Friday, March 12, 2010

Part 3 Refutting Doherty's Evolution of Jesus: The Ancient Tradition of the Cross and the Tomb

Doherty says:

"Only in Justin Martyr, writing in the 150s, do we find the first identifiable quotations from some of the Gospels, though he calls them simply "memoirs of the Apostles," with no names." This is already been disproved. I've already pointed out quotations and allusions in all the major Apostolic fathers, in Paul and in pre Mark Redaction. Doherty seems mainly to be carping on the fact that no one sties chapter and verse, as though he doesn't know they didn't write in chapters and verses.

Doherty evokes Koster, but as we see with the myther penchant for quoting Cumont, it's clear he has not read Koster closely enough:

"Scholars such as Helmut Koester have concluded that earlier "allusions" to Gospel-like material are likely floating traditions which themselves found their way into the written Gospels. (See Koester's Ancient Christian Gospels and his earlier Synoptische Uberlieferung bei den apostolischen Vatern.) Is it conceivable that the earliest account of Jesus' life and death could have been committed to writing as early as 70 (or even earlier, as some would like to have it), and yet the broader Christian world took almost a century to receive copies of it?"

But what does Koester really say? Here he speaks of how Papyrus Egerton 2 indicates an independent tradition, but that tradition is common with the canonical material and the cross and tomb are part of that tradition.


"There are two solutions that are equally improbable. It is unlikely that the pericope in Egerton 2 is an independent older tradition. It is equally hard to imagine that anyone would have deliberately composed this apophthegma by selecting sentences from three different Gospel writings. There are no analogies to this kind of Gospel composition because this pericope is neither a harmony of parallels from different Gospels, nor is it a florogelium. If one wants to uphold the hypothesis of dependence upon written Gospels one would have to assume that the pericope was written form memory....What is decisive is that there is nothing in the pericope that reveals redactional features of any of the Gospels that parallels appear. The author of Papyrus Egerton 2 uses independent building blocks of sayings for the composition of this dialogue none of the blocks have been formed by the literary activity of any previous Gospel writer. If Papyrus Egerton 2 is not dependent upon the Fourth Gospel it is an important witness to an earlier stage of development of the dialogues of the fourth Gospel....(Koester , 3.2 p.215)

But that earlier stage, and therefore the independent tradition is independent in that it is not merely copied form the canonical Gospels, but it does stand behind them as part of the material upon which they draw. But that material included almost word for word what is the canonicals, this table is but two examples presented by Koster:

Egerton 2: "And behold a leper came to him and said "Master Jesus, wandering with lepers and eating with them in the inn, I therefore became a leper. If you will I shall be clean. Accordingly the Lord said to him "I will, be clean" and immediately the leprosy left him.

Mark 1:40: And the leper came to him and beseeching him said '[master?] if you will you can make me clean. And he stretched out his hands and touched him and said "I will be clean" and immediately the leprosy left him.

Egerton 2: "tell us is it permitted to give to Kings what pertains to their rule? Tell us, should we give it? But Jesus knowing their intentions got angry and said "why do you call me teacher with your mouth and do not what I say"?

Mark 12:13-15: Is it permitted to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them or not? But knowing their hypocrisy he said to them "why do you put me to the test, show me the coin?"
(all of that looks better in the chart on Doxa, in fact this whole pages does--scroll down).

As we can see these are the same stories, they are in a slightly different form, older (according to Koster) than those found in the canonicals, but basically the same stories. If we must assume that the tradition was a whole, why would the Orthodox just barrow from certain stories of a tradition that was totally alien to their view? The tradition as a whole must have included the cross and the tomb, and the textual evidence shows that these elements are part of the PMR and are as old as the writing itself.

Gospel of Peter

Fragments of the Gospel of Peter were found in 1886 /87 in Akhimim, upper Egypt. These fragments were from the 8th or 9th century. No other fragment was found for a long time until one turned up at Oxyrahynchus, which were written in 200 AD. Bishop Serapion of Antioch made the statement prior to 200 that a Gospel had been put forward in the name of Peter. This statement is preserved by Eusebius who places Serapion around 180. But the Akhimim fragment contains three pericopes. The Resurrection, to which the guards at the tomb are witnesses, the empty tomb, or which the women are witnesses, and an epiphany of Jesus appearing to Peter and the 12, which end the book abruptly.

