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Licona gospel examples III: Over-reading

In this entry and one other (with a short theological digression post in between) I plan to discuss passages in which Licona engages in over-reading in Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? Here I will focus on over-readings connected with chronology.

A note on chronology

One of the oddest aspects of Licona's book is his repeated insistence or strong implication that the Gospel authors are creating a chronological order when they do not have to be taken as doing so. He needs to do this in order to attribute "displacement" to the authors as a compositional device, because he defines "displacement" thus:

When an author knowingly uproots an event from its original context and transplants it in another, the author has displaced the event. (p. 20)

If an author isn't implying that A occurred before B at alI, then even if B occurred before A, and the author knows it, and the author happens to narrate A before B, the author isn't engaging in displacement as defined, since the author isn't changing the context or ordering of the events.

It is a great irony that Licona and his supporters will routinely accuse their critics of anachronism and will imply that Licona has brought great insight to his study from his knowledge of the way that people wrote in the ancient world, yet on the matter of chronology Licona is extremely rigid and, indeed, anachronistic. He implies repeatedly that an author was deliberately writing as if A occurred before B, and thus changing chronological order, when there is no reason to read the author that way in the first place.

Even now, we can find examples of a person's narrating events in a somewhat different order from their occurrence and not intending his narrative order to be taken as chronological order. This (in my experience) more often happens in verbal exposition than in written exposition in contemporary times, and more often in children than in adults. If a child says, "We went to the museum, and we went to the park, and we talked to Jim," you don't get a very good idea of whether these three events happened in the order narrated or not. Further questioning will be required to elicit whether Jim was at the park or the museum (or somewhere else) and whether the visit to the park took place before the visit to the museum. At most, in this sort of "and...and" narration, there is an extremely weak and defeasible supposition that the events took place in the order narrated, but it should be held lightly and readily corrected in light of additional information.

It appears that the ancients did more "and...and" narration than we do, including it even in written, historical documents. This is particularly so when it comes to events that occurred quite close together in time--all on the same day or as part of the same political kerfuffle, etc. I have already pointed out that Licona over-reads Plutarch in order to create a "literary device" of changing chronological order, when it is not at all necessary to read Plutarch as intending to give the impression that he's narrating the events in the precise order in which they occurred. This is truly anachronistic on Licona's part.

Craig Blomberg has a good discussion of this issue apropos of the different orders of the temptations in the wilderness. As Blomberg points out (The Historical Reliability of the New Testament, p. 63), when Luke uses merely the Greek conjunctions kai or de, this need not at all be taken to imply a chronological order. Blomberg even argues that when a Gospel author such as Matthew (who seems pretty fond of tote--"then") uses tote, this word may be used for a logical rather than a chronological order, since this falls within the semantic range of the word, though the word is "more naturally understood" as "presenting a chronological sequence." Concerning the order of the temptations, Blomberg says, "[L]ike so many places in the Gospels...where the order of events varies, at least one of the divergent accounts does not make any claims to being in chronological order."

Similarly, John Wenham discusses the interesting absence of the pluperfect tense in Greek writers. Greek had a pluperfect tense ("this had happened"), but authors seem to prefer the simple past tense. A place where Bible translators take this into account is in Mark 8:14 where a sentence is usually translated, "They had forgotten to bring bread." But in fact the tense is just the aorist--"They forgot to bring bread," and it is narrated after the disciples and Jesus get into a boat. Yet no one seriously thinks that the disciples forgot to bring bread only after they embarked. The pluperfect sense is clearly implied.

