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Posts Tagged ‘Synoptic Gospels’

The evidence that Mark is the oldest of the canonical gospels was not examined systematically until the 1830s, but the argument has by now gained general acceptance among non-fundamentalist scholars, and I have endorsed the principle of Markan priority here and here .

There is a tradition that believers at Rome rejoiced to have Mark’s account – they were, after all, over 30 years removed from the living ministry of Jesus and had only recently been deprived of the presence of Peter and Paul (if we accept the view which places Mark late 60s AD, probably after the death of Peter).

However, as I suggested in an earlier post, the date of Mark’s ‘publication’ (i.e. the day a first copy was sent to Ephesus or Jerusalem) might be called one of those “good news / bad news” days for God and the church. Think of it – this abbreviated record, suddenly authoritative at Rome, is dumped into the laps of other tradition-communities by a writer who has failed to consult with them about their own traditions before going public with an epoch-making narrative about an epoch-making career. In these apostolic communities I think Mark must have had the effect of a literary ‘bombshell’.

[Note: the next two paragraphs are a revision of the original, re-written Nov 23, 2011]

The canonical status of Matthew, Luke, and John is equal to that of Mark, and this only affirms a basic condition of all testimony – that somebody must go first, and that it would be absurd to argue from the literary priority of testimony to its primacy over later testimony with regard to fact.  We should not be surprised if a large amount of narrative and logia was still ‘out there’ when Mark ‘hit the streets’ – and I think we can trust that most of it is represented by what we find in the three later-appearing gospels.

So Mark’s priority in time gives it no a priori privilege over the theological or christological content of the three later-appearing Gospels.  We might even question the motive and good faith of anyone who would attempt to finesse the literary priority of Mark’s threadbare account into an implied authority for a ‘minimalist’ interpretation of Jesus based on Mark alone (or on Mark and an imagined ‘Q’ document). I would certainly question the motive and good faith of a non-christian writer like Adam Gopnik for example, who has indulged his sophisticated New Yorker editors and readers with a very uneven and gently mocking article, What did Jesus do? (May 24, 2010), based very strictly on Mark alone.

For better or for worse (and I touched on some of Mark’s ‘positives’ in an earlier post), we should view Mark’s narrative premiere as a kind of material antithesis of the Incarnation, an epochal event which sets in motion an inevitable dialectical process by which three additional compilations of equal authority appear within about 35 years.

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if Jesus was in fact praying the Psalms on the cross, Mark supplies the origin (Ps 22:1) and Luke the terminus (Ps 31:5) of the Lord’s final conscious string of prayer.

According to Mark, Jesus is heard by bystanders to have spoken from the cross words which are found in Psalm 22:1, “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34).  Most commentators will admit (even if they disagree) that an old interpretation of this text claims that Jesus might well have been ‘praying the Psalms’ to himself in Aramaic during that last forsaken hour.

However, Mark further relates that these bystanders believed Jesus was calling Elijah, and offered Jesus a sop of soldier’s wine, waiting to see if Elijah would come for him.  It is not until after this interlude that physical death comes when, as Mark writes, Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last (Mk 15:37).

According to Luke, the addition at Mk 15:37 doesn’t tell the whole story.  Luke has reason to report that the last loud cry which Mark reports on the lips of Jesus just before he breathed his last was in the form of actual words:  “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!”  Unbelieving Jesus scholars won’t like this, but I think Luke’s report of more speech is easier to accept than the idea of Jesus letting rip with one of those hideous screams that actors use when playing the bad guy falling off the cliff – AAAAUUGH!  Seriously?

Luke has given us a beautiful devotional window opening onto the mind of Jesus at the hour of his death.  Because these words reported by Luke are also from the Psalms (31:5).  This means that if Jesus was in fact praying the Psalms on the cross, Mark supplies the origin (Ps 22:1) and Luke the terminus (Ps 31:5) of the Lord’s final conscious string of prayer.

