March 29, 2014

A Liturgy of Literality… Uniformity in Language… & Protestant Positivism

The more Christians turn away from liturgy, the more they turn toward literality, because the less people assemble around doing things in a uniform manner, the more their group identity must depend upon saying things in a unified manner. Thus, to abandon the active rituals of worship and gathering, to some degree or another, is inevitably to move in equal measure towards the ritualization of words, whether that takes the shape of emphasizing details of doctrine, or requiring allegiance to a more carefully worded creed, or a full on verbal legalism, or a strict focus on mission statements, or requiring that certain prayers always be said with the right words and approved phrasings, or any similar pattern. These kinds of expressions seem righteous to some and peculiar to others, but the fact is that such forms of verbal uniformity are every bit as endemic to human groupiness as any traditional uniformity of liturgical custom. However, what takes this all one step further is the quixotic desire held by many “low church” Protestants to avoid thinking of themselves as “religious” or “liturgical” or “ritualistic” and so forth, which requires an alternative way to justify their increasingly mundade and repetitive speech-acts as both proper and necessary. If the human dynamics of group activity can’t be allowed to justify a modest amount of acceptance for ritual, then the required explanation is bound to contrive a divine requirement for their strain of verbal fixation, and this leads naturally to insisting on things like strict verbal interpretation, literalism, positivism, and precise definitions of words, all of which belies the true nature of what words actually are, which is tools. Eventually, instead of using words reasonably and flexibly – to refer, to allude, to describe, and to label – some social circles develop customs in which certain words serve as nothing more than tags for a collection of ideas, placeholders for concepts, which become further removed from any basis in reality.

One offshoot of all this is to understand better why Fundigelicals, who trust the scripture so fervently, have such little regard for the Story of Scripture, unless by that we mean repeating mostly verbatim whatever the scripture has already said. This verbal rigidity in understanding the past is the very seedbed of Positivism, by which one views the past (“History”) as being equal to what the text says, and only what the text says. This is how a conservative scholar at the Society of Biblical Literature proudly defends himself as a Positivist because to him this testifies that he believes in the text, but he does not appear to be cognizant of the fact that he fails to consider the actual world represented by that text. At least, he has reduced that world to the words of the text. He fails to consider that world as being larger. He cannot consider the text as being in any way limited. As much as words are his world, so his world is but words, and the observations by scholars of literature seem distracting and off based. They are, he believes, the ones who lose the proper relationship between words and the world, because they do not appear to believe that “words always mean what they say”. Tragically, ironically, and perhaps indefatigably, it is not the real world this Positivist has failed to understand, but his own words. Or perhaps more accurately, what the Fundigelical scholar continually fails to grasp is the sophisticated relationship between words and the world.

The Patristic ‘Fathers’ found it distasteful when Tatian cut-and-pasted the Gospels together but their contemporaries passed along a succinct historical summary in The Apostle’s Creed, and the Nicene Council concurred with this method of practical synopsis when they authorized their own version of key events to remember. For that matter, the Gospel writers themselves had not been strictly perfunctory in reporting particular things in precisely uniform words, and regardless of who wrote before whom and who had or hadn’t read which works, the Gospels tell their versions of the Eucharist story and Paul tells a different version in his letter to Corinth. At the very least, this reflects that stories of that event must not need to describe it with any verbally uniform pattern. As the Jewish Passover customs were then and are now replete with variant haggadahs, retelling multiple versions of the one same Exodus story, so the early Christians apparently found various ways of describing their updated Passover saga. On the night in which he was betrayed, Jesus did and said many things. We could never write them all down.

