20 March 2011

Towards a Theory of Gospel Succession: Two Avenues for Advancing the Farrer Theory

When one looks at works dealing with the Farrer Theory (FT) -- the argument that Matthew was used by Luke; thus dispensing with the hypothetical Q source -- one quickly notices that they are almost exclusively confined to articles and monographs attempting to argue for its validity and viability. When the NT student goes in search of works outside of the Synoptic Problem (SP) that utilize a working assumption of the FT, they are met with disappointment. It seems that the FT has failed to branch out beyond the specialization of studies on the Synoptic Problem. This conclusion could be faulty due to my limited exposure to the secondary literature, but this has been my observation.

In light of this observation, I notice two things the Two-Source Theory (2ST) has in its favor which the FT lacks: (1) a proliferation of works which assume the viability of a particular solution to the SP; and (2) to borrow the phrase from a comment on the NT Blog, the 2ST has a "sexier" title in 'Q' as opposed to the 'Farrer Theory'.

Now I must clarify what I mean when I say "advancing" the FT. By "advancing" I neither imply attempts at 'proving' nor the proposal of new arguments. Rather, what I mean is expanding the exposure of the FT beyond discussions confined primarily within Synoptic Problem circles and the meager (if any) reference to it in introductory textbooks.

Personally, I find theories and hypotheses which are named after their founders to be more than a touch trite. Theories such as the Theory of Gravitation or the Theory of Relativity seem, to me, to have more impact and stronger meme-potential than, say, if they were simply named Newton's Theory or Einstein's Theory. While in some cases the two examples are conflated (i.e.; Einstein's Theory of Relativity), for me it is the 'descriptive' part of the name that stands out and proves more memorable.

So what, then, is this all leading up to? I suggest that that (1) scholars who ascribe to the FT need to begin re-writing the story of Christian origins under the new paradigm that Luke knew and copied from Matthew. In short, to set the story of early Christianity in a world where Q never existed; and (2) I think -- with no disrespect to Austin Farrer -- the theory of Markan Priority without Q (aka the Farrer Theory) should be renamed, and that the new name should reflect what the theory is describing.

I read David Sim's article* in the latest NTS yesterday, which convincingly argues that Matthew intended to supplant Mark's Gospel with his own. Taking this as a point of departure, I think that there are a number of places where we can extend the argument to Luke on the FT. In this case we would see each successive gospel as a reworking and replacement of its predecessor(s). In light of this, I think proposing a "Theory of Gospel Succession" adequately describes what the theory attempts to explain (Matthew used Mark, and Luke used Mark and Matthew), as well as my developing view of the overall growth/evolution of the gospel tradition in the Synoptics (Mark wrote the first gospel --> Matthew wrote to expand, edit and replace Mark --> Luke wrote to edit and replace both Mark and Matthew).

Any thoughts?

*Sim, David C. "Matthew's Use of Mark: Did Matthew Intend to Supplant or to Replace His Primary Source?" New Testament Studies 57.2; 176-192.

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16 March 2011

One Gospel to Supplant Them All... ?

Assuming the Farrer Theory -- Matthew used Mark, and Luke used both Mark and Matthew -- is it wrong to think of each successive evangelist attempting to supplant and supersede their predecessor(s)/source(s)? Mark wrote the first-ever gospel containing the euanggelion of Jesus the Messiah with Matthew later coming along and "improving" upon the foundation that was laid by this work. Matthew retains much of Mark's narrative and creatively expanded sections of it with teaching/sayings material, a birth narrative as well as clarifying parts of Mark which expect the reader to figure things out for themselves. Luke, then, comes along and decides that he is going to craft a narrative which will present the "correct order" of things; thus recasting the accounts of Matthew and Mark in an attempt to replace them with his conception of the gospel and interpretation of the life of Jesus. A good analogy one of my professors gave while discussing this idea with him is that of a new edition of a textbook. Each new edition is an attempt to clarify, improve and ultimately replace the previous one. Could Mark, then, be understood crudely as The Gospel, 1st Edition; Matthew as the 2nd Edition and Luke as the 3rd Edition of the Gospel genre?

