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Mark, Papias, Q, and the Historical Jesus

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: Synoptic (GPG) In Response To: Ron On: Mark and Q (etc) From: Bruce Just a couple of points from, and arising out of, the previous interchange. MARK AND Q
    Message 1 of 2 , Nov 3, 2011
      To: Synoptic (GPG)
      In Response To: Ron
      On: Mark and Q (etc)
      From: Bruce

      Just a couple of points from, and arising out of, the previous interchange.

      MARK AND Q

      I had said:

      BRUCE: But the earliness of Markan material, especially where Mt/Lk have
      parallels, is the logical first presumption, and in no place where such
      parallels exist can it convincingly be shown that Mark is later.

      RON (later): Read the detailed comments of any Q scholar, and you will see
      that where 'Q' overlaps with Mark in the aphorisms, the Double Tradition of
      Matthew and Luke is invariably judged to represent an earlier form of the

      BRUCE (now): Of course, but the underlying problem, for those of us not
      committed in advance to Q, is that Q is a construct: a product of reverse
      editorial engineering. As Michael Goulder pointed out in some of his last
      papers, Q is obtained by comparing Mt and Lk, removing from each what is
      typical of either, and positing the remainder (sometimes, as the IQP version
      shows, a narratively incomplete remainder) as the Q version. Naturally, if
      one takes out of a Mt saying what is attributable to Mt, and calls the
      result Q, it follows that the Mt saying can be seen as generated by Matthean
      redaction of that theoretical Q. But the process is circular; the
      theoretical Q was produced precisely in order to make that sequence natural.

      Without getting into examples (though I can if desired), the same flaw
      obtains with Mt/Lk material which is PRESENT in Mk. If we take the Mt/Lk
      versions and scrape them off as above, it becomes possible to argue that the
      Mt/Lk version, or rather its theoretical antecedent, is earlier than Mk. The
      fact remains that if we take only Matthew, his version can always be seen as
      later than, or derivative from, or in some cases adversative to, that of
      Mark. The same is true if we take Mark and Luke as a two-body problem. In
      that two-body problem, it would be thought improper to posit an earlier form
      of Luke in order to make Luke (or its posited source) earlier than Mark;
      that is, to reverse Markan priority in practice. I think it is still
      improper, even if we bring Matthew into the horizon of the problem.


      Q, as I have pointed out, is the Hydra of the present age. It tends to grow
      over time. I noted that at SBL some years ago, proposals were made (and
      warmly received) to give Q a birth narrative, and to give Q a crucifixion
      narrative - in short, to make Q a complete Gospel, taking Mark as the model
      of what a complete Gospel should contain. The Gospel to antecede all
      Gospels. One trouble with these changes for some Q partisans, gratifying as
      they are to other Q partisans, is that they reduce the support which, it was
      once felt, the remark of Papias gave to the concept of Q as a "sayings
      gospel." But even as originally conceived, Q was never a sayings gospel in
      the Papias sense of the term. It was at least in part a narrative Gospel, as
      is shown by its John the Baptist segments. These were sufficient to convert
      Q from a Sayings of Jesus into a Life of Jesus. To include them in Q was, I
      think, a major tactical error on the part of the Q inventors. If we take the
      story of the Baptist as Mark, Matthew, and Luke present it, it is very
      obvious that Matthew's additions to the Markan account, and Luke's further
      additions to the Matthean account, make perfect sense in terms of the
      theological agendas of Matthew and Luke. That is, there is no objective need
      for a theory other than that of Synoptic dependence in order to explain the
      differences in these passages. Synoptic dependence, plus the acknowledgment
      that Matthew and Luke have agendas of their own, will carry all the
      necessary freight.


      As I have pointed out, the major problem for the Basic Synoptic Solution (by
      the Trajectory Arguments, Mk > Mt > Lk > Jn) is the bidirectionality of the
      Mt/Lk common material: sometimes Luke seems to be earlier (the Sermon on the
      Plain), and sometimes Matthew (the Birth narrative). I noted, not without
      the regret proper to a former enthusiast, that the Goulder attempt to
      demonstrate single directionality (uniformly Mt > Lk in the common material
      not in Mk) fails by any reasonable reader standard of what is literarily
      posterior to what. Thus, in the Parable of the Talents, Luke is obviously
      messing up a rational Matthean story by introducing a discordant King, hence
      indeed Mt > Lk; but by the same token, in the Parable of the Wedding
      Banquet, Matthew is equally messing up a rational Lukan story by also
      introducing a discordant King, whence no less clearly Lk > Mt. What to do,
      if not Q?

      My contribution (if I may venture to call it that) to this ongoing dilemma
      is to point out that besides the possible solution of an outside source for
      this Mt/Lk material, it will also suffice to posit two compositional stages
      of Lk, one before Matthew (and seen by Matthew), and the other after Matthew
      (and seeing and reacting to Matthew).

      Now, if positing were all, we would still be nowhere; anybody can posit
      anything. The theory of a two-stage Luke, however, has support within Luke.
      That support consists in part of the inconcinnities in Luke, including but
      not limited to the relocated passages. From these objective (not posited)
      details, it is possible to frame a detailed picture of Luke A (before
      Matthew) and Luke B (after Matthew). Both Luke A and Luke B have agendas,
      but those agendas are not identical: Luke A is radically unworldly, and in
      particular is opposed to wealth as such, whereas Luke B has come quite a
      distance toward reconciling himself with the demands of the present world,
      including its monetary demands. Luke A is the Luke of the Lazarus parable,
      where the mere possession of wealth is enough to damn the possessor to Hell
      for all eternity. Luke B is the Luke of the Zacchaeus episode, where it is
      shown how a rich man can make amends for the crimes on which his wealth
      rests, while still leaving himself a comfortable competence to live on;
      absolute poverty is not necessary for virtue.

