HUMA4655 Advanced Biblical Studies: The Synoptic Gospels

York University, 2009/2010


Instructor: Dr. Tony Burke
Phone: (416) 736-2100 ext. 22329
Time and Location: Monday 7-10 pm, ACW104
Office Hours: Monday 5-6 pm (or by appointment), Rm. 617 Atkinson Building

1. Course description: The Synoptic Gospels comprise the first three books of the New Testament—i.e., the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. They are so named because, together (syn) they see (opsis) the story of Jesus in a similar way. These gospels have long been considered scholars’ best sources for the life and times of Jesus. But they are not easy resources to use. For one, their great similarities have led scholars to believe that they are related to one another in a literary way—i.e., one or more of the gospel writers copied off one or more of the others. The determination of the exact nature of this literary relationship is known as the Synoptic Problem. Once one determines which gospel was written first, it is possible to identify the subsequent writers’ editorial interests (or “redactional” tendencies”). This course focuses precisely on these issues. We will look at the history of the study of the Synoptic Problem, examining the range of hypotheses raised for solving this dilemma but focusing primarily on the dominant Two-Source Hypothesis. We will then turn to examining the gospels one-by-one and apply to them a variety of methodologies used in the discipline, including redaction criticism, form criticism, source criticism, and rhetorical criticism. Students will learn advanced text-critical skills, become acquainted with scholarship in the field, and experience leading the class in discussions.

2. Format: each weekly session will contain a lecture section and a group discussion section. Several sessions will be dedicated to student-led seminars.

3. Required Texts

B. Aland. Synopsis of the Four Gospels. Philadelphia: Fortress, 2004.

John S. Kloppenborg. Q: The Earliest Gospel. Louisville/London: WJK Press, 2008.

Mark Goodacre. The Synoptic Problem: A Way through the Maze. New York: Continuum, 2004.

Robert H. Stein. Studying the Synoptic Gospels: Origin and Interpretation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

Tatum, W. Barnes. In Quest of Jesus. Rev. ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999.

4. Assignments

All written work in this course is expected to be of high quality—i.e., it must conform to the style and format guidelines typical of Humanities courses—and it must be your own. To help ensure that these requirements are met, you are urged to visit the on-line guides listed below. In addition, a style sheet of my own design is to be attached to your assignments (see the assignment descriptions below). No paper will be accepted without the style sheet attached. For formatting notes and bibliographies, you may appeal to this guide. For additional writing assistance, visit the following web sites:

A. Academic Integrity: York University is very concerned about the increase in student plagiarism. As heinous a crime as plagiarism is, sometimes it is perpetrated in ignorance. The university has set up an on-line tutorial to help students recognize acts of plagiarism. You are required to complete this tutorial (no papers will be accepted until you do so). Go to the web site and work your way through the tutorial. Print off the results of the quiz and hand them in on September 27. There is no grade value for this assignment, but no papers will be accepted until the test results are handed in to the instructor. Site address:

B. Short Papers: there are two short papers (maximum two pages) to be handed in each semester. The first two are pericope analyses, which involve careful comparison of specific episodes in the Synoptic Gospels. These are to be handed in Oct. 5 and Nov. 2. The other two papers focus on issues relating to the gospels as a group: one on gospel genre (due Feb. 2) and one on the Historical Jesus (due Feb. 26). Be sure to attach the essay style sheet available HERE. Grade value: 10% each.

C. Book Review: hand in a review of John Kloppenborg’s Q: The Earliest Gospel with the primary aim of assessing the author’s style (how is the book structured? what are the arguments he makes? what kind of audience is he writing for? does he make his arguments well? is the book a “good read”?, etc.). For more guidance on scholarly book reviews read the samples available HERE. The reviews will be discussed in class. Be sure to attach the essay style sheet available HERE. Length: 5 pages. Grade value: 10%. Due: October 26.

D. Wikipedia Assignment: the Wikipedia site hosts several pages dedicated to the Synoptic Problem (see, but principally on the dominant solutions to the problem. There are many lesser-known solutions that are discussed little or not at all. Your assignment is to examine the Wikipedia site, become a member, and craft and mount a page on one of the following topics:

