Reviews of

New Studies in the Synoptic Problem

In Andrew GREGORY, Dan Batovici, John S. KLOPPENBORG, Joseph VERHEYDEN, New Testament, Paul FOSTER, Peeters, Q, Synoptic Gospels, Synoptic theories on February 16, 2015 at 1:00 pm


2015.02.04 | P. Foster, A. Gregory, J.S. Kloppenborg, J. Verheyden. New Studies in the Synoptic Problem. Oxford Conference, April 2008. Essays in Honour of Christopher M. Tuckett. BETL 239; Leuven/Paris/Walpole: Peeters, 2011.

Reviewed by Dan Batovici, KU Leuven.

Many thanks to Peeters for providing a review copy.

This volume grew out of the conference organised in April 2008 in Oxford at Lincoln College and, as the title indicates, it is the Festschrift offered to Prof. Christopher Tuckett. It is also meant to commemorate on the centenary of, and bring up to date, the volume Oxford Studies in the Synoptic Problem, edited in 1911 by William Sanday, the then Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford. This book gathers thirty-three commissioned contributions, grouped in five parts of varying size. I have presented elsewhere the twenty two papers offered at the conference in 2008 (here). In the following I shall be presenting the remaining commissioned contributions, largely in the same manner.

David C. Sim

This paper examines issues related to Matthean priority in the synoptic studies. To that end, Sim surveys a number of themes – the role of the Torah, the view of the Gentiles, and the depiction of Jesus’ disciples and family – in Mark, Q, and Matthew.In picking these themes, Sim is building on his previous work. The three texts are chosen as the priority texts in the three main synoptic theories, respectively FH, 2SH (termed as 2DH), and 2GH. Following the analysis of the selected themes in the three texts, Sim tests how the three corresponding synoptic theories account for the differences, and then sets them against the problem of the historical Jesus. His conclusion is that, on this matter, the Matthean account is the most ‘historical’ one; however, this does not necessarily lead him to affirming the 2GH. Instead, Sim stresses a point (already existing in scholarship) that it is not unconceivable that a later author might have more accurate historical data that he would then use to correct his source (e.g. as Matthew would do in using Mark in either the 2SH or FH), and finishes by raising questions about the relevance of source-theories for fields such as that of the historical Jesus.

John C. Poirier

Poirier’s contribution is an investigation of the way the composition of Luke is explained in the three main synoptic theories: the 2SH (termed 2DH), 2GH, and FH. The author proceeds by addressing the overall issues surrounding the composition of Luke in each of them (e.g., in the case of the 2SH, Luke’s use of respectively Mark and Q), and then focuses specifically on one episode: Luke’s birth narrative. This is not present in Mark, and by that creates some problems to the 2SH, given that—even though it is present in Matthew and Luke—it is by definition excluded from Q (as a sayings collection). Finally, he addresses the impact of the technology of writing in antiquity for the three theories, and, in summarising the results of the analysis for each of them, Poirier notes that “virtually all the aspects of Luke’s procedure on the FH are paralleled in the work of other ancient writers,” at p. 226.

William E. Arnal

In one of the most extensive contributions in the volume, Arnal aims to assess the bearing of the synoptic problem on the development of the field of the historical Jesus. First off, the link between the two domains is traced down to their very beginnings, and it is noted that historical Jesus reconstructions tend to be only loosely connected to the synoptic solution they otherwise begin with. This has to do with the fact that the former poses a historical problem, while the latter a literary one, and, furthermore, with the fact that a synoptic theory is not meant to account for ‘everything that went into the literary production of a text’ (379). The correlation is thus more along the lines of ‘elective affinity’ than something necessary, or logical, in nature. The bulk of this contribution then documents how this plays out when the image of ‘three different Jesuses’ is drawn from the three main synoptic theories: in the main, W. Farmer in relation to the 2GH, E.P. Sanders in relation to the FH, and J.D. Crossan in relation to the 2SH. By doing that, Arnal is able to show that in the historical Jesus research, beyond the rather general framework provided by source-critical theories there is still a need for punctual exegetical decisions which lead to considerable overlap. The article concludes with a discussion of the facets and various levels of implication when assuming (in a consistent manner) a synoptic theory or another for the purpose of inquiring into the historical Jesus.

