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And Then There Was Q

After my post yesterday about the “priority of Mark” (the view almost universally held among scholars that Mark was the first Gospel written and that Matthew and Luke used it for many of their own stories) I received a number of queries from readers about the “Q” source.   So I better address that as well.

Matthew and Luke obviously share a number of stories with Mark, but they also share with each other a number of passages not found in Mark.  Most of these passages (all but two of them) involve sayings of Jesus — for example, the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer.  Since they didn’t get these passages from Mark, where did they get them?   Since the 19th century scholars have argued that Matthew did not get them from Luke or Luke from Matthew (for reasons I’ll suggest below); that probably means they got them from some other source, a document that no longer survives.

This came to be known as the “Sayings Source.”  The scholars who developed this view were principally German, and the word in German for “source” is “Quelle.”  And so, for short, scholars call this hypothetical lost document Q.

Some scholars have called into question this hypothetical document Q — especially my friend and colleague at Duke, Mark Goodacre, who is on the blog.  But its existence is still held by the great majority of scholars as the most likely explanation for the accounts, mainly sayings,  of Matthew and Luke not in Mark (as you might imagine, there are numerous other ways to explain these agreements: maybe Mark was first, then Matthew copied Mark, and then Luke copied both Matthew and Mark; or maybe Matthew was first and then Mark condensed Matthew and then Luke copied Matthew; maybe … you could go on for a very long time).

The scholars who work deeply in this area get WAY down into the weeds, and I’m not going to go there.   Instead I’ll explain simply why most scholars don’t think either Matthew or Luke was copying the other and discuss a few more interesting features of the lost Q source.  Here is what I say about it in my discussion of the Synoptic Problem in my textbook on the New Testament:


Once Mark is established as prior to Matthew and Luke, the Q hypothesis naturally suggests itself.  Matthew and Luke have stories not found in Mark, and in these stories they sometimes agree word for word.  Whence do these stories come?

It is unlikely that …

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Redaction Criticism of the Gospels
Arguments for Markan Priority (that Mark was the first Gospel written)



  1. nbraith1975  November 29, 2017

    Bart – So what was Mark’s source for his gospel?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 29, 2017

      We don’t know if he had written texts, but certainly oral traditions — maybe *only* oral traditions.

      • godspell  November 29, 2017

        Is it possible that Q–whatever it was–was written about the same time as Mark’s gospel, not yet very widely copied and distributed, and this is why Mark didn’t have it? I always had this idea of it being this older document, a pre-gospel, but Mark was very eager to know all he could about Jesus, and it’s hard to believe he wouldn’t have tried to lay his hands on anything he could find.

        Also, is there any opinion on what language Q would have been written in? I’m going to assume there are, so I’m asking what opinions exist.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 1, 2017

          Yup, that’s possible. Q must have been in Greek, given the verbatim agreements, in Greek, between Matthw and Luke in Q material.

          • godspell  December 1, 2017

            And if it was in Greek, Mark could have read it. Which furthers the notion that, for whatever reason, he couldn’t lay his hands upon a copy. So roughly contemporaneous. Certainly written long after Paul’s epistles, which Mark does seem to know about.

            And Mark not being able to access Q is yet another argument for his priority. A problem for any biographer. If you write the first one, there will be resources denied to you that later biographers will be able to employ.

            What about the Gospel of the Hebrews? We going to get to that soon?

          • Bart
            Bart  December 4, 2017

            I don’t think he knew about it, so I wouldn’t say that he couldn’t find a copy.

    • Lev
      Lev  November 29, 2017

      Hey N Braith,

      Eusebius has an extract from Papias (c100) that preserved a tradition received from John that Mark’s source was Peter:

      “regarding Mark who wrote the Gospel, which he [Papias] has given in the following words: ‘And the presbyter [John] said this. Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements.'”

      (See chapter VI: http://earlychristianwritings.com/text/papias.html)

      • Wilusa  December 1, 2017

        But as I understand it, no scholars today believe the Gospel was written by Mark (a real person who had access to Peter). Written anonymously, it was later attributed to Mark as a way of associating it with Peter.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 4, 2017

          Conservative evangelical scholars continue to think so.