  • Pierson Parker Hypothesis (begin with The Gospel Before Mark. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953).
  • M. E. Boismard (begin with “The Two-Source Theory at an Impasse,” New Testament Studies 26 [1979-80]: 1-17).
  • Eta Linnemann (begin with Is There a Synoptic Problem: Rethinking the Literary Dependence of the First Three Gospels. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1992 and this article).
  • Logia Translation Hypothesis by Brenda Wilson (begin at
  • Three-Source Hypothesis by Ron Price (begin at
  • F.C. Grant proposed a Multiple Source Theory (begin with The Gospels. Their Origin and Growth, London 1957)
  • Delbert Burkett (begin with Rethinking the Gospel Sources: From Proto-mark to Mark. New York/London: T & T Clark, 2004).
  • Helmut Koester on Secret Mark (begin with “History and Development of Mark’s Gospel [From Mark to Secret Mark and ‘Canonical Mark’].” Pp. 35-57 in Colloquy on New Testament Studies: A Time for Reappraisal and Fresh Approaches. Ed. Bruce Corley. Macon: Mercer University Press, 1983)
  • H. D. Betz on the Sermon on the Mount (begin with “The Sermon on the Mount and Q: Some Aspects of the Problem.” Pp. 19-34 in Gospel Origins and Christian Beginnings: In Honor of James M. Robinson. Ed. James E. Goehring, et al. Sonoma, CA: Polebridge Press, 1990)
  • Streeter on Proto-Luke (Burnett Hillman Streeter, The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins, treating of the manuscript tradition, sources, authorship, & dates. London: Macmillan, 1924)
  • Jerusalem School Hypothesis (begin at
  • John and the Synoptics (begin with Frans Neirynck, “John and the Synoptics,” Pp. 73-106 in L’évangile de jean: sources redaction, théologie. Ed. Marinus de Jonge. BETL 44. Gembloux: J. Duculot, 1977)
  • Common Sayings Source: Q and Thomas (begin with John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity. San Francisco: Harper, 1989, ch. 14)
  • Stevan Davies on Mark and Thomas (begin with “Mark’s Use of the Gospel of Thomas,” Neotestamentica 30.2 [1996]: 307-334 and this second article)
  • The Didache (begin with Christopher Tuckett, “Synoptic Tradition in the Didache,” pp. 197-230 in The New Testament in Early Christianity, ed. J. M. Sevrin. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1989)
  • The Passion Narrative and the Gospel of Peter (begin with John. D. Crossan, The Cross That Spoke. San Francisco: Harper, 1988)
  • Oral Transmission (begin with Birger Gerhardsson, Memory and Manuscript: Oral Tradition and Written Transmission in Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity. trans. E. J. Sharpe, Lund: C.W.K. Gleerup, 1961)
  • John T. Robinson (begin with his Redating the New Testament, London: SCM Press, 1979)
  • James and Q (begin with Patrick J. Hartin, James and the “Q” Sayings of Jesus. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991)
  • Thomas Brodie (begin with The Birthing of the New Testament: The Intertextual Development of the New Testament Writings. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Press, 2004)

Your topic must be chosen by September 28 (inform the instructor of your choice via e-mail; first come first serve). You will also provide a summary of your research in an informal 15-minute seminar in one of the classes running Nov. 16-Dec. 7. The paper must be mounted to the Wikipedia site by Dec. 11 and e-mailed to the instructor in proper essay format. The length of the paper will depend on the amount of material the student is able to find on the subject, but beware that the instructor will be looking for gaps in the research. Grade Value: 15%.

E. Research Paper: you will prepare a paper on a research area of your choice. It should display solid acquaintance with the history of scholarship on the problem, outline and analyze the various interpretative positions possible on the problem, and be accompanied by a complete bibliography of pertinent items. You will also provide a summary of your research in an informal 10-minute seminar in one of the classes running Mar. 27 and April 5. Contact instructor by February 8 with a topic for your paper. Be sure to attach the essay style sheet available HEREFinal paper due: April 12. Length: 15 pages. Value: 25%.

F. Participation: to encourage an optimum of instructor/student interaction, a portion of your final grade is allocated to class participation. Grade value: 10%.

Missing papers: In the event that papers go missing, it is your responsibility to keep a hard copy of all written work submitted for the course.

Late papers: the instructor, like you, is a very busy person. He likes to receive papers on time so that he can give them back to you within a reasonable time and then get on with other things he has to do (the instructor has other courses to teach and other papers to grade). Late papers complicate his life. So, he cannot accept late papers unless they are accompanied with documentation from Special Needs or Health Services. Contact the professor if you foresee problems handing in papers on time.

5. Important Dates
September 24: Last date to enroll without permission of instructor
October 23: Last date to enroll with permission of instructor
February 6: Last date to drop course without receiving a grade

6. Lecture Schedule

Please come to class having read the assigned primary and secondary readings and having consulted the on-line resources. A lecture outline for each week’s class will be posted on-line by Friday afternoon of the previous week. It is your responsibility to print your own copy of the outline and bring it to class.

