Evolution of the Gospel - Enoch Powell

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dreadfullinguist
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Evolution of the Gospel - Enoch Powell

Post by dreadfullinguist »

Hello all, this is my first post here.

I am relatively new to Biblical scholarship, which I began largely for literary reasons (I have been learning Greek for some time now, and was interested in koine).

I came across and read a book by Enoch Powell (yes - that one), called "The Evolution of the Gospel" where he used the methodology he developed in his studies of the textual history of Herodotus to do a (clearly "avant garde") reconstruction of the early history of the gospels. I was very keen to hear some more detailed thoughts on it, personally I found it highly convincing but he makes a number of outlandish assertions (though this seems to be a popular game in the field), including:

1) Jesus was not crucified, he was stoned to death for blasphemy by Jewish religious authorities. This was more based on historical concerns (Jesus, at least in the account given in the gospels, does not commit any crimes against the RE and there is no reason for them to intervene in what was a matter for the religious authorities) rather than textual analysis but wondered what we think of this?
2) Matthew comes first. This I was most puzzled by as (acknowledged in the book) it seems pretty near consensus that it goes Mark, Q - Luke and Matthew cribbing the two. The justifications EP gives are quite beyond me although I recommend the book to give a fuller account of them. Many of his dating methods are sound (at least regarding obvious stuff such as predictions about the temple being destroyed), and it certainly seems (to a rank amateur, I must add) that Matthew's gospel appears the lightest on detail out of MML.
3) According to Powell the text is a kind of compromise between two factions, one proselytizing gentiles who provide the original core of the text, with its pro-Roman and pro gentile conversion (Powell interprets for example the exorcisms as referring to gentiles rejecting the pagan gods, and highlights how the roman soldier's son is used as one of the examples, among other things). This text also allegedly rejected Jewish law (the "camel and the eye of a needle" becomes an allegory where "wealth" is "outward obedience of the law". The text then undergoes revisions in post-revolt Jerusalem where amendments are made to make it more friendly Jewish Christians, as well as a thorough focus on the non-political nature of the messiah (render unto Caesar etc) for obvious reasons post revolt.

Powell has various examples where he says Luke and Mark are dependent on Matthew's text, and he seems to view them as inferior compositions. His focus on allegory I found fascinating - but I suppose my question (beyond asking for your general thoughts if you've read it) is whether this is as controversial as say his claims Jesus wasn't crucified. EP had a powerful contrarian streak and I'm interested to know which parts of this are considered 'normal' and which less so.

Apologies for the long post and I'm sure I've missed loads of things anyway, but any thoughts you have greatly welcome.
dreadfullinguist
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Re: Evolution of the Gospel - Enoch Powell

Post by dreadfullinguist »

I should add - Powell believes the original pro-gentile source was composed in Rome itself, and the text then found its way back to Judea shortly before or after 100
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Re: Evolution of the Gospel - Enoch Powell

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dreadfullinguist wrote: Tue Jul 20, 2021 1:10 pm Hello all, this is my first post here.

I am relatively new to Biblical scholarship, which I began largely for literary reasons (I have been learning Greek for some time now, and was interested in koine).
Welcome to the forum!
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Re: Evolution of the Gospel - Enoch Powell

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dreadfullinguist wrote: Tue Jul 20, 2021 1:10 pm Hello all, this is my first post here.


1) Jesus was not crucified, he was stoned to death for blasphemy by Jewish religious authorities.
2) Matthew comes first.
3) According to Powell the text is a kind of compromise between two factions, one proselytizing gentiles who provide the original core of the text, with its pro-Roman and pro gentile conversion (Powell interprets for example the exorcisms as referring to gentiles rejecting the pagan gods, and highlights how the roman soldier's son is used as one of the examples, among other things). This text also allegedly rejected Jewish law (the "camel and the eye of a needle" becomes an allegory where "wealth" is "outward obedience of the law". The text then undergoes revisions in post-revolt Jerusalem where amendments are made to make it more friendly Jewish Christians, as well as a thorough focus on the non-political nature of the messiah (render unto Caesar etc) for obvious reasons post revolt.

