Julia Child, Watch Out!
Two years ago I wrote asking if you could obtain a translation of the Babylonian clay tablets at Yale.
You cannot imagine how thrilled I was to find “The Oldest Cookbooks in the World,” BR 09:04, by William W. Hallo. It isn’t often that a person sees a vague hope come true! Thank you so much for publishing that interesting article. It will have a place of honor among my favorite cookbooks.
Corpus Christi, Texas
The Gleanings of Intellectuals
Please cancel my subscription to BR. I have only received two copies but am very disappointed.
It appears to me that most of your contributing writers are more intent on showing error in the Holy Scriptures than they are in interpreting them to exhort the Christian believer. I am not a Bible scholar, only a layman desiring to get closer to the Lord by knowing more of His word. I feel your articles are being produced by intellectuals, gleaning from their personal beliefs, rather than humble servants of God leading from their hearts.
University Degree No Guarantee of Relationship with God
While I enjoy BR, I am among those of your subscribers who turn to Readers Reply first. This is the section with writings by individuals who come closest to sharing my beliefs in God.
The problem with using university-educated scriptorians to write about the Bible is that a degree does not indicate whether or not a person has any relationship or experience with God. Personal, sacred experiences that cause one’s faith to grow cannot be measured by a grade book or multiple diplomas.
This reminds me of the Soviet pilot Viktor Belenko, who stole a MIG-25 and defected to the West two decades ago. Upon arriving in Virginia he was taken to a local shopping center for personal items. There he saw an electronics store, a clothing shop, a gas station and a grocery store—all of which he believed to be only showpieces intended to deceive him. These types of free enterprises, well stocked and available to anyone, were out of Viktor’s realm of experience. In short, they were unbelievable to him. In his heart, he mocked and doubted what he saw that day in the shopping center. He was in the United States for two years before he gained enough experience to realize that grocery stores, as he saw them that first day, were indeed real and tangible.
It seems many of your scholars fall into the same category as Viktor. They see the Scriptures, they read the stories and they know people with great faith in God. But too often these scholars do not believe in God because they do not seek, privately and sincerely, to have the life-changing experiences that give a deep, abiding faith. Their writings reflect their skepticism and affect their interpretations of the Scriptures.
Can you find Bible scholars who believe in God to write more often?
BR Intellectual and Elitist
I had great hopes in subscribing to BR, but I find myself deeply disillusioned by the “intellectual elitist camp” biases and questionable scholarship of the writers.
Please cancel the balance of my subscription.
I regret that I must ask you to cancel my subscription as of right now. Upon reading the articles in your magazine, I find that they are pure trash.
Both Word of God and of Man
Christians believe that Jesus Christ is true God and true man. To deny either side of that equation is to be guilty of heresy. Analogously the Church is truly the body of Christ and also truly a pack of sinners. In the same way the Bible is truly the Word of God and truly the words of men.
To say that the Bible is only the words of men is certainly to say something blasphemous and heretical. But to say that the Bible is in no way the words of men seems to be the equivalent of denying the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth.
The Thin Line Between the Scholar Searching for Truth and the Athenian Philosopher
Please cancel my subscription immediately. By trade I am a writer. My choice to become a Christian was made as an adult, through a simple study of the Scriptures.
Scholarly debate is good; however, any search for spiritual knowledge should have an impact upon one’s heart and actions. I cannot imagine how your esoteric ruminations could help a child face the real-life problems of drugs, crime, sexuality and educational deficiency.
Christianity is often discredited because of zealots who contradict the very Scriptures they revere. But equally odious are biblical scholars who offer little for the commoner. Again, Higher Criticism is good; however, I encourage you to take care. There is but a thin line between a scholar searching for Truth and a vain Athenian philosopher ignorantly worshiping an unknown god.
I recently received my trial copy of BR, and I am repelled by the views of those who seem to reject the message of the New Testament because they cannot currently find new evidence of the resurrection.
I was thrilled (as were the ladies in Matthew 28:9) when I first “met” the resurrected Christ as I followed the directions of 1 John 1:3–6, 9.
During my lifetime, and in my personal knowledge, after prayer in His name, many sick have been healed; a boy who had no eardrum suddenly had one; my daughter, when a toddler, bitten by large red ants, was instantly delivered from the effects; a lady who had a brain tumor was completely delivered (verified by the doctor); a baby which had no signs of life for about 30 minutes, began to breathe again and soon returned to normal; a man’s cranium, broken in a horse-riding accident, was instantly healed.
These and many, many more answers to prayer in the name of Jesus verify, along with the apostle Paul’s documentation in 1 Corinthians 15:3–8, the fact that Jesus did rise from the dead and is influential today in bringing about the fulfillment of his promises!
For believers, He still does just what He promised! For unbelievers, there is no hope; nothing but doubt and uncertainty.
I was quite disappointed in your magazine.
BR’s Filthy Pictures
The October 1993 issue has at least two paintings that we feel are inappropriate in any magazine that claims to be Christian in nature. The first, by El Greco, shows nude martyrs (see “Apocalypse at Waco—Could the Tragedy Have Been Averted?” BR 09:05). You have a painting by Andrea Mantegna that depicts the boy Isaac about to be stabbed by his father, Abraham, and the boy has no clothes on with a frontal view of his genitalia (see “God Tests Abraham—Abraham Tests God,” BR 09:05). The
Barbourville Family Health Center
We offer this not in justification, but simply to note what appears to be a coincidence: In a recent art review, the Washington Post (Dec. 4, 1993) remarked that “penility is in.” If so, BR is once again on the cutting edge of culture. Several savants have observed that the New Yorker magazine, the ultimate in sophistication, included in a single recent issue three cartoons referring to the male organ. The Washington Post, in the quote above, was reviewing an art exhibit entitled “True Phallacy.”
