Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Imperfect Books

The fundamental crux of the matter for a divinely inspired work, no matter along which dimension the analysis proceeds, has always been that any mistake makes the Divine look human. Thus, any grammatical, narrative, historical, scientific or aesthetic insufficiency undermines the very claim the work is trying to make.

The argument for the divine authorship of the Book of Mormon is constructed as an analogous argument, albeit with claim to superiority: The BoM is divinely inspired in the same way that the Hebrew Bible and the Greek NT are, but with the added twist that the translation of that book is also divinely inspired, and thus a more correct translation than say the KJV would be for the Christian Bible.

In the context of the literary criticism of the BoM since the 19th century---Lamb's The Golden Bible, B. Roberts Studies on the BoM, and Wunderli's Imperfect Book, to name just a few---this analogous argument is rejected on the basis that the literary, narrative, scientific and aesthetic qualities of the BoM are nowhere near where they need to be to support that argument of analogy.

In the same vein, some of the apologetic support of the BoM since the 19th century---Pratt's work on prophecy and fulfillment, Nibley cross-cultural studies and Welch's work on Chiasmus structures---has tried to counter that criticism, mostly along the lines that there is literary quality to the BoM in agreement with the literary quality of the ancient sources that the BoM purports to have as siblings, temporally and contextually.

The key way in which the analogy argument goes awry, however---and only Wunderli hints in that general direction when discussing Deutero-Isaiah and similar, without drawing the necessary consequences ---is that the source in this analogy is problematic as well. The Christian Bible can neither be conceptualized as divinely authored in the way that the BoM attempts to mirror, nor has it been held continuously as an especially impressive literary achievement.

Since these two observations have separate histories and implications, it behoves one well to consider them separately. Yet, it is important to understand though that these concerns were together problematic for apologists of the Bible, i.e. for Christian apologetics the lack of consistency in some parts of the Bible was no less embarrassing than the lack of literary quality.

As far as the literary style of the New Testament and the early Patristic literature was concerned, there had been a literary movement, called Atticism, which had established a renaissance of the Attic orators of the 5th century. In terms of these literary movements, most of the New Testament was decidedly Koine in language and style:
Mit der griechischen Kunstsprache, die seinerzeit als attische Prosasprache in der Literatur und Rhetorik erneuert wurde, hat die Sprache des NT wenig zu tun. (Koester, Einleitung, p.110)
The language of the NT has little in common with the Greek artistic language,  which had recently had a renaissance as the Attic language of prose in literature and rhetoric.
There are some hints of attic education in the NT: The author of Hebrews had some schooling (p.110); the author of 2 Peter attempts to write in the high style (p.110f). Luke is capable of the elevated koine style, cleans up his sources with respect to foreign terminology, looks to literary exemplars and employs even the optative mood, a form not part of the Koine, when useful (p.111). The pastoral letters, including the non-canonical 1 Clement, exhibit many literary expressions of style. By the middle of the 2nd century, when the attic influence is beginning to be felt in the literary Koine style, Justin Martyr and Athenagoras employ it without difficulties. Around 200, the Diognet Letter, a Christian apologetic writing, exhibits a high degree of literary style; and with Clement of Alexandria, the mastery of the Attic style is so high that he can subvert the rules at will (p.111).

With Luke and Hebrews accounted for, the remaining writings of the New Testament are mostly solid Koine in style. Paul seems to have had some education in the cynic-stoic tradition:
Dieses Können verdankt Paulus einer gewissen rhetorischen Bildung und einer Ausbildung im Diskussionsstil der kynisch-stoischen Diatribe und im Predigtstil der hellenistischen Synagoge. (p.112)
Paul possesses this [literary, RCK] ability because of some rhetorical education, and schooling in the style of the discussion of the cycnic-stoic diatribe, and in the style of sermon of the hellenistic synagogue. 
The least sophisticated texts of the NT and the patriarchic period are Mark, Revelations, the Pastor of Hermas, and the Diadache (p.112). Helmut Köster notes:
Im Markusevangelium sind die Kennzeichen der Vulgär-Koine in der Tat so kraß, daß die Kirche damit nicht vor einer mittleren bürgerlichen Bildung bestehen konnte, .... (p.112)
In the Gospel of Mark, the signs of vulgar Koine are so bad that the Church could not have survived vis-a-vis a mid-level civil service education, .... [RCK: Note that Köster's notion of "bürgerlich" cannot mean bourgeois, which is a concept that did not exist in Antiquity.]
Thus not only Luke, but Matthew as well were called upon to turn some of the constructions into Greek anyone educated would have recognized (p.113). John's limited repertoire of literary devices is part of the shared Koine, e.g. similar to Epictetus, and is applied consistently and repetitively.

Another problematic aspect of the NT texts, as viewed from the high Koine or Atticism, are constructions that show the proximity to the Semitic languages. Koester distinguishes between Hebraisms, Aramaisms, Biblizisms, and the bi-lingual heritage of some of the authors (p.114-115); of course the import of non-Greek vocabulary or turns of phrase would have been problematic in the Attic style.

As far as the criticism of the Bible is concerned, already in the 2nd century AD learned and literary people exposed inconsistencies---some perceived, some de facto---in the plurality of narratives in the New and the Old Testament. Famously, Justin Martyr's Discourse with the Jew Tryphon challenges the virgin birth.

