Sie sind auf Seite 1von 23


5RILL Novum Testamentum 50 (2008) 120-142

The Anonymity of the New Testament History Books:

A Stylistic Device in the Context of Greco-Roman and
Ancient Near Eastern Literature

Armin D. Baum
Gie?en I Leuven

The anonymity of the NT historical books should not be as to
regarded peculiar early
Christian literature nor should it be interpreted in the context of Greco-Roman
raphy. The striking fact that theNT Gospels and Acts do not mention their authors' names
has its literary counterpart in the anonymity of the OT
history books, whereas OT ano

nymity itself is rooted in the literary conventions of the Ancient Near East. Just as in the

OT, where the authors of books that belonged to the genre of wisdom and prophetic lit
erature were named while historical works were written the NT
usually anonymously, only
letters and the Apocalypse were under their authors' names while the narrative
literature of the NT remained anonymous. The authorial intent of the
Gospels' anonymity
can also be deduced from its ancient Near Eastern and OT the Greek
background. Unlike
or Roman historian who, among other things, wanted to earn praise and
glory for his liter
ary achievements from both his contemporaries and posterity, the history writer in the
Ancient Near East to as much as
sought disappear possible behind the material he pre
sented and to become its invisible mouthpiece. By adopting the stylistic device of anonym
ity from OT historiography the Evangelists of theNT implied that they regarded themselves
as of a subject matter that deserved the full attention
comparatively insignificant mediators
of the readers. The anonymity of the Gospels is thus rooted in a concern
deep conviction
the ultimate of their matter.
ing priority subject

anonymity, authorship, superscriptions, Greco-Roman Near Eastern
gospel historiography,

"The absence of the author s name in Luke s prologue remains mysterious

tome."1 With this statement at the beginning of his analysis of Luke 1:1-4

]) Das nach Lukas S.M.

Evangelium (EKK 3/1; Z?rich: Benziger, 1989) I, 33; compare

? Koninklijke BrillNV, Leiden, 2008 DOI: 10.1163/156853608X262891

This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 20:22:25 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
The Anonymity of theNew Testament History Books 121

E Bovon points out a critical problem that pertains to the other two Syn
optics, the Book ofActs, and theGospel of John well. All five historical
books of the New Testament, including those without a prologue, were
written and published anonymously. However, this obvious fact has not

sparked much interest among New Testament scholars. The undoubtedly

secondary Gospel superscriptions have, in thewake ofM. Hengels semi
nal work, been thoroughly scrutinized with regard to their original word
ing, date of origin and function.2 Yet only M. Wolter has developed
answer to the question as to why the were
reasonably thorough Gospels
in particular without any
originally composed without superscriptions and
mention of the authors' names. Regarding Luke-Acts, Wolter points to
Luke 1:2 and makes the case that Luke's work was written anonymously
because, from the author's perspective, the apostolic tradition guaranteed
"its authenticity and therefore its binding authority."3 Taking my starting

point fromWolters previous study Iwill try to interpret the anonymity of

theNew Testament historical books against the background of the literary
conventions of history writing in ancient literature.

1. The Anonymity of the Historical Books inNew Testament


a. The Evidence

While most New Testament letters bear the names of their (purported)
authors (James, Jude, Paul, Peter, or at least "the Elder") the authors of the
historical books do not reveal their names. The superscriptions that include

personal names ("Gospel according toMatthew" etc.) are clearly secondary.

Praeder, "The Problem of First Person Narration inActs," NT29 (1987) 193-218, esp. 214,
and AJ.M. Wedderburn, "The
'We'-Passages inActs: On the Horns of a Dilemma," ZNW
93 (2002) esp. 81, with to theActs of the
78-98, regard Apostles; D.E. Aune, "Anonymity,"
The Westminster Dictionary New Testament and Early Christian Literature and Rhetoric
(Westminster: Knox, 2003) 35: "the subject has been almost completely neglected."
2) See
the recent contribution by S. Petersen, "Die und die Entste
hung des neutestamentlichen Kanons," ZNW97 (2006) 250-274.
"Die anonymen Schriften des Neuen Testaments. an ein lite
rarisches Ph?nomen," ZNW 79 (1988) 1-16, esp. 14-15. J. Zmijewski, "Anonymit?t,"
LThKX (31993) 702-704, has accepted his approach.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 20:22:25 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
122 A.D. Baum INovum Testamentum 50 (2008) 120-142

The author of the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, for instance, who himself
an statement of a very
opened his work with explicit authorship, took
different approach. He opened his book with the words: "These are the
secret words which the living Jesus spoke, and (which) Didymus Judas
Thomas wrote."4 In contrast, the five historical books of the New Testa
ment were written

C.-J. Thornton holds a view that differs from this consensus. As a result of his narra

he concludes that at least Luke-Acts cannot

been published have
tological analysis
but must have mentioned the name of the author in its title. Thornton
to the "we" passages in Acts and assumes "that the narrator of a first person
narrative has to be identifiable for the reader." Furthermore, he takes for granted that
the readers of Luke or Acts could have known the author's name if it had been
part of the original text.5 Yet, the original readers could also have known the author's
or oral tradition. But above all we have to take into
identity by personal relationship
account that Lukes name ismissing in almost all ancient manuscripts of Acts (as well
as in the tradition) and occurs late.6
early comparatively

The anonymity of theNew Testament historical books is especially striking

when we consider those works that have prologues. Only the two books of
Luke-Acts (Luke 1:1-4; Acts l:lff) have a conventional prologue inwhich
the author provides information about the content and purpose of his work
in the firstperson singular. The so-called Johannine prologue (John 1:1-18)
contains an authorial "we" (1:14.16), yet differs strongly from the common
a state
type of historical prologues. In its conclusion Johns Gospel has
ment about its purpose (John 20,31: "in order that you may believe...";
cf. 19:35), but without any "I" or "we" of the author. The two final verses
of the Fourth Gospel inwhich both "we" (John 21:24) and "I" (John 21:25)
occur should probably be interpreted as editorial statements about the
author of the book and not as words of the author himself.7Whenever New
Testament narrators address their readers,whether in thefirst person or in some
otherway they consistently remain anonymous.

