In Response To: Self
On: Crossley on Mark
I may as well be the first to point out that my objection to Crossley's
summary of his Chapter 3 was not valid. It ran (mea culpa) like this:
Crossley: . . . tend to be too speculative to be convincing and all too
often rest upon numerous unfounded assumptions.
EBB: "Often" is not "always," and this summary comes near the fallacy of
grouping all opposing arguments together, and letting their differences
refute each other, or letting unsound arguments by some impugn the perhaps
sounder arguments of others. Of 17 people, the fact that 16 are wrong may
still leave the 17th standing. No?
It would have been better to have taken up Crossley's demonstration in the
chapter, and not his summary at the end of it. Perhaps the people he there
treats really did rest their arguments on numerous unfounded assumptions? On
checking the chapter itself, I find that this is not the case, and that it
is not there really argued to be the case. Crossley finds that their
arguments are wrong as such, not that they rest on unsound assumptions. In
some cases I agree with his conclusion, but find the specifics of his
argument indecisive. I am reminded of Mosteller's Type Three Error: Rightly
rejecting the null hypothesis, but for the wrong reason. As examples, and as
a replacement and indeed an apology for my earlier comment, I take up the
first two of the people Crossley treats in Chapter 3: Harnack and Bacon.
Crossley notes that Harnack (reversing an earlier opinion) dates Acts and a
fortiori Luke before Paul's death because it does not mention Paul's death,
and nowhere in Luke/Acts treats Paul's or Peter's death as presupposed.
Crossley's counter-arguments are: (a) There are hints of Paul's death in Ac
20:25, 38; (b) Luke's audience knew of Paul's death, so Luke would not have
had to mention it; and (c) "The persecutions in Rome may not be mentioned
because Luke's story simply has not got that far chronologically."
Crossley himself notes "None of these criticisms are decisive; they simply
mean that the arguments in favor of an early date are not demanded by the
I would rather say that they are ineffectual refutations of Harnack's early
date. Why ineffectual?
(a) Ac 20:25 [Paul to the Ephesian elders] reads "And now, behold, I know
that all you among whom I have gone about preaching the Kingdom will see my
face no more." If Paul intended to shift operations to the West (Spain)
after passing through Rome in search of support for that venture, he might
have spoken thus. The immediate context is Paul's admittedly perilous trip
to Jerusalem. Had he been executed in Jerusalem, as might have been, then
20:25 could be read as a forecast of his death. But a Roman reading of that
Jerusalem peril does not convince. Ac 20:38 refers back to the prediction in
20:25, and is not independent evidence.
Be it also said that part of Harnack's discontent with the end of Acts is
that, given the great detail up to that point, the reader expects to have
Paul's end not merely foreseen, but described up close. So even if the
subtle reader of Lk were to construe 20:25, 38 as Crossley suggests, he
would still be unsatisfied by the end of Acts. Harnack's sense of
incompleteness at the end of Acts is not mitigated thereby. Further work
seems to be needed in order to dispose of the puzzlement which Harnack
rightly feels about the end of Acts.
(b) The "audience already knew it" type of argument is often invoked, but to
my mind it is always wrong. Mark didn't need to narrate the Appearances of
the Risen Jesus because his audience already knew about them, or so we have
more than once been told. Well then, why did Mark need to narrate in painful
detail the Crucifixion of Jesus, about which his readers [sic] will surely
also have been informed? Why did he need to write at all? Or any of them,
for that matter? If the Gospels are there merely to recount history, and if
they do so for an audience that already knows that history, why the Gospels?
(c) In effect, Crossley's position is that Acts ends where it does because
that is as far as it goes. This is manifestly circular; a citation of a
feature to justify that feature. Petitio principii.
