Articles Comments

8.3 The Lost Gospel


Q is full of sayings of different sort: some aphorisms as “Don’t judge and you won’t be judged”, some picturesque images as “what happens to tasteless salt”, exhortations that recommend specific behaviour as “offer the other cheek when slapped”, everyday observations, anecdotes, parables, condensations of epic lore, critical judgements on truths held to be self-evident, social conventions taken for granted and apocalyptic pronouncements that challenge the status quo. The author suggests to his readers to have another look at their world and dare to dance to a different tune.

It is difficult, however, to understand why these sayings were written. They seem to have been chosen casually. It seems that it is a collection of oral sayings, each of them important if taken separately, and each added to a previous collection to guarantee their survival. They were considered sacred since Jesus told them. A community collected them over a long period of time and rewrote them at different occasions. Some of them seem out of place as they reflect different period in the life of the community.

Recent studies, however, have shown that the clusters, and their arrangements in the collection, follow certain rules. One can distinguish blocks of material organised by theme, sayings that illustrate or comment on others, and small units of so-called “complete argumentation”. It was found that seven clusters of sayings share distinctive features that are not found elsewhere in Q. All of these clusters address a coherent set of issues with the same audience in view, the same concern in mind, and they make sense by themselves. For some unknown reasons the scribes who rewrote Q did not change completely the plan of the earlier collection. This allowed the scholars to identify the earliest version of Q through which the early history of the Q community can be perceived. These seven clusters are considered as the remains of the earliest collection of sayings called Q1. Reading through the document, one can see different layers that have the same features such as theme, style, rhetorical strategies, form of address, similarity of literary genres, and the order and organisation of the material. Three distinct layers have been identified: Q1 and Q2 are coherent in style and content, Q2 is also coherent in organisation whereas Q3 consists of fragmentary additions, each of them with a distinctive theme. As Q1 makes sense on its own whereas Q2 presupposes and depends on Q1, we can conclude that Q1 is older than Q2.

Most of the material in Q1 can be classified as Cynic in the tradition of the popular philosophers of the Greek and Greco-Roman period. This can be surprising to those who believe that Jesus was above all a Jewish prophet using the Old Testament as a base for his preaching. In addition, the Cynics are best remembered for their unlovable and negative ways, but this image is wrong. Early Greek Cynics were very similar to the Jewish prophets, ready to criticise the conventional values and the oppressive forms of government. They led a life of renunciation, taught self-sufficiency, and they were intelligent social critics. They were known for begging, voluntary poverty, renunciation of needs, severance of family ties, fearless, carefree attitudes, and troublesome public behaviour. They used to talk in the market place where they criticised riches, pretension and hypocrisy. Pungent humour was one of their favourite arm. They did not initiate any school and borrowed freely from every other philosophy. They often appealed to the intelligence of the people in front of them, trusting the capacity of the average person to understand when he is manipulated, or cheated. To be a Cynic one had to be a good and fast talker. Such a philosophy was bound to appeal to the Galileans at the time of Jesus. Q1 describes Jesus as a Cynic-like sage or philosopher.

The Jesus people are those who noticed the challenge of the time in Galilee. They took advantage of the mix of people to deny the right of the invading authorities to impose their standards on them. They encouraged simple and sane living rules. In other words, the Jesus movement began as a home-grown variety of Cynicism. Beliefs were less important than behaviour, especially in public, even if the intention was not to change society at-large, as by fighting the Roman invaders, or reforming the Jewish religion. On the opposite they believed that the individual should live by other rules and, as a result, a community of like-minded people began to exist and to grow. This was unlike the cynics who would never have accepted to be part of a group with social aims. There is no doubt however that, already at stage 1 of the Q1 period, evident signs of social formation were apparent. This feeling of belonging to a group with a social vision increased strongly in stage 2.

