But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to their playmates, 'We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.'

-Matthew 11:16-17


Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.

-Luke 6:21

I am big; I am small; I contradict myself'

- Walt Whitman


Monday, September 19, 2011

Doherty’s Strange Defense of Q

To many people it is surprising that Earl Doherty, the author of Jesus, Neither God Nor Man (hence JNGNM) who counts himself an atheist and someone who demonstrated that Jesus did not exist should also confess the reality of a document that no-one ever saw or talked about in antiquity, or Middle Ages, in fact no-one ever knew anything about until German theologians of the 19th century deduced its existence. The putative document is today known as “Q” as the acronym of the German word “Quelle” (source). The origin of the name itself has been the subject of numerous studies, and it seems that for the first quarter of century the name competed with the designation “Logia” (from the Greek “oracles”) referencing a futile and fading quest for an Aramaic compilation mentioned by an early church luminary Papias who himself was to write a five-volume commentary on it. As nothing was turning up on the oracles and the exegets could not even agree what “Logia” actually meant, a new problem arose after the discovery of a fragment of what we now call the Gospel of Thomas in 1897, which was dubbed “Logoi” (sayings). The focus in the search shifted from the Papias text to this finding which was the hoped-for shared source between Matthew and Luke. This document was for a while referred to as Λ (the Greek letter lambda), but soon Q became the standard, evidently to reduce the confusion that arouse around the “L” designation. That certainly happened but the proto-gospel that was thought to have been shared between Matthew and Luke, never showed up, nor anything testifying about its existence.

Doherty challenged me in an FRDB post to refute his views on Q, saying that the document stands or falls on the neutral evidence for or against it. Unfortunately, insofar as I am informed, there is no Q document to be examined. To a thinking brain, there is no evidence for Q to challenge. All we have are the cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die of a long array of NT scholars that the composition of Luke is not adequately explained without Q. All other considerations fade in comparison if they are relevant at all. So, the case for Q will be made not on the evidence for or against it, but on the viability of the propositon that Luke did not know, and could not possibly have known, Matthew’s writing. It is only when this proposition is demonstrated that Q becomes the preferred, even if not necessarily the only reasonable, source explanation. All right, let us then look at the way Doherty establishes a case for Q.

The Q discussion opens Part Seven of JNGNM, titled Preaching the Kingdom of God. After introducing the gospel sourcing, Doherty moves to the brief overview of Markan priority which most of the academics accept, and those who subscribe to the two-source theory need to accept as sine qua non. Doherty does a decent job of defending Mark as the earliest gospel. However, his first few paragraphs already show some strange habits of thought.

One indeed may dispose of other models by pointing out the greater primitivity of Mark’s, incidence of agreements among gospels that show dependence on Mark, and the higher presence of Mark’s content in the other two synoptics than what either Matthew or Luke would show in a parallel test. But it is poor form to use formulas like gutted the Temptation scene, or discarded …the most prized of Christian ethics, to depict Mark under assumed Matthean priority. The Matthean sermon would not have been beyond dispute at the time of Mark’s writing, and the temptation landscapes in reality might have been compacted by Mark for all sorts of reasons. For example, one can postulate Mark as a gnosticizing shorthand of Matthew, forcing a single iteration of the empowerment-persecution cycle on Jesus ‘ministry’. The temptation is a mini-cycle of the spiritual crisis which resolves itself in Matthew with Jesus explicitly defeating the devil. In Mark (and Luke as per 4:13 ), the crisis is left to be resolved by the cross, a manoeuvre which is truer to Paul’s theology. In the case of the sermon, it is gratuitously assumed that Matthew’s account was immediately embraced and venerated by all Christians. But it need not have been. There are what looks like some heavy anti-Pauline salvos coming from the Mount (5:19 and Matt 7:1-2 seem obvious) which would have been, and likely were, resented in many communities. Matthew’s version of the sermon became a prized jewel of Christianity no doubt, but the poignant question is when.

These are just two examples right at the start of the section which should make people leery of Doherty’s habit of introducing a counter-argument by characterizing it.

The rhetorical posturing would come into full relief starting in the first paragraph on the Q Document in chapter 7 (p.310). Doherty admits there is no reference to the suggested proto-gospel to be found anywhere and that its existence merely a ‘majority scholarship’s deduction’. But prior to any discussion of the viability of the Q hypothesis, he cannot help himself announcing that the arguments for the existence of Q are ‘much stronger than those against it’. Having revealed the idea of having the sentence first, i.e. dismissing objections out of hand, the wonderland captive then proceeds ‘to the examination of [this] question’. But actually, he would not do that just yet. Before the justification of Q’s existence is offered, Doherty needs to assure the reader that ‘the exact extent of Q is still matter of debate’ and walk her through two-and-a-half pages of descriptions of the layers and get even into of actually describing the nitty-gritty for the Q’s strata of development. Then, at long last, he will examine the question of existence (p. 313). But, don’t get your hopes too high !

