This essay reviews Alan Kirk’s recent book Q in Matthew: Ancient Media, Memory, and Early Scribal Transmissions of the Jesus Tbrradition, which analyzes the techniques of ancient scribal composition alongside memory theory to better understand how the author of the Gospel of Matthew used his sources.
In Q in Matthew: Ancient Media, Memory, and Early Scribal Transmissions of the Jesus Tradition, Alan Kirk presents the culmination of a long-held interest in the Synoptic Problem with a nearly as long-held interest in the role of memory in the transmission of the Jesus tradition and the production of the earliest texts. This book is a welcome intervention into synoptic studies, for it brings fresh attention to ancient media practices, the production and conditions of writing, and the influence of memory. Understanding ancient media practices (and the mountain of scholarship that informs the topic) is no easy task, and to be honest, biblical scholars have been known to ignore methodologies other than philology and history. Therefore, the careful attention to these neglected topics in Q in Matthew is an invaluable contribution to the field.
The first half of the book brings together Kirk’s extensive explorations into memory theory and ancient compositional practices, and in the second half, he deploys them to help make sense of the two weakest parts of the Two-Document Hypothesis (2DH): Matthew’s elaborate rearrangement of Q in the Sermon on the Mount and Matthew’s relocation of Markan materials out of Mark’s original sequence. According to traditional accounts of the 2DH, Luke has typically preserved the sequence of Q’s sayings better than Matthew, often inserting them independently into Mark’s outline, which he also preserves with great regularly. In comparison, Matthew is usually thought to engage in a more sophisticated compositional project, creating dense units of teaching from Q material and rearranging some of Mark’s order. Most commentators have resorted to some sort of ad hoc scenario to explain Matthew’s editorial policy in comparison to Luke. Yet such explanations are often not really explanations at all; they merely convert descriptions of how Matthew seems to have altered his sources into a wide-ranging “policy,” often with the aid of some armchair psychologizing (e.g., “Matthew preferred Mark’s order”).1 What is needed, Kirk maintains, is an explanation of Matthew’s behavior that accords with ancient media practices at the intersection of oral traditions and compositional techniques.
Orality is a relatively new dimension of New Testament studies, and indeed, of the social sciences, dating mainly to the latter half of the 20th century. For this reason, biblical scholars have ranged from ignoring it all together and assuming that sophisticated textual compositions emerged at the earliest moments of Christianity, to romanticizing its possibilities and supposing that dedicated transmitters of the traditions faithfully preserved the exact words of Jesus so that they could later be incorporated into written documents.2 In the midst of these differing attitudes, Kirk aims first to outline the critical contours of orality and oral traditions, for these form the bases of ancient media and have hitherto been only rarely treated with theoretical rigor.
Oral tradition is a slippery concept, for it can, on one hand, refer to the entire oral history of an idea or teaching, or on the other, merely a particular variant of a given oral tradition. Kirk clarifies that we must focus on orality as it is actualized as the moment of performance, for this is the only site that can be a reasonable object of analysis for the scholar. Oral performances are unique sites to study, for they unite the historical and the social: “Performer and audience find themselves enmeshed in a particular network of social and historical realities [during a performance].”3 Even though oral performances are short-lived, orality is not lost to the ether. It is accessible, in part, via predictable memory habits, which Kirk later uncovers.
Orality is marked by multiformity, “the very life of the tradition,”4 its ability to adapt to different settings and audiences, yet it simultaneously retains enough stability to survive over long periods of time. The different expressions that it takes are not random, though; they are expressed in “a cultural repertoire of genres”5 that expert performers come to know inherently. These performers, the tradents (discussed more below), are the individuals who keep the tradition alive, refreshing it and adding to it through different performances, embodying their individual and communal history and culture anew. The function of such mediating intellectuals was absolutely critical in antiquity, given the “steeply terraced gradations and uneven distribution of literate skills.”6 Thus, with this setup, it is clear that while orality may be a fleeting concept, by realizing how it becomes actualized in and transmitted by tradents, we are one step closer to its cultural life.
Much scholarship has simply stagnated in the realm of orality, content to view it as a nebulous “stage” that preceded the written text. Kirk is among those who have striven to overcome this “Great Divide.” Instead of viewing orality and literacy are two independent domains, he stresses that the ancient Mediterranean was a “mixed-media”7 culture. These two modalities interfaced with one another in complex ways, and for now, it suffices to say that orality continued to exert an influence on traditions even after they had been expressed in writing. A difficulty emerges when scholars try to take seriously oral traditions, but only presume that a written text is a record of its performance—this has happened all too frequently in synoptic studies.8 There is also an evident tendency to subordinate orality to the written medium or vice versa. “Not infrequently one hears echoes in performance criticism of an orality romanticism: orality is associated with weak and oppressed groups, writing is ideologically associated to power and hegemony.”9 This is nowhere more evident than Richard Horsley’s appropriation of Werner Kelber’s theory of orality. Though Horsley acknowledges an interplay between written and oral traditions, he nevertheless sees a more pristine, authentic version of the tradition preserved in oral expression. In his treatment of Kelber’s framework, for instance, he reflects this assumption: “The medium appears to be, even to overwhelm, the message in its soteriological efficacy…. orality fuses soteriology with ontology.”10 Scholars sometimes speak of “oral-derived” works in order to sidestep some of the impasses of accessing oral traditions, but these, too, are multiform, covering everything from lightly edited anthologies of transcribed sayings to highly homogenized narratives that smoothly incorporate sayings and tales associated with characters.