“It’s worth remembering,” the reviewer commented, “that [the show’s subject] has been seen before in the nobler zones of art.
“The Greeks didn’t hide it, nor the Romans or the Hindus or many of the peoples of sub-Saharan Africa. Nor, for that matter did the Roman Catholic masters of the Renaissance in Italy.
“Titian, Michaelangelo, Andrea del Sarto, Giovanni Bellini, Verocchio, Veronese and Filippo Lippi were but a few of the Catholic painters who placed the genitals of Jesus at the center of their deeply proper, deeply pious works of art.”—Ed.
Secret BR Reader
I very much enjoy BR. I read everything in every issue. First, I read Readers Reply. Then, after chuckling at the reasons given in the “cancel my subscription” letters, I read the articles—most often, two or three times. I even read every word of the advertisements, and I don’t do that for any other periodical. I use material from BR, with proper attributions, in my Sunday School class. It adds greatly to the classes.
Recently, I took a course in Bible at the local university. Deliberately, I did not reveal that I read BR and Biblical Archaeology Review until the last class meeting. For a while, I was able to get a few people to mistake me for a Bible scholar, and that, to me, is a very high compliment.
Searching in a Dunghill
BR’s Readers Reply could be a meaningful forum; however, searching for meaningful correspondence in this section of your magazine is like searching in a dunghill. Heed the reader who urged you to “refrain from devoting so many column inches to these people voicing their ignorance.” True, these letters do reflect the fundamental (no pun intended) reality of anger, hatred and narrow-mindedness encountered en masse in our society—and they may even provide comic relief, but please spare those of us who are not threatening to cancel our subscription some of this banal rubbish. A little goes a long, long way.
Q—The Lost Gospel
Scholars Are Dissecting a Ghost
In his new book, The Lost Gospel, Burton Mack states:
“The remarkable thing about the people of Q is that they were not Christians. They did not think of Jesus as a messiah or the Christ. … They did not regard his death as a divine, tragic, or saving event. And they did not imagine that he had been raised from the dead to rule over a transformed world. Instead, they thought of him as a teacher whose teachings made it possible to live with verve in troubled times. Thus they did not gather to worship in his name. … The people of Q were Jesus people, not Christians.”a
Mack goes too far. In light of the evidence, his brief is a false and unnecessary inference. Pure myth.
The assured hypothesizing by “detectives” John Kloppenborg and Burton Mack regarding the formation, character and codification of this chimera called Q stands out as scholastic nonsense. What an amazing evolutionary history—Q1, Q2, Q3 and all the other redactions—they assign to it! But how can a surgeon dissect a ghost? The dear professors’ case(s) will not stand up in court!
I would contend that this supposedly lost Gospel never existed—certainly not in any of the forms which these scholars presume for it. So how, then, does a researcher account for the similarities, yet differences, found in the Synoptic Gospels?
1. The Gospels themselves make it clear that though Jesus at various times privately predicted his death, resurrection and second advent, the disciples generally did not understand. Only after Pentecost (Acts 2) did they comprehend his words about these matters. And did Jesus ever speak openly of his coming crucifixion to the crowds he addressed? Evidently, no.
2. During his public ministry in Galilee and Judea, Jesus must have repeated his teachings many times—sometimes in more detail, sometimes less—and in various settings; he obviously delivered the same sets of sayings in differing sequence, as appropriate.
3. I ask: Among Jesus’ many hearers, did no one ever write down what they heard? Surely some did. It would be strange if none of his devoted followers took the pains to record what they were hearing—perhaps also noting the time, place and other key circumstances. Over the course of Jesus’ three years of ministry, I suspect, many personal record of his various sayings, acts of mercy, miracles, etc., came it to existence—not complete listings or thought-out, organized biographical sketches, but accurate fragments of firsthand material. Yes, genuine eyewitness accounts and verbatim statements—some recorded in Aramaic and some in Greek. These parables, beatitudes, denunciations, apocalyptic statements, etc., became the source material for the Gospel writers to eventually make use of—guided by the 008inspiring Spirit of God. So no, there never was a “lost Gospel”—a “Q”—but there were many available independent sources with reliable information about Jesus’ public ministry.
4. In addition, each of the Gospel writers had direct access to many still-living sources: the 11 apostles, members of the 70, the Marys, Nicodemus and other key individuals. Does not Luke, in his prologue, allude to this research? And he describes the process in terms broad enough to include the utilization of both written sources and direct interviews with Jesus’ early followers. What pertains to Luke’s account would apply to the other Gospels also and give reason for the distinctiveness of each.
5. All four Gospels were written by men who knew with unquestioning assurance that Jesus had been crucified and bodily resurrected—the promised Messiah, attested to by the Eternal. They were “Christians” (post-Acts 11:26), not just “Jesus people” There may have been Jesus people during his period of earthly ministry, but in due time these followers had been transformed into enlightened groups of believing worshipers of the Christ, willing to die as they spread the good news. There is no evidence that they ever had or utilized a lost gospel, a somehow-constructed series of documents consisting of gradually shifting “core messages,” which evolved as men continued meditating on vague and perhaps conflicting recollections of the sayings of an inspiring teacher. (The Gospel of Thomas dates from a later time and cannot fit the bill.)
