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A Reconstruction of the Pre-Markan Passion Narrative

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: Synoptic Cc: GPG On: A Reconstruction of the Pre-Markan Passion Narrative From: Bruce MARK Last week was a busy one, Markwise. On Wednesday, the SBL/Boston
    Message 1 of 3 , Jul 20, 2008
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      To: Synoptic
      Cc: GPG
      On: A Reconstruction of the Pre-Markan Passion Narrative
      From: Bruce

      MARK

      Last week was a busy one, Markwise. On Wednesday, the SBL/Boston program
      clunked in my mailbox, and among its highlights was session 22-22 (Saturday
      22 Nov 2008, 9-11:30 AM), a review of Adela Yarbro Collins's commentary on
      Mark (Hermeneia 2007), under the sponsorship of the ongoing Mark Group, with
      panelists Tom Shepherd, Rikki Watts, and J Keith Elliott (20 minutes each),
      a half hour of response by the author, and a final hour of general
      discussion. On Thursday, RBL arrived, electronically and therefore silently,
      including a review of this work by Edwin Broadhead. It seems the topic is
      bringing itself up for discussion, and who am I to disagree?

      SBL

      Not everyone can be at SBL, and of that number, some may have conflicts of
      priority with, eg, the umlauts in Vaticanus (Session 22-23, same time slot,
      Gordon Fee presiding). In order to give more room for the many points raised
      or further advanced by this important commentary, the Warring States
      Project's little research group is taking it up in virtual time, where SBL
      schedules do not conflict, and moths do not break in and steal. Some
      suggestions will be posted in a special corner of the Project web site which
      is dedicated to its NT ventures in general, an enterprise to which the
      Project currently gives the name NT Quest. The name is explained on the page
      in question:

      http://www.umass.edu/wsp/biblica/quest/index.html

      THE PRE-MARKAN PASSION NARRATIVE

      One of the more obviously intriguing features of the commentary is its
      reconstruction (in Appendix 1, p819, the only Appendix in the work; for
      background discussion see p621-639) of the Pre-Markan Passion Narrative, a
      matter long discussed but not yet widely agreed within the scholarly
      community. The reconstruction does not include verse numbers, nor does it
      indicate what matter has been omitted (or added) to the current critical
      text of Mark in order to reach the reconstruction. That continuous version
      implicitly demonstrates the narrative coherence of the proposal, but for
      just that reason it is not maximally convenient for detailed discussion. As
      a beginning on the topic, therefore, a more readily discussible version of
      the reconstruction (with verse numbers added, the RSV text in parallel, and
      absent portions indicated) has been posted to the Project site. My own
      comments (to Synoptic and to GPG, with versions of some comments posted to
      the Project site) are meant to follow in due course.

      THEORIES OF MARK

      The matter interests me because I have over the years arrived at my own
      theory of Mark, according to which Mark is not an assemblage of pre-existing
      material, but an authorial process which includes within it several stages,
      including the suppletions to the Crucifixion Narrative which are implied by
      their absence in the Yarbro Collins reconstruction. Up to a point, let it at
      once be said, a theory of a prior Crucifixion narrative plus an authorial
      Markan suppletion of that narrative (AYC) is functionally equivalent to a
      decision to label both stages as "Mark" (EBB). The important area of
      agreement is that both views see Mark as arrived at in more than one
      compositional step. The question is, Does there come a point at which two
      views *cease to be* interchangeable? If such points can be found, then a
      decision between them (or their replacement by something more adequate to
      the evidence than either) can be made.

      More perhaps presently.

      [Adela does not wish to participate in any ensuing electronic discussion,
      but she is aware of it, and I have agreed to provide her, shortly before
      SBL, with a summary of the proceedings, or at any rate of my own
      contribution to them].

      Bruce

      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
    • E Bruce Brooks
      To: Synoptic Cc: GPG In Response To: Ron Price On: Alexander and Rufus From: Bruce I had made a suggestion about a real-life possibility for Alexander and
      Message 2 of 3 , Jul 28, 2008
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        To: Synoptic
        Cc: GPG
        In Response To: Ron Price
        On: Alexander and Rufus
        From: Bruce

        I had made a suggestion about a real-life possibility for "Alexander and
        Rufus," said to be the sons of Simon of Cyrene in Mk 15:21.

        RON: More to the point, you surely underestimate Mark's superb narrative
        skills.