Today’s protestant churches typically do no more to represent Christian Origin Stories than to read scripture aloud and produce yearly nativity pageants, which survive largely because it’s a nice thing to do for the children. However, it should be unsurprising by now that the Nativity pageant as a custom did not originate within Protestant churches, just as it should be unsurprising that the same is true of the Stations of the Cross. More interesting still is the way Catholic tradition gets curtailed in the rare cases when Protestant churches do incorporate the Stations in the seasons of Lent and Easter. A bit of research on the Catholic rendition turns up much more detail, constructed over the centuries from extracanonical sources and simple logical deductions. But while their more “biblical” cousins may feel justified in paring down these events – Protestant Stations of the Cross stick to nothing but Matthew, Mark, Luke & John – what should be celebrated about the Catholics' historical imagination is their recognition of the fact that a Story is always greater than any past words anyone used to tell that story. Regardless of whether non-cannonical sources are worthwhile, and aside from opinions about how we ought to handle scripture (or history, for that matter), what’s most wonderful about the Catholic Stations of the Cross is that it recognizes that Jesus and his Life were and are larger than scripture’s description of things. All of life is much larger than words about life. Comparatively, Protestants don’t seem to understand that as easily. “Why do we need Stations? We have scripture.” At that point, who’s more beholden to legalism and ritual? The ones who produce extra-scriptural customs and partake in them? Or the ones who slavishly stick to the scripture, verbatim?

With or without ritual, and with or without legalism, it’s the “low church” forms of Protestantism that are known for this emphatic verbal fixation we sometimes call literalism, and they do not seem to realize how it damages our view of scripture more than uplifting it, because literalism defies and denies the variety and complexity of what real life in the world is really, actually like. Much of this is not news. What I begin to see, more and more, is that attacking this verbal fixation is not attacking a symptom of the Fundigelical condition, but attacking its source. The more Protestants moved away from sharing common forms in public worship, the more we came to NEED a common emphasis on words. The requirement that a congregation (or faculty) must uniformly adopt verbal statements about doctrine is NOT a BYPRODUCT of what makes them who they are. That requirement is the ONLY thing that makes them who they are. Group identity is inevitably about shared activity, and by de-emphasizing the Catholic “rituals” they necessarily exalted these uniformities of verbiage. To consider doctrine more carefully, it’s obvious the Catholic church also has official teachings, but in common practice their ministers are not remotely uptight about enforcement, but very confident and relaxed about allowing people to wrestle with each of those things in their own time. The reason we all know lots of Catholics who don’t believe all the teachings of their church is because whether they do so isn’t remotely what determines who they are as a body of people. Contrast that with any group who insists on precise doctrinal verbiage, or who eschews ritual for the most part but who reserve unique power for a special vocabulary. The reason why certain ministers feel the need to insist absolutely on specific verbal agreement is because they have nothing else holding them together. They insist upon particular uses of words because their experience of the world is built entirely of words. And God help us. We need to be more than that.

One last point about Catholics, Protestants and Academia: 

A lot of academic work is focused not so much on discovering the world as determining what to say about it. Quantum Physics is apparently an exercise in describing the indescribable. Zoology and Biology have their facts presently straight but research focuses on constructing stories to explain how changes may have occurred. Economics attempts to predict the unpredictable but necessarily spends as much of its time trying to classify as to quantify. Likewise, Mathematicians know all the numbers, but invent words with which they can theorize new categories within which numerical patterns appear to behave in somewhat similar ways. In Academia, generally, the focus isn't so much how to find what we don't see of the world, but how to say what we do find in the world. Experiments have been finished long before someone figures out how to write the paper describing what happened, and what the results may or may not mean. So, too, work in History is often less focused on events of the past than on how to say anything justifiably about what those events may have been like. Cutting edge historical study today is entirely focused on how differently we perceive and express the various relationship(s?) between words and things.  We argue not at all about whether an American Revolution took place, quibble a bit about how and why it came to be in the first place, and debate quite a lot about what types of pronouncements may be reasonably professed in considering all such things. So shall academic work ever be.

Now, as far as this regards the intersection of Christian churches with the academic study of Christian Origins, we may not yet have begun to see the real fireworks spark off from this methodological conflict… but we have long since recognized that the Catholics are far better prepared for the inevitable implications and diverse repercussions. Today's post gives some reasons why I think that is so. While I’m not about to swim the Tiber, myself, I dearly do wish that all of us were so well prepared.

