Saturday, February 12, 2005

Book Review: Goodacre, The Case Against Q

The Case Against Q
By Mark Goodacre
2002. Trinity Press International 227 pages.

"One might guess at a further reason for the excessive rhetoric. I suspect that for many there is a certain feeling of frustration that debates over the Synoptic Problem continue to rage on from year to year, that Q skeptics obstinately refuse to acknowledge the supposed triumph of the two-source theory...not only are Q skeptics a nuisance, but also they appear to have a certain arrogance, the surprising and implausible notion that they might be able to overturn the consensus of a century."-- Mark Goodacre, The Case Against Q
Mark Goodacre's The Case Against Q is the latest and most comprehensive installment in a long-running argument over Q that Q proponents will wish had ended before Goodacre stepped into the ring. Here is a book that offers everything a good academic work should provide: fresh perspectives, an iconoclastic viewpoint, multidisciplinary approaches, a very high degree of accessibility and readability, and of course, pertinent commentary on a major controversy. This is one of those wonderful works that the reader plops down with in front of a roaring fire, cool jazz in the background, the phone off the hook, and the family cat purring away on one's lap. Poor cat! With so many Aha! moments on the way, it is unlikely to get any rest at all.

The Case against Q weighs in at a surprisingly slim 228 pages, a slender Greek goddess among the 500 page Norse giants that populate the NT scholarly world. It is divided into 9 chapters and an Epilogue, covering "First Impressions" to the devastating finale "Narrative Sequence in a Sayings Gospel? Reflections on a Contrast between Thomas and Q" that is the proverbial final nail.

From the opening chapter, Goodacre sets forth a thesis that rests on several pillars. First, belief in Q is largely the result Q's widespread acceptance, rather than any solid argument for it. The fact there exists a consensus in favor of Q has become an argument for its existence. Second, arguments for Q are effective in large part because they deploy such strong rhetoric. In a subsection entitled "Rhetoric in the Case for Q" Goodacre instances many examples of overblown language, complaining: "It seems that scholars are unable to talk about the hypothesis of Luke's use of Matthew without resorting to strings of rhetorical questions, with exclamation marks, joke quotation marks, humorous imagery, and, at times, even ridicule."(p78) Third, scholars have not given enough credit to Luke's creative use of Matthew and Mark, and have not understood how Luke used his sources. In addition to constituting powerful arguments against Q, Goodacre's discussion of Lukan creativity, originality, and theology will also aid in understanding that most beautiful of the gospels.

Goodacre then plays Magellen in the undiscovered worlds of narrative criticism and comparative literature. Narrative criticism is a relatively new methodology that seeks to understand the document as a work of literature "from the perspective of its implied author." The Case against Q utilizes narrative criticism to test some of the assumptions of source criticism, attacking the common source-critical assumption that Luke's ordering of events is inexplicable if he used Matthew. Both sides consider the "argument from Luke's re-ordering of Matthew" to be the strongest one, the key passage for this being the Sermon on the Mount, often cited as conclusive evidence in this argument by Q proponents. Using the narrative critical study of Joel Green (a monster of 850 pages with the understated title The Gospel of Luke) as his foundation, Goodacre attacks this argument by observing that Luke's use is completely consistent with his theological and literary goals. In short, the assertion that Luke's re-ordering of Matthew is inexplicable cannot hold. In fact, as Goodacre argues, the reason that Luke's gospel has so much historical-biographical plausibility is precisely because Luke has re-arranged Matthew so that it flows more smoothly and makes more sense.

The next chapter, "The Synoptic Jesus and the Celluloid Christ" makes a Robert Price-like leap into modernity with a comparison of the way the Jesus story has been used in modern film with the way Luke broke up and redistributed the story. Warning: much forehead slapping ahead. Goodacre's intention is to utterly demolish the idea that Luke's re-ordering of Matthew is "inexplicable," this time from a comparative perspective. According to Goodacre, far from following the gospel order, movies typically cheerfully re-arrange it to accommodate the varying demands of cinematic storytelling(he even uses The Life of Brian which he obviously loves and terms "seminal"). Once again he focuses on the Sermon on the Mount, needling scholars who have built imposed castles of rhetoric on assumptions of sand by showing that like Luke, who could not have "destroyed" the Sermon on the Mount, was but one of many borrowers of Matthew's story who ruthlessly re-arranged its content and occurrence in the narrative for his own purposes. If Luke "destroyed" Matthew then so did a dozen film-makers, none of who used Q. Indeed, Pasolini's Gospel According to St. Matthew does almost the same thing with the Sermon that Luke does! The reader will not only find this chapter studded with epiphanies, but darn good fun as well.

In the final chapter chapter, which contrasts Q and Thomas, Goodacre once again opens by citing the fine rhetoric of his opponents, then undercuts their arguments by showing how they have misunderstood the issues. Traditionally, Thomas has been used to buttress Q by demonstrating that the existence of a Sayings Gospel is plausible -- look! here's another example of the genre. Goodacre shows, however, that unlike Thomas, Q contains "clear signs of narrative properties." Thomas, on the other hand, is simply a disconnected collection of sayings that contains no hint of a narrative. Thus, Thomas is a horse of a different color, and cannot be used as a prop for Q.

The Case against Q is an extremely convincing book and a worthy addition to any collection of NT scholarly works. However, as a Jesus-skeptic, I should add that I couldn't help noticing (and chuckling at) the fact that Goodacre's complaints about Q proponents are exactly the same ones Jesus-skeptics make about the historicist position: the overblown rhetoric supported by methodologies that are simply exercises in discovering one's own assumptions, the misunderstandings of basic issues, the sloppy logic and argumentation, and the deployment of the fact of consensus as an argument for the consensus. Perhaps his experiences as a Q skeptic will give him some sympathy for those of us "nuisances" who are as equally, and as cogently, so "arrogantly" critical of his field's historicist assumptions.


Anonymous said...

This review is so old, I have no idea if you'll read this post.

My feelings about "The Case Against Q" were about the same as yours. However, Kloppenborg's review dampened my feelings somewhat. Have you read his review of the book ( ? I would love to know your opinion of HIS review. As a purely recreational reader of NT criticism, I find I lack the ability (time)to really decide who has the better arguments here, though my gut feeling is that Kloppenborg did a fairly good job of refuting the main ideas of the book (but I realize that I just am not qualified to make that judgement). Of course, this issue will probably never be DEFINITIVELY settled.

Love your website. I seem to agree with your viewpoint on many things (although we disagree about G.A.Wells: I like him a lot).

Michael Turton said...

I haven't read K's response yet. My own gut tells me that Goodacre is right, and there is no Q. But I haven't analyzed Matt and Luke in detail yet. I want to do Acts next year after I finish Mark, and then do the Gospel of Luke.

I like GA Wells very much, but I like the new mythicist stuff much better. There's been an outpouring in the last few years. I'm looking forward to more.