Sunday, March 12, 2017

Thinking About The Word "Gospel" (Part 5)

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

AP: Let's turn our attention to a book written by S. Guijarro. The title is Jesús y sus primeros discípulos (trans. "Jesus and His First Disciples"). In the first chapter dedicated to "The oral tradition about Jesus," Guijarro explains the main theories of scholars about the forms of oral tradition in early Christianity. The theories are associated with the following four names: R. Bultmann, B. Gerhardsson, V. Kelber, and K. Bailey.

Guijarro distinguishes between the following: uncontrolled oral tradition, informally controlled oral tradition, and formally controlled oral tradition, to which he ascribes a high degree of historical reliability: It transmits Jesus' sayings and deeds in an absolutely reliable manner from the point of view of authenticity. The one that interests us most for our purpose is the latter. Guijarro says this (the translation is my own because the original is in Spanish):
"The existence of this type of tradition in early Christianity is documented above all in the writings of the Pauline tradition. Paul himself, who had received a rabbinical education, twice uses the technical terms "receive" and "transmit" to underline the reliability of certain concrete traditions: the central content of the kerygma (1 Cor. 15:3: 'For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received') and the words of Jesus at the Last Supper (1 Cor. 11:23: 'For I received from the Lord that which I have transmitted to you'). And Luke, who addresses communities in the Pauline world some years later, echoes the existence of a formally controlled tradition when he states that the various stories composed earlier and his own are based on what 'was handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and then became servants of the word' (Luke 1:2)" (p. 24)
In fact, two of the three examples proposed as support for the argument do little to convince me. The second one, namely 1 Cor. 11:23, because in it there is no community tradition to be transmitted. The text expressly says "I received from the Lord . . ." not from the community, which means that Paul is transmitting the result of a vision of the risen Jesus.

And that of Luke indicates a transmission of eyewitnesses, but this is but a mere affirmation. His Gospel is first of all, in its first part, the remodeling of what was written in Mark and the supposed and most likely existing "Q" source. On the other hand, Luke, especially in the second part of his Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles, is a "transmitter" of information on which many critics rely rather little, due to the remarkable ideological bias that it imparts throughout the text.

But let us accept the fact of the oral transmission of sayings and deeds of Jesus as something self-evident. What is not clear to me is what is "formally controlled." I do not see in any text provided by Guijarro any textual argument that proves it, nor a serious textual support for the affirmation that it is "a very reliable tradition." Therefore, I continue to maintain the opinion that I expressed years ago that I do not think there are serious arguments that oral tradition was really controlled by anything or anyone, only by the memory of those who had witnessed the life and preaching of Jesus. And it is well known that the memory is subject to laws of forgetting and change of what is remembered.

In spite of everything, we are sure that in many cases this oral tradition was faithful, since there was what was called "furtive material," that is, material that collects facts and sayings about Jesus that were not consistent with later Christology. In other words, they did not comport with the high views the post-Easter community had formed regarding Jesus.

Typical examples are the baptism of Jesus for the remission of sins (the explanations were added later), the ignorance of Jesus about the time of the end of the world (Mark 13:32), violence in certain expressions of Jesus (Mark 1:41: "Moved with compassion for him, he extended his hand, touched him and said: 'I am willing, be cleansed"), his apparently strict nationalism (Mark 7:27: The episode of the healing of the daughter of the Syrophenician whom Jesus compares with the "dogs"), etc.

In fact, Guijarro tries to reconstruct in his article, as a clear example of a reliable tradition, Jesus' saying about the "destruction/reconstruction of the Temple." He explains:
"Literary criticism allows us to recover the older version of a particular tradition when there are two or more written versions of the same between which there is a relationship of dependence. Editorial criticism allows us to identify possible omissions, additions, or modifications introduced by the writers of the various writings. With the help of these two procedures we can establish to some degree of certainty the form that a saying or a narrative about Jesus might have had in the oral tradition." (p. 28)
And, later, for the passage of oral tradition of Jesus, he writes this:
"Historical criticism is often used, but in my opinion it would also be very useful to take into account the analysis of oral tradition. The analysis of oral tradition will allow us to establish what kind of tradition it is and the degree of flexibility with which it may have been transmitted. For its part, historical criticism, which has developed in the last years very precise criteria, allows us to establish the degree of historical plausibility of a tradition with the help of external references and a logical reasoning." (p.29)
So, why resort to the instruments of historical criticism if there is this formally controlled oral tradition? Where, then, does the claim that there is a "formally controlled" oral tradition exist? I just don't see it.

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