Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Teaching Notes 3: A Q Sceptic takes on Q

[Previous posts in this semester's Teaching Notes series: Teaching Paul; Teaching Notes 1; Teaching Notes 2: Playing with Paul on Powerpoint]

I have talked a little in my previous posts about teaching Paul in a course called Rel 108: The Life and Letters of Paul. I have not yet discussed the other undergraduate course I am taking this semester, Rel 102: Introduction to New Testament. This is now the third time that I have take the course at Duke, twice last year and once this (I am only teaching it once a year in future -- twice a year is far too much for the same course, however much fun it is). For some students, this will be their only NT course; for some their only Religion course. For others, it will form the basis for going on to Historical Jesus and / or Life and Letters of Paul. My philosophy with NT Introduction is to try to make it as balanced as possible without making it boring. As far as I am concerned, that means that it is important to take a little extra time if there is a topic of particular interest to the course instructor. It will not, therefore, surprise anyone that I like to take three (75 minute) sessions on the Synoptic Problem.

Broadly, I divide up these sessions into (1) Introduction plus data, (2) Triple Tradition and Marcan Priority, (3) Double Tradition and Q. The first is particularly important -- I am critical of those who launch into the study of the Synoptic Problem by jumping straight to solutions to it. This encourages people to view the data through the lens of the solution in question, usually the Two-Source Theory. In the session on Marcan Priority, I focus in on the competing claims of the Griesbach Hypothesis vs. Marcan Priority theories (i.e. Farrer and Two-Source). In today's session, the third, which focused on Double Tradition and Q, I took half the session to present the case for Q and the second half to present the case against. I thought it might be worth mentioning here since Tim Lewis has called on people to share their experiences of Teaching Q on his new Source Theory blog.

What I attempt to do is to present the case for Q as clearly and strongly as possible. I don't preview objections, I avoid using terms like "supposedly" and "allegedly" and in general make the attempt to imagine myself into the position of a real life Q theorist, something that is not too difficult because I know (and like) quite a lot of them. I enjoy this exercise very much and regard it as indispensable if the students are to get a feel for the generally perceived plausibility of the case for Q. Of course to do this in 30 minutes is not easy, but I distill it to four key arguments (Luke's order, Luke's lack of Matthew's additions to Mark, Luke's lack of M and Alternating Primitivity). After the break (we take a four-five minute break at the mid point), I present the case against Q, attempting to lay out my objections to the points made in the first half. I should add that I am aware that the overall rhetorical effect of doing things like this is to present my own view as the more plausible, and in general students are usually persuaded, at least if their comments and mid-term papers are anything to go by. Given those circumstances, I always make clear that my own view is the minority one, that the Q theory is the majority view and that it essential that they come to terms first hand with what the majority are saying. In an attempt to pursue that goal, for example, I set them Bart Ehrman's chapter on the Synoptic Problem before the class so that they can experience the consensus view directly.

There is one argument I never use in teaching but which always comes through in student written work and comments and I am never entirely sure what to make of it. It seems to worry most undergraduate students a great deal, far more than it worries me, that Q is hypothetical. I always get asked, "But what is the evidence for it?" where by evidence, they mean manuscript witness. When I explain that there isn't any, I get some funny looks. I then often have to explain that this is not as big a deal as it might sound to them, but I am seldom able to convince people about this. I can't imagine what it must be like for a Q theorist who has to deal with the same questions. Perhaps I get asked because they are precociously attempting to add to the problems they perceive that I have with it, but I don't think so.

One of the delights of teaching Duke students is that they so often anticipate objections before one has made them. When I was talking about alternating primitivity as an important argument in favour of Q, I used the text book examples of "Blessed are the poor" vs. "Blessed are the poor in spirit" and "Our father in heaven" vs. "Father". At the beginning of our second half, one student pronounced herself unconvinced by this argument since, she said, it could be that Luke simply liked less flowery, more concise terminology, as she did when she was redacting other people's material. Another pointed out that some appearances of greater primitivity might be illusory given a careful look at Luke's actual preferred characteristics and tendencies. Sometimes I think my job is a bit too easy. (But then again, I'm the one up, working after midnight, reflecting on my teaching!).


Danny Zacharias said...

Which Ehrman chapter is it that you assign for reading?

Dr Timothy Lewis said...

Mark, I think I like your teaching plan here. What about oral traditions--how do you suggest students should see these in relation to double-tradition material? Do you teach students that the 2SH=2DH?
Tim Lewis

Mark Goodacre said...

Danny: Chapter 6 of Historical Introduction to the New Testament. Tim: yes, I think it is fair to equate the Two Document Hypothesis with the Two Source Theory even if there are some who hold to a weaker, non-documentary form of the role of Q in the latter. Yes, we talk a good deal about oral traditions, and I cover Form Criticism before covering the Synoptic Problem, but I stress too that solving the Synoptic Problem is fundamentally about the discussion of literary relationships.