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REVIEWS

 

 

Michael Goulder, St. Paul versus St. Peter: A Tale of Two Missions. Westminster/John Knox Press, 1995.

Reviewed by Robert M. Price

Professor Goulder can always be relied upon to provide new exegetical insights as well as to polish up old ones which have lain forgotten and undervalued in the antique shop and curio stores of the history of research, and St. Paul versus St. Peter: A Tale of Two Missions is no exception to this happy rule. Goulder's enterprise this time is to rehabilitate the grand synthesis of F.C. Baur according to which the evolution of early Christianity were primarily to be traced along the trajectory of Jewish nomistic Christianity (James and Peter) versus Hellenistic law-free Christianity (Paulinism). We are by now used to the liturgical repetition by scholars that Baur was brilliant but wrong, like Lysenko or Velikofsky, and that nonetheless his ideas still form the substructure of modern New Testament scholarship. And those who chant thusly go on to urge the final exorcism of Baur's influence in favor of what amounts to repristinated apologetics for Eusebianism, sometimes via a sophisticated end run around the issues, employing narrative criticism, sociology, or whatever, as if these perspectives obviated the need for historical criticism. In such a climate of a famine of criticism of the word of the Lord, it is refreshing to see a scholar of Goulder standing up for the much-maligned Baur.

One of the most oft-heard criticisms of Baur is also the most insubstantial, that his whole hypothesis was a mere function of his personal Hegelianism, as if he had imposed an alien framework onto the evidence. The fact that apologists still hurl this cavil on Baur's grave actually attests the strength of Baur's reconstruction since it implies they cannot come to grips with the exegetical meat of the thing. Whether Baur was a Hegelian or a Flat-Earther hardly matters. Who can deny that religions, especially in formative stages, are racked by sectarian infighting as new saving truths are distilling in the volcanic forge of enthusiasm? And, more to the point, who can deny that the pages of the New Testament teem with controversial references to the Jewish Law, rival conceptions of Christ, of the evangelistic mission, etc? Baur did not make these up. And if anyone wants to move beyond Baur, one had best be able to give sufficient weight to the same data that occupied him and not just harmonize it, which is to say, to ignore it.

Goulder here attempts to go beyond Baur but on the path his predecessor marked out. He still sees the continental divide in early Christianity as running between Petrine Torah Christianity and Pauline Gentile Christianity. On the one hand, Goulder does attempt to take into account two genuine weaknesses in Baur's original thesis. Whereas conservative apologists like Ward Gasque think Baur complicated things simple, rending the supposedly seamless garment of the Church, post-Baur critics have seen Baur as oversimplifying the situation. The Eusebian apologetic paradigm envisions the early church as analogous to the old Soviet Union: a monolithic one-party system with a few marginal dissidents and revisionists relegated to the theological Gulag. Baur, followed by Goulder, seems to break this monopoly, but not by much. Their early church is like the American two-party system: it provides a superficial appearance of diversity, and yet what about all those minority parties whose names one sees every election day on the ballot, that one has never heard a single election poster or commercial for?

In short, in the wake of Walter Bauer, James M. Robinson and Helmut Koester, Burton M. Mack (and even the early James D.G. Dunn), F.C. Baur seems to have underestimated the amount of diversity. As already anticipated, Goulder sticks with Baur on this one, but he does attempt nonetheless to take into account the whole range of theological fossils littering the pages of the New Testament. This he does by sketching out a more extensive picture of the two movements, Petrine and Pauline. He distributes between the two of them various theologoumena that other scholars distribute more widely among divers theological parties. For instance, Goulder's Petrines are Torah legalists, adoptionists (sort of; see below), charismatics, gnostics, itinerants, and triumphalistic proponents of realized eschatology. His Paulines, by contrast, are anti-Torah, at least proto-incarnationists, uneasy about visions and revelations, anti-gnostic, church organizers, and longers for the kingdom of God. This is another version of the "single front" theories of the Pauline opponents.

