Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Whitlark and Parsons on Luke 23.34a

NB. Up-date. The authors of the article criticised in the following post, have had their say. There is an up-date to this post which incoporates more of the argument of the article, and Mikael Parsons is addressing some of the issues raised (most recently by Ulrich Schmid) in the comments to this post. I shall just up-date the date to keep this post current.

Re: Jason A. Whitlark & Mikael C. Parsons, 'The "Seven" Last Words: A Numerical Motivation for the Insertion of Luke 23.34a' New Testament Studies 52 (2006), 188-204.

In this article the authors argue that the saying 'Father forgive them for they know not what they do' (Luke 23.34a) was most likely not original to Luke; but was added, as the four Gospels were collected together, because of 'numerical motivation' - a desire that Jesus would speak seven rather than six last words from the cross.

They argue that the shorter reading (lacking the phrase) is attested in early representatives of the Alexandrian, Western and Byzantine text-types which also exhibit geographical diversity (there is a lack of detail in this argument, but it is not the original part of the study). The longer reading has early attestation 'almost exclusively' within Western witnesses, and only later (post 4th Cent) in other types of witness. This suggests an originally short text, which ambiguous internal evidence cannot over-rule: 'the logion is a secondary reading added to the text in the late second century' (p. 194).

The new argument developed here is that the foundational motivation for the secondary inclusion of this logion was 'a numerically symbolic one'. The basic idea being that (following Stanton and Hengel) 'by the mid-second century, the mainstream of Christendom was working with a four-gospel collection' (p. 195). Once collected together it would have been apparent that Jesus spoke six words from the cross, but the number six carried a negative connotation in early Christianity (e.g. Rev 13.18; John 2.6; 19.14; Luke 23.44), while seven was clearly positive and significant (various evidence cited on p. 198-201). Thus:


  • 'When the four Gospels were formed into a single collection early on and the narratives read together, the problem of six sayings from the cross emerged and created the "need" for a seventh saying.' (p. 201)

To me this argument is interesting, even somewhat clever, but not actually convincing. To be fair I don't accept the starting point about the four-gospel collection, so never really get on board with the basic assumptions, but for me the whole approach seems a little problematic. Basically to accept this argument you have to be able to envisage a scribe in the mid-to-late second century, familiar with a four-gospel collection, interested in counting the sayings of Jesus, finding something problematic in the resultant numbr six, having access to a "floating" saying (perhaps through the Diatessaron) and adding this in order to make up the number to seven, not after the other six but at this point in Luke. I find most of these steps fairly problematic myself. They certainly haven't shown any evidence that a scribe is likely to count sayings like this.

The authors think that on this view the seventh word 'gives a gratifying sense of completion' when Jesus says 'It is finished' in John 19.30. But if Luke 23.34a was added first in the Western textual tradition then the order of the gospels would most likely have been Matt - John - Luke - Mark (as it is in Western witnesses)!

Am I being too harsh? Should 'scribal numerology' be added to our list of scribal habits

Up-date: the authors respond (ever so lightly edited):

We were given notice that our article was being discussed in this forum; we hope you don’t mind us joining the fray! It is, of course, all authors’ hope that their work will be read and discussed in the marketplace of ideas, and we are grateful to Peter Head for bringing our article to the attention of this group. It is not clear to us, however, that any of the other commentators have actually read the piece, and this is lamentable given the fact that the essay is relatively accessible for NTS subscribers here.

Furthermore, we think Dr Head has given a truncated and weakened version of our argument; this in and of itself is not unusual. In fact, it’s the way most of us score academic points, but such a truncated summary leads naturally, if not inevitably, to the judgment (by someone else) that what we have produced is “piffle” (we don’t know whether or not to be offended by this; we hear a LOT of words in Texas don't understand, but piffle is not one of them!). As we understand it, Dr Head’s objections to the argument consist in

  1. not accepting an early date for the four-fold collection of the gospels;
  2. finding it implausible that a scribe would be ‘numerically motivated’ to add a seventh saying to the collected cross sayings.

Perhaps we have truncated his objections, but surely Peter will rebut if we have! In response to #1, Peter simply asserts, without argumentation, that he doesn’t accept the Stanton (/Hengel) hypothesis for an early date for the collection. Fair enough since we assert, without argumentation, that we do accept the hypothesis. We can argue the merits of this thesis if one wishes, but we don’t think our argument rests solely, or even mostly, on this point. Equally, if not more, important is the Diatessaronic evidence, at least as we read it. We don’t wish to repeat the entire argument (again, we encourage commentators to read the piece in toto), but let us reiterate that evidence (201-203 , sans footnotes ).

BEGIN QUOTATION

Tatian’s Diatessaron is our earliest extant witness (c. 170) to the words of Jesus from the cross collected together in a single narrative, and it also attests to the secondary nature of Luke 23.34a.[1] Tatian’s order of sayings reads: (1) Luke 23.43, (2) John 19.26-27, (3) Mark 15.34/Matt 27.46, (4) John 19.28, (5) John 19.30a, (6) Luke 23.34a, and (7) Luke 23.46a. What is notable about Tatian’s order (at least according to the Arabic witness) is that the sayings from John and the two undisputed sayings in Luke maintain their original canonical narrative order. Only Luke 23.34a is out of place:[2]

Luke John

23.43 (1) 19.26-27 (2)

23.34a (6) 19.28 (4)

23.46a (7) 19.30a (5)

Important witnesses to Diatessaronic readings, the Syriac versions c and s, also attest to the secondary nature of the logion in the Third Gospel. These manuscripts are believed to be from the fourth-fifth century. The texts, however, are thought to go back to the early second and third century. Syrs is thought to be older than syrc—even pre-Tatian. Interestingly, syrs does not contain the logion, ‘Father forgive them’ while, on the other hand, syrc, which is post-Tatian, has the logion (‘Father forgive them’) in its version of Luke.[3] In these two Syriac versions we see the transition from the logion’s absence in the text of Luke in the early second century to its appearance in the text of Luke in the early third century. This is the same time frame suggested below for the logion’s addition to the Third Gospel.

