Friday, 23 June 2017

Paradigmatic and Pragmatic Chronology

I've been reading through Israel and Revelation, the first volume of Eric Voegelin's Order and History. The primary motivation for this reading is that Robert Doran, in his Theology and the Dialectics of History, which is a landmark contribution in the development and implementation of Bernard Lonergan's thought, engages significantly with Israel and Revelation. But Order and History is a significant work of 20th-century western thought in its own right, and thus worth the time to read. In any case, there is a fascinating discussion within Israel and Revelation on the significance of chronology in understanding the development of ancient Israel. Given my fascination with matters chronological, this particularly grabbed my attention.

Voegelin distinguishes between what he calls "paradigmatic" and "pragmatic" history, each of which will have its own chronology. The former reflects Israel's own self-understanding of its history: its origins among the Patriarchs who migrated from Mesopotamia, its time spent in and around Canaan before the sojourn in Egypt, the Exodus under Moses, the revelation at Sinai, the return to and conquest of the Holy Land under Joshua, the period of the Judges and the establishment and historical course of the monarchies, the emergence of the prophets, etc. It is paradigmatic in the sense that "the single events become paradigms of God's way with man in this world" (IaR, 121). This chronology is essentially relative, offered through various notices that back-date from significant moments such as the foundation of the Solomonic temple, although with our modern historical knowledge we can give some approximation of the absolute dates that might adhere to these putative events. The latter history, the pragmatic, is not dissimilar to what is often termed "political history": the rise and fall of polities, the movements of people groups, etc. It includes the Hyksos invasion of Egypt, the rise and fall of the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian empires, etc. This history is often expressed by reference to regnal years: in the twelfth year of such-and-such a king, this and that happened. With appropriate reference points, we can usually convert these into BCE/CE dates with relative precision.

In a very real sense, much of the work in the studies over the last two centuries has consisted of thinking about the relationship between these two chronologies, the paradigmatic and the pragmatic. The problems are real, regardless of how much certain persons might want to deny them for ideological causes. If on the basis of the former we have reason to think that Jericho was destroyed c. 1250 BCE, but on the basis of the latter we have reason to think that there was a destruction c. 1500 but none at the later date, then we have a problem demanding investigation. (These numbers are given here as heuristic. Cavils regarding their empirical accuracy would add no light to the discussion at hand). Are one or both these dates mistaken? Is the paradigmatic history simply so unconcerned with chronological precision that it must be dispensed with in regard to such matters? Is paradigmatic history by definition so unconcerned with chronological precision that we must dispense with it in general, not just with regard to the history of ancient Israel but more broadly?

This is a problem that recurs in the study of the ancient world. Herodotus, for example, is also doing what we might loosely call a sort of paradigmatic history. For him, the events are paradigmatic not of God's way with humanity in the world, but rather of the interactions between the "western" world represented most fully by the Greeks and the "eastern" world represented most fully by the Persians. The Gospels, of course, as well as the Acts of the Apostles, are very much engaged in paradigmatic history. With regard to chronology, the central theoretical question that recurs with such materials is how or if we can work with texts whose interest in matters of temporal progression might well be radically different from our own? Or, to return to Voegelin's language, how do we translate the understanding of paradigmatic time immanent in such texts into the language of pragmatic time? And of course, the answer probably is that each text must be first understand in its own right, so as to detect the author's particular understanding of time (although of course such particular understanding will typically be related to broader understandings. One should not be surprised, for instance, if Paul evinces an understanding of time otherwise evident in the Israelite and Jewish traditions). Chronology, after all, is in all its forms a way by which the intellect organizes its contents in a legible and specifically temporal form.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Change, Continuity, and Value

Larry Hurtado recently wrote a post about "How We See Historical Change." As I find increasingly that this is precisely the focus of my thinking, I thought that I would comment upon his arguments here. I begin with the observation that the study of historical change is to be carefully distinguished from the study of a particular time and place. It is perfectly legitimate to study the life of Paul in his particular time and place. In a limited sense, that entails the study of change: the change in his self-understanding and horizon that occurred on the road to Damascus; changes in his practices and policies and thought over the years; short-term changes that he wrought through his operations, such as the foundation of churches. But that is not quite the same as inquiring about Paul in a longer-term perspective, something akin to what the Annales School (notably Braudel) termed history in the longue durée. Braudel helpfully describes the distinction between the shorter and longer terms as the distinction between history at the level of named individuals and history operating a level of abstraction above such individuals. As such, insofar as we can advert to the individual in discussing the long-term, it is because the individual instantiates and embodies processes occurring at a higher level of abstraction.

Once this distinction is grasped, one bristles at the following quotation from Hurtado:
It’s not clear...that Jesus-believers of Paul’s time (ca. 30-60 CE) thought of themselves, their faith and practices as “primitive” or “embryonic” of some more mature and complete form of Jesus-devotion that might be worked out across time. I get the impression, instead, that Paul (for example) thought of the convictions and teachings that he delivered as adequately formed and fully appropriate for his situation. So, if we refer to those early years of the Jesus-movement as embryonic or the seeds of something that developed later, I think that we’re importing a value judgment that isn’t based on the evidence.
Everything up until the final sentence of this paragraph can be granted without serious quibble. Paul and his contemporary Christians do not seem to have understood what they were doing as primitive or embryonic. In fact, one might very well argue that they lacked the conceptual apparatus to do so, as this language of development was not itself fully developed before the nineteenth century (a point made by Ben Meyer in the opening lines of his Early Christians). The difficulty with this paragraph lies in the final sentence, in that it critiques a straw man. When someone says "The early years of the Jesus-movement were embryonic or seeds of something that developed later," that person is hardly saying that Paul or the earliest Christians saw themselves in that way. It's not even implicit in the statement. Rather, that person is saying that when we examine the matter millennia later, we can identify two phenomena simultaneously: one, that what Paul et. al. thought about particular matters is not identical to what later Christian writers would think about the same; and two, that there is nonetheless an observable continuity in what they thought. In other words: we can identify change with continuity. The fact that the historical actors did not apprehend their place in such a long-term process simply speaks to basic human limitations regarding our own place in history.

The central point of Hurtado's post is that we must avoid inappropriate value judgments in our historical work. That is a fair point. This can perhaps be better explicated if we take our earlier distinction between the short and longer terms and rephrase it in light of Lonergan's notion of functional specialties. We can distinguish between interpretation, which is aimed at understanding what a particular writer intends to communicate; history, which is aimed largely at understanding historical events and the sequence of events; dialectics, which is aimed at understanding historical processes; and foundations, which is aimed at taking a stand on the matters raised by these previous specialties, especially dialectics. In interpretation, we ask what Paul meant; in history, we relate what Paul meant to what Paul did; in dialectics, we relate what Paul did to recurrent conflicts and questions; and in foundations we determine our own positions in such conflicts, our own answers to such questions. Hurtado's warning is essentially the observation that interpretation cannot be reduced to foundations. Granted. The problem is that his method, as proposed, reduces dialectics to interpretation. Questions of interpretation require interpretative answers derived by interpretative method; questions of history, historical answers derived by historical method; questions of dialectic, dialectical answers derived by dialectical method; and questions of foundation, foundational answers derived by foundational method. There are no short-cuts here (and invariably, when short-cuts are pursued consistently, they end in a vitiated intellectual life. Perhaps the prime example in the theological realm is the fundamentalist doctrine of plenary inerrancy, which effectively reduces every imaginable question--not just historical, dialectical, or foundational, but also doctrinal, systematic, scientific, etc.--to a question of interpretation, and tends to correlate closely with the anti-intellectualism immanent throughout much of American Protestantism outside the mainline denominations).

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Bultmann and Translation

I recently observed, and briefly participated in, a FB conversation inspired by the following post by Bart Ehrman. This discussion centred upon Ehrman's description of Rudolf Bultmann's program of demythologization. Some of the critiques were aimed at typos ("Rudolph" vs. "Rudolf," for instance). A more substantive critique aimed at Ehrman's description of Bultmann's demythologization as an effort at "stripping away" the myth in the New Testament to bring out its true message. It was observed that this language was problematic. For Bultmann, the New Testament communicates its message through myth, not despite it, and thus in stripping away the myth the theologian does not reveal the message so much as remove the very thing by which we can know it. To Prof. Ehrman's credit, he entered into the discussion himself, acknowledged that the initial formulation could have been written better, and helpfully suggested that instead of the language of stripping away we opt for the language of translation: Bultmann wanted to translate the message of the New Testament from the idiom of ancient myth to the idiom of modern existential philosophy.

Now, this interests me, because such translation is exactly what Ben Meyer understood as a primary motor of development in Christian history. He connects this back to Newman (hence in part my interest in the latter on the development of doctrine), who apparently wrote in the margin of his own copy of The Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine that development is translation. Meyer also uses the term "transposition" to describe such translation, which is useful to note because this is Lonergan's language for much the same (which, of course, given that Meyer was a student of Lonergan's, should occasion not much of a surprise). If I might use as an example of such translation, I will take Ehrman himself. Ehrman, of course, is one of the most significant New Testament scholars of his generation. His primary contribution, I would argue, resides in the area of communication. What he does is communicate the discourses and thought current (now and previously) in New Testament studies from the language (or "horizon," in more precisely Lonerganian usage) of the specialist into the language of the non-specialist. This is incredibly valuable work.

