In Response To: Rick Richmond
On: Disciple Precedence (was: Something Else)
RICK: Here [at Mk 10:35f] we encounter a pericope common to Matthew and to
Mark that has no parallel in Luke. At this point we cannot say that either
writer copied Luke. Can we discern which of these accounts is prior to the
other? I think we can.
BRUCE: As far as the whole pericope goes, there is a parallel at Lk
22:24-27, which gives the request in one vague sentence and has a close
parallel to Jesus's reply, Mt 20:24-28 || Mk 10:41-45. But the previous
portions, Mt 20:23 || Mk 10:35-40, if they were amplified from the single
sentence in Lk 22:24 ("A dispute also arose among them, which of them was to
be regarded as the greatest"), are at least similarly amplified, and it
seems fair to ask if either of these similar segments had the other in mind
while writing. Rick gives several circumstantial arguments. I would be
content with one narratological one. The parallels are:
Mt 20:20: Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him, with her
sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. (21) And he said
to her, what do you want? . . . (22) But Jesus answered, You do not know
what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink? (23)
They said to him, We are able. . . .
Mk 10:35: And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him, and
said to him, Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you. (36)
And he said to them, What do you want me to do for you? (37) And they said
to him . . . (38) But Jesus said to them, You do not know what you are
asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with
the baptism with which I am baptized? (39) And they said to him, We are
able. . .
I think the nub here is in Mt 20:22:
"And Jesus answered, You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to
drink the cup that I am to drink?"
Despite the word "answered," these words, grammatically and substantively,
are addressed to the sons. That is, they ignore the mother as interlocutor.
Had Jesus been portrayed not as "answering the mother" but as "asking the
sons," we could say that the narrative works; that is, Jesus realizes that
the question really comes from them, and challenges them. But in the GMt
version, it is the mother, not the sons, who do the asking, whereas it is
the sons, not the mother, who will drink the cup. The focus changes between
In Mk, there is no difficulty, the question IS ASKED by the sons. Everything
is consistent, and there are no narratological snags.
This (as I understand it) is not quite what MarkG calls scribal fatigue, it
is perhaps a cousin, narrative fatigue. The scenario would be this: Having
set out to modify the Mk model story by introducing the request through the
mother, the narrator in GMt slips into the Mk model by answering the sons;
the mother plays no further part in the story.
Is there a motive for the change, and can that motive be exemplified
elsewhere in GMt? Rick has dealt with this (as have earlier commentators). I
would agree. Putting this outrageous request through the mother softens it
somewhat, and it is generally notorious that Matthew, as the old saying had
it, "spares the twelve," here by not attributing the request to their own
ambition, but to that of their mother.
The GMt version thus has an element of inconcinnity which GMk lacks, and to
that extent looks problematic. The inconcinnity results from the
introduction of the mother as petitioner. There is a plausible and
consistent motive for that introduction in GMt, in the sense that many other
Mt/Mk contrasts display the same general tendency.
Though everything can be stated in reverse (as is often pointed out), not
all the resulting pairs of statements carry equal conviction. Still, without
the inconcinnity element in this case, we would in the end have another
practical deadlock of symmetrical but opposite interpretations. But here, in
addition to any arguments from substance or from tendency, the shift from
mother to sons as interlocutor in GMt counts against the GMt version being
It would seem that Rick's example has considerable Synoptic merit.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
PS: I am reminded that not everyone has Davies/Allison handy, and perhaps
some will be curious to know how the 20:22 problem is dealt with there.
Answer, it is not dealt with. After the line OUK OIDATE TI AITEISTHE, D/A
say "So Mark. Jesus turns from the mother to the sons, assuming that they
concur with her request."
The comment simply states the problem as the answer. It is perhaps a little
terser than the problem warrants. At that, it is voluble in context.
Robinson (1927), Johnson (1951), Farrer (1954) and M'Neile (1965) do not
mention a problem. Albright/Mann (1971) have the following:
"xx 10. the mother. Mark (x 35) represents the two disciples (James and
John) as coming to Jesus directly, a tradition which frequently leads
commentators to suggests either than Matthew's historical tradition was at
fault or that he manipulated the tradition to cast the disciples in somewhat
more favorable light. The suggestion is interesting solely as an example of
ignorance of the ways and manners of mothers anxious for their sons."
We have so far three slurs reflecting on the rudeness or stupidity of those
who think so: "fault, manipulated, ignorance." Denigration is not the same
as explication. That a change is plausible in terms of the psychology of
mothers does not mean that it is not a change, it merely means that whoever
made the change had a mother. This we knew. Continuing:
"Since Jesus' replies to the request are in plural form directly to the
brothers, it is just as likely either that Matthew knew both traditions, or
found his oral source to be as it is here, and for all its abrupt change
from mother to disciples, allowed it to stand."
Multiple hypotheses, neither convincing. "Oral source" is the favorite
escape clause of those who wish to evade the implications of a difficult
text. Since large stretches of Mt 20:20f are verbally identical with the
corresponding Mk 10:35f, it is somewhat gratuitous to posit an "oral source"
which differs from Mk in just the particulars required to eliminate the
problem. Since nobody will ever be obliged to write a commentary on the
"oral source" in question, there will be no future accounting. I see the
attraction of the device, but am not impressed by its weight.
Gundry (2ed 1994) says, ap 20:22, "To Mark's O DE IHSOUS EIPEN Matthew
characteristically prefixed APOKRITHEIS. But Mark's "to them" can hardly
become "to her" without making nonsense of the following addresses, which
necessarily refer to the two sons and therefore stay in the plural of the
second person. Hence, "to them" simply vanishes."
Perhaps a useful point, at some stage of the analysis other than the first.
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