Titles of the gospels

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gmx
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Titles of the gospels

Post by gmx » Thu Jun 14, 2018 12:42 am

If the original titles of the gospels were not the traditional titles, do you believe that they were originally untitled, or that they had other titles which were later excised?

If originally untitled, how common was that in antiquity, for literature similar in length to the gospels?

Perhaps one would have to know the intended purpose of the autograph, but it would seem that the Gospels were at least intended to invoke the tone of scripture, if that makes sense. Do similar documents have titles? For example, are the Nag Hammadi and Dead Sea Scrolls titled? What sort of titles do they have?
Last edited by gmx on Thu Jun 14, 2018 5:01 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Blood
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Re: Titles of the gospels

Post by Blood » Thu Jun 14, 2018 4:13 am

gmx wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 12:42 am
If the original titles of the gospels were not the traditional titles, do you believe that they were originally untitled, or that they had other titles which were later excised?

If originally untitled, how common was that in antiquity, for literature similar in length to the gospels?

Perhaps one would have know the intended purpose of the autograph, but it would seem that the Gospels were at least intended to invoke the tone of scripture, if that makes sense. Do similar documents have titles? For example, are the Nag Hammadi and Dead Sea Scrolls titled? What sort of titles do they have?
Good questions.

I'd imagine that the original titles were something like Marcion's "Gospel of the Lord." Since they were closely following the Septuagint, and those books had titles, there's little reason to suppose the authors weren't inclined to title the works.

Most of the Nag Hammadi texts do have titles, most in the same convention as the NT, Apocalypse of James, Gospel of Phillip, Gospel of Thomas, etc.

Titles in antiquity were not as important as they are now.
“The only sensible response to fragmented, slowly but randomly accruing evidence is radical open-mindedness. A single, simple explanation for a historical event is generally a failure of imagination, not a triumph of induction.” William H.C. Propp

gmx
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Re: Titles of the gospels

Post by gmx » Thu Jun 14, 2018 5:00 am

Blood wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 4:13 am
gmx wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 12:42 am
If the original titles of the gospels were not the traditional titles, do you believe that they were originally untitled, or that they had other titles which were later excised?

If originally untitled, how common was that in antiquity, for literature similar in length to the gospels?

Perhaps one would have know the intended purpose of the autograph, but it would seem that the Gospels were at least intended to invoke the tone of scripture, if that makes sense. Do similar documents have titles? For example, are the Nag Hammadi and Dead Sea Scrolls titled? What sort of titles do they have?
Most of the Nag Hammadi texts do have titles, most in the same convention as the NT, Apocalypse of James, Gospel of Phillip, Gospel of Thomas, etc.
Fair enough. The dead sea scrolls? They have titles "community rule" etc, but did the scrolls themselves contain titles?
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StephenGoranson
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Re: Titles of the gospels

Post by StephenGoranson » Thu Jun 14, 2018 5:23 am

Most Qumran scrolls do not have titles. But an excellent article about one of the exceptions proposes (I'd say, persuasively) that a title was changed.

4Q249 Midrash Moshe: A New Reading and Some Implications
Authors: Jonathan Ben-Dov and Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra
Source: Dead Sea Discoveries, Volume 21, Issue 2, pages 131 – 149 Publication Year : 2014
DOI: 10.1163/15685179-12341310
ISSN: 0929-0761 E-ISSN: 1568-5179
Document Type: Research Article
Subjects: Biblical Studies
Keywords: 4Q249; Qumran cryptic scrolls; midrash; paleography

Abstract:
This article proves that the title “Midrash Sepher Moshe,” written in Jewish square characters on the verso of the cryptic scroll 4Q249, is the product of a correction. Initially it had been “Sepher Moshe” which was subsequently corrected to “Midrash Moshe.” This is therefore a rare attestation of canonical awareness on the part of Qumran librarians. The terms “midrash” and “sepher” are discussed accordingly. In addition, the paleography of this title is submitted to close scrutiny, proving that the dating of these words to the early second century b.c.e. in not substantiated. Rather, both the first and second hands should be dated to around 100 b.c.e. like many other scrolls. This fresh analysis has important consequences for the dating of the entire cryptic corpus, which is not as early as previously suggested.

Ken Olson
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Re: Titles of the gospels

Post by Ken Olson » Thu Jun 14, 2018 5:41 am

Ancient works with no formal titles were often known by their initial words, their author, or their recipients. The superscriptions attached to the canonical gospels are a version of title by author (though perhaps misattributed). The New Testament epistles are generally known by either their ostensible authors or their recipients.

