More on John and "Q"

In tracing the following of the Baptist, we go from the members of the twelve who are identified as previously his followers (Peter, Andrew, Phillip), to the encounters with Baptist disciples in the diaspora in Acts, to a continuing and expanding Mandaean tradition. Luke has provided the key to the lineage of Baptist tradition by his inclusion of the infancy narrative, as well as striking a posture of fraternity and accommodation between Christians and those "who know the baptism of John" in the diaspora. Depending upon Mark for narrative framework, Luke has also with Matthew included a body of teachings not found in Mark, not containing signs and wonders nor pointing to passion and resurrection. For this reason, we suggest that it is to this material that we might look to find vestiges of John the Baptist's own teachings, taken over and repeated by Jesus as his successor or simply ascribed to Jesus by Luke (and Matthew). Such a process would be consistent with Luke's motive in reporting the encorporation of Baptist followers into Christianity and his style in including the strongly Baptist infancy narrative.

Reginald Fuller, in his CRITICAL INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT has provided a succinct summary in the chapter on the history of the synoptic tradition. The simple statement, "Matthew and Luke never agree in diverging from Mark's wording" (p. 70) may be the most elegant argument in support of the Markan primacy. He goes on to describe the "Markan fundamentalism" which then characterized the quest for the historical Jesus. In his outline of "Q", which follows that of Harnack, Streeter and Manson, he cites the initial impression of this material as non- kerygmatic. Much effort has been expended to establish a kerygmatic context for "Q"; the work of H. E. Todt is noted. But such names as Dibelius and Bultmann are marshalled to the same cause, arguing that Jesus' own eschatological message is related to the ethical teachings of "Q" in the great sermon (Dibelius) or that the same ethical material represents the church's continuation of the very proclamation Jesus made in his eschatological way, "side by side with its own kerygma." (Fuller p. 73) The position of Todt is this: "'Q' also contains a christological kerygma--not the kerygma of the saving significance of the passion, to which the circles from which 'Q' emanates had not yet arrived, but the kerygma of Jesus who in his earthly ministry spoke with the authority of the Son of man vindicated in the face of the rejection of men..." i.e. the post- easter view. (p. 74)

A swarm of difficulties surround the effort to "kerygmatize" the "Q" materials. First, the notion that the circle which produced this witness had "not yet arrived" at a view embracing the passion/resurrection is in great tension with the general conclusion that the gospels are essentially passion narratives with extensive introductions; that the passion narratives were the first accounts to develop in organized form. Schweitzer is one of but many who emphasize that the Pauline discounting of "knowing Christ after the flesh" was the first pre-gospel perspective; that interest in Jesus' earthly life only came later and represents the lacunae that the evangelists labored to overcome. The tracing of historical lines between Jesus and his followers and the "circle" of "Q" seem to diverge rather than converge!

Further, the proclamation of the Danielic Son of Man whose coming rings down the eschaton sometimes appears in the teaching of Jesus in the third person. That Jesus considered himself to be this figure has long been questioned on this basis, although it is the position of the evangelists. In fact, the ethical themes and proclamation of "one who is to come," inaugurating the immanent Kingdom of God brings this material no closer to the Christian kerygma; indeed it might suggest more clearly the message of the disciples of the Baptist!

The initial "Q" hypothesis was cautiously advanced in the absence of any surviving whole document. Unlike Mark, which is also obviously present in Luke and Matthew, there is no existing parent "Q" manuscript behind the Luke/Matthew parallels which prompted the theory of its existence. One could not know if it had beginning, ending, or other content which Luke and Matthew edited out. This caution has begun to dispel among a number of scholars who are eager to examine "Q" as a literary entity of its own. R. M. Grant represents the still-cautious perspective that "Q" stands for common Luke/Matthew materials other than Markan and nothing more (INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT p. 114), yet he reports efforts to get closer to its origins by the following deductive methods. Since Luke changes the wording of his Markan materials less than Matthew, a closer wording to a "Q" original may be expected in Luke than Matthew. And, since Matthew rearranges the order of individual accounts from Mark less than does Luke, a closer approximation of the order of the "Q" accounts may be expected from Matthew! The reasoning appears sound, and one is strongly tempted to set off in reconstruction of "Q." In fact, many are on just such a quest, as reported among others by Burton Mack. There is concerted effort to move beyond the events of Barthian and Switzerian roadblocks in New Testament theology, to break the gridlock of Jesus as primarily an "apocalyptic" teacher and to reinstate the "teacher of wisdom" applicable to every age, as envisioned by Harnack. This effort also views the appearance of ethical teachings not, as in the Bultmannian style, later concerns of the church but as original to the earliest followers of Jesus and to himself. For this, some posit a particular "Q" community; Galilean, but eclectic to the degree admitting far- flung Hellenistic influence. Mack points to the similarities of "Q" teachings to that of the Greek Cynic school:

"...these included such things as disentanglement from one's family, voluntary homelessness, eschewing normal standards of cleanliness, simple attire, and unashamed begging. The forthrightness with which social critique was registered in Q was exactly like that of the Cynics' attitude called parresia, or bold, outspoken manner." (THE LOST GOSPEL, p. 46)

The prophetic and apocalyptic elements in "Q" are distinguished from this primal level as later accretions, "Q2" and "Q3."