The first sentence of the ‘Existence of Q’ section resets the readers’ expectations for a scholarly review: ‘ Having gained an overall picture of [Q], we can digress to consider the very question of whether it actually existed or not’. Wait a minute: did he write we ‘digress’ to the ‘very question’ he promised to ‘examine’ three pages earlier ? Yes, I am afraid he did.

Now obviously - or perhaps it is not obvious to some - if I were to argue for the existence of Jesus in the same manner Doherty argues for the existence of Q, the sceptics would laugh me out of the room: ‘Some say that Jesus did not exist, but the majority of scholars disagree with this view and I will show you why shortly, but first let me give you some basic data about Jesus. He was born in Bethlehem 4 BC, and after flight from Herod’s murderous hand and return to his native Galilee, his family settled in Nazareth. At a later point Jesus moved to Capernaum, where, scholars agree, he lodged in Peter’s house……now, let us digress to the silly question of the naked existence of Jesus’.

Debating with Doherty is a frustrating business as he does not seem to grasp that among the academic points of view (unlike that of political speech, e.g.), there are finer shades of distinction and the tools in exposition simply do not, as a rule, admit careless banter of the sort he proposes.

If Only Hypotheses Support Hypotheses the House Cannot Stand.

Having introduced the modern Q skeptics Austin Farrer, Michael Goulder and Mark Goodacre, Doherty, in the first issue of method he presents, wishes to dismiss the generally valid rule that a simpler explanation is preferable to the more complicated one. He states that using the Occam’s razor rule to ‘decide the day’ in this case would be incorrect. He writes: ‘it would be like a prosecuting attorney declaring the defendant guilty of the murder dismissing the defence’s claim that a third party was a culprit on the grounds that the latter is introducing an extra entity’ (p. 313). But this hopeless straw-man misstates both, the application of the logical principle, and the views of the scholars who consider Q extravagant or unnecessary. Occam made it clear in his rule that “entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity”. In the murder trial example, if relevant, the evidence of the third party’s involvement would be “necessary” to dispense justice and could not be thrown out on the principle cited. And ,by the way, prosecuting attorneys do not declare guilt or innocence of the accused in any known criminal proceedings. The self-evident function of this exercise is to remove considerations of ‘raison d’etre’ for Q, the very thing that is to be decided in the chapter. Whether choosing specifically a murder trial as illustration was designed to paint the Q dissenters and create an adverse gut reaction in his inexpert audience to their ideas, I will leave to Doherty’s readers to decide.

The next paragraph Doherty decries the reluctance to admit ‘hypothetical documents’ stating that historical research is ‘full of hypotheticals’. As an example, he offers an imagined scenario in which Mark’s gospel was not preserved and the scholars would have to guess its existence from Matthew and Luke. Again, this is a fallacious argument. One cannot compare a real document (Mark) to a hypothetical one (Q) on the basis of a scenario that is itself hypothetical. The obvious problem is the lack of verifiability of whatever result we would obtain from such speculative adventure.

Before considering the actual issues in the Q/no-Q debate, one has to establish what needs to be proven about Q for one side to prevail. Generally, both sides agree that Luke knowing Matthew obviates the need for Q. (The only notable dissenter to this point of view to my knowledge is R.H.Gundry who apparently believes Luke knew Matthew but still sees Q as a source to both.) This very simple rule was formulated in the 1950’s by Farrer. If we can defend a view that Luke did not redact Mark independently of Matthew, we may dispense with postulating Q as a document. Doherty does not say that anywhere, and it is not clear how people who are not familiar with the synoptic issues could form an informed opinion relying on the digest he provides. What are the burdens for each side to prevail in the debate ? Is the thesis of Q falsifiable and if so, how ? Specifically, what needs to spelled ahead of time is that the need for the Q stands and falls with the view of Luke’s organization of the double tradition, i.e. material common to him and Matthew but not to Mark. Doherty does not analyze such important matters. He simply rules on them, without qualification. If the double tradition shows Luke re-arranging the sequence of the Matthean materials while following the sequence of Mark’s stories, then if Luke was to know Matthew, he would in Doherty’s opinion ‘seem to take somewhat schizophrenic approach to sources’. Simple as that ! But an intelligent, thoughtful reader, would immediately have to ask herself: why would it be so hard to credit that Luke gave different weight to both gospels, considering the original script the more authoritative one for sequence ? What if there was some adverse reaction in the Pauline communities following the appearance of, and fast conquest by, Matthew which they perceived as threat to the ‘faith’ by a new campaign of the judaizing horde driven out of Jerusalem by the 66 CE war ? And isn’t Q just a too obvious smoke-screen behind which to sneak in a monolithic first-century church where everyone believed the same thing, namely that all the wisdom of ages proceeded from the mouth of Jesus Christ during his short ministry on earth ? It would appear that even though it originates in Protestant scholarship, the Q theory enthusiastically promotes the assertion of the fifth-century church man Vincent of Lerins, professing Catholic faith, “which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all”.

With no definition of terms and no overview of the historical development of the Q theory, Doherty goes to work on the latest and most sophisticated of the Q critics, Mark Goodacre. Again, there would be no digest of Goodacre’s thesis (e.g. as it is spelled out in his book The Case Against Q). Instead, Doherty goes straight into reciting the University of Toronto John Kloppenborg’s attempts to refute Goodacre’s major points. There is very little which Doherty adds to Kloppenborg’s critique (taken, it seems, in its entirety from his essay, On Dispensing with Q ? Goodacre on the Relation of Luke to Matthew ). No big issue per se in Doherty’s dependence on leading Q scholar when he criticizes Goodacre, but I find problematic his taking a highly technical argument and presenting it in a trivial manner to non-specialists, in packaging which distorts both the aims of the critique and the criticized approach. I have already mentioned the accusation that Doherty makes as Kloppenborg’s interpreter, with respect to the perceived ‘schizophrenic approach’ of Luke, and there is yet another crude dohertyism at the end of the section, in which the writer asserts that if Matthew did not originate all the material (imputed to Q) but drew it from some other source, ‘then one has simply re-invented Q’. This random brainwave is not directly attributed to Kloppenborg or any of the academics mentioned in the paragraph preceding, but still. A more judicious approach would clearly separate attribution of ideas in sections where one presents commentary of someone other than himself.

Kloppenborg is complimentary to his opponent, a skill which appears to be alien to Doherty, who often gives the impression that an admission by him of skill or (God forbid) commanding argument in a rival view equals to an admission of defeat. The Q scholar from Toronto says that one of the virtues of Mark Goodacre’s book is ‘its sense of proportion and balance. Where Ropes’ proposal was little more than an aside, Farrer’s case logically flimsy, and Goulder’s exposition so full, subtle and complex, that it is accessible only to specialists, Goodacre’s argument is clearly structured, careful in its logic, and helpfully illustrated with a few choice Synoptic texts’. Indeed, as a non-specialist myself, I was delighted to find how clear-headed Goodacre’s book is, making concepts and arguments instantly available by thinking through their presentation. This is a skill I do not often see in my readings of NT scholars.

I am afraid I would not be able to say the same about Kloppenborg. He certainly gives an impression of encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject matter, and scholarly discipline in presenting his argument. But I find his arguments, and counters to Goodacre unpersuasive.

On the crucial issue of the hypothetical nature of Q, Kloppenborg proceeds in a manner that clearly inspired Doherty, but falters. He says, "Q is indeed a hypothetical document. Equally hypothetical, however, are Matthew and Luke’s dependence upon Mark, something that Meier (along with Farrer and Goulder) apparently did not think it worthwhile calling ‘hypothetical’". Unfortunately, one does not have the luxury of that line of defense. To proclaim the existence of a hypothetical document is not quite the same thing as proclaiming a hypothetical relationship between existing documents. The ensuing argument he makes for the ‘hypothetical nature’ of Mark simply fails to convince as it equates a presumed but unproven text (Q) and its organization with one (Mark) which although – true – we have received after much redactional development, but have received nonetheless. Unfortunately, the idea that the hypothetical nature of Q can be defended by arguing that all synoptic relationships are hypothetical in nature strikes me – purely on logical grounds – as a poorly disguised et-tu-quoque against Goodacre’s charging that Q enjoys undeservedly ‘the aura of received truth’.

Minor Agreements

The one hugely surprising thing in Kloppenborg’s criticism of Goodacre is his reluctance to take on the strongest argument against Q, the existence of the so-called ‘minor agreements’ between Matthew and Luke against Mark. The inevitable question needs to be answered: why are there so many points where Matthew and Luke are in unison against Mark, if one supposes they redacted him independently ? Kloppenborg waves off the question saying that there is already a lot of stuff written on that subject and he could not do it justice in the scope of the essay, and - herein the eyebrow-raiser - that the agreements do ‘not represent a problem for the MwQH (Mark without Q Hypothesis)’. This is a puzzling response to Goodacre who calls the minor agreements ‘the Achilles heel of the two-source theory’. One would expect at least some token grasp of the gravity of this issue would be offered by Kloppenborg. Doherty, however, in one of the responses where he departs from Kloppenborg and speaks for himself, did respond to the challenge of minor agreements, which of course counts as a positive.

Goodacre points out, citing E.P. Sanders and W.D. Davies, that there is hardly a pericope in the triple tradition (events recorded in all three gospels) that does not show some minor agreements. It is to Goodacre’s credit that he tempers the finding by allowing that some of the redaction was common stylistic editing which does not presuppose Luke’s dependence. However, he is just as quick to dispel attempts to wish away the ‘minor agreements’ as insignificant, sarcastically commenting against C. Tuckett that there seems to be a tendency among the Q defenders to explain the minor agreements as “minor” and the bigger ones as “Mark-Q overlap”.

If Doherty did one better than Kloppenborg in addressing the problem, he does not seem quite to grasp the trouble the Mt-Lk agreements in the triple tradition spell for the two-source theory. For example, he proceeds on the careless assumption that where ‘Lukan-Matthew material can be assigned to Q, there is no problem’. Not registering Goodacre’s sarcasm, he also forgets the name of the chapter into which he writes and its purpose. It is called ‘The Existence of Q’ and it is where he is to explain why the hypothesis of Q is necessary. One cannot assume what one sets out to prove. One cannot assume Q but must show why a simpler alternative would not work just as well. Further, the issue of agreements clearly militates against the idea that Luke did not know Matthew’s gospel. There are – generally speaking - two possibilities in explaining the overlap of the later synoptics in their dissent from the known prior source, Mark. One, they knew each other; two, there was another source preferable to both which supplied the dissenting formula or motif. This reasoning should quickly lead to another step: what does in this instance, in which one explanation is clearly more parsimonious, justify the more complicated one ?

Doherty reluctantly admits that in ‘few cases’ the agreements are ‘not that easily explained’ and that 'such agreements tend to constitute a major appeal’ for theories like Goodacre’s. But lest the babes in the exegetical woods stray from the path of the righteous, he issues a warning that we should not place much confidence in ‘specific wording between evangelists’. We have no manuscripts to go by before the 3rd century, says he. I am not sure Doherty fully appreciates the irony of some of his positions: Here he cites the lack of early gospel manuscripts to defend the existence of presumably the earliest source manuscript that gave rise to them. Does he understand the repeated charge of ‘circular reasoning’ that Goodacre raises against the Q proponents ?

The answer to Goodacre’s “most striking” parallel in the Passion narrative again discounts the import of the minor agreements. At issue is the addition of five identical words by Matthew and Luke to Mark’s account of physical assault by the Sanhedrin members on Jesus after his trial. Both add “who is it that struck you ?”. This is an extremely difficult verse in all three gospels. First off, the idea that judges would physically mistreat a prisoner looks far more like a literary ploy, than anything else. Second, what is the function of the assault in the Passion story, and further, if unrelated , why does the malevolence specifically involve Jesus’ ability to prophesy ? The intent is opaque in Mark, despite Goodacre plausibly pointing back at 10:34 as the source of malevolence against Jesus, their glee at Jesus succesfully prophesying his own earthly demise. However, Matthew’s annex, for this scenario still leaves questions, as does Luke’s insisting on the return of the blindfold, leaving aside the intent of the assault being carried out by venerable counsels of the court. Both Luke and Matthew understood there was something else at play that warranted adding to the maliciousness. Mark gives a hint in 15:10, naming ‘envy’ as the cause of meanness of the assailants, but that complicates things even more. The line added by Matthew and Luke, indicates specifically prophesying ex eventu. Suffice for the moment that the “who is it that struck you ?” derides Jesus’ in a very difficult way for an outsider to grasp, and that both Matthew and Luke would have to get the insight into Mark’s opaque intent on their own, and phrase it exactly the same way. Doherty thinks that the way out of the conundrum in this instance – since it lies outside the accepted scope of Q – is to assign it to one of the two authors and then have the other gospel pick it up in a process known as text “assimilation” which is known to have occurred in many places in many of the NT documents. But this is blatantly special pleading. The point that Goodacre makes is that the minor agreements occur everywhere, whether in the Q scope or not, so plainly it is not an answer to say that if they can be assigned to the Mark-Q overlap, we could do that, and if we can’t, we could explain them by assimilation. Again, why would we need two explanations, if one can cover both instances ?

