Friday, May 07, 2004

English Reader's Synopsis

I commented yesterday on Zeba Crook's homepage. I would now like to draw attention to this element on his homepage:

An English Reader's Synopsis

This is an introduction to a project on which Crook has been working for some years. There are several examples in the PDF file to which the above page links. Crook is attempting a major English language Synopsis in which the use of a "source language translation" (i.e. literal, non-idiomatic) will help the reader to see as many of the actual agreements in the Greek as possible, agreements that are sometimes obscured in "target language translation" Synopses like Throckmorton's Gospel Parallels. Stephen Carlson makes some useful comments on this in Hypotyposeis and asks about the target audience for the proposal. I would say that there is a potential market at least among the growing number of undergraduate Theology students in the UK who do not do Greek. Greek went optional on the Theology BA Honours in 1995 here in Birmingham and most, if not all, other British Universities are the same. When I was in Oxford, Greek was still compulsory for Single Honours Theology BA students but I understand that this is the case no longer. But the students without Greek still want to do courses on Jesus and the Gospels and it will be useful to be able to push them towards a resource like the one proposed by Crook. When I am teaching New Testament courses to our undergraduates, I make use of my own simple English language Synopses, some of which I have made available on-line (I have a lot more, so perhaps I ought to think about making those more broadly available too). We have now moved Greek Synopsis work into the Level 2-3 Greek New Testament courses.

There may be sufficient interest for an English language Synopsis like the one Crook is proposing for a more general audience, but I don't know.

Some further comments on the proposal:

(1) Its essential ethos is right. I recall E. P. Sanders complaining that the Funk Synopsis matches up parallels in the RSV that are not actually present in the Greek. I have not checked up the Funk Synopsis to see if that is right or not. See Robert Walter Funk, New Gospel Parallels: Volume One, The Synoptic Gospels (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985). Even that is not true, the comment points up the potential danger with using "target language translation".

(2) Crook explains that "Each gospel is presented in its own order, indicated when the gospel name and passages appear in bold lettering". This sounds like a good idea for combatting the big problem over how to order a Synopsis. For English-only readers, one should probably be especially conscious of the difficulties they might have in finding parallels and anything that facilitates their easy handling of them should be encouraged. If I understand Crook's proposal correctly, pericopae will be repeated in that particular Gospel's relevant order where that Gospels is out of sync with one or both of the others.

(3) I am fully behind the importance of teaching textual criticism to users of the Synopsis. I wonder, though, if the textual apparatus provided is a bit too detailed for an English language only reader. I am not sure if the target audience is conceptualised clearly here. The list of witnesses in the selected cases where textual apparatus is provided is too terse and focussed for non-Greek readers. I would have thought that something that explains the most important variations is required or the student will ignore it.

(4) My major qualm about the proposal is the use of the reconstructed text of Q in the Synopsis. On one level, this is a useful and interesting way of showing students where the IQP's Reconstructed Q comes from, i.e. from Synoptic comparison between Matthew and Luke. But my concern is that the use of Q limits the usefulness of the Synopsis in a fundamental way by foreclosing one of the key issues in Synoptic Problem research, which is the very reason for looking at a Synopsis. Instead of acting as a tool for students to investigate and test the Q hypothesis, the actual printing of the reconstructed text of Q inevitably gives Q a tangibility, a concrete presence, that makes it harder to encourage students to test the hypothesis. In my experience of teaching the Synoptic Problem, many students have difficulty grasping the Q hypothesis -- it takes a lot of patient explanation -- and they are quickly put off if they hear about its chapter and verse numbers, its reconstructed text and so on. In fact I tend to avoid talking about the properties of reconstructed Q in introductory lectures because it unduly biases the students against the Q hypothesis. I want them to understand the hypothesis and to judge it as fairly as possible and not to be biased against it by leaping ahead too quickly to reconstructed Q. This may just be my experience; it may just be Birmingham students! But I know that I would find it tough to introduce a Gospel Synopsis to undergraduate students that features the text of Q, with verse numbers and the like. I am afraid that many of them would simply refuse to take it seriously, for all my attempts to defend it.

(5) There is a related practical issue. The introduction of Q turns the three-column Synopsis into a four column Synopsis (and more when Thomas and John come in too). I think this is potentially problematic on two fronts. First, it reduces the simplicity of the presentation, thinning out the columns and crowding the page. This is a shame in a Synopsis that is designed to appeal to undergraduate students. Second, it radically alters the opportunity to colour the Synopsis. In my own view, it is greatly fortuitous that there are three Synoptic Gospels and three primary colours and that the combinations between them make colouring both intuitive and fun (see previous blog entry and discussion in my The Synoptic Problem). I'm not sure how one would encourage students to colour a four-column Synopsis. Would one leave Q white? Would one colour in-line with the colouring of Matthew and Luke so that one could see how the wording of Q had been reconstructed? Either way, it seems to me that the problem is that one weakens the gift we have been given of three Synoptic Gospels.

(6) A related problem is that I would find it less straightforward to use a Synopsis like this in teaching the Synoptic Problem. Pure triple tradition is still in three columns, so one has the link there between triple and three columns. But the pure double tradition is in three columns, Matthew, Q and Luke, and so it's less straightforward to explain these "triple" and "double" tradition terms. This might sound like an overly simple point but I reckon that it is a very useful way to begin the discussion of the Synoptic Problem and to go from triple tradition and double tradition to possible explanations of these.

My critical comments should not detract from the fact that, to repeat, I think this a very interesting proposal with some real merit.

Update (3 December 2004): Zeba Crook has uploaded a new version of the proposal here:

English Reader's Synopsis

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