Thursday, March 27, 2008

Attitudes to Harmonization in the Second Century

I have just read an essay by Martin Hengel, "The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ," in the collected volume, The Earliest Gospels (ed. Charles Horton; London/New York: T & T Clark, 2004), 13-26. Hengel asks himself: "How is it that we have the narrative of Jesus' activity in a fourfold and often contradictory form in the New Testament and what is the origin of these texts? A single Gospel about Jesus would have already spared the church – to the present day – much soul-searching" (p. 14). Then he refers to Irenaeus, ca 180 CE, who not only indicates the existence of the (older) Four-Gospels-Collection, but has to defend it with a variety of arguments. Likewise Justin, around 150 CE, who said that the reminiscences "were composed by apostles and their successors," which Hengel takes as a reference to Matthew and John (apostles) and Mark and Luke (successors). Further on, Hengel expresses the unexpected fact that "the early church resisted the temptation to replace the four Gospels with a Gospel Harmony, which would have done away with all these problems" (p. 15). Admittedly, as Hengel points out, Tatian composed his Diatessaron around 170 CE, and it became established in the Syriac-speaking East, but later it was again displaced by the four 'separate' Gospels of the mainstream church.


All of these things are of course well-known, but when Hengel comes to the implications for textual criticism he only mentions the "widespread freedom" in dealing with the Gospel writings in the second century; "in this early period the texts of the Gospels could still be changed." At the same time, however, he is optimistic in that "nearly all the alterations and interploations can be picked up in the multiple textual tradition" (p.19).

When I read this part of the essay, I wondered if there was not another important implication for textual criticism: In the second century there was not only a harmonistic tendency, but also a strong anti-harmonistic tendency (cf. Irenaeus) and I wonder to what degree such a tendency is reflected among early scribes. In a review of David Parker's The Living Text of the Gospels, co-blogger Peter Head criticizes Parker for over-emphasising the freedom of the manuscript tradition. PH points out: "We might say that it is precisely because not all scribes acted in a free manner that we are now able to study those which did, and to rank readings, when possible, in an order of historical development."

12 Comments:

Eric Rowe said...

Does the case of Tatian indicate the existence of any kind of harmonistic tendency that differs at all from the tendencies exhibited by numerous modern evangelicals who endeavor to write Gospel harmonies? If there is some special difference, then what is it? If there isn't, then how could one ever leap from the existence of the Diatessaron to the conclusion that drastic alteration of the text was the general rule for scribal practice with the Gospels, rather than the exception? After all, the makers of modern harmonies do it out of a very high view of the 4 canonical Gospels, quite the opposite of a sense of liberty to play fast and loose with the text.

Tim Lewis said...

I agree with Eric, harmonisation usually stems from an effort to preserve the unity of the texts (and strengthen the Gospels) as an apparent defense against outside criticisms and perceived weaknesses. It is one approach toward 'preservation' not a 'taking liberty with' approach.

Anonymous said...

The problem as I see it is the use of "scribe." This gives the impression that those copying manuscripts were 'professional' scribes. I really would like to see a shred of historical evidence for that. All I notice is copyists all over the empire making copies for their churches or personal uses. Of course there were trained scribes, but I suspect that they were in the minority based on the need for local churches to have their own texts and the relative ease of untrained people making their own copies. True, "paper" was a bit expensive, but not THAT expensive to preclude one from desiring and obtaining a personal copy of mss.

Tommy Wasserman said...

TL: "harmonisation usually stems from an effort to preserve the unity of the texts (and strengthen the Gospels) as an apparent defense against outside criticisms and perceived weaknesses."

And my point is that Irenaeus reflects the opposite tendency when he argues that the fourfould Gospel expresses the perfection of apostolic tradition, since the Gospel in its dvivinely willed fourfold form is: "held together by one spirit."

And then I wonder if this attitude could have affected some of the early scribes. The obvious mechanism is to copy the exemplar before your eyes, but then there are other factors, how did the scribes regard TO EUAGGELION?

Anonymous: "The problem as I see it is the use of 'scribe.' This gives the impression that those copying manuscripts were 'professional' scribes."

I don't see the "scribes" as one group of professionals. However, I would not want to make a sharp distinction in terms of a corresponding attitudes towards the text. As an illustrative example, let me cite Larry Hurtado, "The New Testament in the Second Century: Text, Collections and Canon," in a collected volume edited by Childs and Parker:

"For example, the corrections in P.Oxy 4403 (P103) and P.Oxy. 4405 (P77) are noteworthy. The quality of the hands suggests that these manuscripts were not produced by professional calligraphers such as those who made expensive copies of literary texts. Nevertheless, along with some other features, these corrections reflect the sort of mentality (though not the fully developed scribal skills) that we associate with a scriptorium. In particular, the corrections show a concern for what those correcting the copies regarded as accurate copying. . . . there are various indications that the copying of early Christian texts in the second century involved emergent scribal conventions that quickly obtained impressive influence, and, at least in some cases and setttings, that there was a concern fo careful copying."

