Volume 3, 1965-66



chaired by Stephen Benko


 3.1 (21 September 1965)

Robert Kraft, Early Christian Jesus-Traditions: the Available Materials and some Problems of Approach


 3.2 (9 November 1965)

Robert Kraft, The Sayings Attributed to Jesus


 3.3 (18 January 1966)

Helmut Koester, Types of Jesus Tradition in Early Christianity and Their Theological Implications


 3.4 (8 March 1966)

Marshall Johnson, The Purpose of the Genealogies of Jesus

Stephen Benko, The Ascription of the Magnificat to Mary


 3.5 (10 May 1966)

Robert Wilken, The Traditions About the Baptism of Jesus






Meeting of 21 Sept 1965 (Philadelphia Divinity School Library).


 The initial session of the 1965/66 Seminar was convened by Dr. Benko, and after the customary introductions, announcements, etc., was turned over to Dr. Kraft for a presentation intended to introduce the topic for the current year –“Early Christian Jesus-Traditions: the Available Materials and some Problems of Approach.”


Prior to the presentation proper, it was noted that two recent pertinent articles by one of our own members, Professor H. J. Cadbury, inadvertently had been overlooked in the Selected Bibliography distributed by mail: “Looking at the Gospels Backwards,” in Studia Evangelica 2 (TU 87, 1964), 47-56; and “Gospel Study and our Image of Early Christianity,” JBL 83 (1964), 139-145. Also, attention was drawn to the convenient and inexpensive collection of many of the extra-canonical gospel texts (Greek and Latin) in vol 148 of the Spanish series “Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos,” Los Evangelios Apocrifos, edited by A. de Santos Otero (1962 ).


* * * * * * * * * * * *



Introduction of Topic R. A. Kraft 21 September, 1965


1. Defining the Topic


1) “Gospel Tradition”


-content of the canonical gospels as a presupposition of wording; perhaps something like “The Jesus Tradition” would be more accurate.


-problem of limits of “The Jesus Tradition” -- historical orientation, timeless pneumatic approach (the “living Jesus’), etc.


-types of material included: words attributed to Jesus narrative, description, etc. concerning Jesus materials dealing with Jesus’ contemporaries, etc.


2) “Second Century”


-men and writings which clearly appeared in that formative period before the relatively fixed, four-fold canon (gospel) became widely accepted and supplanted its earlier rivals/alternatives, but after the canonical gospels had been written down (this varies in date from place to place).


-fringe materials which help us to understand the processes and motives at work during this period, and which preserve for us different forms of “the Jesus tradition” which may be compared and contrasted.


2. Some Focal Points for Treatment and Discussion


1) The Problem of Methods how should the material be approached?


-“canonical” vs. “non-canonical” -- a stumbling-block or a guide?


-establishing controls for evaluating and comparing the material.


-isolating some characteristic formative influences on the tradition:

            e.g. preconceived Messianic expectations, OT “testimonies”

            Jesus as timeless “wisdom” bearer, revealer

            Jesus as miracle worker

            use of the tradition in catechesis and liturgy


2) Specific Aspects relating to the Canonical Gospels


-fixed and floating traditions synoptic and Johannine problems textual developments (e.g. “western” text) and use of harmonies, etc.


3) The Historical Situation in which the Canon Develops


4) Live Options within the Christian Framework before “Orthodoxy” Develops in the fourth-century sense


5) The Problem of the Historical Jesus -- and the Christ of Faith


6) Particular Attitudes towards Jesus and the Jesus Tradition in different parts of the Christian world and by various writers/ writings (see, e.g., the bibliography)


 The Problem of Approach.

To satisfy a modern historical-critical approach to the Jesus tradition which seeks to understand what has taken place in the past in its own terms and for its own sake, insofar as that is possible from the available sources, we cannot operate on the basis of the traditional categories of language and thought which have been developed in mainstream Christianity over the centuries. Historical interest of a modern sort seems to have played little if any conscious role in the apologetic and polemic out of which the emerging “orthodox” church forged such concepts as a four-fold written gospel “canon,” with its attendant claim of “Apostolicity” in a special sense. Thus the historian must be as ready to listen with equal patience and sympathy to the testimony of movements and writings that came to be classified as “heretical” (for theological, traditional, or some other reason) as he is to those dubbed “orthodox”, if he is to assume a consistent attitude towards the problem. No extant materials, no possible questions, should be precluded a priori from the inquiry; nor should theological value judgments such as “canonical/apocryphal” or “orthodox/heretical” be allowed to prejudice the historical quest for understanding how the various aspects of the Jesus tradition developed. Similarly, modern “critical” categories, presuppositions, and conclusions cannot simply be taken for granted but must also continually be reevaluated in the light of progressive historical research and new discoveries.


The significance of the 2nd century.

It was in the course of the 2nd century that the form and content of the Jesus tradition became a central concern for many Christian leaders, resulting in the gradual acceptance of the four-fold written gospel “canon” in the leading Christian communities. Thus even if the canonical gospels can be dated, in whole or in part, from the first century, they have been filtered through a complex 2nd century situation in which they received their dominant position in emerging mainstream Christianity in contrast to other available attitudes towards the Jesus tradition (i.e. the historically oriented approach prevailed rather than reliving words of Jesus or philosophical/theological treatises about him). Furthermore, it is clear that other Jesus materials were widely circulated in this period, not all of which can be explained as derived from the “canonical” gospels, and some of which can claim equal antiquity to that of the written canonical materials. Many of these “floating traditions” remained popular among “orthodox” authors of later times, and some of the sayings and stories even came to exert an influence on the textual history of the canonical gospels themselves (e.g. the “Pericope Adulterae,” the D text of Lk 6:4 or Mt 20:28, the endings of Mark). Similarly, in the developments of the non-canonical Jesus traditions in the 2nd century, we often can glimpse at work materials, interests, and procedures that are analogous to those which must have played a role in the history of the individual canonical gospels prior to their final editing in the forms known to us. A fresh examination, from a strictly historical point of view, of the Jesus traditions which circulated in the 2nd century, should not only enable us to get a clearer picture of the problems and progress of emerging mainstream Christianity and of the alternative Christian approaches available in the 2nd century, but may help us to understand more clearly the methodological difficulties that are present in any attempt to get back to the first century “Jesus of history.” From the historical point of view, all of the extant early materials deserve a hearing, without prejudice. And to achieve the wider perspective in which these materials can be used historically, it is necessary to attempt an overview of the 2nd century situation in all its complexity.


Charting the field.

Numerous MSS of and secondary references to ancient “gospels” or gospel-like writings have been preserved in the Christian tradition. The problem is not one of finding such materials, but of organizing them in a meaningful and productive way. An arrangement according to chronological sequence, geographical origin, or theological affinities would be helpful, but our information is not sufficiently precise to attempt such an approach with any degree of confidence. Thus, for the present purposes, it seemed most helpful to combine two other approaches: (1) attention to the format and orientation of the preserved material (in a loose sense, the Gattung), and within these general categories, (2) notice of the names with which the various materials have become identified, whenever possible. (This biographical key is convenient as an index, but also can be quite misleading.) Thus, e.g., within the Gattung of an “historically” oriented narrative setting of Jesus’ ministry, we find a “Matthew cycle” of Jesus traditions (that is, a series of books and/or traditions associated in one way or another with the name Matthew). A “Matthew” tradition also is attested for the words (logia) of Jesus Gattung. The following lists do not pretend to be exhaustive, nor even unambiguous at every point.


I. A. Presentations which focus on Jesus’ earthly ministry, in a “historical”-narrative framework.


1. The Mark cycle -- see (1) the canonical Mark; (2) the “Mark” mentioned by Papias which is based on Petrine discourses (and may be the same as canonical Mark?); (3) the ‘secret” Mark” mentioned in the recently discovered letter of “Clement (of Alexandria) to Theodore” (which also included ‘secret sayings” -- see II.A below).


