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[Synoptic-L] Q and the Lachmann fallacy

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  • John C. Poirier
    As I was going through my stacks of photocopied articles, I ran across Stephen J. Patterson s Yes, Virginia, There Is a Q (*Bible Review* Oct 1995, pp.
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 28 6:14 AM

      As I was going through my stacks of photocopied articles, I ran across Stephen J. Patterson’s “Yes, Virginia , There Is a Q” (*Bible Review* Oct 1995, pp. 39-40).  Since it was so brief, I reread it on the spot.  I saw something that I don’t think I noticed before.


      Patterson, as you all know, belongs to the North American school that privileges Q and the Gospel of Thomas as the best deposits of early Christian tradition, a school that, among other things, is marked by a rather poor grasp of the synoptic problem (both in terms of the state of the question and in terms of the facts surrounding the synoptic problem).  Having encountered writers of leading NT introductions who still believe that the Markan mediation of wording and pericope order in the synoptic tradition proves Mark’s temporal priority (a basic schoolboy error that was exploded by B. C. Butler in 1951), I was not surprised to find that Patterson held to this “proof”.  (In fact I had noted several years ago that Patterson supports this error in his 1993 book The Gospel of Thomas and Jesus.  See http://groups.yahoo.com/group/synoptic-l/message/3438.)  This is what Patterson actually says in “Yes, Virginia , There Is a Q”:


      [Linnemann] must surely know that the case for the existence of Q is not grounded on verbal agreements between Matthew and Luke, nor on residual cases of common order in these gospels.  Rather, the Q hypothesis arose as a necessary corollary to another, widely accepted hypothesis used to explain the peculiar relationship of Matthew and Luke to Mark (an issue mentioned only in passing by Linnemann).  Hermann Christian Weisse and others noticed that Matthew and Luke agree in their sequence of events in the life of Jesus only when they also agree with Mark.  This peculiar pattern has led almost all scholars of the New Testament to the conclusion that Matthew and Luke must have made use of Mark as a kind of outline for their respective works, but quite independently of one another.


      Most members of this list will recognize that Patterson here falls for the so-called Lachmann fallacy.  While I think that the fact that people are still falling for this fallacy in 1995 is interesting in itself, what really fascinated me is that Patterson seems to connect the “proof” for Q with the phenomenon of Markan mediation.  Patterson continues:


      This hypothesis of “Marcan priority,” however, leaves a good deal of material shared by Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark, unaccounted for.  How could Matthew and Luke have included these several sayings, parables and occasional stories–sometimes offering versions that are very close in wording–independently of one another?  The Q hypothesis arose as a way of accounting for the material common to Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark.

                  As with most complicated historical problems, the persuasiveness of the hypothesis lies in the way it can account for the details.  The Q hypothesis, together with Marcan priority, is the most efficient way of accounting for the myriad details in the relationship of these three texts to one another.


      As he presents his case for Q, Patterson puts the proof for Q rather close to that proof for Markan priority that we all know to be a logical blunder.  He even speaks of Q as a “corollary” of the proof of Markan priority provided by the phenomenon of Markan mediation.  To be fair to Patterson, he seems to recognize that the case for Q depends more directly on the supposition that Matthew and Luke are independent, and he seems to take this as a corollary of the phenomenon of Markan mediation, but the way he builds his case for Q on such a well known fallacy is certainly not a credit to Q scholarship.  (By the way, the only other support for the Q hypothesis that he presents in this brief article is the generic similarity of Q to Thomas!)


      It’s a pity that no one (as far as I’m aware) responded to Patterson within the pages of *Bible Review*.


      Does anyone know of anyone else who built a case for Q on the Lachmann fallacy?


      I don’t know if Patterson’s case is strong enough to convince Virginia .  I suppose that would depend on where she went to school!



      John C. Poirier

      Middletown , Ohio


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