Powell has various examples where he says Luke and Mark are dependent on Matthew's text, and he seems to view them as inferior compositions. His focus on allegory I found fascinating - but I suppose my question (beyond asking for your general thoughts if you've read it) is whether this is as controversial as say his claims Jesus wasn't crucified. EP had a powerful contrarian streak and I'm interested to know which parts of this are considered 'normal' and which less so.

Apologies for the long post and I'm sure I've missed loads of things anyway, but any thoughts you have greatly welcome.
Welcome!

I've cut some from your post, as I share your opinion on 1) and 2).
3) is a nice motivation / argumentation that resonates with me, save for the interpretation of the allegory with wealth and such - interpretation will get you to the other end of the universe, when it lacks proper motivation.
My question then: does he provide similar motivation to points 1) and 2)?

I'm looking for textual criticism in the Gospels themselves, so I'd be very surprised if he has those - but it never hurts to be surprised :D
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Re: Evolution of the Gospel - Enoch Powell

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dreadfullinguist wrote: Tue Jul 20, 2021 1:10 pm. . . any thoughts you have greatly welcome.
Powell's book is happily available for loan at archive.org -- https://archive.org/details/evolutionofgospe00powe

Here are some excerpts from a review by Peter Richardson -- https://muse.jhu.edu/article/651852/summary
[Powell] remains untroubled by his refusal to read what others have written or thought about Matthew, one of the storm centres of scholarship. And this at a moment when there is an unparalleled number of scholars working on the question of the relationships among the gospels. There is, of course, no unanimity on many questions; this is a period when any thesis is worth a try. But to ignore totally the current scholarship on Matthew, studies that argue for Mark's priority, investigations that hypothesize the existence of another common source ("Q") behind Matthew and Luke, and even those studies that argue---even if on different grounds-his own view of Matthew's priority seems perverse at best and hybris at worst. It is, of course, possible that he is right about some things; regrettably the failure to interact with other views will probably mean that this study will be ignored by those best placed to evaluate his views. (p. 434)
Touché. Powell argues his case without any consideration of possible alternative explanations. Confirmation bias, in other words.

It is an unusual book for a scholarly library in that it contains no bibliography; names of scholarly peers are not included in any index; and footnotes refer to no other readings of scholarship. What I enjoy most in books is discovering their Tardis architecture, the explorations of all sorts of other sources as I read. But with Powell you only get Powell. And you wonder if there is some other, even simpler, explanation for some of the problems he sees in the variations of the synoptic texts but it as if Powell is too busy making his own point that he can consider no other, not even in a footnote.

Many of Powell's explanations appeal to what he believes each author "would have" written, as if he knows their minds and even the contexts and purposes and sources in and from which they were writing.

Take on example:
. . . . Mark was not too proud to seek Luke’s help over verbal puzzles in Matthew. One such was the Baptist’s unworthiness in Matthew (3.11) to ‘carry’ his successor’s shoes. Luke (3.16), who jibbed at this, substituted the pedestrian ‘untie the lace’, which Mark liked well enough to accept and to adorn with one of his characteristic pathetic touches (1.7 'stoop down and untie’). It defies imagination that ‘untie’ was altered, either by error or by design, into ‘carry’; nor could the amendment ‘untie’ have been made independently twice over, by Luke and by Mark. (p. xv)
Why not, rather, imagine that Mark started it all with "stoop down and untie"? Luke shortened it to "untie" and Matthew preferred "carry" the shoes to "untie" them. Powell's argument may seem to others to be a very thin reed to be part of an argument for Matthean priority.

As for Powell's case for Jesus being stoned, we enter here a quite complex set of imagined scenarios facing the author. Powell takes the first trial before the high priest as historical, and the second before Pilate as fiction. The first trial, P says, must have resulted in Jesus being stoned because that's what Leviticus prescribes for anyone guilty of blasphemy. P offers no evidence that there was a trial before the HP or that there was a stoning penalty as a result. He simply asserts it because "that's what must have happened".

According to P, the author was pressured by Jewish Christians to say that No, Jesus was crucified by the Romans, but he was also pressured by gentile Christians to make sure he did not blame Pilate for executing Jesus. So our poor author buffeted by these two pressure groups decides to compromise by copying the trial before the Sanhedrin and pasting it to another trial by Pilate but then having Pilate wash his hands of responsibility for the execution.

