In Biblical studies the Q in ‘Q Document’ stands for quelle, meaning “source” in the German.
Many talk about Q as a source document for subsequent documents that include some or all of its content.
But there’s a catch. The Q Document is purely hypothetical. If Q did exist in the ancient world, it’s been lost to the sands of time.
Scholars in support of a lost Q document contend that it would account for the common material found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke but not in Mark.
This common material is written in Greek, and comprises the sayings and quotations of Jesus.
According to adherents of the Q hypothesis, Jesus spoke in Aramaic; therefore the translation of this common material into nearly identical Greek points to the existence of Q.
Elaine Pagels¹ elaborates on this position, saying that if two people were to independently translate a group of sayings from another language, they surely would use slightly different words, phrases and sentence structures in the final translations. But again, the sayings of Jesus are presented in a near identical format for both Matthew and Luke.
Still undiscovered by archeology, Q remains nothing more than an imaginative scholarly hypothesis although some tend to talk about it as if it were real.
While no one really knows exactly how the Gospels came into being, a rival theory to Q (there are several) called the Farrer hypothesis suggests that the author of Matthew borrowed from Mark, after which time the author of Luke borrowed from Matthew and Mark.
The Farrer hypothesis would also account for the nearly exact elements that many scholars suppose are best explained by Q.
¹ See From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians, online at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion.
On the Web:
The history and complexities of this (so far) imaginary document can be found in these excellent Wikipedia entries:
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