Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Refuting the Augustinian Hypothesis

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The Augustinian hypothesis, named after Augustine of Hippo, is an old solution to the synoptic problem.  It contends that the Gospel according to Matthew was written first, by Matthew the Apostle (r.a.); the Gospel according to Mark was written second, by Mark the Evangelist, who used the Gospel according to Matthew and the sermons of Peter (a.s.) as sources.  It then contends that Luke the Evangelist wrote the Gospel according to Luke, and was aware of the two Gospels that preceded him.  Unlike the Two Gospel hypothesis, the Four Document hypothesis and the Farrer hypothesis, the Augustinian hypothesis does not rely on, or argue for, the existence of any further document not explicitly mentioned historically.  Instead, it draws upon textual criticism and the writings of the Church Fathers dating to the first half of the 2nd century.

There are two main two areas of contention concerning the Augustinian hypothesis.  The first is the theory of Aramaic primacy, whether the Gospel according to Matthew was originally written in Aramaic, using Hebrew script.  Or if the Greek text is the original, and whether it was the authors of the Gospel according to Mark or to Luke who wrote second.  The Griesbach hypothesis, a modified version of the Augustinian hypothesis, agrees that the Gospel according to Matthew was written first and that the authors of the Gospel according to Mark depended on the Gospel according to Matthew.  The Griesbach hypothesis does not dispute that the original text was in Hebrew, and thereafter translated into Greek.  But it argues that the Gospel according to Mark also depended on the Gospel according to Luke, and therefore, the Gospel according to Luke precedes the Gospel according to Mark.  The Griesbach hypothesis is treated as a variant amendment to the Augustinian hypothesis.

Augustine of Hippo wrote, in De Consensu Evangeliorum, that the four canonical gospels “are believed to have written in the order which follows: first Matthew, then Mark, thirdly Luke, lastly John.”  He continued, “Of these four, it is true, only Matthew is reckoned to have written in the Hebrew language; the others in Greek.  And however they may appear to have kept each of them a certain order of narration proper to himself, this certainly is not to be taken as if each individual writer chose to write in ignorance of what his predecessor had done.”  Augustine dismissed the Gospel according to Mark as “pedissequus et breviator Matthaei”, “the attendant and abridger of Matthew.”  This is in contrast to the common academic view that the Gospel according to Mark is the earliest.

The Augustinian hypothesis was articulate by others before Augustine, including Irenaeus, Eusebius and Origen.  However, Augustine was the first to provide a detailed scholarly textual analysis of the three texts’ interdependence, and articulate a theory explaining his analysis.  In this textual analysis, Augustine discussed the commonalities between the Synoptic Gospels, the identical language, the omissions and the style of presentation.

It is important to note than an original Aramaic text of the Gospel according to Matthew does not exist; no copy in the original language has survived.  Proponents of the Augustinian hypothesis hold that the current Greek text is a complete translation of the original Aramaic.  But still, it is only a translation.

The Augustinian hypothesis was strongly supported by a good number of the Church Fathers, including Papias, Irenaeus, Origen, Eusebius, Pantaenus, Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nazianzus, Epiphanius and Jerome; they all agree that the original Gospel according to Matthew was written in Hebrew.  Jerome even claimed to have seen the original Aramaic text of the Gospel according to Matthew in the library of Pamphilus the Martyr, but there is no independent verification.  Eusebius wrote, in his Historia Ecclesiastica, that Pantaerus found a copy of the Gospel according to Matthew written in Hebrew in India, and said that it had been left there by Bartholomew.  50 years later, in 376 CE, Epiphanius wrote, in his Panarion, that there was “no doubt” that a sect in Palestine still used the original Hebrew text, “just as it was originally written.”

In more recent times, there has been a revival of the Augustinian hypothesis by scholars such as Auxiliary Bishop Basil Butler, a convert from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism, and Dr. John Wenham, an Anglican theologian.  Dr. John Wenham published ‘Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke’ in 1992.  It is one of the most strident defenses of the Augustinian hypothesis.  Wenham, a traditionalist, accepted the Church Fathers’ evidence of authorship, inferring a very early date for each of the synoptic gospels.  These two are the strongest defenders of the Augustinian hypothesis of the twentieth century.