What this discussion boils down to is that frameworks for incorporating the reality of oral traditions have not been able to account for the influence of the written medium, and indeed, the ongoing exchange between written and oral media, themselves mediated by scribal habits. Moreover, the very form of each medium leads to different compositional possibilities, a point which will be vital for Kirk’s analysis of the synoptic tradition. For oral tradition, the spontaneity of each tradent’s performance stands to play a role in the expression of an oral tradition, as does the situation in which it is performed, but when written, “tradition receives a materialized, objectified existence very different from its existence in the oral medium, where it becomes tangible only in its utterance…. objectification of tradition in writing enables reflection and interpretive cultivation…. the tradition is opened up to a new range of writing-based operations.”11 Having elucidated the possibilities for assessing oral tradition, Kirk then turns to revisiting source utilization models, which is where the real analytical framework for his analysis emerges.
Source Utilization in the Ancient Mediterranean World
Scholars have long debated the literacy level in the Roman Empire, in Galilee and Judaea (the immediate context of Jesus), and even of Jesus himself.12 This debate has resulted in two things: a lack of consistency for modeling literacy, especially in the milieu of living oral traditions, and an awareness that literacy competencies were flexible, expressing themselves differently across various social settings. Kirk works through theories of ancient literacy and composition to find a compelling model—confirmed by other historical evidence as opposed to imagined by enthusiastic apologists—for envisioning Matthew’s use of Q and Mark on the 2DH.
A rather elite model of writing has heretofore dominated scholarship, for it was these elites, such as Pliny the Elder, who left us tomes of evidence to mine regarding their practices and mechanics. But this model, Kirk points out, is not a great fit for the synoptics. As anonymous documents whose source utilization is sometimes awkward, if not glaring, the gospels do not present themselves as refined, elite literature to be circulated among aristocrats to enhance the reputation of the author. The key, he maintains, is to view the synoptic writers not as elite authors, and more as tradents. For this concept, he is guided by Erhard Blum’s definition that stipulates that the tradent “is not present as an author who judges and evaluates his sources from a critical distance, but as a ‘transmitter’ who participates in the tradition itself.’”13 “The tradent, in contrast to the author,” Kirk then clarifies, “is anonymous and immersed in authoritative tradition.”14 This explains why the synoptic gospels, “rather than consistently paraphrasing [their sources, as elite authors were trained to do], only partially digest their traditional materials.”15 In other words, there should be a spectrum from author to tradent, which will result in a model of authorship that will help illuminate different varieties source utilization greatly.
To further refine this model, Kirk outlines the “baseline media conditions”16 that would have constrained ancient writers. The compositional process, as many are starting to realize, was far more complex than simply setting stylus to papyrus. Writers employed such forms as wax tablets and notebooks to craft hypomnemata (a rough or early draft of a composition). Moreover, the mechanics of composition substantially constrained how one was able to consult one’s sources. The use of scrolls is one well-known instance that had a significant impact on composition; it is cumbersome to navigate a scroll, especially when one is rearranging the order of the source. This encouraged one to consult a source sequentially, since browsing back and forth through an unrolled or unrolling scroll was nearly impossible. But even more, the scribe’s corporeal posture when writing and the physical distance between their eyes and the manuscript that they were consulting created additional variables affecting source utilization. In short, in addition to the theoretical problems of describing how a scribe mediated the tradition that they received and the product that they created, there are also physical dimensions to composition that affect the process.
The Medium of Memory
The physical constraints of source utilization were navigated, in part, via the medium of memory. Kirk thus looks closely at the role that memory plays in the mechanics of source utilization and reproduction. This discussion will feature prominently in the second part of his study, because Matthew’s source utilization practices will be shown to rely on his memory competency of his sources, rather than his free and unconstrained navigation of them.
In the ancient near east, as scribal students learned copying, they also simultaneously trained their memories for future writing: “Through impressing materials upon memory, the student internalized a repertoire of genres, acquiring models and diction for the composition of fresh works.”17 They also internalized the cultural patterns and values embedded in the great works of literature that they studied and reproduced. When it came to these works, however, study and reproduction were not mechanical, but rather deeply connected to the identity of the student and their memory. The student aimed to develop “memory competence,” and Kirk explains that “a cultural work was not truly learned unless [it was] thoroughly internalized in memory.”18
The idealized expression of such learning was the sage, “the living embodiment of a cultural tradition in a society.”19 The tradition, in effect, became “inscribed”20 on the sage just as they were inscribed in the written work, resulting in a “memory-manuscript fusion.”21 Outside of this idealization are more typical scribes who likewise committed texts and cultural traditions to memory to and acted as custodians of them through their embodied practices. This embodiment facilitated the social function of the scribe who often acted as “the living nexus where the normative cultural tradition intersected with the exigencies of the community.”22 The scribe’s body is also the site for the written tradition to encounter the oral traditions and to act upon it (and vice versa): “Scribes are media boundary figures, directing traffic in both directions so to speak: converting oral traditions into the written medium, and cycling written traditions back into the oral register.”23 Such a model of embodiment, we should note, solves some of the problems that the mechanics of scroll composition had raised; since Kirk argues that the scroll could exist and be accessed in a well-trained memory, the problems of navigating and consulting a bulky, partially rolled scroll during composition are ameliorated.
The notion of “media boundary” is critical in this analysis, for it is here that the variable of orality re-enters the picture. As noted above, scholars have struggled to describe how oral and written traditions are related in the process of both composition and transmission. At the very least, most written texts were vocalized if not performed during the reading process. In some cases, written works might act as a storage system for a tradition that was continually developing in oral expressions. The idealized goal of the scribe’s work was to commit the text to memory, both in written and vocal form. Yet the written form of the text still determined how it was accessed and filed in the memory: the scroll format encouraged forward-moving progression through a text, which is how a scribe developed memory competence with any text.
As crucial as orality, aurality, and their interplay are to the processes of composition and internalization, the written medium had “determinative effects upon the transmission and utilization of the work.”24 Of particular import for Kirk’s later analysis are the methods of organization and sequencing that scribes used to structure their written texts to facilitate memory strategies. Topoi and topoi sequences (especially those organizing ethical teaching or thematic anthologies) functioned to provide “topical landmarks”25 to activate and exploit the scribe’s memory competency. Kirk finds that there are conventional ways that topoi tended to be collected and organized, which rendered their mnemonic skills all the more efficacious; topoi are the rubrics which “giv[e] topical coherence to collocations of ethical material.”26 The author of Matthew, it turns out, will be a master of consulting these topoi sequences and rearranging them into some of his own.
