Monday, May 25, 2020

Peter vs. Paul?: Baur’s Tübingen Thesis Debunked


By Keith Thompson


Earl Doherty asserts, “The so-called Apostolic conference in Acts 15 has Paul and the apostles in Jerusalem coming to an agreement on the question of Gentile observance of the Jewish Law, yet in Galatians 2 these issues are still unresolved after the meeting (Doherty (2001), 19). Richard Carrier likewise argues Acts attempted to “sell a particular (historically fabricated) account of how early Christianity abandoned the requirement of Torah observance, one that made it seem approved even by Peter all along. . . when in fact we know from Paul (Gal. 2) that Paul was for a long time its only advocate and was merely tolerated by Torah observers like Peter, often contentiously” (Carrier (2014), 362). On this kind of basis, Robert Price likewise mentions the “Paulinists and Petrinists the book of Acts wants to reconcile” (Price (2006), 496).

This is the old Baur Tübingen thesis advanced by German New Testament critic Ferdinand Christian Baur in the 19th century. It states Acts was created by the second century church to reconcile alleged earlier Petrine Jewish and Pauline Gentile factions (which I will argue below did not even actually exist). The idea is Peter and Paul were at odds on Torah-keeping and their opposing Christin factions emerged because of this. Then Acts and other texts were written to make it seem as though Christians got along on the matter all along (See F. C. Bauer, Paul the Apostle of Jesus Christ, (Stuttgart, 1845); cf. idem, “The Christ Party in the Corinthian Community, the Opposition Between Petrine and Pauline Christianity in the most Ancient Church, the Apostle Peter in Rome,” Tübinger Zeitschrift Für Theologie 4 (1831). But this theory has already been refuted (see e.g. Kümmel (1973), 162-184 and Ellis (2003), 87-115 for the history of its rejection and refutation. For modern rebuttals see J. Munck, “The Church Without Factions,” in Paul and the Salvation of Mankind, (London: CM, 1959), pp. 135-167; N. A. Dahl, “Paul and the Church at Corinth According to 1 Cor. 1:10-4:21,” in W. R. Farmer et al (eds.), Christian History and Interpretation, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), pp. 313-335; David Wenham, “Unity and Diversity in the New Testament,” in Ladd (1993), pp. 687-694; L. L. Welborn, “Discord in Corinth: First Cor 1-4 and Ancient Politics,” in Politics and Rhetoric in the Corinthian Epistles, (Marcon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1997), pp. 1-42; C. H. Hill, Hellenists and Hebrews: Reappraising Division within the Earliest Church, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992); Witherington (1998), 240-247; Thiselton (2000), 109-130; Garland (2003), 44-50; Keener (2013), 1249-1260)).

Contrary to the claims of Mythicists, I do not see a contradiction between the Acts 15 council and the Galatians 2 ordeal between Peter and Paul. Yes, in Galatians 2 the Jerusalem Christians and Peter travelled to Antioch keep Kosher, withdrew from the table of the Gentiles, and were interpreted by Paul as trying to “force the Gentiles to live like Jews” (Galatians 2:14). And yes, earlier in Acts 15 it was adjudicated that Gentiles are not under Mosaic Law and that Jewish Christians did not need to keep it for salvation. However, my reading of Galatians 2 is that Peter knew of the Acts 15 adjudication, but made the mistake of temporarily going against it in Antioch, after which he was corrected by Paul. After Peter made the error of withdrawing from the table of the Gentiles to eat kosher with the Jewish Christians (Galatians 2:12-13), Paul called Peter out for hypocrisy (vv. 11-12). It is clear therefore that Peter’s normal mode of conduct was not kosher-keeping, withdrawing from Gentiles, or “forcing Gentiles to live like Jews.” Instead, Peter momentarily engaged in these errors thereby exhibiting “hypocrisy.” In the Greek when one acted with ὑποκρίσει (hypocrisy), the person created “a public impression that is at odds with one’s real purpose or motivation, play-acting. . . outward show” (BDAG, 1038). So, what we see in Galatians 2 is Peter’s outward show or play act at that specific time. And it was out of step with his normal mode or purpose. Paul’s statement that as a norm Peter “live[d] like a Gentile and not a Jew” (2:14) confirms normally Peter (and by implication the other Jerusalem Christians under him) did not keep kosher or, obviously, try to force Gentiles to observe it (if Peter did not normally keep kosher, why would he normally try to force Gentiles to keep it?) Thus, Galatians 2 shows Peter knew of the Acts 15 adjudication of Gentiles being free from the Law and Jewish Christians not being able to be saved by keeping it, that Peter lived by this adjudication normally, that he went against it temporarily in a hypocritical “play-act” manner, and then was corrected by Paul on the issue after which he went back to his normal mode. That Peter and Paul later did missions together in Rome (Ignatius, Letter to the Romans, 4; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.3.2) means Peter stopped being a hypocrite on the issue and instead went on to consistently live by the Acts 15 resolution. Paul would not have done missions with Peter if this were not so. For, these matters of kosher and Gentile law observance were essential gospel or salvation issues for Paul (Galatians 2:14a: “But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel. . .”). Hence, rather than Galatians 2 contradicting Acts 15, I think it shows Peter had knowledge of it and normally lived by it, except at this occasion of hypocrisy or play-acting in Antioch. I am not alone in this reading either (After coming to this view of Galatians 2, I discovered Bruce came to similar conclusions. In F. F. Bruce, “Is the Paul of Acts the Real Paul?,” BJRL (1976), p. 282 he remarked, “Paul's indignation at Peter's withdrawal from table fellowship with Gentile Christians at Antioch was due precisely to his awareness that Peter's conduct did not conform with his inner convictions-that it was, in Paul's words, a piece of ‘play-acting’" (Gal. ii. 11-14)). This correct reading shows Galatians 2 cannot be seen as evidence for the Baur thesis.

