Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Hermas and the Shepherd

One of the interesting blogs in my blog roll is Mike Heiser's Two Powers in Heaven which deals with ancient Jewish binitarian theologies and how they were taken up in Christianity. Just after Gregorian Easter/Pascha he put up a post linking to two articles by Bogdan Bucur from Marquette University. One of these, The Son of God and the Angelomorphic Holy Spirit: A Rereading of the Shepherd’s Christology, especially caught my eye given the brief discusion of the Shepherd of Hermas on an earlier post of mine here. The discussion was actually about the Muratorian Fragment and its dates and I'll quote what I had to say then:

It traditionally has been placed around those dates, primarily due to its disparagement of the Shepherd of Hermas: 'But Hermas wrote the Shepherd (74) very recently, in our times, in the city of Rome, (75) while bishop Pius, his brother, was occupying the [episcopal] chair (76) of the church of the city of Rome.' Albert Sundberg challenged the dating of the MF on the basis back in the 1960s and again in an article in 1973. In the '90s Geoffrey Hahnemann wrote a detailed monograph arguing that the MF was better placed in the 4th century in the East rather than 2nd century Italy as the text implies. Certainly the Shepherd had a very high standing in the early church, Irenaeus (as early as c. 175 CE), Clement of Alexandria and Origen regarded it as scriptural which would call into doubt such a late date of composition. According to my edition of the Apostolic Fathers, the date of the Shepherd is hard to establish and has been dated by some scholars to the 70s or 80s of the 1st century. It has closest parallels to the similitudes/parables of 1 Enoch which I would regard as not suporting the MF's claimed date of composition either. THe MF could be regarded as attempting to discredit the Shepherd.

Sundberg and Hahnemann argue that the MF belongs in 4th or 5th centuries as these are precisely the centuries when canonisation was taking place. THe Shepherd was still in high standing then and was included in the New Testament of Codex Sinaiticus. It also appears to have been part of the Ethiopian canon for a long time too.

Of course, many scholars have not accepted the arguments of Sundberg and Hahnemann with the net result that there is now no consensus when it comes to the dating of the MF. I myself incline to the later date just as I also incline to an earlier date for the Shepherd, or at least substantial sections of it (my edition of the Apostolic Fathers reports arguments that it is a composite of an older 1st century text and later 2nd century text, although not as late as the MF would infer).

I'm actually not going to talk much about Bucur's essay on the Shepherd but he made a couple of points which I thought I'd follow through. Given that my edition of the Shepherd postulates it as a composite text, I especially noted Bucur's observation that: "In submitting to the current scholarly consensus, I assume that the Shepherd of Hermas is a unitary text from the early decades of the second century" [p.121]. Then in a footnote he adds:

The thesis of multiple authorship, epitomized in W. Coleborne’s proposal to distinguish seven sections of the work, and six authors, all written before the end of the first century (The Shepherd of Hermas: A Case for Multiple Authorship and Some Implications, StPatr 10 = TU 107 [1970] 65–70) has been discarded today in favor of more attentive consideration of the Shepherd’s stylistic particuliarities. See the firm conclusion of Brox, Hirt (see n. 3), 32–33. Osiek has argued convincingly that the Shepherd’s “loose structure” is the result of the constant reshaping of the text in the course of oral proclamation (Shepherd [see n. 1], 13a.15b). This new approach to the text has immediate implications for the problem of dating. While the scholarly consensus seems to have settled around the year 140, with a tendency towards the earlier part of the second century (Osiek, Shepherd [see
n. 1], 2 n. 13; for a survey of opinions, see Brox, Hirt [see n. 3], 22–25), Osiek concludes on “an expanded duration of time beginning perhaps from the very last years of the first century, but stretching through most of the first half of the second century” (Shepherd, 20b). Leutzsch (Einleitung [see n. 1], 137) proposes the interval 90–130. A late first-century date of 80–100 is hypothesized by J.C. Wilson, Toward a Reassessment of the Shepherd of Hermas: Its Date and Pneumatology, Lewiston, N.Y. 1993, 60. However, this proposal stands on shaky ground, since the considerations on which it is based are themselves debated issues: the early development of monarchic episcopate in Rome, the Shepherd’s relationship to Hebrews (and implicitly, the dating of Hebrews), and the existence
of certain echoes of persecutions in the text. [121-122]

I was intrigued by Osiek's notion that "the Shepherd’s “loose structure” is the result of the constant reshaping of the text in the course of oral proclamation." I immediately thought of the Gospels as well as Revelation. And so I'm currently reading Osiek's commentary on the Shepherd of Hermas, which fortunately was in the UQ Library.

If we were Christians of the 2nd 3rd or even 4th centuries we would have regarded the Shepherd as scripture, counting it as part of the New Testament which of course those centuries was much more fluid and larger than it is today. The 4th century Codex Sinaiticus, one of the earliest complete Christian bibles ends the New Testament with the Shepherd which follows Revelation and Barnabas. The popularity of this text is attested by not only its inclusion in Codex Sinaiticus or its approval by such as Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Cyprian of Carthage, Hippolytus of Rome, Origen and, for a time, Tertullian (his attitude changing when he embraced Montanism) but also by the sheer variety of manuscript evidence. As well as Latin and Greek versions, Osiek relates that it has also been found in various Coptic versions, Ethiopic (it might also have been part of the Ethiopian New Testament for a time), Georgian and Middle Persian versions (the latter two translated from a lost Arabic version).

The Shepherd is counted as an apocalyptic text. Certainly the text recounts a variety of visions Hermas experienced, initially of a woman, identified as the Church and then for the greater part of the book by the angel of repentance or the shepherd. Again while apocalyptic, the Shepherd's emphasis is on Christian life in the here and now specifically of Hermas' time. In that sense it is more like John's Revelation which, despite its endtimes focus, is concerned with events happening in its own day. Both the Shepehrd and Revealtion are different to such texts as the Apocalypses of Peter, Paul etc which have a focus on the afterlife, heaven hell and the punishments of sinners after death. Neither the Shepherd or Revelation are interested in such otherwordly dramas. Interstingly too both the Shepherd and Revelation are confident with being prophecy in the present, the revelators are John (of Patmos) and Hermas (presumably of Rome). The later Apocalypses, like the older Jewish prophetic texts invest themselves in the authority of times past, the Apocalypses in the apostolic autority of figures such as Peter and Paul (or the Sybil), the Jewish prophetic texts in such ancient prophetic figures such as Enoch, Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Daniel, Ezra, Baruch etc. But not so Revelation or the Shepherd. The figures behind them are the contemporaries of their audiences. Indeed, I think that Revelation, the Shepherd and maybe the Odes of Solomon (given that many of the Psalms were understood in the Jewish world as prophetic utterances of David) should be understood as examples of ancient Christian prophecy. Both John and Hermas speak on their own authority, the authority of their experience. The Odes were only later attributed to Solomon, perhaps because they circulated in combination with the Psalms of Solomon. The Odist never claims identity with anyone with the exception of Christ. So while anonymous there is a rather daring audacity to the Odist. At the SBL last year in Auckland I went to a presentation on the Odes at which the 'problem' of the uncertainty of whether the Odist speaks in Christ's voice or their own voice was discussed. I suggested that it might be deliberately ambiguous , a deliberate blurring f Christ and the Odist/speaker, but the presenter and others wouldn't countenance it. I however remain confident that the ambiguity in the Odes is deliberate and expresses the prophetic authority of the Odist (an authority in which the text's audience might even be able to share) but more on that another time.

But for now I'm reading Carolyn Osiek's Commentary with the translated text of Hermas and finding it quite fascinating. It is a better translation than the others I have and I find I'm quite engaging with this text. Osiek's Commentary is also a marvellous guide. I have already been struck by various features of the Shepherd and I think it a text should be more widely known. Indeed, I think it should go back into the New Testament. But I'll leave it here for now. Expect some more posts in the Shepherd in the near future

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