Why was ‘Q’ named ‘Q’: because ‘Q’ comes after ‘P’?

Many thanks to Alan Saxby for pointing this little story out:

It seems now to be assumed that the symbol Q originated in Germany, as being the first letter of the German Quelle, source. Dr Armitage Robinson, however, in conversation with the present writer maintained in all seriousness that he himself was the first to use the symbol, and for an enitrely  different reason. In lecturing at Cambridge on the sources of the gospels, in the ‘nineties of the last century, he was in the habit, he said, of alluding to St Mark’s gospel as P (reminiscences of St Peter), and so the presumed sayings-document as Q, simply because Q was the next letter after P in the alphabet. His contention, therefore, was that some of his hearers carried his method across the North Sea, and that German scholars, having adopted the symbol Q from him, soon found an explanation for it, which to them no doubt seemed both more satisfactory and more rational. Dr Robinson emphasized that no designation of the sayings-document by the symbol Q appeared in German writings until after the period of his lectures at Cambridge,and that the now common explanation of the symbol would be found to be still later. If, as Dr Burkitt informs me, Wellhausen was the first in Germany to use the symbol Q, it is possible to date accurately its appearance in print in that country, since the first edition of his Einleitung, in which it appears, was published in 1903. His commentaries on the synoptists began to appear in the same year.

R.H. Lightfoot, History and Interpretation in the Gospels (1935), pp. 27-28, n. 1

We’re now told (I think, correct me if wrong) that Weiss was the first to use Q but still…the above would be a much more entertaining myth of origins, would it not?

UPDATE: it seems Eduard Simons was using the abbreviation ‘Q.’ in 1880 and Weiss in 1890. Thanks to Mark Goodacre for bibliography. So, as Deane and Steph imply in the comments, the question really is this: what was Robinson thinking…?


14 responses to “Why was ‘Q’ named ‘Q’: because ‘Q’ comes after ‘P’?

  1. Ha – funny.

    And just to add to the fun: remember that in his Old Testament work, Wellhausen used “Q” to denote P.

  2. I am sorry, but this is very, very old news. My teacher, Mr Uthemann, already told me 20 years ago that Q wasn’t derived from “Quelle”.

    I would not normally comment upon this, but recycling old news is becoming too common. One of the reasons why people are losing confidence in scholars and scientists, is that this recycling is too obvious.

    • Eh? A couple of points:

      1. This is a blog post, posting something of vague interest. It is not an academic article. Also, hardly ayone knows the story and/or it has been forgotten. You may be one of the few who may know but not everyone does. I don’t get why your tone is as it is.

      2. If you and your teacher are right, are Deane (and others) now wrong. If so, why not show us rather than pronounce statements?

      3. ‘I would not normally comment upon this, but recycling old news is becoming too common. One of the reasons why people are losing confidence in scholars and scientists, is that this recycling is too obvious.’
      This is also from 1935 so older than your story I’m guessing. Also have you proof e.g. stats (not the odd comment) that people are losing confidence due to recycling or are you just making things up?

  3. Weiss’s article on Q appears in the 1890 Theologische Studien und Kritiken – which makes even more interesting the claim by Armitage Robinson, relayed by R.H. Lightfoot, that he invented the term “in the ‘nineties”.

  4. “Q” does not come from the German word “Quelle”, but from the slang of a homosexual relationship

  5. And Neirynck shows Eduard Simons used ‘Q’ for Quelle in 1880, curiouser and curiouser as the little girl said. Armitage Robinson might be telling the truth, and might have thought of Q because it came after Mark, which he called P, but he was such a fathead he credited himself with inventing it. And meanwhile Mr Know it All above seems to have been taught wrong. Unless Mr Utheman had evidence for his claim, earlier than 1880. Or perhaps Mr Utheman is being blamed for something he never taught and somebody else is a fathead and making it up. But anyway, this is a delicious little detail from a footnote, thanks to Alan 🙂

  6. Q must come from Quelle because it’s French (Frenchy?). The whole question of Q is one of ‘which’ – which Q. And James Thurber, the American satirist noted in ‘Which’ (1931), “It is well to remember that one “which” leads to two and that two “whiches” multiply like rabbits.” Therefore I conclude that Q was Quelle, which is ‘Which’, and it is a sexually relative pronoun. Makes perfect sense now.

  7. If the letter “Q” is used alone is a sign of depravity, even beyond the English language. Quince fruit is the most hard fruit, at least in continental Europe are also used as a form of perversion.

  8. Pingback: Biblical Studies Carnival 69 (November 2011) | Remnant of Giants

  9. Tyrone Slothrop

    Congratulations! This post was included in the November 2011 Biblical Studies Carnival. This is quite an achievement. My word, yes.

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