        • Lev
          Lev  December 5, 2017

          You are right, Wilusa – Mark’s gospel was published anonymously, and there were ancient figures who tried to associate it directly with Peter (Justin Martyr does so), but most Church fathers and authorities claim it was written by Mark, someone who didn’t follow Jesus and was a fringe figure in the New Testament.

          If the early Church wanted to associate an anonymous gospel with Peter, why did they not claim Peter wrote it like Justin Martyr did? Ancient Christians had no hesitation in inventing Gospels, Acts, Apocalypses and epistles in Peters name, so why did they select a relatively insignificant figure like Mark as the author?

          The most likely answer is that Mark was the true author, and despite the attempts of Justin Martyr (and maybe others?) to ascribe it to Peter, the name of true author was preserved.

      • Scott  December 6, 2017

        Are you suggesting that the document described by presbyter – which Papius is trying to associate with the Gospel –
        was actually Q?

        • Lev
          Lev  December 8, 2017

          Hi Scott,

          My comment above was about Mark’s gospel, but Papias later describes Matthew’s gospel origins, which I think does describe Q.

          Papias states that John told him: “Therefore Matthew put the ‘logia’ (sayings) in an ordered arrangement in the Hebrew language, but each person interpreted them as best he could.”

          John, therefore, claims that Matthew composed a sayings gospel in Aramaic. Some scholars think that Q was originally composed in Aramaic, before being translated to Greek. The Greek version was then used as a source for Matthew and Luke.

          Matthew was a tax collector, and one of the only disciples of Jesus we know could read and write. As an eyewitness of Jesus and a former tax collector, he would have had the necessary experience and literacy skills to compose an ordered account of the sayings and parables of Jesus.

  2. JoshuaJ  November 29, 2017

    Fascinating! Are there any instances of verbatim agreement between Q and the Gospel of Thomas? Also, what is the likelihood that the special M and L materials were not actually sources used by Mt and Lk, but were simply the literary creations of the authors of Mt and Lk themselves?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 1, 2017

      No, Q and Thomas have overlaps but not extensive verbatim agreements. Yes, in theory all the M and L materials could have been the evangelists’ creations, but there would be no compelling evidence to think so (we *do* have evidence they used sources, on the other hand).

      • Lev
        Lev  December 1, 2017

        “we *do* have evidence they used sources, on the other hand”

        Ohh – that’s interesting – would those be written or oral sources?

        I always assumed they were oral traditions passed down.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 4, 2017

          We do know they used written sources, so there’s no reason to think they didn’t use more than just the two we know. Luke says he knows of “many”

  3. Tony  November 29, 2017

    I continue to be amazed that, given a choice between two models – the first being a straightforward simple one and the second a speculative convoluted creation – NT scholarship will inevitably pick the latter.

    Obviously, “the great majority” of scholars do not like the implications of dumping Q. It solves the synoptic problem nicely, but creates the stark realization that Matthew and Luke may not be independent attestations of Jesus of Nazareth! Add to that the growing realization the John has a Luke dependency and we have scholarship in denial.

    So, here is what happened. Mark is the first and base document and likely dates from the 70’s. The second one is Matthew who uses Mark, expands on it, makes Jesus the new Moses and creates new verses, identified as Q – about 1900 years later. Some decades after Matthew we have Luke, now having Mark and Matthew in front of him. He copies from both and those verses he copies from Matthew will be identified as Q…..

  4. mannix  November 29, 2017

    If Q is/was a written document, and both “Matthew” and Luke” used it, would that imply Matthew and Luke lived fairly close to one another? I envisage two students writing papers and using the same reference book in the same library. If that were true, I would think the two would either know each other or have at least heard of one another since they shared the same interest and wrote their gospels roughly contemporaneously . Are there any theories about Matthew and Luke being “neighbors”? If so, then their corresponding “M” and “L” sources may also have been local. Maybe they were classmates!!

