Re: [Synoptic-L] A Reconstruction of the Pre-Markan Passion Narrative
- To: Synoptic
In Response To: Ron Price
On: Alexander and Rufus
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
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
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
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.
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
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
- Bruce Brooks wrote:
> ..... the whole Markan crucifixion scene, through 15:40 (the Women atBruce,
> 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).
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 partShe is wrong on this if she implies interpolation, for I've reconstructed
> of Mark considered simply as a text. For instance, she excises the tale of
> Peter's Denials.
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.
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