Most biblical scholars believe that the narrative gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were preceded by a sayings gospel they refer to as Q. Q in effect presented just the arguments—and why wasn’t this enough? It wasn’t enough, because, outside the Jewish context in which the arguments originated, people didn’t know how to react to the sayings alone. The narrative gospels supply this missing context. They surround Jesus with dissenters who challenge what he’s saying and supporters who want amplification of what he’s saying. This helped readers see how they should be receiving the sayings. When someone in the narrative is amazed by Jesus’s words, the reader says to himself, Jesus must have said something amazing here. When someone reacts with consternation, the reader says to himself, Jesus must have said something outrageous here. Without these narrative cues, the non-Jewish reader might well fail to get the point (just as, without the laughter of those around him, an audience member might fail to get a joke). Because of the narrative elements in Ishmael, The Story of B, and My Ishmael, the reader is never alone with the ideas, the way he is in a book that is just argument; he’s always in an audience, always learning from others how he should react to what he reads.

DATE: 28 Mar 1998
UPDATE: 28 Mar 1998
ID: 209