This is the website of the Rev Dr David G. Palmer, Methodist Minister and Architect.
NEWS ITEM: his latest multiple-publication is now available, THE FOUR GOSPELS IN FOCUS, VIEWED THROUGH THE LENS OF HELLENIST (ANCIENT) RHETORIC
ON THE FRONT BOOK COVER IT STATES THIS IS ‘A TOTALLY UNEXPECTED DISCOVERY, REVEALING THE SECRETS OF CENTURIES’
The opening book addresses the key Literary Issues of the Four Gospels.
The accompanying books, in turn, present the Four Gospels of MARK, MATTHEW, LUKE and JOHN in both Literal English and Ancient Greek, fully parsed and rhetorically analysed in the way that any reader would have prepared them for reading in the first and second centuries AD.
These presentations of the Gospels are needed to end the abuse to which they have been subjected over the centuries. The texts have been the slaves to every whim and mean idea of academe and the church, but they can now be freed to be what they were always meant to be. Free at last: the texts, the studies, the sermons, the church’s teachings, Sunday congregations, church rulings… The list is long! Readers can now know a whole lot more of what there is to know about this literature.
Because of this literary study, the gospels reveal their ‘secrets’:
• we can now identify the gospel writers’ common writing style • we can locate with pinpoint precision the original divisions of these gospel texts • we can define whole book structures • we can jettison ‘chapter and verse’ and use the books’ own self-referencing systems • we can establish the leading ideas of the gospels and the purposes behind them • we can see features and characteristics of the texts that will amaze, like the meaning and role of ‘153’ • we can reconstitute/critically restore original texts • we can now read, teach and preach the books as their writers always intended • we can treasure the gospels as ‘first-century’ creeds in story-form, and • we can see how the gospels keep an open door to future developments.
For thirty-six years, Dr Palmer has been pointing the Church and New Testament scholarship in the direction of the reading methodology they have never had, but always needed. He hopes and prays that they will take notice now.
THE RHETORICAL TABLE OF THE NEW TESTAMENT represents a summary of Dr Palmer’s research contribution to both academia and the church. It can be found on this website in the blog of 10th May 2019. The fifth edition of his book, New Testament: New Testimony to the Skills of the Writers and First Readers (April 2016), presents the chart/the table in an earlier form. Further work since that date has meant that revisions have been needed which are now available. Further, the five books referred to above introduce (helpful) literal English translations that were only completed this year. Dr Palmer says, ‘Without knowledge of the New Testament’s Rhetorical Table and an understanding of the writers’ obedience to the writing rules and practices of their era, all reading is otherwise haphazard, inappropriate and inept and unacceptably unrepresentative of the writers’ intentions.
To read an earlier paper on the Rhetorical Table, click on my blog page.
Dr Palmer had tried his hand at youtube presentations; you can access these at www.youtube.com/user/DAVIDGPALMER
NEWS ITEM: Prompted by the success of a recent exhibition tour of Great Britain, a permanent exhibition has been set up. It is open to the general public. The notice reads:
Daily, from 10am-10pm
The New Testament, but not as you know it: an Exhibition in Art
in the former ‘Cottage Inn Club Room’, 46 Regent Street, Church Gresley, DE11 9PL
View amazing and exciting new discoveries about the New Testament texts and learn how to read them, not as the church and academe do, but as the writers always wanted you to!
Free Entry to all, but only by prior arrangement.
Welcome to this Website which is promoting a reading of the New Testament Books that is faithful to what was intended by their writers, who knew and observed the rules of Ancient Rhetoric.
This Website introduces such consideration; summarizes the literary structures and styles of all twenty-seven ‘books’ of the New Testament (a feat which appears not to have been attempted before); posts papers on rhetorical analysis and ‘parsing’; and offers for sale the site author’s publications: books, CD-ROMS, charts and artworks.
WHY is there a need for a website like this?
It is needed because few people today are paying proper attention to how they are reading the New Testament Books! Included in this are church leaders, preachers and even biblical scholars!
1) Throughout the world, as through the generations, people are reading translations, (mostly of other translations). We are not reading the original Greek. We rely on translators to do the work, but they are not and have not been equipped to do it! Yes, they have translated words and phrases. But there’s more to a translation than that, as they indeed know. Besides clauses and sentences, there are paragraphs and sections to define, as well as the editorial titles to give to such in every text. There is order in every NT book and they have failed so far to spot this!
