23 March 2017

The Development of the Gospel of Mark [1999]

[Written 22–23 March 1999, with 2017 updates in brackets]
ne of the things I’ve been playing with for the last bit is a commentary on the Gospel of Mark, sort of what the Anchor Bible ought to have done instead of that crap they actually did. [This refers to the 1986 C. S. Mann commentary, not the excellent 2000 Joel Marcus commentary that replaced it.] God, what a waste. My commentary would be based on the assumption that Mark went through at least three stages—a pre-canonical stage (the version used by Matthew and presumably Luke), Secret Mark, and canonical Mark. [The Secret Mark stage is not necessary if the Clement of Alexandria letter discovered by Morton Smith is a twentieth-century forgery, as has been rather unconvincingly charged.] Personally I think an earlier stage yet is also detectable, in that there are episodes (the feeding of the four thousand, the rejection at Nazareth, the death of John the Baptist, for example) not in Luke’s Mark it seems to me. Luke either leaves them out altogether or substitutes a late version probably from an oral tradition. Behind Mark I can de­tect a couple of sources maybe from the 40s—the Controversies Source (akin to that sequence in the Recognitions in which mem­bers of various sects raise their particular objections) and a passion narrative also used (as I see it) in John and Peter. I suggest that the peculiar situation we find among the various Passion Narratives where now one and now another appears to be more primitive reflects developments—a long series of developments—before we ever get to the canonical (and quasi-canonical) stages. So anyway this suggests the following:
(1)    Sources: at least the Controversies Source and the Pas­sion Narrative. [In my current understanding I would delete the Passion Narrative as such and add two sequences of stories covering Jesus’ career from John the Baptist to (presumably) the resurrection, arbitrarily designated Form A and Form B. Form A lies behind Mk 1:5–6, 1:16–20, 6:1–6a, 6:45–52, 6:53–56(?), 7:24–30, 8:1–10, 8:22–26(?), and various bits of the Passion Narrative. Form B lies behind Mk 1:2–4, 2:13–17, 3:19b–35, 4:35–41, 5:1–20(?), 5:21–43, 6:30–44, 10:46–52(?), and likewise various bits of the Passion Narrative. A Form C lies behind certain stories in John.]
(2)    Mark I [Proto-Mark]: As used by Luke. Missing a long sequence as well as scattered stories elsewhere, but including a longer ver­sion of John’s prophecy and the temptation. [In my current understanding Form B was expanded by the addition of the Controversies Document, a Capernaum sequence, a collection of parables, the Synoptic Apocalypse (assuming it wasn’t the conclusion of the Controversies Document), and other items to form Proto-Mark, which (along with Q) was one of Luke’s major sources. Luke, conscious of its (apparent) defects, attempted to supply certain stories (the call of Peter, the rejection at Nazareth, etc) from oral tradition.]
(3)    Mark II: As used by Matthew. Reshaped, by the addition of stories like the call of the first disciples and the rejection at Nazareth, and by the addition of a long duplicate sequence including the feeding of the four thousand. [In my current understanding Form A (like Form B) was expanded by the addition of other material, including a source discussing defilement, signs, and leaven; an editor created Mark by combining Proto-Mark with the expanded Form A. This early version of Mark was used by Matthew.]
(4)    Mark III: In my view, Carpocration Mark. At least the story of the raising of the young man (presumably with the “naked man with naked man” bit), as well as further bits and pieces, some of which are still in the document. [While the possible existence of variant forms of Mark used in Alexandria provides hypothetical insights into the final stages of the document, until there is more solid evidence that Clement of Alexandria did in fact write the letter in question, I prefer to leave it out of consideration.]
(5)    Mark IV: Secret Mark—an attempt to counter Carpocratian Mark by pulling out some objectionable material, but still leav­ing some in. [Again, until there is more convincing evidence that Secret Mark ever existed, I am inclined to leave it out of consideration.]
(6)    Mark V: Canonical Mark—a still further attempt to re­move objectionable material from Secret Mark. [Canonical Mark differs from the early form Matthew used in several particulars—the extreme abbreviation of the temptation narrative (1:12–13), the addition of the saying about the Sabbath being made for man (2:27), the addition of the parable about the seed growing secretly (4:26–29), the reference to James and John being called sons of thunder (6:17), and so on. The manuscript from which it was derived appears to have been very defective; it begins and ends in mid-sentence, implying that both the beginning and ending are missing. It should be noted, however, that the differences between it and the form Matthew had in front of him are clearly minor—nothing like the differences between either of them and Proto-Mark, for instance.]
Another point for the commentary on Mark is the issue of Papias’s bizarre remarks on the origin of something or other that may bear on our gospel. As usual here, I’m working from memory, but the point is that Papias says that Mark is based on what Peter used to say (Mark was an “interpreter” of Peter (whatever that means) and used to follow him about writing things down as he spoke), and that Matthew is oracles in Hebrew. None of this sounds very promising in regard to our gospels. It is painfully obvious that his story about Matthew is not about our gospel (whatever the later church writers have to say about it), and frankly, I doubt that his remarks on Mark have anything to do with our Mark ei­ther. I mean, does our Mark look like the reminiscences of Pe­ter? I’d be looking for something more like the Kerygma Petrou—something Petrine at the very least. Even the Gospel of Peter seems more promising. What I think happened is—well, when the early church writers were looking for pedigrees for their anony­mous gospels they latched onto these remarks of Papias that had nothing to do with anything, and applied them inappropriately to our present works. In my view Papias gives us some interesting information about certain early lost Christian writings, but tells us nothing about the origins of our present gospels—and worse yet, since the various church fathers are clearly dependent on Papias for their versions of the origin of Mark, we lose all information on their origins. The other alternative is that Papias, who is demonstrably badly wrong on Matthew, is simply thoroughly unreliable. That whatever tradition existed had been thoroughly corrupted by his time, and that therefore anything he has to say on the subject is probably completely worthless. But I prefer the first option; I think Papias is writing about unknown early Christian works that have no connection to our pres­ent gospels. [I now lean toward the second option, but in any case the only reliable information we have on the origins of the gospels is what we can see for ourselves in the documents as they have come down to us, and in their literary interconnections. The stories recorded by the early writers are demonstrably wrong, and have to be disregarded.]

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