Thursday, December 31, 2009

Body Scanners in Airports

I don't know about you, but I'm not very keen on this idea.

In case you don't know what I'm talking about, the newest push in airport security is to install so-called body scanners into all the airports in America. This is coming in the wake of the failed bombing attempt of an airplane full of passengers on Christmas day. The Nigerian man who made the attempt apparently hid the bomb inside his underwear, where it was never detected. The belief is that it would have been seen if he had gone through a body scanner.

Of course, it would have been seen if they had strip-searched him too, but no one is calling for mandatory strip-searches at airports.

There are several problems I see with this body scanning technology. First, it invades the privacy of people traveling on planes. Here are some images of what the scans look like:



Now, I don't personally have a problem with TSA employees seeing ghostly images of my naked body. I'm not particularly concerned about someone seeing an image of my naughty parts. Everybody's got them, after all. But I recognize and am sensitive to the fact that a lot of people don't share that opinion. It's one thing to submit to a diagnostic imaging exam in a hospital, for the sake of your health, where your body might be revealed to medical personnel, but it is an entirely different thing to be forced to reveal your body to some TSA employee simply for the sake of getting on an airplane.

It doesn't take much of an imagination to consider how these privacy issues could create problems. First, how long will it take for the body-scan image of some movie star, model, or some other attractive media personality to end up on the Internet? We have been promised that these pictures are not stored, but that does not mean a bored TSA employee wouldn't be able to snap a photograph of the image before it left the screen. Second, what happens when a terrorist's bomb is missed by the body scanner, the plane blows up, and later the TSA insists that the bomb did not show up on the image? How can we be sure, since the images are not stored? Would such a situation then lead to the storing of these body images, all for the sake of national security? I don't mean to be creating a slippery slope, but I believe the slope is already there. When you take liberties with people's liberty (pun intended), you create future opportunities to take more liberties with people's liberty.

The second issue has to do with the safety of these machines. As I understand it, they use forms of low-frequency waves to obtain these body images. Presumably these low-energy waves are safe. But we thought cell phones were safe too until people started getting brain tumors. What will be the long-term effects on people who get frequent scans, like airline personnel and frequent fliers? The fact is, we can't answer that question right now.

The third issue I see with body scanners is the cost. I don't have numbers off hand, but I don't think anyone is under any delusions that it wouldn't cost hundreds of millions - probably billions - of dollars to install these machines in every airport in the country. Cutting edge technology ain't cheap, after all. And it will be taxpayers footing the bill. Does the benefit really offset the cost?

That last question leads to the final point. What is the real benefit of this technology? We haven't had a terrorist action on a U.S. airliner in nearly eight years. Furthermore, since 9/11 and the implementation of new security measures, we haven't had any terrorist actions on airplanes originating in the United States. Are the current safety measures really so inadequate that we need to install very expensive technology in all our airports? Did this latest terrorist plot occur because of inadequate technology, or inadequate use of that technology by inadequately trained personnel? The fact is, your plane is more likely to go down from mechanical failure or pilot error than from a terrorist plot. Is the decision to put body scanners in airports a reactionary decision based on fear rather than a rational decision based on evidence and reason?

When you take these things together - privacy concerns, potential health issues, cost, and questions about whether the scanners will actually make anything safer - it doesn't seem like this is the best decision to make for our country. It seems reactionary. It seems to be driven by unreasonable fears. It seems to be assuming that the intense security measures currently in place are somehow inadequate. It seems to ignore the fact that maybe we just need better-trained personnel implementing the current security measures more appropriately, 100% of the time.

One final word on TSA personnel. I don't personally know anyone who works for the TSA, but I am sure that TSA employees are good, decent people who generally know how to do their jobs. But I am skeptical that our current TSA personnel are really appropriately trained for their jobs. I am suspicious that many TSA personnel are not exactly high-level professionals. I don't have a lot of confidence that current TSA personnel can always be trusted with privacy issues. This is why the privacy issue, being championed by the ACLU, is so important. When someone is sick in the hospital, it is reasonable for them to be willing to sacrifice their privacy in the name of getting better. So they get X-rays and CT scans and MRI's, not to mention surgery and other procedures, even though all of those things reveal their bodies to medical professionals. But there are well-established laws in place governing the use of private medical information by medical professionals, in addition to ethical standards enforced by the various agencies that license medical professionals. To my knowledge, no such thing exists with the TSA. These people are not "professionals" in the same sense that a doctor or nurse is a professional. They do not have degrees in airport security, and they do not have licensing agencies that oversee their ethical standards. Furthermore, riding on an airplane does not seem to justify allowing some stranger who works at an airport to see your naughty parts.

This seems to me to be a reactionary decision that does not actually help anything. It simply costs a lot of money, will cost travelers a lot of time and hassle, and won't actually make traveling by airplane any safer from terrorism.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Little Apocalypse



The Little Apocalypse (also known as “The Olivet Discourse”) is a passage in the Gospels of the New Testament that depict Jesus’ teachings on the end of the world. Found in the books of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, the story represents Jesus at his apocalyptic and predictive best, explaining how the world will come to an end in fire and destruction, amidst “wars and rumors of wars” and violent earthquakes and famines.

Much has been made over the years of these apocalyptic visions. Many theologians and apologists argue that the book of Revelation – otherwise known as the Apocalypse of John and said to have been written by the apostle John – expands on Jesus’ own “little” apocalyptic vision in the Gospels.

John’s apocalypse, of course, is much more familiar to the average person than the Little Apocalypse of Jesus. However, the story of Jesus’ apocalyptic vision has a lot to tell us not only about who Jesus was, but also about the historical context of the late first century, when the Gospel stories of Jesus were being put to parchment.

MARK’S ACCOUNT

The Gospel of Mark gives us our earliest account of the Little Apocalypse, comprising the entirety of that book’s thirteenth chapter. In Mark, the story tends to stick out like a sore thumb, and the reason for this is because Mark’s Gospel, in general, is not apocalyptically-oriented. In fact, the chapter on the Little Apocalypse represents almost the entirety of any apocalyptic theology in the Gospel of Mark. Mark’s Jesus is a wise, yet secretive rabbi, calling for repentance and purification in Israel, predicting his death and resurrection, but generally steering clear of any “end of times” language.

Thus, the Jesus we meet in chapter 13 of Mark’s Gospel seems out of place. Historical context, however, brings this dichotomy into better focus.

Mark’s version of this story begins with Jesus predicting the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem: “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

From here, Jesus segues into a discussion of the end of times. It starts, so Jesus tells us, with “wars and rumors of wars,” earthquakes, false prophets, and great famines. These, Jesus assures us, are the “birth pains” of the end.

Jesus goes on to predict that “brother will betray brother to death” and Christians will be tried for crimes and flogged in the synagogues.

The final sign, however, will be the “desolating sacrilege” standing “where it ought not to be.” In some English versions, “desecrating sacrilege” is translated as “the abomination of desolation.” This is a reference to the apocalyptic prophecies in the Book of Daniel, which include a “desolating sacrilege” in the Temple. In that book, the desolating sacrilege is an act done by the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who conquered Jerusalem in 167 B.C.E. To show his derision for the god of the Jews, Epiphanes erected an altar to Zeus in the Temple and sacrificed swine on it. This action prompted the successful Maccabean rebellion, which led to a century-long “golden age” of Jewish self-rule that ended when the Roman legions arrived.

So Mark’s reference here to the “desolating sacrilege” is a clear reference to Daniel and the horrifying sacrificial desecration of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Mark’s Jesus is saying that when something like that happens again, the end of time will be near.

Jesus encourages his followers to immediately “flee to the mountains” when this happens, without so much as going inside to grab a coat. He laments how terrible it will be in that day for “those who are pregnant and those who are nursing infants.” More false messiahs will crop up working signs and wonders to deceive people.

Finally, the “one like a person” (“son of man” in many English translations) will come on the clouds to gather Christians from the “four winds.” Jesus asserts that although “this generation will not pass away” before these things happen, no one knows for sure when they will take place. Therefore, he says, “keep awake,” lest the apocalypse should sneak up on you like a master on a sleeping servant.

So what, exactly, do we make of these predictions by Jesus? Many historians, in fact, use this passage to date Mark to the early 70’s C.E., shortly after the destruction of the Temple by the Romans. Thus Jesus predicts an event that the writer of Mark already knew had taken place. Did Jesus really make such a prediction? That is a matter of faith and is an issue for a theological debate, meaning it is beyond the scope of this essay. What seems fairly clear, however, is that Mark was writing during the chaos and upheaval following the Jewish-Roman war and the destruction of the Temple.

Understanding that historical context helps to focus Mark’s theological message in this passage. “Wars and rumors of wars” were something Mark and his community were living with daily. Additionally, Rabbinical Jews and Jewish Christians were beginning to war with one another, in a theological debate that would ultimately split Christianity entirely from Judaism – though it had not done so yet. Thus Mark talks about Christians being persecuted “in the synagogue,” handed over and brought to trial, rejected by their families, and “hated” by “all people.”

As for the “desolating sacrilege,” historical context would suggest this is a Markan reference to the Roman destruction of the Temple and their subsequent occupation of its ruins. If the offering of swine on an alter to Zeus offended 2nd century B.C.E. Jews enough to call it a “desolating sacrilege,” how much more so would the very destruction of the Temple itself be seen as the most unthinkable of abominations? Furthermore, Mark gives us a curious clue in the text that may indicate that the Roman destruction of the Temple is precisely what he is talking about.

