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.

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