Friday, December 30, 2011

Interesting Post

Stumbled upon this blog post: Why I am Not a Christian over at dia pente blog that has some good information. My favorite line: “The Holiday Season is schizophrenic. Hanukkah celebrates the defeat of a guy who got rid of the laws of Moses, but Christmas celebrates the birth of a guy who got rid of the laws of Moses “

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Book Review – Sherwin-White. Part Four

Before I continue on with Paul’s interaction in Acts of the Apostles—a brief interlude to remind us of two obvious concepts. In fact, so obvious, you will immediately read it, and only one word will come to mind. “Obvious.” Yet for some reason we enter biblical studies and become muddled, foggy and eventually ignored.

1) Just because it is historically accurate, does not make it historical. Just because an event is historical, does not mean we have a historically accurate account.

I enjoy reading the background on movies at Internet Movie Database. All sorts of information—actors, budget, gross revenues, quotes, trivia—including a section on “goofs.” One goof often listed is anachronisms—items, quotes or events in movies out of place.

For example, the action/adventure Where Eagles Dare is a World War II drama. Yet imdb notes, “If you look really carefully you can make out that the timer used on the bombs (in particular the one on the cable car) is a Heuer Sebring, a model that wasn't made until around 1958.”

Obviously they were not using 1958 timers in 1944. It is a mistake. Now, the movie has 1000’s of details correct—uniforms, salutes, trucks, cars, motorcycles, parachutes, radio rooms, etc.—yet all those correct details do not make the story factual. It does not become historical if the movie maker used correctly dated times.

We understand it is these anachronisms cluing us in as to errors in the story.

Secondly, even though we know something happened, we may not have historically accurate information. We have differing copies of the Gettysburg Address, and are not certain what Lincoln’s precise words were. Does that mean he did not give the Gettysburg Address? Of course not. And we can be reasonably certain of being extremely close to what he said. Just not 100% accurate.

Because a story has correct details does not make it history. Because a story has incorrect details does not make it completely fiction.

I point this out, because at times it seems we battle two extremes within biblical studies. On the one hand, there are those who insist every detail MUST be true, or the whole thing should be thrown out as a shame. “Jesus couldn’t be born when King Herod the Great was alive and Quirinius was governor, therefore Jesus was never born.” On the other, there are those who claim some details are accurate, so the whole thing must be true. “Since there really was Pontius Pilate, heaven has golden streets.”

This “all-or-nothing” would seem to be part of what Sherwin-White is battling. Scholars who indicate not knowing what Paul was precisely charged with on certain occasions so it never happened. However, Sherwin-White then pendulums too far (in my opinion) to excusing anachronisms calling into question the account’s historicity.

It seems to me we approach these stories just like any other historical account. Provisionally, understanding errors do not eliminate the necessity of it being historical, but give us pause as to why the errors occurred.

Christians would be far better served if they avoided Herculean twists to align Jesus’ birthdate, accept Luke modified the date to conform to Luke’s intended point, and move on. Jesus could still exist. Jesus could still be the Son of God. Jesus could still have been crucified, buried and rose again. Just Luke got it wrong when it came to Jesus’ birth. (Coincidentally, this is exactly what evangelical Christians do with the Second Century gospels on Jesus. Still claim he was a child at one point, and could do extraordinary things, and was the son of God, etc. Just that the author of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was wrong. Alas, they avoid making the same claim about Luke, because it is within the covers of their leather-bound, family heirloom.)

2) Is it remarkable Luke got details correct?

Imagine I told you to write a Batman comic including a storyline about Bruce Wayne being on trial. I suspect you would include things like a prosecutor, attorneys, a judge, possibly a jury. It would be in a courtroom, there would be counsel tables, perhaps a court reporter and bailiff. You would include words like “Objection!” and “Sustained!” Phrases like “Call your next witness” and “Please be seated.”

Thanks to books, television, plays and movies, most people have general knowledge how a trial runs. 2000 years from now, I would review it and could point out dozens, if not 100’s of details you got precisely correct. The correct general charge, the correct order, the correct language, the correct players, the correct system.

