The Sayings Gospel Q: Collected Essays

The Sayings Gospel Q: Collected Essays

John S. Kloppenborg

THE SAYINGS GOSPEL Q: COLLECTED ESSAYS. By James M. Robinson. Edited by Christoph Heil and Joseph Verheyden. Bibliotheca Ephemeridum theologicarnm lovaniensium, vol. 189. Leuven, Belvium: Leuven University Press & Uitgeverij Peeters, 2005. Pp. xvii + 937.

James M. Robinson has justly been said to have initiated and nurtured the modern study of the Sayings Gospel Q, the hypothetical source that lies behind much of the sayings material in Matthew and Luke. Spanning more than forty years, these thirty-eight essays chronicle what has changed and what has remained the same in Robinson’s thinking about Q and Christian origins.

As he explains in this “Theological Autobiography” (pp. 3-34), Robinson’s theological roots were in a conservative Calvinism and his early training was with Karl Barth. But it was Rudolf Bultmann and his students who had a deeper impact on Robinson. Key influences were Bultmann’s recognition of the importance of the History of Religions School and his program of existential interpretation and the project of the Buhmann’s students, Ernst Kasemann, Ernst Fuchs and Gerhard Ebeling in particular, to relate the church’s kerygma to the preaching and the “existential understanding” of the historical Jesus. Yet the final essays in this collection show that Robinson has departed completely from Bultmann on theological matters, in particular Bultmann’s methodological skepticism concerning the historical Jesus and, correlatively, his refusal to found Christian theology on anything other than the kerygma of the earliest Christians. After detouring through the later Heidegger and Nag Hammadi, Robinson has in effect returned to the liberal theology of the first quest of the historical Jesus against which Barth and Bultmann had so vehemently reacted.

The collection proper begins with Robinson’s contribution to the 1964 Bultmann Festschrift, LOGOI SOFON: ON THE GATTUNG OF Q, where Robinson, reflecting the legacy of the History of Religions School, began to work out the model of “trajectories,” the gradual association of Jesus’ sayings with the genre of “sayings of the sages” and correlatively the association of Jesus with Sophia, the ultimate source of all wisdom, associations that placed christology on a track that led from the hypostasized wisdom to the gnostic redeemer. The notion of trajectories is further elaborated in The Hodayot Formula in Prayers and Hymns of Early Christianity (1964), which appears here for the first time in an English translation, Jesus as Sophos and Sophia (1975), and Jesus from Easter to Valentinus (or to the Apostles’ Creed) (1981), where Robinson elaborates a fundamental hermeneutical bifurcation in the Jesus movement around the interpretation of ‘Easter.’ In each of these essays, Robinson’s interest is in the theological development of early Christology and the effort to produce a coherent model for understanding diversity. A key influence here is Walter Bauer (ORTHODOXY AND HERESY IN EARLIEST CHRISTIANITY (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971; originally published in 1934) and collaborative work with Helmut Koester (TRAJECTORIES THROUGH EARLY CHRISTIANITY [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971]).

A second set of essays witnesses a gradual shift in Robinson’s focus of attention from a theological characterization of Q to literary matters: The Sayings Gospel Q (1983), where Robinson announces the inauguration of what would become the International Q Project, On Bridging the Gulf from Q to The Gospel of Thomas (or Vice Versa) (1986), where he begins to work out the literary trajectory from Q to Thomas and later, The Q Trajectory: Between John and Matthew via Jesus (1991). While issues of the literary reconstruction of Q, its relationship to other ‘wisdom gospels,’ and Q’s eventual absorption into Matthew are on Robinson’s mind in these essays, it is also possible to see his developing interest in the historical Jesus. The Study of the Historical Jesus after Nag Hammadi (1988) gestures to the importance of the Gospel of Thomas alongside Q for reconstituting the earliest layer of Jesus-sayings, including Luke 17:21, and The Q Trajectory (1991) develops the hypothesis that Jesus, initially taken by John’s apocalyptic preaching, eventually departed from John and espoused a non-apocalyptic view of the world embodied in the first layer of Q. This, according to Robinson, was later reapocalypticized in the main redaction of Q. This view, of course, is largely indebted to the analysis of the present reviewer (THE FORMATION OF Q: TRAJECTORIES IN ANCIENT WISDOM COLLECTIONS [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987]), but neglects the warning not to confuse literary history with tradition history.

Several of the essays in the collection deal with specific matters of the reconstruction of Q or with specific problems in characterizing its theology: The Sayings Gospel Q (1992) discusses the relation between the Baptism material in Q 3 and the beginning of the sayings collection proper in Q 6:20 and the possibility that Nazara derives from Q at Q 4:16. Die Logienquelle: Weisheit oder Prophetic? (1993) engages Migaku Sato’s Q UND PROPHETIE: STUDIEN ZUR GATTUNGSUND TRADITIONSGESCHICHTE DER QUELLE Q (WUNT 2/29; Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1988), arguing against Sato that Q should not be denominated as prophecy. And The Son of Man in the Sayings Gospel Q (1994) attempts to trace christological development within the hypothetical layers of Q. The Sequence of Q: The Lament over Jerusalem (1998) tries (unsuccessfully) to make the case that Q 13:34-35 immediately followed Q 11:49-51, never quite accounting for Luke’s dislocation of the saying.

A major preoccupation of Robinson’s later work was to refute the hypothesis elaborated by his student Leif E. Vaage (GALILEAN UPSTARTS: JESUS’ FIRST FOLLOWERS ACCORDING TO Q [Valley Forge, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 1994]) and his colleague Burton Mack (THE LOST GOSPEL: THE BOOK OF Q & CHRISTIAN ORIGINS [San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993]) that the depiction of Jesus in Q has analogies with contemporary cynicism. Here Robinson engages in overkill, devoting three essays to the job of refutation: The History of Religions Taxonomy of Q: The Cynic Hypothesis (1994), Building Blocks in the Social History of Q (1996), and Galilean Upstarts: A Sot’s Cynical Disciples (1997), where he declares his innocence in anything having to do with the cynic hypothesis.

Even more insistent is Robinson’s defense of his and Christoph Heil’s interesting thesis that P.Oxy. 655 (Gos. Thom. 36) preserves a pre-Q variant of the saying now found in Q 12:27, “observe the lilies how they grow.” No fewer than seven essays in the collection are devoted to the elaboration and defense of this thesis against the criticisms of Jens Schroter, Stanley Porter, and Robert Gundry!

The relevance of this debate becomes clearer in light of the final essay, What Jesus Had to Say (2002), since Q 12:22-31 stands at the heart of Robinson’s discussion of the historical Jesus. Here Robinson elaborates a portrait of the historical Jesus and his utopian vision of the Kingdom of God, which consists in reliance on God as birds and plants rely on God and on a program of human sharing and debt forgiveness. It is in this essay and a few others scattered in the latter part of the collection that one sees a return to the liberal theology of Harnack, who famously encapsulated the “essence of Christianity” in the affirmation of the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood (sic!) of humankind and the infinite worth of the human soul. Plus ca change….

John S. Kloppenborg

Centre for the Study of Religion

University of Toronto

COPYRIGHT 2006 Biblical Theology Bulletin, Inc

COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group