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Q – It’s okay to be uncertain

Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve – Wikipedia

The Catholic Monk Thomas Merton once said that the Bible is a difficult, perplexing work. It doesn’t make sense. It has contradictions. And its Old Testament often portrays God as an immature, violent ogre. But with his hallmark Christian optimism, Merton says that’s exactly why he likes the Bible. It’s not fake or flaky. It portrays life as it really is.

Warts Exposed

I admit that some New Age websites telling us that “love is all around” give me the feeling that something not too loving is brewing underneath the surface of all that sugary sweetness. So I tend to agree with Merton. The Bible doesn’t cover up but exposes warts. Its compilers didn’t edit out apparent inconsistencies but left them in. Note the two different accounts of Creation in Genesis, for instance. Or Jesus saying we need to hate our parents, spouse, kids and siblings to follow him (Luke 14:26).

In the New Testament you’d think these difficulties and contentious scenarios would have disappeared. After all, many years had passed since Old Testament times and the relatively modern people around Jesus’ day could have edited everything into a nice, neat package. A package without contradictions.

But it didn’t turn out that way.

What about Q?

Most scholars agree that the New Testament was formed from an oral tradition. Christ lived his life, sometimes solitary, other times with his followers. People told stories about Christ and the Gospel writers collected those tales, probably according to their political and pastoral needs.

Some Gospel writers likely borrowed from existing texts. The words didn’t enter directly into their minds as some fundamentalists would say. At least, that is how it seems from the textual evidence.

10th century CE Byzantine illustration of Luke the Evangelist – Wikipedia

No one can say for sure. It is possible that the Gospel writers were divinely inspired to say the same things the same way. I considered that perspective soon after my conversion to Christianity. But years of study have tempered my thinking… for better or for worse.

One obvious feature of the Gospels is the material common to Matthew and Luke but absent in Mark.

Different theories try to explain this.

A prevailing idea is Q theory. Q sounds hip and cool but I doubt that’s why religious scholars chose it. The theory cropped up in the early 1900s and, as far I know, marketing wasn’t a burning academic issue at that time.

Johannes Weiss was a German Protestant scholar who first coined the name “Q.” He used Q to refer to some of that shared material found in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark. For decades most scholars assumed that Q alluded to the German word quelle, meaning “source.” But recent studies indicate that “Q” might have been chosen on a whim.

So maybe Weiss and his followers were trying to be trendy. Who knows. Before the word Q caught fire, researchers called this material the logia, calling to mind images of stony faced scholars sifting through weighty volumes in dusty old libraries.

What is most important to remember about Q is that it is a purely hypothetical document. Archaeologists have never discovered evidence that it actually exists. Not even a scrap or fragment. Despite this, some scholars carry on as if it were fact.

For and Against

Elaine Pagels is a religion writer who rose to prominence with her 1979 bestseller, The Gnostic Gospels. Pagels believes in Q because, as she points out, Jesus spoke in Aramaic. He, himself, wrote nothing. So Jesus’ actual sayings come to us through translated sources. But not only that. Our earliest existing sources are in Greek

New Testament apocrypha – Wikipedia

Whatever Jesus did say, our version has been translated at least once by somebody else. The fact that Jesus’ sayings are so strikingly similar in Matthew and Luke points to the existence of a textual source from which they were copied—namely, Q.²

Opponents of Q theory say the early Christians would have revered such an immediate record of their savior’s sayings, not allowing it to be misplaced or destroyed.

So where is Q? If Q did exist, how could the early Church have lost a document so important and essential to its formation?

Detractors have a simple answer. The early Christians would not have lost it. Q never existed.

For me it doesn’t really matter if Q existed or not. It is a compelling idea but as Pagels suggests, quite a few links were forged over the centuries from the era of Jesus and the occupying Romans to current, 21st century versions of the Bible. With much uncertainty accrued over two millennia, it would be unwise to fixate on any particular explanation without hard proof. Proof we may never discover.

It’s okay to not know everything

In a way, uncertainty is good. It can help to deflect the kind of fundamentalism that fuses zealous patriotism with a specific, dogmatic take on religion.³

Normally, I wouldn’t care about fundamentalists too much. But the visibility of some sectarians and their facile claims can make it more difficult for the rest of us thoughtful Christians, especially when trying to convey the beauty of Christ. Most caring, sensible people react adversely to fundamentalism. And if they haven’t really explored Christian religious differences, some otherwise good people lump all Christians together into one narrow-minded, authoritarian group.

Trying to explain the difference between the goodness of Christ and religious zealotry isn’t always easy. One has to get the listener past the image of aggressive, finger-wagging individuals.4

Worldly people, on the other hand, sometimes say that Christian religious experience is generated by body chemistry. For them, the Christian cannot discern the difference between an endorphin rush, sugar high or caffeine hit as opposed to the indwelling of spiritual graces.