    • Bart
      Bart  December 1, 2017

      No, it could have circulated easily — a traveler to Rome from Antioch or Alexandria could have taken a copy, for example.

  5. BartyD4all  November 29, 2017

    So then, Paul’s letters were based on oral traditions?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 1, 2017

      No, his letters are not filled with narratives and sayings of Jesus. His letters are specific original compositions addressing problems that had arisen in his churches.

  6. Boltonian  November 29, 2017

    I think, Bart, that Geza Vermes towards the end of his life came to doubt the existence of Q. Is that your reading as well and, if so, did you discuss it over lunch when he visited your university?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 1, 2017

      No, we didn’t. And I didn’t know that!

      • Boltonian  December 1, 2017

        Ignore my comment. I have gone back through all the books I have of his and I can find find two references to Q, one of which alludes to the, ‘Supposed pre-existing hypothetical source, Q,’ in one of his later works. Perhaps I inferred from this wording that he wasn’t convinced of its existence. I’ll keep looking and if I find anything more substantive I will post the reference.

  7. Judith  November 29, 2017

    “…you’ll come to know so much…” is true! A blogger said he is learning more on your blog than he did in seminary.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 1, 2017


    • Stylites  December 1, 2017

      I learned a lot in a very good seminary. I have learned a lot here, and it has enriched tremendously what I had previously learned.

  8. gwayersdds  November 29, 2017

    What are some of the primary arguments disputing the existence of Q? (Without getting too deep into the weeds!)

    • Bart
      Bart  December 1, 2017

      Ah, that is indeed a bit weedy. But one big one is that there are places where all three Synoptics have a story — so Matthew and Luke took it from Mark — but Matthew and Luke have verbatim agreements with each other *against* Mark. These are never extensive, and so they are known as the “minor agreements,” and they would, naturally, suggest that one of the two got the story not (just) from Mark but from the other.

    • Rthompsonmdog  December 1, 2017

      Mark Goodacre is a New Testament scholar who believes Luke used Mark and Matthew as sources. Here is an episode of his NT Pod podcast where he makes the case against Q.


  9. anthonygale  November 29, 2017

    Is there reason to believe Q is likely to be one document? Who’s to say Matthew and Luke didn’t have access to several of the same documents? It doesnt seem that hard to believe that oral traditional can account for at least some of the material either.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 1, 2017

      Yup, it’s possible. But there’s no hard evidence for that, so most scholars don’t go that route.

  10. talmoore
    talmoore  November 29, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, I’ve come to change my view of Q. At first I thought it might have predated Mark — possibly as early as within 10 years of Jesus’ death — but I have since arrived at the conclusion that Q was an interdependent source (or document) that developed outside of the Jewish Christian community of Jerusalem, well after Jesus’ death. I think, at this point, that the first version of Mark (similar, but not exactly like our current version of Mark) was probably written in the late 40s/early 50s, which appears to be a time when the Christian apocalyptic apostles were starting to bump heads with the remaining apocaplytic apostles of John the Baptist (as hinted at in Acts 18:24-28, 19:1-7; which is supposedly several years after Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome, which must have occured after 41 CE). What it looks like to me happened was that Paul and the other Christian apostles needed to develop a rationale for why and how both John and Jesus were right, and by creating a narrative where Jesus starts his messiah-ship with John’s baptism they do just that. What we get from Mark is a product of that synergy. Mark was the first attempt to put down on paper the “gospel message” as it was proclaimed by a subset of Christian apostles right around the time that apostles like Paul and his companions were most active in the western Mediterranean.

    The Q source, on the other hand, is rife with that I call extra-apocalyptical concerns. That is, Q appears to be concerned with those very same Three Cs that I categorized the Parables into. To refresh your memory, the three Cs stand for commission, community and catastrophe. Commission parables are those that tell Christians to go out into the world, both Jewish and Gentile, and spread the “good news” (e.g. the parable of The Sower). The community parables are those in which Jesus is telling his followers how to play nice. That is, they are meant to provide a set of rules or ethical behavior for an established brotherhood (e.g. The Faithful Servant). Catastrophe parables are meant to show Jesus playing prophet by foreshadowing his own death and resurrection (e.g. The Evil Tenants). As I’ve mentioned previously, I have judged all of these parables as not coming from Jesus but from the early Christian community, mainly because they all, for the most part, presume and take for granted Jesus no longer being physically present to decide these matters. For that reason I think these parables are products of the next cohort of Christians, probably in the late 50s/early 60s.