We have to remember that first century writers had to work without the help of such modern aids as parenthesizing brackets and that, since Greeks care little about relative time, the use of the pluperfect tense was much less favoured by them than by us. Often in the New Testament the aorist tense needs to be rendered by an English pluperfect. (Easter Enigma, pp. 77-78)

Wenham suggests that this is relevant to Matthew's narration of the resurrection in chapter 28, where he says that the women came to the grave and follows this by narrating that a great earthquake occurred and that an angel came and rolled away the stone. The earthquake and the angel's actions are narrated as simple past, immediately after the statement that the women came to look at the tomb, but Wenham suggests (and some translators--e.g., the NASB--seem to agree) that the order of the earthquake and the angel's rolling away the stone is more naturally understood and accurately expressed by the English pluperfect: "There had been a great earthquake," etc. Wenham adds, scrupulously, "Such a translation, however, exaggerates the element of relative time in a manner alien to the Greek (or, for that matter, Semitic) mind." Wenham then quotes some remarks on ancient historiography (!) from someone named W.E. Brown:

The great historians of the nineteenth century learned to solve their problems by keeping to a chronological order. Such a practice is strictly speaking impossible unless the narration is confined to one person or to one locality...Earlier chroniclers had tackled the difficulty in two ways. Sometimes they incorporated in a single story a number of actions and speeches which had a common theme, not indicating at all the time of the occurrence. Sometimes they jumped back and forward between two or more parallel sequences of events, leaving it to the reader to understand that each item is as it were a flash on a cinema screen. (As quoted in Wenham, Easter Enigma, p. 78)

What all of this means is that we should be very careful about assuming that mere narrative order equals chronological order in ancient documents and therefore should hesitate to attribute a change of chronological order when no chronological order is implied in the first place.

To make things still more confusing, Licona actually coins some useful terminology that ought to prevent him from reading chronological order into a passage where it is not present. He uses the term "floating chronology" for a case where an evangelist does not mean to specify that an event occurred after the event preceding it in the narrative. (p. 190) Precisely! And this could and would dissolve quite a few places (in Plutarch as well) where Licona conjectures or asserts "displacement" or a change in chronology generally. But he doesn't use it for that purpose. An insight into Licona's sparing use of "floating chronology" may come from the fact that, when he introduces the phrase "floating chronology" he gives as an example a place where an author uses what we might call an explicitly non-specific phrase like "on one day" (p. 190). Based on this illustration and on his practice, I conclude that Licona never or scarcely ever attributes "floating chronology" (such a useful term!) to an author except when the author uses some explicitly non-specific phrase like "on a day," "one day," "at a certain time," and so forth. In contrast, when events are narrated and linked by "kai" and "de," he usually takes this to be what he calls "implied chronology," which then gives rise to an unnecessary claim of discrepancy with another account.

Strangely, I suspect that some who read Licona's book may think that in places where he is claiming that the authors changed the chronological order he is merely saying that they are not creating a chronological order at all. Some comments by Craig Blomberg in his review of Licona's book in the Christian Research Journal suggest this confusion concerning Licona's argument. (I have a copy of the review from an editor of the CRJ, but it does not appear to be available on-line. Here is the table of contents of that issue.) Licona's own wording is sometimes ambiguous on this point. This in itself is a flaw and is of a piece with his confusions concerning benign and non-benign compression, which I have discussed before. At other times it is quite clear that Licona is attributing a chronological order and thus attributing a change of chronological order rather than mere narrative order.

Examples of over-reading concerning chronological order

--Luke's alleged "editorial fatigue."

Licona attributes what he calls "editorial fatigue" to Luke concerning Jesus' saying concerning offending the little ones who believe in him and a millstone. (note 46, pp. 243-244) Licona says that we can observe Luke "breaking up tradition and placing portions in a different context," and he instances the comparison among Mark 9:33-49, Luke 9:46-50, and Luke 17:1-2. He then says that Luke shows "editorial fatigue" in chapter 17, because those verses mention "one of these little ones" but there are no little ones "in this context."

What is Licona saying? As near as I can understand, something like this: Luke knew/believed that Jesus made the comment about millstones and offending little ones in a real-world context where there was a little child present, whom Jesus had placed in the midst of the disciples to warn them against pride. Luke recounts the incident of placing the child in the midst of them earlier in his gospel. But he wanted for some reason to "put" the saying about offense and a millstone into a "different context," so he moved it to chapter 17, which was meant to be the "different context." However, he forgot to remove the reference to "one of these little ones" when he did that (hence the idea of "editorial fatigue"), thus failing to erase (as he intended to) all signs of the original, real-world context in which the saying occurred!

