Goulder’s Luke: A New Paradigm

This book was loaned to me, as copies are exceedingly rare and expensive, and I have not read all of it, only the first 200 pages or so. But I’d like to make a few notes on it here, as I’m sure it will figure heavily into answering one of my exam questions.

LNP is a sequel of sorts to MLM (Midrash and Lection in Matthew), in that it describes what MLM should have been sufficient to show – Luke knew both Mark and Matthew, and Q is more or less toast.

Goulder makes some very interesting rhetorical moves in the first chapter when he cites Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn to show why 1) the Q hypothesis is not a real hypothesis, as it is rendered neither provable or falsifiable, and 2) that it will take one of Kuhn’s paradigm shifts, rather than the usual single black swan, to unshake it.

He then gives a nice, succinct history of Q, lists its strengths and weaknesses, and then offers three chapters for specific arguments dealing with L material, parallels to Paul, and a revised version of his Jewish festival calendar argument, though this time it is focused on Mark and Luke. After this, a 600-page commentary on Luke begins. I’m principally interested in the prologue, so I read that, but I’ll be using the rest as a reference work.

I think I’ve talked about Goulder’s arguments here before when I made an entry on MLM, but I’d note that LNP has a different tone to it. Goulder seems rather disappointed that MLM did not deal as much damage to Q as he would have liked, and thus his rhetoric is considerably heightened (not that he wasn’t sarcastic in MLM). This may be due to the shift in subject. Instead of his primary focus being the authorship of Matthew, here he is focused on Luke, and in the strange, befuddled logic of Q, claims to Luke being creative are more serious and direct than claims that Matthew was creative. Goulder does everything but accuse other critics of defending Q to defend their careers, and talks of the ‘clouds of epicycles’ they form to defend the hypothesis; Ptolemy, look out!

I find it difficult to summarize Goulder’s case as I find it so utterly commonsensical. But I’ll try. It’s unlikely Luke would have not known of or not had Matthew’s gospel; the prologue says he knew of ‘many’ that had attempted orderly accounts, and he is clearly trying to remedy what he sees as a major problem of order, something serious enough to have confused a friend/community important to him. And as he is so respectful of Mark’s order, what order would he be referring to?

There are the Minor Agreements, of course, and Goulder’s exhaustive attempt to show that the theology of Q and that of Matthew is virtually identical; there are also Luke’s habits of arrangement, where his handling of Markian passages mirrors his handling of Matthew’s, and his recurring emphasis on the poor, which explains much of his editorial decisions.

The most important point here for me, though, is that Goulder is making rhetorical claims about the authorship of these texts. He is not engaged, as I’ve seen a review claim, in the same old usual source and redaction criticism, as I would argue that the core of his argument is not based on textual variations (though he’s covered himself quite well in that area) but on a view of Luke as an creative author. And I further think that his view stems from his reading of the formal prologue. I don’t think he uses the word ‘rhetoric’ in his entire work, though the spirit of it infuses every paragraph; Luke’s purpose, his functional outlook, is always being considered, and as any good rhetorical critic, Goulder allows him free will, barring later editing and transmission issue. This is in direct opposition to a conservative view of authorial passivity that seems to reign when the gospels are concerned. Rhetorical criticism of Paul does not have this problem, as he is assumed to have control over his letters, barring the same post-composition concerns, plus perhaps a scribe; the gospel authors are not allowed nearly as much agency, as it is assumed by 70-100 that the traditions of Jesus are solid enough that the authors could not have fiddled with them too much. This assumption is extraordinarily dangerous and frankly indefensible; it seems to be in severe denial that there are FOUR gospels, and the early church traditions did not have the ability to pare them down into one or even 2 or 3. We can assume quite easily, I think, that there is serious free composition going on in the composition of the gospels, and furthermore that the true function of Q is not to explain the parallels in the Greek, but to defend an editorial, rather than authorial, worldview of Matthew and Luke that is comfortable and easy to accept by the faithful. And it has served in that function quite well.

I don’t buy all his arguments automatically, of course. Jumping around in the commentary, I found Goulder’s explanation of the Ascension in Luke 24, as a ‘temporary departure,’ and not the real Ascension, which supposedly happens in Acts, to be a cop-out that avoids a serious problem with Luke-Acts authorship (which I hope to write on someday).

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