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The "lectionary Theory" Vs. The "q Hypothesis"


BrotherRog
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Some thoughts:

1. Reasons this topic should be in this "progressive" forum

2. Exerpts from Spong's Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes, HarperSanFrancisco, ISBN 0-06-067557-8

3. Editorial reviews of that book (from www.Amazon.com)

 

1. How one reads and interprets the Bible is of great importance as it has significant implications upon one's subsequent political perspectives. If one reads it in a strict, wooden, literal manner, one will likely have a more conservative political worldview. If one reads it in a more nuanced, metaphorical, and interprative manner, one is more likely to have a more liberal political worldview.

 

2. From the preface: ...But I do asume the validity of many of Goulder's premises. I no longer accept the popular theory of the existence of something called the "Q" document. That is a new conclusion for me. Yet all fo the reasons for asserting the existence of Q disapper for me when Luke and Matthew are understood as liturgical and lectionary books. In this volume I will not debate or seek to justify my dismissal of the Q hypothesis. I will simply assume it. For those who wish to debate this are referred to the devasting argument against it developed by Goulder in the preface to Luke: A New Paradigm. It was for me totally persuasive. I prefer to think that Q was nothing more or less than Matthew's own creative genius that emerged as he wrote his gospel as a midrashic expansion of Mark designed better to fit the entire liturgical year of the Jews.

 

I also dismiss the presumed "M" and "L" documents as separate sources of written or oral tradition. The M source for was Matthew's personal creation based on Paul, or on the Hebrew Scriptures, but not picked up by Luke so that it remained uniquely Matthean. L was that material peculiar to Luke's gospel that I think Luke wrote himself.

 

Luke, I am assuming, had Mark and Matthew before him as he created his gospel. He preferred mark and followd him closely . However, Luke also adapted Matthew to his purposes, thereby requiring what came to be called the Q hypothesis, which simply suggested that Matthew and Luke had enough common material to postulate a common source... That common source was, in my opinion, that Luke both had read and would employ Matthew in the writing of his gospel. Luke, however, like Matthew, also created some new material based primarily on his understanding of the Hebrew scriptures, most especially Genesis and Deuteronomy. This was the material in time that came to be called the L source.

 

So this book assumes that Matthew had Mark before him when he wrote. Luke had Mark and Matthew before him when he wrote; and John had Mark, Matthew, and Luke before him when he wrote. It is amazingly simple; and the lectionary theory presented in these pages answers almost all of the questions that the various source theories were designed to answer... (pp.xiii-xiv)

 

3. From Publishers Weekly

Building upon his earlier conclusions that Jesus' Jewishness is the key to understanding Jesus' life and work (This Hebrew Lord), Spong contends that the failure to read the Gospels as fundamentally Jewish impoverishes many traditional Christian readings. Tracing the history of New Testament interpretation, Spong demonstrates the tendencies among Christian interpreters to read the Gospels as documents addressing primarily an audience of Greek Gentile Christians rather than as narratives connected to the broader history of Judaism. Spong relies on a wide range of New Testament scholarship to argue that the form and content of the Gospels reflects not Greek influence or concerns but a peculiarly Jewish outlook on matters of religion and culture. Thus, for Spong, the Gospels are neither objective accounts of historical events nor biographies of Jesus but midrashim, or interpretive narratives, connecting the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth to the history, literature and religion of Judaism. For example, he isolates the symbolic roles that certain characters from the Hebrew Bible, like Elijah and Joseph, play in transmitting the story of Jesus to a Jewish audience. While Spong's conclusions about the value of reading the Gospels through Jewish lenses are neither new nor exciting, his forceful readings of the Gospels and his imaginative speculations about biblical figures are sure to provoke heated discussion among Christian interpreters.

