|Alan Garrow Didache|
the problem page
The issue at the heart of the $1,000 Challenge will be debated at this year's British New Testament Conference at St Mary's University, Twickenham, 6-8th September.
I will present a 30 minute paper in the Synoptic Gospels Seminar (abstract below) and Mark Goodacre (who is also to deliver one of the plenary papers at the Conference) has generously agreed to offer a 15 minute response. There will be a further 45 minutes available for discussion. I am grateful to the chairs of the Synoptics Seminar for providing a context for this live debate.
Reflections on the $1,000 Challenge - conference paper abstract
Something very unusual happened in December 2017: a piece of entertaining drama took place within the world of New Testament Studies. Bart Ehrman was offered $1,000 for charity if he could find a flaw in Alan Garrow’s solution to the Synoptic Problem: the Matthew Conflator Hypothesis. Mark Goodacre took up the challenge on Ehrman’s behalf and the $1,000 was subsequently paid. At one level, everyone was a winner. Powell (who set up the Challenge) and Garrow got a lot of publicity for the case for Matthews’ use of Luke (with Markan Priority); Goodacre had the pleasure of helping out a friend; and Ehrman got $1,000 for charity. At another level, however, the discipline of New Testament suffered a loss. The alliance of Ehrman and Goodacre served to reinforce the very longstanding perception that there must be some obvious reason why Matthew could not have used Luke – a perception that, as Martin Hengel noted in 2000, has no tangible basis. To get a sense of how damaging this misperception might possibly be it is only necessary to imagine the consequences if our predecessors had similarly persisted in avoiding the notion of Markan Priority. This paper examines the issues at stake by: reviewing arguments for Matthew's use of Luke; responding to the detail of Goodacre’s critique; and reflecting on the limitations of Ehrman’s response.
The idea that a satisfying solution to the Synoptic Problem must always, somehow, be out of reach is unnecessarily pessimistic. There are only main three types of solution possible (accepting Markan Priority). If the Matthew Conflator Hypothesis preserves the strengths of older hypotheses, while avoiding their weaknesses, then the implications for Synoptic Gospels studies could be very extensive indeed. Certainly, they would utterly dwarf Evan Powell’s generous initial outlay of $1,000.
[This apology has been revised in the light of the further observations made by Deane (see comments section). All this is a salutary reminder of the unreliability of memory and the tendency of (at least) some human beings to conflate two sources together.]
In my most recent blog post, published last week, I made an error for which I must now apologise. I stated that, when Ehrman introduced Mark Goodacre’s criticism of the Matthew Conflator Hypothesis, he said that he found it: ‘completely compelling’. This was inaccurate. What Ehrman actually said was, on one occasion: 'I find Goodacre's argument completely convincing', and, on another: ‘I consider it compelling’. Absolutely accurate quotation is essential to fair and effective debate. I have revised the blog post in question - again!
When Evan Powell offered Bart Ehrman a $1,000 wager at the end of 2017 it looked like the Professor had nothing to lose. If he could find a flaw in my solution to the Synoptic Problem he won $1,000 – if he couldn’t find a flaw, and was prepared to say so, he also won $1,000 (for charity). As things turned out Bart received the $1,000 without having to do anything at all. A friendly colleague, Professor Goodacre, offered to take up the challenge on his behalf. Goodacre exposed a (rather easily corrected) weakness in my presentation and the money was duly paid without a quibble – thank you Evan! Everyone was a winner. Powell and Garrow got an increase in awareness of the case for Matthew’s use of Luke; Goodacre had the pleasure of helping out a friend; and Ehrman gained extra money for his charities. In the midst of all this fun and laughter, however, Bart took another gamble - he opted to swing big while swinging blind.
Let me explain.