Yet we know it is a story about Batman—a completely fictional account.

The question I have is this—given a person who could read/write Greek, was generally knowledgeable regarding governorships, travel, and geography of the First Century Mediterranean, would we equally expect such a person to have general knowledge regarding legal actions sufficient to provide the broad details we have?

Simply put, could Luke have the knowledge to completely make-up the legal inter-workings with Paul, the same as you could make up a trial about Batman? If so, how remarkable is it he gets these broad concepts correct?

Keeping this in mind, the next two (2) lectures Sherwin-White deals with Paul’s trial before Felix and Festus in Judea.

Sherwin-White addresses “moderns” (pg. 49) regarding question as to what the specific charges would be. “In the scene before the Sanhedrin, Paul defends himself sophistically from charges of what one may call heresy….” (pg. 49) or stirring up civil disturbances.

This accusation—“stirring up civil disturbances”—is supported by letter from Claudius against Alexandrians, “stirring up a plague and disturbances for the Jews throughout the world..” (pg. 51)

Paul’s accusers (Asian Greeks) disappear, thus putting the case on “cold storage” for two years. Also interesting the inquiry into Paul’s province, as this could well be forum domicilii but Felix keeps the case. Perhaps because Cilicia did not have Roman authority at the time (it was under client-kings.) By the 4th year of Nero it did. (Did Luke place this event too early? If so, Sherwin-White excuses it: “If Acts has made a slip in implying that Cilicia was already a separate province, the slip is venial, because within two or three years that was the situation.” (pg 57) This is what I mean by Sherwin-White excusing what could be an anachronism revealing lack of historicity.)

Sherwin-White makes only brief mention of Paul’s citizenship; he will deal with Roman Citizenship in a later lecture.

The next lecture regards Paul’s interactions at the cities. The pattern is roughly the same: Paul enters the city, starts to preach in the synagogue. Jews bring complaints to the city leaders, Paul skips town. Repeat at the next stop.

Sherwin-White makes the point the accounts, including the punishments, the persons involved, etc. conform to what would probably happen in the latter 1st century. There is nothing reflecting late Second Century here. I do think this is a stronger point to support Acts was not a late 2nd Century work. In other words, Luke did not put a 190 CE timer in a 60 CE event.

Basically, Sherwin-White notes the stories contain broad general knowledge, conforming to the broad general knowledge we have of the period. With an occasional anachronism that Sherwin-White excuses, and I question what direction it would point us in.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Book Review – Sherwin-White. Part Three

Trial of Jesus

There were two (2) trials: one before the Jewish authorities—the Sanhedrin, the other before the Roman Authority—Prefect Pontius Pilate.


Sherwin-White responds to two (2) claims:

1) Whether the Sanhedrin could take place at night; and
2) Whether the Sanhedrin had the power of capital punishment.

Some quick background, if the reader is not familiar. (Again, Sherwin-White presumes the reader is, and provides little insight.) I will use our traditional day/night, not the Jewish system of sundown to sundown.

Jesus has the last supper, Passover sedar, which lasts until midnight on Thursday night. Extremely early Friday morning (traditional “Good Friday) Jesus is praying. The famous “take this cup from me” and “sweat like blood” scene. Still wee hours of morning, Jesus is arrested, and taken before the Sanhedrin. He is then tried before the Sanhedrin, allegedly for blasphemy. Friday morning (sunrise) the Sanhedrin takes Jesus to Pilate for sentencing.

Both Matthew (Matt. 27:1) and Mark (Mark 15:1) indicate Jesus’ appearance before the council occurred in the Thursday night-Friday early morning period. Luke, however, has Jesus held by the guards until the morning and then commences the council. (Luke 22:66)

Sherwin-White states Matthew-Mark’s timing is more accurate, and Luke’s is “less probable.” (Sherwin-White’s words.) He bases this on two things:

1) He cites numerous anecdotes where Roman officials got up early in the morning to perform their work. If the Jewish authorities wanted to get Jesus to Pilate in time, they would have to complete their trial process before Pilate was “done for the day” if you will.

