Baker Academic

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Did you beat up Travis Derico?

I'm preparing a review post of Travis M. Derico's published doctoral thesis (University of Oxford), Oral Tradition and Synoptic Verbal Agreement: Evaluating the Empirical Evidence for Literary Dependence (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2016). I'll confess to being negatively disposed toward Derico's thesis (viz., the verbal similarities we observe between the Synoptic Gospels are not, ipso facto, sufficient grounds for presuming a literary relationship between those gospels). I am, I supposed, used to seeing "oral tradition" and/or "memory" conscripted into all kinds of arguments for which they are not well-suited.

I must admit, however, that Derico's book is very careful, methodical, clear, and clear-headed. In a field rife with overstatements, Derico's conclusions are judicious and fair. If you're interested or involved in source criticism of our Synoptic Gospels, this is a work you're going to want to read. And I'll post my review shortly.

But for now I want to know: Have any of you accosted Dr. Derico on some out-of-the-way playground or in some dark alley and pummeled him senseless? I quote from Oral Tradition and Synoptic Verbal Agreement:
For [Frans] Neirynck, the real problem with [Matt 26:67–68] is that, where both Mark and Luke have the soldiers blindfolding Jesus before ridiculing him with the demand that he prophesy, Matthew has left the blindfold out. The resulting story, Neirynck thinks, is incoherent—Jesus is asked to "prophesy" who hit him when he can see perfectly well who hit him; and this probably indicates that all the manuscripts of this text have been interpolated from Luke.

Neirynck's claim that Matthew's depiction of Jesus being mocked by the soldiers is incoherent in the absence of a blindfold suggests that Neirynck was never in any sort of physical fight. This is probably an overall good for Neirynck, but it evidently handicapped his ability to imagine the scene Matthew portrays. When a person is forcefully struck on the head (even once—even if the person is a trained fighter), he is likely to become temporarily disoriented. If a person is hit repeatedly from all directions with sticks or clubs (as may be suggested by the verb ῥαπίζειν), he may very quickly cease to know where he is, much less who is hitting him. Blindfold or no, there is no difficulty at all about the soldiers crying, "Prophesy—who hit you?" if one imagines some of the blows coming from behind. (242–43)
Whoever you are, whether you prevailed over Dr. Derico or whether he recovered and returned the favor, just know that your school-yard or back-alley aggression has made a contribution to biblical scholarship. This, I like to think, in addition to the milk money with which you may have walked away.

Watch this space for my review, which I expect to publish before the end of the year. And if you know Prof. Derico, congratulate him on a book well-written and offer him a thick-cut ribeye for his shiner.


  1. I would think it unwise for any biblical scholar engage in fisticuffs with T. Derico. He's a trained fighter and an experienced bouncer even if he is a gentleman. Watch out!

  2. "... Neirynck was never in any sort of physical fight. This is probably an overall good for Neirynck ..."

    As someone old enough to remember Frans Neirynck forcefully debating his colleagues, I would not be surprised that he would have certainly held his own if it ever came to physical blows. I once saw a cartoon drawing of Professor Neirynck in a boxing pose with the caption, "Interpretatie als Oorlog."