Saturday, March 31, 2012

TSP 18: Palm Sunday and the Passion Narrative in Mark

With Palm Sunday coming up, in episode 18 of The Sacred Page I take an in-depth look at Jesus' "Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem" and Passion in the Gospel of Mark.

Listen on iTunes or click the link below. Look for more information on this podcast over at the corresponding post at 

As always, I'd like to express my gratitude to Saint Joseph's Communications, who generously support this podcast. They are also offering our listeners a free copy of the first CD from Scott Hahn's audio set on Jesus' Seven Sayings from the Cross. Also, again, during this Lent as you're making your almsgiving plans, please consider calling them up and giving them a donation, 1-800-526-2151. (And don't forget to thank them for supporting the show!) I'm not sure how to get these sets via mp3 download. Just give them a call and they can help you out. (800-526-2151).

Feel free to leave your comments below.

TSP 18: Palm Sunday and the Passion Narrative in Mark

Mark's Passion Narrative & the Apocalyptic Discourse: Podcast for Passion Sunday

This is a short podcast on the Passion Narrative in Mark. There will also be an extended podcast giving an broader overview of the Passion Narrative in Mark.

Here's an overview.
Apocalyptic Discourse & Passion Narrative

Listen on iTunes or click the link below. Look for more information on this podcast over at the corresponding post at 

As always, I'd like to express my gratitude to Saint Joseph's Communications, who generously support this podcast. They are also offering our listeners a free copy of the first CD from Scott Hahn's audio set on Jesus' Seven Sayings from the Cross. Also, again, during this Lent as you're making your almsgiving plans, please consider calling them up and giving them a donation, 1-800-526-2151. (And don't forget to thank them for supporting the show!) I'm not sure how to get these sets via mp3 download. Just give them a call and they can help you out. (800-526-2151).

Feel free to leave your comments below.

Mark's Passion Narrative & the Apocalyptic Discourse: Podcast for Passion Sunday

Friday, March 30, 2012

Catholic Interpretation of Scripture

This is part of an on-going series discussing the fundamentals of Catholic doctrine of Scripture.  The topic for this post is interpretation.  Comments are welcome.

Self-conscious reflection on the proper methods of interpretation of Scripture began already with the early Church Fathers. One of the most definitive patristic statements on interpretation is St. Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana, “On Christian Doctrine.” While its title might lead the modern reader to expect a treatment of Church dogma in systematic form, De Doctrina is in fact a handbook for the interpretation of Scripture. This fact in itself is significant: for Augustine and the other fathers, Christian doctrine was the interpretation of Scripture. This truth continues to be affirmed by the Second Vatican Council: “the ‘study of the sacred page’ should be the very soul of theology” (DV §11), and by Pope Benedict XVI: “Dogma is by definition nothing other than an interpretation of Scripture” (Ratzinger 1983, 178).

Augustine’s De Doctrina represents a synthesis of patristic thinking on the interpretation of

Friday, March 23, 2012

Jeremiah's New Covenant Prophecy and the Coming of Jesus' Sacrificial Hour: Podcast on the Sunday Readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (3/25/12)

This podcast is devoted to the readings for the Fifth Week of Lent. I was honored to be joined in this podcast by John Bergsma. John is also the guest for the soon to be released next extended podcast in which we talk about the role of Scripture in Catholic Theology.

The readings this Sunday take us through Jeremiah 31, one of the most important prophecies in the Old Testament. The Gospel is taken from John 12.

During the podcast I talk a bit about the motif of the hour in John. Here I drew a bit from Scott Hahn's fine work.

On the Hour in John
  1. Linked with his death (John 7:30; 8:20)
  2. Further spiritual associations
    1. Linked with giving miraculous wine (John 2:3–4)
    2. Worship in Spirit and Truth (John 4:21–24)
    3. The dead hear the voice of the Son of God and will live (John 5:25–29)
    4. Jesus is lifted up and draws all men, grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies (John 12:20–24)
  3. Eucharistic spirituality
    1. New wine
    2. Christian worship in the Spirit
    3. Hear the voice of the Son and live
    4. Jesus is lifted up as sacrificial Lamb of God
    5. Jesus as grain of wheat: Eucharistic bread
    6. Draws all to himself—Jews and Greeks
See Scott Hahn, Scripture Matters: Essays on Reading the Bible from the Heart of the Church (Steubenville: Emmaus Road, 2003), 105–118.

As always, you can listen on iTunes or click the link below.

Feel free to leave your comments below.

"Jeremiah's New Covenant Prophecy and the Coming of Jesus' Sacrificial Hour: Podcast on the Sunday Readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (3/25/12)"

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Continuing the Thought Experiment...

Following up on my post from a few days ago, a thought experiment comparing Plato with the "canonical" Moses, here's an interesting quote from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

"There is no mechanical rule for discovering how best to read a [Platonic] dialogue, no interpretive strategy that applies equally well to all of [Plato’s] works. We will best understand Plato's works and profit most from our reading of them if we recognize their great diversity of styles and adapt our reading habits accordingly. Rather than impose on our reading of Plato a uniform expectation of what he must be doing (because he has done such a thing elsewhere), we should bring to each dialogue a receptivity to what is unique in each of them.” (emphasis added)

It is interesting, however, that the "diversity of styles" is a primary criteria for distinguishing different

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spiritual Street Fighter?

H/T Chris Tilling. I'm sorry, but I just couldn't resist.

For the record, I do believe in the gift of healing. I just don't think those who use it ought to be punching out small children or have moves that resemble those of Ryu, Ken, Guile, or Zangief.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Thought Experiment

Long before the days of Jesus, there once was an ancient Near Eastern nation that had a celebrated law-giver. Or should I call him a philosopher, theologian, story-teller, biographer, or even historian? His literary contributions crossed all these genres.

His literary style changed as he aged. The biographical stories he told in his youth were lively and vivid. The laws and outlines for civil government he gave in his old age were dry, written almost in a monologue, and a bit harsh in the view of many.

His thought has always been controversial. He was a monotheist in a world of polytheists. His laws were never fully enacted, but nonetheless influenced subsequent philosophers, jurists, and legislators.

Some of his statements appear to be contradictory, which has puzzled his interpreters ever after. Did he make mistakes? Was he inconsistent? Or is he playful and rhetorical, demanding a more sophisticate hermeneutic of his readers?

His successors didn’t always know what to make of him. To some he was a dour, self-righteous moralist, to others a model of virtue and rationality, almost a saint.

And of course I’m talking about … whom?

Comments are open!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bockmuehl on Wirkungsgeschichte

“Rightly understood as the history of the text’s effects (and not merely its ‘reception’), Wirkungsgeschichte speaks of how Scripture has interpreted us, the readers.”—Markus Bockmuehl

(“New Testament Wirkungsgeschicte and the Early Christian Appeal to Living Memory,” in Memory in the Bible and Antiquity [WUNT 212; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2007], 343.

(If you're unfamiliar with Wirkungsgeschichte, there's a definition here. Just search for the word).

TSP 17: Leroy Huizenga on the Fourth Gospel

This week's episode of The Sacred Page Podcast features New Testament scholar, Leroy Huizenga. Dr. Huizenga teaches Scripture at the University of St. Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. He is also the Director of the Christian Leadership Center

Of course, in this cycle of the lectionary we begin to hear a number of Gospel readings from the Fourth Gospel. Here Dr. Huizenga provides us with an overview of the Gospel according to John, offering reflections on its major themes. As Leroy explains, the Gospel gives us much to meditate on during this Lenten season: God's relationship to the world, the Person of Jesus Christ and the Incarnation, the sacraments, etc. 

During the interview we frequently make mention of Leroy's excellent article, "Preaching John," which is posted over at Christian Leadership Center's website.

Listen on iTunes or click the link below. Look for more information on this podcast over at the corresponding post at 

Finally, a huge amount of thanks to Saint Joseph's Communications, who support this podcast. They are also offering our listeners a free copy of Archbishop Fulton Sheen's CD on Easter. Also, again, during this Lent as you're making your almsgiving plans, please consider calling them up and giving them a donation, 1-800-526-2151. (And don't forget to thank them for supporting the show!)

Other great audio resources on the Gospel of John from Saint Joseph's Communications include:

I'm not sure how to get these sets via mp3 download. Just give them a call and they can help you out. (800-526-2151).

Feel free to leave your comments below.

TSP 17: "Leroy Huizenga on the Fourth Gospel"

Catholic Answers Live! Today

I'll be on Catholic Answers Live! with Patrick Coffin this afternoon/evening 6pm EDT (3pm PDT) discussing "Are Priests Biblical?"  I'll be working through material that I cover on my CD set on this issue, available here.  The outlines are a free download.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Exile and Return: A Few Notes on the Sunday Readings

There is an awesome podcast on the Sunday Readings with Michael and Leroy Huizenga below! Please scroll down and listen if you can. I’m just going to make a few hasty notes in this post for folks who may like something written.

The full text of the readings is here.

1. For understanding the First Reading from 2 Chron 36, it’s important to realize that the First Readings for Lent in Year B are cycling through some high points of salvation history—a review as we prepare for Easter. So we’ve had (1) the covenant with Noah, the (2) covenant with Abraham, (3) the covenant at Sinai through

Inspiration and the Relationship of Divine and Human Authorship

This is part of a continuing series of posts on the fundamental Catholic doctrines of Scripture.  It picks up from my last post in inspiration, only dealing now with the relationship between human and divine in the composition of Scripture.  Comments are welcome!

Divine and Human Authorship
The Catholic doctrine of inspiration is commonly understood to entail that God is the primary author of Scripture, and the sacred writer is the secondary author. Phrased differently, it is sometimes said that God is primary cause and the sacred writer the instrumental cause of Scripture.

God’s action as author is not opposed or contrary to the work of the human author. It does not diminish the human author’s freedom, personality, or responsibility for what is written. On the contrary, the activity of the Divine and human authors are cooperative and complementary, such that the Church can affirm, “whatever is asserted by the human author is asserted by the Holy Spirit” (DV 11)

The manner in which inspiration took place can be described as organic, meaning that God

Friday, March 16, 2012

John 3:16 and the Love of God (with Leroy Huizenga): Podcast on the Sunday Readings (3/18/12)

Here is the podcast on the Sunday readings for the Fourth Week of Lent. This week I'm joined by a special guest, noted New Testament scholar, Dr. Leroy Huizenga. Dr. Huizenga is Professor of Scripture at the University of St. Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, where he also serves as the Director of the Christian Leadership Center. He will also be the guest on the next extended podcast (which should be available Monday of next week). We're so glad to have him on the show!

This Sunday the lectionary has us reading from the Fourth Gospel.  This Sunday we look at John 3, specifically, the famous passage in John 3:16. We also touch on the end of 2 Chronicles (the first reading) as well as Ephesians 2 (the second reading.

In fact, more readings from the Fourth Gospel follow in the lectionary. In light of that, I will be talking with Dr. Huizenga on "Preaching on John" in the upcoming extended podcast. Although we'll talk about it more then, I can mention in advance that he has a fantastic piece up, "Preaching John," on the Christian Leadership Center's website.

As always, you can listen on iTunes or click the link below.

Feel free to leave your comments below.

"John 3:16 and the Love of God (with Leroy Huizenga): Podcast on the Sunday Readings (3/18/12)"

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Listen to my conversation with Leroy Huizenga on the radio tomorrow!

Tomorrow noted New Testament scholar, Leroy Huizenga, will join me on The Sacred Page Radio Show @ 10am Pacific Time / 1pm Eastern Time. You can listen live here. There will also be a free audio give away from St. Joseph's Communications! Don't miss out on the fun!

Michael Bird on the Disciples' Notebooks

Check out this awesome post by Michael Bird!

