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A Final Statement on a Different Approach to the Synoptic Problem: Evan Powell

OK, this will be the last post in this current thread involving the Synoptic Problem.  Some of you will be glad to know that this one is written not at the scholarly but for normal human beings (as opposed to abnormal academics….).   It should be very accessible.   It is written by the blog-member who started this whole thing off with a challenge, Evan Powell.  Thanks to all the participants in the back and forth – Evan, Allan Garrow, and Mark Goodacre.  I don’t know about you, but I think it’s been a helpful interchange, and a (nicely) unusual thread for the blog.




EVAN POWELL – A Solution to the Synoptic Problem

The literary relationships between the Synoptic Gospels, and specifically the issue of whether Q existed as a lost sayings gospel, are vitally important questions to anyone who studies the historical Jesus and the evolution of first century Christianity. We all want to know which gospel traditions were early, perhaps originating with Jesus, and which were later ideas incorporated into the movement’s ideology over time. Our best chance of discovering this is to identify the true chronological order of the gospel texts, so we may see how idea evolved, and how each of the evangelists may have been influenced by prior writings. This is the essence of the Synoptic Problem.

Many scholars favor

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Managing the Time! Readers’ Mailbag December 17, 2017
Brief Reply to Garrow



  1. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  December 15, 2017

    Evan: Thanks so much for your financial and educational contributions to this discussion. I had never even thought of the author of Matthew using Luke as a source. I do not have the expertise to offer a scholarly opinion on the matter, but will never think of the synoptic problem in quite the same way after this discussion. Thanks again and thanks to this blog for keeping me thinking. If one throws out the first two chapters of Matthew, as coming from a later editor, then I can see at least considering that the author of Matthew may have used Luke and Mark as sources for the rest of Matthew. Ron

  2. Avatar
    3Timothy  December 15, 2017

    I favor the Two-Document Hypothesis (2DH) and also think the community that produced John’s gospel was not influenced by Mark, Matthew, or Luke.

    But as Evan Powell points out, “2DH advocates readily acknowledge its limitations.”

    I can’t figure out how Matthew, Luke, and John know Joseph’s name. Mark doesn’t say “Joseph,” and “Joseph” isn’t likely to be in “Q” (a collection of sayings)–in any case, John’s gospel knows about Joseph, and John’s gospel doesn’t use “Q.”

    With Joseph’s name we have a strong case of independent attestation.

    Was Joseph’s name known due to strong oral tradition? I assume Mark never mentions Joseph since Joseph was not important to Mark’s themes–or it is more likely that Mark didn’t know Joseph’s name?

  3. Avatar
    Stephen  December 15, 2017

    I find this type of argument really interesting. I like the down ‘in the weeds’ discussions.

    So here’s s layman type question. What possible (and likely) discovery could settle the question of gospel dependency? Seems to me even finding a complete copy of “Q” wouldn’t tell you whether or not Matthew and Luke knew each other.


    • Bart
      Bart  December 17, 2017

      Yeah, it’s hard to imagine what discovery would definitively resolve the issue….

  4. Avatar
    godspell  December 15, 2017

    Well-stated. But again. Most of us simply don’t have the time to do the intensive textual analysis.

    Many of Bart’s arguments, I’ve found–including those that are still not the consensus view of scholars–are still accessible to a layperson. When he says “Paul considered Jesus to be an angel sent to earth in human form” I don’t need a degree to know what he’s saying, and it has a certain explanatory power. Why does Paul not write about Jesus as if he was a human being, to the extent that those who would deny a historical Jesus altogether use that as evidence for their case? (Even though he says multiple things that indicate he knows people who met Jesus in the flesh). Answer–Jesus was a divine spirit who Paul believed had been briefly incarnated as a man to achieve God’s mission, and if not God, was still worthy of being revered as more than simply a great teacher and prophet.

    I don’t know that’s true. But I understand the question and the answer, and I think they match up pretty well. Here, it’s more intricate. Here you are really in the weeds of intensive textual analysis, and us laypersons simply don’t have enough of a grip on the material. It’s a question more or less entirely reserved to serious scholars. We may be interested in how it plays out, and maybe it can be better explained to us over time, but reading this exchange the last few days, I can’t say I feel I understand it any better. All I can say for sure is that Matthew and Luke are extremely different in their approach to the material they share.

