Last week there was some discussion about Q over at the Jesus Blog (here, here, and here), including a poll where readers could vote on the existence of Q. (Maybe those guys are more influenced by the Jesus Seminar than they want to admit!) 🙂 I was already thinking about Q as I was in the middle of discussing it in my class on Jesus and the Gospels, but their reflections got me thinking about it a little more.
I have been reading Benedict Viviano’s little volume, What Are They Saying About Q? (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 2013), which I picked up at SBL back in November. It provides a pretty decent coverage and focuses on the reception of Q along geographic lines (Germany, Britain, North America) and among Roman Catholic and Protestant interpreters of the NT. When you’re in the middle of academic discussions that have become second nature to you, you can occasionally become desensitized to some of the oddities in our profession. While I no longer give it a second thought, my students were astonished to find that the study of a hypothetical document could have its own label (viz., “Q studies”) and generate not only books like Viviano’s but numerous volumes claiming to provide us with a definitive look into the earliest Christian proclamation. (See here, here, and here, for just a few examples.) Those who study in our field realize that the study of Q is its own cottage industry, but when I stepped away for a moment and tried to see things through the eyes of my students I was able to understand how strange it seems that so much scholarly energy is devoted to performing redaction-critical maneuvers on a purely hypothetical text. Against that backdrop my students do seem to have a point.
Several other thoughts about Q emerged this week as a result of our an earlier class session. On Monday of this week my class had the privilege of hearing from Dr. Mark Goodacre via video conference on the subject of Q skepticism. It was a treat for all of us. Mark is probably the most well-known skeptic of Q at the moment, and though my class had read his articles and listened to his podcasts on the subject, it was good for them to hear from him directly. Two things in particular stood out for me. One was an argument Mark made toward the end of the session–one I hadn’t heard him make previously. The last point on his handout argued that “agreement between Matthew and Luke is too close for Q.” In other words, the double tradition material is often so close (upwards of 20 words verbatim in some cases!) to have been generated by a shared work. Apparently he will be expanding on this observation in a forthcoming article. I look forward to reading his detailed argument.
The second thing that stood out to me from that class session came as a result of a question one of my students asked (I’m paraphrasing): “Why can’t we say, Mark, then Luke, then Matthew?” Mark’s answer, as best I remember, was that, at least in print, this position had not been advocated as seriously as other positions. My reaction was, “Really? Is there still ground to cover in the search for Synoptic origins? Are there really avenues that haven’t been thoroughly explored?”
For the record, I have, up until recently, been an advocate of some form of Q, but I have become more and more skeptical over the past two years. And….full disclosure: I voted “no” in the Jesus Blog poll.