Ephraim’s fourth-century commentary on the Diatessaron has some correspondence to the Arabic witness.[4] Chapters 20-21 are an account of the passion narrative and death of Jesus. Ephraim cites all but the Johannine sayings in this account. He cites Luke 23.43 (20.24-25) first, then Mark 15.34/Matt 27.46 (20.30), Luke 23.46a (21.1) and only at the end in corollary discussions does he quote Luke 23.34a (21.3, 8). What is the significance of these observations? These witnesses attest to the fact that early on the logion, ‘Father, forgive them,’ was not fixed in the text of Third Gospel but was a ‘floating tradition.’ Either it was located in various places in the text or omitted altogether. Such floating traditions are sure indicators that the traditions we are dealing with are secondary to the earliest form of the text.[5]

In addition, what do we find concerning the order of sayings in later Diatessaronic witnesses? The Middle-English Pepysian gospel harmony has the following order: (1) Luke 23.34a, (2) John 19.26-27, (3) Luke 23.43, (4) Mark 15.34/Matt 27:46, (5) John 19:28, (6) John 19.30, and (7) Luke 23.46a. In the ninth-century Saxon Heliand, songs 66-67 share an almost identical order minus John 19.30 (unless the end of song 67 is an allusion to this saying).[6] The Persian Diatessaron records the sayings from the cross in the following order: Luke 23.34a, John 19.26-27, John 19.28, John 19.30, Luke 23.43, Mark 15.34/Matt 27.46, Luke 23.46a.[7] Also, the common modern homiletical order of the sayings is (1) Luke 23.34a, (2) Luke 23.43, (3) John 19.26-27, (4) Mark 15.34/Matt 27:46, (5) John 19:28, (6) John 19.30, and (7) Luke 23.46a.[8]

In all these later examples, after the logion had been fixed in the canonical text of Luke, the logion, ‘Father forgive them’, is the first logion and maintains the canonical narrative integrity of the sayings of Jesus from the cross in the Gospel of Luke. In fact, the preponderance for starting with Luke 23:34a in the later traditional homiletical order of the seven sayings as well as in other subsequent gospel harmonies makes sense after this logion finds its place in the Gospel of Luke. Putting it first maintains the canonical integrity of Luke’s order of sayings and maintains the logical chronological sequence when all the canonical Gospels’ cruicifixion accounts are read together since this saying is immediately given after the Roman soldiers nail Jesus to the cross.

All this suggests that at the time Tatian wrote his Distessaron (ca. 170 c.e.), this logion had not yet secured its place in the text of Luke. This logion was most likely added to a gospel harmony or harmonized collection of sayings of Jesus on the cross before it was added to the text of Luke.

END QUOTATION

With regard to point #2, namely that we “certainly haven't shown any evidence that a scribe is likely to count sayings like this”, we would beg to differ. In a later comment, Dr Head admits that we have some evidence for scribal interest in “seven.” In addition to the use of seven as a structural principle at the compositional level (see also François Bovon’s SNTS presidential address in NTS [‘Names and Numbers in Early Christianity’, NTS 47 (2001) 267-88.), we mentioned also the following (200-201):

BEGIN QUOTATION

These previous examples indicate the influence of seven at the compositional level of the New Testament writings and traditions. ‘Seven’ also influenced the post-publication editorial collection of some New Testament texts as well as some non-canonical collections of early Christian texts. The original collection of the letters of Ignatius, written as he was traveling to Rome to be martyred, is a collection of seven letters.[9] When the catholic letters are finally collected together there are seven (1 and 2 Peter; 1, 2, and 3 John; James; Jude). More important to our discussion are the various collections of Paul’s letters by the end of the first century. Likely the oldest collection of Paul’s letters was the seven churches edition when letters to the same communities were counted together (Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians).[10] The significance of a collection of Paul’s letters addressed to seven churches was not lost upon the early church. The Muratorian fragment contains this interesting statement:

  • Since the blessed apostle Paul himself, following the order of his predecessor John, but not naming him, writes to seven churches in the following order: first to the Corinthians, second to the Ephesians, . . . Philippians, . . . Colossians, . . .Galatians, . . . Romans. But although [the message] is repeated to the Corinthians and Thessalonians by way of reproof, yet one church is recognized as diffused throughout the world (emphasis added).[11]

The Muratorian fragment reflects the significance attached to a seven-church edition of Paul’s letters, namely that the church universal was addressed through these occasional documents. Moreover, this collection of letters addressed to the seven churches presumably goes back to the earliest time (c. 100 C.E. or slightly earlier) when the letters were collected and edited together. Here, then, is evidence of post-publication shaping of a collection of materials by the earliest Christians according to the number seven. Additionally, when the letters to individuals were added to the collection of letters to the seven churches by 100, Hebrews is routinely added to this collection (e.g., p46, B, ) , D, 06).[12] By so doing a thirteen-letter collection is made a fourteen-letter (7X2) corpus.

END QUOTATION

This argument tracks well with Mike Holmes’ comment in the blog of the Muratorian fragment and the need for evidence from the second century.

At any rate, thanks again to Peter for bringing attention to our article. We hope it will prompt more discussion (and perhaps even a few more actually to read). We look forward (we think!) to the continuing exchange.

Cheers,

Mikeal Parsons and Jason Whitlark

34 Comments:

maurice a robinson said...

I find it somewhat ironic that, on this particular passage, Kim Haines-Eitzen (having completed her doctorate under Ehrman) has, in the penultimate chapter of her Guardians of Letters volume, presented a strong case arguing in favor of the authenticity of the logion.

Or, to put it into a more ironic perspective: she basically suggests that those scribes who initially omitted the passage (as well as those who today might claim non-originality at this point) were guilty of "Misquoting Jesus". :-)

Andrew Wilson said...

If I, as a non-academic, preached on this passage in Luke in church and had the temerity to make such a numerological argument, I know what the attitude of Peter Head, politely listening in my congregation, would be. I would probably be banned from a certain TC-list for being such a redneck.

Why does publication of such piffle in an academic journal deserve respectful discussion?

BTW, isn't the earliest witness to the saying Irenaeus, who pre-dates P75?

'In religion, what damned error but some sober brow will bless it and approve it with a text, hiding the grossness with fair ornament' (Shakespeare)

George F. Somsel said...