Luke’s Order

If the agreements as a major challenge to the two-sources tradition remained unanswered by Kloppenborg and poorly handled by Doherty, the perceived lack of rigour in explaining Luke’s diffusion of Matthew’s text in his own gospel engenders a substantive response. The attack centers on what is held as the improbability of Luke mistreating the Sermon, had he found it in Matthew as it stands. Both critics of Goodacre wilfully ignore his smart pre-empting this sort of attack in exposing its confessional background. He quotes one of the founders of the two-source theory, H.J. Holtzmann, who in 1860’s asked whether it was likely that "Luke should so wantonly have broken the great structures, and scattered the ruins in the four winds” (op.cit.59). He also brings in the modern commentators G. Stanton and C. Tuckett to express similar personal incredulity. He however remains undaunted in his criticism and says that ‘this argument is felt to be persuasive’, meaning, it isn’t. And, it isn’t because at the root such statements are a pious conviction that Luke knew the feelings of the later churchmen in regard to Matthew’s Sermon and would not want to hurt those feelings. Factually, substantively, there is nothing that would have prevented Luke to adapt Matthew in close to the text that we have received.
Doherty mostly repeats what Kloppenborg says even to the trite tidbit of asserting that Luke knowing Mark first and inserting Matthew into his narratives later ‘is unprovable’. Compared to what exactly, may I ask. He complains that there is no explanation for the ‘piecemeal’ handling of the Matthean pericopes, and the subjectivity of the kinds of selectors that Luke supposedly deployed in displacing what is agreed on by almost everyone else, Matthew’s superior organization of the Q-material. I admit having certain sympathy for the criticism of Goodacre on this point for his mention of the “Luke pleasing” formula of Farrer. I think the MwQH would be better off without this sort of explanation as it is just as circular, as Holtzmann’s thesis of “four winds”. Further, it appears that no grand theory of Luke’s composition is called for here. The redaction that seems odd to the modern exegets could have been – and probably was - the function of a number of factors. Most plausible to me, is that Luke sought to devise a compromise gospel solution to squabbles between Pauline traditions and the newly arrived Jewish Christians, each prosecuting their own theological agendas. Matthew’s brilliant, ruthless demolition of the Pauline gospel monopoly proclaimed by Mark created completely new, and unexpected effects, accelerating on the one hand the unification of the churches and on the other, alienating irretrievably principled Paulinists, who on seeing a gospel with zombies walking out of tombs in Jerusalem and ravaging their communities, started an exodus into schools of docetic gnosticism.

Interestingly, Acts 1:6-7 is the only place in the New Testament that specifically concerns itself with the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. Surely there was clamour for specifically that in some quarters of Luke’s community and it was not the Gentiles. And again, the downsizing of Peter by Luke against Matthew and the formula by which he receives in Luke-Acts the credit of being the church first spokesman and envoy to the Gentiles sure looks like a tradeoff for Paul’s monopoly on the later missionary conquests. Not a peep from Luke about Peter’s church ! So, strange as it may seem to the devout and the clueless today, Matthew’s brilliant verses of the sermon might have been part of the bargaining process.

Other Issues in Luke’s Redaction of Matthew

Let it be said that Doherty shows a great deal of confusion when he steps out of Kloppenborg’s protective shadow. He opines that Luke’s 8:10 failing to pick up Matthew’s 13:14-15 reference to Isaiah source saying argues for his ignorance of Matthew. But what does he know of the reason by which Luke prefers to go with Mark 4:12 quoting Isaiah 6:9 without attribution ? The omission of the ‘lest they turn and be forgiven’ in both Matthew and Luke is actually quite important and signifies likely the condition of repentance for the denial of the cross by Petrine followers is no longer an issue at the time of the later synoptics. But one cannot draw any reasonable conclusion from Luke not specifically mentioning Isaiah as Mark’s source. Goodacre makes mincemeat of the charge that Luke seems ignorant of Matthew’s modifications of Mark, which Doherty foolishly charges and badly illustrates. The fact that Luke does not pick up certain verses of Matthew cannot be construed as his being ignorant of them. Goodacre calls the argument flawed (op cit p. 52) and shows that Luke prefers the Matthean version to Mark’s in a whole slew of incidents with the John the Baptist ‘complex’, the Temptation, the Beelzebub controversy, and the Mustard Seed parable named as examples. ‘On all of these occasions’, he says, ‘the parallels between Matthew and Luke are more extensive than those between Mark and Luke’.

