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The Case Against Q.

The Case Against Q. By Mark Goodacre. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2002. x and 228 pages. Paper. $20.00.

This book challenges the existence of "Q," the presumed document behind the common traditions in Matthew and Luke. The author knows well that its existence has become a foundation for synoptic studies and the historical Jesus. An International Q project has even produced a critical edition of Q. To raise questions requires considerable courage along with new and fresh arguments. But the author, lecturer in New Testament at the University of Birmingham, England, is up to the task. While this reviewer remains on the side of Q "believers," Goodacre's arguments as a Q "sceptic" cannot be ignored.

Unlike a few scholars who still hold to the priority of Matthew, Goodacre agrees with the priority of Mark. His opening chapter is a persuasive defense of Markan priority. The remainder of the book, however, argues for Luke's knowledge of both Mark and Matthew, a theory championed by Austin Farrer and Michael Goulder. In successive chapters, the author responds to those who find Luke's knowledge of Matthew unconvincing, if not nigh-incredible (Streeter: Luke a "crank").

Goodacre correctly recognizes that a key argument for Q centers on the Sermon on the Mount. Most scholars agree that rather than Luke abbreviating Matthew's sermon and scattering sayings elsewhere in his gospel, a more plausible hypothesis is that Matthew composed his sermon using the shorter version of Q in Luke plus other sources. The author spends three chapters trying to refute the implausibility of Luke reworking the sermon. Here Goodacre is most effective in showing how Luke may have taken sayings on prayer and anxiety and placed them in appropriate Lukan contexts. The same is true for Luke's possible rewriting of the beatitudes in light of his concern for the poor. A chapter even explores current films on Jesus to show how filmmakers take liberties and to argue for Luke's similar literary artistry. The whole attempt to reconstruct the Sermon by Luke is a mixed bag, with Luke's omission of so much inexplicable (e.g., antithesis).

The author also makes some helpful comparisons with the Gospel of Thomas, the collection of sayings of Jesus found in the Coptic library at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945. Against John Crossan and others who regard Thomas as an early and independent witness to sayings of Jesus, including Thomas 54 ("Blessed are the poor ..."), he shows that Thomas could simply be following Luke. Goodacre's concluding chapter draws a careful distinction between Thomas and theoretical Q. "Q" does preserve fragments of narrative with the sayings or stories; it also has some historical progression in its earlier sayings (John, temptation, ministry). This is quite different from Thomas, which is a collection of sayings of "the living Jesus" utterly indifferent to history or geography growing out of its gnostic Christology.

Undoubtedly this study makes a strong case against Q. How strong? The arguments need to be tested by New Testament scholarship. For many of us, there has been a growing discomfort with gospel studies that not only assume Q (and Thomas) as the earliest gospel witnesses but also find a Q community with differing levels of Christology and eschatology within it. I am still convinced the evidence for a Q source, whether written or oral, remains solid. The weakest part of Goodacre's study is the attempt to explain Luke's supposed rewriting of Matthew's sermon. Luke's sermon is more primitive and brief and in my judgment reflects a common source behind both Matthew and Luke, not Lukan rewriting. Here is where the argument will be joined. But perhaps this book will at least slow the all-too-confident belief in Q and its community.

Walter E. Pilgrim

Pacific Lutheran University
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Author:Pilgrim, Walter E.
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 2004
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