Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Wizard's First Rule and Q

I have enjoyed Chris Petersen's synoptic pilgrimage, parts I and II, which in some ways mirrors my own abandonment of Q in favor of the Farrer-Goulder hypothesis.

In his second post, Chris cites the first axiom from Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth novels to help explain why so many people believe in Q. (I'm afraid I vehemently disagree with Chris about this series being one of the best fantasies ever written -- I loathed the first book -- but that's another matter.) He explains "Wizard's First Rule" as follows:
"With minimal persuasion people will generally believe things to be true for one of two reasons: either because they are scared that it may be true or because they strongly wish it to be true".
But Chris is much more tactful than the originator of that rule. In Goodkind's book it's put bluntly:
"People are stupid and will believe any lie, either because they want to believe it's true, or because they are afraid it's true." (Wizard's First Rule, chapter 36)
Of course, it wouldn't be accurate (or kind) to say that Q-adherents are stupid, but the question of Q being a lie is an interesting one. It could be one of the greatest scholarly self-deceptions.

I should point out that Wizard's First Rule ignores a third factor. People believe something (whether a lie or not) not only because they want it to be true, or are scared it may be true, but because they have been taught that it's true. That is, after all, why I believed in Q. I relinquished it when I finally realized it was unnecessary to solve the synoptic problem -- and when I saw that it has been so popular because (per the rule) people really do want it to be true. As I said in my list of dangerous ideas (#6), citing Mark Goodacre (as Chris does),
" 'Q has been all over the world, loved by everyone, feminists and liberation theologians, the sober and the sensational, the scholar and the layperson, a document with universal appeal. Indeed one of the keys to its success has been its ability to woo both conservatives and radicals alike.' (Mark Goodacre, Case Against Q, p 16). Traditionalists favor Q for providing (supposedly) early evidence of the Christian movement, and liberals adore it for its emphasis on parables and teachings (like gospel of Thomas), lacking orthodox material like the passion and resurrection."
It's just not easy to let go.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's not necessary to fervently embrace Q, nor to refute it with equal fervency. It has survived because it's a plausible theory that fits pretty well with an equally-plausible theory, i.e., Markan priority. There are other, equally-plausible theories, and it's hard (for me, at least) to see where Occam's Razor might cut. We're dealing with speculation here, concerning the earliest documentary sources for the Christian movement, absent since the fall of Jerusalem erased the "headquarters" of that movement (as Donald Akenson and others have surmised). If we could only see what Papias and other early Church fathers might have seen!

Blogger James said...

Hard to see where Occam's razor might cut?
We know Mark exists.
We know Matthew exists.
We don't know Q exists (and, one might think, would have been regarded as worth preserving it had existed as a written document).
If ever there were an entity multiplied beyond necessity, surely it's Q.

Blogger Jim Deardorff said...

Why did many scholars latch onto Q? Indeed because they wanted to. Why did they want to? Probably because they wished that Luke and Matthew were written independently, ala Canon Streeter.

Why did they wish Luke and Matthew to be independent writings? So that the Gospel writers could be considered less dishonest, I'd say, or closer to being "pipelines from God."

Jim Deardorff

Blogger Chris Petersen said...


Thanks for chiming in. Too bad you did not care for "Wizard's First Rule". Although in retrospect I think I would retract my assertion that it ranks up there with "Lord of the Rings" since as much as I like the book it is a pastiche of many different things which certainly counts against it being a classic.


Post a Comment

<< Home