Monday, June 8, 2009
There is no Q
That's right, I said it.
In Gospel studies, it's usually assumed that Mark (Mk) was the first gospel to be written, and Matthew (Mt) and Luke (L) used it and another source called Q to compose their gospels. Q is supposed to be a sayings-only source. This source is said to have contained primarily the sayings shared by L and Mt not found in Mk. Now, I don't totally disagree with the logic underlying this notion. I do think Luke and Matthew shared a non-extent source, and I might get to that in another post if you all behave well.
The problem is, nobody has ever seen this source, and no church fathers ever talk about it. Church fathers do talk about the Gospels, and they talk about other Gospels that didn't make it into the Bible (Thomas, Peter, etc...), but none of them fits the bill for what 'Q' is supposed to be. This hasn't stopped scholars from assuring us that Q is the only logical explination for the shared material in Mt and L. They point to the "subsantial verbative agreement" in the sayings, claiming it is 'proof.'
Be that as is may, there is no evidence oustside of the two Gospels for Q. Some of the sayings in Thomas are in the shared Mt and L material, but not all of them, nor does it run the other way. All this really proves is that three differnt writers tell us Jesus said some of the same things using similar translations. Some surprise that is. The idea of Q is plausible, but its content could not fully be known, and it seems suspicious due to the silence about it in the Church fathers.
So what am I ranting about if Q is plausable?
I'm reading a book about Jesus at the moment. The writer, like many Jesus scholars, operates under the assumption that Mark and Q are early, and Luke and Matthew are late, and often present corruptions of these texts, so they are corrupters, and are pretty much only useful for Jesus research as far as they give us a window to Q.
So what is the answer? They 'reconstruct' Q, trying to weed out Matthean and Lukan 'corruptions.' That's right; They try to reconstruct a document for which there is no direct evidence, and is absent from the historical record.
Now, for those scholars who think the Gospel of Thomas is an early source, at least contemporary with the gospels of the Bible (whom I would direct to Craig Evans' recent article in Exploring the Origins of the Bible), they can have even more fun. They note the differences in the three (Mt, L, and Thomas) among the Q sayings, reconstruct Q, and then go a step father, actually attempting to discover the development and editorial work inside of Q itself. The book I'm reading (which I may quit) is written by the foremost expert on Q.
REALITY CHECK!! Q DOESN'T EXIST!!
Show me one document from before the ninteenth century that provides direct evidence about it. There are none, so don't waist your time trying. I am open to the possibility that a document like Q may have existed. Sounds reasonable enough, though I think there are more compelling solutions. It might be true.
But please, let's stop the madness. Let's all sit down and admit that we have no idea what this document might have looked like, and even less inclination as to the editorial process that went into its composition. Personally, I'll take one document that exits over ten that don't.
Now, I do believe that their are non-extent sources for the gospels, and I will probably talk about one of them soon, a source that is mentioned in the historical record; that is, the original Hebrew version of Matthew.