 

 

From Library Journal

Spong, the Episcopal bishop of Newark, New Jersey, and a leader in the movement for liberal Christianity, is the author of a number of controversial books, including Resurrection: Myth or Reality? A Bishop Rethinks the Origins of Christianity (LJ 3/1/94). He has now added another volume that is sure to provoke argument. Spong tries to place Jesus and the New Testament in a Jewish context insomuch as the early Christians sprang from a Jewish background that stressed the midrashic (or teaching) tale. He argues that many stories of the New Testament were not originally understood to be based on fact and that getting away from the literalism of many New Testament passages bolsters rather than hinders Christian belief. After considering the contemporary religious scene today, Spong gives background on the early Christian world. He then discusses the major books of the New Testament and the pivotal issues raised by each book. Many readers will find much to disagree with, but it will have a wide readership nevertheless.?Paul Kaplan, Lake Villa District Lib., Ill.

 

From Booklist

The Bible has, of course, been read with Jewish eyes from the moment it was written: it is a Jewish book. But Liberating the Gospels is a Christian book; and Spong, bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Newark, New Jersey, urges his Christian audience to remember that the book they call the New Testament was written almost entirely by Jewish authors for an audience that was initially almost entirely Jewish, an audience to whom it would not have occurred to think of the Bible (the "Law" and the "Prophets" ) as anything but Jewish. Spong's primary concern is to popularize the work of Michael Goulder, who reads the Gospel accounts as midrashic interpretations of regular readings of the Torah prescribed for worship services in the synagogue. They are thus not historical accounts so much as liturgically structured homilies that present history through sacred texts. This is not new, but it will be surprising to many readers, and that is sure to sustain the aura of controversy surrounding Bishop Spong's prolific writing. Steve Schroeder --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

 

From Kirkus Reviews

Maverick Episcopal bishop Spong (Resurrection: Myth or Reality?, 1994) argues that to take the Gospels as literal history is to miss their essential point. In recent years Spong has gained notoriety for his unorthodox views on doctrine and sexual morality. Here he reproduces the ideas he put forward in Resurrection, arguing that the Gospels are not historical narratives but exercises in midrash, a Jewish genre of biblical exegesis. Spong takes midrash beyond its narrower Jewish definition to mean a method in which biblical themes are interwoven in order to describe things beyond ordinary human experience and language. Nearly 2,000 years of anti-Semitism have blinded Christians to both the Jewishness of Jesus and the ``midrashic'' nature of the Gospels. According to Spong, for example, the account of the Sermon on the Mount is really a device to show Jesus as the new Moses, while the feeding of the multitudes is a way of bringing Elijah and Elisha material into the story of Jesus. Spong hopes to break the impasse between fundamentalists who believe that the Gospels are literally true history and liberals who reject miracles and the supernatural as projections of a prescientific mentality. However, for all his talk of a true ``God experience'' lying behind the Gospel stories, it is hard to tell how Spong's position is substantially different from that of the liberals whom he condemns as spiritually bankrupt. Like them, he assumes a priori that supernatural events cannot happen, and he rejects the historical value of vast areas of the Gospels, such as the Last Supper and the raising of Lazarus, reserving for them only a pale, psychological meaning. Spong praises the ultraliberal Jesus Seminar and lambastes orthodox Christian scholars as lacking either learning or moral courage. Well written and scholarly, but unlikely to fill anyone's spiritual void. (Author tour)

 

Rodger Kamenetz, New York Times Magazine

"Spong argues...that the 'Jewish books' that narrate Jesus' life must be understood more as midrashic literature than historical accounts."

 

Booklist

"The Bible has, of course, been read with Jewish eyes from the moment it was written: it is a Jewish book. But Liberating the Gospels is a Christian book; and Spong, bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Newark, New Jersey, urges his Christian audience to remember that the book they call the New Testament was written almost entirely by Jewish authors for an audience that was initially almost entirely Jewish, an audience to whom it would not have occurred to think of the Bible (the 'Law' and the 'Prophets' ) as anything but Jewish.... [This] will be surprising to many readers, and that is sure to sustain the aura of controversy surrounding Bishop Spong's prolific writing."

