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(Editors Note: Although the following post falls somewhat outside of our list focus in several parts, it will be interesting to many who subscribe to the list and may spark some good discussion. Enjoy, Kevin) From Doug Milford <firstname.lastname@example.org> January 5, 2001 William R. Farmer (1921-2000): An Interpretive Appreciation and Inquiry into American Interest in the Life of Jesus William Reuben Farmer died of prostate cancer last Sunday, December 31, 2000. It remains to be seen if much of the press and many scholars of early Christianity will pass him over in death, as they often did in his life. New Testament survey texts sometimes give a passing nod to Farmer's work. His monumental book published in 1964, _The Synoptic Problem: A Critical Analysis_, traced the historical development of how the Two-Source Hypothesis ascended to an unquestioned scholarly consensus in Germany. He then proceeded to turn the standard supposition that Mark was the first gospel and used as a source by the author(s) of Matthew and Luke on its head. His proposed solution to the synoptic problem (the Two- Gospel Hypothesis--a modification of Griesbach's theory) holds that Matthew came first, followed by Luke (using Matthew and other sources), and finally Mark who carefully conflates the two earlier accounts. For some, it reopened the synoptic problem. If true, the superstructure upon which many theories of Christian origins are based (Markan priority and the existence of Q) crumbles. Not satisfied with exploring the inadequacies of the Two-Source Hypothesis (which later came to be identified with Mark and Q) and with positively setting forth his own theory, Farmer probed the social origins of how German scholarship came to identify Mark as the first gospel. He located it in the church-state conflict known as "the Kulturkampf." If the assumption of Markan priority was driven by the unconscious needs of national German unity in the 1870s, how did it become so influential on the American scene? Here Farmer offers no analysis of the American zeitgeist. Instead he points to the mutually reinforcing scholarship of James M. Robinson of the Claremont Graduate School and Helmut Koester of Harvard University and their pioneering work, _Trajectories Through Early Christianity_ that was published simultaneously in English and German. Robinson entitled the introduction to that book "The Dismantling and Reassembling of the Categories of New Testament Scholarship." Farmer agreed that it was an accurate description, and, further, considered it "A Dismantling of the Church's Canon" in a chapter by that title. Understandably, biblical scholars are not enthusiastic when sociologists, historians, cultural analysts, or one of their own-- perhaps *especially* one of their own--suggest that their work is more a reflection of themselves than of objective scholarship. Schweitzer's well analogy surely applies to someone else! Let the anthropologists study some obscure isolated people or some new religious sect. Stay away from us thank you. The university is a place where academic freedom prevails. Our school, or certainly our department and the way we pursue our discipline, it not to be taken as an object of study. Farmer was amazed at the absence of consensus among Q scholars about the language, composition, development, nature and uses of Q by the synoptic writers--yet their unanimity in assuming its existence, despite the textual evidence. Lacking the public relations sophistication (or the desire to engage in it) and the charismatic figures associated with the Jesus Seminar, Farmer and the small community of Two-Gospel Hypothesis advocates never captured the imagination of the American public or of the gatekeepers who decide what will be printed in the weekly news magazines. It remains to be seen if his revisionist theories about the contemporary social construction of Q and Markan priority will bear the weight of further scrutiny or if the scholarly community that studies the origins of Christianity will have the maturity to let others outside their guild make the attempt. Despite the controversy Farmer stirred up in early Christian studies, those who knew him best say he was more concerned about bringing people together. The courage that Farmer demonstrated in holding and defending a minority view was evident in other areas of life as well. Whether due to the influence of his teachers at Union Theological Seminary (including Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich) or other factors, Farmer showed a commitment to social justice throughout his life. He stood for civil rights in Dallas and was concerned for the oppressed in Central America. He also deeply cared about the Church and Christian unity. Farmer was an ordained United Methodist Minister, but his spiritual pilgrimage led him to enter into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church as a lay member in 1990. The Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church denied his request to maintain dual membership. William Reuben Farmer was not afraid to swim upstream. His species in endangered. Doug Milford email@example.com *Some sources used for this post include: Dungan, David, L. “Two-Gospel Hypothesis” in _The Anchor Bible Dictionary_, vol. 6, David Noel Freedman, ed. (Doubleday, 1992) 671-679. http://www.bu.edu/sth/BTI/news/9899news/wemfarmer.htm http://www.colby.edu/rel/2gh/ http://www.dallasnews.com/obituaries/252242_farmer_03met.A.html http://www.umc.org/judicial/600/696.html Farmer, William R. _The Gospel of Jesus_ (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994). Peabody, D.B. "Farmer, William Reuben" in _Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation_, vol. 1, John H. Hays, Gen. Ed. (Abingdon Press, 1999) 385-386.