2. The Matthew cycle -- see (1) the canonical Matthew, which may be the same as the Ebionite (Greek?) Matthew mentioned by Irenaeus (and Eusetius, who also calls it the “Gospel of the Hebrews”); (2) The Ebionite Matthew or “Gospel of the Ebionites” or “Gospel of the Hebrews” (for some authors), which lacked the birth stories; (3) The “Nazarene” Gospel of Matthew mentioned by Jerome (who also calls it the “Gospel of the Apostles” and “Gospel of the Hebrews”) as extant in Syriac; (4) The “Hebraicon” or Jewish Gospel readings in some MSS of Matthew. -- See also below on the Infancy Gospel of Ps-Matthew (I.B), the Matthean “Logia” of Papias (II.A).


3. The Luke cycle -- see (1) canonical Luke, and (2) Marcion’s Luke (also used by Valentinus according to Irenaeus) which apparently lacked the Vorgeschichte (cf. the Ebionite Matthew.).


4. The John cycle (which comes close to the “discourse Gattung”) -- along with canonical John, perhaps P. Egerton 2 is relevant here. Otherwise John is associated with post- resurrection instructions and revelations (see II.B-C).


5. The Peter cycle -- see (1) passion fragmenta Gospel of Peter, which may be identified with the Gospel known to Serapion (apud Eusebius HE 6.12.2ff); (2) a “nazorite” Gospel of Peter mentioned by Theodoret (Haer fab comp 2.2; cf. Origen in Matt 10.17). See also below on post- resurrection teachings (II.B).


6. Miscellaneous fragments, references, etc. --e.g. (1) the references to a “Gospel according to the Hebrews” in Origen and Clement of Alexandria, which are associated with the Matthew cycle by Eusebius and Jerome (see above); (2) P.Egerton 2, if not in the John cycle; (3) P.Oxyrhynchus 840; etc.


 I. B. Presentation of a particular sub-portion of Jesus’ earthly life in a “historical”-narrative orientation


1. Birth and Infancy -- e.g. (1)Protevangelium Jacobi; (2) Account of Thomas the Israelite/Philosopher; (3 ) Gospel of Ps- Matthew, which combines the two previous; (4) Book of Joseph the Carpenter; (5),(6), etc., Arabic and Armenian Infancy Gospels, etc.


2. Passion -- e.g. (1) Pilate cycle, including the Acts of Pilate or Gospel of Nicodemus (to which an Apocalypse is appended), and the Pilate histories; (2) account of the passion by Bartholomew, etc.


--Perhaps this is the place to mention the “historically” oriented Mary (mother of the Lord) cycle dealing with her birth, assumption, etc.


 II. A. “Words” of Jesus not expressly attributed to the post- resurrection, pre-ascension period


1. Sayings -- e.g. the Matthean “Logia” mentioned by Papias; the isolated “agrapha” scattered throughout the Christian tradition (and elsewhere); the “Q” material behind the Synoptics; possibly the “Fayyum Fragment”; &c.


2. ‘secret/hidden words” -- e.g. the Gospel of Thomas (Coptic) -- “these are the secret words...” (cf. the Book of Thomas the Athlete in II.B); the “Traditions” or Gospel of Matthias used by Basilides and Isidore apud Hippolytus (“secret words” -- see also Clement of Alexandria); possibly also the “memoirs of the Apostles” mentioned by Orosius (“the Savior appears to be questioned by the disciples in secret”), and the ‘secret Mark” mentioned above (I.A).


II. B. Revelation Discourses of the Risen Lord before the Ascension (cf. also Mt 28, Lk 24, Jn 20-21, Acts 1) -- Pistis Sophia (Coptic) refers to an 11 year ministry in which special revelations are made to Philip, Thomas, and Matthaeus (Matthew? Matthias?); Clement of Alexandria said that after the resurrection the Lord committed the gnosis to James the Just and John and Peter, who passed it on to the ‘seventy”.


1. Epistle of the Apostles (Ethiopic).


2. James cycle -- see Hippolytus (Ref 5.7.1) on Ophite discourses handed down from James to Marianne, and the recently discovered Coptic James literature.


3. John cycle -- of the several recensions of the Apocryphon of John (Coptic)


4. Book of Thomas the Athlete (Coptic) -- the ‘secret words” spoken to Judas Thomas “before the ascension” and written down by Maththaios (or Thomas).


5. Mary (Magdalene?) cycle -- see the greater and lesser questions mentioned by Epiphanius, etc.


6. Gospel of Bartholomew -- questions put to Jesus after resurrection (borders on being an Apocalypse).


7. “Jesus’ cycle -- such books as the Wisdom of Jesus Christ, or the Dialogue of the Redeemer, or the Pistis Sophia (Books of the Savior).


8. Miscellaneous fragments, references, etc. -- e.g. the “Gospel of the Egyptians” mentioned by Clement of Alexandria; the “Gospel of Philip” mentioned by Epiphanius; P.Oxyrhynchus 1081; etc.


II. C. Post-Ascension Words Revealed through Christian Prophets


1. Revelation 1-3 (19-22)


2. Various “Gnostic”, Montanist, etc. sayings in the name of the Lord


II. D. Large-Scale Apocalypses Presented as from the Mouth of Jesus (the line between these and II.B-C is often slight -- I have not attempted to work this category out in detail here; cf. above I.B.2, II.B.6).


III. Philosophical/Theological Treatises, etc., under the rubric “Gospel” e.g. the Coptic Gospel of Truth and Gospel of Philip; possibly such works as the “Gospel of Basilides” and the “Gospel of Perfection” mentioned by some heresiologists also fit into this miscellaneous category.


 * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Because of the length of the presentation, there was no extended discussion.


 Respectfully submitted, Peter M. Peterson edited by RAK


[Appendix to PSCO 3.1]




General and Background


W.Sanday, The Gospels in the Second Century (1876).

T.Zahn, Geschichte des neutestamentlichen Canons (1881 ff)

B.H. Streeter, The Four Gospels ... (1924)

M. Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel (tr. 1934)

O.Cullmann, “The Plurality of the Gospels as a Theological Problem in Antiquity” in The Early Church (1956)

C.F.D. Moule, The Birth of the NT (1962)

R.Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition (tr. 1963)

K.Aland (ed.), Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum, locis parallelis evangeliorum apocryphorum et patrum adhibitis (1964)

E.Hennecke-W.Schneemelcher (edd.), NT Apocrypha (3) I (tr. 1963), II (tr. due momentarily)

H.Koester, “GNOMAI DIAFOROI. The Origin and Nature of Diversification in the History of Early Christianity,” HarvTR 58 (1965), 279-318


Life of Jesus


B.Pick, The Extra-Canonical Life of Jesus (1903)

W.Bauer, Das Leben Jesu in Zeitalter der neutestamentlichen Apocryphen (1909)

R.M.Grant, Earliest Lives of Jesus (1961)


 Sayings of Jesus


A.Resch, Agrapha ... (1889, 1893-97; 1906(2)), TU 5.4, 10; 30.3-4(2)

B.Pick, Paralipomena: Remains of Gospels and Sayings of Christ (1908)

J.Jeremias, Unknown Sayings of Jesus (tr. 1958)

________, Unbekannte Jesusworte (revised with O.Hofius, 1963(3))

J.M.Robinson, “LOGOI SOFON. Zur Gattung der Spruchquelle Q,” in Zeit und Geschichte (Festschrift Bultmann, 1964), 77-96


 Sub-portions of the Topic, by Writings or Authors


E.Massaux, L’influence de l’Evangile de S.Matthieu sur la litterature chretienne avant S. Irenee (1950)

J.N.Sanders, The Fourth Gospel in the Early Church (1943)

The NT in the Apostolic Fathers, by an Oxford Committee (1905)

H.Koster, Synoptische Uberlieferung bei den Apostolischen Vatern (1957), TU 65

W.Bousset, Die Evangeliencitate Justins des Siartyrers in ihrem Bert fur die Evangelienkritik (1891)

E.R.Buckley, “Justin Martyr’s Quotations from the Synoptic Tradition,” JTS (1935), 173-76

A.Bellinzoni, The Sayings of Jesus in the Writings of Justin Martyr (1962, unpublished Harvard Ph.D. dissertation)

R.Heard, “The APOMNEMONEUMATAO in Papias, Justin, and Irenaeus,” NTS 1 (1954/55), 122-29

E. Molland, The Conception of Gospel in the Alexandrian Theology (1938)






Meeting of 9 November, 1965; Philadelphia Divinity School Library.