      So which of these, the Lazarus Parable or the Zacchaeus episode, is the Luke
      of the Baptist's sermon? The point of Luke's addition to Matthew in the
      Baptist segment is that the soldiers should live within their income, and
      the tax collectors should not profiteer beyond their assigned collection
      quotas. That is, money as such does not condemn; it is money beyond
      statutory or subsistence limits that is the problem for its possessor. This
      is exactly the position of Luke in Zacchaeus (and inconsistent with the more
      radical position of Luke in Lazarus). Can the same person, or the same
      succession of preachers with custody of the Lukan text, hold these different
      opinions? Sure; ask any politician. But give them a little time to realize
      the impracticality of their first proposals, and to work themselves and
      their text into a different view of things.

      Give them also the shock of seeing Matthew come out with his version, so
      much more acceptable to the propertied classes, and also to the
      superstitious general populace, than his own austere production. Can Luke
      (or his proprietors at that stage) get back some of the market share that
      was immediately lost to Matthew? This highly commercial question is rather
      likely to be part of the agenda of Luke B, the second try of the folks at
      the storefront church in some not very fashionable street in Antioch.


      Why all this fuss anyway? Why is Q such a big deal? Dieter Lührmann's
      summary of the Q perplexity (JBL 1989) is as good as any I can think of at
      this moment. It includes these details: The problem posed for German
      theology by Strauss (who doubted that any Jesus had existed) and then by
      Schweitzer (who insisted that the historical Jesus did exist but was
      apocalyptic in tendency) was deeply disturbing. How could German theologians
      reclaim the historical reality of the primary Jesus figure, as he seemed to
      be emerging, without getting trapped into the failed eschatological
      prediction of that very Jesus as represented in Mark, if Mark is
      acknowledged to be the earliest source? How to make Markan Christianity
      viable in the modern world, where the restoration of sovereignty to Israel
      is irrelevant, where the End of the World within Jesus's own generation is
      ludicrously refuted by events, where for better or worse Christianity has
      spread to the Four Corners, and has passed far beyond its original Jewish
      (let alone Davidic) context? The answer is to skim out the awkward
      historical particulars and quietly discard them, or push them off the
      mainstream into a neglectable ditch, convert Jesus into a wisdom preacher,
      and furnish him with lambs, children, and a scenic mountainside. This is
      what Matthew goes a long way to doing, and to that picture, Luke on his
      second try adds some attractive (if sometimes incredible) particulars. Then
      come the Q engineers, who, seeing that this Second Tier picture of Jesus is
      much more like what they want, go on to posit a pre-Mt/Lk wisdom source,
      which already in the early 20c has made a move to annex the still usable
      parts of Mark.

      To my eye, it does not work philologically. It may work evangelically, but
      that is not the problem which historical research sets itself so solve. My
      own interest is solely in historical research. But how (one may still ask)
      can one solve the evangelical question; how can one reach a preachable

      I think the large liberal answer would be to accept the fact that like every
      comparable movement everywhere (I have already mentioned Buddhism,
      Confucianism, and the myth of Lincoln as national saviour), Christianity
      evolved. What it now is, was reached by a process of growth, and the large
      liberal answer would be to be at peace with that fact. Since that
      recognition is probably not going to be tolerable to the pastoral majority
      (though at least my version of it has turned out - somewhat to my surprise -
      to be welcome to elements of the ethical Christian minority), I think the
      end result must be the general acknowledgement that faith and reason don't
      mix. I much admire the spirit of Moisés Silva's presidential address to the
      Evangelical Theological Society (see that society's Journal for 1998; v1,
      p3-16), which in effect argued that faith and reason could, and should, walk
      together for at least a certain distance. But eventually, in the nature of
      things, there must come a parting of the ways. Unless reason can show that
      everything faith believes is solidly grounded in historical fact - and the
      signs are that it cannot - then the works of reason are ultimately inimical
      to the needs of faith.

      It then follows that there must be two constituencies, and two separate
      solutions to the Mt/Lk problem, one (represented by Q and perhaps by other
      ideas) which supports the Nice Jesus position, the modern preachable Jesus,
      and another (perhaps along the lines I suggest, perhaps others, we do not
      yet know) which follows the philologically and historically indicated
      signals, and reaches a Jesus of the past, one who, as Lührmann says, is "a
      stranger to modern thinking, an apocalyptic figure, fleeing from modern
      theology back into his time, disappearing into the mist of the Sea of

      Exactly. The way to reach the Historical Jesus is to follow Synoptic
      Directionality backwards, to the faintly visible house of Peter's wife in
      Capernaum, and not forwards, into the all too present world in which we

      E Bruce Brooks
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
    • David Mealand
      There is a technique known as the Aunt Sally technique. List a really silly set of reasons for people holding a view you oppose and then proceed to ridicule
      Message 2 of 2 , Nov 4, 2011
        There is a technique known as the Aunt Sally technique.
        List a really silly set of reasons for people holding
        a view you oppose and then proceed to ridicule the view.
        I don't think this is the way to anywhere.

        David M.

        David Mealand, University of Edinburgh

        The University of Edinburgh is a charitable body, registered in
        Scotland, with registration number SC005336.
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