To say that this theory is overly complex hardly does justice to its Byzantine nature. (Yet I fear that this sort of thing is all-too-common in NT studies and that Licona has merely picked up the ambience of that discipline.) The most important point to note (go and read Luke 16 and 17 up to about verse 10) is that there is no context for the saying about the millstone and the little ones in Luke 17. These portions of Luke are just part of an un-ordered "sayings" section in the Gospel. "He said," "the apostles said," "now he was saying," etc. Several parables are included and many statements, a few bits of dialogue with the disciples, but with virtually no time-ordering terminology at all. (The nearest thing to a time-ordering indicator from 16:1 through 17:10 is the statement way back in 16:14 that the Pharisees were listening to some things recorded before that and mocking Jesus.)

Even if Luke believed that Jesus made the comment about the little ones and the millstone only once (and it's entirely possible that he made the statement more than once, nor would literal "little ones" have to be physically present for Jesus to make the statement), and even if Luke decided to narrate it along with "a bunch of other stuff Jesus said" in chapters 16 and 17, it doesn't follow that he was putting it in a different context or changing any chronological order whatsoever. Hence, there is no reason to think that he ever intended to erase the "little ones" from the saying and merely left it in by accident because of "editorial fatigue." It's far more plausible that Luke expected his readers to recognize the (fairly obvious) "sayings" nature of a large swathe of his document at this point and hence not to assume that these statements were all made at the same time or at some particular point in Jesus' ministry. Thus, there is no change of context in Luke.

--When did Jesus predict that Peter would deny him?

Matthew and Mark record in extremely similar wording Jesus' prediction that Peter would deny him. Matthew appears to be giving a chronological order at this point, for he says in 26:30, "After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives," and he begins 26:31, when Jesus predicts that all of his disciples will fall away, with "tote"--then. Here (vs. 34) Jesus predicts that Peter will deny him three times. There seems no reason to take this to be a logical sequence rather than a chronological one, so prima facie we can take Matthew to be offering a chronological ordering.

Luke 22:31-34 also portrays Jesus as predicting that Peter will deny him three times, though he doesn't say anything (as Matthew and Mark do) about Jesus' quoting the Old Testament (apparently Zechariah 13:7) about striking the shepherd and the sheep scattering. Luke tells us that Jesus said that Satan has desired to have Peter and that Jesus has prayed for him.

Luke narrates this prediction that Peter would deny Jesus in sequence with other sayings of Jesus prior to narrating their going to the Garden of Gethsemane (vs. 39), but there is no overwhelming reason to say, as Licona does, that the prediction in Luke "occurs before they go to the Mount of Olives" (p. 258, note 161). Luke begins vs. 39 ("And they went out...") merely with the non-committal kai.

John 13:31-37 appears fairly firmly to locate a prediction of Peter's denial during the Last Supper. He begins vs. 31 with "When he [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said..." John also narrates that Jesus said, "Let us go from here" in 14:31 and that they crossed the brook Kidron in 18:1. This has caused many commentators to take the material from John 14:31 through the end of chapter 17 to have been spoken on the way through the city of Jerusalem, or perhaps pausing somewhere on the way, which is quite a natural interpretation. This would still leave the prediction of Peter's denial in the Upper Room before they set out.

Here we should consider the possibility of Jesus' having said similar things more than once on the same night, especially considering the differences in content. Here is Luke 22:31-34:

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” But he said to Him, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!” And He said, “I say to you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.”

Here is John 13:33-38:

"Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered, “Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.” Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.

Here is Matthew 26:31-35

Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, ‘I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered.’ But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” All the disciples said the same thing too.

These are all rather different, each including content that the other does not have. It is not all that implausible that Jesus predicted Peter's denial first to Peter individually shortly after Judas left the room and a little later, after they came to Gethsemane, predicted that all would fall away and be scattered. When Peter again protested that he would never do so even if the rest did, Jesus again predicted that Peter would deny him three times. Luke and John could then be discussing the first of these (each supplying content that the other does not have) and Matthew and Mark the second. Interestingly, Mark 14:31 says that Peter "kept saying insistently" that he would not deny Jesus, which is consonant with Peter's personality and would also be explicable if Peter were frustrated with the fact that Jesus had made this unflattering prediction twice.