Dennis R. MacDonald

This paper deploys an approach termed here ‘mimesis criticism,’ envisaging six criteria, by the means of which one could establish whether a text imitates another, and proposes, as background for the frothing demoniac episode of Mark 9:14-29, the grim episode of Euripides’ Hercules furens, in which Hercules loses his mind to the hands of Hera’s Lyssa. The author further sketches how the three main synoptic theories might explain the parallels to this episode, the context being that Luke and Matthew have significantly shorter accounts of that episode, both lacking precisely the Euripidian material. MacDonald then proposes his own account, assuming Markan priority and the existence Q. In his view, however, Mark too used Q, which means that in this case Q is more inclusive than other, more strict, theories would have it (and is therefore named Q+). Moreover, Papias too knew Q. This ‘Q+/Papias’ hypothesis posits Q+ as source for all texts involved; apart from Q+, Papias knew Mark and Matthew as well. Luke then used  Papias, Q+, Mark, and Matthew.

Ulrich Luz

This paper addresses a number of issues in Q research, and analyses the bearing of Matthew’s reception of Q on these issues, proposing that, from this perspective, Q seems an ‘open’ text rather than a ‘literary’ document. The first issue tackled with from Q research is its status as a written text in relation to oral traditions. Luz suggests that there are reasons to consider that Q could have circulated and could have been used both in written form and in oral performance (with sayings collections as mnemonic aids). As far as the different possible versions of Q are concerned (understood as a variation in the early transmission of Q, and not as a recession produced by an editor or redactor), he reaffirms the possibility of the existence of a special QMt. Luz then turns to the question of Q’s literary genre, and suggests that, in dislocating the order of the reconstructed Q, Matthew ‘was exploiting what was offered to him by the very genre of the document’ (583), which, in turn, is taken as a ‘collection of material’ (584). The last issue addressed is the Q-community and it is proposed that from a Matthean perspective, one does not need to assume that the ‘Q-people’ only knew Jesus’ sayings (and not also narratives about him).

Richard Bauckham

This paper offers an assessment of the relationship between the gospel of John and the synoptic gospels. Given that John is usually dated later than the other three, his direct relevance for the synoptic problem is unclear. Taking into account recent scholarship on the oral transmission of texts and on ancient compositional techniques, and, drawing on earlier publications, Bauckham proposes that ‘John was familiar with Mark and expected his readers to be, but not necessarily that John used Mark as a source in any substantial way’ (673). He subsequently argues that John knew and made use of Mark in more than a dozen narrative episodes, and also that it is more difficult to determine whether he also used Matthew and Luke. As he puts it, ‘It is not only that John is closer to Mark than to the others; the relationship is of a different order’ (697), the main point being that for this reason John would seem to support Markan priority.

Andreas Lindemann

Assuming form the outset that the 2SH ‘is the most preferable solution of the synoptic problem’ (689), Lindemann proposes an assessment of the relevance of the so-called Apostolic Fathers for the synoptic discussion. This translates into a quest for traces of the Q source in the Apostolic Fathers. With Papias discussed only occasionally, this paper involves ‘looking for “synoptic traditions” in 1 Clement, the Didache, Barnabas, the letters of Ignatius and of Polycarp, as well as Martyrdom of Polycarp, 2 Clement, and the “Epistle to Diognetus”’ (689). The author then proposes that it is possible to ‘find traces for the opinion that at the end of first century and beginning of second century CE Christian authors still had access to the Q source’ (719). Hence, when looking through the lenses of the 2SH, one may find probable examples in 1 Clement and Barnabas, and to a lesser extent in Ignatius and Polycarp (who might have known pre-gospel material, perhaps ‘even Q, but not as a written text,’ at p. 719).