In my work on the Apocalypse I've also wondered about a tendency to impose a certain numerical constraint upon the text. As is well-known, 7 is a prominent number in the Apocalypse -- including 7 makarisms. The problem is that the makarism in 16.15 (along with the logion regarding Christ's sudden return) comes like a bolt out of the blue. What is it doing there? It doesn't even have any indication regarding who is speaking. The only way that we are aware that this is Christ speaking is by knowing that the same has been said elsewhere. Nevertheless, the mss tradition is universal in including it.

Anonymous said...

Does Andrew Wilson have a constructive comment, or is his "gift" the gab of ad hominem? I'm not sure what connotations "redneck" may have in Europe, but it is quite derogatory in the United States. I would expect a higher standard of discourse from participants on the Evangelical Textual Criticism weblog. Also, the New Testament Studies journal is one of the most prestigious journals for New Testament studies. Perhaps Mr. Wilson should write to the editorial board of New Testament Studies and document the manner in which this article is “piffle”. This, of course, assumes that he has actually read the article.
As to the article, numerology was highly conspicuous in antiquity and that it could have been the motivation behind a scribal activity would not be surprising. Now, how one demonstrates such a scenario is another question, which is exactly the issue that Peter Head raises in the original post.
Derek D.

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

What evidence do Whitlark & Parsons present that early readers of the gospels were counting numbers of this or that and calculating sums across the four gospels? This seems like a modern preoccupation being transplanted into an ancient context.

I agree with Peter Head that this assumption appears to be a nonstarter.

The Buck Stops said...

DD
"I would expect a higher standard of discourse from participants on the Evangelical Textual Criticism weblog."

It must have been getting late

Anonymous said...

Response to "the buck stops":

Actually it was mid-day. But you're right; I was probably a little too quick with my response. But that "redneck" comment flew all over me. Apologies for my own ad hominem.
Derek D.

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

DD: "numerology was highly conspicuous in antiquity"

While this is true, the case under discussion involves something quite different from numerology. Compiling statistics on speech acts compiled from four separate documents is an activity that seems rather modern to me. If we were talking about a harmony of the gospels it would be a different story.

Do we have any evidence that this sort of thing took place in the first two centuries AD?

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

What would really nail this down would be a citation from some early church father making reference to the seven words of Jesus from the Cross. If this citation could be dated early enough to account for the textual witnesses then I would be willing to listen to the rest of the argument.

Peter M. Head said...

Note that when I summarised "seven was clearly positive and significant (various evidence cited on p. 198-201)" there is a bit of evidence for 'seven' as significant not only as a number, but in compositional/collectional terms (e.g. Revelation and 7 letters; Marcion's seven letters of Paul etc.). There is some other evidence which I forget (as I don't have the paper in front of me at home), but none of included either of Clay's ideas:
a) "Compiling statistics on speech acts compiled from four separate documents"
or
b)"a citation from some early church father making reference to the seven words of Jesus from the Cross".

The diatessaron has I think the seven sayings, but they are not numbered (or even perhaps distinguished clearly).

PS I'm sorry if in skipping over some of the evidentially strong parts of the paper I gave the impression that it was all "piffle". It does reflect the normal publication bias towards creative/novel ideas.

Andrew Wilson said...

Sorry for upsetting you, Derek, by using the word 'piffle'.

I suppose most people interested in textual criticism are attracted to it for reasons other than the mind-numbing minutiae that advanced textual critics have to deal with. For my part, a passion for scripture still provides the impetus. So, occasionally, I use language that reflects strong feeling. Besides, 'piffle' alliterated with 'publication' (see my previous post) and, as they say, it felt good at the time!

More seriously, I find less evidence in the manuscripts of a scribal tendency for numerological fitness than for alliteration, and nothing in Peter's neat summary of the article suggested that the authors provided ANY evidence from generalised studies into scribal habits to show that scribes were motivated by a desire for such things.

As for using strong language (and begging the pardon of those who do not understand cricket or the Ashes) here is a clip from Mike Selvey, the quintessentially mild-mannered BBC cricket commentator, writing in the Guardian this week:

'The best part of four months still to go to the start of the Ashes series and already Glenn McGrath is talking drivel... McGrath's blatherings - described in some quarters as "traditional", as if they were up there with the Melbourne Cup and Anzac Day - habitually take the form of a series prediction, usually 5-0 to Australia, or the latest players he intends to "target" with the ball'.

Why shouldn't a Christian use strong language about something he strongly believes, not to mention something (i.e. scribal habits) that he has some little familiarity with?

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Eric Rowe said...

DD: "I'm not sure what connotations "redneck" may have in Europe, but it is quite derogatory in the United States."

I beg your pardon? Some of my best friends are rednecks.

Mike Holmes said...

C. Stirling Bartholomew wrote, "While this is true, the case under discussion involves something quite different from numerology. Compiling statistics on speech acts compiled from four separate documents is an activity that seems rather modern to me. If we were talking about a harmony of the gospels it would be a different story.

Do we have any evidence that this sort of thing took place in the first two centuries AD?"

The article may mention this (I hope to track it down later today), but in the meantime, re a harmony, there is some evidence that Justin Martyr may have worked with a harmony of the gospels. Second, re 7 as a special number, in addition to what Peter mentioned, the Muratorian Canon--whose date is addmittedly a much-debated topic, but I'm persuaded that a date in the second half of the second c. is less problematic than the alternatives--works very hard to have Paul write to precisely seven churches; there is a strong apologetic tendenz to the MurCat's treatment at this point.

So, there is some indication of concern for the number, and of interest already by the middle of the second c. in harmonizing the accounts--the kind of "pre-conditions" that Stirling asked about. Doesn't prove the NTS article's case, just indicates a possible climate in which its thesis may be possible.

Anonymous said...

