Sunday, July 25, 2004

Is the Farrer Theory too boring?

In an enjoyable post on Hypotyposeis, Stephen Carlson suggests that the Farrer Theory's "fatal flaw" is that it is "too boring":
It is interesting to me that, although Kloppenborg explored in depth the theological stakes of the Griesbach hypothesis and the Q hypothesis, he did not really do so for Farrer except to point out that our present assumptions of Christianity probably aren’t going to change very much. And perhaps that’s exactly the problem with the Farrer theory--at a time when there are so many new, interesting areas of investigation (narrative criticism, socio-rhetorical criticism, post-modern criticism, etc.), what is going to motivate a young scholar to step back into the swamp of source criticism if the result is going to be upholding a conventional view of Christian origins? Where’s the fun in that?
Stephen is quite right, but I would take these comments as a challenge. Farrer theorists are themselves to blame -- they have simply not managed to show effectively what the "cash value" of their theory is. What problems does it help us to rethink? How does it help us to reimagine Christian Origins? As Stephen says, where's the fun? It's a problem I have become conscious of more since finishing The Case Against Q than I was before writing it. Had I have realised the difficulty, perhaps I would have tried to address it some more, or at least to think about the problem. But I've turned to something like this recently in a short essay called "A World Without Q" in a forthcoming collection of essays edited by Nick Perrin and me. A couple of excerpts:
As far as Q scepticism is concerned, it sometimes seems like the choice is between Griesbach, which is implausible because it dispenses with Marcan Priority, or Goulder, who is unpalatable because of his over-creative evangelists, or Sanders and Davies, whose view is too complex to offer a positive vision for the future. The world without Q might indeed seem like an unattractive place. What has been lacking is anything that will explain the appeal of Q scepticism to different elements in the New Testament guild . . . .

But while it remains a possibility in the abstract that a theory could be both plausible and unappealing, I suspect that a new theory can only be truly convincing if it is able to demonstrate its potential to help us rethink elements in the discipline in fresh, creative and appealing ways, to spark interesting new questions as well as to provide promising answers to old questions. In other words, for Q sceptics to gain a hearing, it is essential for them not only to provide plausible interpretations of the existing data but also to explain to scholars what the cash value of their theory is. If Q sceptics are not to be perceived as stubborn ‘nay-sayers’ who refuse to join the party, it is essential that they begin to explore in interesting ways the ramifications that dispensing with Q has on historical, literary and theological study of early Christianity . . . .

This point aside, I would like to focus briefly on two key features of a world without Q that may benefit future research. The first takes its lead from the legacy of Farrer, Goulder and Drury, all of whom stressed the creativity of the evangelists, a legacy that is consonant with recent literary appreciation of the Gospels. The second is in part a reaction against the extremes of that legacy, but which nevertheless coheres with elements of it, the importance of recognising the role played by oral tradition in early Christianity. To speak about ‘dynamic tension’ is something of a scholarly cliché, so I will instead suggest that there is a creative interaction between these two factors, an interaction that has the potential to provide some profitable reflection on Christian origins . . .
However much one might be able to make suggestions, though, of how successful or otherwise future research involving Q scepticism might be, in the end this is a proof of the pudding scenario. I suspect that Q sceptics will know that they are making head way when New Testament scholars find that their imaginations are stimulated far more effectively when working without Q than than when they were working with it. And this is something that no Q sceptic can foretell.

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