Carrier’s view Peter was Torah observant is also refuted by other early materials. We know Peter was not Torah observant but instead a New Covenant observer like Paul. For example, 1 Peter 2:9, which Carrier admits Peter wrote (Carrier (2014), 263), says all believers are priests. This means he believed the priests, Levites and sacrificial system of the Mosaic Covenant were no longer in effect, but that all Christians replaced this system in New Covenant theology. This contradicts the Torah.

The idea Peter and Paul were and remained at odds on this issue, and that their later followers (i.e., the supposed Jewish Petrine Christians and Gentile Pauline ones) existed in sects which survived many decades reflecting such a disagreement only to later be resolved by Acts, etc., is refuted by a number of other considerations as well. The “Hebrews” and “Hellenists” mentioned in Acts 6:1 do not actually evidence such groups as previously assumed (i.e., they were not the doctrinally divided forerunners of the supposed “Petrinists” and “Paulinists” as Baur thought). The evidence instead points to the groups being separated by language but not by doctrine (For a list of the scholars who hold this view, see David Fiensy, “The Composition of the Jerusalem Church,” Richard Bauckham (ed.), The Book of Acts in its First Century Setting, vol. 4, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans, 1995), pp. 234-236). The “Hebrews” were just native Palestinian Jewish Christians who spoke and attended synagogue services in a Semitic language. And the “Hellenists” were merely Jewish Christians who spoke and attended synagogue services in Greek. Many of the Hellenist Jews most likely moved to Palestine from the Greek-speaking Diaspora. Fiensy remarks,

“The Hebrews were of Palestinian origin. Some of them had possibly been pilgrims for the feast of Pentecost and had remained after conversion, but we should expect that most of them were inhabitants of Jerusalem. Likewise the Hellenists could have been in part pilgrims from the Diaspora. The simplest explanation, however, is that most of them came from the ranks of the Greek-speaking Jews of Jerusalem who lived and worshipped in the Lower city, especially in the City of David. This location contrasts with the traditional sites of the Upper Room, both of which are in the Upper City. Thus we should see at least three locations for the activity of the Jerusalem Church: the Upper Room in the Upper City, the Hellenistic synagogues in the Lower city, and of course the Temple” (Ibid., 235).

C. H. Hill’s book Hellenists and Hebrews proves this and also refutes Baur, making the case that “we are not justified in assigning the membership of the early Jerusalem church to Hellenist and Hebrew ideological pigeonholes” (C. H. Hill, Hellenists and Hebrews: Reappraising Division within the Earliest Church, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992), p. 91. In the work he also refutes the idea the idea the Hellenists had a lower view of the Temple. See also the helpful little article by Hurtado for a good summary of the evidence for the position the Hebrews and Hellenists were not at odds doctrinally (Larry Hurtado, “The‘Hellenists’ of Acts: Dubious Assumptions and an Important Publication,”). The only clear evidence of dispute between the Hebrews and Hellenists is in Acts 6:1 which merely concerns Hebrews not properly caring for Hellenist widows in terms of food distribution. But this was quickly resolved and does not prove doctrinal disunity.

There are good arguments Paul and the other apostles / Jerusalem church were instead unified. Hill points out there is no evidence any of Paul’s opponents he dealt with in his letters had authorization from the Jerusalem Church. What is more, that Paul affirmed he received financial collections for the Jerusalem church (Galatians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8–9; Romans 15:25-33) suggests unity between them. Hill’s book covers all the ground and must be consulted by anyone who still believes the Baur thesis. I should also point out in Galatians 1:18-19 Paul stayed with Peter and James in Jerusalem for fifteen days, and in Galatians 2:9 Peter, James and John gave Paul their right hand of fellowship. Would they have done so if they disagreed with Paul on the critical matters of the Law and salvation (i.e., the very gospel message itself)?

