Re: Are We Serious?
- To: Synoptic-L
On: Are We Serious?
[Sorry; got tricked by the Reply rules. This note, which apparently went
only to Kym when earlier sent, is here repeated with a few corrections to
Synoptic proper. / Bruce]
The silence on this list is definitely the list's most noticeable trait. My
own silence in response to Kym Smith's proposal of some months ago, to be
frank rather than silent for a moment, was due to the fact that I found that
proposal rhetorically overelaborate and aetiologically unconvincing. I did
not see Synoptic understanding as likely to be increased by discussing it.
How other people felt, I do not know, since they have not said.
There may also be a larger issue than the attractiveness of that particular
theory. My sense of the NT field at large is that it no longer regards the
Synoptic Problem as very important; some major figures in the field have
told me so directly. The failure of the former SBL Synoptic study group to
reach any conclusion after years of highly visible discussions, some time
back, may have suggested to SBL and to the rest of the field that nothing
further was to be gained by pushing pennies into that particular gumball
So then we come to the reason for the failure of that Seminar to reach
agreement. I suspect that there are two reasons. First, the problem as it is
usually stated does not, in my opinion, reflect the nature of the texts
involved. If so, then the problem cannot be solved as stated, and work on it
tends to reach a technical impasse. My own research at present is directed
to clarifying the nature of the texts (I find that some of them are
stratified, which changes the rules of the game as it is usually played),
and to working toward an eventual solution of something that cannot any
longer be called the Synoptic Problem. I have recently been in the habit of
thinking of it as the Gospel Problem. (And yes, I would agree that John has
to be dealt in, not to mention Acts and a good deal more, including some
noncanonical materials; I note in passing that the rules of the Synoptic
list preclude these wider considerations).
I think the other reason is the basic faith/reason dichotomy in the field.
Nearly everyone who has acquired the tools to study these matters in a
professional way is likely to have a very high personal stake in the
doctrinal implications of any Synoptic solution. The Synoptic Problem as
usually stated, even if (as I think) it is not *precisely* solvable in that
form, is *sufficiently* solvable that a majority opinion does begin to
emerge, and the doctrinal implications of that majority opinion do begin to
be apparent. The trend of those implications seems to be distinctly
unfavorable to certain clauses of the Nicene Creed. This is the sort of
situation that is almost guaranteed to produce a stalemate, unless indeed it
is to produce a split. Probably nobody in the field wants a split, and it
looks to me as though we are in the middle of just such a stalemate.
In that situation, a tacit agreement to leave the thing alone, and go on to
other questions, is a not unnatural response. I conclude that the field, and
this list along with the rest of the field, is behaving in a very natural
Jim West thinks that "the journey rather than the destination" is the point.
I would here be inclined to agree with what I take to be the implication of
Kym Smith's question. I don't see any journey as in progress along that
particular road, either on this list or in Biblical circles generally. The
bridge is down, and the detour sign is in place.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst