines.

So if we interpret the ToB as a real event, we do so in a way totally alien to the way it was originally designed to be understood. It provides an explanation of linguistic diversity we know is (at least today) mostly incorrect. Such an approach, would, as it were, take the ToB and put it in a “test-tube,” and study it as though it were some sort of historical anecdote one could approach in isolation.
This is why I’m not really interested in the extent to which the ToB is “pin-pointable,” whether you mean that historically, geographically or archeologically. It’s not the main issue. There is no methodologically sound – and, most importantly, falsifiable -- historiographical approach to the ToB which leaves its historical framework intact.

In the case of the infancy narratives, the main example of what I would regard as the “artificial and unfalsifiable” part of your methodology (in a similar way to the Babel story) is still the lack of overlap between the stories. On which subject you say:

"I only offered them because you said, rather categorically, 'there is simply no point of contact between Matthew’s story and Luke’s story at all.' "

Fair. But in that case you haven’t really responded to my argument. The differences remain.

Let me give another example of a biblical contradiction, an example which is even clearer (in my view). Take the death of Judas. Matthew says he hung himself, Luke says he fell and his bowels gushed out (and Papias, that most reliable of Church Fathers, says he got a grotesque disease).

Now theoretically I could reconcile these accounts. I could say Judas hung himself, the rope broke, he fell and his bowels gushed out. If I thought Papias’ story was anything more than shameless fiction (which I don’t) I could add that he may have contracted a loathsome disease whilst doing so.

Again, however, this would be a highly artificial way of doing history. Why is this? Because in doing this I am essentially inventing what Matthew Ferguson calls a “super version of the event”, not attested in any records, without any text-internal indication that this is a warranted approach. I am essentially creating a “test-tube” story which exists nowhere. For Plutarch’s account of the assassination of Caesar this isn’t necessary; a single frame-work from the narrative itself explains every account. Here, on the other hand, I would be using a methodology which, if consistently applied, would make it impossible to call any contradiction in ancient historiographers a contradiction.

Let’s turn to the infancy narratives and think of it as a statistical argument. Take a Venn diagram where set S is Matthew’s account and set T is Luke’s account. The totality of the recorded historical events surrounding Jesus’ infancy would then be [S ∪ T] and the information Matthew and Luke have in common [S ∩ T]. Methodologically speaking, the smaller [S ∩ T] is the less comfortable we should be about our "super-story." Now if Matthew and Luke were both independently taking elements from a common narrative to create their own selective (but historically accurate) infancy narrative we’d expect the set [S ∩ T] to be much bigger, and we’d expect elements within [S ∩ T] to contain references to consequences, details or corrolaries of the particular stories within [S] or [T]. They don’t.

My theory is easily falsified. If [S ∩ T] contained any information which fitted specifically within Luke’s story or Matthew’s story, your argument would immediately become much stronger. Suppose Matthew observed that Jesus was also visited by shepherds, or that an angel also appeared to Mary, no matter how parenthetically—that would make your point of view much more likely. Since, as it happens, there is no text-internal reason to suppose there needs to be such a super-story, your methodology seems to me to be unfalsifiable.

The reason I'm trying to take a step back (at the serious risk of being repetitive) is because we often seem to be talking at cross-purposes due to the fact that we use different methodologies. Using "clearer" examples like the ToB and Judas' suicide might clarify these vital methodological issues. I'd summarise them as follows:

1. Do you agree that there is such a thing as an artificially historicising approach to ancient texts? In positive terms: what would you consider a valid warning sign that we're engaging in what German scholars so colourfully term Hineininterpretierung (anachronistic interpretation from a modern point of view)?

2. Do you agree that contradictions are ever significant in gauging the historical accuracy of ancient texts? In positive terms: do you have a clear definition of what does constitute a contradiction?

My point was that if the miracles were made up, there would be tendency to continue the presence of them so that the image of divine power would continue to marvel the masses.

I’d say they managed pretty well, though. Most of the Christian saints over the next centuries accumulate implausible hagiographies, too. The apostles attract more myths, but that’s hardly surprising: if you’ve made up a cool story about resurrecting smoked fish. It’s a bit of a waste to ascribe it to a non-entity nobody’s interested in.
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Re: Did Luke write the Gospel of Luke?

