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Wednesday, March 15, 2006 

Speculative Interpretations

It is amazing to me how some scholars tend to forget that the Q source is still a hypothetical document. Now I for one do see substantial evidence for their being other written sources of the Jesus tradition other than our synoptics. I can even hold that if these exist they may well chronologically precede Mark. Yet, it is one thing to base one's scholarly research soley on such a hypothetical document. Since what ends up occuring is the inevitability of reaching very speculative and suspect conclusions.

Case in point is a book that I'm currently reading by Byron R. McCane titled Roll Back the Stone: Death and Burial in the World of Jesus. This book, as the title indicates, is a look into the various death and burial customs associated with Second Temple Judaism and the wider Greco-Roman world. Though much of the book is informative there is one chapter that is, in my opinion, quite incredulous. He dedicates this entire chapter to exploring how the so-called Q community viewed death and how it varied with the other customs around them. From the logions on death and burial found in the "Q" tradition, McCane postulates that this community had its own distinctive customs. Now, granted, McCane is certainly not alone in his conclusion that there is a special Q community distinct from later Christian communities. There are many scholars who believe this as well. Fine.

What bothers me is that this book is intended for lay readers. That being said, McCane has a responsability to let his readers know that his so-called Q document is still hypothetical. But he doesn't do this. Like so many scholars today, he simply assumes its concrete existence and then proceeds from these isolated sayings to extrapolate a distincive theology of this community. I would have been much satisfied with at least a minute discussion of the matter. We should expect better than this from the scholars we read. Here is the first sentence from that chapter:

"For some time now New Testament scholars have been captivated by the Q people-those primitive Christians who first recorded and preserved the earliest traditions of Jesus' sayings." (p 61)

There follows no argument for this just simply an assumption that the scholarly community has accepted the existence of not just a Q document, but a Q gospel, and a Q community. Until (or if) we find a copy of Q it should remain a hypothetical source. Thus we should refrain from undue speculations that only have a basis in something hypothetical.

I think it's time that I read Mark Goodacre's The Case Against Q.

I think it's time that I read Mark Goodacre's The Case Against Q.

Indeed. It's what finally convinced me.

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