2) The fire. Luke 22:55 states a fire was kindled to keep warm. (Where Peter commences his three-part betrayal of Jesus.) If the trial was to not take place until the morning, reasons Sherwin-White, why have a fire?

Unfortunately, I found this analysis unsubstantial for a number of reasons:

a) Sherwin-White never addresses the issue about Luke copying Matthew and/or Mark. If Luke deliberately changed the timing of the council—where did he get his information from? If it is “less probable,” doesn’t this impact Luke’s credibility? Where else did Luke take more certain data and make it less likely?

b) Sherwin-White never addresses the fact this took place during Passover. Jerusalem would have been busting at the seams with people. This is a large Jewish holiday, involving preparation, (removing the leaven from the house) and a family ritualistic feast ending at midnight. Frankly, the timing (prayer, arrest, council and conviction from midnight to 6 a.m.) would be inconceivable within such a short time frame during this period.

Arguably the reason Pilate was in Jerusalem, rather than the capital of Caesarea, was heightened security concern. Pilate was not “working a regular day” and then finishing up for an early round of golf on Friday—Pilate was there to handle concerns like this, anticipated to occur.

c) The fire could easily be fatigue by Luke, or Luke copying Mark with little thought as to why it would be noteworthy to start a fire.

d) Sherwin-White never refers to the Tracate Sanhedrin that lays out explicit rules for trials, and condemning an individual. The Tracate Sanhedrin was violated numerous times and ways in the Gospel accounts, yet Sherwin-White never responds to it. More on this in a minute.

The second issue regarding the Sanhedrin was whether they had the power to commit capital punishment. Specifically John 18:31 indicates the Jews did not have the authority to kill as punishment.

Sherwin-White notes other provinces where only the Roman governor could execute the accused. He indicates this power was jealously guarded by Rome.

Now, Sherwin-White does recognize the story of Stephen (Acts 7) and James, the brother of Christ in Josephus. Both accounts regarding the council ordering death. Sherwin-White excuses both as anomalies for differing reasons. Stephen because it was more a lynching than an execution, and James because it was done explicitly when no governor was present—Judea was between Procurators.

Although I think those are reasonable explanations, one does wonder which it was—were Stephen and James exceptions or anecdotes? Was John wrong and Acts correct or Acts correct and John wrong? Further, what happens in one province does not necessarily prevail in another. The story indicates Jews had the ability to determine who would die or live within the Barabbas story. If Rome was willing to allow this “custom” (dealing with capital punishment) how can we be so certain it did not allow the Sanhedrin to have the right to capital punishment in violation of its religious laws, albeit not in Roman civil laws?

But most importantly, I was disappointed and would like to have questioned Sherwin-White about the Tracate Sanhedrin. This document gives specific outline regarding how to try different types of cases—specifically crimes involving death as a punishment. How to execute (hanging or stoning) and specifics about how to perform the execution.

It very clearly anticipates the Sanhedrin had the power to inflict capital punishment. Now, the document is dated to the later part of the Second Century. BUT, as I stated earlier, if Sherwin-White utilizes Second Century documents, to claim a basis in the first Century, couldn’t we do that as well with the Tracate Sanhedrin? Claim it was utilized earlier, but not codified until the Second Century?

Trial before Pilate

Sherwin-White was better here. The ground was more familiar for him.

Accusers were the priests, Pilate “investigated” the charges of Jesus being an instigator, as “King of the Judeans,” and without a response from Jesus, was forced to convict. Sherwin-White (as I stated in the earlier blog entry) notes accused where asked thrice as to their innocence and guilt. Sherwin-White relies upon Pliny the Younger (early Second Century) and presumes this was a continued practice from the First Century. However, Sherwin-White notes question put twice to Jesus in Matt. and Mark, once in Luke and thrice to accusers in Luke.