In the preamble to the $1,000 Challenge Bart was full of confidence. A ‘new’ solution to the Synoptic Problem, perhaps especially one presented via internet videos, could not possibly be correct. After all, generations of great minds had been applied to this classic conundrum and, surely, they had covered off every option a thousand times. Having endured the ongoing fire of scholarly inquiry one of the two mainstream solutions must, therefore, be approximately correct? Against such a background it makes sense to suggest that anyone properly schooled in the discipline should be able to see off any ‘new’ solution without difficulty. It was at this point that Evan proposed his $1,000 challenge: you have the training, you find the flaw. Ehrman declared himself tempted – but reluctant to spare the time to watch the 52-minutes of video. He was grateful, therefore, when Goodacre offered to bear this burden for him. Note that Ehrman had no reason to watch the videos; he self-confessedly didn’t have the time to do so and a scholar more than competent to dismiss them was now on the case.
It is at this point that Ehrman took (what seems to me) an extraordinary gamble. On the night before publishing Goodacre’s critique he said: ‘I find Goodacre’s argument completely convincing’. When the critique was actually published he said: ‘I consider it a compelling response.’ Scholars might occasionally use the term ‘compelling’ to endorse a view – but ‘compelling’ combined with ‘completely convincing’ takes the personal endorsement to a different level. Recommending any position to this extent (even your own!) inevitably carries a certain amount of risk since, when dealing with ancient history, we never have all the data. In this case, however, Ehrman not only ignored the usual standards of scholarly caution, he did so while operating in the dark. That is to say, he hadn’t watched the videos in question, neither had he read the peer review articles on which they were based. Swinging this big in the dark is definitely a gamble.
If the history of Synoptic Problem studies were actually as Ehrman appears to assume, then the risk involved should not, in reality, have been particularly great. The almost unbelievable reality is, however, that Synoptic Problem studies have, from the start, failed to observe the most basic principle of problem solving: consider all the options. Despite the relatively small range of theoretically viable solutions on offer, and despite the massive amounts of scholarly effort expended over more than a century, the main players have only ever considered two of the three main possibilities (among those who acknowledge Mark as the earliest of the three Synoptic Gospels). Confirmation of this is provided in my exchange with Mark Goodacre. Note the phrasing of the quotation at the centre of this discussion: "The theory that Matthew has read Luke … is rarely put forward by sensible scholars and will not be considered here" (The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze, 109). The implication is not merely that Matthew’s use of Luke has gone relatively unexplored but also that it is the scholars who perpetuate this lack of curiosity who should be regarded as the sensible ones! This attitude is so extraordinary it is hard to believe it is real. It really is real. And, that reality carries with it a potentially startling implication: it might just be that a simple solution to an infamous problem has been overlooked by generations of respected scholars - right up to the present day.
Such an implication naturally requires a reaction - a reaction that might require a bit of a gamble. And so Goodacre and Ehrman (although they advocate competing Synoptic Problem hypotheses) elect to use their considerable combined authority to repel the threat. That is why, although you might not see precisely why Goodacre’s criticism of Garrow is so devastating, you are left with the clear impression that devastating is what it must be – Professor Goodacre has found a flaw, and Professor Ehrman (without reading Garrow) finds Goodacre’s criticism 'compelling' and ‘completely convincing’. The overall message is clear: you can be sure that there is nothing to see here, the status quo deserves to remain firmly in place. But playing this card carries an uncomfortable risk. What happens if others do watch/read Garrow and others like him and discover that the status quo, thus shored up for generations, has never been defensible?
Sooner or later the discipline of Synoptic Problem studies will have to face up to the embarrassment of this whole misadventure. We’ve spent a colossal about of time, effort and money on ‘solutions’ that don’t resolve the data – without considering the possibility that an obvious third option might, after all, be more satisfying. We can face that embarrassment later or we can face it now. I say colour-up now. After all, everybody knows that to hue is Ehrman.
More on the Synoptic Problem.
I am grateful to Mark Goodacre for his engagement with my work on the Synoptic Problem. Mark has deservedly achieved the status of a trusted expert in the field of Synoptic Problem studies – to the extent that students, and scholars from other disciplines, naturally turn to him as an arbiter of the virtue, or otherwise, of new developments. Consequently, a question I have often been asked is: ‘What does Mark Goodacre think [about the possibility that Matthew used Luke]?’ Up until a few months ago there was little to offer in response (see an earlier blog post). More recently, however, Mark has provided an insight into his work in progress on this subject.
Goodacre’s main objection to my proposal, as presented in his blog post ‘Garrow’s Flaw’, is that my hypothesis explains passages where Matthew and Luke are virtually identical as the product of Matthew’s direct copying Luke ‘without distraction’. He objects that this explanation is inadequate inasmuch as sometimes such ‘distraction’ is available in the form of related material in Mark’s Gospel. My response to this main point is published here.
In the course of our discussion Mark also made a couple of seemingly more minor observations – to which I now, belatedly, turn. The first was on the subject of ‘unpicking’. I quote in full:
Garrow adds some general criticisms of the Farrer theory, including the old chestnut about "unpicking", which dates back to F. Gerald Downing. I have little to add here to the excellent critiques by Ken Olson and Eric Eve on this issue, but I will say that no critic of the Farrer theory has yet successfully isolated a single occasion where an advocate of the Farrer theory uses the term that they consistently put in quotation marks. I generally try to avoid putting things in quotation marks that are not quotations, but I realize that practices vary.
The use of quotations marks around ‘unpicking’ is not, I affirm, because this was term coined by any proponent of the Farrer Hypothesis. The quotation marks are merely intended to indicate that, in the absence of a suitable technical term, an everyday word has been used in a technical sense. The idea to be captured is essentially that of ‘the opposite of conflation’. That is to say that, under the Farrer Hypothesis, Luke is required to perform a task that, at a range of different levels of detail, is ‘the opposite of conflation’. Conflation is an operation performed by numerous author-compilers from the second century onwards. Individuals who perform this activity in reverse are a rarer breed. Thus far, Luke (as understood by the Farrer Hypothesis) appears the sole example.
I come now to what I regard as the more serious issue – albeit one that always generates a smile. Towards the end of his post Mark calls foul on my use of one particular quotation:
Garrow concludes with his favourite quotation from me, "The theory that Matthew has read Luke … is rarely put forward by sensible scholars and will not be considered here" (The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze, 109), where I was of course just describing the field at the time of writing, a description echoed by Garrow himself three years later, "“The possibility that Matthew directly depended on Luke’s Gospel has not been widely explored” (The Gospel of Matthew's Dependence on the Didache, 228 n. 10).
This paragraph highlights what seems to me a really important issue: the mismatch between the actual activity of scholars and what ordinary people assume about the activity of scholars. Admitting the risk of caricature, here is how I would characterise the latter. The ordinary person assumes that scholars are intelligent and dispassionate individuals who, for example, when faced with a puzzle with three possible solutions, will explore and evaluate all three options. I suspect that most ordinary people would be taken aback to discover, therefore, what actually happened in the case of the study of the Synoptic Problem. Very broadly speaking, the first generation of scholars decided that, of the three main options available, option 3 was superior to option 2. The following generation of students then continued in their footsteps. Then, some decades later, another scholar called the dominance of option 3 into question. This caused a string of others to rise up in support of option 2. There then followed a decades-long, and still unresolved, debate over the relative virtues of option 2 and option 3. And, all the while, option 1 was left virtually untouched. As a result, Goodacre, when writing A Way Through the Maze, felt justified in setting option 1 outside the field of debate. He ignored it on the basis that others had ignored it before him. Such reasoning is, however, a little reminiscent of how bankers excused their creation of the 2008 financial crisis: everyone around them had acted with an identical recklessness!
Ordinary people who are interested in the Synoptic Problem (if it is possible to call them that) have a right to expect that all the main options have been properly evaluated by the most respected authorities. The embarrassing truth is that, up until now, this has never been the case. It is good to know that Mark Goodacre is now working on a fuller engagement with the possibility that Matthew used Luke. In future, attempts to resolve the Synoptic Problem without reference to this possibility should be recognised for what they are: not good enough.
[The $1,000 challenge was created when Evan Powell invited Bart Ehrman to find a hole in my solution to the Synoptic Problem as presented at www.alangarrow.com/mch.html. The initial story is outlined in blog post (1).
Mark Goodacre took up this challenge on Ehrman’s behalf – and noted one ‘hole’ in particular. His arguments are set out on his blog. My initial response to Goodacre is in this blog post (3). Goodacre then argued that I had failed to engage with his central point. Again, his full text is available on his blog. In the current post (5) I respond more specifically to the issue at the heart of Goodacre's attempt to win the $1,000 Challenge.]
The ‘flaw’ Goodacre identified concerned the accuracy of a summarising statement I made in the published version of the article, ‘An Extant Instance of ‘Q’’, on p. 399:
The Matthew Conflator Hypothesis (MCH) argues that there is no scope for ‘Q’ in the Double Tradition passages where Luke and Matthew agree almost verbatim (High DT passages) since these are best explained by Matthew’s copying of Luke without distraction.
Goodacre points out that what I claim to be the case is not actually the case on at least three occasions. That is to say, there are places where Matthew and Luke agree very closely despite the fact that Mark also includes a version of the same episode. When we get down to the detail there are actually exceptionally few occasions where Luke and Matthew achieve a string of verbatim agreement or four words or more at a point where an immediate parallel in Mark is also available (cf. my definition of a High DT passage in the published version of the article ‘Streeter’s ‘Other’ Synoptic Solution’, p. 212). However, even if this were sometimes the case I don’t think it would fundamentally undermine my key observation: when there are exceptionally high levels of agreement between Matthew and Luke this is best explained by direct copying between Matthew and Luke (cf. ‘Streeter’, p. 213). If Matthew sometimes decided to copy Luke verbatim, even while the option to draw on Mark’s slightly different version was theoretical available, this would only show that Matthew was not motivated to conflate Luke and Mark at every opportunity – which would not be especially surprising given the considerable effort required to achieve conflation.
At the level of the precise use of language, therefore, Goodacre has a point. Inasmuch as my summarising statement may be read as suggesting that Matthew will always be ‘distracted’ from the direct copying of Luke if another version of the same event is available then I have overreached myself. If, however, I may be read as saying that, when Matthew and Luke agree almost verbatim this is best explained by Matthew choosing to focus solely on Luke (whatever other versions might also be available), then my claim, in the larger context of my argument, remains defensible.
An irony of the situation is that, on the critical point, Goodacre and I agree: where there is very high agreement between Matthew and Luke this is best explained by direct copying between the two texts. In the initial stages of my argument (‘Streeter’, pp. 212-3) I reserve judgement on the direction of any such direct copying. It is only after other factors have been taken into account that I ultimately draw the conclusion that High DT passages are the result of Matthew copying Luke without distraction. To respond to Goodacre’s criticism, however, I should perhaps expand the summarising sentence in question to read:
The Matthew Conflator Hypothesis (MCH) argues that there is no scope for ‘Q’ in the Double Tradition passages where Luke and Matthew agree almost verbatim (High DT passages) since these are best explained by Matthew’s copying of Luke without distraction – or his choosing (for whatever reason) not to be distracted by other versions of that episode of which he might also have been aware.
This is the only correction required to repair what Goodacre identifies as a key flaw.
Mark Goodacre wasn't satisfied that I'd dealt with his specific criticism. He restates his point in this further blog post.
[The following was originally posted on Bart Ehrman's blog on December 13th 2017]
First of all I’d like to thank Evan Powell. Evan is a particularly incisive and original thinker. You can find more about his ideas at http://synoptic-problem.com. Evan’s $1000 challenge has injected fresh energy into a tired and moribund debate. Evan’s particular concern is to dispense with Q – which creates an amusing irony: to keep the flame of Q burning brightly, Ehrman accepts the services of Mark Goodacre, a man who has worked harder than any living scholar to put it out. Evan will offer his own response to Goodacre in due course.
Before getting onto the substance of Mark’s critique I need to offer a very important – but perhaps confusingly subtle – clarification. When I use the term Q (*without* quotation marks) I mean the document as conceived by the International Q Project (IQP). This is a hypothetical/reconstructed entity of about 4,500 words, which Bart Ehrman, and many other scholars, believes actually existed. By contrast, I use the term “Q” (*with* quotation marks) to refer to a basket of resources (written or oral) known and used by both Luke and Matthew (not including Mark’s Gospel). I have had cause to regret the subtlety of this distinction more than once – with more, no doubt, to come! Nevertheless, against this background it is significant that the title of my article is ‘An Extant Instance of “Q”’ not ‘An Extant Instance of Q’. This is important when it comes to addressing Mark Goodacre’s initial complaint that, far from compiling a compelling argument that Q never existed: ‘Garrow is actually arguing that Matthew and Luke did use Q’. This is not the case. My approach has no place for the IQP-style Q. What I do allow, however, is that Mark’s Gospel need not be the only source shared by both Luke and Matthew – even if there is also direct contact between those two Gospels. In the video/article ‘An Extant Instance of “Q”’ [https://www.alangarrow.com/extantq.html] I back up this suggestion with a concrete example provided by a handful of sayings in the Didache. For reasons too complicated to go into here it would be exceptionally unwise to claim that what is true of one part in the Didache must be true of all parts. That’s why I do *not* claim, as Goodacre states, that: ‘Q is, in fact, the Didache!’
So now to the substance of Goodacre’s rebuttal …
A good solution to the Synoptic Problem is one that allows each Evangelist to behave in a consistently plausible manner. To rebut my thesis, therefore, Goodacre must show that, under my proposal, Matthew is required to do something that is essentially implausible. The unbelievable behavior he identifies is that Matthew (according to me) sometimes very closely conflates two or more related sources (e.g. The Sin against the Holy Spirit, where Matt. 31.31-32 conflates Mark 3.28-30, Luke 12.10 and Did. 11.7), sometimes switches between sources at intervals (e.g. the Beelzebul Controversy, where Matt. 12.22-30 alternates between Mark 3.22-27 and Luke 11.14-23), and sometimes decides to forego the labor of conflation where the rewards for doing so are limited (e.g. John’s messianic preaching and the sign of Jonah: Matt. 3.12 // Luke 3.17 and Matt. 12.38-42 // Luke 11.16, 29-32 respectively). I must leave you to judge whether this variation is so extraordinary as to justify Ehrman’s view that this is a ‘completely compelling’ reason to declare that Matthew could not have known Luke.
In the space that remains I’d like to focus on the main problem with Farrer Hypothesis (Luke used Matthew – as supported by Goodacre) and Two Document Hypothesis (Matthew and Luke both independently used Q – as supported by Ehrman).
According to the Farrer Hypothesis (FH) Luke indulged in what might be called ‘reverse conflation’ or ‘unpicking’. So, for example, in the Beelzebul Controversy, Goodacre’s Luke is required to follow Matthew 12.27-28 very closely but then, just as Matthew (12.29) starts to follow Mark very closely, Luke stops following Matthew – only to return to following Matthew as soon as, once again, Matthew has no parallel in Mark. This is just one of a series of editorial procedures required of Luke, under the FH, that are exceptionally difficult to achieve from a practical point of view and that are not exhibited in any contemporary literature. This is one of the reasons, I suspect, why Ehrman rejects the notion that Luke used Matthew.
