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Re: [Synoptic-L] Consensus Within NT (about Q)

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: Synoptic In Response To: Tim Lewis On: Consensus Within NT From: Bruce Thanks to Tim for his extensive comment on the fluid consensus about Q. I had in
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 18, 2005
      To: Synoptic
      In Response To: Tim Lewis
      On: Consensus Within NT
      From: Bruce

      Thanks to Tim for his extensive comment on the fluid consensus about Q. I
      had in mind the whole NT, but as for the Q part of that issue, I am sure he
      is entirely right. The reluctance of Q to stand and fight is by now
      notorious. And this shiftiness of Q is one of its great defensive
      advantages. In terms of the gentlemanly science, Q has good footwork.

      The real consensus in NT, I should have thought, is that Q exists, never
      mind in what medium or with exactly what content. The majority position
      within that consensus is probably in favor of a written document. Schnelle,
      for instance, lingers not over any side issues; for him, Q is a text, and it
      is earlier than any extant Synoptic text. Without hesitation he states its
      contents. In that list, he coincides with neither the Edwards 1975
      concordance nor the Kloppenborg 1988 concordance. This bothers him not a
      bit, and it is not going to bother anybody else either. Not anybody who

      Q is supported neither by strict logic nor by demonstrable consistency.
      Anything with that little to show for itself, and at the same time that
      popular, must have something else going for it, something that compensates
      those disadvantages. I have a suspicion what that something is, and will
      share that suspicion off the record, for any who may have a use for it. I
      give fair warning that I don't think that there is any use for it. I advise
      people to stop here, and read something else.


      As it looks to me from far outside the European scene, there are two kinds
      of Christianity. One is ethical: rules for decent living, vaguely sanctioned
      by what is now a considerable antiquity. The miracles, including the
      miraculous resurrection, are not central for this Christianity; all that is
      little more than so much stained glass, a traditional decoration on the
      ethical teaching. The other Christianity is focused on the death and
      resurrection of Jesus, as containing the promise of eternal life for those
      who believe. For this Christianity, the ethical content of the tradition may
      be seemly and appropriate, and even necessary, but it is not the name of the

      I should imagine that the search for the historical Jesus, for Jesus before
      his crucifixion, is of interest chiefly to the ethical Christians. Their
      concern is with the teachings of Jesus, and their hope was that text
      criticism and manuscript collation would get behind the other thing, and
      bring them up against the preaching of Jesus himself, thus rooting their
      view of Christianity in solid ground, and giving it more content. The result
      of the search, however, was to suggest that Mark, ethically by far the
      sparsest of the Gospels, and the one which is most completely focused on
      Jesus's death and on the reasons for it, was actually the most authentic
      Christianity. The preaching of Paul, who conspicuously fails to cite the
      living example of Jesus as a model for his flock, and who instead centers on
      Christ Crucified, strongly supports this view. The sweeter music of the
      Sermon on the Mount (or Plain, for Lukan partisans) looks from philological
      perspective like a later invention. Later than Paul. This is most
      distressing and disappointing to the HJ Questers.

      [Disappointing or no, this situation is also almost exactly what one finds
      with the documents, early and late, concerning the life and/or teachings of
      Buddha. The earlier the tradition, the more it centers on the death of
      Buddha. No less consistently than Mark do the earliest Buddhist documents
      mention the founder's teaching, but refuse to give a transcript or to
      summarize its content. It is out of focus for them. Only the later documents
      make up what had obviously become a felt lack. By contrast, with Confucius,
      who was not a religious figure, it was the teachings that were of first
      interest, and the earliest document is precisely a sayings record; only in
      the second generation afterward is any interest shown in the death of
      Confucius, and even there, only in its consistency with the position already
      known as taken in life].

      Two devices, as far as I know, have been found to rescue what I may call
      Lukan Christianity. One is Q, which privileges one set of Lukan sayings (by
      and large, the set shared with Matthew), as equal and indeed superior in age
      and authority to the text which most researchers tend to conclude was the
      earliest, namely Mark. The device other is Proto-Luke, which by contrast
      privileges the sayings unique to Luke, rather than those shared with
      Matthew. Proto-Luke and Q together privilege all of Luke as of higher
      antiquity and authority than Mark. This is a result which, as I read the
      charts and gauges, cannot be reached directly by philological methods. It is
      instead reached indirectly, by conjectured texts which are not subject to
      equally close examination, texts which in the case of Q indeed recede from
      such examination, shrinking from human touch like some shy and supple
      creature of the sea.

      As for motive, Vincent Taylor put the whole thing very revealingly at the
      end of his extended argument for Proto-Luke (Behind the Third Gospel, the
      274th and final page). It is too beautiful to paraphrase, and I quote its
      last paragraph entire:

      "But apart from any importance which the theology of Proto-Luke may have in
      the development of New Testament doctrine, its intrinsic merits mark out
      this document as a work of the highest importance for the historian and the
      theologian alike. Too long we have looked upon the teaching peculiar to the
      Third Gospel as if it stood upon a lower plane of authentication than that
      of Mk and Q. The Proto-Luke Hypothesis destroys this assumption; it throws
      back into the earliest stages of Gospel tradition the picture of a Christ
      whose compassion blesses the outcasts of society, and who last words to man
      are a message of hope to a dying thief."