Matthew and His Sources
While the sophisticated discussion of memory and composition is useful on its own, for Kirk it is in the larger service of refining a particularly thorny issue in synoptic studies, namely, Matthew’s use of Q, which he deems “the 2DH’s inconvenient problem.”27 Many synoptic studies simply turn a description of Matthew’s apparent use of Q into some sort of explanation, but with the aforementioned compositional models acting as guides, Matthew’s method can be made more intelligible.
As this passage indicates, Kirk’s analysis will treat Q as a deliberately arranged written source that Matthew consulted in an intelligible fashion. The deliberate arrangement of Q, moreover, looks precisely like the topoi collections that he earlier showed to be so common among other ancient compositions.
Chopping the double tradition up into independent units preparatory to its study obscures, before analysis even gets underway, a leading indicator of the written medium: its capacity to create durable, coherent order among discrete units…. In destroying Q sequences this procedure wipes out potential evidence for the effects of the written medium and thus begs the question of oral provenance…. Conceiving of Q as a minimally cohering collection of sayings makes it impossible to describe Matthew’s utilization actions in anything other than ad hoc terms.29
Another challenge is trying to account for Matthew’s seemingly dramatic rearrangement of Q materials in comparison to Luke’s habits, especially given that they both follow Mark rather closely for much of his narrative sequence. Whereas several of Matthew’s movements of Q material into coherent “blocks” in the Markan outline are easily explained, others defy explanations, forcing scholars to go through all sorts of acrobatic maneuvers (such as Taylor’s “multiple scans” proposal or Luz’s “Q-notebook” theory30) to explain why Matthew located the material where he did. In Kirk’s words, these sorts of explanations are “strained, ad hoc, and almost never measured against ancient media realities for their feasibility.”31 Nearly all of these explanations, he also notes, suppose visual contact with sources during the compositional process, as well as easy traversing of sources, and thus neglect the critical medium of memory that was earlier outlined.
Since Q seems to show evident scribal compositional techniques and organization around moral topoi, any model of Matthew’s use of it as a source needs to account for Matthew’s consideration of Q’s rhetorical structure before he rearranged it and distributed it throughout Mark’s narrative. Viewing Q as a scribally mediated product organized with moral topoi units to facilitate memory competency sets the stage for Kirk to investigate how Matthew treated Q when he composed his Sermon on the Mount (sm).
As is well known, Matthew’s Sermon is longer than Luke’s, and though they share a common sequence of many sayings, Matthew has also brought much more Q material into his section than Luke has. Proponents of the 2DH have come up with a variety of explanations for how Matthew worked through his source materials, often coupled with appeals to oral tradition or other recensions of Q to account for the extent to which Matthew’s material varies from Luke’s, but have never proposed a tidy model that is consistent with other ancient compositional techniques. Importantly, all models fail to take into account the form of Q that Matthew had access to, which would have influenced his utilization techniques. In other words, the specific form that the Sermon takes in Matthew is directly related to the form of the source (Q) that he consulted, and this can be tested against known habits of ancient source use. Kirk’s thesis regarding Matthew’s source use in Q is thus: Q’s organizational topoi act as the basis for Matthew’s Sermon, and these topoi in turn spur Matthew to collect and integrate more material into them from elsewhere in Q, materials which would otherwise lack easy integration into Mark’s narrative. The following will outline the basic steps he moves through to explain the composition of the sm.
In other words, Matthew has made the beatitudes act as a kind of programmatic thesis unit, reflecting the organization of the rest of the sm.
fashions M Beatitudes out of the normative tradition transmitted by his sources…. [T]he M Beatitudes not only correlate internally to specific sm topoi, but even more precisely, to topoi that owe much to Matthean compositional activity…. The expanded Q/M Beatitude sequence in the sm is therefore the product, not of a contingent tradition history, but of a premeditated scribal enterprise that has brought the sm as such into existence.34
Following the opening beatitudes, Matthew next includes two Q sayings (on salt and light) that seem to have been relocated from later in Q. For the incorporation of these two sayings, we need not imagine Matthew shuffling through scrolls or codices to bring later sayings forward. Rather, it is better to think of the ways in which the topoi organization that controlled Q and also influenced and activated Matthew’s memory competence of the tradition, allowing him to reproduce a later Q saying in this section without copying it verbatim. In Q, the material stands together as a moral topos on good works. In Matthew, it will function similarly: a unit on good works, prefacing the turn to the law, which also involves the theme of works. Matthew has moved Q 16:1735 forward to preface the law section. Since the original unit in Q (Q 16:13–18) also creates a tidy piece on the importance of the law, it is easy to see how Matthew would have recognized a law-focused topos that was readymade in Q when he was structuring the opening to the antitheses. Even though Matthew moves Q 16:17 forward to preface the antitheses, he shortly thereafter utilizes the other sayings in Q’s law unit, evincing a “concern to use up its constituent sayings systematically, so far as these can be fitted to the redactional concerns of the Sermon. The Q topos, that is, influences Matthew’s utilization actions.”36
Matthew’s sm then unfurls the antitheses, which reflect on further the law and feature Q material sporadically. Q 12:58–59 is pulled forward to Matthew’s Sermon, because of its theme of reconciliation, which fits in the unit’s topos about anger and reconciliation. The antithesis on adultery draws in material from Mark 9, likely based on the assumed linkage between the “looking” at a woman in Mt 5:28 and the eye that causes one to sin in Mk 9:47. The divorce sayings are easily related to the adultery antithesis, and so here Matthew employs a relevant saying (16:18) from Q’s law topos, showing how Matthew appears to be “using up” Q topoi as efficiently as possible. Matthew’s following antithesis on oaths appears to be his own composition.
