Oral tradition and literary dependency : variability and stability in the synoptic tradition and Q
Despite the almost universal recognition that the Jesus tradition was, from its very beginning, oral tradition, scholars have continued to approach the question of Synoptic interrelationships from a strictly literary perspective. This study is an attempt to take seriously the Sitz im Leben within which the Synoptic Gospels were written, and to examine the possible role that oral tradition might have in determining, not only the scope of a Q text, but the way in which we envision the development of the Synoptic tradition. Previous attempts to take seriously the role of oral tradition in the formation of the Synoptic Gospels are examined, exposing the need for a much more careful analysis of the relationship between oral communication and written texts. Following such an analysis, it is suggested that solutions to the Synoptic Problem which do not take into serious account the possible influence of oral tradition in the process of Gospel composition must be deemed less than adequate. Seeking a way forward in the debate, we determined that a more thoroughly thought-through model of how oral communication functions is needed. It is proposed that the genre of folklore, while not replacing traditional literary designations, provides us with another interpretive framework through which we may gain new insight into the development of the Synoptic tradition. The folkloristic characteristics of variability and stability are discussed, followed by the presentation of recent work suggesting that these characteristics are prevalent in the Synoptic tradition. We suggest that recent studies on Q and the Synoptic Problem have not given adequate attention to the internal variability present within double tradition pericopes. A methodology is developed which will allow us to examine how the internal variability within selected double tradition pericopes might, to some extent, reflect the process of tradition transmission which preceded the tradition’s inclusion in a Gospel text. A selection of double tradition pericopes are examined, and the model of tradition transmission proposed by K. E. Bailey and J. D. G. Dunn is evaluated. The study concludes that there is a sufficient convergence of evidence to suggest that such a model is feasible for at least portions of the double tradition.