Sayings Gospel Q
Besides what Matthew and Luke verbally agree on that comes from Mark, they also agree on about two hundred other verses that are absent in Mark. This is compelling evidence of another common source that scholars refer to as Q (short for the German word Quelle, or “source”). They think Q was composed in three layers: the first included sayings about poverty and discipleship, the second included judgmental sayings against “this generation,” and the third included the temptation of Jesus. What we know of Q betrays no awareness of the Jewish War (66—70 C.E.) and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans (70 C.E). It is theologically underdeveloped (primitive) and provincial in character, traits that indicate it must have been composed very early.
Like Q, the Gospel of Thomas is a sayings gospel and as such the discovery of Thomas strengthens the Q theory. Nearly a third of the sayings in Thomas appear in Q. Unlike Thomas, however, most of the sayings in Q appear in discourses or “speeches” about such subjects as the Sermon on the Mount, John the Baptist, instructions to disciples, prayer, condemnation of the Pharisees and others.
Gospel Q has important implications for the question of whether or not Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet because the clusters of sayings in Q reflect both sapiential and apocalyptic themes. These contradictory themes are clearly identifiable within two distinctive strata that scholars refer to as Q1, probably composed in the early 50s, and Q2, probably composed in the 60s (but before the outbreak of the Jewish War in 66 C.E.). Crossan (1991) describes the sapiential layer, Q1, as “serene and hopeful” and the apocalyptic layer, Q2, as “threatening and vengeful.”
Kloppenborg’s analysis (1987) brought to light the meaning behind Q’s compositional arrangement and its implication for the great debate over the historical Jesus. It was Kloppenborg who first realized that the successive sapiential and apocalyptic layers of Q do not represent historically successive interpretations of Jesus; rather, they represent the successive stages in the life and hardships suffered by the Q community. Kloppenborg argues that the Q community “both preached an ethic which departed markedly from macro-societal values, and experienced the failure of its preaching among its contemporaries.”
In other words, neither the sapiential Jesus nor the apocalyptic Jesus can be taken as a late development in response to the delay of Jesus’ hoped-for return. The apocalyptic layer in Q simply reflects the failure of the community’s demanding mission. Miller summarizes that experience this way: They saw themselves as poor, hungry and persecuted and had to work assiduously at internal cohesion and commitment; as their mission failed and deep trauma and family divisions ensued, the theme of rejection coupled with the theme of vivid threats against the “establishment” and “this generation,” including the severe judgment against Israel, are reflected in Gospel Q.
Kloppenborg allows for sapiential and apocalyptic views to coexist early in the history of the Q community in much the same way as Koester
Unlike the Q community, the Thomas community was uprooted early from its base in Jerusalem in the wake of the martyring of James in 62 C.E. before the Jewish War (66—70 C.E.). The second layer in Thomas reflects, as Crossan notes, the later (60s or 70s) experience of that part of the Thomas community that migrated to Syrian Edessa, where the “aegis of the Thomas authority” became more prominent in the gospel.
This earlier experience, captured in the 40s C.E. in the first compositional layer of Thomas, reflects the competing sapiential and apocalyptic views of Jesus. There is much more to say about this point, and I will get to it in Chapter One. Here, one final point about Thomas and the gospel attributed to him needs a very brief mention—I will deal with it more fully in Appendix II, “Who was Thomas?” Thomas may have been beheaded, while fleeing Jerusalem with a group of his followers between 44 and 46 C.E., on the orders of Fadus, the first Roman procuratorial governor of all Palestine. The execution of Thomas may have been the immediate cause for writing of the first gospel about Jesus.