WARNING: LONGISH RESPONSE
We were given notice that our article was being discussed in this forum; we hope you don’t mind us joining the fray! It is, of course, all authors’ hope that their work will be read and discussed in the marketplace of ideas, and we are grateful to Peter Head for bringing our article to the attention of this group. It is not clear to us, however, that any of the other commentators have actually read the piece, and this is lamentable given the fact that the essay is relatively accessible for NTS subscribers at http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayIssue?jid=NTS&volumeId=52&issueId=02

Furthermore, we think Professor Head has given a truncated and weakened version of our argument; this in and of itself is not unusual. In fact, it’s the way most of us score academic points, but such a truncated summary leads naturally, if not inevitably, to the judgment (by someone else) that what we have produced is “piffle” (we don’t know whether or not to be offended by this; we hear a LOT of words in Texas don't understand, but piffle is not one of them!). As we understand it, Professor Head’s objections to the argument consist in

1) not accepting an early date for the four-fold collection of the gospels;

2) finding it implausible that a scribe would be ‘numerically motivated’ to add a seventh saying to the collected cross sayings.

Perhaps we have truncated his objections, but surely Peter will rebut if we have! In response to #1, Peter simply asserts, without argumentation, that he doesn’t accept the Stanton (/Hengel) hypothesis for an early date for the collection. Fair enough since we assert, without argumentation, that we do accept the hypothesis. We can argue the merits of this thesis if one wishes, but we don’t think our argument rests solely, or even mostly, on this point. Equally, if not more, important is the Diatessaronic evidence, at least as we read it. We don’t wish to repeat the entire argument (again, we encourage commentators to read the piece in toto), but let us reiterate that evidence (201-203 , sans footnotes ).
BEGIN QUOTATION
Tatian’s Diatessaron is our earliest extant witness (c. 170) to the words of Jesus from the cross collected together in a single narrative, and it also attests to the secondary nature of Luke 23.34a.[1] Tatian’s order of sayings reads: (1) Luke 23.43, (2) John 19.26-27, (3) Mark 15.34/Matt 27.46, (4) John 19.28, (5) John 19.30a, (6) Luke 23.34a, and (7) Luke 23.46a. What is notable about Tatian’s order (at least according to the Arabic witness) is that the sayings from John and the two undisputed sayings in Luke maintain their original canonical narrative order. Only Luke 23.34a is out of place:[2]

Luke John

23.43 (1) 19.26-27 (2)

23.34a (6) 19.28 (4)

23.46a (7) 19.30a (5)



Important witnesses to Diatessaronic readings, the Syriac versions c and s, also attest to the secondary nature of the logion in the Third Gospel. These manuscripts are believed to be from the fourth-fifth century. The texts, however, are thought to go back to the early second and third century. Syrs is thought to be older than syrc—even pre-Tatian. Interestingly, syrs does not contain the logion, ‘Father forgive them’ while, on the other hand, syrc, which is post-Tatian, has the logion (‘Father forgive them’) in its version of Luke.[3] In these two Syriac versions we see the transition from the logion’s absence in the text of Luke in the early second century to its appearance in the text of Luke in the early third century. This is the same time frame suggested below for the logion’s addition to the Third Gospel.

Ephraim’s fourth-century commentary on the Diatessaron has some correspondence to the Arabic witness.[4] Chapters 20-21 are an account of the passion narrative and death of Jesus. Ephraim cites all but the Johannine sayings in this account. He cites Luke 23.43 (20.24-25) first, then Mark 15.34/Matt 27.46 (20.30), Luke 23.46a (21.1) and only at the end in corollary discussions does he quote Luke 23.34a (21.3, 8). What is the significance of these observations? These witnesses attest to the fact that early on the logion, ‘Father, forgive them,’ was not fixed in the text of Third Gospel but was a ‘floating tradition.’ Either it was located in various places in the text or omitted altogether. Such floating traditions are sure indicators that the traditions we are dealing with are secondary to the earliest form of the text.[5]

In addition, what do we find concerning the order of sayings in later Diatessaronic witnesses? The Middle-English Pepysian gospel harmony has the following order: (1) Luke 23.34a, (2) John 19.26-27, (3) Luke 23.43, (4) Mark 15.34/Matt 27:46, (5) John 19:28, (6) John 19.30, and (7) Luke 23.46a. In the ninth-century Saxon Heliand, songs 66-67 share an almost identical order minus John 19.30 (unless the end of song 67 is an allusion to this saying).[6] The Persian Diatessaron records the sayings from the cross in the following order: Luke 23.34a, John 19.26-27, John 19.28, John 19.30, Luke 23.43, Mark 15.34/Matt 27.46, Luke 23.46a.[7] Also, the common modern homiletical order of the sayings is (1) Luke 23.34a, (2) Luke 23.43, (3) John 19.26-27, (4) Mark 15.34/Matt 27:46, (5) John 19:28, (6) John 19.30, and (7) Luke 23.46a.[8]

In all these later examples, after the logion had been fixed in the canonical text of Luke, the logion, ‘Father forgive them’, is the first logion and maintains the canonical narrative integrity of the sayings of Jesus from the cross in the Gospel of Luke. In fact, the preponderance for starting with Luke 23:34a in the later traditional homiletical order of the seven sayings as well as in other subsequent gospel harmonies makes sense after this logion finds its place in the Gospel of Luke. Putting it first maintains the canonical integrity of Luke’s order of sayings and maintains the logical chronological sequence when all the canonical Gospels’ cruicifixion accounts are read together since this saying is immediately given after the Roman soldiers nail Jesus to the cross.

All this suggests that at the time Tatian wrote his Distessaron (ca. 170 c.e.), this logion had not yet secured its place in the text of Luke. This logion was most likely added to a gospel harmony or harmonized collection of sayings of Jesus on the cross before it was added to the text of Luke.
END QUOTATION
With regard to point #2, namely that we “certainly haven't shown any evidence that a scribe is likely to count sayings like this”, we would beg to differ. In a later post, Professor Head admits that we have some evidence for scribal interest in “seven.” In addition to the use of seven as a structural principle at the compositional level (see also François Bovon’s SNTS presidential address in NTS [‘Names and Numbers in Early Christianity’, NTS 47 (2001) 267-88.), we mentioned also the following (200-201):
BEGIN QUOTATION
These previous examples indicate the influence of seven at the compositional level of the New Testament writings and traditions. ‘Seven’ also influenced the post-publication editorial collection of some New Testament texts as well as some non-canonical collections of early Christian texts. The original collection of the letters of Ignatius, written as he was traveling to Rome to be martyred, is a collection of seven letters.[9] When the catholic letters are finally collected together there are seven (1 and 2 Peter; 1, 2, and 3 John; James; Jude). More important to our discussion are the various collections of Paul’s letters by the end of the first century. Likely the oldest collection of Paul’s letters was the seven churches edition when letters to the same communities were counted together (Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians).[10] The significance of a collection of Paul’s letters addressed to seven churches was not lost upon the early church. The Muratorian fragment contains this interesting statement:

