From my diary

I’ve received an email offering to translate the Life of Mar Aba into English from Syriac, rather than the retranslation of Oskar Braun’s BKV German translation which I have been doing this week.  The cost to do so is not prohibitive; but the translator has an eye on possible formal publication subsequently, so we need to find a way that allows me to give him a lot of money, while still allowing him to publish in a way that will do his CV good.

Meanwhile I have heard from my local library that Walter Bauer’s Orthodoxy and Heresy has arrived — I ordered a loan a couple of weeks ago.  So I shall trott along there at the weekend and pick it up, and read it.  The tiny bit that I have seen so far suggests that he refers to various patristic texts, so those should be fun to look up.  Whether he has anything to say, that any of us need pay any attention to, I do not yet know.

The Bauer thesis, apparently, is that Jesus never taught anything all that specific; that the apostles were just one group of his disciples, and that others teaching any old thing wandered around; that the heresies of the second century, such as Valentinians, Marcionites, etc, were all faithful ideological descendants of these putative early disciples; and that the apostolic church, therefore, has no unique claim to the moral authority of Jesus. 

This sounds like complete tosh to me, of course, improbable on so many levels.  Ideological movements get founded by ideologues, not people who can’t make coherent sense for a year or two.  The data certainly doesn’t support that, but says the opposite; and, as five minutes critical thinking reminds us, the Valentinians etc claimed that their teaching was “secret”, not known to the public.  That by itself tells us that, as far as public record went, their teaching was NOT known to be derived from Jesus himself, and everyone knew it. 

And indeed a look at the 2nd century heretics shows that their teaching derives directly from various flavours of pop philosophical paganism, and the “haereses” of this.  Tertullian listed the borrowings, and asked, pertinently, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem … away with this bastardised ‘Christianity’.”  If Valentinus’ disciples like Rhodon did not remain faithful to Valentinus, why do we suppose that Valentinus remained faithful to some earlier teacher?  But to ask the question is to answer it.

To me, all this sounds like the sort of theory that could arise only in a society in transition; in a society which has a historical attachment to Christianity, which the establishment find inconvenient, which wants to discard “thou shalt not commit adultery” etc, but still has an inherited and irrational reverence for Jesus himself.  In western society in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, in short.

Never mind.  We’ll see.  I am told that WB himself is not nearly as bonkers as those who riff off him. 


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