The most likely reason why Acts does not narrate the death of Paul is that
the death of Paul cannot be narrated without ascribing it to the Roman
authorities, and this would violate the most pervasive taboo in the entire
NT literature. That literature goes out of its way, and Acts in particular
goes miles out of its way, to show that the troubles of the Christians,
beginning with those of Jesus, were not due to Rome, oh no, the Romans were
benign, even mildly interested in the new doctrines, and whenever the matter
came up for formal adjudication, felt that those who preached those
doctrines were innocent of any wrong against Rome. They ascribe those
troubles instead to the conniving Jews. For Jesus, a technically implausible
Sanhedrin meeting is given as the point where Jesus is sentenced to Death;
Rome merely, and indeed reluctantly, allows that sentence to be carried out.
Nonsense. Rome executed Jesus.
And with the execution of Paul, in better documented times and places, there
seems to have been no way that the event could have been reattributed to
Jewish opposition. If the NT documents are there to prove one idea, it is
the salvific power of Jesus. But second only to that comes the assertion,
endlessly repeated, that Christians are good citizens, and pose no threat to
Rome, and that Rome in turn has always been benignly disposed toward the
Christians. Every single line of the NT needs to be read in the light of
this overarching insistence. To make that insistence successful was the only
ticket to survival which the early Christians had.
Acts goes as far as it can, up to the last days of Paul's captivity (whose
length, please note, it *does* suggestively specify), without violating that
taboo, that uniform policy of the NT writers taken together. Then, with the
last sentence which could presentably be written as portraying Paul as
comfortable in Rome, it simply stops. I suggest that it stops because it hit
the wall abovementioned.
In sum, Crossley's arguments are weak. If this is all that can be urged
against Harnack, readers of Crossley may feel, Harnack is possibly right. To
invite or condone that thought is a disservice to the subject. Harnack is
not right, or rather, Harnack was right the first time.
Crossley [p47]: ". . . another popular argument for dating Mark some time in
the second half of the first century is that Markan theology is in some way
influenced by Paul. This approach was important for Bacon as a part of his
collective argument for the relatively late dating of Mark (c75). Mark was
an interpreter of Paul, rather than being directly dependent upon the
Epistles. The problem with this approach is that it assumes Mark used Paul.
The influence could theoretically be the other way around, or both could be
influenced by first-century Christianity in general. This suggests that the
view of Paul influencing Mark on the basis of a comparison between Paul and
Mark cannot be established with any certainty. Moreover, even if Paul did
influence Mark it could have been when Paul was alive, say in the fifties."
EBB: The last point is valid; see further below. But though the preceding
suggestion that directionality arguments are intrinsically irresoluble is
widespread, it is wrong. Some similarities merely suggest that two documents
imbibe the same common circumstance; others, those where literary
relationship seems likely, can sometimes yield a clear directional
statement. When they do, that evidence is decisive for the passages in
Crossley agrees with the above implication, that the influence question
needs examination of cases, and he proceeds to examine Mk 4:1-34, that is,
the entire Markan Sermon by the Sea, omitting only the final transition
passage which takes the party *out* on the sea, to other destinations.
Crossley: "Bacon sees Pauline influence in Mk 4:1-34, particularly in
outsiders lacking understanding. Only the little group of the elect'
understood the true meaning. 'This apologetic is undoubtedly related to that
of Paul in Rom 9-11.For the purposes of developing it Mark utilises a logion
about the "hiding of the mystery" which also plays a great part in the
thought of Paul, though traceable in a form antecedent to both in the Wisdom
literature (1Co 1:18-3:2; Mt 11:25-30 = Lk 10:21f).' Thus for bacon, 'So
singular a combination of Old Testament [Isa 6:9] quotation with current
logia in the interest of a particular form of anti-Jewish polemic apologetic
is difficult to account for unless we suppose the evangelist to have been
familiar with the parallel argument of Paul, which employs the same
quotations in the same interest [Bacon Gospel 263].' If Bacon is correct
then Mark would probably have to be later than Romans, but how accurate is
Bacon here? There is good reason to believe that his argument is not so
strong. Bacon assumes that Mark uses Paul here and not vice versa. For all
we know, Paul may have though that Mk 4:1-20 was a useful attempt at dealing
with a certain theme. On the other hand, the parallels between Rom 9-11 and
Mk 4:1-20 are not precise and there are notable differences. Unlike Rom
9-11, Mark does not discuss the issue of the salvation of all Israel, Mark
does not see the incoming of the Gentiles as a means to provoke Israel to
jealousy, Mark does not have any parallel to a branch being grafted onto an
olive tree, and Mark does not talk of a hardening of Israel for the full
quota of Gentiles to come in. It should be clear that the view of the elect
group who understand the mystery is only a very general parallel."
