Consider this my second post in a potential series that started earlier this month. That first post is found here. In that post, I mentioned a few personal views:
1) People either believe the so-called 'New Testament' witness is historically reliable and rhetorically coherent, or they don't.
2) Almost all academicians unswervingly swear allegiance to the same dogmas: that the end of the ages did not come in the first century, and the parousia was delayed (and must still be delayed); therefore all "data" collected from new testament witnesses and even non-canonical literature of that general era must be jammed through a peer-reviewed process that, in the very least, attempts to cohere with those dogmas.
3) All the eschatological mumbo-jumbo of academic guilds theorizing about imaginary sources seems more convoluted than just taking the new-testament texts at face value. Either something cataclysmic occurred as promised (or prophesied) in first century Israel, and that fulfilled promise influenced the course of history, or the New Testament witness is false and unreliable.
4) I also don't think 'already-not-yet' paradigms are helpful in mediating the tension between what the texts are and what meaning those texts would have communicated if they were historically reliable and rhetorically coherent.
Even though I have not traced out a history of that paradigm (because that would be an exhaustive study), I nevertheless imagine, based on what I have studied over fifteen years, that every traceable, popular tradition thereof was conjured up and defended because Christians throughout history have, in large part, been highly influenced by inescapable social expectations, dogmas, and politics. In social-psychological parlance, this natural movement away from some dogmas and toward others is described as the black sheep effect, where Christians have renegotiated the boundaries of permissible thought in response to perceived deviants.1
5) Last of all, if 'already-not-yet' paradigms are only partially adequate (which is to say, they are not wholly adequate), then I think one might as well seriously consider playing around in the Jumanji of source-critical dogmas.
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In this post, I just want to say a few words about point #5 above: playing around in the wild and enticing jungle of source-critical dogmas.
Over many years I have marked up a few hundred books in my personal library that attempt to apply the 'science' of Vaticinium ex eventu to the Tanakh, the New Testament scriptures, the so-called 'intertestamental' scriptures, the so-called 'Apostolic Fathers,' and the pseudopigraphical writings surrounding them all. I am well aware of scribal traditions and the ever-shapeshifting attempts of scholars to pinpoint sources and the reasons for redaction or composition after the events. Undoubtedly, some manuscripts manifest reasons for redaction.
I also do not (personally) deny that there exists a plethora of redacted religious documents related to the Christian Scriptures; nor do I blow off the reality of ex eventu compositions between 1,000 BC and AD 1,000. Nevertheless, I have remained intrigued and perplexed by the voluminous conjectural dogmas surrounding the list of first-century time sensitive texts that I presented in the previous post (in footnote #74). All of those, if one looks back, relate to Jesus and his claims about the so-called "end of the world" in some future. Most Christians nowadays imagine it referred to our future, and not merely the near future of that generation in which Jesus and his apostles lived (i.e. the first century).
Scholars nowadays have combed through each and every one of those time-sensitive statements and have cataloged reasons why some statements were about our future, and others were not. Pseudo-explanations range between why those statements were made, to what culturally sensitive memories were behind or underneath the final edit. Needless to say, there once was a day when such conjecture was considered both silly and dangerous. Yet it is no longer considered deviant to honestly believe and promote the dogma that all predictive references to AD70 and the events leading up to it throughout the Scriptures were vaticinium ex eventu. Accordingly, none of them must be or can be definitively asserted to be part of Jesus' genuine gospel, and therefore it is probable that they were not.2 Such prophesies, instead, were "likely" Christian reflections of a later era, imposed upon much clearer, more reliable apocalyptic messages about the end of the physical cosmos.
So then, what I want to do next is play with that idea. Let's take one example and toy with it accordingly.
Let's take for granted that the Gospel of Matthew is a Jewish-Christian scribal amalgamation, and the final redacted form (or composition) was truly after the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple. We then select Jesus' Olivet Discourse as a specimen. We look at the texts of Mark chapter 13 and compare them with Matthew 24. After examining them carefully, we conclude, along with F.F. Bruce and countless others over the last hundred years of western civilization, that the Markan form of Jesus' Olivet Discourse is earlier than AD 70, as indicated by those modifications of it in the Gospel of Matthew, which reflect the situation after AD 70.3 We also conclude, based on our lack of absolute certainty, that "Mark" was likely not even alive prior to AD 70, nor did he know Jesus' apostles (as older, sacred tradition asserts).
Indeed, we conclude that based on the raw data left to us now, almost two thousand years ex eventu, that it is highly improbable that the Markan form of the Gospel was composed prior to AD70. In the very best and most idealized circumstances, it is merely the Olivet Discourse contained in the Markan form which could possibly be authentically reported from sources prior to AD70. As F. F. Bruce dogmatically asserted, such deductions seem to be self-evident. Regarding the ex eventu composition of Matthew 24 in relation to Mark 13, he mentions that:
In the Markan form of the question they apparently belong to the same temporal complex as the destruction of the Temple. But in Matthew the question is re-worded so that the destruction of the Temple is separated from the events of the end-time: 'Tell us, when will this be [the destruction of the Temple], and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?' (Matt 24:3). For, when Matthew's Gospel was written, the destruction of the Temple had taken place, but the parousia and the 'close of the age' were still future. A distinction which was patent after A.D. 70 was not so obvious at an earlier stage, and it is such an earlier stage that is implied in Mark's wording.4
Below are some questions in my mind, to serve as a little push-back to these popular ex eventu assertions.