Doherty charges that Luke ‘failed to incorporate the material’ known only in Matthew, the co-called M verses. He would not be humoured, as John Kloppenborg was, by Goodacre's clever retort that this objection exists only in the minds of the two-source theory worshippers. Had any M (Matthew only) material been taken over by Luke, it would have become by definition Q material - with a different bone to pick. It seems that by the 2SH theorists’ rules, it is heads I win, tails you lose. At any rate, whatever Kloppenborg or Doherty can dredge on the lack of convincing argument in Luke’s motives for editing cuts, in the end it is a subjective perception. They rely on a circular argument, which will be in want of proof, until some earthen jar in a West Bank cave disgorges a scroll with Q on it. One can argue based on theological imperatives, personal aesthetics, one church vs multiple communities, but, in the end, in the absence of conclusive proof, the argument should be decided on the parsimony principle.

Next issue on the agenda is the so-called alternating primitivity. It is said (Goodacre cites two authors) that if one of the evangelists followed the other, it is “inexplicable” why in certain sayings Matthew should have the simpler form and in others, Luke. Again, this kind of pseudo-reasoning vexes people who don’t do the academic group-think, and lucid scholars who stay away from it. Why should it be unthinkable that Luke sometimes simplified or pared down Matthew’s saying and at other times doodled around it ? One reason that I can think of is that many New Testament academics never quite grasp the text on personal level and convince themselves that this or that one of their favourite teachers ‘had it right’ without thinking about it too hard. Once the opinion acquires a large ‘installed base’ of believers, it is quite capable of maintaining itself even if it is manifest nonsense.

Doherty asks naively : Can we believe that for Matthew’s “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness ?” Luke would have chosen to substitute “Blessed are you that hunger now ?”. I take the first person plural in the question, no less so than the tortured believe, to be a slip of the pen of someone who just hasn’t got a handle on the material. If Doherty bothered to take a count of the word dikaiosynē (righteousness) in Matthew and Luke he would have found that Matthew’s quill thirsted and hungered for it far more often than Luke’s. The score is seven occurrences in Matthew to one in Luke. In Matthew, then, it is not hunger (or thirst) as such but those who need to be vindicated that are blessed. In Luke it is just promise to fulfil a more basic human need. So, it just could be – could it not (?) – that we are looking here at, not as much alternating primitivity as different community ethos. It might not have been as much a ‘culling’ of the beatitudes, as Doherty describes Luke’s work on Matthew’s text, but a determined revision of the Matthean counter-claim to monopoly access to Christ that the Sermon on the Mount shamelessly proclaims for the Palestinian traditions against Mark (who just as shamelessly pushed Paul’s). The two details that Doherty generously overlooked is that Luke’s beatitudes are delivered on the Plain (i.e. by the model primus inter pares !) and that the ones blessed are addressed directly (as you, yours) whereas Matthew’s Jesus speaks on the Jewish holy mount and gives the beatitudes in the third person plural. Luke’s preference for shortening the ‘poor in spirit’ to ‘poor’ may be explained by the fact that the πτοχοι was itself a term meaning literally the needy, and a cultic designation for the Nazarenes generically (ebyonim), which actually might have been closer in meaning to ‘dispossessed’ if read as originating in Deut 15:4 . Luke’s correction of Matthew then would not be modifying the blessing but actually expanding it.

The example Doherty gives of Mark 8:38/Matthew 10:32-3/Luke 12:8-9 (p 319) also need not in bespeak of ‘primitivity’. To begin with, the example chosen is wrong ! Luke repeats a variant of the Mark’s saying cited at 9:26, so this is a special case of triple attestation to begin with. Further, the perceived primitivity of the Son of Man versus Jesus speaking in the first person singular, need not relate to Mark 8:38, but again to what might have been Luke’s community reaction to Matthew’s perceived excesses in impersonating Jesus. Note e.g. that on the Plain Luke uses the ‘I say’ formula only once and Matthew’s ‘on my account’ in 5:11 Luke renders as ‘on account of the Son of Man’ in 6:22.