    And I don’t see how saying Matthew was the last synoptic solves all the problems you refer to. It doesn’t answer my question of why Matthew would read Luke’s account of Jesus’ conception and birth and say “Nah, I’m cutting this way down, and obviously Mary and Joseph were living in Bethlehem when Jesus was born, and Nazareth came later.”

    I’m not saying that couldn’t have happened, but if Matthew had read Luke’s nativity story, I do have a hard time seeing him writing his the way he did. If for no other reason than it’s going to create a conflict. In a cult that needs to stay unified in the face of opposition. That, as a layperson, is an argument I can make. Which may be totally wrong. But it makes sense to me on a human level.

    But none of this means it’s not an argument worth making.

    However, to say “I think any person who seriously considers this argument will find him or herself convinced by it, as I was”–c’mon. I assume you are not a divine being sent to earth recently. You’ve been a human all your life. You know better. 😉

  5. Avatar
    Leovigild  December 15, 2017

    I think one issue is that scholars who aren’t comfortable with the reconstruction of a hypothetical Q are not going to adopt Garrow’s hypothesis because it doesn’t do away with hypothetical documents. They are likely to stick to the Farrer Hypothesis which in its stronger form denies any written sources outside the existing Gospels and even in Goodacre’s weakened form gives other written sources a minimal role.

    And if you’re fine with Q, then stick to the consensus TDH. It’s not clear that the MCH clears up more problems than it creates, at least.

    So there’s not much of a constituency for a third solution.

  6. Avatar
    ardeare  December 15, 2017

    “Two Document Hypothesis (Matthew and Luke both independently used Q – as supported by Ehrman).” – Alan Garrow

    “I should point out that while Bart and I are on different sides on the Synoptic Problem, he a staunch supporter of the Two-Source Theory.” – Mark Goodacre

    I am befuddled by those comments because I was certain that you advance a “four-source hypothesis” as the least problematic and most plausible. Am I wrong?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 17, 2017

      Yes, you’re right. But for some reason I’ve never understood scholars have traditionally called the four-source hypothesis (Mark, Q, M, and L) a two-source hypothesis (Mark and Q)

    • Avatar
      Evan  December 19, 2017

      Garrow uses “Q” in quotes to refer to the array of many unknown oral and written sources that we may presume were available to Matt and Luke. He does not believe in the existence of a discrete saying document Q as defined by the International Q Project, nor does he believe the double tradition was drawn from such a document. Garrow’s use of “Q” in quotes has led to a lot of unfortunate confusion on this critical point.

  7. Avatar
    Steefen  December 15, 2017

    Hi Professor.

    Have you ever written about Christian Diocurism, maybe in Lost Christianities or maybe in your textbooks?

    Why would Jesus feel compelled to reference Castor and Pollux at Mark 3: 17? It makes me think Castor and Pollux helped him with calming winds and waves, since Jason and the Argonauts, when sailing, benefited from the twins of Zeus (although only Pollux was the son of Zeus while his twin was mortal).

    Why would Jesus feel compelled to reference a Homeric hymn? Why would Matthew and Luke drop Jesus’ reference to Homer? Would it be because Matthew, so concerned with a Jewish Jesus would have no Hellenism? I could live with that; but why would Luke drop it?

    Thank you.

    PS: Jesus could not read Greek? But Jesus is dropping references to Homer? As for Q source, Q source is making references to Homer? What is that about?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 17, 2017

      I don’t think Jesus knew Homer or anything about Homer. If there are any distant echoes (I”m not sure there are) it would only be because the ancient myths were widely known. But I don’t think they *were* known in rural Galilee among Aramaic speaking lower class Jews at the time.

      • Avatar
        Steefen  December 18, 2017

        Maybe it’s there for the benefit of the Hellenists who followed Jesus (the Hellenist mentioned in Acts, with the famous martyr, St. Stephen).

