Thursday, May 28, 2009

bias in the field

I'm currently writing a lecture on source criticism, which has forced me to reread some material on the subject. I've read quite a bit of Mark Goodacre's very significant work in this area, both in traditional print formats as well as his considerable collection of online resources. A constant refrain in Markan (Goodacre, that is) discourse on source criticism concerns the bias in the field to privilege the Griesbach and Two-Source hypotheses and then to argue the superiority of the latter (largely on the basis of the strength of Markan [the evangelist] priority). Where, asks Goodacre, is the thorough and even-handed discussion of the Farrer-Goulder perspective?

I'm certainly no proponent of any of the literary solutions to the synoptic problem. As I argue in Structuring Early Christian Memory, as well as in an article I'm writing for JBL, there are very problematic assumptions underlying the confidence with which NT scholars have employed literary paradigms to pursue source-critical agenda. Even so, as I read Stein's article on the Synoptic Problem in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, I'm amazed that the Farrer hypothesis isn't even mentioned in the listing of the "most common explanations involving interdependence" (786). Apparently the demonstration of Matthean and Lukan independence on p. 790 suffices to dismiss Farrer (and Goulder and Goodacre) without even mentioning them!

Again, I'm no disciple of the Farrer-Goulder-Goodacre school. But Goodacre's discussions of the Synoptic Problem (admittedly, most of his writings are post-1992) are extremely careful and well-argued. The fact that the institution of source critical inquiry apparently doesn't (or didn't) mind ignoring a major challenge to its dominant narrative suggests, at least to me, that that narrative and its influence over gospels scholarship is susceptible to serious, even catastrophic, blind spots.


Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks for your interesting post, Rafael, and for mentioning my work :) To some extent, my worries expressed in the first chapter of The Case Against Q have been alleviated. These days scholars are more likely to take the Farrer Theory seriously, especially scholars like Kloppenborg and Derrenbacker. Also, since I am often asked to write the dictionary entries and introductory pieces on the Synoptic Problem these days, the Farrer Theory is building its reputation a bit! On the other hand, it's still common to see woeful ignorance of the Farrer theory, e.g. in Pheme Perkins's recent introduction to the Synoptics, still working with Griesbach vs. 2ST.

I am actually keen myself to avoid letting everything get stuck in a purely literary paradigm. Indeed, I think that is itself partly a legacy of the Q theory, which insists on textualizing what it sees as the alternating primitivity in the double tradition; cf. the last chapter of the book I co-edited called Questioning Q for some little exploration of that.

I look forward to your forthcoming book. We are delighted to have it in the series.

Rafael said...


When I was trying to hammer out my thoughts on the Beelzebul controversy, I found I couldn't get a start before I got a grip on the source-critical issues swirling around that passage. Your work was an important corrective for me to all the standard "Mark/Q Overlap" stuff out there. To be honest, I always have you in mind when I'm arguing against literary views of the synoptic problem because I think you do avoid the excesses of, say, a Delbert Burkett (or even a Michael Goulder!).

David said...


Hey man, hope all is well. I was just on Goodacre's website not more than a week ago doing some personal study/research in Ephesians actualy.

He has some great and abundant resources on there.

David said...

Sorry, hit send to soon. Goodacre had a lot of resources on the site...just none that were of a specific use to me on that day. However, I fell down the rabbit hole of study and was all over the place.

all about Christ,

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