2018 Synoptic Gospels

Session 2, Rhetoric in the Synoptic Gospels and the Book of Acts, will be a joint session with the 2018 Book of Acts seminar.

Session 1

Reflections on the $1,000 Challenge over Q

Alan Garrow 
Mark Goodacre (respondent) 

Duke University

Something very unusual happened in December 2017: a piece of entertaining drama took place within the world of New Testament Studies. Bart Ehrman was offered $1,000 for charity if he could find a flaw in Alan Garrow’s solution to the Synoptic Problem: the Matthew Conflator Hypothesis. Mark Goodacre took up the challenge on Ehrman’s behalf and the $1,000 was subsequently paid. At one level, everyone was a winner. Powell (who set up the Challenge) and Garrow got a lot of publicity for the case for Matthews’ use of Luke (with Markan Priority); Goodacre had the pleasure of helping out a friend; and Ehrman got $1,000 for charity.

In this presentation, Garrow argues that at another level, however, the discipline of New Testament suffered a loss: the alliance of Ehrman and Goodacre served to reinforce the very longstanding perception that there must be some obvious reason why Matthew could not have used Luke – a perception that, as Martin Hengel noted in 2000, has no tangible basis. To get a sense of how damaging this misperception might possibly be it is only necessary to imagine the consequences if our predecessors had similarly persisted in avoiding the notion of Markan Priority. Thus, Garrow examines the issues at stake by: reviewing arguments for Matthew's use of Luke; responding to the detail of Goodacre’s critique; and reflecting on the limitations of Ehrman’s response. Garrow argues that the idea that a satisfying solution to the Synoptic Problem must always, somehow, be out of reach is unnecessarily pessimistic. There are only main three types of solution possible (accepting Markan Priority). If the Matthew Conflator Hypothesis preserves the strengths of older hypotheses, while avoiding their weaknesses, then the implications for Synoptic Gospels studies could be very extensive indeed. Certainly, they would utterly dwarf Evan Powell’s generous initial outlay of $1,000.

Mark Goodacre will offer a response to Garrow’s presentation, followed by discussion.

Session 2

An Examination of the Texts of Luke and Acts, For What They Owe to Ancient Rhetoric’s Rules and Practices

Ancient Rhetoric’s rules cover Idea, Structure, Style, Memory and Performance. For the writing act itself, many conventions and devices existed. Chief among them were dualities and word/phrase repetitions. For the reading act, the reader had the assistance of the rhetor’s choice of writing style. It greatly helped with the parsing and punctuating of texts which in their manuscript form consisted only of columns of letters and edentations with allied spaces. Firstly, we will set Mark and Matthew side by side, to see how these earlier works demonstrate the influence of rhetoric’s rules and practices. It will show us, at least, however briefly we look, that we are not examining Luke and Acts for something that is not already encountered elsewhere. Setting Matthew and Luke, then, side by side we will complete the preliminaries. In exploring Luke and Acts side by side, we will identify their rhetorical characteristics and determine the rhetorical links that bind these two documents together. We will draw out from the texts, the matching frameworks of their composition and the discipline behind their detailed formulations. We will see how these first century texts worked. We will see the purposes for which these documents were written: that:

  1. with the Gospel, the rhetor intended a fresh representation for Gentiles of the contents and meanings of the Gospels of both Mark and Matthew, re-structured and re-mythologised, and
  2. with his second book, the rhetor sought to say that the Life of Jesus is lived over again in the Life of the Church and that it is a Life of Mission that the Spirit brings to birth, directs in the world and sustains through every kind of trial.

Briefly, at the last, we will set our findings on Luke and Acts within the Rhetorical Table of the New Testament.

Saint Luke, Saint Mary and the Rhetoric of Luke-Acts

Matthew Bartlett 

University of Roehampton

Since rhetorical theory was learned in Greco-Roman education throughout all its stages, and found immediate application in almost every form of oral and written communication (official documents, letters, speeches and literary composition), it provided the tools for all public discourse and persuasion in Greco-Roman times. Consequently, rhetoric played a significant role in the culture which surrounded and nurtured the authors of the New Testament, and provided them with the tools to communicate their message and persuade others of its authenticity. With an adequate number of manuals on rhetoric extant, we have ready access to the toolkit of ancient speech-writers and authors—the techniques they employed in constructing their arguments. These tools prove valuable for biblical scholars seeking to understand the how the NT texts were fashioned. This paper examines the proem and opening two chapters of Luke’s Gospel in terms of his use of proofs (πίστεις), both external (e.g. naming of witnesses, existing written accounts) and internal (artistic, of his own creation). I shall discuss how Luke uses these proofs to claim legitimacy for his sources and the superiority of his account. In addition to overt statements to this effect, Luke utilizes some rather more subtle, though not unfamiliar, rhetorical techniques to achieve his end. I shall examine the possibility that Luke uses insinuation, in conjunction with cumulative argument, to imply that he has a reliable source close to Mary, Jesus’s mother. As part of my conclusion I shall briefly discuss how Luke, as he works out the topics he has introduced in the first chapters of his Gospel, continues to utilize these and other more “subtle” techniques of rhetoric across both volumes, and thus indicate the direction of my current research in the rhetoric of Luke-Acts.