The general theme for consideration at the second meeting of the 1965/66 Seminar was “The Sayings Attributed to Jesus in Early Christian Tradition.” As a focus for the discussion, co-chairman Kraft presented “An Appreciation and Critique of J.M. Robinson’s ‘LOGOI SOFON: zur Gattung der Spruchquelle Q’ (in Zeit und Geschichte, ed. E. Dinkler [=Festgabe R. Bultmann], 1964, pp.75-96.” A precis of Robinson’s article had been mailed to the members prior to the meeting. Points of discussion were raised by members at the appropriate times throughout the presentation.


SAYINGS TRADITIONS: Orientation for the presentation of 9 November (R.A. Kraft)


In a provocative article entitled “LOGOI SOFON: Zur Gattung der Spruchquelle Q,” in the 1964 Bultmann Festschrift (Zeit und Geschichte, ed. E. Dinkler, pp.75-96), J.M. Robinson attempts “to confirm and to explore further the connection between “logia” and “meshalim” in relationship to the concept of “teacher of wisdom” [Weisheitslehrer], by working out the Gattung designation logoi sofon (p.79, building upon the work done by Bultmann in The History of the Synoptic Tradition [ET 1963], pp.69ff). From an examination of the use of logos/logia/logoi and related formulas (connected with sayings attributed to Jesus) throughout the Christian literature of the first two centuries, Robinson argues that a connection is implied between the logia/logoi of Jesus as preserved by the church and the Jewish “myth” of divine Wisdom appearing in vain to man and thus withdrawing from him (see Bultmann, pp 114f on the relationship of this “myth” to Mt 23:34- 39 par; see also G.Thomas 38). But behind the hypostatized Sofia figure of Jewish Wisdom Literature (which figure was identified with Jesus in early Christianity) lie the “sayings of the wise ones” (logoi sofon) -- a Gattung reflected in such materials as Proverbs, Pirke Abot, Qohelet, and the Testaments of the Patriarchs (esp. the Enoch references therein). Robinson concludes (p.96):


“Obviously Gattung designations are not as precisely and consistently employed (as termini technici) in the ancient sources themselves as they are in modern criticism. For the most part, we are not obligated to draw our Gattung designations from the sources. It is sufficient that the Gattungen themselves have been embedded in the sources. Nevertheless, the Tendenz or devolution of a Gattung becomes known to us sooner if the sources themselves betray a linguistic development which expresses this devolution. That the sayings collection as such calls forth an association between the speaker and the “wise ones” is brought to our attention precisely through the connection between logoi and sofoi which actually hints at the Gattung designation logoi sofon. That this association suggests an understanding of Jesus as a sofos is confirmed by the fate of the Jesus tradition, insofar as it first makes this development comprehensible in general. The connection of Jesus with sofia in Q. along with the encounter with the wise ones (Mt 11:25=Lk 10:21), already exhibits the situation [Problematik] that Q then remained available for mainstream Christianity only because it was adapted to the Aryan framework by Matthew and Luke is confirmed by the growing criticism of this Gattung in the church [e.g. Polycarp 7:1]. The Tendenz that was present in the Gattung is carried through to its conclusion by the development of hypostatized sofia into the gnostic redeemer: the Gattung is replaced in mainstream Christianity by the gospels, but is fostered in Gnosticism as logoi apokrufoi, and, to be sure, is no longer understood as referring to collections of sayings, but to treatises fabricated and clothed in the form of discourse and dialogue.”


* * * * * * * * * * * *


Some focal points for discussion --


1. Presuppositions, Language, and method -- the foundational function of Bultmann’s analysis; the relationship between forms, Gattungen, and historical particularity (the ideal and the actual)


2. The Materials -- the “logoi (logia) sofon” rubric and related formulations in Hellenistic and Semitic literature (some further options); isolated sayings and the Christian collections


3. Wider Implications -- the influence of a Gattung- conscious mentality in shaping the early Jesus traditions; the “living Jesus’, Christian prophetism, and the historicized canonical records.


Orientation of Robinson’s Investigation. -- That a strong connection, in terms of form, exists between the synoptic sayings of Jesus (Herrenworte) and proverbial semitic “wisdom” materials (Weisheitsspruche -- see especially the collection in Sirach, which has been analyzed form-critically by W. Baumgartner, ZAW 34, 1914, 165-169) has long been accepted as basic to the form-critical approach of Bultmann and his followers (see The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 69ff). Furthermore, Bultmann finds as common denominator behind the various categories of synoptic sayings (classified primarily in terms of content) -- and to some extent even behind the christological explanation in the Johannine prologue -- the concept of Jesus as “teacher of wisdom” (Weisheitslehrer). Nevertheless, because of its tendency to concentrate on the smallest units of the tradition, form-critical study thus far has virtually ignored the larger gattungsgeschichtliche question concerning the form of the collection of the Weisheitsspruche. Thus Robinson proposes “to confirm and to explore further the connection between “logia” and “meshalim” in relationship to the concept Weisheitslehrer by working out the Gattung-designation logoi sofon -- sayings of the wise”“. (p. 79).


But what, precisely, is a “Gattung” in this form-critical context? In his pioneering work on OT form-criticism, Gunkel used the term for the various categories into which the units of written tradition could be classified -- narrative Gattungen (fable, myth, saga, legend), lyric Gattungen (love songs, taunts, laments) etc. Dibelius used the term similarly, for the three major units of synoptic material -- paradigm, novella, and legend. He also speaks of the “Gattung” Gospel-book. Bultmann seems to use the term less frequently, however, and subsequent popularized form-criticism (especially in English dress) tends to speak almost exclusively of “forms” where Dibelius might have used “Gattungen.” Strictly speaking, perhaps “form” should be reserved for the shape or style of the individual components (miracle stories, parables, etc.), and “Gattung” for the larger categories in which several “forms” may be represented (sayings, pronouncement stories, etc.); the terms are neither mutually exclusive nor completely synonymous, but represent different ways of ‘slicing the cake.” Indeed, a given item in the tradition may be susceptible to classification in several different Gattungen for different reasons. “Gattung” is a convenient classification, not necessarily (or even usually) a historical entity.


For Dibelius and Bultmann, form-criticism is not primarily an exercise in differentiating various literary devices used for artistic reasons in the preservation of tradition. Rather, it attempts to identify functional devices developed (or adapted) for particular non-literary reasons in the pre-literary life-setting of a given community. “The literary Gattung and/or form through which a particular item of a Gattung is classified is a sociological concept and not an aesthetic one, however much in a subsequent development it may be possible to employ such forms as aesthetic media in some particular literary product” (Syn.Trad., p.4).


In principle, classical form-criticism as developed by Dibelius and Bultmann assumes that the earliest Christian traditions were spontaneous and volkstumlich -- not oriented to literary and artistic ends, but to the interests of preaching and mission propaganda. But as the Church became established in the world, it began to imitate the world’s technical literary devices in the interests of its own theology. Thus the search for the “purest” forms is the search for the earliest and least tainted materials -- before theological and literary interests became dominant. To object that in such a quest form-criticism must operate circularly is simply to admit that it must operate in the same way as all historical investigation (so Bultmann, Syn.Trad., p 5).


This is the context in which Robinson’s investigation of the Gattung “sayings of the wise” is presented. The name selected for the Gattung need not be based on historical occurrences although in this case it almost is. The theological tendency in the material to identify Jesus with personified divine “wisdom”, and ultimately with the “gnostic redeemer”, suggests that earlier, “purer” forms of the Gattung may be discovered. Thus Robinson sets out to trace the history of the Gattung both in early Christianity and in its environment.


The Materials Collected by Robinson, and his Interpretation.

There is no question that sayings attributed to Jesus were collected and circulated as such in the 2nd century -- in addition to Papias” testimony, we now have the Sayings Gospel of Thomas, the Book of Thomas the Athlete, Pistis Sofia, etc. Furthermore, there are numerous indirect indications that in an earlier period such materials had wide circulation among Christians (e.g. Did 1:3, Justin Apol 14-17, use of “logoi” in NT, etc.). Robinson suggests that such collections came to be opposed by developing mainstream Christianity because they were coming to be widely used in gnosticizing circles (of I Cor 2:4; Polycarp 7:lf).