The Augustinian and Griesbach hypotheses have drawn recent interest as an alternative solution to the synoptic problem.  They are considered viable refutations of Marcan priority, the Q hypothesis, and the two-source hypothesis.  Bishop Butler argued that accepting the priority of the Gospel according to Matthew rendered it possible to dispense with the hypothetical Q document as a solution to the synoptic problem.  It was pointed out that differences between the Synoptic Gospels were due more to the differing purposes of the authors than to redactions, and omissions due to ignorance.

Despite all this, there are reasons to think that it is incorrect.  As mentioned above, Augustine dismissed the Gospel according to Mark as “pedissequus et breviator Matthaei”, “the attendant and abridger of Matthew.”  Augustine wrote, in De Consensu Evangeliorum, “Mark follows him closely, and looks like his attendant and abridger.  For in his narrative, he gives nothing in concert with John apart from the others: by himself separately, he has little to record; in conjunction with Luke, as distinguished from the rest, he has still less; but in concord with Matthew, he has a very large number of passages.  Much, too, he narrates in words almost numerically and identically the same as those used by Matthew, where the agreement is either with that evangelist alone, or with him in connection with the rest”

It is without doubt that that the Gospel according to Mark has many passages in common with the Gospel according to Matthew, sometimes almost word for word.  Perhaps 90% of the material found in the Gospel according to Mark is also found in the Gospel according to Matthew.  There are more parallels between the Gospels according to Mark and Matthew than in any two other pairings of Gospels.

While Augustine could be correct that the authors of the Gospel according to Mark took from the Gospel according to Matthew and then abridged it, it could also be that the authors of the Gospel according to Matthew could have taken from the Gospel according to Mark, used nine tenths of it, and then expanded it with traditions from other sources.  This also applies to Augustine’s argument about the language.

If we accept, as some Christian theologians traditionally believe, that the Apostle Matthew (r.a.) himself was the author of the gospel that bears his name, then he was a witness to the ministry of Jesus (a.s.).  According to Papias, it is traditionally held that the author of the Gospel according to Mark was Mark the Evangelist, the companion of Peter (r.a.).  Mark was not a witness to the ministry of Jesus (a.s.).  Why would a witness of the actual event copy from someone who did not?  And that was Augustine’s point.

The problem with this argument is that it is doubtful that Matthew (r.a.) wrote his Gospel, or that any of the authors traditionally held to have written their respective Gospels actually wrote them.  None of the earliest manuscripts that we have are actually dated early enough to make it plausible.  The earliest confirmed dates are about 90 years after Jesus (a.s.).  These people would have long since perished.

Each of the Gospels uses material that the author was not an eyewitness of.  Either the traditionally held authors were not averse to describing events that they did not witness or they were written by a succession of people over a period of time, and taken from various narrations and sources.  Secondly, Matthew (r.a.) was one of the later disciples of Jesus (a.s.).  Even in his own Gospel, he only appeared from the ninth chapter.  The first disciples were recruited in the fourth.  So there are a lot of things in his own Gospel he was not witness to.

The contention here, however, is not whether the text was written by an eye witness since too many factors preclude that, and I certainly do not believe it, but whether the text is accurate, or in the case of the Gospels, which one is the least inaccurate.  In essence, the authors of the various Gospels used any and all sources that they thought accurate, whether another canonical Gospel or a source lost to us, since citations were not a big thing amongst them.

Furthermore, John the Presbyter, first century personality, said that the Gospel according to Mark was based on the preaching of Peter (r.a.) as an eyewitness.  And Peter (r.a.), as one of Jesus’ (a.s.) first disciples, was even more authoritative than Matthew (r.a.):

Matthew 16:18
18 “And I tell thee this in my turn, that thou art Peter, and it is upon this rock that I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it…”

The traditional belief that the Gospel according to Mark was based on the preaching of Peter (r.a.) preaching was present from the first century itself, and for precisely this reason Matthew might have chosen to use it as one of his sources.

Furthermore, according to Acts of the Apostles, Matthew (r.a.) and Peter (r.a.) spent more than a decade living and preaching in Jerusalem after the time of Jesus (a.s.).  This close proximity would have ensured that Matthew (r.a.) would have heard Peter (r.a.) preaching.  In such a case, it would have been plausible that he would recognise the Gospel according to Mark as a credible account.

