Saturday, March 12, 2011

On the Pedagogical Advantages of the Q hypothesis

In a comment on my post Another Introduction to the Bible, Another Chance to Ignore the Farrer Theory, one commenter (James) asks why this kind of phenomenon recurs in the introductory textbooks and he offers some interesting suggestions. Here is one of my thoughts on the issue.

There is a huge pedagogical advantage in making Q critical orthodoxy in introductory courses because it is a tangible expression of participation in proper academic New Testament studies. It is a symbol that one is doing critical scholarship and not Bible Study, that one is engaging in the academy and not the church.

The fact is that Q is not an element in most Christian Bible Studies. One of the big issues for many in teaching introductory courses on the New Testament is in persuading the students that this is going to be different from Bible Study. Q is a bit like pseudonymous authorship of the Pauline epistles -- it is something that some teachers use as a recognizable distinguishing marker that what we are doing is something different, something academic, something critical.

That is not to say that all those who advocate Q do it solely for its pedagogical advantages, of course. Many do it because they have engaged in serious study, they are familiar with the evidence, and have come to that solution. My point, though, is that Q can provide a useful shortcut, a speedy but concrete symbol of the difference between a historical approach and a confessional one.

Under such circumstances, it remains an attractive but also a useful hypothesis.


Stephen C. Carlson said...

Thanks for that. As I am getting more into teaching, I'm finding the interaction between pedagogy and scholarship to be fascinating. Sometimes it's mutually beneficial (perhaps most often, even), but where they don't reinforce each other, as in this case, we should be cognizant of.

It always occurs to me that there may be pedagogical advantages for presenting the controversy--to let students know that scholarship is provisional and that there are live, interesting disputes that make the field as interesting as it is. Of course, this presumes certain learning objectives for the teacher and it may not always be appropriate.

Jason A. Staples said...

Is this benefit really limited to Q, though? I would think that presenting the Synoptic Problem itself would be enough of a differentiation from standard "Bible study" with or without Q.

That is, if one taught the Farrer Hypothesis in which Luke used Matthew, I would think this was far enough removed from a confessional approach to serve the same pedagogical purpose. At any rate, I agree with Stephen's point that presenting the controversy and introducing students to the live debate tends to be the most productive pedagogical tactic—if for no other reason than that it doesn't predispose the next generation of scholars as much to a given "established" theory.

Mark Goodacre said...

I agree, Jason, except that I think if one is doing the descriptive / narrative kind of approach to NT Introduction, as many do in their NT Introductions, Q gives one that pay-off quickly. In other words, on the narrative / descriptive approach, even the most superficial student picks up that there is something different about this business because there is no Q in his/her Bible.

Jeff Cate said...

Interesting. I had never thought of Q discussions in that kind of way. Although it seems to me that just the mention of Markan priority and Matthean dependence on Mark (regardless how one proceeds further into the Synoptic Problem) would seem to distinguish academic study from devotional.

Mark Goodacre said...

I agree with that, Jeff, but I suspect that there is something about the tangible symbol of Q that helps to make the point all the more strongly -- it's the fact that Q is not found in the Bible that provides so strong a pedagogical convenience.

Hans said...

I think this is a really important post. It would be interesting to collate a list of the hypotheses that can be shown to serve similar functions within the guild. No one will be surprised if I suggest that theories of partition have served analogous functions within many branches of Pauline studies, perhaps with an even thinner rhetorical veil.