Harvey Cox, Harvard University"Bishop Spong's work is a significant accomplishment. It takes the most recent and reliable scholarly research on the Gospels and interprets it for a lay public in an understandable and highly readable way."

 

Kirkus Reviews

"Maverick Episcopal bishop Spong argues that to take the Gospels as literal history is to miss their essential point. In recent years Spong has gained notoriety for his unorthodox views on doctrine and sexual morality. Here he reproduces the ideas he put forward in Resurrection, arguing that the Gospels are not historical narratives but exercises in midrash, a Jewish genre of biblical exegesis. Spong takes midrash beyond its narrower Jewish definition to mean a method in which biblical themes are interwoven in order to describe things beyond ordinary human experience and language. Nearly 2,000 years of anti-Semitism have blinded Christians to both the Jewishness of Jesus and the 'midrashic' nature of the Gospels. According to Spong, for example, the account of the Sermon on the Mount is really a device to show Jesus as the new Moses, while the feeding of the multitudes is a way of bringing Elijah and Elisha material into the story of Jesus. Spong hopes to break the impasse between fundamentalists who believe that the Gospels are literally true history and liberals who reject miracles and the supernatural as projections of a pre-scientific mentality."

 

David Rosenberg, co-author and translator of The Book of J

"One doesn't have to agree with all of John Shelby Spong's startling assertions to be drawn thrillingly close by him to the original authors of the Gospels. Spong responds to their acts of writing with inspired acts of reading. By absorbing the tradition of Jewish midrash, Spong turns the act of reading into an act of love."

 

Book Description

In this boldest book since Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, Bishop John Shelby Spong offers a compelling view of the Gospels as thoroughly Jewish tests.Spong powerfully argues that many of the key Gospel accounts of events in the life of Jesus -- from the stories of his birth to his physical resurrection -- are not literally true. He offers convincing evidence that the Gospels are a collection of Jewish midrashic stories written to convey the significance of Jesus. This remarkable discovery brings us closer to how Jesus was really understood in his day and should be in ours.

 

Synopsis

In this boldest book since Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, Bishop John Shelby Spong offers a compelling view of the Gospels as thoroughly Jewish tests. Spong powerfully argues that many of the key Gospel accounts of events in the life of Jesus - from the stories of his birth to his physical resurrection - are not literally true. He offers convincing evidence that the Gospels are a collection of Jewish midrashic stories written to convey the significance of Jesus. This remarkable discovery brings us closer to how Jesus was really understood in his day and should be in ours.

 

Ingram

Bestselling author John Shelby Spong challenges traditional Christian understanding by examining the Gospel accounts of Jesus's life and teaching, especially the infancy and crucifixion stories, through a Jewish lens, offering a startling, richer understanding of Christian scripture.

 

From the Inside Flap

Bishop John Shelby Spong's name and work have become nearly synonymous with the word controversy. His books have challenged traditional Christian teachings on sexual morality, on the literal interpretation of the Bible, and on the understanding of women--among other hot-button issues in both the church and the popular culture. Liberating the Gospels continues this tradition as Spong reveals his most provocative argument to date--that Christians have misread Jesus and the Gospels for centuries by ignoring the thoroughly Jewish content below the surface of the New Testament.

With a keen eye and years of deliberate investigation, Spong traces the long period of history in which the Gospels were "cut away from the essential Jewishness" and interpreted as if they were primarily gentile books, distorting their meaning with a deeply prejudiced anti-Jewish bias. To remedy both that bias and the continued misinterpretation of the Gospels' message, Spong believes we must recognize the Gospels as the thoroughly Jewish books they are and learn to read them with a clear understanding of the Jewish context, frame of reference, vocabulary, and history that shaped and informed them.

 

By connecting the Gospels to the style of the Jewish midrashic literature of Jesus' era, he shows how the Gospel authors intended their stories to be perceived, not as historical accounts of actual events, but rather as interpretive narratives about the meaning of Jesus, using images and themes from the Hebrew Bible. Some examples of his fascinating arguments and conclusions are:

 

The significant events of Jesus' life follow an orderly cycle of Jewish feasts and rites of passage.