I note here that there is a detail in the Matthew-Mark account that dovetails in an undesigned coincidence with John 21, as I discuss in my book: It is only in Matthew and Mark that Peter explicitly contrasts himself with the others, saying that even if they fall away, he will never do so. This is echoed in John when Jesus, after his resurrection, asks Peter, "Do you love me more than these?" John thus accurately remembers a question Jesus asked Peter which is only well explained by a detail found only in the synoptics, since John's account of Jesus' prediction is sufficiently different that he may even be recounting a different statement of the prediction.

Not surprisingly, Licona never considers the possibility of additive harmonization on this point. And, while the divergence in both content and narrative order may (I concede) show that Luke is narrating the instance recorded in John, it is over-reading Luke to insist (as Licona does) that the prediction definitely occurs in Luke at the Last Supper before they leave the room.

Licona's conclusion?

That the evangelists crafted or creatively reconstructed peripheral details on occasion seems likely...It may be that the relative rather than the specific time was remembered when Jesus predicted Peter would deny him thrice and the evangelists felt free to locate it where they thought most appropriate or desirable.

In other words, the evangelists had no idea when Jesus said this in the course of the night but firmly located it at specific times by "crafting" (i.e., making up) the place when it occurred.

I note, too, how this calls into question any notion that any of the authors (such as John or Matthew) might actually have been there on that particular night. Or at least it makes those hypotheses powerless. They do not contribute to the formation of possible explanatory options. The passive voice "was remembered" suggests some vague, corporate memory of the Christian community, reflected in variations in the Gospel accounts, rather than personal memories on the part of either the authors or (in the case of Luke and Mark) those to whom they spoke.

Finally, Licona (needless to say) never considers the possibility that someone may have made an honest error. Suppose that one does not like my suggested additive harmonization, thinking it "strained." Redaction critics are like the Princess and the Pea when it comes to thinking that harmonizations are "strained," but waive that for a moment. John and Matthew seem at least somewhat definite about their time indicators for such a prediction on the night in which Jesus was betrayed, though Luke and Mark are not. Suppose that it really bugs you to think that Jesus may have predicted Peter's denial twice in the same night. What then? Why is it more probable that Matthew and John (who would have been eyewitnesses) had no idea when Jesus said this and just made something up "creatively," putting time indicators on the order even though they had no justification for that ordering, than that they remembered slightly differently when Jesus said it?

--When did the servants of the high priest beat Jesus?

Matthew 26:67 recounts Jesus' abuse by the servants of the high priest. He was beaten and spat upon, blindfolded (as recounted in Mark) and asked to prophesy who had struck him. In a pattern that will be familiar by now, Matthew begins this verse with "tote," usually translated "then," which gives us some reason to take this to be a chronological ordering on the part of Matthew. This would place the beating after Jesus' trial (or one of his trials) before the high priest (or someone known as the high priest, though John indicates that there was more than one such conversation). The parallel text in Mark 16:65 gives only "kai" prior to the beating but narrates events in the same order as Matthew.

Luke 22:63-66, in contrast, narrates the beating prior to Jesus' questioning by the "Council of elders" and their condemning him as a blasphemer. Luke has a time indicator for Jesus' questioning by the "Council of elders"--namely, "when it was day." But there is no time indicator whatsoever for the beating (only the now-familiar "kai" at the outset), and the narration in Luke is quite indefinite as far as time is concerned:

Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking Him and beating Him, and they blindfolded Him and were asking Him, saying, “Prophesy, who is the one who hit You?” And they were saying many other things against Him, blaspheming.

Licona, then, is over-reading when he says,

In Mark 14: 65 // Matt. 26: 67– 68, they beat, spit upon, and mock Jesus after the counsel condemned him. In Luke 22: 63– 65, it is prior to meeting with the counsel. (p. 160)


Luke reverses Mark’s order of Jesus being condemned and the abuse given him afterward, placing the abuse prior to his condemnation. (p. 160)

It is particularly clear here that Licona is attributing chronological change to Luke rather than merely indefinite chronology.