    I would place the Q sources in the same timeframe. Why? Because Q appears to be concerned with many of the same topics and ideas that we find in the Three Cs parables. Q is loaded with quotes that concern commission, community and catastrophe. In Q, Jesus cannot be more clear about the apostolic duties of his followers (He said, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few; beg therefore the master of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.” “Go. Look, I send you out as lambs among wolves.”). In Q, Jesus is regularly prescribing proper community ethics and behavior (“Be merciful even as your Father is merciful. Don’t judge and you won’t be judged. For the standard you use to judge will be the standard used against you.”). Q doesn’t have many catastrophe quotes — probably because the gospel of Mark is already all but consumed by Jesus presaging his death and resurrection — but Q does have several allusions to it ( “A wicked generation looks for a sign, but no sign will be shown to it, except the sign of Jonah.”)

    Hence, this is why I think the “gospel” message evolved in the following order, with each layer added atop the previous, like a cake:
    0th, Fire and brimstone, paradise and inferno, Heavenly Host vs Demon Army…yada, yada, yada…
    1st, Jesus’ death and resurrection as a sign of imminent judgment, reward and punishment (Apocalypse layer)
    2nd, Jesus prophesying his own death and resurrection as evidence that he was/is the Messiah (Catastrophe layer, also Mark)
    3rd, Jesus proclaiming that his followers must go out into the world and spread the “good news” of the coming eschaton (Commission layer)
    4th, Jesus telling his followers how they should behave as they dig in for the long haul (Community layer)

  11. Rpkruger  November 29, 2017

    It’s been suggested that Luke’s “sermon on the plain,” specifically his bothering to mention that Jesus was standing on a plain or level place, shows that Luke was aware of and did not like the location of Mathew’s Sermon on the Mount, perhaps because it made Jesus look like a second Moses. That always made sense to me, but you evidently don’t agree.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 1, 2017

      I don’t know of any early Christian who disliked the comparison of Jesus to Moses, off hand (other than someone like Marcion, much later). And the bigger problem is that the material in the sermon on the mount is scattered throughout Luke: it’s not the same sermon in a different location.

  12. ardeare  November 29, 2017

    It’s pure conjecture, but have scholars considered that Paul may have written “Q” while acting as a scribe for Peter and James during his 15-day visit to Jerusalem?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 1, 2017

      No, I suspect that no one would buy the theory. For one thing, if Paul composed a lengthy collection of Jesus’ sayings, it would be very strange indeed that his letters are notable precisely for almost never citing Jesus’ sayings.

      • AnotherBart  December 6, 2017

        except for “the worker is worthy of his wages”…..

        • Bart
          Bart  December 8, 2017

          There are three quotations altogether in 1 Corinthians: 7:10; 9:14; and 11:22-24.

          • AnotherBart  December 8, 2017

            much appreciated.

  13. Jayredinger  November 30, 2017

    Bart, how would we know that any of the ancient manuscripts, like P54, were not part of the Q document, rather than attributed to the gospels?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 1, 2017

      P54 doesn’t contain any sayings of Jesus. And none of the manuscripts of the Gospels consists only of sayings of Jesus, one after the other.

  14. anthonygale  November 30, 2017

    Just a thought, even if only to play devil’s advocate, regarding the idea that Matthew and Luke were not independent: It might seem strange to suggest that Luke followed the order of the Mark/Matthew double tradition but not the Matthew material, but perhaps Luke would have been less inclined to break a double tradition than a single one, especially if perhaps he disagreed with Matthew or recognized Mark as being an older tradition. Is that really so implausible?