Many features of the Gospel of Peter are clearly from secondary sources, that is reworked versions of the canonical story. These mainly consist of 1) exaggerated miracles; 2) anti-Jewish polemic. The cross follows Jesus out of the tomb, a voice from heaven says "did you preach the gospel to all?" The cross says "Yea." And Pilate is totally exonerated, the Jews are blamed for the crucifixion. (Koester, p.218). However, "there are other traces in the Gospel of Peter which demonstrate an old and independent tradition." The way the suffering of Jesus is described by the use of passages from the old Testament without quotation formulae is, in terms of the tradition, older than the explicit scriptural proof; it represents the oldest form of the passion of Jesus. (Philipp Vielhauer, Geschichte, 646] Jurgen Denker argues that the Gospel of Peter shares this tradition of OT quotation with the Canonicals but is not dependent upon them. (In Koester p.218) Koester writes, "John Dominic Crosson has gone further [than Denker]...he argues that this activity results in the composition of a literary document at a very early date i.e. in the middle of the First century CE" (Ibid). Said another way, the interpretation of Scripture as the formation of the passion narrative became an independent document, a ur-Gospel, as early as the middle of the first century!

Corosson's Cross Gospel is this material in the Gospel of Peter through which, with the canonicals and other non-canonical Gospels Crosson constructs a whole text. According to the theory, the earliest of all written passion narratives is given in this material, is used by Mark, Luke, Matthew, and by John, and also Peter. Peter becomes a very important 5th witness. Koester may not be as famous as Crosson but he is just as expert and just as liberal. He takes issue with Crosson on three counts:

1) no extant text, its all coming form a late copy of Peter,
2) it assumes the literary composition of latter Gospels can be understood to relate to the compositions of earlier ones;
3) Koester believes that the account ends with the empty tomb and has independent sources for the epihanal material.


"A third problem regarding Crossan's hypotheses is related specifically to the formation of reports about Jesus' trial, suffering death, burial, and resurrection. The account of the passion of Jesus must have developed quite early because it is one and the same account that was used by Mark (and subsequently Matthew and Luke) and John and as will be argued below by the Gospel of Peter. However except for the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection in the various gospels cannot derive from a single source, they are independent of one another. Each of the authors of the extant gospels and of their secondary endings drew these epiphany stories from their own particular tradition, not form a common source." (Koester, p. 220)

"Studies of the passion narrative have shown that all gospels were dependent upon one and the same basic account of the suffering, crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus. But this account ended with the discovery of the empty tomb. With respect to the stories of Jesus' appearances, each of the extant gospels of the canon used different traditions of epiphany stories which they appended to the one canon passion account. This also applies to the Gospel of Peter. There is no reason to assume that any of the epiphany stories at the end of the gospel derive from the same source on which the account of the passion is based." (Ibid)

What this means is that the individual sittings of Jesus at the end of the Gospels came from different sources, were perhaps embellishments, but the basic story, the basic tradition from which all the other sources, canonicals, Peter, Thomas, Q, Egerton 2 all of them derive, included the cross and the tomb.

Raymond Brown, in Death of the Messiah demonstrates brilliantly that the story of the guards on the tomb as reported in Peter is not derived from Matthew, but is an independent tradition, perhaps as old or older. He demonstrates the independence of Peter's Passion narrative and tomb sequences in a huge and brilliantly constructed chart, which cannot be reproduced here, but which is elaborate. He uses the same argument that Koester uses above, not one forged s a document or redacts or copies a document by taking every other word. When one finds this kind of divergence in the working is indicates a separate tradition.

GPet follow the classical flow from trail through crucifixion to burial to tomb presumably with post resurrectional appearances to follow. The GPet sequence of individual episodes, however, is not the same as that of any can canonical Gospel...When one looks at the overall sequence in the 23 items I listed in table 10, it would take very great imagination to picture the author of GPet studying Matthew carefully, deliberately shifting episodes around and copying in episodes form Luke and John to produce the present sequence. [Brown, Death of the Messiah, 1322]

This work Brown did upon the independent tradition of GPet was the work that made his initial reputation as a major scholar.

Gospel of the Hebrews

We do not possess any copies of this work. It exists only in quotations from church fathers, but that's the similar situation with Q as well. GHebrews includes the atonement and the resurrection, and the tradition is independent of the canonicals and is traced to mid fist century. This gives us several sources that show a pre Mark tradition not derived from the canonical Gospels that is at least as old as the hypothetical tradition to which Doherty alludes; it contains Jesus, it contains the cross and the tomb:

Peter Kirby:

Early Christian Writings, Gospel of the Hebrews.

Unlike other Jewish-Christian gospels, the Gospel of the Hebrews shows no dependence upon the Gospel of Matthew. The story of the first resurrection appearance to James the Just suggests that the Jewish-Christian community that produced this document claimed James as their founder. It is reasonable to assume that the remainder of the gospel is synoptic in flavor. The Gospel of the Hebrews seems to be independent of the New Testament in the quoted portions; unfortunately, since the gospel is not extant, it is difficult to know whether unquoted portions of the Gospel of the Hebrews might show signs of dependence.

Cameron makes these observations on dating and provenance: "The earliest possible date of the composition of the Gospel of the Hebrews would be in the middle of the first century, when Jesus traditions were first being produced and collected as part of the wisdom tradition. The latest possible date would be in the middle of the second century, shortly before the first reference to this gospel by Hegesippus and the quotations of it by Clement and Origen. Based on the parallels in the morphology of the tradition, an earlier date of composition is more likely than a later one. Internal evidence and external attestation indicate that Egypt was its place of origin."

Brief note on Gospel of Thomas

Peter Kirby gives a good summary of the ms attestation of Thomas:

The Gospel of Thomas is extant in three Greek fragments and one Coptic manuscript. The Greek fragments are P. Oxy. 654, which corresponds to the prologue and sayings 1-7 of the Gospel of Thomas; P. Oxy. 1, which corresponds to the Gospel of Thomas 26-30, 77.2, 31-33; and P. Oxy. 655, which corresponds to the Gospel of Thomas 24 and 36-39. P. Oxy 1 is dated shortly after 200 CE for paleographical reasons, and the other two Greek fragments are estimated to have been written in the mid third century. The Coptic text was written shortly before the year 350 CE.

Even though scholars date the actual MS to the third or fourth century, a large camp of scholars, including those who discovered Thomas, date the actual writing in middle first century. Does this work indicate a separate tradition growing up along side the canonical Gospels, a tradition that lacked the cross and the empty tomb? It does constitute a MS tradition that is not derived from the canonical Gospels, but that is not proof of "another" Church that lacked the atonement or the resurrection as central pillars of its testimony to Jesus. What it proves is that by the time these sources manifest themselves as second century or later Gnostic "other Gospels" they are minus those elements because the Gnostics would allow them to slip out. First, piece of proof on this point, GThom was heavily redacted. In fact we possess it four separate versions:

Ron Cameron (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, v. 6, p. 535):

Substantial differences do exist between the Greek fragments and the Coptic text. These are best explained as variants resulting from the circulation of more than one Greek edition of Gos. Thom. in antiquity. The existence of three different copies of the Greek text of Gos. Thom. does give evidence of rather frequent copying of this gospel in the 3d century. According to the critical edition of the Greek text by Attridge (in Layton 1989: 99), however, even though these copies do not come from a single ms, the fragmentary state of the papyri does not permit one to determine whether any of the mss "was copied from one another, whether they derive independently from a single archetype, or whether they represent distinct recensions." It is clear, nevertheless, that Gos. Thom. was subject to redaction as it was transmitted. The presence of inner-Coptic errors in the sole surviving translation, moreover, suggests that our present Gos. Thom. is not the first Coptic transcription made from the Greek. The ms tradition indicates that this gospel was appropriated again and again in the generations following its composition. Like many other gospels in the first three centuries, the text of Gos. Thom. must be regarded as unstable.

It would seem that the tradition of the Gospel of Thomas is varied and the text has been through several redactions.

Arguing Thomas' independence from the Synoptics Stephen J. Patterson (quoted by Kirby) compares the wording of each saying in Thomas to its synoptic counterpart with the conclusion that Thomas represents an autonomous stream of tradition (The Gospel of Thomas and Jesus, p. 18):

Patterson (quoted by Kirby): If Thomas were dependent upon the synoptic gospels, it would be possible to detect in the case of every Thomas-synoptic parallel the same tradition-historical development behind both the Thomas version of the saying and one or more of the synoptic versions. That is, Thomas' author/editor, in taking up the synoptic version, would have inherited all of the accumulated tradition-historical baggage owned by the synoptic text, and then added to it his or her own redactional twist. In the following texts this is not the case. Rather than reflecting the same tradition-historical development that stands behind their synoptic counterparts, these Thomas sayings seem to be the product of a tradition-history which, though exhibiting the same tendencies operative within the synoptic tradition, is in its own specific details quite unique. This means, of course, that these sayings are not dependent upon their synoptic counterparts, but rather derive from a parallel and separate tradition.