Since the blessed apostle Paul himself, following the order of his predecessor John, but not naming him, writes to seven churches in the following order: first to the Corinthians, second to the Ephesians, . . . Philippians, . . . Colossians, . . .Galatians, . . . Romans. But although [the message] is repeated to the Corinthians and Thessalonians by way of reproof, yet one church is recognized as diffused throughout the world (emphasis added).[11]

The Muratorian fragment reflects the significance attached to a seven-church edition of Paul’s letters, namely that the church universal was addressed through these occasional documents. Moreover, this collection of letters addressed to the seven churches presumably goes back to the earliest time (c. 100 C.E. or slightly earlier) when the letters were collected and edited together. Here, then, is evidence of post-publication shaping of a collection of materials by the earliest Christians according to the number seven. Additionally, when the letters to individuals were added to the collection of letters to the seven churches by 100, Hebrews is routinely added to this collection (e.g., p46, B, ) , D, 06).[12] By so doing a thirteen-letter collection is made a fourteen-letter (7X2) corpus.
END QUOTATION
This argument tracks well with Mike Holmes’ comment in the blog of the Muratorian fragment and the need for evidence from the second century.

At any rate, thanks again to Peter for bringing attention to our article. We hope it will prompt more discussion (and perhaps even a few more actually to read). We look forward (we think!) to the continuing exchange.

Cheers,

Mikeal Parsons

Jason Whitlark

P.S. If possible it would be nice if the administrator would kindly see fit to post our response on the page with Professor Head’s critique rather than burying it fifteen posts into the blog, but we understand this to be the administrator’s discretion.

Peter M. Head said...

Thanks for that. I've added it as an up-date to the original post. I haven't been able to delete the comment though.

Daniel Buck said...

The original commentators should have the ability to delete their comment.

"It was getting late" was a joke for the original poster, who used the same excuse only a few posts earlier.

This discussion brings up a question of the liturgical history of the "Seven Last Words of Christ," which have been part of the homily at Good Friday Services for at least decades, if not centuries. The usual procedure is to have seven different speakers, each one focusing on one "Word from the Cross."

How far back can we date the term "Seven Last Words of Christ?"

Or doesn't it particularly matter, given the antiquity of the text in question?

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

The following is a long quote from Leslie McFall "TATIAN’S DIATESSARON: MISCHIEVOUS OR MISLEADING?" Please note order of the citations from Luke 23. For example Lk 23:54 precedes Lk 23:51.

McFalls conclusion: "... it would appear that he has followed the same
procedure throughout the entire Diat."

**begin quote**

A surprising discovery was made in 1933 of a Greek fragment of Tatian’sDiat. at Dura-Europos.17 The parchment measured 9.5 x 10.5 cm., and the uncial(or majuscule) writing takes up fifteen lines and covers Matthew 27:56-57, Mark15:40, 42, Luke 23:49b-c, 54, 50-51 and John 19:39. Below is a translation of thefragment. Unclear words have been put in square brackets, and the biblical sourceplaced in curly brackets.

… [of Zebe]dee {Mt 27:56} and Salome {Mk 15:40} and women [which]had come up with him from [Gali]lee, seeing these things {Lk 23:49c} and itwas [a day] of preparation and sabbath was coming [on] {Lk 23:54}. Now[ev]ening having come {Mt 27:57}, since it was the pr[eparat]ion, which isthe day before the sabbath {Mk 15:42} [there came] a man {Mt 27:57} being acounsellor from {Lk 23:50} Arimathea, a city of the [Jew]s {Lk 23:51}, whosename was Jo[seph] {Mt 27:57}, a man [goo]d and ri[ghteous] {Lk 23:50}, beinga disciple [of] Jesus but se[cre]tly for fear of the [Jew]s {Jn 19:38}. And he {Mt27:57? ‘this one’; or Lk 23:51b ‘who’} was waiting for the ki[ngdom] of God{Lk 23:51b}. This man [was not ag]reeing with the co[unsel]… {Lk 23:51a}.

This fragment is made up entirely of words from the canonical Gospels.Tatian (if it is his work) has nowhere introduced new vocabulary. Given that thisis an example of Tatian’s method it would appear that he has followed the sameprocedure throughout the entire Diat.

***end quote***

http://www.btinternet.com/~lmf12/TatianArticle.pdf

Stephen C. Carlson said...

According to Parker, Taylor, and Goodacre, "The Dura-Europos Gospel Harmony" in Studies in the Early Text of the Gospels and Acts (TCS 1; Atlanta: SBL, 1999), 192-228, however, this fragment is not from the Diatessaron.

Peter M. Head said...

A couple of procedural comments:
a) It is great that the authors have engaged with our discussion of their artice. That is very welcome. I'm sorry not to have emailed them when I posted the first discussion.
b) There is always a difficulty in discussing articles or books that others may not have seen/read. But the discussion itself alerts people to the existence of the article and if it is found to be interesting then they'll probably track it down (if they are like that).
c) I'm sorry that the authors feel that my brief summary was prejudicial to the reception of their argument here.

Peter M. Head said...

Now to the substance of the argument.
1. I agree that 'seven' was an important number in early Christianity. Conceptually, compositionally and in other ways.
2. The evidence gathered in support of that (198-200) is of various diverse types, but some of it is not particularly relevant.
3. Among this general evidence I don't see any particular evidence of the use of counting up to seven among Christian readers. I don't see any evidence of Christian readers counting sayings of Jesus, which is what this theory requires. Did contemporary readers reflect on the counting/recognition of the seven-fold elements in passages such as John 21.2; Acts 6.3; Rom 8.35; Rom 12.6-8; James 3.17; 2 Peter 1.5-8; Rom 11.33-36; Matt 6.9-13 (p. 198)? Who was the first to count the seven 'I am' sayings in John?
4. This is not particularly important perhaps, but I don't see that "six" is particularly negative (the number in Rev 13.18 is 'six hundred and sixty-six, not six-six-six; in John 2.6 Jesus doesn't add a seventh pot he renews the six).
5. I think in relation to the Diatessaron I am still not quite sure what this discussion contributes to the argument. I can see that it supports the idea that the saying was a 'floating logion' at the time of Tatian; but I can't see that it helps with the proposed motivation for the inclusion of the saying into Luke 23.34. It is quite clear that in Ephraem's commentary on the Diatessaron there is absolutely no interest in the number of sayings of Jesus from the cross.