    Also, those who argue against Mark being written first seem to claim Matthew was first. Are there compelling reasons to suggest that the priority of Matthew is any more plausible that the priority of Luke? If one argues that condensing the Q material is a more likely edit than breaking it up and spreading it out, that would be one reason to favor Luke using Matthew over Matthew using Luke (still realizing the most scholar favor independent use of Mark and Q).

    • anthonygale  November 30, 2017

      …Oops. I meant reason to favor Matthew using Luke.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 1, 2017

      The problem I have with the view is that it would mean that he had the two Gospels on his lap (no one used desks back then) and one by one compared each and every story to see if it was in both or not (remember: some are in different locations in the Gospels) and then relocating it. Sounds unreasonably convoluted as an editorial procedure to me.

      • SidDhartha1953  December 1, 2017

        They must have used writing surfaces of some sort. Also, could they not have dictated to a scribe as they referred to their sources? Paul was using scribes more than 20 years earlier.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 4, 2017

          It seems strange, but they appear to have written on their laps. (Didn’t have dining room tables either! Go figure)

          • anthonygale  December 4, 2017

            How did John manage to use four or more sources then? If comparing two texts was hard enough, how about integrating several? Without desks or tables? Did they have books and parchment spread out all over the place? Did they sprawl out on the floor? Given the resources they lacked, which modern folks take for granted (a desk even), it’s surprising they didn’t make more errors and literary seams than they did. Or perhaps there were A LOT of re-dos even before the first edition came out.

          • Bart
            Bart  December 5, 2017

            Yes, I can see how that would seem confusing! But John’s way of using sources is very different from what the “no-Q” hypothesis would require of Luke. In John’s case, he simply had several books that he took stories from for different parts of his Gospel. In the no-Q hypothesis, what had to happen is that Luke had Matthew on his lap. And whenever he came across a story, he read through Mark’s Gospel to see if it was there as well. If not, then he changed it’s place in Mark’s Gospel. Then he went to the next story of Matthew and did the same. For the entire Gospel. The only alternative to that would be if he had memorized Mark’s Gospel completely and could do it all in his head. And as you might imagine, there is no evidence of that.

      • anthonygale  December 1, 2017

        Is there compelling reason to favor Matthew priority over Luke? I agree that Markan priority is solid. I am just curious as to why those who doubt Markan priority favor Matthew over Luke.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 4, 2017

          I”ve often wondered that too. I don’t know a single scholar offhand who argues for Lukan priority, but on the surface, I’m not sure why.

          • AnotherBart  December 6, 2017

            I think might know the answer: Here’s a start: “To the Jew First, then to the Gentile” Romans 1:16

        • AnotherBart  December 6, 2017

          To me, Matthew seems to be the most ‘primitive’. My understanding at the time is that it was originally written in Aramaic, for Jewish eyes. While the expansion of the gospel to the outside world of gentiles is certainly present in Matthew, it is couched in terms that I think would have been highly offensive to roman eyes. And, to me, it seems to be Pre-49 A.D. since it does not once contain the word ‘circumcision’ or any other form of the word.

  15. ddorner  November 30, 2017

    Does the existence of Q then imply that there were some followers of Jesus who revered his teachings but either didn’t believe in, or didn’t have a tradition of the resurrection? One would think there’d almost have to be, considering the preservation of Jesus’ more apocalyptic sayings.(?)

    • ddorner  November 30, 2017

      “Thus it is entirely possible, for example, that Q had a Passion narrative, and that neither Matthew nor Luke chose to use it, or that one of them chose not to do so (so that some of the verses of Matthew’s or Luke’s Passion narrative not found in Mark actually derive from Q). At the same time, it is equally possible that Q in fact was almost entirely sayings, without a Passion narrative (or nearly any other narrative). Regrettably, we will never know, unless, of course, archaeologists should serendipitously discover Q itself!.”

      Actually, having re-read your post more carefully it seems you’ve already answered my question. It appears there’s no way to know, given that it *could* have included the passion narrative.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 1, 2017

      Yes, this has been a major theme in scholarship: was the Q community one that htought the words of Jesus, not his passion, brought salvation to his followers? Hard to say! That is, though, the view apparently of the later Gospel of Thomas!

