My SBL paper in Baltimore

As SBL Baltimore quickly approaches, many people will have received the program book and are considering which sessions they want to attend.  I am giving a paper with James Crossley at the non-Mark related Q session:  “Q” is a topic people love or hate (or love to hate) and at least James is a famous scholar :) The paper is part of a review panel on Dennis MacDonald’s Two Shipwrecked Gospels: the Logoi of Jesus and Papias’s Exposition of Logia about the Lord (SBL: Atlanta, 2012), so if you are interested more in this innovative book and some scholarly responses you may want to come.  For the session and my abstract:


9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: Peale B – Hilton BaltimoreTheme: Traces of Q in Early Christianity: The Q+/Papias Hypothesis by Dennis R. MacDonald, “Two Shipwrecked Gospels” (Atlanta: SBL, 2012)

Alan Kirk, James Madison University, Presiding (5 min)
Dennis R. MacDonald, Claremont School of Theology
The Q+/Papias Hypothesis and the Distribution of the Lost Gospel (30 min)
Michael Kok, University of Sheffield and James Crossley, University of Sheffield
Papias and Matthew’s Logia: A Reference to Canonical Matthew, Q, or Another Lost Writing? (20 min)
Discussion (10 min)
Break (5 min)
Ekaputra Tupamahu, Vanderbilt University
Q and a Possible Meaning of Matt 7:6 (20 min)
Christoph Heil, Karl-Franzens Universität Graz
Q, Papias, and Luke: A Critical Review of Dennis MacDonald’s “Q+/Papias Hypothesis” (20 min)
Break (5 min)
Giovanni B. Bazzana, Harvard University
How a Gospel Shipwrecked into a Shipwreck? Q and the Pseudo-Clementine Grundschrift (20 min)
Discussion (15 min)

Abstract:  Although the remarks of Papias (cf. Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.39.16) that the evangelist Matthew compiled the logia in the Hebrew dialect has been traditionally understood as a reference to the “Gospel According to Matthew,” an identification that continues to be supported by some scholarship (Kürzinger 1983; Gundry 2005; Bauckham 2006; Watson 2013), the interpretation that Papias was referring to a sayings source is as old as Schleiermacher (1832) and many scholars equate the logia with Q (Manson 1962; Black 1989; Casey 2010). In his recent book “Two Shipwrecked Gospels: The ‘Logoi of Jesus’ and Papias’s ‘Exposition of Logia about the Lord’” (2012), Dennis MacDonald plausibly makes the case that the primary referent is to canonical Matthew, though he adds that Papias’s comment that “each translated them as he was able” implies that there was more than one edition of “Matthew” in circulation. MacDonald denies that there ever was a Semitic version of Matthew and argues that the appeal to translation errors was an effort to explain the similarities and differences between canonical Matthew and the sayings source Q with which he was familiar. On the contrary, this paper will argue for an Aramaic substratum behind some of the material in the Synoptic double tradition which may account for Papias’s confusion that canonical Matthew was originally written in the Hebrew (i.e., Aramaic) language.

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6 Responses to My SBL paper in Baltimore

  1. It’s sad that in so far as puzzles go, the Synoptic Puzzle doesn’t even seem to have gotten to the point where people agree which are the corner pieces and edge pieces, let alone how all the inner puzzle pieces fit together. Markan Priority seems pretty widely admitted, but that’s about it, and even that is rejected by some. As for the endless numbers of alleged “oral traditions,” and “lost pre-Gospel writings,” what can one say? I suspect that most oral traditions probably grew with the advent of each new Gospel and whatever questions it left untouched, and hence such oral tales need only go back to whatever questions were left unanswered or not explicated enough in a previous Gospel.

    So I suspect the Gospel order or composition was Mark Matthew Luke John. Certainly the first three grow in length in that order (while the fourth Gospel only grows shorter because it lacks a birth narrative, parables, and exorcism tales) , Also, internally one can see Matthew’s obvious use of Mark mores often than Luke does, and one can also see insertions of material into the Markan narrative. So Matthew is plainly next after Mark while Luke is longer than Matthew, adding a second miraculous birth tale, that of the Baptist, even having people in his birth narrative sing songs, it’s a musical! Obviously that is more involved than what’s found in Matthew, as are Luke’s post-resurrection tales as well, adding a bodily ascension story and other alleged sightings. And Luke adds the longest most magnificent parables. Neither does Luke simply insert lines and paragraphs into Mark like Matthew did, but Luke blends things into Markan story segments unlike Matthew who simply inserts stuff here and there in a cruder fashion. Luke’s Gospel is obviously a third generation production.

