Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Foster's NovT article

In an article just published in Novum Testamentum, Paul Foster discusses the existence of Q with special reference to my work. (Paul Foster, "Is it possible to dispense with Q?", NovT 45 (2003), pp. 313-37). One element in his critique contains the serious charge that I have been "rather disingenous" and I would like to sketch an answer here. The context is "The Genre of Q" (pp. 332-4). Foster draws attention to a common argument that cites the Gospel of Thomas as evidence that Q-like documents existed, so strengthening the case for the Q hypothesis. He points out that Q sceptics like me remain unpersuaded:
The discovery of Thomas has not convinced Q sceptics either of
the possibility of the existence of Q or of the appropriateness of the comparison. Rather the criterion has been somewhat changed to try and remove Thomas from the debate. (p. 323).
Foster adds that I dismiss the positive evidence that Thomas provides in a "cursory manner", citing The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze (The Biblical Seminar, 80; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), p. 152, in which I had drawn attention to the narrative sequence that makes up the first third of Q, and which has no parallel in Thomas. Foster goes on to position Q on a continuum which has the Synoptic Gospels at one end and Thomas at the other; its genre "sits comfortably between these two extremes". Foster then adds that:
The manoeuvre that is made in order to rule Thomas out of consideration is therefore not only inappropriate, but seems to be rather disingenuous on the part of Goodacre. (pp. 323-4).
I have written two books on the Synoptic Problem, the first a textbook aimed at undergraduate students, with no Greek and only a handful of footnotes and called The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze (cited above, hereafter Maze), and the second a specialist treatment for scholars using Greek, with extensive engagement with the scholarship on the issues, called The Case Against Q: Studies in Markan Priority and the Synoptic Problem (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2002) (hereafter Case). Foster has read both books, but in his discussion of my views on Thomas, he deals only with the former, the undergraduate textbook, and does not mention the latter. Case, Chapter 9 ("Narrative Sequence in a Sayings Gospel? Reflections on a Contrast between Thomas and Q") is a full exposition of the argument that appears only briefly in Maze. I am of course pleased that Foster is willing to take Maze seriously, but an undergraduate textbook, with only a paragraph or so on the given topic, can scarcely be the basis for a critique of a view spelled out at length in the scholarly treatment. Given this context, I must admit to being surprised to see the criticism that I had dealt with the Thomas and Q in a "cursory manner". Similarly, Foster (p. 324) draws attention to the discussion in Kloppenborg's Formation of Q with which -- as it happens -- I engaged in that context in Case. It is the full, specialist argument that requires treatment in a full, specialist critique.

Paul was kind enough to send me a draft copy of his article before it had been accepted for publication. I pointed out at the time that, in the light of his lack of engagement with Case here, I thought it a little unfair to charge me with being disingenuous. As I read it, this is a pretty serious thing to say about another scholar, and I would have thought that it is important to be clear about one's grounds for doing it.

Absent of that context it is not so straightforward to see what Foster finds so inappropriate about my claims about Thomas. It seems in part to be an alignment of my own views with those of previous Q sceptics, arguing that at first we said that there was nothing like Q therefore it is unlikely that it existed (Farrer certainly argued this way) and that now, in the light of Thomas's discovery, we have changed tack and argue that Thomas is not sufficiently similar to Q. But this is not my argument. In Case (as also, but much more tersely in Maze), the comparison has a clear context and a specific function. I contrast Q with Thomas and acknowledge and agree with Kloppenborg, Koester and Robinson that genre is not a "static grid", asking whether the narrative sequence that seems so fundamental to the first third (or so) of Q is better explained on the grounds that Q belongs to the Sayings Gospel genre (their view) or on the grounds that it is essentially that non-Marcan material that Luke takes over from Matthew (my view). In the light of several source-critical observations including that the narrative sequence stops at roughly the point where Matthew begins following Mark in sequence, I find it more plausible that this odd feature of Q is explained source-critically, on the assumption that Luke is using Matthew as well as Mark.

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