As Meyer observes of any such translation, something is invariably lost in the translation, while other things are gained. Certain concepts and images must be abandoned in order to communicate particular insights, while new ones emerge to communicate the same. Sometimes those new concepts and images will be able to communicate said insights more clearly or more precisely than those of the originating horizon. This, for instance, Lonergan argues is in part what happens with the unfairly maligned movement from Jewish to Greek horizons (which Meyer rightly notes began not with Christianity's movement from the Jewish to the Gentile worlds, but rather from those Jewish believers more grounded in what we might call Hebraic culture and those more grounded in what we might call Hellenistic, here taking our cue--as does Meyer--from the distinction between Hebraioi and Hellēnistai introduced by Luke in Acts 6:1 as components of the early Jerusalem church). This movement allows early Christians to utilize the rich intellectual resources of ancient Greek thought in order to better examine, understand, and articulate their own. There is something of a movement away from the rich narrative tradition inherited from Judaism, and towards the rich philosophical tradition inherited from Greek thought. Something is lost, something is gained.

Unfortunately, Bultmann's particular work of translation largely turned out to be a dead end. Most fundamentally, I would argue, this is because he read the New Testament texts through a history-of-religions framework that has now been almost entirely abandoned, and aimed to translate into an existentialist framework that has largely been left in the past. In short, he translated from what is now a dead language into what is also now a dead language. Add in that the history-of-religions framework with which he worked died because it was in large part refuted empirically (despite mythicist trolls' desperate need to it in order to furnish themselves with the appearance of insight), and that there is some question about the extent to which Bultmann really apprehended existentialist thought, then as a translation of the New Testament writings into modern horizons (Bultmann's real aim) his work probably needs to be judged less than fully successful. That however does not obviate the possibility and indeed necessity of engaging in the ongoing work of translating the insights of the ancient writers into frameworks that can be adequately apprehended by presently living human beings.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

The Development of Doctrine

In a recent discussion on Facebook, I suggested that one of the tasks still before the Lonerganian tradition is the construction of an adequate account of the development of doctrine from ancient Israel, through Second Temple Judaism, and into early Christianity, thus to connect with accounts that move from the apostolic era onward. This is related to my interest in overcoming what I call the "Rupture Hypothesis," i.e. the hypothesis that Christian origins is defined by a double and radical discontinuity: first, between Judaism and Jesus, and second between Jesus and Christianity (this double discontinuity, given methodological apotheosis in the criterion of dissimilarity within historical Jesus studies, has the double effect of alienating Christianity from its Jewish heritage as well as its dominical roots). When writing about the "development of doctrine," I explicitly have in mind John Henry Newman's landmark Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, although of course the Essay is 172 years young and thus predates the considerable advances in both historical and theological (the latter defined more narrowly as doctrinal and systematic theology) studies over the last two centuries. Biblical scholarship provides the groundwork for the historical corrections necessary, perhaps most notably but not exclusively facilitating access to the tremendous trove of new textual and archaeological discoveries that have redefined our understanding of the ancient Near East, ancient Judaism, and ancient Christianity. Lonergan and those who came after him provide a great deal of the groundwork for the theological corrections that must take place, perhaps the most notable of which would be recognizing that one must respect that the history running from ancient Israel through Second Temple is as much "preparatory" for rabbinic Judaism as it is for early Christianity (I use the term "preparatory" as it is Newman's, who reckons Judaism to be effectively obsolete from the advent of Christianity. On this side of the Shoah, such nonsense needs to be firmly relegated to the trash fire of history. The term "preparation" can only be used now if it refers to rabbinic Judaism as much as Christianity, or not at all).

But there is a deeper problem, a conceptual one, antecedent to the very work of a history of the development of doctrine in ancient Israel and Second Temple Judaism. Sean McEvenue, one of the very few Hebrew Bible scholars to have extensively engaged with Lonergan and Lonerganian thought, helps us identify this problem precisely, arguing that the material in the Hebrew Bible can only most loosely be described as "doctrinal." There are of course doctrines in the Hebrew Bible, in the loose sense of "teachings," but we get a sense of what McEvenue means if we compare, say, Amos to Augustine. One finds in Amos oracles and divine utterances which aim towards the entirety of human consciousness, compared to the more focused aim towards the intellect that we find in, say, De Trinitate. This is neither critique nor praise of either Amos or Augustine, but merely description: there is a place for writings aimed at the whole of consciousness, and a place for writings aimed more specifically at the intellect. Amos aims to move the whole person in a way that Augustine's De Trinitate does not, whereas Augustine's De Trinitate aims to specifically form and inform the intellect in a way that Amos does not. This has to do in large part with their respective locations in the long temporal sequence under discussion.

Thus can we take a lead from Lonergan, who in Way to Nicea argues that alongside the development of the dogma of the trinity, the ante-Nicene church had to develop the very idea of dogma. We can for our purposes substitute "doctrine" for "dogma," and suggest that a history of the development of doctrine from ancient Israel through Second Temple Judaism and beyond would have to address first and foremost the development of doctrine itself before it can adequately address specific doctrines. One would want to look at signal moments in this history, such as Ben Sira and Paul, neither of which can be adequately apprehended as doctrinal or systematic theologians avant la lettre (although there is no lack of trying, especially with regard to the former), but who certainly represent later moments in the development of doctrine qua doctrine than does Amos. One would also need to recognize that the history of development is not simply one of writings that begin to more fully approximate doctrine (in the specialized sense used here) displacing what came before. At roughly the same time that Ben Sira is writing, we find thoroughly non-doctrinal (in the specialized sense used here) Book of Daniel and 1 Enoch being produced. At roughly the same time that Philo is producing his great treatises in Alexandria, the early Christians are producing their again quite non-doctrinal gospels, Acts of the Apostles, Revelation. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Christians produce great systematic treatises, and they also produce stories set in fantasy worlds such as Middle-Earth, Narnia, and the Wizarding World. But it is precisely the fact that we can today recognize that there is a world of difference between the very Christian Catechism of the Catholic Church and the equally Christian Lord of the Rings that speaks to the fact that the heuristic distinction between doctrinal and non-doctrinal writings apprehends a genuine, authentic difference. The historical inquiry becomes one of thinking through how such difference came to be in the first place.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Harry Potter and Conversion

At the heart of Lonergan's discussion of subjectivity and objectivity is the notion of conversion. He identifies three crucial conversions that a subject must ordinarily undergo on the path to objectivity: religious, moral, and intellectual. The first is the conversion to love: in religious conversion (which does not necessarily entail any conversion to a different religion, or to any), I learn to love and be loved. The second is the conversion to value: in moral conversion, I learn to place value over satisfaction. The third is to truth: in intellectual conversion, I learn how to properly apprehend reality as that which I can infer from the data of experience. I have tended in my own thinking to focus upon intellectual conversion, but the other two are crucial and typically indispensable for the subject's ascent to objectivity: love drives out fear and its libidinal investment in paranoid fantasies; value drives out myopic self-interest; truth drives out naivete, allowing for the final transcendence that permits the individual to robustly apprehend reality.

Conversion does not just happen. It requires resources. Typically, one does not learn what it means to love, value, or seek truth unless one sees these exemplified in others. Among the resources most valuable for moral conversion are literature and film. I was part of the Star Wars generation. My moral imagination was shaped by its story of the light battling against the dark. But a generation later a more profound story of good and evil came along, that of Harry Potter and his friends. Millennials get a bad rap, but they are among the most engaged generations in history. What others call whining or being a snowflake or whatever, I call having an instinctive compassion for the vulnerable. That, I suspect, is not a little due to the impact of Harry Potter.

At its core, the story of Harry Potter is a story of love and value. The Boy Who Lived lived because his mother loved him so much that she gave her own life to save his. From Voldemort's perspective, her sacrifice was incomprehensible. Her decision to stand between Harry and Voldemort was, from his self-centred perspective, entirely in vain. She had no capacity to stop him, and at best she bought Harry a few more seconds of life. But that incomprehension was due to Voldemort's lack of conversion to either love or value. He could not understand that love is such that Lily Potter could not have done anything but stand between Harry and Voldemort, and that she was operating from something that transcends self-interest. He cannot comprehend that the same was true of James Potter, who gave his life to buy his wife a few extra moments to escape with their son. But if it was his lack of conversion to love and value that tripped up Voldemort, it was the opposite with Harry. His first triumph over Voldemort came because Harry wanted to find the philosopher's stone but not to use. He was interested in it not for his own self, but rather to keep it from Voldemort. His final triumph came because he was willing to die to save the family he had found at Hogwarts, just as his parents died to save him. It was Harry's love for them, and the fact that he acted entirely out of values that transcended self-interest, that undid Voldemort, who still could not comprehend such power.

This is what millennials learned to aspire towards, when as young children they read and watched Harry Potter. They learned that one stands up to those whose craven pursuit of power destroys and takes lives. Is it any surprise then that in a western world where misogyny, racism, and other vile ills are blatantly attacking decency and goodness in a way that we haven't seen in generations, the Harry Potter generation stands up to the darkness?