He makes no notation as to whether this is an exception to the “3 times” rule or a development of the “3 times” rule, so we are left puzzling to the significance.

Sherwin-White indicates there were three graduated levels of beating - fustes, flagella, verbera where fustes would mean a warning or threat, and Sherwin-White praises Luke for being historically accurate when Luke records Pilate offering fustes. (Luke 23:14-16)

Sherwin-White also discusses the curious side trip of Pilate sending Jesus to Herod, only recorded in Luke.

Under Roman law (as well as our own), “venue” is the determination where the legal proceedings must occur, given the parameters of the action. In America, this is more important in civil matters than criminal matters—we are all familiar with criminal actions taking place where the crime occurred. If you rob a bank in Florida, the trial will be in Florida, regardless if you are from Kansas, or Virginia or Iowa.

The Roman law recognized two (2) possible venues: forum delecti (where crime occurred) as compared to forum domicilii (where one lived). This charge—causing insurrection by claiming to be King of the Judeans, would be forum delecti --where the crime occurred.

Thus it is curious why Pilate would ever involve Herod Antipas. According to the accusers, Jesus claimed to be King of the Judeans, and was stirring up trouble throughout “all of Judea, beginning with Galilee.” (Luke 23:5). Luke then states, “And as soon as Pilate knew that Jesus belonged to Herod Antipas’ jurisdiction, Pilate sent Jesus to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.” (Luke 23:7)

But wait a minute…according to Sherwin-White, this crime would be forum delecti--where the crime occurred. According to the accusers, Jesus claimed to be “King of the Judeans” and while Jesus may have started in Galilee, this insurrectionist action was taking place in Judea. The very obvious venue would be…Judea.

Herod Antipas was tetrarch over Galilee—a completely separate country. Why would Herod Antipas have jurisdiction over Jesus? The crime was in Judea, the venue for the crime is where it was committed…finding out Jesus was from a different country would make no difference.

Sherwin-White fails to adequately deal with this conflict. Why would Pilate not follow forum delecti? (Sherwin-White does mention Herod the Great had the unusual right to extradite [bring back] offenders who fled Herod’s jurisdiction, but here Herod Antipas was not requesting for extradition. Further, Herod the Great could ONLY extradite for crimes committed within Herod’s jurisdiction. Again, this was a crime alleged to occur in Judea. Even Sherwin-White recognizes Pilate’s authority over Galileans for such crimes. [Luke 13:2])

The reason I bring all this up, is that Sherwin-White concludes: “But Luke is remarkable in that his additional materials—the full formation of the charges before Pilate, the reference to Herod, and the proposed acquittal with admonition—are all technically correct.” (pg. 32)

I did not see how that followed, given the blatant violation of venue by even sending Jesus to Herod in the first place.

While interesting from a very broad aspect regarding legal actions within Jesus’ trial account, there were too many anomalies left unanswered for me to be satisfied with Sherwin-White’s account.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Matthean Priority v Markan Priority

Over at Tough Questions Answered, I was discussing various topics with Walter Tucker, and this subject came up. I have always wanted to a person who held to Matthean priority respond to some questions I had, Walter Tucker is a pleasant person, so I am posting this up for him to respond. When he has an opportunity—no rush.

In brief, Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the Synoptic Gospels (because they present the same “view” or “synoptic” of Jesus’ ministry) and it has long been noted there is literary dependence amongst them. They copied each other in some way, Dr. Wallace has written a good introductory article on the subject.

Of course, the question immediately followed—who copied whom? Various solutions have been presented. Although a few die-hard adherents hold Luke was the first, the others copied from his Gospel, and even fewer hold to John being first (although not copied by the Synoptic Gospels), the real fight is whether Matthew was first—Matthew Priority—copied by Mark, or Mark was first—Markan Priority—copied by Matthew.

Two primary reasons I cannot be convinced by Matthean Priority, are: 1) harder readings and 2) fatigue.

