on February 10, 2009
Even if you are not convinced by every aspect of the author's argument, this is an excellent book, one of the very best examples of how to present scholarly research for a general audience. The book advances a carefully reasoned, thoroughly researched thesis about the origin and purpose of the NewTestament collection of Paul's epistles. It explains clearly, avoids academic jargon, and even includes illustrations showing what the ancient manuscripts look like and what a modern critical edition of the New Testament looks like.
Trobisch's thesis is that Paul himself initiated the collection of his epistles by creating a literary unit consisting of Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, and Galatians, with Romans chapter 16 as its "cover note." The current form of the text is not the way the letters were originally sent but reflects their state after Paul edited them for publication. After Paul's death, his disciples expanded this collection by adding nine more, and at some point Hebrews was added as the 14th epistle.
The thesis has profound implications for how we understand these New Testament texts, the New Testament canon, and the development of early Christianity. Trobisch argues that Paul created the original package of four books primarily as his testament against the Jerusalem Christian leaders (including James and Peter) and their insistence that Jewish Law observance including circumcision is necessary for Christians. This dispute is intricately tied to the collection Paul was taking up for Jerusalem, which he was afraid would be rejected along with his anti-circumcision message. As Trobisch puts it when he proposes this interpretation, "The whole story takes on a macabre tone. Suddenly it sounds more like a story of money and crime than a passage from the New Testament." (p.89) For example, the warning against divisive people in Romans 16:17-19 is now to be read as a warning against James and Peter and their ilk, addressed not to Rome but to Paul's home base in Ephesus:
"I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil."
Another interesting example is in 1 Corinthians. In chapter 7 Paul praises his own ability to remain unmarried while allowing that marriage is OK for people who are "unable to control themselves." When two chapters later he alludes to the married status of "the brothers of the Lord [James] and Cephas [Peter], " he is deliberately portraying them in a negative light.
Trobisch suggests that the struggle between Paul and the Jerusalem leaders may also have been the impetus for the creation and publication of the entire body of literature that would become the New Testament. As he observes, the rest of the New Testament makes it appear that Paul has won the battle: "The picture conveyed by the writings of the New Testament to their readers is one of unity. The conflict between Paul and Jerusalem was resolved." (p.98) The reader of Trobisch's book is left to speculate for himself or herself as to whether that picture of unity was a contrary-to-fact literary fiction or if by some miracle Paul's bitterest enemies came around to see things his way in the end.
on June 26, 2012
This 1994 monograph is robust research that has not had attention it deserves. It is a great help to understand the world's most popular book, which is regrettably, is also the least read, and even less understood.
Scarcity of writing material meant that scripture had to be squeezed into scrolls, with understandable preference to have longer manuscripts copied first - to avoid a book being split up by the ending of a scroll. Thus the longest epistle, Romans [34,410 characters], inevitably follows the Gospels in all extant surviving manuscripts. On the Chester Beatty P46 papyrus, the epistles are arranged by length, except for the Hebrews. Hebrews follows Romans, to avoid inserting Hebrews [26,382] between 1st Corinthians [32,767] and 2nd [22,280].
Acts of the Apostles originally immediately preceded the General Epistles of the Apostles, James Peter and John. If one could not afford a whole New Testament, the NT was available in 4 standard parts, priced according to length: Gospels 45%, Pauline letters 28%, Acts/General Epistles 20%, and Apocalypse of John 7%.
The 4 oldest manuscripts in book (Codex) form are:
(A02) Codex Alexandrinus, presented to King Charles I by Kyrillos Lukaris, Patriarch of Alexandria, and is in the British museum today,
(C04) Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, interesting history, now in Paris,
(Alef 01) Codex Sinaiticus, one of the great treasures of the British Museum, and
(B03) Codex Vaticanus, which ended up in the Vatican library, along with a large number of other manuscripts.
David Trobisch highlights that all four contain Hebrews. All 4 have 14 Pauline epistles. Trobisch is a manuscript scholar. He does not go into detail of the politics of why Hebrews went in and out of the tentative Biblical canon. Calvinist FACTS v Arminian TULIP is not discussed. Trobisch does a sterling service in a categorical statement that Paul's letters have always been 14. There have been fragments of Pauline letter collections, but never a 13-epistle or near complete collection without Hebrews.
The Authorised Byzantine manuscripts have Hebrews where we know it, and our modern day KJV NT order follows the Authorised Byzantine manuscript version. Incidentally, FF Bruce in his 1988 NICNT Hebrews points out that the Aramaic Peshitta versions always included Hebrews. I have ordered the 2012 NICNT Hebrews and I would like to see what Cockerill has to add to this topic.
Some topics of interest would be the multiple ending of Romans, and Trobisch discusses Romans 16 as far as this 100-page fact-filled monograph allows. The beginning of Ephesians borrowed the location from the Title of the book. A translation error rendered "God's Spirit" as "Holy Ghost". Thinking in terms of God's Spirit is a more inspired way to view the concept of the Trinity.