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Lonergan and Hebrew Bible

I've been reflecting recently upon the relative dearth of Lonerganian scholarship related to Hebrew Bible. It's not an absolute dearth: Sean McEvenue has done some interesting work at the intersection of the two. But there doesn't seem to be as developed a discourse that we can call "Hebrew Bible and Lonergan" as there is one that we can call "New Testament and Lonergan." Such dearth probably has ready explanations. The most obvious is that both Hebrew Bible and Lonergan studies have a steep learning curve. It takes a lot of energy and time to develop genuine expertise in one, let along both. Whatever the explanations though, the reality is that this Hebrew Bible and Lonergan seems less developed a discourse than even New Testament and Lonergan.

Hebrew Bible thus stands as a major lacuna in Lonerganian thought. Why major? In principle of course, Lonerganian thought is concerned with all areas of human inquiry, and as such any area with which Lonerganian thought leaves unaddresses in practice constitutes a lacuna. But this particular lacuna feels more acute. After all, Lonergan was a Catholic theologian and philosopher, and the Hebrew Bible constitutes the bulk of the Catholic biblical canon. Especially as someone trained to closely relate the study of the New Testament to the study of Second Temple Judaism, this lacuna very much strikes home. After all, the Catholic Old Testament (leaving aside how it relates to this thing we call "Hebrew Bible") contains not a few works that are the product of Second Temple Judaism. And that is before we even start to think about pre-exilic texts and material. Both in terms of the history of the Abrahamic traditions and of the Catholic biblical canon, early Christianity is in fact a relatively late part of the story. A Lonerganian scholarship that more fully explores the texts and history of ancient Judaism and Israel will be one that more fully apprehends the Catholic tradition from which Lonergan and Lonerganian thought themselves emerged. At the very least, it might well help the Lonerganian tradition better understand itself. At the same time, I am fully persuaded that the resources of the Lonerganian tradition are such that they could help elucidate ongoing difficulties in Hebrew Bible studies.

I might better explicate that persuasion by reference to a specific problem that is addressed at length in Meyer's work, namely the question of how to best articulate how the first Christians are both embedded fully in a Second Temple Jewish matrix, thus in many ways of typical of that matrix, yet in many other ways atypical thereof. This question finds a parallel in the reality that earliest Israel was embedded fully in a Canaanite matrix, thus in many ways of typical of that matrix, yet in many other ways atypical thereof. Much of Meyer's reflection upon how best to describe an entity that is wholly Jewish yet distinct from other Jewish groups, and also how to think about the reality that in relative short order it shed its Jewish identity while never fully dispensing with its Jewish past. This can potentially inform how best to describe an entity that is both Canaanite yet distinct from other Canaanite groups. Of course, such work would entail translation, from the particularities of early Christianity and Second Temple Judaism into the particularities of ancient Israelite and Canaanite religion. Meyer's work in turn builds upon a Lonerganian tradition that increasingly explores an ever-growing range of disparate areas in the human sciences, thus facilitating the coordination of insights between the study of early Christianity, of ancient Israel, of psychology and anthropology and sociology, etc. The potential gains to Hebrew Bible studies of consciously Lonerganian investigations are very exciting.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Baal and YHWH

The richest thinkers will typically makes observations in passing that could be developing into entire monographs or even entire research programs. Bernard Lonergan was such a thinker, and so was Ben F. Meyer. On pp. 188-189 of his under-read and under-appreciated monograph, The Early Christians (which I maintain is even better than his more famous Aims of Jesus; written the better part of a decade later, EC represents that many additional years of reflection upon Christian origins), Meyer makes a series of observations about the nature of ancient Israelite religion that I increasingly feel need revisiting. Now, in saying that, and in the interests of appropriate humility, I must be clear: ancient Israelite religion is not my primary area of expertise. But cognizant of the difference between thinking about a matter and claiming to be an expert therein, I will risk a foray into that field.

Meyer discusses ancient Israelite religion almost in passing, as part of his larger discussion of the nature of syncretism. Syncretism, for those who do not know the term, refers to the practice of appropriating religious practices or beliefs foreign to one's own religion. Meyer distinguishes between weak syncretism and strong syncretism. Weak syncretism he describes as religious traditions that have a strong identity in their own right, such that any appropriations from other traditions are predominantly formal: they are taken over in order to better articulate the tradition's fundamental understandings. Strong syncretism he describes as occurring as religious traditions that lack such a strong identity, such that appropriations from other traditions will tend to be matters of substance. So, weak syncretism in ancient Israel would entail appropriating the imagery associated with Baal in order to describe YHWH, but making clear that Baal is not YHWH; strong syncretism would entail not only appropriating the imagery associated with Baal in order to describe YHWH, but also identifying Baal and YHWH as the same being.

I would prefer to describe this not in terms of strong and weak identities, but rather in terms of reducibility of being. The question at stake is whether the being in question can be reduced to another (yes, I know that classical theology would potentially raise technical objections to talking about YHWH as a "being," but I use the term in a more colloquial sense here, so please bear with me). In ancient Greco-Roman religion, various gods of the ancient world were interchangeable. If a god of another people's pantheon had functions analogous to those of a Greek or Roman god, they were thought to be the same being. In the Hinduism of the Brahmins, all the gods ultimately are reducible to Brahma. But for the pattern of ancient Canaanite religion that began to emerge in ancient Israel and in the fullness of time eventuated in ancient Jewish monotheism, Baal and YHWH were not so reducible. There was no divine reality more basic than YHWH. Indeed, as creator, YHWH was in a very real sense the ultimate horizon of being. Moreover, Baal could not be reduced to YHWH, because YHWH was defined not simply as Being but as a person, and thus insofar as Baal was another (perhaps real, perhaps fictive: here is the distinction between henotheism and monotheism) person they could no more be identified with one another than any two given human persons. And consequent to the above, the worship of YHWH could entail appropriation of all sorts of imagery used in the worship of Baal, but never in a such a way that YHWH became identified with Baal.

Of course, this understanding of YHWH took centuries to develop, and it was not without conflict. Nonetheless, there is a significant methodological point to be gleaned from all this, namely that it is insufficient to simply note "parallels" between religious traditions. One must also show what is happening with these parallels. This is the problem with such gobbledlygook as mythicism. Even if we granted all the parallels between Jesus and various mythological figures that their asinine memes and vacuous apologists trot out (most of these "parallels" of course tend to be vitiated by profound errors of fact), it would tell us next to nothing. What matters is not simply the existence of comparable material, but its significance. What were the New Testament and post-apostolic writers doing with this material? And no simple listing of putative parallels can tell us that. Rather, that demands the patient, hard work of slugging through the details, a task that meme culture is ill-equipped to carry out.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

James and John

I've been reading through the second edition of Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. He has an extended chapter on the names of the Twelve, and I was struck by something in the lists as given in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts. But before I get to that, some initial observations. In each of these texts, there is a list of the Twelve. The lists are remarkably stable. Eleven out of twelve names recur in all four, vitiating greatly the argument that by the time the Gospels were written the number "twelve" was fixed while the exact names were highly fluid. Moreover, the one is divided between Mark/Matthew (which refer to Thaddeus) and Luke/Acts (which refer to Judas, son of James), and thus--given the common authorship of Luke and Acts--we actually have only one author varying from two. Add in the very cogent argument that Thaddeus and Judas are in fact the same man and you've got a remarkably stable list. The order varies, but even that is limited. As Bauckham notes, each list is divided into three groups of four, and each group has the same four names (with Judas of James taking the place of Thaddeus in the Luke-Acts lists). Moreover, each of the three groups is in each list headed by the same name. This reeks of intentional mnemonic devices, designed to greatly facilitate one's ability to remember the list.

What interests me more than all that however is the handling of the sons of Zebedee. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, James, son of Zebedee, always comes before his brother, John. In Matthew and Mark, John is referred to as James' brother, and no familial relationship is mentioned at all in either Luke or Acts. It has been suggested to me in personal communication that this order might well reflect a reality that James was the elder brother, and that is altogether possible. Nonetheless, this is quite the interesting phenomenon, because John in fact is the one who was more prominent in the Christian tradition by at least the second century, if not earlier. All indications are that in short order there was more energy invested in remembering John than in remembering James. That is perhaps because James died in 41 or 42, during the Agrippan persecution (cf. Acts 12), whereas Paul would later describe John as one of the "pillars" in Jerusalem (cf. Gal. 2). John's connection with the Gospel of John--real or fictive--would no doubt have also contributed significantly to his prominence. Yet, Matthew and Mark explicitly refer to John not in his own right but by reference to his brother, while Luke refers to James before John.

But here's where it gets interesting. In the list in Acts, John is mentioned before James. Why does Luke present James first and John second in his gospel, but reverse that order in his Acts? One could say that he simply remembered differently when he was writing up his respective works, and that's probably quite likely. I don't imagine that this variant was particularly intentional, but that doesn't obviate the possibility that it is significant. Combined with another detail, I would suggest that Acts reflects the reality that by the time Luke was writing, John was more prominent in Christian consciousness than James. In Luke, the author follows his Markan (and I think likely, Matthean; I don't abide Q) source, and places James before John, but (unlike Mark or Matthew) does not mention their familial relationship. John now stands in his own right. In Acts, no longer with Matthean or Markan versions rumbling around in his head to the same extent, he more naturally places John before James, because John is more prominent in Christian historical consciousness.