But it is unlikely, thinks Robinson, that Christianity originated this Gattung. The identification of Jesus with sofia (eg. Justin Dial 100:4, “gnostic redeemer”) seems to reflect Jewish traditions such as Prov 1:20-33, Sirach 24, I Enoch 42 -- on “wisdom” personified. Furthermore, Judaism already knew collections of “sayings” of wise men (sages) -- this evidence is embedded in such sources as Pirke Abot, Testaments of the Patriarchs, I Enoch, Proverbs, and Qohelet. Thus early Christians who saw Jesus as a sofos -- a sage -- collected his supposed sayings (as was already customary in Judaism); then sofos Jesus came to he identified with divine Sofia (already in Q.); ultimately the gnostic redeemer figure developed from this background, and mainstream Christianity substituted the (canonical) gospels for collections of sayings (see the precis).


Wider Implications of Robinson’s Investigation.

Robinson has established with relative certainty that (1) the word d’varim (=logoi/logia/ rhemata) was widely used in the ancient Near East and in Spatjudentum, sometimes with reference to collections of sayings; (2) tradition sometimes identifies sayings with ‘sages”; (3) early Christianity made widespread use of Jesus supposed sayings and sometimes gathered them into definite collections; and (4) some early Christians identified Jesus with personified wisdom, and sometimes showed a real awareness of Jewish wisdom traditions.


He has not, however, shown with sufficient force that (1) d’varim (etc.) has any necessary connection with actual collections of sayings in most of the references cited; (2) the concept ‘sayings of sages” is more characteristic and/or important than the numerous other associations of the rubric ‘sayings” in Semitic and Hellenistic literature -- e.g. of prophets, of the righteous, of martyrs, of Torah/law; (3) Jesus would best be seen as sofos by those who first gathered his sayings (why not as prophet, righteous one, etc.?) -- indeed, there must have been a variety of attitudes to Jesus among his early followers.


With reference to form-critical approach, Robinson’s article raises several problems: (1) Does he mean to suggest that the early practice of collecting Jesus’ sayings was not spontaneous, but arose in conscious imitation of earlier (Jewish) precedents? To what extent has the form of Jesus’ alleged sayings been made to fit a preconceived mold from the very first (e.g. short, gnomic, “wisdom” sayings, etc.)? To what extent has the content been predetermined by analogy to “wisdom” literature (ethical exhortation, etc.)? And if one asks this question of Gattung influence at the earliest stages of the tradition of Jesus’ sayings, would not a category such as “last will and testament” be more appropriate than ‘sayings of sages” in view of the parallels (e.g. I Enoch, Testaments) -- this would explain better the subsequent history of the Gattung (final instructions to the disciples) and would leave open the possibility that the discourse form may be of equal age with the short saying form in early Christian Jesus tradition. Even if we grant the hypothesis that in 1st century (Semitic) Palestine the rubric “sayings” normally suggested “of sages”, how does this help us to understand: (a) the background and significance of “Q” -- was it a single collection originally? or perhaps a nucleus that developed in different directions in different communities? Were all early sayings somehow associated with “Q”?


(2) The form and content of the sayings tradition -- why are there virtually no sayings attributed to Jesus which have the characteristic “wisdom” form of “my son, do so and so”? How do the “prophetic and apocalyptic” sayings relate to such a “wisdom” Gattung? (c) the relationship of the sayings to other Jesus traditions – why is Jesus not called a sofos as he is called “teacher” and “rabbi”? Are there not more natural explanations for the identification of Jesus = sofia than the supposed Jesus = sofos concept?


 Finally, (3) what sense does it make to speak of the theologically motivated “devolution” (or evolution) of a Gattung in Christianity, if the Gattung already had a pre-history in which various developments already had arisen? Apparently “logoi sofon” is not, for Robinson, a spontaneous Christian contribution with a “pure” form at the outset” but already had come very close to “sayings of hypostasized wisdom” in its Jewish apocalyptic setting (of I Epoch). Thus why is it not equally plausible that in the earliest Christian appropriation of the Gattung, Jesus was seen as the (or a) special eschatological figure, or as a pneumatic-prophetic figure, and that it was in the later historicizing of this tradition that Jesus came to be seen as one who delivers ‘sayings of the sages”? At present, our controls are inadequate for reconstructing with the necessary precision the earliest developments -- but our growing knowledge about the complexities of the period should be sufficient to warn against too-simple solutions.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * *


 The value of Robinson’s article lies not only in the wealth of material it brings together in a new way, but in the stimulus it provides for that never-ending responsibility to reassess the adequacy of our presuppositions and our application of historical method. If Robinson has raised more questions than he has solved, that is itself a significant and worthwhile advance. He has certainly opened up new avenues of approach to the earliest Jesus traditions. Paradoxically, it will be interesting to see whether the Riesenfeld-Gerhardsson devotees take up Robinson’s suggestions, since it should be relatively easy for them to harmonize such a ‘sayings of the sages” hypothesis with the theory of Jesus as a proto-rabbi instructing his disciples and exhorting them to “remember” his words.


Respectfully submitted, P. M. Peterson (edited by RAK)





Topic for 1965/66: “Gospel Tradition in the Second Century.”

Meeting of 18 January 1966, Philadelphia Divinity School Library


The Seminar was pleased to welcome Dr. Helmut Koester, Morrison Professor of New Testament at Harvard Divinity School, to speak on the topic “Types of Jesus Tradition in Early Christianity and Their Theological Implications.”


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The most popular recent approach to the Jesus traditions in early Christianity tends to be that of J. Jeremias, with its search for the original voice of the “historical” Jesus as the authority and criterion for modern theology and preaching. Here at least, there seems to be some sort of objective historical basis from which to approach the later developments. But the inadequacy of this approach for evaluating the non-canonical Jesus traditions becomes apparent when it is able to dismiss about 95% of that material as “historically” worthless, while failing to provide any other criterion for determining what theological value traditions may have for an understanding of the Jesus of the early Church. In part, this one-sided emphasis on “historicity” stems from a failure to appreciate the theological interests of form criticism – far more than being just a “formal” tool for determining historicity, it is a means to distinguish theological patterns of language and tradition. We should not allow the basic form-question of the “type” of Jesus tradition in, e.g. the Gospel of Thomas, to be bypassed or overshadowed by a historicity-oriented search for “primitive” (thus supposedly more reliable) or for “later Gnostic” (thus, presumably, less) elements. The theological question concerning the historical Jesus is at stake. The very nature of form-critical questioning involves us in a theological type of inquiry, and conversely, true theological inquiry is into -- not simply attached to -- the methodology of historical investigation. The remainder of the paper will attempt to elaborate on this historical-theological duality of form-critical inquiry by examining the types of Jesus tradition in the Gospel of Thomas, Ignatius of Antioch, and (by way of a postscript) Justin Martyr.


 The Gospel of Thomas

J.M. Robinson’s article on “Logoi Sofon” (see minutes) has broken new ground for understanding G Thom. by asking how the existence of this type of Jesus tradition is theologically significant in relation to the historical Jesus and to the church, not simply whether and in what way certain parts of the material (e.g. the parables) relate to the actual words of the “historical” Jesus. The frustrating thing about G.Thom. is not so much the variety of types of sayings it presents, but the intermingling of types, apparently without conscious structure. We are accustomed to the pseudo-biographical structuring found in the canonical gospels, where the sayings (in various forms) are incorporated into the framework of the “classical Christological Kerygma.” But this in itself is a theological accomplishment through which a particular attitude and expression of faith has mastered and domesticated many materials of different theological orientation. Thus the basic “historical” question concerning G.Thom. is not to what extent “primitive” materials have survived despite the “changes” (by comparison to the canonical gospels), but in what way belief in Jesus as the central historical event of salvation has found adequate elaboration that does not falsify the actual historical event but allows it to speak for itself, even in a new environment. Continuation and preservation of traditional material is the only element which represents a remaining of criterion of truthfulness to the ongoing interpretation, but faithful repetition of accurate details is not necessarily the method to accomplish this task. While the “Kerygma” structure of the canonical gospels is a typical and unique Christian Gattung,” this cannot be said about the various “Gattungen” of material incorporated into this framework (just as the language and forms used by Jesus were not uniquely “Christian”). G.Thom. represents a Gattung closely related to the synoptic sayings source “Q”. Thus the question arises, in what does the belief in Jesus as the historical revelation control the basically non- Christian types of tradition found in G.Thom.? (Here “historical” means ‘subject to specific spatio-temporal human limitations,” not “accessible to posterity since it occurred once in the past.”)


