Friday, March 14, 2008

Tim's Eight Synoptic Problem Affirmations

I was recently asked (by Keith Dyer) whether I could put together a more positive counterpart to my Eight Synoptic Problem Myths/Misassumptions. So I have converted my negatives into positives to counterbalance those Myths/Misassumptions posted here in November. Myths 6, 7 & 8 were already negating negatives, but now here they are all eight in positive form!

Affirmation 1: Differences between Source Theory solutions are due in large part to differing definitions of what exactly is the Synoptic Problem (i.e. what kind of task is involved? how should we legitimately go about 'accounting for' the presence of similar synoptic data) and these differing conceptions determine whether solutions are either Intra-Gospel or Extra-Gospel solutions. Those source theories which attempt to explain the presence of (virtually) all literary data within the three synoptic Gospels by recourse only to the three synoptic Gospels (without bringing other 'external' sources into the question) might be classed as 'intra-Gospel solutions.' These solutions perceive the parameters of the problem as a literary problem similar to the problem of having to decide which of three student essays have been plagiarised of out three suspiciously similar-looking essays. Thus the Farrer theory, for example, has Luke dependent on the other two (i.e. a Mk-Mt hypothesis) in order to account for the presence of (virtually) all of the synoptic agreements whilst remaining agnostic about Matthew's non-Markan sources (and Mark's sources).
   The second category of solutions suppose that the problem is identical to the larger task of source criticism and so involves imagining the other 'non-Gospel' sources which might have played a part in the construction of the three synoptic Gospels, thereby defining the task entirely differently. Some source theories, in line with this larger conception/definition of the problem, may thus include some hypothesising about how the composition of fourth Gospel relates to the composition of the other three synoptics (and will in effect dilute the definition of the labels 'synoptic problem' and 'synoptic Gospels'). This second category of solutions can be categorised as offering 'extra-(synoptic)-Gospel solutions'. Hence a theorist presupposing the second definition of the synoptic problem may suppose that it be completely legitimate to draw conclusions about Matthew's use of various 'sources' or he or she might perhaps differentiate between non-Markan and non-Matthean source material utilised in the Gospel of Luke (see for example Ron Price's Three Source Hypothesis).
   These two differing presuppositions largely account for the inability to agree on whether one can legitimately speak about Matthew's different 'sources' and whether such hypothesising makes one's source theory any more or less 'plausible.' 'Two-Source' theorists (postulating a Mk-Q hypothesis) suppose that the increased specificity of the theory makes for a more plausible theory since it gives account of two major sources behind both Matthew and Luke (i.e. it 'accounts' for more of Matthew's data than does the Farrer theory). The perceived superiority or perceived plausibility of any particular source theory is thus directly related to the perceived definition of what is the task and problem under investigation. In my blog posts I presuppose the second category of the synoptic problem but only after attempting to begin with the first category for as long as the first category will allow. Thus I would agree in beginning with the task as defined by Farrer (“On Dispensing with Q”):

  • “…our first supposition is not that both draw upon a lost document for which there is no independent evidence, but that one draws upon the other. It is only when the latter supposition has proved untenable that we have recourse to the postulation of a hypothetical source.”

Affirmation 2: The kind of story, the purpose, audience and 'genre' of each Gospel should help determine something about synoptic sources used. Mark appears to have been written to be performed orally. Matthew may have been rather familiar with Mark in this mode (in a 'performed oral mode' i.e. in secondary orality). Matthew's 'church instruction manual' displays some fondness for oral teaching whereas Luke does not appear to be written in such fashion. I suppose that Mark's Gospel uses popular stories about Jesus to tell a challenging story of God's kingdom/empire enacted on earth, in the figure of Jesus, as an alternative non-violent kingdom/empire in conflict with the current notions of kingdom/empire. I see that Mark's first audience was likely in Caesarea Philipi and had suffered the violent tortures of gladiatorial sports and being thrown to wild animals (after 70 CE -- thus Jesus is meant to be taken as an anti-war voice against both Rome's violence and those who seek to fight Rome's violence). Matthew utilises many of the same stories, because of their increasingly popularity, in order to guide and instruct the new community of believers who have become suspect of rejecting the Judaism of the time and who must redefine what true righteousness is (Matthew is composed in a slightly later time period than Mark, further away from the threat of Rome's war against Judaism and its persecuting powers -- the real enemies in Matthew are the Jewish leaders in whom Matthew's audience have lost faith i.e. they are the ones to whom people should have been able to, but can no longer, depend on to provide true leadership and in Matthew they are blamed for all sorts of things). This Jesus has even more to say concerning his true followers and promises an end to those who are false believers. Luke's story provides a real biblical drama written in an even more 'biblical style' in an attempt to provide even more historical perspective on the early Jesus movement. Luke's Jesus does not distance himself from many sectors of society and appears as an inspirational spiritual leader for all but the self centred greedy minded folk to follow. Theoretically there is no initial reason why Luke cannot have utilised Matthew given Luke's larger perspective and longer length would naturally put Luke later in time.

