Thursday, March 01, 2012

The Talpiot Tomb, Jonah and Q

So it turns out that there is a really important Synoptic Problem angle on the issue of the Talpiot Tomb B, the "patio" tomb and its alleged depiction of Jonah and the fish.  Now, I know what regular readers will be thinking.  I'm going to go on about the wholehearted acceptance of the Q theory and ignorance of Q scepticism in Jacobovici and Tabor's Jesus Discovery. Well, it's true that I could go on about that if I wanted.  After all, they accept the Q hypothesis without question, they do not call it a "hypothesis", they treat it as an established fact, a "discovery" on a par with the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gospel of Thomas and so on and so on.  But no, that's not my problem.  That's endemic in scholarship and is especially common in books for the non-experts and I'm used to it.  I expect it.

The difficulty is this.  Tabor and Jacobovici appeal to the presence of resurrection imagery in Jesus' teaching on the "Sign of Jonah" (Matt. 12.38-42 // Luke 11.16, 29-32) as being present in Q and so linked to the pre-70 period.  Indeed, it is key to their case that the earliest Christians used Jonah and the fish imagery as a means of pointing to their belief in the resurrection:
Our discovery in the Patio tomb is unprecedented in that it reflects one of the earliest sayings of Jesus, preserved in Q, contemporary to the generation that saw him and heard him teach.*
However, and this is the important point, the use of resurrection imagery in connection with Jonah does not appear in Q.

The Sign of Jonah appears in Q 11.16, 29-32.  Jacobovici and Tabor rightly refer to the IQP's reconstruction of the text of Q** though they do not quote it.  It reads:
Q 11.16 But‚ some .. were demanding from him a sign. 29 But .. he said‚ ..: This generation is an evil .. generation; it demands a sign, and a sign will not be given to it — except the sign of Jonah! 30 For as Jonah became to the Ninevites a sign, so also‚ will the son of humanity be to this generation.
The material about Jesus being in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights is universally regarded by Q scholars as Matthew's redactional addition:
Matt. 12.40: For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
In other words, it is Matthew's gloss written in the post-70 period and it is not evidence for what Christians in the earliest period thought.  To put it another way, there is no evidence from the earliest period that imagery from Jonah was used in connection with Jesus' resurrection.

I understand why Jacobovici and Tabor wish to stress that Jonah is mentioned in connection with the resurrection in the pre-70 period.  They are right to note that Q, if one accepts the hypothesis, does indeed mention Jonah.  However, the mention of the sign of Jonah in Q is connected specifically with the preaching to the Ninevites.  Q experts like Kloppenborg link it with Q's deuteronomistic theology and with preaching of repentance and the rejection of God's prophets.

Scholars often tire of studying the Synoptic Problem, but it does repay careful attention, especially in cases like this, where the devil is in the detail, and the evidence for pre-70 resurrection imagery evaporates.

* Tabor, James D.; Jacobovici, Simcha (2012-02-28). The Jesus Discovery (Kindle Locations 1115-1117). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
** Chapter 3, footnote 5.


Unknown said...

Very, VERY observant point. The reference to the resurrection came later. The Q reference is to simple repentance. Well done.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Bob. I had suspected that this was the case when I read the initial reports but I wanted to check up on how they presented it in the book, and I have only recently got hold of a copy. In the book, they really press the importance of Q and they refer to Kloppenborg and the IQP reconstruction but without realizing that this is fatal to the case.

James D. Tabor said...


Good point. We should have clarified. Of the two sources for Q (material Mt and Lk have in common that is not in Mark) it is true that Luke is usually preferred for Q--so we should have qualified and said something like a Q-Matthean expansion. We were mainly just wanting readers who have never heard of gospel sources to know the "sign of Jonah" language was in what many take to be our earliest sources. Matthew often does this, with both Q and Mark. Depending on the date of Matthew, he seems to reflect traditions floating around the various Xtn communities. I don't agree that the "sign of Jonah"
tradition, interpreted as Matthew does, is "fatal to the case." Matthew likes to help his readers out, give his interpretations, etc. It is very difficult to know what traditions were circulating between 50-90 CE among various Xtn groups...