Lord, teach us to say

March 27, 2014

The Future of Historiology

Where is the study of the Field of History headed? Three books I've been working through recently make no predictions but identify areas that have been sorely neglected.

In 1997, in a side comment while introducing his marvelous The Footnote: A Curious History, Anthony Grafton made this astute observation (p.26)

"Most students of historiography, for their part, have interested themselves in the explicit professions [I think he means 'pronouncements',B] of their subjects, rather than their technical practices - especially those that were tacitly, rather than explicitly, transmitted and employed. The philosophy of history has had far more attention than its philology. Most studies of the latter, moreover, have addressed themselves only to the ways in which historians do research - as if the selection and presentation of one's data did not affect it in fundamental ways."

Indeed. Who has ever come forth to teach us about best practice in the writing of history? Lo an behold, as if in answer to Grafton, along came professor Stephen J Pyne, with Voice & Vision, in 2009. If your department does not yet recomend it officially to grad students, I predict you will soon begin doing so.

In hope of selling many books for Pyne, I will quote the first few paragraphs at length. They are not complex, but they are foundational. He begins,
It has become commonplace these days to speak of unpacking texts. This is a book about packing that prose in the first place. 
I'm speaking of a prose that often gets left behind. Fiction has guidebooks galore; journalism has shelves stocked with manuals; and certain hybrids such as creative nonfiction or New Journalism have evolved standards, aesthetics, and justifications for how to transfer the dominant modes of fiction to topics in nonfiction. But history and other serious nonfiction have no such guides. Nonfiction - apart from memoir - is not taught in writing workshops or MFA programs, and its standards and aesthetics are not discussed on freelancer listserves. Neither is it taught as part of a professional training by academic guilds. While scholarly historians are eager to discuss historiography, they ignore the craft that can turn their theses and narratives into literature. 
This curious omission places beyond the pale of taught writing whole realms of serious nonfiction that do not rely on reportage or segue into memoir. It dismisses scholarship based on archives and printed literature. It ignores writers who do not make themselves the subject, overt or implied, of their work. It relegates texts in the field of history, in particular, to the status of unlettered historiography or unanchored prose. They exist only as conveyers of theses and data or as naive exposition. 
This book is for those who want to understand the ways in which literary considerations can enhance the writing of serious nonfiction. In their search for new texts to deconstruct, literary theorists have in recent years seized on nonfiction to demonstrate literature's critical primacy over all kinds of texts. It's time for historians, especially, to reply. History is scholarship. It is also art, and it is literature. It has no need to emulate fiction, morph into memoir, or become self-referential. But those who write it do need to be conscious of their craft. And what is true for history is true for all serious nonfiction. The issue is not whether the writing is popular, but whether it is good, which is to say, whether it does what it intends. Here are my thoughts on how to make this happen.
Again, the book is called Voice & Vision and if you care about the writing of history, or just want to see how the more engaging nonfiction writers manage to keep a clear conscience, you should buy a copy for yourself. 

Whether or not Pyne's manual becomes a classic among scholars, it clearly details a gaping lacuna in scholarly practice. With or without footnotes, History is Literature. For a long time, historiography has been caught up in a battle between objectivity and subjectivity (or often merely between competing authorities' versions of things) but the recent phenomenon known as the "linguistic turn" did more than divert scholars' efforts into postmodern studies where they could say things that were sayable. Over time, our growing awareness of history's literary aspect (a *very* large aspect, to be sure) is altering the way we read historians of the past and understand our own efforts to construct new ways of understanding the past. Surely, it is inevitable that we begin to focus on writing.

Finally, in a slightly different direction, the third book I mentioned has identified a serious gap in the pedagogy of history. Also semi-recent and deserving of much more attention, in 2001 Sam Wineburg published Historical Thinking, a book whose title thrils me almost as much as its subtitle arrests me. Historical Thinking "and other unnatural acts". What a discouraging thought! But the diagnosis is offered in search of a cure.

Wineburg's second subtitle is prescriptive, "charting the future of teaching the past". With yet another series of recognizable surprises, he shows how little attention educators have paid to *how* and *why* we teach History, as curriculum guides tend to focus on which facts should be (ahem) "taught".