From verse 14: “But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains.”

That parenthetical statement – “let the reader understand” – seems to be Mark’s way of interrupting the narrative of Jesus and giving a sort of “hint hint, wink wink” to his readers. It is Mark’s method for saying, “The destruction of God’s Temple, which, to our great horror, has just taken place, is what Jesus was talking about here, folks.”

This puts the entire passage into focus: Mark believed the end was at hand right there in the early 70’s C.E. The sign Jesus had predicted – the destruction of the Temple – had just happened. Wars and rumors of wars were all around. Christians were being persecuted. The entire Jewish culture, which included Christianity, was in violent upheaval. The Jews of Jerusalem had “fled to the mountains” and been dispersed following the Roman destruction of their holy city. False messiahs were cropping up everywhere. As part of his prediction, Mark’s Jesus says: “Pray that [this doesn’t happen] in winter.” In fact, the Temple was destroyed in the middle of summer, right at the end of July, 70 C.E., meaning these prayers had been answered.

Thus, Mark believed that the coming of the “one like a person” was imminent. As Jesus predicts in the passage, “When you see these things taking place, you know that [the one like a person] is near.” Soon the sun would be darkened and the stars would fall from the sky (v. 24-25) and Jesus would return to gather his disciples from the “four winds.” Thus, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place,” and therefore the followers of Christ should “keep awake” to make sure they are not caught unprepared.

For Mark, the end of the world was now.

MATTHEW’S ACCOUNT

Of course, nearly 2,000 years down the road, we know that Mark was wrong. The end didn’t happen in the early 70’s C.E. The world continued on, Rabbinical and Christian Jews continued to spar with one another, and Christians began to separate themselves from their Jewish brethren and expand instead among Gentiles.

About ten years later, in the early 80’s C.E., the Gospel of Matthew was written. Some evidence suggests that the earliest version of Matthew was written in Aramaic, perhaps around the same time as Mark or even earlier, and our current Greek version of Matthew is a later edition of that early Aramaic version. In any case, the final Greek version of Matthew seems to have taken form by the mid-80’s.

Like his Markan source, Matthew devotes an entire chapter to the Little Apocalypse (the chapter designations, of course, were not original to the texts but were added by later translators). Matthew’s version in chapter 24 starts out closely following Mark’s. Matthew copies much of it word for word, making only minor changes for either syntactical purposes (Mark’s Gospel is notoriously colloquial; scholar Bruce Chilton calls it “Pidgin-Greek”), or in order to gear it better towards his Jewish audience (for instance, Matthew excludes the references to Christians being “beaten in synagogues” and instead makes the persecutors anonymous; he also removes Mark’s harsh language about “[Jewish] brother betraying [Christian] brother to death”).

Matthew’s Jesus, like Mark’s, asserts that the “end will come” only after the good news has been preached.

As Matthew moves into the passage about the “desolating sacrilege,” he clears up a bit of Mark’s ambiguity. Matthew’s Jesus, for instance, specifically refers to the book of Daniel (“So when you see the desolating sacrilege…spoken of by the prophet Daniel…”), and he also specifically says that this desolating sacrilege will be “in the holy place,” which is surely a euphemism for God’s land and its Temple.

Starting in verse 26, Matthew adds in a short teaching that does not appear in Mark’s Gospel. Matthew’s Jesus again speaks of false messianic prophets and encourages his followers not to be fooled by them. He then compares the coming of the “one like a person” to lightning that flashes through the sky. Finally, he ends by asserting that “wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” The implication is that like vultures descending on a carcass, so will the “one like a person” descend on the “corpse” of Jerusalem and its destroyed Temple.

Following this short passage, Matthew picks up his Markan source again, copying Jesus’ words about the “one like a person” appearing in the clouds and calling Christians from the “four winds.” He also repeats Mark’s statements about how “this generation” will see all these predictions come to fruition.

Following this, Matthew again deviates from Mark by including a story from Jesus comparing the sudden appearance of the “one like a person” to the sudden catastrophe of the flood in the time of Noah. He goes on to say: “Two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and the other left.” Here, Matthew picks up Mark again and encourages his listeners to “keep awake” so that they are not surprised by the second coming.

As we saw with Mark, Matthew seems to believe that the end of the world is near. Writing some ten to twelve years later, he surely realized that Mark had not been entirely correct in assuming the end was imminent, but this does not appear to have concerned Matthew much. Clearly he agrees with his Markan source that the time is coming soon. The destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple – the “holy place” now reduced to a “corpse” – was clearly believed by Matthew, as it was by Mark, to be a sign of the end of times.

Matthew is not entirely silent, however, about the fact that Jesus seemed to be taking his time fulfilling the final portion of his apocalyptic vision. Where Mark’s Little Apocalypse ends after Jesus tells his disciples to “keep awake” – with the clear implication being that the second coming is about to happen – Matthew adds one more story not found in Mark.

Jesus tells a short parable about a servant put in charge of his master’s house while his master is away. If the servant does well, Jesus says, his master will be happy upon return. But if his servant decides that the “master is delayed,” and therefore begins to quarrel with his fellow servants and live the high life of worldly pleasures, then the master will “put him with the hypocrites” in the place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The point of this story, as well as its contextual necessity for Matthew, is perfectly clear: Jesus has not returned as quickly as we thought he would in the wake of the Temple’s destruction, but that is no reason to quarrel among ourselves or forget the non-worldly lifestyle that we have committed ourselves to. If Jesus returns and catches us “goofing off” as it were, we’ll be in big trouble.

It is reminiscent of a bumper sticker I once saw: “Look busy! Jesus is coming!”

LUKE’S ACCOUNT

Like Matthew, the Gospel of Luke used Mark as a primary source. Luke’s Gospel was written about ten years after Matthew’s – thus, perhaps twenty years after Mark. In chapter 21 of his Gospel, the writer of Luke repeats his own version of the Little Apocalypse of Jesus.

Like Mark and Matthew before him, Luke opens the story with Jesus predicting the destruction of the Temple: “Not one stone will be left upon another.”

Still following Mark, Luke’s Jesus predicts false messiahs and warns against them. He changes Mark’s “wars and rumors of wars” to “wars and insurrections” and this may be because by the time Luke was writing, the “wars” of the early 70’s were “rumors” no more. But where Mark states that these wars “must take place, but the end is still to come,” Luke changes the wording to: “These things must take place, but the end will not follow immediately.”

We saw above that Matthew had to deal with the fact that Jesus had not yet returned, as had been imminently expected by Mark. Writing another ten years down the road, Luke had to deal with it on an even greater scale. Thus, “the end will not follow immediately” after the “wars” (that is, the Jewish-Roman wars of the 70’s).

At this point, Luke continues on following Mark, discussing how nations will fight one another and there will be earthquakes and famines. In Mark’s account, Jesus transitions from there into discussing the persecutions Christians will suffer from their Jewish brethren (“you will be beaten in the synagogues”). Thus, for Mark, the persecutions would follow the natural disasters and Gentile wars. Yet Luke again alters Mark’s account by asserting: “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues…” Thus, for Luke, the persecution would happen before the Gentile wars, earthquakes, and famines. These things, Luke asserts, are still in the future. For Mark, these events happened in the early 70’s, when the Temple was destroyed. Mark read them as predictors of the Second Coming of Jesus. Luke, writing some 20-25 years later, sees that Mark was wrong, so he predicts different wars, and different natural disasters. In Mark, the persecutions – which were already happening when Mark was writing – were the final step before the Second Coming. In Luke, the persecutions are the first step.

Continuing on through Jesus’ Little Apocalypse, Luke follows Mark fairly closely as he describes the various persecutions Christians are facing from their enemies. When he transitions to the “desolating sacrilege” teaching, however, Luke again begins to dramatically edit Mark’s account. There is no reference at all to Daniel’s “desolating sacrilege,” and instead the text says: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, know that its desolation is near.” Luke uses Mark’s word “desolation,” but not in the prophetic context of Daniel. Furthermore, while Mark’s reference to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple was secretive and vague (recall the parenthetical “hint hint, wink wink” comment to “let the reader understand”), Luke says explicitly that this is about Jerusalem and its destruction. However, by saying that Jerusalem’s desolation will be near when armies surround it, Luke is tacitly removing any notion that this event is one of the “signs” that will accompany the end of times. He makes this even more explicit when he states a few lines later that this is “vengeance” on Jerusalem in “fulfillment of all that is written.” In other words, the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple by the Romans was a punishment from God for the great sin of the Jews (which, to the writer of Luke, would have been illustrated by their rejection of Jesus). The key point there, of course, is that Jerusalem’s destruction was just a punishment, and not necessarily a sign of the imminent end of times.

Luke is clearly attempting to assure his readers that there is nothing amiss; Jesus isn’t delayed. Christians (like Mark) of the 70’s only thought the end was near. But that was because they had misunderstood the events going on around them. Luke is essentially doing damage control, addressing what must have been a common concern among Christians of the 90’s: “Why hasn’t Jesus returned?” – and perhaps a common criticism from among non-Christians: “Where is this so-called Second Coming?”

Continuing through the apocalyptic sermon, Luke expands Mark’s account to have Jesus predict the dispersion of the Jews into the surrounding nations after the Roman conquest of Jerusalem. He states: “There will be…wrath against this people [the Jews]. They will…be taken away as captives among all nations [that is, among the Gentiles], and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles.” Writing twenty or so years after the event, Luke displays the knowledge that could only come from hindsight. The Jews were ultimately dispersed in what came to be known as the Diaspora, their city and their nation left a ruin and inhabited by Romans. Mark didn’t know this, and Matthew may only have had a hint of it. But Luke knew it well.

As Luke transitions next into the passage about the darkening of the sun, he again redacts Mark, this time in a way that is so explicit that it makes crystal clear his purposes in doing “damage control” about the delay in the second coming. In transitioning to the discussion of signs in the sky, Mark had stated, “But in those days, after [Jerusalem’s destruction], the sun will be darkened…” In other words, these heavenly signs would commence as soon as the dust settled from the Roman war. Similarly, Matthew had stated, “Immediately after the suffering of those days, the sun will be darkened…” Luke, however, cuts out the transition all together and simply starts talking about how there will be signs in the heavens, among the sun, moon, and stars. Thus, he removes any mention of a time frame. Where Mark and Matthew made it clear that the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple represented the “beginning of the end,” Luke eliminates that sense all together. For Luke, these signs from the heavens, and the subsequent coming of the “one like a person,” will simply happen at some unknown point in the future.

Luke stays fairly close to Mark throughout the remainder of the Little Apocalypse. But he has one more trick up his sleeve. We have seen that Mark and Matthew both had Jesus assure his listeners that “this generation” would live to see “all these things” taking place. Luke uses this phrase, but he again does damage control by omitting an important word. Instead of referring to “all these things” taking place, he simply says that “this generation will not pass away until everything has taken place.” This is a very subtle change, but it eliminates the implication that all these signs and wonders will happen in the immediate and imminent future. However, in reasserting the general principle that the present generation “would not pass away” until these things (“everything”) had been accomplished, Luke reassures his readers that while it has taken longer than expected, and some earlier Christians were wrong to expect it so soon, it is still just right around the corner.

CONCLUSION

A study of the Little Apocalypse shows us that Mark and his community were convinced that the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple signified the “beginning of the end.” Matthew, writing a few years later, noted the delay, but still felt confident that the time was near. Luke, writing yet another decade after that, had to deal with major damage control to quell fears about Jesus’ delayed coming, but still felt confident in asserting that his generation would remain to see the end of times.

As we saw at the start of this account, the Gospel of Mark’s Little Apocalypse is unique because the majority of Mark’s Gospel does not have much in the way of apocalyptic language. An account that is largely non-apocalyptic suddenly becomes apocalyptic on a level not far beneath Revelation or the Jewish apocrypha.

Matthew and Luke, on the other hand, sprinkle apocalyptic sayings and events throughout their Gospels, making the Little Apocalypse simply a culmination of a general theme.

How can we explain this? Matthew and Luke likely used a source no longer in existence that scholars have dubbed the Q document. This document can be discerned from the content that Matthew and Luke have in common, but which is not found in Mark. It is interesting to note that this Q material is very frequently apocalyptic in nature. The fact that Mark contains almost no apocalyptic sayings outside of the Little Apocalypse, then, is a strong indication that while Matthew and Luke had access to this source, Mark did not.

Interestingly, some of the sayings included in Matthew’s version of the Little Apocalypse come from this Q document. We saw above that he adds teachings to the Little Apocalypse not found in Mark – a short parable about a delayed master, a discussion of Noah and the suddenness of the flood, and a comment about vultures gathering around a corpse. We know these came from the Q document because Luke also repeats them – though Luke does not place them in his own version of the Little Apocalypse. Instead, he peppers them throughout other portions of his Gospel, attaching them to various other teachings here and there. Furthermore, there is at least one short passage from Mark’s Little Apocalypse that Luke does not include in his own version of the Little Apocalypse, but instead places into another apocalyptic teaching from Jesus. The passage in question concerns instructions to people not to go into their houses to retrieve their belongings on the last day. In Mark, this was included in the subsection of the Little Apocalypse about the “desolating sacrilege” – that is, the destruction of the Temple. But in Luke, it is in an entirely different account, one that includes the adage about corpses and vultures – an adage, as we saw, that appears in Matthew, but not Mark.

The point to be drawn from all this is simply that apocalyptic perspectives on Jesus and his life seem to go back to the earliest days of Christianity. Numerous texts and oral traditions, imagining an apocalyptic second coming of Christ, were being passed among communities, and we can see this diverse tradition reflected in the varied apocalyptic accounts of the New Testament Gospels.

It is difficult to know for certain what sort of role apocalyptic worldviews played in Jesus’ own life and message. However, many scholars are no doubt correct in suggesting that Jesus’ message, while perhaps not as theologically well-developed and polemically-oriented as it is in the Gospels, must have contained apocalyptic expectations about the imminent end of the world and the coming of God’s kingdom. The question is just how “apocalyptic” that vision was, and whether it imagined the end coming through fire and lightning, or through peace and purity.

In any case, the idea that the “end is near” is surely one of the oldest theological presumptions in all of Christian history – an idea that seems to have been asserted in every Christian generation since the time of Jesus himself, including right up to the present day.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Driving Out Demons



In the New Testament, Jesus is remembered as a miracle worker and healer, a rabbi and prophet, the son of God and the anointed one (messiah) of Israel. Among his many different hats, however, is also the role of exorcist. In the Gospels of the New Testament, Jesus is seen driving out demons at least as often as he is seen healing the sick or performing nature miracles. In fact, one of his methods for healing the sick is depicted as exorcising unclean spirits that cause illness.

My purpose in this account is not to discuss the circumstances of Jesus’ various roles in the New Testament, or whether demon-possession and exorcism is real or metaphorical. It is enough for my purposes here that folks living in the 1st century certainly believed in demon possession, believed that unclean spirits were responsible for some illnesses, and certainly believed in the efficacy of exorcism.

With that established, I want to look at two specific passages in the New Testament that talk about demon possession and exorcism. These two accounts deal more with who is qualified to perform exorcisms than with the nature of the exorcism itself. We’ll look first at a story from the Gospel of Mark.

Mark 9:38-41 (NRSV):

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”

In this story, the disciples have witnessed someone performing exorcisms in Jesus’ name, but it was a stranger – not one of their group. John informs Jesus that they tried to stop him. Jesus, however, rebukes them with the adage “whoever is not against us is for us” – in other words, we’re all part of the same team. He goes on to make the rather eye-raising assertion that anyone who does a kind thing for a Christian will, themselves, earn the rewards of a Christian.

A good theological debate could no doubt be had over that last phrase of the Markan passage, but it is secondary to our purposes here. The point Jesus makes in this story is that everyone who works in the name of Jesus is “part of the group.”

In the larger context of Mark’s Gospel, the writer’s purpose with this story is reasonably clear: Mark is addressing concerns in Christian society over competing Christian communities. It is important to remember that in the 1st century (and, in fact, well into the 4th century), Christianity did not have the sort of unified doctrine and belief that it has today. And in fact, the idea that it has unified doctrine and belief today is really an anachronism. Since the Protestant Reformation, and later the Enlightenment, Christianity has become wildly diverse, with beliefs ranging from non-theistic self-improvement to rabid fundamentalism. Most modern Christians, however, can at least agree on a few major points of Christian theology (Jesus existed, he died for our sins, he was raised, we can have new life in his name, etc.).

In the 1st century, however, Christian beliefs were at least as diverse as they are today, and probably far more so. In modern society, most Christians accept the legitimacy of other denominations. “My neighbor is a Roman Catholic and I am a Methodist, but we are brothers and sisters in Christ.” That sort of thing. Not so in the 1st century. (In fact, not so until about the 20th century). Christian groups were very exclusive and very suspicious of outsiders. Their regard for non-Christians was not very high: they were pagans and sinners worshipping offensive false gods. Yet their regard for other Christian groups was frequently even worse. As Elaine Pagels points out in her book “The Origin of Satan,” the “intimate enemy” is far worse than the outsider. While pagans were godless sinners, other Christians with different beliefs were doing the very work of Satan. Corrupting the true faith, as it were.

This connection between Satan and those “Christians who disagree with us” remained common in Christianity right up until the last hundred years or so. Of course, for some modern Christians, it still remains.

With that in mind, we turn again to the referenced passage from Mark. “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Clearly Mark’s purpose in this story was to address the competition and hard feelings among Christian groups of the late 1st century (Mark was writing around 70 C.E.). While many Christians felt negatively toward other Christian groups, Mark is attempting, through the words of Jesus, to call for unity and encourage reconciliation.

In historical context, we know that by the time Mark was writing his Gospel, Paul had already lived and died and become an important figure in developing Christianity. Church tradition, in fact, holds that John Mark – a companion of Paul – later became the secretary for Peter and wrote the Gospel that bears his name based on stories from Peter. That may or may not have any historical credibility, but in any case, the writer of Mark certainly would have been familiar with Paul and the impact he had on Christianity.

In his own letters, Paul makes it clear that competing groups of Christians were already well established. He writes of false prophets and other rabbis teaching in Jesus’ name. Paul makes his negative opinion of them clear.

Yet the writer of Mark is calling for reconciliation, despite Paul’s own views about competing Christian teachers. Again, historical context explains why. As we saw above, Mark was writing his Gospel in the early 70’s C.E. At the start of that decade, the Jewish-Roman war had ended with Jerusalem destroyed, the Temple burnt to the ground, and the Jews dispersed into Gentile lands. It was a time of great social, political, cultural, and even theological upheaval within Judaism – which at that time still included Christianity. Writing in the midst of that chaos and tragedy, Mark is encouraging Jewish Christians to unite, to band together, to recognize that anyone who is not against us is for us. In essence: “We’re all brothers and sisters in Christ.”