4) to B. in Ed. K. Aland
Translation according Metzger Synopsis Quatuor Evangeliorum.
Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 131985) 517.
5)Der als Historiker der Paulusreisen 56; T?bingen: Mohr,
Zeuge des Zeugen. Lukas (WUNT

1991) 142-148.
6) See
J. Jervell, Die Apostelgeschichte (KEK 3; G?ttingen: Vandenhoeck, 1998) 56-58, who
the title "Deeds of theApostles" as
regards original.
7) Ein
Compare M. Hengel, Die johanneische Frage. L?sungsversuch (WUNT 67; T?bingen:

Mohr, 1993) 224-225.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 20:22:25 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
The Anonymity of theNew Testament History Books 123

b. TheDiscussion

For what reason did the New narrators consistently abstain

frommentioning their names? This question has rarely been addressed by
biblical scholars, and if so, quite different answers have been developed.
(1) The distinguished historian E. Meyer compared the anonymity of
the Fourth Gospel with Xenophons claim that his Anabasis was written by
a certain
Themistogenes.8 Meyer thus interpreted the phenomenon of
anonymous historical books in theNew Testament in the context of Greek
historiography. However, Greek (and Roman) historians published their
works almost under their own names.
exclusively Xenophons anonymous

(or better: pseudonymously published) work forms a special case that can
not be as representative of the conventions of Greco-Roman his
(2) A.J.M. Wedderburn assumes that ?the anonymity of the
may serve to emphasize the complete dependence of their authors on tra
dition, rather than on any firsthand experience."9While this interpretation
certainly applies to the Synoptic Gospels, it fails when it comes to the
likewise anonymous Gospel of John and the Book of Acts, inasmuch the
authors of these two books appear to claim to have witnessed at least some
of the events they describe (see John 1:14; 13:23; 21:20.24 and the "we"
passages in Acts).10 Furthermore, the question arises as to whether the
assumed relationship between the New Testament Gospels and their
sources may be as or whether an anonymous han
actually regarded unique
of traditions and source material was conventional in at least some
types of ancient literature.

(3) M. Wolter has interpreted the namelessness of theNew Testament

historical books as a
specifically Christian phenomenon. He argues that in
all the anonymous writings of theNew Testament Jesus Christ is the one
and only personal authority; besides him "every human
authority should
fall silent". According toWolter, this is the reason why theNew Testament

Gospels were published without mentioning their authors' names. In

the Gospel of John, the Johannine Jesus preaches "himself
through his
signs and also, of course, through his speeches." Likewise, inMark's book
"Jesus himself is the instance that authorizes the and this "the
Gospel" by

8) E.
Meyer, Ursprung und Anfange des Christentums (Stuttgart: Cotta, 4/51924) I, 313.
'"We'-Passages," 96.
Compare M. Res?, "Das Selbstzeugnis des Johannesevangeliums ?ber seinen Verfasser,"
EThL 72 (1996) 75-111; Thornton, Der
Zeuge des Zeugen, 84-197.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 20:22:25 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
124 A.D. Baum /Novum Testamentum 50 (2008) 120-142

individuality and authority of the author is completely surpassed and abol

ished."11Nevertheless, itmay be asked why Paul, who explicitly appeals to
Jesus as the authority behind his message and theology (e.g. inGal 1:1.11
12), did not write his letters anonymously? Why did he feel free to send his
letters under his own name? And why was the Book ofActs written anon

ymously, although, unlike the Gospels, it did not relate the words and
deeds of Jesus? It should be noted that this approach to the problem of
anonymity interprets theNew Testament history books as works sui generis
and does not take into account its possible relationship to other kinds of
anonymous historiography in the ancient world. It is self-evident that
can no means
Wolters interpretation of anonymous Christian literature by
be applied to anonymous books from Greco-Roman or Near Eastern lit
erature. A closer look at the history of Greco-Roman and Old Testament
Jewish literaturemight offer valuable clues that could help us understand
the phenomenon of literary anonymity more precisely.

2. The Name of the Author inAncient Historiography

a. TheName in Greco-Roman Historiography

of theAuthor

The work of a Greco-Roman historian was almost always preceded by a

content of his book.
prologue inwhich he informed his readers about the
The fact that a classical author likeXenophon abstained from using a pro
thewords jiex? ?? xorikocwas
logue and abruptly opened hisHellenica with
due to the fact that this historical narrative started where the
historical work of Thucydides had ended and was apparently meant as its
direct sequel.12 In any case, the beginning of Xenophon's work was an
a was usually considered as
exception to the rule. The absence of prologue
a Lucian could write
departure from long established standards. Therefore,

are historians who an intro

There "produce bodies without any heads?works lacking
duction that begin at once with the narrative."13

"Anonymit?t," 15.6-7.11-12.
12) H.R. von Athen," PREIXA.2 1569-2052,
Compare Breitenbach, "Xenophon (1967)

esp. 1670-1674.
13) translation
Lucian, De historia conscribenda 23 (III 301,27-302,1 Macleod; according
to LCL); G. Avenarius, Lukians zur (Meisenheim:
compare Schrift Geschichtsschreibung

This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 20:22:25 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
The Anonymity of theNew Testament History Books 125

Thus, the Jewish historian Josephus prefixed elaborate prologues to his Bel
lumJudaicum and to his Antiquitates because he did not want his works to
appear, in the eyes of his educated Hellenistic audience, like headless bodies.
At the beginning or end of his prologue theGreek historian would men
tion his name and his provenance.14 In the 6th century BC Hecataeus of
Miletos began his historical work with the words: "Hecataeus ofMiletos
reports as follows. I write this, as it seems to be true to me."15 In the
5th century B.C. Herodotus, the father of Greek historiography, intro
duced his historical narrative with thewords: "This is the demonstration of
the investigation of Herodotus of Halicarnassus."16 And the opening sen
tence of Thucydides goes: "Thucydides of Athens has described thewar of
the Peloponnesians and Athenians."17 Thucydides also concluded individ
ual books of his historical work with a remark about the exact number of
years that had passed in thewar "that Thucydides has described."18 With
this procedure, the name of the author could not escape the reader.Arrian,
in his Anabasis, has consciously deviated from this practice
by not giving
his name in the prologue where he only mentioned his sources.19 Later in
Book I he writes:

I need not write my name, for it is not at all unknown nor my

among men, country
nor my .20

Nevertheless, Arrian's Anabasis was not published anonymously, because it

probably had the name 'Appiocvo? in the title.21

Hain, 1956) 113-118; E. Herkommer, "DieTopoi inden Pro?mien der r?mischen Geschichts
werke," Diss. T?bingen 1968, 14-17, and see also De historia conscribenda 52-55.
14) in den Pro?mien,"
Herkommer, "Die Topoi 46-52; E. Schmalzriedt, I1EPI OYXE?l.
Zur Fr?hgeschichte der Buchtitel (M?nchen: Fink, 1970) 32-34; D. Earl, "Prologue-Form in
Ancient Greek Historiography," ANRW 1.2 (1972) 842-856, esp. 842-849; J.M. Marin
cola, Authority and Tradition inAncient Historiography (Cambridge: University Press, 1999)
15)FGH1 F 1
(I 7,32-33 Jacoby).
\pr{\ 1,1 Rosen).
17) I
1,1 (Jones/Powell).
18) I
103,2 etc.
\pr. 1-3.
Anabasis I 12,5 (I 28,20-22 Roos; translation to LCL).
Bosworth, A Historical Commentary
on Arrians
History ofAlexander (Oxford: Clar
endon, 1980) I, 106.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 20:22:25 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
126 A.D. Baum /Novum Testamentum 50 (2008) 120-142