Harder Readings

There is a premise in higher criticism (what this study is generally called) that the Harder reading is the primary reading. The thought behind it being subsequent editors or copiers would modify the reading to make it less difficult. I cannot improve on Dr. Wallace’s statements:
There are several passages in Mark which paint a portrait of Jesus (or the disciples, etc.) that could be misunderstood. These passages have been altered in either Matthew or Luke or both on every occasion. It is the conviction of many NT scholars that this category is a very strong blow to the Griesbach hypothesis—and one which has not been handled adequately by Matthean prioritists.29 Among the several possible passages which scholars have noticed, the following are particularly impressive to me. Still, the cumulative effect is what makes the biggest impression.
(1) Mark 6:5-6/Matt 13:58—“he could not do any mighty work there except . . . ”/“he did not do many works there . . . because of their unbelief.” On this text Farmer comments: “the passage offers no clear indication that . . . Matthew has ‘toned down’ a phrase in Mark which ‘might cause offense or suggest difficulties’.”30 But this ignores the verbs used, for Mark suggests inability on Jesus’ part, while Matthew simply indicates unwillingness (oujk ejduvnato vs. oujk ejpoivhsen). Cf. also Mark 1:32-34/Matt 8:16/Luke 4:40 for a similar text.
(2) Mark 10:18/Matt 19:17/Luke 18:19—“Good teacher . . . Why do you call me good?” (in Mark and Luke) vs. “Teacher . . . Why do you ask me about what is good?” (Matthew). The text, as Mark has it, might imply that Jesus denies his own deity. It is apparent that Luke did not read it that way, but Matthew probably did. Indeed, in the Holtzmann/Streeter view, Matthew and Luke copied Mark independently of one another. Thus what might offend one would not necessarily offend the other.31
(3) Mark 3:5/Luke 6:10—“he looked around at them with anger/he looked around on them all.” Matthew omits the verse entirely, though he includes material both before and after it (12:12-13). That Luke would omit a statement regarding Jesus’ anger is perfectly understandable.
(4) Mark 1:12/Matt 4:1/Luke 4:1—“the Spirit drove him into the desert” (Mark)/ “Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit” (Matthew and Luke). Mark uses the very harsh ejkbavllw, while Matthew and Luke use (ajn)avgw, a much gentler term, to describe the Spirit’s role in bringing Jesus to the desert for temptation.
(5) Mark 8:24-26—the different stages of a particular healing story, omitted in Matthew and Luke. The blind man is partially healed the first time by Jesus, then fully the second time. This is the only healing story in the synoptic gospels which required two stages. Perhaps this was the reason for its omission in Matthew/Luke, or perhaps it was the fact that saliva was used as the means of healing.32
(6) Mark 3:20-21—The statement that Jesus’ mother and brothers tried to seize him because they said that he was insane (ejxevsth). Neither Matthew nor Luke have this verse, apparently because it would cast aspersions on Jesus’ mother and brothers.
My First question to Walter Tucker: Why would Mark make the readings harder?

Here I cannot improve on Mark Goodacre’s article regarding fatigue:

Editorial fatigue is a phenomenon that will inevitably occur when a writer is heavily dependent on another's work. In telling the same story as his predecessor, a writer makes changes in the early stages which he is unable to sustain throughout. Like continuity errors in film and television, examples of fatigue will be unconscious mistakes, small errors of detail which naturally arise in the course of constructing a narrative. They are interesting because they can betray an author's hand, most particularly in revealing to us the identity of his sources.

The clearest way to explain the phenomenon is to illustrate it. Though he did not use the term 'fatigue', G. M. Styler, in his famous article on Marcan priority, draws attention to a strong example, the Death of John the Baptist (Mark 6.14-29 // Matt 14.1-12). (5). For Mark, Herod is always 'king', four times in the passage (vv. 22, 25, 26 and 27). Matthew apparently corrects this to 'tetrarch'. This is a good move: Herod Antipas was not a king but a petty dependent prince and he is called 'tetrarch' by Josephus (Ant. 17. 188; 18. 102, 109, 122) (6). More is the shame, then, that Matthew lapses into calling Herod 'the king' halfway through the story (Matt 14.9), in agreement with Mark (6.26).