Mark, I will try to not be "unknown" in this post but last time I tried, even signing into my Google account, when I posted it still put unknown...James Tabor

Dan Smith said...

Hi Mark. I would agree with you that the Q version of the saying, as conventionally reconstructed (following Luke), does not have the resurrection of Jesus in view. If Tabor et al. use the Matthean wording (I have not looked), that is Matthew and not Q.

But in 1985 Dieter Zeller argued (again following the Lukan version) that Q 11:29-30 refers not to the repentance preaching of Jonah, but to his miraculous rescue from death. He connected "Son of Man" in the saying with Enochic traditions about a human being (Enoch) being elevated to the divine realm as "that Son of Man" (1 Enoch 71 I think), and also referenced early Jewish ideas about Jonah. ("Entr├╝ckung zur Ankunft als Menschensohn," 1985.) I think Zeller's reading is a bit of a stretch, but there you go.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, James. Yes, perhaps "fatal" was a bit strong; my doctoral supervisor John Muddiman always used to warn me against using language like "fatal" or "devastating"! But i was struck by how much you and Simcha stress Q in the book as a means of anchoring this particular reading of the Sign of Jonah to the pre-70 period, all the more so given that you rightly draw attention to the work of the IQP and to Kloppenborg's work in particular. For Kloppenborg, Q is here engaging in its typical deuteronomistic perspective. If one were to read Matt. 12.40 in Q (very, very uncommon), then we'd have to revise our view of Q's attitude to Jesus' death and resurrection. Note that at one point in the book, you describe Q as a book of Jesus' ethical teaching (if I remember correctly).

I finished reading the book today and I must say that it is beautifully written -- a model of how to write clearly. But I do have lots more comments, some of a critical nature, to come. I appreciate your willingness to engage.

Mark Goodacre said...

Dan: many thanks for your helpful comments. Trust you to know about the resurrection and Q! I'd forgotten about Zeller on this, if I ever knew it, so it's good to know.

Of course I don't subscribe to the view of the priority of Luke's version of the Jonah saying. For what it's worth, I think that Luke omitted Matt. 12.40 in his reworking because he had the same worries about it that others subsequently had -- Jesus was not three days and three nights in the tomb. It's just not the most obvious or promising analogy for Jesus' death and resurrection. But preaching to Gentiles and looking for repentance, and holding this up as a sign to unrepentant Judeans -- that's right up Luke's alley.

Anonymous said...

Excellent, Mark.

I agree with you that Luke omitted Matt. 12.40 because Jesus didn't stay 3 days and 3 nights in the tomb.

It's the same with the saying of the twelve thrones for the twelve apostles (Matt. 19:28 / Lk. 22:30).

Luke omitted the word "twelve" because in the context of Matthew (the young rich man, before the last supper and the betrayal of Judas), it seems that Jude will also sit in a throne.

Luke omits the word "twelve" and that saying is mentioned in the last supper, after the announcement of the betrayal. So, we can think that Jesus is excluding Jude.

I think that the difference between Matthew and Luke fits better with the Farrer Hypothesis than with Q in these two cases.

Sorry for the off-topic and greetings from Spain,

Xabier Alehteia

Derek Leman said...

Brilliant. At the risk of being told I'm wrong, it seems a pattern with Matthew to be a master of adding midrashic connections to the gospel tradition.

Mike K said...

Hey Mark, nice observation that most Q scholars see the Lukan version as more primitive while you also make a good case for Luke's redactional change of Matthew. In addition to the article mentioned by Dr. Smith above I also thought of NT Wright's attempt to argue, whether it is judged persuasive or not so much, that the sign of Jonah in Luke still refers implicitly to the escape from the Sea Monster and to resurrection (he points to the resurrection of the Queen of the South and the people of Ninevah to condemn this generation in the immediate literary context and the Danielic background)(cf. "Resurrection in Q?" in Christology, Controversy & Community: Essays in Honour of David R. Catchpole, pp 93-96 [available on google preview]).
- Mike K.

