Thursday, December 22, 2005

More essays from Horton

I want to make brief comments on three more essays from Charles Horton, ed., The Earliest Gospels.

Harry Gamble, ‘Literacy, Liturgy, and the Shaping of the New Testament Canon’, pp. 27-39, argues that in early Christianity there was a paradox between the ‘bookishness’ of the religion and the very limited literacy of the Christian congregations. However, oral and literate cultures intersected at the point of Christian liturgy. The liturgical tradition in Christian congregations was established early and it was liturgical use that was decisive in debates about the canon in the fourth century.

‘Although from time to time the church appealed to various criteria of canonicity (e.g. authorship, derivation from the apostolic period, orthodoxy, etc.), the ultimate criterion for the canonical, authoritative status of a book was its reception by the church, and there could be no more certain or compelling indication of reception by the church than that such a book had over long years been publicly read in the service of worship.’ (p. 37)

Graham Stanton, ‘Early Christian Preference for the Codex’, pp. 40-49, argues that the evidence (e.g., of P.Petaus 30) does not suggest that Christians were responsible for the invention of the codex. He also suggests that the writing tablets from Vindolanda in Northumberland (England) make it ‘probable that some of the many literary references in first and second century writings to notebooks (pugillaria) may be to leaf tablets rather than to stylus tablets.’ (p. 45)

William L. Petersen, ‘The Diatessaron and the Fourfold Gospel’, pp. 50-68, reviews Diatessaronic issues and focuses on two passages that suggest that extra-canonical traditions were incorporated into the Diatessaron. This, he argues, must either mean that the Diatessaron involved material from more than the four Gospels, or that the text of the four Gospels was fluid enough to have contained this material.

He argues that the making of the Diatessaron was ‘a frontal assault on the four-gospel canon’ or ‘a rejection of the multiple-gospel canon’ (p. 67). Bill of course knows infinitely more about the Diatessaron than do I, but I do not see why an author who produces a harmony necessarily is rejecting their Vorlage. Loraine Boettner would not have been convinced!

The good thing about this book is that in it authors such as Hengel, Gamble, Stanton and Petersen summarize in a single article arguments that they have laid out previously in full monographs. These little essays are certainly good adverts for the books.

1 comment

  1. I haven't read Peterson's essay. But I also don't see why the making of the Diatessaron should indicate a rejection of the four-fold Gospel. Other Gospel harmonies are the exact opposite, being created out of apologetic concerns for reconciling the apparent differences. Granted, the Diatessaron is different, because it seems to have been used in place of the four-fold Gospel codex. But couldn't this fact simply result from the scarcity of mss and the resulting lack of desire for a church, school, or scholar to have redundant books in their library? Eusebius also tells of Tatian reworking Paul's epistles. And I seem to recall that he or another father had even made a reworked Homer. Reworked scriptural texts wer common in Second Temple Judaism. And they don't seem to have accompanied rejection of the original. Jubilees, for example, does not imply a rejection of Genesis. It presumes its inspiration. And its non-Penteteuchal elements do not denigrate the primacy of the Penteteuch within the body of scriptures revered by that form of Judaism. I tend to think the Diatessaron was made from the same sort of reverence for the 4 canonical Gospels.