Friday, July 24, 2009

Is Q a gospel source or a quirk of scholarship?

One of my interests, aside from the quirks of Anglicanism, is the question of the composition of the gospels. I have a leaning towards the theory that the parallels between Matthew and Luke, where neither follows Mark, is due to Luke copying Matthew, rather than each drawing on a common source, nicknamed by scholars as Q. (Q stands for Quelle, or source, not for Quirk)!

But Q might stand for Quirk in some theorising about Q. Recently I received a book notice as follows:

"Rethinking the Gospel Sources, Volume 2: The Unity and Plurality of Q by Delbert Burkett

This work examines three disputed issues in the study of Q, the hypothetical source common to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke: its existence; its unity as a document; and the plurality of its wording. It evaluates the arguments for and against the existence of Q and concludes that some form of the Q hypothesis is necessary. It presents new evidence that most of the Q material existed as a single written source unified by recurring features of style and theme. Finally, it argues that differences between Matthew and Luke in the wording of Q were caused most often when one Evangelist replaced or combined Q with parallel material from another source.

Paper $35.95 • 296 pages • ISBN 9781589834125 • Early Christianity and Its Literature 1 • Hardback edition"

Umm, would it not be simpler to propose that Luke copied Matthew, than to invent 'another source' which both gospel writers had access to which, either replacing Q or combining with Q, explains differences between Matthew and Luke in Q passages?

I guess I shall have to read the book to check the whole story of this particular justification for Q!

But on the face of it, Q scholarship, and not for the first time, looks a bit quirky in seeking to uphold the hypothesis of Q by resorting to yet another hypothesis rather than considering that the Q hypothesis is past its use by date.


A. D. Hunt said...

I hope you don't mind me nosing around your recent posts and giving random two-cents worth of opinion.

My favorite Q quirk is the "Critical Edition of Q" complete with extensive footnotes!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi A.D. Hunt,
A blog is a public document (as the wife of the head of MI5 discovered recently when she posted pics of her husband in his swimming cozzy) ... I like the Critical Edition of Q also ... it is a very handy reminder of how difficult it is to construct Q!

Anonymous said...

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What is more he also thoroughly Understood what those extraordinary experiences were all about, and more importantly their limitations.

He was also familiar with all of the most recent scholarly research into the origins of the Bible and Christianity altogether too.

Based on all of that he points out, with complete certainty, that the New Testament is full of holes and should really be treated as a sometimes inspired piece of religious story-telling---that is a work of FICTION. And that most of it is completely useless as a guide to sane balanced right living.

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this set of essays provides the necessary introductory guide-lines.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks, Anonymous from Melbourne.

I think I'll stick with Jesus!

Anonymous said...

What do you when, much later, you discovered you've joined the wrong Q?


Peter Carrell said...

Exercise the right to change Qs!

Howard Pilgrim said...

Peter, I noticed this post when you put it up a few days ago and thought, now that's interesting, knowing your "leaning" on this matter. As all the subsequent comments have been smart alecky rather than substantive, I would like to draw you out to some more scholarly discourse on the topic.
I support the Q hypothesis as a working principle but share your discomfort at the claims some make to have identified the document unambiguously and even its precursors. Here are my central reasons, which you might like to evaluate. I take it that we agree on the first three, but would like to know just where and why we diverge.
1. Precise similarities in the wording of some material common to the three Synoptic gospels indicate a literary relationship: there is some copying going on among them.
2. There is a strong case for Markan priority: that the others are making use of Mark and consider his gospel an authoritative source, not to be altered lightly.
3. Material common to Mt and Lk but not in Mk also shows a significant degree of verbal correspondence, indicating a further literary relationship. You believe this is most simply explained as Lk copying and adapting Mk, rather than a further now unknown document considered authoritative at the time(the Q hypothesis).
4. Your preference for seeking a direct literary relationship only between the canonical gospels gets us past the question of how an authoritative document could disappear without trace - an argument from silence - but raises a much bigger problem in my mind. If Luke used Matthew's gospel, and considered it authoritative enough to quote verbatim in places, then how do we account for the remarkable freedom he has to diverge from its framework and emphasis, and especially to correct its theology? On your favoured hypothesis, Mt must be one of the previous inaccurate accounts Luke undertakes to correct in his prologue: hardly an expression of respect for an authoritative source.
5. What Luke does, if you are right, is to challenge and correct Matthew's story, something they both carefully avoid doing to Mark. For me the major strength of the Q hypothesis is that it has Matthew and Luke working independently on the same authoritative source materials, leaving them free to use and expand them as expressions of their divergent situations, concerns, and theologies. Diversity growing out of unity, to paraphrase your old master.
So what I really would like you to respond to most is this double-barreled question ... If Luke knew and used Matthew's gospel, in what way did he consider it to be authoritative, and how do you see that respect evidenced?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard
I might exercise the "right" to make a longer post on the questions you raise, but here is a very brief response.
(1) It is not clear from the preface to Luke (IMHO) whether Luke thought his sources were (to some degree) erroneous, and thus he was correcting them, or simply was saying, with a bit of rhetorical flourish, 'others have published their gospels, useful in their own way for the purposes of their authors, here's mine.
(2) But if it was the former, is he not treating Matthew and Mark, or Q and Mark the same? Authoritative only to a degree; useful to him only in part?
(3) Luke is actually fairly cavalier with Mark: only paralleling 350 of 661 verses in Mark (compare with Matthew's respectful paralleling of 600 verses of 661).
(4) An unknown question or factor here is the extent to which Luke understood his work as competing with Matthew's or complementing it. On a theory of complementariness, Luke gratefully accepts Matthean material, sometimes (more or less) replacing it in order to bring out different lessons to Matthew's(notably the Birth Narrative), sometimes mixing it and spreading it differently through his own gospel (especially the teaching of Jesus), and sometimes editing it for special effect (e.g. 'Blessed are the poor in spirit' becomes 'Blessed are the poor').

Enough to go on?I feel sure you will come back to me with a rejoinder or two!

Anonymous said...

"As all the subsequent comments have been smart alecky rather than substantive..."

Oh dear, now I'll have to mind my Ps AND my Qs!

Howard, how do you know Luke "corrected" Matthew? Why couldn't he be taking the Jesus-tradition and interpreting it for Theophilus and his people (whoever he and they were)? If it's a dogmatic prejudice to see complementarity in different documents, it's equally so to see the contradiction in the same.