After Baur died, the writings of the apostolic fathers began to be authenticated. Thus, when Ignatius mentioned Peter and Paul doing missions together in Rome, even after the Galatians 2 ordeal (Ignatius, Letter to the Romans, 4; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.3.2), and when certain apostolic fathers who were students of the original disciples like Peter and John actually affirmed the apostleship and orthodoxy of Paul, it makes sense to agree with Köstenberger et al when they note, “The Tubingen theory that Peter and Paul were rivals should be viewed as obsolete” (Köstenberger et al (2016), 837 n. 54). Polycarp was a student of John and the other apostles (Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians, 6; Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics, 32; Irenaeus, Letter to Roman Presbyter Florinus; idem Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeus, 3; idem, Against Heresies, Book 3, Ch. 3). Yet, Polycarp affirmed the apostleship and orthodoxy of Paul (Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians 3, 11, 12). If the Jerusalem apostles (Peter, James and John) were at odds with Paul and rejected his doctrine, Polycarp would have known this and would not have affirmed Paul’s authority. Evidence shows Clement of Rome knew the original disciples (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.3). His letter attests he knew of Peter and followed his teachings (Clement, Letter to the Corinthians 5 shows knowledge and acceptance of Peter). In chapters 2 and 11 many scholars believe he even shows knowledge of 1 Peter 2:17 and 2 Peter 2:6-9. Yet Clement affirmed the apostleship of Paul as well (Clement, Letter to the Corinthians, 5, 27). If Peter and his “party” were opposed to Paul and his doctrine, they would have warned Clement or Clement’s immediate predecessors about Paul. Ignatius may have been a disciple of John and an acquaintance of Peter (Martyrdom of Ignatius 1; Eusebius, Church History 3.22; Theodoret, Dialogues 1). Yet, Ignatius also affirms Paul’s credibility (Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians 12).

Baur’s idea 1 Corinthians 1:12 shows there existed parties with apostle leaders and opposing doctrines is incorrect. Without arguing from the text exegetically, Carrier supports this idea (Carrier (2014), 147 and idem, “The Spiritual Body of Christ,” in Price and Lowder (2005), p. 224 n. 302). Price does the same (Price (2003), 56, 187; idem (200), 60). The text says, “each one of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:12-13). Baur claimed according to the text the groups of Paul and Apollos were one and the same, and that the groups of Peter and Christ were one in the same, the latter teaching Law observance for salvation (Baur, “Die Christuspartei in der Korinthischen Gemeinde, der Gegensatz des paulinischen und petrinischen Christentums in der Altensten Kirche, der Apostel Petrus in Rom,” TZ 4.Heft [1831], pp. 61-206). However, Thiselton has shown scholars following Baur here in identifying these groups as parties with opposing doctrines really died down in the middle of the 20th century. Since then academics have not really taken this approach for good reasons involving ancient rhetoric, Greco-Roman education, politics and sophism, etc (Thiselton (2000), 109-110). Better alternatives with stronger evidence have been proposed. So, Price, Doherty and Carrier are relying on an antiquated view.  

If we take the text to mean in Corinth there were actual theological parties at odds with each other doctrinally, then Paul would not exhort people to not follow him and his “party” as he does in v. 13. Elsewhere Paul does exhort Christians to side with him over against actual opponents and groups in his letters (Garland (2003), 50 references Galatians 1:6-9; 2:11; 5:10-12; 6:12-13; 2 Corinthians 11:4, 13-15, 19). This makes it clear actual opposing parties with divergent doctrines are not in view in 1 Corinthians 1:12-13. Many commentators think Paul was, as Quintilian talked about (Quintilian, Inst. 9.2.30), being rhetorical and mockingly caricaturing the Corinthians because of their general individualism apparent in verses 10-11 and the repetitive “I’s” in v. 12 (See Garland (2003), 47-51 for the scholarship establishing this position.). So, in reality there was not anyone actually saying they belong to individual Christian leaders. When ancients were actually sloganeering in political situations in personality-centered ways, people would say “I support so and so,” not “I belong to so and so” which is what we see in 1 Corinthians. “I belong to so and so” is actually the way children would speak (M. M. Mitchell, Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), p. 84). This is clearly a caricature and was not what the Corinthians were actually saying (since they were not literal children). Paul was just saying they were being child-like in their general individualism (Paul also calls them infants in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4. And Paul’s use of hyperbole can likewise be seen in 4:15’s mention of their “ten thousand guides in Christ”). He took such general individualism to its ultimate logical extreme: the mockingly insulting and absurd idea that it is just as absurd as people eventually siding with different influential Christian leaders instead of being united in Christ. Thus, there were no parties in reality (Raymond F. Collins, First Corinthians, (SP: Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1999), p. 73; Garland (2003), 47-48). The parties were just a fictional, rhetorical device for Paul’s argument about the immatureness of general individualism. Garland notes, “This conclusion best explains why in this section Paul addresses not the individual factions but the entire church. It also explains why he never takes on the other teachers. . .” (Garland (2003), 48).