The Rhetoric of Luke’s ἄνομοι (Luke 22:37)

This paper proposes that the ἄνομοι in Luke 22:37 are part of the Gospel’s sin – salvation rhetoric. For Luke the gospel is about the forgiveness of sin and Luke pervasively uses the language of ἁμαρτία and ἁμαρτωλός to explain this paradigm. However, in Luke 22:37 Luke includes a quote from Isa 52:12 that Jesus is counted among the ἄνομοι. This is introduced by the emphatic words τοῦτο τὸ γεγραμμένον δεῖ τελεσθῆναι ἐν ἐμοί(this scripture must be fulfilled in me) and ends with καὶ γὰρ τὸ περὶ ἐμοῦ τέλος ἔχει (for that which is written about me is being fulfilled). This focuses the reader’s attention on the fulfilment (τελέω) of this scripture in Jesus (ἐν ἐμοί) and that this fulfilment is found in his end (τέλος). The combined language of divine necessity in 22:7 (δεῖ), the Isaianic quote, the fulfilment language and the personal significance Jesus places on the fulfilment of the prophecy with the use of ἐν ἐμοί, makes this verse a crucial verse in understanding the death of the Lukan Jesus. Luke’s theology of the cross is often said to be quite thin or even barely there; this paper aims to thicken that conversation by showing how Jesus identifies with the sinner. This paper examines what has been said about this language, it explores its use in Luke and Isaiah in particularly from the LXX, and finally discusses what this means for reading Luke.

Session 3

Purity or Power? The Narrator, Jesus, and the Spirits in the Gospel of Mark

Séamus O’Connell 

Pontifical University, Maynooth

In a rather sharp criticism of Jack Dean Kingsbury’s Christology of Mark’s Gospel, Elizabeth Struthers Malbon observes that, because “Kingsbury takes ‘the narrator’s point of view’ to be the only ‘correct’ view’, his Markan Christology is more a Christology of the Markan narrator than a narrative Christology of Mark. [see Mark’s Jesus (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2009) page 243]. A similar criticism can be made of the implicit demonology of almost all Markan interpretation: critics rarely, if ever, question the discourse-shift in references to demons and to unclean spirits. Therefore, apart from the Spirit [of God] and the Holy Spirit, all spirits are unclean—never evil—and just another way of referring to the horde of demons who are Satan’s minions in Mark’s narrative.

However, when it is noted that ‘unclean spirit’ is found only on the narrator’s lips and once on the bystanders’, it can be seen that narrator has a particular point of view. For the Markan Jesus, his non-physical opponents are never unclean: they are either demons (see 3:22, 7:29) or ‘mute and deaf’ spirits (see 9:25).

While the narrator would appear to narrate in a purity perspective, the primary concern of the Markan Jesus’ appears to be cosmic. In Jesus’ point of view, the key issue is not purity, but the ongoing binding of ‘the strong man’ and the ‘plundering of his house’ (see 3:27).

This paper outlines a narrative demonology of Mark. It establishes the point of view of Markan Jesus in respect of spirits and demons, explores the creative tension between his point of view and that of the narrator and the other characters, and seeks to situate these within the framework of larger Markan motifs and concerns.

Jesus and the Marginalized and Liminal: The Messianic Identity in Mark

Bekele Deboch 

This work aims to examine the idea of the Messianic identity in the Gospel of Mark, emphasizing Jesus’ self-identification with the marginalized and liminal people. In the Gospel’s decisive points, the Markan Jesus is revealed and announced as the divine Son of God by the heavenly voice, by demons and finally by the unsuspected humanity. Nevertheless, Mark recorded Jesus’ Messianic identity in less obvious ways, which has caused ambiguity amongst NT scholars.

In order to discover Jesus’ divine identity, preliminary studies undertaken in the past, would be briefly discussed. This focuses on the “Messianic secret” as the key point of discussion to which a satisfactory consensus has not been reached. Some scholars believed that in the first half of Mark’s record of the gospel, prior to Easter, Jesus did not think that he was the divine Messiah. Others thought that Jesus was not the Son of God but, as described in Mark’s second half, he was the suffering and dying Son of Man. In doing so, they divide the Gospel into two halves.

Therefore, this paper argues that Mark’s Gospel is the unified work of the evangelist. It is demonstrated that Jesus is portrayed as having thought that he was the divine Messiah in a unique sense. His divine identity is revealed and proclaimed not only as the Messianic Son of God by his miraculous activities in Mark’s first half, but also as the suffering and vindicated Son of Man in the second half.

Finally, the paper encourages the readers and interpreters of the Gospel to understand not only Jesus’ self-identification with the marginalized and liminal in and around Galilee but also his extreme marginality to the point of shameful death and glorious resurrection in Jerusalem to save humanity.

Home by the Sea: The Gospel Accounts of the Location of Bethsaida and its Use as a Guide to Contemporary Archaeological Exploration in Galilee

Chris Sinkinson 

Moorlands College

Bethsaida benefits from a number of New Testament references which provide some guidance in identifying its geographical location. In this paper we take note of a number of these literary indicators even while acknowledging the distinct narrative intentions of the gospel authors. The references from the various gospel traditions will be discussed and, having identified their particular narrative function, features can be isolated as of geographical value. Later changes to Bethsaida during the first century which we know from Josephus also raise interesting questions for when the Gospels were written and what their authors knew.

However, despite this New Testament material, there remain doubts as to the contemporary identification of Bethsaida. Since 1838 Et-Tell has bee considered a leading contender. Excavations led by the University of Nebraska have more recently provided substantial evidence for this identification. However, new claims by excavators at the site of El-Araj have offered an alternative possibility. In the absence of a long tradition of pilgrimage or material signposting we are left with the need for careful scrutiny of the claims made by those in the field.

This paper will review these claims in light of the New Testament material. Attention will be drawn to the complexity of using New Testament references in these debates but a case will be made that the traditional site of Et-Tell remains most plausible. More generally, the relationship between New Testament studies and field archaeology is the background to this paper. The potential misuse of New Testament materials must be balanced with the great value that the gospels have as source material for understanding the geography of the region in the Hellenistic and Roman periods.