Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Case Against Q

I just finished reading Mark Goodacre's The Case Against Q.

What strikes me first is this: Given that two examples of writing share substantial features of wording and order, the prima facie conclusion is that the author of one work knew the other. Any other supposition is multiplying entities and must bear a high burden of proof and the wrath of William of Ockham. Does Q pass the test?

The funny thing about Q research is how much of it resolves to - "well, I wouldn't have written it like that so how could Luke?" After indulging in a review of Greek verb forms, invariably a scholar will claim that Luke would have to have been a "crank" or "unstable" to have redacted Matthew in such a way. Is this really all it comes down to? I have yet to read a comment questioning Q's motivation or mental stability and yet Luke is second guessed continually.

In his book, Goodacre describes how the Q-ists will divide the double and triple tradition material into "Q", "Mark-Q Overlap" and the "Minor Agreements" and then declare that you are not allowed to analyze the material as a whole. Aside from enjoying the spectacle of an epicycle introduced to address each new difficulty, I was reminded of the trends I see in my own line of work.

In the software industry, someone is always writing a book which claims that their "new" way of doing things will eliminate all the nasty and unpopular parts of our jobs. Unfortunately, when you look more closely they have not eliminated anything, merely re-categorized the same - essentially unavoidable - tasks. Software engineers are supposedly trained in information theory which demands that a critical eye be kept on the overall information content of a system. Sadly, like a fundamentalist kicking the tires on a used car, developers all too easily compartmentalize the principles of actual programming and that of managing the project.

In much the same way, by dividing the Luke-Matthew material in to discrete piles, it seems that biblical scholars can indulge in word counting and the minutia of Greek grammar while mistaking their man-made framework for reality itself.

Early on in The Case Against Q, Goodacre describes how the reputation of Q skeptic Michael Goulder has suffered because of his tangential claim that the author of Matthew's gospel probably created much of his unique material himself. On reading this, my little heart went pitapat! This is an idea I have been struggling with for some time. How exactly do we know that the Evangelists were not making up stories/sayings/parables to suit their aims? They certainly felt free to rearrange and modify the material in their sources as they saw fit. What kept them from stepping over the line and creating pericopae from whole cloth? I realize that individual elements can be attested through other sources suggesting that they come from a shared pool of material, written or oral, but are there general guidelines for discriminating between sourced material and pure creativity? Is the appeal to Oral Tradition a pitfall that prevents us from seeing the true nature of the work?

All in all, Mark Goodacre's work has further convinced me that Q as a theory has become brittle in the last 150 years and is subject to challenge from Farrer's theory or perhaps an insight we haven't even heard yet. Not that my opinion really matters... :)

1 comment:

Frank McCoy said...

Good thinking! I wavered for several decades between thinking Q real and thinking it a modern scholarly invention. In recent years, though, I have become convinced that it a scholarly invention and Goodacre's book playied an important role in me making what (I think) is my final decision on Q. Don't think of there being a Synoptic problem. The problem is trying to determine the relationships between Mt, Mt, Lk and *Th* and, in recent years, I have come to conclude that Matthew used Mk and Th as sources and Luke used Mk, Th and Mt as sources. This is ather heretical since the mantra now is that either Th is independent of the Synoptics or dependent on them, but the evidence leads me to think that this mantra is incorrect.
Frank McCoy