Book Notice: The Synoptic Problem: Four Views (Skinner)

Synoptic ProblemEarlier in the week I checked my campus mailbox and found this treat waiting for me: The Synoptic Problem: Four Views (ed. Stanley E. Porter and Bryan R. Dyer; Baker Academic). I have always been a fan of the “four views” (or “three views”) format. I find them helpful for introducing students to a given subject and useful for helping a professor get a bird’s-eye-view of the salient points for and against a specific view.

This book features the following lineup of scholars/arguments:

Craig Evans: Two-Source Hypothesis, Mark Goodacre: Farrer Hypothesis, David Peabody: Two-Gospel Hypothesis, Rainer Riesner: Orality and Memory Hypothesis

I was happy to see focused attention given to the Farrer Hypothesis and to Riesner’s “Orality and Memory” Hypothesis. I think this coverage of the topic is particularly useful since: (1) Q skepticism has grown quite a bit in recent years—largely due to the efforts of Mark Goodacre—and needs to be given serious consideration by students of the NT; and (2) research on orality and social memory has significantly impacted our study of the gospels and the historical Jesus in recent years. This book is a welcome addition to the spate of works on the Synoptic Problem. I am planning to use this as one of the primary texts the next time I teach an undergraduate course on the gospels.

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A Few Thoughts on Q (Skinner)

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: WATSA QPaulist, 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.

Two Books Everybody Should Be Talking About (Part One: Goodacre on Thomas & the Synoptics)

My semester is now complete and I have been able to get to some much-needed reading that I began prior to the SBL meeting in Chicago. I have spent the past few weeks reading and digesting two books that I am convinced need to be discussed in much greater detail both in the blogosphere and in the classroom. The first of these is Mark Goodacre’s Thomas and the Gospels: The Case for Thomas’s Familiarity with the Synoptics. Those of us who read Mark’s blog and listen to his podcasts know that he relishes the role of “spoil sport,” especially on issues that are taken for granted within certain segments of academia. Well, he is at his spoil-sport-best in this current book, taking on the canons (accepted in many quarters of North American scholarship) that Thomas is early and independent of the canonical tradition. What makes this book so good is the combination of Mark’s erudition and creativity, along with his knowledge of the Synoptic problem, utility in the Greek synopsis, and skill in evaulating source-critical arguments. While I haven’t read everything that’s ever been written on the Gospel of Thomas, I have recently written a book on Thomas scholarship in which I attempted to explore the range of scholarly opinion within contemporary research. That book required me to read….a lot. Against the backdrop of that (at times, painful) reality, I can tell you that this is one of the most insightful and well-written books on the Gospel of Thomas that I have read. I will soon be posting an interview with Mark as I have with other Thomas scholars and I hope to find the time to do an in-depth review of his book. For now, let me provide my endorsement and strongly suggest that, if you have any interest in the gospel traditions, you get this book.