  16. Telling
    Telling  November 30, 2017

    I find this and your Mark posts interesting.

    You suggest there may have been a “Passion” story in Q. The Gospel of Thomas of course has no such passion story, and as has been noted, it doesn’t need one, such a story would make no sense in context with the first Thomas phrase that those who understand the (Thomas) sayings “will not taste death”, indicating the way to life is through wisdom-knowledge, not belief in the Crucifixion narrative.

    You’ve listed the Q sayings. Have you or some other scholar examined these sayings to see if they offer such a path to life as in Thomas?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 1, 2017

      Yes, that has been a major theme in scholarship since about the 1970s.

      • Telling
        Telling  December 1, 2017

        If there is a path to life absent the Crucifixion narrative then the central Church teaching is useless (which in my opinion it is anyway). Has this idea been looked at, by whom, and with what result?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 4, 2017

          Yes indeed — there were Christians in the early church who thought that the crucifixion was irrelevant to salvation — or even that it never actually happened!

          • Telling
            Telling  December 4, 2017

            Well, that’s interesting. Can you give some reference to where I can explore this idea of the Crucifixion being unimportant or not happening at all? Thanks.

          • Bart
            Bart  December 5, 2017

            Ah, I think I’ll post on that!

          • Telling
            Telling  December 5, 2017

            Great! Thanks.

  17. Hormiga  November 30, 2017

    Are there extra-biblical texts, perhaps in the patristic literature, that might contain hints of Q not directly derived from Matthew and/or Luke? E.g., coherent passages that might contain M or L Q sayings, but are more extensive? Or did Q just disappear after M&L?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 1, 2017

      No, nothing else that can reliably be assigned to Q, anywhere!

      • Lev
        Lev  December 1, 2017

        The German scholar, Andreas Lindemann, (http://www.kiho-wb.de/personal/andreas-lindemann/) wrote an essay included in the ‘New studies in the synoptic problem, Oxford conference April 2008: Essays in honour of Christopher M. Tuckett’ about Q in the Apostolic Fathers.

        He concludes (p.719) that “…in some of the texts [of the Apostolic fathers] we can find traces for the opinion that at the end of the first century and beginning of the second century CE Christian authors still had access to the Q source. Both of the two quotations of synoptic tradition in 1 Clement [13.2 and 46.8] seem to be identified as sayings from Q.” He goes on to say that Didache, Barnabas, Ignatius and Polycarp also show familiarity with Q.

        Are you familiar with this essay, and if so, what do you think of Lindemann’s analysis?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 4, 2017

          I’m not familiar with that particular essay, but I do know the argument — and I know the Apostolic Fathers exceedingly well (I translated them for the Loeb Classical Library). I don’t think there’s really any evidence of their knowledge of Q.

  18. dankoh  November 30, 2017

    Two questions, Dr. Ehrman –

    1. Are you saying or suggesting that Gos. Thom. is pre-Markan? Many scholars think so, but (as with everything else), there is disagreement.

    2. A number of scholars suggest that Matthew was partly or primarily aimed at Jewish Christians in an attempt to get them to sever their ties to Judaism completely. Do you agree?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 1, 2017

      1. No, I firmly think Gospel of Thomas was composed decades after Mark; 2. No, I see no evidence at all of that.

      • Eskil  December 6, 2017

        It would be great to read about your counter arguments against the pre-Markan school. The below interview of Stevan Davies is the top and has the most solid arguments what I have found so far.

        “…scholars sometimes seem to conclude that some fictions are more fictional than others and Thomas is in that category. From that line of thought some seem to conclude that the Gospel of Thomas should be dated later than canonical fictional material that is somehow regarded as less fictional. This is absurd.”


        • Bart
          Bart  December 8, 2017

          I’m afraid I disagree. There is *more* historical information in our earlier sources than in Thomas, which almost certainly post-dates the canonical Gospels.