Postby jimwalton » Sun Jun 04, 2017 8:43 pm

OK, so you want to talk about the Tower of Babel (ToB) as it relates to methodology. Three options are available:

1\. It's an ahistorical event with no correlation to actual happenings. A problem with this view is how many of its components can be linked to known and even preserved historical realities.

2\. It's an agnostic (undetermined) historical event composed of generalities and taking liberty with facts while admitting multiple points of contact with known historical realities.

3\. It's a known historical event. This is where the strength of the evidence lies.

It's a narrative of creating God in our own image so that he caters to our designs. In other words, they were playing God. The story is a first occurrence statement of God against enculturated paganism. Let's talk about the historicity.

Walton, Matthews & Chavalas say, "Many of the features of this account point to the end of the 4th millennium to the end of the 3rd as the setting of the narrative. This is the period when receding water allowed settlement of the southern Tigris-Euphrates basin. Many settlements on native soil show that the occupants brought the northern Mesopotamian culture with them. It is likewise in the period known as the Late Uruk phase (toward the end of the 4th millennium) that the culture and technology known from these settlements in southern Mesopotamia suddenly starts showing up in settlements throughout the ANE. Thus both the migration referred to in v. 2 and the dispersion of v. 9 find points of contact in the settlement pattern identified by archaeologists for the end of the 4th millennium. Urbanization, ziggurat prototypes and experimentation with kiln-baked brick also fit this time period."

There are historical accounts that corroborate such a possibility in about 2110-2000 BC, which accords well with the biblical account. Numerous ziggurats have been found, and there is plenty of other reliable cultural and historical information in the biblical text (thoroughly-baked bricks, tar for mortar, temple complex in the city, tower to connect heaven and earth, etc.). We don't need to take the story as the origins of all human languages, but an invading army that dispersed them to various nations so that they began to speak different languages. It's also a religious theme consistent with the agenda of Genesis, though it's embedded in a thoroughly historical event. The strength of the evidence in Gn. 11.1-9 is a historical narrative in a particular time frame, interpreted theologically.

What most likely happened here is that "the united cultures of the Sumerians are invaded by the Babylonians (Semitic language segment) and dispersed, heightening an existing clash of languages, creating a disintegration and mixing of language as the Sumerian civilization collapsed and people groups were mixed by the permeation of foreign languages" (Paul Penley). By doing so, God shut the project down. Cooperation and progress were impossible. It's not a story describing the origin of all languages, but a localized confusion of a major language in Mesopotamia.

Their offense is the ziggurat, representing the religious system in which the gods were recast with human natures. People were no longer trying to be like God, but more insidiously, were trying to bring God down to the level of fallen humanity. The fall of Sumer was a fall of the religious system there.

The date of this event is somewhere in about 3000-2000 BC. According to Sumerian chronology, the Sumerian dynasty at Ur III in about 2110-2000 BC (±50) saw its demise and transition to the first Babylonian dynasty right in this exact time frame. The Ur III period was one of great prosperity, with a booming economy allowing great construction programs. Archaeologically speaking, the most significant feature of the Ur III period is the magnificent monumental architecture.

> How did Judas die?

We can approach Judas the same way. It's not far from what you said. There is certainly no contradiction. Both accounts can easily be true. A contradiction occurs when one account excludes the possibility of the other. The Second Law of Logic (the Law of Non-Contradiction) holds that something can't be both true and false at the same time and in the same sense. That's clearly not what's going on here: Matthew says Judas hanged himself, and Acts says that Judas fell headlong and burst open. First off, two different actions. Both are possible, since neither negates the possibility of the other. So, it's plausible, or at least possible, that Judas hung himself, and then later somehow (through a broken branch or rope, possibly) that his body fell and split open. Matthew tells us how Judas died; Acts doesn't tell us how he died, but of some happening surrounding his death.

Let's pretend two men are brawling—fighting to the death. Man A punches man B in the throat, crushing his larynx. He can't breathe any more, stumbles around, falls to the ground, and his head hits a curb and breaks open. So, the police come to the scene and ask witnesses what happened. One says, "The guy punched him and killed him!" A second guy says, "The guy couldn't breathe and died." And even a third claims, "He hit his head on the curb and his skull split open." Contradictions? Nope. They can actually be pieced together to create the whole story for someone who knows the whole story.

