T. Michael Law, Jens Schröter, and Christoph Markschies on the Muratorian Fragment

In a previous Law-Markschies-Origen post, I mentioned how much I had profited from reading T Michael Law’s book When God Spoke Greek in conjunction with my work translating Jens Schröter’s book Von Jesus zum Neuen Testament From Jesus to the New Testament and Christoph Markschies’ book Kaiserzeitliche christliche Theologie und ihre Institutionen Christian Theology and its Institutions in the Early Roman Empire, and I conveyed then my desire to devote a few more posts to a comparison of these works on select points. Continuing that discussion, this post will compare how these three works treat the question of the dating and character of the Muratorian Fragment. On the question of how to cite the Muratorian Fragment, see now SBL Handbook of Style Blog.

I. T. Michael Law

WGSG, p. 183n.9: “The Muratorian fragment should probably be dated later than the traditional second-century date.”

II. Jens Schröter

FJNT, p. 285n60: “I will not deal here with the question of the dating of the Muratorian Fragment, which has come under discussion since Sundberg 1968; 1973; as well as Hahnemann 1992. The attempt to date it late has not established itself, for which reason I continue to start from the traditional placement around 180-200. For fundamental criticism of the late dating, cf. Verheyden 2003. Cf. further Ferguson 1982; 1993; Stanton 2004, 68-71.”

VJNT, p. 310n60: “Auf die seit SUNDBERG, Revised History; Ders., Canon Muratori, sowie HAHNEMAN, Muratorian Fragment, in die Diskussion geratene Frage der Datierung des muratorischen Fragmens gehe ich hier nicht ein. Der Versuch der Spätdatierung hat sich nicht durchgesetzt, weshalb ich weiterhin von der traditionellen Ansetzung um 180-200 ausgehe. Zur grundsätzlichen Kritik der Spätdatierung vgl. VERHHEYDEN, The Canon Muratori. A Matter of Dispute, in: Auwers, Canons, 487-556. Vgl. Weiter FERGUSON, Canon Muratori; STANTON, Jesus and Gospel, 68-71, sowie die Rezension der Untersuchung Hahnemans von FERGUSON.”

Selective grammatical analysis: In translating “gehe ich hier nicht ein”, it seemed preferable to use the future with a view to English style. Likewise, “deal with” seemed to read better than “go into” in this case. Instead of “established itself” the verb “durchgesetzt” could alternatively be translated as “prevailed”.

III. Christoph Markschies

Christian Theology and its Institutions in the Early Roman Empire (wmc, forthcoming): “The text, which is better designated as Fragmentum Muratorianum or Muratori, is, in reality, not a “list” with a mere listing of biblical books at all, but a fragment without its original beginning and conclusion, which—if one considers its literary form—can be linked only with great difficulty to an ancient literary genre. … Whatever option one settles on, the most recent debate over the dating of the highly fragmented text should at least urge caution both for those who—like Harnack—see in the Fragmentum Muratori an official list translated from the Greek with which the Roman church in the second century wished to impose its conception of a canonical New Testament on to the Christianity of the empire and for those who are completely convinced of the late dating of the text. The majority of the arguments still speak for a dating around 200 CE, although the exact historical background and the precise literary form of the text remain unclear.”

Kaiserzeitliche christliche Theologie und ihre Institutionen (pp.  229 and 234; cf. 228-236): “Bei dem besser als Fragmentum Muratorianum bzw. Muratori bezeichneten Text handelt es sich in Wirklichkeit gar nicht um eine ‚Liste‘ mit der bloßen Aufzählung biblischer Bücher, sondern ein Fragment ohne seinen originalen Anfang und Schluß, das – betrachtet man seine literarische Form – nur sehr schwer mit einem antiken literarischen Genre zu verbinden ist. … Wie man auch immer optiert: Die jüngste Debatte über die Datierung des stark fragmentierten Textes sollte mindestens die zur Zurückhaltung mahnen, die – wie Harnack – im Fragmentum Muratori eine aus dem Griechischen übersetzte offizielle Liste sehen, mit der die römische Kirche im zweiten Jahrhundert ihre Vorstellung von eine kanonischen Neuen Testament in der Christenheit des Reiches imponieren wollte, oder von der Spätdatierung des Textes vollkommen überzeugt sind. Die Mehrzahl der Argumente spricht nach wie vor für eine Datierung um 200 n. Chr., obwohl der exakte historische Hintergrund und die präzise literarische Form des Textes unklar bleiben.”

Selective grammatical analysis: Instead of translating “Bei dem … Text … es geht um” as “In/With/In the case of … the text … it is a matter of/the concern is with/we are dealing with” I have adopted the simplifying translation “The text … is …” (for further discussion of the translation of Es geht um see here). The difficult phrase “nur schwer zu verbinden ist” has the force of “can be linked only with great difficulty”. I am uncertain how to translate “Wie man auch immer optiert”, but “Whatever option one settles on” is perhaps more precise than “whatever one decides”. Although the German version has “die zur Zurückhaltung mahnen, die … oder von …”, I have translated “oder” with “and” with a view to English style and repeated  “on those” in order to clarify the sense.

IV. Substantive Analysis:

For me, it seems that there are two points to draw from this post. First, while it seems to be the case that the majority of scholars continue to favor an early date for the Muratorian Fragment (ca. 180-200), it would probably go too far to speak of a “consensus” in relation to this point, since Sundberg, Hahnemann, T Michael Law, and other scholars have advocated a later date for this text. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the debate about the dating of the text should not be allowed to overshadow a second point of (perhaps greater and more significant) uncertainty, namely the uncertainty surrounding the classification of the genre or form of the text, which, due to its fragmentary character, arguably should not be classified too quickly as a “canon list”, which is not to say that this possibility should be ruled out too quickly either.

For other posts/links relating to the Muratorian canon, see e.g., Bart Ehrmann, C. E. HillLarry Hurtado, Michael Kruger.

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German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! In an effort to provide a sense of regularity and predictability for this blog’s readership, I plan on writing a new post each Monday. So hopefully I will ‘see’ you again in a week’s time. Best, Wayne.

T. Michael Law and Christoph Markschies on Origen in Caesarea

Like many other readers (see e.g., here; cf. here), I profited from and enjoyed T. Michael Law’s important book When God Spoke Greek (cf. here). In the tradition of the “Man with the Honeyed Sword” (and Cicero), it is certainly a work that teaches, delights, and persuades, and I found that it constructively shaped my thinking at numerous points. Moreover, I found that it generated many lines of questioning as I read it in conjunction with my work translating Jens Schröter’s book Von Jesus zum Neuen Testament / From Jesus to the New Testament and Christoph Markschies’ book Kaiserzeitliche christliche Theologie und ihre Institutionen / Christian Theology and its Institutions in the Early Roman Empire, especially in relation to the topic of canon. Accordingly, I hope that this will be the first of several posts devoted to a comparison of these works on select points. For a recent conversation between T Michael Law and Christoph Markschies at Marginalia, see here.

Today’s post will focus on a noteworthy difference in how Origen’s activity in Caesarea is presented by Law and Markschies.

I. T. Michael Law on Origen in Caesarea

When God Spoke Greek (p. 141): “Demetrius’s rage left the scholar no other choice but to leave Alexandria and make his permanent home in Caesarea c. 232. In this last phase of his life, Origen’s success as a preacher grew, as did his pastoral concerns. In contrast to his previous tenure at the Catechetical School in the philosophically rich context of Alexandria, he found himself in contact less with students than with common Christians.7

Note 7: See also H. Crouzel, Origène (Paris: Lethielleux, 1985), 46.

II. Christoph Markschies on Origen in Caesarea

Christian Theology and its Institutions in the Early Roman Empire (wmc): “Origen left Alexandria for good at the beginning of the thirties of the third century (probably 232 CE), moved to the worldly and ecclesiastical administrative metropolis of Caesarea in Palestine, and now did, in fact, establish a “(collegiate) school” there, so that he was also active as a theological teacher in the second important section of his life. More precise information about this “school of Origen,” the first clearly attested Christian private university, can be obtained above all from the aforementioned “Address of Thanksgiving” (λόγος χαριστήριος [cf. 3.31 and 4.40], later entitled λόγος προσφωρητικός), which the later bishop Gregory Thaumaturgus addressed to his teacher after five years at this school, probably in 238 CE. … From the life story of Gregory Thaumaturgus it becomes clear that with his “school” Origen evidently did not wish to address primarily the Christians of Caesarea, let alone the Christian youth of Caesarea, who were keen on education, but transregionally courted educated members of the upper stratum who were interested in a collegiate education within a Christian framework.”

Kaiserzeitliche christliche Theologie und ihre Institutionen (p. 102 and 103): „Origenes verließ Alexandria endgültig zu Beginn der dreißiger Jahre des dritten Jahrhunderts (wohl 232 n. Chr.), siedelte in die weltliche wie kirchliche Verwaltungsmetropole Caesarea in Palaestina über und gründete dort nun tatsächlich eine „Hoch-(Schule)“, so daß er auch im zweiten wichtigen Abschnitt seines Lebens als theologischer Lehrer tätig war. Genauere Informationen über diese „Schule des Origines“, die erste eindeutig belegte christliche Privatuniversität, erhält man vor allem aus der ebenfalls schon erwähnten „Dankrede“ (λόγος χαριστήριος [vgl. 3,31 und 4,40], später λόγος προσφωρητικός), die der spätere Bischof Gregor Thaumaturgus nach fünf Jahren Auftenthalt an dieser Schule wohl im Jahre 238 n. Chr. an seinen Lehrer richtete. … Aus dem Lebenslauf des Gregor Thaumaturgus wird deutlich, daß Origenes mit seiner ‚Schule‘ offenbar nicht primär die bildungswilligen Christen oder gar die bildungswillige christliche Jugend Caesareas ansprechen wollte, sondern überregional um gebildete Angehörige der Oberschicht warb, die an einer Hochschulbildung unter christlichen Vorzeichen interessiert waren.“

Selective grammatical analysis

wohl” can be a somewhat elusive term, but it often has the force of “probably”. “übersiedeln” becomes “siedelt … über”. “weltlich” is difficult to translate, since both “worldly” and “secular” have their drawbacks. I have chosen to translate “eine ‘Hoch-(Schule)’” as “a ‘(collegiate) school’”, which is far from ideal but is probably the best that I can manage. I often translate “vor allem” with “above all”, though “especially” is better in some contexts. I struggled to translate “bildungswillige”, eventually choosing “keen on education”, and I decided not to repeat “keen on education” with Christians and Christian youth but to place the phrases in such a way that “keen on education” would be seen to modify both words. For the translation of “warb um” (past form of “werben um”) I debated between “sought to win”, “recruited”, “wooed”, and “courted” before settling on the last option. I find the phrase “unter christlichen Vorzeichen” and the similar phrase “unter dem Vorzeichen + genitive” to be very difficult. “Vorzeichen” can mean “sign” or “auspices”, which may be relevant here. “Unter dem Vorzeichen” seems to be able to have the force of “under the conditions of”. Hence, it might capture the force to translate the phrase as “under Christian conditions”. But I have chosen the formulation “within a Christian framework”, which I think captures the basic sense.

Substantive Analysis

While great caution is required when attempting to comment on an issue that lies outside of one’s sphere of expertise (in my case Origen scholarship), it remains possible to provide a tentative analysis in such cases, provided one remains acutely aware of the limitations of one’s competency. With this caveat in mind, let me restrict myself to two points. First, in relation to the specific point in question it would arguably not be unreasonable to give greater weight to the view of Markschies, since this question falls more directly within his specific sphere of research expertise and since he deals with this question at much greater length in his book. At the same time, one should resist the temptation to settle the issue too quickly, since Law interacts carefully with Origen in his book and can reference H. Crouzel’s book on Origen in support of his view on the matter at hand. Secondly, it therefore follows that any attempt to reach an informed judgment on the issue cannot be based solely on a general assessment of relative authority, but must critically test the strength of Christoph Markschies’ more extensive argument, which is based on his close reading of Gregory Thaumaturgus’s Address of Thanksgiving to Origen. Since my knowledge of this work and the critical issues that would need to be addressed as part of its analysis —which might include issues of authorship and historical accuracy— is extremely limited, I am not in position to test this argument with any authority. Instead, I can only say that an initial reading of the Address of Thanksgiving to Origen would seem to support Christoph Markschies’ argument that Origen established a relatively advanced Christian (collegiate) school, or private Christian university, in Caesarea, which would, in turn, appear to stand in considerable tension with Law’s statement that “In contrast to his previous tenure at the Catechetical School in the philosophically rich context of Alexandria, he found himself in contact less with students than with common Christians” in Caesarea. In other words, if Markschies’ argument is correct, then this may be a place in which minor revision will be required for the second edition of T. Michael Law’s important work When God Spoke Greek.

For my other posts on Christoph Markschies, see here.

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For two interviews with me about the Baylor-Mohr Siebeck Series, see Clifford Kvidahl and Michael Hölscher.

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German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! In an effort to provide a sense of regularity and predictability for this blog’s readership, I plan on writing a new post each Monday. So hopefully I will ‘see’ you again in a week’s time. Best, Wayne.