I have been following this discussion with considerable interest. It seems
to me that Brian makes one very important point very well here and, without
repeating all of Brian's comments, I would like to suppor it and make one
further comment that I hope is relevant.
> My methodology is that we should put forward any hypothesis of the
> documentary relationship between the synoptic gospels, test this against
> the observed data, if the hypothesis fails to fit well the data then it
> should be rejected, otherwise it should be accepted as a solution to the
> synoptic problem. The process should be repeated for any synoptic
> documentary hypothesis that we care to examine. If more than one
> solution is obtained, then the most probable should be preferred.
This is, I think, quite right but it seems to me that there is no hypothesis
(at least none that I know of) that does not fail to fit the data well at
some point. In short, we have no "perfect" solution to this very complex
problem; every hypothesis is to some degree problematic. Furthermore, I
agree with Brian that "if more than one solution is obtained, then the most
probable should be preferred." We must recognize, however, that in a
situation where there is no "perfect" solution, researchers will
legitimately differ in their assessment of which hypothesis is the most
probable, partly because we weigh the residual problems of each hypothesis
differently, often magnifying the importance of the problems in other
hypotheses while minimizing the importance of such problems in our own (for
whatever reasons). But there are other reasons as well.
One element contributing to what I sometimes see an as impasse in our
scholarship is that we are attempting us understand a process that was, to
some degree, a dynamic one with models that are, to some degree, static
ones. To press the dynamic side of this euqation too far means that we are
left with a solution that is impossibly complex or complicated. To press the
static side of the equation means that we are left with a solution that is
far too simple.
Brian is also right when he says that "In practice, we have to work with the
best hypothesis we have to date. There is no other option open to us."
Clearly, however, we do not agree what this "best hypothesis...to date" is.
In this situation it seems to me that we benefit more from attempting to
refine our own hypothesis, and those of others, than we do looking for a
"knock-out" punch that makes one hypothesis victorious in the fray.
Dr. Thomas R. W. Longstaff
Crawford Family Professor of Religious Studies
Director, Jewish Studies
4643 Mayflower Hill
Waterville, ME 04901-8846
Tel: (207) 872-3150
FAX: (207) 872-3802
Synoptic-L Homepage: http://www.bham.ac.uk/theology/synoptic-l
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