At this stage there is no apocalyptic view of the world linked to the Kingdom of God. Only in a few parables the rule of God becomes important. All the other writings deal with human circumstances and the rules indicate something that can be done, something that contrast with the conventional and as such deserving a change of attitude or behaviour, in other words, a new vision and a new legitimate rule. The debate focused on the difference between a king, seen as a human being at its highest level and with social vision, and a tyrant. This was compatible with the philosophy of the Cynics who lived, as they said, according to Nature; for them the natural order was a Kingdom with divine rules in opposition to the social order of the time. The use of the term “Kingdom” in Q1 is equivalent to its use by the Cynic philosophers. In Q1 it was not yet discovered that God’s Kingdom was to be found in the social formation of the movement as it will be described in Q2. The conception of God in Q1 is compatible with the teaching of the Cynics even if the match between the Q people, who said that their rule was the rule of God, and the Cynics, who had their own rule, is not perfect.

The Q people saw God as a father but many other religions of that time believed the same concept: all of nature is God’s domain, and all the people are under his care. The Q people talk of God very seriously because they believe that they need his care, even if they do not yet think of themselves as a family. In Q1 the social formation of the movement is implicit in the nature of the discourses whereas in Q2 the Jesus movement comes in full light. The instructions as how the missionaries from the Q movement should behave when they travel in the country of Galilee are very precise. This shows that the movement had already spread in all the region at that stage, and that these missionaries were numerous, and generally well received.

The aphoristic style of Q1 disappears in Q2, as does the sense of confidence in God’s care derived from the belief that nature provides basic needs. Instead one hears the voice of a prophet pronouncing judgement on a sinning world, a prophet who castigates and preaches apocalyptic future. In Q2 we find narratives, dialogues, stories, examples from old tradition, descriptive parables, warnings, and apocalyptic pronouncements. The rhetoric and style of the discourses also change from exhortation to pronouncement, from imperative to direct statements, and from indirect to direct address. These judgements, who are the main theme of Q2, and verdicts, are delivered with authority. The theme of judgement is related to an apocalyptic imagination. The threat of not meeting the standard requested on the day of the final judgement flows as an undercurrent in many writings such as prophetic pronouncements, images of destruction, and parables of exclusion. This apocalyptic background leads to a new conception of God, and forces us to imagine the rule of God as a realm to be revealed at the end of time. The inverse is also true in the sense that the apocalyptic imagination is related to the theme of judgement. In Q2 there is little interest in imagining the rule of God as a glorious Kingdom at the end of time. In Q2 the final trial and the decision of who is in, and who is out of the Kingdom, is all important. The provenance of the elected is irrelevant. The Q people did not look forward to the final judgement. The Q community was not closed on the outside world while waiting for the final judgement, they were not an enclave or an apocalyptic community. They obviously had their enemies such as the Pharisees. They used the apocalyptic language to reinforce their judgement upon the state of the world in which they were living.

