Friday, March 29, 2013

The Capernaum Problem

There are so many questions that don't get asked in this life.  The lies which are necessary for sustaining life are such that they go unquestioned.  We need firm things to believe in - even if we aren't trying to believe in something.  The professional scholar, for instance, has to have something to justify studying.  He can't easily allow himself to accept that he hasn't mastered his craft, that he doesn't know enough to justify his coming to strong conclusions.  That's what we - as a culture - pay him for.  He's supposed to 'know stuff.'

The problem is that when it comes to the origins of Christianity, the more I study the less I know with any degree of certainty.  Now, I am not a professional scholar, so it would stand to reason that my ignorance is due to my lack of training - and to some degree that is true.  You need discipline to succeed at anything and squeezing in your studies between making a living and making a life, isn't ideal.

If I won the lottery, I'd be a much better student, I'd imagine.

Nevertheless I think to some degree cramming my learning into the margins of my daily life allows me to focus on the margins of 'what we know' a little better.  We do project a little of 'us' into everything we attempt to understand and to the degree that my learning is carried out in cracks and crevices, to the cracks and crevices I am drawn.

I've never been one to admire organization.  I often think that systematizing is a cop out.  Nevertheless I can't expect to convince a drill sergeant that there is another way.  What we know is determined by who we are.

To this end - getting back to the New Testament - I don't buy that Matthew was written by a guy named Matthew, Mark by someone named Mark and so on.  I am not sure I will ever understand the intricacies of how the canon developed.  But at the same time I am certain that the 'systematizers' are even more out to lunch.  Life isn't about following an instruction manual.  No matter how these people want to avoid their own inner prejudices, they still believe there are over arching rules that govern the universe - like truth is there staring us in the face or that the good guys always win.

I am not sure.

I can't take my eyes away from the similarities in the various gospel accounts and think forgery.  It's not that I want to think that.  It's just the only rational explanation.  If you wanted to copy out a document, you'd act like a photocopier or a scanner.  We'd have a million copies of Mark or whatever gospel was first and that would be the end of it.

What's odd about the gospel is that at the margins there are uncanny similarities which transcend the 'synoptic' model.  Take for instance the idea that Jesus 'came down to Capernaum.'  This understanding transcends the other differences between Matthew, Mark, Luke and John:

"Going down to Capernaum"

John only thrice describes Jesus as "teaching," and only once as "teaching in synagogue1." Comparing this with the frequency of the Synoptic traditions about Christ's teaching, we ought to be prepared to suppose that John attached special importance to this particular "teaching in synagogue" and some importance to the fact that it was at " Capernaum."This supposition is confirmed by the fact that John agrees with Luke in using the phrase "went down (or, came down) to Capernaum" to introduce (apparently) a new stage in the proclamation of the Gospel . It is also confirmed (not weakened) by the fact that the compiler of the Diatessaron omits the phrase in Luke , and not only the phrase, but also the context in John. That indicates for those at least who have studied the Diatessaron and its ways that in early times discussion was probably frequent about this "going down to Capernaum" and about the questions "Whence did He come down?" and "What did He do when He had come down ?"

According to Tertullian, Marcion so mutilated the Gospel of Luke as to make it appear that Jesus came down "from heaven, straight to the synagogue" in Capernaum . Heracleon, dealing with the Johannine "going down to Capernaum," said that "the beginning of another dispensation was indicated, since 'went down' is not without significance." He added that Capernaum signifies "the uttermost parts of the Cosmos, the regions of matter into which He 'came-down .'"

So far, Origen, who quotes Heracleon as above, might agree with Heracleon as to the inferior and negative character of the revelation at Capernaum. But he demurs to what Heracleon says concerning the following words "and there [i.e. at Capernaum] they abode not many days. And the passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up. . ." on which Heracleon says "By reason of the strange and alien nature of the place, He is not even said to have done or spoken anything in it [i.e. in Capernaum]."

Yet Origen's only ground for demurring is that Mark and Luke relate, as occurring during this visit, the exorcism in the Capernaum Synagogue. To this Heracleon would have an obvious reply : "The Marcan exorcism could not have occurred during the Johannine visit to Capernaum; for Mark says clearly that what he relates about Capernaum took place after the Baptist's arrest ; John makes it no less clear that what he relates here about Capernaum took place before the Baptist's arrest." It is hardly possible to doubt that Heracleon is right at all events in calling attention to the fact that Jesus "is not even said to have done or spoken anything" in the first brief (Johannine) visit to Capernaum. But about the Evangelist's motive in thus recording an apparently resultless action of Christ there may very well be doubt or, at least, doubt at the first view of the subject. [Abbott Diatessarica III p. 99]

[foot note] See Origen on Jn ii. 12 (Lomm. i. 291) quoting Heracleon to this effect. Origen himself says (Lomm. i. 288) that Capernaum means "field (agros) of Consolation." Jerome calls it (Onomast. 64) " ager vel villa consolationis." In his comment on Mt. iv. 13, viii. 5. Jerome is silent as to its meaning. Pseudo- Jerome, on Mk i. 21, calls it "villa consolationis.

You see the way a systematizer sees the problem, Matthew and Luke simply copied Mark.  But the Diatessaronic argument is that something else lies behind Mark.  I am not merely talking about 'Q.'  I am talking about a basic form that was also known to John.  The parallels are simply impossible to explain any other way.  

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