Baker Academic

Monday, August 29, 2016

Q in Matthew Guest Post from Alan Kirk—Chris Keith

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!


  1. "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." Couldn't agree more.

  2. Alan, thank you for this post. I can't wait to have a look at the book!


  3. Thanks for the comments Jonathan and Anthony - two guys whose critical chops I respect very much. I look forward to your response to the volume.

  4. I echo Jonathan's and Anthony's excitement to see the book, Alan. Congratulations. I also agree completely that the near-cornering of the memory market by historical Jesus scholarship is unfortunate, especially in those works for which the only real function of memory scholarship is to buttress the a priori commitment to the Gospels' authenticity or inauthenticity. Your focus on tradition, I think, is exactly right.

    FWIW, I just sent off last week a piece on tradition in Mark and Q. Not that this means I have sloughed off my Q-skepticism.

    Quick question: Have you seen Joe Weaks's PhD dissertation (Brite Divinity), called "Mark without Mark"? It's very good, IMO.

    1. Thanks Rafael. Yes, Mark G. mentioned Weaks's dissertation to me a while ago. I've only had time to turn the pages of it a bit, but it's a nice confirmation that patterns of agreement in order and wording allow one to hypothesize a documentary source. So his critique of the Q hypothesis centers on how reliably such a source, when non-extant, can be reconstructed, and of course this is where his inferential reasoning from his statistical data will draw scrutiny. But I wouldn't want to comment further till I've given it the close read it deserves.

      On memory research being used to take shortcuts to judgments of reliability/non-reliablity of the tradition (I realize this caricatures some very interesting and important work by some of our colleagues), yes, I certainly think that misconstrues significance of memory theory for clarifying the tradition. On the other hand, I've argued that the origins of the Jesus tradition lie in the cognitive and cultural operations of memory, and that this reality does feed into historiographical analysis. FI try to reason some of this out in “Cognition, Commemoration, and Tradition: Memory and the Historiography of Jesus Research,” Early Christianity 6 (2015) 285-310. That's my one attempt at drawing out some implications for HJ historiography, and since then I've fled back to the safety of work on the tradition.