“I also decided … to write”—Michael Wolter on Luke’s Relationship to his Predecessors

Listening to James Crossley and and Chris Keith discuss Chris’s new book The Gospel as Manuscript fruitfully stimulated my thinking on the question of the specific ways in which the Gospels reflect what Chris calls “competitive textualization.” With respect to his use of this key phrase, Chris helpful explains that “What I am primarily getting at with the term term competitive textualization is when one written tradition tries to position itself and its authority in relation to a previous … written tradition” (see -45.00ff.; cf. here). For me, this discussion also called to mind a notable line of argument in Michael Wolter’s commentary on Luke, which finds more continuity between Luke and his predecessors than many others have found. On the one hand, I personally think that there is certainly a sense in which Luke seeks to outbid his predecessors, and I regard it as very likely that he thought he was producing the best version of the story. On the other hand, I think Wolter effectively argues that Luke’s language suggests more continuity with his predecessors than is often assumed. Needless to say, I look forward to reading Chris’s book in due course and seeing how it will shape or reshape my thinking around this question. For now, here are two of the most relevant quotations from Wolter’s commentary, in English and in German:

ET (44-45): In Josephus, Bellum judaicum 1.17 ἐπειδήπερ is connected in a comparable way with the reference to “many” predecessors (πολλοὶ πρὸ πρὸ ἐμοῦ). It is not possible to infer the number of works that Luke alludes to, for the use of πολύς and derivatives is a rhetorical stereotype in prefaces and in general at the beginning of speeches and writings (cf. in detail section [b] above as well as Josephus, Bellum judaicum 4.238; Acts 24.10; Hebrews 1.1). The same also applies to the characterization of the predecessors’ works as ἐπιχείρησις (see section [c] above), so that it is not possible to hear a critical subtext in the Lukan ἐπεχείρησαν (pace G. Klein 1964, 239; Bovon). This already seems doubtful on the basis of the parallelizing ἔδοξε κἀμοί in v. 3 with which Luke does not distance himself from the πολλοί but rather connects to them (see also van Unnik 1973–1983, I: 13). This interpretation is confirmed by the fact that in what follows Luke does not devalue his predecessors’ works with a single word. He thus forgoes the use of a form-historical option that was certainly available to him.

* Translation note: in the last sentence it would have been better to translate “durchaus” with “indeed” rather than certainly.

GV (61): Bei Josephus, Bell. 1,17 verbindet sich ἐπειδήπερ in vergleichbarer Weise mit dem Bezug auf “viele” Vorgänger (πολλοὶ πρὸ πρὸ ἐμοῦ). Ein Rückschluss auf die Zahl der Werke, auf die Lukas hier anspielt, ist nicht möglich, denn der Gebrauch von πολύς und Ableitungen ist ein rhetorisches Stereotyp in Vorworten oder überhaupt am Beginn von Reden und Schriften (vgl. im Einzelnen o. Abschn. [b] sowie Josephus, Bell. 4,238; Apg 24,10; Hebr 1,1). Dasselbe gilt auch für die Charakterisierung der Vorgängerwerke als ἐπιχείρησις (s.o. Abschn. [c]), so dass es nicht möglich ist, aus dem lk ἐπεχείρησαν kritisierende Nebentöne herauszuhören (gegen Klein* 239; Bovon). Dagegen spricht allein schon das paralleliserende ἔδοξε κἀμοί in V. 3, mit dem Lukas sich nicht von den πολλοί distanziert, sondern sich an sie anschließt (s. auch van Unnik*, Remarks, 13). Bestätigt wird diese Interpretation dadurch, dass Lukas die Vorgängerwerke im Folgenden mit keinem Wort abwertet. Er verzichtet also darauf, eine ihm durchaus zur Verfügung stehende formgeschichtliche Option zu realisieren.

ET (48): The phrasing (ἔδοξε) κἀμοί reveals that Luke wanted to emphasize the continuity with the efforts of the πολλοί, which were mentioned in v. 1, for he does not distance himself from them—for example with the help of the adversative phrasing (ἔδοξε) δέ μοι (e.g., DanielLXX 4.37c; Lysias, Orationes 1.14; Galen, De methodo medendi, ed. Kühn 1964, X: 910.11; Vettius Valens, ed. Kroll 1973, 142.30; 241.16; Diogenes Laertius 7.9). ἔδοξέ μοι . . . γράψαι is a widespread Greek idiom (cf. Hippocrates, Prorrhetica 2.2; [Ps.-]Speusippus, Epistulae, ed. M.I. Parente 1980, 158; 159.1; Galen, De placitis Hippocratis et Platonis 8.2.11 [de Lacy 1978–1984, 492.16]; De curandi ratione per venae sectionem, ed. Kühn 1964, XI: 312.11).

GV (64): Die Formulierung (ἔδοξε) κἀμοί lässt erkennen, dass Lukas die Kontinuität mit den in V. 1 erwähnten Bemühungen der πολλοί betonen möchte, denn er distanziert sich nicht von ihnen – etwa mit Hilfe der adversativen Formulierung (ἔδοξε) δέ μοι (z.B. DanLXX 4,37c; Lysias, Or. 1,14; Galen, Meth. Med. ed. Kühn X, 910,11; Vettius Valens, ed. Kroll, 142,30; 241,16; Diogenes Laertius 7,9). ἔδοξέ μοι . . . γράψαι ist verbreitetes griechischen Idiom (vgl. Hippocrates, Prorrhet. 2,2; [Ps.-]Speusippus, Ep., ed. M. I. Parente, 158; 159,1; Galen, Plac. Hipp. Plat. 8,2,11 [492,16 de Lacy]; Cur. Rat. Ven. Sect., ed. Kühn XI, 312,11).

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German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! I hope to be able to write at least one Monday blog post each month. Best, Wayne