Barker Part 4

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Isn’t El Elyon a remnant of the older Canaanite religion, not yet fully syncretised with Yahwism? Why the desire to make a pagan god the father of Jehovah?

The desire comes from wanting to account for the evidence from the texts, from archeology, and in my view, from the Book of Mormon. The Dead Sea Scrolls version of Deuteronomy 32:8-9 seems to make El Elyon the father of Yahweh. Margaret has a fascinating chapter The Older Testament that explores the El Elyon texts.

1 Nephi 11:6 has an angel saying to Nephi, “Blessed art thou… because thou believest in the Son of the Most High God.” In the same chapter, he his shown that Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father.

One criticism of Barker’s work is that she uses much later material, for example, Common Era rabbinic teachings to illuminate to role of the First Temple high priest. Thoughts?

She doesn’t use later materials in a vacuum. She uses earlier materials to establish a context for the later. It’s the context that she’s assembled that justifies the use of the later materials. Look how she works in The Great Angel. She begins by stating the problem: “How was it possible for monotheistic Jews to have worshipped Jesus?” She surveys the weakness of previous scholarship in dealing with the question. She reads all of the Old Testament texts dealing with the Sons of God. She looks closely at the Exile. She reads the Old Testament. She looks at Wisdom. She looks at traditions and texts dealing with angels. She surveys the significance and treatment of The Name. She reads Philo. She looks at the Jewish writers, comparing significant patterns in the Palestinian and Babylonian Targums. She looks at the Gnostics. Then she reads four centuries of the Christian Fathers. And finally, having established the broadest possible context, she looks at the New Testament texts. I find this thoroughly typical of her method, and I find her approach both enlightening and convincing. It’s the overall context that she creates, showing consistent patterns that tie together early and later materials. I see her citations of later material as dependent on the context she creates from earlier materials. It’s not the other way around.

Plus, I consider the Book of Mormon to be a valid test of her hypothesis. 1 Nephi includes Pre-exilic eyewitness material. How well do these independent witnesses agree? And then, why?

Finally, to what does Barker attribute the Book of Mormon’s “accuracy”?

In her presentation at Washington DC, as published in BYU Studies 44/4, she fives times refers to “the revelation to Joseph Smith.”

Comments

  1. Latter-day Guy says:

    Thanks, Ronan. These have been fascinating.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    I’m not nearly so well read in Margaret’s work as Kevin C. But The Great Angel was a revelation to me, and it had a profound effect on my thinking. And the problem Kevin C. mentions above is really intriguing to me. I had this image of Judaism as absolutely monotheistic, at least after the Exile. So how in the world did Christianity gain any traction among its first Jewish converts? That just plain doesn’t make any sense. To me, Margaret’s work helps to explain this little mystery.

  3. Kevin B,
    Did the earliest Christians see Christ as God (thus necessitating an ease with polytheism)? Were its Gentile converts already thus at ease? What are your thoughts?

  4. “In her presentation at Washington DC, as published in BYU Studies 44/4, she fives times refers to “the revelation to Joseph Smith.”

    This isn’t as surprising to me as it may be to some. I am a dyed in the whool, thru and thru, true beliving mormon and yet I believe that Mohammed, though not a prophet, was raised up by God and to a certain extent inspired by him.

    I still can;t see why other people have a hard time saying, “Ya, Joseph was right on that.”

  5. She begins by stating the problem: “How was it possible for monotheistic Jews to have worshipped Jesus?”

    Among her many problems is the posing of this question. The question assumes four problematic things: 1) Jews were “monotheistic,” an anachronistic term with no clear definition (can a “monotheist” believe in angels? the existence of other gods? the devil?); 2) “Jews” were the primary converts to early Christianity–this both assumes that we know what a Jew is, and assumes that Jews not “Greeks”; 3) That Jesus was considered a God to be worshipped in earliest Christianity–against the accepted view, she argues that “high Christology” like that in John actually precedes the “low Christology” of the synoptics, and she argues for a much higher Christology in Paul than I personally see; 4) that “worshiping” is something that Christians did to Jesus, and that this can only be done for gods–though she leaves “worship” undefined so we don’t actually know what practices she means, and though she doesn’t consider that there are numerous figures in both Judaism and Greco-Roman religion who are not gods who outsiders might say they are worshiping.