        The New Testament gives two accounts of Jewish authorities losing their minds, murderously when a person says I see the Son of Man at the right hand of the Power. Son of Man is Gaius Julius Caesar (both the original and the adopted son, Caesar Augustus). The Temple Authorities did not want Roman Emperor Worship at the Right Hand of Yahweh. That is what made them so murderously distraught. With Gaius Julius Caesar being a “son” of Venus; and, with no man of the first century or the first century BCE impregnating Venus, we have a Virgin Birth.

        With Jesus growing up near Sepphoris and making such an impact on the Hellenists in the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus would know of Homer.

        There are loud echoes of Homer in the Gospel of Mark which would be in any Q source for the gospels; Jesus’ dropping a Sons of Zeus reference is just one incident.

        There are loud echoes of Julius Caesar and the “identity theft” of Julius Caesar by his adopted son who, like Jesus praying for his disciples in John’s Gospel, got his disciples from his father, the original Julius Caesar. No one went to Octavius without their love for the Father sending them to the Son.

      • Avatar
        Steefen  December 18, 2017

        And when texts speak of Jesus being a twin, that has nothing to do with Christian Diocurism?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 20, 2017

          What texts are you thinking of?

          I wrote a book on Didymus the Blind. Just because he was called Didymus (= twin) doesn’t mean that his parents were thinking of the Dioscuri! There are lots and lots of references to twins in the ancient world, not just in Greek mythology.

          • Avatar
            Steefen  December 20, 2017

            Evidence of Dioscurism among Christians includes the depiction of Judas Didymus Thomas as Jesus’ twin
            in the writings of Thomas: The Gospel of Thomas, The Book of Thomas the Contender, and the Actos of Judas Thomas.

            J. Rendel Harris, an English biblical scholar and curator of manuscript who wrote in 1913 a work called Boanerges.

            However, James and John 1) were called sons of Thunder, 2) had the lifespans of the Discouri, 3) offered to pull fire out of the sky like sons of Thunder and Lightning, 4) wanted to bookend Jesus in glory.

          • Bart
            Bart  December 21, 2017

            My view, again, is that simply because someone is a twin does not indicate that there is any connection to Greek myth in particular. If you wanted to think about how *different* Jesus and Thomas were to Pollux and Castor, it would be very long list indeed, since they have almost nothing in common.

    • Avatar
      godspell  December 18, 2017

      First of all, we don’t know Jesus used that word–that’s Mark, who is a Greek speaker, possibly trying to find some Greek equivalent for something he’s read or heard about Jesus saying (probably in Aramaicz), which Jesus may never have said. The word he uses doesn’t seem to mean what he says it means.


      I do not believe Mark was referencing Castor and Pollux. I mean, why not say he was referencing Thor? He’d be about as likely to have heard about the gods of Germania. All part of the same empire.

      It’s cool to make connections between stories, but it’s important to realize that it’s you making the connection–there may not be any direct influence between two stories that seem similar to each other. People had myths relating to thunder wherever thunder was heard, because it’s awesome. Literally, awesome.

      Assuming Jesus was referencing thunder at all when he gave two of his disciples nicknames. Assuming he gave them nicknames. Which given the Peter/Rock thing, seems likely. Jesus may have been one of those people who try to cultivate relationships with people whose loyalty he wants to win by giving them cool nicknames. Still a thing today.

      • Avatar
        Steefen  December 20, 2017

        Why not say he was referencing Thor? Thor is one person, not two brothers.
        Second, Hellenism is very important in Jesus’ life because he was able to attract a following of Hellenists (one of whom, Stephen, lost his life for Jesus), see the book of Acts, chapter 6 for mention of the Hellenists.

        It is not me making the connection, the connection is there.

        The brothers in the gospel of Mark wanted to share glory with Jesus. In one gospel, they ask Jesus for a place on his left and right. In another gospel, the mother of the two brothers ask Jesus that her sons be placed on his left and right. Caligula often took his place between the divine brethren and exhibited himself there to be worshipped.