Jim Deardorff said...

The primary reason why the writer of Luke avoided the Jonah fish imagery may well have been to avoid the analogy between Jonah surviving his “entombment” and Jesus surviving his. Avoiding this connection must have been a primary concern of earliest followers of Paul when confronting reports from the disciples. The text about the risen Jesus vanishing out of sight and making a sudden appearance (Lk 24:31,36) would attest to his apparently physical body having been resurrected. The two-day versus three-day discrepancy was very minor in comparison. said...

The statement in Mark 8:12 should be good enough for everyone without reference to so-called Q. "Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.” No sign means no sign, including the sign of the prophet Jonah. In Mark we have ordinary words which one could expect from a prophet.

Bob MacDonald said...

Thanks for this comment, Mark. There's a lot more to the sign of Jonah than the three days in the fish. What I particularly like is the way God prepares the hearts of both mariner (mortal) and Ninevite to hear J's message. But equally I love Jonah's fury (ch4) _after_ the day of judgment (ch3)! My reading may be a bit weird - Day is the keyword of chapter 3 and Fury the keyword of chapter 4. In each case these keywords are unique to the chapter in the tale.

Jerusalemite said...

So what you are saying is that the "sign of Jonah" was not originally referring to a physical resurrection, but rather to Jonah's preachings to the Ninevites, or gentiles. Maybe Matthew is showing the roots of support for the physical resurrection narrative as needed to make the gentiles repent as Jonah had to be spat out of a big fish in order to make the Ninveites repent.
According to Wikipedia "Nineveh" means "The house of the Fish".

Steven Carr said...

Why would 'Luke' change what he understood to be reading as the very words of his Lord and Saviour, as recorded by eyewitnesses before him and handed down to him?

Deane said...

Hmmmm... James Tabor says in the comments above:

"We were mainly just wanting readers who have never heard of gospel sources to know the "sign of Jonah" language was in what many take to be our earliest sources."

Really? He only wanted to convey the idea that the mere phrase "sign of Jonah" was simply there in the earliest sources? Or did he also want to contend that this phrase was employed in those earliest sources to refer to the resurrection? I think it's fairly clear that he also wished to convey that the reference to resurrection was explicit in the use of the phrase "sign of Jonah" in Q (and later in Matt) - and I don't mean by having to raise the more recent conjecture that the phrase might have been interpreted that way at the time.

Looking at the Jesus Discovery website, it seems that he also wished to convey there the idea that Q and Matt actually linked the phrase "the sign of Jonah" to resurrection:

"In the earliest gospel materials the 'sign of Jonah,' as mentioned by Jesus, has been interpreted [i.e. in Q and Matt] as a symbol of his resurrection."

Likewise in his Biblical Interpretation article, he states:

"In our earliest Gospel traditions there are a cluster of references to a 'sign of Jonah' in both the Q source and Matthew's reworking of Mark (see Luke 11:29-32//Matthew 12:39 and Mark 8:11 with Matthew 16:4), as referring to faith in Jesus' resurrection."

And that article goes on to claim that the so-called "fish" symbol is "a witness to a sayings tradition attributed to Jesus predating the written gospel traditions (post 70 CE)" and provide archaeological evidence of "faith in Jesus' resurrection from the dead". This claim was even more pointed in Tabor and Jacobovici's press release, where they claim that one of the "astounding" findings is: "The earliest record of a teaching, or saying, of Jesus passed on orally, perhaps by someone who heard him say it".

On examination, Tabor's claim appears to be about as slippery as your proverbial piscine specimen.

steph said...

I'm convinced neither by Mark's finer points (as you know Mark :-) ), nor James' main point, but Deane of the southern Octagonal region, has penned the point finely. No cuttlefish defensive spewing of superfluous muddy ink, clouding the waters, but a fine nibbed quill to the Antipodean tip.

stefflou-Q passyfist (fish) maguire

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks for all the helpful comments. Deane has grasped the point very well; I'll incorporate some of those thoughts in a rewrite of this piece.