BMCR 2006.10.26

The Written Gospel

, , The written gospel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. xxvi, 360 pages ; 24 cm. ISBN 0521832853 €29.99.

Table of Contents

This collection of fifteen essays by some of the most distinguished scholars in the field appears on the occasion of the sixty-fifth birthday of Graham Stanton, Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity in the University of Cambridge, who is well-known and widely admired for his scholarship on the gospels. Unlike many other a Festschrift, this one follows a rather coherent approach to the subject under scrutiny. The editors claim it to be ‘a compendium of recent informed opinion’ (p. 3), and rightly so. The volume is made up of three parts (I: Before Writing; II: Writing the Four Gospels; and III: After Writing), each consisting of four to six chapters. The opening chapter by William Horbury (‘”Gospel” in Herodian Judaea’) helpfully surveys the place of the vocabulary associated with Hebrew l e basser and Greek euangelizesthai in the Roman province Judaea from ca. 40 BCE -100 CE. H. not only considers biblical and related literature (like Josephus, Targums, etc.), but cultic texts (hymnody, honorific formulae, etc.) as well. Of his conclusions, H.’s claim that euangelion in the sense of ‘tidings’ was probably known in Judaea (outside of the NT) is perhaps the most relevant to BMCR’s readership.

‘The gospel of Jesus’ (i.e. subjective genitive, instead of objective) is the title of Klyne Snodgrass’s attempt to characterize the synoptic Jesus’s message in fourteen pages. S.’s often noteworthy reflections are governed by four foci; ‘celebration’, ‘compassion’, ‘Israel’ and ‘kingdom’. It is hardly startling that in such a short space S. is not entirely able to substantiate his claims in a satisfactory manner and that his views are not as systematically expounded as one might like. Nevertheless, the essay serves well as an appetite-whetting introduction to current thought on the historical Jesus.

James Dunn (‘Q 1 as oral tradition’) investigates the analysis of Q by John Kloppenborg who singles out six ‘wisdom speeches’ that together form the formative Q 1. D. critiques both the assumption that Q 1 is a literary source and the claim that the text involved can indeed be distinguished as a distinct compositional unit. D.’s work on oral transmission is in many ways interesting and the various issues touched upon but not thoroughly treated in this essay are sure to stimulate ongoing scholarly activity.

In ‘Eye-witness memory and the writings of the Gospels’, Martin Hengel, a dean of New Testament scholars, offers sixteen reflections on various topics concerning the gospels and their historical value. Prominent among these is the (ab)use of form-criticism. H. takes issue especially with that great former dean, Rudolf Bultmann, who is criticized (sometimes inter alia) on nearly every page. H.’s sane and balanced judgments on the setting of the gospels, the value of eye-witness, the shift from Aramaic to Greek, and several other subjects make this well translated chapter a joy to read.

Opening part II, Richard A. Burridge (‘Who writes, why and for whom?’) gives a compact overview of answers given both in early church traditions and in later historical-critical research to the introductory questions posed in the title. Sobering is B.’s confession that after two thousand years ‘we know practically nothing of who the original authors and audiences…were’ (p.100). His own approach to the gospels as ancient bioi is in the end equally unable to provide firm answers, except that the gospels were written to explain why Jesus is important. Of special interest is B.’s paragraph on the reactions to Bauckham’s The Gospel for All Christians.

Following now are four chapters discussing the characteristics of the canonical gospels; Richard C. Beaton on ‘How Matthew writes’, Craig A. Evans on ‘How Mark writes’, David P. Moessner on ‘How Luke writes’ and Judith Lieu on ‘How John writes’. Sources, themes, framework, use of the OT and several other topics are discussed, usually in a clear, concise and up-to-date manner. These chapters (like several others in this collection) could in my estimation serve very well as introductory material for graduate courses on the gospels. Not only are readers introduced in a short space to the distinguishing features of each gospel by expert scholars, but the different approaches taken and the issues subtly debated (e.g. the genre of the gospels) serve well to avoid the impression of a uniform communis opinio. The claims made in these essays are usually well thought through and fairly presented, except for one notable exception in the article by Evans. In treating the often illogical use of the particle gar in the gospel of Mark, E. elaborates on Mk 1.34 as an example of a misplaced gar -clause. However, not gar but hoti is used in this verse! How this unfortunate error came about is not quite clear (at least not to this reviewer). Another minor criticism pertains to Moessner’s very copious and at times unclear use of quotation marks that makes his otherwise insightful article somewhat less pleasant to read.