Again, to recognize and address this pedagogical lacuna is perfectly in line with the present moment in, ah, history, as they say. What has gone until now is the jockeying between authorized textbooks, but the future may not be doomed to an infinite cacophany of persepctives. Rather, the historical works that may matter most in our future are ones which stand on significant sources of the past but do NOT attempt to play trump cards again, as has been attempted so often, with increasingly fleeting results. Instead, I do hereby predict, the most valuable historians we will carry into our future are the ones who use major sources of the past in completely pluriform awareness, to teach people how to explore, analyze, and understand the past for themselves.

If History has any bedrock, we must now content ourselves to lay out the possibilties and allow people to recognize that for themselves. The professional historian's job is no longer going to be as enforcer or arbiter, but as guide. The historical writer, as instructor, must decide whether to convey facts or teach skills. In this regard, Wineburg's volume is desperately needed.

As society moves further away from being told what to think, we need - truly, desperately, urgently NEED - to step beyond tired rhetoric and truly, honestly, effectively, actually TEACH the poor and thoughtless among us HOW to think.

The History books written in our near future are going to aim at teaching, and they're going to be written well. Hopefully.

Anon, then...

March 24, 2014

Constructive Misquotation in Antiquity

This is not a paraphrase, not a mistake, not an attempt to deceive, but but a purposeful and surgical adaptation that is both creative and deliberate, designed to update the language or to build upon (*modify) the original idea. This is what John Whittaker discussed in a 1989 paper subtitled "the Art of Misquotation" and although it was a paper on textual criticism I am surprised that the 32 citations found by Google Scholar seem to keep mainly within that same field. To me, Whittaker's research is primed for application in the study of how Matthew quotes Hebrew scripture.