Sept. 14 Introductions
Read after class today: Stein, p. 17-25; Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
On-line Resources: Stephen Carlson has an excellent web site dedicated to the Synoptic problem. Check it out at:

Sept. 21 History of the Synoptic Problem
Read for today’s class: Stein ch. 1; Goodacre chs. 1-2.
On-Line Resources: Mark Goodacre, author of The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze, maintains an exhaustive site related to New Testament Studies called NT Gateway. You can see his pages related to the Synoptic Problem at He also has a page dedicated specifically to his book:

Sept. 28 Ancient Solutions: Augustine
Read for today’s class: Papias (Eusebius, Historia ecclesiastica 3.39.15-17), Augustine (De Consensu Evangelistarum); William Farmer, “The Patristic Evidence Re-examined” (PDF)
On-Line Resources: for more on the witness of Papias, see the page on the Synoptic Gospels Primer site:

Oct. 5 The Griesbach Hypothesis
Read for today’s class: Griesbach, “A Demonstration That Mark Was Written After Matthew and Luke” (PDF and CHART); William R. Farmer, “The Two-Gospel Hypothesis: The Statement of the Hypothesis” (PDF 1, PDF 1.5, PDF 2).
** Assignment due today: consult the synopsis for Mark 3:1-6 par (p. 45). Make a copy, colour it according to Goodacre’s suggestions (p. 33-35), and hand it in with your paper. The paper will be a study of the pericope in light of the Griesbach solution to the Synoptic Problem. What phenomena do you observe here that supports the theory (i.e., what would a supporter of the theory say about what Mark does with his sources [Matt and Luke]? And why?).
On-Line Resources: check out Ron Price’s page on the Two-Gospel Hypothesis (aka the Griesbach Hypothesis):

Oct. 12 ~ Reading Week

Oct. 19 Markan Priority
Read for today’s class: Stein ch. 2; Goodacre ch. 3-4; N. Humphrey Palmer, “Lachmann’s Argument.” (PDF)
On-Line Resources: “Sidewalk Pastor” Eman Laerton explains Markan Priority using Mr. Potatohead dolls in this Youtube video:

Oct. 26 Two Document Hypothesis
Read for today’s class: Stein ch. 3; Goodacre ch. 5.
On-Line Resources: The blog Broadcast Depth has a brief interview with John Kloppenborg.
** Kloppenborg Book Review due today **

Nov. 2 Challenging the Two Document Hypothesis: Minor Agreements
Read for today’s class: Stein ch. 4.
On-Line Resources: Bart Ehrman has published widely on the gospels, including a new book called Jesus Interrupted. For an entertaining debate over the Synoptic Problem, watch the promotional video for the book at Amazon, and then a rebuttal by conservative preacher James White.
** Assignment: look at the pericope of the Woman with a Hemorrhage (p. 85). Look specifically at Matt 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48. Once again, copy and colour the synopsis and hand it in with your paper. In the paper, look for agreements between Matt and Luke against Mark and seek to explain them from the perspective of the Two Document Hypothesis.

Nov. 9 The Oxford Hypothesis
Read for today’s class: Stein ch. 5-6; Goodacre ch. 6-7. Farrer, Austin M. “On Dispensing With Q.”; M. Goulder, “The Order of a Crank” (PDF1 PDF2)
On-Line Resources: for a concise discussion of the “Case Against Q” see Mark Goodacre’s  “Ten Reasons to Question Q”:

Nov. 16 No Class

Nov. 23 Seminars

Helmut Koester on Secret Mark by Mike Nagoda
Common Sayings Source: Q and Thomas by Mike Bernofsky
Stevan Davies on Mark and Thomas by Dan Stapleton
The Didache by Norm Vreugde
The Passion Narrative and the Gospel of Peter by Julian Sarracini

Nov. 30 Seminars

John and the Synoptics by David Nandlal
H. D. Betz on the Sermon on the Mount by Alicia Seifert
James and Q by Vanessa Millare
Delbert Burkett by Maggie Thabet
Oral Transmission by Adam Duncan
John T. Robinson by Mike Lee

Dec. 7 Seminars

Eta Linnemann by Matt Svalina
Logia Translation Hypothesis by Ryan Watson
Three-Source Hypothesis by Tiffany Jarvis
F.C. Grant’s Multiple Source Theory by Nicole
M. E. Boismard by Mirola Iskander
Jerusalem School Hypothesis by Sarah Conti
Pierson Parker Hypothesis by Gabriel Ranalli


Jan. 4 Form Criticism
Read for today’s class: Stein ch. 7; Bultmann, History of Synoptic Tradition (PDF1 PDF2)
On-Line Resources: a few years ago, Simcha Jacobovici (TV’s “Naked Archeologist”) and James Cameron (um, you know him) revealed to the world the existence of a first-century tomb that they believed contained the remains of Jesus and his family. The scholarly world has not embraced their conclusions. But you can read more about it at their official site.

Jan. 11 Orality
Read for today’s class: Stein ch. 8-9
On-Line Resources: Richard Bauckham is a recent supporter of the notion that the New Testament gospels represent the eyewitness traditions of the four evangelists. Listen to his views in this video.

Jan. 18 Redaction Criticism
Read for today’s class: Stein ch. 10-12.
On-Line Resources: John Dominic Crossan is one of the most well-known scholars on the Historical Jesus. See this short video courtesy of the Westar Institute (host organization for the Jesus Seminar) from one of his lectures.

Jan. 25 Reader Response Criticism
Read for today’s class: Alter and Kermode, “Introduction” to The Literary Guide to the Bible (PDF); Drury, “Mark” from The Literary Guide to the Bible (PDF); Gibson, “Authors, Speakers, Readers, and Mock Readers” (PDF)
On-Line Resources: another prominent Historical Jesus scholar we will read about in the classes ahead is N. T. Wright. His point-of-view is much more conservative than Crossan’s. But you can get a sense of that for yourself by watching this video clip.

Feb. 1 Gospel Genre
Read for today’s class: Guelich, “The Gospel Genre” (PDF); Life of Apollonios (PDF 1, PDF2)
** Assignment: Read the Life of Apollonios. What similarities do you see here with the life of Jesus as we have it in the New Testament gospels? What do you make of these similarities (i.e., why do you think the two biographies are so similar? What are the implications of these similarities for studying the life of Jesus?).

Feb. 8 Canonical Criticism
Read for today’s class: Miller, How the Bible Came to Be (PDF).
On-line Resources: How did the early Christians determine which books should be included in the Bible? The answers can be found in this Youtube clip of an interview with scholars Daniel Wallace and Darrell Bock.

Feb. 15 Reading Week

Feb. 22 The Historical Jesus I
Read for today’s class: Tatum chs. 1-3 (skim for review), chs. 4-6 (in detail).
On-line Resources: What did Jesus look like? The gospels contain no physical description of Jesus, but that scarcely prevented early Christians from modeling him in their own image. The practice has continued throughout the centuries with various Christian communities portraying Jesus according to their own ideal model. Rarely do you see Jesus pictured as a first-century Jew. For an examination of images of Jesus see the following web site: Several years ago, the BBC and the Discovery Channel hired forensic experts to create a computer-generated image of Christ, based on a 2,000-year-old skull of a man who once lived in Israel. See the results at The image might surprise you. A description of Jesus can also be found in a non-canonical text known as the Letter of Lentulus (read it HERE). Could this text be a genuine ancient description of Jesus? What do you find in the text that makes you suspect it is not genuine?
** Assignment: Who was Jesus? To stimulate thinking about the historical Jesus, prepare a short description of who (or what) you think Jesus was. What did he do? What did he have to say? What was his mission in life? What was the cause of his death? Note: A follow-up assignment will be discussed in class and is due March 22.

Mar. 1 The Historical Jesus II
Read for today’s class: Tatum chs. 7-8.
On-line resources: Visit for a transcript of an event at the 1998 Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature at which six scholars explain why they study the origins of Christianity—and why it matters. The panel includes Marcus Borg, N.T. Wright, John Dominic Crossan, Elaine Pagels, Richard B. Hays, and Karen King.

Mar. 8 The Historical Jesus III
Read for today’s class: Tatum chs. 9-11.
On-line resources: for additional information on crucifixion, including archaeological finds, consult the following sites:;

Mar. 15 No class

Mar. 22 The Historical Jesus IV
Read for today’s class: Tatum chs. 12-13.
On-line resources: one of the most interesting (if not also important) archeological finds of recent years has been the ossuary (bone box) of Jesus’ brother James. Biblical Archeology Review is following the trial that seeks to prove the owner of the box, Oded Golan, forged part of the box’s inscription that identifies its occupant as “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” Follow the discussion at

Mar. 29 Seminars
Sarah Conti
Adam Duncan
Gabriel Ranalli
Mirola Iskandar
Tiffany Jarvis
Michael Lee
Maggie Thabet
Nicole Waddington
Ryan Watson
** Who Was Jesus? Reflection paper due today. Now that we have completed our discussion of the Historical Jesus, I would like you to revisit your “Who Was Jesus?” paper and see what, if anything, has changed about your thoughts about him. Reflect both on your earlier paper and on the methodology used to reconstruct Jesus’ life (has studying this methodology changed your view of Jesus? or do you think it problematic?). Hand in your previous paper with this one. Length: two-three pages

Apr. 5 Seminars
Mike Bernofsky
Julian Sarracini
Vanessa Millare
Matt Svalina
Alicia Seifert
Mike Nagoda
David Nandlall
Dan Stapleton