          • Eskil  December 8, 2017

            Bart, I do love your thinking and reasoning. It is great to hear your arguments against the religious conservatits. In the same manner, it would be great to hear our reasoning against more liberal scientists. Below, are a couple of liberal claims. What is your position towards these?

            “The assumption that they, the first century Christians known to us, knew a great deal more than we do about the historical Jesus is not backed up by the evidence we have. They really didn’t even particularly care about the historical Jesus… but why didn’t they? They did care enough to presume that a single individual in the course of a rather short period of activity gave rise to their religion, and the meaning of their lives, and their hope for immortality, but why they didn’t care enough to try and sort out what that individual actually thought about anything?”

            “it doesn’t get better than that. Paul writing about his own life ca. 35 AD tells us that there were churches in Judea immediately after Jesus’ death, that they were doing something sufficiently illegal to be persecuted by him, a Pharisee, that those churches posed a threat to whatever authority Paul represented, and that later on Paul joined those churches having been informed, by spirit possession, that what he knew they were teaching (you don’t persecute if you don’t think you know what the subject of your persecution is up to) was right after all.”


          • Bart
            Bart  December 10, 2017

            I’m not sure what you’re asking me to react to.

  19. Tm3  November 30, 2017

    Do you think Jesus actually predicted his suffering and death or did the gospel writers pen the predictions as a means of explaining the crucifixion? Why was any additional suffering necessary for the Apostles if they simply believed the apocalyptic message of Jesus?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 1, 2017

      I don’t think the Gospel predictions are historical. As to additional suffering: different authors have different explanastions (they were imitating Jesus himself, e.g.)

  20. DavidNeale  November 30, 2017

    Interestingly, I was re-reading N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God while on the train today. So much of it feels irrelevant to the discussions on your blog, because it mostly seems to be a critique of older critical views such as Bultemann’s; Wright spends a large part of the book showing that early Christians, rooted in apocalyptic Judaism, believed in resurrection as a bodily and not spiritual event, something which I already knew from reading your writings. So I only re-read the part where he defends the historicity of the Gospel resurrection narratives, which is really the meat of the book. Even there, he spends quite a bit of space attacking views that hardly any critical scholars hold, like Crossan’s idea that the Gospel of Peter contains material pre-dating the canonical Gospels.

    But where Wright’s views are in opposition to yours he makes some really bad arguments; he places a lot of weight on the whole “no one would have invented women at the tomb because women weren’t regarded as reliable witnesses” trope, which you’ve since critiqued very powerfully. I think his argument suffers from a paucity of imagination and misses the literary power of the women-at-the-tomb motif, considering that a major theme of all of the Gospels is that Jesus’ true followers are the marginalized and downtrodden. He also seems to think that Luke’s emphasis on the real-body-ness of the resurrected Jesus (the broiled fish and so on) couldn’t have been invented to counter docetism in the early church because “if Luke had been writing in order to combat that sort of view, it is unthinkable that he would have included in the same chapter the Emmaus Road story, with its unrecognized and then disappearing Jesus, then the account of Jesus appearing suddenly in the upper room, and finally the ascension itself.” But that doesn’t make any sense to me either; surely the proto-orthodox wouldn’t have disagreed with the docetists that Jesus, both pre- and post-resurrection, had superhuman powers; so there seems nothing incongruous about juxtaposing Jesus’ humanity with his superhuman abilities in a work intended to counter docetists.

    (Sorry for rambling, and sorry if I’m making no sense / completely wrong.)

    • Bart
      Bart  December 1, 2017

      Yes, Tom Wright is a very learned and well-known scholar. And we disagree massively, on so many things!

    • dankoh  December 2, 2017

      Wright’s argument (and he makes several along these same lines) uses what I call the fallacy of the argument from incredulity – it is so incredible that human imagination could have come up with such an idea that it could have come from God. Jews and Muslims have made similar arguments:

      Jews: it is too incredible that Jews could have survived all these years on their own, so God must have helped them.
      Muslims: It is too incredible for an illiterate merchant’s factor to have written the beautiful poetry of the Qur’an, so God must have dictated it to him.

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