In Mt 5:38–48, Matthew seems to have broken a Q topos on loving enemies down into two antitheses with their own topoi principles, one on non-retaliation and another on loving enemies. Matthew’s new topoi are guided by Torah pronouncements (“an eye for an eye” and “love your neighbor,” respectively), which determine how he extracts sayings from Q’s single topos and how redistributes them over his two new ones. Matthew’s antithesis on loving enemies, moreover, suggests that he perused Q’s topos unit twice for material and included it in the sequence as he encountered it, incorporating Q 6:27–28 and 35 on the first pass and 6:32–34 and 36 on the second. Mt 5:48 (on perfection) closes the unit and acts as an ideal “hinge”37 for the ethical discourse that proceeds it and the cultic materials afterward. This hinge separates the sm into material on relations with one’s fellow humans and relations between humans and God, which neatly reflects what Matthew elsewhere considers to be the two greatest commandments (Mt 22:25–40).
Matthew organizes the discussions of almsgiving and prayer (Mt 6:1–15) under the theme elaborated in the first verse: cultivating righteousness with no regard for reputation or reward. The placement of Mt 6:5–8 (M material) before the Lord’s Prayer is explained by its link with vocabulary and themes from elsewhere in Q: it would be easy to imagine Matthew’s scribal competencies facilitating him in composing this unit to preface the Lord’s Prayer that he took over from Q. As Kirk further highlights, “these inaugural M units map out virtually the entire second course of topoi in the Sermon,”38 namely, discourse on seeking the kingdom and the Father and in return, his providence. Matthew’s Lord’s Prayer brings in Q material from a Q topos on prayer (11:1–4, 9–13). Again, one should note how Matthew returns to this unit later (7:7–11) to efficiently “use up”39 the topos material.
In the next section, Matthew 6:19–24, Kirk argues that Matthew combines three Q topoi into a unified topos. The saying on treasures in heaven links with the previous material on almsgiving, and Matthew then appends vv. 22–23 (the eye as the lamp of the body) to it. Mt 6:22–23 is another leftover but useful passage that resulted from Matthew extracting the preceding salt saying using it earlier in the Sermon. Moreover, vv. 22–23 highlight the “inner-outer correspondence,”40 which allows the unit to serve as a link between the saying on treasures to that on God and Mammon, which itself was another leftover piece from Q’s law topos. Matthew easily moves on from Mammon to the Q unit on anxiety about life’s necessities, which contains some of the highest agreement in the double tradition. Though this pericope, too, was another leftover piece from a Q topos that Matthew had already started to deconstruct, it clearly works well here for Matthew with little adjustment.
Though the next section against judging and the beam in the eye may seem “awkward”41 in this portion of the Sermon, Kirk points out that it resonates with both the reciprocal forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer as well as the antithesis on anger. Also potentially awkward is the statement on defiling what is holy, though in this case Kirk shows how it links back with sayings on proper cultic practices: “Defiling the Holy in its position after the Judge Not sequence reinforces the point that the violation of human relationships described in Judge Not desecrates the sphere of the holy defined by the Prayer…. Morally impairing the cult relationship with God brings dire consequence.”42 In what follows, Matthew uses up the remainder of the Q prayer topos, from which he had already extracted the Lord’s Prayer. This has the effect of framing the ritual and ethical discourse in Mt 6:16–7:6 as a wider unit about prayer.
The Golden Rule saying (the only remaining saying from the Q’s Love Your Enemies topos) then acts as a classic summarizing statement for all that has come before it in the sm, emphasizing that “the renewed relationship with God cannot be separated from renewed relationships with human beings.”43 The Two Ways saying from Q also lends itself to a summarizing and emphasizing function for the program promoted in the sm, and Mt 7:15–20 further elaborates the two possibilities of each way of life. The inclusion of Q 3:9 in this sequence ensures that the materials are in line with Matthew’s particular concerns: scribes and Pharisees. The following “Lord, Lord” saying reflects the Two Ways, as well as the notion that inner dispositions are known by outer actions. Since Q 13:25–27 also features an address to the Lord and is a straggler left behind when Matthew pulled 13:24 forward, it fits easily in this summarizing sequence. Matthew finally caps off the Sermon with the parable of the two builders, which is an easily intelligible move for him, seeing as how it already ended the original Sermon in Q.
What does all of this come down to? The main point that emerges from this detailed analysis is that the arrangement that Q was in (sequences of moral topoi) affected how Matthew in turn arranged his own composition. The Sermon on the Mount, while a highly structured work, is not simply the product of Matthew’s unique creativity, but it is also a function of the structure of the primary source that he utilized. Moreover, Matthew’s employment of Q materials is grounded in his scribal memory competence. His memory guides his navigation through Q topoi (“[i]t was only in memory that Q’s organizing topoi were ‘visible and therefore navigable”44), though careful analysis shows his sequential and forward progression through the entire source as well, indicating his memory competence was acting on a written source. Furthermore, while Q’s topoi and sequence play a significant role in determining how Matthew makes use of the source, his unique M materials “without exception…have the special function of integrating Q (and occasionally Markan) units into the macro-redactional framework of the Sermon.”45 They are the “mortar”46 that holds the new structure in place. Finally, the notion that Matthew selects individual Q sayings seemingly at random emerges as an illusion: “Where Matthew seems to be working at the level of individual Q sayings he turns out upon closer examination to be redistributing elements of a single Q topos among two or more of his own topoi.”47
Matthew’s Treatment of Mark
The other vexing problem for the 2DH is constructing an economical solution for Matthew’s rearrangement of Mark 1:39–6:13 in Matthew 4:23–11:30, a redactional procedure that some have labeled “untypische”48 in light of Matthew’s other redactional habits. Kirk’s argument is that Matthew’s use of Q affects how he deals with this material. Such a proposal has not been entertained by others, because Q has been deemed a loosely organized collection, which “short-circuits” many explanatory models, forcing them to account Matthew’s procedure only in terms of Mark.49 He focuses on six major transpositions: Mark 1:39; Mark 1:40–45; Mark 4:35–41; Mark 5:1–20; Mark 5:21–43; and Mark 3:13–19. On the assumption that Matthew is following Mark’s chronology in Matthew 4–11, these six units appear to have been pulled forward from later points in Mark’s narrative. The questions to be answered are both: why did Matthew do this? and how can his method be reconciled with ancient media conditions?