Here's at least a possible scenario: Judas takes the money to betray Jesus, and does exactly that. Afterwards, filled with remorse, he goes back to the priests. They won't take the money. In anger and guilt, the throws it into the temple courtyard and leaves. He makes his way out to a field, hangs himself, something breaks, and he falls to the ground and his body gashes open (or possibly when his body is discovered and people cut him down, his bloated dead body hits the ground and splits). The priests gather up the money, but they can't use it, according to the Law—it's blood money. It's still legally Judas', not theirs. They buy a field with his money in his name.

> Again, however, this would be a highly artificial way of doing history. Why is this? Because in doing this I am essentially inventing what Matthew Ferguson calls a “super version of the event”, not attested in any records, without any text-internal indication that this is a warranted approach.

I know what you mean, and the Pandora's box it opens. And yet we know how selective the Gospel writers were. Any historian has to be—no one writes everything they know or every piece of research they have. They all filter, edit, and write in conformity to their thesis. Now I will grant you that the assembly of the Judas accounts is exactly as you say—assembling an unattested "super-version". Is it impossible? No. Is it likely? That's much tougher to get a grip on. Is it inferring the most reasonable conclusion? This is extremely difficult.

> What would you consider a valid warning sign that we're engaging in what German scholars so colourfully term Hineininterpretierung (anachronistic interpretation from a modern point of view)?

This is a great question, and an awesome vocabulary word (hineyinterpretung, or whatever). The answer comes only through a thorough study of the ancient cultures to discern where we are guilty of anachronistic presentism. I see it all the time in my conversations on this forum, for instance, when people assume that the way we understand and define slavery has to have been the way the ancients understood and practiced it. It is only our knowledge of the ANE that reveals the mistake. Since the oral records of Jesus' life seem to have risen immediately after his resurrection, and since the Gospel accounts are within the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses and to some extent written by the eyewitnesses themselves, those are all reason to dismiss hieininterpretierung (awesome word) for the Gospel accounts.

> Do you have a clear definition of what does constitute a contradiction?

I do. Contradictions are intentional conflicts of position and information, so much so that if you sat the two authors across from each other at a table, they would have a debate over the matter. In other words, a true contradiction is when two people oppose each other in the accurate representation of a truth, with each claiming opposing and mutually exclusive truths.
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Re: Did Luke write the Gospel of Luke?

Postby Cicero » Mon Jun 05, 2017 3:23 pm

> It's an agnostic (undetermined) historical event composed of generalities and taking liberty with facts while admitting multiple points of contact with known historical realities.

Of your three options, the 2nd (broadly speaking) is probable the most probable. Every myth bears some relationship to reality. Even the Trojan legends do; it's probably the best explanation for the historical accuracies in the story, as you say.

I have some problems with your scenario of the Tower of Babel, though. I cannot think of any parallel situation where linguistic disunity (as opposed to military violence and the other numerous inconveniences if an invasion) led to the parting of nations. Usually such situations result quite comfortably in a situation of temporary bilingualism followed by fusion (think of the Norman invasion of England, the Germanic invasion of the Roman empire, the Indo-European invasion of Europe). In fact, "localised confusion of ... language" is something of a contradiction in terms; usually languages grow closer to each other in such situations; comparative linguistics is a serious hobby of mine and I cannot think of a single parallel.

But more crucially, you do not appear to respond to my charge of Hineininterpretierung. Do you accept that the original audience of this story would have heard it as an aetiology? Because as soon as you accept that the Jews themselves regarded this story as the explanation for linguistic diversity generally (or even linguistic diversity in the ANE) the historical context becomes irrelevant. What a story meant in its original context is always more important in this kind of debate than whatever meaning you or I choose to give it.
Although I agree with you that Hineininterpretierung is less of an issue for the New Testament; it plays a role there too, but it's easier to clarify methodological issues by having recourse to the extremes of its application.

> In other words, a true contradiction is when two people oppose each other in the accurate representation of a truth, with each claiming opposing and mutually exclusive truths.

Your definition of contradiction is, I think, too restrictive. Or rather, it's more of a definition in the limited sense than an applicable methodology.

I agree that a contradiction implies the authors would, had they met in person, have had to defend their own version of the events against that of the other. The problem is, how can we tell whether this would have been the case? To make that decision we need different tools. The texts are never going to contain footnotes saying 'btw I disagree with Luke here'.