EBB: This merely repeats, under the guise of examining a particular passage,
a general statement that directional conclusions cannot in principle be
extracted from literary relations. It leaves the subject in a cloud of "for
all we know," a set of undefined but apparently equally likely alternatives.
More specifically, it contains and uses the assumption that literary
relation requires that all details of each of the two passages be
identically replicated in the other; that is, it assumes a copyist model of
the relationship. This is not necessarily how literary relationship works.
Thus: Whichever way we think of Mk/Lk as running, and there seem to be
divers opinions on this point, we must conclude, overall, that material in
the earlier text is often adapted to its new context in the later text. This
may include disadapting it from its relation to context in the earlier text,
and may sometimes entail moving it around in the narrative and thus
recontexting it. Not infrequently, it involves the omission or addition of
material. This model will adequately account for the differences in
specifics in Rom/Mk, to which Crossley looks for proof of nonrelationship.
They are instead not incompatible with a scenario of relationship.
A relationship may be inexact (nonstenographic) and still be directional. It
would require a specific examination to determine whether that might be the
case in this instance. A general distrust of directionality determinations,
a disposition to regard all such questions as permanently open, does not
carry us very far in that direction.
Crossley also errs in taking Mk 4:1-20 as the passage under discussion. On
the contrary, the passage at issue is Mk 4:10-20, the aside to the
disciples, in which, and not elsewhere in the Sermon or in Mark, the
intentional impenetrability of Jesus's public preaching is asserted. This is
easily one of the most awful passages in all of Scripture. It renders not
only ineffective, but intentionally fraudulent, all Jesus's public
pronouncements, and leaves as valid only his secret sayings to his
See again my little paper on interpolations in ancient texts,
I venture to note, for the first time in the literature (any previous ones
having been universally ignored by the community, and so scarcely existing
save for the most zealous of bibliographers), that that aside is
interruptive in Mk. It is one of those cases, frequently held up to ridicule
in the less respectful parts of the commentary literature, where Markan
crowds appear and disappear at the convenience of the narrator. Since that
Swiss Clock Crowd is itself a narrative absurdity, and since the 4:10-20
view of Jesus's preaching is radically at variance with Jesus's preaching
itself, and with people's responses to it, as directly reported elsewhere in
Mk (eg, "and the crowd heard him gladly," and "a new teaching!"), we may
have here two independent bits of evidence for an interpolation in Mk. If
so, and the case seems to me strong, then the relevant passage in Mk is not
the Sermon by the Sea, but the esoteric intrusion 4:10-20. Does that passage
go on to give a plausible account of the Parable of the Sower? Or a
revisionist one? I think a case can be made (though not within the confines
of this note) that the latter is correct. Mk 4:10-20 attempts to give a
reinterpretation of the Sermon into which it is intruded, and to the whole
prior tradition of Jesus teaching as elsewhere reported in Mk. It is
therefore in all probability itself late in Mk. Then the proper comparison
is not between Mk and Paul, but between *a late layer* of Mk and Paul. That
comparison needs to be taken up as such and fought through to a reputable
conclusion. But whatever may be concluded about the directionality of Mk
4:10-20, it will not affect the rest of Mark, save to make the rest of Mark
earlier than *this particular interpolation* into Mark. If a late layer in
Mark shows similarities to Pauline doctrine, that impinges in a different
way of the question of the date of Mark as a whole.
This far into Chapter 3, then, I get the impression that many of the
previous opinions Crossley discusses do indeed need to be discussed, and
indeed set aside. But I also get the impression that Crossley's own case, as
he himself chooses to make it, is weak and sometimes tangential.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst