Old Blogdrive Posts 10

Sunday, February 01, 2004
Current reading…

At the moment I am glutting myself on New Testament related books – re-reading John Crossan’s “Birth of Christianity”, having a closer read of George Howard’s translation of Hebrew Matthew ["A Hebrew Gospel of Matthew"], and looking at Carsten Thiede and Michael d’Ancona’s “The Quest for the True Cross”. The last is the least scholarly and rather populist.


[this is not an ad... just a link for the interested]

Thiede is papyrologist who believes he has proven that some fragments of Greek texts found in the caves at Qumran are from the New Testament – specifically 7Q5 [from "Mark"] and P46 [from "Matthew"] – and datable to before the 60s AD. That would be a radical shake-up if confirmed since most date “Mark” to c. 70 AD and “Matthew” to a few years after that, based on prophecies about the first Jewish War and persecution in its wake mentioned in the Gospels. As Thiede rightly points out the assumptions that a post-70 dating are based on are just that, assumptions, and not absolute datings by palaeography or any other means.


[link for Thiede's earlier "The Jesus Papyrus"]

However Thiede might be wrong and other indentifications for the fragments [which really are just strips off a whole papyrus, with no whole words] are possible. Possible texts are searched by comparison against a huge computer database and several alternatives exist, some more likely than others.


As Daniel Wallace points out no reputable scholar dates “Mark” or “Matthew” as early as Thiede is claiming. However Thiede, based on claims by a 19th Century relic-hunter, claimed in an earlier book a date of c. 45 AD for “Mark”, and John A.T. Robinson has argued similarly in his “Redating the New Testament” based on a possible early visit to Rome by Saint Peter. Tradition holds that Mark wrote his Gospel after Peter “departed” Rome – whether he “departed” the world as well is hard to say, as the evidence is equivocal. Since Peter was martyred in 65 AD or later [not 64 AD as most mistakenly claim] that would tend to date “Mark” to post-65.

That’s another story – Peter in Rome – but few are willing to place him in Rome so early as Robinson suggests. The critical date is 49 AD, since Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome for conflict between Christian and non-Christian Jews at that date. John Mark was a Jew so he hardly stayed behind if Peter was expelled, departed, at this time. The earliest time for their return was after Claudius died in 54 AD and most place Peter’s arrival after that c. 55. Hence “Mark” is from some time after and very likely written in Rome, or at least for Latin speakers since it has so many Latinisms in the text. Contrary to most commentators “Mark” wasn’t necessarily written for Gentiles – Diaspora Jews are just as likely.
Posted at 7:25 am by Adam
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Saturday, January 31, 2004
More than the New Testament…

Based on my first entries I must sound like a scholar of Biblical subjects, but I’m not. I was a Christian with a passion for the “Truth”, but now I am more agnostic about God and the supernatural, but I still enjoy the subject intellectually.

My other great passion is space travel and the wider Cosmos. Having grown up after all the excitement of Apollo and seeing the promise of the Shuttle become a wasteful and dangerous “program without a mission” – well it’s been hard to believe that humans will ever get off this planet and onto another in my lifetime. But there is hope…


…the Space Elevator is potentially the means to make real space travel affordable for all of Earth’s inhabitants, not just a select few. Until very recently the SE was thought to be unachieveable because no materials other than diamond was strong enough – then carbon nanotubes were discovered in 1991 and SEs became viable.

But still written off as fantasy or far future because it’s such a massive construction – 35,800 km to geosynchrnous orbit, then about a 100,000 km more as a counter-weight. Most assumed it wouldn’t be built until traffic to space was much greater.

And that’s the chief problem with all space-flight – it’s expensive because so little of it happens! But little happens because it’s so expensive! A vicious circle.

Take a Space Shuttle cargo mission – 30,000 kg to orbit for $600 million. That’s $20,000/kg. The main expenses aren’t even fuel [though hydrogen costs $14/kg], but maintenance and having a standing army of technicians to service a mere 6-8 flights a year. That’s why the Shuttle budget has been $5.5 billion/year for a few measly flights. The original Shuttle program – as “sexed up” by NASA to sell Nixon on it in 1970 – was meant to fly 60 flights/year for roughly the same dollars – hence the Shuttle would be “cheap” by disposable rocket standards.

But what was NASA going to be haulling to space at 1,800 tons/year to achieve such economy??

As envisaged the Space Elevator will cost between $15 billion and $40 billion – but somehow cost a mere $220/kg to orbit stuff. Simple division will tell you it needs to haul 68,100 – 181,800 tons of material to space over its working life at those rates to break even. A few multiples more to compete with other investments over 20-30 years. So what’s needed at GEO that masses so much?

Solar Power Satellites…


Posted at 4:08 pm by Adam
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Thursday, January 29, 2004
Gospel of Thomas…

The Gospel of Thomas is an important find for New Testament scholarship because it is a Gospel in a format like none other – a collection of sayings with no narrative structure. For many scholars this implies it is more like a source used by our later Gospels, than a cheap Gnostic copy coming after them – which is how conservative scholars write it off.

Here’s an excellent resource page for The Gospel of Thomas….


In my mind The Gospel of Thomas is probably a source for the Gospel of Mark. Here’s an extensive discussion on that possibility…



…from Stevan Davies, an important South African Biblical Scholar.