    I see her citations of later material as dependent on the context she creates from earlier materials. It’s not the other way around.

    I think that this assertion is both an inaccurate characterization of her work (and one that her method explicitly rejects since she is actually trying to establish a context in her work for the later Christian material, rather than the earlier material), but also a basic misunderstanding of this methodological critique. The question is not whether she adequately establishes connections between 4th c. CE texts and 8th c. BCE texts, but whether she properly understands the significance of those connections. She wants to argue that they are evidence of a pristine truth which transcends time, which is frankly a methodological assumption that historians have rejected decades ago.

    For some other discussions between Kevin C and me on Barker’s methodology, see:

    http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com/2007/11/09/my-margaret-barker-experience/

    http://mormonapologetics.org/index.php?s=f0c29be565fb714dee6558ebfe0780fe&showtopic=37563&st=0&start=0

    I would still like to hear his response.

  6. TT: THis is not meant to be a dig, but between the time of your posting at FPR and now, have you read some of her stuff?

    Personally, I do worry Margaret Barker’s studies will be another case of “Ether” in the universe, like Widtsoe was lambasted for getting so wrapped up in, but I appreciate Kevin’s enthusiasm and the tangential connection it gives me to the hypotheses she puts out.

  7. Kevin Christensen says:

    Hi TT.

    I enjoyed your Agnostupid post on FPR. Now and then it’s nice to not disagree. Perhaps I’ll have time to reply this weekend, if I can get recently my malaised Windows XP to boot, and my internet back up. And if company doesn’t come over.

    A few thoughts from The Older Testament, page 5. “It is unlikely that the events of the life and death of Jesus could have found expression at a very early date only in terms of a mythology alien to the setting in which the events occurred. Mythology and interpretation cannot arise simultaneously.”

    “…one of the few things that we do know about Jesus’s first followers is that the Pharisees, men of Paul’s background, had little but contempt for their ideas.”

    And Kevin B. while may not have read as much Barker as I, I do appreciate how much you have read that I have not.

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    Ronan #3,

    I think I used to have a rather naive view of Jews at the time of Christ. I assumed they were just like Jews today. And I never really thought about it, but when Barker posed her question about how Jews could possibly come to worship Jesus Christ, I thought, “Hey, yea, that’s a helluva question!” So coming to an understanding that there were things that were different about Judaisms then than Judaism now was helpful to me. For instance, the persistence of the “two powers in heaven” position, and not just by Christians (see Alan Segal’s book of that title) helped me to get a different sense for the varieties of different perspectives among the Jews and the openness to different heavenly powers.

    So for me it’s not just Barker, but it’s a wider array of scholarship for which Barker happened to be my point of entree.

  9. Kevin C,
    Thanks for your preliminary response, and I look forward to future treatments when you get the time.

    A few thoughts from The Older Testament, page 5. “It is unlikely that the events of the life and death of Jesus could have found expression at a very early date only in terms of a mythology alien to the setting in which the events occurred. Mythology and interpretation cannot arise simultaneously.”

    I am not entirely sure what you see this quotation addressing, so if my response is off-base, please clarify the point you are attempting to make. As it stands, I am not really sure what she means by “mythology” and “interpretation,” why she is separating these out as two distinct things (isn’t mythology an interpretation?), nor why she thinks that they cannot arise simultaneously. Perhaps this quote is meant to suggest that a high Christology (mythology?) is necessarily early? Can you clarify why this is the case?

