Friday, February 19, 2016

Countercounterforgery, Part 2

From the Janaury 2013 E-Block.
We pick up our evaluation of Ehrman's FAC with his brief commentary on 2 Peter. 

Ehrman spends far more time explaining why he thinks 2 Peter was forged than actually arguing for it being forged. He appeals to the usual external testimonies, which are negated by the fact that in the final analysis, 2 Peter was accepted as canonical, and then arguably after serious critical consideration of the sort Ehrman assumes the early church lacked. There is also the usual supposition that "an Aramaic-speaking peasant", like Peter, could not write in this sort of Greek, but this is merely an insult to pre-literate peoples as a whole. In an age when people in their 90s get a GED, it seems rather bigoted of Ehrman to suppose that after several decades of life, Peter would be unable to learn to read and write in another language, even, to have been able to do so particularly well. The elaborate style Ehrman sees is also not particularly problematic for someone who would have been attuned to oral performance, as clearly was the source for Mark. 

Further objections by Ehrman assume the usual eschatological issues my preterist view renders moot, and that beg the standard question assuming Peter couldn't possibly know of his imminent death; though really, 2 Peter 1:14 need not reflect any special prophetic knowledge, either. Human beings may have a sense of being "not much longer for this world" without prophecy telling them so like: a certain unease of health, or by advanced signs of aging, which are more than enough for Peter to say that he must "shortly" put off his own tabernacle.
There is also the usual appeal to the parallels to Jude, and reference to Paul's collected letters, which we dealt with in Trusting the New Testament.

A final objection is rather odd, as Ehrman says that 2 Peter has "nothing Jewish about it." Our answer: So what? By any reckoning 2 Peter is written to Gentile converts. It is also a very short epistle, mainly for exhortation. Why does it need to be peculiarly "Jewish"? Why on earth should Peter tell such people, as Ehrman implies, to not follow "standard, high morals" rather than the Law? What about the fact that by the time of 2 Peter, Peter would have lived for decades among Gentiles in Rome where he would have become quite acculturated. Does audience and context mean nothing to Ehrman?

1 Peter

The next book to be dealt with moves us back one in the canon. Ehrman hauls in a scattershot of objections, many of which he admits are "subsidiary" even as he uses them. Those we have not covered in TNT:
  • He says there is no evidence that Christianity had spread to the provinces of Asia Minor listed in 1 Peter 1:1, by Peter's day. Ehrman is right. We should simply assume that on the way from Jerusalem and Syria to Rome in the 50s (to those whom Paul writes his letter), Christian missionaries grew wings and flew over the provinces of Asia Minor in between, not stopping to spread their message. And of course, Paul was writing to some other Galatia than the one in Asia Minor.
  • He says, "other traditions do not associate Peter with Christians in the general region." The answer that is sufficient is, "so what"? Ehrman doesn't respect the accuracy of church traditions from the likes of Papias, when it comes to Matthew's authorship, so why would he want one about Peter associating with churches in Asia Minor? Needless to say, traditions are helpful, but no one thinks they are comprehensive, and unless Peter too grew wings, he had to pass by the area to get from Jerusalem to Rome.
  • He says Peter, if the author, "gives no indication that he was a companion" to Jesus. Perhaps Ehrman fails to recognize, even after rejecting such ideas, that he is making the same argument Earl Doherty makes of Paul to declare Jesus never existed at all. The answer is much the same: High context authors do not need to re-specify what their readers already know.
  • Relatedly, Ehrman wonders why Peter calls himself a "presbyter" (5:1). Apparently, Ehrman forgets that the word used means elder, as in, an older person. In so describing himself, Peter is claiming for himself the honor and authority that went with age in his social world, and also using it for relational purposes towards the elders in his audience. This also emasculates Ehrman's objection of this term as reflecting a too-early instance of the office of "elder". Ehrman mistakenly thinks the references to oversight (5:2) mean "elder" is an office, when it is actually the normal in-group function of those wise and advanced in years.
  • Ehrman appeals to the use of "Christian" (4:16) as a sign of a late date, though to do so, he must date Acts to the late first century and assume the reference there (26:28) is an anachronism. Ehrman also reads 4:14 with appalling fundamentalist literalism, arguing that no one would be persecuted "simply" because of the name of Christ. Has he forgotten that the word "name" in the Biblical world doesn't "simply" mean nomenclature, but also has to do with authority and identity.
    A particularly outlandish argument for placing 1 Peter after 70 AD is derived from Hunzinger, under the assumption (with which we agree) that Rome is "Babylon" (5:13). Hunzinger argues that Rome was called this because it destroyed the Temple, and so he concludes there can be no other reason 1 Peter would call Rome "Babylon" -- such as you know, being a chief headquarters for idolatrous practices, or being well known for licentious behavior, or having enmity against the people of God. The connection made by Hunzinger is, at any rate, weak. The passages he appeals to, from 4 Ezra 3 and Syr. Baruch 11, indicate no cause-effect relationship between the destruction of Jerusalem and the naming of Rome as "Babylon." Rome is simply called "Babylon" as though it were a given. We owe it to Ehrman's lack of imagination that he cannot see any "obvious and palpable" reason to call Rome "Babylon" until the Temple is destroyed.
  • There is the usual replay of objections about Peter's illiteracy; we need not engage that in detail, as Ehrman has (as seen in the last installment) dispensed with scribal activity with a wave of his hand. He also spends far more time explaining why he thinks 1 (and 2) Peter were forged versus defending the proposition that they were.