        Julius Caesar had two brothers who sought the glory of political leadership in Rome. The father of the two brothers was Pompey the Great. Given the prestige of their father, they deserved some respect in the post-Caesar Civil War Rome. Caesar went to war against them in Spain and barely won. Like the myth of Castor and Pollux, one brother lived and one brother died. In the myth one brother has superhuman life span, the other brother his mortal. Likewise, in the gospels, Jesus grants John a superhuman lifespan, but does not do so for James.

        Luke 9: 54 James and John as sons of thunder (and lightning) ask Jesus, “Do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”

        Clearly the gospel (which comes from a word meaning good news of military victory–likely the military victories of Gaius Julius Caesar since so much of Caesar’s life is retold in the gospels) is referring to Castor and Pollux.

        You bring up Peter the Rock “saying” Jesus is the Christ, Lepidus (rock) nominated Julius Caesar for dictator.

  8. Avatar
    fishician  December 15, 2017

    Unrelated question but since it’s close to Christmas: Two of the possibly legendary figures in the Gospels are both named Joseph: the supposed step-father who was at his birth, and Joseph of Arimathea who buried him at his death. Has there been any discussion of the fact that these two bookends of Jesus’ life were both named Joseph? Coincidence, or could there be any connection around the use of that name?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 17, 2017

      Good question. But I think it’s probably just an accident. Joseph (and, e.g., James) was simply one of the most common names among Jews at the time.

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  December 17, 2017

        I don’t remember the author’s name, but a Catholic study guide to Matthew some years ago linked the two Josephs in the gospel to Joseph in Genesis. Each of them, like Jacob’s favorite son (and Matthew says Abba Joseph’s father was named Jacob) cared for God’s chosen when he was most vulnerable. Would you say, if Matthew didn’t invent a name for Jesus’ father, that the coincidence of two Josephs being so important in the stories of his birth and death made it easy for him to draw parallels to THE Joseph?

    • Avatar
      Steefen  December 19, 2017

      Dennis MacDonald in The Homeric Epics and The Gospel of Mark says it may be one of many connections between the Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark. He says that Priam, the father of Hector claims his sons body and in the gospel, a Joseph is claiming the body of his son.

      A second connection is made between Joseph-us claiming the body of three crucified men in his autobiography. He asks the Roman general, Titus for the bodies so they could be given the best of care. This request is granted.

      So, given the many connections between the Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark, is the name given to the one who claimed Jesus’ body for burial in an attempt to reference Jesus to Hector or was the ending of the gospel of Mark written so close to the events in the life of the influential Josephus?

      Maybe Joseph of Arimathea was named for Josephus born Joseph ben Matityahu or ben Matthias with the name of Mary’s husband named to match the name of the man who claimed Jesus’ body.

  9. Avatar
    anthonygale  December 15, 2017

    Please correct me if I am misunderstanding, but Garrow apparently does believe in Q. He distinguished between “Q” and Q in a post on this blog. Broadly defined, Q (or is it “Q”?) is material used both by Matthew and Luke that isn’t Mark, which is thought to exist precisely because Matthew and Luke are believed to be independent. If Matthew used Luke, there would be no need for Q. So why argue that Matthew used Q and Luke when Matthew using Luke would make Q unnecessary? Evan believes that Q did not exist, but uses (unless I am misunderstanding) the arguement of someone who does believe it existed to support a case that it did not exist. Seems problematic to me.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 17, 2017

      That’s right — he believes in multiple Q’s.

      • Avatar
        Evan  December 19, 2017

        Garrow uses “Q” in quotes to refer to the array of many unknown oral and written sources that we may presume were available to Matt and Luke. He does not believe in the existence of a discrete saying document Q as defined by the International Q Project, nor does he believe the double tradition was drawn from such a document. Garrow’s use of “Q” in quotes has led to a lot of unfortunate confusion on this critical point. (not sure where to post this as the issue comes up several times in this thread)

  10. Avatar
    anthonygale  December 15, 2017

    Despite questioning the case he makes, I agree on some points. In particular, and I am paraphrasing: perhaps the reason all “solutions” to the Synoptic problem are problematic is because they are all wrong. What, if anything, is wrong with that idea?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 17, 2017

      The problem is that one has to explain why matthew, mark, and luke have extensive verbatim agreements. If there is no literary relationship, it can’t be explained adequately.

