Bradshaw’s reconstruction of Traditio apostolica

It is a while since I posted anything here; I did wonder whether the utility of the blog might be coming to and end, and even composed a final posting in my head. This is due to pressure of other work, not the least my day job. And since it appears that the Church of England no longer values the work of parish clergy, I have been treasuring it all the more. tells the story. Of course, the pattern proposed, we hear, is “like the early church”. “Back to the future” goes through my head. Which is no doubt why, in the first generations, the Didachist saw fit to charge the appointment of episkopoi and diakonoi who are “worthy of the Lord.” We should be so lucky.

However, these rather depressing reflections are interrupted by the arrival of Paul Bradshaw, The apostolic tradition reconstructed: a text for students (JLS 91; Norwich: Hymns Ancient and Modern, 2021) for which I had to part with ten quid. And of course you want to know whether I consider it worth it. My initial comment is that it could hardly fail to be an improvement on Cuming, which I assume this work replaces. But forty-odd pages for over a tenner is on the steep side (given the price of my own commentary!)

Bradshaw employs the recently discovered Axumite Ethiopic text, and largely employs this as the base for his version. I could hardly fail to approve! Also, interestingly, he employs a system of type-faces graphically to show the “original” (that is to say material from early in the second century) (in Roman type), third century (or so) expansions (shown in italics) and later material (underlined.) This is helpful for those of us concerned to trace the levels of redaction; whether it helps the students of the subtitle is another question.

Bradshaw’s italicized sections are still within the period that I set for the redactional work of the Hippolytean school. Thus, for instance, the first, introductory chapter is supplied, he suggests, by whoever first brought the material together; I would not disagree (though I am surprised to see that he assigns the final chapter to a later hand). Indeed Bradshaw would assign the greater part of the document to a second or early third century date; he italicizes sections which are manifestly not fourth century, such as the offering of cheese and olives at the Eucharist, but since this is still within the relatively early history of the document I will not cavil. And so I will not pick on the italicized sections, and will also admit that there is broad (albeit only broad) agreement on the Grundschrift. Thus in dealing with the question of Bradshaw’s assignment of sections to date I largely overlook the italicized sections, simply looking at what he underlines, (thus assigning this material to the later periods of reworking.) I also avoid discussing the ordination prayers again, referring to our two recently published articles on the subject (see here and here).

In the episcopal eucharistic prayer after ordination (TA 4) Bradshaw admits a largely 3C origin, but also suspects some later additions, which makes a eucharistic prayer without an anamnesis. This is not impossible, but I would like to know why. Bradshaw similarly sees the epiklesis as later, though of course I do not think it is an an epiklesis at all. Similarly he is suspicious of the institution narrative; although I admit that this is an early appearance, perhaps the earliest, of such a narrative within an eucharistic prayer I suggest elsewhere that it might be retained so that the prayer has the shape of a collect.

The statement prescribing a three year catechumenate (TA 17) is assigned to a later period. Here I refer to something I wrote some years ago, in the debate in SVTQ referring to his earlier commentary:

the discussion of the length of the catechumenate (96-98) is excellent, and many interesting parallels are drawn. I would not dissent from the conclusion that a three-year catechumenate was not general in the ante-Nicene church, but this conclusion need not be drawn from the determination that the three-year period is fourth-century, but could be equally well reached from reckoning that the Hippolytean school, like that of Clement, which is roughly contemporary, employed an extensive period of catechumenate because of its scholastic orientation.

I do not understand the assignment of the daily exorcism (TA 20.3) and the effeta (TA 20.8) to the fourth century. It is true that otherwise the effeta is not found until the letter of John the deacon, but then again the sources are very thin. There is nothing which demands that this not be seen as primitive. Even less do I understand why Bradshaw assigns the renunciation (TA 21.6-9) to a later period. There are hints of renunciation in baptismal rites from the earliest evidence. The rationale given in a footnote is that the description of the baptismal rite is interrupted. I do see this, and observe it myself in the second edition of my own commentary, but still suspect that something must have stood here, even if it is not precisely the rite that is now extant, for which reason I assign it to a level of redaction prior even to the first redaction of Traditio apostolica.

It seems strange to assign the giving of milk and honey to the newly baptized to a later period (TA 21.28-30). It is surely early, since the same practice is found in Marcionite circles.

On the deacons “garment” (TA 22) I refer to the post below and the published article on the subject. Bradshaw continues to assign this to a later period.

The statement “this is a blessing and not the body of the Lord” at TA 26.2 is assigned to a later redactor. I do not see why; indeed one would expect that the distinction would be made only while the Eucharist took place within a Sättigungsmahl. I also do not see why the restriction of flowers to roses and lilies is considered later. (TA 32.2b), though the matter is admittedly minor.

By contrast I am surprised to see Bradshaw assign the supper for widows (TA 30) to the Grundschrift. One might have thought that this provision only came about once the Eucharist had ceased to be a Sättigungsmahl and another avenue for food charity would be required.

I think I have said enough. The work repays study, though I am not moved in my opinions in any way. Except at one point: Bradshaw suggests that TA 25.2b-10 is from a slightly later level of redaction (third century) than the original instruction regarding the entry of the light. This is plausible. He further suggests that the rest of the chapter is the work of the Ethiopic translator. This is an interesting thought, and certainly cleans up some of the mess here. I have not determined whether or not he is right, my main caveat being that the chapter is a bit too tidy as a result (!) but certainly it is a point worth of consideration.

It is of course hard to change a mind, once made up… indeed I have often entertained the thought that the Metzger/Bradshaw line on Traditio apostolica is a blik (the term of R.M. Hare, should you not be familiar with it. ) Presumably this is why Bradshaw persists in translating the Latin version of the post-baptismal episcopal anointing prayer, rather than the oriental version, which is now supported by the Axumite Ethiopic. There might once have been a case for following the Latin, but it was in my opinion never strong (though it was upheld by Anglican evangelicals for confessional reasons) but surely its appearance in the new Ethiopic weakens the case yet further. In the same way I was surprised to see that he persists in thinking that the baptismal creed has been expanded. The christology, he opines, “is too advanced for the period to which we are assigning the earliest layer of this document” (40) Possibly so (though I don’t really see that the Roman creed encodes a particularly “high” christology) but too advanced for the early third century? Really? He suggests that “a redactor…expanded the original short answers to correspond more closely to… the old Roman Symbol.” (41) This is, of course, different to the approach of the 2002 commentary (I have written on this elsewhere) which indicates that Bradshaw has been forced to take some of my critique on board, and is trying desperately to save his position. This latest version begs the question as to why a fourth-century redactor should want to expand the creed (and do so before, note, the redaction of Testamentum Domini and Canones Hippolyti in the middle of that century), and begs the larger question of how the old Roman symbol emerged if not from a baptismal context. Nonetheless here, and elsewhere, I see less blasé assignment of material to a series of mysterious fourth-century eastern redactors, and much more assigned to the third-century date that I have always maintained.

How to conclude? My best suggestion is, should you have ten Pounds (or its equivalent in other currencies) to spare, that you get your own copy and decide for yourselves. I’m holding on to mine… I’m beginning to think about a third edition!


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