In conclusion: Professor Mack may “offer Q as evidence for a gradual and complex process of social experimentation and group formation—in other words, a nonmiraculous account of how Christianity came to be,” but this is speculation at its height. It is no wonder that he ends up with myth instead of gospel truth! And contrary to the reviewer’s comment, his case is far from compelling.
Fort Washington, Pennsylvania
Stephen J. Patterson replies below.
Calling Perry Mason
I love your magazine and always read it from cover to cover. While I may frequently disagree with some of your authors, it’s fascinating and educational to study their varying points of view.
But I never cease to be amazed at the ridiculous extremes so-called scholars will go to discredit the Scriptures, which, in spite of their efforts have withstood their onslaught for over 2,000 years.
A premier example of this outlandishness is the so-called Q document (Stephen J. Patterson, “Q—The Lost Gospel,” BR 09:05). While I do not have the degrees the scholars have, I have been a student of the Bible for many years and am a professional investigator.
Picture this scenario. There are four witnesses to an incident who several years after the fact give their depositions as to what the saw and experienced. Let’s call the first witness Matt. He works for the IRS. As a government employee his outlook would naturally be expected to be a little more politically oriented than his fellow witnesses. The second witness, Mark, is a young fellow, a university student who is a bit brash and rough around the edges. The third witness is Luke, a medical doctor, a highly educated person who is meticulous about details. The fourth witness is a professional fisherman. His many hours alone on deck at sea have allowed him to study the stars and become somewhat of a mystic.
My experience has shown that when you have four witnesses to an incident you will receive four different perceptions of what happened and how. The narratives will be colored, among other factors, by the witnesses’ education, life experience, individual temperament and physical location relative to the incident.
It is to be expected that there will be similarities at some points, variances at other points and identical observations of some aspects. In addition, each witness will undoubtedly note some things that the other witnesses did not note or at least did not mention.
In my investigative work, if I come across two or three witnesses who have identical observations. I become suspicious of their credibility. It is the variance of point-of-view and difference in what is observed that makes the witnesses credible.
Now we have a so-called expert come along, let’s call him [Burton] Mack. He reviews the testimony of the four witnesses and, because there is a 010divergence in point-of-view, Mack in his wisdom determines that there must be another witness from whom the four witnesses plagiarized. Since he does not believe or want to believe in the credibility of the four original witnesses, he has to find some way to discredit them.
Thus he creates this imaginary witness, let’s call him Q, whom he designates as the real original witness. To further substantiate this fiction, he takes the narrative of another writer, let’s call him Tom, whose writings are similar to that of the four original witnesses. Because it was never established that Tom was really an eyewitness, the courts had previously ruled that his credibility was questionable, as his information is most likely secondhand hearsay. That does not stop Mack, however. In his mind, Mack elevates Tom’s writings above those of the four true witnesses as to credibility. His Q witness takes on a life of its own. He develops a personality for it and fabricates writings in Q’s name, and a cult of followers grows among the intelligensia. They even decide that there may actually also be another original witness they name Q2.
Now the simple fact that there has never been a trace of physical evidence found that Q exists, or that there has never been found a direct reference in any writing to the existence of Q does not hinder Mack and his followers.
Now as a juror, I ask you: Which is more easily believed: The simple fact that four eyewitnesses each wrote narratives from their unique perspectives, or the convoluted mental gymnastics put together by the authors of Q in an effort to justify their unbelief?
Canoga Park, California
Stephen J. Patterson replies to Robert Delancy and William D. Koehnlein:
In reacting to the Q hypothesis, Mssrs. Delancy and Koehnlein make some very good points. For example, it is no doubt true that Jesus repeated things many times, so that there were various versions of his sayings and parables that circulated among his early followers. Also, Delancy’s conjecture that there would have been early Jesus people that later became Christians is no doubt true. There were also probably followers of Jesus who never became Christians. At this earliest stage in the Jesus tradition, I believe we must expect that there were a variety of reactions to Jesus, ranging from “this person is a nut” to “this person is God incarnate.”
However, none of this has any bearing on the validity of the Q hypothesis. This hypothesis was born of the need to account for things scholars have seen in the Gospel texts that cannot easily be explained otherwise. Neither Delancy nor Koehnlein engages the textual aspects of the Q hypothesis. Rather they use rhetoric (Q is a “ghost,” a “chimera”) or caricature (bungling scholars who know not the slightest thing about critical investigation) to discredit the Q hypothesis and the vast majority of New Testament scholars who accept it (if not Mack’s own treatment of it). Delancy and Koehnlein each seem to suggest in his own way that the similarities between Matthew and Luke that scholars generally attribute to a common reliance on either Mark or Q may be accounted for if we simply assume that certain eyewitness gathered around Jesus and took notes.
But there was no press corps in antiquity. Very few people could read or write. Writing was expensive and a specialized skill. Eventually a few such specialists joined the Jesus movement, and their legacy forms the basis of our very limited understanding of Christian origins. But the possibility that such persons accompanied Jesus through the countryside is rather remote. Rather, Christianity, like all other ancient philosophical and religious movements, was originally propagated orally.
This is an important element that separates these earliest Christians from us. In a day when tape recorders and video cameras make verbatim accuracy possible, we have become obsessed with it. Many today will even sacrifice the experience of an event in order to capture it on film. But in a culture in which even the simplest technology, such as writing, was largely unavailable, verbatim accuracy was little valued. Rather, oral tradition repeats and preserves material in a form that expresses its significance for those listening to it. To us, changing a tradition corrupts it; for ancients, this made it of value. This is why scholars are so skeptical of the historical accuracy of the Gospels: They are built upon 35 years of ever-changing oral tradition, created by authors who had no interest in history as we know it.