Many of us are ill-inclined to ascribe such a diverse repertoire to hypothesized early Christian factions. We would sooner see Paul facing Gnostics here, Judaizers there, Colossian syncretists here, Pentecostal fanatics there. Each sect ought to have its own specialty. But perhaps this is simply another case of the "methodological docetism" of which social-scientific critics rightly accuse historical critics. He implicitly equate an idea with a group. Another idea? All right, another group to have espoused it. But these theological constructs work best as ideal types; the reality of human beings organized into schismatic factions may have been a good deal messier. For example, look at Bryan Wilson's seven types of sectarian movements and ask where this or that particular group known to you fits in. Quite often they will straddle our heuristic fences. And of course Wilson is the first to admit this, stressing that an ideal type is not a box into which the phenomena must neatly fit, but rather numbers along a yardstick against which the unique distinctives of particular sects may be measured. We ought to keep this in mind as we read Goulder.

Like Walter Schmithals, Goulder envisions single movements each with several distinctive emphases and in this way tends to simplify the picture of Christian origins, even while taking a wide range of evidence into account. But then we may have merely pushed the question of theological diversity back a step: how to account for the wide range of doctrinal and ritual concerns within the Petrine movement? Often diverse, complex movements got that way by an interior history of syncretic evolution that is just as complex as the one Goulder postulates for early Christianity as a whole. We can find even today a Jewish, Toracentric, charismatic, gnostic missionary movement with a non-incarnational messiah: the faction of Lubavitcher Hasidism accepting the late Rebbe Menachem Schneerson as Messiah-elect. It may surprise us to see such elements coexisting in what might seem a theological mulligan stew. But the history of the movement accounts for that. The Hasids began as a mystical, charismatic revival of kabbalistic piety strongly opposed to and by rabbinic Judaism, but in time, shades of Hegel!, the two reconciled their differences, and the Hasidim became champions, as everyone knows, of halakhic fastidiousness second to none.

The idea od a Petrine Christianity which combined gnosticism, a Christology of Jesus as the temporary host for the Christ angel/spirit, and legalist piety is a viable hypothesis that would certainly comport with the fact that Ebionites and Nag Hammadi Gnostics both claimed Peter and James as special figureheads for their movements. But Goulder's book suffers, from my perspective, by ruling out the possibility of a diachronic view. Goulder eschews all hypotheses of Markan priority and of Q. He takes an astonishingly conservative position on the authorship of most New Testament books, ascribing Luke-Acts to Dr. Luke, Paul's friend and physician, Mark's gospel to John Mark who used to hear Peter preach in his mother's house in Jerusalem. (John, Matthew, and 1 Peter, however, are not apostolic for Goulder.) Paul wrote Ephesians, though not the Pastorals. Romans 1:3-4 and Philippians 2:6-11 are treated as originally Pauline, not quoted tradition. Even 2 Corinthians is unitary.

The result of this approach is to place full-blown Paulinism and Petrinism already within the lifetime of Paul and Peter, with minor modifications afterward by Paulinists such as the Fourth Evangelist and the Writer to the Hebrews. All of Petrinism is already there for Paul to write against before Nero gave him too close a shave. No diachronic perspective would even make sense in this case. Goulder flattens out the text to make it an obliging gameboard and analyzes the whole thing synchronically. I am reminded of young-earth Creationism which has to explain away the layers of sedimentation visible in the Grand Canyon to the silt deposited in a little over a month by Noah's Flood. Goulder's Petrine and Pauline Christianities seem to have emerged as rivals from the womb like Jacob grabbing Esau's heel.

Interestingly, Goulder does once repair to a hypothetical earlier stratum of an extant document as an "epicycle" to make the paradigm fit the evidence. Mark, as seen from his severe treatment of the Twelve and the Heirs of Jesus as well as his abolition of kosher laws, is understandably counted as a Pauline. But since Goulder wants to ascribe an incarnational Christology to the Paulines, he relegates the "possessionist" Christology to the Petrines. But Goulder admits that Mark begins with the entrance of the Holy Spirit into Jesus and ends with the Spirit forsaking him on the cross, just as Cerinthus thought. Goulder's demonstration is quite convincing at both points. But then that would seem to make Mark a mugwump, his mug on the Pauline side of the fence, his wump on the Petrine! This may not be that much of a problem if we remember the business of ideal types being measuring rods, not boxes. Goulder has two ways of accounting for such hybrids, depending on where they occur. When Luke does it, Goulder follows Baur and makes Luke a harmonist. But when Mark does it, Goulder says he had grown up hearing the Petrine version but converted later to the Pauline. Nonetheless, the marks of his earlier allegiance remained. He built his gospel on the model of a traditional Petrine presentation.