The Gospel itself is quite alien to a reader wanting a story, as it is more like one of those little inspirational books with a thought for every day of the Year. Which is not a bad way to read it.
Posted at 12:34 pm by Adam
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Q – does it exist?

One of my pre-suppositions – the existence and independent use of “Q” by the Gospels of Luke and Matthew – is often claimed to be a proven result of New Testament scholarship. Yet even after over a century since “Q” was hypothesised some scholars beg to differ and have mustered substantial arguments against “Q”. Mark Goodacre is one such scholar and he makes his “case against Q” here…


…A good summary is his “Ten Reasons to Doubt Q” which should be the starting point for all serious scholarship on “Q”.


Quite simply: are there sufficient reasons to think “Q” exists?

More specifically: “Q” is held to be a separate textual source used independently by the authors of Matthew and Luke. The independent useage of “Q” by the two authors is necessary to the theory because only through comparing and contrasting the Gospellers use of “Q” can scholars determine something like an original “Q”. This is important because we know that Matthew and Luke both use Mark extensively, but they don’t quote it word for word. Instead they edit [redact, in NT scholar-speak] the text to suit their own emphasis and themes in writing. We have the original Mark [as near to it as we can reconstruct] to compare Matthew and Luke against, but we don’t have an original “Q”. Hence only by cross-checking [comparing and contrasting] the two Gospels can “Q” be recovered for study. If Matthew and Luke aren’t independent of each other – especially if Luke used Matthew as its source – then “Q” is lost to us, and might not even exist as a text distinct from Matthew.

Mark Goodacre argues that there are too many agreements between Matthew and Luke on texts that are paralleled in Mark – i.e. the author of Luke uses the version of Mark we find only in Matthew. But is direct use the only answer? Many argue that copyists of the Gospels have consciously or unconsciously harmonised the Gospels so they often read the same, even when the originals didn’t. There’s quite a lot of textual evidence for this phenomenon – old texts often disagree on how a Gospel should read, with one variant reading being a copy of a parallel verse in another Gospel. But the argument isn’t finished – “Q” still has to justify itself. I think it does, but more on that later.

Matthew and Luke both have material that they don’t share with either Mark or “Q” and these are known as Special Matthew ["M"] and Special Luke ["L"]. Critical scholars tend to treat these two “sources” as purely the inventions of the authors, but this is being overly cynical. M and L have parallels with other early Christian documents that are suspected as being independent of the Gospels – The Epistle of James, The Didache, The Gospel of Thomas, and the like [which I will link and discuss to later.]

I like a good argument. Scholarly, logical, reasonable with scholars bashing the snot out of each other… :o)
Posted at 12:16 pm by Adam
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Where to begin…

A perennial interest of mine is the composition of the New Testament.

My presuppositions: I personally take as proven the priority of “Mark”; “Luke” and “Matthew”‘s use of “Mark”; and their common source “Q” [but see later], plus probable knowledge of “Mark” in the Gospel of “John”. Other less certain conclusions I accept are John Crossan’s theory of a “Cross Gospel” source in “Peter” [a non-canonical Gospel fragment], the independence and early dating of the “Didache”, and the probable antiquity of most of the “Gospel of Thomas” – which might be a major source for “Mark”. I don’t agree with pseudonymity theories for a lot of Paul’s letters – most modern scholars believe that Paul didn’t write “Ephesians/Colossians/I&II Timothy/Titus” – I think this is based on an exaggerated emphasis on statistical analysis rather than reasonable historical argument. Hence we can see conflicting ideas even in the Church’s early days about the role of women, for example – Paul’s apparent self-conflict over them is enough.

The ultimate source for all relevant texts and good links for all is Peter Kirby’s “Early Christian Writings”… http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/ [Buy the CD if you are a serious student]

Kirby provides good introductions, but doesn’t go much for an over-arching schema.

A good schema to browse for interesting directions to research is Bernard Muller’s Christian Origins web-site… http://www.geocities.com/b_d_muller/index.html

His take on the Gospel of John is particularly interesting as he elucidates a number of literary signs of “John’s” use of the “Gospel of Mark”. His discussion of author-ship points to the “Elder John” not John Zebedee as the writer and his reasoning is worth exploring…


Another interesting Gospel to explore is the Hebrew version of “Matthew” as preserved in the writings of Shem-Tov, a Medieval Jewish polemicist…

http://www.uncc.edu/jdtabor/shemtovweb.html [rest of web-site is worth a good look]

…this primitive version of Matthew is particularly interesting because it preserves editorial traces of the author’s use of “Q”, the common sayings/gospel source used by both “Luke” and “Matthew” but not “Mark”.

Finally there is the very ancient work known as the “Didache” [Greek for "Instruction" or "Training"] which seems to be a C1st manual for training God-fearing Gentiles who are becoming Christians. Here are three web-sites that present the text and some commentary…

http://www.friktech.com/rel/didache.htm [text]

http://reluctant-messenger.com/didache.htm [Same translation, but good for its many other links]

http://bswett.com/1998-01Didache.html [a retranslation and useful commentary. The author proposes that the "Didache" is the combined work of Paul and Barnabas before their split in 49 AD - hence it might be the oldest Xian writing available.]

Bernhard Muller dates the “Didache” to c. 95 AD based on its supposed use of finished Gospels – however other scholars have shown that the supposed dependance is probably due to the texts using similar early sources like “Q” and “M”, hence Muller’s dates are doubtful.
Posted at 9:38 am by Adam
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