Sunday, March 13, 2011

Goodacre and the Scandal of Non-Engagement with Q Skepticism

This will probably raise some eyebrows. . . but, you know, Mark is right. 
In a comment on my post Another Introduction to the Bible, Another Chance to Ignore the Farrer Theory, one commenter (James) asks why this kind of phenomenon recurs in the introductory textbooks and he offers some interesting suggestions. Here is one of my thoughts on the issue. 
There is a huge pedagogical advantage in making Q critical orthodoxy in introductory courses because it is a tangible expression of participation in proper academic New Testament studies. It is a symbol that one is doing critical scholarship and not Bible Study, that one is engaging in the academy and not the church. 
The fact is that Q is not an element in most Christian Bible Studies. One of the big issues for many in teaching introductory courses on the New Testament is in persuading the students that this is going to be different from Bible Study. Q is a bit like pseudonymous authorship of the Pauline epistles -- it is something that some teachers use as a recognizable distinguishing marker that what we are doing is something different, something academic, something critical.
That is not to say that all those who advocate Q do it solely for its pedagogical advantages, of course. Many do it because they have engaged in serious study, they are familiar with the evidence, and have come to that solution. My point, though, is that Q can provide a useful shortcut, a speedy but concrete symbol of the difference between a historical approach and a confessional one.
Under such circumstances, it remains an attractive but also a useful hypothesis.

I could say a lot about this. Truth be told, Mark is a bit of a hero to me. I really admire him for having the courage to question a "dogma" of academia, especially as a younger scholar. Too many are unwilling question scholarly orthodoxy for fear that their academic reputation will be damaged. In my opinion, Mark's book is quite convincing--and I'm pretty well-read on the Synoptic problem. 

In my mind, it is a real scandal that his book has not been hailed as a ground breaking monograph by more people. I recognize that people may disagree with his arguments. I have my own quibbles. But all-in-all Mark has leveled a devastating treatment of scholarly "orthodoxy" and it deserves much greater attention. Instead, professors continue to teach the Gospels as if this book never even existed. Introductory textbooks continue to be published without fairly presenting both sides of the Q-debate. 

If you disagree, fine, but at least interact with his arguments! Yes, there are a lot of books on the Synoptic Problem and certainly this is not the only one that disputes Q. But when I find scholars unwilling to fairly detail the arguments against Q that tells me one of three four things:
1) They are unaware that there are such works
2) They are too lazy to be challenged
3) They are too scared to be challenged
4) They refuse to be challenged  

None of those are good options. And that's why I refer to non-engagement with "Q" skepticism as an academic scandal.


Jason said...

So do you accept Markan priority or do you take the view of tradition that Matthew was first? And can you point to a good reference to support the view (preferably readable by a lay person)?

Anonymous said...

One of the areas of concern I have about Q is that it denies the eyewitness and oral account of Christ and the disciples as being a valid common source of information

John Bergsma said...

Oftentimes (not always) arguments against Q are treated like arguments against Darwinism. Ignore evidence, act condescending or even belligerent toward the questioner, suggest that to ask the question in the first place indicates ignorance, appeal to "consensus" and various scholarly authorities ...

dmwallace said...

Jason: The following have proven helpful for me:

Jean Carmignac, Birth of the Synoptic Gospels, here.

B.C. Butler, The Originality of St. Matthew, here.

Mark Goodacre said...

Many thanks, Michael. Your post made my day!

Michael Barber said...


Butler's book is the classic text positing Matthean priority. I think a very interesting recent book is James Edwards' book, The Hebrew Gospel and the Development of the Synoptic Tradition. Edwards makes a very compelling case for the patristic tradition that Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew. Great stuff. Like Goodacre's book, this monograph deserves more attention.

Michael Barber said...

Mark: Glad you liked the post!

Michael Barber said...


One more thing: Edwards' does not think that canonical Matthew and Hebrew Matthew are identical.

Mark Goodacre said...

I have a review of Edwards's Hebrew Gospel book forthcoming in CBQ.

Loren Rosson III said...

Scandal is an understatement, or just plain incompetence. For intro NT textbooks to be ignoring the Farrer theory is basically equivalent to an HJ textbook which ignores either the non-apocalyptic or apocalyptic reconstruction of Jesus (even if I think the former is hard to take seriously, I'd give it the necessary attention). Talk about missing a huge chunk of where scholars stand on the issue.