Bird highlights something Keener and others have underscored: though it is often forgotten, the disciples likely kept notes of what Jesus said!
I have to confess that I was originally skeptical at the prospect of notebooks being used to preserve Jesus’ teachings. It struck as rather convenient and we don’t have any surviving note books containing Jesus’ words. I once regarded with incredulity Paul Barnett’s claim: “In our view Jesus’ disciples must have begun memorizing Jesus’ teachings, and perhaps even writing them down, while he was still with them.”[2] But my initial reservations have been assuaged. It was quite common among literary elites of the Greco-Roman world to take notes (hypomemata, commentarii) as an aid to learning.[3] Greek gnomai (sayings) and chreiai (short story) collections provided short anthologies largely for didactic purposes.[4] The poet Martial recommended that persons carrying his poems on journeys should use a membranae, or note book for its convenience.[5] In Mediterannean schools of rhetoric, orators often used notes and hearers of speeches often took notes to capture the gist of the delivery.[6] The notebook was regarded as a good alternative to the wax tablet.[7] The notes of lectures could even be published. Arrian in fact published an account of the lectures of his teacher Epictetus, saying: “[W]hatever I heard him say I used to write down, word for word, as best I could, endeavouring to preserve it as a memorial, for my own future use, of his way of thinking and the frankness of his speech.”[8] In the Jewish context, Birger Gerhardsson identified rabbinic evidence for the use of notebooks or “scrolls of secrets” to aid in a pupil’s memorization of their rabbi’s words.[9] Though roughly criticized as reading later perspectives back into the first century, the thesis of Jewish notebooks has more going for it. Martin Jaffee has plotted the use of written sources in the redaction of the Mishnah well before 200 CE.[10] The Qumran scrolls provide first century evidence of short prophetic testimonia collections (11QMelch) and halakhic collections (11QTemple) that were used in the community. Jacob Neusner proposes that Jewish communities often used a large body of manuscript material, teachers’ notebooks, preachers’ storybooks, exegetical catenae and florilegia to maintain its traditions.[11] Early Christian testmonia collections, which provided a short extract of important Old Testament passages, were most likely used by Christians very early on, certainly by the time of Justin and Irenaeus.[12] In the early second century, Papias’ Exposition of the Logia of the Lord was a collection and commentary on the sayings of the Jesus.[13] We find a reference to a “book” and “parchment” in 2 Tim 4:13, which might specifically designate a “notebook.”[14]
Go read the rest--and note all the scholarship there in the notes!

For those who might insist that this is unlikely because the disciples were "uneducated fishermen", recall that at least one of the disciples was a tax-collector--an element of the Gospel accounts widely recognized even by skeptical scholars as authentic! Romans did not take illiterates into this position; this was for trained scribes! Not also that James and John came from a family that had "hired servants" (cf. Mark 1:20). Peter apparently worked with them as part of a fishing business. In short, these were not peasants!

Notice also Luke 1:63: "And [Zechariah] asked for a writing tablet [πινακίδιον], and wrote, 'His name is John.' And they all marveled."

And, for the record, they weren't marveling that someone had a writing tablet! As frescos such as the one below reveal, they were around in antiquity.

This fresco comes from Pompeii, first century A.D. (Naples, National Archaeological Museum).

Tablet dating back to the Greco-Roman period from Egypt.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Benedict on Biblical Theology

In my post on the new ITC document, Theology Today, I quoted from a portion that is taken from an address by Pope Benedict XVI. Here I just thought I'd pull it out and cite it in full.

This is so good!
"When exegesis is not theological, Scripture cannot be the soul of theology, and vice versa; when theology is not essentially Scriptural interpretation within the Church, then this theology no longer has a foundation. Therefore, for the life and mission of the Church, for the future of faith, it is absolutely necessary to overcome this dualism between exegesis and theology. Biblical theology and systematic theology are two dimensions of one reality, which we call theology." (Address during the Fourteenth General Congregation of the Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, 2008). 
This section of the pope's address re-appeared in Benedict's Letter on Scripture, Verbum Domini (no. 35). That it has surfaced again in the work of the theologians who assembled the ITC document Theology Today (no. 21) suggests a growing recognition of its importance.

Note the last line: "Biblical theology and systematic theology are two dimensions of one reality, which we call theology."

Wow! How many systematic theologians do you know who can say that? I know one: the pope!

James Ossuary "Trial of Century" Acquits Suspected Forger

Today the verdict was announced in the James Ossuary trial that has been dragging on for years in Israel.  Several people in the antiquities trade had been charged with forging an ossuary (bone box) with an inscription "James, brother of Jesus."  The AP report is here.  I find the whole development to be a great window into the conflicted world of biblical studies and related disciplines.  My favorite quote:
"There were so many specialists with conflicting claims, the judge said Wednesday, that he could not determine beyond a reasonable doubt whether the ossuary and another purported major find — a stone slab engraved with written instructions by 9th century B.C. King Yoash on renovating the biblical Jewish Temple — were authentic."
It's not just on this issue that the world of biblical scholarship has "so many specialists with conflicting claims," that a person doesn't know how to evaluate the evidence!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Meet Molly Rita Barber (updated with pics!)

***Updated with pictures!

Molly Rita Barber was born 3/10/12 at 6:37am, 8lbs. 7 oz., 20 inches long. Mom is recovering well from a c-section. The baby is perfectly healthy!

