Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ehrman’s Apostolic Fathers

A couple weeks ago I finished After the New Testament: The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers by Bart Ehrman. I wasn't going to write a review because I couldn’t recommend it. (Not that I’m against negative reviews on principle, but with so many other things read a non-recommendation would be sort of non-information.) But I’m puzzled by something in it and that is still bugging me. This is a general survey of the writing of the apostolic fathers from a neutral (really secular) point of view. The apostolic fathers is a subject I just love.  So I was looking forward to listening to this course even though I knew of Ehrman’s non-sympathy with traditional Christian views was expecting I would disagree with him on some points. When Ehrman got to Ignatius of Antioch and didn’t so much have a different opinion as not get Ignatious all together, I thought, ‘OK, Ignatius of Antioch is a favorite of mine and maybe I have an unusual degree of sympathy with him.’
What really puzzled me was when he referred, quite incidentally, to the phenomenon of synoptic passages in the gospel. He used differences in the passages to try to demonstrate the oral tradition can change over time. The way he presented it gave the impression that he thinks that oral source are the only source the synoptics share. Now I’m sure that if you asked Ehrman specifically he would agree with the normal scholarly opinion that the minor agreements in the synoptics indicate that there was some sort of shared written source, either copying from each other or a additional source. But it seems Ehrman is so focused on counteracting naive version of Christian belief that he is willing to ignore the very distorted impression of his own beliefs he is leaving. I am still puzzled by this seeming lack of centeredness in his own secular scholarly tradition. It seemed as if Ehrman was centered around a simplistic version of evangelical Christianity, but in a negative way.
One other example of what puzzled me: Ehrman gave a very detailed run through of a version of the theory of the development of orthodoxy in early Christian history that focused on hypothesized centrality of Rome in determining doctrine. Then he admitted in passing the even though most of the details of this theory were wrong (actually he had a slip of the tongue and first admitted all the details were wrong before going back and correcting himself to most) he thought the main thesis still held up. But he didn’t offer a single detail of an alternative supporting detail for his main theory. It makes me wonder if anyone has really gone back and re-evaluated the main theory in light of the downgrading of its details.
All this has started me wondering about the emotions of secular scholars who firmly disavow any commitment to a religious tradition but still spend their careers studying religious documents and religious history in exquisite detail. How much does an aversion to developing and positive connection to what they are suding so intimately predispose them to a negative connection?

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