Apart from the "unashamed begging" which we shall have to examine, all of these characteristics remind us precisely of all we are told concerning John the Baptist! He lived away in the wilderness, lived as a primitive, with simple attire, and was known for boldness of speech. For these characteristics we need not look to faraway Greece, but only to the wilderness of the Jordan.

Indeed, some "Q" scholarship has raised "...growing suspicion that the people of Q were not Christians: the people of Q did not think of Jesus as a messiah, did not recognize a special group of trained disciples as their leaders, did not imagine that Jesus had marched to Jerusalem in order to cleanse the temple or reform the Jewish religion, did not regard his death as an unusual divine event, and did not follow his teachings in order to be 'saved' or transformed people". (ibid p. 48) Could the same not be said of those "who knew only the baptism of John?" Still, the image of the Baptist and his followers is linked so strongly to the prophetic and apocalyptic elements in the narrative gospels that it has apparently ocurred to no one to identify the "Q" source with this local, Jewish cynic. Even though so strongly contrasted with the "apocalyptic" gospels, the teacher of "Q" is held to be Jesus, albeit "pre- Christian"! It is the narrative gospels of Luke and Matthew which would have us so believe; Mark (sans "Q") abstains. But if scholars are at pains to extricate Jesus "the wisdom teacher" from Jesus "the apocalyptic prophet", how could one hope to extricate John? We have seen how closely the two are bound in ministry and tradition, how Jesus inherited the following of John and was believed to have been baptized by him. If we indeed have a blending of Baptist/Dominical teaching tradition in the gospels, could not the case be made that it is the Baptist side which contributes the prophetic and apocalyptic emphasis and Jesus the ethical? It is largely on the strength of Mark's witness that Jesus stands as the prophetic and apocalyptic figure. And there is clearly a contrast between this figure and the emphasis of the second source common to Luke and Matthew. Is that contrast due to an earlier phase of Jesus' teachings closer to the time of John and reflecting his influence on Jesus? Or do the sources, which heard both John and Jesus, blend the two already in the oral tradition? If so, why is "Q" absent from Mark? Our hypothesis which resolves this dilemma puts the "Q" source apart from the earliest Jesus tradition, from a close but distinct compiler of kingdom teaching...from the following of John the Baptist.

Continental Biblical scholarship in the last two centuries has produced brilliant and illuminating results for which we may all be grateful. It has also apparently created a myth or two of its own which persist tenaciously. One of these is the existence of "schools" which are seen as responsible for Biblical documents. The Pauline school, the Johanine school, and now the "Q community" persist in the notion that Biblical documents are produced in the way faculty committees produce curricula or guide doctoral candidates. Perhaps we in America, on the other hand, are disposed to view the production of writings as individual enterprises rather than group projects. In any case, it seems more convincing to cast the Biblical writings as heroic achievements rather than as emerging consensus. When a variant hand appears under the name of a Paul or other Biblical author, it seems more convincingly the work of a single disciple emulating the work of an individual predecessor. A community may receive, celebrate and preserve a document. It does not seem possible that it can produce one. The same holds true for the teachings and deeds of Biblical figures. It may be that the works of the so-called "Christian prophets" are to be found "placed in the mouths of" central figures in the New Testament, but when another explanation is available, it is surely to be preferred. Mark has this kind of individual character. "Q" must also be expected to have this kind of individuality in focus and purpose. The figure of Jesus, and particularly the Passion, stand boldly in Mark. Without the Markan content of Luke and Matthew, who stands in his place?

If "Q" preserves Baptist teaching tradition, then the infancy narratives of Luke, minus the Mary/Jesus section, would stand as its beginning. But in lieu of the Passion, what could form its end? That question must be postponed till another occasion.