From what I've read about midrash criticism and studies of NT intertextuality, this work should be a welcome addition to discussion in Gospel studies from a literary perspective. To illustrate why this is so, and since the book is difficult to find, here are some of my favorite excerpts from Chapter 3 of the conference papers' collected volume, Editing Greek and Latin Texts.
Had the major cause of misquotation been, as is commonly supposed, the difficulty of tracing a short passage in a papyrus roll... one could have anticipated an improvement in the quality of quotations in later antiquity [with the codex]. But is there any evidence of such improvement? (p.64) 
It was not a part of Plutarch's objective to preserve for posterity the fragments of texts which he quoted, but only to exploit them according to current literary convention. (p.65) 
The identification of quotations and allusions, both in and out of context, has been a sort of literary sport or intellectual exercise in many societies with a strong literary tradition. (p.66) 
The tragedian wrote [x]. Plato has reversed the sequence of the verbs, and has also attached the adverb... Both a knowledge of the original and a certain quickness of wit, enhanced by much practice, are called for before one can recognize, in flight as it were, the allusion. (p.66-7) 
[on a key text preserved in Eusebius:] Porphyry calls upon the gods to witness that he has added nothing to, nor subtracted anything from the *sentiments* which have been oracularly communicated... Porphyry goes on to list the various ways in which he has indeed revised the wording... corrected an erroneous reading... altered the text in the interest of clarity... completed a line in which the metre appeared defective... on occasion omitted what seemed irrelevant to his own purpose... In spite of all which alterations Porphyry goes on to swear that he has preserved intact the spirit of the Oracles... Nor does Eusebius offer any criticism of Porphyry's editorial principles... Theodoret, on the other hand, fastens upon this very passage of Porphyry, not for its editorial libertinism, but because of its implications for the Pythian Oracle... Theodoret has no word of criticism, however, for Porphyry's editorial procedure, which by his own standards he presumably found unexceptionable. (p.69-70) 
Josephus claims [cit.] that from the time of Artaxerxes onward no one had added, subtracted, or altered a word of sacred scripture, whilst Tertullian [cit.] implies that Gnostics had falsified scripture in precisely these three ways... (p.71) 
Reversals of word-order are a dominant feature of the style of the Didaskalikos, where they occur so thick and fast that they must be intentional and not the consequence of carelessness or defective memory. (p.72) 
Modification of word order is the most elementary fo the four categories of textual change. To modify the word-order is, in a sense, to make no change at all. Every word still stands intact. They simply follow each other in a new order, the very novelty of which, by flouting the expectation of the reader, strikes him more forcibly than would the familiar original. (p.73) 
it is an easy step from reversals in the order of words to reversal in the sequence of ideas... We may conclude that such modifications were not considered improper, even where in the case of alteration of the logical sequence, they might necessitate changes in the grammatical forms of words." (p.74-5) 
On the one hand, displacements of word-order are amongst the commonest of scribal errors, but on the other they are, as we have just seen, a common form of literary adaptation. (p.75) 
[cites examples of omission, reversal and substitution, which are] "products of conscious calculation... [with] no immediate relevance to the establishment of the text... Their utility lies rather in the scattered light they diffuse, indirectly and tantalizingly, upon a lost tradition of scholarship. They are of more immediate value to the history of ideas than to the history of texts. (p.78) 
we must bear in mind Porphyry's conception of his role as editor of the Oracles, and conclude that there was rarely any deliberate will to deceive, but rather a desire to restore to an author, or bring out more lucidly what one was convinced had been his original intent. (p.80) 
the commonest types of substitutions in his experience are "cognate terms and synonyms... compound verbs for simple verbs or vice versa... different compounds, variations in the degrees of comparison of adjectives and adverbs, the substitution of singular forms for plural or vice versa, or, more drastically, the substitution of cognate nouns or participles in place of verbs, or vice versa. The list might be easily extended. ...such phenomena crowd so copiously upon each other in [the Didaskalikos] that they cannot all be ascribed to the inattention or faulty memory of Alcinous. (p.83-4) 
The desire to modernize must have been a powerful force behind the substitution of cognates and synonyms. In some instances we can see that this was the case, in others we can only surmise that it was, since [we cannot] know with precision how the nuances of individual words shifted from century to century in the ancient world." (p.84-5) 
[After Whittaker shows how Alcinous (and Plutarch) frequently updated Platonic references with Peripatetic and/or Stoic terminology, he states:] "The evidence indicates that substitutions were an integral and intentional constituent of commentary and exposition." and "the natural consequence of changing trends in technical jargon and literary usage." But W also suspects "as in the case of other phenomena we have considered, the desire to put a personal mark upon the material one comments, expounds, or otherwise appropriates. (p.85)
substitutions expose the textual critic to potential danger... treating as genuine variant formulations that belong exclusively to the realm of interpretation and exposition. (p.86)

The meat of the argument is in the illustrations and examples, so there are many good reasons for interested parties to go procure the book for themselves. However, the copious liberty I just took may be necessary to convince Googling scholars that this material belongs in discussions of how the NT writers constructively misquote the OT/HB. Again, though Whittaker's focus was textual criticism (the whole title is "The Value of Indirect Tradition in the Establishment of Greek Philosophical Texts or the Art of Misquotation") it seems to me that his focus on the mechanics of misquotation should add a helpful amount of literary precision to studies that focus on midrash or intertextuality in the Gospels, especially Matthew.

The bottom line for my own study and interest is this. If misquotations exhibit creativity instead of inaccuracy, then we can analyze such texts not just to provide support in a war between critics and apologists, but (what is far more important) to gain insight into the sense of what nuance a creative writer/author was attempting to communicate... and how such writers/authors may have done so by deliberately introducing an incongruity into the recognized form of the quotation.

I'll close with the synopsis of Anthony Grafton, himself a contributor to the conference and its collected work, because it was his richly helpful and entertaining book The Footnote: A curious history which tipped me off to the study by John Whittaker. When I read this, I came out of my seat.
in ancient literary prose[,] the well-educated author cited texts from memory, not from books, often introducing a slight change to show that he had done so. [Citing Whittaker, natch]
Consider these things. Anon...

