Tuesday, November 22, 2005

SBL Reports: Ruminations

Mark Goodacre and Michael Bird have commented on the paper presented by Ted Weeden regarding Bailey's theory of informally controlled oral tradition. Mark believes that "Weeden has dealt a fatal blow to Bailey's theory", and, though it pains me to say it, so do I. I've always taken oral tradition seriously -- and still do -- but Weeden has shown that we need a better model than Bailey's, which is based not only on inaccurate assumptions about oral cultures but a mishandling of the evidence to boot. We've had numerous discussions about this on the Crosstalk mailing list. For starters, see Weeden's posts here, here, and here, and then responses from these points. I rarely find myself agreeing with Weeden, but he's made an important contribution here that can't be ignored. Those (like Dunn, Wright) who continue to rely on Bailey will be resting their case on a house of cards.

Mark also attended the historical Jesus section, where the question of Jesus' illegitimacy was discussed. He raised a concern at the end about using the criteria of multiple attestation and embarrassment:

"I can't help thinking that one cancels out the other. If everyone, Q, an independent Thomas, Mark, Matthew, Luke all have this same material, who is embarrassed about it? The multiple attestation is itself an argument against embarrassment."

This isn't necessarily true, though in some cases it may be an indicator that one criterion just doesn't apply or work well. For myself, I don't find the criterion of multiple attestation terribly useful -- though not because it supposedly cancels out that of embarrassment. It only tells us is what is multiply attested by the time of the sources, the earliest of which is Paul and (perhaps) James. But something can be multiply attested and still embarrassing to the tradition -- a glaring case being Jesus' baptism by John; just look at the way each gospel writer struggles with the embarrassment. (I wrote a post months ago dealing with the various criteria here.) In any case, this is a session I would have liked to attend, as I tend to think Jesus was illegitimate.

I've been enjoying the SBL reports and regret not being there. I'm anxious to hear how Stephen Carlson's paper on "The Hand of Secret Mark" was received.


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