Styler points further to a more serious inconsistency in the same verse. The story in Mark is that Herodias wanted to kill John because she had a grudge against him,

'But she could not because Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.' (Mark 6.19f).

In Matthew's version of the story, this element has dropped out: now it is Herod and not Herodias who wants him killed (Matt [47] 14.5). When Mark, then, speaks of Herod's 'grief' (perilupoV) at the request for John's head, it is coherent and understandable: Herodias demanded something that Herod did not want. But when Matthew in parallel speaks of the king's grief (kai luphqeiV o basileuV, Matt 14.9), it makes no sense at all. Matthew had told us, after all, that 'Herod wanted to put him to death' (14.5).

The obvious explanation for the inconsistencies of Matthew's account is that he is working from a source. He has made changes in the early stages which he fails to sustain throughout, thus betraying his knowledge of Mark. (7) This is particularly plausible when one notes that Matthew's account is considerably shorter than Mark's: Matthew has overlooked important details in the act of abbreviating. (8) It would be difficult, one would imagine, to forge a convincing argument against this from the perspective of Matthean priority. (9)

Of course the evidence of one pericope alone will not do to establish Marcan priority. It will be helpful, therefore, to turn to Michael Goulder who, in two inspired but brief surveys, draws attention to this 'widespread' phenomenon and lists several examples. (10) One of the most striking is the story of The Cleansing of the Leper (Matt 8.1-4 // Mark 1.40-45 // Luke 5.12-16). (11) Here, just after the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7), Matthew is returning to triple tradition material. He resets the scene by introducing, as often, 'many crowds' (8.1). This soon leads Matthew into difficulties since, like Mark, he has Jesus' injunction to the leper, 'Tell no-one, but go, show yourself to the priest . . . ' (Matt [48] 8.4 // Mark 1.44). As it stands in Matthew this is inexplicable: a miracle that has been witnessed by many crowds is to be kept secret. The parallel in Mark makes it clear how Matthew has become involved in the contradiction: Mark does not have crowds; the leper meets Jesus privately and the command to silence is coherent. That Matthew is involved in docile reproduction here is all the more plausible given the little stress in his Gospel on the secrecy theme that is so prominent a feature of Mark.

We might add a third example that equally points to Matthew's use of Mark, the story of Jesus' Mother and Brothers (Matt 12.46-50 // Mark 3.31-35 // Luke 8.19-21). Here Matthew has returned, once more, to triple tradition material after a section of double tradition material (Matt 12.33-45). The transition between the different kinds of material is smooth, with Matthew's characteristic, 'While he was still speaking to the crowds, behold . . . ' (Matt 12.46). However, the apparent ease of progression from one pericope to the next masks an incongruity, a genuine continuity error in Matthew's account. As in Mark, the mother and the brothers of Jesus are 'standing outside' (eisthkeisan exw, Matt 12.46; Mark 3.31: exw sthkonteV). This makes perfect sense in Mark where Jesus and his disciples are in a house (3.20: kai ercetai eiV oikon) (12) but it makes no sense in Matthew in which no house has been entered and the most recent scene change was a departure from the synagogue, with many following Jesus, in 12.15.

So my second question to Walter Tucker: Fatigue makes sense when looking at Mark --> Matthew. But not Matthew --> Mark. Why would Mark incorrectly refer to Herod as King, if copying from Matthew and he saw “tetrarch”? Doesn’t this infer Matthew (and Luke if one reads the entire article) were copying and demonstrating fatigue?

Thanks, look forward to your responses.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Book Review – Sherwin-White. Part Two

The first chapter. (They are titled “Lecture” and presumably align with the Lectures Sherwin-White gave in 1960-61) For obvious reasons, the first thing Sherwin-White presents is the Roman legal system.