Further on, there is the “editorial fatigue” question. Doherty defines the feature proposed by Goodacre correctly as a tendency of a creative editor in modifying a source text, to revert to the original, or carry over a reference to the original that contradicts the intent to modify the text. Unfortunately, he then goes on as if Goodacre proposed that the editorial fatigue itself is a phenomenon which, like the minor agreements, militates directly for Luke’s use of Matthew rather than Q. That most certainly is not the case in Goodacre’s book that Doherty quoted. What Goodacre proposed back in 1998 is something else: we can help establish Marcan priority if we find a fairly persisting pattern of fatigue in Matthew/Luke redacting Markan stories. He made some intriguing comments about applying this rule in the Fatigue in the Synoptics paper to the double tradition which he did not repeat in his book The Case Against Q published in 2002. In preparing this essay, I have exchanged e-mails with Mark Goodacre, and asked him about his decision not to push his case with the double tradition examples Doherty cites (Mt 25:14-29/Lk19:11-27, Mt 10:11-14/Lk 9:4-5). Doherty goes on for nearly a page trying to refute the alleged Matthean dependence by Luke in these stories by all sorts of irrelevant and fallacious tangents, failing to note that the fatigue is non-starter for the manner he grasps Goodacre’s argument, i.e. that the tool does not help establish which source caused the logical lapse. What Goodacre proposed was something else. Assuming that we accept the evidence of the phenom for both Matthew and Luke in the triple tradition and the two examples of Luke’s fatigue in reading Matthew, is it not curious that Matthew does not get fatigued also (!) while reading Q ? Goodacre wrote to me that no-one in the thirteen years since the paper was published has come up with an example of Matthew’s fatigue reading Q, as he does in the three recorded cases of him mishandling Mark. Conclusive ? Not by itself, no, but it is definitely curious.

Finally, we come to the issue number (7) (page 322) in which Doherty offers Kloppenborg’s confession that Q presents ‘a distinctive quality and content’, themes that he believes ‘shine out [sic] in Q as central concerns, but are not of significant interest in the rest Matthew and Luke’. If one keeps one’s head, there is not much that one can say about such pronunciamentos other than that professor Kloppenborg and Mr Doherty are certainly welcome to their opinions on the matter. But again and again: where is the business end of this ? It cannot be perceptions, oaths, visions, aesthetic preferences, and veiled pleas for unity in place of reason. All sorts of interesting things can be done with the texts, segregating portions of them based on different criteria, and then making observations about the resulting product. There are evidently traditions common to Matthew and Luke which are either ignored by, or unknown to, Mark. It is possible to segregate analytically the sayings tradition from the narrated events in the gospel background and then marvel that these ‘shine out’ as self-sustained units of tradition. But is that a sufficient proof that they are that ? Is that a sufficient proof they ever were that ? Are they self-sustained units of tradition written up in stages and in a single document, as it is asserted ?

Concluding Thoughts

I have expressed my conviction in one of my previously blogged essays (“Notes on Jesus Historicity”) that the theory of the mythical origin is not a hopeless undertaking and that the contempt shown for the idea by most of the mainstream scholars may itself be foolhardy. I have also said that a better mythical theory would be more circumspect than either G.A. Wells or Earl Doherty have been about subscribing uncritically to the analytical tools of the liberal NT scholarship. For one, it is an unwise way to try to gain respectability for an unorthodox theory. More importantly, tools like Q will ensnare a mythicist and drive him or her into a corner out of which it will be hard to fight one’s way. The theory of Q presupposes a single common tradition standing opposite to Paul one on which Matthew and Luke drew differentially. I strongly believe this itself is a myth and one which needs to be resisted. The trend was most probably exactly the opposite: an early manifold of separate traditions, Galilean, Jerusalem and Pauline which gradually came together, often through acrimonious adversity and only loosely relying on the historical background of a common founder. None of these foundation strands relied substantially on actual sayings of Jesus, but they all subscribed to oracular revelations which came to be attributed to the nominal founder through a number of transport vehicles: a sort of a metempsychosis of the Thomasian school, revelations of the risen Christ among the Paulines, and cryptically as memoirs of the apostles in the Pauline-converted Nazarenes after the first Jewish war. The last mentioned were not really reminiscences of what Jesus said but middle-of-the-night oracular visitations by him (described in the Clementine Recognitions, II.1) assigned to historical figures around him as guarantors of their genuineness.

This does not exclude the possibility that some of the gospel sayings actually go back to Jesus, the historical founder. But it appears that except for a possible handful most were supplanted by wisdom sayings, moral maxims and rulings on internal disputes which were attributed through the processes just named.

To someone not chained to brain-dead theology of pastors who file court cases against Moslem squatters in their empty churches, or new-age gurus who define progress, as Orwell did, in the manner of blue bottles feasting on a dead cat, what we believe as a culture with our own traditions does matter. What we admit as facts will forever be informed by beliefs. What these beliefs are defines who we are. In my own perspective, which is neutral to the factual facets of Jesus existence, there are some big questions that Q packages as dogma but leaves untouched by analysis. One of them is the lack of assurances that what is assigned to Q truly represents older, coherent Palestinian traditions and not often rhetorical devices of Matthew custom-made to promote agenda of his community in the difficult tugs-of-faith with the Paulines.