      • Avatar
        anthonygale  December 17, 2017

        I’m not saying there is no literary relationship. I mean what if all of the explanations as to the nature of that relationship are wrong, including the two document/four source (are they the same thing?) hypothesis? Just because its the least problematic doesnt mean it is right. A solution that is less problematic still has problems, suggesting that it may be (perhaps even probably is) wrong.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 18, 2017

          Yes, my teacher Bruce Metzger used to describe the four-source hypothesis as “the least problematic solution.”

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  December 17, 2017

        Isn’t source criticism a specialized area of textual history? Wouldn’t various source theories be to the correct explanation as all history is to the past, the past being what really happened and history what we can say about the past based on the evidence we’re left with? So yes, all theories are most likely wrong, but some are more wronger than others.

  11. Avatar
    john76  December 15, 2017

    The two genealogies of Jesus seem to be a clue. It seems unlikely that Matthew and Luke would have (just by chance) BOTH included genealogies independently, since there is none in Mark. It also seems unlikely that there would have been a primitive base genealogy in Q that Luke and Matthew then elaborated on, since Luke and Matthew’s genealogies seem too different to be preserving a common core from Q. I think Luke edited and revised Matthew’s genealogy.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 17, 2017

      I think the standard argument is that different Christians had serious reasons for wanting to know Jesus’ genealogy (e.g., to show he really was descended from David), and so independently came up with one.

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  December 17, 2017

        But if Matt’s copy of Luke had no genealogy, he could have made one up (or copied from another source) and a later editor of Luke then made up or copied a different genealogy. Right? They seem very clearly to serve different purposes, which I’m sure I’ve read on your blog.

      • Avatar
        anthonygale  December 17, 2017

        Matthew and Luke address a lot of the same issues: birth narrative, genealogies, what happened after the resurrection, and the death of Judas (if you include Acts). I realize these are all things people thought about, and would have thought of independently, but because they address so many of the same things I think it raises the question: did one know the other and make it a point to tell a different version of each story. I am aware of the objection that the editorial process would have been cumbersome. But would it really be that hard to a dedicated person with time on there hands? I saw a guy once who could recite Mark from memory! If you are familiar with both gospels, how hard would it be to know that one story is double tradition and the other single (something I imagine many people today are fully capable of doing)? Then follow Mark and use/change Matthew/Luke as you see fit? If there were no desks or tables, then sit on the floor! I’m not saying it is likely, but surely it was possible. I don’t mean possible as in it’s possible I will win the lottery. I mean possible as in the Dolphins might beat the Patriots.

        I’m no Biblical scholar, but from what I understand the strongest argument against Luke and Matthew writing independently is “the most significant agreements against Mark.” These aren’t markedly similar stories not found in Mark (which by definition is the hypothetical Q material), but significant verbatim (or near verbatim) agreement against Mark regarding stories that Mark also tells. How do you explain that? By saying Q overlaps, which has been sarcastically called the “blessed overlap”? And assuming that in these instances both Matthew and Luke chose to follow Q rather than be loyal to Mark? By doing that, you make more and more assumptions about Q. That makes Q start to seem less like something of substance that fills a hole and more of a patch to cover up the hole that is still there. Kind of like the epicycles upon epicycles Ptolemy added to his model of the solar system. The one that seemed to make sense, pass multiple tests, and even make predictions. Yet was wrong!

        I’m not saying I think the four source hypothesis is necessarily wrong. Just that it has enough problems that perhaps it is wrong to, like the “solutions” with even more problems probably are. Perhaps what the synoptic problem needs is for a Copernican model to come along!

  12. Avatar
    Gary  December 15, 2017

    If Matthew had access to Luke’s Resurrection story, I find it odd that he would not mention the appearance of Jesus to the Eleven in the Upper Room in Jerusalem on the same day as the Resurrection (mentioning only that Jesus appeared to a couple of women in the Garden), nor include Luke’s Ascension story. I find it very hard to believe that Matthew, the Whopper Teller, the author who invented earthquakes and dead people shaken out of their graves, would pass up embellishing the Ascension account.