It's also worth noting that there is some ambiguity as to how many times Jesus was questioned by the priests and scribes and who was present. John 18:12-24 explicitly states that Jesus was first taken to Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, and later sent from Annas to Caiaphas. John gives details only concerning (part of) the dialogue from the meeting with Annas. Matthew 26:57 seems to indicate (though even this is not absolutely definite) that the only questioning he relates took place before Caiaphas, and Matthew and Mark's accounts are sufficiently similar that they both appear to be describing this same meeting. Mark does not name the high priest in his account. Which of these was the meeting "when it was day" described by Luke is unclear, since all three (John's account, Matthew and Mark's account, and Luke's) contain dialogue that the others do not have and, except for the parallel passages in Matthew and Mark, leave out the dialogue that the others contain. I have little doubt that at least two of these describe different parts of the same questioning.

In any event, it is quite plausible that Luke, surveying the information at his disposal, was unsure at what point in the whole proceedings Jesus was beaten by the servants of the high priest and hence expressed himself in deliberately indefinite terms so as not to decide the issue. Licona's over-reading leaves this possibility out of account.

Again, predictably, Licona also leaves out any possibility of good-faith error, though here that seems (though more probable than deliberate fictionalization) an entirely unnecessary theory as well.

--When was the veil of the Temple torn?

Since Licona is so clear that Luke reverses the chronological order of events in the previous example (concerning the beating at the house of the high priest), we can use Licona's explicitness there to help to interpret his meaning in another case where he is sometimes less clear: The rending of the veil and Jesus' death.

On p. 160, Licona says,

Luke reverses Mark’s order of Jesus being condemned and the abuse given him afterward, placing the abuse prior to his condemnation. This is similar to his apparent reversal of the order in which Matthew narrates the second and third temptations and when the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom. (emphasis added)

It certainly sounds like Licona is saying that in all three of these cases Luke reverses (that is, changes) the chronological order of events. "Luke reverses the order...placing the abuse prior..." If that is similar to Luke's treatment of the veil of the Temple, then presumably in that case as well Licona takes Luke to be reversing chronological order rather than merely narrating in a different order. Further evidence for this interpretation arises from Licona's treatment of the healing of the blind man/men and the approach to Jericho, which I discussed in the previous post. That incident would have to be (if Luke did what Licona hypothesizes) a fictionalizing change, since Luke is explicit that the event occurred when they were approaching Jericho. Licona is quite explicit that, in doing what Licona claims concerning the healing of the blind man, Luke would not have maintained chronological accuracy:

But in Luke 18: 35, Jesus was approaching Jericho. Various solutions to this difference in Luke have been proposed. If Luke is using Mark as his primary source at this point, which he appears to be doing given the order of the preceding events, he may have preferred to narrate the event prior to Jesus entering Jericho and then include a story unique to Luke about a tax collector in that city named Zacchaeus. Of course, Luke could have narrated Jesus healing the blind beggar after the story of Zacchaeus in order to maintain chronological accuracy with Mark. However, as we have observed elsewhere, chronological precision does not appear to have been very important to ancient biographers, including Luke. p. 134

In other words, if he did what Licona claims, Luke chose not to maintain historical accuracy with Mark.

In his summary concerning that incident, Licona says,

Luke shows a disinterest in chronological precision and inverts events as he does elsewhere...Matthew 27:50-51//Luke 23:45-46. (Emphasis added)

Those references are for the rending of the veil of the Temple.

When Licona actually discusses the crucifixion and Luke's alleged chronological inversion of events, he is surprisingly ambiguous in wording:

Mark 15: 38 // Matt. 27: 51 narrate the temple veil tearing in two after Jesus’s death, whereas Luke 23: 45 narrates its occurrence prior to his death. Perhaps Luke has altered the order in which he presents events in order to change things up slightly. p. 167

This, taken by itself, might merely mean that Licona is talking about an alteration of narrative order rather than chronological order, but in conjunction with the other places where he refers to these verses, it is very plausibly taken to mean that Luke has inverted chronological order.

The ambiguity in the passage on p. 167 is an illustration of Licona's repeated habit of confusing fictionalizing with non-fictionalizing activities on the part of the Gospel authors as well as on the part of Plutarch. In one place he actually claims that Plutarch has engaged in displacement and "even occasionally informs us he has done so" (p. 20), which makes no sense at all given Licona's own explicitly fictionalizing definition of "displacement" and his numerous uses of it to refer to an author's deliberately writing in such a way as to make it look like an event took place at a different time from when it actually took place. I take this to be bound up with the fact that the distinction between fictionalizing and not fictionalizing is insufficiently important to Licona. He repeatedly, explicitly wants to push a fictionalizing literary device as a proper interpretation (or a dichotomy between two such possible devices on the part of different authors), but he doesn't want to admit (perhaps not even in his own mind) that this would be confusing to the reader if the authors did it, nor does he himself use the term "fictionalize." It fits with this deep imprecision and failure to admit the importance of the distinction that Licona occasionally will refer to inversion of events, compression, etc., where he either does not make it clear whether or not he intends to refer to writing that is contrary to fact or where the activity is completely benign and gives no impression contrary to fact. (See the discussion of the "guy version" and "girl version" of a story at minute 13:45 here and my discussion here.)

If we take it that Licona is classifying the rending of the veil as a case where Luke has altered chronological order, we can see that this is a simple over-reading of Luke 23:44-46:

It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, because the sun was obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Having said this, He breathed His last.

While some translations unfortunately start vs. 46 (about Jesus crying out with a loud voice) with the word "then," the Greek is just (you guessed it) kai, which says nothing about chronology. Moreover, Luke seems to be grouping weird events he'd heard about surrounding the crucifixion together in verses 44-45. This is just the old "and...and" narration, not an inversion of events at all.

Something similar is true of Matthew 27:51, which says, "And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom." It is certainly narrated after Jesus dies, but it is grouped with other wonders at the time of the crucifixion (the earthquake and the graves opening), and it would be over-reading to insist that Matthew is making a precise ordering of Jesus' death and the rending of the veil. Indeed, in a world without cell phones, webcams, or wristwatches, it's extremely improbable that the Christians would have known whether Jesus died shortly before or shortly after the rending of the veil, which took place in a different part of the city! Suppose that the Christians learned, perhaps from a convert from the priestly class, about the rending of the veil. What more could he have said than that it happened at "about the ninth hour"? Astonishing enough, but not communicating anything more than that it happened about the time of Jesus' death, an imprecision reflected in both Matthew's and Luke's lack of precise ordering words and in the difference between their narrations.

--When did Peter run to the tomb?

When he is rejecting harmonizations of the events of Easter morning, Licona (pp. 255-256, note 144) places a suggested harmonization in conflict with Luke 24:1-12. The harmonization (or class of harmonizations) in question involves the hypothesis that Mary Magdalene became separated early on from the other women who came to the tomb, that she did not see Jesus when they did, and that she ran to Peter and John to report the empty tomb (and supposed stealing of the body) separately from their coming to the disciples. In that case, given the narrative in John 20, it would seem that Peter and John came to the tomb before the other women spoke to them. (One might go farther and suggest that the other women themselves did not all go back into the city by the same route and that only a further sub-group actually saw Jesus. This would depend on whether or not one decides to try to explain, as I discuss below, Luke's silence on the appearances to the women.)

Luke 24:1-12 does not mention that any women actually saw Jesus that morning, though it's possible that Clopas and his companion, who speak to Jesus on the road to Emmaus, had heard some rumor of such an appearance given their words "him they [the men who went to the tomb] saw not" in vs. 24. Is this supposed to mean that they had heard (but discounted) a story that some women had seen him? That is merely a conjecture. In any event, perhaps Luke did not hear of the appearances to the women. Here is Luke's narrative concerning the women, the angels, and Peter's visit to the tomb:

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” And they remembered His words, and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles. But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings only; and he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened.

One might guess from this passage taken alone that Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and some unspecified other number of women "were telling" these things to the disciples all at once, but by no means is that required by the passage, especially if other information indicates otherwise. As I noted in the previous post, we must be able to combine information and to say, "I learned something" in order to engage in rational historical investigation involving multiple sources.