Peter M. Head said...

This is a side-issue to some degree (although it illustrates the intrinsic difficulty in the statement: 'Tatian's Diatessaron is our earliest extant witness' - since it is actually not extant at all!). Re the Dura-Europos harmony fragment (0212): Stephen is right to draw attention to Parker, Taylor and Goodacre on this. But their method of determining whether 0212 was Tatianic could be said to have exhibited too much confidence in their ability to reconstruct Tatian's text from later and quite diverse sources (it may well need to be revisited in view of Ulrich Schmid's more recent work on Western witnesses to the Diatessaron see http://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.com/2005/11/diatessaron-book.html).

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

So there is some doubt about the Dura-Europos harmony fragment (0212) being a witness to Tatian's Diatessaron. Is there anything in TC which isn't doubted by someone? Doubting the work of previous scholarship is the fuel that feeds the academic machine.

The case of Parsons & Whitlark rests on the notion that Tatian followed canonical order at the micro level. McFall argues that the pattern of reordering material at the micro level found in the Dura-Europos fragment is indicative of what we find in the most reliable witnesses to Taitian.

So it really doesn't matter one way or another if Dura-Europos is a witness to Tatian. If it can be demonstrated that Tatian reordered his material at the phrase and clause level then the Parsons & Whitlark thesis has a serious problem.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Peter for this response. Now we can get to the business of discussing the argument. I don’t know where Jason is, so don’t hold him responsible for these thoughts. I wrote a similar response earlier, but somehow it failed to post (if it shows up later, forgive me for the repetition).
YOU WROTE:
1. I agree that 'seven' was an important number in early Christianity. Conceptually, compositionally and in other ways.
2. The evidence gathered in support of that (198-200) is of various diverse types, but some of it is not particularly relevant.
RESPONSE: Well, relevant to what? We prefaced the evidence on pp. 198-200 with the comment: “Seven was clearly a significant number for Jews and Christians in the first and second centuries.” We take all the evidence cited to be relevant to that statement, and judging from your response in #1, it was successful at least in reinforcing a view you may already have possessed about the significance of seven “in early Christianity. Conceptually, compositionally and in other ways.” Granted, some evidence is less relevant to the particular claim of the numerical motivation for the insertion of Luke 23:34a, but to be fair, that was not the claim being supported in the essay at that point. Even so, it IS relevant to the extent that it establishes what Mike Holmes called a “possible climate in which [our] thesis may be possible.” Andrew Wilson might be right to say that if he preached a sermon today using such a numerical argument he might be ‘banned’ from this list (if not his church!) but that’s really not the point. The point is how an early Christian audience would have responded to such an argument, and we think it highly unlikely that it would have been dismissed as ‘piffle’ given the “climate” or “context” to which the evidence points.
YOU WROTE:
3. Among this general evidence I don't see any particular evidence of the use of counting up to seven among Christian readers. I don't see any evidence of Christian readers counting sayings of Jesus, which is what this theory requires.
RESPONSE: Of course, we wish to count the diatessaronic evidence as precisely that for which you ask. The collection of Jesus’s sayings moves from six (syr s) to seven ‘out of canonical order’ (arabic witnesses to Tatian) to seven in ‘canonical order’ (syr c and following). Granted this is not an explicit reflection on the number of seven sayings--the genre of the material surely does not allow such self-conscious reflection--but it is evidence, we think, of Christian readers counting sayings of Jesus (and adding when the number is six, not seven). To claim, as we think you are saying, that the theory REQUIRES explicit evidence is, in my opinion, to place the bar too high. Such evidence would be welcome but, given the nature of our evidence, should it be required? Are we willing to require such evidence for all our hypotheses regarding scribal motivations?
YOU WROTE:
Did contemporary readers reflect on the counting/recognition of the seven-fold elements in passages such as John 21.2; Acts 6.3; Rom 8.35; Rom 12.6-8; James 3.17; 2 Peter 1.5-8; Rom 11.33-36; Matt 6.9-13 (p. 198)? Who was the first to count the seven 'I am' sayings in John?
RESPONSE: I take it you mean, did contemporary readers reflect in writing in a self-conscious way on these phenomena? Well, surely the answer is yes, but not as often as we/I would have liked. The Muratorian Frag.’s comment on Paul’s letters to the seven churches, already mentioned, would count I think. I can cite more or less off the top of my head another example, if you are willing to count Bede as “contemporary” (he’s certainly not modern). About Acts 6:3 he writes that that the number of seven deacons is “not without some symbolism” (non sine aliquo . . . mysterio) and elsewhere cites Augustine (Ep.55.5.9) on seven as a figure for universality. Bovon no doubt gives other examples.
YOU WROTE:
4. This is not particularly important perhaps, but I don't see that "six" is particularly negative (the number in Rev 13.18 is 'six hundred and sixty-six, not six-six-six; in John 2.6 Jesus doesn't add a seventh pot he renews the six).
RESPONSE: Well, we do claim (following Adela Collins) that the biggest problem with six (which does not have a ‘fixed’ negative symbolism in antiquity) is that it is not seven (which is, it seems, uniformly positive in early Christian thought).