The key to Kirk’s argument is the insight that “[t]he sudden turbulence in Matthew’s use of Mark [at Mark 1:21–22] seems to correlate with an encounter with parallel Q material.”50 Thus, Matthew’s odd redactional procedure in this section is a function of this attempt to reconcile obvious similarities in Q and Mark in his own composition. For Kirk, this, like Matthew’s use of Q and his topoi organization, must conform to other ancient media practices. Critically, both Matthew’s use of Mark’s absolute order, as well as his movement through the passages he transposes, keeps them in the same relative order that they appear in Mark. This, one notes, was precisely his habit when crafting the Sermon: “This pattern is virtually identical to his utilization of Q in the Sermon on the Mount: consistent forward movement from his absolute position in the source, from this moving fulcrum reaching forward in the source for additional materials, while maintaining the internal order of the transposed sequences.”51 But the reasons for his specific transpositions within this “double linear movement”52 still demand further explanation.
Kirk first looks closely at Matthew 4:23–5:2 (typically designated M material). This unit initiates Matthew’s ostensibly odd use of Mark and the beginning of his transpositions. What Matthew seems to be doing here, Kirk argues, is creating a kind of generic preface to the Sermon, incorporating specifics from Mark’s narrative that would have been recognizable to his audience. Yet by pulling out generic features of Mark’s narratives (such as stock and formulaic phrases), he is able to broaden the sense, and hence the audience, of the unit.
Since the earlier discussion covered the composition of the sm, Kirk then moves to the Markan transpositions following it. There have been numerous, not equally successful attempts, to explain Matthew’s behavior when transposing Markan pericopae in Matthew 8–11, which Kirk ably assesses. Suffice it to say that all redactional explanations are either partial, ad hoc, or deficient in some way or another: it is often easy to imagine creative ways that Matthew weaves together seemingly random units from elsewhere in Mark, but explanations typically lack compelling accounts of the specific strategies Matthew employs. Moreover, most redactional explanations have hitherto neglected to explore how the presence of Q might have affected Matthew’s use of Mark. As Kirk explains, Matthew is confronting a daunting challenge: “how to combine two overlapping but independently ordered sources coherently while harnessing their authority for his own reenactment of the tradition.”53 That is, Matthew’s changes are the result of needing to reconcile two authoritative, yet different, sources that overlap at key places, such as the Commissioning in Mark 6 and Q 10 and the Beelzebul Accusation in Mark 3 and Q 11.
To explain Matthew’s procedure in this conundrum, Kirk first outlines Matthew’s didactic goals in this unit, and then he turns to explaining the source utilization procedure. In keeping with other commentators, Kirk views Matthew’s theological goal in this section as being to establish Jesus’ authority in teachings and actions, which are eventually transferred to the disciples. The focus on words and deeds is obvious, for Matthew introduces it at 4:23 and reiterates it nearly verbatim at 9:35. The interest in disciples determines how Matthew uses Q, opting to pass over Q 7’s Baptist material in favor of Q 9’s statements on discipleship and Q 10’s commissioning. The two Markan transpositions (Mark 4:35–41 and 5:1–20) function anew in their textual setting (between Q 9 and 10 material), to speak to the community’s concerns about following Jesus (Matthew also moves Mark 13 materials forward to further this theme of persecution). In fact, Kirk suggests that part of Matthew’s new sequence (Matthew 8:18–34: the call of the disciples, a journey, a healing/exorcism, and rejection) almost mirrors the structure that was already in place in Q 9:57–10:15 (the call of the disciples, commissioning to heal and exorcise, and rejection). Instead of being a transcript of a commissioning, as Q had it, Matthew’s commissioning becomes more of a teaching unit about the entailments of discipleship. To further unify this section, Kirk argues that Matthew inserts Mark 2:1–22, which will function to anticipate later Q material on John the Baptist that Matthew will incorporate in ch. 11 (they are “narrative antecedents’54 for Matthew 11:2–9/Q 7:18–35). This means that, contra nearly all other commentators who have tried to explain how Matthew changed Mark in these chapters, Q also had a critical effect on how Matthew relocated sections of Mark.
Some of Matthew’s units are trickier than this, though. Matthew 9:27–34, for instance, contains two healings and the Beelzebub accusation, which although having counterparts in Mark and Q, seems to be Matthew’s creation and are thus designated M material. Why would Matthew craft this unit? In keeping with what Kirk observed elsewhere in Matthew, M materials serve a specific compositional function, acting as “mortar” for the surrounding excerpts from other sources. Here they are the “redactional knot”55 that ties the miracles in ch. 8–9 to the following ch. 10–12. “It appears,” Kirk explains, “prominently in the middle of this long section of the Gospel where Mark and Q converge, and thus where Matthew has his work cut out for him to combine his two sources coherently.”56
The following material on the Commissioning in Matthew 10 is dominated by Q material, though supplemented and expanded with relevant passages from Mark 6 and 13, which shifts the focus to the concern of danger and persecution entailed in discipleship. John the Baptist material from Q 7 also ends up appended here, in part due to the catchword “prophet” in Matthew 10:41, but also because it reflects upon themes that Matthew has been outlining for seven chapters: rejection, judgment, envoys of God, and messianic preaching. Appending Q 16:16 further underscores the urgency of these themes. Matthew 11 follows as a “hinge”57 that reflects on all that came before and provides a paradigm for Matthew’s community and its mission to subsequently understand itself. This paradigm is elaborated in Mt 12, where rejection and judgment are explored, and Mt 13, where special insider revelation is disclosed.