To me, that only serves to tell me something about the mindset of the spiritually ignorant. Hard-boiled skeptics often don’t realize that while they’re looking at us, we’re looking at them.

At the other end of the spectrum, some fundamentalists say mysticism is nothing more than a devilish deception. There’s no talking to these people. They love to cherry pick Bible verses to support – while ignoring anything that challenges – their particular outlook.5

When folks, be they worldly or religious, are so entrenched in a limiting worldview my proverbial b.s. detector often goes from yellow to red. It may be a pastor. A blogger. A doctor. It doesn’t matter who. At those times I find the best thing is to politely withdraw and later on, when the time is right, redirect my thoughts into action.

¹ Some even believe in an original Aramaic New Testament that has been lost in the sands of time.

² See From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians, online at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion. Most agree that we have no original New Testament documents. So this would make our present version of Jesus’ sayings third-hand, at best. » 1 » Original Aramaic »  2 »  First but now lost transcriptions into Greek »  3 »  Surviving copies.

³ To me this is like the old Roman Empire championing its state gods.

4 We’ve probably all lived through or heard a story about offensive, overbearing Christians.

5 See Religious people have a brain so why don’t some use it?

For more on Q, see my highlights at LINER.

 Who Is Jesus? (3) (vanguardngr.com)

 Ghetts announces Ghetto Gospel: New Testament album, listen to new single “Slumdog Millionaire” (thefader.com)

 The Reformation Rolls On: (brothersjuddblog.com)

 Just listen (takeaminute.net)

 Sean Carvajal Steps in for Victor Rasuk in JESUS HOPPED THE ‘A’ TRAIN at Signature Theatre (broadwayworld.com)

Hug(thedistinctdot.com)

 Is this blasphemous? (quinersdiner.com)

 

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The Q – Star Trek’s mythic gods

Q (Star Trek)

Q (Star Trek) – Photo Wikipedia

The Q is a fictional group entity in Star Trek TOS spin-offs and films. Members reside in an eternal field of space-time called the Q-continuum. Like the avatar in Hinduism, the Q appear in specific moments of space-time to apparently regulate the ebb and flow of events in the universe.

The manifestation of Q that usually appears in the Star Trek franchise is male and played by actor John de Lancie. Simply called “Q,” he conforms to the trickster archetype.

Like most mythological deities, the manifest aspect of Q uses supernatural powers to baffle, vex and test human beings to the point of distraction. And like most otherworldly pantheons, there is a faction of rebellion within the Q-continuum. The rebels are tired of being “good” and politically correct at the expense of enjoying their free will and vitality. These dissenters are prohibited and disciplined through punishment by the Q moral majority.

Here’s how I put it in my entry for Star Trek: The Next Generation, the series in which he first appears:

And then there was “Q,” played by actor John de Lancie, who was something akin to a classical Greek god in that he had powers and knowledge extending beyond our normal conception of space and time. Also like the Greek gods, he often abused these powers in childish ways and even challenged the authority of the Q Continuum (the ruling body of the Q, representing its status quo), resulting in his frequent punishment.

More recently Wikipedia notes that:

The similarity between Q and Trelane, the alien encountered in the Star Trek episode “The Squire of Gothos“, inspired writer Peter David to establish in his 1994 novel Q-Squared that Trelane is a member of the Continuum, and that Q is his godfather.¹

Trelane - with harpsichord (under his arm...)

Trelane – via startrek.com

I’m not sure if this interpretation of Trelane (one of my favorite characters in the original Star Trek) is endorsed by those who define the Star Trek canon. But the literary device of retroactive continuity certainly has become a mainstay in the Star Trek universe.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q_(Star_Trek)

Related » Dreamtime


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Gospel of Matthew

English: fragment of the Gospel of Matthew

Fragment of the Gospel of Matthew via Wikipedia

The Gospel of Matthew is one of the synoptic gospels of the New Testament (NT).

Although it appears first in the NT, it was written after Mark. Scholars date it from 60-100 CE. This would make it improbable but not impossible that Matthew, himself, wrote it.

Matthew is generally believed to be based on at least two sources: The Gospel of Mark and a hypothesized but entirely undiscovered document simply called “Q” (from the German quelle, meaning “source”).

Papias, said to be Bishop of Hieropolis (60-130 CE), apparently wrote that Matthew kept an account of the life and sayings of Christ. But Papias’ document has been lost. The early historian Eusebius (260-340 CE), however, mentions Papias’ book, The Sayings of the Lord Explained, which claims that Matthew wrote about Christ in Aramaic.

The Wikipedia entry sums up our current state of knowledge this way:

“Matthew” probably originated in a Jewish-Christian community in Roman Syria towards the end of the 1st century.[1] The anonymous author probably drew on a number of sources, including the Gospel of Mark, the sayings collection known as the Q source, and material unique to his own community, as well as his own experience.¹

Regardless of who wrote it and how, Matthew tells us about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Matthew