Sunday, January 27, 2013

Water Carriers and the Synoptic Problem

I'm coming perilously close to the last chapter of my thesis, and I have been reading an article that questions the two-source hypothesis of development of the synoptic gospels (also referred to as the Q or Quelle hypothesis). This hypothesis proposes that Mark was the first of the three synoptic gospels and that both Matthew and Luke used it as a primary source, along with another lost source known as Q (from the German word quelle, which means source).

 I've always been ambivalent of the hypothesis as it dismisses the traditional place given to Matthew as the first of the gospels, and it posits (in my mind) its own unsatisfactory solution. One reason its proponents dismiss the primacy of Matthew is that the original sayings gospel in Hebrew (or possibly, maybe more likely, in Aramaic) has never been discovered. "Why," they ask, "would the early Church not preserve such an important document?" So they propose as a solution the existence of a source (also possibly from an original Aramaic source, according to some) which likewise has never be discovered. Doesn't the same question apply here? Yet, the Q hypothesis is the most popular explanation among scripture scholars for the development of Matthew and Luke. I'm not likely to produce a convincing argument at this stage in my development as a scripture scholar (which is very early).

This morning as I changed the header image on Facebook to a shot of the Cenacle that I took some time ago, I was trying to remember which books other than Acts mentioned the "upper room." As it turns out, both Mark 13:14 and Luke 22:11 mention it. The RSV translation varies between the two, and the Greek varies considerably as well, even though the two passages convey essentially the same information. Here are the two below:
And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the passover lamb, his disciples said to him, "Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the passover?" And he sent two of his disciples, and said to them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the householder, 'The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I am to eat the passover with my disciples?' And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us." (Mark 14:12–15)

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and prepare the passover for us, that we may eat it." They said to him, "Where will you have us prepare it?" He said to them, "Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house which he enters, and tell the householder, 'The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I am to eat the passover with my disciples?' And he will show you a large upper room furnished; there make ready." (Luke 22:7–12)

Now scholars have several methods of determining derivation of one text from another or determining which version was earlier or later. The differences in Luke, which seem to be a refinement of the Markan text, make sense and indicate derivation because it exhibits some typical signs. It's slightly longer than the original, provides slightly more detail but leaves out redundant elements (for example, "furnished" rather than "furnished and ready"). Clearly Luke appears to be derived from Mark. However, the parallel in Matthew 26:17–19 is perplexing. 
Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain one, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at your house with my disciples.’” And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the passover. (Matthew 26:17–19)
Matthew is supposed to have Mark as a source, but aside from the common event related here, this passage doesn't seem to exhibit signs of derivation. There's no mention of the passover lamb as in both of the other pericopes. There's no mention of the man carrying the jar of water, a detail that is strangely made less precise (a possible hint against derivation), and there is no mention of the upper room (also a detail that makes the story less precise). In Mark and Luke, the disciples/Apostles ask the house owner where the room is (suggesting a prior arrangement), whereas in Matthew the arrangements are clearly being made at the time of contact.

If Matthew has the Gospel of Mark as its source for this story (as the two-source hypothesis claims), why such a dramatically different passage in Matthew? What was Matthew's source for this version of the story (if it wasn't Mark or Q)?