The money on this book is in David Trobisch's focus on the Codex Vaticanus B03, which is the only early codex with numbered Chapters. Galatians ends at Chapter 58 (this is before the days of conventional modern day chaptering). Hebrews was numbered Chapter 59 in B03. Ephesians numbered from Chapter 70, and thus wrongly juxtaposed after Galatians.
The fusion of Galatians-Hebrews has huge implications, not elaborated on by Trobisch. Remove the doxology in Galatians 6:18, and add Hebrews right after Galatians 6:17. The result reads as smoothly as another very familiar book. Paul in 6:17 ends - I have said my piece, so do not bother me any more, and (in lieu of Gal 6:18) for a fuller explanation, I am getting Timothy to bring a follow-up letter very soon, which starts "polymeros kai polytropos palai ho theos lalesas tois patrasin en tois prophetas..." In the meantime, Luke polishes up the draft to make it more palatable.
Strain the philosophy of Hebrews through the sieve of Galatian praxis, and we have the gritty opus magnum called Romans. Gunther Bornkamm (1963) argued that Romans was recension of pre-existing material. Human logic suggests that the Romans opus magnum cannot follow straight after the Gospels, but is more aptly placed before the prison epistles.
The just shall live by faith of Romans 1:17 has precursors in Gal 3:11 and Hebrews 10:38. The Melchisedec theme works more powerfully in Romans (e.g. 3:25 and 12:1) than it does in Hebrews. Paul dresses down the Jews in Romans 9-11 in about as many words as he dresses down the Galatians, and for apparently the same reasons. Galatians + Hebrews = parallel themes in Romans.
Galatians is the earliest Epistle (although many hold 1 Thess as first) and Galatians dovetails very well with the end of Luke-Acts as a literary whole. All the problems in Galatia, Corinth, etc need to be resolved first, before Paul thinks of going to Spain from Rome. Hebrews is not dated after Nero's persecution of AD 65, but there is no short-stop, or terminus a quo, and Hebrews could have been written around the same time as Galatians, perhaps on some prompting (? by Luke, Apollos, Priscilla) to add some gravitas and smooth feathers ruffled by the brusque Galatians.
Galatians-Hebrews can be in the place now occupied by Romans, called "1 Romans" [37,473], or proto-Romans. The 11,091 characters of Galatians piggybacked in front of Hebrews' 26,382 = 37,473, makes the composite Galatians/Hebrews about the same length as "2 Romans", or Romans proper [34,410].
The service done by David Trobisch is to supply material where the reader can sensibly posit a credible beginning for Hebrews. Only two books in the Bible can supply an apt opening for Hebrews: Galatians or Romans. Both Galatians and Romans open with "Paul, an apostle by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead." Romans 1:2 has that similar reference to prophets (propheton) as Hebrews 1:1, and Romans is more specific about the forefathers: the line of David.
The Dartmouth Bible (1951) was arranged along similar lines similar to the rearrangement above, but Dartmouth stuck Hebrews at the back with 1 Peter - there is a case for Petrine authorship of Hebrews. In the light of Trobisch's work, Hebrews should be coupled with Galatians, and find its way to the front of the New Testament, where it it will not read as enigmatic oracle, but as a logical template for Romans 1-8 and 12-15.
This book by David Trobisch is an inexpensive addition to anyone interested in the study of Hebrews as well as the other two related books of the New Testament, Galatians and Romans. The 39th Easter letter of Athanasius, for a reason, largely determined the Biblical canon. With the increase in exegetical material and more manuscript evidence, we should feel free to read the Good Book in sequence each of us is lead personally by God's Spirit.
In this absolutely fascinating book, Professor David Trobisch of the University of Heidelberg looks at the Pauline letters of the New Testament. He begins by examining ancient Bible manuscripts, drawing conclusions about how the New Testament was organized (which is not quite the same way that it is organized in modern Bibles). Then he examines the Pauline letters, and their organization, coming to the conclusion that (like many ancient authors) the Apostle Paul actually created the first letter collection (Romans, I & II Corinthians and Galatians). He examines how this collection would have been organized, what its purpose was, and what it has to say about the rest of the New Testament.
I must say that this book really impressed me. The author uses sound reasoning to draw the conclusions he makes, and succeeds in presenting them in a very convincing manner. Also, his writing succeeded in making me care about where he was going, keeping me from putting the book down!
I must say that if you are looking for any earth-shattering new revelations (secret codes, new theology, etc.), you won’t find it here. What is here, though, is a fascinating look at the New Testament, and what it means. I loved this book, finding it totally engrossing, and I highly recommend it to you.
[By coincidence, lately I was reading the Apocryphal book, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to Seneca, with Seneca’s to Paul. Near the beginning, Seneca is quoted as saying, “We were much delighted with your book of many Epistles, which you have wrote to some cities and chief towns of provinces…” Professor Trobisch’s book suggests that Paul may indeed have had a “book of many Epistles.”]