When Matthew has completed ch. 12, it is no surprise that he returns to a rather wooden adherence to the narrative in Mark 2 and following, for he has depleted nearly all of Q at this point, much of it brought forward for the topoi sequences in the Sermon. Anything remaining can be easily attached to “Markan topical ‘pegs’”58—for example, Q’s “apocalypse” in 17:21–27 is easily incorporated into Mt 24, a composition that is initiated when Matthew encounters Mark 13. In short, Matthew’s “transpositions only become fully intelligible when understood as a solution to the technical problem posed by consolidating two foundational sources, each with its own literary Gestalt, each with its own disposition of parallel materials.”59 Matthew is particularly keen to keep Mark’s narrative coherence, while still incorporating teaching blocks from Q into logical places in Mark’s outline. Again, the conclusion is clear: any theory of Matthew’s use of Mark must attend at the same time to his use of Q, for they are mutually influential.
Though the primary thrust of his analysis is narrowly focused, Kirk’s conclusions are far-reaching. Beyond new insights about Matthew as a rigorously trained scribal figure, Kirk also observes that his treatment of his sources implies that Mark and Q have become “normative for him and his community.”60 Matthew saw his sources as participating in a shared tradition and assumed that their differences could be made compatible. This rubs up against a long history in New Testament studies of presuming isolated groups and unique (sometimes mutually exclusive) theologies behind each text. For Kirk, this normativity, in turn, calls into question the tendency to over-localize Q in the Galilee—that Matthew treated Q similarly to Mark suggests that Q must have surpassed that localized setting in order to become meaningful and authoritative to others such as Matthew. The problem, which Kirk leaves to others to sort out, is that “once a Galilean tradent community for Q is posited, a story must be told that gets it out of Galilee into contact with Markan circles of Christianity. The better course seems to be to look for an alternative to Q as a proxy for a Galilean Jesus movement, one that better accounts for the hard evidence of its utilization by Matthew and Luke.”61
The greatest payoff of this detailed study is that is renders Matthew’s composition practices intelligible in light of ancient writing habits. Matthew is revealed to be a writer interested in constructing his composition via thematic topoi—just as countless other ancient authors did. Matthew’s endeavor is made more complicated, however, by his need to combine two sources that he regarded as both important and authoritative. We thus see him taking pains to harmonize their similar material, while consistently “using them up” as efficiently as possible. Contra other synoptic explanations, we need not describe Matthew’s actions as idiosyncratic and unique. They are, in fact, rather ordinary when viewed in their proper context.
But there are payoffs with even wider ranging import. Kirk’s analysis helps us further clarify what redaction is, especially when an author is invested in the authority that their sources contain. Redaction itself, and the attitudes that the redactor held to their sources, is simply not well understood. What are redactors? Indeed, what is a source? And what dictates an author’s attitude toward it? Redaction criticism has often been easy to carry out in biblical studies, because it is treated as simply a matter of comparing one document with the source(s) that went into it. Yet such observations about redactional changes supply only the data; we need a theoretical framework navigate the possibilities to explain the editorial policy, if a coherent one can even be discerned. Does redaction allow an author to carry out any sort of creative reworking when incorporating a source? If an author is working with a source that they consider authoritative, to what extent are they hesitant to alter it in drastic ways? Scholars of the synoptic problem have championed both of these possibilities, but reality lies somewhere in between. Kirk’s analysis helps us theorize redaction, because it provides frameworks for both creativity (restructuring of topoi arrangements from source to composition) and constraint (retaining the core material of both Q and Matthew even while aligning their similarities).
This study, moreover, gives us a fresh discussion of the ongoing relationship between written and oral traditions and how memory mediates their compositions, expressions, and performances. In fact, this discussion is nearly independent from the synoptic analysis: one can get 150 pages into Q in Matthew without even getting into detailed synoptic gospel discussions; as such, these opening chapters will be useful for anyone interested in ancient composition and gospel authorship. Memory is carefully theorized here, as well; instead of being a nebulous vessel to preserve the actual words of Jesus, it becomes a critical variable in the writing process. However, as I discuss momentarily, new issues emerge with such focused attention to the factor of memory.
Finally, this is the first synoptic solution to make Q part of the solution and not just a corollary of a particular hypothesis. For many, this will immediately be self-defeating, as it appears to assume what it intends to prove. Yet, if some leeway is granted, we can carry out a disciplined exploration. In this way, by working through a hypothetical scenario—that Q existed and that Matthew considered its organizational structure when merging it with Mark—Kirk is able to investigate a scenario that others have not considered. After all, working from the hypothesis that Matthew was influenced by Q’s structure is no different than, say, beginning from the hypothesis that an author had a certain kinds of reverence for one source over another,62 or that Matthew and Luke had access to different recensions of Q.63
Some issues remain, of course. The problematics of oral tradition, in my opinion, still linger. Oral expression is still an elusive category that crops up to explain variation, though admittedly less so in Kirk’s analysis than in others. But consider how he explains the beginning of Matthew’s Sermon. The summarizing statements that conclude Mt 4 and the introduction of the Sermon in Mt 5 stitch together stock phrases from Mark to construct a précis for the Sermon and represent “a textbook case of the intersection of oral-traditional competence and manuscript competence.”64 The only evidence for oral-traditional composition here, though, is “formulaic” features and “a repertoire of stock words and phrases.”65 Cannot these also be present in a written tradition? How can one distinguish when such features in a written text are indeed results of the influence of an oral register? Or, consider the conclusion about the synoptic parable of the Two Builders in Mt 7:24–27; Kirk observes the textual differences between Matthew and Luke’s versions and concludes, “The variation in the parallels can be put down to performative variations within distinct tradent communities.”66 This may very well be the case, but the expediency of oral performance/tradition to account for such differences can seem suspect.