He notes the Proconsul (or principal Roman authority—in the Trial of Jesus, the Prefect Pontius Pilate) had imperium--ability to wield power. Specifically capital punishment. The legal proceedings had three phases:

1) Formulation of charges and penalties.
2) Proper formal accusation by interested party.
3) Case heard by person holding imperium in tribunal, assisted by advisory committee and friends (consilium) (pr. 17)

Sherwin-White indicates, of the three legal systems listed in Wikipedia, the one he will utilize in comparing the New Testament accounts is cognitio extraordinarem. (If you are interested, you can review a rough Outline of Roman Legal Systems)

If you read the Wikipedia article, you may note the cognitio system, within the article, is dated to the late Second Century CE. Which is a problem as the events in the New Testament are in the mid-First Century CE.

Sherwin-White, however, dates the system back to the relevant time frame, by first relying upon Pliny the Younger to indicate Pliny used cognitio when interrogating Christians, and therefore—according to Sherwin-White—the system was in place as early as 111-112 CE. Ah…but this doesn’t quite move it back to mid-First Century, does it?

To do that, Sherwin –White refers to an incident with the Proconsul of Sardinia in 69CE where the proconsul appeared to use the three (3) elements of cognitio. He also uses a document that he refers to “a mixture of party journalism and historical novelette” (pg. 22) to claim there remains a historical core within that document to believe cognitio was used as early as Claudius. (41-54 CE)

However, I found inconsistency within this approach. First, how do we know what was practiced in the Second Century necessarily correlates with the First Century? We will deal more with this in the future, but to give an example, Pliny the Younger gives the accused three (3) opportunities to recant. Shewin-White notes Jesus was questioned twice in Matthew and Mark, and only once in Luke. Was there a triple attestation required, but incorrectly recorded in the Gospels? Had the triple attestation not developed yet? Although Sherwin-White refers to Pliny the Younger, and the repeated questions, he fails to address the difference between Christ’s trial and Pliny.

Or another example, when (later) discussing the Sanhedrin not having the ability to perform capital punishment, the two examples of Stephen and James the Just are excused by Sherwin-White as anomalies. Exceptions to the rule.

Notice the convenience in this method. If I want to relate something back from the Second to the First Century, I claim it was long tradition, only recorded in the Second with barest elusive references in the first. If I do NOT want to relate it back, I call the previous counter-examples as exceptions. It is a win-win; either way I can claim historicity. Why isn’t the “historical novelette” and Sardinia examples equally anomalies? Why aren’t Stephen and James’ death elusive references to the Sanhedrin’s ability to doll out capital punishment?

Notice how one can take either position. Sherwin-White wants his cake and eat it, too.

There are two (2) problems needing discussion. I will touch more on this in my next blog entry, to give some background before hitting the next chapter—Trial of Jesus.

(1) We don’t have a great deal of information about the legal proceedings within this period. We are piecing together what procedures are required from stories, accounts, some legal documents. But even this is sporadic. Worse, the events in outlying countries could vary, depending on the country, its own legal systems, its status with Rome, etc.

(2) These accounts are not trying to give us rigorous legal scenarios. They mention legal interactions only within the scope of a much larger picture. Jesus’ story is about his ministry—not “The Trial of Jesus.” Acts is about continuity between Christian generations, including Paul’s trials and tribulations. While this involves legal wrangling, the author is not attempting a full legal analysis of what happened to Paul.

Sherwin-White attempts to pull too much out of too little.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Book Review – Sherwin-White. Part One.

As I’ve discussed the Gospel accounts with Christian, I keep running into a certain book--A.N. Sherwin-White’s Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament.

Dr. William Craig refers to Sherwin-White. Norm Geisler refers to him. Dr. Gary Habermas cites Sherwin-White. Dr. Mike Licona does as well.

Vinny, over at Do You Ever Think About the Things You Do Think About? has written
a number of blog entries regarding apologists’ abuse of Sherwin-White.