What was the reason for the change between the Q1 and Q2 period? In Q1 the Sayings are addressed to the community of Jesus’ followers and serve to instruct them, as individuals, in their aim to represent God’s Kingdom in the world. During the Q2 period many Sayings are intended for the whole world, and some are specifically for the outsiders to the group such as lawyers and Pharisees. These people refused to enter God’s Kingdom because they did not want to loose their earthy privileges and they also tried to prohibit others to join. The Q people knew that their appeal would not be heard and that their preaching had been rejected by the outside people as being silly, dangerous and tiring. The issue of loyalty, as the danger of loosing members, was real and important during Q2 and social tensions and division within the families grew inside the community. Threats of exclusion from the Kingdom of God were common. During the Q1 period a member of the community was recognised if he, or she, was “keeping Jesus’ words”, was ready to go on preaching missions and to live in the houses of hospitality. In the Q2 period the obligation to “keep Jesus’ words” did not change, but a growing emphasis on the importance of doing it is noticeable. It was difficult to say that this was done at Jesus’ request since he was more of a Cynic-like teacher rather than an authoritative leader. In order to guarantee loyalty to the teaching of the movement, Jesus, with his moral authority, was confirmed to be his founder. This increase of Jesus’ authority was imposed gradually and the first signs of it can already be seen in stage 2, and more clearly in the period known as stage 3, between the collection of most Q1 materials and the revision in Q2. The crucifixion of Jesus is not seen as being so important as the New Testament tells us. The Q people saw it as a sign of courage in front of death and as an example of the integrity required of all his followers; an integrity that was measured by commitment to the way of life enjoined within the community, by staying true to the movement because of Jesus, seen as the founder-teacher who died for it. In addition to “keeping Jesus’ words” a true follower had to be loyal to Jesus himself, and through Him to the movement. In Q2, families are seen to be split over loyalty to the movement. These signs of division and rejection are, in part, due to the social background of the time. The people of Q2 had not organised their movement to become a society with membership requirements and rites of entrance. But this was to change, and there was soon words like “entering into” the Kingdom of God, or being excluded from it. Loyalty to the Jesus movement, seen in the light of biblical traditions, ran against the Jewish religious authority wishes to be the only religions of the land. In particular, the life-style of the Jesus movement ran against the Jewish codes of purity, advocated and adapted for the present circumstances by the Pharisees. These codes were not Law, but they allowed the Pharisees, who followed them, to say that they were the true Jews. The Jesus people did not intend to reform Judaism, and they did not pretend to be a movement made up only of Jews living in Galilee, even if most did. This shows why loyalty to the Jesus movement was very important, and had to have precedence over family and village’s loyalty, even if it meant giving up Pharisees’ standards and Jewish identity and customs. The Jesus movement was becoming much more that a forum for social critique and for people to stand up in difficult time. This community was seeking its own identity in contrast to the prevailing social, ethnic, and cultural traditions of the majority. However they did not even try to rewrite the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Jewish law, as they were quite happy to take the old traditional writings as their own.

The Jesus movement was not generated by apocalyptic hysteria, persuasion of imminent judgement, or as a mean to review the Jewish scriptures. To establish a safe link with the past, they appropriated to themselves the mythological figure of the Wisdom of God; to connect with the future, they used the concept of the Son of Man. In addition the people of Q described Jesus, the sage author of the Sayings, as the child of Wisdom and as the one who knew what the Son of Man would say and do at the end of time.

Q2 allows us to observe a myth in the making that became the more important base of the religious culture of the Western world. This myth, put together by the Jesus movement, implied creative borrowing and the rearrangement of figures and beliefs from many other mythologies of the time. Of primary importance to the myth of Q was the Wisdom of God, the concept of the spirit of God, and the Son of Man. This allowed the Jesus movement to link the traditions of Israel with an apocalyptic finale. The figure of Jesus was rearranged to allow him to be a Wisdom teacher and an apocalyptic prophet, and John was introduced at that point of Q2 to help the myth.

The concept of the Wisdom of God was introduced by the Jewish scribes following the Babylonian exile (587-539 BC) and the destruction of Jerusalem. Wisdom of God refers to a body of knowledge and to the Jewish beliefs about life, ethics, and human relations. It also assumed the existence of a Temple-state. With Jerusalem destroyed, the Jewish intellectuals said that Wisdom was not any more of this world, but was to be found in God, and this concept was well accepted during the Greco-Roman period. The world was then seen as a divine creation, the epic of Israel as a divine story, the second Temple-state as a model of civilisation, the books of Moses or Torah as divine instructions, and the prophets, priests, and kings played key roles in the ruling of a society in peace and justice. Wisdom was represented by a woman putting the pieces of a broken world together. Wisdom mythology is to be found in apocalyptic books too. Wisdom escaped from the violence and evil of Jerusalem and is now waiting in heaven, ready to return on judgement day.