For Lent, then, it might be worth a shot to try ‘praying the Psalms’ with Jesus from the cross (Ps 22:1 – 31:5).  In faith imagine that you are experiencing a bit of what was actually passing through the mind of the Christ in the last few minutes of his material existence.  Put a little cheap wine on your tongue somewhere in the middle of it all.

PS – My word-count 2,302 is based on an English version I found online and copied to word processing for tabulation (minus choir directions and verse numbers).  I don’t know what it is in Aramaic.

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“The Markan Son of God is a Divine Being who appears in human form, whose dynamis is manifest in his bearing and speech and in his mighty works, and yet whose humanity is real so that he is deeply moved in the presence of human suffering (i. 43), angry with hypocrisy and grieved at the blindness of men’s heart (iii. 5), astonished at unbelief (vi. 6), indignant with stupidity and want of feeling (x. 14), limited in knowledge (xiii. 32), filled with shuddering awe at the approach of death (xiv. 33)…  The sheer humanity of the Markan portraiture catches the eye of the most careless reader; and yet it is but half seen if it is not perceived that this Man of Sorrows is also a Being of supernatural origin and divinity…    -Vincent Taylor, The Gospel According to Saint Mark, 1952, pp. 121

“The claim that, according to Mark, Jesus becomes the Son of God by adoption has often been made, but it probably rests upon a superficial reading of the Gospel.  The Evangelist’s idea is rather that Jesus is by nature the Son of God, and that the Voice at the Baptism declares Him to be such.  Mark has no theory of the Incarnation, but his assumption appears to be that Jesus is Deus absconditus, the Hidden God.  This view is not docetism, since the humanity of Christ is conceived as real.  It is rather the view that, behind a fully human life, Deity is concealed, but is visible for those who have eyes to see, in His personality, teaching, and deeds.”  -p. 121

I had enough time for a careful reading of the entire Gospel of Mark today.  I’m preparing some more writing on Mark (it seems so anyway) and in that vein I also got started with Wrede’s Messianic Secret (ET Grieg 1971).  In an earlier post I mentioned I was waiting for that book to become available to me (It did finally come off a certain professor’s ‘Spring Course Reserve Shelf’ where I watched it collecting dust all term).  But my appreciation for Mark’s Jesus seemed to be captured best by these quotes from Vincent Taylor’s 1952 commentary, which I grabbed from my own collection this evening.

“In so describing this Christology we are probably expressing it with a precision greater than that in which it appeared to the mind of the Evangelist.  It is uncertain , indeed, whether he had reflected upon it at all, and no more can be claimed than that this is the character of the christology which is implied.  Its nature will appear more clearly if we consider what is meant by ‘the Messianic Secret’ in Mark.”  pp.121-2

Taylor’s Introductory chapter includes a section on Mark’s Christology, in which he offers a view of Wrede’s book just after the quoted material above.  On Wrede and Mark, more to come…

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Saturday I had a chance to get back to the seminary for a couple hours and got what I was looking for in New Testament criticism:

Willi Marxsen, Mark The Evangelist (1956/ET1969)

Gunther Bornkamm, et al, Tradition and Interpretation in Matthew (1956/ET 1963)

Hans Conzelmann, The Theology of Luke (1953/ET1961)

Erhardt Guttgemanns, Candid Questions Concerning Gospel Form Criticism (1970/ET1979)

I figure I need to know the first three thinkers if I’m going to approach the synoptics from square one.  I’m a bit conservative on the method of redaction criticism, and so I want to see where I stand with these three, and depend on Guttgemanns to give me leverage against them.  Oh yeah, and I also grabbed Norman Perrin’s What is Redaction Criticism? (1969), which also more or less starts with Conzelmann, Marxsen, and Bornkamm.

