Saturday, December 09, 2006

Gospel memorization model

I have just seen and read the following little journal article:
Dennis Ingolfsland, "Jesus Remembered: James Dunn and the Synoptic Problem," Trinity Journal (Fall, 2006), 187-97.

Ingolfsland criticizes Dunn's adherence to the two-source theory rather than "follow his method to its logical conclusion" but it is not clear to me what exactly Ingolfsland would say is Dunn’s method. Instead Ingolfsland goes on to propose his own solution to the synoptic problem (or is it the logical conclusion of Dunn’s method?) that Gospel authors like Luke were taught to memorize previous Gospels like Mk and Mt:

There is nothing improbable with the assumption that local church elders taught potential leaders to learn gospels like Mark or Matthew by memory [footnote 46]—a common teaching method in both Greek and Jewish cultures of the time.

Luke’s extensive knowledge of both Matthew and Mark may imply that he himself had memorized those gospels. [footnote 47]

I doubt this is the logical conclusion to Dunn’s method. And I’m also not sure that this solution is new. There may be similar versions of this type of ‘composition model’ already. In fact I guess one could accept this model and still be a Farrer theorist—or does the Mk-Mt hypothesis imply textual dependence (rather than literary memorization)?

There really are many more types of composition models than most introductions to the matter would care to admit. I’m looking forward to reading Bauckham’s eyewitness model.

1 comment:

Dennis said...


I’m honored that you’ve read and posted on my article.

I think Dunn’s book, Jesus’ Remembered is outstanding! But while his model of studying the Historical Jesus relies on (and modifies) the informal controlled oral tradition model of Kenneth Bailey, it is very clear that Dunn is also still relying on literary dependence (two source theory) of gospel origins. He sees the authors of Matthew and Luke as actually copying from Mark and Q. I think this weakens his case.

Dunn argues that “any feature which is characteristic within the Jesus tradition and relatively distinctive of the Jesus tradition most likely reflects the original impact made by Jesus’ teaching and actions on his first disciples.”

The “method” Dunn uses to find this core of characteristic features is to place parallel texts side by side as in a Gospel synopsis. He then identifies and critically analyzes those elements that are consistent across the tradition, separating the core from the variables that change from Gospel to Gospel. He uses the core traditions to support his view of the historical Jesus.

Dunn argues that traditions appearing in Matthew, Mark, and Luke are essentially independent “performances.” In fact, his whole thesis or model is dependent on seeing the Gospels as independent performances. Paradoxically, however, Dunn strongly affirms his belief in the two-source theory which, of course, is a theory of literary dependence. How can the gospels be “independent performances” if Matthew and Luke are literarily dependent on Mark (and Q)?

I think Dunn’s model would be substantially improved if he were to follow his own arguments to what I think are logical conclusions, and drop the literary dependence model altogether. There are very good reasons for thinking that the literary dependence model is untenable. In addition to the outstanding arguments proposed by Mark Goodacre in his book, The Case Against Q, I asked in my article, “is it really reasonable to propose the kind of copying gymnastics necessary for Matthew to copy from Mark and Q? We would have to imagine for example, that Matthew has a blank scroll in front of him as well as scrolls of Mark and Q. The material in Matthew 3:1-6 is borrowed from Mark 1:2-6. Matthew then inserts material from Q3 and then continues with Mark 1:7-39. He then rolls his scroll of Mark forward significantly to copy from Mark 7:7-13 after which he rolls his Q scroll forward to copy from Q6. He then jumps forward even further in his Mark scroll to chapter 9 before rolling his scroll back to Mark 4. Then it’s back to the Q scroll which he unrolls even more to copy from Q16. Next he returns to his Mark scroll, unrolling it from Mark 4 all the way up to Mark 11:25, before backing up his scroll to Mark 9:43-48…and so it goes.”

“Quite frankly, this would not be easy even for someone who was cutting and pasting with a word processor. How much more difficult for someone who was copying by hand while rolling and unrolling handwritten scrolls that didn’t even have spaces between the words, much less chapter and verse divisions! In fact, for someone to know just where in the scroll to look for the exact information he needed, he would almost have had to memorize the entire gospels anyway!”

My article proposed that Luke used Matthew and Mark but we are not to envision an author laboriously rolling and unrolling scrolls of Matthew and Mark to scatter snippets of teachings all over his gospel. Rather we are to envision a man who had heard the Gospels of Matthew and Mark recited so many times that he almost knew them by heart. Rather than manually copying these gospels, I think Luke draws on these teachings from memory as he writes his own gospel. I tend to follow the Farrar/Goulder model (Mark—Matthew—Luke) but this way of looking at things may require a re-examination of the whole issue of order.

Anyway, I wasn’t actually proposing a new theory so much as I was commending Dunn and suggesting how his model might even be strengthened.

I’ve read Bauckham’s book. It is also excellent. I don’t remember him actually addressing the issue of the Synoptic problem so much but I think his arguments and Dunn’s arguments support each other over against the old Form Critical model that views oral gospel traditions as being radically changed by “creative communities” over the decades.

Dennis Ingolfsland
Crown College
St. Bonifacius, Minnesota