Questioning Q: A Multidimensional Critique

Questioning Q: A Multidimensional Critique

John S. Kloppenborg

Questioning Q: A Multidimensional Critique. Edited by Mark Goodacre and Nicholas Perrin. Downers Grove, II. InterVarsity Press, 2004. Pp. xiv + 201. Paper, $19.00.

Although the notion of a sayings collection that was the source of Matthew and Luke is widely endorsed, ‘Q’ depends on two hypotheses: the priority of Mark, and the independence of Matthew and Luke. This valuable collection of essays raises important questions, both in respect to the second of these hypotheses, and in respect to the reconstructions of Q that have flowed from it. Each of the essays is carefully and thoughtfully argued and deserves a prominent place on reading lists on the synoptic problem.

Following an introduction by Perrin, one of the co-editors, John C. Poirier reflects on the nineteenth century’s preference for source hypotheses that involved proto-gospels (Urmarkus, a sayings source, fragment-gospels), partly as an answer to the Tubingen school’s adoption of the Griesbach (GH) hypothesis. Poirier’s exposition is clear and penetrating, although he accepts too quickly H.U. Meijboom and W.R. Farmer’s speculations that the Griesbach hypothesis was rejected mainly because of its association with F.C. Baur’s Hegelianism and D. F. Strauss’s Life of Jesus. A careful analysis of B. Weiss’s 1861 essay and H.J. Holtzmann’s Die synoptischen Evangelien (1863) shows that both clearly distinguished Griesbach’s arguments from those of Baur and Strauss (who in fact did not argue for the GH at all). In fact, the roots of the demise of the GH are probably to be found within the Tubingen School itself and in F.C. Baur’s willingness after 1847 to recover historical tradition in Mark.

Two of the essays directly treat the second hypothesis named above. Jeffrey Peterson observes that the hypothesis of the independence of Luke from Matthew rests on the perceived unlikelihood of Luke’s rearrangement of Matthew’s ‘Q’ material. But, he argues, if some intelligent design can be perceived in Luke’s (re)arrangement, the positing of Q would become unnecessary. What Peterson does not see, however, is that for the Mark-without-Q hypothesis (MwQH: Markan priority plus Luke’s use of Matthew), it is not simply a matter of whether Luke’s arrangement of the double tradition is intelligible, but whether reasons can be adduced for Luke’s rather thorough dislocation and rearrangement of Matthew’s order. Mark Matson offers just such an analysis of “Luke’s rewriting of the Sermon on the Mount,” arguing that Luke’s use of Matthew is reasonable, given his editorial purposes; that Luke’s arrangement is no less aesthetic than Matthew’s; and that one can indeed imagine Luke treating Mark differently than he treats Matthew, which according to the MwQH he substantially rearranges. Matson’s arguments are well aimed but, as always, the devil is in the details.

Three essays discuss the problem of reconstruction. Perrin offers cautions on the project of reconstructing Q. Given the phenomenon of the “minor agreements” and special material in Matthew or Luke that the other evangelist might have had some reason to omit, “Q” could be much longer than the double tradition alone. And evangelists might have jointly omitted Q material, making it now unrecoverable. On the other hand, Perrin points out, some of the Matthew-Luke agreements are so slight that they may not derive from Q at all. What deserves to be underscored, I think, is that the “reconstruction” of any source text–Q, the Two Ways document of the Didache, the base document of IQS–is a heuristic exercise which posits an imaginary source that accounts for the subsequent textual developments which (we think) occurred, not an archaeological excavation of a buried document.

Perhaps the best essay in the collection is Eric Eve’s “thought experiment”: the attempt to reconstruct Mark from Matthew and Luke, supposing that we have the text of Q, not Mark. Eve concludes that such a reconstructed Mark, while it would contain very little that it should not and that in the main it would be correctly reconstructed in its sequence, would also be significantly shorter than our Mark, due mainly to the Mark-Q overlaps, which tend to favour Q’s wording and obscure Mark’s, and to Luke’s “Great omission.” More disappointing is Mark Goodacre’s critique of the models adopted by the International Q Project for reconstructing Q. Goodacre rightly notes that two models are in use: an (earlier) ‘papyrological’ model, which imagined “minimal Q” as a tattered papyrus that Matthew and Luke each restored, and restored differently; and a “text-critical” model, which understands the task of reconstructing Q on the analog of text criticism, reconstructing a now-lost Urtext that accounts for later manuscript developments. Goodacre objects to the text-critical model, arguing that a source critical model ought to have been adopted. But Goodacre misunderstands what the models are: they are metaphors, not descriptions of the IQP’s procedures, which required the organization of huge bodies of data (scholarly opinion on the reconstruction of Q since 1863), using the analogy of critical editions of the New Testament, which organize manuscript variations around variation points. Goodacre’s real objection is that the IQP should have written a book entitled “The Sources of Luke.”

Ken Olson responds to F. Gerald Downing’s claim that Luke’s treatment of Matthew on the MwQH does not cohere with how ancient editors worked, and claims that “unpicking sources”–which is what Luke did on the MwQH–is not as uncommon as Downing supposes. Olson’s treatment of Josephus, however, does not make his point, and although he cites T.J. Luce’s analysis of Livy (Livy: The Composition of his History [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977]), it does not appear that he has followed Luce’s argument carefully, which seems rather to support Downing. Richard Vinson’s essay on the minor agreements is a careful delineation of the problem of how one ought to count minor agreements and the frequency of minor agreements that one might expect in two editors working independently.

The collection concludes with two brief reflections by the co-editors on the implications (Perrin) and advantages (Goodacre) of dispensing with Q. The only blemish on an otherwise valuable volume is the foreword by Bishop N.T. Wright which, unlike the careful and reasoned analyses of Perrin (his own student) and Poirier, invents a silly “myth”–the combination of heresy and American pop culture–which, he claims, has gripped scholars who write on Q. On the whole, however, Questioning Q is an excellent example of balanced and thoughtful synoptic scholarship.

John S. Kloppenborg

Department for the Study of Religion

University of Toronto

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