Luke's words in vs. 10 are actually rather interesting. He seems to be listing a lot of women and their actions in one fell swoop. He says "They were [list] who were telling these things to the apostles." The on-going sense of the word "telling" is there in the Greek imperfect tense.

As for the statement that the disciples didn't believe them, this is unlikely to refer merely to one specific time; the disciples, presumably, continued to disbelieve the women until they had enough additional data to dispel their disbelief. For some of them, this might have been not until they saw Jesus themselves that evening. As Wenham (Easter Enigma, p. 89) points out, the phrase "and the rest" in vs. 9 indicates a generic awareness on Luke's part that a variety of people were informed of what the women had seen. Similarly, if the other nine disciples were not with Peter and John (which one might gather from John 20), it would not have been all at once that the women would have told these things "to the eleven." That might have taken time while they walked to different parts of the city. (Wenham in Easter Enigma suggests that the other nine may have run as far away as Bethany in their fear on Maundy Thursday, but one needn't go this far to think that they were not staying at the same place as Peter and John.)

When it comes to Peter's going to the tomb, the connecting word there is de, which need not indicate chronological order. What verses 1-12 could well illustrate is the high-falutin' (not really) trope of "chunking things in"--in other words, listing a lot of things that happened that morning without attempting to indicate any very specific order. I suspect that this benign concept of "chunking things in" without indicating chronological order is what John Wenham means when he says (p. 89) that Luke "telescopes" the coming of Mary Magdalene to Peter and John with the coming of the other women.

But Licona does not consider the possibility of such mere failure to indicate order. Instead, he takes Luke to be indicating an order and hence to rule out possible harmonizations of the events on Easter morning:

Moreover, it [the harmonizations suggested by Wenham and others] does not square with Luke 24: 1– 12, since Peter ran to the tomb when the women (including Mary Magdalene; vv. 9– 10) made the announcement to the disciples. p. 255, note 144.

In other words, Licona rigidly over-reads Luke to be saying that Peter set out for the tomb only after all of the women had come and reported their experiences. This scotches various harmonizations of Luke with John 20, since those harmonizations have the women returning from the tomb in separate groups, Mary Magdalene coming first to Peter and John, and the other women coming back somewhat later, after Peter and John have already gone to (or at least left to go to) the tomb. Licona's rigidity creates unnecessary conflict and is anachronistic in itself. It involves the usual refusal to learn more about what happened from various accounts and the insistence upon keeping accounts hermetically sealed from one another. One of Licona's conclusions here (as I discussed in the last post) is that John or Matthew has "relocated" the appearance to Mary Magdalene, a rather striking instance of the insistence on only fictionalization scenarios. Even this (especially given NT scholars' penchant for the argument from silence) doesn't explain Luke's failure to mention Jesus' appearances to women. If anything, the conjecture that the women did not all remain together does more work to explain that feature of Luke's narrative, since his primary source might have been a woman who did not see Jesus on that morning.

In rejecting attempted harmonizations concerning Easter morning, Licona says that he is

more persuaded that one or more of the evangelists have creatively reconstructed the events of that watershed Sunday morning and the weeks that followed.

He also quotes Darrell Bock as saying that "literary variation is required to see a fit" among the Gospel accounts of the resurrection.

I note again the oddity that mere, garden-variety, minor human error isn't even on Licona's radar as an historian, even if he insists (unnecessarily) on rejecting harmonization. Everything has to be a literary variation or a creative reconstruction.

So we see once again that Licona's conclusion that there are fictionalizing literary devices in the Gospels is, as in the examples in other posts, driven not by the inexorable demands of specialized evidence but by his own biases against harmonization or even minor good-faith error. In these examples it also stems from a surprisingly rigid and anachronistic insistence on reading chronological order into passages where this is unnecessary. Indeed, though Licona sometimes refers to his special insight in these matters as arising from his knowledge of Greek, it is often precisely from Greek usage that one can see that the accounts have much more flexibility than Licona allows them to have.

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