Stanton’s predecessor in Cambridge, Morna D. Hooker, recently authored two monographs on the beginnings and the endings of the gospels. She shares some of her valuable insights in the well-written essay ‘Beginnings and Endings’. H. points out that while only Luke has a formal prooimion (or exordium), all gospels have prologues that are widely different in form but remarkably similar in terms of the key themes being discussed. Such is the case also with the endings. Not only Mark, but all four gospels (including John with its two endings), are in a sense open-ended, in keeping with the idea that the readers will have to continue the story.

Part III opens with two essays on the gospels amongst Jews and pagans. The major part of James Carleton Paget’s ‘The Four among Jews’ surveys carefully the evidence for knowledge of the gospels among Jews in rabbinic and early church literature. P. concludes that there seems to be some support for Jews possessing copies of the gospels (before Toledot Yeshu, that is), but which and in what form or language is not clear. Loveday Alexander (‘The Four among pagans’) is primarily concerned with Origen’s Contra Celsum. While A.’s quite general discussion is certainly interesting and well done, the essay’s title would lead one to expect somewhat more discussion on how, when and what gospels were used by Celsus as well as by other, later pagan authors.

In the interesting chapter ‘Forty other gospels’, Christopher Tuckett problematizes the nomenclature of ‘gospel’, demonstrating that however one defines that term, texts that claim to be (or are described by others in antiquity as) ‘gospels’ are ex cluded and/or texts that do not seem to be ‘gospels’ are in cluded. T. goes on to suggest a provisional taxonomy of ‘gospels’ consisting of five broad categories. The essay closes with a fair discussion of the relation between the non-canonical and the canonical gospels, displaying throughout T.’s expert knowledge on the subject.

In the penultimate chapter (‘The One, the Four and the many’), Ronald A. Piper discusses the unbridled multiplication of gospels and related literature in early Christianity, the opposite tendency to limit the authoritative sources (cf. Marcion’s Luke and Tatian’s Diatessaron) and the choice of Irenaeus and others for precisely four writings. This choice for ‘limited plurality’ steered clear of two extremes, but evidently had vulnerabilities of its own (e.g. critics could easily point to the inconsistencies between the gospels). P.’s clear indebtedness to earlier work by Stanton on this topic is probably the best way to indicate the important contribution made by the latter.

The collection closes with a wonderful essay by Markus Bockmuehl (‘The making of gospel commentaries’). B. starts with a brief survey of the Greek and Roman commentary tradition and its Jewish counterpart in the Dead Sea Scrolls and suggests that there may have been contacts between both traditions. The discussion of early Christian commentaries on the gospels is very helpful, not least because of B.’s insightful observations regarding the normativity implied by the fact that some gospels received extensive commentary whereas others did not.

The Written Gospel has been expertly edited, as is appropriate for a collection honouring someone who has demonstrated excellent capabilities in this area through many years of editorship of the International Critical Commentary, the journal New Testament Studies and the Monograph Series of Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas. Factual errors are limited to a few minor oversights (e.g. Stephen C. Barton’s ‘Can we Identify the Gospel Audiences’ appeared in 1998, not 1988). Included in the volume are a list of Stanton’s publications, a bibliography, indices of ancient sources and authors and an unusually comprehensive list of abbreviations. These features heighten the accessibility of the essays and thereby their usefulness for non-specialists. Somewhat diminishing this usefulness, however, is the tendency of some authors to quote whole monographs without specifying page numbers. There is, for instance, little point in citing the two-volume Festschrift for Emanuel Tov with very diverse articles to substantiate the claim that Matthew’s text was characterized by fluidity and variety (as does Beaton, p. 128 n.61). Other than that, The Written Gospel is a wonderfully helpful collection, packed with excellent and useful contributions that are sure to be of lasting value. The authors and editors are to be warmly congratulated with this deserving tribute to Graham Stanton.