But perhaps a better way to make sense of the "neither ichthus nor foul" character of Mark would be to recognize Paulinism and Petrinism themselves as ideal types rather than as historical incarnations of theology. Perhaps after all there were more factions involved, with a family of Christian Judaisms on the one hand and Gentile Christianites on the other. The former included Ebionites, Nazoreans, Elchasites, maybe even Cerinthians. The latter included Christian God-fearers, Mystery-Religion syncretists, Gnostics, etc. And perhaps other whole families as well.

Goulder's treatment of the issue of docetism is a good case in point. Goulder tends to combine what we usually think of as three Christologies: docetism (Christ was a phantom with no true flesh, or at least was invulnerable to suffering), adoptionism (Jesus was a righteous man raised to divine honors), and separationism (the man Jesus as the channeler for the Christ spirit between his baptism and his crucifixion). Again, the lines dividing them are not always so clear in actual cases. Where do you place the Shepherd of Hermas or Valentinus? But Goulder collapses all three into separationism. Docetism meant only that the Christ spirit seemed to suffer because bystanders could not see that the Christ spirit fled the human Jesus on the cross. The idea wasn't that the man up on the cross wasn't really suffering (cf. the fragmentary Gospel of Peter) much less that the crucified form was a trick of the light or a case of mistaken identity (cf. the Koran). It is true that particular crucifixion stories might be read naturally the way Goulder suggests (e.g., the Nag Hammadi Gospel of Peter; the Acts of John). But some of the ancients did seem to believe in docetism and adoptionism as traditionally defined. And Goulder seems to grant adoptionism a separate status as a kind of evolutionary step toward full-fledged Pauline incarnationism, but when it is reported of the Ebionites, he tacitly collapses it into separationism, so as to increase the divide between Petrinism and Paulinism. I take it as another case of conflating early Christian theologies in the interests of over-simplifications.

Among the many fascinating individual exegeses peppering this book is Goulder's suggestion that the Son of Man designation for Jesus in the gospels originated in Paulinist exegesis of Psalm 8 as a title for Jesus denoting his true incarnation: it was not the Christ spirit that saves, but rather the human being Jesus Christ, a true son of man. From here, Goulder thinks, the title made its way into gospel usage and was anachronistically ascribed to Jesus. He entertains several other Son of Man theories, passing them by, and one of these is that in all authentic Son of Man sayings Jesus meant simply to speak of the fate or the prerogatives of human beings generally, and that the common Hebrew/Aramaic/Biblical idiom "son of man" was later grossly misunderstood by Gentile evangelists. Why is this theory to be rejected? Because, Goulder says, Mark knew Aramaic. But how do we know this? Because he preserves Aramaic healing incantations like "Talitha Cumi" and "Ephphatha" which were passed down in the tradition in case readers/hearers wanted to use them? Or because we have already decided Mark must have been John Mark of Jerusalem. If he was, how to explain his confusion over Jewish washing customs, Pharisaic traditions, etc.? 

 Thomas Kuhn's thinking on paradigm revolutions has made it impossible to deceive ourselves any longer that in our historical reconstructions we are really penetrating the picture-plane of the documents before us. They form a surface beneath which we cannot dig, not until someone invents a time machine. To this extent I agree with Bruce Chilton: a text is not a tel. All we can do is lay out the evidence as if we were rolling out the dough on the kitchen counter and use the cookie cutters of our paradigms to shape it into new designs. And, though Kuhn resisted the implication, it may be that personal aesthetic preferences determine our choice of paradigmatic cookie cutters. Goulder seems to prefer to work with large entities that may be manipulated, again, on a flat surface, like a shell game, nothing going above or below anything else. That is, he is partial to texts as we now read them, not hypothesized Ur-versions or hypothetical source documents, not with textual interpolations. And what is true in his treatment of texts is equally true of his view of early Christian factions: he organizes the data according to "big names" prominent in the New Testament, Peter and Paul, and uses as few as possible, eschewing the prospect of innumerable sects led by as many unnamed individuals. He wants to connect all the dots with as few lines as possible. His solution is certainly a viable one, but whether we embrace it may be in the final analysis a matter of whether we share his predilections.

 

Copyrightę2009 by Robert M Price
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