[This post deals with the recent article by a noted scholar 
John B. Meier on the subject of the 12 Apostles. (THE CIRCLE 
OF THE 12, Journal of Biblical Literature, 116/4, 1997).]

[In an earlier post, I wrote:]

I don't see much critical acumen in Meier. The idea of the 12 would  
have been rather odd for the rural ministry of Jesus as we can visualize  
it. From what we know, he and his followers lived hand to mouth and       
wandered from place to place. A bunch of beggars to all appearances. The  
grandure of the 12 Thrones of Judgement for this assorted company really  
sounds almost comical.                                                    
OTOH in the context of early Jerusalem community expecting The End of Days
and the Imminent Return, this idea seems far more appropriate.            
I think the idea of the 12 came into being very soon after the
Crucifixion. It goes very well with the concept of imminent parousia. As
soon as the followers decided that the death on the Cross was only a
temporary setback, the idea of the 12 must have followed. 


Date: Tue, 6 Jan 1998 14:31:35 -0500
From: y.kuchinsky@utoronto.ca
To: Stevan Davies 
Cc: crosstalk@info.harpercollins.com
Subject: the Twelve & J. B. Meier

On Sun, 21 Dec 1997, Stevan Davies wrote:

> > Before I have the time to get to the library, perhaps a few words of
> > explanation are possible?

> Well, I don't think there's all that much to it. Meier takes on various
> people who want to say that Jesus didn't have a particular 12 disciples
> and points out that all available evidence says he did and that the
> evidence is supported by various criteria such as embarrassment and
> discontinuty and so forth. 

Well, Steve, now that the libraries reopened after the holidays, I've
finally managed to get to that latest JBL, and that article by John B.
Meier about the 12 and Jesus (THE CIRCLE OF THE 12, JBL 116/4, 1997).
Yes, my expectations based on what you've already said about it proved
quite justified. I was definitely underwhelmed by this overly long and
rather boring opus.

> Says "One regrets the need to plod through such detailed reasoning to
> prove what should be evident to anyone" (pg 667). 

Yes, I'll come back to this yet.

> However, throwing the idea of what's evident to anyone out the 
> window, Meier also concludes the following: 
> "Reflecting his mission to all Israel in the end-time, Jesus created the
> group called the Twelve, whose very number symbolized, promised, and
> (granted the dynamic power thought to be present in the symbolic actions
> of prophets) began the regathering of the twelve tribes." 
> Supporting this apparent gibberish he cites a variety of ancient 
> sources.

Here's my take on his article. I'm writing without the article in front of
me and so am not including quotes from him.

I see it as a real problem that Meier spends plenty of time and space on
examining assorted bits and pieces of NT texts under the microscope, while
more or less totally ignoring the sociological picture of the whole
supposed "pre-Easter institution of the 12". And this is precisely where
his belief that Jesus had founded the college of the 12 founders. Indeed,
what was the exact role of the 12 as per Meier's orthodoxy, I'd like to
know? The NT would only provide a very confusing picture in this regard.
And he deals with these confusing proof texts at length, without much
definite conclusion. In fact it is to be noted that his own position is
rather attenuated to the point of vagueness, since he admits that the 12
were not founded by Jesus as "the 12 Apostles". And that's already quite
an admission...

Indeed, if we only try to visualize the itinerant and rather unsettled
ministry of Jesus as he was wandering around the countryside, presumably
with a few followers, both male and female, in tow, how would have 12
permanent extra male mouths to feed on "what God will surely provide" play
out? The permanency and the cumbersomeness of such an institution would
really seem out of place. Another problem is that the women disciples are
"disappeared" by the 12...

I don't think there would have been much point in such an institution at
all. It simply doesn't seem to have any good purpose. Whereas in the
context of the post-Easter settled Jerusalem community, this institution
does make plenty of sense. The community must have administered and
governed itself somehow, and this is where the role of the 12 will make
perfect sense -- as a governing body of the believers expecting the
parousia and their own glorious exaltation Any Day Now.

Most of the arguments Meier is using to make his case are clearly
reversible if not entirely circular. For example, he carefully points out
the contradictions and embarrassments of the idea of the 12 Apostles when
coupled with that of Judas the betrayer. There's a clear problem here. But
Meier manages to turn it into an argument _for_ the 12! According to him,
there's a criterion of embarrassment that comes into play here, and that
means that the institution must have really existed, since nobody would
create such an embarrassing concept later on. Apparently the idea of
different stages of gospels composition never occurred to him. Apparently
he's quite innocent, not to say naive, about the very apparent political
rivalries occurring within the early movement. 

In my view (a view similar to Loisy's), the idea of the 12, well known in
Christian circles as an early post-Easter Jerusalem institution, was first
predated into the earthly ministry of Jesus. This wouldn't have been so
difficult to do when the earliest versions of the gospel(s) was/were
composed. The passage about the 12 Thrones in Mt 19:28 would have been
created accordingly. And later, the idea of Judas was probably created by
a separate (Hellenistic) Christian faction, probably as an intentional
poke at, or embarrassment for, the 12 original (Jewish-Christian)
disciples. The conflict of this with the previous concept was of course
noted by all, and some attempts at a harmonisation and a smoothing over
would have followed. And this is basically what seemed to have taken
place, as our evidence indicates.

Here's another semi-circular argument of his. He notes rightly that
there's very little attestation for the 12 in Paul and in various NT
epistles. Indeed, this is rather strange. The way to explain this is that
Paul may not have known of such an institution as associated with Jesus.
The 12 may have been associated with Jesus only after Paul's time. (And
thus, the only, and rather anomalous, mention of the 12 in Paul's 1 Cor
15:5 would be perhaps a later interpolation, as Loisy already suggested.
Indeed, Meier's own detailed analysis of 1 Cor 15:5, itself, when looked
at carefully, clearly points to such a possibility -- without Meier
apparently even being aware of this! A very interesting thing about Paul's
mention of the 12 is that Paul apparently is unaware of Judas the

Meier's explanation for such a lack of attestation is that his view is
that the institution of the 12 was created pre-Easter and then it
disappeared rapidly. This view seems very strange to me, indeed. How, I
would like to ask Meier, would have the Jerusalem community governed
itself post-Easter for ca. 36 years of its existence? This is precisely
where the 12 would have been very useful, nay, essential, as opposed to
the pre-Easter situation, where they would have been quite superfluous!
Another seeming sociological absurdity...

Also to be noted is the general arrogance of Meier's tone. He repeatedly
apologizes (as you already noted above) to one and all that he had to
write such an article to prove such a thing, presumably for the sake of a
bunch of thoroughly misguided if not actually imbecilic exegetes who had
the nerve to suggest such an "absurdity" that Jesus did not found the
institution of the 12. These apologies of his, I think, are quite bizarre.
He should rather apologize for himself trying to suggest clear
sociological non-sequiturs and calling this historical scholarship. 

Among his opponents on this he mentions also the position of our old
friend Dom Crossan. Crossan thinks the 12 were not pre-Easter. (Meier
doesn't spend much time on Crossan's position.) Also, Meier argues against
some other scholars who argued against this idea of the 12 over the years
(he doesn't even mention Loisy, whose arguments in this area are quite
detailed and eminently sensible), and delights at how they seem to
contradict each other. Perhaps he should have tried to argue against
people who make sense, instead of choosing as his opponents those who
don't quite.



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