The myth of Wisdom was made for the people of Q since, if Jesus was a sage, then he was an envoi or the child of the Wisdom of God. This was not obvious during Q1 when the Cynic influence was all important and this philosophy did not need to link Wisdom with God. However the people, perhaps unconsciously, already saw Jesus as a teacher of Wisdom from which he had acquired his knowledge. The authors of Q2 had now the problem to put together the teacher of Wisdom with the apocalyptic prophet speaking about the judgement of God to a world who could well be excluded from his Kingdom. This was solved by introducing John as the prophet of Doom and letting him, and Jesus, exchange views about their beliefs. This John is certainly the saint known as John the Baptist, but his apocalyptic teaching does fit better with the time of the Roman-Jewish war of the 60s AD that with the time of Jesus. It is probable that the authors of Q2 created this story about Jesus and John in the 60s, forgetting, in the process, the historical circumstances of the late 20s when John baptised Jesus as told in the New Testament. John said that someone, obviously Jesus, would soon come to make the judgement following the apocalyptic catastrophe he was announcing. After the harsh preaching of John, Jesus’ message seemed quite acceptable, if not soft.

The authors of Q2 showed Jesus as a prophet in order to allow him to pronounce judgement in apocalyptic terms. This was not easy since in Q1 he appeared as the envoy or the child of Wisdom, that is as a sage, and sages and prophets do not go too well together. According to Q2 John and Jesus had never met (it was Mark who said that Jesus was baptised by John) until John’s disciples mentioned Jesus’ healing to him. As he thought that Jesus could be the prophet he had announced, he sent his disciples to inquire. Jesus told them that he was healing and bringing good news to the poor, fulfilling Isaiah’s vision.

The authors of Q2 introduced John to “prepare the way” for Jesus to appear in their book about Jesus who can now talk to the crowd. First of all he thanks John whom he describes as the greatest man born of a woman (meaning that Him, Jesus, was greater since he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born to a virginal mother). Jesus describes himself and John as being the children of Wisdom. Being put in his place John, the last human prophet, can now disappear, leaving the rest to Jesus and to what he will say about the Kingdom of God.

The generation of Galileans of that time thought that John, the austere ascetic, is crazy (or an ascetic Cynic), and they say that Jesus, the Son of Man with his convivial style (of a libertine Cynic), is a glutton and a drunk. As Cynic philosophers, they were both truly children of Wisdom but also able to preach apocalyptic warnings. Jesus was more than a prophet since he is linked to the past by being the Wisdom’s child and to the future by being the Son of Man who will be present at the final judgement. In Aramaic language the term “Son of Man” means also “a human being” or “the son of humankind”; it also can mean a human figure that appears in an apocalyptic vision. Many diverse mythologies converge on Jesus in Q2 as the sayings of different origins are simply attributed to Him. This seemed to satisfy amply the people of Q who accepted Jesus as their founder-teacher. The importance the Q people gave to Jesus is strange, and shows that their creed had changed a lot from the Cynic-sage of the beginning to the apocalyptic visionary of a later stage. The changes were gradual and the author of the apocalyptic vision can be seen as an elaboration of Jesus’ Wisdom of the Cynic-sage stage. This also explains why they always saw him as a sage throughout the texts, that is, from his Cynic-like aphorisms to the Cynic-like injunctions. In summary Jesus was credited by his Q-followers with knowing everything from the beginning to the end of time, including how he fits into God’ scheme.

The people of Q had finally succeeded to find their place in the world. The place they chose was risky because they based their creed on history and, in addition, they did not know what the future, seen as the final judgement, would be for them or anybody else. The Q texts are organised in such a way that the readers must interpret Jesus’ instructions to his followers (the Q1 Sayings) in the light of judgement (Q2 Sayings). In the same way, the instructions at the Q2 level include both warnings about the final judgement and words of assurance that everything will be all right in the end for those who follow his teaching.

