Monday, June 08, 2009

Michael White on the Synoptic Problem

I recently came across L. Michael White, From Jesus to Christianity, a book I had previously missed. As usual, I couldn't help checking out its discussion of the Synoptic Problem and I was pleasantly surprised to see that White does not adhere to the now rather tired narrative common in American introductory level books that goes something like, "Once there was the Griesbach Hypothesis but Marcan Posteriority was seen to be so implausible that we need the Two-Source Theory, which is believed by everyone." Instead, Griesbach is lined up as an alternative alongside the Farrer theory. And, still better, the Farrer theory gets its own diagram (114) and there is a recommendation of E. P. Sanders and Margaret Davies, Studying the Synoptic Gospels as the best discussion. Well, that's all very encouraging.

But it is not all good news. First, it is called "the Farrar-Goulder Hypothesis" (his name is spelt "Farrer"). Second, there is one of the worst arguments against the theory that I think I have ever read, and that is saying something. White looks at the example of the Rejection at Nazareth in Luke 4.16-30, noting that "Luke would have had to remove the rejection story from Matthew's relatively late position (Matt. 13.53-58) immediately following the parables (Matt. 13.1-52) to a radically early position . . ." (115). The reason that this argument is weak is that Luke is doing exactly the same thing on both the Farrer theory and the Two-Source Theory! According to both, he is using Mark, who has the Rejection of Nazareth at Mark 6.1-6. It is hardly a valid criticism of an opposing theory to bring in an example that works the same way as the theory being advocated.

Moreover, the Farrer theory actually has a major advantage over the Two-Source Theory with respect to Luke's repositioning of the Rejection at Nazareth. One of the most notorious Minor Agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark occurs here, in Luke 4.16, right at the beginning of the pericope in question. Matthew 4.13 and Luke 4.16 both have Jesus in Ναζαρά. It is an agreement against Mark in spelling and order (cf. the parallel spelling at Matt. 2.23 in P70 -- see further Michael Goulder, "Two Significant Minor Agreements (Mat. 4:13 Par.; Mat. 26:67-68 Par.)," Novum Testamentum 45 (2003): 365-373). It is an agreement so notorious that it finds its way into the Critical Edition of Q in order to deal with the problem it poses for the Two-Source Theory. In other words, White's example, far from being problematic for the Farrer Theory, is actually better explained by it.

Now to be fair to White, he is attempting to argue against both Griesbach and Farrer at the same time, but the fact that this is the example chosen suggests that he, like many others, is struggling to conceptualize Marcan Priority without Q. It suggests that those of us who adhere to this theory still have some work to do to help people to see the model clearly. Hey, I should do a website on it! Oh, I've already done that. I should write an introductory book on it! Oh, done that too. What about writing a monograph? Darn it, I've even done that. I suppose I'll have to settle for banging my little Farrer drum here in my corner of the blogworld for a bit longer.

Update (Tuesday, 11.34): It occurred to me this morning that I had missed something really important in the earlier version of this post. I have added the paragraph beginning "Moreover, the Farrer Theory . . ."


Anonymous said...

Hey Mark,

When I was in Bible College, I had to write a paper on the synoptic problem. In the end, I actually advocated the Farrer theory, and got a high mark on the paper. I used your text ("Synoptic Problem") as a primary resource, and my professor seemed genuinely interested in it---even apart from simply grading my paper!

I'm finishing my philosophy degree at Calvin College and then applying to grad schools in a couple years. Duke is on my list, so hopefully one day I'll get to thank you in person! =)


Richard James said...

Hi Mark,

Please do keep up your excellent work on the Farrer hypothesis. It would be a great loss to us if you let your interest in other issues (e.g. relationship between Thomas and the Synoptics) distract you from the real purpose of your scholarly life! :)


Richard Godijn

steph said...

I suppose, being in his isolated little social sub group, he is just seconds too late to acknowledge Casey's far more historically plausible chaotic hypothesis ;-)

I am still very puzzled, Mark, as to where you think Matthew got his extra material not in Mark, and also in fact, where Luke got his extra material not in Matthew or Mark? I presume you don't go along with Goulder here...

Mark Goodacre said...

Aaron: thanks for looking at my book and even more for the advocacy -- what more could one hope for? :) Hope we get a chance to meet some time.

Richard: ha ha, many thanks.

Steph: I am looking forward to Maurice's book when it is out. Do you have an estimated date of publication?

On the other question, I don't think my views have changed on it since you last asked, so here's a copy-and-paste:

Thanks for asking. I don't think my views on this one have changed
much since I wrote Goulder and the Gospels and The Case Against Q.
Like Sanders (we are all influenced by our teachers, I suppose!), I remain unconvinced by that element of Goulder's hard-line position. One of my reasons for suggesting that we move to using "Farrer theory" as the nomenclature is to distance the theory from Goulder's no-other-sources position. Could Matthew's non-Marcan sources have been written? Of course they could. Likewise Mark's sources, or (on
the 2ST) Q's sources. Or Mark's sources' sources or Q's sources'
sources, and so on. But as John Muddiman points out, oral traditions are by their nature "lost" except where they are crystallized in texts. My guess is that Mark's sources were oral, likewise Matthew's
non-Marcan sources, likewise Luke's non-Marcan, non-Matthean sources, but of course they could have been written.

steph said...

2010, God willing :-)

Thanks for that. I didn't follow up my question for long enough and never saw your reply. Yes we are influenced by our teachers but I travelled 12000 miles, twice, to be with my teacher because his work had seemed to demonstrate what I had been thinking before we ever met. What you say is good news to us! By the sound of it I may be able to convince you of the chaotic hypothesis!! I think Maurice adequately prepares the way in his forthcoming volume ... so look forward to discussing with you. Are you going to New Orleans? I presume Aberdeen is out of the question?

steph said...

PS what did you think of Maurice's Aramaic Approach to Q?

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Steph. Haven't spent as long with the Aramaic Approach to Q as I would like, but I have always been encouraged by the fact Maurice and Michael (Goulder) have a lot of time for each other; I think it was Michael who first introduced me to Maurice. I wish I were able to be in Aberdeen; I really miss the BNTS. But yes, planning to be in New Orleans. Cheers, Mark

steph said...

Yes, Maurice is very fond of Michael and they have been good colleague friends for many years and enjoyed his time with him when he did the Cadbury Lectures as well. Nevertheless Maurice was not convinced of Luke's use of Matthew and maintained their independence in An Aramaic Approach. However, as a consequence of James' work on Mark, Maurice now dates Matthew much earlier than before which makes it almost impossible for Luke not to have known him. My own work on the chaotic hypothesis had already led me to the conclusion that Luke was aware of Matthew, partly with the help of you and Michael, but I don't think it can be maintained that Luke used Matthew in preference to the sources before him because of the nature of those sources as interpreted and translated by Luke (and naturally Matthew).

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Steph. All interesting to hear. One of the things I have valued about Maurice's approach to Michael's work is that he has taken it seriously and not attempted to come up with easy, knock-down objections. I remember him once at the BNTC advocating strongly for taking Michael's material about the minor agreements seriously and chastising colleagues for not doing so.

steph said...

Very true - he's mentioned that. Maurice is very aware of the importance of Goulder's work and how it should taken extremely seriously by ALL! :-) I think he's of as great importance as Matthew Black and C.K. Barrett so far as New Testament and the Synoptic Problem go.