Archive for March 2014

The Great Appeal: What did Christianity offer its believers that made it worth social estrangement, hostility from neighbors, and possible persecution?   Leave a comment


Helmut Koester:

John H. Morison Professor of New Testament Studies and Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History Harvard Divinity School


Why was the Christian community something that people wanted to join? I think that only because at least certain parts of the early Christian mission were intent in creating new community, that only for that reason this movement was successful. Now what does it mean “new community?” Let me talk about this in two different levels. One was certainly that the message that was preached here promised gifts, spiritual gifts, to people that went beyond the everyday life experience and promised also immortality, a future life which would be liberation from sickness and from disease and from poverty, and individual isolation. There is a future for the individual. And the message of the possibility for a human being to be related to something that is beyond the powers of this world was certainly one great attraction. But that alone would not have been enough. I think it’s a very important spiritual-religious factor. But it would not have been enough, because, in spite of all the glories of the Roman Empire, people lived in the world in which there was inequality, there was great poverty on the one hand and immense wealth in the hands of a very few people. There were sickness and disease and there were no public health services, and doctors were expensive.

Now here’s also the question of the inequality which Rome really reinforced through the Augustan system. Rome is a very strict hierarchical system, in which the emperor is at the pinnacle, all the way up and then all the blessings in the world that come to people come down from above. The emperor is the conduit to the divine world. And if you’re at the bottom of that social pyramid, not a whole lot of things are coming down to you anymore. Slavery slowly diminished, but continued to exist.
Now the Christian community, as we have it particularly in the letters of Paul, begins with a formula that is a baptismal formula, which says in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female, neither slave nor free. This is a sociological formula that defines a new community. Here is a community that invites you, which makes you an equal with all other members of that community. Which does not give you any disadvantages. On the contrary, it gives even the lowliest slave personal dignity and status. Moreover, the commandment of love is decisive. That is, the care for each other becomes very important. People are taken out of an isolation. If they are hungry, they know where to go. If they are sick, there is an elder who will lay on hands to them to heal them.


Now we have increasingly in the Christian churches, in the time up to Constantine, the establishment of hospitals, of some kind of health service, we have a clear establishment of social service – everything from soup kitchens to money for the poor if they need it. We have the very important establishment of the institution of widows, because a widow in the Roman society who had lost her husband and did not have money of her own was at the very bottom of the social ladder. One of the first welfare institutions we find in the church was all the widows who were recognized as virgins of the church, considered particularly precious possessions of the church; they were paid by the church and therefore were rescued from utter poverty in most instances.

Christianity really established a realm of mutual social support for the members that joined the church. And I think that this was probably in the long run an enormously important factor for the success of the Christian mission. And it was for that very reason that Constantine saw that the only thing that would rescue the empire is to take over the institutions that the Christians had already built up, [including], by that time, institutions of education in reading and writing, because Christians wanted to have their members knowledgeable and capable of reading the Bible…. We find that in administration of the last pagan emperors, before Constantine, at the very end of the third century, a large number of the people in the imperial administration are Christians, because they could read and write. Which constituted a big problem with the persecution of the Christians because they were thrown out of their office first when the persecution began, and suddenly the government didn’t work anymore.

One should not see the success of Christianity simply on the level of a great religious message; one has to see it also in the consistent and very well thought out establishment of institutions to serve the needs of the community.



Posted March 31, 2014 by Mina Monier in Uncategorized

Markus Vinzent’s Marcion and the Dating of the Synoptic Gospels   2 comments


A new book on the Synoptic Gospels has been released. Professor Markus Vinzent of King’s College London, the co-editor of Studia Patristica, has put his years of research on Marcion into his new book Marcion and the Dating of the Synoptic Gospels. Prof. Vinzent proposed that Marcion of Sinope was the founder of the Gospel genre known to us in the Synoptic literature and therefore the terminus post quem of the Synoptics should be pushed as late as the time of Marcion (around 144 CE).

This blog post is not a detailed review (nor a response) but a survey of the ideas that came to my mind while going through it.

Vinzent and the Synoptic Problem

The book is intensely engaged with scholarly literature and offers a breath of fresh air for some of the topics it is dealing with. It comes in four chapters; the first and the fourth (which is pretty short) are for Marcion and his Gospel while the second and the third are for discussing the synoptic problem and the dating (or re-dating) of the NT Gospels.