The Hebrew titles of the five books of the Torah are taken from their initial words:
Bereshit: "In the beginning"
Shemot: "("Names'): Now these are the names of the sons of Israel
Vayikra: ("And he called"): "And he called unto Moses and spoke the LORD unto him"
Bamidbar ("In the wilderness") The LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai
Devarim ("Words"): These are the words that Moses spoke

The initial words of the gospels (in the order I take them to have been written):
Mark: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ [the Son of God]
Matthew: The book of the genesis of Jesus Christ, the son of David the son of Abraham
Luke: Inasmuch as many have undertaken ...
John: In the beginning was the word.

Mark, and perhaps Matthew, may well have been known by their initial words or a subset, i.e. "The Gospel of Jesus Christ"
This would not work as well for Luke and John. Luke may have been known by is recipient. For a period it was common for scholars to refer to Luke and Acts as the first and second books to Theophilus. I don't think there is any surviving ancient record of them being referred to that way. John is more difficult to figure out.

The existing superscriptions have the form "The Gospel According to X" or merely "According to X." A leading theory is that the first gospel (Mark) was known simply as the gospel. The others were also known as the gospel in the community that used them. It wasn't until communities had and used more than one gospel that they needed to be distinguished from each other while yet acknowledging their (more or less) equal status as the gospel. The uniformity of the practice of giving the titles with KATA ("According to") implies some centralizing influence as this was not a common way to identify ancient works (we might expect the genitive "of Mark," "of Matthew" etc.).

gmx
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Re: Titles of the gospels

Post by gmx » Thu Jun 14, 2018 6:05 am

Ken Olson wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 5:41 am
The existing superscriptions have the form "The Gospel According to X" or merely "According to X." A leading theory is that the first gospel (Mark) was known simply as the gospel. The others were also known as the gospel in the community that used them. It wasn't until communities had and used more than one gospel that they needed to be distinguished from each other while yet acknowledging their (more or less) equal status as the gospel. The uniformity of the practice of giving the titles with KATA ("According to") implies some centralizing influence as this was not a common way to identify ancient works (we might expect the genitive "of Mark," "of Matthew" etc.).
So we know the Gospels by name by the end of the second century, and by the mid-fourth, the manuscripts ALL have either "kata" or "evangelion kata" as titles.

I want to challenge your statement: "It wasn't until communities had and used more than one gospel that they needed to be distinguished from each other". How do you evidence that?

One thing that confuses me about that statement is that the gospel would need to be a concept accepted by multiple distinct communities at the same time, even though those communities had separate gospels that they referred to as the gospel. How did they get an understanding of what "a gospel" was?.

What is the history of the terms gospel and evangelion, as genres?

Are there any other documents in antiquity that are titled evangelion or kata, prior to the gospels?
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Ben C. Smith
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Re: Titles of the gospels

Post by Ben C. Smith » Thu Jun 14, 2018 7:25 am

gmx wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 6:05 am
Are there any other documents in antiquity that are titled evangelion or kata, prior to the gospels?
The titles of the various Greek translations of the Hebrew scriptures used κατά, like so: κατὰ Σύμμαχον, κατὰ Ἀκύλαν, κατὰ τοὺς Ἑβδομήκοντα (the scriptures according to Symmachus, to Aquila, and to the Seventy). The scriptures are being treated here as one work with different versions. That the gospel titles follow this pattern suggests to me that the gospel narrative was considered to be one story presented in different versions.

I personally doubt that the first gospel texts were all called gospels, much less independently. Papias speaks of the logia, Justin Martyr of the memoirs (which he says are also called gospels, though I have wondered before whether this notice may be a later gloss). Marcion's gospel was apparently just known as "the gospel" or "the gospel of the Lord." I think that Christians struggled for a few decades as to what to call their narrative writings. How the titles came to be standardized with their κατά format is still an open question. Maybe there was a highly influential edition of the gospels (all four of the canonical ones?) which standardized this format.
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Ken Olson
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Re: Titles of the gospels

Post by Ken Olson » Thu Jun 14, 2018 7:46 am

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 7:25 am
gmx wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 6:05 am
Are there any other documents in antiquity that are titled evangelion or kata, prior to the gospels?
The titles of the various Greek translations of the Hebrew scriptures used κατά, like so: κατὰ Σύμμαχον, κατὰ Ἀκύλαν, κατὰ τοὺς Ἑβδομήκοντα (the scriptures according to Symmachus, to Aquila, and to the Seventy). The scriptures are being treated here as one work with different versions. That the gospel titles follow this pattern suggests to me that the gospel narrative was considered to be one story presented in different versions.
Ben,

Thanks for that. Isn't Symmachus from the second half of the second century, roughly contemporary with the superscriptions of the gospels? Do any of these examples definitely predate that? (I genuinely do not know).