    • Avatar
      Evan  December 19, 2017

      Gary, as I read Matthew and imagine his used of Mark and Luke, it appears that he consistently favors Mark as the superior source, while he regards Luke as important but secondary. Matthew clearly has a radically different theology, and he writes in essence to correct Luke’s universalism and to reestablish the Jesus story as a fulfillment of Judaism. Mark’s gospel twice predicts explicitly that the first resurrection appearance of Jesus to the disciples will be in Galilee (14:28, 16:7) and Matthew faithfully follows Mark in reproducing those two predictions. This leaves him unable and/or unwilling to follow Luke’s account, as Luke quite simply contradicts Mark. Given Matthew’s general preference for Mark, there is no difficulty here in my view.

  13. Avatar
    dougckatyBE  December 15, 2017

    Thanks to all who participated in this gentle and scholarly debate. If it didn’t increase the confidence we can have in any one ‘theory’ being worthy of our total allegiance (as if that were important), it did help me understand some of the difficulties encountered by those who chase these kinds of topics into the ‘weeds’ of conjecture, assumptions and, in Garrow’s case, the fog of statistical analysis.

    An image came to mind, as I was reading through the threads, of civil war ‘aficionados’ (what a weird collection of words) arguing over whether the rebels (sorry, Southern Patriots) had 200 men and 3 cannon or 180 men and 4 cannon on a certain hill at some point in a certain battle. Whatever they conclude won’t really explain, and certainly won’t change the outcome of the whole campaign or the whole civil war.

    I guess that’s why Powell’s statement today (15 Dec) jumped out at me – “the issue of whether Q existed as a lost sayings gospel, are vitally important questions to anyone who studies the historical Jesus and the evolution of first century Christianity”, for the purpose of “know(ing) which gospel traditions were early, perhaps originating with Jesus, and which were later ideas incorporated into the movement’s ideology over time.”

    In spite of many years of dealing with questions like this, I’ll have to admit that I haven’t moved very far from, or perhaps have come back full circle to a statement contained in one of the first texts I studied, that of Albert Schweitzer in “The Quest of the Historical Jesus”: – “He comes to us as One unknown…”.

  14. Robert
    Robert  December 15, 2017

    A very nice and generous idea, Evan! Do you now agree with Alan’s evaluation of “Q” or would you rather do awy with this hypothesis but keep Matthean dependence upon Luke?

    • Avatar
      Evan  December 19, 2017

      There is no reason to doubt that there were numerous oral and written traditions in circulation that were available to Matthew and Luke. As examples, The House Built on Rock and Treasures in Heaven are two pericopae that exist in poetic parallel form in Matthew, while they are rendered in free-form prose in Luke. It is likely that the parallelisms in Matthew were an earlier form in oral transmission and Luke rewrote them in his own style. Matthew knew Luke’s version, but also knew the oral tradition, and elected to reproduce the oral version, perhaps due to its earlier and more authentic form.

  15. Avatar
    ardeare  December 15, 2017

    I present for you a final and definitive theory of the “Synoptic Problem.” Mark used oral sources for his gospel. Matthew used Mark, Q, Unique sources (M), and Prayer, which served as a “revelatory source.” Luke used Mark, Q, Unique sources (L) and Prayer, which served as a “revelatory source.” Of course, I will stand accused of injecting a theological argument and abandoning historical norms. I would sternly reject this and suggest “revelatory source” could be substituted with “Psychological source” or “Philosophical source” to satisfy those concerns. Thus, the 5-source hypothesis remains intact. So let it be written, so let it be done.

  16. Avatar
    Goodacre  December 16, 2017

    Many thanks, Evan, for your elegant comments and your gracious tone. If I may, I will have one last try at pointing out what I see as Garrow’s flaw.

    On my comment, you write, “However, in my view, what he came up with was not what I would consider a flaw – it was simply, in effect, the observation that under Garrow’s hypothesis, Matthew adopts a range of different strategies in his treatment of Luke and Mark.”