    Then lastly comes John in which a lot of new material is seen for the first time, new miracles, etc. Moreover, one can see how John reworks material in Mark and Luke, from his re-positioning of the “table- turning episode in the Temple” from the end of the other Gospels to the beginning of his; to his moving of the Lukan “miraculous catch” story at the beginning of Luke to a post-resurrection scene added at the end of John. John also combines information from previous Gospels to construct his tale about Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with a particular type of perfume then wiping them with her hair, and gives the Lazarus character in Luke’s parable two sisters whom Luke mentions, but not as having had a brother named Lazarus. See here: So John is plainly re-employing material found in earlier Gospels.

    You can also see how the burial tale grew over time from Mark to Matt, Lk, John: “Here’s the problem. When you look at Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, the story of the burial of Jesus, knowing that Mark is the basis for Matthew and Luke and that possibly (this is debated in scholarship) they may be the source for John, you watch the body’s burial get steadily better. It’s a hasty hurried burial in Mark. By the time Matthew and Luke read Mark and develop the story it’s a burial in a tomb in which nobody else has been laid and they’re explaining to you why Joseph of Arimathea was able to be a counsellor for Jesus but not against him on Thursday night as it were. The story is developing, and by the time you get to John’s account the burial of Jesus is — I wouldn’t even say royal — it’s transcendental, there’s so many spices used they would have filled almost the entire tomb, it’s a magnificent burial, it’s the burial of the son of God when you get to John. What happens is that as a historian when I retroject that trajectory of a burial that keeps getting better and better, and ask what was there in the beginning, it doesn’t look very good. It looks like all they might have had in the beginning was a hope that maybe some pious non-Christian, a Jew, out of respect for the Jewish law of Deuteronomy, would have buried Jesus’ body (instead of letting the Romans do what they usually did with the people they crucified, which was to toss the bodies in a common grave). But if a Jew asked Pilate for the body and gave it a burial that immediately raises the issue that the writers of the Gospels also must have seen, namely wouldn’t Joseph also have buried the two robbers, presumably fellow Jews, who were with Jesus? And wouldn’t there at least be three in the tomb? Would it be a public tomb for criminals? Then how would we know which was Jesus’ body? And so you can see the Gospel writers, I think, grappling with the difficulties of trying to have Jesus rescued from a common grave — a story whose original I don’t think is historical and which grew in the telling over time. I think it is their fervent hope, their best hope, that somebody took care of the body of Jesus.” — John Dominic Crossan as heard on “Jesus and Crucifixion, a Historical View,” Fresh Air from WHYY, Mar. 20, 2008 (with some edits by ETB)

    The number of alleged words spoken by the post-resurrection Jesus grows from Mark to Matthew Luke and John:

    Stories about Jesus commanding the dead to rise grow more impressive and more integral to the story over time from Mark to Mathew to Luke and John:

    The number of lepers cleansed is one in Mark and Matthew, but Luke is the first to add a tale about Jesus cleansing 10 lepers.

    Additional Gospel Trajectories listed here:

    Judas trajectory:

    I would add The Parable Trajectory, parables grow in number, length, complexity and finer exposition from Mark to Matthew to Luke, then John goes one further and has Jesus speaking solely about himself instead of in parables, without a single parable needed.

    So I would bet that the most likely order of Gospel composition was Mark Matthew Luke John. AND ONE CAN SEE RIGHT BEFORE ONE’S EYES VARIOUS TALL TALES GROWING OVER TIME, from Mark to Matthew Luke and John.

    • Mike K. says:

      Thanks Ed, I generally agree that Mark is the first followed by Matthew and then Luke (I am not sure which comes first – Luke or John – as a growing minority of scholars are dating Luke-Acts in the early 2nd century). I am strongly convinced by Markan priority, but I am not sure what to do with that shared non-Markan double tradition in Matthew/Luke (is that a single Greek source as per most Q scholars, is that a plurality of oral and written source material, or is that Luke copying Matthew?). I am only putting an idea out there to be submitted to the critical review of my peers about whether Papias’s reference to Matthew’s logia in the Hebrew language is a mistake based on both having a copy of Matthew as well as some possible Aramaic sources that may have been used by Matthew in front of him. I could be wrong though, in which case I would simply suspect that Papias wrongly assumed that our Greek NT Matthew had a Hebrew original because it is the Gospel that stresses the most continuity with the Jewish heritage.

  2. […] The Logoi of Jesus and Papias’s Exposition of Logia about the Lord that I am reviewing at SBL.  Last, Michael Bird has the following SBL abstract below (cf. his blog post).  Take a look and […]

  3. […] paper per student rule has prevented me from taking part (the paper I had already got accepted is here, just to show readers that I am not solely preoccupied with a single ancient text).  I will no […]

  4. […] to go back to oral tradition (e.g., James Dunn) or Aramaic sources (e.g., Maurice Casey, cf. my SBL abstract) in addition to a Greek source.  Yet most Q scholars fire back that 1. ancient writers could be […]

  5. […] up of written & oral traditions (Dunn, Horsley) or Greek & Aramaic sources (Casey; cf. my SBL proposal).  Now most Two Source theorists probably allow that reality was probably more complex than Mark […]

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