That all sounds most creative and highly imaginative. It may be true but there is no way in the world of proving it. Better to opt for a much simpler explanation: that the original author was trying to create a narrative (much of it copied from Mark) that crammed as many allusions to Jewish Scriptures as he could fit in -- and hence "demonstrate" that the trial was all prefigured by God from times past.
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Re: Evolution of the Gospel - Enoch Powell

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neilgodfrey wrote: Wed Aug 04, 2021 7:36 pm According to P, the author was pressured by Jewish Christians to say that No, Jesus was crucified by the Romans, but he was also pressured by gentile Christians to make sure he did not blame Pilate for executing Jesus.
that is plausible (someone thinks that in Hebrews there is no mention of crucifixion at all). David Oliver Smith argues for the Pillars being even unaware of a crucifixion. As alternative, the critery of embarrassment would prove at least the priority of a Roman crucifixion.

The problems with these views is that they assume that the detail x of the story was added by a sectarian polemic against a rival Christian sect, according to a very primitive logic (= basically, the old principle Eye for an Eye).
Probably in second century, all the Christians were totally following that principle, probably some details were really created according to that principle.

But one may think that the first author was too much intelligent to play as a child to the game of Eye for an Eye.
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Re: Evolution of the Gospel - Enoch Powell

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dreadfullinguist wrote: Tue Jul 20, 2021 1:10 pm(Powell interprets for example the exorcisms as referring to gentiles rejecting the pagan gods, and highlights how the roman soldier's son is used as one of the examples, among other things).
That's an interesting idea. I've always wondered that the Gospels' portrays Jesus as an exorcist on one hand, whereas exorcism isn't referenced much in early Christian literature on the other.
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Re: Evolution of the Gospel - Enoch Powell

Post by mlinssen »

GakuseiDon wrote: Fri Aug 06, 2021 1:43 pm
dreadfullinguist wrote: Tue Jul 20, 2021 1:10 pm(Powell interprets for example the exorcisms as referring to gentiles rejecting the pagan gods, and highlights how the roman soldier's son is used as one of the examples, among other things).
That's an interesting idea. I've always wondered that the Gospels' portrays Jesus as an exorcist on one hand, whereas exorcism isn't referenced much in early Christian literature on the other.
https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/e ... aps/daimon
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Re: Evolution of the Gospel - Enoch Powell

Post by neilgodfrey »

dreadfullinguist wrote: Tue Jul 20, 2021 1:10 pm
3) According to Powell the text is a kind of compromise between two factions, one proselytizing gentiles who provide the original core of the text, with its pro-Roman and pro gentile conversion (Powell interprets for example the exorcisms as referring to gentiles rejecting the pagan gods, and highlights how the roman soldier's son is used as one of the examples, among other things).
Another thread raised a new work that disputes entirely this standard model that there are various communities behind the authors guiding in some way what they write: see viewtopic.php?f=3&t=8105 (Robyn Walsh, The Origins of Early Christian Literature). Walsh sees this idea as "conceptual baggage we have inherited from German Romanticism" -- the idea of a Volk (the sorts of people we read about in the narratives of the gospels themselves) -- and creates a "misleading description of the ancient world" and how it worked with literary compositions.

The factions Powell writes of are refered to as "communities" in other scholarly analyses of gospel origins. This concept, Walsh writes,
is rooted in anti-Enlightenment and Romantic notions of a cohesive Volk inspired by the “spirit” or Geist of a group’s oral teachings. To assume that sources like the Synoptics emerged from the folk speech of established early Christian groups presumes a social environment for these writers that agitates against what is known about ancient authorship practices.
That's not how authors were influenced to write what they did, Walsh argues.

Meanwhile, on the question of exorcisms, given that Jesus also exorcised Jews in Matthew's gospel there has to be more than one reason for his exorcisms -- according to Powell. That begins to sound ad hoc -- here the exorcism is to represent getting rid of pagan gods, but there it is to represent something else.

Other scholars (Joel Marcus, Werner Kelber, Howard Clark Kee) have interpreted the exorcisms more consistently -- as a sign of Jesus inaugurating the overthrow of the demonic powers behind the kingdoms of this world as he is ushering in the new age of the Kingdom of God's rule.
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