Historical Jesus studies in a nutshell, with Lessing’s famous ditch as a rubric: (1) First questers both realize and attempt to cross the ditch, but get hung-up on their reflections in the streams below, midway across the bridge. They like what they see more than getting across. (2) No questers looked across the ditch to the man Jesus and considered it unnecessary to cross, since they had the kerygmatic Gospels and could encounter Jesus… without Jesus…(?!) (3) New questers attempted to bridge the ditch through newer criteria. Initial analysis demonstrated significant advances, and all indications were positive. It was only a question of the right criteria. And still more criteria. Hundreds of criteria! Some even practiced the criteria! (4) Third questers contextualized the ditch, rather to the ditch’s confusion and bewilderment! But they were somehow able to rescue Jesus’ ministry from across the ditch. Just not Jesus’ passion. Efforts are still ongoing… (5) Post-modernist historians, despite regarding ditch-crossing as an impossibility, and though seemingly unaware of the discipline of history and its ability to bridge to something beyond epistemology, beyond itself — these questers, rather curiously, are most likely to succeed in crossing the ditch, since at the rate they write, the ditch may soon be filled!
Merry Christmas to all readers of Jesus and Paul and the New Testament!
Dunn picks up where he left off in Beginning from Jerusalem – with the Jewish war – and ends with Irenaeus whom he regards as the first biblical theologian and therefore a fitting stopping–point (141). Continuing with many of his previous emphases on diversity detailed already in the second volume of his trilogy, the period under discussion in the present volume involves a Christianity also in tension, “contested on all the main factors which make for identity” (41).
The Jesus tradition continued to be transmitted orally, even alongside the emergence of the Gospels. It was the achievement of Mark to move the ‘gospel’ tradition to the newly invented “Gospel” biography (195), with Matthew and Luke following (192f). And though Paul may emphasize the gospel in terms of Jesus’ death for the forgiveness of sins, his burial, and his resurrection (1 Cor 15:3-4), Mark’s Gospel is not all that different in its emphasis. Dunn makes mention of Martin Kähler’s description of “the Gospels as passion narratives with extended introductions” (196). The Gospels, then, present Jesus as just as much the object of gospel content as Paul and subsequent tradents (cf. 188-99). Dunn specifically has in view Mark’s Gospel (Mark 1:15; 8:35; and 10:29; 13:10; 14:9; evident from the cited passages is that the term is appearing within the context of Jesus’ own passion predictions and his charge to the disciples that they too will suffer, within his counter-temple discourse, and in the tradition of his anointing for burial). The movement from oral to written Jesus tradition, or gospel to Gospel “should not be seen as some sort of radical departure from the oral gospel tradition” (213).
Concerning the four leading voices of the New Testament: (1) Paul’s influence continues to shape Christianity throughout the second century, particularly as shaping “a Jewish messianic sect into a religion open to non-Jews and attracting increasing numbers of Gentiles; Paul is seen as a figure with an abiding and strong influence on Christianity; (2) James’ impact was for the most part lost by the events of the Jewish war and subsequent displacement of the Jerusalem Jewish Christians, and by “those who defined Christianity over against Judaism…” (3) Peter’s impact, which was “surprisingly hidden in the first generation” returns with “increasing force in subsequent generations,” and he is “increasingly claimed as first bishop of Rome”; (4) John’s impact was “hardly evident” at all in the first generation, but becomes “a major voice at the turn of the first and second century.” His heritage was critical in the heresiological confrontations with Gnostics since John’s incarnational Christology was fundamentally opposed to Gnosticism (42). That John and Peter are dated late and afforded less influence in the first generation would align Dunn’s analysis of the literature with F. C. Baur’s. At times the parallels are striking.
Concerning the Gospel of Thomas, Dunn writes with emphasis that: “The basic narrative of Thomas is too distinctive and too different from the other first-century indications of the impact made by Jesus for us to find a root for the Thomas perspective in Jesus’ mission or the early oral Jesus tradition” (400; cf. 375-84).
Dunn, James D. G. Neither Jew nor Greek: A Contested Identity. Volume 3 of Christianity in the Making. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015. xiv + 946 pp. $60.00.