Other books home now: 

Austin Farrer, St. Matthew and St. Mark (1954).  I already like this book after some morning time spent on it.  Farrer is my chief defense against Q theory, along with the late Michael D. Goulder, and Mark Goodacre at Duke.

Michael D. Goulder, Midrash and Lection in Matthew (1974). Goulder stepped back from some of this thesis later, I understand, but I want to get situated with his views on the author of Matthew, whom I see as the first reader of Mark who knew ‘other stuff’ about Jesus.

And lastly, I dumped the Crossan which got me so irritated last week, and took home volume 1 of Raymond E. Brown’s Death of the Messiah (1994) to get help with the Passion analysis I’m working on.  Crossan would see the irony in that, since he pretty much carves out his position in Who Killed Jesus? by constant contrasts to Brown.  Thanks for the tip, Dom.

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Here I want to place Luke and John in closer relation to Mark’s 20 verses on the period between the arrest and the trial before Pilate, and to changes in Mark introduced by the author of Matthew

To me it seems unusual that Mark has recounted everything he has heard about this night as if it happened at a single location.  The confinement of Jesus, the denial of Peter, the first Jewish trial, the spitting, mocking, beating, and taunting, and the second, early morning consultation of the council – everything seems to occur at the same Jerusalem address.  One  reason to doubt the authenticity of this feature in Mark is, as I  suggested in a previous post , the fact that Luke contradicts Mark’s single-location storyline, and is  supported by the author of the gospel of John.

Attention to details of location is a characteristic quality of a good eyewitness report.  If we can believe Luke and John, Mark’s sources have missed an important change of scene. For the purpose of retelling the events which he has in hand, Mark has pretty good control of his ‘collapsed’ singularity of location.  However, when the author of Matthew blithely accepts Mark’s single-location story but attempts to flesh it out with additional facts and assumptions, the results are even less acceptable to John and arguably to Luke as well (For signs of Luke’s knowledge of Matthew’s passion, see Michael D. Goulder, Luke: A New Paradigm,1989, pp. 6-7, etc.).

The Gospel of Matthew adds to Mark’s opening verses two new things (Mk14:53-4/ Mt 26:57-8).  First, in 26:57, is the  assumption that the location to which Jesus was taken immediately after his arrest was the residence of Caiaphas.  This addition, which seems at least to be a  reasonably well-educated guess,  is not confirmed by Luke and is flatly contradicted by John. Next, in 26:58, is the elimination of Mark’s courtyard fire, and the addition of a specific intent of Peter to ‘see’ the result of the trial.  This could be an attempt to raise Peter’s status as eyewitness, but more to the point, the implied darkness and outerness of Mark’s fire-lit courtyard is gone in Matthew – we now appear to be in an indoor court.  I think it is very interesting that Luke and John, who do not follow Matthew in this matter of identifying the residence with Caiaphas, retain Mark’s outdoor fire.

Too often I think modern critics of the gospels ascribe to the apostles and evangelists unworthy aims and ulterior motives in their writing.

Duccio di Buoninsenga - Jesus before Annas/Peter's first denial

But I find three practical and historical inducements for the author of John to make changes in the recorded history of events immediately following the arrest of Jesus: 

(1)  Correction of the tendency  of Matthew’s  additional matter to alter events remembered differently by his own sources;

(2)  Support for Luke’s tradition of a second location for the Jewish trial over the single-location version of Mark (followed by Matthew);

(3)  Introduction of eyewitness material  which builds on Luke’s two-location story by correcting the location of Peter’s denial – in the courtyard of Annas before Jesus is taken to Caiaphas for the official trial.

Note:  The right of Annas to interview Jesus before trial seems indirectly confirmed by the report of the historian Josephus (Ant.xviii.2.1 f) – that the wealthy former high priest was long a power in Judaism after the Romans arbitrarily removed him as high priest (an office traditionally granted for life).  I think Edersheim has evidence that Annas retained rule over the temple trade in animals and coin (I’ll confirm that).