Of course, such a reconstruction is more comprehensible on a lower chronology than a later one. If Mark wrote c. 40 and Matthew c. 50, as I would argue, then it makes sense that John has not yet eclipsed his brother. Circa 40, James either is still alive or only recently deceased. It is quite possible that for whatever reason--perhaps their relative ages, or their temperaments, or whatever--James tended to be more prominent in the early movement during that first decade. By c. 50, John might be coming more to prominence, but not so as to eclipse his brother's position in the tradition. But by c. 60, he's up the better part of twenty more years to make contributions to the movement than his brother ever did, and his prominence in Christian awareness exceeds that of James'. By contrast, there is no ready explanation for why James would be more prominent in c. 70 but John more prominent by c. 85 or even c. 125. What changed in that period to make John more prominent? One could argue that it was the production of the Gospel of John, but that then opens up the question of why that gospel was attributed to John. Given the tendency of the middle and especially the higher chronologies to suppose that the texts are pseudonymous, the inclination for such chronologies would naturally be towards supposing that John's prominence in the tradition led to the attribution rather than the other way round (there is of course the question of "Which John?" with regard to the gospel, but it does seem that at least in second-century consciousness John, son of Zebedee, was generally assumed to be the answer). For the middle and higher chronologies, the variants on this matter between the lists of the Twelve would probably have to be described as the result of mere randomness. Mere randomness is not implausible, but presents as somewhat less compelling than a cogent historical narrative can account for the precise features of the data in explicable human terms.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Lonergan and Bible

Hello, all. There are some very interesting developments afoot in the world of Lonerganian thinking about biblical studies. As no doubt some who read this blog know, the late Ben F. Meyer worked extensively on developing Lonerganian thought in relation to biblical studies, specifically New Testament studies. But sadly Dr. Meyer was sick for many years, and thus did not produce as many students who could continue this project as he might have otherwise done. There are, however, signs today of a growing interest among biblical scholars, especially New Testament scholars, in returning to Meyer and his engagement with Lonergan. Perhaps most exciting, the idea of developing some sort of Lonergan and Bible Group at the SBL Annual has been floated around.

When this idea was initially proposed to me, the idea was Lonergan and New Testament, simply because the discussion was taking place among New Testament scholars. But some subsequent discussions have led me to think more broadly of Lonergan and Biblical Studies, with the latter term construed broadly to include Hebrew Bible, Second Temple studies, New Testament, potentially even Patristics and Rabbinics. The idea would be to take the fruits of Lonergan's breakthrough in developing a historically-conscious hermeneutic and work these out in relation to these various fields. Of course, because of Meyer's work, New Testament scholarship is currently best situated to undertake such work, but there is no reason in principle that it could not be also carried out in cognate areas. For instance, in a single paragraph on pp. 188-189 of Early Christians: Their World Mission and Self-Discovery, Meyer presents the rudiments of a dialectical--in the sense used by Lonergan--approach to the religion of Israel, a matter that Lonergan also touches upon briefly in, for instance, The Way to Nicea. It would be fascinating to hear what a specialist in Hebrew Bible and ancient Israel might make of Meyer's thoughts here. I would also note that this discussion in Early Christians, published in 1986, could only be improved by engagement with Robert Doran's 1990 masterpiece of Lonerganian thought, Theology and the Dialectics of History, as well as Meyer's own subsequent thought on related conceptual matters in Christus Faber. The point to be made: there are already some ready starting points in Lonergan and the broader Lonerganian enterprise that could greatly facilitate the sort of work in which a Lonergan and Bible Group might be interested.

Anyways, the purpose of this post is to put this on people's radar. There is talk about an informal meeting at SBL Annual in Boston this coming November, to discuss the potential for such a Lonergan and Bible group. I have been quite happily surprised by the degree of interest in Lonergan and Meyer among biblical scholars, and the reciprocal interest in biblical studies by Lonergan scholars, so I feel that there are a lot of people out there who would welcome such discussions. It's now a matter of finding the right venues in which to bring such persons together.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Luke and Papias

I'm reading through the second edition of Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. In effect, this means rereading the entirety of the first edition, as the second edition consists of the first with three additional chapters appended to the end. It's good for me to do so though, as I have not read the book since it came out in 2006, incidentally the first year of my doctoral studies, and am finding that I have largely forgotten the extent to which ideas that I have fully internalized and made part of my own understanding of early Christianity were ideas that I first encountered in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.

Today, as I read, I stumbled across a paragraph that resonates strongly with me, given my current work on the dates of the New Testament. I would like to quote it at length, if I might be so indulged.
Papias in this passage [quoted in Eusebius, Eccl. hist. 3.39.3-4] speaks of a time before the time at which he is writing. The time when he collected oral traditions deriving from disciples of [the earthly] Jesus was in the past. At that time most of the disciplines of Jesus had died, but at least two such disciples, Aristion and John the Elder, were still alive. This must have been close to the decade 80-90 CE. According to most scholars, this is the time at which the Gospels Matthew and Luke were written, and a little earlier than the time at which the Fourth Gospel was written. Thus what Papias says in this passage can be placed alongside Luke's reference to the eyewitnesses (Luke 1:2) as evidence for the way the relationship of the eyewitnesses to Gospel traditions was understood at the time when the Gospels were being written (p. 19-20).
There is much in this passage with which I can readily give assent. I indeed think it likely that Papias was collecting the oral tradition about Jesus that he claims formed the basis of his work during the last quarter of the first century (I would add that I think it likely that he wrote his work probably around the time of Trajan's reign). I would of course agree that this is around the time that the majority of scholars date the compositions of Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John. But when both those points are granted, I find something jarring when I compare Papias' prologue (which Bauckham here discusses) with Luke's. This is best explicated if I quote both.
1 Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed (Luke 1:1-4, NRSV).
3 I will not hesitate to set down for you, along with my interpretations, everything I carefully learned then from the elders and carefully remembered, guaranteeing their truth. For unlike most people I did not enjoy those who have a great deal to say, but those who teach the truth. Nor did I enjoy those who recall someone else’s commandments, but those who remember the commandments given by the Lord to the faith and proceeding from the truth itself. 4 And if by chance someone who had been a follower of the elders should come my way, I inquired about the words of the elders—what Andrew or Peter said, or Philip, or Thomas or James, or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples, and whatever Aristion and the elder John, the Lord’s disciples, were saying. For I did not think that information from books would profit me as much as information from a living and abiding voice (Papias' prologue, as quoted in Eusebius, Eccl. hist. 3.39.3-4, following Holmes' translation).
Although these two prologues are formally quite similar, there is a stark difference in the content. Luke identifies as his primary sources persons who were eyewitnesses and servants of the word from the beginning. He presents himself as in direct contact with the first generation of Christians, and it seems with persons who knew Jesus personally. There is no reference to depending upon others to tell him what these persons had said or were saying. By contrast, Papias identifies as his primary sources persons who knew such first-generation Christians and companions of Jesus. Now, this could in part be due to relative isolation: for whatever reason, Papias does not seem capable of traveling from Hierapolis, the way we read about other early Christian leaders traveling from their primary locales (I've come to suspect that he might have suffered from sort of disability that limited his mobility), and thus was dependent upon those Christians who came through the city to bring him information. By comparison, if the Lukan we-passages are to be taken as what they seem to prima facie suggest (namely that the author was a companion of Paul), then Luke was in fact in Jerusalem around c. 60 and in contact with at least James (cf. Acts 21:18). But I'm not sure that relative isolation suffices as an explanation. As Bauckham notes, Papias seems to have distinguished between those who companions of Jesus who were still alive and those who were not. It seems to me most judicious to think that Papias was collecting his oral traditions about Jesus some significant time after Luke had done much the same.

This correlates precisely with what we have already said here. One, following Bauckham, that Papias was gathering oral traditions around 80-90, and two, that Luke met with at least one, possibly more, eyewitnesses to Jesus c. 60. In and of itself, such correlation does not necessitate a date for Luke's Gospel c. 60, as argued by Robinson and the later Harnack, but it is certainly not hostile to such a date. Such coherence is an important test of any hypothesis, because the more coherence that we find the reasonable inferences that we might draw from data across a single author and even more from multiple authors, the more difficult it is to argue that these authors have contrived to persuade the readers of things that are not the case. As coherence mounts, arguments for authorial contrivance begin to leave the realm of historical hypothesis and rather shade into the realm of conspiracy theory.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Origins of the Synagogue

My Doktorvater, Anders Runesson, has made a PDF of his own dissertation, The Origins of the Synagogue, available via Published in 2001, The Origins of the Synagogue was the first monograph-length study of the synagogue's origins since the 17th century. Not only that, but I think that Runesson's arguments are basically correct. Certain of his statements in the study are now out-of-date, largely because of more recent archaeological discoveries, but I cannot think of anything that would overturn his basic argument. By any measure, it is a landmark study. It also tends to be read less than it should, probably because--although written in English--it was published through a Swedish publisher.

In order to understand the argument in Origins, one needs to have a sense of where synagogue studies stood in the 1990s, when Runesson was conducting doctoral research and writing the monograph. There were basically two schools of thought on the synagogue. The one argued that the synagogue emerged in the Diaspora, and represented the Jewish equivalent of a Greco-Roman voluntary association (what Runesson calls an "association synagogue" or "semi-public" synagogue). The other argued that the synagogue emerged in the Land of Israel, as a local institution comparable to a village or city assembly (what Runesson calls a "municipal" or "public" synagogue). Runesson's brilliance was to recognize that this wasn't an either/or but rather a both/and. The institution known as the synagogue emerged in the cities of the Diaspora and the villages of the Land more or less simultaneously.

