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8.5 Q and Early Christianity

The discovery of Q led to a review of the history of the early Christians and changed our understanding of early Christian myth making. Jesus movement produced a myth of origin by adding new sayings to a growing collection of the instructions of the founder-teacher, a process in which new sayings were assumed to come from Jesus even long after his death. Finding the authentic words of the historical Jesus is not an easy task. Scholars know that Jesus could not have said everything that is ascribed to him in the literature produced during the first three or four centuries AD. We are speaking of about 500 sayings of which less than 10% can be traced to Jesus. So what are the authentic Jesus’ Sayings? We can first eliminate all the sayings from the Gnostic treaties and those of the popular works called pseudepigraphical or “falsely written and signed”. It is also necessary to analyse the sayings that appear in the canonical Gospels. Many such sayings found in John’s Gospel are believed to have been invented during his community’s meditations. The sayings from the synoptic Gospels are more difficult to assign. Only new sayings are considered to come from Jesus, whereas those with parallels from Jewish or Greek traditions of proverbs and maxims are not. In the same way, those sayings addressing the theological or ethical concerns of the emerging Church, are also considered as inauthentic. The practical result is that only a minority of sayings can be assigned to Jesus. This, of course, confuses the believers who have difficulties to accept that some sayings attributed by Mark, Matthew or Luke to Jesus, are not from Him. It is, in fact, impossible to affirm with absolute certainty which sayings are from Jesus, and which are not. The previous analysis is useful for the scholars but less so for the true believers who, in general, believe that all sayings attributed to Jesus in the Bible are from Him without possibility of doubt, if only for theological reason.

It is well known that the authors of early Christian books fell free to attribute new sayings to Jesus, if it was appropriate to the common current view of Jesus and to the social circumstances of the time. The key word is “appropriate”. In the antiquity, proverbs and maxims were very popular, as they were easily understood by the poorly educated people. They were collected by the scribes and generally attributed to a wise man of the past, as was the case with the “Proverbs and Wisdom of Solomon”, a book of the Bible. This attribution of sayings to wise men was current practice through the Greek world and justifies the attribution of new sayings to Jesus by the Q people, even after his death. The type of sayings attributed to Jesus changed in the course of Q’s history and the history of other Jesus movement. This, as we have seen, is due to the changes in social circumstances, experience, and formation. These changes are reflected in the content of the Q tradition. How was it possible for the Q people to attribute sayings to Jesus that are so different from those expressed and used by Jesus? These changes occurred very slowly and were hardly noticed at the time, and most of the additions are proverbial already available in the cultural context of the time. Other changes appeared as elaboration and embellishment and, if the additions proved to be too much and unacceptable, then the Q people would attribute them to somebody else. In addition the image of Jesus shifted in parallel with the changes in the sayings attributed to Him. The Q people were interested in Jesus as the founder-teacher of their movement, but they were not really interested in his personality. The addition to his Sayings allowed the Q people to adapt Him to new conditions. In other words, the Q people were the authors of the Sayings they attributed to Jesus.

The history of the Q community can be understood by studying the changes in the sayings attributed to Jesus. At first we have the aphorisms of Q1 that could only have been written by a Cynic-sage. This gave way to a second stage, still in Q1, where imperative sayings of proverbial Wisdom are common, and compatible with a network of small group-type of organisation. Hospitality rules are fixed, and a sense of expansion and growth is evident, even if there is no plan to reform the society, or for the recruitment of members. This change was attributed to Jesus, as a teacher-founder, giving instructions to his disciples and followers. Q1 represents Jesus’ principal teachings and doctrines. Before reaching Q2 we must notice a third stage of transition. Q2 is the fourth stage in which the members reflect on the social place and purpose of their movement. Q2 is a myth of origin for the movement and Jesus started to preach such things that only the Wisdom of God could have known. This knowledge was not for everybody and the revelations coming from this Wisdom’s child were for his disciples only. Q3, the fifth stage, was very different from the previous ones, probably as a consequence of the Roman-Jewish war. The Q people retreated from the rigid and vigorous stance of the previous period to a kind of resignation, an acceptance that the rule of God was a matter of personal and ethical integrity. Jesus was heard quoting the Scriptures even if he was seen as the Son of God whose Kingdom would only be revealed at the end of time. To survive the war must have been very hard.