Monthly Archives: February 2013

In Defense of Q

Someone recently pointed me to a web side called “The Case Against Q”. This site does an excellent job of summarizing the problems with the Q hypothesis, but ultimately I believe rejecting Q creates far more problems than it solves. First of all, let’s review the relationship of the synoptic gospels  to each other. I found the following chart from Wiki which summarized it nicely.

What we see is that Matthew and Luke share a large chunk of material (consisting of 23% of Luke and 25% of Matthew) in common. This material doesn’t simply cover the same topical ground. The similarity is often word-per-word in the Greek. How are we to explain this identical material? There are basically three possibilities. The difficulty will be in deciding which is more likely.

Possibility #1 – They simply came up with the same Greek words.
Problems: This is astronomically unlikely. Even if we assume God is inspiring the writing, it’s very clear that God allows individual styles in the writing of scripture. This is copying pure and simple.

Possibility #2 – Either Matthew copied Luke or (more probably) Luke copied Matthew. This is the “two-gospel” hypothesis, which seems to be the solution of the “Case Against Q” website.
Problems: Many. Summarizing:
1.    Matthew and Luke have drastically different version of Jesus birth, genealogy, and resurrection events. These are not only different, but appear contradictory. Perhaps these have legitimate reconciliations, perhaps they don’t. But the issue is, neither Matthew or Luke make any effort to harmonize these apparent discrepancies. This is very hard to explain of Luke was using Matthew as a source.
2.    There are a number of cases in the Triple Tradition where Matthew adds some important detail to Mark’s account and Luke doesn’t copy his additions.
3.    There are places where Matthew has apparently “blended” another source (Q?) with Mark. Luke has the other source (Q?) material, but without the blends. This suggests he’s adding the material on his own, without Matthew’s guidance.
4.    Matthew has a number (10 or 11) peculiar phrases he likes to use “son of David”, “this was to fulfill…” Luke and Mark never use them. Can Luke be using Matthew and manage to NEVER use his trademark phrases?
5.    Matthew has added some things to the double tradition (Q?) that Luke doesn’t copy (for example, Matthew adding “in spirit” to “blessed are the poor”. If Matthew is the source, why doesn’t Luke copy these additions?
6.    Luke and Matthew put pieces of the double tradition (Q?) in entirely different contexts. Part of Matthew’s sermon on the mount takes place on the plain, etc. It looks very much like they are adding fragments of Jesus tradition with minimal guidance on where to put them.
7.    Luke and Matthew have a number of doublets. These are cases where they report the same event or saying twice. Once copying Mark, and once from another apparent source. This suggests that each of them is using two different sources, Mark and “Q”.
8.    The double tradition material in Matthew and Luke seems to have a certain philosophy and style (such as a preference for the Deuteronomist sources) that Matthew and Luke by themselves don’t share.

Possibility #3  – They are both copying from some common source. This is the “Q” hypothesis.
Problems: The ones listed on “Case Against Q” website.
1.    “Q” is a hypothetical document without any real examples or outside citations.
2.    There is some sequence in “Q”
3.    In the triple tradition, there are some agreements, major and minor, against Mark.
4.    In the double tradition, Luke show a fatigue toward Matthew’s version.

For those following along with the website, I believe the author is stretching things a bit to make it come out to 10 reasons.  I’ve conflated reasons 1 and 2 into my reason 1. Original reason 4 isn’t really a reason, but an introduction to reasons 5, 6 and 7, which I’ve conflated into my reason 3. Reason 9 is ad hominem and reason 10 is irrelevant.

It seems to me that 1 is a reasonable argument. The case for Q would be much stronger if there were an actual example or patristic citation. There are, however, a few hints. The page dismisses the Pappius fragments with a “no true Scotsman” fallacy (no REASONABLE scholar contends..). Since some scholars DO contend that Pappius referred to something similar to “Q”, I’m very much interested in why this is unreasonable.  Furthermore, the Gospel of Thomas itself lends credence to the existence of Q – being itself a “sayings” gospel of very early date.

I don’t see any merit in argument #2. No rule is broken if Q turns out to have SOME narrative sequence to it. It would simply be a fragmentary sequence.

Argument #3 is also a good one. However, most of this is simply explained. Mark is written in very poor and primitive Greek. The writers of Matthew and particularly Luke are much more educated. It’s not unreasonable that two learned authors correcting the bad writing of another would make many of the same corrections. Some of the other agreements also turn out to be later scribal redactions. Matthew and Luke didn’t agree until later scribes MADE them agree, and the agreement is missing from the earliest documents. Furthermore, there are places where the triple tradition may overlap with the “Q” material. In this case, Matthew and Luke may BOTH follow the earlier Q documents in preference to Mark.

Argument #4 (fatigue) seems convoluted to me. If Luke is trying to edit AWAY from Matthew, what is his source for those changes? It seems just as  likely that Luke is including additional material, but fatigues toward Q instead of toward Matthew.

So, we end up having to choose which set of problems is the least bothersome. One of these three answers (or some variation of it) is the explanation for the double tradition in Matthew and Luke. To me, the list of problems in the Two-Gospel hypothesis is really overwhelming, and require only common sense to recognize. If Luke had a copy of Matthew in front of him, he sure made some bizarre choices about things he decided NOT to explain.

The Devil You Say

I was reading some fascinating material recently from a Christian hermeticist on the nature of demons and evil spirits which reinforces some observations I had made myself. I had written here earlier on the changing nature of “Satan” in the development of the bible. Only recently, however, did I notice an interesting distinction in the New Testament – a distinction that those who read the King James will entirely miss.

The New Testament speaks a lot about the devil and devils. In the King James, however, it uses “devil” to translate two entirely different Greek words. One is diabolos – Greek for “accuser”. This word is used as a parallel, in some of the synoptics, for “satanas”, a word from Caldean related to the Hebrew “satan” – meaning also “accuser” or “opponent”. In Luke, Jesus is tempted in the wilderness by “satanas”, and in Matthew, it’s the “diabolos”.

The other Greek word that the King James translates as “devil” is “daimonion”. This word is used in connection with an spirit who opporesses or posesses an individual – a demon. These demons are described as “pneuma poyneros” – a diseased, painful, or evil spirit.

In the Greek, devils and demons are two entirely different things, inspite of the King James translating both words “devil”. True devils are the accusers and opponents of the righteous. In the Old Testament, the opponent (the “satan”) was seen as a divine office, in the service of God. The satan of Job is one of the sons of God, the Bene Elohim, who enters the court of Heaven in something like the capacity of a district attorney. It is his job to bring charges against the faithful. Even God himself is described as acting in the capacity of a “satan” or opponent. In 1 Ch 21:1, “satan”, the opponent, provokes David to number Israel. In 2 Sa 24:1, we find that the “satan” was God himself.

As time progressed, Satan became more personified, and the traditions described him as being in rebellion against God. But still, the “satanas” and “diabolos” of the New Testament are bound by law. There is a “Geneva Convention” of sorts between the two sides, and the diabolos confine themseves to persecuting and tempting, NOT to direct posession. Resist the diabolos, we are told in James, and he must flee. The one possible exception is with Judas. Luke tells us that satan “entered into” him. John, however, states that the diabolos merely put the thought into Judas’ heart. So the “entering” here seems to be just a powerful temptation.

Daimonios, on the other hand, interfer directly with human freedom. They posess and control human beings. What my hermetic author suggests, and I believe makes perfect sense, is that these daimonios are generally what the esotericists call “elemental beings”. They are human creations of emotional energy, which live a semi-auotonomous life outside the conscious boundries of personality. To quote from my source:

“The “evil spirits” which deprive man of his freedom are not at all beings of the so-called “hierarchies of evil” or “fallen hierarchies”. Neither Satan, nor Belial, nor Lucifer, nor Mephistopheles have ever deprived anyone of his freedom. Temptation is their only weapon and this presupposes the freedom of he who is tempted. But possession by an “evil spirit” has nothing to do with temptation. It is invariably the same thing as with Frankenstein’s monster. One engenders an elemental being and one subsequently becomes the slave of one’s own creation. The “demons” or “evil spirits” of the New Testament are called today in psychotherapy “neuroses of obsession”, “neuroses of fear”, “fixed ideas”, etc. They have been discovered by contemporary psychiatrists and are recognized as real – i.e. as “parasitic psychic organisms” independent of the conscious human will and tending to subjugate it. But the devil is not there to no avail – although not in the sense of direct participation. He observes the law – which protects human freedom and is the inviolable convention between the hierarchies of “right” and those of “left” – and never violates it, as stands out in the example of the story of Job. One need not fear the devil, but rather the perverse tendencies on oneself! For these perverse human tendencies can deprive us of our freedom and enslave us. Worse still, they can avail themselves of our imagination and inventive faculties and lead us to creations which can become the scourge of mankind. The atomic bomb and the hydrogen bomb are flagrant examples of this.

