The Canon, the Text, the Composition, and the Interpretation of the Gospels
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A laborious intellectual history of the origin and interpretation of the Gospels. New Testament scholar Dungan (Religious Studies/Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville) here traces the history of the synoptic problem from the 1st century to the 20th. One part of the problem refers to the priority of Mark’s gospel (generally thought to be written around 70 c.e., before Matthew or Luke). Dungan questions the conventional wisdom that Mark had to be written first because it’s the most sparse of the three, with no original resurrection account and terribly written Greek. Elsewhere, Dungan challenges scholars’ theory of “Q,” the hypothetical source which, in addition to Mark, allegedly formed the basis for Matthew and Luke (materials found in the latter two gospels that are not present in Mark have long been imagined to trace back to a lost gospel source named Q). These renegade arguments are very promising, but it takes Dungan nearly 350 pages to actually get to them. The preceding sections develop an overly lengthy and tedious history of gospel interpretation through the centuries. Dungan’s writing style is unimaginative, essentially following an annotated outline complete with bullets and ubiquitous subheadings. His constant use of ordinal numbers is confusing (“Part Two concludes with . . . the fourth component of the Third Form of the Synoptic Problem,” he writes, in a hopeless attempt to clarify the course of his argument). That said, one gets the sense that Dungan’s heart is in the right place; he asks provocative questions of the text and, more importantly, his fellow critics. He is quite rightly convinced that biblical scholarship has been mired in a Euro-American, white male paradigm for far too long and that there is no such thing as value-neutral textual criticism. Fellow biblical scholars may appreciate the first 350 pages, but general readers who were not aware that the synoptic “problem” was indeed a problem will only gain insights from the last section, if at all.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-385-47192-0
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1999