Thank you Lord for the miracle of life!

Jesus, the Law of God: Third Sunday of Lent

What is the best way to communicate law? Written law has its limitations, because we are all familiar with the concept of the “loophole.” There always seem to be methods of interpreting the written law in ways that run contrary to its intent. In West Virginia, which is across the river for us in Steubenville, they passed a law a few years back allowing cafés to operate some small-time gambling on their premises. The idea was to allow owners of small eateries a sideline to supplement income during a tough economic downturn. Well, now dozens of new “cafés” have sprung up in the old steel towns on the other side of the river, and if you walk in and ask for a cup of coffee, they scarcely know what to do. The “café” title is just a front for a gambling operation. What was intended to be small time side business has become the whole purpose of these establishments. This was not the intention of the law, at least not how it was “sold” to the people and state legislature.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Inspiration of Scripture in the Catholic Tradition

This is part of a series of posts on the fundamental doctrine of Scripture within the Catholic Church. Feedback is appreciated: feel free to make use of the comments below.

The fundamental conviction of the Church, relying on the faith of the Apostles, is that the Scriptures, in all their parts, are “inspired” or “breathed” by God, in such a way that God can truly be said to be their author.

2Tim. 3:16 All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness

Dei Filius 7. These books the Church holds to be sacred and canonical not because she subsequently approved them by her authority after they had been composed by unaided human skill, nor simply because they contain revelation without error, but because, being

Thursday, March 08, 2012

New Document Promotes Priority of Scripture in Theology

***Update: Listen to John Bergsma and I discuss this live on the radio Friday morning (3/9/12) at 10am Pacific Time. For more info on listening live or for how to call in, go here.

Today has been an exciting day.

The International Theological Commission has a new document out, Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteriawhich contains a number of key ideas.

To be sure, this is not a magisterial document--it is not an official document from the Church's teaching office. Nonetheless, this is important reading for Catholics interested in theology. I think even non-Catholics will find it illuminating.

It contains some rather strong--even surprising--statements. Something that will surely surprise non-Catholics (and even Catholics!) is the stress put on the centrality of Scripture in theology. Indeed, as I'll explain, some of the statements are downright shocking. But more on that in a minute.

Here I offer a basic introduction to the document and then some words on the stress it puts on Scripture. I'll close here with a shameless plug for the school I teach at, JP Catholic, which offers a graduate program in Biblical Theology.

I have cited certain sections and put certain passages in italics to highlight key ideas.

The Redaction of Genesis: Free Online

This is a short post to advertise more widely the fact that one of the finest structural and literary analyses of the Book of Genesis, Gary Rendsburg's The Redaction of Genesis (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1996), though out-of-print, is now available free, online, as a pdf here.  I don't agree with every chiasm that Rendsburg finds in the text, but in broad strokes--especially in the Primeval History (Gen 1-11) and the Abraham Cycle (Gen 12-22)--I'm convinced he's largely correct.  Of course, he's building on earlier work by Cassuto, Sasson, and Fishbane.  His chapter on the date of Genesis is very interesting.  He argues that it is Davidic (10th cent BC), based on numerous parallels between Abraham and David.  His observations are very useful for biblical typology: one can understand the parallels he sees as not so much relevant to the date of composition as to a theological type: anti-type relationship between Abraham and David.

Craig Keener's Huffington Post article on Miracles

One of the most erudite New Testament scholars around is Craig Keener. Keener is also incredibly prolific. And he's not simply putting out pithy little books! Consider the following:
All of these works are marked by incredibly exhaustive research.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

TSP 16: "Where We Got the Bible: The Development of the Canon"

In this podcast I cover the story of how we got the Bible--specifically, we look at the way the canon of Scripture was formed.

Below you'll find the pdf of notes and outline for the material covered. You can follow along here if you'd like.

Which books were "Scripture" for the Jews in Jesus' day? Why are there seven extra books in Catholic Bibles? Did the Catholic Church add these books? What about the "Lost Gospels"? Why aren't they accepted as Scripture?

Here we begin to answer all of these questions. I hope you enjoy it.

Listen on iTunes or click the link below. Look for more information on this podcast over at the corresponding post at 

Finally, a huge amount of thanks must go to Saint Joseph's Communications, who support this podcast.

Feel free to leave your comments below.