1) Because the entirety of the New Testament texts indicate a seamless historical context anticipating imminent events to take place within the first century (see the previous post), why not assume that the authors or redactor after AD70 edited the texts to make future readers think Jesus did actually refer to AD70 and the events leading up to it?
2) Why do we, in the 21st century, imagine some dude (tradition calls him "Matthew") changed or inserted “prophecies” about the so-called “end of the world” into discourses about AD70 and the events leading up to it?
3) Given the consistent first century, soon-coming emphasis of the entire New Testament corpus (as I illustrated plainly in the previous post), why not imagine Matthew (and all the NT authors) edited just those statements that appear to pertain to the “end of the world”, and not those pertaining to AD70?
4) Given the nature of contemporary source-critical ventures and the liberty available within such enterprises, why not imagine that the Matthean "form" of the Olivet Discourse was composed to communicate the truly reliable and fulfilled (past) events of AD70 alongside an imaginary and contrived (yet psychologically hopeful) view about Jesus teaching a “literal” end of the world as his Parousia and as the 'close of the age'?
5) Why not instead imagine that the original intent behind the composition or redaction of Matthew 24 was entirely about AD70 and the events leading up to it, and that whatever modifications were ever made to it based on earlier sources, those are evidently indicated by later imaginary scribal conventions and folklore about the literal end of the world?
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Here is my point behind all of these questions:
Given one's commitment to the slipperiness of redaction criticism, "Matthew" very likely left us with chapter 24 in order to highlight the truth that Jesus really did prophesy, preach, teach, and emphasize the upcoming turmoils, persecutions, and trials leading up to and culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70. Even if the destruction of the Temple had taken place in the past by the time Matthew's gospel was written, that does not mean he wrote about the Parousia or the 'close of the age' as something in our future (or his future, after AD70). Even if Matthew was not a contemporary of Jesus or his apostles at all, the final form as we have it today (and we have no other Matthean form of the Olivet Discourse, by the way) would likely have been designed to portray Jesus and his message as it was truly believed, as it was understood to be. That's the whole point of Matthew's Gospel: to present a believable message, one that is both historically reliable and rhetorically coherent. And that message, regardless of whether it was composed before or after AD70, need not be that Jesus taught about AD 70 and then, afterward, about the literal end of the “world” a few millennia beyond AD70, all within the same discourse.
As I have pointed out in detail elsewhere, there is no noticeable form of the Olivet Discourse among the Synoptics that makes a sharp or clear distinction between the destruction of the Temple and events after AD70 (i.e. events which could potentially be in our future, thousands of years after the discourse).
So then, here I am, being all deviant. Please don't waste your time trying to crucify me on social media (or privately) for thinking out loud on my own blog. Although it certainly is in vogue nowadays, it's certainly not godly to crucify Christians for simply pointing out what Jesus taught. I'm aware that this paradigm of first century fulfillment is perceived nowadays to be heterodox. It actually is not, either hermeneutically or factually because I don't think philosophical commitments to Christian dogmas about the "end of the world" absolutely must be proof-texted from the "Bible." There are lots of Christian dogmas that are derived philosophically from sources outside the "Bible" to justify what they believe is also taught within the Bible, yet their case from inside isn't as tightly sealed as they imagine.
I happen to believe such is the case surrounding preterist convictions, too. Two significant reasons why I think Christians nowadays imagine first century fulfillment to be heterodox (or they overreact in rage against imagined trajectories toward other heterodoxies) is because catalogs of sacred traditions and confessional standards have so much dogma surrounding these texts that serious, detailed attention to first century fulfillment of the entire Olivet Discourse has continued, in large measure, to be completely overlooked, ignored, or deflected over the last 500 years; adding to that gaping chasm of presumption, other paradigms have been inserted to fill in and reorient public perspectives about that gap (like "already-not-yet" templates), as an attempt to synthesize sacred traditions of Reformational and Counter-Reformational dogmas with the crystal clear first century time-sensitive statements. But i'll save a detailed discussion about all of that for the future.
1. See Outi Lehtipuu, Debates Over The Resurrection Of The Dead: Constructing Early Christian Identity [Oxford Early Christian Studies] (2015). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, pp. 67-108
2. For a specimen of such views, carelessly asserting autobiographical remarks about the certainty of vaticinium ex eventu scribal redaction throughout the New Testament, see G.H.W. Lampe, "A.D. 70 in Christian Reflection" in Jesus And The Politics Of His Day [Edited by Ernst Bammel & C.F.D. Moule] (1992 Reprint). New York, NY: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, pp. 153-71
3. F.F. Bruce, "The date and character of Mark" in Jesus And The Politics Of His Day [Edited by Ernst Bammel & C.F.D. Moule] (1992 Reprint). New York, NY: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, p. 81