Origins has defined my career in many ways. Reading it as an undergraduate student was a large part of what led me to study under Runesson in the first place. It has defined much of my understanding of how Hellenistic and early Roman era Judaism organized itself, as well as how Christianity likely emerged in institutional terms. I have largely moved "beyond" the arguments contained therein, as of course has Runesson himself. It has been a starting point, a departure, for my own work, rather than a blueprint to slavishly follow. And I really could not have asked for a better starting point.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

The Date of Thomas

One when picks up Robinson's Redating the New Testament in 2017, one cannot but be struck by a lacuna in the texts that he treats. He considers the entirety of the New Testament, and in a "Post-Apostolic Post-Script" also treats certain of the Apostolic Fathers (notably, 1 Clement, Didache, Epistle of Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas). He does not however treat the Gospel of Thomas, which in light of its position in subsequent scholarship is a notable absence. No doubt, it's because in 1976 the arguments that would place Thomas, at least in its earliest forms, in the fourth or even third quarter of the first century had not yet taken on the prominence they later would. Given the existence of arguments from quite competent and respected scholars that would situate the Gospel of Thomas as coeval or just slightly later than the last of the New Testament texts, it would at the very least be altogether uncollegial to not address the issue of Thomas' origin in a study on the dates of the New Testament written today.

An initial consideration is the matter of "gnosticism." A first observation on the matter: just as recent scholarship has recently argued that the "high" Christology of John's Gospel cannot be correlated directly with a later date, neither could any "gnosticism" detectable in Thomas'. A second observation: the tendency to treat Thomas as a gnostic text has receded in recent years. It's now increasingly recognized that it was slotted into that category in large part due to guilt by association. The complete Coptic text being found alongside the trove of "gnostic" texts found at Nag Hammadi, people supposed that it must fall into the same category. Yes, just as we cannot suppose without argument that the canon espouses a consistent theology, neither can we suppose the same for the Nag Hammadi library. A third observation: it's not clear to me that the wisdom- or gnostic- oriented Christianity on display in Thomas' Gospel is significantly more "advanced" than that with which Paul is engaged in the Corinthian correspondence. Indeed, there is sufficient resonance that it has been argued that his Corinthian opponents included persons influenced by Thomasine thought. Whether that is the case or not with regard to Paul, the salient point is that the conditions necessary for the emergence of something like Thomas' Gospel probably existed by c. 60.

With that in mind, I am struck by two logia in the Gospel of Thomas. One is logion 12, in which Jesus is asked by his disciples who will lead them after he is gone. He tells them that they should go to James the Just. Now, it seems difficult for me to locate the origin of this logion much after the death of James in 62. The later one pushes it past that date, the less useful an answer it is for those who would want guidance regarding post-dominical leadership. What use is it to someone in 150 to hear that they should go to a person dead for almost a century? It's also not clear to what extent after the 60s there were Christian leaders that based their legitimacy upon any sort of Jacobean authority, thus obviating the (really quite speculative) argument that it refers to those who claim that authority rather than to James himself. Certainly, the most natural place for this logion is before 62.

The second logion of interest is the very next one, 13. In this logion, Jesus asks his disciples to compare him to someone. Peter says that he is like a righteous angel. Matthew says that he is like a wise philosopher. Thomas says that he cannot articulate a comparison. What interests me is that Thomas' Gospel singles out specifically Peter and Matthew here. Now, these just happen to be the members of the Twelve associated with those canonical gospels generally held to be the earliest written: Mark's and Matthew's. Moreover, interestingly, they are listed in the order that most scholars suppose they were written. Is this just coincidence? Those who would state that Thomas' Gospel is independent of the canonical gospels would probably have to conclude "Yes," but one wonders whether that is the best judgment or not. Those who see the Gospel of Thomas as dependent upon one or more of the canonical gospels could answer "No, it is not a coincidence at all."

Given the above statements, it must be noted that there are a series of affirmations that only one who dates the Synoptic Gospels early (i.e. before c. 60) can most readily affirm simultaneously. One who dates the Synoptic Gospel thus early one could affirm that Paul is engaging with an articulation of Christianity similar to that found in Thomas' Gospel; could affirm that the most natural reading of logion 12 situates it as a pre-62 reference to James the Just's leadership; could affirm that there is a compelling logic to the selection of specifically Peter and Matthew from among the Twelve in logion 13; and could affirm the recent (and in my mind convincing) arguments that Thomas either knew all three of the Synoptic Gospels or emerged from Christian circles closely related to those which produced the Synoptic Gospels. Moreover, one could do so without positing hypothetical proto-Thomases that pre-date the "final" form. A lower chronology permits a strong synthesis between competing schools of Thomasine studies that are excluded by the middle and higher chronology. The strength in such synthesis does not lie simply in presenting a diplomatic or compromise position, but rather in the possibility that rather than two diametrically opposed schools, one of which is right and one of which is wrong, what we have is two groups of scholars who, coming at the same material with differing subjectivities, are each apprehending vital aspects of the same reality about the Gospel of Thomas. When their respective positions are brought into dialogue, and chronological barriers removed, perhaps the fuller reality becomes apparent.

Now, let me be clear: I'm not arguing that Thomas' Gospel should be dated c. 60. The above is a hypothesis, one which at this point I neither affirm nor reject. I have not yet thought through the issue sufficiently to reach a final judgment. But one who would undertake to argue that many of the texts of the New Testament canon are notably earlier than typically supposed cannot in principle exclude the possibility that the same is the case for some of the New Testament apocrypha. It is thus incumbent upon me to explore such possibilities, considering and vetting hypotheses for such earlier dates. Any other procedure would run the risk of special pleading.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Romans and Critical Realism, III

Okay, says the reader of my previous two posts on Romans and Critical Realism, I can see how Paul thinks that reality is inferred from data (to use Lonerganian and Collingwoodian sort of language); I can see how his antipathy towards idolatry could be a rejection of the intellectual error of confusing data with reality; but what does any of this have to do with the moral dimension upon which he so strongly insists? The answer, I suggest is: Everything.

As we begin, let us consider how Paul progresses through this section. First, he states in 1:18 that "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth." He then explicates exactly what it means to suppress the truth in vv. 19-23. Then, in vv. 24-25, he argues that "Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!" This is followed by his (in)famous jeremiad against same-sex relations, both male and female, as an example of the degradation. That jeremiad tends to get the attention these days, but I'm more interested in how Paul is constructing the relationship between morality and knowing. It seems that Paul sees a sort of cycle at work: immorality leads to the suppression of genuine knowledge, and in turn that suppression leads to immorality.

Upon reflection, this makes a great deal of sense. Morality is about values. And the resolute will to know truth, whatever it might be, regardless of whether it contradicts and challenges one's current suppositions, is a value. It places the desire to understand our collective world above the personal desire to control that world. It makes in fact a great deal of sense to think that a person lacking robust values might not put much of a premium on truth (one perhaps need only look to Twitter for evidence of that). That's why Lonergan sees moral conversion, i.e. the conversion to placing value before satisfaction, as antecedent to intellectual conversion: valuing, we learn to value truth; valuing truth, we learn how to find it. This additionally explains why Paul can see that the suppression of truth also leads to greater immorality. There is a sort of feedback process between morality and knowing: as we learn to find truth, we come to better apprehend the world; as we better apprehend the world, we better refine our values, including the value we place upon truth; in turns further teaches us how to find truth. But if we do not value truth, then do we not learn how to find it; instead, misapprehensions lead to further misapprehensions; and as our misapprehension of the world grows, we increasingly misapprehend the moral dimension of the world, calling evil good and good evil.

Now, it would clearly be disingenuous to say that Paul and Lonergan independently struck upon similar understandings of the relationship between morality and knowing. Lonergan was a Jesuit priest, a theologian and philosopher who engaged deeply with the Christian tradition. That meant that he engaged deeply with Paul, and with thinkers who engaged deeply with Paul. We should not be surprised to find Pauline valences and indeed citations throughout Lonergan's corpus. We should also not be surprised if our ideas about what is good and true differ from Paul's. We've had two additional millennia to develop the feedback between morality and knowing. But that is a matter for theologians who work in functional specialties other than my own, so I will leave it there.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Romans and Critical Realism, II

Romans 1:18ff. really is a fascinating text. Paul gives what might be reckoned as a thesis statement in vv. 18-19: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them." Here Paul draws a close connection between morality and truth that might be somewhat foreign to modern readers. We would tend to see these as independent variables: a morally deficient person can nonetheless be a great theologian, scientist, etc., and to think otherwise is to dabble in argumentum ad hominem. This is not how Paul reasons, at least not on the matters that concern him here. For Paul, it seems, God has made Godself known so plainly that only willful ignorance can account for the refusal to recognize God properly. This is for Paul a moral failing.