    On your previous advice, I read the introduction to the Older Testament, which, rather than resolving concerns about her methodology only increased them. My original response to this is in comment 31 of the FPR thread, which I reproduce here for convenience:
    “On her method in The Older Testament. I took a look at the readings that you suggested. Even given that the book is several years old, I find her methodology problematic even for its day. For starters, she completely misreads Patterson and Koester’s important methodological contributions in their seminal volume Trajectories of Early Christianity. For instance, she frequently assumes that there is such a thing as an “original teaching” which can be discovered. The whole point of the methodological revolution that Patterson and Koester highlight is that such a search of a pure, original is completely imaginary. Instead, we only have interpretations of interpretations. Barker’s belief that she is somehow uncovering the “original,” instead of just another interpretation, is problematic. Further, she is working on an assumed division between “Greek” and “Jewish” ideas in the NT, and that the Jewish ideas are original and the Greek ideas are a “second layer.” Now, this idea has been more seriously criticized since the writing of her book, but inasmuch as it informs her methodology, her ideas need to be seriously questioned. The same can be said for her artificial division between what is “Jewish” and what is “Christian,” especially with regard to Paul. Ultimately, this chapter lays out not so much a method, but a theory. She explains, “Our task is to reconstruct a background quite independent of New Testament considerations, appropriate o the world of Jesus’ first followers, and known to exist as a single set of ideas which threatened the Law…the scheme whose strength was the claim to being the true heirs of the ancient Palestinian tradition” (6, her emphasis). Her, she assumes that there is an “original” and “single set” of ideas with unbroken continuity to the past. She posits lost portions of the evidence, and a theory that there are multiple layers of tradition in the early Christian texts, but never explains how she will uncover those layers or how she is able to fill in the gaps of evidence. This is what permits her to see what she wants to see in the texts, and ignore alternative readings. She humbly admits, to her credit, “I have tried to reconstruct the invisible mass [of the iceberg] from its effects which are perceived. Thereby I have left myself open to the charge of going beyond the evidence….Whether or not this is an acceptable method remains to be seen” (6). I submit that this is not an acceptable method, it is simply a theory without a method for verifying it at all. You’re right, I am not convinced even though she tries to directly address this issue.”

    “…one of the few things that we do know about Jesus’s first followers is that the Pharisees, men of Paul’s background, had little but contempt for their ideas.”

    Again, I am not entirely sure what this is meant to prove with regard to the original assertions. Surely, this fact has not escaped observation before Barker came along. I am not clear about what significance she attaches to this. Perhaps it is to show that a particular set of Jews, namely, the Pharisees were hostile to the high Christology? Well, that may be the case, but I am not sure that their hostility can be reduced to Christology lacking any evidence to this fact. Rather, the notion that Jesus was a political rebel who was seen as causing politically revolutionary activity might be another very probable reason for a set of Jews to object to this nascent sect. (FWIW, at least according to Luke some Pharisees did in fact join the Christians, Acts 15:5).

    All that said, it seems that these two quotes from The Older Testament only serve as evidence of my contention that Barker is really trying to lay the foundation for Christianity by looking to pre-exilic Judaism, and that her interpretations serve that end. I would add that among the problems with this interpretative approach that I mentioned in my critique of the method in the Older Testament is that she sees ancient Judaism is the only possible resource for early Christian ideas. I think that this assumption is greatly mistaken since Jesus is living in a Greco-Roman environment. Why does she exclude this evidence as a matter of course, despite its contemporaneity?

    Matt W.,
    I have read everything that has been recommended to me to address my methodological critique. I have attempted as best I can to accurately interpret what she is doing, and I am open to correction and open to reading new things that will solve it. I admit that I have not read as much of her work as Kevin. However, I am pretty comfortable with the primary sources she is commenting on, especially those in early Christianity, and I am pretty familiar with secondary scholarship in this field. I am also pretty comfortable with the status of theoretical and methodological trends in this field. It is on this basis that I form my criticism of her work. If I have mischaracterized it, I am happy adjust it, but so far Kevin’s, and others’, descriptions and defenses of her method only confirm my understanding of it.

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