Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Anonymous Gospels

In just another example of unlearning stuff I've assumed but never thought deeply about, I was challenged today in my default-mode thinking on something. I've heard it repeated over and over again that the New Testament Gospels are anonymous, and that their authorship is ascribed traditionally, even fairly arbitrarily.

i) The Gospels are not anonymous. All our MSS name the authors of the Gospels. And there is no evidence that this is an editorial addition. Indeed, given the antiquity and uniformity of these ascriptions, the evidence is against their unoriginality.
You notice that Carrier has no hesitation in citing other Jewish and pagan writers by name—even though the quantity and quality of MSS evidence for those works is negligible compared with the NT.
Assuming that the traditional attributions are true—and the superscriptions are exceedingly well-attested—then Matthew and Luke would certainly have other sources of information at their fingertips.

ii) Mark is not an unknown individual. He is known to us from both the Lucan and Pauline corpus.

iii) "Tradition” and “legend” are hardly synonymous.

iv) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the Gospel of Mark was written around AD 70, “give or take a decade,” the lower figure would put it within the lifetime of Paul—even by Carrier’s reckoning. For Paul’s death is generally dated to around AD 65.312 So either Carrier can’t do the math or he doesn’t know the rudiments of NT chronology.

v) As a matter of fact, David Wenham has marshaled internal, comparative evidence to show that Paul, writing way back in the 40s, was already acquainted with the Gospels of Matthew and Luke—and maybe even the Fourth Gospel for good measure (Paul & Jesus [Eerdmans 2002]; Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? [Eerdmans 1985].).

Assuming Marcan priority, this completely upends Mr. Carrier’s entire thesis. Even without Marcan priority, the damage is done.
Of course, this runs counter to what “most” scholars believe, but the decades-long gap between oral tradition and the canonical gospels posited by “most” scholars has always been completely irrational. This was not a preliterate culture. If men could pen letters, they could just as well pen gospels.

vi) Carrier is trying to play both sides of the fence. On the one hand he says:
"Matthew and Luke clearly used Mark as their source, repeating the same elements in the same order and often using identical vocabulary and word order, not only for this story but for the whole Gospel."

If so, then this is an example of how extremely conservative Matthew and Luke are in handling their sources. How pedantically faithful they are in respecting and preserving the Markan source.

On the other hand, he also says:
"All other accounts rely upon it and basically just embellish it or modify it to suit each author’s own narrative and ideological agenda."

If so, then that is an example of how extremely cavalier Matthew and Luke are in
handling their sources. How faithless they are in reproducing the Marcan source.
You see how these two assertions are tugging in opposite directions? Carrier is in a bind. He needs one sort of argument to prove Markan priority, and a contrary argument to prove legendary embellishment. So his thesis is drawn-and-quartered by the conflicting demands of his own agenda.

Source: This Joyful Eastertide, Steve Hays, p 146


Lucian said...

Cute. (So why not defend the authenticity of the Epistle of Barnabas on these exact same grounds as well?) :-\

Rhology said...

Who's arguing here for the authenticity of the 4 Gospels? This is just about their alleged anonymity.

Not that you have any room to complain - your canon of Scripture is not even closed nor unanimously attested even among modern EO clergy, so...

Dr Funkenstein said...

This to me is a very interesting topic - I know some scholars think they are anonymously written, but I'm not sure if it's a consensus view or not. I'll add more when I have time (bit busy this week unfortunately), but what are your opinions on the additions to Mark (16:9 and the longer version)? You refer to Mt and Lk and their use of Mark's source, but do the additions in versions of Mk that clearly weren't there in the original author's (whoever he may have been) version not make a case for how easy it would have been to add a few false portions into later versions of the gospels - especially as Luke seems to open by stating that he is summarising other people's sources (presumably written and oral) as opposed to providing his own original thoughts?

Lucian said...

Rho, old boy,

we have fixed readings from the NT (Gospel and Apostle) for all the days of the Church year, for both cicles (paschal and normal). The same goes for the OT readings in the evenings before great Feasts.

Rhology said...

Dr Funk,

On Mark 16:9ff, I don't really think those are part of the originals, no.
Also, there is a long disputed psg in John 8, and I hesitate to cite that one, but IMHO it enjoys more support than the Mark 16 one.
Anyone could have entered anythg into any MSS to which they had access, that is true. The problem is that so many copies were made and distributed to so many diff parts of the world within the lifetimes of the original authors that no one interpolator could have gotten to even close to all of them to make the same changes therein.
Luke himself wrote and collated the info that he received from eyewitness interviews. So I think with Luke you're comparing apples to prunes.

You may agree on most of the books of the OT and NT (and I know you do) but you don't agree on all of them, and if you don't agree on all of them, you don't have a fixed or complete Canon.

Lucian said...


what You call apocryphal books are actually part of our OT readings (Wisdom, Baruch, Daniel plus, Prayer of Manasseh, and Psalm 151).

Our calendars commemorate Tobit and the seven Maccabee Martyrs. Our prayer for those that travel mention Tobit's son, Tobias, being guided by the Angel Raphael on his way.

The Pan-Orthodox Synod gathered precisely for that reason declared the books which You call apocrypha as canonical. (And another local council did the same).