Even Xenophons inwhich the author reports about his own role as an officer
in the campaign is no exception. Although
of Cyrus, it appears to the modern reader
to be anonymous, himself elsewhere calls it the work of a certain Themis
togenes of Syracuse.22 Probably he published it under this pseudonym. Plutarch
identified the true reason why Xenophon did not publish his Anabasis under his own
Xenophon recorded "that itwas
Themistogenes the Syracusan who had com
an account of them (i.e. successes), his purpose being to win greater
piled Xenophons
credence for his narrative to himself in the third person, thus favouring
by referring
another with the glory of the authorship."23

In accordance with Greco-Roman practice, the Jewish historian Josephus

revealed his name in the first on the JewishWar:
paragraph of his work
son of Matthias, a Hebrew by race, a native of Jerusalem
and a priest, who at the opening of the war myself fought against the
Romans and in the sequel was perforce an onlooker?propose to provide
the subject of the Roman Empire with a narrative of the facts."24And nei
ther Jason of Cyrene, author of the main source of 2 Maccabees,25 nor

Justus of Tiberias, the rival of Josephus,26 wrote their now lost historical
works anonymously. The same is true of the early Jewish narrators Eupol
emus (157/158 B.C.), Artapanus, Cleodemus Malchus und Theophilus
(around 100 B.C.), who are all quoted by Eusebius in the 9th book of his

Praeparatio Evang?lica (from the lostwritings of Alexander Polyhistor).27

These Jewish historians also published theirworks under their own names
to the conventions of Greek and Roman historical literature.
Greco-Roman were published under the names of their
authors (Euripides, Isocrates, Lucian, Philo, Plutarch, Suetonius etc.) as
well. Only the lives that belong to the genre of popular literature (1st to
4th century A.D.) were an exception: the Vita Aesopu the Vita Alexandri

Magni (later ascribed to Callisthenes), the somewhat more sophisticated

22)Hellenica III 1,2.

23)De translation according to
gloria Atheniensium 345E (V/l 186 Frazier/Froidefond;
LCL). For similar W. Die literarische im heidnischen
examples compare Speyer, F?lschung
und christlichen Altertum. Ein Versuch ihrerDeutung (HAW 1/2;M?nchen: Beck, 1971)
24) Bellum I 3 (translation to H.StJ.
Judaicum according Thackeray [LCL]).
25) 2 Mace 2:19-32.
26) Vita 336-339.
27) FGH und
723, 726, 727, 733; compare M. Hengel, "Anonymit?t, Pseudepigraphie
'literarische F?lschung' in der j?disch-hellenistischen Literatur," Judaica etHelknistica (Kle
ine Schriften 1;WUNT 90; T?bingen: Mohr, 1996) 196-251, esp. 199-200.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 20:22:25 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
The Anonymity of theNew Testament History Books 127

narrative Lucius seu asinus and the Vita Secundi philosophi. These biogra
a rather low and episodic style but also anonymity in
phies have not only

A special genre of historical writings was produced by the ancient "epit

omisers." They extracted short summaries from extensive historical writ
source texts. In a vital
ingswithout changing thewording of their literary
contribution to this subject, I. Opelt has listed 42 historical epitomes.29
Her list begins with the two-volume epitome probably extracted from
Herodotus' nine-volume history by Theopompus of Chios in the 4th cen
turyBC. And it ends with epitomes from the Christian era. Only 7 out of
these 42 epitomes are anonymous; all the others were attributed to a cer
tain author. An example is the excerpt of the now lost historical work
of Pompeius Trogus that was handed down under the name of Justin
(3rd century A.D.). On the basis of these observations we may conclude:
a not mention his name in (the
If Hellenistic historian did prologue of) his
work, he deviated from an ancient and widespread literary convention.

b. TheAnonymity ofOld TestamentHistoriography

In contrast to the works of Greco-Roman historiography the Old Testa

ment historical books are anonymous without
exception.30 The author's
name is never mentioned. Even the historical source texts towhich theOld
Testament narrators refer remain anonymous.31 The historical books of the
Hebrew Bible are not named after their authors but after their introduc
torywords ("In the beginning" etc. in the Pentateuch), after their content
(Chronicles) or after their main characters: etc. Later nar
Joshua, Judges,
rative works likeTobit, Judith or the Books of theMaccabees and other
writings like the anonymous Vitae Prophetarum51 or Joseph and Aseneth
have also been named after their main characters.33

Hansen, Anthology ofAncient Greek Popular Literatur (Bloomington: Indiana Uni

versity Press, 1998) xi-xxiii; compare H.-G. Beck, Geschichte der Byzantinischen Volkslitera
tur (Byzantinisches Handbuch II/3; M?nchen: Beck, 1971) 28-35.
"Epitome," RAC 5 (1962) 944-973, esp. 947-950.
Cancik, NBL 1 (1988-91) 813-822, offers a helpful survey
of the different aspects of Old Testament narrative literature.
31) The names in 1Chr 29:29 are an
mentioned exception: "As for the events of King Davids
from to end, are written in the records of Samuel the seer, the records
reign, beginning they
of Nathan the prophet and the records of Gad the seer."
Schwemer, Vitae Prophetarum QSHRZ 1/7; G?tersloh: Mohn, 1997) 543, 561.
33) C.
Burchard, Joseph undAseneth (JSHRZ II/4; G?tersloh: Mohn, 1983) 589.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 20:22:25 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
128 A.D. Baum INovum Testamentum 50 (2008) 120-142

In all these examples of Jewish historiography the narrator stays in the

background and remains hidden. In theOld Testament only the prophetic

books and works that belong to the genre ofwisdom literature carry their
authors' names.34 In the history of Jewish historiography the Hellenistic
historian Josephus was one of the firstwho did not publish his books

anonymously. In his Antiquities^ for instance, inwhich he retells the con

tent of the anonymous historical books of theOld Testament, he candidly
reveals his identity.
Read against the background of Ancient Near Eastern literature the

anonymity of theOld Testament history books was anything but unusual.

