Recherche – Detailansicht






Neues Testament


Mournet, Terence C.


Oral Tradition and Literary Dependency. Variability and Stability in the Synoptic Tradition and Q.


Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2005. XVI, 327 S. m. Abb. gr.8° = Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament. 2. Reihe, 195. Kart. Euro 64,00. ISBN 3-16-148454-1.


Armin D. Baum

Critical orthodoxy in synoptic gospel studies presupposes that Matthew and Luke copied Mark and Q. In his Ph. D. dissertation, written at the University of Durham under the supervision of J. D. G. Dunn, M. calls this broad consensus into question. He presents in much more detail a number of arguments for a thesis that Dunn himself recently published in his Jesus Remembered (2003) and in several articles (esp. in NTS 49 [2003], 139­175). M. does not give up the two-source hypothesis and assumes that Q was a written document. On the other hand he is convinced that Matthew and Luke did not copy all their common material from Q, but took some of it from a common oral source. This book is doubtless an important step into the right direction that strongly invites discussion and interaction.

After a short introduction, in chapter 2 (13­53) M. describes how the literary paradigm has dominated gospel studies in the last 100 years: Even scholars who did not subscribe to the two-source hypothesis (like W. R. Farmer and E. P. Sanders) assumed that the relationship between the synoptic gospels was exclusively literary. And though proponents of the two-source hypothesis (among many others B. H. Streeter, J. C. Hawkins and J.S. Kloppenborg Verbin) sometimes give »lip service« to the influence of oral traditions upon our gospels, they do not really take it into account. M.¹s description of critical orthodoxy in synoptic gospel studies rings true.

Nevertheless, Hawkins (39­41) did not regard the gospels of Matthew and Luke as results of simple copying. His still very helpful analysis of the synoptic evidence led him to the »strong opinion«, that the gospel authors used written sources but often did not reproduce them exactly »because of the oral knowledge of the life and sayings of Jesus Christ which they had previously acquired as learners and used as teachers, and upon which therefore it would be natural for them to fall back very frequently« (Horae Synopticae [21909 = 1968], 217). In other words, when Matthew and Luke read Mark and Q for the first time, most of the stories were not new to them. And why should they have preferred Mark¹s and Q¹s versions of the already very well known pericopes over their oral versions on a regular basis? This approach to the synoptic problem does not look unsimilar to the one taken by M. and his teacher Dunn.

Chapter 3 (54­99) reviews how oral tradition was taken into account in gospel studies before A. B. Lord¹s Singer of Tales (1960) and afterwards. In the first half of this chapter M. deals with the contributions of R. Bultmann, M. Dibelius and B. Gerhardsson. Since Lord¹s seminal work on the process of oral communication in oral societies two things have been called into question. First, whether the search for the ipsissima verba of Jesus really does justice to the synoptic material. And second, whether Bultmann¹s and Dibelius¹ claim that the units of the synoptic tradition generally grew and expanded over time can still be regarded as true. In the second half of the chapter M. presents quite a number of publications that took Lord¹s research into account, among them the influential work of W. H. Kelber and the book by B. Henaut (1993), who argues against the integration of an oral factor into the solution of the synoptic problem. This chapter offers a helpful overview of the recent contributions that call into question critical orthodoxy. Yet, it is not very clear why M. started with Bultmann and Dibelius, giving the impression that before them no one cared about the influence of oral tradition on our gospels. M. would have done well to mention those few but important scholars, who, unimpressed by the main line solution(s), regarded oral tradition as a serious factor in the development of the gospels, names like C. F. G. Heinrici, P. Fiebig or G. Kittel and, more recently, B. D. Chilton. These scholars detected close analogies between the synoptic parallel traditions and the parallel texts in rabbinic literature. This important approach must not be forgotten, though it still needs to be developed in much more detail.

