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Old 08-22-2001, 10:00 PM   #1
Family Man
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Post NT Class Diary #2 -- Overview

Instead of having one long thread devoted to the entire semester, I've decided to instead start a new thread for each class session. This will have the advantage of not turning into a huge monster thread, and I won't feel the necessity to police the thread to keep it on topic. Since I won't be participating in ongoing debates, wild tangents on previous topics won't distract from the purpose of my posting.

I will, of course, try to answer questions and reply to comments at least until the next session's materials are posted.
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Old 08-22-2001, 10:53 PM   #2
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The second class was a very general overview of the New Testament. She started with the observation that any ancient writing must be understood in the place and times that it was written, and the NT was no exception.

Much of this is already well-known on this board, but I'll post it anyway. The earliest Christian writing is that of Paul, dating from the late 40's to 56 C.E., when Paul was executed. She noted that Paul never realizes discusses Jesus's life or his sayings, as the Gospels do, but concentrate on his death and the implications thereof. In short, Paul's writings are theological, not historical works.

She very briefly noted that there were tensions between Paul, who never met Jesus, and Jesus's presumptive heirs, most notably Peter. It was very clear that there was much conflict and disagreement over the theological content of Christianity, which makes me wonder why some on this board claim that it is remarkable that the theological claims of Christianity came together quickly after his death. That doesn't appear to be the case.

This first gospel, not surprisingly, was Mark, dated approximately around 70. She didn't go into details about why this date was considered the best approximation, but apparently it is believed that Mark's writings reflect the turmoil of the Jewish Revolt (67 - 73 C.E.) that was occurring at the time. The one example she did give is Josephus reported that Christians took to the hills during this conflict; some passages in Mark reflect that. I wish now I had better info on that, but then I'm not a perfect divine being, either.

Matthew, on the other hand, is date circa 85, and reflects the more serene view of the times. I hope that when we consider the gospels more closely more light will be shed on the subject.

Luke was not discussed (except that it was one of the synoptic gospels) and the relationship of the three synoptics wasn't really broached, except to say that they had similiar views. John, on the other hand, was presented as a theological, not historical book. While the synoptic view of Jesus was human, John was more intent on presenting Jesus as a divine entity.

There were other gospels, which she just mentioned in passing so people realized that the gospels in the canon were not the only gospel. She did mention one story from the Gospel of Mary, purportedly written by the virgin herself, where the three year old Jesus, playing in the mud with other children, made little mud doves instead of pies like the other kiddies. Moral: legends did spring up around Jesus like other ancient figures.

She did warn about one thing that I've been involved in on this board. The gospels, or any Christian source, can not be considered a reliable historical source about Jesus's life, for a couple of reasons. First, these are not firsthand accounts from eyewitnesses. It is possible, she says, that the gospel writers had access to eyewitness accounts, but that can't be taken as a given. Secondly, these are biased accounts. There are no accounts from unbiased, or even opposing groups to provide a counterweight to the Christian account. That is not to say events didn't happen as recorded, but that we have to take the described events with a grain of salt. You can believe the gospels are accurate, but you can't proclaim them to be historical facts.

The rest of the class dealt with the coming together of the canon, which again was very fluid and not set until 367. There were numerous suggestions as to what belonged, and very little agreement (again, reflecting that Christian theology evolved over a longer period of time than some on this board proclaim). Marcion, for example, in 150, suggested it contain only Luke, and eight of Paul's letters.

The Christian church really didn't come together as a strong entity with a consistent agenda until the Council of Nicene, primarily because of the intervention of the Emperor Constantine. It was his suppression of alternative Christian views that followed the council that established the Orthodox and Catholic churches as the Church, the one we're familiar with (which might explain Metacrock's no alternative versions).
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Old 08-22-2001, 11:20 PM   #3
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A few minor errors.

Paul was not likely to have been executed in 56 CE. Traditionally, Paul was executed during the Neronian persecution, which began subsequent to the fire that swept Rome in 64 CE. According to Acts, Paul was still alive and well as a missionary in the year 56 CE. True, the traditions are not airtight, but to state as a fact that Paul died in 56 CE is a mistake.

Josephus did not report that the Christians took to the hills during the First Jewish Revolt. Outside of the disputed Testimonium, Josephus did not mention the Christians. It is Eusebius who relates the legend that Christians fled to Pella before the conflict.

The canon was not "set" in the year 367 CE, as there continued to be minor conflicts during this period, such as over Revelations. The year 367 CE is simply the year in which the earliest extant writer, Athanasius, published the same list of 27 books as we have in the New Testament today. Obviously, we cannot assume that the NT canon was closed as soon as the first known person hit upon the 'right' twenty-seven.