Acadian literaturewas for the most part handed down anonymously as
well.35 InMesopotamia, historical epics were generally published without
their authors' names. And Egyptian literaturewas mostly written anony
as well. Near Eastern Wisdom books frequently carried their
authors' names. Writings on the deeds of the Pharaohs, however, were usu

ally written by unknown authors.36 Not until the time of Alexander the
Great did Greek literature and literaryconventions gain a decisive influence
in theAncient Near East, "among them thewider use of authors' names."37
even were still
Nevertheless, during theHellenistic period, Jewishwritings
without the names of their authors. As a rule, however,
being published
only wisdom, apocalyptic, and testamental literaturementioned the
of the respective authors.38

at Qumran no indication of
Most of the documents found give authorship. Works
that mention their authors' names (such as the Testament of Levi or the Psalms of

Joshua) are the exception. Qumran literature is largely anonymous. This applies not
to the of biblical narratives (rewritten Bible) but also to the poetical,
only paraphrases
texts such as the Hodayot and the Sabbath Songs. The Pesharim
liturgical and wisdom
etc.) and the halachic texts (such as the Scroll, the Community
(lQpHab Temple
Rule, the Damascus Document and theWar Scroll) are also This is

34) For 1:1 ; 25:1.

example Prov
35)W. der Assyriologie 7 (1987-90)
R?llig, "Literatur," Reallexikon 35-66, esp. 49-50.
36)A. Books and Readers in the Ancient World," The Oxford Handbook
Millard, "Authors,
Biblical Studies (Ed. J.W. Rogerson and J.M. Lieu; Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2006) 544-564, esp. 544-548, 549-551.
37) 558.
Millard, "Authors,"
Hengel, "Anonymit?t," 235-236.
39) For a of the evidence see M.J. Bernstein, in the
helpful presentation "Pseudepigraphy
Qumran Scrolls: Categories and Functions," Pseudepigraphic Perspectives. The Apocrypha
and Pseudepigrapha in theDead Sea Scrolls (ed. E.G. Chazon and M. Stone; Leiden:
Light of
Brill, 1999) 1-26.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 20:22:25 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
The Anonymity of theNew Testament History Books 129

have in common with theworks of rabbinic literature. Mishna, Tosefta

something they
and the Talmudim as well as theMidrashim were also distributed

Furthermore, the Hebrew history books did not have a prologue that
informed the readers about their purpose and their sources. They also did
not contain authorial reflections in the first
person.41 Even 1Maccabees
stillmakes use of thisOld Testament style. In contrast, 2Maccabees already
includes a prologue by the author in the first person. This prologue con
cludes with the following words (2Mace 2:19-32):

At this point therefore let us begin our narrative, without adding any more towhat has

already been said; for itwould be foolish to lengthen the preface while cutting short
the history itself.42

By writing thesewords the author of 2 Maccabees a

adopted literarydevice
characteristic of Greek historiography. Yet, even 2 Maccabees remains
It should be remembered that 2 Maccabees is an excerpt of the five
volume historical work of Jason of Cyrene and thus represents one of the
epitomes discussed by I. Opelt. The author of 2 Maccabees does not men
tion his name, neither in the prologue nor in the title. In this
2Maccabees may be regarded as a close to the
analogy Gospel of Luke whose
prologue is also anonymous. The same holds true for theWisdom of
Ben Sira. In its
prologue, which introduces the author's Greek translation
of his grandfather's originally Hebrew work, the grandson of "Jesus, son
of Sirach" (Sir 50:27) also conceals his name. 2 Maccabees, like the Old
Testament history books, was named after itsmain characters. Clement
of Alexandria called it "The epitome of the Maccabees."43 And in one
of its two oldest manuscripts (V) the writing is called "epitome of the
deeds of Judas Maccabeus." Nevertheless, the designation "2 Maccabees"

Compare J.Neusner, Why No Gospels in Talmudic Judaism? (BJSt 135; Atlanta: Scholars,
1988) 70-72.
41) S.
Bar-Efrat, Narrative Art in theBible (JSOT.S 70/BiLiSe 17; Sheffield: Elmond, 1989)
23-45: "The Narrator's Manifestation," esp. 23-24.
Compare Luc?an, De historia consribenda 23: Some historians write "introductions that
are brilliant, dramatic, and so that you
excessively long, expect what follows to be marvel
ous to hear, but for the
body of their history they bring on something so tiny and so undis
tinguished.. ." (translation to LCL).
StromataV 14,97.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 20:22:25 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
130 A.D. Baum INovum Testamentum 50 (2008) 120-142

prevailed.44 Because of the anonymity of his work the author of 2 Macca

bees differs from the Greco-Roman epitomisers who usually published
theirworks under their names.
Jerome also describes 1 and 2 Chronicles as excerpts of older historical
works: Paralipomenon liben id est instrumenti ueteris ?7ciTouf|.45In contrast
to the author of 2 Maccabees the author of Chronicles did not write a
not inform his readers in more detail about the
prologue and thus did
sources of his matter. Still, the two Jewish epitomisers have in com
mon that they
published theirworks anonymously in accordance with the
conventions ofOld Testament historiography. The Old Testament historians
(and those earlyJewish historians who were influenced by them) consistently
wrote theirworks

c. New Testament
Anonymity in theContext ofAncient History ofLiterature

By writing anonymously the New Testament narrators were closer to

Hebrew than to Greco-Roman historiography. The first and second Gos
pel present themselves in the style ofOld Testament history books: anony
mous, without prologues, and without any firstperson reflections by their
authors. The Gospel of Luke and especially the Book of Acts with their
statements of their authors in the firstperson conformed
prologues and the
to a certain extent to the conventions of Greco-Roman
historiography. Yet
like 2 Maccabees, remain anonymous. Their authors ele
they, integrated
ments of both traditions. The can illustrate this. Brackets
following table
indicate cases inwhich the simple difference between plus (+) and minus
(-) is not completely adequate.

in ancient
Authorship historiography

Name 1. Person
Hebrew historiography

John (-) (-)

Luke + +

Acts + +

Greek historiography + + +

44)See C. Habicht,
JSHRZ 1/3 (1976) 169-177: "Titel,Verfasserund Entstehungdes
EpistulaeLUI 8,18 (CSEL 54, 461,14 Hilberg).

This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 20:22:25 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
The Anonymity of theNew Testament History Books 131

The New Testament historical books share thefeature of anonymity, which

distinguishes themfrom Greco-Roman historiography,with all the works of

Old Testament (and Near Eastern) historiography. In concealing their
authors' names the narrative books of theNew Testament follow themodel
of the Old Testament books from Genesis to 2 as well as 1 and 2
Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah.