    So let’s review. Alan’s case is based on the idea that high verbatim agreement is found when Matthew is copying from Luke alone, without distraction. He argues that low verbatim agreement is found when Matthew is copying from Luke with distraction, i.e. when he is copying from Luke & the Didache. Do you agree that this is Alan’s case? If we can’t agree that this is what Alan is arguing, that may be the problem. But I see this as clear, explicit and foundational in Alan’s articles and videos.

    So the question is: does the data back up Alan’s claim? Is it true that on his model, high verbatim agreement is found where Matthew is copying Luke alone, but low verbatim is found when Matthew is distracted by another source? It is not true. On Alan’s model, Matthew produces high verbatim where he is copying Luke & Mark, i.e. where he is “distracted” by Luke’s source.

    Do you disagree with my characterization of Alan’s case? If so, could you explain how the characterization is incorrect? Or do you disagree that Matthew produces high verbatim agreement (on Alan’s model), when he is copying Luke with distraction from Mark?

    • Avatar
      Evan  December 20, 2017

      Mark, I don’t think we interpret Alan’s case in the same way, so perhaps we are talking past one another. It oversimplifies the argument to say that when Matthew draws from Luke without distraction it necessarily results in high verbatim agreement, and when there is a source other than Luke there is low agreement. The textual evidence would not support such a conclusion, nor does Garrow argue that it does.

      Alan’s case is indeed that the high agreement passages are created by Matthew directly copying from Luke without distraction – but certainly Matthew may have known other versions of the same episodes and chosen not to be distracted by them, possibly because those alternate resources didn’t have anything significant to add so there was no reason to conflate them.

      Alan does suggest that low verbatim agreement may be created by Matthew’s attempt to conflate Luke with another related source. To illustrate how this could work he uses the example of Matthew 5.38-48 // Luke 6. 27-36 – and notes that Matthew’s deviations from Luke marry up with the parallels between Matthew 5.38-48 and Did. 1.3-5a. He certainly does not claim that all low agreement passages were created by Matthew conflating Luke and the Didache.

      Perhaps it would be helpful to focus on the numerous passages in Matthew that are direct conflations of elements found in Mark and Luke, usually skillfully interleaved. An obvious example is Beelzebul, Matt 12:22-30, which consists of interleaved elements drawn from Mark 3:22-27 and Luke 11:14-23. In this Matthean composition there are obvious strings of high agreement with both Mark and Luke, with relatively little text that does not come from either Mark or Luke. Clearly Matthew is drawing from Luke while being “distracted” by Mark if we want to use that term, but verbatim agreement remains high with respect to the key words and phrases that Matthew extracts from each source.

      The larger issue is that Beelzebul is not an isolated phenomenon. There are numerous passages in Matthew that are direct conflations of elements in Mark and Luke. Other examples would be:

      Matt 9:14-17 = Mark 2:18-22 + Luke 5:33-38

      Matt 9:35-10:4 = Mark 6:6, 6:34, 3:14-19 + Luke 8:1, 10:2, 9:1, 16:13-16

      Matt 12:31-32 = Mark 3:28-29 + Luke 12:10

      Matt 19:23-30 = Mark 10:23-31 + Luke 18:24-29a, 22:29-30, 18:29b-30

      Matt 24:23-28 = Mark 13:21-23 + Luke 17:23-24, 17:37

      In each case Matthew’s passage has low overall agreement with anything that exists in either Mark or Luke, but sufficiently high agreement with keywords and phrases in each to infer that Matthew was indeed extracting elements from both sources to create an improved version.

      The striking thing is that this phenomenon is exclusive to Matthew. Correct me if I am wrong, but I am not aware of any passage in Luke that consists of elements the author would have drawn from Mark and Matthew. Nor are there any passages in Mark that are combinations of elements taken from Matthew and Luke. How it is that this phenomenon exists only in Matthew?

