James Dowden's Biblioblog

An Anglican layman and total Biblical Studies amateur posts on stuff he finds interesting in the Bible

Tag: Mark

Attempting to Visualize the Synoptic Problem, Part Two

Seeing as this seems to be almost driving my traffic into double figures, and as Joel Watts has kindly linked to me (I am sure these things are not unconnected!), I’ll post another visualization of one gospel author’s redaction of what went before. In case anyone hadn’t guessed, here is Luke’s treatment of the same six chapters of Mark that I posted Matthew’s treatment of earlier:

ImageImmediately the picture is of a lot more blue: generally, Luke follows Mark, as I hinted at earlier. There are a few instances of Luke moving sections earlier (green) or later (purple) after an apparently piecemeal and variably successful fashion, but there is no wholesale disruption of long sections of Mark as we saw with Matthew (look for the red in the middle for Matthew’s disruption to Mark’s order). In a lighter blue, we also see some Marcan passages that Matthew had omitted retained.

Two other features are notable. Firstly, we can see two blocks of Luke working primarily with Matthew. The first, coloured mainly in dark blue, because the Aland SQE numbers aren’t fine-grained enough to pick it up (and I can’t be bothered to try to redo that work!), is the Baptism and Peirasmos account, where Luke evidently preferred Matthew’s more expansive storyline. The second is of course the Sermon on the Plain/Mount, including a local agreement in order with Matthew against Mark.

Secondly, at the bottom of the visualization, we see Luke’s aversion to doublets creeping in. Neither doublet introduced by Matthew has made it into Luke, and with the grey starting at the bottom, we see the beginning of the condensing of the Feedings of the 5000 and 4000 into a single account. For sake of consistency, and for sake of not having loads of purple arrows flying off the bottom of the diagram, I have stopped at the end of Mark 6.

Now, maybe, just maybe, I’ll get around to the left over bits of Matthew…

Attempting to Visualize the Synoptic Problem

Over at the Jesus Blog, there’s been a lively discussion (and now a poll!) on whether Farrer theorists are still in a minority. I thoroughly expect that we are, and so I’ll preëmptively start harping on about why we’re right again.

Part of the problem is perception: Luke’s order’s being different from Matthew’s order gets mentioned frequently in discussions of the Synoptic Problem. What is less often mentioned is that Matthew is not simply Mark with a few discourses interpolated, but radically reörders the early part of Mark.

This reördering is incredibly difficult to visualize, but I’ve had a go at it below. One of the most difficult decisions was not to expand the discourses (although there are plenty of interesting things going on within them) and focus only on the surrounding narrative. It should hopefully be pretty self-explantory, but here’s a brief key in case it isn’t:

  • BLUE – Matthew copying Mark in order
  • GREY – Marcan material omitted by Matthew
  • BLACK – Matthew’s non-Marcan material
  • GOLD – Material Matthew has redeployed in discourse settings
  • YELLOW-GREEN – The Call of the Disciples, merged by Matthew into their Commission
  • RED – A massive block of material that Matthew has brought forward to various locations
  • TURQUOISE – A minor consequential flip
  • PURPLES – Doubletty stuff

ImageSo, on the basis of the Farrer Theory, Luke had three choices for which order to base his own on:

  1. Mark’s order;
  2. Matthew’s order; or:
  3. invent a completely new order.

As it happens, he generally went for option 1: Mark’s order. It’s easy enough to see why this is an appealing choice: that first Sabbath day at Capernaum is an incredibly powerful story, whereas Matthew’s fronted Sermon to an unexplained crowd doesn’t work particularly well. But this leaves an obvious problem: what on earth was Luke to do with anything he found appealing in all that material in black?

To be continued, maybe, if I can ever create a visualization of how the next step in gospel composition worked that isn’t too intimidatingly large…

tl;dr: Q theorists are happy for Matthew to know and reörder Mark, but not for Luke to know and reörder Matthew. Hypocrites! They will be cast out to outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!

Mark’s Christology

There has been a bit of back and forth in the blogosphere about whether Mark thought Jesus was God: Michael Kruger says yea; James McGrath says nay; and Dale Tuggy gives an overview of the data. On one level, it seems to be that old proto-orthodox/adoptionist ding-dong all over again; and there may be some insights into the nature of the canon there.

But I would like to look at a few of the passages that Dale Tuggy highlighted.

1. Mark 1.12-13: the so-called Temptation

Tempted. (12) But, you can’t tempt God.