In my immediately previous post, I discussed how Paul understands that God has made Godself known: from the data of God's creation, argues Paul, one can infer God's power and nature (v. 20a). After this argument, he continues, arguing that
20b So they are without excuse; 21 for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23 and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.
It is certainly the case that Paul is here displaying a quite unexceptionable Jewish aversion to idolatry. Such a properly cultural argument however perhaps does not quite fully do justice to what is going on here. I would suggest that what is happening is also in part hermeneutical. For Paul, the divine can be inferred from created things, such as human beings and birds and four-footed animals and reptiles; but for Paul's hypothetical idolater, there is no act of inference but rather these are the divine. If created things are the data by which one infers the reality of God, then in taking created things to be God one is mistaking data for reality. As such, it is perhaps not simply cultural differences that drive Paul here, but a particular apprehension of what it means to know. As Lonergan might put it, Paul's hypothetical idolater has confused knowing with looking. This, I would suggest, is part of why Paul can understand idolatry to be not simply a religious but also an intellectual error.

What remains to be explored more fully is what to modern interpreters might well seem to be a non sequitur: Paul's linkage of this (in his mind) intellectual error with moral error. My contention, to be presented in a subsequent post, is that Lonergan offers excellent resources for thinking through this question.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Romans and Critical Realism, I

Critical realism is not always easy to explain. It is, most basically, an insight into the fundamental nature of things. Specifically, it is an insight into the fundamental nature of this thing that is human knowing. It is the fruit of what Lonergan describes as intellectual conversion. In intellectual conversion, the human subject apprehends--not just theoretically, but deep in the bones--that knowing is not like looking. It entails rejecting the empiricist's false conviction that we only what we can look at is real and thus can be known, and the idealist's equally false conviction that the work of looking obviates the possibility of knowing. In historical Jesus studies, my primary area of expertise, these false convictions respectively play themselves out on the one hand in the search for criteria that will exclude from our field of vision that which is not real, and on the other in the recurrent despair of ever being able to apprehend the Jesus of history. Critical realism moves beyond this by affirming rightly that while knowing is not like looking, looking (and hearing, smelling, tasting, touching: experiencing in general) is a foundational and indispensable step in knowing. We infer reality from that which we experience. For those who have experienced this intellectual conversion, critical realism will present as self-evident; for those who have not, it will present as really quite baffling.

Through the work of empirical (not empiricist) inquiry, we come to know that which cannot be experienced by attending to that which can. We call that which can be experienced "data," and that which we can know from experience we call "reality." I was recently reading in Romans, and was struck by the way in which Paul articulated this understanding of knowledge remarkably well, the better part of two millennia ago. In Romans 1:20a, Paul writes that "Ever since the creation of the world [God's] eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made." The data: the things that God has made. The inferred reality: God's eternal power and divine nature. Paul's assertion is that while we cannot experience God's eternal power and divine nature directly, we can apprehend it through our experience of God's creation. The crucial step for the critical realist is recognizing that it is this act of apprehension that constitutes genuine knowing. The act of experiencing creation, that is a necessary step on the path to this apprehension, but the apprehension of the eternal power and divine nature is the real act of knowing.

It would take more than the above, quick analysis to suggest that Paul was a critical realist avant la lettre. Even if he were, he would have been one "at the level of this time," i.e. one who operated two millennia ago, without the benefit of the many insights that we have stumbled upon since in our collective project of better apprehending our shared reality. In any case, Paul's consciousness of his own subjectivity and the work of knowing (as interesting as it might be in its own regard) is not really my interest here. My interest is simply in using what Paul wrote to help elucidate the basic insight that drives critical realism. Indeed, Paul could in principle be mistaken in his conclusion about God's power and nature, without obviating the basic understanding of knowing that he evinces. What matters for my purpose here is the work of inferring reality from what is experienced, without falling either into the error of confusing the experience with reality or the alternative error of severing the two completely.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Lonergan and Lightfoot, Pt. 2

In my first my post upon Lonergan and Lightfoot, I focused upon Lightfoot's refutation of the Tübingen dating of the New Testament texts in order to consider why Lonergan might have taken it as a signal example of what he means by the term "appeal to the data" (again, cf. Method in Theology,  In this second part, I want to focus upon Lonergan, and consider more precisely what he means by this term. In doing so, I will begin where I ended the first post, by quoting from Stephen Neill, whom Lonergan cites on the matter of Lightfoot and Tübingen:
Hardly less crushing was the blow delivered to the Tübingen theories by the genuine Clement and Ignatius. If the theories were correct, certain phenomena should have been observable in these letters. In point of fact, not merely is none of these phenomena to be observed, but what is to be found is so contradictory of what to be expected as to raise the question whether any of these phenomena were ever at any time found in the Christian world.
The above is a wonderful example of critical realist thought in action. We have a hypothesis about early Christianity, one presented to us by Baur and the Tübingen school: that into the second century Pauline and Petrine Christianities remained fundamentally opposed and unreconciled. We have a derivative of this hypothesis: the Johannine tradition is the result of a rapprochement between Pauline and Petrine Christianity, and thus must have originated significantly later than the early part of the second century. These hypotheses allow us to anticipate finding certain matters in the relevant data, and not finding others. We should, for instance, anticipate some evidence of tension between Pauline and Petrine Christianity, and little to no evidence of synthesis between the two. Preferably, we would probably want to be able to situate 1 Clement and Ignatius respectively as either Pauline or Petrine. We should, for instance, anticipate finding little to nothing that looks like Johannine material. The difficulty for Baur and Tübingen is that what we should expect on their hypothesis is not there, and much that we should not expect is. Paul and Peter are remembered as co-labourers in 1 Clement. Johannine material abounds in the letters of Ignatius. Etc.

This is the heart of what Lonergan means by "appeal to the data." We have defined the question: to what extent does Baur's hypothesis adequately apprehend early Christian development? In answering that, we have not simply pitted our own countervailing hypothesis against him, but rather asked whether or not his hypothesis can withstand the data. In this case, we have found that the hypothesis does not withstand. We have found that to be the case because we had defined what we should expect in the data if the hypothesis be true, and discovered that the opposite was the case.

Appeal to data is particularly crucial in a discipline as hoary as New Testament studies. All too easily one can substitute disciplinary common-sense for careful attention to the data. For instance, one might state that the canonical gospels report the destruction of the temple, when of course careful attention to the data reveals that in fact they report prophecies about the destruction of the temple (empirically not quite the same thing). Or--a pet peeve of those who work in or even just read contemporary synagogue studies--one might repeat the old absurdity that there is no evidence of synagogue buildings in the first-century Galilee. Such hypotheses, however well anchored they might be in the disciplinary consciousness, are dashed hopelessly against the rocks of data by the waves of attention.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Lonergan and Lightfoot, Pt. 1

I was reading in Lonergan's Method in Theology the other day, and found my heart warmed to discover a reference (on p. 143, n. 1, to be exact) to J.B. Lightfoot's refutation of Ferdinand Baur's dating of the New Testament writings (due to the fact that Baur was long situated in Tübingen, his work and that of those influenced by him are often referred to "Tübingen theories" or the "Tübingen school"). Lonergan uses it as an exemplar of the appeal to data that should characterize the work of empirical investigation, including but not limited to the work of doing history. Given my interest in both Lonergan and NT chronology, let me consider more fully what Lonergan has in mind.

Ferdinand Christian Baur was by any reasonable measure a genius. He was, however, a genius operating at the level of his time. That time was dominated, especially in Germany, by the towering figure of Georg Hegel, Baur's older contemporary. When he turned to thinking about the dates of the New Testament, Baur developed a quasi-Hegelian narrative of dialectical development in the early Christian movement. He found warrant for that narrative in the Clementine literature, a large body of mostly romantic literature centred upon the person of Clement of Rome, remembered as the third (sometimes fourth) bishop of Rome after Peter. Baur made two crucial decisions with regard to this literature: first, he argued that much of it dated to the second century; and he saw in the literature's depiction of a struggle between Peter and Simon Magus coded reference to a struggle between Petrine and Pauline Christianity. Thus, he argued, Christian life during the first and the earlier part of the second centuries was dominated by a fundamental opposition between two contradictory forms of Christianity. This opposition was eventually reconciled, with the Gospel of John the fullest exemplar of Christianity after such reconciliation. The Acts of the Apostles, in showing Peter and Paul standing together in chapter fifteen and more generally showing Paul getting on with the apostles in Jerusalem, anachronistically projects the conditions of that reconciliation back on to the first Christian generation. Baur's understanding of the time that this development must have taken, and his reading of the Clementine material, leads him to the argument that the Gospel and Letters of John could not have been written until c. 170 or so.

This is where appeal to data comes in. Lightfoot demonstrated the implausibility of this narrative by showing that it simply could not withstand the data. There are some problems that should be obvious from the off. For instance, Gal. 2:1-10 presents Paul and Peter (and James and John) reaching agreement, comparable to what we find in Acts 15  (and Galatians was one of the five texts Baur allowed that Paul had written). In point of fact, it seems only by an argument from silence that one can say that the presentation of their relationship in Acts is more irenic than it was in reality. Luke might very well omit conflicts that occurred, but what he reports in terms of agreements are little if at all greater than in Paul's own writings. But Lightfoot's appeal to the data went well beyond this sort of observation, and in the process gave birth to some of the most prominent critical tools still used in the study of the Apostolic Fathers.