With that in mind, we turn to another exorcism story from the New Testament. This time, it comes from the writer of Acts of the Apostles.

Acts 19:13-16 (NRSV):

Then some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this.

But the evil spirit said to them in reply, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?”

Then the man with the evil spirit leapt on them, mastered them all, and so overpowered them that they fled out of the house naked and wounded.


Immediately before this story in chapter 19 of Acts, the writer had talked about the unbelief Paul encountered in Ephesus. The writer then recounts this story, suggesting that the event helped solidify faith in Paul’s message of Jesus. For the writer of Acts, only Paul and “those in the group” had the authority to perform exorcisms.

So how can one explain these competing theological messages? In Mark, Jesus says that anyone driving out demons in his name is “for us” – that is, part of the group. In Acts, it is made clear that no one but those “in the group” have the authority to do this.

Again, historical context brings the answer into focus. As we have seen, Mark was writing around the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. Thus, his message of reconciliation. Whoever is not against us is for us. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

The writer of Acts, however, was writing some twenty to twenty-five years later, in the middle of the 90’s C.E. By that time, drastic theological and cultural changes had taken place. Christianity had split violently from Judaism in the intervening years between Mark and Acts – an event reflected in many New Testament texts. In splitting from Judaism, Christianity was quickly becoming a religion of Gentiles, and Jews were increasingly seen as the enemy. Furthermore, as Christianity distanced itself from Judaism, it began to undergo a lot of dramatic theological changes. It was spreading into many new areas, and Christian groups and communities were popping up all across the Mediterranean. This inevitably led to problems not unlike what Paul addresses in his own writings – Christian groups vying for authority and primacy, and accusing one another of heresy and false prophesying.

Mark’s call for reconciliation was, apparently, either ignored or didn’t stick for long.

Thus, Acts reflects what was happening culturally during the era that the book was written. Unlike Mark, who wanted to see Christian groups reconcile, the writer of Acts clearly believed that only Paul’s Christianity was legitimate. Anyone else was a false prophet, a heretic, unable to channel the power of Jesus in exorcisms.

The nature of this perspective is evident in the polemical tone of the story itself. First, we see the result of trying to exorcise falsely in Jesus’ name: you get beaten up by the demon you are fighting and end up fleeing naked and injured. You’re made a fool of, in other words.

Second, consider the writer’s choice of words in that passage: he refers to these false prophets as “Jews.” This, of course, gives modern readers the impression that these are just more of the same Jewish enemies of Jesus and Christianity. Yet clearly the content of the story implies that they are not practitioners of Rabbinical Judaism. They may or may not have been ethnically Jewish, but that is completely beside the point: they are performing exorcisms in the name of Jesus; clearly they are Christians. Jewish Christians, perhaps, but Christians nonetheless. The important point is that these are not Rabbinical Jews that the writer of Acts is talking about. He is talking about other Christians, but he is derisively calling them “Jews” in an effort to equate them with those who had rejected Jesus (remember, again, that Acts was written during the painful separation of Christianity from Judaism). This is not unparalleled in early Christian writings. The 2nd century Christian leader Valentinus, for instance, called anyone not following his brand of Christianity a “Hebrew,” whether they were actually Jewish, pagan, Christian, or otherwise.

It may also be noteworthy to point out that no historical record, outside of Acts, makes reference to any Jewish high priest, either before, during, or after Paul’s life, named Sceva. That is true despite the fact that extremely thorough records exist covering the identities and actions of the various Jewish high priests of the 1st century.

So we are left with an obvious question: Which account do we take as “gospel”? The story of Jesus, that says we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, or the story of Sceva’s sons, that says only Paul’s version of Christianity has primacy?

I’ll leave that question unanswered and rhetorical since the theological implications lie outside the scope of my purposes here.

There is, however, another curious aspect to this double tradition of exorcisms and Christian unity.

Many readers will be aware of the fact that the same person who wrote Acts of the Apostles also wrote the Gospel of Luke. Church tradition says this person was a Gentile named Luke who was the physician for Paul. Most scholars and theologians are skeptical of this, as there is no textual evidence to support it, but what most everyone agrees on is that the person who wrote Luke also wrote Acts.

Many readers will also be aware that the writers of Matthew and Luke used the Gospel of Mark as a primary source. This is a well-established idea within modern Biblical scholarship that virtually all scholars agree upon.

One of the stories that Luke used from Mark is the first exorcism story mentioned above, where Jesus asserts that “anyone who is not against us is for us.” Thus, the writer of Luke seems to contradict himself between his two volumes: in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus asserts that anyone driving out demons in his name is “for us;” but in Acts of the Apostles, it is clear that only those “in the group” can drive out demons.

How can we explain this contradiction? Many theories may no doubt account for Luke’s change in tone, but there are two explanations that I think are most likely.

First, perhaps Luke simply made a mistake. The editing process for writers of the 1st century wasn’t exactly like it is today. There were no word processors with scroll bars and word searches to review one’s work. Furthermore, several years probably passed in between the writing of Luke and Acts. By the time he wrote Acts, the writer of Luke may simply have forgotten the story of Jesus and the exorcists, or may not have given consideration to the contradiction he was creating. Minor theological inconsistencies like that are not uncommon between Luke’s two volumes, and most can probably be explained as a result of Luke’s reliance on many different sources. He frequently copied Mark word for word, but Mark’s theology (like the theology of any single writer in the 1st century) was not always uniformly consistent with all possible accounts available at the time. We have already seen, after all, how varied Christian beliefs were in the 1st century. Luke’s minor inconsistencies can no doubt be chalked up to his use of multiple sources that would have had competing theologies.

A second possible explanation is that Luke simply changed his mind. After writing the Gospel of Luke, where he repeated Mark’s story calling for unity among Christians, Luke may have had experiences that led him to see Paul’s version of Christianity as primary among all competing groups. Thus, he illustrated that change of heart by writing a story in his second volume, Acts, that was specifically geared toward “taking back” the theology of unity he had expressed in his first volume.

Even with all that, there is still one curious aspect of this story left to analyze. As we saw above, both Luke and Matthew relied heavily on Mark as a primary source. We also saw that Luke, in the Gospel of Luke, repeats Mark’s story about Jesus and the exorcists. Matthew, however, does not repeat this story. Yet he does use a form of the adage “whoever is not against us is for us.”

The curious thing about this, however, is that Matthew turns it around into the negative. He has Jesus utter these words during a dispute with the Pharisees over his authority to cast out demons (sound familiar?). In Matthew’s version of the story, Jesus says: “He who is not with me is against me.”

Now, instead of a story about casting out demons where Jesus asserts that anyone working in his name is “part of the group,” for Matthew, Jesus uses a situation of casting out demons to argue for exclusion – whoever is not with me is against me.

This simply provides more evidence to the historical context we saw above. In the 1st century, there were many different Christian groups all vying for primacy and exclusivity, and while some writers urged reconciliation and unity, many other writers expressed their belief in the primacy of their own community’s tradition. Mark urged unity. Matthew urged exclusivity. Luke first urged unity, then later urged exclusivity.

What these stories ultimately tell us is that Christianity is, and always has been, a highly personal faith system, malleable to many different worldviews and spiritual tastes. This is, no doubt, one of the reasons for its rise to prominence and continued primacy among the various religions of the world. Christianity, by its very nature, is open to interpretation.

In my opinion, this is something that Christians should celebrate, rather than attempt to whitewash or gloss over.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Synoptic Problem, Part II

Read Part I

THE DOUBLE TRADITION

As we have seen, wide consensus exists within modern scholarship that Mark was written first, with both Matthew and Luke using Mark as a primary source. The evidence to support this is profound and compelling, while the evidence against it is very weak.

That does not solve the entire Synoptic Problem, however.

At the start of this account, I noted that all three Gospels share a significant portion of their material in common. The material shared between Mark, Matthew, and Luke is commonly referred to as the “Triple Tradition.” This material appears in all three accounts, with Mark being the originator - thus "Markan priority."

However, in addition to containing a majority of Mark’s material, Matthew and Luke also share a significant portion of material that does not come from Mark. This shared material accounts for about 25% of Matthew and Luke’s content. Since it is shared exclusively between Matthew and Luke, it is frequently referred to as the “Double Tradition.”

The stories accounting for the "Triple Tradition" make up 76% of Mark, 45% of Matthew, and 41% of Luke (the percentages are different because the lengths of these three texts are different). Additionally, stories from the "Double Tradition" account for 25% of Matthew and 23% of Luke. Among the synoptics, Luke has the most "unique" material, at 35% of his Gospel's total content.

If we accept Markan priority, as virtually all scholars do, then where did this Double Tradition material come from? Since it isn’t found in Mark, the writers of Matthew and Luke must have gotten it from somewhere else.

As with the issue of Gospel priority in the Triple Tradition, many theories abound to explain the content unique to Matthew and Luke. In fact, this issue of the Double Tradition has occupied scholars far more frequently than the issue of the Triple Tradition.

THE Q HYPOTHESIS

Beginning in the 19th century, several German scholars developed the theory that this common Matthew-Luke material came from a source no longer in existence – a source used by both Matthew and Luke in addition to their use of Mark. Based on the fact that this common material is almost exclusively made up of sayings attributed to Jesus, these scholars proposed a “Sayings Gospel” – an early text made up of sayings of Jesus, available to Matthew and Luke, but no longer in existence. This source has come to be known as “Q” – which is simply short for the German word quelle, which means “source.”