According to the Two Document Hypothesis (2DH) Matthew and Luke sometimes had a virtually identical attitude to a mysterious hypothetical entity called Q. So, despite their differences in theology and geography they sometimes both copied entire paragraphs of this particularly primitive document virtually word for word. This is implausible for two reasons. First, writers of this period tended not to copy verbatim. Second, when observing how Matthew and Luke copy from Mark, they very rarely achieve anything like the levels of shared agreement that, according to the 2DH, they repeatedly achieve when (independently) copying from Q. These passages with very high verbatim agreement are much easier to explain if there is direct copying between Matthew and Luke. This is a point Goodacre makes with force and humor in an essay entitled, ‘Too good to be Q’. (I am puzzled, therefore, by his comment, in the blog: ‘high verbatim agreement is not diagnostic of an author working from only one source’).
So, is it possible simultaneously to avoid the implausibility of ‘unpicking’ while also explaining why Matthew and Luke sometimes agree almost exactly? This may be achieved, I propose, if Matthew is seen as a conflator. This activity has a (more developed) parallel in the Gospel harmonies that became popular from the Second Century onwards.
One pressing problem remains: if Matthew’s use of Luke has such good explanatory power, why has is not had greater exposure? The answer is that the agenda for this particular debate tends to be set by prominent specialists such as Mark Goodacre. And, as Goodacre once famously remarked: "The theory that Matthew has read Luke ... is rarely put forward by sensible scholars and will not be considered here" (The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze, 2001, p. 108). It seems, however, that the promise of a $1000 charitable donation is sufficient to persuade Goodacre to, after all, give the theory a little airtime. Perhaps, now, others will do the same.
The subscriber, 'Evan', began by writing:
“The British scholar Alan Garrow has complied an extremely compelling argument that Q never existed. In seven short videos totalling 52 minutes of viewing time he pretty much proves beyond any doubt that Matthew used both Mark and Luke, and what we imagine as the “Q source” is actually Matthew copying and reorganising Lukan material directly. See these videos here: https://www.alangarrow.com/mch.html. It is virtually impossible to believe in the Q theory once you’ve seen this data. Bart, if you see any holes in his arguments I would be grateful to hear.”
[I should interject at this point that ‘proving that Q never existed’ isn’t, strictly speaking, the precise implication of my thesis – but I understand what Evan means.] Ehrman responded:
“I’m afraid I don’t know [Garrow] or his work. The problem is always that it is very hard for someone without advanced training in a field (whether neuro-science, astronomy, evolutionary biology, philosophy, of biblical studies!) to see the holes in an argument that an expert can see pretty quickly. So we’ll see if he convinces any scholars!”
Undeterred, Evan comes back with a wager:
“You are an expert. I will lay a wager that you cannot find any holes in Garrow’s argument, and that in fact you will be convinced by his resolution to the Synoptic Problem. If you are not convinced, document whatever holes you see on this page. If you are convinced, post a statement that you believe he may have a viable solution to the Problem. Either way, once your assessment is posted, I will donate $1000 to your blog as a thank you for the time you invested to view his presentation and formulate a response.”
Ehrman can’t loose! If he finds holes in the thesis he gets $1000 for the charities he supports. If he doesn’t find holes in the thesis (and is prepared to say so) he still gets $1000 – and a solution to the Synoptic Problem into the bargain! Ehrman responds:
“Ah, that’s tempting. How long are these videos?”
What do you think Ehrman will do? To find out what actually happens visit this string of the Ehrman Blog and scroll to the end of the discussion ...
Another question you might be asking is: who is 'Evan' and why does he care so much about Garrow's thesis? I don't know the answer, but I suspect it must be Evan Powell, author of The Myth of the Lost Gospel in which he makes an excellent case for Matthew's use of Luke. I'm grateful to Evan for his book and for his wager!
To make up your own mind about the videos visit: www.alangarrow.com/mch.html
For further developments in the Challenge see this Blog's archive for Dec 2017, April 2018 and May 2018.