I find this interpretation the most plausible. But even if one rejects it and thinks the Corinthians did form little groups devoted to individual church leaders, there is nothing in the context suggesting doctrinal divisions like Law observance for salvation were involved. S. M. Pogoloff correctly noted, “the smoke of divisions do not necessarily imply the fire of doctrine” (S. M. Pogoloff, Logos and Sophia: The Rhetorical Structure of 1 Corinthians, (Society of Biblical Literature Series 143, Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1992), 100). The only mentions of Corinthian quarreling in the letter are lawsuits (6:1-11) and unruly Lord’s Supper table practices where certain Christians went hungry and others got drunk (11:21). If there were groups fighting about Law observance for salvation (a critical matter for Paul), Paul would have condemned the doctrine and group holding to that as contradicting the gospel, as he did regarding the teaching of his Judaizer opponents in Galatians 1:6-9; 3:1-2, 10; 5:4 (And again there is no evidence these Judaizing opponents had the support of the Jerusalem church). But he did not. The best possible case is the Corinthian factions, if they even existed, were just petty ones based on baptism (as in 1:13-17) and sophist practice. That is, those baptised by Paul sided with him in a child-like manner mimicking the competitive sophist education model of siding with individual teachers even though Paul, Apollos, Peter, and Christ were not in actual doctrinal disunity (See Ciampa and Rosner (2010), 81 for the scholarship arguing for this position). The argument of 1 Corinthians 1:13, on this view, can then be summarized as: “just because you were baptized by me [Paul], does not mean you were baptized in the name of Paul.”

In sum, the idea Acts was created to reconcile Petrine Jewish and Pauline Gentile Christianity is without basis, and Acts does not contradict Paul’s letters on such matters. Moreover, there is no real evidence of doctrinal disunity required for the Baur thesis to work, much less between Petrine and Pauline parties. Thus, the Baur thesis is refuted.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

First Century Jewish and Greco-Roman Literacy


By Keith Thompson


Could Jesus’ disciples read and write? In assessing if they wrote the gospels and epistles attributed to them, this question is of paramount importance. Critics claim first century Jews were illiterate and thus the Jewish disciples could not have written the gospels. Robert Price asserts Acts 4:13 actually teaches the disciples Peter and John were illiterate (Robert M. Price Jesus is Dead, (Parsippany, NJ: American Atheist Press, 2007), p. 230). The text says, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were ἀγράμματοί and ἰδιῶται, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). But here Price is guilty of committing “the false assumption about technical meaning fallacy.” When this exegetical fallacy is committed “an interpreter falsely thinks that a word always or nearly always has a certain technical meaning” (D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2nd edn, 1996), p. 45). Ehrman has also committed the same mistake concerning the verse (Ehrman (1999), 45). The problem is in Acts 4:13 ἀγράμματοί should not be understood in this strict technical sense.

Obviously from a small conversation the Jewish leaders would not be able to discern if Peter and John could read and write. That makes no sense. Instead, what was being said was Peter and John were not formally apprenticed by a rabbi in Jewish law, scripture interpretation and legal opinions. That, on the other hand, could be discerned by a theological conversation. The Jewish leaders referred to lack of advanced study under a Jewish scholar, and also to lack of secondary Jewish education. First century Palestinian Jews were first educated in their homes by learning Torah and literacy. Then they often went to primary school in a synagogue memorizing Torah and reciting liturgy. This school was known as a beth sepher (“house of reading” or “house of the scribe”). Afterwards some went to secondary school at a beth midrash or beth talmud to learn rabbinic commentary on scripture (i.e, midrash) and topically arranged oral law (i.e., mishnah). After this some were then formally apprenticed by a Jewish scholar in exegesis and legal opinion for advanced studies aimed at training future religious leaders (Everett F. Ferguson, Background’s of Early Christianity, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 3rd edn, 2003), p. 112; cf. Deuteronomy 6:7; m. Aboth 5.21; Sirach 51:23; Galatians 1:14; Philippians 3:5; 2 Timothy 3:15; Luke 4:20; Acts 22:3; y. Ketub. 8.32c; b. B.Bat. 21a; p. Ket. 8.11, 32c; b. Sanh. 17; Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius, 210; Josephus, Against Apion, 1.60; 2.204).

That ἀγράμματοί has a broader semantic range than is assumed by Price and Ehrman can be seen in the fact the Greek philosopher Epictetus talked about men who were ἀγράμματοί still nevertheless being able to write (Epictetus, Discourses, 2.9.10). And Plato employed the word with the broader meaning of a lack of general education (Plato Timaeus, 23A). So, the word does not always refer strictly to illiteracy. In light of the aforementioned considerations, most lexicographers and NT scholars who address the issue cast doubt on the interpretation of Price and Ehrman here:

“Acts iv. 13 (i.e., unversed in the Jewish schools)” (Joseph, H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2009), p. 8).

“Some persons have assumed ἀγράμματος in Ac 4.13 means ‘illiterate’ in the sense of not being able to read and write, but this is highly unlikely in view of the almost universal literacy [of Jewish men] in NT times, and especially as a result of extensive synagogue schools. Evidently, ἀγράμματος in Ac 4.13 refers to a lack of formal rabbinic training” (Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Vol. 2, (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1988), p. 239).

“. . .the Sanhedrin was amazed by the scriptural knowledge and courage of the ‘unschooled’ Peter and John (Acts 4:13)” (William D Mounce (ed.), Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, (Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 2006), p. 18).

“theological disputations required rabbinic training. . . . Aγράμματοί. . .here. . .undoubtedly means ‘uneducated’ or ‘unschooled’ in rabbinic training” (Longenecker (1981), 306, 307 n. 13).

“they were not trained as interpreters of Scripture and rabbinic tradition” (Peterson (2009), 194).