Over the years, the Q Hypothesis has become more and more widely accepted, and today many scholars base much of their work on the idea that Q existed.

A significant number of scholars, however, have been skeptical of this hypothetical source and the numerous historical conclusions that have been drawn from it. For a period of time in the early 20th century, the theory began to lose steam as scholars tended to think it was too fantastical.

However, the discovery in the 1940’s of a complete text of the Gospel of Thomas gave new life to the Q Hypothesis. Although debate continues to this day over the appropriate dating of Thomas, its discovery proved that at least part of the Q Hypothesis was true: Sayings Gospels did exist in earliest Christianity.

The Gospel of Thomas. This text was found in a cache near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945. It is a 4th century text written in the Egyptian language Coptic. Most scholars date the original text of the Gospel of Thomas somewhere between 60 and 140 C.E., and originally written in Greek.

Though Thomas is definitely not the lost Q document, the text of Thomas is in the format of a Sayings Gospel. It provides some 100 or so sayings attributed to Jesus, without a chronological framework or any biographical narratives. It’s just a list of things Jesus said – meaning it is exactly like the kind of document that German scholars of the 19th century predicted in regards to Q.

In addition to Thomas’ proof that Sayings Gospels existed in early Christianity, there are a number of other strong arguments supporting the Q Hypothesis.

First, the study of Markan priority has already shown that Matthew and Luke were using other texts to create their accounts. They weren’t just making it up or using stories they knew from oral tradition. Furthermore, in the opening passage of Luke, the writer tells us explicitly that other writers have already written about Jesus, and that he is basing his account on the “investigation” of these other sources. Thus, it is not unreasonable to assume that Matthew and especially Luke might have used textual sources besides Mark.

Second, some of the sayings from Q are repeated virtually verbatim in both Matthew and Luke, indicating very strongly that these stories were coming from a textual source, and not from two different writers independently telling the same oral stories with exactly the same words.

Finally, when evaluating the Q content for its literary quality, certain literary themes become evident. One of the primary themes is apocalypticism. Q imagines God bursting violently into human time to end the material world and inaugurate the kingdom of heaven. Yet neither Luke nor Matthew’s account, outside of the Q material, is nearly so apocalyptic in its theology and eschatology (ideas about the end of the world). This indicates, then, that Q was a separate document, much more apocalyptic in nature than either Matthew or Luke’s account.

THE FARRER HYPOTHESIS

The Q Hypothesis is one that is accepted by many scholars. As we saw above, however, there are a significant number of scholars and theologians who doubt Q’s existence. Many of these scholars, instead, accept the theory put forth by British scholar Austin Farrer. The Farrer Hypothesis solves the problem of the Double Tradition by simply suggesting that Luke, writing after Matthew, used both Mark and Matthew as sources. Thus, the Double Tradition material – the material common between only Matthew and Luke – is explained by Luke’s reliance on Matthew’s account. Luke was copying Matthew.

On the surface, this seems like a reasonable argument. It follows in line with the scientific principle of Occam’s Razor. That principle states that the simplest answer is usually the right answer. In this case, it is certainly simpler to just assume Luke used Matthew, rather than to argue a hypothetical source used independently by both Luke and Matthew and no longer in existence to modern scholarship.

Some of the same arguments put forth in support of Q are also put forth in support of Lukan reliance on Matthew.

First, since some of the stories are written identically, word-for-word, in both texts, this could indicate that Luke was simply copying Matthew.

Second, when Luke tells us in his opening passage that he is using other textual sources, it is not unreasonable to assume that those other sources were Mark and Matthew (as opposed to Mark and Q).

Third, there is no obvious reference to anything like a Q document in the writings of the earliest Church fathers. If such a document existed, it was already long lost by the 2nd century.

Finally, there is the aforementioned issue of “minor agreements” between Luke and Matthew. We saw this issue earlier in support of the idea of Matthean priority in the Triple Tradition (the material common between Matthew, Mark, and Luke). It is also used to support the idea that Luke was using Matthew as a source.

Recall that the “minor agreements” argument centers on stories that are shared between all three synoptic Gospels (again, the Triple Tradition). In those shared stories, there are a number of places where Matthew and Luke use the same word against Mark. Thus, the example of Jesus and his captors: Matthew and Luke say he was “hit,” while Mark says he was “struck.” One scholar, Franz Neirynck, has identified as many as 347 instances of these “minor agreements,” including at least sixteen spots where Luke and Matthew agree on five or more words against Mark. For those who support the Farrer Hypothesis, this suggests strongly that Luke was copying Matthew - how else could one explain these frequent word agreements? Extrapolating from there, this would mean that the Double Tradition material (the stories common between Luke and Matthew but not found in Mark) didn’t come from a second text (Q), but simply from Luke copying it out of Matthew. This also would mean that Markan priority still holds, because the “minor agreements” come from Luke copying Matthew, not from Mark editing the other two.

ANALYSIS OF THE TWO THEORIES

Both the Q Hypothesis and the Farrer Hypothesis have strong evidence to support them. So which one is right?

Ultimately, unless the Q document is found, we probably won’t ever know for sure. But it does seem clear that one or the other is the correct answer, and my personal feeling is that the Q Hypothesis probably best explains all the available evidence.

Consider a few things:

First, supporters of the Farrer Hypothesis have a fairly strong argument with the “minor agreements” of Matthew and Luke. Mark wrote first, Matthew copied, and then Luke copied both Mark and Matthew, frequently using Matthew’s choice of words when telling a Markan story (thus, the "minor agreements").

However, these word agreements could easily be the result of later scribes attempting to harmonize the two accounts. We don’t, of course, have original copies of any of the texts of the New Testament. Our earliest copies are hundreds of years removed from the originals, and while numerous copies of the Gospels exist from the early Medieval period, they have a notorious lack of unanimity. Scribes were hand-copying these texts. Mistakes were to be expected and were very common. In addition, these scribes frequently edited the texts to fit their own particular theology or literary purposes. It is not outside the realm of possibility that many of the “minor agreements” of Luke and Matthew could be the result of scribal editing. Additionally, as we saw above, coincidence could account for many of the “minor agreements,” particularly considering that Mark was writing in “Pidgin-Greek” and Luke and Matthew both write in a higher form of Greek.

Second, there is the issue of no references to a Q-like document by any early Church fathers. While this is an interesting point, a lack of references by folks like Origen and Iranaeus does not preclude the existence of such a text. Early Church fathers were not attempting to provide exhaustive lists of all the Christian texts they knew about. Mostly, their discussion of non-canonical Christian texts centered on those texts they believed to be heretical. There is no reason to suppose that any early Church father would have found Q to be heretical. Furthermore, we know that Sayings Gospels, like the Gospel of Thomas, existed among ancient Christian communities, so a lack of commentary by the Church fathers may simply indicate that Q was already long lost by the time Christianity was becoming institutionalized.

Third, recall the discussion above about literary themes in the Q document. Q is notoriously apocalyptic. Almost every story from Q has an apocalyptic twist. Yet within the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, virtually no apocalypticism exists except in that Double Tradition (Q) material. If you remove the Double Tradition material, neither Matthew nor Luke could be described as texts that are apocalyptic in nature. This lends profound support to the idea that this Double Tradition material is coming from a second source that was theologically slanted toward apocalypticism, rather than from Matthew inserting these apocalyptic stories into his otherwise non-apocalyptic account and then Luke copying him. I can simply think of no good way to explain this without the Q Hypothesis.

Finally, and most importantly, there is the issue of the birth and resurrection accounts in Matthew and Luke. This final point is the real “deal breaker” for me in terms of supporting the Q theory over the Farrer Hypothesis.

Anyone who reads the birth stories of Matthew and Luke will notice immediately that they differ in dramatic and profound ways. There is practically nothing similar between Luke and Matthew’s accounts of Jesus’ birth. Even the genealogy of Jesus between the two accounts is totally different. If Luke was using Matthew as a source, why does his virgin birth story vary so dramatically from Matthew’s?

The same is true of the resurrection accounts in Matthew and Luke. There are hardly any similarities at all. They are essentially two completely different versions of the same story. Again, if Luke was using Matthew, shouldn’t he have followed Matthew in his resurrection accounts?

Recall that Mark’s Gospel contains no birth narrative and no resurrection narrative. Mark begins with Jesus getting baptized, and ends with the women finding the empty tomb and fleeing in terror. Luke’s birth and resurrection accounts, then, could not have come from Mark. If he also was using Matthew, one would expect his birth and resurrection stories to be at least somewhat similar, if not very similar, to Matthew’s. Yet they could not possibly be more different and still be describing the same thing. Why would Luke give precedence to Matthew on sayings of Jesus (the Double Tradition material), but totally ignore Matthew on the birth and resurrection of Jesus?

To accept the Farrer Hypothesis – that Luke used Matthew as a second source – one would have to assume that Luke found Matthew’s depiction of Jesus’ sayings to be compelling and historically accurate, but found his depictions of Jesus birth and resurrection to be totally off-base. Furthermore, since Luke clearly didn’t get his birth and resurrection stories from Matthew, then where, exactly did he get them from? Not Mark. Mark doesn’t contain any such stories. One is left, again, with hypothesizing documents that no longer exist, which Luke had access to, and which he found more compelling than Matthew’s accounts.

