From Text to Community

I have posted previously about my concern over the astronomical leaps some scholars make in identifying the Sitz im Leben behind a given confessional community in the first two Christian centuries. It seems to me that many scholars reject a great deal in a given text but then go on to create fantastic theories of events behind the text and then present those theories with utter assurance of their results. This morning I came across this pertinent quote from Halvor Moxnes on the Gospel of Luke:

How can we move from the text of Luke’s Gospel to the social situation of his first readers? This problem in  Gospel research has not yet been solved. . . .The Lukan text creates a narrative world, and it is this world we examine as we analyze the social relations, ethos, and symbolic universe of Luke. Still, this does not mean that we now have a ‘window’ that opens onto the social situation of Luke’s historical community” (The Social Context of Luke’s Community,” Interpretation 49 [1994]: 379).

One would think that such a straightforward concept would be self-evident, but it is not. And, what Moxnes says is not just true of Lukan studies. Those working in Synoptic, Johannine, and Thomasine studies could benefit from such a measured agnosticism about their community-related conclusions.

RBL – Two books of interest

I just received the regular update from the Review of Biblical Literature and this installment contained two books of potential interest for readers of this blog:

The first is Tim Newton’s The Forgotten Gospels: Life and Teachings of Jesus Supplementary to the New Testament: A New Translation (Berkley: Counterpoint, 2009). [Interestingly, the title on Amazon is different from that given by the reviewer.] Overall, the review seems positive enough and there is even mention of the author’s own, new translation of the Gospel of Thomas (just what we needed, right?).

The second book of interest is Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm’s Preaching the Gospel of Mark: Proclaiming the Power of God (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008). See the review here. Again, the review is positive.