Vinzent’s strategy was to show the implausibility of the different synoptic theories (basically the two-source hypothesis, 2SH) and the untenable dating of the Gospels. Then he proposes an alternative; Marcion’s Gospel as the original document from which the Synoptics (and, if I understand it well, the Gospel of John) not only borrowed their narrative but also created their theology in reaction to his. Of course the reader of these words can now imagine what an overwhelmingly huge task it is to prove his point. To do that in 353 pages Vinzent had to make two major statements that nearly annihilated all the possible barriers on the way to his theory. He had to dismiss:

  1. Textual criticism. In his earlier book Christ’s Resurrection in Early Christianity, Vinzent warned against falling into the “trap of demythologizing, as pseudo-historical studies have done since eighteenth century (p.24)”. In his new book, Vinzent returned with his arguments and questions as early as F C Baur and his contemporaries (cf. p.213-4). He entirely dismissed the textual criticism of NT studies in his arguments (source, form and redaction criticism), as we shall briefly show, and dealt with the texts as they are in their final form since NT scholarship fell into “dogmatism”  until recently.
  2. Non-canonical and non-Marcionite writings. Based on his dismissal of NT scholarship efforts, particularly in the last 50 years, Gnosticism and other manuscripts have become insignificant. Based on Goulder, Vinzent’s only mention of the Gospel of Thomas in his book was in the sentence : “no serious attention should be given to Thomas, which is a Gnosticizing version of the Gospels, especially Luke.(p.212)”

Now, Vinzent’s task is not as difficult as it was thought. The weight of Vinzent’s approach is in what he believes to be inconclusive results of NT scholarship regarding the Synoptic problem and the dating of the NT literature. No serious researcher could disagree with Vinzent’s point; NT scholarship research is an unfinished business and the amount of uncertainty in dating the gospels is proof of that. However, the solution does not come by dismissing it and overlooking the  huge progress that has been achieved in the last hundred years. For example, yes we do have several constructions of Q but this is because the scholars who worked on it showed a high degree of seriousness that led them to start the construction process every time in dialogue with other constructions. Kloppenborg’s construction of the development of Q is not exactly Dale Allison’s (which I believe to be rather important) or the International Q Project. But they were all working on the texts and at the same time in constant dialogue with the progress of scholarship. Vinzent simply did not go through the massive amount of evidence on the development of Q before he discarded it. When I saw his survey of the arguments for Q and 2SH just from the introductory chapters in Kloppenborg’s Excavating Q , I was certainly unimpressed.

While Vinzent claimed, in several places in this book and in other places (including his blog), that his approach is against the conservatism in NT scholarship I expected to see that in the text. Actually, Vinzent’s entire dismissal of the 2SH and Q is quoted from conservative scholars. It was interesting to see how he returned to NT Wright for example to show that those who defend Q and the 2SH are afraid of having their boat shipwrecked (p.212). He simply collected quotations and opinions on Q and the 2SH and concluded them, all the way through the 2nd and third chapters, with Goodacre’s The Case against Q. His dismissal of GThom., for example, was that he read Francis Watson’s “Canonical Approach” and found it convincing (he told me that). So, if you read about it in NT Wright, Watson and mainly Goodacre and found them convincing (I do not), there is no need to go through these chapters in Vinzent’s book.

Dating the Gospels

Dating the Gospels, which is the most controversial topic in NT scholarship, was Vinzent’s next step. He showed that the Apostolic Fathers’ apparent lack of the knowledge of the Gospels leaves no choice but to conclude that the Gospels were not actually written before them. Again, he did not go through the parallels in the Apostolic Fathers that might indicate a familiarity with the Gospels. His sole reliance on the Oxford Committee’s conclusion, prduced one Hundred years ago, shows the same problem in his approach to the Synoptic problem. Yes, Koester’s Olympian survey in 1954 of these texts showed that a literary dependence on the Gospels is impossible. And yes, the new committee gathered in Oxford decades later (and included his friend Allen Brent and Koester) did not change the conclusion of the committee of 1901 entirely, but it also admitted that the great number of discovered texts (which Markus entirely discards) caused many changes in their views. For example, “the Didache is primarily a witness to the post-redactional history of the synoptic tradition.” (The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers. p.127) and that ” it appears unlikely that Ignatius used either Mark’s or Luke’s gospel, the parallel between Ign. Eph. 14. 2 and the double tradition material contained in Matt. 12. 33b and Luke 6. 44a may well suggest that Ignatius used Q, or oral tradition that fed into that document. The case for Ignatius’ use of the Fourth Gospel is more marginal … One must, therefore, be content with the conclusion that a strong case can be mounted for Ignatius’ knowledge of four Pauline epistles and the Gospel of Matthew… ” (ibid. p.185-6)

While the contributors of the committee were reluctant to declare the Apostolic Fathers’ knowledge of the Gospels, and I perfectly agree with them, they did not jump to the conclusion that the Gospels were written later. The apostolic fathers’ knowledge of redacted materials means that while they may not have known the Gospels, they accessed them somehow partially yet in a written form. Without a serious engagement with the development of the Gospel texts, we will just exchange mere opinions.