YOU WROTE:
5. I think in relation to the Diatessaron I am still not quite sure what this discussion contributes to the argument. I can see that it supports the idea that the saying was a 'floating logion' at the time of Tatian; but I can't see that it helps with the proposed motivation for the inclusion of the saying into Luke 23.34. It is quite clear that in Ephraem's commentary on the Diatessaron there is absolutely no interest in the number of sayings of Jesus from the cross.
RESPONSE: First, thanks for recognizing that the Diatessaronic evidence possibly points to Luke 23:34a as a floating agraphon, presumably indicating its secondary nature—a point many are not willing to concede. As I stated above, not only does the pericope float in the collection of sayings, the number moves from six (syr s) to seven (syr c and following). We think, given EC’s interest in numerology, that a numerical motivation is an important factor for the insertion of Luke 23:34a (though why it is placed in this particular location in Luke requires a different explanation). Though it does not undermine our argument, your point about Ephraem is well taken, as well as your later point about the need to be more careful with language in referring to Tatian’s Diatessaron.

Well, that’s all for now. This was a welcome excuse to take a break from reading page proofs!
Cheers,
Mikeal

Peter M. Head said...

Ulrich Schmid comments:
Perhaps, I should not enter discussion at this point because I have not read the NTS article by Parsons/Whitlark yet. However, some quotes have been posted on this blog that have caught my attention.

Parsons/Whitlark: "Tatian’s Diatessaron is our earliest extant witness (c. 170) to the words of Jesus from the cross collected together in a single narrative, and it also attests to the secondary nature of Luke 23.34a.[1] Tatian’s order of sayings reads: (1) Luke 23.43, (2) John 19.26-27, (3) Mark 15.34/Matt 27.46, (4) John 19.28, (5) John 19.30a, (6) Luke 23.34a, and (7) Luke 23.46a. What is notable about Tatian’s order (at least according to the Arabic witness) is that the sayings
from John and the two undisputed sayings in Luke maintain their original canonical narrative order. Only Luke 23.34a is out of place"

1. Despite the authors lighthearted opening Tatian's Diatessaron (as of 170 CE) is not at hand anymore. They give at least some indication of conflicting evidence as they go on stating "at least according to the Arabic witness". On what grounds do they opt for the Arabic tradition?

2. Contrary to the Arabic witnesses that date from the 13th century onwards Latin Codex Fuldensis (546/47 CE), which is thought to represent Tatian's Diatessaron in the West, gives the words of Jesus
from the cross in the order Lc 23,34; Lc 23,43; Mt 27,46; Jn 19, 26-27; Jn 19, 28; Jn 19,30; Lc 23,46.

Parsons/Whitlark: "Important witnesses to Diatessaronic readings, the Syriac versions c and s, also attest to the secondary nature of the logion in the Third Gospel. These manuscripts are believed to be from the fourth-fifth century. The texts, however, are thought to go back to the early second and third century. Syrs is thought to be older than syrc—even pre-Tatian. Interestingly, syrs does not contain the logion, ‘Father forgive them’ while, on the other hand, syrc, which is post-Tatian, has the logion (‘Father forgive them’) in its version of Luke."

1. Dating the Old Syriac is a hazardous enterprise, esp. syrs to the early second century.

2. Syrs and syrc are solitary mss that are palaeographically dated to the 5th c. (perhaps late 4th c. for syrs). Therefore almost every textual peculiarity raises the question whether we are dealing here
with idiosyncracies of the artefacts or features of the traditions that predate them.

Parsons: "The collection of Jesus’s sayings moves from six (syr s) to seven ‘out of canonical order’ (arabic witnesses to Tatian) to seven in ‘canonical order’ (syr c and following).

1. Since syrs and syrc are are solitary entities of old, it comes as no surprise that they are both fragmentarily preserved. For example, in both mss the passages that should contain the johannine sayings from the cross are not preserved. To be pedantic: we have no way of knowing for sure, how many sayings from the cross those syriac mss, let alone their alleged older traditions, would have counted.

2. Though I can grasp the point of 'canonical order' when dealing with a Gospel harmony, I am less positiv with texts of the seperate Gospels?

3. In order to have a valid point regarding 'canonical order', the authors would have to demonstrate that this is a constant feature of the Arabic harmonies (or Codex Fuldensis or whatever point of reference they choose for the Diatatessaron).

Peter M. Head said...

Thanks Mikael for your further response to my earlier questions/comments.
I think we can agree that the general evidence about ‘seven’s doesn’t provide direct support for the theory of numerical scribal motivation (rather it is indirect evidence for a widespread awareness of the significance of the number seven in Christian antiquity (including literary production and reproduction).
I see now from your response that the Diatessaronic evidence is more important to your case than I thought. I said:
“I don't see any particular evidence of the use of counting up to seven among Christian readers. I don't see any evidence of Christian readers counting sayings of Jesus, which is what this theory requires.”
MP said: “Of course, we wish to count the diatessaronic evidence as precisely that for which you ask. The collection of Jesus’s sayings moves from six (syr s) to seven ‘out of canonical order’ (arabic witnesses to Tatian) to seven in ‘canonical order’ (syr c and following). Granted this is not an explicit reflection on the number of seven sayings--the genre of the material surely does not allow such self-conscious reflection--but it is evidence, we think, of Christian readers counting sayings of Jesus (and adding when the number is six, not seven).”
Leaving aside for the moment the problems with the Diatessaron witnesses; I still don’t see how on your view this is evidence of ‘Christian readers counting sayings of Jesus’ – where is the counting?

Anonymous said...

In my haste to reconstruct a message to this board that was accidentally deleted, I compressed my last message in a way that made the argument difficult to follow. Let me try again.
What does the theory of a numerical motivation for the insertion of Luke 23:34a require? To us it seems to require 1) a climate or context in which it is plausible, even likely, to expect a scribe to show interest in the number of sayings from the cross; 2) evidence that when the sayings were collected, say in a harmony, that some effort was made to increase the number from six to seven; 3) subsequent evidence that the traditions of harmonies and tetraevangelion traditions maintained the seven sayings collection. It would be nice to have some metanarrative in the patristic tradition commenting on this process, but not, in our opinion, required.

So what do we have? 1) we have a climate/context in early Christianity in which there is robust interest in numerology, which manifests itself in the conceptualization, composition and the collection of early Christian documents.