        BRUCE: A postulate like "Mark's superb narrative skills" bothers me, because
        it is capable of explaining too much. There is no imaginable detail in Mark
        that could not be eliminated as a problem by invoking that postulate. I
        would rather describe Mark from his work, and if I turn to the work, simply
        as a naive but hopeful reader, I find, not a constant literary skill, but
        rather a certain variety of literary styles. Which of them is "Mark?" Or if
        all of them, what explains the variation? And if "sources," such as the
        possibly popular narrative of John the Baptist's death, why has Mark's
        alleged narrative skill not succeeded in bringing his diverse material
        stylistically into line, one way or the other? You see my problem. I attempt
        to provide a partial answer to it at the end of this note. Meanwhile:

        RON: . . . You are in good company, for so do the commentaries on Mark on
        the bookshelf behind me. In a refreshing contrast to these, the JSem's "The
        Acts of Jesus" sees the names in Mk 15:21 not as history but as part of
        Mark's narrative plot. Thus the name "Simon" in "Simon of Cyrene" is taken
        as having been invented by Mark as a deliberate contrast to Simon Peter who
        denied Jesus and therefore did *not* take up his cross and follow Jesus
        (c.f. Mk 8:34).

        BRUCE: The proposal is that "Simon" is an invented name, put there to
        contrast with Simon the Unfaithful. It's perhaps a trifle undeveloped to
        bear that contrast. And what about "Cyrene?" What, above all, about
        "Alexander and Rufus," whom the text seems to expect that we will recognize?

        RON: "Alexander" and "Rufus" are taken as created simply in order to add
        verisimilitude to the story.

        BRUCE: Or to quote JSem directly (p155): "The other details have no
        historical value; they are included merely to give the scene plausibility.
        Writers of fiction scatter references to specific persons, places, and dates
        to enhance believability. Black is the correct color for this piece of
        Markan fiction."

        End quote.

        And indeed, the whole Markan crucifixion scene, through 15:40 (the Women at
        the Cross), is black in this JSem book. One wonders if JSem regards the
        whole Crucifixion of Jesus as a fiction, and to find out, I turn to their
        preferred Gospels, Matthew and Luke. Matthew (p263-264), same story: all
        black except that historical truth appears with the Women At The Cross. Luke
        (p360-362), same story, except that Luke's unique addition of 23:27,
        "including women who mourned and lamented him" with the crowd who followed
        him, also gets a patch of color (robin blue).

        What is going on here? JSem are marginally open to the idea that women were
        involved, but *what they were involved in* is literally as black as night.
        Was it a community picnic? No, they seem to be unhappy about something, But
        what that was, the text of Mark as JSem has left it to us gives not the
        slightest clue. If I were in a combative mood (a thing almost impossible to
        imagine, but *if*), I would go to the back of the JSem book and inventory
        their gender balance, and compute their PC Quotient.

        Instead, I pass on to the JSem's other problem, which is their acceptance of
        Q. Some scholars have suggested that the Gospel Story originally consisted
        solely of the Crucifixion Narrative, and that all else is later addition;
        that Mark, for example, was "written backwards." This conflicts with the
        theory that the earliest of Christian documents is Q (JSem in another of
        their publications puts Q at 20 years, or almost a whole generation, older
        than Mark). JSem goes with the Q fork in that particular road. But if so,
        then the oldest Christian document cannot be the Crucifixion Story; it is
        instead Q, which contains neither Crucifixion nor Resurrection. Has JSem
        printed the Resurrection Stories in black, at the end of each Gospel? No,
        they have not been willing to go that far; they have instead listed those
        passages in a separate section elsewhere. I think their nerve failed them at
        that point, typographically speaking.

        I hold with those who see Paul (for whom only the Resurrection mattered) as
        theologically late, but the JSem picture strikes me as . . . well, it
        reminds me of being out in the middle of nowhere late at night, with one
        headlight out, and finally realizing I had taken the wrong turn, about 17
        miles back.