“here it means rather ‘uneducated’ in respect to rabbinical training” (Bruce (1988), 94-95 n. 27).

“These terms are probably not meant to be taken literally as though Peter were unschooled and could not write or read” (Robert W. Wall, Acts, (NIB, Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), p. 70 n. 184).

“In view of such texts as John 7:15 and the religious context it probably has a more limited meaning here, namely, one not trained in the Law” (Witherington (1998), 195).

“The term more broadly indicated simply lack of formal education” (Keener (2013), 1154).

“It need not mean ‘unable to read’ but simply that the person lacks a certain level of skills. Kraus (1999) has a careful study of both terms in this phrase. In this context, it is religious instruction that is primarily meant” (Bock (2007), 195).

“To be agrammatos does not necessarily mean to be unable to read” (Evans (2012), 81).

In sum, the Greek terms in Acts 4:13 were not employed to indicate Peter and John could not read or write. Therefore, it cannot be used as evidence the disciples could not have wrote gospels. The dynamic equivalence NLT translation has a great rendering: “they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures.”

Doherty claims “a rough and simple man” like John could not have written the fourth gospel (Doherty (2001), 15). He also claims had Jesus existed he would have been illiterate because he was allegedly a Galilean peasant (Doherty (1999), 245. For refutations of Crossan’s claim Jesus was a Mediterranean peasant see Charlesworth (2008), 94; Witherington (1995), 85-86). Similarly, Carrier claims if Jesus existed, he would have been an “illiterate Galilean” who could not have been responsible for the literarily advanced Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel (Carrier (2014), 465). But the idea first century Palestinian Jews like Jesus and his disciples were illiterate is not supported by the evidence.

Mythicists and other critics frequently cite (e.g. Richard Carrier, Why I Don’t Buy the Resurrection Story; Ehrman, (2012), 47-48) the low literacy estimates put forth by William Harris and Catherine Hezser. Harris estimated a literacy rate of 10-15% for the ancient Greco-Roman world (William Harris, Ancient Literacy, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), p. 328). Hezser affirmed Harris’s statistic and argued Jewish literacy was even lower in first century Palestine (Catherine Hezser, Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine, (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001), pp. 496ff). Harris’s methodology was more of a comparativist approach than an epigraphic or literary one. So, instead of closely examining the relevant epigraphic and literary evidence bearing on the subject, he preferred to come up with conditions he believed were necessary for ancient literacy. Then he examined ancient Greco-Roman society for them and asserted they were found wanting. Yet, the theses of Harris and Hezser have been strongly challenged by scholars (For critiques see Nicholas Horsfall, “Statistics or States of Mind?” in Literacy in the Roman World, ed. Mary Beard (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991), pp. 59-76; James Franklin, “Literacy and the Parietal Inscriptions of Pompeii,” in Beard (1991), 77-98; Eddy and Boyd (2007), 241-243; Harlow Snyder, review of Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine, by C. Hezser, Review of Biblical Literature (2002); and for a good summary of such critiques and others see Michael Owen Wise, Language and Literacy in Roman Judea, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015), pp. 24-36).

As regards early Jewish education and its bearing on literacy, Josephus informs us parents taught children both letters and the Torah: “γράμματα παιδεύειν ἐκέλευσεν καὶ τὰ περὶ τοὺς νόμους” (Josephus, Against Apion, 2.204). Unlike in Acts 4:13, here γράμματα is being used in the strict technical sense of “letters” (i.e., literacy). It is not being used in the broader sense of “learning.” We know this because such child “learning” in the Jewish education context would be the learning of the Law (Josephus, Against Apion, 1.60; Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius, 210; Kent L. Yinger, “Jewish Education,” in Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald (eds.) (2013), 327: “For Jews, God’s Torah was the controlling center of all education, as both Philo and Josephus emphasize). Yet, the learning of the Law is also mentioned in the same sentence as a different aspect of education (νόμους means “laws”). Hence, to avoid redundancy we must interpret Josephus as saying children were taught both letters (literacy) as well as the theological content of the Torah (Bruce N. Fisk thus understands this passage as saying “the law enjoins parents to teach children to read and to know both the laws and the deeds of their forefathers” in Bruce N. Fisk, “Synagogue Influence and Scriptural Knowledge among the Christians of Rome,” in Stanley E. Porter and Christopher D. Stanley (eds.), As it is Written: Studying Paul’s Use of Scripture, (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2008), p. 179). This Josephus evidence is crucial since he was born and raised in Jerusalem and so is reflecting the practice of Jerusalemites and, given his very broad language, most likely those in broader Palestine too (Larry Hurtado, “Greco-Roman Textuality and the Gospel of Mark: Critical Assessment of Werner Kelber’s The Oral and Written Gospel,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 7 (1997), p. 96 n. 15: “Josephus' statements likely reflect cultural values characteristic of first-century Jewish society.”). This is confirmed by another important Jewish work from the late Second Temple period called The Testament of Levi which exhorts Jewish parents to “teach your children letters, that they may have understanding all their life, reading unceasingly the law of God” (The Testament of Levi, 13.2). What is more, 4 Maccabees 18:9-19 indicates average Jewish men were able to read the Law and the prophets to their children.