The selection and presentation of apocalyptic sayings in G.Thom reveals a tendency of internalization, and of interpreting originally future apocalyptic references as present in the individual believer who has overcome the agonies of this- worldly existence (e.g. 4, 16(b), 22, 75; cf. 18(a), 51). The focus is not on Jesus as the one who comes, but as the one who knows. Although “Jesus’ is pictured as the one who gives knowledge and as the “living one” 1, 59), Jesus of Nazareth as a person in history is irrelevant. Internalization of apocalypticism, whether pre-Christian or post-Christian, needs no historical point of reference.


Similarly, the “I sayings” in G.Thom. have no particular relationship to the historical Jesus as the revelation -- he brings the disciples to a “single-one” type of existence beyond the historical conditionings of this life (23; cf.10, 17). Even if such sayings only slightly alter the historical words of Jesus, they have become words of the divine revealer from the beyond (cf. 108). And this approach has attracted various “revelation sayings” (some with an “I” or “I am” formula – cf. 28, 61, 62, 77, 114) which have no basis in the words of the historical Jesus. They focus on the question “who are you?” as do the “I am” sayings of the Gnostic tradition. By way of contrast, the 4th Gospel consciously alters this type of saying to emphasize not the divine qualities of the revealer, but the divine content which is present in the historical appearance of Jesus (“where is…?”). Thus G.John radically reinterprets Gnostic theology in terms of the historical, while in G.Thom., Jesus is seen from the perspective of eternity, transcending the limitations of history.


Similar observations can be made about three other, closely related forms of sayings in G.Thom. -- (l) parables and allegories, (2) wisdom sayings, and (3) rules of the community. Both in form and content, materials in all three categories correspond to specific Jewish “wisdom” traditions in which the person of the teacher is of secondary importance. Even if such types of tradition had received a specific historical frame of reference in the preaching of Jesus (and several may have good claim to be authentic), this does not, in itself, make them characteristically “Jesus’ traditions.


Nevertheless, in the preservation of this material in the Christian community, Jesus becomes important as the teacher with divine authority -- his words of wisdom seem to rest in his authority. But in G.Thom., this is the authority not of Jesus of Nazareth but of the truly wise (primordial) man (19, 50, 111). The truth of his words is authenticated by finding this truth in oneself -- as already in the Jewish wisdom tradition. The sole point at which the historical Jesus plays a specific role in the understanding of one’s own destiny is in the command to become “passers-by” (42), which is rooted in Jesus’ own experience (86).


In terms of selection and interpretation, the parables and allegories of G.Thom. are not oriented eschatologically but anthropologically. Man is not asked to confront the authority of the historical Jesus who in his own time dared to proclaim the coming of God’s time (the eschatological gift of the Kingdom), but to realize in his own self the timeless presence of God (cf. the “field” of 21(a), the “pearl” of 76). In the rules of the community the other-worldliness of the new existence has become the goal and ideology of the community. G.Thom. presents the rules as the test-case for a new set of religious values, rather than the call for radical obedience to God’s command in this world and time. Thus the hearer is to distinguish himself from the ways of the Jews (6, 14, 27, etc.), and indeed, from the world as such (cf. 80, 84, 106, 110).


G.Thom. is but one example of the complicated history of sayings traditions in the church. The crucial problem is not to what extent G. Thom. has modified the tradition, but whether the sayings tradition could have been maintained anywhere its original integrity after its Sitz im Leben had been transferred from eschatological proclamation to the church’s theology. That Jesus’ sayings did produce a religious self understanding for which the historical Jesus ultimately became irrelevant has been obvious from G.Thom. to the non- christological moralism or spiritualism of our time. It is a moot point whether the nonhistorical understanding of religious experience or the impact of the sayings of Jesus came first.



Although the actual amount of Jesus tradition in the writings of Ignatius is extremely limited, his theology is dominated by a christological tradition focusing on the cross and resurrection of Jesus -- something unparalleled in G.Thom. For Ignatius, “the gospels” is not Jesus’ sayings, but is the “kerygma” of the coming, death, and ascension/resurrection of Jesus -- the same sort of kerygma that had become the structure and outline for the canonical gospels. Nevertheless, insofar as the “mysterious” events enumerated by Ignatius in his “gospel” are mythically, or metaphysically, oriented (e.g. Eph 19), they may seem to have less to do with the “historical” Jesus than do the sayings of G.Thom. Jesus the historical point of reference, remains a pure “That” without quality of its own; this is a problem Ignatius shares with Paul as with Bultmann -- and indeed, with all who continue to attempt filling out this historical “That” with mythical, legendary, and dogmatic content.


In the kerygma tradition, historical and mythical “events” are presented as though they were “events” on the same level of occurrence (cf. 1 Cor 15:3f; 1 Pet 1:18, 4:18ff). Such creedal formulas tend to be theological elaborations of the religious dimension of one specific historical occurrence (death, suffering, etc.)—thus non-historical “events” tend to predominate. In Ignatius, there is also a tendency to enlarge the historical references -- e.g. by including Jesus’ birth, the role of Herod at the crucifixion, etc. The aim seems to be to emphasize the “That” of historical reality in polemic against the dangers posed by Gnostic theology and docetism.


On the whole, Ignatius shows no interest in authoritatively representing what Jesus actually had said and done as a guide to theology. But in two fundamental aspects of his theology, he brings the historical reality of Jesus’ appearance on earth to bear on his understanding of faith -- (l) his theology of the sacraments, (2) his desire for martyrdom. For Ignatius, the sacrament is the metaphysical unity of divine and human, which rests on the perfect unity of God and man accomplished through Jesus’ life and death. Certain events in Jesus’ life are pictured as making possible the effectiveness of the sacraments (e.g. Eph 18:2). Here we see the Sitz im Leben for those synoptic traditions which have been “cultic legends”, just as in the historical expansions to the kerygmatic creedal formulas, Ignatius throws light on the way “historical legends” came to be assimilated into the gospel tradition -- processes already at work prior to Ignatius are here seen still in action.


Although the concept of martyrdom had already been formulated theologically in Judaism, its specific application in early Christianity is dependent on the historical event of Jesus’ suffering and death. For Ignatiuus, as for other early Christians, martyrdom became the foremost way of experiencing identity with salvation -- with God -- since God’s eschatological coming actually took this course. In the development of the passion narrative, this Christian concept of martyrdom played an intimate role -- cf, e.g. Luke’s treatment of the passion and of Stephen’s death, or Christian experiences in Roman courts as reflected in John 18f. Indeed, in the oldest Gospel, Mark, Jesus’ path to Jerusalem is depicted as the disciples’ preparation for martyrdom. It was at this point that the church was best able to relate her understanding of her own existence directly to the historical event which constituted her faith. It is not surprising that only this pattern was able to serve as the point of crystallization through which many other types of Jesus traditions (sayings, miracle stories) could receive a setting as part of the historical revelation. On the other hand, the Gnostic dissolution of the historical uniqueness of Jesus’ human appearance also devaluated the significance of martyrdom as a genuine feature of Christian faith.



Although Ignatius wrote at a time when some of the canonical gospels already existed, he represents a stage of development corresponding to the pre-literary concept of gospel (= kerygmatic creed), and does not subsume other types of Jesus tradition under this category. Justin, however, depends on a variety of written gospels and presupposes such a synthesis of non-historical traits had become domesticated. But Justin is the first to capitalize on this situation. Under the auspices of an overriding theological pattern derived from his views of salvation and history (similar to Luke), Justin historicizes his gospel-traditions (not simply Jesus-traditions) with primary emphasis on two aspects: (1) Jesus’ sayings have a historical dimension in terms of moral consistency, social usefulness and fulfilled predictions; and (2) the story of Jesus is true because the gospels are trustworthy records of the exact fulfillment in Jesus of OT predictions. For all practical purposes, Justin represents the end of the development of the various types of Jesus traditions, even though the particular traditions were far from fixed at his times. That the Jesus traditions are trustworthy and historical, and that these criteria should be used by theologians in evaluating such traditions, is the pattern at the end of the process and not at its beginning. The more primitive question of tradition and history was different; it must be approached in terms of the “forms” and the Sitz im Leben of the traditions in the community in relation to the historical Jesus, not in terms of what can be shown to be approved “historical” record.