      Well, we know what happened to Proto-Luke. But I think it is easy to see
      very similar feelings supporting Q. The effect of Q, as also of Proto-Luke,
      is to establish the Nice Jesus as the Real Jesus, and to push the other
      stuff well toward the edges, like one of those soft-focus portraits that
      used to be popular in highschool yearbooks about half a century ago.

      Preferences apart, Q seems to many to have the support of Papias for a
      "sayings gospel," which almost by definition would not be an account of the
      Crucifixion, but instead a transcript of the teachings. Q seems also to have
      some support from philology, in the claim that in the Matthew/Luke common
      material (Harnack was one who stressed this) neither Gospel seems
      consistently to have the earlier form, hence it is most likely that now one,
      now the other, has modified what can only be a prior common source.

      One way of challenging this assertion is to go through the list of cases (I
      have used Ed Sanders' list in an analogous sense, but Q itself would be the
      most relevant form of the counter-argument), and show that in the great
      majority, and considering the least dubious directionality indices, one of
      the two is consistently prior to the other, leading to a preferred
      hypothesis of literary indebtedness and further authorial development, not
      that of a common source. I have pushed that line a little way (partly on
      this list), and conclude that it has prospects of success.

      As for the sayings gospel idea, the other strong argument for Q, it strikes
      me that the weakest spot is the inclusion in Q of John the Baptist matter.
      JtB is not a plausible inhabitant of the sort of Jesus sayings gospel that
      people wish to imagine. JtB serves in the Synoptics as a validator of
      Jesus's mission, not as an introducer of his teachings. He belongs to the
      Resurrection scenario, not to the ethical scenario. In the on-line version
      of Q presided over by Kloppenborg, a new and first saying is introduced. It
      is numbered zero, it consists of one word, and that word is in brackets. The
      word is [Jesus]. Nice try. We are supposed to imagine a difficultly readable
      papyrus fragment of the title page of an early edition of Q. But it remains
      true that if you follow the usual rules for deriving Q, John the Baptist is
      where Q starts. And if Q starts with John the Baptist, it is not a Jesus
      sayings gospel.

      If the JtB matter in Mt/Lk is part of those authors' plan to validate and
      interpret the death of Jesus, and if their versions can be shown to be
      progressive advances over the same device as used in more rudimentary form
      in Mk, a demonstration which should present no particular difficulties, then
      there would be a substantial challenge to that part of the basis for Q.

      Those two arguments might be interesting. But the big question is how they
      should be embodied. It is notorious in my field that, when hypotheses
      compete, the winner isn't necessarily the one with the best logic, it is the
      one with the best apparatus. Of three reconstructions of ancient Chinese
      phonology, two have good arguments, and the third has a dictionary in which
      you can look up the reconstructed pronunciation of every single word. Of
      course the third wins; the rank and file don't want arguments, they want
      answers, and it is the rank and file who have all the votes. The guy with
      the dictionary is best equipped to give them answers, and that is as far as
      the argument goes.

      Doubtless NT is more civilized than that, but *how much* more?

      It might thus in theory be useful, in support of the mere logic of the case,
      if there could issue commentaries on all four Gospels, composed from a
      consistently non-Q point of view, and accounting for every passage in all
      four texts on other, and consistent, grounds. An introductory volume (or
      long essay, if the first gospel to be treated happened to be Mark), setting
      forth the general situation, and giving a history of Jesus and of Christian
      doctrine, would nicely complete the group. Then there would be, out there
      and available, a *physical* and not merely an ideational alternative to the
      many and beguiling copies of Q that are presently for sale.

      The trouble is that no publisher would undertake it, knowing that its
      probable sale would be 26 copies, less 22 returns. But in theory, that would
      be the way to go. Q has California money, and non-Q needs at least a
      blue-haired lady, a Jacqueline Piatigorsky of the higher chess, to eliminate
      the dollar sign from what might be the indicated best strategy. I hasten to
      add that I don't know of any such person, and if I did, I would be sending
      her different (if analogous) proposals from the other end of the continent.
      The bright spot is that the amount in question is within the means of any
      comfortably well off person, always assuming that the authors will as usual
      work for free, and will supply fully edited copy without cost to the

      Still, when all is written and sold, the bottom line is likely to be that
      there are, oh, maybe four more people at the bar where the non-Q folk gather
      of a weekend to drown their frustrations in a tall glass of something or
      other. My suspicion is that argument, even with legible print and nice
      margins, avails little against those who really need only excuses, and to
      whom argument is merely a risk and an irritation.

      And consider, would it really be seemly to win the Q argument? What would a
      world without Q really be like, for those for whom Q now fills a need?
      Wouldn't it be like a sickbed where someone's aged mother is being consoled
      by tales from Luke, only to have her strident nephew burst in with
      steel-rimmed spectacles askew and necktie aflutter, to announce "Yes, but if
      you consider the evidence of P78 . . ."

      No, it would be inconceivably gauche, and likely to be condemned by all
      right-feeling persons. Best to make do with the present tavern scene, and
      merely lift a second glass in lieu of more company.

      Regretfully suggested,


      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
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