Re: [Synoptic-L] Trajectory Arguments
- To: Synoptic
In Response To: Leonard (11 June 08)
On: Trajectory Arguments
Leonard: I did not want to deal with your individual arguments, partly
because most of them fall outside of the methodology I am advocating (they
rove elsewhere and yonder for killer arguments in favor of Markan priority),
. . .
Bruce: "rove" does not imply much system, and "killer" is not a word that
will endear itself to the mild-mannered rank and file of NT persons. I would
thus like to shrug off both words. I would rather go for "comprehensive" and
"decisive." Thus relabeled, what rational objection can possibly arise? My
trajectory arguments are taken from wherever they seem to occur in the
Gospel texts. As for, shall we rather say, decisive Synoptic arguments,
whether or not they favor Markan priority, surely after a century of
indecisive ones, and with the NT world weary of the whole question anyway,
now might be a good time for them. Would I incur fewer adjectives from
Leonard if I went searching for INdecisive arguments?
I repeat that it is extraordinarily unlikely that the direction of change in
early Christian thinking, if change there was, ran from a divinely favored
Mary (Lk 1:26f) to a meddlesome Mary rejected by her own son (Mk 3:31f). Or
from a pre-existent Jesus (Jn 1:1f, 1:9-14) to a Jesus who received the Holy
Spirit only at his baptism (Mk 1:9-11). Or etcetera. This being so, and I
find it hard to conceive of it being otherwise, the trajectory arguments are
strong arguments for the overall chronological position of the four Gospels.
That order is Mk > Mt > Lk/Acts > Jn. These arguments say nothing about
literary relationships *among* the Gospels, but they do locate the Gospels
in relative time. This alone eliminates many of the theoretically possible
Synoptic theories, and allows concentration on the task of deciding which of
the remaining ones best accounts for the particular features of these texts.
Inter alia, no theory positing Mt or Lk as the earliest Synoptic, no matter
what literary relations are found to exist between the three, can possibly
Leonard: but since your first argument (below) is at least related to
material proximate to the temptation of Jesus parallels, I will deal with it
briefly. / In a nut shell, it is weak and unconvincing -- not as an overall
argument based on trajectory (here it obviously has some appeal)-- but as a
specific argument in favor of Mark's priority to Matthew in this part of his
Gospel. The problem as I see it lies in the implied argumentum ex silentio
in the way you formulate Mark's supposed low Christology: "indwelt by the
Spirit only from his Baptism to his Crucifixion."
There is no way this is derived from the text of Mark except through an
absolutely unacceptable implied argument from silence.
Bruce: The rejection of all argumenta ex silentio is often heard, but it is
invalid all the same. There are indeed many reasons why a text might know
something but not mention it, and the student of texts must be constantly
alert for those situations. But the central fact is that if something did
not exist for the author of a given text, the ONLY EVIDENCE that situation
is capable of leaving in that text is the silence of that text. Silence thus
needs to be counted, albeit tactfully, as evidence.
Leonard: We have no idea (from the text) what Mark thought of Jesus'
conception and birth, because he tells us nothing about them.
Bruce: From the fact that Mark tells us nothing about the conception and
birth of Jesus, we are probably entitled to infer that he either did not
know them or else did not think them important. That he regarded them as
UNimportant if, in his time, the Lukan model was generally accepted in his
community, is unlikely save on some such assumption as that he was concerned
to combat them. This motive is not, as far as I know, visible in Mark, hence
that assumption seems to be unwarranted.
A parallel case. It is traditionally supposed that Confucius wrote or edited
all the Chinese classics, and that all hermeneutic interpretations of the
Classics ultimately descend from Confucius. Not only is their a silence in
the earliest layers of the tradition concerning the Chinese classics, but we
see Confucius, in those earliest layers, teaching in other ways than by
citing the classics, and doing in other ways what the later tradition did
with the then canonical classics. The gap on the classics side is balanced
by a positive presence on the teaching side (gnomic wisdom and the
adjudication of empirical contradictions). So also in Mark: not only does
Mark not show Jesus as receiving his special spiritual nature at his birth,
a negative fact; he shows him receiving it at his baptism, a positive fact.
Leonard: In Mark the Spirit comes upon Jesus at his baptism, in connection
with (and preparation for) his mission (just as he does in Matt, who does
have a conception by the spirit!).
Bruce: Well, in direct preparation for his Temptation, in both texts, and
also in Luke if we take the Lukan genealogy as a sort of long parenthesis. I
am not sure that the inaccuracy affects the argument, but it is still an
Leonard: If I were compelled to guess what Mark's view was of the time prior
to this incident in the life of Jesus, I would find it difficult to imagine
that Mark thought of Jesus as exactly like every other human being that ever
lived up until this time.
Bruce: Those are not the alternatives. False antithesis.
Leonard: Much more likely is that he knew and believed the stories of Jesus'
conception by the spirit.
Bruce: Petitio principii in the classical sense of the term: the fallacy of
simply assuming that which it is desired to prove. As for "much more
likely," not more likely. Rather, not likely at all. That Mark knew and
believed the stories of Jesus' conception by the spirit, and yet portrayed
Jesus as any other votary of John the B up to the point of the Voice From
Heaven, seems drastically unlikely. In the story as it stands, the divine
connection of Jesus begins immediately after Jesus' baptism. That is how
Mark leaves it for his readers, and the best guess must be that that is how
he saw it himself. Otherwise we must imagine him as maneuvering with the
tradition, and with his readers, in a decidedly coy manner. There are a lot
of stylistic traits in Mark, some of them reprehensible, but I wouldn't call
Leonard: He simply chose to begin his story with the baptism of Jesus.