2) The Chapters and Verses (divisions) of New Testament texts help, yes, in locating a verse of text, for everyone to find it simultaneously, but they do not, in any way consistently, help a reader today to discern the actual divisions in the texts that were put there by the writers/rhetors. In other words, they mislead!
3) Sunday readings (of the scriptures) in services of public worship, especially in the Episcopal churches that are required to follow lectionary schemes for the portions of gospel and epistle to be read at, at least two, services per Sunday, are rarely those that their writers themselves would have agreed to! The readings begin and end in all kinds of places and create great confusion. And, of course, most readings are far too short anyway.
4) Sunday sermons are built on lectionary readings, but in practice few sermons are of an expository or exegetical kind. Most don’t draw out what is there in the text, or what the writer meant by writing what he did. Rather sermons are iso-getical: preachers read into the text, or bring to the text, all manner of their own ideas! At best, the readings provide a hook (or hooks) on which the preacher can hang anything at all!
5) Given then that there is a case for banning sermons and readings from the Bible on Sundays in church services, what then of weekday or Saturday reading? In group study, courses of bible study, in lectures, in commentaries, so often much effort goes into all manner of close detail, but so little goes into understanding the whole work. The writer’s reason for writing what he does, the structure he uses for his work (has invented, or has adopted) and how it relates in the canon of scripture to similar work: these things are so very important to the understanding of Christianity and the reason why, in every generation, church leadership should employ only a light touch in organizing people’s belief.
What is there to know about the New Testament Books?
1) Whether it is one of Paul’s early letters of the 50’s, or a gospel of the 70’s and 80’s, or a later letter, or apocalypse, of the 70s to 100s, each New Testament Book has a structure. It was one of the rules of Ancient Rhetoric. If you had something to say in the first centuries, BC and AD, and really wanted to get it across convincingly, you would have to abide by the rules and practices that were then in vogue. The ‘big idea’ for the work, its framework/structure, its style and a focus on your part of the ‘memory’ requirement of the text, all four categories of compositional requirement were your business as a writer/rhetor.
2) Such skills were common to both writer/rhetor and reader/reciter. Most audiences first received the works through listening to readings, or sitting through performance recitals. The oral/aural environment for learning pertained in the first centuries. For this reason, audiences themselves would be skilled in listening and have their expectations of a work. No one would leave an amphitheatre, for instance, if they had heard a dramatic recital that comprised only a Prologue and a Logue. They’d wait for an Epilogue before they got up and left the amphitheatre, that is, when all literary conventions had been followed properly from beginning to end! Writers so wrote for their readers/reciters and gave them every help in presenting the contents of their documents to their audiences. What is surprising to us, however, is that traditional practice deemed completed documents consisted only of lines of letters in columns without spaces in the text between words and sentences! The reader/reciter faced as his/her first task the requirement to parse the text, to break it down into its words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs and sections. It is this ‘parsing’ work that hasn’t been done for centuries!
Why a Website and not just another book, another publication?
I have produced a number of publications, charts and artworks over the years. Twenty-five years ago this year, on St Luke’s Day, I published my first book. In this website, yes, I exhibit my products, but what I hope will be of use besides, will be the summaries and samples of my work that will be kept updated as this analytical work continues to its completion on that day when nothing more will be left to do! I’m hopeful too that interested participants in this subject field, or as they come on-board, will use the blog facilities of this site and engage with me.
Some Further Introductory Comments
Over the years, my work has set me on a collision course with mainstream scholars.
It has been taught that the New Testament writers ‘were not conscious literary artists, obeying a convention, and imitating the correct models, like Hellenistic authors, but rather practical men falling into familiar forms when these happened to provide them with effective means of expression…’ (from: ‘The Literature and Canon of the New Testament’, Peake’s Commentary, reprinted 1977). One has to ask, ‘How could anyone have got it so wrong? How could anyone have got it so badly wrong?’ Romans is a five section chiasm, 1,2,C,2’,1’, with sectional structures, ABB’/ABB’/ABB’, as used in eleven other books. Matthew and Luke-Acts demonstrate 1-5,C,5’-1’ sectional arrangements; John and Revelation: 1-3,C,3’-1’ schemes; and Mark’s sectional structure shares the same arrangement as the book structure of Homer’s Iliad, ABB’,X,ABB’.