        BACK TO MARK

        Whatever the authenticity of the Markan Crucifixion Narrative as a report of
        fact, I find that Yarbro Collins is right to see stratification in that part
        of Mark considered simply as a text. For instance, she excises the tale of
        Peter's Denials. I agree, and why? First, they meet one of the basic
        requirements of an interpolation: they can be excised without damage to the
        surrounding narrative. Second, they are literarily much more focused, more
        sharp, more cinematic, than nearly anything else in Mark; they are
        stylistically a notch or two above the level that Mark otherwise usually
        maintains. If you set out to draw a picture of the First Sermon in
        Capernaum, you are going to have to do most of the work of visualization
        yourself. In the Denials of Peter, most of it is done for you, including the
        angles of the light sources. Magnificent. Notice too the highly
        individualized emotional reaction of Peter when he realizes he has fulfilled
        Jesus's words - where else in Mark do you get that sort of detailed appeal
        to the reader's own feelings? Mark in general is emotionally perfunctory.

        It is at more or less this point that doubts arise in my mind about the
        theory of a generalized Markan literary skill. I find that there is some
        very great skill here, but that it is confined to particular places, and
        that those particular places in turn tend to be textually insecure and thus
        presumptively late in Mark. My inference would be: One of the late
        contributors to Mark was pretty good at the writing business.

        VERISIMILITUDE

        As to A and R, I have to agree with the oft repeated thought of the many
        commentators: we are expected to recognize them, and through them, to better
        place Simon of Cyrene.

        Are the names A and R plausible as verisimilitude details? That is, are they
        random but easily compatible fillings in of the probable scene? No, they are
        not; they are problematic. "Simon" is Jewish, but these names of his sons
        are not Jewish, but Gentile; "Rufus" is specifically Roman. They are thus
        narratively discordant if simply mentioned casually together with Simon.
        They do not reassure, they raise questions: questions which the text as it
        stands is indisposed to answer. Hence the feeling, on the part of some,
        including myself: that the answer already lay with the audience's knowledge
        of its own current scene; perhaps the second Christian generation.

        On that understanding of the passage, the likelihood is that these were real
        people, not fictive details. Where one goes from there is up to the taste
        and judgement of the individual researcher, and these things are capable of
        yielding different results. But I would say that the category of possible
        results is that Simon of Cyrene was not widely known to those in Mark's
        audience, but Alexander and Rufus somehow *were.*

        Whether that makes "Alexander and Rufus" part of a supposedly pre-Markan
        document, well, again, on that assumption of its nature, the case can be
        seen as weak. Yarbro Collins does make the Pre-Markan assumption, and on
        that basis, as earlier noted, I was a little surprised to find her retaining
        those details. My own assumption (conclusion from evidence in part earlier
        expounded, and here included by reference) is that this part of the text is
        Early Mark, not Pre-Mark, which somewhat changes the calculus of
        probability.

        Bruce

        E Bruce Brooks
        Warring States Project
        University of Massachusetts at Amherst
      • Ron Price
        ... Bruce, I suggest you read The Acts of Jesus more carefully. The fact of the crucifixion of Jesus is indicated by *red* in Mt 27:26bc // Mk 15:15c and Mt
        Message 3 of 3 , Jul 29, 2008
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          Bruce Brooks wrote:

          > ..... the whole Markan crucifixion scene, through 15:40 (the Women at
          > the Cross), is black in this JSem book. One wonders if JSem regards the
          > whole Crucifixion of Jesus as a fiction, and to find out, I turn to their
          > preferred Gospels, Matthew and Luke. Matthew (p263-264), same story: all
          > black except that historical truth appears with the Women At The Cross. Luke
          > (p360-362), same story, except that Luke's unique addition of 23:27,
          > "including women who mourned and lamented him" with the crowd who followed
          > him, also gets a patch of color (robin blue).

          Bruce,

          I suggest you read "The Acts of Jesus" more carefully. The fact of the
          crucifixion of Jesus is indicated by *red* in Mt 27:26bc // Mk 15:15c and Mt
          27:35a // Mk 15:24a // Lk 23:33b (five places in all in the synoptics).

          > ..... I find that Yarbro Collins is right to see stratification in that part
          > of Mark considered simply as a text. For instance, she excises the tale of
          > Peter's Denials.

          She is wrong on this if she implies interpolation, for I've reconstructed
          the archetype of Mark, and I can assure you that the denials were in there.
          They are far too substantial for my method not to be able to distinguish
          between their presence and their absence. But I would need to see her full
          argument before presenting a detailed rebuttal.

          Ron Price

          Derbyshire, UK

          Web site: http://homepage.virgin.net/ron.price/index.htm
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