Bruce: This "simply chose" massively begs the question. The whole matter
turns on this point. *Why* did he so choose? If he knew and believed the
Matthean account of Jesus's divinity, why did he so pointedly omit it? Was
it because it varied so greatly from that of Luke, which he also knew? But
he faced the same problem with the Resurrection narrative at the other end
of his tale, where again Mt/Lk differ in important ways, but where Mk
nevertheless contrives to have his own Resurrection account (differing, as
far as the extant text of it goes, from both his supposed models; see
Reimarus, at any desired length, on these contradictions in the four
accounts of the Resurrection).
Leonard: And, yes, there are numerous plausible reasons why he might have
chosen this particular starting point.
Bruce: I would like to hear just one. Failing one, we here have a key point
of the argument not displayed, but gestured at offstage. It is far from
reassuring to those who are having trouble giving their assent to the
Leonard: If there is any argument from Christological trajectory to be made
from this part of the Gospel story, it arguably works in favor of Matthean
priority. As Gerhardsson rightly notes, Jesus in Matt 4:1-11 is God's son in
the sense that he is Israel, God's son.
Bruce: The Heavenly Voice relies on the Psalms. I don't get, from this text
or its parallels, the meaning that Jesus = Israel. I get a sense of special
individual status, indeed, of the conferral of special individual status. As
Mark stands, and Mark as it stands is what we have to deal with, a lot of
weight rests on that Voice in Mark. It singles Jesus out, as he had not
before been narratively singled out. In the strict sense, that moment is
narratively superfluous in Mt and Lk, where it has been preceded by a
literal begetting. Do those texts take any account of this superfluity? Yes.
I noted as a related Trajectory that the Baptism, though perhaps for reasons
of tradition tenacity it does not immediately vanish, *is* progressively
played down, and the role of John the B is also progressively diminished, in
the successive Gospels (Mk > Mt > Lk > Jn).
And the directional concurrence of those Gospel Trajectories remains, in my
view, a very important point. If for example John the B were increasingly
emphasized (rather than being reduced to a mere precursor and predictor of
Jesus) in the same series of Gospels which show increasing status of Mary
and the progressive Jerusalemization of Jesus's Appearances, then we would
have a puzzlement, indeed a contradiction, and the Trajectory Arguments as a
group would be in logical trouble. *This does not occur.* All the Trajectory
Arguments run in the same direction, and all are in turn compatible with the
observed history of other person-centered movements in ancient and modern
Leonard: Mark does not go there (or at least, if he does, the equation of
Jesus with Israel is so implicit in Mark as to be implausibly intended, and
probably derived from remembering Matthew) and I would argue that Mark's
account suggests a divine sonship that is more unique, mysterious, and
Bruce: Unique, in the sense that no other Gospel exactly coincides; sure.
Elevated, in the sense that here a human life is touched by something
transcendent and powerful; again, sure. *All* the Synoptic accounts have
these traits, though they have them in very different ways, so that the
presence of these traits, as such, does nothing to clarify our problem. But
mysterious? I would have to be shown how. The Markan account, read on its
own terms, is simple and direct. It was surely intended to impress its
readers with a sense of majesty and divine portent, but also with its
immediacy and reality. Mysterious?? Not unless we posit a whole series of
views of Jesus held but not expressed, or crucial moments in the life of
Jesus known but not recounted. I can't think that this is a tenable position
for a Gospel writer to occupy.
I come back, as do many Synoptic observers, to the unlikelihood that Mark
would withhold from his narrative anything which he knew, in which he
believed, and which, if he believed it, he cannot have regarded as trivial
in that story.
I think instead that the conception stories are developments, and belong to
a later stage of Christian thinking about Jesus. That the one in Lk is
exiguous in that text, I pointed out years ago, in what seems to be a
recurring conversation. Lk has a most sonorous beginning at Lk 3:1 (not at
2:1, which is parasitic on what precedes), just after the Birth and Infancy
and Genealogy portions of Lk. The text of Luke begins there just as
satisfactorily as John ends at the end of Jn 20. If Lk's conception story is
a textual afterthought in Lk, then the original manuscript of Lk also made
no mention of Jesus's conception. Therefore, we have here two stages in the
evolution of a manuscript, and the appearance of the divine conception motif
in Christian thinking can be dated to a point between the first stage and
the second. Nobody including Luke claims that Luke was an eyewitness to the
events of Jesus's life. He relies explicitly on later traditions, sound and
otherwise. His treatment of the conception story seems to suggest that,
among those various traditions, the conception story is of only middling
Here is a case where we are not dependent on imagination, however acute, or
on inferences, however plausible, but have evidence in the text itself about
the relative age of one of the text's constituents. Such cases, I continue
to think, are very valuable. We then have, as witnesses to the conception
(a) Mk, Luke A (know nothing of it; Mk elsewhere shows disrespect for Mary)
(b) Mt, Luke B (know it and include it; both texts omit Mk's disrespect for
I see a pattern here. Doesn't everyone?