 * * * * * *


The ensuing discussion was lively, and centered on such issues as the following: Could it be said that Justin’s logos concept also provided an emphasis like the “timeless” orientation of G.Thom.? To what extent can the non-historical orientation of G.Thom. also be called anti-historical? How do the occasional event-centered sayings relate to this non-historical approach? Could not the categories of “myth” and “history” also be used with reference to the Jesus tradition in G.Thom. In what sense is Ignatius” use of historico-mythical categories evidence of conscious opposition to docetism? Is the Jesus of the 4th Gospel really a human-historical figure in distinction from a heavenly figure (as in G Thom.)? What role did such types of Jesus tradition play in the overall history of early Christianity?


Respectfully submitted, P M. Peterson, edited by R.A. Kraft and H. Koester





Topic for 1965/66: “Gospel Tradition in the Second Century”

Meeting of 8 March 1966, Philadelphia Divinity School Library


 At the fourth meeting in the current series, two of the Seminar’s members presented aspects of the general theme, the traditions concerning Jesus’ birth and background: Marshall A. Johnson (visiting lecturer at Lutheran Seminary, Philadelphia) summarized some of the results of his Union (N.Y.) Th.D. dissertation in a paper entitled “The Purpose of the Genealogies of Jesus’; (2) co- chairman Stephen Benko (Conwell School of Theology) then dealt with “Early Mariological Alterations in the Infancy Narratives: the ascription of the Magnificat to Mary.”.


The Purpose of The Genealogies of Jesus (Johnson)


Attempts to harmonize the apparent discrepancies between Mt. l:l-17 and Lk. 3:23-38 are well attested already by the time of Julius Africanus (ca. 240). Apart from the obvious artificiality of such schemes, this approach fails to explain the relationship between these genealogies and the literary use of the Gattung in either Judaism or the Hellenistic world..


Jewish society from Ezra to the Talmudic period was structured genealogically. By the NT period ten ‘stocks” were isolated (cf. m. Kil. 4:1; m. Hor.3:8; t. Meg. 2:7; in b. Yebam. 37a the list is attributed to Hillel), according to which the core of Israel consisted of priests, Levites” and full Israelites. The underlying notion seems to have been the identity of pre-exilic Israel with later Judaism.


The maintenance of this system -- or even the idea of this system -- seems to require the keeping of accurate genealogical records. Yet we have no definitive evidence that this was done – at least with regard to non-priestly families. Josephus (Cont.Ap.1:7) refers only to records of priestly families, possibly only to the succession of high priests. Africanus’ report of Herod burning the Jewish genealogies (Eus., H.E. l:7:13-15) is most probably an attempt, drawn from a previous source, to show how it was possible for the relatives of Jesus to have genealogical records while Jewish families in general did not. Moreover, the reference in m. Yebam. 4:13 to “a genealogical scroll” found in Jerusalem is most probably an allusion to the Matthean genealogy.


Genealogical activity in late Judaism appears to have been carried out in two ways: By oral tradition one might be aware of his tribal origin (cf Rom:1; Phil 3:4; Lk 2 36; m. Ki1. 9:4), although even such traditions appear to have been sparse. (2) The literary use of the genealogical Gattung involved midrashic exegesis of biblical texts as well as the incorporation of post-biblical traditions. Thus, in p. Taan. 4:2 several prominent Rabbis are provided with an honorable pedigree by midrashic reflection on OT names. Moreover, detailed discussion of the ancestry of several OT worthies as well as Messianic figures appears to have involved the Rabbis in polemic use of midrashic exegesis. In sum, we may posit a tradition of genealogical midrash current in Tannaitic Judaism (cf. Strack- Billerbeck, I, 1-6; G. Kittel, ZNW 20 [1921], 49-69) which was not dependent on individual family records.


The two genealogies of Jesus, each in a different way, reflect an awareness of this Rabbinic genealogical tradition and midrashic methodology. This can be seen in Mt. 1:1-17 both in the details of the list, which are not necessitated by the linear form of the genealogy, and in the artificial structuring of the genealogy itself. Among the details, the most conspicuous is the inclusion of the four women (Tamer, Rahab, Ruth and “the wife of Uriah”), who in some Jewish traditions were not considered full Israelites and were thought to have a taint of immorality. The clue to their inclusion in Jesus’ genealogy is the recognition that Jewish tradition is divided. Some early sources attack David because of the suspect women in his ancestry; others find ways to whitewash them.


It seems that the four women were the subject of polemics within Judaism even from pre-Christian times. Notice, e.g., the treatment of Tamar in T.Jud. 10:1-6, 12:2; Jub. 41:1; Philo, Quod Deus 136f, Congr. 124-126, Fug. 149-156, Mut.134-136: of Ruth in Josephus, Ant. 5:9:4, and in the earliest Rabbinic traditions; the Bathsheba incident in CD 5:1-5. Although the Jewish sources do not expressly link Rahab to the ancestry of David, the early midrash in Sifre Num., 78 applies a passage from the Chronicler’s genealogy of Judah to Rahab by a play on words. Hence, in the Tannaitic period, Rahab seems to have been considered as a proselyte belonging to the tribe of Judah. But in later Rabbinic tradition, she is said to have married Joshua (cf. Mid.Qoh. 8:10).


Since the character of the women (except Rahab) is usually discussed by the Rabbis in the context of Messiah’s ancestry, the most plausible explanation is that the women were introduced into this discussion by opponents of the Davidic Messiah expectation - - perhaps by partisans of a priestly (Levitic) Messiah. Those who defended a Davidic Messiah could only whitewash the women, except in the case of Rahab where, due to the silence of Jewish Scripture, it was possible to deny her connection with the Davidic ancestry. Thus Matthew included the four women as a traditional element in the pedigree of the Davidic Messiah. He wrote to those who shared this hope to the exclusion of all other conceptions -- perhaps to Pharisaic element who were reconstituting Judaism after 70.


The periodization of history in Jewish apocalyptic offers several parallels to the structure of Mt.1:1-17 (three groups of 14 each; cf.1:17), which suggests that Matthew’s point may have been eschatological -- history is in order, the Messiah has come. Note, e.g.: (1) 2 Baruch 53-74, where world history “from creation to consummation” is divided into 14 epochs, the last of which is the Messianic age; (2) 1 Enoch 93,91, with three periods of pre-Abrahamic history and seven of Israelite, the last of which is the Messianic age, which might be reflected in Mt’s 42 generations (6 groups of 7) “until the Messiah”; Ex.R.15:26, where the generations from Abraham to the exile are divided into two equal parts according to the phases of the moon; (4) some Jewish and Christian sources attest traditional speculation patterned after the week of creation – the world will last for 7 millennia, the last of which is the “world Sabbath” and belongs to God..


Luke’s rejection of the roya1 line of Judah in preference to Nathan, son of David (2 Sam 5:14), can best be explained as reflecting a Nathan tradition such as emerges in several sources: (1) Zech 12:2f contains a list of prominent clans in Judah, associated with David, Nathan, Levi, and Shimei. Each of these names is incorporated into the pre-exilic section of Lk’s genealogy. Codex Reuchlinianus (but no other MSS) of the Targum on Zech 12:12 identifies this Nathan with both the son of David and the prophet of 2 Sam 7. (3) Africanus” letter to Aristides on the genealogies of Jesus (ANF VI, 125) discusses an older view which emphasized the prophetic role of David’s son, Nathan. (4) Eusebius,.Quest. Steph.3:2 (Migne, P.L.22:895), states that the differences between the two genealogies of Jesus arise from differing views held by the Jews (and Christians?) concerning the ancestry of the Messiah. Luke recorded the alternate view, but indicated that he knew Mt’s genealogy was correct by adding the “as was supposed” in 3:23. Here again the prophetic role of Nathan, pais of David, is mentioned as characteristic of the view of those who maintained position of Nathan in the Messianic pedigree. (5) A late esoteric Jewish haggada, the “Apocalypse of Zerubbabel” (Fr. tr. by I. Levi, REJ68, 135-137), contains an actual fragment of a Messianic pedigree in which Nathan the prophet is the son of David and Bathsheba, and also the father of the Messiah. Luke may have been aware of traditions such as these, & found them congruous with the centrality of the motif of prophecy in his interpretation of the ministry of Jesus.