Dieter Lührmann

Within the fifth part of the volume, Lührman addresses the relevance of a number of gospel texts from the fragmentary papyri that eventually came to be considered apocryphal—for the synoptic problem. To that end, the author briefly discusses the parallels they contain to the synoptic material, and their applicability for the study of  the historical Jesus, of the following documents: the Fayûm Fragment (P.Vindob.G. 2325), the Gospel of Peter in the Akhmim codex (P.Cair. 10759), the Oxyrhynchus-logia (P.Oxy. 654, 1 and P.Oxy. 655), and the so called Egerton gospel (P.Egerton 2).

Judith Lieu

Judith Lieu’s contribution offers an assessment of the bearing of Marcion’s gospel on the synoptic problem. However, as the article shows, this is a highly complicated matter, marred by a multitude of problems; for instance, the only data we have comes from heresiologists; the level of precision in their quotations is far from clear;  it is uncertain in what language Tertullian knew Marcion’s gospel, whether Latin or Greek; it is unclear what is due to Marcion’s doing and what to Luke’s textual transmission, since ‘many of the supposed textual corruptions attributed to Marcion represent variants already present in the textual tradition of the second century’ (739). Then, a survey of the scholarly debate regarding the relationship between Marcion’s gospel and Luke results in a number of caveats that need to be taken into account in any assessment of the relevance of Marcion for the synoptic problem. Some of them are more general (for instance, urging that the hypothetical nature of any reconstruction of Marcion’s gospel needs to be acknowledged, and that, when performed, the reconstruction ‘must work in the textual level as well as on that of content,’  at p. 746), while most of the others poke various holes in several possible insertions of Marcion in the various synoptic solutions.

Scott G. Brown

This paper explores the relevance, for the synoptic problem, of the ‘longer gospel of Mark’; Brown has argued extensively in previous publications for the authenticity of the document known as Clement of Alexandria’s letter ‘to Theodore’ in which the longer ending of Mark is excerpted, and thus proceeds on that assumption. The declared aim is to determine the appropriate theoretical grounds for deciding whether the longer ending of Mark represents a later expansion drawing on all canonical gospels or, by contrary, a Markan redactional stage anterior to canonical Mark (given ‘several negative agreements of Matthew and Luke against Mark in passages that have close parallels in the longer gospel,’ 753-4). Brown analyses first the evidence pointing to agreements between the longer ending of Mark and the canonical gospels (which would point to the former’s secondary nature), and suggests that these are not as clear as previously thought; then, he turns to the Markan formulae echoed in the longer ending of Mark which have no close parallels in either Luke or Matthew and proposes that, after weighing the evidence, one can still hypothesize a scenario in which an earlier date for the longer Mark is preserved.

Christopher Rowland

The volume ends with a short nine-page essay by Christopher Rowland, who proposes ‘Another Perspective on the “Synoptic” Problem.’ Starting from representations of synoptic pericopae in (mostly) classical paintings, the author explores the ‘representation of the diachronic  in a synchronic or at least synoptic form’ (852). This reception perspective is in fact complementary to the matters of textual relationships between the three gospels, a fact which sets this contribution apart from most contributions. It also makes for a very interesting ending of this remarkable volume.

To round up, the contributions gathered in the volume make for a fine collection of essays on the synoptic problem. Its most visible drawback is perhaps its size, and at times a sense of unevenness of the contributions. For instance, the articles can vary in size quite a lot as well since, for instance, W.E. Arnal’s contribution spans over some sixty pages, while that of D. Lührmann over ten. But both are to be expected from a reference tool of this sort. The synoptic problem student will be able to make good use of both the articles on the various facets of the history of research, and those that explore newer venues of research, as the book does succeed in its aim to offer ‘a comprehensive assessment of the state of research into the Synoptic Problem over the last hundred years and indicating potential ways in which discussion may be advanced,’ (3). It is by all means an indispensable tool for anyone working in the domain.

Dan Batovici
KU Leuven
dan.batovici at


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