2007-01-14

The poor and Q — literary vs historical paradigms

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by Neil Godfrey

One point used to support the case for Q is Luke’s ‘more primitive’ version of the beatitudes:

‘Blessed are the poor/hungry’ is said to be less (spiritually) developed than Matthew’s ‘poor in spirit/hungry for righteousness’.

On the other hand Luke’s ‘poor’ and ‘hungry’ seems to me to fit in seamlessly with his preceding motifs. Compared with Matthew Luke could be said to be tailoring a gospel for the literal poor:

  • in place of kings and wise-men we have lowly shepherds at Jesus’ birth, and an old man and a widow at his circumcision;
  • rather than in a house or inn the infant Jesus is found in a manger;
  • Mary describes herself as lowly;
  • Jesus opening message in Nazareth is said to be specifically sent ‘to the poor’;
  • in this same opening message Jesus honours a leprous and a widow gentile;
  • John the Baptist demands sharing with and care for the poor and hungry;
  • Jesus’ genealogy is not traced through the wealthy and wise Solomon but through Nathan.

So when we read in this context “blessed are the (literal) poor and hungry” is it not simpler to see Luke’s beatitude being born of the broader themes of the gospel than to postulate that it’s variation from Matthew’s points to an earlier form? So why the preference to see the beatitude as a “more primitive” version of Matthew’s “poor in spirit” and as evidence of a prior source, Q? One reason may be the preference for scholars to find intermediary evidence for Jesus between the late first century gospels and the time of Jesus; another complementary one may be the reluctance to read the gospels as literary works in their own right and through the framework of literary analysis, preferring to treat them rather as “historical records”. Both reasons suggested here would suggest a paradigm bias underlying the scholarship.

Neil


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Neil Godfrey

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