Bultmann denies that the Baptist was acknowledged by his own followers as having done "no mighty works." The bald statement to this effect in John 10:41 he sees as a bit of polemic (HST p. 24). But even that passage is much in the control of the Baptist ethos, as it is set at the place where John was last active, and attributes complete truth to John's message concerning Jesus' appearance. The note that he did no signs could be aligned with the fourth gospel's motif of placing physical signs on a lower level than inward possession of the light and truth. Of these, John remained the first witness. Contrariwise Bultmann understands the Herodian reaction that Jesus is "John redivivus" to imply that whatever Jesus was doing, John had been doing before...including mighty works. He also cites Jesus' foiling of the scribes and pharisees with an appeal to the authority of John for the authentication of his ministry. If one begins to contemplate a miracle-working Baptist, what then becomes of the notion that Q preserves a teaching ministry in which mighty acts are absent...consistent with what one might expect of a collection of the preaching of John? Either Q, seen as a Baptist document, must be regarded as evidence that he did NOT do mighty works by admission or design of one of his own followers,or, as may be more likely, the integration of a Baptist who is primarily a proclaimer and a Jesus who is the divine wonder-worker has already been accomplished in Q. Consider that the story of Jesus even in the brief form reported in the gospels has undergone considerable expansion in time and character to accommodate the need for satisfying the interest of the church. If Q were once an account of John/Jesus in which the teachings were more generally ascribed to John, the portion remaining for Jesus would be even more abreviated. Such a document would follow consistently with the pattern of the Lukan nativity story, which places John and Jesus very nearly on the same plane. It would also bring to mind the dual messiahship of Qumran which has been observed in just this connection elsewhere. (W. Wink)

But with this view of Q, we must return to the question of Mark. What was it about his gospel that so captivated Luke and Matthew that they followed his lead so explicitly? Their employment of Mark displaced whatever remained in our hypothetical "John/Jesus Q" of the part of the story exclusively belonging to Jesus. Or was that portion so brief that Mark simply overwrites it without our notice? If we read back through the programme "I must decrease, he must increase", the picture emerges of a Mark who is rewriting the Baptist/dominical story in quite a drastic way. Now it is Jesus who is the primary actor, almost from beginning to end. He is not yet the teacher of fine ethical precepts or colorful parabolic device, but a divine wonder worker in disguise. But he has become the one whose disciples will determine the future course. He is the proclaimer of the coming Kingdom. He is the one who teaches them the prayer. He is the one who contests with the religious authorities and is feared by them. At last he is the martyr, but his divine triumph overshadows everything which went before. Before Mark, we must suggest, none of this had been heard. John played a role more nearly equal to that of Jesus. He was the teacher to whom the people flocked to be baptised and taught. He was the one with disciples, (who did not flee at his death, but faithfully and bravely buried him). The coming of the Kingdom was his message. Priests and governors could not ignore him. He was the man of prayer. He was at last a martyr, but thought, like Elijah, to be beyond the grasp of death. A very remarkable thing happens when one begins to consider how Mark may have written a baptist/dominical tradition into one in which Jesus dominates. The contact between John and Jesus in Mark is immediate. At the very beginning the two characters appear, and the legacy is established. This first impression is a powerful one for all Christians, and that includes historical questors who "like" this event for a variety of reasons. But in an hypothetical baptist/dominical tradition this event would more likely happen later on, to allow more balance between the teachings and works of the two protagonists. Now it is no longer the venerated scene of Jesus' baptism by John in the almost indelible image...which gains credibility, but the account in Luke in which the baptism does not begin the ministry, but occurs almost incidentally AFTER John has been imprisoned! Suddenly this lost peculiarity of Luke becomes one more piece in our puzzle, indicating a baptist/dominical document behind Luke and related to, if not identical with, Q. Mark is now part of the programme "I must decrease, he must increase"; Mark and the Gospel of John together. But his picture of the Baptist does not demean; it merely asserts the faith in the secret Messiah of whom John is the precursor. He does not ascribe teachings to Jesus that may have been know to be John's. He and the other evangelists are also uneasy with Jesus performing baptism. The Baptist is not crowded from the stage, perhaps because that would have been impossible.

At some point, the inevitability of the decrease/increase theme must be related to the death of John the Baptist. And here we encounter another lost peculiarity of Luke. The death of the Baptist becomes obscure. Herod has beheaded John, but despairs that his spirit has passed into Jesus. Following the discussion concerning John, the transfiguration scene unfolds. Here Moses, Elijah (the Baptist) and Jesus appear glorified, and the voice proclaims the sonship of Jesus. Might this be the transition scene for a baptist/dominical gospel? Perhaps Mark has merely transferred the divine voice to the baptism scene which begins his story, to a point where John is still alive and more than part of an ethereal vision (transfiguration). And when the time comes, Mark lays out the unexpurgated version of John's sordid death, not allowing the lofty appearance of the transfiguration to stand as the climax to "the passion of John the Baptist." The suggested relocation of the baptism to the early part of the Jesus story by Mark would be comparable to the apparent relocation of the cleansing of the temple to its early location in the fourth gospel. Both authors must find dominical material to "move back" into the time known as the time of baptist predominance.

A Prophet and More