sayings document which has generated the most intensive investigation -and dispute - is Q, 'The Synoptic sayings source,' indicated by the extensive parallelism between Matthew and Luke in places where they are clearly not relying upon their other common source, the gospel according to Mark.22 Perhaps kept in notebooks,23 these were 'working documents', practical texts that played a vital role in the communities where they were composed, collected, read and, as this literary process vividly demonstrates, pondered, revised and retold.24
Traditions about Jesus, such as that of the 'Lord's meal' (1 Cor 11:23-6; Mark 14:22-5 and parallels) existed in both oral and written form for some time.25 But we should not presume Christians universally preferred the oral to the written, considering the former more authoritative.26 The burgeoning of Christian literature in this same period suggests the opposite - that the written word was highly prized among Christ-believers, a customary and trusted medium for communicating the truths, values, roots, promises and expectations of this religious movement. Above all, the two media were not necessarily viewed as competitive, but were linked in a developing culture of composition and consumption of'Jesus lore' that tookplace within the fluidity of ancient verbal culture in which 'oral' and 'written' were far less fixed than in the modern world and where reading was vocalised out loud. Full appreciation of this point requires, furthermore, that we not look for a single motivation or incitement for Christians suddenly and reluctantly to have 'switched' from oral to literary activity. This 'transition' is normally attributed to the passing on of the first generation and the fear that, with the death of the original eyewitnesses, important 'testimony' may be lost. Although this did sometimes play a role (see, for instance, John 19:35; 21:20-4), there were a host of factors that prompted early Christian literary activity:
22 See Tuckett, Q and the history of early Christianity; Kloppenborg Verbin, Excavating Q; Koester, Ancient Christian gospels, 128-71.
23 Stanton,'Early reception', 59.
24 Gamble, Books and readers, 39,77-8, on Christian texts as 'practical'. But this should not be set in opposition to 'aesthetic' values, which are likewise manifest in the careful literary artistry of much early Christian literature.
25 Koester, Synoptische Überlieferung.
26 The Papias tradition in Euseb. HE 3.39.3-4 has traditionally been taken this way (as recently Dunn, Jesus remembered, 173-254), but see the apt critiques of Alexander, 'The living voice', and Gamble, Books and readers, 30-1. For Paul's strategic decision to write instead of speak in person, see Mitchell, 'New Testament envoys'.
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