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Saturday, June 16, 2007 

My Synoptic Pilgrimage Part 2

For the second part of my synoptic pilgrimage (see Stephen Carlson's post for another pilgrimage “story”) post I want to discuss why I believe that the Two-Source theory (hereafter 2ST) will continue to dominant synoptic studies as the "best" solution to the synoptic problem. Along with Goodacre I was pleasantly surprised that the Farrer-Goulder hypothesis garnered so many votes in Brandon’s poll. However, Deconick is surely correct in her assertion that the poll hardly counts as a reliable indicator of the present (or future) state of the synoptic problem in the academy. Now, I certainly wish I could share in Goodacre’s optimism concerning the future of the Farrer-Goulder hypothesis among NT scholars but the fact of the matter is that I do not foresee the 2ST ever losing significant ground to the Farrer-Goulder hypothesis (although it certainly has a better chance than say the Griesbach hypothesis). To understand why I think this is so I must digress for a moment.

Those who are avid fantasy readers will surely have read or at least heard of Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series. It is one of the best fantasy series ever written and in my mind rivals the Lord of the Rings (if nothing else it outdoes it in scope with to date 11 books and a twelfth forthcoming). One of the more remarkable things about the books in this series is that every book contains what is called a Wizard's Rule which are basically general principles that the Wizards in Goodkind’s universe adopt and which the plot of each book pivots around. And it is the first Wizard’s Rule (incidentally, this is also the name of the first book in the series, Wizard's First Rule) that pertains to our topic. Succinctly, Wizard’s First Rule states the following:

With minimal persuasion people will generally believe things to be true for one of two reasons: either because they are scared that it may be true or because they strongly wish it to be true.

What this principle signifies is the problem of trying to achieve a fair level of objectivity when one is emotionally invested in a certain topic. Obviously, a state of complete objectivity can never be attained (since it would mean a complete disinterest in the topic under scrutiny) but this principle indicates that any level of objectivity will be difficult to obtain when one is so emotionally involved in an issue. So what does this principle have to do with the synoptic problem and the 2ST solution?

I believe that most Q scholars fall prey to the second part of Wizard’s First Rule, i.e, it is difficult for scholars to relinquish Q because deep down they want and even need it to be true. Why is this so? In short, Q has something for everyone. Its acceptance spans the liberal/conservative spectrum and so finds adherents in virtually every scholarly ideological framework. Goodacre expresses this better than I can so I will quote him at length:

"If we were to dispense with Q, it would not be without tears. For Q has been all over the world, loved by everyone, feminists and liberation theologians, the sober and the sensational, the scholar and the layperson, a document with universal appeal. Indeed one of the keys to its success has been its ability to woo both conservatives and radicals alike. While conservatives, for example, are drawn by its early witness to sayings of Jesus, others have seen its lack of a Passion Narrative as witnessing to an alternative stream of early Christianity, one not based on the proclamation of a crucified Christ. For those at one end of the theological spectrum, Q can give us a document of Jesus material from before 70, written within a generation of the death of Jesus. For those at the other end of the spectrum, Q aligns itself with the Gospel of Thomas to form a “trajectory” in early Christianity that contrasted radically with emerging orthodoxy, and which only “canonical bias” can now obscure from out view." (The Case Against Q, 16-17)

Because Q offers so much to so many it is easy to see why Q scholars strongly want the existence of Q (of whatever form) to be true. Because of this and ultimately because of Wizard’s First Rule I simply do not see the 2ST theory ever losing ground to the Farrer-Goulder hypothesis or to any theory which does not invoke Q as a solution to the synoptic problem. Q is simply too valuable and too desired by the academy. Goodacre is right: to dispense with Q would not be without tears and because of this I believe scholars will continue to be persuaded that Q is the best solution to the synoptic problem even if overwhelming evidence were to be presented otherwise.

Note: My more perceptive readers have surely realized that Wizard’s First Rule could be turned around on me since it could be argued that I dispensed with Q precisely because of my frustrations with its abuse which led me to want it not to exist. It can certainly cut both ways.

I am pleasently surprised that you are still continuing this blog. I randomly thought about it and thought I'd give it a shot... Needless to say, I have lots to read. I shall get on this very soon, regardless of how much I understand. Good work, Mr. Petersen.


Chris, I hope you are doing well. Have you looked at Richard Bauckham's recent Jesus and the Eyewitnesses? I wonder what effect his conclusions will have on this debate. Bauckham argues that the oral traditions originally circulated not anonymously, but in the name of the original eyewitnesses.

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