Saturday, July 18, 2009

P52 and Why Anglo-British Scholarship Should be Utterly Expunged

New Testament scholars can be utterly moronic. They like to pretend that their academic pursuits have the right to stand alongside the other sciences in the university system. Physics, Chemistry, Calculus and ... Patristics.

Is there ANY field anywhere in the world which is more corrupt and subjective than the study of early Christianity? My God, these men begin with a set of assumptions - all inherited from bitterly partisan ancient Church Fathers - which is so all encompassing that the emasculated research which follows can only 'dot the i's and cross the t's.' And don't they feel proud about their microscopic accomplishments!!!!

Let me give you an example. These pseudo-scholars begin with the inherited assumption of Irenaeus that there are supposed to be four gospels (though they drop his supporting argument that there should be four because there are four winds and four seasons because that would show how unscientific the foundations of their assumptions really are).

So in effect there are the 'synoptics' on the one side of the column and they had some relationship with each other (that apparently is 'left up to debate' although the existence of some 'Q' is generally postulated) and there is this 'other gospel' John which existed alongside but was separate from these other three.

This is the 'starting point' of all research into the gospel owing to the fact that the canon that our ancestors handed to us sets us on this unfortunate journey.

So it is that when these jackasses stumble upon the fragment labelled P52 which can be carbon-dated to the early second century they 'identify' it as being the earliest manuscript of 'the Gospel of John' (for those of you keep score that is that 'other gospel' found in our canon that is not one of the synoptic texts).

Follow me so far? Now the stupid history that Irenaeus spins for us is that Polycarp met John sometime before he died in Ephesus c. 100 CE. The carbon dating gives the text a date of around 130 CE so scholars have to figure out some way how this 'early version of John' made its way from Ephesus to Egypt (where the manuscript was ultimately discovered).

I hope that the objective observers can see how every assumption we have about how the New Testament developed follows from things that filtered their way down to us through Irenaeus of Rome (I never identify him as 'of Lyons' for a number of reasons). These arguments seem so convincing only because of the number of zeros that stand behind them.

Yet there is another explanation for the P52 fragment that never gets any attention whatsoever. While it is certainly possible that P52 testifies to the early existence of the narrative found in our canonical texts nevertheless the very same narratives found on the fragment are found in the so-called Diatessaron.

Of course there are a handful of scholars (Bill Petersen for one albeit a deceased representative) who have thoughtfully pursued the claim of Epiphanius that the 'Diatessaron' was the Gospel of the Hebrews (and thus the ur-text behind the earliest canonical text in the New Testament). While third century Church Fathers explained away the 'Diatessaron' by saying that Tatian composed a harmony out of the four canonical texts first introduced by Irenaeus it is worth noting that Irenaeus himself never claims anywhere in his attack against Tatian.

At the very least we should put an asterix beside the claim that P52 ‘proves’ the early existence of John. Again this is only true if you ignore the Diatessaron (I have an unpublished paper which demonstrates that your name sake – Polycarp of Smyrna – employed a Diatessaron rather than the Catholic quaternion which in turn raises serious difficulties for Irenaeus’ claim to have been completely devoted to Polycarp).

The point is that Tatian certainly identified his ‘Diatessaron’ (the Syrian church undoubtedly called it ‘the Gospel’ or the ‘Gospel of Jesus’) as being the very same gospel as his teacher Justin. This argument is supported by the fact that Justin’s gospel certainly shares what we would call a ‘harmonized’ appearance.

Again because we are brainwashed into Irenaeus introduction (an introduction which interestingly does not mention any authorities before him who thought four was the right number) of the quaternion many of us simply say P52 ‘proves’ an early date for John. The reality is that the parallel Diatessaron tradition casts a deep shadow over these claims for all but the pious.

Here is a comparison of the contents of P52 with the Diatessaron:


… said to him the Jews, “To us it is lawful to kill no one,” so that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he said signifying by what sort of death he was about to die. He entered again into the Praetorium Pilate and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you king of the Jews? …

Diatessaron XLIX (translated from a number of languages ultimately to Arabic) The Jews said unto him, We have no authority to put a man to death: that the word might be fulfilled, which Jesus spake, when he made known by what manner of death he was to die. And Pilate entered into the praetorium, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews?


… a King I am. I for this have been born and (for this) I have come into the world so that I should testify to the truth. Everyone being of the truthhears my voice. Says to him Pilate, “What is truth?” and this saying, again he went out to the Jews and says to them, “I nothing find in him a case.”

Diatessaron ibid:50 – L:1 I am a king. And for this was I born, and for this came I into the world, that I should bear witness of the truth. And every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. Pilate said unto him, And what is the truth? And when he said that, he went out again unto the Jews. And Pilate said unto the chief priests and the multitude, I have not found against this man anything

It is simply impossible to argue that P52 is not a witness to the Diatessaron. We say it witnesses John only because we accept the claim that Tatian ‘invented’ the Diatessaron.

I can do the same with regards to the citations in your namesake’s Letter to the Philippians. There are two citations of gospel material. They both matches the Diatessaron BUT DO NOT WITNESS the order of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

In other words, Irenaeus DID NOT use Polycarp’s gospel. He undoubtedly introduced a new 'standard edition' provided multiple readings of the same narrative over four separated texts. I happen to believe that Polycarp's single long gospel which we can call the Diatessaron was itself identified as 'according to John' (for reasons I go into in greater length in unpublished book Against Polycarp). It was THIS TEXT which Gaius of Rome objected and so when Irenaeus separated the single long gospel into four the discernibly 'Polycarpian' material went into the new, short 'Gospel of John.'