As I said, this last point is really the deal breaker for me. Matthew and Luke have such profoundly varying accounts of birth and resurrection that the Farrer Hypothesis of Lukan reliance on Matthew begins to break down in irreversible ways. Since the only other logical conclusion is that Matthew and Luke wrote independently but used the same secondary source for their Double Tradition material, I accept that the Q Hypothesis is the most appropriate answer to this aspect of the Synoptic Problem.

HOW IT HAPPENED

Here is how I believe the formation of the New Testament Gospels most likely took place.

The Gospel of Mark began as a collection of stories about Jesus based on the teachings of Peter. They were perhaps first written down by Peter’s secretary – a man tradition tells us was named Mark. This “Proto-Mark” was perhaps written in the early 60’s C.E.

Around 70-72 C.E., after Peter had died and after Jerusalem had been sacked by the Romans, Proto-Mark was expanded into roughly the form we have today. Its stories were categorized to fit with a portion of the Jewish liturgical calendar, thus making it a Jewish-Christian liturgical text to be used in the synagogue. It fell into circulation among Christian communities over the next ten to fifteen years.

Around 85 C.E., the writer of Matthew took the Gospel of Mark and expanded it, because Mark had only covered about six months of the Jewish calendar. Matthew may have originally been written in Aramaic. Matthew completed what Mark had started, covering all twelve months of the liturgical calendar. As part of that expansion, he included a number of sayings of Jesus that he drew from the now-lost source we call the Q document. He may also have used a third source – called “M” in scholarly circles – from which he drew his unique resurrection and birth accounts. Like Mark’s Gospel, Matthew may also have started out as a “proto” Gospel and was later expanded into the version we know today.

A few years later, around 90 C.E., the writer of Luke took up pen and parchment to write his own account of Jesus’ life. He was not familiar with the Gospel of Matthew or Matthew’s source M, but he did have the Gospel of Mark and the Q document. He also had at least one other source called “L” – representing the material that is unique to his Gospel. Like Matthew with the M material, Luke’s L material informed his unique birth and resurrection accounts.

These “M” and “L” sources, by the way, may have been textual or oral, or may have simply been the writers of Luke and Matthew developing their own Jesus stories based on their reading of the Jewish scriptures.

Finally, around 100 C.E., the Gospel of John was produced, with its writer being at least familiar with Matthew, Mark, and Luke. This familiarity was most likely indirect, meaning that the writer was familiar with the content of the three synoptic Gospels, but did not necessarily have copies of these Gospels on the desk in front of him as he wrote. He also likely used a number of other sources, both textual and oral, with a heavy reliance on the traditions passed down by the apostle John and his followers.

CONCLUSION

The Synoptic Problem is one that has kept scholars busy for many centuries. Two hundred years of academic research into the Triple Tradition has overturned the long standing conclusion that Matthew wrote his Gospel first. At this point, Markan priority is well enough established that without new and profound evidence, the conclusion is not likely to change.

The theories about secondary sources, however, including the Q Hypothesis and the Farrer Hypothesis (not to mention half a dozen others that I have not illustrated here), practically beg for more research.

If the Q document is ever found, the question will, of course, be convincingly answered. But barring such a monumental archaeological discovery, the question of the Double Tradition in Matthew and Luke will continue to remain a topic of disagreement and debate for years to come in the world of New Testament scholarship.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The Synoptic Problem, Part I

A 6th century text of the Gospel of Matthew

The Synoptic Problem is a long-standing debate within the field of New Testament scholarship concerning the interrelationships of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The number of different theories addressing this problem is nothing short of awe-inspiring, and attempting to wade through them can be tedious to the point of exasperation. One can imagine a sadistic New Testament professor forcing his first year graduate students to write essays on this issue, just to torture them and weed out the weaklings.

Be that as it may, the question of the interrelationships of these three Gospels is an interesting and important one – interesting from a historical standpoint, and important from a theological standpoint. For that reason, I have done some footwork on this issue and will present it here in a way that I hope will be engaging to the average Christian or average enthusiast in matters of historical importance.

THE SYNOPTIC PROBLEM

To put it simply, the Synoptic Problem addresses the fact that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are all very similar at first glance. These three Gospels, in fact, are called “synoptic” for that very reason: they can be “seen together;” they tell stories that seem to be seen through the same eyes.

As an illustration of this, consider the fact that about 93% of Mark’s Gospel is regurgitated in Matthew, and roughly 80% is repeated in Luke. You can essentially read Matthew or Luke and get most of what is contained in Mark. Furthermore, counting the material that Luke and Matthew share with Mark, and adding to it the material they share exclusively between themselves, Matthew and Luke have about 60% of their Gospels in common.

This diagram shows that 76% of Mark's content is regurgitated in both Matthew and Luke. This material is called the "Triple Tradition." It's present in all three Gospels. Individually, Matthew includes 92% of Mark's total content, and Luke includes 79% of Mark's total content. Additionally, Luke shares about 25% of Matthew's non-Markan content. This material found in both Matthew and Luke, and only those two Gospels, is called the "Double Tradition."

Thus, these three Gospels are “synoptic.” They can be seen together. They share a lot of the same stories.

The “problem,” then, becomes an academic and historical one: Where did this material come from, who wrote it down first, who copied from whom, and when one writer changed a story from another writer, why did they do it, what does that change signify theologically, and whose version is more authoritative?

Some of those questions, particularly the last few, are beyond the scope of this essay, but it simply helps to illustrate just how complex and far reaching this issue goes.

THE AUGUSTINIAN HYPOTHESIS AND MATTHEAN PRIORITY

From as early as the 2nd century C.E., Church Fathers such as Iranaeus and Origen had stated their belief in what is known as “Matthean priority” – that is, the idea that Matthew was the first Gospel to be written, and Mark and Luke both used Matthew as their primary source.

In the 5th century, St. Augustine of Hippo – famous for his “Confessions” – elaborated what was by then a Church tradition of Matthean priority. He argued that Matthew came first, followed by Mark, Luke, and John. If you have ever wondered why the Gospels of the New Testament are presented in that order, this is why. It’s what the Church believed was the chronological order that the Gospels were written in.

Augustine analyzed many of the similarities among Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and concluded that Mark had simply “abbreviated” Matthew (Mark is, in fact, much shorter than Matthew), and that each successive writer had used the Gospels written before – thus, Mark used Matthew, Luke used Mark and Matthew, and John used all three.

Prior to the Enlightenment and the genesis of modern New Testament scholarship, this Augustinian view was more or less universally accepted.

THE STORR HYPOTHESIS AND MARKAN PRIORITY

In the late 18th century, German theologian Gottlieb Christian Storr became the first prominent theologian and scholar to break with the Matthean priority of Church tradition and suggest, instead, that Mark had been written first, and Matthew and Luke had copied from Mark.

This idea did not gain much acceptance until the 19th century, after Storr’s death. During that era, a number of primarily German scholars began working in the field of critical textual scholarship, and ultimately concluded that Storr was right – Mark was written first, with Matthew coming next and copying Mark, and Luke coming third and copying the other two.

ARGUMENTS FOR MARKAN PRIORITY

Throughout the 20th century and into the modern day, this hypothesis of Markan priority has become widely accepted among scholars and theologians alike. Pick up any book on New Testament scholarship, and the author is likely to take it as a presupposition that Mark was the first Gospel to be written.

There are a number of compelling reasons why Markan priority is now almost universally accepted.

First, Mark is the shortest of the three synoptic Gospels. Since Matthew and Luke are so much longer, it makes sense that they were expanding Mark – rather than Mark shortening Matthew or Luke, as Augustine had argued. (As an aside, the idea of a Lukan priority – that Luke was written first – is almost universally rejected among scholars.)

Related to that same argument is that Mark excludes a lot of major scenes in Jesus’ life that are found in both Matthew and Luke – most notably Jesus’ birth and resurrection. If Mark was copying from one or both of the other two, why would he leave out such important events?

Second, many scholars have noted over the years that the language of Mark’s Gospel is very primitive and colloquial. Scholar Bruce Chilton refers to Mark’s language as “pidgin-Greek.” Many people familiar with the Gospel of Mark may find this argument strange, but that is only because our modern English versions of Mark clean up his poor syntax, confusing changes in tense and pronouns, and his idiomatic writing style. In the original Greek, the Gospel of Mark is not exactly high art.

Matthew and Luke, on the other hand, exhibit a reasonably high literary quality. Thus, the argument suggests that since Mark writes in colloquial or “low” Greek, and Matthew and Luke write in literary or “high” Greek, the likelihood is that they were better trained writers, writing after Mark and “cleaning up” his language. If Mark had been using either Matthew or Luke, he would not have “dumbed down” the literary writing of his sources. On the other hand, it makes sense that Matthew and Luke would reword difficult and obtuse phrases from Mark to make them more palatable and literate.

Third, only a very small amount of material in Mark – about 3% – is exclusive to Mark. Almost every scene in Mark’s Gospel is found in some form or another in either Matthew and/or Luke. Yet those few sentences/passages that are exclusive to Mark are quite interesting. In every case, without fail, they are stories that depict Jesus in a negative light.

One such case is from chapter 3 of Mark, where Jesus’ family comes to where he is preaching, wanting to take him back home because they think he has gone crazy (literally: “beside himself”). Both Luke and Matthew omit this particular scene, despite using nearly everything else in the passage.