 

Judas never existed but was a fictional scapegoat created to shift the blame for Jesus' death from the Romans to the Jews.

 

Leading characters of Jewish scripture make cameo appearances in the Gospels.

 

Stories about Jesus, from the infancy narratives to the resurrection, can all be freshly understood as interpretive tales based on key passages in the Old Testament.

 

Like any good detective story, Liberating the Gospels is a riveting account of facts and theories coming together, piece by piece, to form a brilliant, convincing whole. Spong approaches the Gospels with reverence and a determination to restore their meaning, their vivid historical context, and the respect so long eroded between Christians and Jews. The result is a remarkable revisioning of Jesus and the Gospels that brings us closer to how Jesus was really understood in his day and should be in ours.

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I have to say I am a believer in the lectionary theory, as it answers a lot of questions on why certain stories are in certain portions of the gospels. And it makes sense that what was written was first practiced and spoken by early Christians in their synagogues.

 

Spong's premise of "midrashic retelling" of stories may not sit too well with some, but it's the same way we tell stories today. Look at how books were remade into radio dramas, radio dramas into movies, and those movies into "remake" movies. Somebody goes back and finds a story with certain themes and lessons, that speak to their times or their problems, and retells it in a way that speaks to their audience. How many made for TV movies are factual? Their made for TV "based on actual events." Well, this is a limited example, but maybe you see something in it.

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I agree with some of the tenants of historical criticism in the search for the historical Jesus. However I much prefer _academic_ theology like Marcus Borg, NT Wright and Rudolf Bultmann than Spong's constant appeals to emotion. I think Spong's idea about midrash holds no water and I doubt he knows what midrash really is.

 

I accept the Q document as having a hypothetical existence. I don't think Q was ever composed and written as a document. However, we can feel free to call the original sayings of Jesus "Q" since they occured orally in Arabic. Thus, all of Jesus' sayings began as oral tradition and believers passed them on to each other. The need for writing came later. I don't think that the writings of Paul so much "created" Jesus stories as they were written in light of the common knowledge people had regarding the Jesus of history. Paul's letters were written because they were just that, epistles (Deutero-Paul is another issue altogether).

 

The existence of persecution (Domition and Nero) created the realistic possibility that the first century Christian movement could be obliterated. The entire generation that had witnessed Jesus in the flesh could die and future generations would be left without oral accounts. Therefore, it became necessary to write down accounts of Jesus' life and teachings. Why 4 gospel accounts? The creation of the codex, necessary to bind 4 documents together explains why. In this case, 4 was the perfect number. Not to underestimate its relationship to the 4 living creatures of Ezekial (taken to apply to the Gospel accounts, not some weird eschatological phenomenon).

 

The synoptic gospels were Mark, Matthew and Luke. John's approach was radically different as it supplied a prophetic-ethereal account that embodied the logos of the Jesus experience. However, by nature the logos is abstract and people are not always ready to embrace the logos. The muthos can serve as a stepping stone (here, muthos refers not to falsehood but to stories and narratives that tap into the overarching logos). Thus, the synoptic gospels take a more mythological approach than does John's.

 

The first of the synoptics to be written was Mark's. Here, the mythological element most apparent is the redundant use of the Greek "euthos" meaning that everything is said to happen immediately. One gets a fast, action-packed story telling of the life of Jesus similar to how a movie is today. Obviously, Mark used this for impact, to leave an impression on the reader. Mark's account most closely resembled the Q source. Matthew and Luke both elaborated on Mark's style, taking more time and filling in more details. However, they wrote to two different audiences, so their personal takes on things were different. In some cases, there seems to be more than one possibility in minute detail. For example, the reported death of Judas. Did he hang himself or sword himself or both? Perhaps there were two initial oral traditions and one writer used one and the other the other to show that the important element was that Judas comitted suicide, not how he did it. Luke's account really should not be separated from Acts, as Luke-Acts serves a cohesive account of the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith respectively.

