28 October 2023

Stylometricality (2)

Of course, a lot of water has passed under a lot of bridges since 1986. Kenny might well not still subscribe to everything he wrote in the 1980s; advances in computer studies might have damaged his methodology or his conclusions. But I do vividly remember the unwillingness of 'experts' decades ago even to consider Kenny's conclusions. One such expert was still using the arguments, two decades older than those of Kenny, to dismiss the authenticity of certain New Testament texts. I lent him my copy of Kenny ... when he shamefacedly returned it to me, it was quite clear that he had not read it. When a man has spent an academic career integrating certain assumptions into his thinking, writing, and teaching, it becomes extraordinarily difficult for him to break free from ... to concede, even to himself, the dodginess of  ... what he has assumed. That, essentially, was the fate of Kenny's Study. For much of the academic 'New Testament' establishment, the essential inauthenticity of most of the documents they handle is pretty well a Doctrine of Faith.

Kenny's thesis was not fundametalist; he concluded that the 'Epistle to Titus' was not by the same author as the rest of the Pauline Corpus. The importance of Kenny's thesis was that he was open to evidence; he did not need to reach certain conclusions. He had, long since, ceased to preach or to teach Catholic doctrine!

A final detail, which may intrigue some readers.

What about the 'Letter to the Hebrews'?

Here are Kenny's words: "I have expressed no opinion on the relationship of the Epistle to the Hebrews to the Apostle Paul. I have excluded it from the Pauline corpus simply on the grounds that it does not present itself as being Paul's in the way that the other Epistles do. I was in fact interested to note--as the reader no doubt will have done--the surprising number of features in which it resembles the Pauline corpus. Whether this is to be attributed to Pauline authorship or influence, or something called 'epistolary genre', I express no opinion."

When Kenny refers to "the reader", he is referring to those who have carefully perused the many copious tables in A Study, in which he gives the statistical basis of his analyses of the New Testament writings. There are, indeed, pieces of evidence in those tables which might very well cause a certain unease in the mind of students who may have started off with the standard assumptions concerning the authorship of Hebrews.

Kenny was not the first writer to be less than comfortably convinced that Hebrews is unPauline, As early as 1957, Dr W C Wake had pointed out that its final chapter is remarkably like the ending of a Pauline letter.

We simply do not know the varied circumstances which led to the genesis of each of the New Testament documents. Wise Virgins will, in my view, steer clear of dreaming up their own theories and then insisting that these constructions possess the certainties of eternal Dogma. 

But a gentle, civilised agnosticism on certain historical details is not the sort of thing which a doctoral thesis needs.



Sue Sims said...

As Upton Sinclair pointed out many years ago, "“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Simon Cotton said...

Reminiscent of the view of the theology 'establishment' when John Robinson suggested early dates for the composition of the NT, e.g. Revelation in AD 69-70, in his book 'Redating the New Testament.

Arthur Gallagher said...

I suspect that Kerry is rejected is that he is not hostile to Christianity.
The Holy Bible is part of the Deposit of Faith. Once the Church recognized what was, and what was not canonical, it has been followed as authoritative. Much that was good was excluded, for various reasons, as was some that was bad was excluded too.
It is not compatible with Christianity to decide, after 2,000 years, that we have somehow gotten it all wrong. Which is why I have never been able to see much value in the various kinds of textual criticism that seem to do nothing except spread doubt and loss of faith. Some textual criticism might be good, but only if it contributes to an understanding of what is actually there. As far as whether St. Paul wrote every word, or let his cousin Zeke clean up his writing style, or whoever I might postulate, makes no difference to me. (Imagine a "Zeke Hypothesis", no more absurd than things that are taken quite seriously.)

Ben Whitworth said...

It was my privilege to know the late Dom Bernard Orchard OSB; as a self-taught Biblical scholar with no academic affiliation he was immune to the "orthodoxies" of the discipline. One of his suggestions was that the epistle to the Hebrews was indeed written by St Paul - in Hebrew, naturally - and then translated into Greek by none other than St Matthew the Evangelist. I don't recall all the steps of his argument, but it was connected with his view, based on a patristic tradition, that Matthew initially collected the sayings of Jesus in Aramaic, and only later incorporated them into the Greek narrative of our Lord's life.