Dating the Sources
Mark is dated largely based on the apocalyptic discourse material of ch. 13 to AD 65-75, something of a consensus among scholarship (53). Particularly, Dunn points out Mark 13:14’s “abomination of desolation,” an intentional echo of Dan 12:11, as indicative of Caligula’s attempt to erect his own statue in the Jerusalem temple (53). “Most find the link between Mark 13 and the destruction of the temple sufficiently close to date the Gospel to the period of 65-75” (54). Luke’s date is largely figured using the same rationale, so that “Luke 21:24 probably implies that the author was able to look back on the destruction of Jerusalem” (60). His Gospel was written before Acts, however, and given a date in the late 70s or early 80s (61). Since Matthew’s Gospel draws on Mark, it “must have been written some time after 70 (66). Ignatius’ use of Matthew provides a terminus ad quem of 100-118, further narrowing the window (67). The critical stance towards “the post-70 successors of the Pharisees” as found in Matt 23:7-8, would indicate an even earlier date still, while Judaism in the wake of Jerusalem’s devastation was still forging a new halakhic identity. Because of the difficulty in deciding whether or not the tensions in Matthew’s Gospel are directed or indicative of a breach with Judaism, Dunn opts for the consensus view of somewhere in the 80s, likely mid to late 80s (68-9). Concerning John, John 21:23 is taken to imply that the beloved disciple had died (79). “There is no clear evidence that the Apostolic Father knew John,” and the “earliest evidence of knowledge of John in Christian circles is Justin Martyr (1 Apology 1.61.4-5 – John 3:3-5),” providing the terminus ad quem of about 150 (79). P52, “generally dated to about 125,” further reduces the time of writing to “the first decade of the second century” (79). Since the John Rylands fragment was discovered in Egypt, then the Gospel of John must have already been in wide circulation, and therefore a date in the last decade of the first century is Dunn’s assessment (or at the turn of the century; 79).
Dunn next explores the pseudepigraphical writings of the New Testament, including Ephesians, the Pastorals (which includes Titus), and 2 Peter (81). Dunn’s point here is that these texts were received into Christian churches not because they were strictly written by Paul or Peter, but because they claimed an authoritative tradition closely wed to the apostles, the closeness of which must have been well known. In answering the dilemma of pseudepigraphical New Testament writings, Dunn points to the value of D. G. Meade who argues that the traditions which began with Peter and Paul, accrued additional tradition material (likely from within each of their own apostolic circles), but in a manner faithful to the work of their respective apostolic witnesses, so that their apostolic authority was maintained (84). In short, Dunn agrees with Meade’s explanation that the claim of apostolic authority for these pseudepigraphical texts should not be confused with literary origins (84). The writings were instead an attempt to “renewedly actualize the authoritative Pauline and Petrine traditions for the following generation” (84). Meade sought precedence for the developing authoritative tradition within Second Temple traditions such as Enoch with its expansions, as well as in Isaiah’s tripartite division declared by historical critics. But is it fair to cast epistolary literature, particularly Paul’s writing to his disciples Timothy and Titus, in the same vein as the textual developments in Enochic and Isaianic literature (granting for the sake of argument, of course, the historical-critical portrait)?
Since the ecclesiology of the Pastoral letters aligns, Dunn states, with that of Acts, and generally reflects a time between Ephesians and Ignatius, a date of 80-100 is posited (91). Hebrews, since it demonstrates that Torah was fulfilled not by the temple-cult in Jerusalem but by Christ, reflects a post-70 time of writing (96). Second Peter is “firmly dated after 100,” or “some time in the first half of the second century,” based on the delay of the Parousia indicated by 2 Peter 3:4, 8, and 9, and because Paul’s epistles are regarded as Scripture in 3:15-16 (102-3). Because of Jude’s association with the traditions in 2 Peter, the earliest date for the letter would be late in the first century with 2 Peter forming the terminus ad quem; and this dating is despite Dunn’s recognition of Mark 6:3 (Jude is a brother of Jesus, and James), the letter’s Jewish character, and Eusebius’ mention of Jude’s grandsons as church leaders in the 90s (Ecclesiastical History, 3.19.1-3.20.6; pp. 97-9). First-Third John, later than the Gospel of John (90s), reflects a post-70 transition from Jerusalem to Syria and Ephesus, which would have been a lengthy process (106). They were written near the end of the first century, or into the second (106). Finally, Revelation, following the scholarly consensus dates to the early 90s (106). Babylon (in Rev 18) is a reference to Rome, as well as the Beast described in Rev 13:1-8. The imperial cult and Domitian persecution are instructive for the dating (106). The letters of James, 1 Peter, and Paul were treated by Dunn in Beginning from Jerusalem.