    This section by Ehrman begins with an unpromising recital of the usual "Peter vs. Paul" canard (see link below), where Ehrman gets the source of the dispute wrong (it was not about being "gentile to the Gentiles," but about ritual purity). Ehrman quickly dispenses with the inclusion of Luke within the "we passages" of Acts with the expedient that Acts doesn't relate much about the life of Paul, an objection we covered in TNT, and alleged contradictions with Paul's letters, which we covered in the link below. With that summed up so, Ehrman moves on from the argument in a mere handful of sentences, having failed to interact with widely available contrary arguments.


    Ehrman's centerpiece against James as author is the usual canard that James could not read or write; here he doesn't even consider a scribe in a role that not even he has bothered to object to earlier i.e., that of writing down more or less exactly what James said. He elaborates on this point for several paragraphs, oblivious to the single question we have asked. We also dealt, briefly, with the "illiteracy" argument in TNT, by noting that the same argument could be used to claim that Paul was illiterate and could not have written his letters.

    Ehrman also offers arguments that the epistle does not accord with what we know of James elsewhere:
  • He says that Gal. 2:12, Acts, and Hegesippus show that James wanted people to maintain their Jewish identity by observance of the law. But, while he elaborates extensively on the evidence showing this proclivity of James, he fails to show that the epistle is contrary to any of this. Instead, he asserts rather strangely that James' lack of mention of such issues in the epistle is a point against! This is simply absurd, because as Ehrman admits, James' readership is itself Jewish. This means that his readers would already be wholly in agreement with James on the point of honorary law-observance -- so why does Ehrman think it ought to have been brought up?
  • Even weaker is the point that the emphasis on the importance of good works is thought by Ehrman to reflect a later stage of the Christian church (the 60s), after James had died. Is Ehrman serious here? Does he think concern for good works, as part of a movement founded by a teacher of morals (Jesus), would lie dormant for decades, and do so in an atmosphere where good works were also a concern of Jews and pagans alike?
  • Weaker yet is the claim that commentary on the wealthy in James surely could not have been a problem this early in the Christian church. Apparently Ehrman forgets that Wayne Meeks has shown abundantly that well-off people were a higher than usual part of the church, and that even those who were of what we would regard as modest means would be "wealthy" by the measure of the typical peasant. And that's not even accounting for the potential presence of persons like Nicodemus. At the same time, wealthy people amount to "1%" of the population today, and there are more than enough critics of their ways as their power is disproportionate to their numbers. The same would also have been the case in the first century. The real question is, how can Ehrman be so insensate as to think there would NOT be a commentary on the wealthy? Ehrman adds some of his usual reliance on eschatology as a problem, and that sums it up. He also offers the usual error on James vs. Paul (see link below).


