11 November 2007

the synoptic meme . . . (brilliant corners)

Posted by at 4:49 PM Read our previous post

Over at Exploring Our Matrix, James McGrath has written a post about how our specific paradigms regarding the chronology and the inter-relationships between the synoptic gospels affect the scriptural arguments we make. He asks that anyone who understands what the synoptic problem is take a stab at describing the cathartic moment in which the paradigm congealed into a conclusive assertion —the moment in which turning a corner brought one face to face with an undeniability. In his case, the moment came while pondering the divergent stories of John the Baptizer's death.

In MY case, the thing that cememnted GMarkan priority came when I was reading some commentaries on GMk some years ago and was contemplating his use of chiasmi (some folks call them sandwiches). He uses the device many times, and each time he does, it serves to highlight some particular teaching. One night, I was examining each instance in which GMk uses one of these sandwiches, and then comparing it to its respective counterparts in GMatt and in GLk (a good three-columned synopsis is a beautiful thing).

As as I was looking at GMk 3:20–35

Then he goes home, and once again a crowd gathers, so they could not even grab a bite to eat. When his relatives heard about it, they came to get him (you see, they thought he was out of his mind).
And the scholars who had come down from Jerusalem would say, "he is under the control of Beelzebul" and, "he drives out demons in the name of the head demon!". And after calling them over, he would speak to them in riddles: "How can Satan drive out Satan?" After all, if a government is divided against itself, that government cannot endure. And if a household is divided against itself, that household won't be able to survive. So if Satan rebels against himself and is divided, he cannot endure but is done for. Noone can enter a powerful man's house and steal his belongings unless he first ties him up. Only then does he loot his house. I swear to you, all offenses and whatever blasphemies humankind might blaspheme will be forgiven them, but whoever blasphemes against the holy spirit is never ever forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin. (Remember, it was they that had started the accusation, "he is controlled by an unclean spirit.")
Then his mother and his brothers arrive. While still outside, they send in and ask for him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they say to him, "Look, your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside looking for you." In response he says to them, "my mother and brothers�who ever are they?" And looking right at those seated around him in a circle, he says, "Here are my mother and brothers. Whoever does God's will, that's my brother and sister and mother!"
**I've color-coded the form of the narrative in order to better show its "sandwich" structure.

As I was looking at this chiasmus, I came to a crossroad:
  1. If Mark is a condensation of Matthew:
    • In this story, Jesus' family is on the side of those who thought Jesus was a nut. It's clear and explicit. Not only that, in thinking that way, they also risk blaspheming against the holy spirit. No? Why would the author of GMk top this story about people thinking Jesus was crazy with this particular, very potentially subversive slice of "bread," one which, in effect, adds 'and so did his family think he was crazy too' in no uncertain terms?
    • This question leads to another: If whenever GMk uses one of these devices, it is usually to underscore some important teaching, why did this bit slip by GMatt's community?
    • Would not this addition be embarrasing or even anathema to the nascent Church?

  2. If GMatt used GMk:
    • Matthew takes out the family's thinking that Jesus was crazy or posessed—Poof!—verse gone! (And so does Luke remove it, btw.) Since very few verses that are contained in Mark are omitted by both Matt and Lk, this is indication that they simply found the idea too hard to stomach. So they delete the bit about the family thinking Jesus mad. The author of GMatt foresaw the problem this could bring and dismantled Mark's neatly composed sandwich and linked the central portion (the meat) regarding posession by Beelzebul with other material about seeking signs and unclean spirits.

This second possibilty makes infinitely more sense to me. I simply cannot rationally imagine a motive for GMk to add this scandalous portrayal of Jesus' family into the story. If this was the only bit of evidence in favor of Markan priority, it would probably be insufficient to shake a paradigm. But it's not the only evidence.

Here's another doozy:
If Mark is but a condensation of Matthew, why on earth would he omit the Sermon on the Mount (arguably Jesus' "greatest hits") . . . or the Lord's Prayer, while we're at it.

So it was my study of Markan sandwiches that, inadvertently, in combination with other data, was the determining factor in my accepting Markan priority as the best conclusion regarding that aspect of the interdependence between the synoptic gospels.

As far a "Q" goes ... I don't have an analogous certainty on that. I view both camps—proponents of Q and deniers of Q—as having pretty interesting arguments. I tend toward the existence of a Q source, but I've not yet had that moment of catharsis which convinces me of its undeniability. Perhaps this meme-thread will help.


I read the very good post over at MetaCatholic regarding this issue.
One quick note:
I would object to coming to a negative conclusion regarding Q simply based on how "irritating" the deconstruction and parsing of a merely theoretical source by its proponents can be.

That's no way to study.



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