In Response To: Ron
Ron disputes the niceness of his set of Sayings, and denies an intention to
make them so. The Q cluster, by any other name and in any version of which I
am aware, including Ron's, does indeed contain some hard stuff. It also
contains some nice stuff, and empirical research could probably establish
that it is the latter which overwhelmingly occupies the attention of Q
proponents and their converts. But let's take a more nuanced view. Here
RON: RON: What nonsense. There is nothing inherent in the aphoristic style
which makes their content "nice".
BRUCE: As a principle of selection, I am afraid there is. (1) Restriction to
sayings and exclusion of actions wipes out, in advance of any determination
about their value, any hints of what Jesus may have DONE, and most
critically, anything he did that led to his death. This is already a
distortion; a limitation of what one is willing to hear about. It eliminates
the Messiah figure in favor of the Preacher figure. (2) Among sayings, some
of which in Mark (but not in Q) are directly Davidic, the aphorisms tend to
be wisdom talk, able to be received as detached and nonsituational. That's
two selection principles so far, and for me, it's two too many.
But the Q net, or anyway the sorting principle with which classical Q
proponents start, does indeed bring in some strange fish. We might consider
some of the less nice of the Q sayings (limiting ourselves to those in Ron's
smaller set), and see what their Jesus credentials might be, since that is
their claim on our attention.
(A4). It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away
than for one stroke in a letter of the law to be dropped.
Comment: This is an extreme legalism, which the Markan Jesus would seem to
have consistently opposed. Jesus in practice ignored many of the
conventional pieties, and he also disputed Moses' rule on divorce. Not
credibly Jesuine; rather, characteristically Matthean.
(B10) Do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth?
I did not come to bring peace but a sword.
For I have come to set son against father,
and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her
Comment: Likely reflects the difficulties of the early Church, when families
were denouncing each other to Paul or the later Roman murderers. The logic
of it is this: If Jesus can be seen as predicting my troubles, then by
definition, my troubles are somehow OK. This is something practical to tell
to the suffering faithful (those who visit the sick in our time will know
what I mean), but the sufferings here described are likely those of the
posthumous Christian period. There is no hint in Mark of any reprisals upon,
or even any danger to, those who follow and believe Jesus (only to Jesus
himself). That stuff came later. Not plausible, then, as an original remark
(C12) Truly I tell you, among those standing here there are some who will
not taste death
before they see the kingdom of God come with power.
Comment: Unfortunately, this did not come about, a fact on which the
commentators do not greatly dwell. Did Jesus say it and was he mistaken? I
am quite ready to discover a Jesus who made mistakes, and Mark shows a
number of those mistakes. But this saying too is typologically an
encouragement to the later faithful, a renewal of an earlier guarantee that
seemed not to have been honored (hence the emphatic, Amen, I tell you). What
is the probable date of this, in terms of Years After Jesus? The promise is
that not everyone in the present generation will die before the promised
Return occurs. Then some have already died, raising the doubt which this
saying is meant to dispel. I don't have actuarial figures for probable rates
of death in the cohort of Jesus followers, nor do I know their median ages
or their number. But I would guess we are somewhere at least 10 years out
from the death of Jesus. Then not plausibly Jesuine.
(C21) Truly I tell you, when God's kingdom comes,
and the Son of Man is seated on his glorious throne,
you who have followed me will likewise sit on twelve thrones,
judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
Comment: see above, and note again the emphatic reassurance, the Amen. A
specific promise to specific individuals. Where is the fulfillment? Answer:
Nowhere. This is then another consoling or encouraging remark, made in times
of seeming adversity, which the near future is expected to redeem. Only (and
I think we need to face this), it didn't. Is it out of the question that
Jesus himself might have been mistaken? On the contrary. But this and the
preceding have the same character, and the structure of the Markan version
of the preceding shows that at least one comment of this type is late in the
Markan tradition. If late, then presumptively inauthentic.
(D114) Keep awake, then, for you do not know on what day your master is
Be sure of this: if the householder had known at what time of night the
thief was coming,
he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into.
So you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do
Comment: At some point (and that point can be localized, if one wants to
consider the evidence), the shepherds of the post-Jesus flock ceased making
time-specific promises, for obvious reasons including the repeated failure
of those promises, and confined themselves to more general counsels of
readiness, like this one. I understand the tactic, but it is a tactic which
is most intelligible in the post-Jesus years. In this case, most likely the
rather late post-Jesus years.
In short, all of these are intelligible as arising in the later history of
the church, and as highly relevant to the situation of that church. Since
(for the most part) they turn up in what are demonstrably the Second Tier
Gospels, and since one likely motive for the writing of Second Tier Gospels
in the first place is precisely to address previously unexperienced
difficulties, or to give new and more convincing answers to old but still
unsolved problems, the presumption for anything in those Gospels, whether
rewritten from Mark or newly invented, is that it arises for reasons rooted
in the experience of the later church. That's the presumption, which seems
to me to be fulfilled in the above samples.
The Second Tier Gospels are not exclusively Nice territory (they only become
so when selectively read); they are also cursing territory. Luke curses the
rich, Matthew curses the Galileans, thus vacating the entire tradition of
Jesus's preaching. And by the way, why the latter, which is verbally
identical in Mt = Lk and thus a prime Q candidate, is not in Ron's
collection, I cannot guess. Perhaps he can enlighten us.
E Bruce Brooks
University of Massachusetts at Amherst