Why should it be believed, for example, that one of the emblematic Christian sayings ‘love your enemies’ actually originates in Jesus of the Q traditions and not in Matthew’s creative adaptation of Paul. He might have wooed and wowed the Paulines just as Mark would have in adopting the Son of Man appelation and the populist ethos of the Nazarenes in which the Jesus after receiving the Spirit from above dined with sinners (,an idea markedly un-Pauline). After all, Romans 12:20 loves ones enemies the Christian way, i.e. by being kind and solicitous to them and by so doing consign them to hell. It is just hard to fathom that Jesus would have paraphrased the Proverbs 25:21 saying and twisted it the same way as Paul did even though both believed themselves in the eschaton. Read by a psychologist, the saying betrays unmistakably a desire to hide hostility. One cannot love one’s enemies, for if one loves them he would not call them enemies and if one calls them enemies it is not because he loves them. This is just one example where a saying assigned to Q might in fact have had its origin on the opposite side of traditions.

Another candidate for revision is Q 6:41-42 ‘the speck and the beam’ saying. It is possible to see much of the mysteriously choleric end of the sermon (chapter 7) of Matthew as a concerted attack on Pauline supremacism. As I mentioned, 7:1-2 ‘judge not’ appears to attack directly the ‘spiritualist conceit’ of the Paulines referencing 1 Cr 2:15. The speck and beam saying comes immediately after it and appears to pick apart, by the syntactic structure and cognitive elements, the lampoon of the Petrines by Mark in the two-step cure by Jesus at Bethsaida. Jesus first removes the physical cause of the man’s blindness, after which the men can see but do not see in a way that makes sense. It is then that Christ provides ‘spiritual insight’ (through Paul’s gospel) after which the man sees clearly. This conceited assault on the Nazarene traditions of Jesus infuriated Matthew who brilliantly threw it back at Mark. Note the metaphoric accord between the Bethsaida cure and the Mount saying. The blind man says he sees ‘men ….as trees, walking’ in the first step of the cure. Matthew suggests first to remove a large wooden object from Mark’s eye and then he would ‘see clearly’ (referencing διαβλέπω – in Mk 8:25) in the second step, the speck in his brother’s eye.

I do not believe that this is coincidence as the pair of images following in 7:6, the giving holy things to dogs and throwing pearls before swine, also appear to attack Mark head on. In the first instance Matthew ripped into Mark for dissing the traditional saying in the story of the Syrophoenician woman (Mk 7:27), and in the second as a brutally defiant retort to the demand in Mk 4:12 that the Petrines (whom the Paulines disdained as ‘psychics’ given to the passions of the flesh) repent as a condition of receiving the full insight of the gospel. There was only one gospel in Mark’s time and it was Paul’s. Matthew mocks Mark’s view of his group as Petrine psychic ‘swine’ and foresees the Pauline cries of Matthean trampling on his flawed gospel’s ‘pearls’ of wisdom.

As a third and final example I choose Q 14:27, which simply protests too much in arguing the theology of the cross does not originate with Paul, and the saying was not coined by Mark who allegorizes Paul. For if it were true that the saying about ‘taking one’s cross and following Jesus’ originated with prescient Jesus or his Galilean following then neither Paul’s blowing his top in Galatians, nor Mark’s accusing the Petrine following (still) denying the cross as the sign of Messiah makes any sense. But evidently that is not the case. One can subscribe to the ‘cynic-stoic’, or the ‘deuteronomic’ origin of the saying only if one is willing to overlook the obvious signature present in all the variants of the saying - Paul’s maxim of ‘mimesis’, central to his key teaching of the wisdom of Christ (1 Cr 1:18-31), and made explicit in a command by him (1 Cr 4:16, 1 Cr 11:1) and those who took the imitation of Paul too literally ( Eph 5:1, 1 Ti 1:6, 2:14, 3 Jo 1:11).

I have sketched briefly some interpretive angles in which Q appears to be a theoretical straight jacket. The framework simply does not fit the texts once these are analyzed independently of received wisdom. The documents deserve better analytical tools than Q, which strikes me as outmoded, redundant and counter-productive as it bars new avenues and angles of research into the gospel sources and development. That finding pits my own approach against Doherty’s. His embrace of Q is not surprising to me as I long ago spotted his passion for dogma. As someone who grew up in communist Eastern Europe during History’s implacable march to the final victory of communism, I am not fazed by the banal discovery that dogma is worshipped by many atheists just as fervently.