The members of the Jesus movement had to accept Him as he was, believe what he said, and to abstain from criticising Him if not, at the final judgement day, they could be rejected from the Kingdom of God. It was, on the contrary, accepted that the members could have different opinions on the Son of Man, as his relation to Jesus was not very clear.

The distinction between the Son of Man and the Holy Spirit was not clear either and, once more, it was forbidden to speak against the Holy Spirit who was assumed to give advises on what to say at the final trial. The Holy Spirit was a term used by the people of Q to connect their mythology with their situation. This concept is different from Jesus, Wisdom and the Son of Man as it is not a primary agent, but only its manifestation. The people of Q did not desire, or need, the continuance of the presence of Jesus among them but they needed access to the Wisdom of God, and they were getting it through the Holy Spirit.

The Roman-Jewish war was the end of a glorious epoch in Jewish history. It affected both the Jews and Jesus’ people alike. The war started with riots in 66 AD, through the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70, to the fall of Masada in 73. According to Josephus, the Roman task was greatly facilitated by the internal conflicts in Jerusalem and Judea. All the sectors of the Jewish society, including the monks of Qumrân, were deeply affected by this war and had to think how to reconstruct, and reorganise, their communities and their ways of life. Galilee and Samaria had been involved, caught in between Jerusalem and the Romans. The confusion and the violence affected all people including those of the Jesus movement. Q3 let us see very little of what happened during and after the war to the Q community. There was very little time for reflection and study, but Q3 let us know that the movement survived. The Q3 additions are the last contribution to Q before it was included in the narrative Gospels, later in the first century. It is possible that the Jesus people continued to live as a movement distinct from Christianity, as described in the narrative Gospels. It is also possible that they continued to add more chapters to the Q document. Unfortunately no trace of any chapter later than Q3 reached us and there is no historical evidence that the movement survived the first century AD. What is known is that the Q document was very popular in the last quarter of the first century, that it was widely copied and diffused, and that Mark, Matthew and Luke copied parts of it in their own Gospels.

Q3, and more precisely the story of the temptation of Jesus, introduces three new themes: the mythology of Jesus as the son of God, the relationship of Jesus as the son of God to the Temple of Jerusalem and, finally, the authority of the Scriptures. Upgrading Jesus from child of Wisdom (Q2) to son of God (Q3) changes him from a sage with divine knowledge to heir of the Father’s Kingdom. It is a further development of the Q2 mythology towards a unified one that merges all the previous mythological concepts in the figure of the son of God. The Temple, that until now was not mentioned in Q, is described as a symbol of misplaced loyalties, a misuse of power. According to Q, Jesus was not interested in the Temple, adding that his Kingdom would not be affected by its destruction. Jesus did not want to take it over, but he did not criticise it either for what it stood for. However the Q people took advantage of the destruction of the Temple to proclaim that they were the true heirs of Israel’s Wisdom.

In Q3, the Jesus’ people describe their attitude towards the Jewish scriptures and the relevance of the written law. They now come back to accept the old Jewish codes on washing, alms and offerings, and to follow the written law. Obviously they had made some adjustments in their beliefs, even if they were still seeing themselves as representative of the Kingdom of God. This could be interpreted as saying that the words of Jesus were insufficient as a guide, since they were now saying that the scriptures were a good guide to the Kingdom of God. This later text seems to be in contradiction with the earlier parts of Q, even if it is an appealing solution to the confusion created by the destruction of Jerusalem. It is the earliest evidence for an accommodation of the Jewish law within the Jesus movement. We will see it again in the Gospel of Matthew where it can be called Jewish-Christianity. This legacy of the Jesus movement became very popular, widespread, and influential, even if the community of Q had not yet become Christian. Other groups of Jesus people took different paths, had different social history, and had their own myths. Their influence however, even if not negligible, is less known than that of the Q community. The complete text of Q was available to Mark, Matthew and Luke, as well as to Thomas, when they wrote their Gospels, and the influence of Q is noticeable in all of them.

Bookmark and Share