New user? Register here:
Email Address:
Password:
Retype Password:
First Name:
Last Name:
Existing user? Login here:
 
 
Book reviews >

QUESTIONING Q

SPCK £19.99(0-281-05613-7)Church Times Bookshop £18

AT an early stage in New Testament studies, every student will be introduced to Q, the hypothetical source (Quelle) of the material that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke have in common, and which is not in Mark. The hypothesis is 200 years old, and has spawned countless studies and refinements.

But it has also become more than a technical solution to the enigma of the relationship of the first three Gospels. Such a source (if it existed) must have been ancient — perhaps our earliest, and therefore most authentic, source of information about Jesus. Moreover, it apparently consisted entirely of sayings: it had no narrative, no crucifixion, no resurrection. In which case, those who compiled and preserved it were presumably content with the picture of Jesus it presented — hence the popularity in modern Jesus-studies of portraits of Jesus as primarily a teacher of (often subversive) “wisdom”, or as an itinerant philosopher similar to the Cynic preachers of the pagan world.

But did Q exist? Very early scraps of papyrus have turned up in Egypt with fragments of the other Gospels, but none of Q. No ancient author ever refers to it. All we have is reconstruction by modern scholars, devised primarily as an answer to the problems created by the intricate relationship of the Synoptic Gospels with each other.

But this reconstruction seems now on the way to becoming a “Gospel” in its own right. With the aid of a computer in California, an international team of scholars claim to have established, and are now publishing, a “critical text”. “Questioning Q” seems to have become an occupation open only to outsiders — eccentric scholars who refuse to accept the consensus and its now far-reaching implications.

Yet the theory still has opponents. Is their position no longer tenable? Or might it be the case (as these authors argue) that the very success of the Q hypothesis has made its proponents oblivious of its vulnerability; indeed has made them lose the habit of seriously engaging with contrary arguments at all?   

This collection of essays by eight American and British scholars is a serious attempt to have the question reopened. They recognise that abandoning Q would be nothing less than a paradigm shift for New Testament studies. But at the very least their arguments demonstrate the fragility of the hypothetical structure that is taken as established by the great majority of scholars. Their project is a wholesome reminder that, despite two centuries of labour and ingenuity, the origins of our four Gospels still remain beyond the reach of any certain knowledge.

Dr Harvey is a former Canon and Sub-Dean of Westminster Abbey.

To order this book email details to Ct Bookshop


Job of the week

Professor of Divinity

London and Home Counties

Gresham CollegeFounded 1597 Gresham Professor of Divinity Gresham College has provided free public lectures for over 400 years in the City of London and now operates worldwide via the internet. Fo...  Read More

Signup for job alerts
Top feature

Finding life over death

Finding life over death

Denise Inge, who died on Easter Day this year, discovered that her home was built over a charnel house. This prompted her to write a book exploring the challenge of living well in the face of mortality  Subscribe to read more

Question of the week
Are foodbanks an effective way of dealing with poverty?

To prevent multiple voting, we now ask readers to be logged in. This is free, quick and easy, honestly. Click here to login or register

Top comment

Fighting inequality and corruption in the world

Efforts are being made to combat corruption and sharp practice in global finance. Peter Selby has seen this at first hand  Subscribe to read more

Mon 24 Nov 14 @ 19:00
Give Church Times as a gift this Christmas & get two Dave Walker gifts worth £12.98! http://t.co/3ZIw4HO5wz http://t.co/jTABQyQuCS

Mon 24 Nov 14 @ 16:15
Give Church Times as a gift this Christmas & you'll get two Dave Walker gifts worth £12.98! http://t.co/3ZIw4HO5wz http://t.co/FBHh03iJ2L