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[Excavating-Q] Reply to Brian McCarthy

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  • John Kloppenborg
    Brian McCarthy asks Does your work on Q presuppose that Jesus taught publicly in Greek? but also asks about the relation of the Jesus Seminar to my work on
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1 5:54 AM
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      Brian McCarthy asks "Does your work on Q presuppose that Jesus taught
      publicly in
      Greek?" but also asks about the relation of the Jesus Seminar to my work on

      It is important to underscore that ExQ (like Formation of Q) is *not* about
      the historical Jesus, either directly or indirectly, but about a document of
      the Jesus movement compiled some 30-40 years after his death. While it is
      clear enough from an analysis of some of the language of Q that it betrays
      various semitisms, I have argued in both Formation and ExQ that the language
      of composition is Greek, not Aramaic. This argument was not based at all on
      suppositions about what language Jesus spoke, but on an analysis of the
      frequencies of various grammatical forms (kai-de frequencies; hyperbata;
      verb-subject order in non-dependent clauses; adjectives in first attributive
      position, etc.). I am willing to grant that some of the Jesus tradition was
      transmitted in Aramaic; but as far as *composition* is concerned, I do not
      think that there is sufficient evidence to posit the composition of Q in

      Moreover, in chap. 7 I have tried to examine the theological work that an
      Aramaic Q did in the history of Protestanet scholarship in the late 19th
      century, and RC scholarship in the early 20th century (up to Divino
      afflante spiritu), and conclude that from an ideological perspective (*not*
      from the perspective of linguistic evidence), an Aramaic Q served as an
      apologetic construct, based more on wishful thinking than on any responsible
      analysis of the data.

      McCarthy continues...
      [As far as I know this is a position of the JS, against the
      consensus of those other leading Jesus scholars that I could
      check; and is for the JS a mere presupposition and not an
      early critical conclusion arrived at through the
      collaborative work of the whole collective. [And their work
      seems to be in great measure built on your work on Q.]

      I think this is perhaps a bit mistaken. The Seminar writes: "Jesus' native
      tongue was Aramaic. We do not know whether he cold speak Hebrew as well. His
      words have been preserved only in Greek, the original language of all the
      surviving gospels. If Jesus could not speak Greek, we must conclude that his
      exact words have been lost forever, with the exception of terms like 'Abba',
      . . . However, it is possible that Jesus was bilingual. Recent
      archaeological excavations in the Galilee indicate that Greek influence was
      widespread there in teh first century of our era. If Jesus could speak
      Greek, some parts of the oral tradition of sayings and parables preserved in
      the gospels may actually have originated with him." (The Five Gospels, pp.

      This seems to me to be a reasonable and relatively uncontroversial
      conclusion, based on what evidence we have--I think they were referring to
      the analysis of epigraphy in the first couple of centuries, which shows a
      balance of Greek inscriptions over Hebrew/Aramaic. And their statement is
      sufficently couched with 'ifs' to be responsible.

      As far as I know, the JS has not used my work to pronounce on the original
      language of Jesus' sayings (and their statement, in any case, appears to
      take the standard position, and only raises Greek as a possibility that
      should not be dismissed); my work has had more influence on other aspects of
      their analysis of the Jesus tradition. (I should add that in the meetings
      that I attended in the late 1980s I resisted using the literary stratigraphy
      of Q proposed in Formation as an index of authenticity, and indicated the
      same in Formation (and again in ExQ).

      B.M. continues....
      If it does not, what work are you or other Q scholars doing to
      relate Greek Q to Aramaic Jesus?

      I'm not doing any work on the topic, though Bruce Chilton, a member of the
      JS, has done quite a lot on it.

      B.M. continues...
      Jesus research has greater importance for me than does Q or
      Synoptic research--though these too are of real interest. But
      if no one is doing any work concerning this relationship I
      will almost inevitably find Q research becoming just one item
      among many in a large category entitled 'Interesting

      It comes down to a matter of what one finds interesting. I find Mark
      interesting, even though Mark is not the historical Jesus nor reducible to
      the historical Jesus. Similarly, Q. My own interests go to the question of
      how the Jesus movement variously configured bits of memory about Jesus and
      produced coherence (and interestingly different) documents that (presumably)
      informed the perspective of distinct groups of Jesus people. I have argued
      that it is a methodological mistake to think that Q scholarship is really
      about Jesus, or that the only interesting things that can be said about Q
      are what it discloses about the historical JEsus. To adapt Sir Moses Finley,
      the Odyssey might be "about" a Mycenean age hero, but it tells us more about
      Dark Age Greece, whic is just as interesting as the ostensible time of


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