Monday, 9 May 2011

"...and one is from Q."

When we look at the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, what do we think of as being his number 1 priority for the Church in this new millennium? Dealing with the sex abuse crisis, reforming the liturgy, or combating the "dictatorship of relativism"? All important topics on which the Pope has spoken and written at length and with great passion, all throughout his life, never mind just throughout the last 5 years.

It is, however, none of these. His Holiness has publicly stated that his, or rather, the Church's "supreme and fundamental priority" is leading people to the "God who speaks through the Bible". Dr. Scott Hahn, himself no biblical slouch, points out that we've never had such an accomplished Bible scholar in the Chair of Peter. I am reading the Pope's "Jesus of Nazareth, part 1" at the minute, and I have really marveled at the depth of his insights, his knowledge, and the obvious reverence with which he approaches 'the sacred page'. A correct understanding of how the various books of the Bible came to be written, studying their genres, how they came to be compiled as one volume, and understanding the limits of this 'historical-critical method' are key themes for the Pope in both parts of Jesus of Nazareth.

With this is mind, I was intrigued when I read a friend's essay a few days ago on the "theological significance of prayer in St. Luke's Gospel." I always find it interesting when someone brings out the different emphases the Evangelists place on certain things, each account of the life of Christ contributing a different facet to the whole structure, much like Bl. John Henry's 'many-sided solid object' which we talked about in a previous post.

One comment in particular, though, caused me a raised eyebrow: "seven occasions [of Jesus at prayer] are...additions to his Marcan source, and one is from Q." I had heard of 'Q' before, and knew that it was something to do with the Gospels, but didn't really know that much about it, and I'm sure most of you haven't either, so allow me to share what I've found.

'Q' is supposed to be book from the time of the Apostles, a Gospel which was simply a collection of the sayings of Jesus. The theory goes that St. Mark wrote his Gospel first (the traditional view is Matthew wrote first), then St. Matthew, and then St. Luke, who both used Mark independently, which is to say that they didn't rely on each other as a source. This accounts for most of their respective Gospels, where all three 'agree' i.e. record the same events (what is called 'triple tradition material'). For those passages found only in Matthew and Luke ('double tradition'), they must have had another source, probably written before Mark, and this source is given the name 'Q', from the German for 'source' (quelle). Check out the diagram for a simple, visual explanation.

This theory has been much in vogue for around 200 years, first being suggested at the start of the 19th century, mostly in Protestant German circles, and is still a consensus amongst academics today. It's popularity as a theory, and the reason it's taught as plain fact in many places like my friend's Uni, can be explained by a number of factors. Dr. Michael Barber has suggested that it's become a symbol of 'academic independance', a sign of serious scholarship, basically because it shows that you don't necessarily believe in the Gospels' content, and so can teach 'impartially'. Following on from this, apologist Karl Keating thinks that the original Q scholars were uncomfortable with the supernatural elements of the Gospels, and because Mark records by far the fewest miracles, they hypothesised that he wrote first, and so Matthew and Luke can be accused of adding false stories of miracles into their Gospels. This is backed up by this quote from Prof. Burton L. Mack from his book The Lost Gospel: "[The Gospel of Q]...should bring an end to the myth, the history, the mentality of the Gospels." (emphasis mine).

Clearly, if Q actually exists, then it could be of concern to the believing Christian. Personally, I'm not too concerned about it, for one very simple reason - the evidence against Q ever having existed is staggering! The main advocate of this line of research is Dr. Mark Goodacre. Please do check out his website, The Case Against Q, for very detailed information if you want more (much more) information. However, for the sake of ease, I'll summarise some of his reasoning here.

First and foremost, no-one had even heard of this 'lost Gospel' until the 19th century! No ancient source mentions such a sayings Gospel. Wouldn't the early Christians want to preserve a copy of Our Lord's teachings? Next, placing Mark first ('Marcan priority') in the order of writing can be done without the need of Q to explain the rest of Matthew and Luke (contrary to what Mr. Keating suggests in his article). Another theory that has Mark first, but is much simpler than trying to reconstruct a document for which there is no historical evidence, is the Farrer Theory, in which Luke uses both Mark and Matthew as his written sources. This would do away with the need for another written source i.e. Q. Is there any evidence that Luke knew Matthew's Gospel? There certainly is, as we can see from this word-for-word identical passage from both Matthew and Luke, which is absent from to Mark's telling of St. John the Baptist's speech:

[Mt 3:12 and Lk 3:17] "Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his floor and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." Follow the reference links, and you'll see that it's identical in both Latin and Greek as well.

There are about a thousand minor agreements between Matthew and Luke (e.g. the spelling of 'Nazareth' in Mt 3 and Lk 4 as 'Nazara', sadly often 'corrected' in English translations) which Mark doesn't have - points 6 & 7 in Dr. Goodacre's explanation. Even the way the major, longer, agreements are recorded in Luke indicates that he was copying from Matthew's text (this is called fatigue [point 8], and is fascinating stuff).

As I've said, there's much more over at Dr. Goodacre's site, and it's worth a visit. I don't know how likely it is that the Two Source Theory (Q) will come up in conversation, but you never know, so it's good to be prepared.

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