Friday, September 29, 2006

General musings

I must express my appreciation to those bloggers who have noticed this little blog of mine. I notice that Stephen Carlson, Mark Goodacre and Ben C. Smith (a guest blogger aboard Thoughts on Antiquity) have all mentioned me which means I now have a public profile to uphold! In Ben’s TextExcavation newsletter he mentions my new blog, saying,

it deals with one of my favorite topics, the synoptic problem. It is called Source Theory, and it is blogged by TimLewis (, whose thrust of latehas been the Q source, never an easy one to tackle. Tim appears to be in much the same situation as I am; he seriously questions the Q hypothesis, but he does not seem eager to absolutely commit to any single one of the commonly available alternatives, if I am reading him correctly.

Yes this is basically correct. The simple solutions are really solutions of convenience and they are attractive because of their simplicity. Understandably the two-source theory divvies up sources according to overlap (the material overlapping Mk and that overlapping Mt-Lk) and labels them shared sources (Mk & Q) but then has to deal somehow with Mk-Q overlaps! I suspect that a superior solution should best explain not only the available data but also why other solutions are inferior (but we may not have enough data in the first place).

What we can estimate of the evangelist Luke and his Gospel account might throw some light on the synoptic problem. It would be great eventually to see a comparison done looking at Luke the composer, compiler, author and redactor according to the major alternatives (Mk-Q, Mk-Mt & Mt-Lk theories) to see which best explains our Lk. But on the other hand I am also not very optimistic about finding a solution, especially since we cannot know how oral material interacted with written material. In this vein, it might be worth mentioning a book by William Graham, Beyond the Written Word: Oral Aspects of Scripture in the History of Religion which I read quickly through a while back precisely because Graham's approach tries to include this idea and I think in the case of the synoptic problem we have to begin studying secondary orality (this is probably not the proper term since I think it usually applies to modern technologies and I can’t remember how Graham labels it exactly so I should try track his book down again).

Eventually I hope to write more focused posts, but at the moment I fear they are rather general.

Monday, September 25, 2006

A collection of sayings of Jesus and John?

I still don't know whether Mt seems to be a more plausible source for Luke to have used than a simple sayings collection, especially when it appears that Luke must have treated Mt simply as a sayings source for Mt-Lk double tradition on the Farrer theory. In other words, I do not know how the Farrer theory (Mk-Mt theory) compares/competes with the two-source theory (Mk-Q theory) in terms of plausibility. But one thing that makes me question the standard Q hypothesis is its anomalous beginning--sayings of John the Baptist. Why would a collection of Jesus' sayings begin with sayings of John Baptiser? I must find out who else has commented on this strange feature of Q? In fact this feature alone is almost enough to convince me of Luke's dependence on Matthew--it contains by far the highest verbal agreement and unless some explanation could be found in terms of textual history and harmonisation, then we have here a strong argument for Lk copying Mt (rather than both copying a shared source extremely accurately--but why preserve John's words more carefully than Jesus'!)

[See also an exchange between me and Carlson on plausibility]

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

So the real Q hypothesis is yet to stand up

My Q teaching survey will always be here for whoever wishes to add responses. But for now I guess I will have to keep on assuming that for many people what Q might represent as a hypothesis is not necessarily identical to what the Q hypothesis really is. That is, I will for now answer my own question by saying that I guess because Q was originally a hypothetical document, it must remain that way--no matter how free one feels to make Q serve as a convenient symbol for the Mt-Lk double-tradition (in whatever form/s Lk & Mt found it) one must still teach that the original Q hypothesis posits a document and thus remains the hypothesis. There will always be weakened versions of the hypothesis around (for practical reasons) but for whatever reason they are not considered the 'real' hypothesis.

It still strikes me as strange that many teachers would teach a weakened form of the Q hypothesis without making it clear to students the differences between the original hypothesis (of say, Streeter since he made it famous) and the weakened 'classroom' hypothesis. So Mark Goodacre's approach would stand out as distinctive in this regard in not failing to highlight to students the difference between two opposing source theories for the material, but only, it seems, because he chooses not to deal with oral source theories as relevant for solving the synoptic problem (instead he deals with these in form criticism i.e. prior to introducing students to source criticism). I am interested in how successful this splitting off of oral source theory from synoptic source theory in general might be. I guess what I consider to be the synoptic problem differs in that I think the synoptic problem is complicated by the fact that we have as yet no clear guidelines for ascertaining how much of the Gospels are composed from oral traditions and how much is dependent on written materials, and how much on material which could be both or somewhere in between (say, either oral material becoming more written or written material circulating as more oral). I can't say that these issues are distinct from the synoptic problem proper. But I can appreciate that teachers like Mark are teaching them separately to students (as a different approach on/within source theory in general). I guess it depends on what ones definition of the synoptic problem is--mine is broad: From what materials (and how) were the Gospels composed?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Clarifying the Q survey

I must clarify that what the question is I wish to ask teachers introducing the Q hypothesis: What are you telling students the Q hypothesis is? because I suspect that not many teachers are persuaded in a single written Q source even if they hold to a two-source (Mk-Q) hypothesis. And I wonder are teachers are still telling students that the Q hypothesis is a hypothetical document even though they themselves may assume a modified 2SH with written and oral fragments comprising "Q". I recall my lecturers being quite confident of Markan priority but rather hesitant in what exactly Q was. I want to know if that was (ab)normal to teach "Q" is a "label" or umbrella term covering shared sources rather than a single document? Hence my quotes taken from Guthrie and from Barrett (and my allusion to Petrie's 1959 Novum Testamentum article). For example, how much of the double-tradition is considered oral traditions? Do oral traditions feature at all in what students are being taught about the double-tradition?

I have a suspicion that the survival of the notion of a Q document hypothesis is not unrelated to:

(1) What teachers teach about what is the consensus Q hypothesis,
(2) What teachers actually believe about the double-tradition,
(3) How teachers teach the Q hypothesis,
(4) What graduate students eventually take with them.

Are most students being taught that the standard Q hypothesis posits a single document?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Surveying the teaching of Q: What do you make of it?

It is unfortunate that the widely used symbol Q is employed in different senses by different writers. - C. K. Barrett

The symbol Q may still be used as a convenient description of the common material, while each investigator must be left to make clear whether he is thinking of written or oral material or a mixture of both. - Donald Guthrie

None of the arguments against the existence of Q as a single source is fully convincing. . . It is thus best to assume that Q was a single source, available in Greek and probably in written form. - Christopher M. Tuckett
What is being taught in the classroom nowadays concerning the Q hypothesis? I would like to survey here what lecturers have been teaching lately (say within the last few years) concerning Q (the hypothetical sayings collection attested in the Mt-Lk double-tradition).

From my own observation of what students are taught I can see that not much source theory actually sticks. The letter Q seems to be something that does stick, however. Presuming everything taught did stick--what exactly was it that stuck? I am presuming that what different institutions teach could be placed on a "Q-spectrum" or "Q-continuum" ranging from "pro-Q" (Q is basically reconstructable) through to "sceptical-Q" (the Mt-Lk double tradition does not derive from a single written source or "sayings collection" prior to its inclusion in Matthew).

So for those teaching/introducing the synoptic problem to students, my three questions are:

(1) Where are you on the Q-spectrum? (What do you teach students concerning the Q hypothesis?)
(2) What is your teaching style regarding the Q hypothesis? (How strictly do you teach what you teach? I.e. are students encouraged to challenge what they are taught and come to their own conclusions? How do you introduce arguments for and against?)
(3) What do you think sticks with students regarding the Q hypothesis? (How much of what is taught do most students take with them?)

Please leave responses directly here as the comments can then be easily read by all those interested.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Henry Owen's source theory

I have just received my own (photo)copy of Henry Owen, Observations on the Four Gospels (London: T. Payne, 1764) kindly donated to me. I am finding it quite illuminating reading from the first source-theorist to publish the idea that the Gospels were not independently composed (rather the later Evangelists "perused" the earlier ones). Owen is fully aware that the notion is new--I wonder whether beginning students would be persuaded by his logic, however. He seems to assume that the first three Gospels were written very early (early sixties) because of the testimony of the early church fathers and because

"the circumstances of things, and the necessities of the Church, seem to plead in favour of the earliest, rather than the latest dates. For we can hardly suppose, that the Church be left, for so many years as these dates imply, without any authentic account in writing of facts so highly important not only to its edification, but also to its very being." [p7]

Perhaps it is difficult for us to imagine a time when the Church had no written Gospels. But the Gospel was indeed originally a simple "message of salvation." The "word" of God was verbal/oral and the "story" of Jesus was proclaimed orally. I don't it strange that the Church survived without written accounts about Jesus. It is perhaps more strange that accounts appeared so soon--and by soon I mean by the end of the first century. I think the need for written Gospels would be felt more intensely as the Jesus/Church movement progressed more widely throughout the Greek-speaking world. I find something more local (and less "public") about the Gospel according to Mark (than Mt & especially Lk) which also suggests an earlier date to me. And I also think that having four written Gospels suggests slightly different audiences (in terms of times, places, or even genres) but also suggests some kind of independence. Obviously the author of the first written Gospel will have had no idea how many other written Gospels would be added in the future. And this is perhaps where the Owen-Griesbach theory falls down because it implies that Mk knew Mt & Lk and chopped out huge portions of material (as though criticising them). Mk is quite harsh on how dull the disciples of Jesus were and this could be taken as being a criticism of the kind of apostolic foundation portrayed by Mt & Lk. So I have to disagree with Farmer--I think putting Mk last creates more theological/historical problems (than simply putting Mt first).

And I find something suggestive about the emergence of four written Gospels in terms of suggesting a shared time-span--I suggest that the four could share a close time period of composition. Just as the mid-second-century saw a(nother) flurry of (apocryphal) Gospels, perhaps the first (canonical) four appeared within a relatively short time-span (immediately following the fall of Jerusalem) within, say, a decade (although Lk seems to have accessed even more sources which might suggest an even later date).