The genealogies of Jesus can be understood only in the light of the usage of the genealogical Gattung in Judaism. Each in its different way, reflects knowledge of Messianic speculation in late Judaism. Each is used by the author of the gospel in which it is located to support a particular Christology.


The Ascription of The Magnificat to Mary (Benko)


A review of the history of the controversy

The emergence of the problem can be traced back as far as 1881 when Westcott and Hort, The NT in the Original Greek, vol. 2, first listed three Old Latin variants to Lk 1:46 which read “et ait Elisabeth” instead of “Maria.” On this basis A. Loisy in 1893 proposed that the Magnificat originally may have been attributed to Elizabeth. The great debate, however, began when G. Morin discovered and published a sermon of Niceta in 1897, in which the Magnificat is attributed to Elizabeth at two occasions. In the same year Loisy, under the pseudonym of Francois Jacobe thoroughly investigated the whole problem and came to the conclusion that the variants favoring the “Elizabeth” merit the attention of competent theologians. The well known article of Adolf Harnack (Sitsungsber. Akad.Berlin, 1900) proposed that the original text contained only “and she said,” which was later expanded by “Elizabeth”(correctly) or by “Mary” (incorrectly). Yet Harnack introduced little new material and most of his arguments were taken over from Loisy. In 1901, Otto Bardenhewer, representing Roman Catholic scholarship, answered Loisy and Harnack; as far as Roman Catholic scholarship was concerned, the matter was decided by a ruling of the “Commissio de re biblica” in 1912, forbidding the attribution of the Magnificat to Elizabeth. Protestants continued the debate which gained new momentum by the publication of Niceta’s sermon in England. Many scholars found the evidence in favor of the “Elizabeth” variant convincing, with the most notable exception being T.Zahn. [Note: A 34 item bibliography listing most works dealing with the controversy was distributed to those present at the Seminar. Copies are still available upon request].


A Summary of the Arguments.

Arguments on both sides may be classified in two groups: external and internal. (1) Mary as the ‘singer.” External evidence: All Greek MSS, most patristic witnesses, tradition up to the end of the last century. Internal evidence: Here the arguments consist mostly in refutation of the arguments mentioned in support of the “Elisabeth” variant. (2) Elizabeth as the ‘singer.” External evidence: Three minor Old Latin MSS, perhaps Origen, Niceta. Jerome also knew about this variant. Internal evidence: The general structure of the infancy narratives, especially the parallel between Elizabeth and Zechariah, points to Elizabeth. So do comparisons with OT parallels such as Hannah (1 Sam 1:11) and Leah (Gen 29f). The style of the narrative indicates no change of speaker in Lk 1:46, and Lk 1:56 makes good sense only if previously Elizabeth had been speaking. In addition there are a number of negative arguments which emphasize that Mary could not have been meant as the ‘singer.” Among these it is mentioned that Mary is treated very discreetly in the infancy narratives and such a long hymn would not be ascribed to her; moreover in the rest of the gospel according to Luke she almost completely disappears.. A review of the arguments show that the external evidence favors overwhelmingly the traditional reading “Mary,” but the internal evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the “Elizabeth” variant.


A Possible Solution in the light of Modern Research. -- Fortunately recent research in the field of the infancy narratives sheds additional light on the problem of the Magnificat. Here especially the studies of P. Winter are useful; building upon previous scholarly inquiries, he has presented a convincing case that the Magnificat (and Benedictus) was of pre-Christian origins The most likely hypothesis is that the Magnificat was originally part of a larger document, the hero of which was John the Baptist. Into this document the Magnificat, which existed already prior to John the Baptist, was incorporated and assigned to Elizabeth. The author of the Lucan infancy narratives (probably Luke) used the Baptist document in his own work. He meant Elizabeth to be the ‘singer” but did not expressly assign the hymn to her. This made it relatively easy for later Christians to insert the name “Mary” as interest in the “how” of the incarnation and in the mother of Jesus gained ground. Against this hypothesis R. Laurentin recently has suggested that the Magnificat if translated back into Hebrew might contain a Semitic play on words on the name Mary (Biblica 37-38, 1956f). This otherwise tempting hypothesis falters on the fact that we do not really know what the original Hebrew of the Magnificat was if indeed it ever was in Hebrew. That Luke should have had such a highly developed Mariology as Laurentin suggests is very unlikely, and thus the Baptist document hypothesis remains as the most acceptable solution.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Unfortunately, sufficient time did not remain for a fully satisfactory discussion of these two stimulating presentations. With reference to the first paper, the following points were mentioned: Matthew’s tendency throughout the gospel to emphasize the ‘son of David” status of Jesus -- itself a pre-Pauline Christian concept (see Rom 1:3f; cf. 2 Tim 2:8). (Mark 12 and parr. may intend to reinterpret not contradict, ‘son of David” with kyrios overtones.) In the Qumran literature, a differentiation is made between Messiah ben Israel and Messiah ben Aaron, but thus far there are no passages that emphatically identify the former “son of David” (but of 4Q “Florilegium”). The extant Rabbinic references to a Messiah ben Joseph (or Ephraim) are Hadrianic at the earliest. The four women in Mt’s genealogy do not seem to have been included as types of or as contrasts to (a later Christian explanation), but in the context of Jewish discussions as to whether their presence disqualified or did not disqualify their descendants.


Concerning Dr. Benko’s paper, it was discussed whether the presence of a “highly developed” Mariology in the accepted text of Luke 1 necessarily suggests a “late” date. Do we have sufficient controls to support such an interpretation (assumption)? It was also suggested that the Roman Catholic de re biblica decision of 1912 are not necessarily considered binding any longer (through desuetude) although at the time of their publication they did control the acceptability of Roman Catholic publications on this matter


Respectfully submitted, P.M. Peterson and the contributors edited by RAK





Topic for 1965/66: “Gospel Tradition in the Second Century”

Meeting of 10 May, 1966, at the Philadelphia Divinity School Library


 The following items of business concerning the 1966/67 Seminar were conducted at the start of the final session for the current year:


Topic for 1966/67 : Walter Bauer’s modern “classic” on Rechtglaubigkeit und Ketzerei im altesten Christentum (1934; supplemented reprint in 1964).


Chairmen: R. A. Kraft and J. H. P. Reumann

SecretaryMiss Elaine Magalis (University of Pennsylvania)


Meetings: Tuesday evenings, 7-9 p.m., Philadelphia Divinity School Library, 20 September, 8 November, 17 January, 14 March, 9 May.


Special thanks were extended to retiring chairman Stephen Benko and retiring secretary Peter Peterson, as well as to the Philadelphia Divinity School for its hospitality mediated through James Jones.




The focus of the evening’s discussion was a presentation by Robert L. Wilken (Lutheran Theological Seminary, Gettysburg), on the traditions about Jesus’ baptism.


The Materials

In the earliest account, Mark 1:9-11 reports that after (1) the heavens opened as Jesus was coming out of the water, (2) the Spirit descended as a dove into (eis) him, and (3) a voice sounded from heaven. “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” Jewish parallels in Test.Levi 18 and Judah 24, Syriac (II) Baruch 22:1, as well as Joel 2, indicate that the outpouring of the Spirit signifies the coming of the end time. God will raise up a new servant or priest and the spirit of understanding shall rest on him. This man will hear the voice of the Father, he shall be like the sun of righteousness, and no sin shall be found in him, etc.


Matthew injects a new element into the account by a discourse between John and Jesus which arises out of the question: “Why does Jesus need to be baptized?” John apparently believes there is no need of baptism for Jesus and tries to dissuade him. In Mark, the baptism occurred at the beginning of the Gospel, but in Matthew, it follows the genealogy, virgin birth, story of the wise men who worship the child, and his marvelous childhood (cf. Luke). Thus Matthew faces a new problem, for if Jesus was born in miraculous fashion, why does he need to be baptized for the remission of sins? Matthew’s way of handling the baptism is highly characteristic of many later writers who had difficulty explaining why Jesus was baptized. The question of “why?” is a leit-motif running throughout the early discussions of baptism -- cf. Hegemonius, Acta Archelai 60 (GCS ed. C.H.Beeson, pp.88ff.), where Mani touches on the nerve of the problem: if baptism is given for the remission of sins, and Jesus was baptized, that means he sinned and needed baptism. To avoid this implication the fathers devised elaborate schemes of interpretation explaining the reason for Jesus’ baptism.


