Sunday, August 27, 2006

James Dunn's oral Q

James D. G. Dunn accepts the standard two-source theory (Mk-Q theory) except he seems to doubt that Q was a document. I am interested in commenting on what Dunn has argued in a recent article, "Q1 as oral tradition," in Markus Bockmuehl and Donald A. Hagner (eds.), The Written Gospel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 45-69 along with an article reviewing both Dunn and Burkett's source theories: David Neville, "The Demise of the Two-Document Hypothesis? Dunn and Burkett on Gospel Sources," in PACIFICA 19 (Feb 2006), 78-92.

The first point I wish to make is that Dunn seems to be trying hard not to challenge the two-source theory whilst at the same time undermining what the two-source theory (pre)supposes by his recourse to oral traditions. In this point I am in agreement with Neville's analysis of Dunn. But it is difficult to know just exactly what Dunn is advocating, because Dunn wishes to accept theoretically Q as a document but he wants also to treat Q1 (Kloppenborg's lowest strata or layer of Q) as material in an oral mode. One of the annoying things about Dunn is his reluctance to specify what he is actually arguing for. Dunn has apparently also argued elsewhere that Mt and Lk treat Mk in a similar oral mode of transformation--a point which further muddies his argument. Dunn wishes to keep the theory of literary dependence of Mt & Lk on Mk and Q but in an oral mode! It would have been more beneficial if Dunn could articulate and demonstrate what exactly he envisages--what is his source theory? Perhaps Dunn wants to say that it is impossible to know (without further research?) how we could tell the difference between Lk using an oral version of tradition and Lk redacting an already written version. If so, then why not say it this way? Perhaps we have also hit upon a problem already inherent in the two-source theory--the theory assumes that triple-tradition material originates with Mk, and double-traditions material (reconstructable "Q") originates with "Q" and any variations are due to authorial emendations/redactions. As far as I know this has never really been posed as a problem (except for say the Lord's Prayer existing in both written and oral versions) and so has remained dormant. But I suggest as a defective gene it was only a matter of time until it would become manifest. I think I would need to brush up on my history of source theory to check out its earlier manifestations. I suspect that many source theorists and Gospel commentators have been hiding under the umbrella of the two-source theory, whilst harbouring similar modifications as Dunn (and here I have to disagree with Neville who seems to think that the implications of Dunn's theory is in effect an erosion of the two-source theory when I doubt whether there has ever really been a two-source theory but it has more-so been a hiding place for those with there own version of a two-source theory--no one version of Q has been identical for starters!) And what are the implications for grafting on oral traditions into "the" two-source theory?

I suggest that there is as yet no way to combine an oral source theory with a written dependence source theory neatly. The whole synoptic problem begins because the variance between the first three Gospels is not considered enough for independently written works (we would expect more variation for Gospels based solely on oral stories) and so we construct a theory of literary dependence to account for the similarities. But now that our theory has almost elimated the need for oral traditions we face the following dilemmas:
(1) we have as yet no agreed way to detect the presence of oral material influencing the newly composed written texts;
(2) another unknown quantity thrown into the mix is the problem of secondary orality (oral traditions sparked off by written versions which seems to be hinted at by Dunn when he sees Mt & Lk using Mk in an "oral mode")! This would be one way of sticking to the two-source theory (by saying that Mt & Lk deliberately kept an oral "sound" or "flavour" to their rewriting of Markan material) but it is not exactly clear that Dunn is suggesting this or primary orality;
(3) can we know when we have discovered a tradition to be more oral-sounding unless we also could know whether redaction to written versions was deliberately made to be oral-sounding? Are there any guidelines here yet to follow?

It seems Dunn wants to have his Q and eat it too!

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