    Ehrman's treatment of Jude is very brief and brings up nothing we have not covered in TNT. I might add that Ehrman shows an extraordinary lack of faith in the ability of humans to learn. In remarking on the alleged impossibility of someone like Jude learning to read and write proficient Greek, Ehrman imposes all manner of artificial barriers, such as an alleged lack of time to learn. I can only say in response that Ehrman needs to have a little more faith in humanity and in the intelligence of persons other than himself. I have met, over my lifetime, many persons who have learned to read, or mastered a second language in a decade or even less (usually, Spanish/English), and given that ancient languages lacked one huge hurdle of modern languages -- namely, vocabularies of several hundred thousand words (Koine Greek had only a few thousand in general use) -- it can only have been easier, not harder, for a self-teacher to pick up a second language, or to learn to write.

    When it comes to Greek in particular -- the lingua franca of the Empire -- Ehrman underestimates the at hand available resources and motivation to learn. As noted in an article linked below:

    Although aristocratic Romans monopolized formal education in Greek, the lower classes in Rome did not exclusively speak Latin; on the contrary, bilingualism in both Latin and Greek thrived in the city during the late Republic and Principate, and the usage of the Greek language developed both private and public functions. Rome’s geographic location exposed the city to Greek culture and language, which helped shape the development of Latin, and the importation of slaves exponentially increased the number of Greek-speakers in the city. Finally, epigraphic evidence, population analyses, and contemporary literary sources demonstrate how Latin and Greek bilingualism undertook both public and private roles in the social classes outside of the Roman aristocracy.

    Determining how extensive Latin-Greek bilingualism was during the first and second centuries of the Principate in Rome intrinsically rests on the extent of the ethnic diversity of its population during that time period. Prior to the Augustan period, Romans had already been in contact with neighboring Greeks for centuries through trade and war, an exchange that helped Latin evolve and mirror its Hellenic counterpart. Evidence of nominal exposure to the Greek language at this time period is best represented through Latin’s assimilation of foreign terms and adaptation of Greek phonetic sounds.

    Of course, the Jews had been in contact with Greeks for several centuries by the time of Jesus -- including some rather unpleasant interactions with Hellenization.

    The article notes that slavery, and the duties associated with it, as motivation for slaves to learn Greek, which in turn brought it to others. Christians had their own motive to learn; namely, evangelism. This does not mean slaves mastered "complex Greek syntax and grammar," but the degree of motivation and purpose must be accounted for. As in-group leaders of a diverse movement, like James or Jude, had every reason to want to learn to speak and write as well as they could in Greek.

    Furthermore, it is noted that once learned, bilingualism was "passed on" in families. Given the forced Hellenization of the Jews in an earlier period, men like James and Jude would already have had a basic introduction to Greek from birth, especially in the neighborhood of Sepphoris, where basic Greek would be needed to conduct business.

    In short, at the very least, this point deserves far more than the breezy dismissal and rhetorically-posed yet uninvestigated questions Ehrman offers.

    John's Letters

    For these, Ehrman hardly even bothers to advance arguments for forgery but merely assumes the letters are forged, and gives explanations for what he takes to be their purpose in being forged.

    Ehrman's treatment of canonical material ends here, and as has been shown, though Ehrman's length of dissertation has increased, his devotion to substance has remained harmfully minimalistic.

    Pete vs. Paul
    Acts vs. Paul
    James vs. Paul
    On bilingualism
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