Compare and Contrast

Kevin Wilson at Blue Cord has raised some interesting and quite valid points regarding my Discovery and Scholarship post, prompted by and added to by Charles Halton at Awilum. (Sorry about the primitive linking here, this “pingback” stuff is too new voodoo for me.)

Charles nicely summarizes my point and objects to part of it with this: “One might argue that the re-evaluations have not gone far enough, fair enough. But, we see similar methodology in examining sources of documents in other ANE literature–it’s not like the Old Testament is the only ancient document that undergoes this sort of analysis.” It is definitely true that such examinations are happening now more often, seemingly exactly under the influence of Hallo’s contextual approach. I applaud this and want more of it. The in-depth examination of ancient texts, their language, their structure, and their own literary and historical context is imperative before any comparison can be made with other texts, including the Hebrew Bible. But such very welcome studies are also all very recent. Of course, the Hebrew Bible, with which western culture has been much longer familiar, has had many more such studies done, many of now-questionable value, and much solely of interest to studies on the history of scholarship. From this angle come my objections to certain fundamental elements of academic orthodoxy in Biblical studies, but in particular more widely to a certain mindset of or preference for complication over simplicity.

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Two Pursuits

A voice said ‘Follow, follow’ : and I rose
       And followed far into the dreamy night,
       Turning my back upon the pleasant light.
It led me where the bluest water flows,
And would not let me drink : where the corn grows
       I dared not pause, but went uncheered by sight
       Or touch : until at length in evil plight
It left me, wearied out with many woes.
Some time I sat as one bereft of sense :
       But soon another voice from very far
              Called, ‘Follow, follow’ : and I rose again.
       Now on my night has dawned a blessed star :
              Kind and steady hands my sinking steps sustain,
And will not leave me till I shall go hence.

Christina Rossetti
12 April 1849

Discoveries and Scholarship

No this is not about the discovery of the Ark of the Covenant, Solomon’s Decoder Ring, the Essene Secret Handshake Manual, or the Gospel of That Guy That Sorta Heard Jesus at the One of the Sermons on One of the the Mounts But Was Too Far Away To Understand What He Said And Consequently Got Everything Quite Entirely Wrong.

As part of a very interesting project that I began some time ago, I’ve been looking into the publication dates for various ideas related to Biblical Studies, the dates for the decipherment of ancient languages and their writing systems, the dates for the discovery of important ancient texts, and so on. One of the most intriguing things that this investigation continues to reveal is that many ideas taken for granted in Biblical Studies have turned out to be actually anything but critically held, for many such had become academic orthodoxy before some very important discoveries, namely nearly all of them, and maintaining them at this point in time is arguably unjustified.

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Critique of Pagels

See here for an excellent, if entirely too short, critique of Elaine Pagels’ gnosticism racket.

It’s unfortunate that such work as Pagels’ passes for scholarship these days, but with Biblical Studies in such generally shoddy shape, it’s hardly surprising. Mankowski’s critique could easily be extended throughout her Gnostic Gospels, along with her confused and nearly unreadable Adam, Eve and the Serpent, the only two of her works which I’ve forced myself to suffer through. Both are wandering and unfocused, full of paragraphs being the results of numerous derailed trains of thought, peppered with outright misrepresentation of both orthodox and gnostic texts. Mankowski describes her efforts well, here:

I am not calling for academic sanctions but, more simply, for clarification. Pagels should be billed accurately—not as an expert on Gnosticism or Coptic Christianity but as what she is: a lady novelist. Her oeuvre is that of fiction—in fact, historical romance. Had New York Times reporters sought Barbara Cartland’s views on discoveries in Merovingian religion or paleography, most of us would find it odd, but we’d expect them to make it plain that was romance, not history, in which she had the right to an opinion.

Indeed.

Two Ways in Irenaeus

“For the way of all those who see is single and upward, illumined by the heavenly light, but the ways of those who do not see are many, dark and divergent; the one leads to the Kingdom of Heaven, uniting man to God, while the others lead down to death, separating man from God. Thus it is necessary for you and for all who are concerned about their salvation to make [your] way by faith, without deviation, surely and resolutely, lest, in slacking, you remain in gross desires, or, erring, wander far from the right [path]” (On the Apostolic Preaching, 1; translation by John Behr).

Note what seems to be a reference here in St. Irenaeus of Lyon’s work On the Apostolic Preaching to the teaching concerning the Two Ways, as found in Barnabas and Didache. As this is a “summary memorandum” (λαιωδης υπομνημα, 1), in Irenaeus’ words, of the Apostolic Preaching, the related expansions of each, the Way of Life versus the Way of Death, are curtailed, and the connection with the Two Ways material as we know it more fully from Barnabas and Didache is implicit rather than explicit. But it is striking that this is the beginning of Irenaeus’ work on the Apostolic Preaching, being preceded solely by the address to the recipient. Surely the two draw from the same source, and indicate that this was the initial instruction for catechumens. As both Barnabas and Didache indicate, the Two Ways was considered to be a part of the traditional instruction, the “Apostolic Preaching,” originating with the Apostles themselves. This, another of the earliest works preserved to us in our literary inheritance of sub-Apostolic Christianity, clearly shows its reliance upon that Apostolic body of Tradition, taking for granted that a reader will recognize the reference to the “ways” as related also in Barnabas and Didache.