That proves that GThom was independent, that it was not derived by copying the canonicals, but it doesn't prove that saying pertaining to the Cross and the Tomb weren't just left out. Cameron argues that he can prove this:

Cameron (537) quoted by Kirby: Those who argue that Gos. Thom. is dependent on the Synoptics not only must explain the differences in wording and order, but also give a reason for Gos. Thom.'s choice of genre and the absence of the gospels' narrative material in the text. To assert, for example, that Gos. Thom. erased the passion narratives because Gnosticism was concerned solely with a redeeming message contained in words of revelation (Haenchen 1961: 11) is simply not convincing, since the Apocryphon of James (NHC I, 2), the Second treatise of the Great Seth (NHC VII, 2), and the Apocalypse of Peter (NHC VII, 3) all indicate that sayings of and stories about the death and resurrection of Jesus were reinterpreted by various Gnostic groups. For any theory of dependence of Gos. Thom. on the NT to be made plausible, one must show that the variations in form and content of their individual sayings, together with the differences in genre and structure of their entire texts, are intentional modifications of their respective parallels, designed to serve a particular purpose.

This last criterion that Cameron lays down, that "the variations in form and content of their individual sayings, together with differences in genre and structure of their entire texts, are intentional modifications of their respective parallels, designed to serve a particular purpose," why is it necessary to show that? All they had to do was leave out the bits about the cross and the resurrection. If we assume that both canonicals and GThom have a common ancestor, some group or body of sayings that they both draw from, that's pretty obvious, or there would not be such parallels, the Gnostic use of that tradition could very as greatly as just leaving out the key expressions of doctrines hey no longer included in their tradition. There are numerous parallels not only between GThom and canonicals, but E2 and the canonicals. So it's clear that these "other gospels" drew upon the same parent sources, since it is equally clear that they did not just copy the canonicals. This might indicate that the groups producing Q, Thomas and E 2 did not use sayings pertaining to the cross and the resurrection. There is evidence that they had traditions that hinted at them, and the heavy redaction might indicate purging of such sayings. Let us not forget we are dealing with sayings and not narrative. Talk of context is not the same as if we were dealing with the expunging of a part of the plot in a narrative structure. All they have to do is leave out certain sayings. There are hints this may have been done. We can see from the chart above (parallels between E2 and John) that there are passes that deal with arresting Jesus and doing violence to him. That opens the door to the possibility that cross sayings have been expunged from the overall tradition.

Let us just assume for a moment that Doherty's hypothetical case is true and there was a Q community that is also represented in general by other words, such as E2 and GThom. The overall tradition must have at one time included some references to arrest and violence toward Jesus. Thus I am arguing two things:

(1) the door is open through the heavily redacted nature of the ms to have expunged sayings not in harmony with group ideology, at some later point of transmission after the composition of the individual works. if not

(2) good indications exist that some notion of Jesus being arrested and killed existed in the general tradition and were merely not included, either left out of these individual works (Q, E2, GThom) or they fell out before the composition of these works.

As to the argument that other Gnostics deal with the cross and the tomb, so why not these? The reason for that might be because those other works were not part of the early tradition. If these sources under discussion emerged form the mid first century, the other works Cameron mentions (Apocryphon of James, Seth literature from Nag Hammadi) were much latter works. The latter came form after the Orthodox church was more pervasive and the passion and resurrection were undisputed; those events had gained so much ground in the story they could not be ignored. In the early days, the mid firs century, groups that looked down upon the flesh and deemphasized or were embarrassed by those events merely left them out and stopped dealing with them at some point. So they were either expunged from the parent sources that E2 and GThom used, (meaning the source itself was reshaped to exclude them) or they just weren't included in latter copies from which these latter were produced. At that point, only 18 years after the original events, in the groups of the original community, eye witnesses would still be alive to correct error, but in rough groups breaking off or in groups scattered far away (Egypt, Antioch) they would have been able to de-emphasize the cross at that time. Basically we need more information before we really know what the infant church taught.

Now we must turn Doherty's fantasy of a "Q community" because it is the crux of his whole argument. That is where he develops the idea of this "other tradition" that began as the original infant church.

Aside from all that, the Gospel of Thomas does actually contain a reference to the cross of Christ:

GThom:55: Jesus said: He who does not hate his father and his mother cannot be a disciple to me. And (he who does not) hate his brothers and sisters and take up his cross like me, will not be worthy of me.

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