Another example is from Mark chapter 8, where Jesus has to try twice to heal a man of blindness. His first attempt leaves the man only partially able to see, with the man reporting that the people around him “look like trees walking around.” Again, Luke and Matthew omit this story.

What is more likely, that Mark copied Matthew, but added in a few stories that portray Jesus in a negative light, or that Matthew and Luke copied Mark and simply left out the stories that they found distasteful?

Finally, Matthew and Luke seem to be constantly “fixing” Mark’s problematic accounts. For instance, in chapter 6, Mark has the crowd say, in reference to Jesus: “Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” This may not seem like a problem phrase to us, but in the patriarchal world of 1st century Judaism, a man would only have been referred to as the son of his mother if the man’s paternity were in question. Even if Jesus’ father was dead, he still would never have been called the son of Mary. Since Mark also contains no birth account (virgin or otherwise), and no reference anywhere to Jesus’ father (Joseph or otherwise), any 1st century reader of Mark would have been left with the obvious impression that Jesus was illegitimate.

When copying this scene into his own account, Matthew makes a few subtle, but profound, changes. In Matthew’s version, the crowd says: “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary?”

Now it’s not Jesus who is the carpenter, but Jesus’ father – who we already know from Matthew’s birth account was a man named Joseph. And instead of being the “son of Mary,” Jesus now simply has a mother who is named Mary. Luke’s account makes a similar change, dropping the reference to his mother all together, and simply calling him “Joseph’s son.”

These are subtle alterations, but they speak volumes about who was copying from whom. Surely Mark did not change the other accounts to imply Jesus was illegitimate; clearly Matthew and Luke are the ones doing the copying and changing here.

Another example also comes from Mark chapter 6. There, Mark tells us that Jesus “could not do any miracles” in Nazareth. Jesus then marvels at the Nazorean’s lack of faith. Again, we see a subtle, but profound change in Matthew’s account. There, Jesus “did not do any miracles there because of their lack of faith.” No longer is Jesus incapable of doing miracles; rather, Jesus consciously chooses not to do any miracles because of their lack of faith.

Again, this seems to be an obvious case of Matthew changing Mark to make Jesus look better, and not Mark changing Matthew to make Jesus look worse.

In addition to all these, there are also a few scattered clues here and there. In Luke chapter 4, for instance, the writer describes Jesus teaching in Nazareth. Jesus tells the crowd that he won’t do any signs and miracles for them, like he did in Capernaum. Yet Luke’s Jesus had not yet been to Capernaum at this point in the narrative. This problem of cohesion is easily solved when one looks at Mark. In Mark, when Jesus is teaching in Nazareth, he has, indeed, already been through Capernaum working miracles and prophesying. This is a strong indication that Luke was intimately familiar with the chronology and layout of Mark’s Gospel.

ARGUMENTS FOR MATTHEAN PRIORITY

Despite all these arguments, there are still a few scholars here and there who stick by Church tradition of Matthean priority. The modern argument suggests that Matthew wrote first, followed by Luke, who used Matthew. Then Mark came third, redacting (editing) both of the others. This theory was first proposed by scholar Johann Griesbach, and is therefore referred to as the Griesbach Hypothesis.

Johann Griesbach, circa 1800

Generally, Griesbach supporters point to the fact that Church tradition, going back as far as the 2nd century, has argued for Matthean priority. Surely those 2nd century Church leaders, some of whom lived just a generation or two removed from the Gospel era, would have known what they were talking about when they asserted that Matthew was written first.

That is a reasonable argument, but it certainly is not enough to cast doubt on the very powerful arguments for Markan priority.

Another argument supporting Matthean priority relates to the so-called “minor agreements” of Luke and Matthew. These are cases where all three Gospels tell the same story, but Luke and Matthew use a word in common that Mark does not use.

For instance, in the story of Jesus being beaten by his captors, Mark says that they “struck” him in the face and demanded that he prophesy to them. Luke and Matthew both tell the same story, but instead of using the word “strike,” they both use the term, “hit” (or “smote” in the King James Version). Would they have both changed Mark’s word to the same alternate word? As the argument goes, this shows that Matthew wrote first, Luke copied, and Mark redacted.

This does not seem a very compelling argument, particularly up against the arguments in favor of Markan priority. Coincidence could easily account for such minor word agreements between Luke and Matthew.

However, the issue of “minor agreements” becomes more important in considering secondary sources used by the writers of the synoptic Gospels.

The second part of this account will, therefore, look at the issue of secondary sources in the synoptic Gospels. After looking at that, we will consider a possible scenario for how the Gospels were formed.

Read Part II

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Tragedy in the Sierra Nevada, Part XII

Read Part I

Read Part II

Read Part III

Read Part IV

Read Part V

Read Part VI

Read Part VII

Read Part VIII

Read Part IX

Read Part X

Read Part XI

THE DEMONIZATION OF LOUIS KESEBERG

Louis Keseberg, the most notorious member of the Donner Party

On April 17th, the fourth relief party arrived. According to a diary kept by the team leader: “Entered the cabins and a horrible scene presented itself – human bodies terribly mutilated, legs, arms, and skulls scattered in every direction.”

The historical existence of this diary, however, has been the subject of debate. It was published in a California newspaper later that year, but this paper had a record for grossly exaggerating and sensationalizing the accounts of the Donner Party.

The journal in question has never been found, and most historians doubt that it ever existed; it was supposedly written by the team’s leader – a fur tracker who was probably illiterate and certainly not educated enough to have written the flowery language the diary contains. In addition to that, the diary misspells the name of its supposed author – spelling it “Fellun” instead of “Fallon.” Most likely, this diary was invented by the newspaper that published it.

In any event, the “diary” goes on to describe at length rather ghastly discoveries on the part of the rescuers, with numerous accusations against Louis Keseberg. He is accused of raiding the dead bodies for their organs. He is accused of making soups out of livers and intestines. He is accused of eating brains and hearts. He is accused of ignoring available cattle beef, uncovered by the melting snow, in favor of human flesh. He is further accused of stealing the Donners’ money. On this account, Keseberg’s own story agrees. Keseberg stated that they accused him of stealing the money and threatened to hang him if he didn’t tell them where it was. He finally relented out of fear of his life, giving them the gold he had and telling them where he had buried the silver.

In later years, Louis Keseberg would become the most infamous member of the Donner Party, largely thanks to the sensationalist frontier newspapers of California. As the last survivor – one who had lived out of necessity for at least six to seven weeks solely on human flesh – he was vilified as a “man-eater” and cannibal. As we have already seen, he was accused of killing young George Foster for food. We have also seen that he was accused of proudly telling William Eddy that he had eaten his son. Because of the issue of the Donners' money, he was accused of staying put on purpose, despite being strong enough to leave with earlier parties, in order to loot the belongings of everyone who had died or fled. He was accused not only of stealing the Donners' money, but also of killing Tamzene Donner in order to take it. After returning to California following his ordeal, he actually sued one of his rescuers for spreading slanderous stories about him. He won the suit, but was awarded only one dollar in compensation. He became the butt of jokes and was referred to as “Keseberg the Cannibal.” Rumors were passed that he still had the “taste” for cannibalism and would frequently threaten to eat people.

There are, no doubt, several reasons why Keseberg was vilified this way. The first is that he was simply an easy target, having been the last survivor at the winter encampment – who was left to dispute his story about the Donners' money and the death of Tamzene Donner? Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, he was apparently one of those people who tended to leave a bad impression on others. Even before his trip with the Donner Party, acquaintances had described him in letters as “eccentric” and “unsociable.” Having traveled with him for months prior to the winter captivity, the members of the Donner Party saw that he had a violent and explosive temper. He was widely known to verbally and even physically abuse his wife. He was apparently banished temporarily from the wagon train over this. In later life, he was tried for assault on two different occasions – although with the ridicule and vilification he must have constantly received, it is little wonder he wound up in fights.

In any case, Louis Keseberg’s story is a sad one. Despite being apparently well-educated, his life seems to have been one tragedy after another. The Donner Party tragedy took both his children (he had already lost another child prior to 1846), and left him with the reputation of being a thief, liar, murderer, and mindless cannibal. Afterwards, he had eight more children; all but one predeceased him (the last lived to the age of ninety, dying in the late 1940’s). Two of these children were evidently mentally handicapped. He outlived his wife by nearly twenty years. In every new business venture he started, he was vilified and treated as a laughingstock. After serving as the skipper of one of John Sutter’s river supply boats for several years, he was said to have lost his job because the passengers feared he would kill and eat them while they slept. One passenger, in what is no doubt a much more honest account, said that during the night he could hear Keseberg crying out in nightmares. When Keseberg purchased a small hotel in Sacramento, jokes abounded about the dangers of boarding in his rooms. The hotel burned down about a year later. Sometime afterward, he bought a brewery – it was destroyed after several years by a flood. By the time Keseberg died in the late 1890’s, he was penniless and apparently homeless, dying in a hospital for the poor.

No amount of historical revision can justify Keseberg’s apparently violent temper and tendency to abuse his wife. And while it is impossible to know his motivations for certain, his decision to remain behind and not travel with the third relief party seems difficult to explain. The others who stayed were all too sick to travel, with the exception of Tamzene Donner. But Mrs. Donner is reported in numerous sources to have insisted upon staying with her dying husband. Keseberg had evidently seriously injured his foot sometime during the winter, and this was his reason for not joining the earlier refugee parties (such as the first party, which took out his wife and daughter). Patrick Breen refers twice to Louis Keseberg being sick and unable to get out of bed. But it seems that this foot injury was sufficiently healed by March that he could have left with Eddy and Foster. Yet those same accounts that tell us Keseberg was healthy enough to travel also tell us all the other outrageous stories about Keseberg boiling brains for soup. Keseberg himself insisted that his foot did not heal sufficiently until long after Eddy and Foster had left. But was he lying? Again, it’s impossible to say for sure.