TSP 16: "Where Did We Get the Bible? The Story of the Development of the Canon"

Where We Got the Bible (Podcast Outline)

Monday, March 05, 2012

Bird's Forthcoming Book and a Limerick

Recently, Michael Bird announced that he is working on a new book, slated to be published next year: The Gospels of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus (forthcoming with Eerdmans in 2013). I can't wait.

In the same post he included a link to an old (2005) article he wrote, "The Purpose and Preservation of the Jesus Tradition: Moderate Evidence for a Conserving Force in Its Transmission," BBR 15.2 (2005): 161-85.

It's a great article and I highly recommend it. But there was one amusing moment that stands out it in my mind--I suppose that's his point. Indeed, this is why I love the guy: he's insightful and amusing all at the same time.

Bird is looking at the ways the Gospel tradition seems to use mnemonic devices such as parallelism and chiasmus that seem to facilitate the remembrance of Jesus' teaching. He writes:
The ability of students to retain the information they receive from a teacher is conditioned on the utility of the verbal form carrying the instruction as well as the capacity for repetition of the subject content. Riesner contends that up to 80% of material in the Gospels attributed to Jesus contains features of Hebrew poetry such as parallelism and chiasmus that constitute mnemonic devices [citing Riesner and Witherington]. Poetry with rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, and assonance probably has a greater chance of make a lasting cognitive impact on an audience than plain, uninflected discourse. From my own experience, I can recite, verbatim, an amusing limerick about the late C. H. Dodd that I learned from D. A. Carson several years ago. (Emphasis added)
The limerick is given in a footnote:
"There once was a man called Dodd,
   Who had a name that was exceedingly odd.
   He spelt, if you please,
   His name with three D’’s,
   When one is sufficient for God."
That's what I remember most from the article.

And that's the whole point he's trying to make, isn't it?

Can't wait for the new book. It's sure to be a gem.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Coming Soon: Podcast on "Where We Got the Bible"

This Tuesday morning we will be releasing a brand new episode of The Sacred Page Podcast, entitled, "Where We Got the Bible: The Development of the Canon." In addition to the audio file there will also be an extensive outline posted as a .pdf file with all the textual evidence cited. This is going to be a big one!

Please help us out and tell your friends.

Just a reminder: you can listen to the podcast on iTunes.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Abraham, Isaac and the Transfiguration: Podcast on the Sunday Readings (3/4/12)

For about the past month I've been struggling with a cold. With all the teaching and speaking I do, I've had a hard time maintaining my voice. Because of that I've put the podcasts on hold. Anyways, thankfully, I am now back.

This Sunday we have two rich readings to look at: (1) Abraham's "sacrifice" of Isaac and (2) the Transfiguration.

Here are my thoughts.

By the way, for a fuller discussion on Abraham and Isaac see this post

Please tell your friends that The Sacred Page Podcast is back to its usual regular schedule.

Listen on iTunes or click the link below. Look for more information on this podcast over at the corresponding post at 

Feel free to leave your comments below.

"Abraham, Isaac and the Transfiguration: Podcast on the Sunday Readings (3/4/12)

Rodríguez on Jesus, Oral Tradition, and the Two-Source Hypothesis

I've been working through Rafael Rodríguez's provocative monograph, Structuring Early Christian Memory: Jesus Tradition, Performance and Text (London: T & T Clark, 2010). There's so much to say about this book, but I want to highlight one aspect of his work in particular.

Many historical Jesus scholars assume the Two-Source Theory (i.e., Q and Mark were the "two sources" primarily used by Matthew and Luke). Aside from the fact that scholars such as E.P. Sanders and Mark Goodacre have written absolutely devastating critiques of this theory (which are far too often ignored--did you even know Sanders opposed Q?), this hypothesis has other pitfalls. As Rodríguez explains, it fails to take into account oral tradition--the oral transmission of the Jesus tradition. In my mind, this tendency is clearly the result of Protestant tendencies passed on since the Reformation (i.e., sola scriptura), but that's for another post.