To illustrate the problem, let me propose what I shall term "Cicero's First Law." There is no conceivable contradiction between written texts, no matter how obvious and direct, for which it is impossible to devise some convoluted rationalisation. There will always be some thinkable superstory within which both versions can be made to agree, even if they flatly contradict each other. There is no such thing as irreconcilability; there just comes a point where the rationalisations become so absurd that they're obviously ridiculous, so I disagree with your implied suggestion that you've set an unambiguous line. The Second Law of Logic doesn't take interpretative issues into account.

Therefore, I'd take the broadest possible definition: wherever ancient writers offer a different account of some exactly parallel element in an identical or similar event the balance of probabilities is that one or both have got it wrong. This is the standard we apply elsewhere in the ancient world; to withhold it from the Bible would seem to be a case of special pleading.

I'd say your counterexample proves my point. Given the superstory you describe I think it highly unlikely that any witness wishing to record the event in question would have said that someone who died as a result of physical violence 'choked to death' any more than one would say Caesar died of internal bleeding or Jesus of asphyxiation. Not even the hitting of the head, quite frankly, would make it into the final story without at least some reference to the violence which directly caused this event.

Not all parts of a story are as likely to be mentioned in a brief summary. There is what one might term a 'pecking order'. If I had to summarise Jesus' death I'd always give priority to the crucifixion, and only mention the stabbing by the Roman soldier if I had the space to do so. If of three people asked to summarise Jesus' death one says he was crucified, one says he was stabbed and the other that he was asphyxiated (the probable cause of death for crucifixion victims), you could say they were all 'right' but there's something pretty damn' strange going on.

(Okay, Jesus was already dead when he was stabbed, but my point remains valid.)

In such a case, even if I knew they were all right, I'd still think it more likely that one or more of these summaries came from people who had an incorrect sequence of events in mind or whose information in the subject was in some way muddled or incomplete. Much more so when we talking about a real-life scenario where the superstory is nowhere attested as such.

Let me give you an example from secular history (again, courtesy of Ferguson; I can't think of one of my own on the spur of the moment). Suetonius says the body of the Roman emperor Vitellius was thrown into the Tiber, Dio Cassius says it was dragged through the city and consequently buried. Now anyone with a bit of intelligence could easily devise a superstory which reconciled these accounts ("they fished the body out again and buried it"). But historians of Rome never do this. They just assume take the contradiction at face value and assume one or both of them got it wrong. Do you agree that they are right to do so?
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Re: Did Luke write the Gospel of Luke?

Postby jimwalton » Mon Jun 05, 2017 3:38 pm

> I have some problems with your scenario, though. (Tower of Babel)

I thought in what I sent to you, I distinctly mentioned military violence and invasion: The Sumerians were invaded by the Babylonians.

> Do you accept that the original audience of this story would have heard it as an aetiology?

Actually, I don't. But it's all quite speculative. It's an almost impossible demand to speak with precision about how an audience from 1300 BC would hear the story, and I'm not sure that debate here will be more than exchanging biases.

> There is no conceivable contradiction between written texts, no matter how obvious and direct, for which it is impossible to devise some convoluted rationalisation.

This begs the point, however. We all know that eyewitnesses to an event will tell different stories. Biographers of Abraham Lincoln choose different things to include and emphasize. Historians are always selective. And we know the Gospel writers had agendas, had little or no commitment to chronology, had a large amount of material from which to pull about a man who most likely told these same teachings and stories numerous times and even engaged in certain miracle-work on repeated occasions. Declaring with confidence that "these two items are distinct contradictions" is reaching pretty far, given the context. All historiography is interpretive more than it's logical, though reliable historiography is reasoned (rather than reckless) interpretation.

> Therefore, I'd take the broadest possible definition: wherever ancient writers offer a different account of some exactly parallel element in an identical or similar event the balance of probabilities is that one or both have got it wrong.

I would strongly disagree with this. As I mentioned previously, Luke wrote three accounts of Paul's conversion in Acts, and they disagree with each other. We have four non-identical narratives of Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon, but historians don't throw it out. They assume Julius did indeed cross the Rubicon, and they piece it together, not super-sizing the event, but honestly trying to discern what really happened there by assembling the jigsaw puzzle.

> In such a case, even if I knew they were all right, I'd still think it more likely that one or more of these summaries came from people who had an incorrect sequence of events in mind or whose information in the subject was in some way muddled or incomplete.

Now, see, in contrast, I would assume that each was telling only the part of the picture that fed into their agenda, but with no intent to muddle or mislead.

> Suetonius says the body of the Roman emperor Vitellius was thrown into the Tiber, Dio Cassius says it was dragged through the city and consequently buried. Now anyone with a bit of intelligence could easily devise a superstory which reconciled these accounts ("they fished the body out again and buried it"). But historians of Rome never do this. They just assume take the contradiction at face value and assume one or both of them got it wrong. Do you agree that they are right to do so?

In this case, yes. I agree that they are right to assume one or both got it wrong.
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Re: Did Luke write the Gospel of Luke?

Postby Cicero » Tue Jun 06, 2017 2:57 pm

There are two minor points I'd like to clear up:

> I distinctly mentioned military violence and invasion: The Sumerians were invaded by the Babylonians.

True. I was thinking of the Bible account, which seems to say the confusion of languages was (at least in part) the reason for their dispersal.

> wherever ancient writers offer a different account of some exactly parallel element in an identical or similar event the balance of probabilities is that one or both have got it wrong. ... We have four non-identical narratives of Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon, but historians don't throw it out.

I did my utmost best to formulate my definition in such a way as to exclude this kind of valid enquiry, as I hope my emphases clarify :)

Apart from that, I think this debate is beginning to reach a close. We are clearly not going to agree on these fundamental methodological principles and without them our respective historical analyses of the Bible are just going to move along parallel and non-intersecting lines. If you have anything more to add I'd be happy to give you the last word; otherwise I suggest we leave it here.

Thanks for this fantastic discussion! I'll miss our exchanges. This has been without a doubt the most well-informed debate I've ever had with a Christian, either on this forum or elsewhere, and one of the most thorough and wide-ranging. I've enjoyed it enormously and have learnt a lot. Thanks!
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Re: Did Luke write the Gospel of Luke?

Postby jimwalton » Sun Aug 27, 2017 7:18 am

Actually I have two more pieces. I respect what you are saying about quilt-patching various accounts together to try to come up with a way so that they don't contradict. Your points are good and you've made me think. I know that different perspectives are part of any eyewitness scenario, but sometimes (especially with the Bible) people try to go to heroics to make it happen. This conversation has been helpful in helping me see more of that. Thank you.

Secondly, I just finished reading an article by Timothy Mitchell about the literary milieu of the NT Gospels (and probably Epistles). He said some fascinating things. He examined works by Cicero, Pliny the Younger, and Galen.

It was explicitly stated that writers often employed the literary skills of secretaries (sometimes more than one) in composing and editing. The "author" maintained some type of quality control during the writing process. Then these writers sent unsigned drafts to acquaintances for proofreading, correcting, and critical suggestions. It was generally understood that the manuscript would remain under the tight control of the evaluator, but sometimes a portion (or even the whole) of such works would circulate more widely than the writer had intended. Often these works circulated without the name of the author attached.

After edited comments were returned to the author, the author would polish his treatise (again, with an amanuensis) for publishing, meaning copying and circulation.

Galen complained his books were illegitimately published, and that they had been "subject to all sorts of mutilations, ... [some] publishing the texts under their own names with all sorts of cuts, additions, and alterations." He lamented that they were given without the author's name attached to friends and pupils.

It just makes me wonder about how the Gospels came about—what process went into them.

Mitchell concludes, "The process by which a literary composition saw the light of day was a long, drawn-out procedure of correction, editing, polishing, and rewriting. At times it was a community effort that involved some of the author's closest associates who gave constructive criticism and suggested changes. In the case of Cicero, the skills of his slave Tiro were employed to great advantage. Pliny the Younger also used the services of a secretary to copy down his thoughts as he dictated. Even the eccentric Galen allowed students and scribes to copy down his lectures for circulation among his community of students and upper-class followers. Thought these authors used their associates, literate slaves, and scribes to aid in the editing process, the writing was still considered to be the author's own work, a product of his or her creative mind. ... Nevertheless, even in the most extreme cases of the unsolicited copying of Galen's unpolished lecture notes (which unscrupulous doctors were passing off as their own work), his students and followers could recognize that these copies in circulation were actually Galen's lectures and that they were incomplete...

"The extant papyrus fragments of authorial copies of draft documents discussed above give modern readers a firsthand view of what the draft copies of the works of Cicero, Pliny, and Galen may have looked like. The fact that they bear the earmarks of extensive alterations made in the same hand as the main body of text is precisely the clue that indicates their autographic nature..."

I just found all this fascinating as we try to figure out what's up with the Gospel writings. Thanks for reading.


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