In this regard one might also want to ask if the rather negative assessment of the work done by B. Gerhardsson and his students (63­67) is fully justified (and strategically helpful). Of course, Gerhardsson himself has very recently reacted against Dunn¹s suggestions in a similarly negative way (NTS 51 [2005], 1­18). Nevertheless, seen from outside it looks as if in terms of gospel studies the differences between the Gerhardsson school and Dunn¹s approach are much smaller than the opponents seem to realise. Frankly, I can¹t see why these two groups couldn¹t learn much more from each other and even cooperate in a very fruitful way.

In chapter 4 (100­149) M. discusses how written and oral communication was regarded and practiced in antiquity. He examines, among other things, ancient testimonies about oral traditions in the early church (Papias) and early Judaism, texts with oral origins (Didache), public reading and learning through listening (Jer 36,6; Neh 8,2) and concludes: »it is difficult to envisage a strictly editorial compositional situation where an isolated author would be able to collect the various manuscripts of ðJesus traditionsÐ, sit down at a large work area, open up the various codices and scrolls containing source material, and work without the benefit and input of oral tradition« (148). That may be true for major parts of ancient literature, but it is not clear whether it also describes correctly what, for instance, the Chronicler did with his copy of the Book of Kings and what Josephus did with the Letter of Aristeas (cf. EThL 78 [2002], 340­357). Still, such a statement, although it helps to correct a one-sided perspective on ancient literature, probably should be more nuanced.

Chapter 5 (150­191) is devoted to the interesting question of what the most important characteristics of orally transmitted texts are. In order to answer it M. integrates results of modern oral poetry research and identifies two aspects that all oral texts (despite their cultural, geographical and chronological diversity) have in common, namely redundancy (repetition of key words and phrases, paratactic sentence constructions, pleonasms, ring compositions etc.) and verbal variability (only the basic story outline is more or less fixed). Again, these research results from folklore studies and related disciplines provide very helpful insights and will definitely have to be taken much more seriously in gospel studies. On the other hand this chapter provokes the question as to whether verbal variability cannot also be a characteristic mark of literary texts without an oral prehistory. The relationship between the Antiquities of Josephus and its written sources (for example the Letter of Aristeas) displays such a large amount of verbal variability, that scholars like H. J. Cadbury or F. G. Downing regarded Josephus¹ work as the closest analogy to the synoptic phenomenon of the New Testament. And why does M. mention the different versions of a song, printed in an appendix to Lord¹s Singer of Tales, only in a footnote (182 note 100)? Since in his own book he is dealing with the parallel material that (only) Matthew and Luke have in common and wants to argue for its oral background, why does he not compare Lord¹s parallel versions of oral texts to the mt-lk double tradition (cf. Bib 85 [2004], 264­272)?

In chapter 6 (192­286) M. offers statistical analysis of a number of Q pericopes. As has often been observed, the verbal agreement between Matthew and Luke varies from pericope to pericope from about 10 % to about 90 %. Some scholars (most recently T. Bergemann) have suggested that only the parallel texts with a rather high verbal agreement should be ascribed to a written document Q. M. goes a step further and asks if the verbal agreement within the single Q pericopes is just as inhomogeneous. In order to do so he divides the pericopes into subsections, usually by verse, and calculates the verbal agreement in each of them. The overall result is that in a number of Q pericopes with a low average verbal agreement, internal variability is higher than in a number of Q pericopes with a high average verbal agreement and in the triple tradition pericopes. But »it is not clear Š whether this variability can be used as an indicator of oral tradition behind the extant texts« (282). M.¹s approach to the problem of the Q material is new and moves in a promising direction. Two or three questions will have to be dealt with in future research: How (in)homogenous is the verbal agreement within the remaining pericopes of the mt-lk double tradition and the triple tradition? And if the synoptic data are analysed »from a folkloristic perspective« (204), one would like to know whether in oral societies parallel versions of the same story display a similar variability of verbal agreement. On the other hand: Is it possible to show that the verbal agreement between ancient texts related by simple copying is never (or at least not usually) as inhomogeneous as in the synoptic pericopes that are regarded as possible candidates for an oral origin?

In sum, M.¹s book is a very important and welcome contribution to the re-emerging discussion of the influence of oral tradition on all three synoptic gospels. He has taken a decisive step forward. Several others will have to follow. The debate has just begun.