Monday, August 06, 2007

A Year of Source Theory Blogging - Part One

In less than two weeks this blog will be a year old so for the next couple of weeks I will present a series of posts bringing together the previous year's blogging.

This blog has intended to focus on "Introducing the Synoptic Problem to students" as "A blog on the synoptic problem aimed at furthering student thought and participation." There are already websites around introducing the synoptic problem (see sidebar) and many of these are certainly more helpful and informative than most introductions available in print. Yet students need to be encouraged to see and understand the types of arguments being used. We should be seeing more students (and eventually more scholars) agnostic as to the 'best' source theory rather than settling for what one's lecturers espouse (e.g. 2ST, Farrer, Griesbach).

Students should be encouraged to look at the assumptions for how a theory resolves a problem (and the type of problem being solved). My own experience with the Gospel pericopes does not yet indicate the nature of the non-Markan sources appearing in Luke (granting that Luke depended on something almost identical to Mark). I can now see this agnosticism present throughout my past year's blogging. OK, now for a year's recapping and distillation of thoughts part one...

This blog began when I posted my lecture notes for BN101 held at Whitley College August 2006. Here I used the terminology look-alike gospels as a student-friendly description for the 'Synoptic Gospels.' The lecture emphasised the three kinds of similarities:
similar CONTENT (displayed in a Venn diagram),
simliar PHRASING (displayed in a Synopsis), and
similar ORDER of passages/pericopes (as displayed in Allan Barr's diagram/chart).
It is these three features (and the lack of these three features held in common with the fourth Gospel) which suggests evidence of a literary relationship between the Synoptic Gospels. The 'problem' (or type) of this relationship is more so a modern problem arising as a historical enterprise to explain the use of 'sources' though pre-modern responses demonstrate some awareness of a concern with the problem of Gospel differences (thought to potentially undermine the historicity or veracity of the Gospel accounts). Ironically, it is not now the differences but the similarities in CONTENT, PHRASING and ORDER which present reason to suspect direct copying and often thought to be potentially more devastating (in terms of historicity).
My initial lecture notes helpfully grouped arguments for Markan priority into three categories:
Flawed Arguments (order of pericopes; length of pericopes; lower/higher Christology);
Inconclusive Arguments (difficult passages-Mark has more of them; vocab statistics); and
Substantial Arguments (editorial fatigue; tight plotting of Mark).

What I could have made clearer is that those who oppose Markan priority are basically correct that Markan priority is more of a belief (or 'working hypothesis') than a scientific fact given the current tests and results are rather tentative and often reversable. Assuming Mark to be a source of both Matthew and Luke makes reasonable sense of all three Synoptic Gospels (but so do other source theories).

My initial interest in the synoptic problem is mentioned briefly in my third post and in the latter part of my sixth post. Basically as an undergraduate student I found the introductions to the synoptic problem available in print very disapointing and unhelpful so I wrote an essay demonstrating this(part A evaluating six standard intros; part B looking at arguments for and against Matthean posteriority). The essay is made available in the side-bar (Solving the Synoptic Problem for Students?).

Thanks to Stephen Carlson in January I had to correct my earlier assertion that Henry Owen (1764) was the first to suggest direct literary dependence (interrelationship) since it appears that the notion might be dated even earlier (e.g. Hugo Grotius, John Mill, J.J. Wettstein). However I concluded that we still need to distinguish between:

(a) those who believe that the later Gospel compositions were written with some knowledge of the predecessors work (Augustine’s position); and
(b) those who believe that an author fully ‘depends’ on an earlier work for the material (without which they would probably lack the material).

The latter category has produced various models all claiming some notion of 'dependence' but due to the belief that certain material would have (or could have) been available in more than one document or in the form of oral traditions (rendered even more complex by secondary and tertiary orality--i.e. as a written work develops an oral life of its own) it is impossible to know whether Luke's Gospel depends on the text/document of Matthew's Gospel for all the overlapping material (and/)or whether Matthew and Luke shared a common source or whether Matthew's Gospel (or portions of it) had entered into a second level of orality and could be recalled/remembered by the author of Luke.

To update on an older exchange between Carlson and myself (see link in sidebar) which debated whether Luke's dependence on Matthew should be seen as any more plausible than the two's dependence on shared source/s (i.e. Mk-Mt-Lk vs. Mk-Q-Lk). I think our definitions of plausibility were not identical. What is it that would make us perceive that the Mt-Lk double tradition (1) originated with Matthew's text and/or (2) was only available to Luke via Matthew? So neither the Mk-Q or Mk-Mt theory should be presupposed as more logically plausible since even though the Mk-Q theory demands a common hypothetical source (Q) the Mk-Mt theory demands that Luke owes all of its 'Q' material solely to the text of Matthew making the Farrer theory less agnostic about the material, which could actually represent multiple traditions/sources. Only at a basic mathematical/logical level does Farrer hold the advantage by simplifying the Mt-Lk overlap. Yet only the John Baptist traditions share a close enough verbal similarity (phrasing) to demand literary dependence for this material (which would either indicate very little direct borrowing from Matthew or give us an extremely small Q!)

My next post will review my posts on Dunn's source theory and attempt to bring some clarity to my earlier disorganized posts.

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