The jury is still out for me whether or not John was familiar with any or all of the synoptics. But should he have been familiar with any of them, could the same intention be present in the Fourth Gospel (however, unlike the synoptics, John doesn't carry over much of his source material, so the analogy might not be appropriate in this context). But more on that topic in the weeks to come.

An interesting counter-point was raised while discussing this idea with a classmate of mine. He noted that we seem to have the conception of a four-gospel canon in the late 2nd c. which seems to militate against the idea of a secondary and tertiary gospel replacing their predecessor(s)/source(s). Although this is true, this need not reflect the actual intentions of the evangelists themselves. Perhaps Matthew's purpose was to improve upon, and ultimately replace, Mark's gospel account for his community/church. The same could go for Luke. Whether or not they succeeded, we will never know. But should this have been the case, my bet is that they were indeed successful within their own communities. However, in the end, their accounts spread beyond their respective communities and began circulating amongst other groups of Christians who most likely would have been unaware of any of these intentions by the authors. Therefore, you do not see whole sail disappearance of any of the four canonical gospels -- although Mark seems to have been copied less than the other two in antiquity.

Of course, these are just some nascent musings. But ones which I intend to follow up on in due course.

13 March 2011

Thoughts on the Appeal and Momentum of "Q"

In preparation for my upcoming presentation on "Compositional Conventions and the Synoptic Problem" in my Monday seminar, I re-read N.T. Wright's foreword in Drs Goodacre and Perrin's edited volume entitled, Questioning Q: A Multidimensional Critique, of which I share the following excerpt discussing "agendas" behind Q scholarship -- particularly in North America:

[In North America], the myth (visible in dozens of books, films, television programmes and so on) runs like this. Jesus was quite different from how the canonical gospels portray him; there were earlier 'gospels', including 'Q' and Thomas and quite possibly many other works now known in later or fragmentary form; the canonical gospels suppressed some of this material and significantly altered the thrust of what they retained, perhaps in the interests of a more comfortable and easygoing Christianity; when we examine these earlier works it appears that mainstream Christianity, from the writing of the gospels onwards, was based on a mistake, a mistake about who Jesus was, what he intended to do and to teach, and what had happened to him in the end. This myth has become enormously popular for all kinds of interesting reasons... [and] it is on the powerful running tide of this myth that the present wave of enthusiasm for 'Q', particularly but not exclusively in North America, has been carried along.
While I find myself in agreement with most of what Wright says here, there are a few things that I find to be more of a reflection of the Jesus Seminar than of North American scholarship as a whole, particularly the statement about Thomas being an example of an "earlier gospel." To my knowledge, and I could be completely wrong on this, fewer scholars argue for such an early dating for Thomas (at least one that pre-dates the Canonical Gospels). Instead, I think Thomas to be a later work -- early to mid second c. CE -- drawing upon the traditions found in the Canonical Gospels. What strikes me is when I continually come across statements claiming that the existence of Thomas corroborates the existence of Q. But if, from my point of view, Thomas is an epitome of sorts -- a composite "gospel" made up of sayings plucked from the canonical gospel traditions and blended with some intentionally ambiguous and mysterious sayings of a more or less Gnostic flavor -- how does this translate as an analogy for Q?

So, if one accepts the argument that Thomas is dependent upon earlier gospels for some of its sayings material, what does that say about Q? According to Q-Theorists, Q represents an independent tradition of sayings material that the authors of Matthew and Luke both drew from independently to produce their narratives. This is not at all what Thomas appears to be. Could Q simply be a modern Thomas? a 'gospel' that is created from culling the so-called "Double Tradition" (sayings found in common in both Matthew and Luke's gospels) together into a "new Gospel"? I think I am leaning more towards answering in the affirmative on this question.