Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Q Skepticism

The discussion of Q skepticism is currently sweeping the blogosphere, and since I have not blogged in over a year, I thought this was a perfect time to add my thoughts.  Since this blog has gone dark since 2012, I do not expect many, if any readers, I am doing this more to get my own thoughts down than for any other reason. 

I am a Q skeptic, but for perhaps different reasons than others.  When it really started for me was in Seminary.  I was taking a synoptic gospels course and reading through various treatments of the synoptic problem.  The 2/4 source hypothesis made a great deal of sense.  On the surface, the arguments that Matthew and Luke were independent of one another seem strong.  Surely, why would Matthew or Luke remove so much material from the other gospel had they been aware of it.  So, in jumps Q, a common source, used by both but in different way.  Great hypothesis.  But, where this turned sour for me was the, dare I say, hubris involved in treating Q no longer as a hypothesis but as a fact.  Q works as a hypothesis, but it is not an historical document.  We have no copies of Q.  Therefore, I was turned off by the treatments of Q which accepted it as a fact and not as a hypothesis.  The fact that the critical edition of Q is 10 times bigger than the NA 27 Greek NT just caused me to get very frustrated at the Q scholarship.  Other trends, such as finding three redactional layers in a hypothetical document of which we have no copies smacked of arrogance and hubris of the highest degree.  Hence, my initial frustration with the direction of Q scholarship. 

This frustration led me to seek other solutions to the synoptic problem and I stumbled upon E. P. Sanders and Margaret Davies Studying the Synoptic Gospels in which the authors point out places where the 2/4 source hypothesis is weak and demonstrate that arguments that Luke may have used Matthew are actually stronger than once supposed. Therefore, while not outright endorsing the Farrer hypothesis, Sanders and Davies certainly showed that there are alternatives to Q.  

Finally, a simpler solution to the Synoptic problem.  Markan priority has been firmly established, at least in my mind.  The arguments are so strong for Markan priority that Griesbach just isn't a viable solution, though the simplicity is there.  So, here, with the Farrer hypothesis, we have the best of both worlds: Markan Priority and a simple and elegant solution to the synoptic problem without the complications, and consequent hubris, of Q proponents.  Simple: Mark comes first, Matthew copies Mark, and Luke copies and edits both Mark and Matthew.  No need for Q. 

But, while simple and elegant are nice, they are no guarantee of truth.  I had to search further to find how strong the Farrer hypothesis might be.  This of course led me to Mark Goodacre's the Case against Q.  This is one of the best books I have read in the field in many years.  Goodacre makes a compelling case that first, Markan priority is a must, but also that Luke could certainly have produced his gospel by copying the "Luke pleasing" elements in both Mark and Matthew.  Goodacre shows many places where Luke may have edited Matthew in ways that previous scholars thought were not possible.  I have not looked at the book in a while, but I think what sealed the deal for me is where Goodacre demonstrated what Luke did with the parable chapter in Mark 4.  Essentially, Luke split up the long parable chapter.  He used almost all of Mark's material but spread its contents throughout his gospel and did not keep Mark's material all in one place.  This tendency of Luke then becomes a template for what Luke may have done with Matthew's Sermon on the Mount.  This has for a long time been used as the best argument for why Luke could not have known Matthew: why would Luke tear up such a beautiful 3 chapter sermon written by Matthew.  Yet, using Goodacre's demonstration of what Luke did to Mark's long discourse, one can see that Luke may have done the same thing with Matthew's Sermon. Luke keeps nearly all of the material from Matthew's 3 chapter sermon, but he splits it up.  He creates a much shorter Sermon on the plain, using the beginning and ending of Matthew's Sermon on the mount, but he takes the middle portion of the sermon and spreads that material through the rest of the gospel.  Certainly a possibility.  I think it all the more likely given that Luke's reorganization of Matthew's material makes sense.  