March 18, 2014

Jesus and John's Dungeon Days

Did oral tradition align Jesus' chronology with John's imprisonment? I hadn't particularly considered this question in detail before today, but I was just making notes while re-reading my kindle highlights of Bauckham's chapter, John for Readers of Mark, in the so far excellent The Gospel for all Christians. At any rate, here is the highlighted excerpt, followed by my reflection:

     "It is not very likely that readers/hearers of the Fourth Gospel would be expected to know from oral Gospel traditions that Jesus' Galilean ministry followed the imprisonment of John. The chronological sequence in Mark 1:14 (followed by Matt.4:12, but not by Luke 4:14 is more likely to be Markan than traditional."

To which, I began musing:


If he means [that John's readers' knowledge of this could be expected to come] 'less likely from tradition than from Mark' I agree of course, but [if he means this detail itself was] straight up "unlikely" [to be pre-Markan, then, why]? 

Why? Because it's too particular? As opposed to what? We can't declare it likely, but if we can imagine a scenario where word spread simultaneously then it's possible these memories were linked. Again, I'm not saying it's "likely" but I'm not convinced that it's necessarily "unlikely".

On second thought...

What other explanation do we have for the fact that John and Jesus became linked in the first place? I suppose the traditional answer is that the apostles were privy to an early connection, but what about the population at large? 

The Gospels not only align Jesus' Galilean ministry with John's imprisonment, they also portray JtB as a frequent talking point of Jesus' public ministry both during and after that time. Suddenly, it seems to me that John effectively graced Jesus with a two stage martyrdom, and (since Jesus' public position as a supporter of John obviously could *only* have come out in Galilee *during* his Galikean ministry) it appears that support very likely was a key part of how Jesus built up such notoriety so quickly, during John's imprisonment, in the territory of the Herod who imprisoned him.

Not to be circular, this thesis is conditional on historicity of the alignment. IFF the Gospels are accurate in reporting that Jesus' Galilean ministry began after John was imprisoned, THEN it looks like early memories of Jesus' ministry very well could have been tied to that time period by anyone who lived through those days and heard Jesus speak about John.


Two more notes, since I decided to blog this...

First, as I said Monday, this is starting to feel apologetic (which really isn't my thing) but my interest is to confirm whether things like this alignment are actually solid enough to build on. Is there something more substantial than merely narrative sequence? As I sought to ask in the past, are sequenced events also purported to be contingent upon one another? Or, in this case, is the purported alignment plausible in reconstructions of memory, as well as history?

Second, I realize these thoughts are fresh, that they lack rigor, and that my understanding of memory theory has a long way to grow. But this is what I can do. New thoughts, free to plunder. If they're worth anything, I'll be glad to nudge the professionals with a key idea (on my best days, perhaps). If not, I'm leaving a record for myself to track later. And if this inspires any other non-scholars to think more about Jesus' connections to John and how that impacted people in Galilee and Judea, then welcome to the party!

We learn by doing. We think more when reading, and we think more rigorously when we try writing with care. Oh, yeah, and hey... This is still just a blog.

One I hope you're enjoying.

Anon, then...

March 17, 2014

Did Gospel Narrativizing Evolve?

History can't be apologetics when you're trying to *construct*. I'm not focused on defending the Gospels but on building up their offensive capacities. I hope this attitude has also been clear in my recent musings about collective narrativizing or "posterity" as the first draft of history. Instead of trying to build up"reliability" of what I see as chronological markers in the Gospel narratives, as if to prove they can be trusted (which feels like a silly sentence even to type), what I'm after is a relative reliability, as in, where is the bedrock? Where's the starting point? Which point of the Gospel narrativizations, if any, is the *most* reliable place to begin when constructing a history of Jesus' life that's *based upon* these narratives?

Some years ago I supposed that one such "critical point" was the death of John the Baptist, primarily because of its dynamic impact on the course of events, in the way certain opportunities appear to have opened or closed at that moment for Jesus, purely as a result of that death. These days, although I still feel the same way, what I'm trying to do is look behind the Gospel narratives, and behind even the Gospel writers themselves, to ask whether the death of John was an inevitable part of early collective narrativizations. In other words, can it be shown that the impact of some particular event was psychologically affective on a large enough scale that it *must* have altered the internal storylines of enough individuals to necessitate its inclusion in the earliest stories about Jesus' career?

