|Alan Garrow Didache|
the problem page
“If we want Q to survive, we need to avoid putting too much into it”. This remark, made at a Q session of the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), suggests that Q’s supporters (proponents of the Two Document Hypothesis, or 2DH) are feeling under attack. At one level this is nothing new, Farrer Hypothesis (FH) scholars, who argue that Luke used Matthew, have been challenging the existence of Q for decades. Now, however, the attacks on Q are coming from two directions at once. At this year's SBL a relatively new hypothesis was debated; the Matthean Posteriority Hypothesis (MPH). This development increases the threat to Q because classic arguments against Farrer (e.g. why would Luke break up Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount) don’t apply if Matthew used Luke. This is because the way Matthew treats Luke under the MPH is largely similar to the way Matthew treats Q under the 2DH. What is more, the MPH does not suffer from the problems, listed below, that cause scholars to question the credibility of Q.
1) The curious genre of Q
Q, as classically conceived, is a curious beast. It starts with elements of narrative (John the Baptist, the Temptations and the Centurion’s Servant) and finishes with a collection of sayings. No other surviving text contains this type of genre bifurcation.
2) The precise sculpting of Q
Q, under the 2DH, must consistently and in every case bridge the gap between Matthew and Luke. Suppose for sake of argument we discovered a text that was very like Q – but which differed in a few key details. This would simultaneously present both a stunning vindication of the Q hypothesis and a threat to a fundamental tenet of the 2DH. To be specific, suppose this newly discovered Q included everything from the Centurion’s Servant onwards – but did not include the material about John the Baptist and the Temptations. How then did Matthew and Luke come to agree in these two sections? The obvious answer is that one copied the other directly. And, if this is so, the possibility of such copying taking place later in the text must also be reckoned with – even while the newly discovered Q is also likely to be in view. It is sometimes said that Q is infinitely flexible and can shape-shift to avoid any presenting problem. An aspect of Q that is brittle, however, is that it must (at minimum) precisely fit the shape of the material shared by Matthew and Luke (the Double Tradition). It may, of course, include more than just the Double Tradition, but the risk here is that the larger Q becomes the more it starts to look like Luke. This dual pressure sculpts Q into a curious shape, as noted above.
3) Sometimes Matthew and Luke agree against Mark
That Matthew and Luke agree for extensive periods when Mark is not present is not a problem for the Q hypothesis – because that is where Q is supposedly in play. The problem comes when Matthew and Luke agree against Mark when Mark is also part of the picture. How could this happen if there is no direct contact between Matthew and Luke? This question has long been a thorn in the flesh of the 2DH – something that must be explained away every time it happens (which is very often).
4) The network breaks down - just once
The more we learn about the world of the first Christians the more reason there is to suspect that, from a very early period, churches were in communication with a wide network of other churches. A study of the travels of named characters in the New Testament would show that these individuals travelled extensively and often. The presence of such a network is also suggested by the fact that Gospel harmonies start to appear from a very early period – as evidenced, for example, in Justin and 2 Clement. Ironically, even the 2DH relies on the presence of such a network since it needs it to deliver both Mark and Q to both Luke and Matthew. What the 2DH also requires, however, is that on just one occasion the network broke down. For some reason Luke never gained access to Matthew, or alternatively, Matthew never gained access to Luke.
5) Sections of Q survived unchanged and/or were changed identically by both Matthew and Luke
Q, as classically conceived, preserves a record of a very early form of Christianity. It is sometimes suggested that Q was written by Galilean village scribes in the 40s CE. This requires, however, that Matthew and Luke (decades later) inherited sections of Q with virtually identical wording, and then decided that this wording was incapable of improvement – or both decided to improve this wording in virtually identical ways. This is particularly improbable in the case of the Beezlebul Controversy since, as the differing versions in Mark and Luke illustrate, this story was vulnerable to significant variation in the retelling (see also the echoes in John 10.19-21 and Thomas 35).
6) If Q was highly valued by Luke and Matthew why has no other record of it survived?
There is no law that says an early Christian text must survive - especially if most of it is incorporated into some other text. Nevertheless, it is surprising that a document filled with the words of Jesus and valued by authors as diverse as Luke and Matthew should disappear completely without any trace.
If Matthew using Luke has all the strengths of the 2DH, but without the above weaknesses, it’s easy to see why someone who loves Q might talk in terms of the need to work to ensure Q’s survival. But why might such a survival be thought of as valuable in the first place? Q, as classically conceived, takes us back to the earliest roots of Christianity. It is said to reveal what Jesus really taught and what his earliest followers believed. Seen in this light, efforts to ensure its survival make sense. My counter-intuitive advice, however, is if you love Q, set it free.
For anyone interested in Christian origins there is everything to be gained, and nothing to be lost, by allowing the old Q to die. In place of the hypothetical Q, which supposedly gave us access to the beliefs of the first Christians, we gain a new view of Luke’s Gospel – a record of the teaching of Jesus before it is deradicalized by Matthew. Not only that, if we remove everything in Matthew that could derive from Luke and Mark, something remarkable emerges; discrete portions of what remains contain dense sets of parallels with James and the Didache. Who knows, if we say goodbye to the old Q, perhaps we will receive back something even more valuable.
Alan Garrow is Vicar of St Peter's Harrogate and a member of SCIBS at the University of Sheffield.