This is why verbatim agreement between 054any two writings—rare in antiquity—is so suggestive of intertextual relationships. For most New Testament scholars, the two-source hypothesis, including the Q hypothesis, is the most adequate way of accounting for the intertextual relationships among three of our four canonical Gospels. A viable alternative must begin with a thorough understanding of the ancient world and its culture, not our own desire to have texts that share our interest in objective historical accuracy.
Still Another Lost Gospel
The review of recent writings on “Q—The Lost Gospel” by Stephen J. Patterson. (“Q—The Lost Gospel,” BR 09:05) covered very important material, but did not touch on a critical question: The “Q theory” that “the Gospels must now be seen as the result of early Christian myth-making” depends almost entirely on the absence of accounts of the death, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas. Yet, this Gospel text comes through “exactly as described in the Prologue.” Those are the Judas Thomas, the twin, recorded—no claims for biographic material of the last days of Jesus’ life, or any other period. Is it not possible, or even probable, that this is contained in another lost manuscript? To use the Gospel of Thomas as confirmation that the Q-people had no interest in the life and death of Jesus is shaky reasoning, or worse!
Canyon Lake, Texas
Necessity is the Mother of Invention
Parsimony and Occam’s razor were not the fathers of the Q-document hypothesis (“Q—The Lost Gospel,” BR 09:05).
As Stephen Patterson elucidates, those working within the framework of that theory found a need to invent a prior Q document to “explain” subtleties in Q that required an even earlier Q document. The Q-document hypothesis came out of the early idea that each Gospel was drawn independently of the others from “oral traditions” floating about in the early Christian communities. This was the outcome of taking Eusebius and Bultmann too seriously.
The simplest answer to this synoptic problem is that Luke had both Matthew and Mark before him, rewriting both into his version. That which is common to Matthew and Luke does not need to presuppose they had a common source any more than what is common to Mark and Luke requires some other “common source.”
Matthew had plenty of clues that indicate that it was a gift from the Jerusalem group headed by James to the gentile converts of Paul in Asia to counter Paul and to convince them to become Torah-observing Jews and messianists.
This much simpler explanation is in accord with the politics going on then and avoids the complications of hypothesizing Q.
Los Angeles, California
Can You Reconstruct L1 from L2?
The discussion of the stages of development of a conjectured Gospel named Q (Stephen J. Patterson, “Q—The Lost Gospel,” BR 09:05) seems very much like charting personality growth in an imaginary friend: We say much more about ourselves than anything else. I appreciate the theory of Q and use it in my teaching, but the conclusions drawn by [John] Kloppenborg and [Burton] Mack say far more about their own assumptions (thus their purported stages of development) than they do about Q. I especially appreciated Patterson’s ironic use of the idea of the “house of cards”: Does that image not best describe much of what is now being written about Q? Conjectures about conjectures.
P.S. This is the final redaction of my letter: I am calling it L2. There was an earlier version that I reworked; it is L1. Then there was the idea, the original spark that the article brought to mind: I am calling it proto-L.
Someone Liked It
I have just received my first issue of BR and am writing to tell you how much I enjoyed it. I was especially pleased to read Stephen J. Patterson’s insightful article (“Q—The Lost Gospel,” BR 09:05). I’m sure many traditionalists will find this approach to the Gospels offensive, but I find it exciting to see Christianity beginning to outgrow its cult of personality and focus on the spiritual teachings that began it all.
Critical, But Not Scandalized
Just a few brief remarks on Stephen J. Patterson’s review article on Burton Mack’s The Lost Gospel (“Q—The Lost Gospel,” BR 09:05). I had given the book only a cursory examination and dismissed it as just another in the “Morton Smith (not to speak ill of the dead) School of Debunkery,” in which the tone of the scholarship emanates as much from personal spiritual woundedness as from research. Implicit but apparent within such material is the claim: “For 2,000 years everybody has had it all wrong, and I (genius that I am) have discovered the secret truth which proves that, thereby justifying my own disappointment with the Church and subsequent loss of faith.” While I once might have enjoyed it for the entertainment value, I just don’t have enough time anymore to spend on this kind of academic “acting act.” Now I can only grieve over the loss of such brilliant minds from the Faith. Perhaps the “publish or perish” ethic in Academe is partly responsible for this kind of silliness, but the culpability, I’m sorry to say falls 055most heavily upon us pastors and archpastors. Among our failures, too many of us have forsaken our natural and rightful roles as theologians and teachers, leaving them to be filled by mercenaries who “do” theology for the highest offer, with no loyalty to God’s People.
I enjoyed Professor Patterson’s excellent digest and analysis of The Lost Gospel. The background he provides was especially helpful. Although my initial impression of the book still stands, I may nevertheless give it more serious consideration. Not all of Mack’s positions are so disagreeable—for example, his assertion that the first Christians were not really “Christians” at all, but rather “Jesus people.” But then, this isn’t news. Eastern Christians have always understood this, even if others have not.
I would like to offer an alternative to the customary view that some amorphous proto-Q material underwent several stages of literary evolution, ultimately to congeal into what we now posit as Q. If our professors of New Testament would just unexpectedly collect their students’ lecture notes at the end of a session, they may gain some insight into Q. Some will quote you on key points, while others will paraphrase. Some will add their own thoughts when reminded of a related idea. Some will ask questions, while some will not. All of them will give emphasis to certain points while omitting others, each according to his own lights. Then suppose that 20 or 30 years later a handful of them writes about the valuable things they learned in your classroom. Would they agree? Mostly, to be sure, but not completely by any means.