The Sermon on the Mount, as a sermon, is kind of a mess.  It starts and ends well, but the middle seems muddled.  Even modern commentators cannot agree on any sort of organization of chapters 6 and 7 of Matthew.  In short, the sermon becomes a collection of seemingly disconnected sayings.  All of the sayings in and of themselves are wonderful (which is why Luke kept them), but they certainly don't hold together. Luke's Sermon on the plain, however, is very well organized.  It is easy to plot out the thought development and the thematic unity of Luke's Sermon.  Then Luke takes the sayings of the Sermon on the Mount that seemed to be floating in space and relocates them to various places in his narrative where they make sense.  This accomplishes 2 goals for Luke.  One, it breaks up a 3 chapter interruption to his narrative, and two, it relocates marvelous sayings of Jesus from floating in the aether to concrete locations connected to his narrative.  

In short, I am a Q skeptic first because of the hubris involved in treating Q as an historical document and not as a hypothetical document, and second because I believe that the Farrer hypothesis solves the synoptic problem not only with more simplicity and elegance than the 2/4 source hypothesis, but does so with a level of possibility or even probability than was previously thought to be the case. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Misspelled Books of the Bible

For years now I have made my Intro to Bible students list the books of the Bible in order on their final exams.  I think that Christians should at least know what is in their Bibles, if they have not actually read everything.  Of course, reading it all would be ideal, but at least knowing the table of contents is a start.

Now, this has led to some great misspellings over the years, but I think what I had on one test this year might be an all time high for hilarious misspellings.

Keep in mind, this is not a mashup, these were all on one exam.

The normal misspellings:

Jashua (Joshua)
Esra (Ezra)
Nehimia (Nehemiah)
Isiah (Isaiah)
Lammonations (Lamentations)
Galasians (Galatians)
Phelipians (Philippians)

The funny ones:

Ex Sades (Exodus)
Lavidicus (Leviticus)
Dutereny (Deuteronomy)
1 Colethleans (1 Chronicles)
2 Coletheans (2 Chronicles)
Probers (Proverbs)
Jemiaha (Jeremiah)
Hubbaka (Habakkuk)
Celemons (Colossians)
1 & 2 Thesolionions (1 & 2 Thessalonians)

Runner Up:

Ezekeaskles (Ecclesiastes with an apparent mashup of Ezekiel)

Grand Prize:

Splams (Psalms).  Now, I have seen Pslams before, but never Splams.

Good for a laugh during finals week. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Jesus SeM&Minar

Today in my historical Jesus class we conducted our very own Jesus SeM&Minar.  Now I must admit, I got this brilliant idea from James McGrath of Exploring our Matrix fame as I used his syllabus as the template for my own course this year as I was teaching it for the first time.  I thoroughly modified his syllabus to my own needs, but I had to keep the Jesus SeM&Minar.  

The idea is to, Jesus Seminar style, vote on various sayings and/or deeds of Jesus as to their historical probability, but instead of using colored stones, one uses M&Ms.  More fun, and hey, you get to eat your vote after you are finished. 

Here is how I set up the voting for our class.

Red M&M = He said/did such a thing
Orange M&M = He said/did something like this, but not exactly as the text(s) present it
Green M&M = He probably did not say/do such a thing
Brown M&M = He almost certainly said/did no such thing

These colors more or less correspond to the Jesus Seminar's Red, Pink, Gray, and Black.  

I was a little nervous going into the class because my student makeup is to a great extent on the conservative evangelical end of the spectrum and I was afraid of vote after vote of all red M&Ms, because for many conservatives, if it is in the Bible, it has to be historically factual.  

I chose 6 sayings/deeds that we were to vote on.  They are: 

1.     The Beelzebul Controversy (Mark 3:20-22, Matt 12:24, Luke 11:15)
2.     The cleansing of the Temple (Mark 11:15-16, Matt 21:12, Luke 19:45, John 2:13-16)
3.     Jesus walking on water (Mark 6:47-52, Matt 14:24-33, John 6:16-21)
4.     The Parable of the Mustard Seed (Mark 4:30-32, Matthew 13:31-32, Luke 13:18-19, Gos Thomas 20)
5.     Let the dead bury their own dead (Luke 9:59-60, Matthew 8:21-22)
6.     Church Discipline (Matthew 18:15-20)

After voting, I had the students defend their positions based on various Jesus criteria (multiple attestation, dissimilarity, embarrassment, coherence, historical plausibility, etc.).

I stacked the deck in my selection of deeds/sayings, choosing some that Jesus scholars clearly think are historical and others that are clearly on the non-historical side. Out of 15 students, plus my vote, here are the results.