Josephus’ Life further demonstrates common first century Galilean men could read and write. In Life, 46 he wrote, “Jonathan and his partners . . . took counsel together by what means they might attack me. John's opinion was, that they should write to all the cities and villages that were in Galilee; for that there must be certainly one or two persons in every one of them that were at variance with me, and that they should be invited to come to oppose me as an enemy.” Life, 55 then says, “And as they were discoursing thus, they produced four letters, as written to them from some people that lived at the borders of Galilee, imploring that they would come to their assistance.”

The first century Palestinian pseudepigraphal work 4 Ezra contains a crucial passage bearing on the literacy of the Palestinian population Hezser neglected. It makes little sense if we assume the author and audience believed Palestine was around 90 percent illiterate as Hezser claims. 4 Ezra 14.45 says, “Make public the twenty-four books that you wrote first and let the worthy and the unworthy read them.”

In the Mishnah the first century Rabbi Akiba indicated it was common for storekeepers to write on ledgers as a way to keep track of credit borrowing (m. Aboth. 3.16). First century Jewish males knew the ancient sages exhorted them to “study the words of the Torah” as opposed to engaging in too much conversation with women (m. Aboth 1.5). In fact, Hillel said “whoever does not study the Torah deserves death” (m. Aboth 1.13). Rabbi Shammai also said, “Make your study of the Torah a matter of established regularity” (m. Aboth 1.15). These kinds of instructions help establish broader literacy rates among first century Jews.

In m. Aboth 5.21 and 1QSa 1:6-8 of the Dead Sea Scrolls we read of early systems of Jewish religious education for children. In y. Ketub. 8.32c Simon ben Shetah (100 B.C.) commanded all Israelite children to go to school. The traditions in b. B.Bat. 21a, p. Ket. 8.11, 32c, and b. Sanh. 17 affirm the existence Jewish schools for children in Palestine from the first century B.C. to the second century A.D. Hezser claimed the rabbinic literature supports the idea first century Palestinian Jewish education involved reading but not writing (Hezser (2001), 89). However, this position is refuted by the existence and content of the first century Jewish and Christian literary sources we do possess. Hezser neglected this evidence (see below the passages from them bearing on population literacy). Her position also contradicts what we know about the education processes of the larger Greco-Roman world and what papyri from Greco-Roman Egypt tell us about education (writing was involved in both systems). Although the rabbi’s who actually comment on the matter failed to mention writing being part of education, Greco-Roman authors sometimes did too, even though we know their Greco-Roman education involved writing (Wise (2015), 30-31).

Sectarian Dead Sea Scroll documents dating from the first century B.C. to the first century A.D. also have passages bearing on the literacy of the Palestinian population. The War Scroll commands that an incredibly large amount of writing (e.g. slogans, prayers, names, etc.) be inscribed on a large quantity of war trumpets, banners, and shields for an anticipatory eschatological battle. Many people would have to be involved in such a massive literary project. Moreover, The Rule of the Community 1QS 7.1-3 says, “Anyone who speaks aloud the M[ost] Holy Name of God, [weather in . . .] or in cursing or as a blurt in time of trial or for any other reason, or while he is reading a book or praying, is to be expelled, never again to return to the party of the Yahad.” The Qumran document 4QMMT affirms writing-skills among young Jewish disciples of teachers (ancient disciples were very often teenagers). For, it contains notes of rulings of an unnamed authority (Alan Millard, “Literacy in the Time of Jesus - Could His Words Have Been Recorded in His Lifetime?,” Biblical Archaeological Society, (July/August 2003)).

The existence of the Dead Sea Scrolls themselves also establishes high literacy among first century Palestinian Jews. These documents were not composed by some isolated, small group. We have uncovered over 930 manuscripts, they lack signatures of scribal schools, there are five different scripts, over 500 individual hands, over 350 extrabiblical writings, over 210 manuscripts of scriptural books, and certain scrolls are not as well-written as others (Wise (2015), 32-33. There was continued copying of both scripture and extrabiblical material, as well as production of many new materials (Alan Millard, “Literacy in the Time of Jesus - Could His Words Have Been Recorded in His Lifetime?,” Biblical Archaeological Society, (July/August 2003)). There is no reason to separate this evidence of high literacy from the practice of broader first century Palestine. Hezser’s assumption these documents were produced by a small sect (Hezser (2001), 426) on the shores of the Dead Sea is based on antiquated and incorrect scholarship. Quantity, diversity, and internal studies instead suggest the documents come from different towns and villages in Palestine, thus demonstrating the Qumran material is but a “cross-section of what existed, a glimpse into the broader literary culture of late Second Temple Jewry” (Wise (2015), 33-34; Evans (2012), 74: “analysis of the scribal hands has shown that most of the scrolls were composed elsewhere in Israel and then brought to Qumran”). Wise et al explain in their translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls how an important document helps confirm this: “According to the standard model . . .this work [“The Rule of the Community” in 1QS] is supposed to have governed a community living in Qumran. But this idea is at least partly wrong; the work itself refers to various groups or chapters scattered throughout Palestine. Therefore it did not attach specifically to the site of Qumran. . . . This text does not merely reflect a small community living there” (Michael Owen Wise et al (trans.), The Dead Sea Scrolls, A New Translation, (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2005), p. 113). Indeed, Josephus informs us the Essenes settled in large numbers in many Palestinian villages (Josephus, War of the Jews, 2.124; Cf. Philo, Every Good man is Free, 75-76). Dunn notes: “. . .Qumran was only one branch of the Essenes and that the other Essene groups lived in various towns, including possibly Jerusalem. And the disparity of the material in the scrolls is becoming steadily clearer, with only some representative of the Qumran community’s own beliefs, and probably the Covenant of Damascus (CD) representative of the more widely dispersed Essenes” (Dunn, (2003), 271-271). Thus, the Qumran writings show Jews from around Palestine wrote a lot of material.