There can be no doubt that later Church Fathers claimed that Tatian WROTE the Diatessaron. Yet it is again particularly interesting that Irenaeus never mentions this. His statement about Tatian’s ‘heresy’ is limited to the following:

“A certain man named Tatian first introduced the blasphemy (viz. a ‘heretical view of salvation). He was a hearer of Justin’s, and as long as he continued with him he expressed no such views; but after his martyrdom he separated from the Church, and, excited and puffed up by the thought of being a teacher, as if he were superior to others, he composed his own peculiar type of doctrine. He invented a system of certain invisible AEons, like the followers of Valentinus; while, like Marcion and Saturninus, he declared that marriage was nothing else than corruption and fornication. But his denial of Adam’s salvation was an opinion due entirely to himself.”

The question of course is why if Irenaeus introduced four as the right number of gospels (established a NT ‘edition’ to cite Trobisch’s use of the term) why ISN’T his supposed authorship of the Diatessaron mentioned as part of his heresy?

There are only a few possibilities here but given the fact that his master Polycarp can be demonstrated to have used the Diatessaron the idea that Tatian actually wrote the text becomes highly unlikely. The sentence begins with the idea of how Tatian distinguished himself from Justin. If Tatian wrote the Diatessaron then it would only have been appropriate to mention it at least in passing.

The problem of course (one which traditional NT scholars don’t like to acknowledge) is that EVERYONE was using a single long gospel. I don’t even think that Irenaeus knew the term ‘Diatessaron.’ This only came about after his four fold gospel became the official canon. The list of Fathers who used what NT scholars call ‘harmonized’ (harmonized because they aren’t our seperated texts) include Justin, Polycarp, Theophilus, Origen (see the references in his Commentary on Matthew they line up perfectly with the Diatessaron especially when he goes through ‘what happened’ in a particular narrative etc.).

If as I suggest Irenaeus NEEDED to establish himself as part of a particular tradition Polycarp’s was the least organized (he just died a generation before the establishment of his NT edition). I view Polycarp as a kind of renegade railing against the ‘excesses’ of the Marcionite tradition and establishing a tradition in the name of John (this especially shines through the Harris Fragments where because John didn’t die as a martyr Polycarp has to die as a martyr).

The point is that if Polycarp used a Diatessaron (as the Letter to the Philippians suggests) then Irenaeus couldn’t trash the text. He also couldn’t claim that Tatian wrote it as any such an attack would raise questions about his continuing the beliefs which John passed on to Polycarp and Polycarp supposedly passed on to him (it would be like the dog biting its own tail).

Indeed although scholarship accepts Irenaeus' claims to be the true follower of Polycarp there was another contemporary witness - a Valentinian no less - who preserved a very different memory of Polycarp's teaching and undoubtedly his 'gospel.'

Do we HAVE TO believe Irenaeus’ version of Polycarp? No. We can simply CHOOSE TO believe Irenaeus and thereby develop a rather simplified version of history which is USEFUL for the faith but has a number of holes in its logic.

The same is true about P52. We can as a collective body of scholars say that it PROVES the early existence of the Gospel of John. However by doing this we ignore the possibility that it also COULD REPRESENT a preservation of the parallel section of the Diatessaron. Scholars as a collective body turn up their nose at the Diatessaron and praise the quaternion.

Okay that’s fine but really with Polycarp’s use of the Diatessaron and Irenaeus’ citation of the quaternion WITHOUT the witnesses of authorities before him this argument that P52 HAS TO BE the canonical Gospel of John is rather weak.

Of course as most scholars are believers and all believers venerate the fourfold gospel it’s not going to be anytime soon that the walls are going to come crashing down around the faith. Enough soldiers on behalf of the faith are going to conspire to keep this and other dubious arguments wholly based on faith rather than reason standing up for long after you and I are dead and gone.

However the bottom line is that P52 really can’t be proved to be the gospel of John. It can’t be proved to be the Diatessaron either. It’s just a testimony to the early existence of a story common to both textual traditions.

Even though I am sure that we can find one hundred – even a thousand scholars – who will agree that the Diatessaron HAD TO HAVE BEEN made up as a synthesis of the four canonical texts I have just given you a number of reasons to doubt that story. It just doesn’t make sense that Irenaeus wouldn’t have said that Tatian had written something that proved that he innovated from Justin especially as it was the theme of the passage in AH Book 1.

Again in my opinion there is an effective stalemate. You can say ‘I believe that P52 is the Gospel of John’ but it is not proved just as I can say ‘I believe P52 is the Diatessaron.’ To say any more than this is just testimony to the inherent bias built into NT scholarship.

I like chocolate ice cream better than vanilla ice cream but that doesn’t necessarily mean that chocolate ice cream was invented first. The assumptions regarding P52 witnessing an 'early date for the Gospel of John' amount to being little more than a scholarly version of I like chocolate therefore chocolate must come first.

UPDATE Here is what Bart Ehrman says on the subject (The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research p. 77) "[i]n raw chronological terms, the Diatessaron antedates all MSS of the NT, save that tiny fragment of the Gospel of John known as P52." That perfectly demonstrates what we already know i.e. that Ehrman read the fragment AND FURTHERMORE KNEW THAT ALL THE EARLIEST GOSPEL WITNESSES COME FROM THE DIATESSARON (I didn't even mention this earlier) and STILL IN SPITE OF HIS KNOWING THIS Ehrman didn't realize that P52 could well be YET ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF THE DIATESSARON PREDATING ALL OTHER MSS. Indeed in light of what he says in the first part of his sentence HE SHOULD HAVE KNOWN. THE SCALES TIP IN FAVOR OF P52 BEING A DIATESSARON FRAGMENT IN LIGHT OF THE CUMULATIVE EVIDENCE CITED IN HIS TESTIMONY. This man is a genius in other respects but in this one instance he isn't quite on the mark. I will have to bring this to his attention the next time we meet.


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