Jesus and Anacreon: The Gospels as Copy ExercisesExcerpt:
Looking for the “origin” of a gospel is bit like looking for the body of Jesus in the tomb on Easter morning: it was here just a minute ago.
By R. Joseph Hoffmann
I mention Anacreon because he stands at the beginning of a long tradition of preservation through imitation. In a 1958 collection of his work by Bruno Gentili (Rome, Edizioni dell’ Ateneo) the editor for the Classical Review of that year complained that at least 37 of the poems included as genuine–based on his assessment of vocabulary, testimonia, and metrics–were not authentic and should be moved to an appendix or to the nearest dustbin. There is even a suggestion that the editor tried to smuggle some very obviously non-anacreonic verse into the edition because he thought they were “pretty”—for shame.Interesting.
What everyone knows about classical tradition, however, is that Anacreon’s name, reputation, style and prestige is preserved through the art of literary imitation. –Through copying.
New Testament scholars are very much more familiar with classical civilization than they used to be. So much so that biblical studies on the New Testament side has matured enormously in the twentieth and early twenty-first century from the parochial theological discipline it was in the nineteenth. But at a programmatic level, it needs to scrap the idea of authorial attribution completely and to acknowledge that the production of New Testament gospels, at least in the case of the synoptics, was an anacreonic process—a process of imitation, based on the desire to imitate and enhance rather than merely to produce or propagate an original. Admirers of the Jesus-story were using a prototype for copy exercises. Whose story it was is of no importance, and remains of no importance well into the second century.