Now if we could transfer this scenario to the students of Rebbe Yeshuah bar Yusef—the Twelve, the Seventy, and others as well—then you may have many sources and variants of Q, some perhaps in Greek but most of them certainly in Aramaic. These lecture notes of Jesus’ students, written during his ministry, would have served as memory aids and as catechetical material. After Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, the disciples fully expected the Parousia to occur almost immediately. In other words, they assumed Jesus’ return to be imminent—if not this week, then next week, or next month, or next year perhaps—but soon. With such expectations then, it would have seemed to serve no useful purpose to add resurrection material to the writings (such as they were). Not until the first generation of Christians had nearly died out would some of Jesus’ intimate friends realize (by divine inspiration) the now-urgent need for writing down their memories of him, providing context for these “sayings,” fleshing out the bones for the sake of future generations.
It seems to me, then, that both the Griesbach and two-source hypotheses are just too simplistic, in that they both assume a fairly straightforward linear type of development. Wouldn’t a more organic approach make more sense? Jesus himself gave us an organic model for how his words would spread in “The Parable of the Sower” (Matthew 13:3–23). Let us then at least consider the possibility that the sources of Q, or proto-Gospel material, could have been as many and varied as were those among Jesus’ listeners “who heard his word and understood it, and so bore 058fruit and produced some one hundred-fold and some sixty and some thirty” (adapted from Lamsa translation).
I read and enjoy every issue of BR and Biblical Archaeology Review, and I am not scandalized by the provocative positions you often bring into your forum. Just as the Nicene Creed was formulated as a response to the Christological and trinitarian controversies of their day, so will honest discussion of today’s controversies help clarify the Faith for our generation.
Antiochian Catholic Church
Saint Demetrios Parish
Stephen J. Patterson replies:
In reflecting upon modern biblical scholarship, Bishop Herron opines that he no longer has the time to spend on “this kind of academic ‘acting out.’” This calls for a confession: when BR sends me a particularly blistering and insulting letter for response, I occasionally find myself asking the same question, “Do I really have time for this?” I sometimes even speculate about the mental health of the sender, as does Herron about scholars, although I seldom include such diagnoses in my response. In the end I always do respond as patiently as I can, because it is not a waste of time. For too many years scholars and church folk have shrunk from open, honest discussion of matters that concern us both. I, for one, am devoted to both worlds, and I have yet to be convinced that honest intellectual inquiry is incompatible with the life of faith. In fact, I am convinced that if the church does not begin to take its intellectual life more seriously, it may soon die.
Most of Bishop Herron’s ideas about the genesis of the Gospel tradition are addressed in my response to Delancy and Koehnlein. Indeed, Gospel origins are very complicated, no doubt more so than our simple solutions may suggest. We must approach the task with humility.
One argument, however, stands out: that 2,000 years of tradition bears more weight than any of our own puny scholarly observations could ever hope to overturn. This is the classic argument out of which all critical scholarship, both sacred and secular, arose. It is the question of who has the power to name what is true. Before the Enlightenment, church authorities controlled that power exclusively. Someone like Mack might have been tried for heresy and 059burned at the stake, thus settling the matter of his views once and for all. Now, bishops must take their turn with everyone else in an open public discourse. In this atmosphere, which has prevailed now for more than two centuries, many time-honored convictions have given way to more reasonable claims: that women are not intrinsically inferior to men, that slavery is not an acceptable human condition, that the earth was not created in seven days and placed at our disposal. Over time, most Christians have come to accept these views as central to living the life of faith, even though they do not square with the literal reading of the Bible insisted upon for centuries by Church authorities.
In 1845 James Russell Lowell penned these lines:
“New occasions teach new duties,
Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still and onward,
Who would keep abreast of truth.”
Two thousand years of tradition cannot be all wrong, but that does not excuse us from asking new questions and exploring new answers for a new day. To the Bishop: hang in there with the discussion; it is worth it.
The Source of Q
I studied under Professor Helmut Koester at the Harvard Divinity School, and in the course of my readings I encountered a most interesting note regarding the origins of Q, as a symbol for the “other source(s)” in the Gospel narratives. I give credit where credit is due, and so I transcribe the note.
R. H. Lightfoot, in his book History and Interpretation in the Gospels (New York: Harper & Row, 1934), pages 27–28, illuminates the mysterious origins of the letter Q used to designate “other source(s)”:
“It seems now to be always assumed that the symbol Q originated in Germany, as being the first letter of the German Quelle, source. Dr. Armitage Robinson, however, in conversation with the present writer maintained in all seriousness that he himself was the first to use the symbol, and for an entirely different reason. In lecturing in Cambridge on the sources of the gospels, in the ‘nineties of the last century,’ he was in the habit, he said, of alluding to St. Mark’s gospel as P (reminiscences of St. Peter), and to the presumed saying-document as Q, simply because Q was the next letter after P in the alphabet. His contention, therefore, was that some of his hearers carried his method across the North Sea, and that German scholars, having adopted the symbol Q from him, soon found an explanation for it, which to them no doubt seemed both more satisfactory and more rational. Dr. Robinson emphasized that no designation of the sayings-document by the symbol Q appeared in German writings until after the period of his lectures in Cambridge, and that the now common explanation of the symbol would be found to be still later. If, as Dr. Burkitt informs me, [Julius] Wellhausen was the first in Germany to use the symbol Q, it is possible to date accurately its appearance in print in that country, since the first edition of his Einleitung, in which it appears, was published in 1903. His commentaries on synoptics began to appear in the same year.”