And the Apocriticus of Macarius, believed to be written against Porphyr of Tyre, not only reports that the opponents challenged the divergences in the Passion narrative (Book II, Chapter XII), but in Book III, Question III challenges the notion that Moses had prophesied the coming of the Messiah (adversos John 5, 46f), based on the insight that Ezra had redacted the Old Testament:
Again the following saying appears to be full of stupidity : "If ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me, for he wrote concerning me." He said it, but all the same nothing which Moses wrote has been preserved. For all his writings are said to have been burnt along with the temple. All that bears the name of Moses was written 1180 years afterwards, by Ezra and those of his time. And even if one were to concede that the writing is that of Moses, it cannot be shown that Christ was anywhere called God, or God the Word, or Creator. And pray who has spoken of Christ as crucified?
Macarius' opponents also point out the delay in the return of the "latter times" (Book IV, Chapter II) in Paul's apocalypse in 1 Thess and in St Mathews expectation in Mt 24,14 that the Gospel preached everywhere would bring the end of the world (Book IV, Chapter III).

Porphyr raised the hackles of Jerome in his commentary on Daniel with the assertion that it was a Hellenistic book which had no prophecies except the then-existing history of Hellenistic Asia (Jerome had himself argued that Daniel had non-Hebrew interpolations).
Porphyry wrote his twelfth book against the prophecy of Daniel, (A) denying that it was composed by the person to whom it is ascribed in its title, but rather by some individual living in Judaea at the time of the Antiochus who was surnamed Epiphanes. He furthermore alleged that "Daniel" did not foretell the future so much as he related the past, and lastly that whatever he spoke of up till the time of Antiochus contained authentic history, whereas anything he may have conjectured beyond that point was false, inasmuch as he would not have foreknown the future.
But among other things we should recognize that Porphyry makes this objection to us concerning the Book of Daniel, that it is clearly a forgery not to be considered as belonging to the Hebrew Scriptures but an invention composed in Greek. This he deduces from the fact that in the story of Susanna, where Daniel is speaking to the elders, we find the expressions, "To split from the mastic tree" (apo tou skhinou skhisai) and to saw from the evergreen oak (kai apo tou prinou prisai), (D) a wordplay appropriate to Greek rather than to Hebrew. 
(Jerome, Prologue)
Porphyr also annoyed St. Augustine (see Letter to Deogratia, Question VI) by pointing out that the story of Jonas and the Whale provides no clear clues on where the allegory starts or ends.

Thus, a study of the apologetic literature of the 2nd-4th century clearly shows that many of the then working Neo-Platonic philosophers and Pagans recognized problems in the Biblical Text that the Church Fathers not only felt compelled to respond to in their writings, but that express concerns modern scholarship shares.

Though the competition for the ear of the emperors did not fully end by the 5th century, even after Constantin and Theodosius, as the History of Zosimus indicates, with the collapse of the Western Empire and the reduction of the Eastern Empire after the onslaught of the Persians and Islam, the time for these kinds of discussions seems to have been over, basically. By the 8th century, when the re-Christianization of the West takes place, the internal ecclesiastical concerns have taken precedence over discussions of the literary style or the internal consistency of the Holy Writings.

I can only assume that it was the religious wars of the 17th century, both in England and on the Continent, that made it interesting to bring about a detailed analysis of the Biblical book as to wrest it from the control of any political party. Thus, Thomas Hobbes, Baruch d'Espinosa and Richard Simon questioned the Old Testament's inspirational status, and Reimarus the status of the New Testament. However, these processes moved slowly, and were often checked by the political difficulties of taking the positions these authors took. For example, Holbach's Ecce Homo, sometimes considered to be the first historical Jesus book, was not available in New York, in the translation of George Houston, until 1827. Thus, this may have been more of a European phenomenon than one might realize. Even in 1879, when Rev Volsey published the translation of Lessing's Fragmente eines Wolfenbüttelschen Ungenannten in New York, he noted:
The name of Reimarus is scarcely known in this country beyond a very select circle of English students, while his writings, so far as I know, have never been popularly known, nor frequently quoted by English commentators. The reason for this will perhaps become apparent to any one who will take the trouble, or give himself the pleasure, of reading this book. Reimarus is too thorough, too uncompromising, too faithful to his task, to suit the present attitude of mind and heart towards the central figure of the orthodox religion. (p.iii)
The Fragment-War had only played out in the 1780s, but then the Americans were busy with their War of Independence from the British Empire.

That the Pentateuch was a confused mess, often in the most important parts, such as the giving of the Law, seems to have occurred to the young Goethe already in the late 1770s, when he tried to get a dissertation on the Mosaic tables of law accepted in Strasbourg (cf. Levinson's essay). Goethe recycled those arguments as a young man in his anonymous publication "Zwo wichtige bisher unerörterte biblische Fragen: zum erstenmal gründlich beantwortet, von einem Landgeistlichen in Schwaben" (see the discussion in Thomas Tillmann's book).

David Friedrich Strauss' 1835 on the historic Jesus, Das Leben Jesu, was not yet that critical of the style; it was his later works, possible the Alter und Neuer Glauben, which complained about the village feeling that the Gospel inspired.

When John Kselmann reviewed John Welch's essay collection Chiasmus in Antiquity, Hildesmheim, 1981, his excitement for a literary-aesthetic approach to the OT, NT and BoM should not be misunderstood as a rejection of source criticism:

While not ignoring or rejecting the continued importance of the historical-critical method, more and more scholars are turning their attention to the literary qualities of the Old and New Testament.
With the rejection of "the style" after the World Wars, literary qualities are now identified in a descriptive fashion rather than in a normative way. The strongest statement remaining is that not all books of the BoM or the Bible have an equal number of identifiable cases (normalized by length).

It is thus ironic that the Bible and the BoM share something that is not in focus, namely that they are both largely written by members of backwater communities of their respective eras, and will not compare well with either the narrative, scientific or literary achievements of the larger world at those times or thereafter. The Bible may be the less "imperfect book" (to take Wunderli's title) of the two, but it is far from a perfect book itself. 

No comments:

Post a Comment