|Alan Garrow Didache
the problem page
I'd like to identify some potential weak spots in my preferred solution to the Synoptic Problem (the Matthew Conflator Hypothesis) because scholarship is, ultimately, a collaborative process. No-one gets to 'the answer' on their own. Instead, we help one another towards a best approximation of the truth by testing ideas from every angle - pointing out the weaknesses in other people's positions, for sure - but also admitting the potential vulnerabilities of our own. In the case of the Synoptic Problem, the best solution (at any given time) will be the one with the fewest weaknesses. So there is particular value in comparing and contrasting the weaknesses of each hypothesis. Here, then, is my estimate of the most vulnerable points in the Matthew Conflator Hypothesis.
1. Omissions. If I were to attempt to undermine my own hypothesis I think I would focus on the material that Matthew omits from Luke (of which there is a substantial amount). If it were possible to show that Luke contained material that Matthew would have been all but 'bound' to include, then my hypothesis faces a complication. Having said that, it is remarkably difficult to prove that one evangelist knew nothing of another's work on the grounds that he neglected to record part of it.
2. The Birth Narrative. This is really a sub-set of 'omissions'. Matthew's birth narrative has several points of noteworthy similarity with Luke's - but it is also substantially different. This may be explained by one of two means. Either, Matthew here attempts to conflate Luke's account with another (now lost) alternative narrative, or, Matthew knew proto-Luke (without such a narrative) rather than canonical Luke. Both these suggestions require the existence of hypothetical texts, which is less satisfying than solutions that deal only with extant texts.
3. The scarcity of scholarship. One of the reasons why the 2DH has long enjoyed a strong position is that it has been worked over in tremendous detail by large numbers of able scholars over many decades. This means that there is a vast body of work devoted not only to its defence but also to the exploration of its implications. Similarly, but to a lesser extent, the FH has been the subject of detailed defence by very able scholars over many decades. By comparison, the literature associated with the case for Matthew's use of Luke is very slight. Most particularly, there are almost no published attempts to undermine this hypothesis. To date, the only sustained scholarly attempt to do so is F Gerald Downing's contribution to ETL last year (I plan to engage with this article with my next few blog posts). Without more detailed scholarly investigation it is hard to know what problems might lurk beneath the surface of the Matthew Conflator Hypothesis.
Alan Garrow is Vicar of St Peter's Harrogate and a member of SCIBS at the University of Sheffield.