What about non-canonical writings? It amazes me how Basilides’ knowledge of the Synoptic tradition is not generally discussed. The recorded reports on Basilides, who was prior to Marcion, show his knowledge of, at least, Matthean and Lukan materials with a degree of probability for John. For Luke, in particular, Basilides was quoted by three writers to know 3 Lukan peculiar materials. Most importantly his knowledge of the Angelic conversation with Mary in Luke 1:35. This particular reference is not in a saying form but implies knowledge of  narrative materials  which are at the same time peculiar to Luke. Of course each reference  mentioned  are not 100% certain but the cumulative argument is too strong to be dismissed. Therefore, I agree with W. Löhr’s conclusion that Basilides’ knowledge of Luke is “eine gewisse plausibilität.” (Basilides und Seine Schule p.329), not to mention the other unknown fragment gospels in narrative form.

Marcion and the Gospels

I must confess that my knowledge of Marcion and his associated debates is limited but as far as I’m concerned in terms of the Synoptic problem I will comment on his method.

When it comes to his theory, Vinzent had to show how the Synoptics were all written at the same time in the same place and that at least Luke was an apologetic expansion of Marcion. To show that apologetic tendency, Vinzent mentioned one, and only one example: the pericope of Lk5:36-9 in which Luke “adds” verse 39 (And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”)  to give an anti-Marcionite interpretation. Along with three other scholars in the UK and USA to whom I sent Vinzent’s interpretation, I failed to see that. If the Lukan redaction (adding verse 39) was meant to by anti-Marcionite because it exists nowhere else then this is incorrect. The Gospel of Thomas Logion 47 provides the missing piece in the jigsaw of Luke and it is more plausible to believe that Luke reconciled GThomas’ form with Mark. [Cf. Gregory J. Riley, ‘Influence of Thomas Christianity on Luke 12:14 and 5:39’ in HTR, Vol. 88, No. 2 (Apr., 1995), pp. 229-235; J D Crossan In Fragments: The Aphorisms of Jesus. San Francisco: Harper, 1983 p. 124-27; G. Quispel,The Gospel of Thomas and the New Testament’, Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 11, No. 4 (Dec., 1957), pp. 189-207]

Based on that Vinzent falls into circularity by saying that it was only Hebrews that picked up the concept of the “new covenant” from Paul (p.276) presuming that Luke (cf. Lk 22:20) was written after Marcion.

Even if his reading of the verse were true, one swallow cannot make a summer. This cannot support the idea that all the Synoptics (and perhaps John) were written at the same time in the same city in reaction to Marcion.

The phenomenon of the Synoptic tradition is certainly way more complicated than the way it was handled in that book.

The Gospel of Marcion

However, the book is arguably very important to shed  more light on Marcion of Sinope who has not received the attention that he deserves in NT scholarship. Was Marcion dependent on Luke or vice versa ? I am not in a position to give an opinion regarding that Gospel. However, I believe that dependency is not the only way to describe the existence of similar texts. A prolific, rich and intellectual figure like Marcion, living in Rome, has definitely accessed unique sources in the pool of tradition. Therefore, Markus Vinzent’s work on the construction of Marcion’s Gospel and the investigation of its relationship to the other known Gospels is very important and promising as well. What I would hope to see is more intertextual work between Marcion and both  Jewish Christianity and Gnosticism if he really meant it when he said that his approach is beyond canon.


Posted March 17, 2014 by Mina Monier in Uncategorized

J D Crossan in the UK – Four Lectures   Leave a comment

John Dominic Crossan is in the UK this month. I have just been informed that he will be giving 4 lectures at the conference: “The Challenge of Christmas and the Meaning of Easter”

His talks will include: crossan

The Challenge of Parabolic Overtures

The Christmas Stories of Matthew and of Luke

 The Execution of Jesus in Mark                      

The Resurrection of Jesus in Paul


27th to 29th March 2014 at The Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick Derbyshire DE55 1AU

An application form can be downloaded HERE and posted with the required deposit.
Alternatively, you can type the relevant details into an email to Linda Harrison [ ] who will contact you
with the details for digital transfer of your deposit into the account of Free To Believe.