Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The 2014 Pericope Adulterae Symposium: Part 4: Keith: Interpolation by a Mimic to Show that Jesus Could Write

Chris Keith, from St. Mary’s University College in London, regards the PA as an interpolation, but in his presentation, he opposed other commentators who reject the PA about as much as he opposed those who accept it.  He rejected the idea that the PA originated as a “floating” text:  he emphasized that until the 800’s, the only place where the PA is found is after John 7:52.  He rejected the idea that linguistic style (which is the bones and muscles of the internal evidence against the PA) is not a reliable guide.  What, one might ask, could make linguistic style an unreliable guide?  Keith answers:  the involvement of a mimic in the production of the PA. 

This instantly complicates the theory that Keith endorses, because two stages within the production of the PA are thus implied:  the first stage, in which the basic story is produced (and non-Johannine elements are dominant), and the second stage, in which the story is revised by a mimic (who deliberately adds Johannine elements) and is placed within the text of the Gospel of John.  One might ask, what motivated this mimic?  Keith answers:  the mimic was part of a Christian community in which the authority of Jesus was challenged on the grounds that Jesus never wrote anything, and the mimic’s goal was to create a form of the Gospel of John which would contain clear evidence that Jesus could write.

After reviewing, and setting aside, a couple of (improbable) theories based on internal evidence that have been proposed by Josep Rius-Camps and Kent Hughes, Keith used the Longer Ending of Mark i.e., 16:9-20) as an example of mimicry committed by a forger:  the author, he proposed, used material from passages such as Luke 24, Matthew 28:19, and John 3:15-16 to craft an interpolation that was designed for the end of Mark, deliberately imitating Mark and the other Gospels.  Someone else, Keith continues, made the PA, beginning with an already-existing story and finishing with a story with Johannine features, plus introductory verses created to graft the story onto the end of chapter seven of the Gospel of John.

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Some thoughts: 

My first thought was that if Keith thinks that Mark 16:9-20 was designed to complete the Gospel of Mark, he really, really, really needs to carefully read my book, Authentic:  The Case for Mark 16:9-20, in which I show that the non-transition between Mark 16:8 and 16:9, as well as the contents of verses 9-20, constitutes compelling evidence that Mark 16:9-20 was not written as a continuation from the end of verse 8.  I also point out the lack of real verbal parallels between Mark 16:9-20 and the concluding portions of the other Gospels, tension-causing differences between Mark 16:9-20 and the other accounts, and other features in Mark 16:9-20 that are problematic to the “pastiche” theory that depends for its survival on the idea that Mark 16:9-20 was written by someone aware of the contents of Matthew, Luke, and John.  For example, if the author of Mark 16:9-20 was trying to create an ending for the Gospel of Mark, why would he borrow verbiage from the Gospel of John at all, and why would he zero in on John 3:15-16 while completely ignoring John 21?  The “pastiche” theory about Mark 16:9-20, viewed up close, requires an extremely complicated individual using his sources in an extremely complicated way.

Second, although Keith showed that pagan critics of Christianity (specifically, Celsus) issued jibes about the apostles’ lack of formal education, no evidence exists that this charge was ever made about Christ Himself.  No evidence exists that anyone ever used the PA to rebut an objection that Jesus could not write.  In the Syriac text of the Story of Abgar, Jesus is depicted dictating, rather than personally writing, a letter; this indicates that the author of the story felt no special pressure to depict Jesus in the act of writing.  There is no evidence of the cause or effect of the motivation that Keith attributes to the person who, he claims, peppered the PA with Johannine elements, added the introductory verses, and grafted it into the text of John.

Third, Keith’s presentation, like his work on the PA in general, was a rather effective demolisher of what have previously been regarded as consensus-views on a couple of points.  Writers such as Metzger, Aland, Carson, Comfort, and Fee have claimed that the PA was a “floating” story and this, they claimed, indicated its secondary nature.  Keith gently put that idea down, affirming that the PA was never “floating” until about the 800’s,  Likewise many commentators have insisted that the “style and vocabulary” of the PA constitute strong evidence against a Johannine origin, but Keith challenged that, arguing that special factors, such as an author’s borrowing of verbiage from the Septuagint, can throw off such calculations.  As Keith has stated at his blog, “Linguistic style cannot be a decisive criterion for authorial origin.”  (This is certainly true when a mimic is added to the equation:  everything consistent with the author’s style can be explained by the skill of the mimic!)  Alan Johnson’s analysis of internal evidence in the PA should be visited again and again.

Fourth, although I asked this question at the conference, I am still asking it:   Spyridon, a contemporary of Eusebius of Caesarea, walked out in protest when, at a gathering of bishops on Cyprus, another speaker used the word “skimpoda” instead of the word “krabbaton” when quoting a passage from the Gospels in which the word “krabbaton” appears.  And in the late 300’s, a congregation was thrown into an uproar when the story of Jonah was read from the Vulgate, because the new text referred to a “vine,” instead of to a “gourd” as they were accustomed.  Some Christian leaders and laity were vigilant against the adulteration of Scripture.  

In such a milieu, if the PA had suddenly appeared on the scene, a vigorous reaction and protest seems almost inevitable.  Yet we see bishops such as Ambrose and Augustine defending the PA.  And in an era when the penance-penalties for adultery were severe, this story in which Jesus forgives an adulteress – an adulteress who has not clearly expressed repentance – is supposed to have first appeared in the text of John around 250, and is supposed to have been meekly embraced wherever it went, without a note of protest by anybody.  In a period when Christians were risking imprisonment or death for refusing to hand over their copies of the Gospels, is it plausible that they would lightly and silently accept the sudden appearance of a new story in new copies of the Gospel of John, where no such story had previously existed?    

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