The Apostolic Fathers refer to a group of non-Christian Christian texts that are generally believed to have been written in the late first and early second centuries. They include, for instance, 1 and 2 Clement, letters attributed to the above-mentioned Clement of Rome. Let's begin with 1 Clement. Lightfoot showed that it was almost certainly written by the end of the first century (he places it around 95). And that's a problem for Baur, because 1 Clement talks about Paul and Peter together, with no hint of conflict between precisely the time that Baur holds that there remains an unreconciled conflict between the two. And Baur faces even greater problems by the time that Lightfoot is done working through another set of core documents among the Apostolic Fathers, the writings of Ignatius.

The letters of Ignatius were a mess. Eusebius, in the fourth-century, provided a list of seven letters written by Ignatius, but we had more than those seven. Moreover, what we had existed in multiple recensions. Lightfoot patiently worked through the material, persuasively showing that the so-called "Middle Recension" (i.e. not the shortest, but not also the longest) of the seven letters mentioned by Eusebius were those written by Ignatius. He moreover argued persuasively that they were written no later than 117 (the probable latest date of Ignatius' death, as our best data suggests that he died under the emperor Trajan). Now, this is again significant, as Lightfoot is also able to show that these letters are loaded with Johannine imagery. He concludes that Ignatius likely knew John's Gospel. And that's a huge problem for Baur, given that the argues that John's Gospel and letters could not have been written for several decades after that point!

Of the above arguments advanced by Lightfoot, Ignatius' knowledge of John's Gospel is probably the only one that might be seriously contested in 2017, with some people arguing that Ignatius knew not the gospel itself but rather the sort of tradition that is reflected by the gospel. But this does not seem likely to provide much aid to Baur. If already by 117 there existed something close enough to John's Gospel that a researcher as competent as Lightfoot could conclude that it is John's Gospel, the suggestion that John's Gospel or letters could not have been writing for another forty or fifty years would seem to push the limits of the data. Baur's argument isn't that it wasn't written until then, but rather that it contains theology that Christians could not have produced prior to that time. Yet, if much of that theology is present in Ignatius by 117, then that constitutes a probably fatal blow to Baur and his Tübingen school.

In Method, Lonergan specifically refers readers to the account of Lightfoot's refutation of Baur given in Stephen Neill's The Interpretation of the New Testament (1861-1961). With that in mind, I will quote from Neill (here from p. 60 the revised edition of this work, which Tom Wright undertook in 1986):
Hardly less crushing was the blow delivered to the Tübingen theories by the genuine Clement and Ignatius. If the theories were correct, certain phenomena should have been observable in these letters. In point of fact, not merely is none of these phenomena to be observed, but what is to be found is so contradictory of what to be expected as to raise the question whether any of these phenomena were ever at any time found in the Christian world.
This perfectly encapsulates what Lonergan means by "appeal to data": our hypothesis tells us what to expect in the data and what not to expect, so when the data contains what we should not expect and none of what we should, our hypothesis is probably a non-starter.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

The Way to Irenaeus

I've been spending the long weekend in part rereading the prolegomena to Lonergan's The Triune God: Doctrines. This work has an interesting publication history. Published as part of a two-volume Latin work while Lonergan was teaching at the Gregorian in Rome, an English translation of just this initial section was published back in the 1970s as The Way to Nicea. More recently (2009, to be exact), as the Lonergan Research Institute in Toronto worked at publishing Lonergan's Collected Works, a new translation was published (with the Latin on the opposite page, as in a book from the Loeb Library) as the first part of The Triune God: Doctrines. Although at first the intention was to retain the earlier translation, it was decided that a new translation was necessary, so as to integrate it more fully into the larger, two-volume work. But I digress.

The prolegomena is a work that rewards rereading. This has probably been about my fifth time reading the work, in both the earlier and the more recent published versions. It is essentially a dialectical account of the development of trinitarian doctrine in the ante-Nicene period. This time around, I took note of an argument that I had no doubt noted before, but which on this reading seemed to me to be of particular import. I refer to Lonergan's suggestion that alongside the development of dogma during this period, the early Christians were developing the very idea of dogma. That is, the Christians of the first century did not have a clearly-defined concept that we might call "dogma." We see this in the fact that Christians of this period typically are trying to articulate their thought through narratives, rather than through philosophical or theological discourse. We perhaps see the first movement towards dogmatic presentations of Christian thought in Paul's writing, but still here we find that whenever he comes to the heart of his thought he seems almost invariably to fall back on narration. He retells the story of Israel, with Jesus now as in some way its culmination. Within the gospel tradition, and a bit after Paul, we see John's Gospel engaging in what we might think to be an early experiment in dogma, but still retaining the basic narrative form. Perhaps around the same time or a bit later, we see in the Gospel of Thomas a significant formal shift beyond narrative and towards dialogue, which might profitably be seen as a notable step towards the intentional objectification of knowledge that dogma demands.

Lonergan does not dwell at length on the above New Testament material, nor does he touch upon the Gospel of Thomas (probably because a complete text of Thomas had only recently been discovered when Lonergan was working on these studies). But he does suggest that with the gnostic thinkers of the first half of the second century we begin to see a significant breakthrough towards dogma. A concerted number of Christian writings begin to appear that might reasonably be described as "theological treatises." They in many ways retain much of the narrative form, but this increasingly is subordinated to explicit theological reflection. Lonergan suggests that much of what is most characteristic of these works--the speculation upon aeons and the like--represents the perhaps inevitable marks of thought seeking new ways to articulate itself. The shift from this work towards persons such as Justin, Clement of Alexandria, and Irenaeus is that these later investigators could see the limitations of earlier investigations, and correct accordingly. Thus controls were placed upon speculation. Justin's emphasis upon Jesus as Reason incarnate perhaps makes great sense in this context.

As my primary interests are in the first and to a lesser extent second centuries, I'll leave off the narration here. What I find compelling is that it seeks to identify within the movement from the earliest Christian writings through to Nicea a coherent narrative that can account for both the formal and substantive shifts occurring in Christian thought at this time. History thus becomes something more than a chronicle of vaguely related events, and rather a process, or rather a set of densely interrelated processes.

Friday, 14 April 2017

The Historian and the Resurrection

My friend Matt Kovacs wrote on his FB wall today the following questions: "Is it an improper a priori objection to the resurrection to automatically discount it due to it being supernatural?
Should one automatically object to the claim of resurrection as an answer to the origins of Christianity before any data is presented, simply because it would suppose a supernatural claim?" I can't imagine why today, of all days, he would think of this question (that was sarcasm, BTW). Anyways, after some discussion on his wall, I thought I'd blog a longer answer to those questions, framed as an implementation of Bernard Lonergan's thought about specialized knowledge.

A major aspect of Lonergan's thought is the need to cultivate specialized knowledge. His argument rests in part upon the recognition that methods must be commensurate with the questions they seek to answer. Historical questions must be answered by historical method. Metaphysical questions must be answered by metaphysical method. The difficulty with excluding the possibility of resurrection by excluding the supernatural a priori is that it potentially uses metaphysical method to answer a historical question. Now, one can in principle use the fruits of methodological investigation as data in historical investigation. If the supernatural can be excluded on metaphysical grounds, then that can serve as a datum in historical study. With that datum, we now know that any supernatural explanation is a non-starter. But the crucial point is to note that we've arrived there not via historical method but rather through metaphysical. It is not a historical conclusion, but rather a metaphysical conclusion arrived at prior to any historical investigation, and thus taken as a supposition for such work. This then answers Matt's questions: insofar as investigations have taken place antecedent to the work of historical investigation, and insofar as the fruits of those investigations reasonably exclude the supernatural, then it is legitimate to adopt that as a starting supposition in the work of doing history.

Practically, this brings us to the matter of expertise. Another part of why Lonergan encourages the cultivation of specialized knowledge is that no one can master everything that could be possibly mastered. If one is diligent, one can become an expert in a broad area of study, whether it is history, theology, physiology, etc. Within these broad areas however, one must further specialize. I would claim expertise in early Christian history, but not in the history of Reformation England, and even within early Christian history I would claim greater expertise in the first century than, say, the fourth. And this has important consequences for the matter under discussion. Historians do not tend to have expertise in metaphysics or, we might add, physiology. The time that they spent becoming historians precluded the development of such expertise. Conversely, experts in metaphysics or physiology tend not to have expertise in history, for much the same reason. What this means is that any investigation of, for instance, the physiological possibilities that could have followed from Jesus' crucifixion requires inter-disciplinary collaboration. The historian will tend not to have the expertise to pronounce on it alone, while the physiologist will tend not to have the expertise to get into the nitty-gritty details of what we know about Jesus' crucifixion and post-mortem appearances.

The above can be demonstrated by reference to the swoon theory, which is really a covering term for a range of hypotheses that hold that Jesus did not die on the cross but rather merely appeared to do so. He then, so goes the theory, regained consciousness post-burial and left the tomb. There are certain details of the crucifixion and resurrection narratives that could be taken to support this. The narratives emphasize that Jesus was only on the cross for a few hours, whereas crucifixions could ordinarily take days; we thus might think that he was taken off prematurely. There is the report that his legs were not broken, which could account for why he is described as walking in the days after his revival. There is the report that he still had visible wounds after his resurrection, which indicates that there was an awareness that the resurrection did not entail much healing: exactly as we'd probably expect from someone taken prematurely off a cross just a few days earlier. It could potentially account for why those who knew him had difficulty recognizing him after the crucifixion: no doubt he would have been quite marred by the ordeal. In fact, it could potentially explain virtually every detail of the narratives, apart from how the stone got rolled away, but for that one need merely posit that there were visitors to the tomb prior to those recorded in the gospels. But before a historian could affirm that this is what happened, she or he would need to consult with those with the requisite physiological knowledge, and inquire into the likelihood that Jesus could have been mistaken for dead on the cross, that he could have been capable of walking around a few days later, etc. The typical historian lacks this specialized knowledge.