 

In conclusion, I agree most with NT Wright's pincer approach; using the historical context as source, the gospels themselves as sources and early Church history/tradition to get back to an accurate account of what happened. And no, I'm not a "fundamentalist" for this approach. If I were a fundamentalist, I would (like CS Lewis did) be claiming that the entire realm of historical criticism and/or search for the historical Jesus was totally a ploy of the Devil to detract from faith.

 

The unexamined life is never worth living.

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While I greatly admire Bishop Spong and often agree with him, I just can't see how the writer of Luke depended on Matthew's account at all. Take away Mark and Q and what is left of Luke and Matthew are totally different. Matthew uses more midrash, Luke borrows heavily from Hellenistic images. You don't need Matthew to create Luke. Even the order which the two authors use Q is different. (Sidebar: since we know that the current version of Matthew is not the original Matthew, maybe Q is the original which someone folded into Mark to produce the current Matthew version.)

 

If Luke did not know about Matthew, which seems likely to me, then the existance of Q as a written document is secure and was probably written in Greek somewhere in the Galilee or Syria before the first Jewish revolt since it lacks an apocalyptic element. That such a collections of sayings existed is supported by the known Gospel of Thomas. Since Q shows greater organization than Thomas, it stands to reason that the original Thomas was written even earlier probably in Syria. That Q provides some context for its sayings further indicates that represents a later stage in Gospel development.

 

Both Thomas and Q present Jesus as a bringer of Wisdom whose vision of the Kingdom of God (or of the Father as Thomas puts it) is not so much a future event but is a present reality that is present now at least in a nacent fashion. For Thomas, awakening to the Kingdom was an awakening to the state of the original creation on the seventh day before the division of the first human into male and female. (It reminds me of the statement in "A Course in Miracles" in which the revealor says "The Bible says Adam fell asleep. It never says he woke up.")

 

Mark's narrative carries the trend toward adding context forward, but also marks a significant turn in spirituality, from Jesus as sage and awakener to Jesus as apocalytic messiah. I believe that is change came about due to recent events in Mark's community: the burning of Rome, the Nero persecution, and the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem; all of which indicated to the author that God was breaking into history right now and so Mark writes with a breathless immediacy. Mark probably did use stories of Jesus used during synagogue services and fitted to the Jewish lectionary, but created from them a biography that is modeled on the Greco-Roman biographies of his day. Because Mark used these stories, his account still fits the Jewish calender to a great degree. That Mark was probably written in the West, possibly Rome, is indicated by the close parallels between his passion narrative and the coronation ceremony of Caesar which entailed: a crowning and robing in purple, a procession through the streets carring the symbols of office (Jesus carries the cross), the offering of a ceremonial drink which is refused, being seated between two officials (Jesus is hung between two theives), and being proclaimed king (Jesus title placed on the cross) on Capitulium hill - the "top" place (Jesus is crucified on "Golgotha" - the "skull" place). While Mark is probably Jewish, he is not a great scholar using only common Greek and the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. He also makes several geographical errors in describing the Holy Land. The writer of Matthew is a better scholar and clearly Jewish, but again uses only the Greek translation which raises questions of how Jewish he really was. Luke uses very fine Greek, but has a poor grasp of Judaism.

 

Bottomline for me is that the while the Gospels have a strong Jewish element, they are clearly influenced by Greco-Roman elements as well. With due respects, I think Bishop Spong has overstated his case.

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  • 1 year later...

I'm bumping this thread to the top in the hopes that some of those now here will have some insight to offer on the question initially posed by BroRog.

 

I didn't even know what "lectionary" meant when I read this, I had to look it up.

 

Curses on my JW and Mormon background! Curses I say! ;)

 

Anyone have anything to add? Please? I'm learning and you guys teach me so much!

 

Aletheia

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  • 2 months later...