For a treatment of the problem from a strictly synoptic viewpoint, without the help of the Fourth Gospel, see Matthew D. Larsen’s series on the Jewish trials.

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Markan Priority is the dominant critical theory used to explain the fact that Mark, Matthew and Luke exhibit a certain conformity of content and narrative superstructure – despite all their differences.  The theory dominates for good reason – because it really does offer the best of all possible explanations for this conformity among the three gospels called the synoptics.

To my evangelical friends who would suggest that the Holy Spirit was the likely source of this conformity, I want to say we are talking about a very human type of conformity here which has its share of contradiction and confusion.  I question the need of invoking the Spirit to secure such a plainly human outcome, when a perfectly natural explanation is available.

The four Evangelists - Carolingian miniature

In a nutshell, Markan priority goes like this:  A comparison of all three synoptic gospels in unison shows that the Markan structure and language is usually the default position for Matthew and Luke when either one disagrees with the other in content or chronology covered by Mark.   This does suggest that these later writers very likely had a copy of Mark’s writing before them, and incorporated as much of this original account into their work as seemed warranted to them by the demands of their own unique material.  This editorial process included mostly retention and revision of Mark, and some outright rejection (without much re-arrangement of Mark’s order).

According to my English authority, Vincent Taylor (The Gospel According to St. Mark, 1953), Markan priority was first enunciated in this very general way by C. Lachmann in 1835 and was soon elaborated by C.G. Wilke (1838) and C.H. Weisse (1838).  It was finally established as a convincing element in the solution to the synoptic problem by the work of Bernard Weiss (1886) and H.J. Holtzmann (1901).  The theory began to attract the attention of British and American critical scholars at the end of the first decade of the 20th Century, but was not treated adequately in a major commentary, according to Taylor,  until that of Rawlinson in 1925 (Taylor, pp.10-12).

[NOTE 25 April: as early as the 1907 ICC commentary on Matthew's Gospel, I find author W.C. Allen making a thorough application of Markan priority to his subject - to brilliant effect.]

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This morning’s studies have been illuminated by the ongoing Wheaton Conference blogging of Nijay Gupta especially the link I found there to the conference videos and MP3

Needless to say I was very much edified to listen in full to Marianne Meye Thompson’s talk on “The Gospel of John Meets Jesus and the Victory of God.”  Thompson gives a convincing recommendation of the value of John’s Gospel as a supplement (and more than a supplement) to the ostensibly limited synoptic views of NT Wright’s book.

I doubt Wright will contradict, although I haven’t been able to find interaction between him and Thompson yet. 

Thanks to Brian LePort at Near Emmaus for the initial link to Nijay’s post.

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Matthew D. Larsen is blogging a series “investigating the trial[s] of Jesus (or lack thereof) by means of a synoptic analysis of Luke 22.54–71, Mark 14.53–72, and Matthew 26.57–75.”

From the looks of his stated goals, Larsen’s study will culminate in a summary of the Luke passion “especially in light of its Synoptic parallels.”

I will be suggesting other approaches to one or two of the points which Larsen treats, but I am not seeking any controversy with Matthew.  The appeal for me here is twofold:

(1) the chance to open up a study of Michael D. Goulder’s theory about the sources for the Passion in Luke in conjunction with a current example of high-quality text-critical blogging (without jamming up another writer’s blog with lengthy comments) and

(2) the chance to write out an idea found in my recent study of Schleiermacher’s Life of Jesus about a possible supplementary role here for the Gospel of John.

I have Goulder’s 1989 book, Luke: A New Paradigm, home from the library only today.  Goulder has become a new fascination of mine in conjunction with my study of problems with the Q-based Two-Source theory (challenges to ‘Q’ by Austin Farrer in the 1950s and by Goulder in the 80s and more recently prof. Mark Goodacre at Duke).

 The real question is:  can I keep up with the pace I expect Matthew Larsen to set?

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