- Jesus Tradition in the Apostolic Fathers: Their Explicit Appeals to the Words of Jesus in Light of Orality Studies by Stephen E. Young
This volume is a "slightly revised version" of the author's 2010 PhD thesis from Fuller Theological Seminary. The title suggests a significant contribution with respect to the long history of research concerning the teachings by and about Jesus within the early church, a topic that has received considerable attention during the last half century. The author's efforts in this arena are well-delivered, though in a somewhat more restricted scope than initially might be imagined.
Young's opening chapter (1-35) delivers a brief survey of oral tradition studies in early Christianity with explicit review of form criticism and rabbinic models. The foundation of his later excursions is established here. The reader immediately detects the long shadow of Helmut Koester's renowned dissertation of 1957 on the same topic lurking in the shadows, though Young finds Koester's reliance on form-critical values to leave much-needed consideration with respect to his own study (9 n. 27; cf. 38 n. 4). He chooses instead to follow the rabbinic model of Birger Gerhardsson, admitting that this too contains weaknesses though it is sufficient for the moment.
The volume turns next to a summary of research on the "sources of the Jesus tradition" (36-69) followed by a review of "orality and oral tradition" in ancient culture (70-106). The former has a short history by academic standards (starting in the early twentieth century), while the latter is delineated in great detail following the categories of Walter Ong's Orality and Literacy (1982). This becomes the framework for how Young envisions the orality behind the use of Jesus materials throughout the apostolic fathers.
The bulk of the study is dedicated thereafter to materials that "appeal explicitly to Jesus tradition" (29) to avoid the bias of parallel written materials (107-277). Though logical in the sense that this restricts the materials to be covered, the decision limits analysis to seventeen passages, and these from five works in the apostolic fathers only—eleven from 2 Clement alone. As a result, one wonders whether the volume may have been better conceived as an intensive review of such materials specifically within that work. Nevertheless, most of these seventeen excursions are highly detailed with abundant notes and (ironically perhaps) a focus on textual traditions. They are well-argued and come to a decided conclusion in each instance, though slight inconsistency appears with the consideration of three of the texts (Did. 9.5; Ign., Smyrn. 3.2a; Pol., Phil. 7.2c) that taken together are included within a single chapter of only thirteen pages. Young's ultimate conclusions confirm his argument for "oral-tradition sources" behind all the passages with the observation that "explicit appeals to Jesus tradition in the Apostolic Fathers do not contain proof of their use of the Gospels . . ." (283). One suspects this observation contains the core of his motivation for the study from the outset. Final comments are offered on the fragments of Papias (285-94), a figure whose [End Page 141] traditions and remarks have received considerable attention among scholars of late as his influence on the development of ancient Christian tradition receives gradually more attention.
This is generally a fine study featuring solid research and a worthy theme that continues to haunt the work of historians of early Christian antiquity who are perhaps overly dependent on textual traditions for their reconstruction of late first- and second-century tradition. The volume is timely and a good reflection of the contemporary movement of research into the apostolic fathers. The reviews are reliable and the explorations of value. At the same time it is not clearly evident that Young's own voice is featured to any great extent here, since the study offers little new to the enterprise of patristic scholarship beyond a fine accumulation...