Saturday, January 22, 2011

Ideological Convenience of Q

Over on the Bible Films Blog, Matt Page has an enjoyable post about The Ideological Convenience of Q. He expresses well something I hinted at in the first chapter of The Case Against Q.
If we were to dispense with Q, it would not be without tears. For Q has been all over the world, loved by everyone, feminists and liberation theologians, the sober and the sensational, the scholar and the layperson, a document with universal appeal. Indeed one of the keys to its success has been its ability to woo both conservatives and radicals alike. While conservatives, for example, are drawn by its early witness to sayings of Jesus, others have seen its lack of a Passion Narrative as witnessing to an alternative stream of early Christianity, one not based on the proclamation of a crucified Christ. For those at one end of the theological spectrum, Q can give us a document of Jesus material from before 70, written within a generation of the death of Jesus. For those at the other end of the spectrum, Q aligns itself with the Gospel of Thomas to form a “trajectory” in early Christianity that contrasted radically with emerging orthodoxy, and which only “canonical bias” can now obscure from our view (The Case Against Q, 16-17). 
In general, though, I am disinclined to spend too long worrying about possible ideological underpinnings of theories.  In the end, it's the truth that counts and I would rather spend an afternoon in the company of the Synopsis, working with the data, than an afternoon speculating about the the ideological motivations of the scholars.

Incidentally, that line "all over the world, loved by everyone" comes from Laurel and Hardy, "Beau Hunks", but I doubt that anyone spotted the subtle allusion.  Sadly, the degree of overlap between those who love Laurel and Hardy, and those who love the Synoptic Problem is small.


Stephen C. Carlson said...

Yes, I too am one to be more concerned about raw data rather than ideology. Full agreement there, but let me nuance it a bit. I do think it is helpful to think about possible ideological underpinnings of my own and other people's beliefs. We don't really have raw, unvarnished facts (aside from perhaps sense perceptions), for what we call evidence is really a set of facts filtered and shaped by some kind of theory.

I think some consideration of people's prior theoretic commitments may be helpful in focusing on which data and arguments need more work. For example, I might have what looks to me as a great argument with great evidence, but if it still leaves someone cold, I may have mis-evaluated matters. Perhaps, understanding the difference in our theoretical commitments can allow me to see why.

Even so, I've long felt think the best use of research into bias and ideological underpinnings is one's self-improvement as a scholar, rather than as an excuse to marginalize and ignore the scholarship of others.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks for the comment. I think you get the balance about right. It's important to pay attention to possible ideological underpinnings in scholarship, but where that becomes the heart of the scholarship, at the expense of working with the actual data, it is a problem.

One of the reasons I decided to talk about some of the broader questions in Case Against Q, Chapter 1, was that I wanted to explain why it is that Q is often so appealing on first impressions. But after first impressions, one has to go on to serious argument and evidence.

Loren Rosson III said...

Yes to both of you. In the end, we follow where the evidence leads, even if something unappetizing awaits at the end. But as Stephen says, we may think we're being so ideologically thick-skinned when our true colors are transparent to others. That's why I appreciate books like Arnal's Symbolic Jesus (which taught me there's perhaps less neutrality behind the Sanders-like "Jewish Jesus" that I tend to go with) and Crossley's Jesus in an Age of Terror (even though I'm one of the book's demons), and observations such as Mark's about the convenience of Q.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Loren. I know what you mean. Good point about our perceptions of ourselves and others' perceptions of us. You may be right about Arnal's book, though I had some problems with it.

Michael said...

If there is anything I'm sure of after 350+ pages of writing about this is that almost no scholars see their task beyond the point you make, letting the data in the text reflect conclusion. Two examples from yesteryear. J.D. Macbride (1835) when considering dependency hypotheses and those who rejected them - "Our unwillingness to admit certain consequences can never justify our rejection of any opinion, against which we have nothing of more weight to urge; it may even happen that upon more mature consideration this very unwillingness may appear unreasonable..." And A.T. Robertson gave this classic originally in 1919 - "Now Christian scholars cannot refuse to face
any facts, whatever theories they hold. Criticism is merciless in dealing with theories, however sacred. One has no right, to complain of rigid scientific research into the facts. This is what all men should desire. Only one must be sure of the facts. It matters not what the real attitude of a critic may be toward Jesus. One must patiently examine all the facts that are presented
in order to be sure that they are facts. The one certain result of Synoptic criticism is that both Matthew and Luke made use of Mark and a non-Markan document called Q or the Logia of Jesus." Interesting that this stalwart of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary rejected allowing ideology to affect interpretation of the data. Too bad he was misled about Q! :-)

Stephen C. Carlson said...

Another point: I got into N.T. studies because I really wanted to learn "what happened" back then. I am less fascinated in finding out why people believe the stuff they do. So, for me ideological criticism is basically a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Matt Page said...

Thanks for the link Mark.

I should start firstly by saying that I also fall into the Laurel & Hardy/synoptic problem fans overlap.

In terms of the scope of my post, I should point out that I was mainly musing on why Q was so popular with those who aren't serious scholars like yourself and some of those who have left comments here. There's always ideological bias to some degree but I certainly wouldn't want to write off a particular scholar on the basis that they just believed what they did because it suited their beliefs more. As various people have said the raw data is the crucial factor.

I'm also wondering if I might have been better calling the post "On the ideological Inconvenience of Being a Q Sceptic", by which I mean not to put myself on a pedestal as a shining beacon of neutrality, but to say that as a Q sceptic, I do sometimes look rather enviously at the implications of that belief, for both conservatives and liberals. Not believing in Q can be such a pain.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Matt. Understand and agree.