Rodríguez writes,
No one seriously disputes the fact of the oral gospel tradition; what to do with this fact is another matter completely. Some critics conceptualize the so-called 'oral period' of the transmission of Jesus traditions as a period of uncontrollable instability; others suppose that oral transmission of tradition, at least of Jesus traditions, is completely stable. Others, however, postulate some level of correspondence between written and oral transmission, so that one's stability (and instability) is comparable to the other. . . . Though 'historical Jesus' scholars frequently invoke the oral Jesus tradition, many appear to have spent little time among the vast and diverse body of literature, from multiple disciplines, that specifically addresses the dynamics of oral traditions from various epochs and locales. (pp. 19, 20).
Rodríguez goes on to talk about how ignoring oral tradition poses problems for redaction criticism. In particular, he shows why the Two-Source theory may ultimately read too much into the data:
Did the evangelist Matthew have access to the gospel of Mark? Perhaps. Would he have consulted that gospel in the process of developing and writing his own gospel? Perhaps. Was his gospel more closely related to the text of Mark than to patterns and experiences of his own performances of the Jesus tradition in the context of concrete social groups in the period (days? weeks? months? years?) before he wrote his gospel? Probably not, though in this scenario Mark may have influenced Matthew’s performative style.* We cannot reasonably assume, without argument, that Matthew’s written sources exerted a greater influence over the written text of his gospel than do his own experiences of the Jesus tradition in oral performance. (p. 30)
*The footnote reads:
This question, and my own negative response to it, concerns the a priori determination of whether or not the evangelists (esp. Matthew and Luke) had access to the Jesus tradition prior to having access to the texts of Mark and Q. It seems to me, on an a priori basis, more probable that the stories found in Matthew and Luke—at least the majority of them—would have been familiar to the evangelists and their communities before they encountered them in Mark’s gospel. Dunn provides a similar perspective: ‘The claim that there were churches in the mainstream(s) represented by Matthew and Luke who did not know any Jesus tradition until they received Mark (or Q) as documents simply beggars belief and merely exemplifies the blinkered perspective imposed by the literary paradigm.’ (2000: 305–306).
I'm still working all of this out in my mind, but I think Rodríguez makes an important point: to view the Gospels' relationship with one another in merely "literary" terms probably oversimplifies things--and causes people to read too much into the available textual data. In other words, scholars often get hung up on all the slight differences between the Gospels and assume that the variations are evidence of "reactions" to the other Gospels and/or clear evidence of a particular theological agenda. But maybe that's just reading far too much into things.

A classic example of this which Rodríguez explores is the first Beatitude (pp. 33-34). Of course, in Matthew we have "Blessed are the poor in spirit" (Matt 5:3), while in Luke we simply have, "Blessed are the poor" (Luke 6:20). Most often scholars assume Matthew "added" "poor in spirit", insisting that he "spiritualized" the beatitude. However, Rodríguez lists other places where it is Luke who appears to offer the most "spiritual" version of Jesus' teaching (cf. Matt 7:11; Luke 11:13).

Other issues might also be mentioned:
  • Luke has a special interest in the poor and the oppressed (Luke 1:52-53; Luke 4:18; Luke 14:7-11; Luke 16:19-31).
  • The assumption that Jesus must have uttered this saying only once is probably wrong. Jesus was an itinerant preacher. Indeed, it seems entirely plausible to me that Jesus could have said both things and that both versions therefore appear in the tradition. Can we absolutely rule this out? 
  • Insisting on finding the ipsissima verba may be a wild goose chase, as the various versions of Eucharistic words show us (cf. Matt 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20; 1 Cor 11:23-25). These all report the same substance of Jesus' teaching, but in slightly different detail. Indeed, this comports well with what we know of ancient conventions.  
There's so much more to say. Indeed, I think we need to think more about how the Jesus tradition was transmitted orally. I believe Rodríguez's work deserves serious attention. However, until I can offer further thoughts, I should also add that Rodríguez has an excellent blog, which I just discovered. I shall be adding him to our blog roll!

Premonition of Calvary: The Readings for the 2nd Sunday of Lent

One week into our Lenten journey, the Readings for this weekend’s Masses focus on passages that look ahead or anticipate Christ’s self-sacrifice on Calvary, which awaits us, as it were, in the “liturgical future,” on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

1. The First Readings is one of the most pivotal texts in the Old Testament, the “Calvary” of the old covenant era. This is what the Jewish tradition calls the Aqedah, the “binding” of Isaac.
The story is familiar to most: God commands Abraham to take Isaac to a certain mountain and sacrifice him there. Abraham obeys, but before Isaac is slain, God intervenes through an angel. A ram, caught in a thicket, is sacrificed instead of Isaac, and the story concludes with God’s oath of blessing on Abraham: