Book Review: Is There A Synoptic Problem?
There is a lot of good and a fair bit of “meh” in this book. Linneman’s main thesis is that current scholarship’s obsession with the Synoptic Problem and, by extension, the two-source theory is unwarranted. Then, she defends the litereary independence of the Synoptics.
At the start, she surveys several modern NT textbooks that blithely assert (without argumentation) the literary dependence of the Synoptics and the use of Q by MT/LK. This area stands out as she effectively shows that modern scholarship is effectively indoctrinating students with the two-source theory. This critique is also shared by Mark Goodacre (who actually thinks the Synoptics are literarily dependent). He and Linneman both argue that the Synoptic Problem is taught through the lens of the two-source hypothesis without proper attention given to the data that need explanation. It is to this question that Linneman turns in Part 2 of the book.
Here, she provides an extensive quantitative analysis of the parallels that supposedly demonstrate literary dependence. While her work is extremely valuable, I did not find her analysis overly convincing. For example, she would argue along the lines “We are expected to believe that Luke only found 28% of his source material from Mark valuable enough to retain verbatim which is absurd!” Granted, this is about the same caliber of reasoning used by the folks that came up with the two-source hypothesis. However, I think Linneman should have done more statistical analysis. Admittedly, I am an engineer, so, something like “On the hypothesis of literary dependence, we find a p-value of 0.036 for this pericope” would be much more convincing. Linneman thinks she has definitively shown that the literary dependence hypothesis is absurd and untenable. I do not find her argumentation that persuasive; however, I can say that her work has switched me from leaning towards the two-source theory to leaning slightly towards literary independence. YMMV.
The other weak area is at the end where she attempts to construct a plausible theory of how the Synoptics originated. I do not think that she substantially interacted with the objections to (a) the reliability of the patristic fathers nor (b) the Aramaic origins of Matthew. I think she could have been a bit more critical.
Lastly, I understand that she perceives historical-criticism as parasitic to Christian belief; however, I found her style to be unnecessarily polemic. Once I got used to it, it was fine to read; however, people who are already hostile to her position will not find the style to be any more comforting. I get the impression that may be an unnecessary barrier to interacting with her detractors.
Overall, this is a good read. It’s a great example of how conservative scholars interact with and take liberal scholarship seriously even when not reciprocated.
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