Sayings of Gospel Q

Sayings of Gospel Q

Besides what Matthew and Luke verbally agree on that comes from Mark, they also agree on about two hundred other verses that are absent in Mark. This is compelling evidence of another common source that scholars refer to as Q (short for the German word Quelle, or “source”). They think Q was composed in three layers: the first included sayings about poverty and discipleship, the second included judgmental sayings against “this generation,” and the third included the temptation of Jesus. What we know of Q betrays no awareness of the Jewish War (66—70 C.E.) and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans (70 C.E). It is theologically underdeveloped (primitive) and provincial in character, traits that indicate it must have been composed very early.[1] It is generally thought to have been written in the 50s C.E. The mention of the towns of Chorazin and Bethsaida and the two mentions of the town Capernaum indicate that Q may have been composed in Galilee.[2]

Like Q, the Gospel of Thomas is a sayings gospel and as such the discovery of Thomas strengthens the Q theory. Nearly a third of the sayings in Thomas appear in Q. Unlike Thomas, however, most of the sayings in Q appear in discourses or “speeches” about such subjects as the Sermon on the Mount, John the Baptist, instructions to disciples, prayer, condemnation of the Pharisees and others.[3] These blocks of sayings are, as Burton Mack (1993) points out, “precious nuggets.”[4]

Gospel Q has important implications for the question of whether or not Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet because the clusters of sayings in Q reflect both sapiential and apocalyptic themes. These contradictory themes are clearly identifiable within two distinctive strata that scholars refer to as Q1, probably composed in the early 50s, and Q2, probably composed in the 60s (but before the outbreak of the Jewish War in 66 C.E.). Crossan (1991) describes the sapiential layer, Q1, as “serene and hopeful” and the apocalyptic layer, Q2, as “threatening and vengeful.”[5] Crossan, Mack[6] and others suggest, after Kloppenborg, that an introductory layer, Q3, was also added at some point.

Kloppenborg’s analysis (1987) brought to light the meaning behind Q’s compositional arrangement and its implication for the great debate over the historical Jesus. It was Kloppenborg who first realized that the successive sapiential and apocalyptic layers of Q do not represent historically successive interpretations of Jesus; rather, they represent the successive stages in the life and hardships suffered by the Q community. Kloppenborg argues that the Q community “both preached an ethic which departed markedly from macro-societal values, and experienced the failure of its preaching among its contemporaries.”[7]

In other words, neither the sapiential Jesus nor the apocalyptic Jesus can be taken as a late development in response to the delay of Jesus’ hoped-for return. The apocalyptic layer in Q simply reflects the failure of the community’s demanding mission. Miller summarizes that experience this way: They saw themselves as poor, hungry and persecuted and had to work assiduously at internal cohesion and commitment; as their mission failed and deep trauma and family divisions ensued, the theme of rejection coupled with the theme of vivid threats against the “establishment” and “this generation,” including the severe judgment against Israel, are reflected in Gospel Q.[8] The confident and positive aphorisms about God’s care present in Q1disappear as the tone shifts dramatically in Q2, a shift, as Mack describes it, “for which one has not been prepared, and the effect is stunning.”[9]

Kloppenborg allows for sapiential and apocalyptic views to coexist early in the history of the Q community in much the same way as Koester[10] and Crossan[11] propose that they are reflected in Paul’s apocalyptic argument against the sapiential Christians at Corinth. Davies[12] and Crossan[13] propose that these competing primordial visions are reflected in the question-and-answer sayings of Thomas—apocalyptic questions of the disciples versus the sapiential answers of Jesus. The presence of a sapiential vision of Jesus in the original Gospel of Thomas in the 40 C.E. is consistent with the sapiential vision present in the Galilee-centered Q community and in the Corinth community during the 50s.

Unlike the Q community, the Thomas community was uprooted early from its base in Jerusalem in the wake of the martyring of James in 62 C.E. before the Jewish War (66—70 C.E.). The second layer in Thomas reflects, as Crossan notes, the later (60s or 70s) experience of that part of the Thomas community that migrated to Syrian Edessa, where the “aegis of the Thomas authority” became more prominent in the gospel.[14] The initial experience of the Thomas community, at ground zero in Jerusalem and under the aegis of James’ authority, was more complicated.

This earlier experience, captured in the 40s C.E. in the first compositional layer of Thomas, reflects the competing sapiential and apocalyptic views of Jesus. There is much more to say about this point, and I will get to it in Chapter One. Here, one final point about Thomas and the gospel attributed to him needs a very brief mention—I will deal with it more fully in Appendix II, “Who was Thomas?” Thomas may have been beheaded, while fleeing Jerusalem with a group of his followers between 44 and 46 C.E., on the orders of Fadus, the first Roman procuratorial governor of all Palestine. The execution of Thomas may have been the immediate cause for writing of the first gospel about Jesus.

 


[1] Robert J. Miller, ed., The Complete Gospels (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1994), p. 250.

[2] Michael Steinhauser, “The Sayings Gospel Q,” in Kloppenborg, John S., Marvin W. Meyer, Stephan J. Patterson, and Michael G. Steinhauser, Q Thomas Reader (Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 1990), p. 6.

[3] Robert J. Miller, ed., The Complete Gospels (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1994), pp. 249-250.

[4] Burton L. Mack, The Lost Gospel—The Book of Q and Christian Origins (San Francisco: Harper, 1994 Ed., first published 1993), p. 107.

[5] John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus (San Francisco: Harper, 1992 Ed., first published 1991), p. 229 and p. 429.

[6] Burton L. Mack, The Lost Gospel—The Book of Q and Christian Origins (San Francisco: Harper, 1994 Ed., first published 1993), p. 108. Mack suggests that Q3, though fragmentary, did consist of a “distinctive set of themes.”

[7] John S. Kloppenborg, The Formation of Q: Trajectories in Ancient Wisdom Collections (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987), p. 325. See also John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus (San Francisco: Harper, 1992 Ed., first published 1991), p. 229.

[8] Robert J. Miller, Ed., The Complete Gospels (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1994), p. 251.

[9] Burton L. Mack, The Lost Gospel—The Book of Q and Christian Origins (San Francisco: Harper, 1994 Ed., first published 1993), p. 131.

[10] Helmut Koester, Introduction to the New Testament, vol. 2 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), pp. 121-122.

[11] John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus (San Francisco: Harper, 1992 Ed., first published 1991), p. 228.

[12] Stevan Davies The Gospel of Thomas and Christian Wisdom, 2nd Ed. (Bardic Press, 2005; first published by Seabury Press, 1983), pp. 82-83.

[13] John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus (San Francisco: Harper, 1992 Ed., first published 1991), pp. 228-229.

[14] John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus (San Francisco: Harper, 1992 Ed., first published 1991), pp. 427-428.