Primarily, Sherwin-White is cited for two reasons:

1) To support the historicity of the New Testament documents when he says, “So it is astonishing that while Graeco-Roman historians have been growing in confidence, the twentieth-century study of the Gospels narratives, starting from no less promising material, has taken so gloomy a turn in the development of form-criticism that the more advanced exponents of it apparently maintain—as far as an amateur can understand the matter—that the historical Christ is unknowable and the history of his mission cannot be written.” Pg. 187.

2) The accounts were written too close to the events to be entirely mythical. “Herodotus enables us to test the tempo of myth-making, and the tests suggest that even two generations are too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historic core of the oral tradition.” Pg. 190.

As the book is 192 pages, and these oft-quoted sections are at the very end, I thought it would be enlightening to go through the book and report my findings. See what led Sherwin-White to this conclusion.

Unfortunately, this was not the easiest book to follow, and it became difficult for me to cohesively present what was precisely being stated, and any thoughts on the subject. Therefore, I will start somewhere in the middle and work my way around, hopefully covering most of the issues presented.

What makes this book difficult to follow?

1) Because Sherwin-White was replying to various scholars’ positions. (the book was originally published in 1962.) He would often respond to “Mommsen” (wrote in 1897-1907) or “Juster” (1914) or “Lake” (1920). It was like hearing one side of a telephone conversation. One could pick out the claims of these authors, but only by the response. Sherwin-White was not laying out his own case for a proposition—he was explaining why other’s propositions were not accurate. He was reacting.

He presumed the reader was familiar with these authors, and their positions, and therefore only provided their stance by reference.

2) He presumed the reader had ready access to other material. For example, on page 79, he states, “This is not the place for yet another discussion of the rather hackneyed theme of the relation between the Roman State and foreign cults.” With a footnote, “JTS, n.s. iii (1952), 194 ff. contains my own views, to which I have nothing to add.”

3) He presumed the reader knows Latin. One can expect to read:

“The law itself belonged to the period of the Principate of Augustus. The text runs in Ulpian: “lege Iulia de vi publica tenetur qui cum imperium potestatemve habetet civem Romanum adversus provocationem nacaverit verberaverit iusseritve quid fieri aut quid in collum iniecerit ut torqueretur.” This text is a summary of something much longer, but uses the terminology of Republican legislation. A citation from Marican adds: “lege Iulia de vi davetur ne quis reum vinciate impediatve quominus Romae intra certum tempus adsit.” The text in the Sententia Pauli substitutes the terminology of a later age in some places, but adds in somewhat convincing early phraseology: “qui…condemnaverit inve publica vincula duci iusserit” among the forbidden acts. It also adds a list of exceptions, beginning: “qui artem ludicram faciunt, iudicati etiam et confessi.” These are unlikely to belong to the original law, but the first item, the exclusion of actors should belong to early Principate.” Pg 57-58.

I’ll confess--my Latin is beyond rusty. It is non-existent, except for pro bono (free legal work.)

4. Finally, Sherwin-White was not precise in his conclusions. He left open-ended statements, and I was often scratching my head thinking, “What are you saying here? Is it correct? Not correct? More likely, less likely?” I will provide examples throughout this review.

Sherwin-White indicates his purpose in his Preface, “It may be useful if someone from the Roman side looks again at the old evidence, even where there is no new material and appraises the New Testament setting in terms of modern Romanist developments. No doubt I in turn will be quickly found to suffer from just that same lack of focus in dealing with Judaic and Christian material which is outside my sphere.

“Scholars attempting to deal with two worlds of this magnitude need two lives. We must appear as amateurs in each other’s fields. A Roman public law and administration man such as myself cannot be fully acquainted with New Testament scholarship and bibliography over so great an area I must venture to trespass on. But one may learn what are the questions requiring answers, and one may show how the various historical and legal and social problems raised by the Gospels and Acts now look to a Roman historian. That, and only that, is the intention of these lectures.” Pg. v-vi.

What surprised me after reading this book was how little he talked about generational requirements in myth development (not at all until the very end) and how qualified he made his statements regarding the historicity of the Gospels and Acts. In other words, the very things he is cited for, are not the primary focus of his book.