Furthermore, the notion of scribal memory competence also seems nebulous and introduces new problems at the same time as it solves others. Complicating matters, for one, is that memory seems to be used in at least two different ways in biblical scholarship that seeks to rely on it. In one way, it is used to signal the practices and habits of memorizing literary works and oral traditions, so as to embody a kind of cultural memory. In others, though not unrelated, the sense is more on the cognitive, neurological capacity of the brain, that is, neurobiological memory. Both seem to be lurking in Kirk’s analysis, though clearly the first is most significant for this study. But what is memory actually doing in these compositional scenarios? Kirk convincingly shows that memory is a faculty that can be trained to assist scribes in the compositional process, so that they do not have to freshly navigate a document whenever they need to consult it. He speaks frequently of how scribes internalized their textual resources, so that they were able to easily access them by memory. But to what extent does internalization of a tradition lead to stabilization of it? And how does this stability, or lack thereof, affect the reliability of the stored tradition? This problem leads us to the volatility of memory. Many memory studies, as Zeba Crook has shown in discussing the so-called “eye witness” reports of the historical Jesus, suggest that the human brain is completely capable of fabricating memories altogether, even recalling them as if they actually happened.67 A scientist, historian, or observer simply has no way to distinguish between something recalled that has actually happened and something that his or her mind fabricated (or in this scenario, if something that the scribal tradent recalls from their sources was actually there in the form or sequence that they recall or not). This means that the memory faculty that Kirk marshals for his model might not be working in such a predictable or reliable manner as he would like. At the very least, internalizing a text to one’s memory and embodying it through the figure of the scribe should always be treated as an idealization from which real expressions must admittedly depart.
Much of the persuasiveness of Kirk’s compositional model hinges in how self-evident the organization of Q into moral topoi is. To put the problem bluntly: are topoi in Q overwhelmingly obvious? Or is this an organizational schema that is only evident to some? What if Q is seen as a narrative or a performative script instead of a collection of thematic units? Owing to a concern for oral performance, Richard Horsley has viewed Q as a series of speeches, instead of a fixed, written composition. Although this approach has been subject to critique elsewhere,68 if one adopts his approach, Q’s speeches are self-contained units that cannot simply be rearranged into new discourses. Rather differently, Michael Labahn has treated Q as a narrative—at least conceptually rather than formally.69 Labahn argues that it is possible to read Q as a narrative unfolding over a certain span of time, with ethical teachings sandwiched within the narrative arc. Key to Labahn’s case is the reader’s imagination, which opens up a much wider world of action for the characters than that which is specified in the text. On this model, the nicely ordered sequences that Kirk discusses seem less obvious. I am reasonably convinced, based on the analogous material that Kirk presents for his case, that Q is indeed organized via topoi. Even if this was the author’s intention, however, it does not preclude other views of its organization upon reception. Topoi organization at the moment of composition is no guarantee how later authors will access it. Labahn’s study, for instance, highlights the creative and imaginative world that exists behind the story units—and this narrative would be even more present in Matthew’s mind if he knew Mark’s unfolding narrative.
Kirk’s thorough attention to scribal compositional habits is fascinating and much needed in biblical scholarship. What remains missing from this discussion is close attention to the social experience of scribal tradents and its effect on composition. Kirk only hints at the variation of scribal figures and the tendency of some of them to participate in resistance movements.70 Yet there is more to be said about the social experience of different sorts of scribes. As Giovanni Bazzana discusses in his recent monograph on Q’s authors, there is excellent evidence in documentary papyri for administrative scribes who occupied an axial cultural and political position between urban and rural, elite and non-elite sectors of the population.71 This kind of social positioning complicates the notion of scribes as tradents participating in a tradition, because it both affects their access to cultural traditions and their engagement with them. Bazzana shows, for instance, that Q’s discourse of divine sovereignty could be taken as inherently subversive, because it embodies royal ideologies from Ptolemaic administrative documents to speak about the kingdom of God. In other words, in addition to considering compositional techniques, physical constraints of writing, and theological interests, we should also consider the ideological stance of tradents, resulting from their social experiences, which may differ markedly from their theological goals.
His portrait of composition, moreover, reflects another questionable assumption: that authors write “for” communities that they represent. Indeed, though Kirk does not assume that the words and deeds of Jesus are unerringly preserved in particular groups, he nevertheless, speaks of “tradent communities,” in which the scribe is immersed. Of course, every author has a social and cultural context, but the very assumption that authors write for an organic community of likeminded believers does not automatically follow.72 Nor does the assumption that Matthew’s attitude toward his source must be identical to his “community,”73 should we able to identify one. There thus remains more to be said on how we envision a scribe embedded in his social context and engaged with his real or imagined audiences.
One could easily assess this entire book without recourse to the historical Jesus, but in the present venue for publication, it is appropriate to consider lastly the ramifications of Kirk’s defense of the 2DH for historical Jesus studies, especially since Q is often held up as one of the earliest and most authentic sources for the life and teachings of Jesus. In short, what is at stake in saving the 2DH is saving Q as an unbroken—or at least minimally mediated—connection to the historical Jesus.74 Granted, Kirk is not interested in these enterprises, but he and those who defend the 2DH provide fodder for historical Jesus scholars who are fixated on chronological proximity as a measure of authenticity. As the strength of the 2DH grows, we should expect to see Q continue to feature heavily in historical Jesus scholarship.
In closing, my remarks, though lengthy, have only scratched the surface of this remarkably detailed study. With its astute attention to both the mechanics of ancient composition and the variable of memory, Q in Matthew sets a high methodological bar for future synoptic studies.
For more on this theoretical discussion, see Jeffrey R. Carter, “Description Is Not Explanation: a Methodology of Comparison,” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 10:2 (1998): pp. 133–48.