I fear that what we have here is Biblish not meaning the same as the usual modern English meanings of words. For “tempt”, a popular online dictionary gives the following:

verb (used with object)
1. to entice or allure to do something often regarded as unwise, wrong, or immoral.
2. to attract, appeal strongly to, or invite: The offer tempts me.
3. to render strongly disposed to do something: The book tempted me to read more on the subject.
4. to put (someone) to the test in a venturesome way; provoke: to tempt one’s fate.
5. Obsolete . to try or test.

It’s only natural – especially when Matthew and Luke’s synoptic parallels are subconsciously in mind, despite knowing deep down that Mark did not know these – to read sense (1) into the passage. But the verb that is traditionally translated “tempt” here – πειράζω – has its core meaning close to sense (5), and Mark’s usage of it conforms to this elsewhere (all quotes ESV):

  • 8.11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him.
  • 10.2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
  • 12.15 But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.”

With this meaning in mind, the analysis “you can’t tempt God” doesn’t work. Indeed, the parallels between Mark 1.12-13 and the second half of Psalm 95 (aka the Venite) are somewhat marked:

12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

And sticking with the ESV, even though it’s changed its Biblish into modern English here:

Today, if you hear his voice,
8     do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
    as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
9 when your fathers put me to the test
    and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10 For forty years I loathed that generation [etc etc]

Whatever point Mark was trying to make with this allusion to the Israelites’ testing (“temptation”) of God, it clearly wasn’t “you can’t tempt God”.

(On a bit of an aside, it needn’t be mediated through Psalm 95. Mark could of course have been thinking of the incidents in Exodus 17 and Numbers 14, which are parts of the same story – including describing God as being tempted/tested on both occasions – after a more narrative fashion.)

But we have a nice little Bible translation issue here: why does (seemingly) every translation anomalously and misleadingly go for “tempted” at Mark 1.13, when “tested” would convey the meaning of the Greek better in modern English? (There’s a similar issue with the noun πειρασμός at Mt 6.13 // Lk 11.4 and Mk 14.38 and parallels, although versions such as the ESV, NASB, NIV, and HCSB offer different renderings elsewhere (e.g. James 1.12).)

2. Mark 1.14-15: the Gospel of God

Proclaims the good news from God. (14-15)

Here we encounter that tedious argument about Greek genitives that is bound to send everyone to sleep. So I shall be perhaps uncharacteristically brief. Is the Good News of God the Good News from God or the Good News regarding God. There is a case to be argued that this is the latter from the content of this proclamation – translating on the fly, “The time has come, and God’s reign has drawn near! Repent, and believe the Good News!”

This leaves quite a big question of what it means to be God’s Anointed, his Christ, when the proclamation seems to be that God himself is king. Is the messenger/sender distinction even helpful? (And do we have a relationship to a closely neighbouring Psalm here – see Ps 93.1; 96.10; 97.1; 99.1?)

3. Mark 1.25-26: the Holy One of God

Demon tries to blow his cover (25-6) – he’s “the Holy One of God.” 

And here we have a title that’s unhelpfully used in two different ways in the Old Testament. Firstly there are human holy ones (e.g. Dt 33.3), but these are nearly always plural and a way of referring to God’s people. There’s even an entire ἐκκλησία of them on one occasion (Ps 89.7). Very rarely is this usage singular – the two examples I’ve noticed are Daniel 8.13-14, where one holy one has a slightly strange conversation with another about Temple sacrifices, and Psalm 106.16, where Aaron is described precisely as “the Holy One of God”. (There’s a near miss at 2Ki 4.9 about Elisha.) So shall we say that Mark means that Jesus is God’s priest, blatantly reading Hebrews into Mark as an excuse to say Melchizedek?

Then there’s the other use, where God himself is the Holy One. These days it would probably be frowned upon to read Leviticus’ constant refrain as “be holy, just as I, the LORD, your God am the Holy One”, but it’s probably just this sort of reading that originally got קָדוֹשׁ used as a name of God. Yes, usually this is qualified “the Holy One of Israel” (or similar) – a particular favourite of Isaiah’s – but this is not consistently so (for counter-examples, see Job 6.10; Is 40.25; Hos 11.9; Hab 1.12; 3.3). So instead, shall we read into Mark that ancient Isaiah-modelled prayer from both Judaism and Christianity: “O Holy One, O Holy One, O Holy One, LORD God of Hosts”?