Ultimately, it's not clear to me that the question of whether Jesus actually rose from the dead is really a question within the historian's ambit. The historian's task is not simply to establish what happened in the past, but to inquire into human operations in the past. An example that I often use is Hurricane Katrina. A meteorologist is keenly interested in how hurricanes work: what drives their destructive force, how do they emerge, etc. These are of very limited interest to the historian qua historian. The historian rather is interested in how the federal government responded, what might account for failures or successes in its response, etc. That's what the historian does. Likewise, the historian is interested in the question of whether Jesus was crucified. She or he is interested in the year in which said crucifixion took place (30 and 33 C.E. being the leading candidates). She or he is interested in the fact that the belief that he had risen from the dead took hold among his followers and had demonstrable consequences. She or he is interested in these consequences. She or he is less interested in the physiological or divine processes that generated that belief, just as the historian studying Hurricane Katrina has limited interests in how hurricanes operate.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Chronology and Dialectics

I often joke that my interest in the chronology of the New Testament, especially the dates at which the texts were written, is purely the product of an obsessive-compulsion. While not denying that there is perhaps something vaguely pathological in the pleasure that I derive from such objectively tedious work, the truth is that there is much more to it than that. And for that something more, one must look to this thing that Lonergan calls dialectics.

The term "dialectics" of course has a long pedigree in western thought. But in Lonergan's particular understanding of it, it becomes the study of the conflicts immanent in our lives together as human beings. Writes Lonergan, in Method in Theology: "[t]he materials of dialectic, then, are primarily the conflicts centering in Christian movements. But to these must be added the secondary conflicts in historical accounts and theological interpretations of the movements." And here we have in nuce the question behind the question of New Testament chronology. Actually, the questions because the question. Excluding hypothetical texts such as Q, there are by my count thirty-three extant Christian texts that could arguably be dated to the first century (the twenty-seven canonical texts, plus 1 Clement, the Ascension of Isaiah, the Didache, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Gospel of Thomas, the Shepherd of Hermas). It makes a substantive difference for understanding the conflicts that emerged in the first century whether these texts were written during those first seventy or so years of Christian history, and in what approximate order. That is the first question. But arguably as crucial is the second question, namely the modern conflicts over the matter of when the texts were written.

This second question is best elucidated, as are many things, by appeal to Ferdinand Christian Baur. Back in the mid-19th century, Baur argued that many of the New Testament texts were written at dates that we now know to be impossibly late. We know that now because we have access to information that Baur did not. Indeed, much of that information was generated in response to Baur. But the really interesting story with regard to Baur is not simply that he made empirical judgments that turned out to be false, but rather why he made them. At the risk of oversimplifying (a constant danger with a mind as lively as Baur's), he began with a roughly Hegelian framework of early Christian history, which he then used to evaluate such questions as the dates of the New Testament texts. In other words, he dated John's Gospel to the late-2nd century in large part because that best fit with how he thought early Christianity had to have developed.

Now, of course, no one is immune to preconceptions, prejudices, and the like. But what the example of Baur drives home is the necessity to constantly be moving back and forth between the data and our heuristic anticipations. We anticipate that certain things will be the case in the data. To the extent that the data meets our anticipations, we can judge the anticipations to reasonably apprehend reality. To the extent that they do not, we need to generate new anticipations. My interest in chronology, especially the dates of the New Testament texts, is thus ultimately a way of testing the extent to which the relevant data meets my anticipations about Christian origins. It means querying those anticipations, revising or abandoning them as necessary, affirming them when reasonable. And in carrying out this work I address not only dialectical development in the ancient world, but also in the modern: for our evaluation of Baur's understandings of Christian origins, or of Lightfoot's, or Harnack's, or Robinson's, or Meyer's, or whomever's turns to a remarkable extent upon the degree to which they can be said to have adequately or inadequately apprehended the realities that they studied. Their place in the history of thought about Christianity is not altogether separable from their capacity to think well about Christianity.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Atheism and Empathy

I've noticed an interesting trend among some atheists. Not all, perhaps not even most or even many, but certainly some. That trend is an incapacity for empathy. This comes out in their thinking about religion. Again and again I see an incapacity, either willful or constitutional, to understand religious persons or groups from their own perspective. Instead, what you find is an insistence upon articulating those persons' beliefs from the atheists' perspective, and then critiquing that articulation. This almost inevitably distorts what is being critiqued. Usually the critique is well and good, but the problem is that what is being critiqued bears little actual relationship to what real, living religious persons or groups hold to be the case.

A classic and recurrent example of this is the notion that the only difference between monotheism and polytheism is numerical, i.e. monotheism is just polytheism with fewer gods. On a strictly etymological basis this might be true, but a reliance upon strict etymology to understand actual, human realities is an indisputable symptom of a grossly inferior mind. This notion of monotheism as simply reduced polytheism in fact reveals a deep unfamiliarity with monotheistic and polytheistic religions. It ignores the fact that in traditions like Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, the divine one and the divine many are in fact different orders of reality. In the Abrahamic faiths, those orders tend towards the antagonistic: the one-ness of the God of Abraham obviates the very existence of other gods. Where other superhuman intellects are allowed to exist, they are not gods at all but rather angels or other servants of the One. In Hinduism, the gods are all manifestations of Brahman; the one-ness of all is expressed through the multiplicity of the many. What I just articulated are themselves horribly imprecise descriptions of the relationship between the one and the many in world religions, and they miss a great deal of nuance and diversity, but they have the advantage of being horribly imprecise descriptions that aim to describe the actual things under discussion, rather than an ideologically-motivated pastiche of those things. And what we can state with reasonable confidence is that few if any monotheists understand the one as simply a numerical reduction of the many. The one is virtually always understood as qualitatively different. To articulate monotheism otherwise simply indicates that one has not yet grasped a basic fact about human religiosity, and that because in one's rush to critique one has not listened to what others are saying. This is, again, quite simply a lack of empathy.

Now, such lack of empathy is hardly unique to atheism. Indeed, one could define fundamentalism--whether in Christianity or Islam or elsewhere--precisely as the substitution of ideology for empathy. And that is why atheism, in its most dogmatic and anti-rationalistic mode, takes on an intellectual form remarkably similar to Christianity or Islam in their most dogmatic and anti-rationalistic mode. That is because they are all suffering from a similar intellectual deformation. In the human sciences, where the aim is to grasp human realities, empathy is more than a moral value. It is an intellectual one, without which failure is inevitable.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Heuristic Lessons from the Oral Tradition

"Oral tradition is always something spoken." So begins the first line of Eric Eve's Behind the Gospels: Understanding the Oral Tradition. With this statement, we must recognize an obvious heuristic reality: by definition, nothing that we read in ancient texts is oral tradition. There is no oral tradition in the gospels, by definition. How then can scholars claim to study the oral tradition "behind" the gospels?

The answer is obvious: inference. This is exactly how historical investigation always works. By definition, we do not find the past in the material that we utilize in the work of historiography. The texts, the artifacts, the architecture, etc.: these remains of the past all exist in the present. None contain the objects that historians want to know about, the entities, relationships, events, and processes that we seek to define and understand. Yet, we can use such remains of the past to infer such matters. Oral tradition is just one such an entity that we seek to define and understand, oral traditioning one such process.

This raises a critical challenge to the current historical skepticism that grips much of NT scholarship, and has in various forms for much of the last century. We are told confidently that we cannot know very much about what the early Christians were doing in the first decades of the movement. Why? Because we do not have direct access to that time. Our knowledge of the period is mediated by texts, by artifacts, by architecture, and such mediation constitutes a barrier to knowledge. Yet, the same skeptics frequently have no difficulty telling us how oral tradition processes worked in that same time, using the same remains of the past as their primary data, using the same basic practice of inference that is used to define and understand any other objects from that time. Indeed, their skepticism is typically predicated upon their understanding of how these remains came about: precisely because they judge these remains to be the result of complicated processes, they judge them to be of limited utility for the work of history. Except: that can only be argued if these remains have already been used in the work of history! Put otherwise, such skeptics are denying the very conditions upon which their skepticism is predicated.

If we can know that "behind" the gospels lies oral tradition, then there is no reason in principle that we can't also know, for instance, who was involved in developing the oral tradition, or where such development took place, or when. If we can answer "What?", then "Who?", "Where?", "When?", even "Why?" are in principle also answerable. And if we can know these things, then there is no reason in principle that we can't know how these matters interact with other objects from this period: with the expansion of the Christian movement, the development of ecclesiastical structures, the elaboration of doctrine, etc. If we can infer one thing about the past from texts and artifacts and other remains in the present, then we can in principle anything. "Postmodern" arguments about the impossibility in principle of knowing about the past dissolve immediately, corroded by the acid of self-reversal. There can of course remain arguments that the extant remains of the past are such that we cannot answer this or that particular question in practice, but arguments from principled skepticism are refuted by the very act of making statements about what happened in the past.