Dr Goodacre: or how I learned to stop worrying and love the Farrer theory

by James Dowden

Mark Goodacre has been at it with his three fictional Qs gibe again. I doubt there’s any outdoing him on humor or choice of graphics, but I thought this would be as good a time as any to write one of those personal posts as to why I stopped believing in Q. I’m not pretending that these are knock-down arguments, but they are the three points that made me abandon Q.

1. The Lucan Order Axiom

One of the stranger points about the IQP reconstruction of Q is that it follows Luke’s order. In a way it makes sense: the argument is that Matthew reördered Q to fit Mark’s order, and therefore Luke’s order must be Q’s original. I came to doubt this conclusion for a number of reasons:

  • Sheer bloody-mindedness. What would a reconstruction of Q look like in Matthew’s order?
  • That Matthew’s structure is characterized by large blocks of Marcan and non-Marcan material. He generally preserves his source’s order within the Marcan blocks: why should we presume otherwise for the non-Marcan blocks?
  • “Nazara” at Q 4.16 comes in a pericope whose location looks secondary to the original creation of the gospel of Luke (the third evangelist has one of his expansive moments about Capernaum, which has not yet been reached in its present position).
  • Q 15 takes two thirds of a Lucan triplet: the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, omitting the Lost Son. There’s something perverse about accepting Luke’s order in such a way as to ignore the structure of his order. In unkinder moments, I may have phrased this: “is the IQP just a bunch of wonks with no appreciation of literary artistry?”

So my nagging suspicion was very much one that any axiom should be in favor of Matthaean order.

2. The very first pericope of Q

The other thing that swayed me away from Q was actually looking at the IQP text. The first pericope, the Baptism of Jesus (intuitively numbered Q 3), is set out as if it were a conflation of two accounts. Now, there is nothing wrong with the idea of conflations: the Flood account in Genesis 6-9 and the Korah, Dathan, and Abiram pericope in Numbers 16 (pp193-5 of Richard Eliott Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible? sets this one out nicely) are widely held to be just this sort of thing. The problem is that the IQP text doesn’t look remotely like a separate account that has been conflated with Mark, but rather like a set of amplifications upon Mark.

At v16, the amplifications fall into verbatim agreement. The seriousness of this should not be underestimated: this necessitates a literary relationship between Q and Mark, namely: (1) Q used Mark; (2) Mark used Q; or (3) both used a common source. The Mark-used-Q position is the easiest to dismiss; it is unsatisfactory for all the same reasons that the idea that Mark was not the first gospel, involving abbreviation through miscellaneous wordiness, inserting vulgarisms, and making uncorrections. The common source position also seems unsatisfactory because of how the Marcan baptism account is so raw, and it multiplies hypothetical sources.

The Q used Mark position is resisted by Q proponents for obvious reasons. If Q knew Mark in one pericope, presumably he knew Mark everywhere. Q might well have had a Passion Narrative, for instance. In fact, if one accepts that Q had Matthaean order in its non-Marcan blocks and knew Mark, we have identified Q: it is called the Gospel according to St Matthew.

3. Pointing out the startlingly obvious

The final element was reading Samuel Sandmel’s Prolegomena to a Commentary on Mark (wonderful title!). In this, he makes a very simple and should-be-obvious point: the gospel writers wrote their own gospels because they did not like the gospels that had gone before them. Perhaps it takes someone from outside the culture that reveres the three Synoptics as scripture to say something that is just so startlingly right. But it shows quite how deep-seated our cultural liking for the Gospel according to St Matthew is: we find it incredible that Luke would have so radically reworked this material precisely because of our own value judgments. These obviously didn’t apply yet when Luke was writing.

So let’s end with the lame joke that I’ve been resisting throughout this post. Goodacre is wrong. Q isn’t fictional. It’s just that we’ve been drawing the arrows the wrong way round: instead of Mt ← Q → Lk, it should be Mt → Q ← Lk. Its authors are every harmonist from Tatian to the IQP.