. . . . And I begin with…QThe bad news for you, James (good for me) is that in fact you don't believe in Q at all. You are a Q sceptic in all but name. If you are working with the "the loosest definition of Q as a shorthand for pre-Matthean, pre-Lukan sources", then you are not working with Q at all. Everyone accepts that Matthew and Luke had sources, so "pre-Matthean, pre-Lukan sources" do not in any sense constitute what is usually called Q. The point of the Q hypothesis is that it is possible specifically to identify, describe and study one of those sources, which is constituted, in the simplest terms, by the non-Marcan material common to Matthew and Luke.
Now calm down all Q sceptics for just one moment (and I know there are a few of you out there, including one well known one). I don’t define Q very strongly. In fact I leave much wide open and define what might be necessary for the debate. The debate functions with the loosest definition of Q as a shorthand for pre-Matthean, pre-Lukan sources and nothing more. While I believe in a general Q, I have not been convinced that this was necessarily a collection or a gospel or anything like that. Just sources for now, ok?
With that solved (note the sarcasm, please!), the real function of looking at early pre-gospel sources is that they were transmitted when the general changes I describe were taking place and so potentially back up my case. And surprise, surprise they do! Generally, there is nothing in what is generally labelled Q or earliest gospel tradition that contradicts any biblical law.
I think it is important to get one's thinking clear about these issues because they have ramifications for the way that one views Christian origins. Let me illustrate by drawing attention to one of the other alleged "pre-Matthean, pre-Lukan sources", L, the symbol usually given for special Lucan material, material that is distinct from Mark, M and Q. If this material is first or second generation, as people like Streeter, Taylor and Jeremias thought, then one has some vital data for the understanding of the development of the early tradition. Pericopae like the Rejection at Nazareth (Luke 4.16-30) and The Sinning Woman in Simon's House (Luke 7.36-50) would be key in the reconstruction of the way that the first generations of Christians were thinking. If, on the other hand, one is inclined to see such L pericopae as Luke's creative re-writing of material inherited from literary sources like Mark, then clearly they become useful instead for the redaction-critical interpretation of Luke at the end of the first century.
While I am sceptical about our abilities to stratify early Christian traditions in the way that Crossan, for example, wishes, I do think it is important to pay attention to source-critical issues in the discussion of Christian origins lest we simply lump together disparate materials.
These comments are, of course, only based on James's blog entry; it may be that the book goes into greater detail in setting out the case for treating the Synoptic Problem in the way outlined in that post. (And I am looking forward to reading the book. For other posts related to it, see James's Early Christian History).