Once more, I would argue that we have Mark being subtle and ambiguous. This post has probably gone on quite long enough, and I’m not even at the end of Mark 1. But if any point be taken away from it, it should be that we shouldn’t allow trying to understand Mark’s Christology to impair our view of his subtlety. Maybe it’s okay that that Gospel raises more questions than it answers; in that lies both its broad appeal and frustration at its inadequacy that have resonated down every clichéed century.

Dr Goodacre: or how I learned to stop worrying and love the Farrer theory

Mark Goodacre has been at it with his three fictional Qs gibe again. I doubt there’s any outdoing him on humor or choice of graphics, but I thought this would be as good a time as any to write one of those personal posts as to why I stopped believing in Q. I’m not pretending that these are knock-down arguments, but they are the three points that made me abandon Q.

1. The Lucan Order Axiom

One of the stranger points about the IQP reconstruction of Q is that it follows Luke’s order. In a way it makes sense: the argument is that Matthew reördered Q to fit Mark’s order, and therefore Luke’s order must be Q’s original. I came to doubt this conclusion for a number of reasons:

  • Sheer bloody-mindedness. What would a reconstruction of Q look like in Matthew’s order?
  • That Matthew’s structure is characterized by large blocks of Marcan and non-Marcan material. He generally preserves his source’s order within the Marcan blocks: why should we presume otherwise for the non-Marcan blocks?
  • “Nazara” at Q 4.16 comes in a pericope whose location looks secondary to the original creation of the gospel of Luke (the third evangelist has one of his expansive moments about Capernaum, which has not yet been reached in its present position).
  • Q 15 takes two thirds of a Lucan triplet: the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, omitting the Lost Son. There’s something perverse about accepting Luke’s order in such a way as to ignore the structure of his order. In unkinder moments, I may have phrased this: “is the IQP just a bunch of wonks with no appreciation of literary artistry?”

So my nagging suspicion was very much one that any axiom should be in favor of Matthaean order.

2. The very first pericope of Q

The other thing that swayed me away from Q was actually looking at the IQP text. The first pericope, the Baptism of Jesus (intuitively numbered Q 3), is set out as if it were a conflation of two accounts. Now, there is nothing wrong with the idea of conflations: the Flood account in Genesis 6-9 and the Korah, Dathan, and Abiram pericope in Numbers 16 (pp193-5 of Richard Eliott Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible? sets this one out nicely) are widely held to be just this sort of thing. The problem is that the IQP text doesn’t look remotely like a separate account that has been conflated with Mark, but rather like a set of amplifications upon Mark.

At v16, the amplifications fall into verbatim agreement. The seriousness of this should not be underestimated: this necessitates a literary relationship between Q and Mark, namely: (1) Q used Mark; (2) Mark used Q; or (3) both used a common source. The Mark-used-Q position is the easiest to dismiss; it is unsatisfactory for all the same reasons that the idea that Mark was not the first gospel, involving abbreviation through miscellaneous wordiness, inserting vulgarisms, and making uncorrections. The common source position also seems unsatisfactory because of how the Marcan baptism account is so raw, and it multiplies hypothetical sources.

The Q used Mark position is resisted by Q proponents for obvious reasons. If Q knew Mark in one pericope, presumably he knew Mark everywhere. Q might well have had a Passion Narrative, for instance. In fact, if one accepts that Q had Matthaean order in its non-Marcan blocks and knew Mark, we have identified Q: it is called the Gospel according to St Matthew.

3. Pointing out the startlingly obvious

The final element was reading Samuel Sandmel’s Prolegomena to a Commentary on Mark (wonderful title!). In this, he makes a very simple and should-be-obvious point: the gospel writers wrote their own gospels because they did not like the gospels that had gone before them. Perhaps it takes someone from outside the culture that reveres the three Synoptics as scripture to say something that is just so startlingly right. But it shows quite how deep-seated our cultural liking for the Gospel according to St Matthew is: we find it incredible that Luke would have so radically reworked this material precisely because of our own value judgments. These obviously didn’t apply yet when Luke was writing.

So let’s end with the lame joke that I’ve been resisting throughout this post. Goodacre is wrong. Q isn’t fictional. It’s just that we’ve been drawing the arrows the wrong way round: instead of Mt ← Q → Lk, it should be Mt → Q ← Lk. Its authors are every harmonist from Tatian to the IQP.