Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Moving From Oral Tradition To Gospel

Part 1 is available here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here, and Part 5 here.

AP: It has been pointed out many times that the life of the early Christian communities provided various cardinal and catalytic axes that enabled the slow crystallization of the words of Jesus. These include their preaching, acts of liturgy, controversies with Jews or, more rarely, with pagans, and their missionary endeavors.

It has also been observed that we can deduce the geographical origin of some of these traditions from the geographic framework of certain pericopes offered by the Gospels themselves. Thus, for example, from Mark 1:16–3:4 it can be deduced that the activity of Jesus spreading throughout Galilee was particularly collected at Capernaum, where it was put down in writing.

Traditions about the Passion must have been formed in Jerusalem, first orally, then in writing, in the liturgy and implicit or explicit quotations from the Old Testament. In this same locality, the great tension of the eschatological expectation had to function as a catalyst to bring together these prophetic and apocalyptic teachings of Jesus among those who lived there and had lived with the Master. In the meeting places of the local churches, where Jesus was remembered in the breaking of the bread, a Haggadah could be formed, a Christian narrative similar to the Jewish Passover haggadah. And this led to the stories about the Last Supper.

Some of the sayings of Jesus––those that were perhaps "gnostic" or in which one had a greater appreciation for sapiential subjects––were collected in communities that shared their likeness. As an example of this process, see Luke 11:49–51: "That is why the Wisdom of God says: I will send you prophets . . ." in contrast to Matt. 23:34–35 (Jesus speaking): "Therefore, look, I am going to send you prophets . . ." This is a clear example of a saying put in the mouth of Jesus by a Christian prophet.

It has been rightly argued that it is in the Coptic Gospels of Nag Hammadi (for example, the Savior's Dialogue or the Gospel of Thomas) that the intra-evangelical evolution of the wisdom sayings of Jesus can be observed or deduced. If the Gnostic extracts of the Gospel of Thomas are removed, one can see in it certain texts that are similar to those which the historical Jesus could have pronounced (if there are not some of them that are authentic like logion 82: "He who is near me is near the fire, and he who is far from me is far from the Kingdom"). Such sayings were then developed within the community, by the hand of a prophet or an unknown writer, in the form of wisdom dialogue between Jesus and a disciple––such as those collected in the texts of the Nag Hammadi Library, or in form of a discourse or monologue of the Savior such as found in the Gospel of John.

The mission to the pagans required that these communities assemble the stories of miracles that were told of Jesus so that they could use them them in their apologetics. One can suspect that the first ones that were collected were the true miracles of Jesus, that is, exorcisms with expulsions of demons and healings, facts in which the patient's faith and the charismatic power of the healer intervened. Later this possible first collection of authentic miracles was enlarged with legendary stories, such as miracles that went "against natural laws" (e.g., walking on water).

That this process of formation of miraculous legends is not an invention of the critics can be known by taking into consideration Acts 8, the first news about a certain man named Simon (vv. 9–24). This individual is later called a magician. He wished to buy the power to transmit the Holy Spirit and the power to perform miracles.

After about a century, the apocryphal Acts of Peter began to circulate. In this text, there was already a record of some remarkable miracles performed by that magician. This relationship is greatly increased in the later Pseudo-Clementine homilies in their final writing to the Acts of Peter. No one can doubt that all the miracles attributed to Simon for the Christian tradition are purely legendary, created by the mythopoetic function of some imaginative believers. It can also be thought that once the first collections of authentic miracles of Jesus were set up, many others were created that finally passed into the Gospel tradition, years later, and have come down to us as if from Jesus himself.

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