Man with the possible perversity of his warped imagination is far more dangerous than the devil and his legions. For man is not bound by the convention concluded between heaven and hell; he can go beyond the limits of the law and engender arbitrarily malicious forces whose nature and action are beyond the framework of the law… such as being the Molechs and other “gods” of Canaa., Phoenicia, Carthage, ancient Mexico and other lands, which exacted human sacrifice. One has to guard against accusing the beings of the hierarchies of evil to their detriment of having played the role of Molechs, these being only creatures of the perverse collective human will and imagination. These are egregores, engendered by collective perversity, just as there exist the “demons” or “evil spirits” engendered by individuals.”

This has been my experience also. While “demons” can act very much as independent entities, they are also almost certainly human creations, and usually should not be handled in isolation from the humans who create them and give them strength.

All-Quadrant Spirituality

As some of my readers know, I’ve been a reader for some time of philosopher Ken Wilber. While the level of detail in Wilber’s system can be annoying, I find it’s always good to check any new ideas against his criteria, because if you don’t – you’ve usually missed something.

One of the key components in Ken Wilber’s philosophy is the notion of quadrants, and what it says is this: Most things can be looked at in four different ways. They can be looked at either from an inner perspective or an outer perspective, and they can be looked at as individuals or as members of a group or system – giving four perspectives. Like this:

The left-hand side is the interior perspective, the right-hand side is the exterior perspective. The upper half is individual, the lower half is collective.

The easiest example of these perspectives is a human being. We can look at a human being and study him from the outside (upper right) and study his brain structure, his biology and its underlying chemistry. This will give us a great deal of insight into him. We can also study his environment and how his organism interacts with the atmosphere, the food supply, the traffic flow, etc. (the lower right). We now have a different set of insights, equally important.

But this leaves out an entire half of the picture. What is it like to be this person from the INSIDE? What are his thoughts and feelings? What meanings does he attach to things? What does he feel? These questions are all in the upper left quadrant. Finally, what is his relationship to other people, seem from within the group? What are the values and beliefs of his family, his community or his social group?

Our tendency as modern people is to focus on only one quadrant (often the upper right) to the exclusion of or devaluing of everything else. All quadrants are important, and none should be reduced or folded into another or important insight is lost.

Ok, after this overly-long introduction, how do we apply these principles to spirituality? Let’s analyze first the case of the fundamentalist. This person may believe that he or she is deriving all of their truth from the Bible or the Koran. But in fact, they are focused almost entirely in the bottom left quadrant – the inner social group. They are relying – not on the Bible, but on the meanings and values attached to the Bible by their group. The idea that another group can attach entirely different meanings to the same Bible is confusing to them.

They are also unwilling to actually examine the Bible externally in the right-hand quadrants. Objective examination of the texts would show evidence of copy errors, redactions and multiple sources. Objectively comparing the text with history and science would show evidence of historical and scientific errors or ignorance. These objective incongruities are all ignored or pushed aside in favor of the values and beliefs of the group.

Certain kinds of skeptics, on the other hand, privilege the other quadrants. They assume that the ONLY value the Bible can possess is objective factual value. That it can be a useful source of poetry, mysticism, meaning and value is ignored. That it can be a basis for community interaction,  and social solidarity – providing a literary and mythic vocabulary is likewise unimportant. Their focus is entirely on the right-hand quadrants, particularly the upper right.

Those of us attempting to live spiritually in a modern world had best be able to live in all the quadrants at once. We must be open to the mystical, the poetic and the metaphorical, and value inner spirituality. We must be aware of the prejudices and preconceptions our group mentality may lead us into. We must be willing to accept the insights of objective insights of history, science and textual scholarship without blindness. But we must also be aware of the potential blindness of those who try to live only in the upper-right quadrant of the individual externals.

Related Posts with Thumbnails