Markus Vinzent's Blog

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Michael Goulder - Mesmerizing 'a conservative profession'

Having just finished reading Michael Goulder's autobiography Five Stones and as Sling, I feel sad that at the time when we met regularly in Birmingham for our 'open end' seminar, touring around colleague's homes and indulging in food for thought and real food and wine, I had not yet developed the questions on the early history of the Gospels. And although I am not sure what kind of advise and insights Michael would have given me, I am sure he would have been witty, and sympathetic to the idea that from a different angle, somebody had picked up his idea that Q was an unnecessary hypothesis. Now that he is nor more with us, I have to listen to what he has left us - an enormous legacy and a treasure of sharp arguments and observations, and, overall, the encouragement that we should not be satisfied with ideas of dwarves, but also the inspiration, not to fight or defend old walls of Troy (those will always be like Hector), instead, come up with theories that are less complex and more convincing.
The book has also taught me another lesson: The further stones are thrown, the longer they take to come down. Michael's criticism of Q and his idea that Luke depends on Matthew is, in the meantime, well positioned and certainly not less popular than the old Two-Sources-Hypothesis. And yet, his conclusion sounds sceptical of the NT scholarship: 'I have called this book Five Stones and a Sling, but the contest in which I have been engaged is less simple than David's with Goliath. Scholars who have assumed a position over many years do not quickly recant it and publicly admit their error; nor can a novel hypothesis expect to carry the day at once in a conservative profession. It may be particularly difficult to shift opinion over texts which are fundamental to the faith of the critic. With time scholars came to treat sympathetically my arguments for the evangelists' creativity: their freedom to create Nativity stories out of Old Testament types, and their ability to create or develop parables in line with their own stylistic and doctrinal concerns. They have been less willing to accept Matthew and Luke as embroiderers of earlier Gospel traditions, because there is a hankering after putative lost sources and oral traditions which would take us back to the historical Jesus. The Q hypothesis has been part of the "assured results of scholarship" for more than a century, and despite my aggressive campaigning against it, it is still the standard teaching in most universities.'
And yet, I think, Michael has and is mesmerizing the profession, and is certainly a stimulation to go further.