In recent scholarship a step forward has been taken with Richard A. Burridge’s What are the Gospels? A Comparison with Greaco-Roman Biography (Eerdmans, Second Edition, 2004). According to Burridge the New Testament world of scholarship has seen a sea change in the last twelve years or so. The scholarly consensus of the uniqueness of the gospels which had prevailed for the previous half century has at last given way to a new consensus that the gospels belong firmly to the genre of Graeco-Roman biography. I’m more than happy that we are now viewing New Testament works as Graeco-Roman, but I’m still to be persuaded that the gospels are rightly associated with ‘biography’ when the evidence of the texts themselves demonstrates key differences in the ‘big ideas’ each writer/rhetor exhibits, and differences too in the details which they amend so frequently and so easily for their own literary purposes.
In recent scholarship, in my view, a step backward has been taken too, with Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Eerdmans, 2006). Bauckham’s work is lauded in many quarters. It even won him the prestigious Michael Ramsay Prize for 2009 which was presented by the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Guardian Hay festival. Until he wrote his book it was generally agreed in New Testament circles that no gospel is the first hand product of eyewitness reporting. (Many ‘believers’, of course, want to believe that they all are.) Engaging imaginatively with second century notes, associated with Papias, on the origins of New Testament writings, Bauckham argues that Mark and the Apostle Peter cooperated together in the production of the first Gospel. To blow a big hole, however, in Bauckham’s boat, below the waterline, one has only to show, surprisingly, even astonishingly, that Mark’s Gospel is an ‘ordered presentation’! On pages 203, 207, 217, 218, 219, 220, 221, 228, 410, 423 and 436 (at least), Bauckham commits himself to the argument that because Mark’s Gospel is ‘not ordered’, Mark has simply recorded, therefore, faithfully everything that Peter had related to him. He had played no other part in the composition!
In 1988 when I put my work out in Sliced Bread: the Four Gospels, Acts and Revelation; their Literary Structures it was reviewed in the Methodist Recorder and the Expository Times. The reviewers took the view: the Revelation to John maybe (for structure), but not, surely, the Gospels. Yes, there was some appreciation of my ‘scholarship’ and an acknowledgement of all the work I had covered, but in the end the judgement hung on the assumption, that as these books had not previously exhibited structure, such did not exist.
When my next book came out, The Markan Matrix: a Literary-Structural Analysis of the Gospel of Mark, in 1999, it did get a particularly long review in a thoroughly academic publication (JTS, vol.52, Apr. 2001). But all this reviewer could say, towards its close, was, ‘Much as one respects the scholarship and conviction which has gone into this book, sadly it runs counter to too many currents and consensuses in Markan scholarship….’ I still shake my head in disbelief when I’m reminded of this. When I first read the review all I could say was, ‘Well, it’s not my fault!’
And now, ‘parsing’: it was certainly not conjured up with the intention of boring school students stupid! In the first instance, I judge, it is really to do with ‘part’-ing a text, where a text comprises no words and sentences, only letters in continuous lines. (See any codex for an example of this.) Parsing with reference to matters of grammar, therefore, is essential to defining all the parts and all the wholes of such texts, and, in turn, all their limits and the relationships, part with part and section with section. Consider, for example, the first three lines of John’s Gospel, in 1.1: it gives indication to the reader/reciter of the succession of parts (ABB’) that will be encountered throughout the text.
The want of a New Testament reading discipline in the modern era is clearly signalled by the diversity of readings (and disagreements in the readings) of the texts. And we have: ‘Mark is a brilliant writer.’/’He is no writer at all.’ Or ‘He is a wonderful theologian.’/’He is no theologian.’ Opposite views are heard on just about everything in New Testament circles for the want of this reading discipline.
Since the first centuries AD, inaccurate interpreters have stood between the writers and the readers of the New Testament Books. Very early on in the life of the missionary church, translations of the Greek texts were needed in the mother tongues of new converts. A manuscript in Old Syriac, for example, exists from as early as the second century. The western church wanted Latin versions. And Augustine wrote, ‘…in the early days of the faith, no sooner did anyone gain possession of a Greek manuscript, and imagine himself to have any facility in both languages (however slight that may be), than he made bold to translate it’ (De Doctr. Christ., ii, II). The general point is this: as the translations were made, the original internal characteristics of the Greek texts were compromised.
All around the world today the church struggles to find a common path to the truths of the New Testament Books. As a result, it is intolerably divided! The supreme requirement has always been that of a purely literary analysis of the New Testament Books. This has been my own focus now for over thirty years. The lesson today is clear. Both the Greek texts and Ancient Rhetoric have to be studied again and carefully if we are to regain what was lost a long time ago.
David G. Palmer March 2013