I haven't read this book for quite a few years -- years in which my overall philosophical outlook has grown quite a bit further away from Spong's than it was then. But I do remember being utterly turned on by the lectionary theory proposal. (Not that it's originally his idea... I think the ideas in this book are essentially Goulder's, but not having read Goulder first-hand, I'm not really qualified to say precisely where the two differ.)

 

I don't really see the "Lectionary Theory" and the "Q Hypothesis" as mutually exclusive things. The gospels could have been composed with or without a lectionary intent in mind, with or without a primary source called Q. The importance of the Lectionary Theory in my mind, is the incredible sense it makes of the aspects of the gospel material that are utterly incapable of historical corroboration -- especially the birth stories and passion narratives. When he led me through the Markan passion narrative, clearly revealing a progression of key turning points at (conveniently) three-hour intervals, the light just went on -- this is a Vigil service! Duh, how did I miss this?!

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For our "Sarah's Circle" book club at church I am reading "Resurrection: Myth or Reality by Spong. (It's a strange title I think, as he immediately goes to define "myth" and what he says is basically what we have been talking about that myth is "true" even if it never happened. He shoulda titled it "myth or literal truth" or something.) Anyway, I think this is the weakest of the three books I have read "Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism" and "The Church must Change or Die".

 

Anyway this book does get quite a bit into midrash and why he thinks it is a possible. I have to say that one very neat aspect is that it makes Christianity more connected with Judaism. It makes sense that it IS more connected, and that for years and years Christians were really a sect of Judaism. I can't evaluate the midrash theory at all, not knowing all there is to know about it. I could see that there could be source material (ie Q) so that the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

 

--des

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I haven't been drawn to read Spong, only because I know I'm a bit to the "right" of him theologically. NT Write gets into the "Jewishness" of Jesus. I'm looking forward to reading him someday. I imagine I'll read Spong someday as well. So many authors, so many views, so little time. :lol:

Edited by AletheiaRivers
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Interesting. I actually felt that Resurrection and Liberating the Gospels were his two best. In each case, he had a nice, narrow focus and really kept to it. They were very detailed and insightful, without being overly polemical (not completely free of polemics, it is Spong, after all). Then with Why Christianity Must Change or Die and A New Christianity For a New World, I sort of felt he took out his axe and just mercilessly slashed everything to bits. I find them on the whole less nuanced, less developed, and more polemical.

 

Where I have really diverged from Spong (and maybe this is off-topic?) is not so much regarding his approach to the Bible, i.e. rejecting the literal/factual interpretation of creation, fall, virgin birth, resurrection, second coming, etc. (on that we agree for the most part). Rather it's that his interpretation gives him (and his readers) so little left to hang on to. Resurrection and LTG do a great job of suggesting how the early Christians expressed their experience of the resurrected Christ in gospel form. But when he attempts to suggest what that experience might have been, the best he can possibly offer, haltingly, barely, is a psychological feeling of powerful love and self-acceptance. Life-changing love and self-acceptance, to be sure; of a sort never before seen, to be sure. All these superlatives and more about Jesus the man. But I personally think there's no way Christianity can possibly survive without Jesus, the Christ, the God-Man; and progressive Christianity has got to find a way to make this statement in a compelling way.

 

Ok, I'm now officially off-topic! A show of hands for taking this elsewhere...

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But I personally think there's no way Christianity can possibly survive without Jesus, the Christ, the God-Man; and progressive Christianity has got to find a way to make this statement in a compelling way.

 

Ok, I'm now officially off-topic!  A show of hands for taking this elsewhere...

 

This discussion might fit in "Selling a Liberal Christianity", which has *petered-out* (i wonder where this phrase came from? ;) some. I'd certainly be interested in participating.

 

lily

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Well I doubt "petered out" comes from Peter, but he did, as the story goes "Peter out". :-)

 

BTW, what I am not too keen about Spong in Resurrection is just that he is repeating himself so much. I am not sure where I think I am from him in a religious sense, but I don't exactly agree with everything anyway. I much prefer the more mystical type stuff coming from Matt Fox or even Borg.

 

--des

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