 In the Gospel of the Ebionites, the exchange between John and Jesus is placed after the baptism, as response to a great light which appeared at the baptism. John inquires “who are you?” and then asks that Jesus baptize him. Here the writer saw no problem in having Jesus baptized, but by the light and the descent of the Spirit into him (eiselthouses) he emphasized that Jesus is no ordinary man. Matthew’s Christological assumptions are removed and replaced by a “Jewish-Christian” Christology. The Gospel of the Nazarenes/Hebrews at one place makes explicit reference to the sinlessness of Jesus in connection with baptism, and Jesus asks “why should I be baptized?” (see also Predicatio Pauli and Ps- Cyprian, De Rebaptismate 17). Though the details of the story change here, the way of handling the way of handling the question is closer to Matthew than to G.Ebionites. In another fragment from G.Nazarenes/ Hebrews, the baptism of Jesus is almost wholly subordinated to the descent of the Spirit. This anticipates later emphases, for in the 2nd century the baptism itself recedes and the descent of the Spirit predominates as the significant factor in the account. See also Acts 10:37f, where “anointing with the Holy Spirit” is mentioned in a passage referring to the baptism, but the baptism itself is not mentioned. Similarly, although the synoptic tradition is known to the Gospel of John, it makes no mention of the baptism itself. John also gives a more “theological” account of the significance of the descent of the Spirit on Jesus. If Jesus is the Son of God, he does not need a second birth.


In the second century, Ignatius is almost wholly preoccupied with the question “why?” in his allusions to the baptism. Twice he adds, as did Matthew, clauses to explain why Jesus was baptized -- “in order that he might fulfill all righteousness” (Smyr 1:1), and “in order that by his passion he might consecrate water” (Eph 18:2). The former is directly parallel to Matthew, although Koester (Synop.Uberlief.) does not believe it to be a citation of the Gospel of Matthew.


Gnostic and anti-Gnostic writings such as those preserved in Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria (Excerpta), and Hippolylus, have extensive references to the baptism of Jesus. In most instances the baptism is seen as the time of the descent of the Spirit or the pleroma, the Name, Logos, Savior, etc. The dove symbolizes that power from on high which descends on Jesus. After the descent Jesus can work. The problem of “why?” is almost wholly absent in these sources, and they are more interested in emphasizing the significance of the descent of the dove for Jesus. Irenaeus and Justin were influenced by these writers, and in their polemics against the gnostics they took over the emphasis on the descent. In this connection Isa 11:1 and Isa 61 formed the basis for discussion. Thus Irenaeus argues that it is the Spirit who descends on Jesus, not Christ as the gnostics claim. He descended on Jesus so that by descending the Spirit could grow accustomed to dwell in the human race and renew them from their old habits into newness in Christ (3:17:1). This Spirit is also conferred on the Church. Irenaeus integrates the descent of the Spirit into his view of the economy of salvation: and thereby gives it theological significance, but he was driven to this by gnostic opponents who cited Isa 11 and 61 in support of their view.


Justin faced a similar problem with Trypho (87f.), who cites Isa 11 and notes that Justin applied this to Jesus. But, says Trypho, if Jesus is the preexistent God, why does Isaiah speak as though he was lacking the Spirit? Here the question of “why?” assumes a new form -- now in relation not to the baptism, but to the descent. Justin answers that the scriptures say these things because the scriptures are fulfilled in him and find rest in him, as did the Spirit, for after him there would no longer be prophets in your nation as of old. Justin, however, also touches on the earlier way of asking “why?” Jesus was baptized, not because he needed baptism, but “because of the human race which had fallen under the power of death ...”


Lest the lines be drawn too sharply it should be noted that some gnostic writers also attribute to the baptism and descent a significance for mankind and do not simply stress what it meant for Jesus. In Exc.Theod. 76:1, the baptism of Jesus rescues men from fire, and Jesus’ baptism is a model for Christians, for he goes before us, just as he was the first to fight with beasts in the desert.


No hard and fast lines can be drawn between “gnostic” writers and Justin and Irenaeus. Some of the gnostic writers are closer to Irenaeus or Justin than to other gnostics. There is a widespread tendency among all writers in the 2nd century to emphasize the descent of the Spirit and to subordinate the baptism itself. For some gnostics the descent is the time when Jesus is empowered with the “Name”, filled with the pleroma, or fitted out for his task. Other writers reject this view and try to give a reason for the Descent which harmonizes with their Christology (cf.Ignatius, Justin, Irenaeus). As Matthew, they try to avoid the implication that Jesus needed anything such as remission of sins or the Spirit. In these instances an attempt is made to find another way of accounting for “Why” Jesus was baptized.


New types of questions appear in later writers such as Origen. In Contra Celsum, the baptism of Jesus comes under dispute in connection with the question of historicity -- Celsus charged that it did not take place. Elsewhere (on John #20), Trinitarian questions are raised, for if Jesus is truly God he does not need the Spirit (cf. above on Justin). Origen replies that the account of the baptism is written “according to the economy” and must not be read as a historical narrative but as a spiritual theoria, for the Son is inseparable from the Father. Later the baptism becomes an issue in the debates after Nicaea concerning the divinity of Jesus. This was one event in the gospels to which Arians appealed in support of their views. Eventually the baptism of Jesus formed the basis for dispute in the Christological controversies, e.g. in Cyril and in Nestorius.


Some Conclusions

 It is not possible to show any sharp break in development from the 1st to the 2nd century. The problem of Matthew is the problem of Ignatius and of Justin. There is, however, a noticeable difference already between Mark and Matthew. Many different sources accent the role of the Spirit – e.g. synoptics, John, Acts, gnostics.


The distinction between canonical and non-canonical materials is not useful here. More legendary material appears in the apocryphal gospels (especially in G.Hebrews), but similar tendencies also are at work in Matthew.


Gnostic writings give significance to the baptism by emphasizing the descent of the Spirit. This already is present in the earliest traditions, but is moved to the center by the end of the 1st and beginning of the 2nd centuries. Writers such as Irenaeus and Justin are more influenced by gnostic writers than vice- versa. Writers of mainstream Christianity emphasize the meaning of baptism for Christians or for the world (e.g. in redemption), while gnostic writers emphasize its significance for the person of Jesus.


The emphasis on descent of the Spirit in Jewish-Christian and gnostic writings suggests that they may have access to “late- Judaic materials.” There are strong resemblances between G.Hebrews, Trypho, numerous passages cited by Irenaeus, and writings such as Test. Judah and Test.Levi. Second century writers are not limited to what appears in canonical writings and materials employed there, but seem to make direct use of earlier sources.




In the brief discussion at the conclusion of the meeting, such issues as the following were raised:


The problem of Christian influences in the extant forms of the Testaments -- to what extent are their “baptism” parallels pre-Christian?


The intricate question of synoptic relationships in the baptism-temptation section -- perhaps Mark has edited for his own purposes material known independently to Matthew and Luke (so- called “Q” material), etc.


The interesting addition in some traditions of such details as fire or light on the water, and even of accompanying characteristic smell (in some Syriac sources) – compare references which connect baptism and fire, such as Matt 3:11=Luke 3:16, and Luke 12:49-50. Note also the reference to Jesus praying at the baptism in Luke.


The problem of the origin of the tradition about Jesus being baptized: It seems to us to be early and well-attested, and is often assumed to reflect a historical event, it could as well have originated as an aetiological legend projecting Christian practice and experience back into the life of Jesus; or as an etymological tale to historicize the meaning of the name Meshiach/Christos/Unctus -- anointed when? by whom? Mary, the sinful woman, John?? or perhaps as a historicized doublet to a traditional saying ascribed to Jesus concerning his “baptism” (cf. mark 10:38f, Luke 12:49f.).


We lack sufficiently precise methodological controls to proceed with confidence on such matters.


Respectfully submitted, P.M. Peterson, secretary (edited R.A.K., precis by R.Wilken)