      This pattern is easy to explain when we imagine Matthew assembling his text by conflating Mark and Luke. It is extremely difficult to explain under any other hypothesis. For example, if Luke were using Mark and Matthew, we would need to imagine that Luke carefully compared Matthew’s compositions with Mark and methodically reproduced only those elements in Matthew that did not exist in Mark. Such editorial behavior seems impossible to imagine.

      In general I think we need to resist mechanistic assumptions concerning Matthew’s treatment of his sources. Sometimes Matthew obviously copies verbatim from one source; sometimes he conflates and interleaves two sources; sometimes he simply compresses a source for verbal efficiency (e.g., Matt 19:29 is a compression of Mark 10:29-30. Matt 11:2-6 and 24:37-39 are compressions of Luke’s verbose 7:18-23 and 17:26-30 respectively); sometimes Matthew actively corrects a source – e.g., Matt 3:7-9 looks like a very understandable correction of Luke 3:7-8. So Matthew can be seen to rework his sources in different ways for different reasons, resulting in widely varying degrees of verbatim agreement whether he is working with one or more sources in any given passage.

      Overall, the theory that Matthew conflated Mark and Luke resolves all of this quite successfully, whereas this phenomenon remains unexplained in competing hypotheses.

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    dragonfly  December 16, 2017

    Wow, them weeds is tangled! I’ve re-read Goodacre’s criticism and re-watched Garrow’s videos, and it’s still a bit too technical for me. Here’s what I could gather.
    Garrow’s thesis relies, in part, on comparing the various levels of verbatim agreement between the texts. Goodacre seems to be claiming that’s not a good way to do it. I don’t have a good enough knowledge of the texts. My guess would be that Matthew and Luke each had their reasons for writing, and the level of verbatim agreement with another source would be more due to how well that source fit the author’s reasons.
    If anyone can tell me if I’m on the right track, or completely derailed, I’d appreciate it.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 17, 2017

      See Mark Goodacre’s comment on the post (which I just posted as a comment)

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    nwoll  December 16, 2017

    Don’t the different birth narratives pretty much kill this argument? How would Garrow or Evan explain the obvious fact that Matthew hadn’t read Luke 2?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 17, 2017

      The idea is that he used Luke for *some* of his stories, but for others of them he had a source he preferred.

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    DavidBeaman  December 16, 2017

    Being a theologian who believes that theology must take scholarly findings into serious consideration, I have found these posts interesting. As often happens, they represent a difference in opinion between highly qualified scholars. When highly qualified scholars disagree on issues, theologians like me, who are open-minded and value scholarly findings, must fall back on our own knowledge and on our gut feelings to choose between views, picking the one that seems most reasonable to us. My two favorite scholars are Bart and James Tabor. In general, they agree; however, on some issues they have very different opinions. In addition, it seems to me that Bart lies somewhere between an agnostic and an atheist, depending on how he feels on any given day and in regard to any given matter. James is a man who was once a conservative Christian and is now a person of Abrahamic faith. Along with Ross Nichols, they are President and Vice President of the United Israel World Union. Their Abrahamic faith is neither Judaism, nor Christianity. Having left Christianity, I have chosen to join with them in the Abrahamic faith. So, I’m sure that my opinions and choices are based, at least in part, on that. However, before I chose the Abrahamic faith, I did read James’ books on the Jesus Dynasty and on the Talpiot Tomb. The opinions expressed in both of these seem reasonable to me. I also read his little book on the Abrahamic faith, which I think sums up that faith nicely. As for Bart, I have great respect for his work, much of which is agreed to by James. Bart’s work was instrumental in my leaving Christianity. I do, however, think James has more archaeological, hands on experience than Bart and I think has spent more time in Israel than Bart. Perhaps that is why his views on Jesus, that disagree with Bart’s, seem more reasonable to me than do Bart’s. Bart’s views seem to me to be based more on his interpretation of what he reads in the Gospels, when other scholars, such as James, may interpret them differently, not only based on the reading, but on additional experience as well.

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    AGarrow  December 16, 2017

    Hi Bart, I would like to join Evan in offering sincere thanks for enabling a wider audience to access some of the fresh ideas currently circulating about the Synoptic Problem. Many thanks again.

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