3. Reasons for the Use of Authors' Names inAncient Historiography

In order to understand why ancient historians added their names to their

works we need to consider how theywrote their books and what they tried
to achieve by a we must ask
publishing them. In further step (in section 4),
the same questions regarding the writings of those historians who pub
lished theirworks anonymously.

a. TheWork
of theGreco-Roman Historian
In an independent treatise on the topic ofHow toWrite History Lucian of
Samosata (in the 2nd century AD) explained the task of a Greek historian.
Other historians explained in the prologues to theirworks how they had
used their sources and how theywanted to present theirmaterial stylisti

cally. Both of these issues are among the topoi that regularly occur in the
praefationes of ancient history books.46
to Lucian, the first step in the historical was
According working process
to collect the historical source material, if as an eyewitness or
else reliable witnesses.47 were,
by consulting Contemporary eyewitnesses
to Polybius,
according subject to close scrutiny. The historian was only
allowed give credence to those witnesses that had proved to be reliable.48
The amount ofwork involved at this stage could be considerable. As a mat
ter of course, an epitomisers like Justin,who
merely extracted the books of
others, had to do considerably less research.
After collecting all his material, the historian had to a sec
produce (in
ond step) a notes (\m?|Livr||i?xi), a body of
stylistically inelegant "series of

Herkommer, "Die Topoi in den Pro?mien," 86-101 (about working with the sources)
und 112-122 (about style).
historia consribenda 47; compare Avenarius, Lukians
Schrift, 71-85.
4c, 5; compare G. Schepens, "Some Aspects of Source Theory inGreek
phy," AncSoc 6 (1975) 257-274, esp. 269.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 20:22:25 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
132 A.D. Baum /Novum Testamentum 50 (2008) 120-142

material as yetwith no beauty or continuity."49According to some ancient

readers, Caesar's Commentarii fell into that category. Cicero, for example,
has Brutus say that Caesar only supplied the unadorned material out of
which someone else could produce a proper historical work.50
In a third step, the historian had to stylistically revise his rough draft:
After arranging his material in the right order, his next task, according to
Lucian, was to "give it beauty and enhance itwith the charms of expres
sion, figure, and rhythm."51 Some historians, like Josephus and Lucian,
took theAttic prose writers of the 5 th and 4th century as their guide in
matters of style. Others, like Polybius, wrote in literaryKoine.52 Lucian
also refers to historians who used a rather unpretentious, colloquial Greek.
He knew one author who "has compiled a bare record (uTcouvriua yuuvov)
of the events and set it down on paper, completely prosaic and ordinary,
such as a soldier or artisan or pedlar following the army might have put
as a diary of
together daily events." Therefore, according to Lucian, this
writer did not himself create a proper historical work but "his work has
cleared the ground for some future historian of taste and ability." Yet, in
spite of his artless style the narrator mentioned by Lucian did publish
his work anonymously but used a title that also contained his name: "Cal

limorphus, surgeon of the Sixth Lancers, History of the Parthian War."53

Anonymity was unusual even with stylistically unpretentious works.
The following table indicates which persons involved in the production
of Greek or Roman history books provided their names. It is immediately
obvious that only secretaries and copyists worked anonymously. Their
names are mentioned in cases.54 Greco-Roman historians
only exceptional
mention their names even if the amount of work they invested in collect
ing theirmaterial and adorning it stylisticallywas rather limited.55

49)De historia consribenda 48 to LCL).

(translation according
50) Brutus 262.
51) Z> 48 (translation according to LCL).
historia conscribenda
52) the different levels of style inGreek literature see ER. Adrados, Geschichte
der griechischen Von den Anfangen bis heute (span. 1999; UTB 2317; T?bingen:
Francke, 2001) 169-200.
53)De historia conscribenda 16
(translation according to LCL).
54) So E.R. The Secretary in the Letters of Paul Mohr,
Richards, (WUNT 2/42; T?bingen:
1991) 68, with regard to secretaries in ancient epistles.
55)The number of amount of work invested in collecting and shap
plus signs indicates the
ing the material.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 20:22:25 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
The Anonymity of theNew Testament History Books 133

The work of Greco-Roman historians

Historical research revision

Bellum +++
Josephus, "Josephus"
Josephus, Antiquitates "Josephus"
Polybius "Polybius"
+ +++
Callimorphus "Calimorphus"
+ -
Justin "Justin"
- -
Secretary anonymous
- -
Copyist anonymous

b. The Desire for Personal Recognition

Only exceptionally did ancient authors profit financially from theirworks.56

Some of them explicitly state the reasons why they composed and pub
lished their books. Serious historians were primarily interested in teaching
their readers about historical truth and in showing them how they should
behave as private persons or in political offices.57However, this goal could
have been achieved without telling the audience the authors' names.
The fact that almost all Greek and Roman historians published their
works under their names is probably due to their distinctive longing for
fame. Greco-Roman author, not the historians, wanted to receive
Every just

recognition for his literaryaccomplishments.58 A book had the potential to

make its author famous. Martial rebuked a certain Faustinus, because he
found itdifficult to finally publish a work he had written: "Do you hesitate
to admit Fame that stands before your doors?"59 And Martial
that the fame of a writer should already come about during his lifetime:
"To the ashes of the dead glory comes too late."60Many authors, however,
striving for literary recognition thatwould outlast their death. Thus,
Ovid expresses his conviction at the end of hisMetamorphoses that this
work was destined to become his own everlasting monument:

56) See K.
Dziatzko, "Autorrecht," PRE 11/2 (1896) 2608-2611.
Thus already Thucydides I 21-22; compare Herkommer, "Die Topoi in den Pro?mien,"
128-136 (aboutbenefit)und 137-151 (about truth).
58) K. Schickert, Der Schutz literarischer
Compare im Rom der klassischen
Antike (T?bingen: Mohr, 2005) 128-131: "Ruhm und Unsterblichkeit als Motivation."
I 25,5: ante stantem dubitas admitiere Famam
Epigrammata fores (Lindsay; translation
to LCL).
60) I 25,9: sera venit
Epigrammata cinerigloria (Lindsay; translation according to LCL).

This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 20:22:25 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
134 A.D. Baum INovum Testamentum
50 (2008) 120-142

I shall be borne immortal far beyond the lofty stars and I shall have an undying name.
Wherever Rome's power extends over the conquered world, I shall have mention on
men's if the prophecies of bards have any truth, all the shall I
lips, and through ages
live in fame.61

Historians, too, were hoping for fame and recognition by publishing their
historical works. In the prologue to his Antiquities Josephus mentions sev
eral goals that, according to him, motivated historians towrite theirworks.
In the first place he refers to fellow writers who approached their task
to win the fame therefrom
"eager to display their literary skill and
expected."62 Even epitomisers like Justin reckoned with the appreciation of
their readers for their (albeit comparatively small) literary efforts: "For
your approbation is sufficient forme for the present, with the expectation
of receiving from posterity, when themalice of detraction has died away,
an to my
ample testimony diligence."63 Only authors who published their
work under their own names could hopefor fame and recognition. That iswhy
Greek and Roman history books were notpublished anonymously.

4. Reasons forAnonymity in Ancient Historiography

Why did Old Testament historians write theirworks anonymously?

An old answer suggests that Old Testament narrators abstained from names
using their
because they considered the Holy Spirit to be the true author of their works. As works
the narrative books in the Bible had no real human author; their
inspired by God,
writers were of God. This was the argument on the basis of
in the hand
simply pens
(in the prologue of hisMoralia in Lob) declared it unneces
which Gregory the Great
sary to determine the author of the anonymous book of Job: "If we regard the Holy
as the author and ask nonetheless who the scribe is,what else are we doing than
text and to this view the author
reading the enquiring about the pencil?"64 According
of the book of Job concealed his name because he considered God to be the actual

XV 871-880 (480-481 Tarrant; translation according to LCL); compare
id., Tristium III 3,77-80; Horaz, Carmina III 30,1-16.
62) translation according to
2:... xrjv an a?xfi?... ?o^av (I 4,41 Niese;

H.St.J. Thackeray [LCL]).

63) industriae tes
Epitome historiarum Philippicarum Pompei Trogipr. 6:... apudposteros...
timonium habituro (2,12-14 Seel; translation according to J.S.Watson).
M) Moralia in Lob pr. I 1-3 (CCL 143, 9,29-32 Adriaen; my translation). For a detailed
Die Moralia inJob Gregors des Gro?en
interpretation of the praefatio compare K. Greschat,
(STAC 31; T?bingen:Mohr, 2005) 65-78.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 20:22:25 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
The Anonymity New Testament History Books
of the 135

author of his work and viewed himself as a more or less

passive mediator of God's
revelation. This can to the other historical
traditional interpretation easily be applied
books of the Old Testament and to the New Testament Gospels. Yet, the value of this
is limited by the fact that the letters of the
explanation prophetic books and apostolic
Bible contain their authors' names. Thus, Gregory's thesis is unable to explain why
several biblical authors (which he considered to be
equally inspired) deliberately put
their names at the beginnings of their works. His approach to the
problem, while
to some biblical (and were trans
interesting, fails explain why only books originated
mitted) anonymously.
more answer arises from an
Another early, yet plausible important text written by
Galen of Pergamum. In the prologue of his work De
librispropriis Galen explains why
others were able to present as their own works books that actually he himself had writ
ten. ?To friends and students who asked to get notes of what they had heard they (i.e.
some of Galen's books) were given without a title (xcopi? emypacpric) since the books?
as not been made for publication
they certainly knew?had but for their personal
use."65 In a similar way, John Chrysostom explained the anonymity of the five books
ofMoses and the four Gospels in his commentary on Romans: The biblical narrators
did not mention the author's name, because were to were
"they writing people, who
present, and ithad been superfluous to show themselves when they were present. But
this man (i.e. Paul) sent his writings from afar and in the form of a letter, for which
cause also the addition of the name was case of the
necessary."66 Yet, in the Gospels,

appears to be difficult to find enough evidence that in the early church they were
as a limited circle of
regarded private writings for disciples of the evangelists. And the
library index quoted by Irenaeus explicitly speaks of the publication general release

(?K?cboi?) of the Gospels.67

There must be other reasons for the anonymity of the biblical narratives.
These must be identified through an analysis of thework process and the

self-perception of their authors.

a. TheWork
of theNear Eastern Historian
In the formation ofOld Testament historical works not only the scribes and
secretaries remained anonymous but also the historians (and epitomisers).

65) II
92,13-16 M?ller (my translation); for similar ancient statements and the relevant

secondary literature see A.D. Baum, Pseudepigraphie und literarische im

F?lschung fr?hen
Christentum(WUNT 11/138;
T?bingen:Mohr, 2001) 40.
Homiliae in
epistolam ad Romanos 1,1 (PG 60, 395; translation according to NPNF);
additional remarks by the church fathers about the are discussed D.
Gospels by Krueger,
Writing and Holiness: The Practice ofAuthorship in the Early Christian East
University Press, 2004) 42-48.
Adversus haereses III 1,1 = Eusebius, Historia ecclesiastica V 8,2-4 (GCS 9/1, 442-444
Schwartz/Winkelmann); compare Thornton, Zeuge des Zeugen, 8-69.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 20:22:25 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
136 A.D. Baum INovum Testamentum
50 (2008) 120-142

Even historians who had taken great pains in order to collect and arrange
(and adorn) theirmaterial abstained from publishing their narratives under
their names. The anonymity of theHebrew historians corresponds to the
observation thatwithin Old Testament historiography auctorial reflections
in the firstperson are almost entirelymissing and that the narrators present
their speech material almost completely in oratio recta.
This stands in stark contrast to Greek historiography. Herodotus used
the firstperson hundreds of times in order to reflecton the reliability of his
sources and his own reports. Thucydides provided information about his
historical method, his temporal relationship to the events of thewar and
his narrative technique in his prologue and did so in the firstperson (I 20
22). The Greco-Roman historians acted as open narrators.68 In contrast,
theHebrew historians from Genesis toKings totally abstained from state
ments in the first person inwhich on the purpose and
theywould reflect
method of theirwork. The Old Testament narrators consciously remained

virtually invisible.69
A similar effectwas achieved by reproducing the speeches consistently
(with only a few exceptions) in direct speech. Thus the statements of the
same time
agents were presented much more directly and vividly. At the
the narrators remained entirely in the background. In contrast, Greek his
who also used to
toriography detached itself from the example of Homer,
present his words in direct speech. Greco-Roman historians deliv
ered of their discourses in indirect their narra
large parts speech. Through
tive techniques theymoved themselves somewhat more into the focus of
their readers. In Greco-Roman historiography the gap between the speaker
and the narrator ismore visible than inHebrew history writing.70
Furthermore, Hebrew historians were not interested in editing and
sources in order to distinguish themselves as skil
altering the style of their
fulwriters. Their reluctance to change thewording of their source texts can
be observed most clearly in a synoptic comparison between the text of
Chronicles on the one hand and the Books of Samuel and Kings on the
other hand. On average, theChronicler has preserved 80% of the original

68) C. Dewald, "Narrative Surface and Authorial Voice inHerodotus' Histories,"

