Monday, June 04, 2007

Synoptic Problem Poll: Some Reflections

Last Wednesday, Brandon Wason started a poll on the Synoptic Problem, asking which solution people thought best. Naturally, I cast my vote for the Farrer Theory, having spent a lot of time arguing in favour of this solution and against other solutions, especially the Two-Source Theory and the Griesbach Hypothesis (list of publications on my homepage, with some full text reproductions). Brandon's poll provides a nice snapshot of what some people think about the Synoptic Problem at the moment, and several comments on the poll provide interesting perspectives on some current thinking about the question. I would like to comment on both.

First, the poll. At present, the Farrer Theory is coming in second (with 108 votes) to the Two Source Theory (with 136 votes). In the current Biblical Studies Carnival, Danny Zacharias nicely summarizes where things stand:
Farrer adherents are sad that the two(four)-source hypothesis still comes in number one, Two/Four source adherents can't believe how many hold to the Farrer hypothesis, and all NT scholars gasped at how many votes the Augustinian hypothesis received.
But I must admit that I am not sad at all about this. On the contrary, I am delighted to see the Farrer theory coming in so hot on the heels of the Two-Source Theory, which, after all, has enjoyed ascendancy for over a century, and is accepted with little question in standard introductory textbooks (admittedly with some fallacious arguments). To come anywhere near the Two-Source Theory against those odds is very encouraging. To put this in some kind of historical perspective, less than ten years ago Stephen Patterson reviewed Christopher Tuckett's Q and the History of Early Christianity and commented on Tuckett's spending time arguing against the Farrer Theory, which he described in passing as "more obscure" than Griesbach.

Lest Q sceptics become puffed up with such apparent progress, however, April DeConick sends a sobering comment on the Forbidden Gospels Blog:
I am a little concerned with some of what I'm reading across the blogworld tonight regarding the results of the Synoptic Problem Poll on Novum Testamentum. Although it is fun to see what the blogging world thinks about this, it would be completely inaccurate to interpret the results of the poll to mean that the Two/Four-Source Hypothesis is losing ground in the Academy, or that the Academy is flirting with the Augustinian model, or that it has found the Farrer hypothesis convincing. Although this might be happening in the blogging world, it is not happening in the Academy. Quelle still reigns there.
I think my own reading of the situation is not quite so negative for Q scepticism. It is, of course, difficult to take a snapshot of where things are in the academy on the question, but I would be inclined to take the recent poll more seriously, and for several reasons:

1. I think we should be careful about placing too strong a wedge between "the blogworld" and "the Academy". There are plenty of authors and readers of blogs who are part of the academy in the sense of being professionals in the field. There are still more who are the professionals of the future, including graduate students. So I would want to stress that while the two worlds are not, of course, the same, there are significant degrees of overlap. And as Doug Chaplin observes,
Both DeConick’s post, and the Brandon Wason’s own comment on it imply that the strange results are simply down to the voters not being academic specialists in the field. Some of that may well be the case, but without asking a question about people’s expertise, it remains a deduction.
I would make a different deduction and it would go something like this: the poll reflects some movement away from the confidence in the Two-Source Theory that characterized previous generations of scholarship.

2. This is a particularly difficult one for me to judge, as a player in the drama, but I think that there are reasons to be less sanguine about the future for the Two-Source Theory than April is. There are several senior academics who have expressed uncertainty about Q in recent times; some have been kind enough to suggest that my Case Against Q was a contributing factor. The impression that I have had over the last few years is that the Synoptic Problem is being discussed again in fresh ways. Here at Duke, for example, I don't pick up much enthusiasm for Q.

3. There has long been a difficulty over discussion of the Synoptic Problem in the guild in that there is far greater diversity of opinion among experts on the Synoptic Problem than there is among others. I suppose that that is natural in any area, but it is worth noting that the major books to come out on the Synoptic Problem over the last decade or so have been written from a variety of perspectives, and this suggests a trend away from straightforward acceptance of the Two-Source Theory that was dominant a generation ago.

The comments on the current poll help me to get a feeling for why some are still unpersuaded by my own case against Q, and I am grateful for those, and would like to offer a few thoughts on them. Doug Chaplin is not persuaded because, he says, "I can’t understand why Luke, if using Matthew, would omit Matthew’s special Petrine and ecclesial material." Making cases for why a given evangelist may have omitted given material is always a tough one because it is necessarily educated guesswork and informed speculation. The architecture of the Two-Source Theory enables it to dodge the kind of questions that other theories face here because it is written into the fabric of that theory that no evangelists ever really omitted anything much. Most of Mark is included in Matthew and Luke and we don't have access to Q so we cannot compare like with like. The genius of the Two-Source Theory is that it reduces the amount of material omitted by Matthew and Luke to a minimum (Mark) or an unseen text (Q). Yet, what is easy to forget here is that actually Luke does omit a lot of Mark, some of it thought by some to be so inexplicable that special theories are produced to explain it. I am thinking especially of the Great Omission (Mark 6.45--8.26). As it happens, I think that Luke's omission here is explicable, but my point is that even the 2ST lives with a lot of omission of apparently congenial material.

That general point to one side, I do not find it at all surprising that Luke omits Matthew's Jesus' commendation of Peter in Matt. 16.17-19. To quote from a recent article,
It is one of the many curiosities of synoptic source-criticism that it is often said that Luke could not have known Matthew because of his non-inclusion of Matt. 16.17-19 (commendation of Peter), while nothing is made of his non-inclusion of Mark 8.33 // Matt. 16.22-23 (condemnation of Peter). But Luke’s omission of all of that material in his version of the Caesarea Philippi incident is unsurprising in the light of his treatment of Peter in Luke 22.31-32, which prophesies his sifting by Satan (cf. Mark 8.33 // Matt. 16.23), and his future strengthening of the brethren (cf. Matt. 16.17-19). For Luke, given a different Peter pattern in Luke-Acts, the Peter pattern of Matthew’s Caesarea Philippi, commendation followed by condemnation, is not an option and it is omitted. (Mark Goodacre, “The Rock on Rocky Ground: Matthew, Mark and Peter as Skandalon” in Philip McCosker (ed.), What Is It That the Scripture Says?: Essays in Biblical Interpretation, Translation, And Reception in Honour of Henry Wansbrough Osb (Library of New Testament Studies; London & New York: Continuum, 2006): 61-73).
But I enjoyed Doug Chaplin's reflections on the textualization of Q, and I endorse a lot of what he says, though I would want to note that Q as an ordered, written text is a theory largely demanded by the evidence in that Matthew and Luke are often much closer together in double tradition material (Q) than they are in triple tradition (Mark), and there are marked similarities in the sequence of material that make multiple, vaguely defined sources potentially more problematic than Q.

In comments on Brandon Wason's original post, Steve Walton writes:
I’m a believer in Markan priority, but sceptical about Q and completely unconvinced that Luke used Matthew. The comment ‘unscrambling the egg with a vengeance’ applies so powerfully to Luke’s treatment of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, scattering it in bits all over Luke’s Gospel - I can’t imagine why someone would do that.
I am naturally pleased to hear of Steve's commitment to Marcan Priority and Q scepticism (that's already more than half-way there!), but I can't resist a little comment on the rest of what he writes here. Since I have a chapter in The Case Against Q headed "Unscrambling the egg with a vengeance", I suppose that I have failed in persuading Steve on this one. Nevertheless, I am surprised to see this old chestnut coming up again, and perhaps I could refocus the issue by asking what one would expect Luke to do if he were faced with such a sustained, lengthy monologue? When we remember that Luke cuts the length of the Marcan speeches like Mark 4.1-34 and 9.33-50, omitting some and "scattering" the remainder, I would expect him to do the same with a far, far longer monologue like Matt. 5-7. Indeed the anomaly for the Farrer theory would be if Luke had maintained the Sermon in toto. Often, Luke is refreshingly consistent.

In another comment, Ryan Jones says:
Okay, I know I need to sit down with my crayons and my pencils and a Greek Synopsis, as Mark Goodacre’s blog reminded me a few days ago. But, ah jeez, I just don’t know when I’ll have that kind of time. Besides, I don’t see how I could come to anything more than a tentative solution anyway. Is the payoff really that great? I am skeptical when I see scholars making confident exegetical, historical, or theological conclusions that rely on a particular one of these hypotheses being true. Like household chores, I know it’s something I really ought to do but I’m putting it off.
I know the feeling. But I would say that the "payoff" comes not just in helping one to test out different synoptic theories but also in getting to know the texts of the Synoptic Gospels, improving one's Greek, in practising redaction criticism, and in exploring the greatest literary enigma of all time. Doesn't that sound tempting?


Doug Chaplin said...

I shall ponder your point on comparing Luke's omission of congenial material in Mark with that of the Petrine material in Matthew.
I do think you are right in noting a growth in Q scepticism - but I wonder whether, as for me, this is prompted more by a reaction to the Q fundamentalists who know its every word, discern its layers and explore its sources, than it is prompted by the strength of your case for Farrer.

Matt Page said...

Two quick comments:

Firstly, whilst we can't equate blog readers with the academy, what the poll does tell us is that amongst a reasonable sample of those who express an interest in Q the Farrer theory is gaining ground. This may not influence the academy in the short term, but if this gain holds for a generation then it is bound to affect the academy in the long term.

Secondly, I also like the point you make (I think in "The Case Against Q") about how those making their own gospels about Jesus in our century (i.e. film-makers) also take the Sermon on the Mount and divide it up into smaller pieces. To say it is unthinkable (or something similar) that Luke would do this to Matthew is ignoring the fact that even within our own century there in at least one counter example.

Stephen C. Carlson said...

In re Danny's comment, "Farrer adherents are sad that the two(four)-source hypothesis still comes in number one": I'm not aware of any Farrer advocate online who expressed sadness that the 2SH came in number one. Rather, most seemed pleased that it came in number two as apparently the most viable alternative.

T LEWIS said...

I'm wondering what is the evidence for Mt and Lk 'often' being closer in the double than in the triple material? I'm only aware of the JohnB material.

You wrote: ". . .the evidence in that Matthew and Luke are often much closer together in double tradition material (Q) than they are in triple tradition (Mark), and there are marked similarities in the sequence of material that make multiple, vaguely defined sources potentially more problematic than Q."

T LEWIS said...

I forgot to sign my question,
Tim Lewis (my blogger ID only gives T LEWIS)