While part of me thinks the answer is an obvious "no" - simply because that's a tall order, as phrased above - I continue to think otherwise.

While the Fourth Gospel doesn't even mention John's death, much less turn its plot around that event, it does allude to John in the past tense, making his death a point of conversation for Jesus at least, and Richard Bauckham has shown that the beloved disciple likely wrote for many readers who would have been familiar with Mark's gospel, and thus familiar with chronologically distinct markers integral to the Jesus story, such as when John's imprisonment did or didn't begin.

So, the later Gospel does not but the earlier Gospels do make John's death a significant plot point, a dynamic event, a distinctive turning point, reference point, critical point, chronological reference, pivotal moment. Things before and after the baptizer's death were quite different for Jesus... or so these narratives would at least make it to seem.

But, which seems more unlikely? Is it easier to believe that the Synoptic writers all happened to concoct this plot point, or at least Mark did and Luke and Matthew followed suit? Is it easier to believe that this particular selectivity of the narrative writers is entirely artificial? Or does it seem more plausible that narrativization can build on natural selectivity? Is it more likely that collective cultural stories would dramatically morph into radically re-chronologized plot structures, or that such collective memories would morph by a more gradual evolutionary process? 

While it's certainly possible that any writer could put forth as dramatic a reconfiguration of past events as that writer desired, we must remember that writers do not perform their artistry in social vacuums. Whatever audience Mark wrote for, those people already had *some* awareness of how past events had involved Jesus and John. And for pre-Markan oral tradition, the same applies but even more so. Stories about known figures do not tend to succeed if they depart drastically from whatever social narratives have been successfully proffered up to that point. Rather, just as the best lies are built upon large swaths of truth, the most effective spin doctor is going to succeed precisely because he builds with prior knowledge without altering so much material that he tempts readers to reject the whole story. Too much alteration would put his precious agenda at risk. If artistry is the aim, either malignant or benign, then slight changes are more likely to be accepted, and promoted, and passed around, and eventually accepted as cannon.

[Note: I've gotten no farther than Jens Schroter's preface and introduction of the new Coppins translation for "From Jesus to the New Testament", but I'm obviously being influenced already, more so by his illustrious herald Chris Keith. Recent developments continue to be very encouraging... but to get back to my own discourse, here...]

My own work for the past two years has been focused on Matthew 2:22, on whether Joseph* expected Archelaus to be ruling Galilee, which makes the verse read both more dramatically and with more theological purpose. [*I mean the character of Joseph, in the story-world, according to what the reader would suppose]

But in doing that work, a key argument of mine is the significance of Herod's death as the chronological marker which Matthew uses to establish a precise window of narrative time, during which all Judeans and Galileans *I contend* would have been expecting to see Archelaus wind up with the entire kingdom. No one predicted what Augustus would split up the kingdom, so if Mt.2:22 evokes a particular memory of that specific time frame, the effect is dramatic irony, as I've blogged about previously.

But that argument, about Herod's death, is what keeps bringing me back to John the Baptist.

And that need to consider how I can reconstruct a plausible social memory, based on the lived experience of historical events, that's what keeps bringing me back to these ideas about the connection between critical events and the initial narrativization of immediate posterity.

Or maybe something like that. I'm just an ex-math teacher with a keyboard in the back of a semi, waiting for this warehouse to unload 30 thousand pounds of tasty old cucumbers.

Hey! Maybe the Gospel narratives are the pickled result of farm fresh posterity. The writers have still done their farm work, but perhaps we can tell which types of narratives are most likely nearer to actual events.

Naah. That's not what I'm suggesting.

I've got a story in mind that *I* am hoping to tell. I'm no interest in defending the Gospels, but apparently I care very much about defending the way *I* wish to build upon them. But what's wrong with that? It's not easy being *this* fresh with no cover. But I keep working.

Anon, then...
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"If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient observation than to any other reason."

-- Isaac Newton