|Alan Garrow Didache|
the problem page
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.