Marcion's collection of his Apostolikon might be dated closer to 140. It consisted of ten epistles, not eight: Galatians, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, and Laodiceans (aka Ephesians). Marcion's canon excluded the three pastorals, which may or may not have been written by that time.

Aside from these few minor errors, which I don't know whether to attribute to your professor or to some kind of misunderstanding, overall it seems that you are getting reasonable and standard critical fare in NT studies.

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Old 08-23-2001, 09:06 AM   #4
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Aside from the things that Peter mentions, I agree that this first lecture provides a fair and balanced introduction to ancient Christianity.

Regarding the heavy disclaimer your professor stated at the beginning of the course, let me assure you she was not overreacting. Back when I took survey courses in NT studies the professor tried out this new thing called a "listserv" where he had everyone in the class automatically subscribed to a shared e-mail exchange forum. It was an unmitigated disaster and the list had to be disabled after only two weeks. The fundamentalists (who were all smiles in class) turned into rabid demons online hurling insults and proclaiming that the professor was influenced by Satan. I won't mention the really insulting stuff. People will say things by e-mail that they would never dream of saying in the classroom.
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Old 08-23-2001, 10:40 AM   #5
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As for the errors, it is also possible that my notes are wrong. She was using the 150 date for Marcion as an approximation, not an absolute date. Consulting the text, Paul was indeed believed killed circa 64 (she could have misspoke). As for the 367 date, I don't think she meant it as an absolute date, but as a approximate date as to when the canon was settled upon.

As for disruptive behavior, we haven't experienced much of that, at least not yet. The questions being asked in class are pertinent and respectful. There is one guy, however, I'm kind of keeping my eye on. He appears to be a bit hostile and ceased taking notes shortly after the class started (not that it was difficult material). However, he repeatedly raised his hand, but only when the professor's attention was elsewhere. When she looked at him, it stayed down. I think he'd like to "challenge her", as Nomad puts it, but I doubt he's up to it.
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Old 08-23-2001, 12:11 PM   #6
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Quote:
There is one guy, however, I'm kind of keeping my eye on. He appears to be a bit hostile and ceased taking notes shortly after the class started (not that it was difficult material). However, he repeatedly raised his hand, but only when the professor's attention was elsewhere. When she looked at him, it stayed down. I think he'd like to "challenge her", as Nomad puts it, but I doubt he's up to it.
I know it's always good fun around here to make fun of such people but there is one thing to keep in mind. It is quite normal to react with anger and to get defensive about one's core beliefs when they are challenged for the first time. This fellow has been taught to believe certain things all of his life and he's probably never given those beliefs much critical thought. Now suddenly he's at the university where anything and everything is open to critical examination. He's going to need time to adjust to the ways of academia and to learn how to separate academic theory from personal faith (although the really insecure ones will always treat open discussions as personal attacks on their faith no matter what). Hopefully in your recitation you've got a good TA who will encourage him to share his views.
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Old 08-23-2001, 06:18 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally posted by DennisM:
<STRONG>This first gospel, not surprisingly, was Mark, dated approximately around 70. She didn't go into details about why this date was considered the best approximation, but apparently it is believed that Mark's writings reflect the turmoil of the Jewish Revolt (67 - 73 C.E.) that was occurring at the time. The one example she did give is Josephus reported that Christians took to the hills during this conflict; some passages in Mark reflect that. I wish now I had better info on that, but then I'm not a perfect divine being, either. </STRONG>
If I recall correctly, Mark is considered to be the "Roman" synoptic. Mark was supposedly a pillar of the church in Rome and wrote a version of the Gospel that would be pleasing to Romans who converted to Christianity. Matthew, on the other hand, is the most Jewish of the synoptics, containing numerous references to the Old Testament and prophacies that were fulfilled by Jesus. Luke's synoptic is written for a broader gentile group of Roman subjects outside of Rome itself. There is more on the Gospel of Mark (with mentions of the other synoptics) HERE, although that page dates Mark a little earlier (still post-Paulene, though, since it dates it as 65 CE).

However, I should point out that Markian priority isn't universally recognized. For instance, James Deardorff (Research Professor Emeritus of Oregon State University) wrote an excellent essay reasoning in favor of the order in which the books appear in the New Testament entitled The Little Known Literary Battles Between the Gospel Writers. So, it would appear that nothing is sacred when it comes to discussing the facts about the gospels....

== Bill
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Old 08-24-2001, 10:38 AM   #8
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James --

I hope I wasn't making fun of the guy; I was trying to keep my description as accurate as possible. We don't have a TA for the course, but the professor isn't stifling views either. When challenges have come up, they have been of the responsible variety and professor simply notes that it is reasonable to believe that before moving on.
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