Last week I mentioned the publication of Alan Kirk's major new study on Q from the perspective of ancient media studies, Q in Matthew: Ancient Media, Memory, and Early Scribal Transmission of the Jesus Tradition. Today the Jesus Blog is very happy to bring readers a guest post from Prof Kirk offering an overview of this exciting new book.
Chris has offered me a guest blog spot to say a few things about the book, and I’m happy to take him up on the offer. Chris’s blurb actually does a very good job of summing up its essential objectives. I started to write the book (back in 2004!) as an analysis of how defective, binary conceptions of orality and writing have affected scholarly hypothesizing about Synoptic relations down the whole history of Synoptic Problem research to the present – with a concluding chapter featuring an example or two illustrating the potential of a media interface model for clearing up some of the source-critical difficulties.
But as it turned out, what was to be the “concluding chapter” took on a life of its own and morphed into a full-fledged analysis of the 2DH in the ancient media framework – more specifically the pesky problem (for the 2DH) of Matthew’s Q utilization. In the interim I had done work on the memory/tradition problem, and came to see that it was impossible to separate ancient media realities, memory, and compositional practices from each other – and hence from Synoptic source-critical questions. This altered the overall conception of the book, and ironically I ended up cutting out most of the material I’d worked up on media conceptions across the history of Synoptic scholarship.
How does memory come into the picture? As Chris hinted, I’ve always tended to see the primary importance of cultural and cognitive memory theory as lying in what it tells us about the origins and history of the Jesus tradition and the Gospel literature – in fact that it can become the basis for a new history of the tradition – and I’ve always found it lamentable that it has come to be connected in people’s minds primarily with historical Jesus research, or to be more specific, with claims and counter-claims about the historical reliability of the tradition.
It certainly has obvious applications in HJ research – but HJ historiographies that appeal to memory theory naturally must be grounded in a solid theoretical understanding of how the tradition mediates that past – which is what cultural and cognitive memory theory can deliver. The bridge between memory-grounded analyses of the history of the tradition and HJ historiography, I think, is Wirkungsgeschichte (reception-history) approaches. But this book is not a piece of HJ research; what it does is bring memory approaches together with research on ancient media and literate practices, analyzing the intersection of these vectors in the scribal, scholarly setting, to address classic problems in the cultivation and transmission of the Synoptic tradition.
The Synoptic Problem is the obvious place to try to give these media/memory approaches to the history of the tradition some empirical traction, and to convince our colleagues who are rightly skeptical about the exaggerated claims that are often made for new-fangled approaches that insights into ancient media and memory practices are very relevant to the great questions that have defined Synoptic scholarship. Robert Derrenbacker’s pathbreaking Ancient CompositionalPractices and the Synoptic Problem is an important precedent here. This book differs from Derrenbacker’s in its concentration on the media question, its interest in scribal and scholarly settings and source-utilization practices (in addition to the practices of the GR historians that Derrenbacker looks at), and its interest in ancient memory practices, especially the key role these memory practices played in the cultivation and utilization of manuscript tradition.
The second part of the book works up a specific proposal that draws upon the source-utilization practices of ancient scribes and scholars to clarify Matthew’s Q utilization in the framework of the 2DH. Taylor’s “multiple scans” solution is hopelessly inadequate, and it is certainly difficult to defend it given what we know know about ancient media realities and compositional practices. I won’t give any spoilers here about the specifics of the argument, since I think readers interested in this problem should evaluate it in the context of the entire analysis.
And naturally, I don’t miss the opportunities this line of analysis offers for critique of the experiments in ancient media analysis that our FGH friends have occasionally mounted in defense of their views.
And maybe to convert skeptics, holdouts, and fence-sitters like Chris Keith and Rafael Rodríguez to the truth of the 2DH!