Despite all those difficulties, what seems apparent is that Keseberg did not deserve the treatment he got later in life. He became the cannibalistic face of the Donner Party; he literally was never able to live that reputation down. Although he survived for nearly fifty years after the Donner Party tragedy, it’s not unreasonable to say that his life was taken from him during the winter of 1846-1847.

THE CASUALTIES

In all, forty-one members of the Donner Party met their end in the winter of 1846-1847. Additionally, two young children of the Graves family, having survived the rescue and the trip into Sacramento, died later that summer, having never recovered from their ordeal. Thus, the total casualties from the Donner Party tragedy were forty-three lives.

The Breen family was the only family group of the Donner Party to survive completely intact, including an infant that was still nursing. That infant, Isabella Breen, would become the last surviving member of the Donner Party, dying in 1935 in California.

The Breen Family

The Reed family also survived the winter in the mountains, but Margaret Reed’s mother, Sarah Keyes, died earlier in 1846, on the wagon train in Kansas.

The Reed family in the early 1850's. James is to the far left, and the woman on the far right is Virginia Reed. Mary Donner is standing on the right side of the steps in the center. There are nine people in this photograph, but two of those standing on the steps in the center of the picture are difficult to see, as they are blurred out. In the 1850's, pictures required long exposure times, and the children standing there were unable to stand still, thus resulting in a blurry, ghostly image. (Thanks to Donner historian Kristin Johnson for the identifications.)

Patty Reed in old age

All the children of George Donner’s family survived. George and his wife, however, perished in the mountains. Eliza Donner, three years old in 1846, later wrote a book about the events, the only surviving member to write a book-length account. It was published in 1911.

Eliza Donner

Eliza Donner as a young woman

George’s daughter Leanna, twelve years old at the time, became the last living member of the Donner Party old enough to remember the events, dying in 1930.

Leanna Donner

Jacob Donner went west with his wife, six children, and two stepchildren. Of those nine people, only three survived the winter. Among the dead were Jacob and his wife Elizabeth, their three youngest sons Isaac, Samuel, and Lewis, and Jacob’s stepson William Hook.

George Donner, son of Jacob. He is sometimes confused with his uncle, also named George Donner. It was his uncle who was the namesake of the Donner Party. This "young" George was 9 years old during the winter of 1846-1847.

"Young" George Donner in later life

The Murphy family was the largest single family of the Donner Party, with thirteen people. Five of them died in the mountains, and another was killed when a firearm he was cleaning accidentally discharged. Included among the dead were Levinah Jackson, the matriarch of the clan, her grandson George Foster, son-in-law William Pike, granddaughter Catherine Pike, son Landrum, and son Lemuel.

William Murphy in later life

Mary Murphy. A teenager during the winter of 1846-1847, she remained deeply troubled for many years after surviving the Donner Party tragedy, as her expression in this picture seems to indicate. She died young, at the age of 35.

William Eddy had traveled west with his wife and two children. All three of them died in the Sierra Nevada, but William survived to become one of the heroes of the Donner Party, though his exaggerated accounts would cause other survivors to dub him “Lying Eddy.”

Among the four members of the Keseberg family – immigrants from Germany – their two children both perished. Louis and his wife Philippine survived to have eight more children, but their lives were marred by stories of cannibalism that haunted Louis until his death.

Nearly as large as the Murphy family, the Graves family brought twelve people west with them, joining the Donner Party shortly after they entered Utah. Both Franklin Graves and his wife Elizabeth died in the mountains, as did their son-in-law Jay Fosdick, and their five-year-old son Franklin Jr. Son Jonathan and daughter Elizabeth survived the ordeal in the mountains, only to die later in the year from continued illness. The oldest Graves daughters, Sarah and Mary, were both married shortly after their rescue from the mountains.

Sarah Graves

Mary Graves

Both their husbands would eventually be murdered – Mary’s just a year later, in 1848, and Sarah’s about six years later in 1854. Sarah Graves was thus widowed twice in eight years, and lost both parents and three siblings to starvation and exposure, all before the age of 30. She eventually died early of heart disease at the age of 46.

William McCutchen and his wife joined the Donner Party in Wyoming. They had one child, an infant daughter named Harriet. William left the Donner Party in October to ride ahead for supplies and was not able to return until late February. In the meantime, his wife Amanda left in December with the Forlorn Hope, one of only seven to survive that group. Their daughter was left in the care of the Graves family. It’s hard to imagine how Amanda McCutchen could have left her daughter behind in the care of strangers in the frozen wilderness, but she no doubt hoped to be able to return quickly, or even meet her husband on the way, coming in the other direction. In any case, Harriett McCutchen did not survive the winter. The McCutchens would later have four more children, and Amanda would die giving birth to the fourth.

The final family of the Donner Party consisted of a German man and woman whose last name was Wolfinger. Little is known about them. Mr. Wolfinger died before the caravan reached the mountains, apparently killed by one of his assistants. His wife survived the ordeal and remarried later in life.

Traveling together with the families of the Donner Party were a number of hired hands, mostly cow herders, wagon drivers, and handymen. They totaled twenty-one in all, including two Indians sent by John Sutter to help guide Charles Stanton’s relief party. Of these twenty-one, only five survived. The dead included both Indian guides, who may have been the only two members of the Donner Party actually killed for food. Also perishing were Donner employees Charley Burger, Antonio (surname unknown), John Denton, Luke Halloran, Samuel Shoemaker, and Charles Stanton; Reed employees Baylis Williams, Milt Elliot, and James Smith; Keseberg companions Mr. Hardcoop, August Spitzer, and Joseph Reinhardt; Breen companion Patrick Dolan; and Graves wagon driver John Snyder. The high mortality rate among these teamsters is no doubt the result of families becoming more and more stingy with their own provisions once starvation and rationing began to set in. Furthermore, as workers employed to keep the cattle and drive the wagons, these men no doubt carried the burden of the hardest work throughout the time on trail and after arriving in camp. By the time the food began to run out, they were likely the first to go hungry, and the least prepared for it. Three of them, of course, died before ever reaching the mountains (Luke Halloran, Mr. Hardcoop, and John Snyder).

Jean Trudeau. Only five Donner Party teamsters survived the trip west. Two of those actually left the wagon train early and were never part of the winter entrapment. A third was a family maidservant who was not actually a "teamster" for the group. Thus, among the male teamsters who were actually stranded in the mountains with the Donner Party, Jean Trudeau was one of only two who survived. The other was a teenager named Noah James, who appears to have died just a few years later.

CONCLUSION

The story of the Donner Party has become one of the most infamous events in American pioneer history. If my own familiarity with the event, prior to starting this in-depth account, is any indication, most people’s knowledge of the Donner Party story is that it is about a bunch of people who ate each other during a winter in the mountains. This cultural “meme” is no doubt thanks to the many sensationalist accounts of the event in the years and decades after it happened.

But when one studies the history of the Donner Party, one finds not a bunch of crazed cannibals feasting on each other, but rather an account of pioneer Americans faced with unthinkable life or death decisions which, for the most part, they faced with grace, courage, and dignity. It’s a true “American” story, rife with the pioneer spirit, staring down hardships, and beating the odds.

This story forces us to question some of our most deeply held beliefs, to face one of our most deeply held cultural taboos. Many people might think that if they were faced with the same situation, they would rather expire than eat the flesh of the dead. But the Donner Party story, with its three separate recurrences of cannibalism, demonstrates that this deeply held taboo only goes as far as normative wellbeing allows. When stripped of the security of daily life and routine, and left with nothing but the choice between death and cannibalism, the Donner Party story shows us that, in fact, most – if not all – would choose the latter.

SOURCES/REFERENCES

I used a number of sources in compiling this account of the Donner Party. What follows is by no means an exhaustive list, nor I have made any attempt to use an official bibliographic format, but I have included all the primary sources that informed my account.

1. New Light on the Donner Party. This site is maintained by Donner historian Kristin Johnson, and it is chock full of everything you need to know about the Donner Party story, including a detailed "chronology of events," as well as extremely well-researched biographical information about every known member of the Donner Party.

2. Donner Party Diary. This site is maintained by Donner historian Daniel Rosen. Like the site listed above, it was invaluable to me in developing my account. Several of my posted pictures, mostly of geographic areas of interest, came from Mr. Rosen's website. This website was also my source for quotations from Quinn Thornton's 1849 book on the Donner Party.

3. The Expedition of the Donner Party and Its Tragic Fate. This is an e-book publication of Eliza Donner's book about the Donner Party. Many of the posted pictures of individuals were drawn from this site.

4. Calisphere. This website provided a number of very high quality photographs, particularly the ones of Patrick Breen and his diary.

5. California In-Doors and Out. This is an e-book of Eliza Farnham's 1856 book that discussed the Donner Party, based on interviews with the Breens.

6. History of the Donner Party. This is a late 19th century account of the Donner Party by C.F. McGlashan. As part of his research for this book, he did an extensive interview with Louis Keseberg.

Serene Musings Books of the Year, 2005-2015