Arethusa20 (1987) 147-170.
69) "The Narrators Manifestation".
Bar-Efrat, Narrative Art in the Bible, 23-45:
70) For a detailed defense of this thesis see A.D. "Zu Funktion und Authentizit?t
der oratio recta. Hebr?ische und griechische Geschichtsschreibung imVergleich," ZAW115

(2003) 586-607, esp. 595-597.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 20:22:25 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
The Anonymity of theNew Testament History Books 137

wording of his presumed source texts.71 The anonymity of Old Testament

is related to thefact that it does not contain
historiography reflections in the
nor does it use indirect and that it
first person speech reproduces thewording of
the respective source texts rather closely.

in ancient
Composition historiography

Name 1. Person Oratio obliqua Stylistic ambition

Near Eastern historiography
Greco-Roman + + ++

b. The Priority of the SubjectMatter

In order to understand the relationship of Hebrew historians to their sub

jectmatter an additional factor has to be taken into account. According to
W. Speyer the historical books of theOld Testament were to be as
"records of very old oral traditions."72 This characterization is basically
accurate. Itmust, however, be modified in sources to
light of thewritten
which Hebrew historians regularly refer (1 Kings 11:41 et ai). Old Testa
ment narrators of themselves as mediators of oral and written
traditions. "The narrator disappears behind his material. He does not, as it
were, report on historical events; rather he passes on traditions."73 The
writer remains invisible behind the tradition he hands on, as its
nameless mouthpiece.74 In Old Testament historiography the historical
tradition had absolute priority, as indicated by the fact that these historical
works are almost
invariably anonymous.
In contrast to the anonymous historical works, the
prophetic and
Wisdom books of the Old Testament (and the Ancient Near East) were

71) See
A.D. Baum, "Die lukanische und chronistische im
Quellenbenutzung Vergleich:
Eine zum
Teilanalogie synoptischen Problem," EThL 78 (2002) 340-357, and the literature
mentioned there.
Speyer, Die literarische
F?lschung, 109-110; compare Aune, "Anonymity," 35: "the text
represents traditions owned' by the community in which the author writes."
H. Cancik, Mythische und historische Wahrheit. zu Texten der hethitischen,
biblischen und griechischen (SBS 48; Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk,
1970) 105-108.
74) R. Alter, The World
Compare ofBiblical Literature (New York: Basic Books, 1992) 2-3.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 20:22:25 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
138 A.D. Baum /NovumTestamentum
50 (2008) 120-142

published under their authors' names. The comprehension of the reason

for this difference has already been lost in late antiquity. In his commen
tary on Romans Chrysostom wrote somewhat perplexed:

But when the prophets have mentioned their own names and also Solomon, I leave it
for youto examine this further, (that is) some {i.e. the
why prophets and Solomon)
have mentioned itwhile others (i.e. the Old Testament historians) have not. For you
are not to learn more
everything from me, lest you become dull.75

The correct explanation which Chrysostom apparently was unable to give

should have been that the authority ofWisdom literature was generally
deduced from the authority of theWisdom teachers. Their names were
thereforementioned. With to prophetic literature, the authority of
even more on the
prophetic messages depended identity of the particular
prophet who claimed to have been appointed by God and to be authorized
to act as a mediator of divine revelation. For this reason an
was considered unacceptable in theworld of theAncient
prophetical book
Near East (and theOld Testament).76 With historical works therewas no
concern with the identity of the writer. The attention was
focused entirely on the subject matter.
An appreciation for the essential relationship between the anonymity of
Old Testament (and Ancient Near Eastern) historiography and the priority
of its content or subject matter has rarely been expressed by Greco-Roman
historians. Yet, Salvian ofMarseille had to defend himself in his ninth let
ter against criticswho accused him of having published his four books to
the church (Ad ecclesiam) under the name ofTimothy. In one of his argu
ments he tried to explain why a work could abstain frommentioning the
(true) name of the author:

In every book one searches more for the impact of what one is reading than for the
name of the author... Since the name of the author has no impact at all, it is needless
that the one who has found value in the writings should ask for the name of the

75)Homiliae in
epistolam ad Romanos 1,1 (PG 60, 395; my translation).
76) See "Was Elihu, the Son of Barachel, the Author of the Book of Job? A
Hypothesis," Transeuphrat?ne 16 (1998) 149-166, esp. 152-157, and id., "Authorship and
Author in the Ancient Near East and the Hebrew Bible," HebStud 44 (2003) 157-169,

esp. 158-161.
77) in omni enim uolumine profectus magis lectionis quam
Epistolae 9,4: quaeritur
nomen auctoris... (CSEL 8, 217,24-218,7 Pauly; my translation).

This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 20:22:25 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
New Testament
TheAnonymity HistoryBooks 139

A statement by Sulpicius Severus has stillmore in common with the true

reason for the anonymity ofOld Testament narratives. At the
beginning of
his Life of St. Martin, in the dedication letter to Desiderius, Sulpicius
he was to have his of bishop Martin of
explains why willing biography
Tours published anonymously:

erase the titlewhich the book bears on its front, so that the page may be silent;
and (what is quite enough) let the book proclaim its subject-matter, while it tells noth

ing of the author.78

In the context of this paper, the fact that the author's offer to have his work
to the humility topoi of
published anonymously belonged hagiographie
literature and thus must not be taken at its face value is irrelevant.79The
an authorial self
prologue of Sulpicius Severus explicitly put into words
perception that also formed the basis of very different kind of historiog
was the
raphy. The anonymity of their works stylisticdevice by which Old
Testament (and Ancient Near Eastern) historianspresented themselvesas rather
on and
insignificantmediators of the traditional material theypassed bywhich
in contrast theygave highestpriority to their subjectmatter.

5. New Testament Anonymity from the Readers' Perspective

By writing theirworks without mentioning their names, theNew Testa

ment narrators deliberately
placed themselves in the tradition of Old Tes
historiography. Like theirOld Testament models, theywanted to
use the of their works to to their matter,
anonymity give priority subject
the narratives about the life of Jesus (and the spread of the early Jesus
movement). As authors theywanted, for themost part, to disappear behind
their subject matter. In order tomove the subject matter to the foreground
as much as
possible they let their actors talkmostly in direct speech and
abstained from any reflections in the firstperson. Even in this respect they
took over the stylisticdevices with which theOld Testament historians had