Affirmation 3: Matthew's sources appear mainly to have been of an oral nature. Even many of Matthew's biblical quotations may have been made indirectly (again secondary orality). Excepting the John Baptist traditions and the use of (or oral familiarity with) something resembling canonical Mark, there is little reason to postulate other written sources for Matthew, this leaves little room for 'Q' other than being a bunch of various traditions (without designating anything unified like a 'set' of traditions or a single document).

Affirmation 4: Some remnants of Markan vocabulary, genre, theology and structure can be seen in both Matthew and Luke, suggesting that Mark (or similar to Mark) was known and utilised in the composition of both Matthew and Luke.

Affirmation 5: The Farrer theory, though initially theoretically superior, breaks down upon examination. The author of Luke's Gospel appears to be a more competent writer so that the notion that Luke copied verbatim from Matthew the John Baptist sayings contradicts Luke's use of the remainder of the shared (allegedly) 'Matthean' sayings material elsewhere which is highly rewritten. Each time I have expected to see evidence of Matthean vocabulary in Luke, I have been disappointed. For one example, see synoptic-l message 9923 (Nov 17, 2004) where I looked at Luke's non-use of Matthew's favourite 'Judgment Day' expression. Once in Matthew (12:41-42) Luke's preferred Judgment Day expression appears to be used by Matthew (a shared source?) whereas Matthew's most used expression (Mt 10:15; 11:22 , 24; 12:36) is not found at all in Luke, thereby suggesting against the idea that Matthew is Luke's source. See also my follow-up post (on Luke's mission sending passage). See also my attempt here on this blog to find remains of Matthean theology in Luke's alleged rejection of Matthew's law theme parts 1, 2, & 3.

Affirmation 6: A large proportion of the overlapping (and likely some of the singularly attested) synoptic sayings material already existed prior to Jesus' use of such sayings (and also of the evangelists claimed used by Jesus). Jesus of course would have put his own spin on traditional wisdom material but it is overly naive to expect that Jesus would have invented from scratch all of his sayings as brand new sayings (and that these were then all handed down verbatim from disciple to disciple and to finally to evangelist). So far I think Dunn comes close to expressing how Jesus was remembered (in terms of his impact) in a similar fashion but does not as far as I know emphasise the presence of similar sayings material already predating Jesus.

Affirmation 7: More knowledge of ancient compositional techniques will assist in evaluating how each Gospel was likely composed. I suppose that an author would consulted a written source more sparingly then modern authors. Also I suppose that the notion of an 'author' was entirely different. An ancient author such as a Gospel author was 'a community voice' utilising the common knowledge of the community in a context that spoke loudly and would be appealing to that community. Hence all knowledge utilised was 'traditional' to some degree (it being very difficult and unlikely to say something entirely new and unheard of). Luke need not have depended on Matthew for information about Jesus (as though his knowledge and sources were running low!)

Affirmation 8: Form criticism should not be thrown out. I suggest that the notion of seeing 'individual units of traditions' stems from the fact that many of the sayings already existed in various forms prior to Jesus' and the evangelists' use of them. Categorising sayings into their various 'forms' does not necessarily indicate only something about their later use (by Jesus and the evangelists and those in between) but also those beforehand who already made use of something similar.

Hopefully the above affirmations are in line with this blog's purpose in encouraging students to think for themselves and to look at the assumptions for how a theory resolves a problem (and the type of problem being solved).