Now, Augustine called the Gospel according to Mark the epitome of the Gospel according to Matthew.  Augustine said that, “Marcus eum subsecutus, tanquam pedissequus et breviator ejus videtur,” “Mark follows him closely, and looks like his attendant and epitomiser.”  I have translated it above as “abridger”, and others as “abbreviator”, to better convey the feel of the wording.  However, the actual word is “epitomizer”.  In modern English, the term “epitome” is usually understood to mean an embodiment of something, but in Old English, as inherited from the Latin, an epitome is the abridged version of an existing literary work.  So Augustine was essentially saying that the Gospel according to Mark is a condensed version of the Gospel according to Matthew.

There is a problem with this contention.  The Gospel according to Mark is only an epitome of the Gospel according to Matthew in that it is shorter and that parallels much of the substance of the original.  But that is it.

Rev. Robert Derrenbacker’s thesis, “Ancient Compositional Practices and the Synoptic Problem” is an excellent read on epitomes.  And he explains that ancient epitomes were abridgements of much longer works.  He gave the example of 2 Maccabees, which is an abridgement, an epitome, of a five-volume history by Jason of Cyrene.  Rev. Derrenbacker also pointed out is that ancient epitomies did not merely shorten longer works by simply deleting sections of the original; they also tightened up periscopae, sections, of the works.  They did not leave out significant details.  They just told it in a less formal, less bombastic manner.

In that light, the Gospel according to Mark is not an epitome of the Gospel according to Matthew.  In Koine Greek, the Gospel according to Mark, at 11,304 word, is only 62% the length of the Gospel according to Matthew, at 18,345 words.  That is not much of an abridgement.  The Gospel according to Matthew was not long enough, being itself only enough for a single scroll, to require an epitome.

Considering the individual sections, the periscopae, of the respective Gospels, the periscopae of the Gospel according to Mark are not significantly shorter than the respective periscopae of the Gospel according to Matthew.  In fact, it is the opposite.  The periscopae of the Gospel according to Mark are typically longer than the respective periscopae of the Gospel according to Matthew.  This is conclusive proof that the Gospel according to Mark is not an epitome of the Gospel according to Matthew.  This is actually proof that the authors of the Gospel according to Matthew used material from the Gospel according to Mark, whilst tightening up the style in the manner of a periscope, and then added additional material from another source.

Some of the important material not found in the Gospel according to Mark, but found in the Gospel according to Matthew include the genealogy of Jesus (a.s.); the Virgin Birth of Jesus (a.s.); the Slaughter of the Innocents by Herod; the Beatitudes and many important sermons and famous events, including incidents at the Resurrection.  A real periscope would not leave them out.  On the other hand, the Gospel according to Mark also includes minor incidents such as the exorcism in the Temple and lesser events not mentioned in the Gospel according to Matthew.

Another point that I take from Rev. Derrenbacker’s thesis is that epitomes tended to be more popular than the original.  More copies were then made of the epitomes, and as a result, the epitomes tended to survive while the originals were lost to the ages.  For example, we still have 2 Maccabees, but Jason of Cyrene’s original five-volume history is lost.  Epitomes were more accessible and cheaper than the original works.  But that is not the case with the Gospel according to Mark.  The Gospel according to Mark was the least popular of the four Gospels in the early Church.  By counting the number of early manuscripts of the Gospels that have survived, dating to the second and third centuries, there are 12 of the Gospel according to Matthew, 7 of the Gospel according to Luke, 16 of the Gospel according to John, and only 1 of the Gospel according to Mark.  We can infer that fewer manuscripts of the Gospel according to Mark survived from this period because there were fewer copies of them in circulation.

As such, the case for the Augustinian hypothesis is very weak upon closer examination.  In fact, all evidence points to the fact that Marcan Priority is more correct.  And I believe that it is more than likely that the Synoptic Gospels took from earlier manuscripts.  That is the only way to explain the presence of material that cannot be accounted in Marcan Priority as well as discrepancies in certain areas such as the identity of the Apostles.

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