78) Vita sanctiMartini ut... non auctorem (CSEL

pr. 6:... loquatur materiam, loquatur 1,
110,8-9 Halm; translation according toNPNF).
79) R.
Klein, "Die Praefatio der Martinsvita des Sulpicius Severus," AU3\I4 (1988) 5-32,
esp. 12-23; compare Herkommer, "Pro?mien," 52-59: der Bescheidenheit";
Th. Pratsch, Der hagiographische Topos. Griechische Heiligenviten in Zeit
(Berlin: de Gruyter, 2005) 22-34.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 20:22:25 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
140 A.D. Baum INovum Testamentum
50 (2008) 120-142

already tried to disappear as far as possible into the background of their

narratives. Since theywere mainly concerned with their subject matter and
not with narrators of theNew Testament
displaying their literary skill, the
also largely abstained from elevating the colloquial Hellenistic prose of
their sources to a more sophisticated literary level. All of these literary

idiosyncrasies of theGospels and Acts80 were designed tomake the authors

as invisible as
possible and to highlight the priority of their subject matter.
That early readers understood this self-perception of the evangelists is
shown by the testimony of Papias concerning the Gospel of Mark. The

presbyter quoted by Papias makes unmistakably clear that in his view the
content of the second
Gospel had merely been transmitted by Mark, its
assumed author. As Peter's interpreter,Mark had mainly reproduced the
content of Peters oral
In spite of this information, which corresponds well with the anonymity
of the second Gospel, it is clear that Papias himself is interested in the
was to his concern to
identity of the Gospels' authors. This probably due
substantiate the historical claim of the Gospel narratives, and thus
confirm their authenticity and reliability.The name "Matthew" represents
an came from a direct disciple of Jesus.
implicit claim that the firstGospel
name "Mark" the second Gospel was attributed to a
By appropriating the
close companion and co-worker of the apostle Peter,who had been a direct

disciple of Jesus.
In his argument with Marcion, Tertullian addresses the question ofwhy
the early readers of theNew Testament historical books were not content
to accept their anonymity, but emphatically asked about the names of their
authors. Tertullian also comments on the edition of Luke's Gospel that
Marcion used. Itwas particularly in this regard that he attached impor
tance to the names of the Gospel authors and dismissed anonymous Gos
as our first position, that the evangelical Testament
pels: "We lay it down
has apostles for its authors, to whom was assigned by the Lord Himself
this office of publishing the Gospels."82 According to Tertullian, the four

80) For an excellent and more see M.

detailed introduction Reiser, Sprache und literarische
Formen des Neuen Testaments. Eine Einfuhrung (UTB 2197; Paderborn: Sch?ningh, 2001)
81) ecclesiastica III 39,15; "Der Presby
Quoted by Eusebius, Historia compare A.D. Baum,
ter des Papias ?ber einen 'Hermeneuteri des Petrus. Zu Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3,39,15,"

ThZ% (2000) 20-35.

82) Adversus Marcionem IV 2 (CSEL translation accord
Tertullian, 47, 426,6-8 Kroymann;

This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 20:22:25 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
The Anonymity of theNew Testament History Books 141

terms of the
Gospels, written by the apostles and their disciples, differ in
order of their subject matter etc. but agree with regard to themain tenets
of the faith. In their common theological perspective, however, Tertullian
regards them theologically incompatible with the teaching ofMarcion:

Marcion, on the other hand, you must know, ascribes no author to his as if it
could not be allowed him to affix a title to that from which itwas no crime (in his eyes)
to subvert the very now make a stand, and contend that a work
body. And here Imight
not to be which holds not its head erect, which exhibits no consis
ought recognised,
tency, which gives no promise of credibility from the fullness of its title and the just

profession of its author.83

The decision of the authors on the one hand to abstain from mentioning their
names in order to matter met with the concern
highlight the subject of early
readers to secure the authenticity of the historical narratives by identifying the
authors by name.

Anonymity and names in the historical books of the New Testament

Priority of subject Authenticity of narrative

1stGospel anonymous "Matthew"

2nd Gospel anonymous "Mark"
3rd Gospel anonymous "Luke"
4th Gospel anonymous "John"
Acts anonymous "Luke"

This twofold concern may also be reflected by the secondary Gospel super
scriptions. A work like Philostratus' book about the Sophists had the title
OiAoaxpoVcoi) ?ioi a <pioTcbv.The Gospels did not receive similar titles.
The firstgospel was not called "Gospel ofMatthew" (Ma68aioi) e-oayyeXiov
or e?ayy?Xiov xovMa09aioi)), but "Gospel according toMatthew (e?ccyy?^uov
KaxocMa66a?ov)," which was a
comparatively unusual designation.
In these secondary titles the names of the are mentioned.
This must have satisfied the desire of those readers who for reasons of

authenticity and historicity wanted to know the identity of the Gospel

authors. At the same time, theword Kaxoc
("according to") that could be

83) .. .non
Ibid. IV 2: opus, quod non erigatfrontem... (426,18-24; transla
tion toANF).

This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 20:22:25 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
142 A.D. Baum INovum Testamentum 50 (2008) 120-142

used instead of the genitive expressed that the evangelists were or wanted
to be matter. The
nothing other than mediators of their subject Gospel of
Jesus Christ had existed long before the authors of our Gospels wrote their
works. They merely wrote itdown, though in different versions. In a simi
larway, a reference to the (Greek) Old Testament "according to (kcckx)

Symmachus" alluded to the conviction that Symmachus the Ebionite did

not or its
produce theOld Testament subject matter, but had only been its
mediator through his particular (Greek) version.84

6. Conclusion

The anonymity of the New Testament historical books should not be

as nor should it be inter
regarded peculiar to early Christian literature
preted in the context of Greco-Roman historiography. The striking fact
that theNew Testament Gospels and Acts do not mention their authors'
names has its literary counterpart in the anonymity of theOld Testament

history books, whereas Old Testament anonymity itself is rooted in the

as in the Old Testa
literary conventions of the Ancient Near East. Just
ment, where the authors of books that belonged to the genre of wisdom
and prophetic literaturewere usually named while historical works were
written anonymously, only theNew Testament letters and theApocalypse
were published under their authors' names while the narrative literature of
the New Testamentremained anonymous. The authorial intent of the
can also be deduced from itsAncient Near Eastern and
Gospels' anonymity
Old Testament background. Unlike the Greek or Roman historian who,
among other things,wanted to earn praise and glory forhis literaryachieve
ments from both his contemporaries and posterity, the history writer in the
Ancient Near East sought to disappear as much as possible behind the
material he presented and to become its invisible mouthpiece. By adopting
the stylisticdevice ofanonymityfrom Old Testament historiography theEvange
lists of theNew Testament implied that they regarded themselvesas compara
a matter thatdeserved thefull attention
tively insignificantmediators of subject
the readers.The anonymity of theGospels is thus rooted in a deep convic
tion concerning the ultimate priority of their subject matter.

84) See M.
Hengel, The Four Gospels and the One Gospel ofJesus Christ (London: SCM,

2000) 48-56.

This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 20:22:25 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions