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  • Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective by Francis Watson
  • O.P. Anthony Giambrone
Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective Francis Watson. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2013. Pp. xiii + 665. $48.00 (paper). ISBN: 978-0-8028-4054-7.

Very few New Testament scholars today could have produced a book of the same scope, competence, and creativity as Francis Watson's Gospel Writing. It is an achievement of truly imposing force and richness and certainly ranks among the most ambitious and important contributions to the field of Gospel studies in the post-Bultmannian age. The irony is that the ghost of Rudolf Bultmann haunts the text, without ever being named, so that it becomes hard to say precisely where the discipline is going. The question for exegetes and theologians will thus be how to measure Watson's proposed paradigm shift against the no less significant (if less expansive and erudite) projects of Martin Hengel, Richard Burridge, and Richard Bauckham, whose ideas push in a different direction and harbor no theological nostalgia for the era of midcentury Formgeschichte.

The stated aim of Watson's tome is to reconfigure the standard model of Gospel origins. By this he means, in the first place, dislodging the regnant Two-Document Hypothesis, whereby Matthew and Luke independently rewrote and merged Mark and a lost sayings source (Q)—with John coming up the rear in some uncertain relation to his three canonical predecessors. By setting Q in the crosshairs, the book builds openly upon Mark Goodacre's more pioneering and pointed oeuvre. Indeed, as a senior scholar of some standing and as the present editor of New Testament Studies, Watson easily represents the most noteworthy "establishment" advocate to throw his full weight behind Goodacre's theory. If Watson thus offers his own extended arguments meant to undermine the credibility of Q (chap. 3, "The Coincidences of Q") and to buttress the theory that Luke, in fact, wrote with direct knowledge of Matthew's Gospel (chap. 4, "Luke the Interpreter"), this is not the real site of innovation. Admittedly, the detailed discussion of order in Luke's sayings material is a meaningful and needed element in the mounting "L/M theory," as Watson designates it (e.g., 118-19). His handling of the Lucan preface is also of interest. Still, Goodacre remains the most eloquent and convincing spokesmen for the L/M view. The real innovation and [End Page 133] significance, rather, is in the way that Watson has (as Goodacre has not) so vigorously thought through the implications of "life without Q."

The two opening chapters of the book put the whole project in its historical context and together comprise part 1, "The Eclipse of the Fourfold Gospel." The narrative arc sketched in this superbly engaging account serves to expose a pair of faulty but foundational assumptions that Watson sees as constitutive of the present perspective: (1) the perception of plurality/disharmony as a problem, and (2) the effort to reverse the flow of reception to recover a form of the Gospel prior to the act of interpretation.

It all begins with "Augustine's Ambiguous Legacy" (chap. 1). Here Watson offers the first of multiple displays of his remarkable, masterful range. The essential point of the argument, which focuses upon De consensu evangelistarum, is to challenge the supposedly dominant assumption, inherited in some way from Augustine (Origen purportedly represents a different legacy), that disharmony among the Gospels represents a theological problem. Watson accordingly highlights a double tendency in Augustine's work. On the one hand, he innovatively proposes a literary, source-critical explanation for the similarities and differences between the Gospels—rather than simply assuming the direct access of each evangelist to apostolic preaching, as earlier tradition did. "For the tradition, Mark is Peter's son; for Augustine, he is Matthew's" (20). While the so-called Augustinian Hypothesis that results—that is, the suggestion that the evangelists wrote their Gospels in the canonical order and in dependence upon one another—is not highly regarded today, in the course of his work Augustine gives hints of revising his own view, as Watson interestingly shows. In any case, neither Augustine's later, revised view nor his...


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