Further, I think we may agree that various scribal devices were prepared early on in Christian manuscripts for ease of public reading in churches (cf. the earliest fragment P52 with diaeresis and spaces that seem to register clauses). A legitimate question, then, is to ask how much a writing could be changed in a given circle, without people noticing. In relation to harmonization, I suppose the liturgical use (leading to familiarity to the different writings) could arguably lead to both opposing tendencies described.

matthew said...

Hmm this raises a related question that interests me: Does a strong anti-harmonistic tendency in Second Century mainstream churches influence the likelihood of redaction in other NT documents? For example, W. Schmithals, R. Jewett, G. Sellin and others have argued (with varying sophistication) for reconstructions of a redactional situation behind canonical 1 Corinthians, involving the assumption that early Christians were comfortable with the attempt to harmonise and/or systematise Pauline thought.

I hadn't thought before about how attitudes to harmonisation might be significant here - but the question might be worth pondering.

Anonymous said...

It remains impossible to get around the comment that Peter Head made as noted by T. Wassermann:

"PH points out: "We might say that it is precisely because not all scribes acted in a free manner that we are now able to study those which did, and to rank readings, when possible, in an order of historical development."

The aberrant Tatian or Marcion are not representatives of a scribe's function, although I do suspect that not all scribes were Christians. In addition, the warnings of Irenaeus and others to not permit "heretics" to use scriptures and the understanding that they alter scripture is doubtless the basis for such a warranted view.

Matthew, don't fall into the trap of Schmitals or Jewett. Neither are text-critics, but rather literary critcs. Their conjectures and hypotheses of interpolations (here and there) are not based upon sound TC principles.

Malcolm

matthew said...

Thanks Malcolm... I agree that they are literary critics rather than text critics. In fact I'm presenting a little paper next week in which I evaluate the application of Redaction Criticism to 1 Corinthians, and my conclusion is that there are major methodological, hermeneutical, and exegetical problems involved in this enterprise. My main methodological hesitation is that Schmithals, Jewett et al cannot adequately deal with the twin problems of a lack of manuscript evidence for early pre-redaction documents, and/or the lack of evidence for early redaction by the alleged editor of a fundamental Pauline Corpus.

In other words, when they try to face the issue of literary integrity from a textual - rather than only a literary - perspective (and many don't even try), they seriously fail to convince.

So I was wondering if this post's suggestion of an early hesitancy to harmonise authoritative texts might be further evidence, from a textual perspective, that such literary reconstructions are problematic.

Anonymous said...

Is this a site to ask a textual criticism question? I have a few questions and don't know where to ask. If so, where do I ask a question? If not, where do I ask a question ;o )

Tommy Wasserman said...

Anon: "Is this a site to ask a textual criticism question?"

Dear anon I recommend you to become member of the following discussion group and post your question: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/textualcriticism/

Anonymous said...

Per TW:

Further on, Hengel expresses the unexpected fact that "the early church resisted the temptation to replace the four Gospels with a Gospel Harmony, which would have done away with all these problems" (p. 19).

I suspect that such an undertaking was not even considered among the early church.

And, in the event is was, just whom did Hengel have in mind to do "away with all these problems"?

Though a bit comical, especially for evangelicals, how do you clarify an inspired document?

Tommy Wasserman said...

Anon: "And, in the event i[t] was, just whom did Hengel have in mind to do 'away with all these problems'?"

Hengel takes several examples (p. 14-15).

1) The Roman presbyter Gaius denied the authenticity of the Gospel of John, and the reason given was "historical-critical" - it deviated to much from the Synoptics

2) The first pagan literary opponent of Christianity, Celsus read all four Gospels and found ammunition in them, not least that the Christians had written it down several times.

Other such charges were continued by later enemies, from Porphyry and Julian up to Faustus, Augustine's opponent, which compelled Augustine to write De consensu evangelistarum.

Anonymous said...

TW: I think I misunderstood Hengel's quote. Sorry.

When I quoted this...

Further on, Hengel expresses the unexpected fact that "the early church resisted the temptation to replace the four Gospels with a Gospel Harmony, which would have done away with all these problems" (p. 19).

What I thought Hengel was suggesting was that someone in the early church should have harmonized the Gospels to do away with all the problems. But how would that be done unless one changed the inspired text? The assumption is that the "problems" were never intended to be their by the A(a)uthors of the Gospels, right? Is Hengel, I guess, not evangelical?

The Qur'an has no contradiction in it using this method. But how does that maintain objectivity?