Now it is possible to know, at least, the origin of the source of Q, no pun intended, or is it?
Thank you for the nice work you do in BR. It continues to be my source for updating my education.
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Apocalypse at Waco
Koresh Deserved It
James D. Tabor (“Apocalypse at Waco—Could the Tragedy Have Been Averted?” BR 09:05), while obviously well versed in the Scriptures dealing with the end times, seems a bit out of touch. Does he really think that David Koresh was anything but a power-mad, manipulative, sexual pervert with illusions of grandeur? This man was a dangerous criminal, not a real visionary of any sort. Mr. Tabor appears to have conveniently forgotten that the raid on the Mt. Carmel complex was not just to obtain the weapons that Koresh was stockpiling, but because of child-abuse allegations from ex-cult members. The stories of his sexual adventures with pre-teens were legion. For this reason alone, Mr. “Cyrus” (Hebrew: Koresh) was deserving of his fate.
If Tabor actually thinks that this “man” would have surrendered after he completed his manuscript, he has a rose tint to his windshield. Koresh had an eighth-grade education. How close to an intelligent commentary could it be? Perhaps he could have been put on the staff of BR.
James D. Tabor replies:
Mr. Stevens’s letter only confirms the sad and tragic nature of the whole Waco episode and the role of our media in sensationalizing and distorting the facts. I can only assume Mr. Stevens lacks any firsthand knowledge of David Koresh, his followers, or what happened at Waco and bases his harsh judgment only on what he “heard” or “read” in the media. Unfortunately, every single point he makes is inaccurate. Here are the facts relative to the issues he raises:
1. The raid on the Mt. Carmel complex was not because of child abuse charges. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) has no jurisdiction in such areas in the first place. Certainly in our system you do not mount an armed raid on a home because of child abuse allegations. The courts are open for any and all such matters to be solved.
2. The group was officially investigated over a period of months in 1992 for 060allegations of child abuse by the Texas state authorities and was completely exonerated.
3. Attorney General Janet Reno admitted, a few days after the fire, that she had been misled, that there was no real evidence of child abuse. She was relying on reports and allegations prior to the February 28th raid.
4. The BATF has been severely chastised for even carrying out the raid in the first place by our own government investigation. No illegal firearms have turned up, meaning the whole episode, including the deaths of all those people, was over nothing. In 1992, David Koresh invited the BATF to come out and look at the firearms he had purchased. They declined. David had a good working relationship with the local sheriff. He would have welcomed him on the property peacefully anytime, with or without a warrant. This was not the way to handle the suspected violations.
5. We now have the David Koresh manuscript. Although I do not personally agree with his exegesis of scripture, it is clearly and intelligently written, quite complex in analysis of texts and certainly not the work of a madman. If anyone wants a copy, it is available through Reunion Institute, 5508 Chaucer, Houston, TX 77005 ($5.00 for copy cost and postage). David and his group were coming out. All the arrangements were made, and the whole affair could have been peacefully resolved. This has been totally confirmed by the lawyers who spent countless hours inside during the siege and by interviews with the survivors of the fire.
6. I have spent hours talking with many of the Branch Davidian survivors. They are warm, intelligent and dear people who love God and the Bible, not the slavish robots Mr. Stevens imagines. That their views of scripture were different from the mainstream is no crime. I would say, from my knowledge of the facts, that 95 percent of what people have heard about David Koresh and the bizarre behavior of the group is concocted rumor and falsehood. Who is willing to play judge and executioner based on such evidence?
The Approach of More Apocalyptic Fervor
James Tabor’s “Apocalypse at Waco—Could the Tragedy Have Been Averted?” BR 09:05, was romantic and speculative in the extreme. Perhaps Dr. Tabor does not have “the slightest doubt that David Koresh would have surrendered peacefully had he been allowed to finish his manuscript,” but I do. I suspect I am not alone.
Tabor’s further skepticism about the government’s decision not to wait for the completion of the manuscript constitutes mind reading. The proper reaction to this is simply, “his guess was as good as the FBI’s.”
The article itself, before the concluding paragraph, was interesting and informative. It reminds us of the power of the apocalyptic writings in our own time. As we approach the year 2000, I think we are going to encounter a rash of apocalyptic fervor and fever. I know I am not alone in this conviction because I have read the concerns of others in the media.
Tabor’s speculations about what may have been going on in the head of David Koresh are interesting and seem to have some basis. However, his conclusion that he was right and everyone else wrong remains speculative. Asking the FBI and others to postpone action until biblical scholars can divine the myth used by people like Koresh is, in my own speculative opinion, silly. The next people the FBI will be hearing from are those who read the livers of one-year-old bulls.
Rockville Presbyterian Church
His God Has Higher Standards
The October issue of BR ended my subscription, saving me the bother of writing to say I want no more. I am elderly and cannot think of any more wasteful way to use my remaining time than to read such garbage as James D. Tabor’s “Apocalypse at Waco—Could the Tragedy Have Been Averted?” BR 09:05. All that was needed was a reminder to pay no attention to false messiahs and lunatics, and, if not of sound mind, to avoid reading Revelation. In 76 years I’ve seen a number of unstable people go nuts from reading that. I’d include Professor Tabor, unless the magazine hired him to write that silly defense of the maniac Koresh.
You often offend both the “Brainwashed Believers” and the “Scornful Sceptics” (like me). How 20th-century 061people with any degree of intelligence or education can fail to be appalled by a heathen anthropomorphic tribal God such as Yahweh, who liked the tribal smells of burnt meat and wool, and demanded blood sacrifices, of a son in Abraham’s case and of his own son in Christian mythology—a murderous old devil—a god like that astounds and baffles me. I myself have a god, but it certainly has higher standards than the Bible God. All any god is is what any person creates as one in his own mind.
Columbia, South Carolina
In regard to James D. Tabor’s “Apocalypse at Waco—Could the Tragedy Have Been Averted?” BR 09:05, readers of Martin Gardner’s Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (New York, 1957) will recall that Vernon Howell was not the first American cultist to assume the name of “Koresh.” He was anticipated in this by Cyrus Reed Teed (1839–1908), an upstate New York physician who believed that the Earth is hollow and that we are living on the inside and who wrote several books and founded communal societies in Chicago and Florida in support of that belief (which he called “Koreshianity”) and of his own status as “messiah.” He is said to have met a violent end, but, unlike Howell, without taking any of his followers with him; remnants of the Florida society were apparently still in existence in 1947. Misuse of the “futurist” approach to the Book of Revelation (and its predecessor, Daniel) by paranoiacs has a long history, far older than either Koresh.
Professor Emeritus of Music
Suny College at Fredonia
Fredonia, New York
Two Approaches Enjoyable
The articles in your October 1993 edition on the testing of Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac were most enjoyable (Robin M. Jensen, “The Binding or Sacrifice of Isaac,” BR 09:05; Lippman Bodoff, “God Tests Abraham—Abraham Tests God,” BR 09:05). I appreciated the comparison/contrast of the Jewish/Christian understandings of the event very much.
A Late Bronze Story Transformed?
I am always delighted by the arrival of BR, to read the intriguing, thought-provoking, sometimes off-the-wall articles, features and letters. The October 1993 issue was no exception. Robin Jensen (“The Binding or Sacrifice of Isaac,” BR 09:05) is safe in simply reviewing the historic and modern religious views in the traditions of the Jewish and Christian communities, and that was interesting in its own right. I had wished for a more anthropological treatment, but Ms. Jensen chose not to give it.
Lippman Bodoff (“God Tests Abraham—Abraham Tests God,” BR 09:05) takes a bit more of a risk and provides his own interpretation, a homiletic one, of the binding of Isaac, which sees the significance of the story in its anticlimax—neither God nor Abraham had ever intended the sacrifice to go to its conclusion. Presumably only Isaac thought that it might. One wonders about the relationship between father and son afterward.
But what I had really hoped for was a discussion of the obvious Late Bronze Age context of the story and its implications for the cult of human sacrifice which, while rare, still was practiced in the Middle East during these times. I have always assumed that the origin of the Father Abraham stories, of which Genesis can be only a sampling, was the Bedouin campsites during the latter days of the Bronze Age. As these fierce, hard-living herdsmen told of their tribal heroes and dealt with the stresses of learning to live in an increasingly urbanized land, the tales of Father Abraham must have reflected their concerns with and adjustments to this new reality.
Abraham hears the call of his tribal god to sacrifice his son. Without a quibble, he sets out to do just that. Isaac, not one to resist his father, although not exactly unquestioning (“Where is the sheep for the sacrifice?”), goes along, his fate known but not embraced. Is this sacrifice to go forward? Does God require human blood? Is this the future of life in the land of the Sown as it was in the land of the Desert?
Curiously, God changes to Lord at just the juncture where the knife is descending. El-Shaddai, whom Abraham worshiped, becomes Yahweh, whom Abraham reveres. And Isaac is spared. What was the earlier version of this story? Did Abraham sacrifice his son to El-Shaddai, a conclusion the scribes of Yahweh’s priesthood could not let stand?
Palos Verdes Estates, California
Lippman Bodoff replies:
I have no knowledge of any prior versions of the Akedah. I simply tried to understand the version that we do have. I note from the end of Mr. Kase’s letter that he, too, is troubled by the interpretation that God expected Abraham to be willing to sacrifice the blood of an innocent. Under my interpretation, that was not demanded, expected or offered. As to the relationship between Abraham and Isaac after the Akedah, see footnote 63 of my original paper in Judaism, Winter 1993.
Abraham Passed the Test of Belief in God’s Promise
Although Lippman Bodoff (“God Tests Abraham—Abraham Tests God,” BR 09:05) is on the right track when he contends that Abraham never intended to kill Isaac, his conjecture that Abraham was testing God is not very convincing.
God promised Abraham three times (Genesis 17:19, 21; 21:12) that His everlasting covenant (to give Abraham many descendants) would be maintained through Isaac. If Abraham believed that God would carry out this promise, then he also would have had to believe that God did not intend Isaac to die at that time, before he had offspring. Did Abraham believe in God’s promises? God had reasons to be skeptical. In Genesis 15, after God promised to give Canaan to Abraham, Abraham had the audacity to ask God to take an oath on the promise. In Genesis 17, when God informed Abraham that he was going to have a son by Sarah, he laughed at the idea that a 90-year-old woman could bear a child. To find out if Abraham had matured into a true believer, God had to test him.
The Akedah narrative should be read as a continuation of a parallel story, in the preceding chapter, featuring Ishmael (Genesis 21:9–21). Here, God tells Abraham to send Ishmael into the surrounding wilderness, an act tantamount to a death sentence. This command (in effect, to sacrifice Ishmael) does not give rise to the agonizing impact experienced in the Akedah, because it is immediately tempered by God’s 062assurance, “for it is through Isaac that offspring will continue for you. As for the son of the slave-woman, I will make a nation of him, too …” (Genesis 21:12–13). If Abraham really believed this assurance, then he also would have had to believe that Ishmael could not die at that time, before he had progeny. As promised, Ishmael is rescued by God, assisted by an angel. (Note the parallelism with Isaac’s rescue.)
Abraham passed a preliminary test involving Ishmael. Now his belief had to be tested more stringently, this time with his “favored son, Isaac, whom you love” (Genesis 22:2), and with Abraham himself being the designated instrument of death.
The impact of God’s promise of offspring through Isaac (see above quotation) is greatly diluted by the interrupting presence of an unrelated episode—Genesis 21:22–34. These 13 verses were probably inserted into the text by a later editor. If Genesis 21:22–34 were not present, a reader would start Genesis 22 with the Ishmael episode fresher in mind, better in a position to remember that Abraham had been promised descendants through Isaac, and thus better able to understand that if Abraham really believed in God’s promise, then he would have felt assured that Isaac could not die at that time. God’s test was not to see if Abraham would actively engage in the sacrifice of Isaac, but rather to determine if Abraham believed in God’s promises. Note that God expresses Abraham’s behavior as a passive rather than an active act: “You have not withheld your son, your favored one…” (Genesis 22:12, 16).
Genesis 22 is the dramatic ending of an ongoing narrative that starts with Genesis 12. The connection between these two chapters is suggested by the presence of literary markers. In each, Abraham is instructed to go forth (lekh lekha), an expression that appears only in these two places in the entire Bible. In Genesis 12, Abraham’s destination is “the land that I will show you”; in Genesis 22, “the heights that I will point out to you.” In Genesis 12, God’s opening words include the covenantal promise; in Genesis 22, Abraham’s reward for passing the test is God’s reiteration of the covenantal promise. The main theme of Genesis 12 and 22 is the “covenantal promise.” This is evident from the numerous times it is repeated. These chapters could well be subtitled, “The Evolution of the Covenantal Relationship between God and Abraham.” In Genesis 12, the promise appears to be unconditional; Abraham is not required to do anything in exchange for God’s generosity. This changes in Genesis 22, where the promise appears to be conditional upon the passing of a test. The first party’s covenantal promise will be carried out only if the second party believes in it. A simple and reasonable contract.
The concept that “belief” is a more important expectation of God is illustrated in Numbers 14. Here, the Israelites are frantic about God’s orders to attack Canaan: “Why is the Lord taking us to that land to die by the sword? Our wives and children will be carried off!” (Numbers 14:3). God’s response is, “How long will this people spurn me, and how long will they have no faith in Me despite all the signs that I have performed in their midst?” (Numbers 14:11). The Israelites did not believe God’s promises and therefore were concerned about the harm that they would be exposed to if they obeyed God’s command. Abraham believed in God’s promises and therefore knew that no harm would befall Isaac through carrying out God’s command.
Los Angeles, California
Lippman Bodoff replies:
To get to the core of the apple, you must cut the skin. Whether God was testing Abraham to see if he would “actively engage in the sacrifice [i.e., killing] of Isaac,” or, as Moster prefers, “to determine if Abraham believed in God’s promises,” the test involved, as Abraham evidently understood it, the slaughter; with a knife, and the burning of his son. That idea, for me, is difficult to accept as the intent of the religious and moral point of view represented by the Torah as it was given to the people of Israel.
In the End, Abraham Would Obey
I congratulate Lippman Bodoff for a beautiful and powerful reading of the Akedah (“God Tests Abraham—Abraham Tests God,” BR 09:05), in which he shows that the real test was whether Abraham could follow God’s command without killing his son.
The only way I’d differ is that I’ve stopped short of believing that Abraham would have finally disobeyed God and spared Isaac. I fervently agree that fulfilling the command would be a moral catastrophe, but I think Abraham would obey, knowing full well that he would have lost everything—son, heir, covenant, morality—for the sake of obedience, but believing as well that if killing was God’s will, he had already lost everything.
I also agree that Abraham’s solution, stalling for time, involved another test, one that God passed. Thanks so much for your work.
Jersey City, New Jersey
Lippman Bodoff replies:
I appreciate Charles Hollander’s kind words. I respect his view that Abraham would have accepted his (and the world’s) terrible destiny had he not been told to stop. Nevertheless, I believe that an Abraham of the moral passion and courage that is presented in the Torah would have said something like: “What can He do to me if I disobey Him that is worse than killing my own son?”
Job Wanted, Have Lots of Magazine Experience
Since you do not have the guts to fire Marcus J. Borg (“Faith and Scholarship,” BR 09:04), I’m firing you. Please cancel my subscription.
The last sentence of endnote 5 of Lippman Bodoff’s “God Tests Abraham—Abraham Tests God,” BR 09:05, should read, “While this tradition confirms that Abraham did not wish to kill Isaac, we must try to understand the text as written, in which Abraham remained silent about Isaac until the end of the Akedah.” Also, the reference at the end of the second footnote should be to “Radbaz, Rabbi David ibn Zimra…renowned…halakhic authority.”
In Ziva Amishai-Maisels’ description of the
Julia Child, Watch Out!
Two years ago I wrote asking if you could obtain a translation of the Babylonian clay tablets at Yale.