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  • The New Q: A Fresh Translation with Commentary
  • Daniel A. Smith
Richard Valantasis The New Q: A Fresh Translation with Commentary New York and London: T & T Clark, 2005 Pp. x + 238. $89.95 (cloth), $19.95 (paper).

The New Q is not a technical exegetical commentary on the Sayings Gospel, but one that provides readings of the sayings which not only address issues of original context and sense but also make the voice of Q's Jesus audible (and, indeed, intelligible) for a contemporary non-specialist audience. This Valantasis [End Page 419] achieves first of all by the translation he offers, based on the reconstructed text of Q from James M. Robinson, Paul Hoffmann, and John S. Kloppenborg, eds., The Sayings Gospel Q in Greek and English (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002). While he doubts that the authors of Matthew and Luke used the same source of the Q sayings of Jesus (11), Valantasis remains "confident that this reconstructed text . . . probably circulated in one form or another with very similar words and phraseology" (13) although the guiding principle for this reconstruction is that Matthew and Luke did use copies of the same archetype (Robinson et al., lxvi– lxvii) The translation allows the reader of The New Q to hear these sayings in new ways by using intentionally (and appropriately) non-traditional language such as "empire of God" for "kingdom of God." About one saying (Q 11.9–13) Valantasis comments, "I have deliberately avoided familiar language in this translation in order to resist a facile assumption of meaning" (120). In most instances this policy works, but in a small minority of cases it leads to awkward and even questionable translations such as "and do not lead us into [mere] experimentation" for the final petition of Q's version of the Lord's Prayer (Q 11.4).

In the Introduction (1–14), Valantasis sketches out his approach to the Q sayings and his theories about Christian origins. He advocates what he calls an "ascetical approach" to the sayings and defines "asceticism as performances within a dominant society intended to inaugurate a new subjectivity, different social relations, and an alternative symbolic universe" (4). Engagement with the sayings of Jesus (both then and now, Valantasis would argue) accomplishes an "ascetical transformation" in the direction of the empire of God which subverts the dominant status quo (5–6). In my view this approach is both justified by the sayings themselves and very well executed by Valantasis. Throughout the book careful attention is paid to how the sayings required (and require) hearers to rethink and reformulate their identity, values, and practice.

On the subject of early Christianity, Valantasis rightly notes that the sayings represent only one way that ancient groups responded to Jesus' impetus to establish God's empire and that the narrative gospels in which they are preserved present a unitary myth of origins at odds with the broader literary remains of early Christianity (9). That the sayings survive only in Greek "indicates that Jesus intended a universal mission" to everyone who knew Greek (9). This interesting suggestion implies a great deal about the historical Jesus which is, however, not supported or debated at any length. Here and elsewhere the reader would have been better served with notes, a bibliography, or a list of suggested titles for further study.

The book's discussion of Q is not divided into discourse sections; as a result, sometimes due consideration is not given to the development or function of certain complexes of sayings in Q, and in a couple of instances Valantasis offers interpretations that do not do justice to the context in Q. For instance, the saying about plundering a strong man's house (Q 11.21–22) follows the so-called Beelzebub controversy (Q 11.14–15, 17–20) and, indeed, is connected to that material by the catchword "house" (Q 11.17 and 11.21) as part of a larger complex on exorcism (Q 11.14–26). Valantasis appears to miss the sense of the saying that the house or empire of Satan (the "strong man") is being overthrown [End Page 420] by the empire of God (the "stronger one"). Instead he reads...


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