2) Within that context, one can reasonably imagine a Tatian-like scribe intent of creating a harmony of the gospels. He has a syr s-like gospel collection with only six of the sayings from the cross. (One need not necessarily accept an early date for the fourfold collection of the gospels in this scenario, but it helps by ‘buying’ a bit of time.) Since six is not seven, our Tatian-like scribe adds a seventh saying to his collection, leaving traces of the addition since the inserted logion is not in the canonical order it will later achieve (this logion could be created for this purpose, we tend to think it was a floating agraphon). The Arabic witnesses to Tatian’s Diatessaron give evidence of just such a phenomenon (since we are crediting a Tatian-like scribe and not Tatian himself with this move, many of Ulrich Schmid’s comments seem irrelevant to us.) However, if the Arabic witnesses do represent Tatian’s scribal proclivities to play havoc with canonical order (pace S. Bartholomew quoting McFall), then this would actually support our case, since in this specific instance only the text in question is shifted.

3) The seven sayings are preserved in subsequent harmonies (Pepsyian, Persian) and tetraevangelion collections.
Cheers,
Mikeal Parsons
Jason Whitlark

Anonymous said...

and a footnote. regarding Ulrich Schmid's question about our choice to use the order of cross sayings from arabic witnesses to tatian, obviously we used it first and foremost because of the order.
but we have also been led to believe that this order may have been the original order of the Diatessaron itself. At least that's the way we read none other than Peter Head's comments (which was ironically was one of the pieces that started me thinking long ago about this whole issue!). Peter writes:
QUOTATION BEGINS
Obviously the whole arrangement misses the purpose behind the individual accounts at times; an example of this is the report of the crucifixion (see Arabic 51 & 52). We have the traditional seven words from the cross in the following order: 1) ‘Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise’ (Luke 23:43); 2) ‘Woman, behold thy Son. . .Behold, thy mother’ (John 19:27); 3) ‘Yail, Yaili, why hast thou forsaken me?’; 4) ‘I thirst’ (John 19:28); 5) ‘Everything is finished’ (John 19:30); 6) ‘My Father forgive them; for they do not know what they do’ (Luke 23:34); 7) ‘My Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.’ (Luke 23:46). (TATIAN’S CHRISTOLOGY
AND ITS INFLUENCE ON THE COMPOSITION OF THE DIATESSARON
Tyndale Bulletin 43.1(1992)121-137.
It seemed to me then that Peter was assuming this was Tatian's work since it came under the heading "The Diatessaron and Tatian’s Gospel Redaction"). Granted we are not Diatessaronic experts and if it turned out that the Arabic witnesses preserved an order from much later, it would be even more difficult to explain the order. So, you are right, Peter, we think the Diatessaronic evidence is important and with you (we think) agree that the arabic witnesses, at least at this point (Arab. 51 and 52) represent an early order of the sayings, going back to the second century.

Now with regard to your comment:
"I think we can agree that the general evidence about ‘seven’s doesn’t provide direct support for the theory of numerical scribal motivation"
Well, yes and no. yes i agree it does not provide direct support in the sense of the scribe self-consciously proclaiming this is what he is doing. but no in the sense that i take the work of a seven church edition of Paul's letters to be evidence of numerical scribal motivation in collecting EC documents. I take the seven-fold organization in some NT material as evidence of an author/scribe bringing numerical order to traditional material. And i take the Diatessaronic evidence of Arab. 51 and 52 as evidence of a six-fold collection of cross sayings that was increased to seven (evidenced by the displacement of Luke 23:34a from what will become its fixed canonical order). So there is a fundamental difference, it seems, on how we assess this evidence. At the end, i am not sure what would count in your mind as evidence of a "numerical scribal motivation."
cheers,
Mikeal

Anonymous said...

if you will indulge me one more comment, this may be my last for a few days. Unlike some Cambridge dons I know who so reasonably begin their 7 or 8 week semester in October, our classes start here monday, and i have much to do in preparation. (and

but i wanted to say a word about our use of "canonical order," which seems to have confused some readers. perhaps we should have said "narrative order" since we are referring, in the case of Arab 51, 52 of the Diatessaron, to the expected narrative sequence of the sayings. So regardless of the order of the seven sayings in the harmony(for example whether one ends with "It is finished" or "Into your hands"), the narrative sequence of Luke and John could be expected to be maintained (this does not affect Matt/Mark since one could not know from the harmony traditions where that one saying occurred in the narrative). Thus, one would expect
23.43 (1) John 19.26-27; 19:28; and 19:30a to occur in that order (regardless of their order in the harmony) and likewise with Luke, one would expect Luke 23:34a; 23:43, and 23:46a in that order (again regardless of their order in the harmony). And this is precisely what you do NOT get in Arab 51 and 52 where 23:34a occurs after 23:43 and before 23:46a. To us, this indicates that the saying, at the time of its incorporation, was not "fixed" in this narrative sequence in Luke (as is so often argued for other "floating" pericopae) and thus secondary to the Gospel text with which the harmonizer was working. So we were speaking of relative (rather than absolute) narrative sequence; this is all we meant, and we apologize for the confusion. (We do appreciate stirling bartholomew's point about Tatian frequently changing narrative sequence, a point we had not taken into account. Admittedly, it would have been a "serious problem" for us if one of the other Johannine or Lukan sayings was also displaced; however, we deduced that this phenomenon, if it exists, actually supports our case, since the doubtful text, in this case, is the only one displaced.)

Well, many thanks. This is fun, due no doubt in part to the clever way Peter Head moves the pieces on the board!
cheers,
mikeal

Peter M. Head said...

I was not intending to be overly clever.

Daniel R. Buck said...

Quoting PH:
"3) ‘Yail, Yaili, why hast thou forsaken me? [finishing out the original quote: "which
is, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"]';"

For what it's worth, the unusual Arabic form in the transliterated portion translates as "Oh god, oh my god."

I'm interested in how Arabic & Aramaic mss handle this bilingual passage. According to Lamsa, the Peshitta gives the saying twice (as does, I notice, the Arabic quoted above); hardly a testimony to an originally Aramaic Matthew.

Furthermore, the unusual form testifies to something other than the use of "Allah" by midieaval Arab Christians.

Anonymous said...

Can we suppose that if numerology played a significanty role in religions of the region [e.g, Roman Africa] then our NT scribes may have had such a background as well?

Lothair Of Lorraine said...

Doesn't the number "7" play a role in the Book of Jubilees as well? at least according to R.H. Charles in his commentary on the book.