As regards Jesus, in synoptic tradition he was said to read from an Isaiah scroll in Luke 4:17-20. Also, to debate biblical interpretation with literate scribes and Pharisees, one had to at least have home and beth sepher education which involved reading and writing (Josephus, Against Apion, 2.204; The Testament of Levi, 13.2; m. Aboth 5.21). As a tax collector (Mark 2:14; Matthew 10:3; Luke 5:27), Matthew required the skill of literacy. He needed education in accounting and literacy for managing his records. Tax collectors wrote notes on pinakes as part of their job, as well as receipts and registers (On the use of pinakes among tax collectors see Alan Millard, Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus, (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), p. 28. On the use of both shorter and longer detailed receipts among tax collectors see Mark D. Roberts, Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), pp. 115, 165 n. 19; Roberts mentions the Elephantine and Egyptian ostraca receipts, and the papyrus receipt P.Oxy. 51:3609). Peter and John were fishermen (Mark 1:16, 19; Matthew 4:18, 21; Luke 5:2-4, 10). This trade likewise required the ability to read and write. As businessmen they had to deal with tax collectors, toll collectors and business records (J. A. L. Lee, ‘Some Features of the Speech of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel’, NovTT 27 (1985), pp. 1-36, esp. p. 6; Ben Witherington, Bart Interrupted: Part Four). As a physician (Colossians 4:14; The Muratorian Canon, The Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Luke) Luke had to study medical works during his education and write reports on injuries and deaths for law-enforcement and slave owners. This was a common practice of ancient doctors (Roberts (2007), 117). That Paul was a former Pharisee means he was literate. In texts like Mark 2:25-26 the Pharisees are asked “have you not read . . . ?“ We have evidence ancient Jewish and Gentile disciples, including first century ones, took written notes of their master’s teaching (e.g. 4QMMT; p Maas 2.4; b Men 70a; b Shab. 6b, 96b, 156a; b Bab. Mes. 92a; b Hul. 60b; b Shab. 89a; p Kil. 1.1; Quint. Inst. 11.2.2, 25; Sen. Ep. Lucil. 108.6; Arius Didymus. Epit. 2.7.11k; Lucian Hermot. 2). This of course demands literacy of young disciples of rabbis which is what Paul was when he trained to be a Pharisee under Gamaliel (Galatians 1:14; Philippians 3:5; Acts 22:3). This applies to Jesus’ original disciples as well.

Although Zechariah lived in the rural hill country of Judah (Luke 1:39-40), concerning his son in Luke 1:63, he still nevertheless “asked for a writing tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’” Mark 10:4 indicates it was common for men to be able to write divorce certificates in first century Palestine (We have some examples of ancient divorce certificates from this time. They were a somewhat lengthy paragraph long. See e.g. m. Git. 9 and papyri BGU 1103 in C. K. Barrett (ed.), The New Testament Background: Writings from Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire that Illuminate Christian Origins, (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1987), p. 41). The Parable of the Shrewd Manager in Luke 16 is an early pre-Lukan “L” tradition. It shows it was normal to assume common debtors could read and write (Luke 16:5-7). John 19:20 says many Jews read a titulus inscription placed near Jesus’ cross. The fact this inscription was created for the masses assumes commoners in Jerusalem were expected to be able to read it (cf. Mark 15:26; Matthew 27:37; Luke 23:38). In fact, it was most likely created as a warning to potential and actual disciples of Jesus (Evans (2012), 81). In the context of the Jerusalem Council, Acts 15:19 assumes early Jewish Christians could write letters. 2 Corinthians 3:14 states first century Jews read the OT. In Acts 8:30-35 a Galilean disciple named Philip (Mark 3:18; John 1:43) was able to read and interpret the OT better than an educated Ethiopian. Now, even if one is skeptical about the historicity of some or all of these accounts, the first century authors of them still nevertheless show knowledge of a certain literacy climate of first century Palestine that should not be overlooked by the historian. What is more, the very existence of the numerous Palestinian gospels and epistles of the NT demonstrate lots of writing took place among first century Jewish Christians. Luke’s prologue also mentions other written Jewish-Christian accounts created prior to his gospel (e.g. probably works like Q, M, L, etc.). Also important to note is how the hundreds of OT, apocryphal, and pseudepigraphal quotations and allusions in the NT presuppose its Jewish-Christian church audience was widely literate and well-read in those sources to be able to detect them.