First Clement is dated to AD 95-6 (113), Ignatius “the late 100s or early 110s” (115), Polycarp’s “letter to the Philippians quite likely followed Ignatius’s letters only a few months later – that is, still in the 110s” (117), and the Didache is roughly AD 100-120 (120). Additional second-century sources evaluated and used by Dunn include the Epistle of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas, 2 Clement, Papias, and the Odes of Solomon. The list of authors and works treated by Dunn apart from the New Testament documents includes dozens more, stretching from pp. 111 to 182, with a helpful chart on p. 183.
E. Earle Ellis states that the evidence presented for a Domitian persecution “do[es] not appear to be very strong.” The Making of the New Testament Documents (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 212-3. And that dating later New Testament documents (and 1 Clement, p. 280-1 n.236) to the last decade of the first century AD on the grounds of a Domitian persecution amounts to unreliable, dubious history.
I am posting a recent paper on volumes two and three of James Dunn’s Christianity in the Making. This paper stems from a class with Dr. John Taylor of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (though he has shared that he will be joining Gateway Seminary in California). It has been my great privilege to be his student. Dr. Taylor has been very flexible in allowing me to take specific classes tailored as much for my interests as for my benefit.
Concerning this particular paper, readers should know that the material originates from my first seminar to cover early Christianity critically reconstructed, and as it emerged from Jerusalem and grew to encounter the larger Mediterranean world. Since the class was specifically devoted to James Dunn’s magisterial Christianity in the Making, the reading was significant, and since it covered so much material and an era that I had previously little familiarity with (the sub-apostolic era, second generation Christianity), I am sure more learned readers will find various faults within my paper (though hopefully minor ones).
I share the paper, however, because of the joy it brought me in both researching the topic and writing on it. James Dunn is an immensely talented research writer. His work has been formative on me not only for this reason but for others as well. His notable objectivity in handling the many challenging research questions is impressive. In some ways, reading his work feels almost like looking over his shoulder as he works through the research questions and discussions himself. Dunn seems to limit his own input to the conclusions of vast segments of research within his books, though like a skilled narrator he is carefully building his case all the while. In addition to objectivity, Dunn has a gift for viewing the whole and seeing discordant ideas and material within it. He has a remarkable talent for seeing where diverse ideas come into conflict with the larger picture. In short, he discerns unity within the diversity. Thank you Dr. Dunn for you contributions, and for inspiring me to learn and to dig deeper. And thank you Dr. Taylor for doing the same, and holding me to a high bar of excellence. All mistakes are my own and much of the reflections are raw thoughts checked only against tertiary resources. As always, dear readers, thank you for reading Jesus and Paul and the New Testament Blog!
(My initial paper in the class covered volume one, Jesus Remembered, which is more aligned with my specialized doctoral interests in the historical Jesus, and I am heavily re-working and improving this paper for publication. The following paper, then, deals only with the second and third volumes, though most attention is given to the third.)
Kathy Ehrensperger writes
I consider it a necessary and fruitful enterprise to explore the significance of such research results that demonstrate Paul’s embeddedness in Judaism when dealing with the issue of the relation between Jesus and Paul, or, to put it another way, of the relation of the Jesus traditions as remembered in the Gospels and the Jesus as remembered by Paul and his team in the Pauline Letters.
So thrilled to read this in her essay “At the Table: Common Ground between Paul and the Historical Jesus.” I have earlier voiced the opinion that Paul’s theology be thought of first and foremost as influenced by and indebted to Jesus traditions (since the Gospels were written after most/all of Paul’s Letters). I think that the recent push to read Paul within Second Temple Judaism broadly will be misguided insofar as it ignores this foundational hermeneutical task in understanding his thought. So in some respects, Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God, which sees Pauline theology as a brand of Second Temple Judaism richly rethought around Jesus Messiah, is a step in the right direction. Ehrensperger’s essay in Jesus Research volume two continues by pointing out the rich agreement between Jesus tradition in the Gospels and 1 Corinthians on the subject of table fellowship / meals.