Beelzebul: 8 Red, 7 Orange, 1 Green, 0 Brown
Temple Cleansing: 9 Red, 7 Orange, 0 Green, 0 Brown
Water Walking: 6 Red, 2 Orange, 8 Green, 0 Brown
Mustard Seed: 10 Red, 6 Orange, 0 Green, 0 Brown
Dead bury own dead: 9 Red, 5 Orange, 1 Green, 1 Brown
Church Discipline: 4 Red, 6 Orange, 4 Green, 1 Brown

Looking at these vote counts, it was not as I feared.  Obviously there was some conservative tilt with a lot of red and orange.  The biggest red light issue for me was the walking on water with 8 votes going toward historical authenticity, or at least close to authentic.  But, miracles are a touchy issue and I understand the vote, even though I tried to get the students to disengage their belief and try to act under the confines of historical research only. 

The other shock for me was perhaps #6, Matthew's exposition on church discipline.  This is a largely anachronistic use of the ekklesia, portraying Matthew's Sitz im Leben, not that of Jesus.  Yet, this vote was actually the most interesting, because the verses that I had included in the vote really can be broken down into two sections: vv. 15-18 which is talking about church discipline proper, and vv. 19-20, which talk about binding and loosing and where two or more are gathered.  I called a re-vote, this time just on vv. 15-18 and the results were fascinating. 1 Red, 2 Orange, 5 Green, and 8 Brown.  Wow, 13 people in my class were skeptical or outright dismissive that these words belonged to the historical Jesus. I believe I have succeeded in communicating that the gospels do indeed often represent not just the brute facts of history, but also the concerns of the evangelists themselves.

It has been a really fun class this semester.  I have learned a lot, I think my students have learned a lot, and this Jesus SeM&Minar was a great way to bring many themes from throughout the semester into one discussion here at the end of the semester.  Thanks again to McGrath for the idea.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Leaving the SBL

Well, another year, another SBL. Great weather in Chicago this year. The highlight for me: the biblioblogger's gathering last night. Even though I don't blog much anymore, and i felt a little like a poser last night, those bibliobloggers are just the most fun.

A parting pic down Michigan ave as I waited for the airport shuttle.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:S Michigan Ave,Chicago,United States

Thursday, September 6, 2012

God Declares Independent

In a strangely prophetic post last week, I mentioned that if God were to send a hurricane to Charlotte to disrupt the Democratic National Convention, then we would know that God was truly an independent and not tied to either party, since Hurricane Isaac disrupted the RNC.  Well, we see through a glass dimly, but we see nonetheless.  While it is not a hurricane, strong thunderstorms are expected to roll through Charlotte this evening which has prompted the DNC to move Obama's address from the outdoor venue, Bank of America Stadium, to the Indoor Time Warner Cable Arena.

I guess God thinks that both parties do not represent God's interests right now.

PSA: if you are taking this seriously, see my previous post here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Dangers of Sarcasm in Print

Using sarcasm in print is always dangerous because print cannot convey things like tone of voice, body language, etc.  Therefore, I would like to thank James McGrath for noticing that yesterday's post was indeed a parody. 

McGrath calls for consistency among a certain brand of conservative evangelicals who see every natural disaster as God's judgment on sinners.  At least be consistent and call Isaac God's judgment against the Republican National Convention. 

No doubt, tomorrow morning we will probably read about how Isaac is yet again God's judgment against the "Big Easy," just seven years after his last smackdown of the sinful city with Katrina.  But if these hurricanes were God's judgment against New Orleans, must we not also follow logic and declare that God deliberately took momentum out of the Republican Party's national convention in a similar judgment?

Perhaps the lesson to be learned here is: "Don't schedule your party's national convention in a hurricane prone area during the height of hurricane season."

Below is an image from McGrath's blog, speaking to the same issue.

Monday, August 27, 2012

God Declares against the Republicans

It is official, the Republican National Convention has been thrown off by Hurricane Isaac.  As many in the past have claimed, God hurls hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes at the godless.  Therefore, since Isaac has interrupted the Republican National Convention, God must be against the Republicans. 

I guess we will have to wait to see if God also sends a hurricane to Charlotte in a couple of weeks, thus declaring himself an independent. As one who lives in NC, here's to the democrats.