Date: Sun, 1 Nov 1998 16:51:38 -0500 (EST) From: Yuri KuchinskyClick here to go one level up in the directory.
To: Synoptic-L Subject: Re: Canonical Rivalries SYNOPTIC RIVALRIES by Yuri Kuchinsky Part 2 ANONYMOUS COMPOSITIONS Loisy stresses that the earliest gospels were most likely anonymous writings. In its own community, I believe, each one was probably known simply as "The Gospel", or "The Gospel of Jesus". Any given community would have had one special gospel, its own, so there would have been no real need to distinguish them by name from other gospels. The names of the authors our canonical gospels bear now seem to have been attached to them later. This happened much after the period when they were first composed -- and for reasons not necessarily always so apparent to us. It is generally believed that it was early in the 2nd c., but probably not much earlier, that there was a strong tendency to privilege Christian writings on the basis of their apostolic authority. To be sure, it is probable that, previous to that, while still belonging to particular communities, "correct Christian teachings" were generally associated with traditions going back to the disciples, or perhaps a particular disciple, of Jesus. But this attribution may have been passed naturally by word of mouth. The names the gospels bear now may certainly seem rather arbitrary to us, and this apparent arbitrariness of the current names, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, seems like an argument for the gospels not being named until rather late along the time line. Otherwise, why only a secondary link, through an "interpreter", with Peter in the case of Mk? Why such a rather vague link with an apostle in the case of Mt? The naming of Jn is of course a big conundrum in itself. Which John would have written it? And Lk's link with Paul is sort of special, in itself, taking us away from the "original Apostles" that followed Jesus in Galilee. So if we accept that the earliest versions of the gospels probably did not carry the present names of their authors, unreliability of Irenaeus' or Papias' testimony in this area will become clear. Papias' implication that these gospels were named and attributed to specific apostles right from the beginning may betray his own lack of comprehension of this earliest history of the gospels. Loisy says that probably neither Papias nor Irenaeus would have been really aware of how and in what circumstances these early Christian documents were originally composed. We may actually have a little more understanding of that process today, however presumptuous this may sound. JOHANNINE CORRESPONDENCE Important evidence about that old rivalry between the Johannine and the Synoptic factions may also be found in the three canonical letters attributed to John. So let's look at them now. Scholars generally believe that the Johannine epistles are closely related to the gospel of John in a number of ways, and would make little sense without it. Theological similarities between Jn and the Johannine epistles are quite evident. Indeed the opening of 1 Jn is apparently a pale imitation of the Logos Prologue of Jn. Many commentators think that the letters of John seem to reflect internal conflict within the early Christian communities. It has been argued that these epistles reflect the conflict between the wandering radical element of the early Church and some of the settled congregations. According to this view, as Churches began to grow, their own local leadership began to resent the influence of the itinerants. (Stephen Patterson has been cited in support of this view on Crosstalk-L. Raymond Brown, in his _The Community of the Beloved Disciple_, 1979, also considers that the Johannine epistles reflect a dispute in the Early Christian community, involving some sort of a schism.) This seems to make sense on the whole. But the question becomes, who exactly were the settled leaders, and who were the travelling preachers? Can we guess about their theological affiliations? Alfred Loisy thinks we can. And what about the date of composition of the Johannine literature? Various dates have been suggested, e.g. 100-110, but reasons for such an early dating are rather tenuous. Dating will be complicated by the indications, noted by a number of commentators, that 1 Jn actually seems like a composite text with a number of editorial layers. Many scholars, such as Grayston, Houlden, and O'Neill have concluded that the epistle is not a unity. 1 John is a highly polemical document, of course. Its intention is to counter various opponents who are labelled liars, deniers and Antichrists. In 4:1f it describes true and false Spirits claimed by different Christian factions. Those agreeing with the author are "from God", and those of differing views are false. Loisy suggested that these epistles should be dated to mid second c. And also he connected some of the conflicts that can be glimpsed in them with the opposition between our two political factions, the Johannine and the Synoptic, that we have been considering above. According to Loisy, the gospel and the epistles of John should be seen together as a unity. And he says that the interpretation and dating of the three Johannine epistles can be tied in closely with the process of introduction of Jn to the wide Christian public. So the settled local leadership referred to in the epistles, as mentioned above, would have been the Synoptic supporters who would have been quite well established, this being the older tradition. And the Johannine supporters would have been the up-and-coming group striving for legitimacy. This, according to Loisy, was the larger rivalry as Jn was being introduced to the Greater Church. Here's a quote from Loisy, THE ORIGINS OF THE NT, p. 397: "The Epistles called after John contain religious and moral doctrine co-ordinated to that of the Fourth Gospel, denunciation of certain gnostic heresies, and highly forced reasons for accepting the testimony supposed to guarantee the apostolic character of those doctrines and of the writings that contain them. The two short Epistles, and the canonical edition of the first go back to the neighbourhood of 150-160, and the first version of the first Epistle to 135-140." Loisy saw 3 Jn as primarily directed against those leaders of the community who opposed the Johannine writings. The established Synoptic-oriented leaders are opposing the travelling preachers, the supporters of Jn, who were "the new kids on the block". But we also need to keep in mind that the opponents in view in the three letters -- which, of course, are not really letters per se, but rather theological treatises -- do not seem to be just one group of opponents but two, according to Loisy. The "heretical teachers" of 1 Jn 2:18-22 are clearly not the same group as in 1 Jn 4:1-3. The latter are most likely docetic opponents. They deny that Jesus "came in the flesh", i.e. they maintain that he only _seemed_ (dokeo) to come in the flesh (hence the term Docetist). "(1 John, 4:1) But do not trust any and every spirit, my friends; test the spirits, to see whether they are from God, for among those who have gone out into the world there are many prophets falsely inspired. (4:2) This is how we may recognize the Spirit of God: every spirit which acknowledges (confesses) that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, (4:3) and every spirit which does not thus acknowledge Jesus is not from God ..." (NEB) And the docetists are also the opponents of 2 Jn. But the group of 1 Jn 2:18-22 is interpreted by Loisy as the Synoptic-oriented opponents of the Johannine theology (the same opponents as in 3 Jn). Let's look at these verses. The author of the epistle is trying to console his co-thinkers who seem to be under pressure from their opponents. And these opponents were part of the earlier Christian community -- they are certainly not some sort of newcomers to the movement. "(2:19) They went out from us, but they were not of us; ... (20) But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you have all knowledge. ... (22) Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son." First, it is clear from the above that the opponents of the writer are well established Christians who are still part of the larger Christian community. But also the denying that "Jesus is the Christ" (hoti Iesous ouk estin ho Christos) is highly indicative. This seems to identify the writer's opponents as Adoptionists. Because it was the Adoptionists (M. Goulder calls them Possessionists) who resisted identifying Jesus with Christ. (Goulder, M.D., ST. PAUL VERSUS ST. PETER: A TALE OF TWO MISSIONS, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1995.) My review is here. Let us recall that Irenaeus also confirms for us, as quoted already, that Adoptionist-sounding heretics associated with Mk were trying to "separate Jesus from Christ". According to Goulder, from the point of view of Christology, the Adoptionist/Possessionist view was that Jesus was fully human, but was possessed by Christ, who was a sort of an angel, "The Jewish Christian (Ebionite) movement denied vigorously that _Christ Jesus was revealed in flesh_: they thought that Jesus was a man of flesh like us, and Christ possessed him." (Goulder, p. 120) So, as Goulder maintains, the joint title, Christ-Jesus, aiming to stress the unity of the spiritual and the fleshly aspects of Jesus, was introduced primarily as a polemical weapon against the Adoptionists. "Jesus is referred to about 130 times in Ignatius, and of these 120 are in the form Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus. The Pastorals have Christ alone once only and the double name (in either order) 30 times. This at once suggests that both authors are facing the same threat, a christology which separates Christ from Jesus, and they are alike insisting on his unity by constantly combining the two names. There's no question that the opposition which the Pastorals are attacking are Jewish Christians..." (Goulder, p. 118) Loisy, for his own part, suggests that the authors and the dates of these two denunciations, anti-docetic in Ch 2, and anti-Adoptionist in Ch 4, are different, the docetists coming in view at a later stage (and most likely to be connected with the rise of Marcionism). SOME CONCLUSIONS So what may all this amount to? This analysis may cast doubt on the rather simplistic view of the four canonical Gospels as the mutually harmonious and unshakable foundation of all orthodoxy that somehow fell from the sky to confound all the heretics. Not quite. The heretics were not all on the outside, and the orthodox not all inside. Right from the start, or so it seems, some of the heretics were already on the inside of the earliest canonical gospels, especially of Mk. "Heresy" may have been the earliest and the most authentic Christian tradition, from which the "orthodoxy" eventually emerged after some considerable and prolonged struggle. That's how the evidence looks to this commentator. In any case, one doesn't even need to factor in any of this analysis to see the validity of the above. Simply consider the earliest Jewish Christianity. Is there any doubt that the followers of James, the early Jerusalem Church, the Ebionites/Adoptionists/Possessionists who were probably Gnostics of some sort, as Goulder also accepts, later became completely "heretical" in the eyes of the later orthodoxy? We can know very little for sure about their traditional texts and liturgies, if indeed they had anything especially peculiar to themselves (I assume they did). They were probably not using any gospel outside of the OT, although Mk, that in its earliest form (as pMk) was our earliest gospel (pace Griesbach), was probably strongly influenced by them one way or another. But pMk was probably not written by them, it was a Greek gospel from the start. (In my view, pMk grew out eventually out of the liturgies of Jewish-Christian Adoptionists. The origin and the basis of pMk would have been liturgical.) The Hebrew Mt that the Jewish Christians used in post Jewish War times seemed to have been most likely a translation/adaptation of the Greek Mt -- not an original document. In spite of their evident numerous mutual contradictions and inconsistencies, the four gospels were seen traditionally as the "Four Great Pillars of Orthodox Strength". But a close reading of Irenaeus and Papias may cast doubt on this view. Instead, the true story of canon creation, with all the bitter rivalries and polemics that it involved, may be somewhat different. In my view, we have to examine closely this story behind the story if we wish to understand fully the interrelationships of the canonical gospels, and the relationships of the Synoptics with the Fourth Gospel. It is essential for the students of earliest Christianity to try to see in a realistic light the historical conflicts that resulted in the canonical gospels becoming what they are. It is not logical to focus on close technical analysis of Synoptic texts without trying to understand how these texts were shaped by the historical events surrounding their composition and editing. (copyright by Yuri Kuchinsky) -=-=- Loisy, Alfred, THE ORIGINS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, Collier, 1962 Goulder, M. D., ST. PAUL VERSUS ST. PETER: A TALE OF TWO MISSIONS, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1995. Grayston, Kenneth, _The Johannine Epistles_, Eerdmans, 1984. Houlden, J. L. (James Leslie), _A commentary on the Johannine epistles._, A. & C. Black, 1994.