Best,

Ken

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Re: Titles of the gospels

Post by Ken Olson » Thu Jun 14, 2018 7:48 am

gmx wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 6:05 am
Ken Olson wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 5:41 am
The existing superscriptions have the form "The Gospel According to X" or merely "According to X." A leading theory is that the first gospel (Mark) was known simply as the gospel. The others were also known as the gospel in the community that used them. It wasn't until communities had and used more than one gospel that they needed to be distinguished from each other while yet acknowledging their (more or less) equal status as the gospel. The uniformity of the practice of giving the titles with KATA ("According to") implies some centralizing influence as this was not a common way to identify ancient works (we might expect the genitive "of Mark," "of Matthew" etc.).
So we know the Gospels by name by the end of the second century, and by the mid-fourth, the manuscripts ALL have either "kata" or "evangelion kata" as titles.
GMX: I want to challenge your statement: "It wasn't until communities had and used more than one gospel that they needed to be distinguished from each other". How do you evidence that?
This statement was, of course, prefaced by saying that this was a leading theory. It's not directly evidenced; it's a scholarly hypothesis meant to account for the (presumable) fact that the gospels circulated without being cited by name until the latter half of the second century. (Papias names the authors of two gospels in the first half of the century, but does not actually cite/quote them. If anyone knows of someone I've overlooked quoting any of the gospels and citing them by name earlier than that, l'd be grateful for the information).
GMX: One thing that confuses me about that statement is that the gospel would need to be a concept accepted by multiple distinct communities at the same time, even though those communities had separate gospels that they referred to as the gospel. How did they get an understanding of what "a gospel" was?.
if you want my personal speculation as someone who is reasonably familiar with New Testament scholarship but has never researched this particular topic in depth, I suspect it's because Mark wrote the first work of the genre later to be known as gospel and he used the term gospel in the opening verse to describe his work. He might have intended the word in a less specific sense, such as Paul uses, but his usage may well have given the name to other works written in the new genre he had invented. I think all of the later three canonical gospels were written with full knowledge of Mark. I hypothesize that the authors of the later canonical gospels meant for their works to supersede Mark and be *the* gospel read aloud in the church, and that granting the four relatively equal status was a later development, but I don't claim to actually know that.
GMX: What is the history of the terms gospel and evangelion, as genres?
These are book length topics. My own brief speculations on this are above.
GMX: Are there any other documents in antiquity that are titled evangelion or kata, prior to the gospels?
Evangelion existed as a word, but I'm not aware it was used in titles before the Christian gospels. I don't know of any works using KATA to indicate authorship that predate the superscriptions in the Christian gospel either. But I don't claim to have an exhaustive knowledge of ancient titles, so if anyone knows of earlier examples of either, I'd be happy to know it. [Ben Smith has already posted on this as i'm writing].

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Re: Titles of the gospels

Post by Ben C. Smith » Thu Jun 14, 2018 8:58 am

Ken Olson wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 7:46 am
Ben C. Smith wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 7:25 am
gmx wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 6:05 am
Are there any other documents in antiquity that are titled evangelion or kata, prior to the gospels?
The titles of the various Greek translations of the Hebrew scriptures used κατά, like so: κατὰ Σύμμαχον, κατὰ Ἀκύλαν, κατὰ τοὺς Ἑβδομήκοντα (the scriptures according to Symmachus, to Aquila, and to the Seventy). The scriptures are being treated here as one work with different versions. That the gospel titles follow this pattern suggests to me that the gospel narrative was considered to be one story presented in different versions.
Ben,

Thanks for that. Isn't Symmachus from the second half of the second century, roughly contemporary with the superscriptions of the gospels? Do any of these examples definitely predate that? (I genuinely do not know).
It is unclear to me when exactly to date each of the version titles. Yes, I believe several of the translations date to the second century.

By "follow this pattern" I was not even really claiming that the gospel titles were deliberately modeled upon the Greek version titles, though that phrase can certainly be read that way. Rather, the point of view in using κατά strikes me as similar, since there are far more common ways to express the relationship of author/editor to text (including the genitive, as you pointed out).
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