An example of the latter tendency is found in James Dunn’s work, when he explains what attention to oral traditions behind texts can potentially offer: “To reach back across the gulf from the Jesus tradition as we now have it (the Synoptic tradition especially) may not get very far, since recapturing the pre-literary forms must become increasingly speculative. But we can also envisage a reaching forward from the other side of the gulf—the impact made by Jesus conveyed by and through the Jesus tradition from its earliest formulation. Oral forms of communication and transmission of that impactful tradition provide a network of supports for the resulting bridge between Jesus and the Jesus tradition in its Synoptic form” (James D.G. Dunn, “Introduction” in The Oral Gospel Tradition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013) pp. 1–9, here p. 7.
Alan Kirk, Q in Matthew: Ancient Media, Memory, and Early Scribal Transmissions of the Jesus Tradition (lnts 564; London: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2016), pp. 4–5.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 5.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 6.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 16.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 10.
See, for instance, Richard A. Horsley with Jonathan A. Draper, Whoever Hears You Hears Me: Prophets, Performance and Tradition in Q (Harrisburg, pa: Trinity Press International, 1999). In this collection, Horsley especially slips into the habit of viewing Q as an actual record of ancient performances. He can even be found showing how the Greek text of Q reflects the rhythmic patterns of such a performance (pp. 212–17, 234–37, 266–71).
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 14.
Richard A. Horsley, “Recent Studies of Oral-Derived Literature and Q” in Whoever Hears You Hears Me: Prophets, Performance and Tradition in Q (Harrisburg, pa: Trinity Press International, 1999), pp. 150–174, here pp. 153–154.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, pp. 27–28.
E.g., William A. Johnson and Holt N. Parker, Ancient Literacies: The Culture of Reading in Greece and Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015); James Clackson, Language and Society in the Greek and Roman Worlds (Key Themes in Ancient History; Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2015), pp. 151–56; Richard A. Horsley, Archaeology, History, and Society in Galilee: The Social Context of Jesus and the Rabbis (Valley Forge, pa: Trinity Press International, 1996), pp. 154–75; Sean Freyne, Galilee, Jesus, and the Gospels: Literary Approaches and Historical Investigations (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988), pp. 171–72.
Erhard Blum, “Historiography or Poetry? The Nature of the Hebrew Bible Prose Tradition” in Memory in the Bible and Antiquity (L.T. Stuckenbruck, S.C. Barton, and B.G. Wold, eds.; wunt 212; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007), pp. 26–45, here p. 33.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 39.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 39.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 30.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 94.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 97.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 98.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 100.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 102. He is rightly sensitive to the tendency to generalize all sorts of written compositions as the same enterprise, as he later points out that “this nexus of memory, embodiment, ethos, and manuscript is broken up with the advent of print” (p. 110).
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 113.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 114.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 107, emphasis original.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 132.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 181.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 151.
Arland D. Jacobson, “The Literary Unity of Q,” jbl 101 (1987): pp. 365–89; John S. Kloppenborg, “City and Wasteland: Narrative World and the Beginning of the Sayings Gospel (Q),” in How Gospels Begin (Dennis E. Smith, ed.; Semeia 52; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990), pp. 145–60; Harry T. Fledderman, Q: A Reconstruction and Commentary (Biblical Tools and Studies 1; Leuven: Peeters, 2005), pp. 79–154; Sarah E. Rollens, Framing Social Criticism of the Jesus Movement: The Ideological Project of the Sayings Gospel Q (wunt ii 374; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014), p. 88.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 156, 159.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, pp. 163–70.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 163.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 191.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 192.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 192.
All references to Q follow the convention of citing the text according to its Lukan versification.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 195.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 201.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 204.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 205.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 209.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 211.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 213.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 214.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 221.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 221.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 221.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 222.
Ulrich Luz, “Die Wundergeschichten von Mt 8–9,” in Tradition and Interpretation of the New Testament (Gerald Hawthorne with Otto Betz, eds.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1987), pp. 149–65, here p. 149.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 229.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 230.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, pp. 233–34.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 235.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 261.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 268.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 271.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 271.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 275.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 277.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 277.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 299.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 306.
For instance, J. Andrew Doole (What was Mark for Matthew? [wunt ii 344; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013]) hypothesizes that Matthew was “a successor in the Markan line and a witness to the Markan account of the life of Jesus” (p. 11), thus explaining his close reliance on Mark’s story.
For an overview of the issue of multiple recensions of Q, see John S. Kloppenborg, Excavating Q: The History and Setting of the Sayings Gospel (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), pp. 104–10.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 241.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 241.
Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 240.
Zeba Crook, “Collective Memory Distortion and the Quest for the Historical Jesus,” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 11.1 (2013): pp. 53–76; in response to Crook’s analysis, see Anthony Le Donne, “The Problem of Selectivity in Memory Research: A Response to Zeba Crook,” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 11.1 (2013): pp. 77–97.
Rollens, Framing Social Criticism of the Jesus Movement, pp. 112–24.
Michael Labahn, Der Gekommene als Wiederkommender: Die Logienquelle als erzählte Geschicht (Arbeiten zur Bibel und ihrer Geschichte 32; Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2010).
Kirk, Q in Matthew, pp. 69–71.
Giovanni B. Bazzana, Kingdom of Bureaucracy: The Political Theology of Village Scribes in the Sayings Gospel Q (betl 274; Leuven: Peeters, 2015).
On this issue, see Stanley K. Stowers, “The Concept of Community and the History of Early Christianity,” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 23 (2011), pp. 238–56; Sarah E. Rollens, “The Anachronism of Early Christian Communities,” in Theorizing Ancient Religion (Nickolas Roubekas, ed.; Studies in Ancient Religion and Culture; London: Equinox, forthcoming).
As implied in Kirk’s concluding remarks (Kirk, Q in Matthew, p. 299).
As in James M. Robinson, The Gospel of Jesus: In Search of the Original Good News (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2005), pp. 1–22; James M. Robinson, The Sayings of Jesus: The Sayings Gospel Q in English (Facets; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), p. ix.