As regards the alleged low literacy rates of the broader Greco-Roman world, since at least Luke-Acts was written by a Gentile convert to Judaism (See Carson and Moo (2005), 206; Koester (1982), 310), a number of points need to be made. We know preliminary education in the home was common. This involved literacy education and literate slaves often assisted (Ben Witherington, “Education in the Roman World,” in Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald (eds.), (2013), 189-190; Aune (2010), 143). We have also uncovered large amounts of graffiti inscriptions in Pompeii. Many of them were inscribed on the sides of various buildings (large and small). They were created by commoners like soldiers, weavers, gladiators, prostitutes, labourers, passersby and barmaids (Franklin, “Literacy and the Parietal Inscriptions of Pompeii,” in Beard (1991), 77-98; E. Randolph Richards, “Reading, Writing, and Manuscripts,” in Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald (eds.) (2013), 347-348). This kind of evidence from Pompeii is preserved for us because of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius which occurred in A.D. 79. It buried Pompeii and some other nearby villages in volcanic ash leaving us with lots of evidence bearing on population literacy (Craig Evans, Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence, (London: SPCK Publishing, 2012), pp. 67-73). Commenting on this kind of data, Franklin noted, “The vivacity and sheer mass of the evidence suggests a widely literate population” (Franklin, “Literacy and the Parietal Inscriptions of Pompeii,” in Beard (1991), 81). We also have many public campaign posters and shipping labels from the ancient Roman world indicating higher literacy rates among the lower classes (Ibid., 77). Roger Bagnall’s recent work on other graffiti discovered in ancient Smyrna and additional written evidence led him to conclude the idea there was only a small literate elite is mistaken (R. S. Bagnall, Everyday Writing in the Graeco-Roman East, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011)). He explicitly rejects Harris’s low literacy estimates because of such evidence. The large amount of ancient legal deeds, inscribed potsherds, personal letters, writings on coins and pottery jars, divorce certificates, supply notes, and ossuary inscriptions demonstrate a much higher literacy rate among Greco-Roman ancients than what has been assumed, including ancients from Palestine (Millard (2001), 168; Idem, “Literacy in the Time of Jesus - Could His Words Have Been Recorded in His Lifetime?,” Biblical Archaeological Society, (July/August 2003)). On the Vindolanda evidence, Larry Hurtado notes, “there is the cache of wooden writing-tablets found at Vindolanda, a Roman fort near Hadrian’s Wall (which date to ca. 90–120 CE). Described as ‘by far the most important and coherent body of material for the study of literacy in the western part of the early Roman Empire’, the texts include ‘military documents and reports, accounts of cash and commodities. . . large numbers of personal letters, the occasional literary text and the earliest known examples of Latin shorthand’, several hundred individual hands are represented and a variety of types of writing (cursive, capitals and shorthand)” (Larry Hurtado, “Oral Fixation and New Testament Studies? ‘Orality’, ‘Performance’ and Reading Texts in Early Christianity,” New Testament Studies, 60, (July 2014), p. 332 citing A. K. Bowman, “The Roman Imperial Army: Letters and Literacy on the Northern Frontier,” in A. K. Bowman and G. Woolf (eds.), Literacy and Power in the Ancient World, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. 109-110). An ancient Hellenistic building discovered in 1999 at Tel Kedesh in upper Galilee contained over 1,800 clay bullae used to seal and identify documents. This find demonstrates “that even in settings where literacy references are relatively scanty, in comparatively rural north Galilee, there is in this collection of 1,800 bullae evidence of considerable written interchanges, with different places and cultures, concrete evidence of the archiving of written documents, and the necessary assumption follows that numerous people in such situations must have been well acquainted with the material elements of reading and writing” (Peter M. Head, “A Further Note on Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus,” EQ 75:4 (2003), p. 344 ). That grammatical texts begin to appear in the first century A.D. shows a larger number of people than before were advancing past elementary education (Larry Hurtado, “Oral Fixation and New Testament Studies? ‘Orality’, ‘Performance’ and Reading Texts in Early Christianity,” New Testament Studies, 60, (July 2014), p. 331). One could also mention the half a million documents retrieved from the ancient city of Oxyrhynchus and the massive libraries in ancient Alexandria and Ephesus which entertained and educated the people, each housing tens of thousands of volumes (Evans (2012), 65). In light of all the evidence, I am convinced the low literacy rates of Harris and Hezser must be rejected. After an honest examination of this material, their low estimates begin to indeed appear quite dubious. Also dubious, then, is the erroneous implication Jesus’ disciples must have likewise been illiterate and thus unable to pen gospels and epistles. Brian J. Wright’s recent work on ancient communal reading events also helps demonstrates first century Jewish, Christian and Greco-Roman literacy was very high (Brian J. Wright, Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus: A Window into Early Christian Reading Practices, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2017), pp. 61-232). In fact, reviewers identify the work as “seminal” and because of how ground-breaking it is, they even call for a paradigm shift or entire revision on ideas about population literacy.